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3E/3.5 The Original D&D 3.0 Adventures and Being a New DM

As I've posted elsewhere, I've been running my 10-year-old son through the series that began with The Sunless Citadel. We then went through The Forge of Fury, and we're on the Speaker in Dreams right now. I felt the urge to share my impressions of these modules based on being a new DM and having a new and young player.

The Sunless Citadel

1) Linear modules can be good for first-timers! This module is largely linear, with just a few possible variations in flow based on player initiative. This is not a bad thing for newbies on either side of the DM's screen. It made it really easy to plan out for both of us, which was a nice benefit for our first real attempt at playing a full module.

2) Climbing checks can be great or awful for tension. Honestly, I made the mistake of doing it in a way that it became a frustrating nuisance to the entry to the Citadel. It would have been better to play up the danger in my description of the 80' drop to the floor. That's especially true when so many video games (which my son plays a lot) play fast and loose with falling physics. Keeping in mind video game tropes has actually proven really useful in anticipating my son's reactions, which is probably a useful point for people introducing new gamers.

3) The Dragonpriest encounter throws a nerfed troll and an annoying quasit at the party, and I had to make a number of DM hand-waves to keep it from being a party killer. (My DM style is to maximize the fun and funny. Think about how Johnny Chiodini DM's for the Oxventurers on YouTube.) This is not a badly designed encounter, but it can be challenging to DM -- at least that was my experience. There is a significant amount of complexity built into the room layout, the abilities of the participants, and the player reaction.

4) Every module should have a Meepo, i.e., an NPC that is extremely memorable and fun without taking the limelight away from the party. He has a very specific motivation, which makes it easy to role-play his reactions. In retrospect, I should have probably come up with something equivalent for the gnome, Erky Timbers, as he pretty much became the equivalent of a nameless hireling for the rest of the dungeon.

5) The goblin stockade with the caltrops corridor is really nicely designed to be a beatable challenge for novice adventurers. It can be lethal, but probably won't be. It also gave my son a sense of accomplishment when he got past it.

6) Going back to falling being a good thing -- one of the highlights was my son's dwarf bull-rushing a hobgoblin into the shaft in the middle of the chief's throne room. It's really up to the DM to make checks in combat fun, in my opinion, whether it goes in the player's favor or not.

7) I don't like miss-chance mechanics. Incorporeal creatures like the shadow, and creatures with concealment give an outright percentage to miss in D&D 3.x. We had too many situations like this: "I rolled a 19!" "OK, roll percentile dice and get under 50." "68." Then there was frowning and frustration. I think the problem is that it makes the player's attack roll irrelevant in many cases. Cover, which adds to AC, works much better in my opinion. I'll probably be exploring alternate rules for this.

8) The WotC-designed new monsters in these modules have so far seemed...less than impressive. The Twig Blights are baby treants that are mostly nuisance enemies. They're so lame that it's hard to believe even an insane druid would think that they were the key to taking over the world. Villain motivation in these modules has so far been B-movie level, and now that I've written that, I think I need to put more thought into that for future modules moving forward.

The Forge of Fury

1) The hook for this module was pretty weak compared to the previous module. Compared to rescuing/recovering the remains of another group, this was a fetch quest. The problem I had with it wasn't in getting my son interested in going (he's game enough to know that going into the dungeon is the whole point of the thing). The problem was him knowing when he had actually reached his objective. In retrospect, I should have made the objective the dwarven waraxe in the dragon's horde.

2) The map to this adventure is pretty complicated, and kudos to WotC for using a map design that highlights the transition points between levels in a very obvious fashion. I ended up creating player maps in Campaign Cartographer just to keep track of where the party had gone, however.

3) Adding overland travel with random encounters was something I didn't do in the first adventure, and it really added something to this one. The party fought and killed a winter wolf (thanks to rolling 00 on percentile dice for encounters) before they even got to the Forge.

4) I don't like troglodytes, but I'm not entirely sure what I don't like. Maybe it's because they're nuisance enemies with a stench debuff that just doesn't inspire me? The best encounters were the one with the bear and the giant lizard...mainly because it didn't involve trogs as the primary foes.

5) I totally and completely telegraphed the yellow mold encounter, allowing a bardic knowledge check at my suggestion. It's a little too close to the old Gary Gygax-style save or die scenarios for "fun" play, in my opinion. I'm sure other groups wouldn't have had an issue with it, but it wasn't what I wanted in an experience for my son. I similarly made sure that the roper did NOT turn into a combat encounter by having the roper ask the party to bring it something new to eat.

The Speaker in Dreams

1) Again, the module-specific monsters leave something to be designed. Wystes are...meh, and the "alien squid" from the wererat encounter made me go, "Wait, what?" I've substituted monstrous centipedes with the half-Farspawn template for most summons. Sadly, I kept the Wystes, only to discover 1d4+6 damage for SEVEN tentacles is a counter-intuitive way to do massive damage to a party, especially when these are summons that can be dropped right on top of the party. For the next encounter, I'm likely going to rule that the Wyste only get's 50% of its strength modifiers to tentacle damage.

2) For being an event-based adventure, the module is a little self-contradictory. It comes right out and states, "these encounters are more challenging because in a city-based adventure, the party can rest more easily." The way the module actually READS, however, is that the next phase of the big bad's plan starts the day after the festival regardless of what the party does, which means just wandering around town can drop the party into a battle with a fiendish dinosaur or a mid-range devil. Despite that, it assumes that the players have dealt with the cultists and wererats by then. So much for having time to rest? I'm fudging this, as it really doesn't mesh well.

3) Villain motives are again a bit fuzzy, following the standard, "I'll show those fools back home I can take over the world, ma ha ha!" Plane shift is a good mechanic for the big bad to flee, but he needs some work by the DM if he's going to be interesting enough to bother bringing back. It's also a little unclear as to what his plan actually was. It seems like creating disruptions as an excuse to "bring order" by summoning devils was the goal, but I can't help but think that there would have been half-a-dozen smarter ways to do it.

Overall lessons learned:
1) In the future, I am going to be replacing EVERY "new" monster from a module with something from a bestiary or monster manual. They're almost always better designed and play-tested.

2) Villain plans are weak. I need to spend some time in prep coming up with something more plausible and threatening than, "take over the world with twigs," or, "make my take-over of the town blatantly obvious so the adventurers know what I'm doing."

3) I want to try to have at least one interesting NPC per module -- somebody I can roleplay that has clear motivations and memorable mannerisms. I'm not an Oscar-grade actor, so I don't intend to overdo it, but the lack of a meaningful NPC encounter in Forge was pretty telling.

4) The PC's should have clear objectives. "Find some pretty treasure," isn't sufficient. I'm also finding myself railroading my son's party through the encounters in Speaker. "No matter where you go in West Hill, a portal to the Far Realm will open right in front of you!" Meh. I really need to make sure that there is a clear sequence that a reasonable person would follow.
 

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billd91

Hobbit on Quest
7) I don't like miss-chance mechanics. Incorporeal creatures like the shadow, and creatures with concealment give an outright percentage to miss in D&D 3.x. We had too many situations like this: "I rolled a 19!" "OK, roll percentile dice and get under 50." "68." Then there was frowning and frustration. I think the problem is that it makes the player's attack roll irrelevant in many cases. Cover, which adds to AC, works much better in my opinion. I'll probably be exploring alternate rules for this.
Paizo took a different route with this one for Pathfinder's adaptation of 3e. They still use miss chances for concealment. But incorporealness is done differently - instead of being a 50% miss chance, you do half damage.
Overall, I think the miss chance works OK for being visually tricked into aiming imprecisely because of concealment. Half damage works better for something like being incorporeal. And if you're worried about the disappointment aspect, roll the miss chance first. I have players roll to hit first because I like the look on their faces when the miss chance negates their hits (even better when it negates a crit), but that's the rat-bastard DM in me. For younger kids, that's too cruel. I save it for adults.
 

Paizo took a different route with this one for Pathfinder's adaptation of 3e. They still use miss chances for concealment. But incorporealness is done differently - instead of being a 50% miss chance, you do half damage.
Oh, I like that a lot better. That's going to be the house rule for incorporeal, I think.

For the miss chance for concealment, I may have him role a d10 alongside the d20. The % dice roles are a little awkward -- flashbacks to AD&D rogue skills. A 1-2 or a 1-5 are an auto-miss, and it resolves at the same time as the attack roll. It will go faster and there's no build up of anticipation.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
When I first ran sunless My players took up the call WHOPPING WILLOWS on twig blights. It was about a year before I read Harry Potter. (I think).

I did like running Forge in both 3E and 5E. 3E I include Darryl the dragon slayer sword. The party took a set back when attacking the dragon and fled. The next week they came back, the dragon had taken half the treasure away and was coming back for the other half. 5E I had some map aids, so as they charge the monsters, I could just pick up the map square they left and draw the map square they were on.

Speaker of Dreams we all thought of as stupid. And my players skipped to the ending by wandering around the town.

All three of these modules are gear for explaining the new system.

Oh Meepo he became a NPC in both my 3E and 5E worlds.
 


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