Grugnur died prone in a pile of his own swordthanes!

pemerton

Legend
We finished G2 in today's 4e session. As I've mentioned in and earlier post, it's the sort of adventure that runs a risk of d20-rolling-induced injury.

Between that post and this one the PCs:

* Reached 27th level;

* Assaulted the giants' line of defence underground, in the corridor/long chamber with the various tunnels off to the east and south, and the main tunnel to the other caves to the west;

* Been surprised by the Gygaxian riches recovered from the dragon cave;

* Dealt with (ie extracted some information from and then defeated in combat) the fomorian envoys and their cyclopes body guards (in place of the ogre magi, ogres and cloud giant in the lower level), who had come from Mag Tureah to discuss the use of their portals for invasion purposes, if Lolth's sorcerers would help take control of them;

* Negotiated with and then dealt with the storm giant prisoner (whom I had reconceived as a solo version of Mirmakuar, the mad priest of the Crushing Wave and Living Glacier, and so an opponent of the giants and Lolth);

* Burst down the door (that I inserted on the map) locking off the great hall and entry caverns, and defeated the Jarl and his bodyguards in a final combat.​

As the title says, Grugnur ended up prone (due to a crit from the sorcerer), and piled up with his prone swordthanes (who had fallen prone dodging the ranger's attack with Quarries' Bane (? 20th level Battlefield Archer daily)). He ended up dying when he started the turn with 8 hp left inside the sorcerer's Swords of the Marilith (1d6 + 40-something autodamage).

At about that point, I deployed an idea from Chris Perkins's conversion (which otherwise I hadn't been using) and had Vlaad (my misspelling or misreading of Perkins's "Vaald"), Grugnur's estranged offsider, negotiate a truce. The only other non-minion giants left were the two hunters (operating the arbalests in the Great Hall), one of whom was near-bloodied, blind and prone having been knocked from his platform down to the floor by another crit from the sorcerer.

So the combat turned into a skill challenge, where the PCs got a bit more information and reached an agreement. The giants, under their new leader, are shifting their allegiance from Lolth and the Winter Court to the Raven Queen, giving her her first foothold in the Feywild. Vlaad was able to tell the PCs of a way to reach the Elemental Chaos, namely the Obelisk of Ice (one of the Pillars of Creation) that extends through the Feywild in the vicinity of the Rift. And in exchange, the PCs agreed to protect Vlaad and the other giants from retribution from the Prince of Frost.

Vlaad explained that the Winter Court's eladrin envoys had installed a device - a lever at the back of the Jarl's private caverns - which could be used to send a summons to the Prince of Frost, opening a portal to him. The PCs are planning to use illusion magic to disguise as fomorians (and maybe giants? or eladrins? I didn't pay attention to all the players' planning.) Their story to bring the Prince of Frost through will involve agreements reached over the use of the fomorians' portals.

As the PCs planned and prepared, the new leader of the giants sent underlings through to "ready the device" - the PCs could hear them dragging chests of loot out of the back cavern into others, but they're not inclined to question this, already having more cash loot from this one scenario than the total cash they've seen in the rest of the campaign.

The skill challenge was at 7 successes and 1 failure. The defeat of the Prince of Frost will be the 8th success. Once the PCs have dealt with the Prince of Frost, they will be off to the Elemental Chaos to take the fight to Lolth and Orcus. Though when I mentioned that the Prince, with his undead entourage, will be a level 32 encounter they were a bit less confident - at the moment they have relatively few daily powers left, and 11 surges across 5 PCs (though all but one is at full hp, and the fighter is only about 30 of 200-ish hp down).
 

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pemerton

Legend
Thanks [MENTION=87576]Scrivener of Doom[/MENTION].

The campaign is definitely coming to its close: the players are aware that they've ony got a few levels left, and have as their plan to take out Lolth and then Orcus in that remaining time.

What they will do about the Dusk War and the Lattice of Heaven I think they still haven't decided, although giving the Raven Queen control over Winter in the Feywild is a significant boost to her power.

They also have an unfulfilled promise to Kas to track down Jenna Osterneth. I need to somehow bring that back to bite them soon.
 



Sadras

Legend
[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] I like the way you're tying in these old modules with the 4e'verse story. Great job!

My experience with epic 4e was minimal (I ran one adventure with a political and intrigue slant in the first level of Hell, 4e combat was never my strong point), while the rest of my experience was with a poor DM at the time unfortunately. May I ask just for comparative reasons and because I do want to run an epic 4e adventure arc someday:
How long in hours is your average session? And how many combats are you able to get through in that session?
I have read in some previous posts of yours where you express that you generally use combat to progress the storyline - so do you stick to that rigidly during play or are their skirmishes which deplete character resources?

The other way to reflect numerous skirmishes before getting to the BBEG, which is possible, would be to increase the no of skill challengers which function as "fast combat" but how do you fairly adjudicate resource depletion?

Unless of course, you narrate "dungeon" progress and skirmishes along the way and fast track to the BBEG making things much simpler. Is that what you do?
 


D'karr

Adventurer
On that note, I think I will collect all of [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] 's posts and save them for later reading. He really makes the Epic Tier make sense and a concept worth exploring.

I agree. Epic should really be a different sort of animal, not just dungeons with bigger numbers, and pemerton makes it very distinct, interesting, and EPIC.
 

pemerton

Legend
pemertonI like the way you're tying in these old modules with the 4e'verse story. Great job!
Thanks.

How long in hours is your average session? And how many combats are you able to get through in that session?
I have read in some previous posts of yours where you express that you generally use combat to progress the storyline - so do you stick to that rigidly during play or are their skirmishes which deplete character resources?
My average session is probably about 3 hours long, sometimes 4: we tend to meet up around lunchtime every second or third Sunday, start between 2 and 3 (once everyone has arrived, caught up, etc) and finish between 5.30 and 6 (4 of us have kids who need to be ready for school the next day).

Generally I find it is about 3 to 4 sessions per level. That generally means between one and two serious encounters per session. The post at the top of this thread covers 3 sessions: one for the big assault on the first underground position; one for the formorians and cyclopes and storm giant; one for the final assault and the subsequent negotiations. Around these there will be discussions about planning, longer-term goals, all the usual stuff that's part of a long-time group in a long-running campaign.

I think that, for this to be viable as an RPG experience (especially on the combat side), you need at least two things: players who enjoy the more technical, wargaming side of things; and players/GM who will bring out the story elements during combat resolution. This means things like banter, debates about which foes to tackle, how to handle surrender negotiations (this happened with the formorians and the storm giant), tactical choices that are expressive of character personality (which in 4e should also be channelled through power/feat selection), etc.

In G2, which as I've said is a d20-rolling fest, the story development isn't much richer than that. In other encounters (eg with Torog, or with the hags and Vecna) there is more story development taking place during the combat resolution.

I think that, with a more disciplined table who took a less laid-back approach, you could double the speed at which my game plays. But because we're a bunch of 40-somethings goofing off on a Sunday afternoon, who can be bothered to try for that level of discipline? I think if you got rid of the various features that affect the speed of play - extensive power selections, off-turn actions, nitty-gritty control effects, etc - then you might want to move away from 4e altogether, as for me at least they are what is distinctive about the combat side of the game.

A month or so ago when we weren't quorate for D&D, I ran a Burning Wheel session (report here). In some ways a very different system from 4e, less gonzo and more swords & sorcery. I expected it to play much faster than 4e, and it did (and the players noticed). It's a different experience. But I wouldn't try and do Against the Giants in Burning Wheel!

The other way to reflect numerous skirmishes before getting to the BBEG, which is possible, would be to increase the no of skill challengers which function as "fast combat" but how do you fairly adjudicate resource depletion?

Unless of course, you narrate "dungeon" progress and skirmishes along the way and fast track to the BBEG making things much simpler. Is that what you do?
We don't really do "skirmishes" - maybe a few at very low levels, but I think they are a waste of time in 4e. I know that not everyone agrees, of course - I'm just reporting my own experiences with the system.

I tend to find that passive esource depletion (eg surge attrition) in and off itself is not that interesting - I think you need to be forcing active choices about use of dailies, action points etc and small encounters just won't do that. Especially not at epic. I would say at least since the beginning of paragon I have rarely framed a combat at less than level+2, and more often at level + 3 to level +6. These take longer to play through - in a 3 hour session my group won't get through more than one level +6 encounter - but have the level of threat and tactical death to make the combat something the players take seriously.

The other side of this is that the players must know they're not easily going to get extended rests. For instance, in the assault on G2 here are the encounters since the last extended rest:

* The PCs start the day at 26th level after beating Vecna's aspect and resting in the hag house;

* Comp 3 L26 skill challenge to deal with the demon in the Red Grove;

* A L 32 encounter (in stages but with no short rest), taking place across the western side of the rift, starting with eladrin envoys (level 26 in themselves), involving the remorhaz at the bottom of the rift (level 22 in itself), and then giants at the entry end of the rift (level 26 in themselves), plus maybe some other odds and sods I can't remember - this encounter at one point involved three fronts, with the dwarf solo-ing the giants, the wizard and ranger flying on a tamed giant frosthawk to help him out (the rift is very long, and every 10' sq counts as 2 4e squares), and the paladin swallowed by the remorhaz with the sorcerer helping him escape at the bottom of the rift;

* A level 27 encounter with the dragons (the hardest EPL+1 encounter we've done for a long time);

* The PCs reach 27th;

* A level 31 encounter with the first line of underground defence - compared to the dragon fight this was surprisingly easy;

* A level 29 encounter with the fomorians and their cyclopes guards;

* A level 26 encounter with the solo storm giant - this encounter involved a couple of significant crits, including one with a fighter daily that limits the target to basic attack, which is terrible against a solo - at this point the PCs had about 12 surges left between them, and use the ranger-clerics Mass Cure Serious Wounds to get back up to full;

* A level 27 encounter in the great hall (it could have been bigger, but the balance of forces surrendered and rather than give combat XP for creatures that never actually came into the fray I transitioned into a skill challenge), which was pretty easy;

* A level 27 complexity 3 skill challenge to negotiate with Vlaad who assumed control after Grugnur's fall.​

The players are anticipating one more combat - with the Prince of Frost and undead entourage - before resting. Of the 5 PCs, 3 have one "when you die" recovery available, the paladin has 2 of them, and the wizard doesn't have one of these but does have a "when you are dropped to zero gain N temp hp" which is not too different. And there are at least two unused daily fire zones in the party, which will be trotted out no doubt for the Prince of Frost. Plus the wizard still has two or three good dailies left.

I think this is the sort of encounter-suite that will make resource attrition meaningful at paragon and epic. Otherwise the players would just laugh through everything, which would then make the lengthy playing time kind-of pointless.

As you can see a bit from the above, and it's clearer in some other actual play reports of slightly less combat-heavy scenarios, I tend to prefer skill challenges to combat skirmishes as the link between big "set-pieces".
 
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Sadras

Legend
Thanks for the write-up. Much appreciated. I think your group moves at quite an efficient pace already considering all the encounters you had within those few sessions. I think I need to tweak a few things in our group's playstyle to get more play out of our sessions.
 




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