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Critical Role Call of the Netherdeep playthrough commentary [spoilers]

Session 8

Chapter 4

The party spent a day familiarising themselves with the new city. This called for quite a bit of creating content on the fly. I had to come up the party's first encounter with coffee, descriptions of the road surface, and a details of a local taxi. I'm glad I preped the spa from Candlekeep Mysteries, one of the PCs is a princess, and insisted on staying at the poshest place in the city. One of the PCs has expressed an interest in entering the arena, so I will try and prep some sidequests for the Scarbearers faction for next time. This pacing of this chapter felt better than the rest of the adventure, and the city has lots of flavour, but requires both a lot of additional preparation and improvisation during play.
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Session 11

Chapter 4 (Still)

This really is a very different style of play to the rest of the adventure. Very open, and requires a lot of creation from the DM to make it work. The city is well described and very interesting, but lacks encounters, to without work from the DM there is little for the players to actually do. The faction quests are short, sketchy and easy in terms of combat, compared with the early stuff in the adventure. I'm running the players through the Allsight and Cobalt Soul quests, since one of the PCs is already a Cobalt Soul monk. They are also hearing about the Consortium quests second hand from the rivals. The Allsight are really tight in terms of rewards! The levelling speed is way different - changing from 2 levels a session to 4 sessions without levelling.

Session 13

Chapter 4

Finally completed chapter 4! Whilst I've been trying to stick to "as written" as much as possible to make this a fair test, I reckon it's pretty much impossible to run chapter 4 without adding some supplemental material, even if it's only downtime activities. As written, several days to a week pass between each faction quests, and adventurers don't like to sit around doing nothing. I found the quests quite good for gradually advancing the plot, but I think the players felt they were too light on combat. Whilst it was attempting to make the location feel exotic, there are a lot of unpronounceable names in this chapter, and far too many NPCs for the players to keep track of.

Time for chapter 4: about 15 hours.

Chapter 5

By the time the players entered the drowned city they were itching for a fight, but things still start out very talky. It might be more fighty for an "evil" party fighting their way past the Allsight faction guards. The players experienced their first taste of ruidium corruption. I'm not sure about the exhaustion mechanic, it's not one of my favourite 5e rules.

Session 14

Chapter 5, continued

The party had a real tough time with a regenerating giant mutant shark (with a psychic damage aura). It's one of those encounters where you need the right spells to deal with it. No one had radiant damage or Chill Touch, no one had Intellect Fortress. Even a champion fighter would have been useful! In the end they hit it with Hypnotic Pattern and swam away as fast as they could. I see an element of "if you don't have the right thing you are screwed" in quite a lot of encounters in this adventure. Bad thing? Good thing? You decide.

Session 15

Chapter 5 continued continued

More exploration of the sunken city. The openness and three dimensionality of this "dungeon" makes it it something of a challenge to describe, as structures gradually emerge from the murky darkness. The boxed text seems to assume the party suddenly find themselves inside the locations. It also feels a bit like a map from a CRPG, with a lot of encounters crammed into as relatively small area. And for an adventure which has up until now been light on magic items, the party suddenly found a bunch of them. Some of the new monsters in this adventure are real killers. Slithering bloodfins managed to swallow two party members on the first round. Many of the new creatures have high movement speeds, shouldn't underestimate the simple power of moving fast, especially when most of the party can only move at half speed (because swimming).
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Session 16

Chapter 5 conclusion

My group finished this chapter at the end of the session. Not much more to say than I haven't already mentioned. I was again struck by how much powerful magic loot there was in this adventure compared the rest. Definitely feels like it had a different writer, probably Monty Haul. Compared to some of the other monsters the giant jellyfish was a bit of a pushover. With a 60 ft. reach, I suspect it has the longest reach in the game, so used in a situation where it was difficult to get to it might be more dangerous. There are a few anomalies to watch out for. There is a building which only a worshiper of a particular god can enter. An NPC is provided if there are no suitable PCs, but the text implies ONLY the worshipper can enter, whereas the narrative assumes they can let in the whole party. Also, the descriptions are inconsistent about whether the lost city was originally built by elves or drow.

I've decided the rivals are going to have a falling out, in order for at least some of them to try and oppose the PCs.

Time for Chapter 5: 10 hours

Session 17


Having opened the Netherdeep and discovered they needed to be attuned to a ruidium item to survive there, the party set off back to their patrons. On the way they where ambushed by two of the rivals (backed up by members of the Vermillion Dream), who had grown tired of being nice to the other party and decided to take matters into their own hands. This proved too much for the depleted party, and they where defeated. Fortunately this was a mugging rather than a murder, and they took the item they believed to be the key to the Netherdeep and left. The rest of the session the PCs spent chasing them down to get their axe back. Eventually it was resolved by one of the rivals, Dermot the goblin cleric, who negotiated his way out of an interparty deathmatch.

This is probably the last time the rivals will appear in this adventure, unless I decide I need them to do something that crops up later.
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Session 18

Chapter 6

I hate this chapter! It's full of disconnected short scenes with dull, short fights, and isn't well suited to a VTT! My friend reckons it would work better if all the players where professional actors! Also, the player map is flawed. For a start it omits the many secret doors. Not that they seem to matter, and I can't think why it would even occur to players to search for them, so I decided to leave them out. It also not a good match for the text descriptions - an altar that is mentioned in the text is not on the map, causing my players to assume it was unimportant, given that important features are usually shown on the map, a "headless" statue has a head, etc.

For a start it omits the many secret doors. Not that they seem to matter, and I can't think why it would even occur to players to search for them, so I decided to leave them out.
One of my realizations as a DM in my 30s was "Wait, players almost never search for secret doors unless they have a pretty strong reason to believe they're there, but I've been putting loads of secret doors in my adventures, so how about I don't do that anymore?".

Dropping secret doors generally unless they were a significant plot point made my life as a DM better, and because then I wasn't hiding loot or weird/cool encounters behind them, my adventure design improved too.

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