D&D 4th Edition Running Commentary on Rel's 4e Campaign (Complete 8/2/10)

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  1. #1
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    Running Commentary on Rel's 4e Campaign (Complete 8/2/10)

    Piratecat and his group almost certainly do this better than me. But I am finally running my first bona fide 4e campaign and I promised a few people that I'd post something about it. This is not intended as a Story Hour. It is a chronicle of how I'm using the 4e ruleset (and my changes to it) in order to present this campaign world to the players. I'll be discussing where this worked, where it didn't and any emergent features along the way. Hopefully I can get my players to chime in as well.

    Before I get into how the first session ran, here are a couple of other relevant threads:

    Those are some details about the campaign setting I've cobbled together as well as my house rules respectively. Without further ado, allow me to introduce the characters:

    Zanne (pronounced Zah-nay) - Female Human Warlock (infernal pact) played by "Marcus" - Zanne hails from the Empire of Vond to the north. She is part of a diplomatic mission from Vond (the demigod/emperor) to the kingdom of Opkhar. She likes long walks along the edge of the plateu where she can commune with the Mist Demons. Her turn-ons include herbalism and its uses in dye-making.

    Astavian (pronounced As-tah-vee-an) - Male Dragonborn Paladin of Ryukaar (Dragonborn deity of vengeance) played by Riggs - Astavian is part of a recently founded church (less than 50 years old) that worships the apparently reborn aspect of Ryukaar who was thought to have vanished in the Cataclysm some 500 years ago. When he's not smiting Mist Demons, Astavian likes to meditate and practice calligraphy.

    Eshik, Clan Moonscale - Male Dragonborn Ranger (dual wield style) played by Ba11zooka - Eshik is one of the "Edgerunners" who keeps the many evils of the world from swallowing civilization. He was employed at a quarry in his youth and knows a bit about stonework and still does a bit of small scale stonecarving and jewelry making in his spare time.

    Mialain - Female Cleric of Melora played by my wife (She'll probably have an account here soon as "Talltree") - Mialain hails from the Elven peak of Enmurinon where she was being trained to be a Ranger by her brother. When he left to undertake some mysterious mission for the Queen, she began to have visions that led her to begin worship of Melora. The trick is that the goddess Melora has been "dead" for almost 500 years. As far as she knows, she is the only cleric of Melora in the world. Her hobbies include painting and cartography.

    Up next...We actually get started playing.

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    Ooh, neat characters! I wanna see how they play out >.>

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wootz View Post
    Ooh, neat characters! I wanna see how they play out >.>
    Yeah, the characters are great. Shame about the DM, though.
    Crit happens

    Here's looking at ewe, kid.

  4. #4
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    The start of the campaign is as follows:

    Eshik, Mialain and Astavian are all currently in the city of Semma, in the kingdom of Semma, for various reasons. But they are low on funds and some have reasons to be elsewhere. As such they are hanging out at the local Adventurers Guild looking for work.

    A word about the Adventurers Guild: The world is a dangerous place. Bold (or insane) individuals are needed to undertake work that regular (sane) people wouldn't dare do. However, part of what makes the world dangerous is these bold (or insane) individuals. The answer to both of these problems is the Adventurers Guild. These exist in most of the larger eastern cities, especially those outside the two major empires (Vond and the Arcanon Confederacy). They are almost always taverns or inns where would-be adventurers can loiter and seek work and normal, gods-fearing, tax-paying citizens can avoid them like the menace they are.

    Meanwhile, Zanne is part of a diplomatic envoy from Vond to Opkhar. This mission is headed by Lord Harrix, Deputy of Ksalion. They travelled from the Empire to Semma on the backs of Mist Whales (a relatively benign type of Mist Demon) and came under attack by gryphon-riding, black-clad spellcasters hurling bolts of darkness. A couple Warlocks were killed but they drove off the gryphon riders were repelled and they made it to Semma. The rest of the Warlocks returned to the Empire of Vond with their Mist Whales leaving Zanne to protect Lord Harrix on his journey to Opkhar. Harrix has been rattled by the fact that his mission to deliver a gift (a laquered, wooden urn) from Vond to King Klo of Opkhar was almost a failure before it started. He instructed Zanne to "go hire us some muscle" to keep them safe on the rest of the journey.

    Zanne enlisted the help of a local caravan master named Borv Farstride who took her over to the Adventurers Guild and they hired the remainder of the PC's. The group retired to the Scarlet Scarf Inn (a rather upscale place in the Wool Merchant district) where they got to know each other a bit. Zanne then went to a local bar and did a little asking around and found out that a black-clad man had been in asking about the party from Vond. She also found out (thanks to an amazing skill roll with our exploding dice method) that this man had asked about hiring some "workers with strong backs".

    Zanne reported this back to Lord Harrix who decided that they needed to depart immediately rather than wait until morning. Astavian and Mialain escorted Harrix and his Urn out of town in the middle of the night. Eshik, being rather stealthy, remained behind to watch for them being followed. After half an hour he was absolutely certain that Harrix's paranoia was unfounded (another huge skill roll with the exploding dice). He told Zanne that there was nothing to worry about and left to meet the others outside town. Zanne waited until morning and met with Borv who had secured two lizard-like pack animals. The entire group was reunited and began their journey south.

    GM Note: All of this took considerably longer than I'd anticipated. As is typical for any adventure idea, it changed dramatically as soon as the players began to interact with it. Zanne's awesome Streetwise roll told them information that they wouldn't otherwise have had which caused a change in plans. Regardless, the players were clearly enjoying roleplaying off each other and the whole thing was better than the fairly flavorless intro that I'd had planned. Yay for good players!

    The group stayed overnight at the aptly named Inn at the Bridge before descending down a series of switchbacks to cross the Deepfalls Bridge. Before descending they stopped to allow Mialain to do her Mist Milk ritual that created a salve that would protect them from the harmful effects of the Mist for the next 24 hours. Since the bridge was shrouded in Mist, the PC's didn't see the group blocking their way until they were almost on top of them. The black-clad figure who was clearly in charge demanded that they either "throw the Urn over the side of the bridge into the Mists below or face death". The PC's opted for that death thing.

    The fight was quick and brutal with most of the black-hooded minions being killed in the first couple of rounds. The two more sturdy warriors closed with Astavian and Eshik and inflicted some nasty cuts with the pair of daggers they wielded before they were finally brought down. With the battle clearly going against him, the leader of these enemy forces activated a sunrod and tossed it over the side of the bridge. Moments later as the PC's closed in around him, a gryphon landed on the bridge and he mounted and flew away. As he did so, the bridge gave a lurch before the supports were undermined and the whole center broke apart, pitching the PC's into the river below.

    Notes about this fight: These bad guys were some Dark Eclipse guys I found in the Compendium. They were the perfect fit for this group of Dark Moon cultists that I came up with. But the leader should have brought more Minions with him because those guys went down in moments. Half of them were killed by the Divine Guardian dropped in the center of the bridge by Mialain and none of the others ever got near the Urn (which was their target). The Initiates gave a better fight but their recharge power that let them attack twice never recharged. The same was not true for the Nightcloak leader however because his Cloud of Fear recharged every single round. That slowed the PC's progress long enough for him to give the signal to destroy the bridge and get away.

    For being the first fight of the campaign the PC's worked very well together. However they did burn through nearly all of their dailies in a battle that they were winning from the start. This might later have turned out to be a bad idea. Oh and one other thing that I was stupid about: I found this really cool picture online that showed exactly what the weapons the Initiates were using looked like and printed off a player handout for them. Then I didn't hand it out. Doh! I'll probably give them that next time.

    They plunged into the river below...

    and thus began their first Skill Challenge. Right away they had to make a pair of Athletics or Acrobatics checks to avoid taking damage from the fall into the debris-strewn river. Most of them failed at least one of these and lost a Healing Surge. I also knew this was going to be rough on them because the primary skill for swimming is of course Athletics. Only one person in the party was Trained at that (Eshik). It was a dangerous, grueling challenge.

    Then I attacked them with a Needlefang Drake Swarm.

    I had re-skinned those little bastards into a school of "Dire Pirhanna". Their "Pull Down" ability seemed to be the perfect analog for a swarm of carnivorous fish dragging you under the water to eat your face off. Now you are probably thinking, "Rel you are a complete bastard for throwing what is arguably the nastiest 1st level monster in the MM at them while they are trying to do a Skill Challenge that they lack the skills for!" I think you are failing to take into account that I had split the party, making the whole situation twice as bad. Yes, I'm a dick.

    The Dire Pirhanna came after Eshik and Zanne while Astavian was busy drowning in his platemail and Mialain was busy trying to calm down the pack animal that was trying to eat Lord Harrix who was trying to cut his precious Urn free from its back. Whether that last bit is because Harrix is extremely dedicated to his mission or because the sealed, wooden Urn makes an excellent flotation device, who can say?

    The long story short is that Astavian finally had no choice but to cut away his platemail (dropping his AC from 18 to 11) to survive. He and Mialain arrived to rescue Zanne and Eshik from the Pirhanna right after they had each fallen unconscious (Eshik failed two Death Saves and earned himself a pair of Wounds under my House Rule). The final 2 HP of the Pirhanna School were dealt and the unconscious PC's brought back from the brink of death about the time that they washed up in some shallows.

    They estimated that they had been in the water for half an hour or more through a sheer walled canyon for most of that time. There was no telling exactly where they were but they were certainly thrilled to have survived their ordeal (and they all got an Action Point). After taking a few minutes to catch their breath and look around they noticed a few things:

    Nearby there was a narrow spire of rock some 60 feet high with a hole all the way through it (an "eye of the needle" so to speak).

    Along the riverbank was the remains of an ancient bridge, almost certainly dating back to before the cataclysm. At the base of the bridge could be made out the faint outline of what was once a road.

    This road led toward another plateau not terribly far away (they couldn't see very far because of the Mist).

    The protection afforded by the Mist Milk had been washed away by the river (think of this stuff kind of like sunscreen).

    Mialain mentioned that, at this rate, her ritual components were not going to hold up very long. But she went ahead and brewed another bowl of Mist Milk and rolled so amazingly well (yet another big set of exploding dice) that it made 7 doses with only a single ritual. They applied it and followed the road toward the Plateau ahead.

    While walking they discussed the significance of the "eye of the needle" and its alignment with both the canyon and the road they followed. It seemed likely based on the east/west orientation that it could have some religious importance to the long vanished sun-god, Pelor. This guess was borne out when they arrived to where the road terminated in a series of steep steps leading up to a doorway into the side of the plateau. Above this doorway was a circular broken window that was directly in line with the river canyon and the Eye of the Needle.

    Before they could venture into the doorway however, they noticed that the stairs were littered with bones. Mialain stooped to inspect what sort of bones they were and discovered that they were the type that stood up and hit you with a longsword when closely inspected. The party was suddenly plunged into another battle.

    Somewhere around 15 skeletons littered the stairs to the temple and they rose together to attack the PC's. They landed several blows before the party could react fully but none of these were telling. The pair of Dragonborn felled half a dozen or more in the first moment of the battle when each breathed forth a cloud of pain (Astavian's pain is Lightning Flavored while Eshik's is Green-Apple-Poison Flavored). More of the skeletal minions fell as Mialain used her Turn Undead ability to good effect.

    Only 6 or so of the minions remained when a more powerful Skeleton emerged to attack them. This one wore plate armor with a sunburst on the chest and was clearly a foe to be reckoned with. Its attacks were numerous and it soon felled the unarmored Astavian. Only some timely healing by Mialain saved his life (but not before he failed a Death Save and got a Wound). But Eshik and Zanne kept up an unrelenting barrage of attacks upon him and he was finally brought down along with the few remaining minions.

    Notes about this battle: Minions are fun! I love being able to throw a pile of bad guys at the PC's and letting them knock them down like bowling pins. I also like the hard choice forced upon them by the decision to concentrate attacks on the big bad guy or to clear off more of the minions who are nickel and dime-ing them.

    I wasn't sure how well they were going to cope with minions without a controller in the party but the Dragonborn Breath seems to take care of a lot of that issue, as well as Mialain's Divine Glow. Eshik can also use Twin Strike to mow through them pretty quickly. I note also that Zanne's Dire Radiance, which she got as her Human bonus power was a HUGE help against a foe with vulnerability to Radiant damage. Between that, the Paladin and the Cleric, undead are going to be pretty easy for this party to deal with.

    It was obviously a Big Deal in this fight that their defender had no armor. The Skeletal Captain needed a 1 to hit him! I had foreseen this as a likely scenario though and the player seemed pretty pleased when I handed him the card at the end of the fight that had the +1 Magic Plate Mail that the Captain was wearing though. Although I did add the complication that the armor was designed for a human and so until he got it fitted for him that it would be -1 to AC (thus offsetting the +1 bonus) or an extra -1 Armor Penalty to appropriate skills.

    I didn't mention it above but Eshik also lost both his longswords in the river when he went unconscious. That I didn't foresee. But I was much pleased (and needless to say, so was the player) that he was able to replace these with a pair of somewhat rust-pitted and dull longswords from the Decrepit Skeletons. It's nice when things fall into place like that.

    The PC's were all barely standing after the fight with the Skeletons and it was abundantly clear that they could not press on without resting. However they did take a moment to peek through the doors into the interior of the Temple before descending the stairs.

    There they saw what appeared to be a magic circle inscribed into the floor in the doorway. The circle was clearly no longer active although faint traces of magical residue were detectable in the carved edges. Beyond that they saw a wide sanctuary with an altar in the middle. A pair of stone staircases arched away on either side leading to a balcony with a large pair of doors in the center.

    Their blood ran cold when they saw that the sides of the altar ran black with ancient blood. An impaled body lay upon it and the wispy form of a ghost moaned as it circled above the descecrated shrine of Pelor.

    They got the HELL out of there and went back down the stairs before it noticed them.

  5. #5
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    Overall thoughts:

    So far everything is working pretty great! This is what I expected but you always worry when putting it into practice.

    The party composition is good. All the characters have interesting roleplaying angles. I started off with giving each player a folder with their character sheet and power cards in it. Since they made the PC's with the Character Builder they just e-mailed me the finished characters and I looked them over (less for approving them and more just to make sure I designed the adventures with their capabilities in mind). Thanks to my wife for using her Stamp It Up stuff to cut the cards out. They turned out great!

    Anyway, in each PC's folder I put a yellow note card with a Quest on it that is specific to that character. I won't spill the beans here if they want to keep them quiet but these Quests pertain to events that are already unfolding. During the session I gave them a new Quest card that said:

    Quest: "From Vond With Love" : Escort Lord Harrix to Sinking City in Opkhar and keep the Urn safe.
    I've made it clear that all Quests, whether they be assigned to the party (like that one) or to an individual will result in the whole group getting Action Points. But they might also have specific rammifications or rewards for a particular character. In addition I've told them that they are free to come up with their own Quests, subject to my approval. For example I think it very likely that this Quest will soon be in effect:

    Quest: "That Griffon Riding Son of a Bitch Who Attacked Us on the Bridge" : Let's kill him.
    Anyway the whole Quest thing is dovetailing with my Milestone/Action Point house rule very well so far and I expect that to continue. It is requiring a lot of organization on my part however, which isn't always my strong suit. Ok, it's actually never my strong suit. But I'm making an effort by having my own folder where I can put stuff to keep track of like that handout that I didn't hand out. I know right where to find that next time I feel like not handing it out.

    This whole system we've implemented for skill rolls with the multiple exploding d6's is taking some getting used to. So far my thoughts are that:

    It takes longer to resolve each roll than it does with just a straight d20+bonus. Because you have to add together multiple smaller numbers and possibly roll more dice and then add those numbers and possibly more dice and add those numbers. The good news is that my players are good at this and it doesn't take them much longer than the normal method. I also expect that they will get even faster with it as the campaign progresses.

    Everybody at the table watches when these rolls happen. Seeing multiple 6's come up on some of the dice leads to instant cheering. That's all pretty fun.

    Setting DC's is something that I'm still getting used to. My instinct is to cheat a bit higher on them because of the possibility that they might roll huge. But I'm resisting that inclination and keeping them reasonable. Then, if they roll a number so big that it's double (or more) the original DC then I am giving them some kind of extra for such amazing success. In Skill Challenges such rolls are counting as two successes toward resolving the challenge. This kind of "critting" on Skill Checks is making them as interesting as combat rolls in many respects.

    So far the players seem to really like it and I'm betting they vote to keep it when they hit 2nd level.

    So anyway, I think we're off to a good start and hopefully I can get the players to comment further in this thread.

  6. #6
    Have any of the PCs tried "stunting", either using the standard 4E method or your action point + daily extra cost way?

  7. #7
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    Sounds like a blast! And it's fun to see how things are growing out of the things discussed in your campaign development thread.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rel View Post

    I note also that Zanne's Dire Radiance, which she got as her Human bonus power was a HUGE help against a foe with vulnerability to Radiant damage. Between that, the Paladin and the Cleric, undead are going to be pretty easy for this party to deal with.
    I'm running a human infernal warlock who took Dire Radiance for his extra at will in a party where the defender is a fighter and the leader is a warlord. So I'm the only source of radiant damage, and it's made my character a prime undead basher. I hadn't really thought of that until I saw it in play, but it's a lot of fun. Hard to beat an at will 1d6+10 (+4 Con+1 Rod+5 Vulnerable) and a "stay away" effect.
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    So, what's the picture you found online? You still have a link?

    "I realize that I am generalizing here, but, as is often the case when I generalize, I don't care." Dave Barry

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