Sunday, 30 December 2012

Rocky's First D&D Campaign - Session 5 Recap

When we last left off, the party had just finished bringing down the Flesh Golem and two of the four Splinter Brothers. They decide to search the place for any clues, splitting up to save time. While this works in theory, in practice it actually takes just as long, if not even longer, because as DM I can only describe one thing going on at a time, so I end up either going back and forth or ignoring one group in favor of the other. Freyja and Pilgrim elect to check out the meat lockers and storage rooms (which the party is aware is zombie-infested thanks to Cleo's reconnaissance) while Azryn, Oizo, and Cleo inspect the offices and cattle holding pens.

The cattle holding pens are guarded by a small group of goblins, ostensibly hired by the Splinter Brothers to protect the cattle from thieves. Cleo comes up with the idea of walking into the room in the form of a cow, causing a distraction, and allowing the rest of the party to take them by surprise. I make her roll a Bluff check as she enters the room. What I don't tell her is that this is almost guaranteed to fail because A) she's entering all by herself and B) she's entering through the hallway door instead of the exterior door, both of which are very unusual. These goblins aren't geniuses, but they're not that dense. So she walks into the room in cow-form, the Goblins see through her ruse, and attack. She drops several area burst attacks while Azryn and Oizo rush in to aid her, but she still takes several solid hits from the surrounding goblins. The fight is still very one sided, and the goblins go down within just a couple rounds.

The fight occurring on the other side of the complex is more of challenge. Freyja and Pilgrim adopt a sensible strategy to take on the zombies in the meat locker. Pilgrim will stand just in front of the doorway and hold back the zombies in the bottleneck so that he only has to fight one at a time, while Freyja fires into the room at range with Magic Missiles. The plan works for a short time, but after dropping one or two zombies, Pilgrim finds himself grabbed and pulled into the freezer, where he is completely surrounded and beaten down. He fights to get out, but with eight zombies attacking at once, all of whom have Combat Advantage by flanking him, it doesn't take long for him to be bashed into unconsciousness.

Freyja, now alone, is staring down just over half a dozen zombies who are coming through the door at her. The rest of the players argue that they should be allowed to come to Freyja's aid, but I make the point that both encounters are occurring simultaneously, so they have to wait for the same number of turns to elapse (three) and then they have to actually travel the distance from their current position to Freyja and Pilgrim, which takes at least one turn at a full run. This is all assuming that the rest of the party has a good reason to rush over, such as Freyja screaming for help as a free action...

*nudge Freyja's player*

Freyja screams for help as a free action and throws down an Icy Terrain spell to slow down the zombies. They resist it successfully and begin to surround her. Ironically, earlier in the campaign when the party was at the Blacksmith shop, Freyja had purchased a longsword. Her player felt that she might be able to make use of it in such a situation, since her Eladrin background gives her a weapon proficiency. The rest of the group talked her out of it, calling it a waste of money and arguing that she would likely never be in such a situation as a ranged spell caster, so she sold it back later (at full price, since the weapon had never even been used). Thus, Freyja was smacked around for a turn until the rest of the party showed up to help. Pilgrim, rolling a 20 on his next Death Saving Throw, actually spends a healing surge and gets back to his feet to help out. The zombies don't put up much of a fight against the united party and soon fall.

There's still the entire lower level to search, so the party takes a moment to rest and spend healing surges. There are three possible routes to the basement: Stairs, cargo elevator, and the exterior cattle ramp. The group chooses the stairs, proceeding stealthily. I ask everyone to make Stealth and Perception rolls, while I do the same with my next encounter. The party rolls low on Stealth and high on Perception, as do I. Thus, as the party is sneaking down the hall, they hear the hushed speech and muffled footsteps of an ambush in waiting. However, they are similarly overheard by the ambushers, so as the fight begins there is no advantage to either side. Don Splinter attacks along with a group of goblins on the killing floor, where cattle are brought to be killed, bled, and skinned for processing. Don is a mage, and as the goblins engage the party in melee combat he hangs back and throws down burst attacks to weaken the party. Pilgrim, as he often does, rushes the most threatening opponent in the room and attempts to take him out quick. Don falls back around the corner and attempts to maintain distance attacks, but is soon felled while the rest of the party mops up the goblins.

The killing floor leads into a wide open space, containing a refuse furnace and a pair of green slime pits, used to dissolve any remaining animal waste product that can't be put to use. As the party enters, they are attacked by the final Splinter Brother, Ralph, who is overseeing a small group of goblins. Ralph is the muscle of the family business, and comes to bear with armor and a heavy flail. While the rest of the party engages the goblins (who are wielding spears at melee and javelins for range), Pilgrim rushes at Ralph...and is immediately hit with a Smashing Strike attack that slides him one square. As luck would have it, Pilgrim happened to be standing at the edge of the slime pit, so he is knocked right in. The slime is corrosive and does 1d6 damage for every round he remains in it. Any of the goblins not currently engaged in melee combat take the cue from their leader and start throwing javelins into the pit. When the party gets their turn, Oizo uses his Githyanki racial ability to telekinetically pull Pilgrim out of the pit onto solid ground. He still has to spend a move action to wipe the slime off himself, but he's out of immediate danger. Azryn steps up the plate and takes on Ralph, managing to beat him back with several encounter attacks that hit for massive damage. Soon he and the goblins go down and the party is victorious.

There's still another series of hallways and rooms to search, so the party splits up and takes one of two possible paths. This time it goes fairly simply, no encounters to be found. Azryn and Oizo head one way and find a kitchen, a trophy room filled with mounted heads from various species, and a storage room filled with corpses. I ask them both for Perception checks, they fail, so they don't discover anything else. A large trunk in the corner contains personal effects from the victims, including a Heavy War Pick of Oaths Fulfilled that would suit Pilgrim nicely. Meanwhile Cleo, Freyja, and Pilgrim find a room containing a large-scale map of the city detailing some sort of battle plan, as well as coded notes for a powerful Necromancy spell. In the next room they find a holding cell full of starved, weakened prisoners. The party elects not to free them for now, because they haven't finished clearing the area. The final room in the corner remains to be searched, and a Perception check alerts the party to the sounds of deep, rhythmic chanting.

The party sets up at both of the entry doors for a surprise attack, bursting in to find a Kobold Necromancer at work, accompanied by a small pack of zombies and gravehounds. Nearby is a collapsed hole in the floor and a large empty chest, similar to the one found in Ulric's basement. The necromancer immediately sends his minions at the party while Pilgrim does the usual boss rush. In this particular case, he runs in, lands his encounter power, then spends his Action Point to use another encounter power, doing massive damage. The rest of the party chooses to ignore their immediate opponents in favor of focusing all their attacks on the Necromancer, and actually manages to kill it before it even gets a turn to fight. This pisses me off IMMENSELY, because it had the ability to summon Skeleton bodyguards and heal itself, and would have actually made this an interesting fight. I really need to think of a way to make it so that the party can't just rush the strongest enemy in the room and take it out instantly. Maybe my monsters are too weak? I'll have to workshop it later.

With the necromancer down, the zombies pose little threat. The gravehounds do a fair amount of damage, working as a pair to flank Pilgrim and bite him relentlessly. The remaining zombies mob Azryn and Oizo as they stand back to back, while Cleo and Freyja provide support at range. The encounter is wrapped up and the party has earned enough XP to gain another level. With the area cleared out, the party frees the captive villagers and searches the storage room. A closer examination reveals that one of the corpses is recognizable, despite being in the midst of decay from being dead for at least a week. It's Ulric, the wizard responsible for Jamie's murder and the same man currently imprisoned at the Guard Garrison.

With that, the session comes to an end. Next time the party gets to level up and investigate the mystery of the two Ulrics.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Rocky's First D&D Campaign - Session 4 Recap

A friend of mine is a fairly experienced DM. The lesson I learned at the start of this session is apparently one that every DM learns early in their careers: The players will do everything they can to screw up your plans, intentionally or not. Case in point: When we last left our adventurers, they were about to get into a brawl with a pack of angry demons over some stolen gold. Naturally I went into this expecting a fight. Instead, the party elected to negotiate with the demons. Seriously? Come on, guys...

Pilgrim opens with his Bluff attempt to convince the demons he's Ulric. Surprisingly, he succeeds. For an added layer of humor, I have the Imps discuss the matter among themselves and decide that nobody would be crazy/stupid enough to disguise themselves as the guy whose house they're breaking into. The Imps express surprise that Ulric, of all people, would be working with a bunch of non-humans. Pilgrim-Ulric explains that these freaks are working for him, and there's no need to be concerned. Next, the Imps ask why Ulric was taking away their agreed-upon payment. Pilgrim-Ulric asks for clarification on what the payment was for. Another Bluff check, he passes, and the Imps explain. Ulric needed an extra boost of magical energy to pull off a big spell, so the Imps have arranged for a small cosmic re-alignment on the next full moon to give him access to additional power. Ulric tries to find out what that spell is, but the Imps aren't aware. Imps are lesser devils, acting as emissaries for more powerful devils and demons. They make deals with mortals in an attempt to corrupt them, with the general goal of causing chaos and pain. The Evistro is just the muscle, the enforcer who protects them while they make deals and exacts punishment if the deals are broken.

With this knowledge in mind, Pilgrim asks if it might be possible to cancel his (Ulric's) earlier request and put his (Ulric's) plans on hold for the time being. The Imps inform him that considerable work has been done already, and they're not backing out without getting something out of the deal. Pilgrim offers to provide them with payment for the work they've done, but they won't settle for anything less than the full agreed amount. He concedes, and they depart through the hole they came through, taking the chest with them. The tunnel collapses after they leave, and the party receives some XP for passing the skill challenges.

With that behind them, the party inspects the room. The runes on the pedestal are old, in a language none of the party recognizes (Primordial). The altar is covered with books, papers and notes. Closer inspection with an active Perception check tells the group that some of the books deal in Necromancy magic, and others are notes on the god Zarus, the patron deity of Humanity. Sharp eyed readers might remember previous reference to Zarus from the initial murder, but how that relates to this is still unknown. Among the notes, they also find a memo from the Splinter Brothers Slaughterhouse, which supplies all the major taverns and most of the city's population with meat and leather, detailing shipments of meat and an ominous list of names, many of which have been crossed out. Ulric's name is on the list.

Sudden noise from upstairs alerts the party to some violence. They hear a screaming Imp, then a deep roar and a loud smash, as a section of the wood ceiling crashes down into the room, along with the corpse of an Imp, killed with a heavy blunt weapon. Through the ceiling hole the second Imp, apparently free of its restraints, jumps down into the basement and regards the party with surprise and fear. Before anyone can react, Bo Do the Dwarven Blacksmith drops through the ceiling and brings his Warhammer down on the Imp with enough force to paint the adjacent walls with skull jelly.

Bo Do, still in mid-rampage, eyes the party and settles on Pilgrim, who is still in Ulric disguise. Do hefts the Warhammer and advances on Pilgrim with murder in his eyes, but Pilgrim quickly removes his mask and reveals himself to calm the furious Dwarf. Apparently Do came with the intent to avenge the death of his friend, Jamie the owner of the Green Dragon Inn. Before they can discuss the situation further, a dozen guards storm the house, alerted by the big Dwarf-sized hole in the front door. The party still has their letter from Captain Warrik to back them up, but Bo Do is still arrested for breaking and entering, and the guards round everyone up to bring them back for questioning.

Back to the Garrison, where Warrik and his second in command Radak want a progress update on the investigation. The party reveals what they know, which isn't much. Warrik isn't all that thrilled with the party, who haven't managed to do much more than rack up a body count and steal from shopkeepers. At mention of this, Cleo's player is visibly annoyed that I'm making such a big deal out of her character's theft. I explain to her that I'm actually really happy that she's making the effort to accurately roleplay her character and act in a believable manner for that character. As the DM, I'm not making any judgements on the actions of the party, my only job is to ensure that actions have appropriate consequences, good or bad. Warrik considers firing the party, but Radak insists that things are getting worse in the city and there's no harm in letting the party continue their work for the time being.

The Slaughterhouse memo provides the most promising lead, so the party goes there next. It's daytime, so the place is open and active. Out front there are cattle pens packed with grazing cows, some of whom are lead down a ramp into the basement of the facility. The party discusses their plan of attack. Cleo is actually a specialist in this field and has a brilliant plan. First, she casts her Animal Messenger ritual on a small spider, which enables her to pass a message onto that spider and compel that spider to seek out another person to deliver it. Then she uses her Skittering Sneak power to transform into a spider, scout the place room by room, and use the spider messenger to send back the report on what each room contains. Using this tactic, Cleo is able to scout the entire first floor and as she goes, she discovers various enemies, chests, and other interesting items, noting them on the map. This has the side effect of totally removing any surprise from the encounters, so I really need to think up a countermeasure for this plan at some point.

Anyway, the party regroups and decides to sneak into an unoccupied office to search it for clues. Unfortunately they fail a Stealth check and make enough noise to attract the attention of the man in the next office over. This man is Leo Splinter, one of the Splinter brothers who run the Slaughterhouse. He is immediately in combat mode, and calls for help. He manages to keep the party contained in that small office by standing in the doorway, forcing the party to deal with him one at a time. In response, Pilgrim forces him back a square to clear the way for everyone else. Meanwhile, Mike Splinter comes running with backup in the form of a small pack of attack dogs. My players take a short moment to inform me that I need to think of better character names that aren't adapted from pop-culture references. They might have a point.

The battle goes fairly well, with the dogs going down fairly quickly and Leo forced into a flanked position and dispatched without much of a struggle. Mike sees things going awry and attempts to flee, sprinting down the hall towards the main processing room. Despite provoking several opportunity attacks, Mike manages to reach the room with just 2 hit points remaining. Inside the room stands a Flesh Golem, a huge creature composed of the body parts of multiple corpses, like a giant Frankenstein creation.

He borrowed those green pants from another hulking monster.
The Flesh Golem is, hands down, my favorite monster used thus far. He can make two basic attacks per turn, is a freakin' tank for soaking up damage, comes with an Action Point (rare for enemies), and has a special renewable ability that allows him to run straight through enemy squares and do damage as he goes. The catch is that he's a Level 12 monster, which would be way too much to spend up against my Level 2 party under normal circumstances. I had to de-level it before making it a suitable match, and as a first time DM, I had no clue how to do that. It's not as simple as taking every number and dividing by two, there's a percentage involved. A quick Google search gave me a handy guide, and a few minutes of calculations gave me a decent adjustment. I also turned it from a Large creature (2x2) into a standard Medium because A) it's not as strong as it should be and B) it wouldn't fit through the doors and halls otherwise.

Anyway, back to the game. Mike lasts just long enough to issue a command to the Flesh Golem: Attack. Most of the party engages, taking Mike out almost immediately before focusing on the Golem. Pilgrim gets the brilliant idea to run back to Leo Splinter's body, cut off his face, and attempt to disguise himself as the dead man in an effort to fool the Golem into thinking he is it's master. Take a second to re-read that, please. I can't tell if Pilgrim's player isn't thinking creatively (disguises again?) or is thinking too creatively (did you watch Face Off recently?). So while the fight is going on around the corner, Pilgrim is applying his thieves tools to Leo's face in an effort to surgically remove it.

This is an interesting skill challenge. There's nothing in the sourcebooks to cover this particular situation, so I have to improvise. I give Pilgrim's player the choice of using either his Heal or Thievery skills into this, since this could be looked at as a test of either medical knowledge or dextrous skill. He goes with Thievery, given his lack of medical training. While I am encouraged by the DM guide to encourage unorthodox thinking, this is a very difficult challenge, so I set a DC20 with a complexity 3 (8 successes before 4 failures). He fails completely, and the result is a flimsy torn flesh mask that looks like the one Hannibal Lecter had on during his escape from Silence of the Lambs. Bless his big heart and small brain, he tries it on anyway and attempts to order the Golem to stop. Not only does it fail, he gets knocked flat during one of the Golem's Rampage attacks. At this point, the Pilgrim's combat failures could be a drinking game. Take a shot every time he goes down, and stop when you go down.

The rest of the party performs quite well, busting out their Daily powers to do massive damage. As it becomes bloodied (and takes a free shot as a result, I love this thing!), it elects to focus it's assault on the last enemy that hit it, which happens to be Freya who is standing down the hall. A recharged Rampage attack allows it to run right through every party member in the way, and it begins chasing Freya through the halls. I'm so happy because I get to re-enact that classic horror trope of the monster chasing the frail screaming woman as she runs for her life. It only lasts one round sadly, since the party is able to cut the Golem down before it actually catches Freya, but I was still pleased with myself.

That was as good a place as any to end the session. On the one hand, the party has taken down the heavy hitter of the dungeon and made some major progress. On the other, they've all expended their Daily powers and still have roughly 60% of the place to clear out. While they have picked up an extra Action Point from reaching a milestone (two encounters without an extended rest ((technically it was just one encounter but it was big enough for two))), the next session is going to be a bit of a challenge. Let's find out!

Rocky's First D&D Campaign - Session 3 Recap

Wow, this is WAY delayed! Here's a couple things to put out there right away...
  • I don't take good notes on the session
  • I forgot to take pictures
So the recap is going to be a little vague and boring for the next few sessions. Sorry. I do feel compelled to finish anyway, so let's get back to it!

When we last left the party, they had just arrived at the local Mage shop to investigate a lead on the murders. As they stepped through the door they found themselves in the middle of a battle between the shop owners and a small pack of bandits. The end result of that fight was a bunch of dead bandits, save for one which had been non-lethally taken out. The shop owners, a wizard named Vink Sardo and his apprentice Aric Blacktree volunteered the use of their basement for the interrogation.

The interrogation was handled as a skill challenge, similar to the earlier interrogation of Ulric. Party members were allowed to employ their various trained skills (Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate) and depending on their d20 roll, they either succeed and gain some info, or fail and the prisoner resists. Good rolls result in success, which gets the bandit to spill his guts. He accuses Sardo of being behind the murders.

Insight checks from the party detect nothing but surprise from both Sargo and Blacktree, indicating no deception from either. The bandit is encouraged to elaborate. He and several of his friends, horrified by the string of murders and disappearances in their city and frustrated by the lack of progress of the City Guard, decided to investigate on their own. Witnesses at the scene of some of the crimes told of a bunch of robed figures seen in the area, and the type of robes were consistent with those of magic practitioners.

With nothing left to gain, the party elects to bring the bandit back to the Guard Garrison for further questioning. Before they leave, Sardo takes Cleo and Freya aside and thanks them for their efforts in bringing peace back to their city. He enchants Freya's staff into a Staff of Missile Mastery +1 and gives Cleo a Bloodhunter Totem +1 to aid them in their quest. With that, the party leaves. However, as Cleo is stepping across the threshold, a ghostly siren wails loudly and a flash of light attracts everyone's attention to her. Apparently, the items she stole from the shelf were enchanted with an effect that creates light and noise if they are taken from the store without being disarmed. It's basically an anti-theft enchantment to catch shoplifters. Cleo immediately takes off running, and is not pursued. Later investigation reveals that the potion she took was a Potion of Mimicry which would allow her to assume the form of another humanoid for a short time. The book was an empty spell book, itself not worth much but with 50 pages that can be later filled with rituals.

Night falls on the way back to the Garrison, and the party's path takes them through the City Square. As they enter the square, they are confronted with a gang of Hobgoblins, armed to the teeth and looking fierce. The Hobgoblin Commander informs the party that he's taking revenge for the deaths of his subordinates earlier in the day. A fight commences, and the party wins initiative to attack first. Since the Hobgoblins are packed so closely together at the start of the fight, a couple quick area blast attacks from the ranged spellcasters Cleo and Freya weaken the entire gang almost immediately. As the melee fighters (Azryn, Pilgrim, Oizo) spread out to engage the remaining enemies, Oizo steps up to the Commander. The Commander is an honorable fighter (honor among thieves, imagine that...) and challenges Oizo to single combat while the rest of their respective sides fight. Oizo agrees and the fight commences. Freya activates her new staff's Daily power, which allows her to hit two targets with one Magic Missile, and starts shooting like crazy. Cleo transforms into a bear (as she loves to do) and starts mauling Hobgoblin Soldiers while Azryn and Pilgrim rush the Hobgoblin Archers to cut them down. The rest of the enemies go down quite easily, so with no other targets, the rest of the party has no moral compunction with attacking the Commander and breaking the duel. Despite fighting five-on-one, the Commander is quite the challenge, and actually manages to do enough damage to the Pilgrim to put him down for the count, bleeding into the stone pavement. Eventually he goes down, and the Pilgrim is saved with some First Aid. However, he's only stabilized, not healed. He needs advanced medical care, so he's brought back to the Garrison along with the prisoner.

The City Guard employs an on-site doctor/healer, who takes in Pilgrim while the rest of the party rests up and discusses their progress. While they do, Cleo sneaks into the infirmary to check up on Pilgrim's progress, and as the doctor is treating his wounds she discovers his disguise and true identity as a Drow. Cleo leaves, keeping the revelation to herself. When The Pilgrim regains consciousness in the morning, he is assured by the doctor that his secret will remain safe.

In the morning the party discusses their next move. The only leads they have available are Ulric's home address and the local whorehouse. Despite my best efforts to get my party to go to a whorehouse, they're not into it, and elect to investigate Ulric's home. It's in the upper-class part of town, a two-story mini-mansion. It's obviously locked, so Pilgrim whips out his newly purchased thieves tools. However, it turns out that the tools he purchased are extremely substandard, made of soft tin rather than quality steel. He still has the option of picking locks, but gains no +2 Thievery bonus to disarming traps/locks. I decide that he gets three attempts to pass the DC15 check before neighbors start to get suspicious. Thankfully he still succeeds and they gain entry.

It's always great when you can use an existing map...
A cursory glance reveals nothing more than a normal family home, and the party splits up to search the rooms. Pilgrim, being a disguise specialist, elects to craft a disguise that would allow him to pass as Ulric, in the event that the party is discovered. Freya heads upstairs to search the bedrooms, and accidentally discovers a pair of Imps at play. The Imps attack on sight, leading to a battle which brings the attention of the rest of the party. The party is at a disadvantage for two reasons. One, the narrow confines prevent the entire party from attacking at once, and the Imps have the ability to turn invisible at will to attack unseen. The melee fighters elect to start swinging at random squares, but no attacks hit. The ranged spellcasters opt to employ their burst attacks, which hit the Imps and bring them out of their invisible state. Rather than go for the kill, the party employs non-lethal attacks to subdue the Imps.

Another interrogation ensues. The Pilgrim, still in his Ulric disguise, attempts to convince the Imps to give up the info. His Bluff check is awful, so they don't buy it. The party's Intimidate checks work, so the Imps reveal that they serve Ulric and are instructed to guard his home while he's away, especially the basement. What's in the basement? The Imps invite them to see for themselves. The party heads downstairs, but not before tying up the Imps and sticking them in a closet. As you can see on the map, the basement is a stone chamber with an altar and circular pedestal, covered with ornate runes. The alter is covered with spell books and papers, notes and memos. On top of the pedestal, there is a large wooden chest. Pilgrim quickly performs a Thievery check to unlock the chest, and I give him a Perception check to see if he discovers the tripwire trap that would have riddled the room with poison darts. Sadly, he passes both and opens the chest, revealing 1000 gold coins.

If I didn't have any junk, I'd be angry too.
Naturally, the party takes the coins. Just as naturally, there is a consequence, as a section of stone floor erupts in an explosion, and out crawls a pack of six Imps and an Evistro demon. Apparently that gold belongs to them, so now it's on. To be continued...