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D&D General "Out of the Frying Pan" - A 3E campaign Post-Mortem


Moderator Emeritus
So as some of you may know, I ran a long term 3.xE campaign back in the early-to-mid 00s based in my long-standing homebrew Aquerra and using a ton of house rules to get both the feel of the kind of D&D we liked to play and the way I (and the players) envisioned the setting.

Recently, I did a full read through of the entire story hour I wrote for that campaign while I was editing, cleaning up, and re-formatting it for compiling into easy to read on your tablet PDFs. Because of recent threads discussing 5E's yo-yoing and the number of encounters and kind per "adventuring day," Morrus's poll about "sandbox vs. party level" approach to prep, complaints about too few combat options in 5e (something that some folks complained about in 3E too), questions about NPC allies, and even my own threads asking about how often folks have sessions with no combat encounters whatsoever and how many adventures include some kind of "dungeon environment," I decided to try and keep track of some of these elements the best that I can. And while the campaign was 3.Xe, I did not use that tag because I think my games run close to this way in every edition of D&D I've played (with changes based on taste and players, more than edition) and because I think some of the stuff that comes up is applicable to any D&D game.

So first of all, here is the spreadsheet with the info I collected (warning: spoilers for the Out of the Frying Pan story hour)

As you can see next to each session number, I have included what kinds of combat encounters they had, the name of the adventure I was running (usually highly adapted) when applicable, a rough estimate (sometimes very rough) of the number of in-game days that passed during the session, and then other notes like how many combat encounters, when encounters stretched out between more than one session, when PCs or important NPCs first appeared or died (or left), etc. . . Oh and every session with absolutely no combat sessions (whether it be b/c no opportunities turned up or, less rarely, because the party purposefully avoided it) has been highlighted.

I wish I had the specific dates of when all these sessions were played, but unfortunately I only have it for a handful.

So some basic information.

Frequency: The campaign lasted from February 2001 to January 2006. So approximately, 71 months. We aimed to play every two weeks on Saturday afternoons (sometime Sunday) for about six hours - this came to 104 sessions (plus two more reunion sessions about a year later that never made it into the story hour).

People: The game began with five players and a sixth joined after 11 sessions. Eventually, we'd lose three players and gain three new players, though overtime and not all at once. There were five PC deaths and one resurrection. Of those five deaths, two of them were the same character dying twice, and two were two different characters played by the same player. So that was nine different players. In the end there was only one PC who was present for the very first session that was still a part of the group in the final session (though, Martin the Green, who first appeared and joined the group with session #12 was also there at the end without a replacement character).

Levels: The campaign began with 1st level characters and PCs ranged from 9th to 11th level by the end. I awarded XP 13 times, so approximately every 8 sessions - the longest gap being 12 sessions. Basically, characters leveled about twice a real-time year on average.

Classes: The party began with a dwarven fighter (who would later multi-class with priest class), a human bard (who planned to multi-class with barbarian, but died because he played his bard as if he were already barbarian), a human fighter, a human paladin, and a human witch (the replacement for sorcerer in Aquerra - similar to the 5E Warlock). The human bard was replaced with a half-orc ranger/priest, and then the party was joined by a human illusionist. Later, a ranger/rogue replaced the witch and then a fighter/wizard replaced him. The new PCs that joined was a single classed priest, a fighter/rogue, and a ranger/warlock. I guess is bears noting that my 3E games had a multitude of custom specialty priest classes and druids were folded into those as well. Religious themes and different kinds of priests/clerics have long been a part of my games, but I do think that with 5E's rest rules there'd be fewer priests in my games these days. (and the fact that neither of the games I am running currently feature clerics seems to reinforce that)

Allies: There were NPC allies with the group at various times, some of who were considered full members of party. At one point, the party had a troop of nine dwarven NPCs with the party, which was helpful b/c they went into an area too tough for them (THE NECROPOLIS OF DOOM!!!). Other times the PCs spent downtime with their gnome allies in their hidden community and shared info and resources aside from just fighting. There was also an elven enclave they sometimes visited and once rescued from a corrupt wizard of the same order as one of the PCs. One thing I have noticed looking back, is that stuff was tougher for the PCs because they did not (esp. towards the end) lean on their allies for help and info enough. I think the time pressure of getting to the site for the final adventure and some paranoia from multiple interests trying to stop or exploit the PCs played into that.

Time: Figuring out the number of in-game days covered in individual sessions was hard, esp. when it was less than a full day. The campaign as a whole lasted one year and two weeks in game time. I tried figuring out the average in-game days per session making no distinction btwn "downtime" and "adventuring time" because in my games that stuff is pretty organically done and in this particular campaign the PCs felt a time-crunch and took very little down time. The longest amount of time covered in one session was 48 days (way above the average of approximately 2.8 days per session) and the shortest was less than 5 minutes (a 48ish round escape from a collapsing subterranean city of the dead that took the entire 6 hour session and stands in my memory as one of the finest RPG experiences of my life and led to a round of applause from the players at the end!).

Combat Encounters: I don't count encounters that could have resulted in combat but didn't (like when the PCs snuck past a giant lair or saw a wyvern in the sky and hid). But from what I can tell, PCs rarely had more than one encounter per day, sometimes two or three (with sometimes days between them those busy days). I never used CR, but I'd say most encounters ranged from moderately difficult to extremely difficult. Out of 104 sessions, 14 of them involved no combat whatsoever. Only once (at nearly the exact midway mark) were there two sessions in a row with no combat. The longest period of time between combatless sessions was 27 sessions (near the end). We also had some very long encounters. I think the average combat length was 10 to 12 rounds, but up into the 20s was not uncommon, and a couple of times we broke the 40 round mark for a combat. Never once did a player complain that any of these combats were boring or a slog because I know how to run engaging combat. That said, I imagine that for some players that'd be too long regardless of what it was like. Just something to keep in mind as I move forward.

Adventures: The campaign involved 16 named adventures. Half of these are either from Dungeon Mag or other TSR modules adapted from various editions. The other half are ones I wrote and drew maps for myself. The longest adventure was "Hurgun's Maze" (the climactic conclusion I wrote myself) which took 12 sessions, but two other adventures I wrote myself took nearly as long with 11 and 10 sessions respectively.

There is other stuff I noticed in re-reading the story hour that doesn't quite appear in the data collected in the spreadsheet:

Magical Items & Other Gear: I run what people tend to call "low-magic" games, but I tend to think of them as "moderate." That said, the buying and selling of magical items is almost completely unheard of, wizards need to hunt down and find new spells (or study over time to discover them through research), and most items the PCs do get are special, customized to the setting, history, and location, and granted as gifts from grateful NPCs (in the Tolkien tradition of Lothlorien for example). So I ran a 3E game without even reading the wealth-by-level guidelines for items and the like.

In-Game Racism & Sexism: I tend to run very humanocentric games and when the non-human PCs were in human dominated lands there were recurring issues, from just assumptions about the dwarf and his greed to the half-orc being suspected of crimes, driven off, arrested, and frequently insulted to his face. More than once the female characters were ignored by the patriarchal powers that be as not a threat or concern, which was both frustrating and occasionally an opportunity to get away with stuff. And other times when given attention, it was not always the kind they wanted. As I have said in other places, while the idea of inherent features of different races or sexes is one I long ago moved away from, those prejudices and assumptions still exist in my settings even if they are wrong. These days I would definitely tone down the representation of those things but I can't imagine getting rid of them totally. I know not everyone wants to play in games with those themes and it is a fantasy for a reason, but personally without even a small bit of that verisimilitude I would have trouble accepting it because the world is an ugly place. The fantasy to me is not "no racism" but rather "putting racists to the sword." ;) :ROFLMAO:

Optional and House Rules: Since we used a critical hit and fumble chart (I miss them!) the long term consequences of combat were felt several times. One character lost an eye permanently (suffering a -2 to melee attack rolls and -4 for ranged). Another spent many sessions with an 85% chance of any spell with a verbal component failing because his broken jaw needed powerful healing to fix it. At one point a character lost his arm at the shoulder, suffering a "bleeder crit" which meant he lost an additional 3d4 hps per round, bleeding out rather quickly. This kind of stuff drove the PCs to make different choices and in different orders than perhaps expecting to. Furthermore, coming back from negative hps through anything but actual bedrest (so magic healing) means the character was exhausted until they had rested at least one hour and remained fatigued until getting a full night's sleep. Restoration spells could over come this result. So people could jump back up and keep fighting, but at a much lessened degree of effectiveness. Oh and stablizing someone with a healing kit took a generous 1d10 full rounds, not just one action (I miss that one, too).

For the record, I am using none of these house rules and options in my 5E games.

In conclusion. . . I don't know. . . I just thought this info was interesting - maybe it is just to me, but if folks want to chime in with questions/opinions I'd love to hear from you. I think it is important to look back on our games to see what worked and what didn't and what was accomplished - and perhaps most relevant to this thread, what problems did not exist for my games personally that others on these boards are frequently looking for solutions to.

Postscript: Below in the spoiler field are two photos of two incarnations of this group of players (with one player not having been around long enough to make it either into the midway through photo or the end of the game photo.

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Interesting! The variance between different group's campaigns, whether it be length, style, etc.

We tended to run fairly high combat sessions, as dungeon delving and monster bashing are FUN! But also, because none of us were much good at the rp type stuff, and didn't really like it that much. Neither of us (Me or Bill) expected players to "play out" every meaningless encounter in town, shopping trip, or night in the common room- unless it was a pertinent part of the adventure. Same for training, research, etc. This was all "off camera" activity. Story was increasingly a big part of it- thanks especially to Ravenloft and Dragonlance.

Deaths were fairly few, and mostly in the early stages of a campaign. But so were Resurrections. Nor did we get too nasty with crits and special damage. They definitely hurt, and a roll of 1 was dreaded, because the DM was endlessly creative with messed up things that happened- usually ruined weapons, party damage, or self damage. Nothing like some of the grim results the OP had, though. We liked a fun, light hearted humorous game, not something too gritty or realistic. (that, and as more than one of us DM'd, the old Karma is a bitch thing tended to come up, if you messed with someone too hard!)

That also goes in spades for real world culture and politics. No! Nada! Uh Uh!! Leave that crap right out of my game thankyouverymuch. Especially these days, we ALL get bombarded with it 24/7- and it's very tiresome. It's a fantasy game- set in a fantasy past, a long, long ago past. We let it be that- warts and all. There's no good without evil, life ain't fair, and nobody ever claimed it was easy. That's WHY we have adventurers, lol. Thus, the railing, gnashing of teeth, and carrying-on seen so often these days isn't welcome at our table.

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