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General How Was Your Last Session?

Today's adventure was a lot of fun for the players, as they got to test out their Gamma World powered armor and mechs against an army of goblins, orcs, and orogs - plus they finally found an answer as to who's been sending these armies every 6-8 months to ransack the local kingdoms and where do they go in the meantime? Next adventure - our last in this campaign - won't be until July but we'll get to go take the fight to the enemies' home base for a change...and they probably won't be expecting a half dozen "technological golems" coming to call!

Johnathan
 
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Libramarian

Adventurer
I am beginning to tire of the linear nature of the Avernus campaign anyway. If it was just an adventure, it would be fine, but the idea of forcing the players to follow one breadcrumb to the next for another 5 months really fills me with dread.
Reminds me of something I've been wondering about. Is it possible to infer from a transcript of play (such as the session recaps posted here) whether the adventure felt sandboxy or railroady to the players, or do you have to be a participant in the game to perceive that?

I suspect linear adventures produce transcripts that sound more awesome than they actually were to play.
 


the Jester

Legend
We just finished up. It was a fantastic session- the finale of my 5e version of Keep on the Shadowfell. The pcs had one remaining encounter to finish the adventure- the confrontation with Kalarel the Vile, priest of Orcus, and his final few minions. I'm not going to go into too much detail, but the encounter features a portal to Orcus' realm that just needed one more life sacrificed to open. That sacrifice turned out to be Kalarel himself when the pcs slew him- a hand reached out and dragged him through, and the barrier closing the portal began to grow thin. One of the pcs used an action to peer through and saw Orcus standing there, waiting to enter the Prime Material Plane. Unbeknownst to them (because they missed one encounter where they could have learned the details), they had the necessary stuff to close it- three dragon statuettes representing Bahamut, which flared with light as the portal thinned.

The pcs could have closed the portal by throwing them into it, but even though they were blazing and hot, they didn't realize it until one of the three characters holding them leapt into the portal in hopes of slowing Orcus long enough for the others to flee (she even said, "Fly, you fools!" as she did so). The statuette released an incandescent explosion of light and the surface of the portal developed a spiderweb of cracks, like breaking glass.

In just an instant, Orcus slew her, but it meant that he didn't use his action that round to break through into the Prime.

That gave the others just enough time to hurl their statuettes in, too, and that shattered the portal, leaving Orcus bellowing in rage in the Abyss.

It was a hell of a session, and one hell of a noble sacrifice. Absolutely the best end to any pc in my 5e game yet. Fantastic.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
We just finished up. It was a fantastic session- the finale of my 5e version of Keep on the Shadowfell. The pcs had one remaining encounter to finish the adventure- the confrontation with Kalarel the Vile, priest of Orcus, and his final few minions. I'm not going to go into too much detail, but the encounter features a portal to Orcus' realm that just needed one more life sacrificed to open. That sacrifice turned out to be Kalarel himself when the pcs slew him- a hand reached out and dragged him through, and the barrier closing the portal began to grow thin. One of the pcs used an action to peer through and saw Orcus standing there, waiting to enter the Prime Material Plane. Unbeknownst to them (because they missed one encounter where they could have learned the details), they had the necessary stuff to close it- three dragon statuettes representing Bahamut, which flared with light as the portal thinned.

The pcs could have closed the portal by throwing them into it, but even though they were blazing and hot, they didn't realize it until one of the three characters holding them leapt into the portal in hopes of slowing Orcus long enough for the others to flee (she even said, "Fly, you fools!" as she did so). The statuette released an incandescent explosion of light and the surface of the portal developed a spiderweb of cracks, like breaking glass.

In just an instant, Orcus slew her, but it meant that he didn't use his action that round to break through into the Prime.

That gave the others just enough time to hurl their statuettes in, too, and that shattered the portal, leaving Orcus bellowing in rage in the Abyss.

It was a hell of a session, and one hell of a noble sacrifice. Absolutely the best end to any pc in my 5e game yet. Fantastic.
I love that ending to KotSf. Feels really meaningful, even to lower level characters.
That said, I have also heard that it's an adventure that needs some tweaking - what did you do to "fix" it, if anything?
 

the Jester

Legend
I love that ending to KotSf. Feels really meaningful, even to lower level characters.
That said, I have also heard that it's an adventure that needs some tweaking - what did you do to "fix" it, if anything?
Spoilers for KotS ahoy!

Well- it is pretty flawed in a lot of ways. Basically nothing the pcs do (in the module as written) makes any difference to the way the story unfolds, except perhaps in that final encounter. It's kind of on rails. One of my main criticisms about it has to do with an encounter at an excavation site, where the bad guys are digging for... something, something that is never revealed but is supposed to be crucial to Kalarel's plans. Yet whether the pcs defeat the bad guys there or never even have the encounter in the first place, the rest of the module goes the same way. It's a pretty unfortunate aspect of the adventure. Another frequently leveled criticism has to do with a particular npc being too tough for the pcs, leading to many TPKs.

My run of it in 5e avoided both of those by not using the basic setup of the adventure-as-written and skipping everything but the dungeon under the keep itself.

As written, the actual dungeon is only about 60-70% of the adventure. There are preliminary threads that lead the pcs to it after they first have some other encounters. The forces led by Kalarel are threatening a nearby town, there's a kobold lair, etc.

I used none of that.

In my game, the pcs were traveling with a halfling baker named Hembletopp, and as they were setting up camp one evening, his nostrils flared and he declared that he smelled a precious and amazing ingredient being cooked- a mushroom called a fat lurker. The pcs found a goblin encampment, defeated them, and interrogated one of them, who told them that the lurkers came from the dungeon below a ruined keep. So in my game, the pcs' whole actual quest was to find these mushrooms for Hembletopp.

As they went deeper in and confronted more of Kalarel's minions, they gradually learned about him. The deeper they went, the more fat lurkers they found. So their whole enmity with him grew over time as they encountered more and fouler minions of his.

When they finally got to the final encounter, they had already effectively stopped his scheme. That portal to Orcus wasn't going to open without another sacrifice. The entrance to the room they fought Kalarel in was via an open hole in the floor of the room above, with bloody chains descending into it. When they found the hole, they could hear someone- Kalarel- weeping below. They called out, maybe thinking he was a prisoner initially, but he immediately stopped crying and invited them to come down, claiming that it was "glorious" and "magnificent" down there. One of the pcs- a hadozee- glided down and the fight started.

So basically, I ditched the module's first third and all the plot elements that weren't in the dungeon itself, and completely changed the reason and method of the pcs finding the keep in the first place.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
Spoilers for KotS ahoy!

Well- it is pretty flawed in a lot of ways. Basically nothing the pcs do (in the module as written) makes any difference to the way the story unfolds, except perhaps in that final encounter. It's kind of on rails. One of my main criticisms about it has to do with an encounter at an excavation site, where the bad guys are digging for... something, something that is never revealed but is supposed to be crucial to Kalarel's plans. Yet whether the pcs defeat the bad guys there or never even have the encounter in the first place, the rest of the module goes the same way. It's a pretty unfortunate aspect of the adventure. Another frequently leveled criticism has to do with a particular npc being too tough for the pcs, leading to many TPKs.

My run of it in 5e avoided both of those by not using the basic setup of the adventure-as-written and skipping everything but the dungeon under the keep itself.

As written, the actual dungeon is only about 60-70% of the adventure. There are preliminary threads that lead the pcs to it after they first have some other encounters. The forces led by Kalarel are threatening a nearby town, there's a kobold lair, etc.

I used none of that.

In my game, the pcs were traveling with a halfling baker named Hembletopp, and as they were setting up camp one evening, his nostrils flared and he declared that he smelled a precious and amazing ingredient being cooked- a mushroom called a fat lurker. The pcs found a goblin encampment, defeated them, and interrogated one of them, who told them that the lurkers came from the dungeon below a ruined keep. So in my game, the pcs' whole actual quest was to find these mushrooms for Hembletopp.

As they went deeper in and confronted more of Kalarel's minions, they gradually learned about him. The deeper they went, the more fat lurkers they found. So their whole enmity with him grew over time as they encountered more and fouler minions of his.

When they finally got to the final encounter, they had already effectively stopped his scheme. That portal to Orcus wasn't going to open without another sacrifice. The entrance to the room they fought Kalarel in was via an open hole in the floor of the room above, with bloody chains descending into it. When they found the hole, they could hear someone- Kalarel- weeping below. They called out, maybe thinking he was a prisoner initially, but he immediately stopped crying and invited them to come down, claiming that it was "glorious" and "magnificent" down there. One of the pcs- a hadozee- glided down and the fight started.

So basically, I ditched the module's first third and all the plot elements that weren't in the dungeon itself, and completely changed the reason and method of the pcs finding the keep in the first place.
Very cool plot driver. I remember that room with the chains that led down there when we played in 4e. And yes, all those other things outside the dungeon, like the Kobold lair. We had fun - but mainly because it was the first time we were gaming as a group again since like 2000.
 

Azzy

Newtype
My last session was supposed to be the first session of a new campaign where I take over the DM's chair again (to give the previous campaign's DM a breather, and time too plot the next phase of his campaign. This, however, this is a death flag in my group—several of our DMs—including me—have "taken breaks" before... and never restarted the campaign).

However, last session didn't get off the ground because one player had to work (he was the one incensed about this—he's not even supposed to work evenings on that day). Next session is going to be a miss, too, as another player is celebrating his wife's birthday and going camping with her. Real life always takes priority over gaming as far as I'm concerned, but I think it's rather comical.

This, on the bright side, does give me more time to read over my materials, plan, and prep. Which is good because it's something I've been rather lax on doing. :D

Most of the players in my group (including me) have been playing the Neverwinter MMO relentlessly (a side effect of the pandemic), so I came up with the idea to translate our NW characters into 1st-level D&D characters. Hence, I'm running a game in the Forgotten Realms for the first time (I'v played in it, but that was just before the Time of Troubles annoyed me to the Realms). This will also be the first time I've run a published adventure since the late Eighties, too—I'm trying to integrate Lost Mines of Phandelver and Dragon of Icespire Peak into a single adventure., and tie it to the NW characters by starting as a quest given by Sergeant Knox of Neverwinter (a familiar NPC and quest-giver in NW).

So, since my last session was a bust, I got to bore you guys with what I'm planning for my next session (whenever that will be :D).
 

Bitbrain

Black Lives Matter
LAST SUNDAY WE RESUMED PLAY!!!

The PCs were hired to explore the Glass Plateau of the Mournland. Approaching the city of Making, they fought three animated pools of mercury and a figure wearing stain-glass armor. After defeating these foes, the PCs crossed a bridge and were attacked by a number of geometric shapes, but the Orc Cleric successfully banished the bizarre enemies before battle could commence. After this, the PCs made friends with a village of Shardminds.

The Warlock and Wizard also did some research into the Warlock’s patron, and concluded that said patron is trying to advance Eberron’s technology to the point where she can manifest in the present, because she’s a future evolution of technology. A literal Deus Ex Machina.

They put forth the theory that said patron is opposed to the Lord of Blades because the two are on different “techno-evolutionary tracks” competing with each other for dominance.

Out-of-game, my adopted sister (who is playing the Orc Cleric) put two-and-two together and announced “guys, we’ve been playing in a Time Travel campaign since the very beginning!
 

FaerieGodfather

Aberrant Druid
Supporter
Nuclear meltdown. The combination of the players' overall unfamiliarity with the AD&D rules, my abject stupidity-- trying to use all of the AD&D rules at once-- and unfamiliarity/technical difficulties with roll20 brought the entire session to a screeching halt just after the halfway point. We spent an hour trying to untangle some nonsense with one player's character sheet and I was just done.

I've been working on an Old School Essentials conversion that I was hoping to sell my players on in a couple of weeks; instead, the game is now on hiatus until such time as those rules are ready to go.
 

Azzy

Newtype
Nuclear meltdown. The combination of the players' overall unfamiliarity with the AD&D rules, my abject stupidity-- trying to use all of the AD&D rules at once-- and unfamiliarity/technical difficulties with roll20 brought the entire session to a screeching halt just after the halfway point. We spent an hour trying to untangle some nonsense with one player's character sheet and I was just done.

I've been working on an Old School Essentials conversion that I was hoping to sell my players on in a couple of weeks; instead, the game is now on hiatus until such time as those rules are ready to go.
Have you tried any of the alternatives to Roll20? I know that Roll20 can be a bit of a bear.
 

FaerieGodfather

Aberrant Druid
Supporter
Have you tried any of the alternatives to Roll20? I know that Roll20 can be a bit of a bear.
I am mildly visually impaired... just visually impaired enough that the inability to set high-contrast colors and clear readable typefaces in Fantasy Grounds and Astral is a 100% dealbreaker for me. I don't know if I can change these settings in roll20, actually, because the default settings in roll20 aren't unforgivably stupid.
 

THEMNGMNT

Adventurer
3rd session of my mashup of Dragon Heist with the Deck of Many Things. Players characters are 2nd level. Halfling rogue, half-elf wizard, half-orc fighter.

Last session, they recovered a card from the Deck of Many Things from an abandoned estate in Waterdeep. This session they brought the card to their mysterious patron at the Yawning Portal. It was nearing midnight and the tavern was bustling. The characters got a table near the well that was being cleared and cleaned by an old crone. They bought drinks for the bar and boasted of their recent accomplishments to their server. And then...

A gazer floated out of the well, followed quickly by four grimlocks. They attacked the characters before the other adventurers in the tavern could react. The characters managed to avoid most of the gazer's eye beams. A combination of oil and burning hands incinerated the gazer, and the fighter and rogue quickly dispatched the smoldering grimlocks. And then...

A mind flayer levitated up from the well. This mind flayer, Tassatar, was a minion of the Xanathar that had killed the wizard's parents. With a single mind blast it dropped the rogue and fighter, as well as half the customers in the bar. Durnan, proprietor of the Yawning Tavern and a former adventurer, grabbed his greatsword off the wall and sliced Tassatar across the chest. The mind flayer quickly teleported away before it could do any serious harm.

Soon back on their feet, the characters rendezvoused with their mysterious patron...who turned out to be the old crone that had been cleaning their table. She proceeded to tell the players a lot of backstory which is a bit of a challenge to explain here. But, here goes:

A generation ago, a group of adventurers called Fortune's Fools found the Deck of Many Things in Undermountain. Drawing from the Deck, they gained many boons. They continued to draw from the Deck and eventually it lead to their doom. The crone was actually a former adventurer who was the "boon" from drawing the Knight card. Ever since, her fate has been intertwined with the Deck and Fortune's Fools.

She tells the characters that the cards of the Deck are now scattered across Waterdeep. She wants to find all the cards and reassemble the Deck. The crone says the possessor of the completed Deck will be able to find a missing fortune called Tymora's Gold, a fortune of nearly one million gold pieces that resulted from a series of lucky draws from the Deck. The fortune is hidden in a secret vault, and the only living person who knows where the vault is located is the architect that built it. But the architect is in a prison called Grimshackle Jail. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to break the architect out of prison -- tonight!

And that's where we ended...

EDITED FOR CLARITY
 
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Libramarian

Adventurer
Nuclear meltdown. The combination of the players' overall unfamiliarity with the AD&D rules, my abject stupidity-- trying to use all of the AD&D rules at once-- and unfamiliarity/technical difficulties with roll20 brought the entire session to a screeching halt just after the halfway point. We spent an hour trying to untangle some nonsense with one player's character sheet and I was just done.

I've been working on an Old School Essentials conversion that I was hoping to sell my players on in a couple of weeks; instead, the game is now on hiatus until such time as those rules are ready to go.
Yeah, I'm glad I decided not to use AD&D for my Roll20 campaign. The learning curve of the VTT is enough on its own, without having to teach newbies 1e initiative :). I think OSE will work much better for you. I'm running my own version of Basic D&D houseruled to minimize handling time and it's working well. In particular, I'd recommend ascending AC when playing Old School online (and I'm ordinarily a THAC0 apologist).

Also, it's been my experience that the official Roll20 character sheets are nice, but the other community ones are buggy and ugly -- worse than nothing, IMO. We just record what we need in the Bio section now. We considered using Google Sheets, which I think would work fine too.
 

the Jester

Legend
Just finished up, and it was great!

This was my Alpha group- currently 8 pcs ranging between levels 10 and 18. And they had a truly epic session. Most of it was spent in conversation with the goddess of time, Coila, who gave them a metric buttload of information about the Big Threat that is coming in a few days, game time. In short, Chaos is rising and has been doing so for quite some time (largely thanks to the actions of pcs going back to 3e), and it's about to swallow the world as the pcs know it. Salient points include:

  • Time is shaped like a Moebius strip, and there is a hole in it.
  • That hole punches through one side only, so if reality can surf around the hole, it is safe for an entire cycle of eternity.
  • The true danger of pushing reality through that hole comes from the rise of Chaos.
  • Chaos’ power is reaching its apex, ushered in it part by the freeing of Ygorl, a slaad lord.
  • Even direct divine intervention cannot prevent the rise of Chaos, or even mitigate its effects on any but the smallest of scales.
  • The pcs must gather every resource at their disposal to defend the last remnants of civilization. They may have to sacrifice almost everything they hold dear to preserve anything at all. They will have to choose very carefully where to place and how to spend the resources they have. Without staunch defenders, Fandelose is doomed, and even with them, it may not survive.
  • Ygorl’s existence violates the rules of time. He largely moves through time backwards, so whoever released him was actually the one who bound him, and vice-versa, even unknowingly.
    • This means that Ygorl can’t truly be defeated by conventional means. “Slaying” him simply banishes him back to Limbo, but in the past, not the future- so even though it is necessary that he be destroyed, that will be ineffective in stopping him from attacking again in the near future, and will in fact draw his attention to the spot of his banishing. Anything else will result in a terrific and world-shattering paradox.
    • To truly defeat Ygorl requires traveling to the beginning of time, when he is at his very strongest. Only then can he be destroyed for good, which won’t prevent him from manifesting again in the future, because it is his past- but it will break the cycle that otherwise attracts him to the point of his future defeat.
    • Traveling to the beginning of time is a very harrowing prospect that few can survive. But Tade’s own hands (Tade being the god of craftsmanship, artifice, and smithing) can craft a vehicle that will partially shield the travelers from the forces involved. Even so, only the most epic travelers can hope to triumph at the dawn of time (Team Omega).
    • Travelers will be forced to pay time’s price thrice, once for their past, present, and future selves. The price can be paid in one of three ways:
    • A creature can permanently reduce its maximum hit points by 75. There is no way to recover these hps, period.
    • A creature can pay 50,000 xp. This will not lower a creature’s level if it is 20th level, but will otherwise.
    • A creature can spend a time point.
What's a time point, you ask? Well, Coila gave each of them three time points, which can be used to pay said price, can be passed to another creature, or can be used as a legendary action to take a full turn.

Oh, and defeating Ygorl is just the start of what they have to do to turn the tide against Chaos- they also have to invest seven Arrows of Law, individuals who will represent Law on a cosmic scale, while being mindful to keep a balance between good and evil; and they have to re-establish the Citadel of Order, overthrown by the chaos-happy 3e pcs, which was the manifestation of stability created by Law in the Material Plane.

And then they fought an epic dragon and its minions and got a truly insane amount of treasure, including over 100,000 gp in coins and gems and two dozen magic items (!). Sure, most were potions and scrolls, but there were still quite an array of magic weapons, helmets, a cloak, etc.
 

Reynard

Legend
Much better this week. The sh*tshow that was last week's Leroy Jenkinsing continued but it turned out to be a fun, breathless battle against Haruman and his stirge and hellwasp minions with the vampire siding with the PCs (once he had drank himself healthy from one PC anyway). In the end Jander drank deeply from Haruman and mutated into a monster but the PCs managed to calm him down and he hurled up the ichor and reverted to his normal form. He then told them the location of the Crypt of the Hellknights. (Note: i have made a lot of changes to the adventure because, well, I know my group better than WotC does).

The Hidden Lord in the shield, which is serving as the party's guide in Avernus, continues to try and convince them to free him so he can reclaim his throne from Zauriel. One PC "died" and accepted a geas from the devil in order to live and that's going to come into play sooner or later.
 

Session Zero!

Characters all said what they wanted to play, which went all over the place. We went through some scenarios, found out that the group didn't work together very well, players all compromised a bit and adjusted their characters.

We didn't even make character sheets yet, but I already know it's going to work.
 

pemerton

Legend
Is it possible to infer from a transcript of play (such as the session recaps posted here) whether the adventure felt sandboxy or railroady to the players, or do you have to be a participant in the game to perceive that?
I think the latter.

I suspect linear adventures produce transcripts that sound more awesome than they actually were to play.
That'd be my view too.
 

THEMNGMNT

Adventurer
89th session with my group of five 14th level player characters, who hit 15th level by the end. They are in Waterdeep, which has been conquered by frost giants while Manshoon and the Zhentarim have seized Blackstaff Tower to gain control of its magics.

The characters spent much of the session using the message spell to contact old allies and ask them for help. Treants from Goldenfields, drow exiles from Menzoberranzan, dwarven warriors, and even an elven princess all covertly entered the city. With this group of players, that kind of planning can suck up a couple hours...and it did.

Eventually, four of the characters teleported to the Tower of Aghairon, where an allied priest of Ilmater had taken refuge. However, unknown to the characters, they had been scryed by the Red Wizards of Thay. Long ago, the characters had traded the Wizards a magical tome in return for information. Then they asked for the tome back, temporarily. Then they lost the tome to the Zhentarim. The Wizards had given the characters a deadline to return the tome -- or their lives would be forfeit. Well, this has not been a priority for the characters. So, without them realizing it, the deadline has finally arrived.

Using their powerful sorcery, the Red Wizards diverted the teleportation spell to the Astral Plane. The characters found themselves in an asteroid field not unlike the one in Empire Strikes Back. The asteroid they stood on was slowly tumbling, so they had to make Athletics or Acrobatics checks to avoid falling off. On the asteroid was a short note from the Wizards letting the players know their time was up and this was their final warning. Moments later, an astral dreadnought attacked.

The tiefling shadow sorcerer used the banish spell to return herself to the Material Plane. She found herself in the Red Wizard's enclave in Waterdeep, face-to-face with her tiefling half-brother who is a powerful member of that order. She tried to convince him to call off the astral dreadnought. No luck. Then she tried to convince him to join in the upcoming attack on the Zhentarim. No luck. Then she tried to convince him to extend the deadline for returning the tome. That bought them another 48 hours. And the half-brother loaned her a Staff of Power to help defeat Manshoon.

Meanwhile, on the Astral Plane, the vengeance paladin, beast master ranger, and lore bard took on the astral dreadnought. Its antimagic cone was a major nerf, and with three attacks per turn plus legendary actions it could dish out a lot of damage. But, man, 14th level characters are tough -- even with only three of them. The CR 21 astral dreadnought went down in four rounds without dropping a single character or capturing one in its donjon. However, it did enough damage and drained enough spell slots to impact the upcoming battle with the Zhentarim.

With the Wizards having delivered their message, the characters arrived suddenly at the Tower of Aghairon. Standing opposite them was the Open Lord of Waterdeep, Dagult Neverember. Dagult has been teased for over a year IRL and now he has finally arrived. Once Manshoon falls, Dagult will emerge as a major antagonist. On that cliffhanger, we ended.

The players have lost their fear of the Red Wizards and are beginning to plan an attack on them. They've definitely reached the level where they're feeling a sense of impunity.

Next session: Assault on Blackstaff Tower! This time for realz.
 

My lizardfolk PC got to kill a gauth (a smaller version of a beholder) which is now one of his favorite enemies, since they have six tasty, smaller eyes for appetizers and a larger central eye for the main course. (He offered to share his bounty with the other PCs but they all declined - silly mammals!)

Johnathan
 

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

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