Hoofchew: Behind the scenes




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    Hoofchew: Behind the scenes

    Part of my goal in running The Long Arm of Lauto 1: Algarezh Hoofchew was to demonstrate that it's not very hard to plan and run a simple but satisfying adventure. (I them promptly sabotaged the "not very hard" part by taking 9 PCs, but I digress...) So this thread is to go through it from the beginning up to the beginning of the fight, at which point it pretty much handled itself.

    The basic concept was on two levels. First, I wanted to run the simplest adventure I could. One combat, maybe a skill challenge. Second, I wanted to create a framework for a continuing series of similar simple adventures. I had a couple of ideas for such a framework; bounty hunters for Lauto was the one I settled on. (The others may yet make an appearance at some point, but there's enough going on just now...)

    At this point there were eight players in the tavern, cooling their heels, so I opened an email window and started typing the adventure proposal.
    About halfway through typing the proposal, I realized I'd have to actuallhy come up with the encounter details. I'd never built a 4e encounter, so I opened the DMG to chapter 4, "Building Encounters". I was pretty sure I wanted the main target to be a leader, and I wanted him to last longer than his minions, so that he'd be around for most of the fight. That meant making him higher level, and either a big sack of HP, or a controller who would stay back from the thick of it and try to keep his guards between him and the party. I figured if I just made him tough, the PCs would focus on him to the exclusion of his guards, adn I'd have to beef him up to solo monster levels to have him survive. I didn't particularly want to run a solo monster for my first 4e combat. So I looked mostly at controller leaders for the main bad guy, with some tough bodyguards. Skimming through the encounter templates, it looked like the double line template suited my needs best. I used the hard double line template at the very top of page 59.

    So I was looking for a level 5 controller leader, a level 5 lurker or artillery, and level 3 brutes or soldiers. And, since I had 8 PCs, I figured I'd pad it out with minions. Flipping to the back of the MM where it lists monsters by level and role, I quickly picked out the Orc Eye of Gruumsh for the leader. EoG has some cool powers that only work with other orcs, so I was strongly tempted to pick orcs for the rest of the monsters. There were some nice level 4 brutes, but they looked a bit on the tough side, and I was starting to worry about overdoing it and having a TPK. So I chickened out and went with Hobgoblin soldiers, level 3 soldiers, but called them orcs so that they'd benefit from the orc leader. They had good defenses and some teamwork powers that I thought would help them keep the leader alive a bit longer. Once I'd decided not to care if my "orcs" were actually orcs, the rest was easy. Greenscale darter for the lurker; human rabble for the minions.

    But how many minions? I was expecting a party of 8, and I wanted a fairly difficult encounter. After all, I was fairly sure the players would realize it was the only encounter, and would dump their dailies and APs, probably overwhelming an easier encounter. At this point, my XP budget was 850, or just over 100 xp/PC. Looking at the table on DMG p.57, that's about a level 1 encounter. I added 8 minions at 31 xp each, bringing it close to 150 xp / PC; roughly a level 3 encounter.

    I planned a skill challenge to find the enemies. DMG p.72 says, at the bottom, that a complexity 5 skill challenge should carry the same weight as taking on 5 monsters of that challenge's level, which made the math simple: a level 1 challenge of that complexity gives 500 xp.

    Only one more thing to put in the proposal: treasure! My encounter was at 1098 xp total at the moment, and with the skill challenge, that came out to roughly 200 xp each. I guessed that the adventure would take a month, giving 80 time xp each. That puts them about 1/4 of the way to level 2, so I figured I'd give out 1/4 of the treasure I wouuld give if they were going all the way to level 2. DMG p.125 says that a party of 5 should, in the course of gaining a level, find 4 magic items of appropriate levels, plus money and other treasure worth the price of two more magic items. For an 8 person party, it suggests adding 3 more magic items, for a total of 7 and some cash. So I figured I'd give out 2 magic items and some cash, probably off of the bodies of the targets. I'd decide later exactly what items.

    And that's pretty much all I put into the adventure proposal, which I copy and paste here for your viewing pleasure:

    Adventure proposal

    Hi, judges. I'd like to propose a very simple mini-adventure, leading into an open-ended series of similar mini-adventures.

    The Church of Hadeys (or Lauto) is known to be willing to loan you money if you want to be resurrected and can't afford it. What happens when you can't or won't pay? They send thugs after you. In these adventures, the PCs are those thugs.

    The way it works is that there is a thread representing a notice board up for the temple of Lauto in Daunton. Every so often a priest walks out and posts a notice: "Wanted for failure to pay resurrection fees: Algarezh Hoofchew. Reward 500 gold. Inquire within," or some such. Players put together a group and ask for more information, leading to basically a single encounter (the target and his buddies, or traps, or whatever), with possibly a skill challenge or two leading up to it to find the target and/or chase him down. Reward comes from either the church or from items off of the dead guy.

    Right now there are 8 players in the tavern, and I imagine they'd probably all pile in if I started this thing tomorrow. The encounter I'd use would be based on one of the hard double line templates from the DMG, with a couple of minions thrown in for fun:

    1 Orc Eye of Gruumsh (level 5 controller, leader) -- this is the target
    3 Orc Soldiers (mechanically the Hobgoblin Soldier, level 3 soldier)
    1 Orc sniper (mechanically the Lizardfolk greenscale darter, level 5 lurker)
    8 orc rabble (mechanically Human rabble, level 2 minion)

    total XP 200+450+200+8*31 = 1098

    I'm intending that to be a moderately hard encounter for a party of 8. Since it's a single encounter, I figure they'll probably use a lot of dailies. Obviously if fewer players come, I'll adjust.

    To find and confront them, need to succeed on a skill challenge (level 1, complexity 5, xp 500 (I think... still haven't completely wrapped my head around the skill challenge design thing)), using social skills as primary: streetwise, diplomacy, intimidate, bluff and so forth. Success means the players find out where they're hiding and get to plan the assault. Failure means missing out on the xp, and that the targets hear you're looking for them and ambush you, and they get to plan the attack.

    For 8 players, that's about 200 xp each, with maybe 80xp more for time xp (I'm assuming 1 month). That gets them a quarter of the way to level 1, so I'd plan to give a bit more than 1/4 of the treasure they'd get in getting to level 1. Say, 2 magic items around level 3, and 1000g worth of gold and miscellaneous mundane junk.

    ----

    Meta: Obviously, this hook can lead to any number of similar "adventures" of any level. Part of what I want to do with this series is to demonstrate that it's dead easy to be a DM here, and help people who are wary of DMing take the plunge. So I'd like run two or three of them myself, along with some other simple ideas I'll talk about later, and start a discussion about how to go about creating them. This one literally took me an hour over my lunch break at work, and I expect that with practice I could do it a lot faster. So after I've done a few of them, I hope to "coach" other people who want to DM but don't know how to get started.

    Obviously, the series will be open to anyone who wants to DM in it.

    So, what do y'all think?

    cheers,
    covaithe


    Note that the adventure proposal as written is almost entirely crunch, with very little fluff. Mostly that's because I was in a bit of a hurry. I came up with the idea, built the encounter, and wrote the proposal over my lunch break one day at work. It took me about an hour. But it's also partly my style; crunch I can build pretty mechanically, but writing fluff takes me time and effort. I trusted myself enough to come up with something suitable over the course of the adventure, but coming up with it all ahead of time isn't my strong suit. Also, from a judge's point of view, I knew that what I really needed to see in an adventure proposal was the crunch; for the fluff I'm happy to let DMs do pretty much what they want.

    I'll admit that I hurried through it a bit more than I might otherwise have done, because I was trying to demonstrate that this isn't hard. But, really, it isn't.

    Next: recruiting players, and changing my mind!
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    Once the adventure was approved -- which didn't take long; thanks judges! -- I made a couple of threads and let the players know where to look, and sat back to watch the carnage. I'd planned to take 8 players, and when the dust settled, there were 9. Okay, no problem, I'd just add some more minions, or another guard, or....

    During the meantime, I'd started to worry that Hoofchew himself, as I'd decided to call my bounty target, wasn't tough enough, that he'd fall apart too quickly. So I started to look around for ways to beef him up. Naturally I looked in the DMG in the "Customizing monsters" section, starting at p.174. Most of it seemed to deal with adjusting the monsters' level by changing their attack and defense numbers across the board. I really just wanted to add a bunch more HP. Then I found the section with the elite monster templates. Jackpot! Instead of adding minions, I applied the Demonic Acolyte template to Hoofchew, giving him better saves, defenses, an AP, a couple of neat powers like a fire resistance aura, and, most of all, a big HP boost, without really changing his role in the encounter. He's still going to be hanging back directing his buddies instead of in the front lines.

    Next: the skill challenge, and taking notes
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    Hehehe, when I saw the title my immediate thought was "DVD bonus material".

    Nice job on showing how it all came together, that should help out other DMs.

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    Ah, that's great! I am new and wasn't aware of the hoofchew adventure but when thinking about DMing (I DM a game right on ENworld outside of L4E) and wondering what to do, I started thiniking about doing a one shot, one encounter adventure.

    Since I am not yet familiar with the entire setting of L4W...
    Since the Tavern is ground Zero...

    I was thinking of starting a gang war.

    Something as simple as having a friend/parent of the innkeeper of the hanged man rushing inside begging for help : a small collective of business owners in Daunton (from the same neighborhood/block of buildings, very near to the hanged man) have banded together and started a watch in an attempt to stop paying protection money to the local crime lord. It turned ugly because he is now making an example of them and they are grossly overmatched. This is all going down RIGHT NOW!

    Basically any adventurers in the bar at that moment with the inclination to do so are encouraged to rush to the help of the business men and join an already ongoing 'Gang of New York' style brawl.

    That's it; one big encounter.

    But one with a serious consideration : The crime Lord is furious. He is made to look weak and more business men in the future might attempt to deny him his rightful due.

    Adventurers who take part could get a mark on their sheet indicating an ongoing vendetta. In the future, any DM could throw in an attempted assassination encounter on such a character life during an unrelated adventure. This may sound like a penalty, but fighting villains is what a D&D character does. If they weren't fighting off assassins, they'd be fighting off something else. What it really does is just give more opportunity for XP and roleplaying as well as give an easy hook to a DM. And amusingly, it spreads the feeling that this gang warfare is personal since the assassination might have one target but the other PCs who are adventuring with the target now also feel concerned even though they weren't part of the origonal brawl.

    The crime lord would also be keenly aware that the Hanged Man tavern itself is a problem and make attempts directly against it (Arson, for example) in future adventures.

    At some point, a PC might suggest taking the fight directly against the crime lord's operation and enlist people he has tied with for that purpose, at which point a DM might step up to offer such an adventure.

    The crime Lord himself should be a shadowy figure, whose exact identity and location is unknown but with plenty of less discreet but sinister lieutenants. The crime lord himself would be a late heroic level encounter type of boss, hopefully reserved for the PCs who over the years have developped the most personal degree of hatred toward him.

    Anyway, just a few random thoughts. Is there anything in the setting already about a crime lord in Daunton (err... that's the city the tavern is in, right?)

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    Pay attention to my adventure (echoes of O).

    As it goes on, I will eventually be dropping information into the wiki outlining not one, but actually SEVERAL of Daunton's street gangs.

    Think of them as evil adventuring parties led by supervillians.

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    Yeah, Daunton seems to run to lots of small, disorganized gangs rather than one shadowy, well-organized crime syndicate. But your adventure works perfectly will with a small gang, or even a medium sized one.

    I really hope we can attract more DMs to L4W. If nothing else, having more DMs will let us consider adding a second PC per player, which I'm really looking forward to.
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    The scene where the PCs meet Laicos and he tells them what's going on was fairly straightforward. He didn't have a whole lot of information to give the players, and what he did know he was perfectly willing to pass on. And it's a scene that's pretty common for PbPs, so everyone's familiar with it.

    Soon the players were moving into Overgrowth. I picked Overgrowth because I knew that it was a seedy neighborhood in Orussus where criminals might be likely to hang out. Graf introduced it in Closed Eye, but didn't elaborate much. I emailed Halford, who was DMing it at the time, to make sure that my ideas about Overgrowth matched his:

    email to halford about Overgrowth
    > Hey, Halford. In my new L4W game I happened to mention that the bad guys are hanging out in Overgrowth, thinking I knew something about the area. But searching back through Graf's proposals for Closed Eye, I find that all I know about it is that it's "a neighborhood", with (spoilers elided).
    >
    > What I thought I knew about it is that it's a run-down area of Daunton close to the forest. The buildings are mostly ruins abandoned by their original owners, and occupied now by squatters, and are all covered with vines and weeds to varying extents. The guards leave the squatters alone, finding it difficult enough to keep the few main streets mostly free of open violence. The maze of side streets, alleys, and shortcuts through buildings too fragile to live in, on the other hand, are mostly lawless.
    >
    > Does that mesh pretty well with what you have planned for Closed Eye? I don't want to step on your toes, but my players are asking what Overgrowth is like and I want to be able to tell them something.


    I wanted to jump right into the skill challenge when the players went to Overgrowth, but I didn't really know much about skill challenges other than that a lot of people seemed to think they were broken for some reason. I did some reading, got fairly confused, did some more reading, and realized that the important thing is to make sure that the story advances whether or not the skill challenge succeeds. You want for it to be beneficial to the PCs to succeed, but really the only mistake you can make as a DM is setting up a situation where if the PCs fail, the story stalls. If failure is OK and recoverable, then it doesn't matter what the mechanics are or if they're perfectly balanced. In my case, I didn't have much trouble coming up with a downside for failing the skill challenge that left the adventure intact and interesting: if they failed, Hoofchew would have found out they were after him and taken steps, such as preparing an ambush on terrain of his choosing. I somewhat arbitrarily picked a DC of 15. I set the social skills as primary ones, and added perception because the ramgers in the party seemed excited about doing some scouting. I also gave myself permission to change things up halfway through if I felt like it, because I no longer greatly cared about the mechanics.

    About this time I started taking some notes, because I was having trouble figuring out how to give out information leading to Hoofchew's location in twelve incremental steps, corresponding to the successes needed. Also, I didn't know what Hoofchew's location was. And, I was having trouble remembering the names of all my PCs.

    I usually take notes in Google Docs. I post from three diffferent computers on a regular basis, and others occasionally, so I need to have my information in the cloud as much as possible, rather than confined to one place. Rather conveniently, it also lets me show them to you by publishing them as a web page, like so:

    Long Arm of Lauto 1: Algarezh...

    My notes at this point consisted of the names and descriptions of the PCs, the fact that Hoofchew was hanging out in an old tavern, and half a dozen ideas for bits of information that could lead to his location. Eventually, with some luck, this led to a reasonably satisfying skill challenge. I found this to be the hardest part of the adventure by far, though, and I'm very glad my players were happy to chat amongst themselves a lot and give me time to figure things out.

    One other thing about the skill challenge. The PCs eventually found the lair by making contact with the Redboots. But there were any number of other ways they could have found it, if they had chosen to use different skills or go about it some other way. They could have gotten it out of the kid who tried to run off and warn Hoofchew. They could have been friendly to the other street kids. They could have simply scouted the area and waited to find some orcs moving around. They could have made friends with, or intimidated, pretty much anyone they met on the street who could have pointed them to the Redboots or the street kids who know where everything is. You get the idea. The point is, I didn't prepare the successful path through the skill challenge ahead of time, I was trying to respond to what the players did.

    Next: combat and mapping
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    Thanks for sharing this with everyone, covaithe! I think it'll really help those considering DMing to see a good example of putting an adventure together.
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    Ignore Atanatotatos
    This really is a great idea for a thread!
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    The decision has been made! I will start DMing as soon as I understand it... which this thread is speeding up very nicely!

    I DM for my home games, almost every time. It's not my favorite, because I don't get to play my character that way. DMing here doesn't mean I don't get to play my character, unlike at home where I am one of two DM's.

    I want to help the community. I look forward to opening up more gaming space! Thanks for this thread covaithe, it's going to make my transition so much easier!
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