Archive for the 'Old School' Category


D&D Encounters: Undermountain (Session 2)

D&D Encounters: Undermountain

It’s Wednesday, and though that used to mean “New Comics Day”, it now means “D&D Encounters Night”!  We played again at Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica and this experience was a little different from last week’s.

I showed up early this time, homemade character in hand (generated on the D&D Character Builder for those oh-so-important 5 Renown Points).  I wasn’t the only one to arrive early, so our crew was all set and actually started rolling dice right at 7:oo PM.

There were lots of changes, not the least of which was a character I was way more comfortable with, and the DM who ran our last game was now a player in this session!  This worked out well, as one of the players from last week couldn’t make it to this session. I imagine this will be a fairly common occurrence over the next 10 weeks or so.

Our group was now composed of 5 strikers and 1 defender. Now I’m really concerned about our healing ability.  Looks like we’re on our own for healing surges, and will be counting on our party for group Heal checks for bandaging those wounds.

Only a few minor adjustments for our role call for the second session:

  • Bewho, the deva barbarian
  • Izy’ure, the elf seeker
  • Vera, the halfling rogue
  • Colbin, the human ranger/rogue hybrid
  • Strakashtai, the kalashtar sorcerer
    and my character,
  • Koroth, the minotaur fighter

I love playing big characters. Half-giants, goliaths, half-orcs, you name it.  I can’t wait for Dark Sun for this exact reason.  Yes, I know it’ll be a re-skinned goliath.  That’s not the point.  I want to play a 4e half-giant.

In all my years of gaming, however, I’d never played a minotaur as a PC before, and decided to do a little research to get a good back story together.  Turns out this was wholly unnecessary.  While the DMs have a mini-conference, I explain to the players at my table that Koroth is a friend of the previous PC who was called away on a crusade to the Abyss.

Y’know, like it happens all the time.

So Koroth is a good minotaur who worships Tempus, the god of battle, and is hoping to find some answers about his heritage within Undermountain (as well as score some gold).  It’s about as smooth a transition as we’re likely to get, and there is absolutely NO mention of why Bellum is gone and why Colbin is in his place.  One human male looks much like another, I suppose.

Story is not just secondary in D&D Encounters, it’s virtually nonexistent.  We’re on a dungeon delve.  Period.  It’s difficult to tie the players together in a limited run campaign like this, I know, but a little story might go a long way to encouraging players to show up the following week.  I noticed there were far less people at this week’s session than the first.

The DMs come out of their huddle and we start off right where the last encounter left off — the team has completed a Short Rest and then we lower ourselves down the Yawning Portal and into Undermountain.  No sooner does the last team member’s feet touch the floor and we send our ropes and harnesses back up, then we’re attacked by a band of humanoids and their pet scorpion.  This is a good news / bad news situation, as we are attacked right away without a chance to get set up, but we also earn a Milestone (and thus an Action Point and a few Renown Points) because we didn’t take an Extended Rest between encounters.

Last time in combat (as the Paladin) I didn’t fare so well, so I was really looking to redeem myself this session.  My first roll of the night is a 19 for initiative and I just know it’s going to be a good time.  Tempus is obviously watching over me.

The battle starts, we begin dealing out (and taking) some damage.  I take 17 in one hit (quite a lot when you’re only 1st level), but then our kalashtar sorcerer gets lucky and really unloads on a big group of the non-minion bad guys.  Players high-five each other and we are sure we can finish these guys off.

Then the trouble starts.

Our sorcerer is downed on the bad guys’ next turn, and instead of going after one of the other 5 viable targets, the doppleganger sneak (disguised as a human rogue) moves through combat, provoking multiple opportunity attacks and performs a coup de grace with sneak attack damage on the unconscious, and therefore helpless, PC.  She dies instantly.

This is where I have a problem.  I know that there are different styles of running a D&D game, and that there are as many different styles as there are DMs.  However, calling across to another DM at another table and shouting gleefully, “I GOT ONE!” does not make for good feelings among the players at your table.  I can only imagine how this player felt as her character’s death was announced with joy across the room.

Apparently, the DM mini-conference before the game was about not taking it easy on the players.

Now I’m sure this DM is a very nice guy in his regular life.  As far as I know, he’s a saint.  I’ve never met him before this night, but I’m sure he pays his taxes, goes to work on time, and helps his landlady carry out her garbage.  This behavior, however, is called douche-baggery and I’ve already talked all about it here, so I won’t get into a rant this time.

One of the concerns I have about playing in the RPGA is that it strongly encourages meta-gaming.  There is a list of published Renown Point Awards for certain actions taken by the players in the campaign, and so some players know that they should try to “Revive a Dying Adventurer Ally” to get some extra points.  It’s what made me switch from my pre-gen human paladin character to a D&D Character Builder minotaur fighter (that’s worth 7 points) so I’m as guilty of this as anyone.

There is also a reward called “Survive 8+ Sessions without Dying“.  Apparently, the DMs are in a contest to not let any of the PCs achieve this. I call shenanigans.  I could see if the reward was 10 points or 8 points or even 5 points, but it’s only worth 2 points.  The same as hitting a milestone or for a “Moment of Greatness“, and is only achievable once per player per season.  There is no point reward system for the DM, and that sucks.  But trying in-game to prevent a player from achieving a reward out-of-game is just bad form.  Shouldn’t we be trying to encourage players to stick around?

So, now the sorcerer is dead and we’re down a team member.  The player has a couple options…
1. She can make a new character and play with that one next session.  This sucks for someone invested in their character, but character death is never enjoyable.
2. She can use the same character with a “Death Penalty”.  -This means that she’s at -1 to all rolls until she reaches 3 milestones (which is like 6+ encounters, give or take).-  Correction: I’ve been informed that characters take a -1 to all rolls until they reach 1 milestone, as per special D&D Encounters rules.  Neither option is super-appealing, but character death is a reality in this game.

Also, there’s a third option: she can just not play anymore.  Which is really what the DM seems to be encouraging.  This is a mini-campaign to generate interest in 4th Edition.  Is this sort of vicious behavior encouraged by the RPGA for this adventure?  I’m having trouble understanding this.  What’s the point?

I’m glad that the DM had fun, and that he was enthusiastic about enjoying the game.  But maybe next time he could concentrate more on making the game fun for the players, instead of having one of them sit out the majority of the encounter.

What are your thoughts?  As a DM, do you relish the TPK?  How far are you willing to go to achieve it?

As a player, do you hate it when your character dies?  Do you create a new character or walk away?

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D&D Encounters: Undermountain (Session 1)

My dice bag.

D&D Encounters: Undermountain

This is a bit late, and I really want to talk about the events of Session 2, but I thought I should put them up in chronological order.

We had a great DM who ran a great, fast-paced game.  He was used to running games with strangers and has run games at different conventions for years.  I got there a little late and had no character made up, so I sat down just in time to grab one of the pre-generated characters (Alvenor, the human paladin) and fill in the 6th and final slot at one of the three tables running the adventure.

The group was composed of 4 strikers, 1 leader, and myself being the only defender, so we were pretty heavy hitters.  With a paladin and a bard, healing ought to be okay, but I worried a little.  We’ll see.

Role call for this first adventure:

  • Bewho, the deva barbarian
  • Izy’ure, the elf seeker
  • Vera, the halfling rogue
  • Bellum, the human bard
  • Strakashtai, the kalashtar sorcerer
    and my character,
  • Alvenor, the human paladin

Yes, the bard is a leader. No, I’m not sure why.

For an introduction, it was a pretty straight forward adventure: The heroes know each other, start off in a tavern in Waterdeep (that somehow has a portal to a dungeon in the tavern itself? Convenient.) when trouble breaks out.

We overhear a half-elf woman named Fayne at the next table talking with a shady-looking pair (composed of a tiefling and a dwarf) about the possibility of earning some gold for a mysterious patron.  Our group is interested, but the folks she’s talking with make it clear in no uncertain terms that we’re to mind our own business.

It then comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone when the shady-looking tiefling and dwarf that were talking with Fayne go “outside to discuss details” and try to rob her in an ambush.

In short order, we rescue her and Fayne hires us to explore Halaster the Mad Arch-Mage’s newly uncovered catacombs beneath the Yawning Portal in Undermountain.  Conveniently, there is a portal inside the (aptly named) Yawning Portal Inn.

Strangely, this does not sound daunting or intimidating to us in any way.

For 200 gold, desperate adventurers will do just about anything apparently.  Art imitates life in this rough economy.

Well, that was just about it for the first encounter.  We left off with an agreement to explore Undermountain and retrieve some magical artifacts (and help ourselves to the rest of the loot).

Did you play in the D&D Encounter? What was your experience?



You Want To Do What?! The Art of Improv in GMing (Part 2)

The new blog is up! Improv and D&D!


The Temple of Elemental Evil [Redux]

It is one of the best-loved, most legendary campaigns in the Dungeons & Dragons library, yet I never played the classic adventure, “The Temple of Elemental Evil”.  Written by Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer back in 1985, the timing was never right.  It was initially released for play with the 1st Edition rules, but a few years later in 1989 the 2nd Edition of D&D was published, making the whole thing a moot point.  (We didn’t do much of the “conversion” stuff back then.)  Then 3rd Edition was released and Monte Cook updated the Gygax/Mentzer adventure into the now-classic-in-its-own-right “Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil”, chronicling the next generation of adventurers in Hommlet, keeping the history and events of the original adventure as part of the background of this sequel.  As much as I wanted to adventure in the Temple of Elemental Evil, we never had the right group.  We didn’t do much in the way of published modules in my D&D group those days, but I bought the adventure book anyway, and there it sat on my bookshelf since 2001.  I even went as far as starting a d20 Modern conversion of the adventure simply because it seemed like such an epic, classic story that I wanted to be a part of it.

Now it’s 2009 (almost 2010!) and there is a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  Wizards of the Coast recently released an adventure for the 4th Edition entitled  “The Village of Hommlet” and it looks like a fantastic introduction into the world of the Temple of Elemental Evil.  Perhaps in the spirit of the generational feel of the previous adventures, I should call this one “Revenge of the Temple of Elemental Evil”.  I’ve looked over the Village of Hommlet adventure and started the preliminary steps in the massive project of converting the 3e adventure into something playable (different but recognizable) in 4e.  My players have no idea yet what I’m going to unleash on them, but they are soon to be traveling as armed escorts with a caravan on their way to a small village named Hommlet…

Following that mega-adventure, I plan on running them against the titan kings.  I just got my hands on a copy of the 4th Edition adventure “Revenge of the Giants” (having its own, equally rich history), the sequel to the campaign “Against the Giants”, probably my favorite all-time adventure that I’ve ever participated in.  Giants are my absolute favorite enemy to fight in D&D, and it would be a great follow-up to “Revenge of the Temple of Elemental Evil”.

There’s only one problem.  My heart’s not 100% into it.  The truth is, I don’t want to run these games.

I want to play them.

Have you ever played any of the adventures? Is there an adventure you’ve always wanted to play but never got the chance?

July 2018
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