WotBS Looking for advice on running WotBS 5e

As the title says, I'm planning on begin running WotBS for 5e (probably in a couple of months), and I would appreciate any advice on what preparations are recommended for it, especially for the first adventure.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
War of the Burning Sky is a rich and complex adventure path. It can be a rewarding experience to play with a bit of preparation.

Integrate the character's backstories into the adventure.
I would recommend that you encourage the players to use the Player's Guide to figure out where in the lands their character came from as well as what brought them to Gate Pass. Once they do that, you can look at which chapters contain good places for you to weave the characters' backstories into the adventure.

The following has what has been going on for my group.
[sblock]
Trinja: A 14-year-old girl who was run out of her Sindairese village because her luck would cause accidents to happen to other people. She sees a dragon in a vision who chooses her to right a wrong. The player made her a Hexblade warlock with the Lucky feat. I described her use of lucky as time slowing down, allowing her to change her fate. The party revisited her village on the way to castle Korstull in adventure 6, and she will meet Time, her patron, in adventure 12. I also have added a bit of tug of war in that she inherited Takasi, but he warned her that she would not be able to re-summon him if he dies unless she becomes a paladin of the order of the Aqualine Cross. I am curious to see if she emerges as a Joan of Arc type of character.

Byron Cassanova: An up and coming blue tiefling cirqueliste who was exiled from the group after he had formed a forbidden relationship with a daughter of Khaegen Onammdamin and was betrayed by fellow cirqueliste Giorgio, which caused the Wayfarers to have to leave Ostalin and settle in in Seaquen. They encountered Onammdamin at the beginning of adventure 5 and ran into his girlfriend as the brainwashed second in command of Pilus later on. She died, killed be a fearful Three Weeping Ravens after they freed him from her grasp. Byron is not handling it well, but the player doesn't know that story is not finished yet.

Dro'marri Oldenforge: A dwarven monk in red overalls. And he jumps. ;) He hails from a dwarven stronghold near the Alydi Gap in Dassen. When he was a child, a group of orcs led by Bowser defected from the nascent Ragesian army and became trusted soldiers in the dwarven clan led by his father Mario. This created grief for Dro'marri, which compounded when Mario died on a mission on the cliffs. Bowser ultimately married Mario's widow peach and led the clan. Dro'marri was a teenager who wanted to pursue herbalism rather than warfare and the forge, as Bowser insisted, and he ran away to find his own way in the world. When the heroes came to the Alydi gap, they were greeted by his Dro'marri's half-brother Luigi, and they got a chance to have dinner at the stronghold. Dro'marri found that Bowser had become a respected leader who had integrated the orc and dwarven way of life. Before he left, Bowser made sure Dro'marri took his father's old bag of earth.

D'buld Utch: An aged advisor to Khagan Onammdamin's father, D'buld was exiled when the son assassinated his father. He travels the world learning tactics and warfare. He acts as a father figure for Trinja.

His backstory has been mysterious for the rest of the group until adventure 7 when he executed one of the Droalesti assassins while others were trying to save her to get information. He explained that assassins are the worst destabilizing force in the world and should be destroyed whenever they opportunity arises. I think he might get some resolution with Onammdamin before the campaign is through.

Zed Tracow: A half-orc who grew up a slave with his orc father in Shahalesti, he escaped and settled in the militia of Gate Pass. What he is about to learn from some upcoming visions is that his father lied about his age whenever asked to hide that he escaped with the infant Zed from the Taranesti purge, where his mother died.

So there have been/definitely will be ties to various heroes' stories in adventures 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12.
[/sblock]

Balance the adventure path's constraints with the heroes' self determination.
Back in my session 0, I told the players that this was an adventure path. They would be given missions that they should accept and attempt to fulfill for the good of the story. That being said, they would have freedom within the mission to fulfill it how they saw fit. One place this worked better than I expected was in adventure 2. The fire forest only has a few paths the heroes can take, and I knew that some previous reviews described it as a railroad. When the heroes made it to the first crossroads in the fire forest, I nervously let them take whichever path they wanted and juggled the order of events to fit their choices. When we reviewed what went bad and well for the first third of the AP, the player's brought up the freedom to make choices and having their choices matter in adventure 2 as one of the highlights.

The heroes don't always have to win, but it helps.
War of the Burning Sky is a modular adventure path. Most adventures happen in a different part of the lands. This means that most of the adventures can be "failed" by the heroes while the story still continues. Even seemingly disastrous failures can be integrated into the future adventures with small changes.

The AP has variable difficulty.
The AP has a difficulty adjustment built into every encounter. This is primarily to accommodate parties of various sizes, but it can also be used with groups that under perform or over perform in combat. Another thing the AP provides is nearby help that can fade into the background when it isn't needed. In the first adventure, Torrent is available, and later on Rantle can bail the party out if they are overwhelmed. In the end, Haddin and Cristen stay out of sight unless Haddin determines they need to intervene to have their best chance of surviving.
 
So, last week I ran the first session of The Scouring of Gate Pass. As expected, I was overly worried that I hadn't prepared enough of the adventure but the players ended up getting through just two encounters :p

I would like to make some comments about the session and some issues I found while running it, so maybe I can get further advice.

For the record, I'm running the adventure on Roll20, using the conversion for that platform (which makes it the third time I purchase the adventure - 3.5, 5e pdf and 5e on Roll20. You could say that I have faith in the product! 😅). Regardless, I'd like to say that it's a great resource for the platform:
  • It's very well done and integrates really well with the Roll20 interface. The fact that one can change the order in which any section of the adventure is presented is a great asset. A particular example of this is the Reaching the Safe House section on Act 2. I really can't understand why that section isn't placed at the end of the act, when the party has most likely gone through retrieving the case. Or at least after the safe house is described... Anyway, with the Roll20 version that's not an issue.
  • It includes battle maps for encounters that don't have them in the original adventure, such as the Ghetto Hideout. The only criticism in this regard is that it uses the original "map" for The Gauntlet in Act Four. Honestly, that illustration is only suitable as a handout (although I don't know why it would be needed as such), not as a resource for actual play.
  • The ability to edit pretty much everything, from NPCs' stat, to the adventure´s text. I did some slight modifications to some descriptions and it was really handy to be able to do that on the platform itself.

As for the adventure itself, we got through Act One without issue, and advanced up to the first encounter in Act Two (the depository tower). Here is where either I missed something in the setup, or there is some slight flaw in the design:

The encounter, as I understood it, expects the party to see through Larion's disguise and capture him so as to later find out about the shahalesti involvement and get the lead to the elven ghetto and the hideout there. However, if Larion wins the initiative, as it happened in our game (I was using open rolls, as it was an unlikely event with one player having a +7 to initiative), his escape is almost certain. This leaves a bit of an information vacuum as to where to go afterwards. I improvised some Perception rolls while Larion jumped over the balcony and fence to let the party notice that he looked like an elf. Then the session ended, but I'm thinking that I will have to sort of lead them to the conclusion that they should go to the elven ghetto to avoid them running around aimlessly or leaving the city without the documents...

Anyway, it seems we're off to a great start. Any advice any of you may have going forward, it will be much appreciated!
 
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Tormyr

Adventurer
Thanks for the feedback, and I am happy you like it!

I need to go back and add a section that was inadvertently cut because it came after a sidebar and map in the 3.5 edition.

On the fourth floor, Rivereye and several guards are tied up and unconscious, with one dead half-orc moved far away, his face burned by the lantern archon’s light ray. If awakened, Rivereye hails the party as his saviors, explains what happened, and tells how he outwitted Larion. He’s sad that Peppin is dead, but begs the party to recover the case and make sure it gets to Lyceum. As part of his job as servant in the imperial palace, Rivereye was placed under a geas by the inquisitors not to talk about what he overheard, but he can say that the case contains information that can’t be lost. If asked, Rivereye can describe the case — black metal, about a foot long and wide, and half a foot deep, made of (he thinks) adamantine, with a lock.

Rivereye says that he overheard the lantern archon talking with three elves, and though he didn’t understand the elves, he understood the celestial — thanks to its tongues ability — and knows the group had a contact at Gabal’s school. (Celestials are not very good at being sneaky.)

Torrent encourages the party to recover the case, and Rivereye can guide them to Gabal’s school. If they’re too injured or out of spells, she understands they need to rest, and recommends taking shelter in a nearby temple to a god of music and revelry, under which is one of the resistance’s many safe houses.


Going back to fix that and rebuild the chase map no that I can do so are on my to do list.
 
Well, that certainly explains a lot! Thanks for the clarification! Now I only need to find a suitable location to place the captive Rivereye for the players to find :)
 
Some possible errata as I find it:
  • Flaganus (Fallen Devil encounter in Act 2) si stated to normally have 71hp (11d8+22) as a CR 4 NPC, but currently at 19, so he's a CR 2. The p. 274 (Monster Statistics by CR) state that a CR 4 monster would have 116-130h hps, while a CR 2 would have 86-100. Are the published stats intentional?
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
Some possible errata as I find it:
  • Flaganus (Fallen Devil encounter in Act 2) si stated to normally have 71hp (11d8+22) as a CR 4 NPC, but currently at 19, so he's a CR 2. The p. 274 (Monster Statistics by CR) state that a CR 4 monster would have 116-130h hps, while a CR 2 would have 86-100. Are the published stats intentional?
Yes, the stat block is correct. Challenge Rating (CR) is a mix of hit points, AC, damage per round (DPR), and attack bonus. His HP starts his defensive CR at 1/8 which is bumped up two levels to 1/2 because his AC is 17 instead of 13. His DPR starts his offensive CR at 4, which is not modified as his attack bonus is the expected +5. The average of the two is 2.25, which rounds to 2. The mistake in the stat block is that it says "CR 3".
 
Yes, the stat block is correct. Challenge Rating (CR) is a mix of hit points, AC, damage per round (DPR), and attack bonus. His HP starts his defensive CR at 1/8 which is bumped up two levels to 1/2 because his AC is 17 instead of 13. His DPR starts his offensive CR at 4, which is not modified as his attack bonus is the expected +5. The average of the two is 2.25, which rounds to 2. The mistake in the stat block is that it says "CR 3".
Thank you for replying so fast!
 
So, I just wrapped the second session and it was a case study on why you may try to cover as many possibilities in a pre written adventure, but the players will always find a way to derail it 😅

After rescuing Rivereye, the party declined the possibility of resting at the safe house as, while they had used quite a few spells, they were quite healthy with the exception of the rogue, who had triggered a trap from the lockers at the Depository. So they went to Gabal's Tower. There they met Diogenes, who tried to be as welcoming as he could, but the players would have none of it, just trying to wrest out whatever information he had about the elven spies. He finally told them about the elven student (Shahael) who he had a beef with, and off they went in the typical paranoid murderhobo fashion, after merely asking where her room was, so no careful planning for any fake duel tricks from Diogenes, in spite of his efforts to offer them something to drink. Consequently, I had to improvise, not only for this situation, but also to accommodate the fact that Larion and the lantern archon had escaped in the previous act because of a lucky initiative roll. The adventure states that, in this eventuality, Larion runs to warn Shahael about the adventurers, so I figured that the party had arrived while such an encounter was taking place. However, I figured that their conversation couldn't be happening in Shahael's room (whichever that might be) because then things would be uncomfortably... cramped... with her, Larion, the lantern archon, and a party of five, plus Torrent. So I placed them in the third level, with the lantern archon guarding the staircase.
Then, as soon as the party arrived at the second floor, the cleric with a passive Perception score of 21 (the Observant feat might be a bit broken, I think...) quickly notices the lantern archon and sounds the alarm. Initiative is rolled, and while the party climbs to the third level, Shahael casts Invisibility on herself, and Larion tries to hide. And fails miserably. The dwarven fighter gets to the top of the stairs and is hit by a ranged attack from Larion. The paladin dashes towards Larion, withstanding an opportunity attack from the archon. Diogenes shots an Acid Arrow at the archon from the stairs, and Torrent goes up and gives some support with spells. The wizard and the rogue engage the lantern archon and finish it off despite dealing only half damage. The cleric surges forward and crushes Larion's side with a mighty blow.

And then Shahael casts Fireball.

It was the sensible thing for her to do. She caught pretty much everyone in the area, and Larion was safe because of her sculpt spell class feature. Still, 8d6 is something to fear for 3rd level characters. Even with Bless half the party failed the DC 14 saving throw and put got them making death saving throws.
As much as I dislike when this happens, it was in part thanks to the NPCs that the party could continue the encounter (I was quickly thinking on the spot that, if worse came to worse, they would awaken with aid given by NPCs after the elves had escaped). Diogenes poured a potion of healing in the wizard, and Torrent healed the dwarven fighter. The cleric did the rest with a Prayer of Healing, after which he moved in front of Shahael to try to disturb or at least make difficult for her to cast another Fireball. Meanwhile, Larion took the opportunity to try to escape and made it half up the stairs, trying to get to the top floor but was prevented from doing so by an arrow from the rogue and a serious beating and throwing back down from the stairs by a very disgruntled (and half burnt) dwarf.
Shahael finally turned herself invisible again and fled, evading an opportunity attack from the cleric.
Seeing matters as they were, Larion yielded.

This outcome had another interesting set of consequences, as the party coerced the information about the Gatemaker's Shop from Larion, got him to identify and open the secret entrance to the building and dismiss the celestial badgers, and then was used as a bargain chip with the elven spies to convince them of giving away the case under the promise of copying the information contained within. Of course, as that would take quite a while and both parties were in a hurry for leaving de city, they told the elves to come with them until they were out of the city. So now a sizeable group of players and NPCs are in the house of the councilman preparing to increase the numbers of a border patrol by ten characters (eleven counting the player that couldn't play this session). Oh, well...

Another unfortunate victim of the players' unforeseen actions was the plot thread with the imp. While traveling to the elven ghetto, the cleric noticed the imp in raven form shadowing them. He told the rest of the party about it, and afterwards the rogue hid and proceeded to hit it with a critical sneak attack shot. Even with resistance to piercing damage the poor fiend didn't stand a chance.

If I were to point some things out of this session, it would be the following:
  • Shahael is quite a formidable opponent for a 3rd level party. If Larion and the lantern archon are with her, and the party doesn't heed Diogenes' suggestions, the encounter can be quite brutal.
  • The maps could use a bit more information and, in particular for the Roll20 version, some reworking. The map of Gabal's Tower could be split in smaller chunks, being a bit unwieldy as it is. Also - and this may be my inexperience with the platform - I couldn't enable the fog of war in some maps (Depositoru Gabal's Tower, Gatemaker's Shop).
  • Something to commend of the Roll20 version is the addition of maps for the Gatemaker's Shop, that are missing from the original adventure.
All in all, it was good fun. I can't wait to see how my players utterly destroy the next encounters :LOL:
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
So, I just wrapped the second session and it was a case study on why you may try to cover as many possibilities in a pre written adventure, but the players will always find a way to derail it 😅

After rescuing Rivereye, the party declined the possibility of resting at the safe house as, while they had used quite a few spells, they were quite healthy with the exception of the rogue, who had triggered a trap from the lockers at the Depository. So they went to Gabal's Tower. There they met Diogenes, who tried to be as welcoming as he could, but the players would have none of it, just trying to wrest out whatever information he had about the elven spies. He finally told them about the elven student (Shahael) who he had a beef with, and off they went in the typical paranoid murderhobo fashion, after merely asking where her room was, so no careful planning for any fake duel tricks from Diogenes, in spite of his efforts to offer them something to drink. Consequently, I had to improvise, not only for this situation, but also to accommodate the fact that Larion and the lantern archon had escaped in the previous act because of a lucky initiative roll. The adventure states that, in this eventuality, Larion runs to warn Shahael about the adventurers, so I figured that the party had arrived while such an encounter was taking place. However, I figured that their conversation couldn't be happening in Shahael's room (whichever that might be) because then things would be uncomfortably... cramped... with her, Larion, the lantern archon, and a party of five, plus Torrent. So I placed them in the third level, with the lantern archon guarding the staircase.
Then, as soon as the party arrived at the second floor, the cleric with a passive Perception score of 21 (the Observant feat might be a bit broken, I think...) quickly notices the lantern archon and sounds the alarm. Initiative is rolled, and while the party climbs to the third level, Shahael casts Invisibility on herself, and Larion tries to hide. And fails miserably. The dwarven fighter gets to the top of the stairs and is hit by a ranged attack from Larion. The paladin dashes towards Larion, withstanding an opportunity attack from the archon. Diogenes shots an Acid Arrow at the archon from the stairs, and Torrent goes up and gives some support with spells. The wizard and the rogue engage the lantern archon and finish it off despite dealing only half damage. The cleric surges forward and crushes Larion's side with a mighty blow.

And then Shahael casts Fireball.

It was the sensible thing for her to do. She caught pretty much everyone in the area, and Larion was safe because of her sculpt spell class feature. Still, 8d6 is something to fear for 3rd level characters. Even with Bless half the party failed the DC 14 saving throw and put got them making death saving throws.
As much as I dislike when this happens, it was in part thanks to the NPCs that the party could continue the encounter (I was quickly thinking on the spot that, if worse came to worse, they would awaken with aid given by NPCs after the elves had escaped). Diogenes poured a potion of healing in the wizard, and Torrent healed the dwarven fighter. The cleric did the rest with a Prayer of Healing, after which he moved in front of Shahael to try to disturb or at least make difficult for her to cast another Fireball. Meanwhile, Larion took the opportunity to try to escape and made it half up the stairs, trying to get to the top floor but was prevented from doing so by an arrow from the rogue and a serious beating and throwing back down from the stairs by a very disgruntled (and half burnt) dwarf.
Shahael finally turned herself invisible again and fled, evading an opportunity attack from the cleric.
Seeing matters as they were, Larion yielded.

This outcome had another interesting set of consequences, as the party coerced the information about the Gatemaker's Shop from Larion, got him to identify and open the secret entrance to the building and dismiss the celestial badgers, and then was used as a bargain chip with the elven spies to convince them of giving away the case under the promise of copying the information contained within. Of course, as that would take quite a while and both parties were in a hurry for leaving de city, they told the elves to come with them until they were out of the city. So now a sizeable group of players and NPCs are in the house of the councilman preparing to increase the numbers of a border patrol by ten characters (eleven counting the player that couldn't play this session). Oh, well...

Another unfortunate victim of the players' unforeseen actions was the plot thread with the imp. While traveling to the elven ghetto, the cleric noticed the imp in raven form shadowing them. He told the rest of the party about it, and afterwards the rogue hid and proceeded to hit it with a critical sneak attack shot. Even with resistance to piercing damage the poor fiend didn't stand a chance.

If I were to point some things out of this session, it would be the following:
  • Shahael is quite a formidable opponent for a 3rd level party. If Larion and the lantern archon are with her, and the party doesn't heed Diogenes' suggestions, the encounter can be quite brutal.
  • The maps could use a bit more information and, in particular for the Roll20 version, some reworking. The map of Gabal's Tower could be split in smaller chunks, being a bit unwieldy as it is. Also - and this may be my inexperience with the platform - I couldn't enable the fog of war in some maps (Depositoru Gabal's Tower, Gatemaker's Shop).
  • Something to commend of the Roll20 version is the addition of maps for the Gatemaker's Shop, that are missing from the original adventure.
All in all, it was good fun. I can't wait to see how my players utterly destroy the next encounters :LOL:
Thanks for the feedback, a couple things to note:
  1. Yes, Shealis is tough, but if the heroes get the jump on her, she will not have a chance to attack and is usually all alone. War of the Burning Sky can be difficult for groups whose primary response is to beat everything senseless first. Stealth, subterfuge, and making allies of enemies are all really important over the course of the campaign. In my game, the heroes failed to steal Shealis's component pouch. She fired off her fireballs but Diogenes was nearby to counterspell them. In the end, the heroes managed to capture her and negotiate to see the intelligence (and copy a few pages). Shalosha then brought the intelligence to the war council in adventure 3 Shelter from the Storm. The good thing about the encounters is that there are a lot of levers you can pull to adjust the difficulty. In many cases (such as this one) an extra ally is nearby, or extra enemies can arrive (or retreat), but the bulk of the enemies in this campaign are people, not monsters. If their first response is always to attack, it is likely going to come back to bite them eventually.
  2. It is a difficult balance with some maps on Roll20. For multi-level maps such as Gabal's tower, it works better to keep everyone on the same Roll20 page if possible. It makes things a bit unwieldy, but Roll20's initiative is run on a per-token basis. You cannot move a token between pages; only copies of tokens can be made on other pages, and a player cannot see the initiative of any tokens (including their own) that are not on the page they are on. This makes multi-level battles on different map pages not work well. As for Fog of War, there are several tutorials, and you can check the forums, but the lighting system is getting an overhaul in April, so all of the adventures will need to be updated at that point.
  3. Thanks! The 4e version had some extra maps that I was able to make use of.
  4. Get ready for a lot of interesting consequences from how things go. The adventures only describe one way things might happen, and the early adventures all warn against railroading the players. It sounds like you had set up some nice cause and effect of their actions and how the earlier encounter had gone. In my game, one of the heroes was having a bit of a mental breakdown after his love was killed. He blamed Ragesia and started executing some of General Magdus's soldiers that the heroes had captured. When they met General Magdus later, he was excluded from any negotiations.
  5. The casting time for prayer of healing is 10 minutes. That caught me out the first time I had it in one of my games.
 

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