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KotS Session 4: The Shadow Key June 21, 2010

Posted by elopingcamel in 4e, DM, Keep on the Shadowfell, Narrative.
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Jessica was leaving town for a a few weeks, so I knew that tonight’s session would be our last chance to all play together for a little bit. I wanted to design a session that would feel like a season finale–plots and quests get wrapped up in mind-blowing fashion with crazy action sequences and a big payoff. It probably fell short of all that, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, so in the end I am pleased.

All Rested Up

As soon as the sun is up, the party–now well rested (meaning they have their daily powers and healing surges back)–heads back into the tunnel under the temple to see what else is down there. They come to the T-section where they had battled and killed Ninaran the night before (part 1 & part 2). Footprints are visible heading up the path to the North, while the path to the Southeast is bare; they head North. Soon they round a corner to find light softly flickering off of a wall ahead and to hear high-pitched squeaky voices laughing. Kat sneaks ahead to investigate and finds four small kobolds crowded around a wooden table, eating something furry and quite dead. The room is some kind of underground barracks/storeroom that had obviously not been used by any human in quite some time.

The party creeps up and Kat and Ronen are able to get a surprise round of action in before the kobolds know what is going on. Kat leans in with her two hand crossbows drawn and fires at the weaker-looking minions in the back. She misses one but kills the other. Ronen focuses his casting on the nearest kobold skirmisher, who stands crouched on a wooden crate by the table. By the time Ronen’s spell works its magic, the kobold is on the brink of death, kneeling on his rickety crate. This sets up Luna to run in and attack the kobold minion who is standing on the table, pulling him one space onto his kneeling comrade, who is then knocked onto the floor. He never makes it back onto his feet; Luna sticks her blade into him the second he tries to stand up.

The battle ends quickly and the party searches for items of interest. Thotham notices some holes in the walls just outside of a locked door in the back. He grabs one of the kobold bodies and tosses it in between the walls to see what happens. As soon as the body hits the floor, darts fly from the holes in the walls. Kat tries to disable the trap but is stuck by a poisoned dart in the process. Luckily the trap eventually runs out of ammunition. Then Kat unlocks the doors and the PCs enter a better-kept room with a bed that looks like it actually got some use.  At the foot of the bed is a decent-looking hope chest (the key to which they found on Ninaran’s corpse, when they went back through the tunnels), in which they find 2 stonemeal biscuits, some gold, a red leather book (Ninaran’s journal), and a velvet-wrapped box with a wand (Master’s Wand of Vicious Mockery +1) in it and a note that reads: “To my beloved Helvec. Love, Ninaran.” The party grabs the loot–Thotham taking the wand–and they even loaded the hope chest onto Thotham’s Floating Disc (that sounds better than Tenser… who is Tenser?), so they can have a chest in which to lock some of their items whilst they travel about.

From Ninaran’s journal they learn that Ninaran and her brother Niev were sent by their father to help Kalarel achieve his goals. Neither wanted to do so but for different reasons: Niev dislikes their father’s constant nefarious plotting and Ninaran hates that her father feels the need to accept help from outside the elven clan. She feels that her father has grown weak. Her journal also reveals the secret love affair between Ninaran and Helvec. Both were working for Kalarel and had thus met.

So That’s How She Did It!

They party follows the path north and comes out in Lord Padraig’s manor, in the courtyard right near where Ninaran disappeared. They meet with Lord Padraig who gives them a permanent place to stay in his manor while they are offering their services to the town of Winterhaven and to have his guards watch over their belongings. They descend into the tunnels once again to check out the Southeast path, but this trip is fruitless in terms of offering foes or adventure. They do discover a few more empty barrack rooms and realize that this tunnel system was designed as an underground bunker to hide troops and villagers.

They come up underneath Valthrun’s Tower and decide to pay him a visit. He excitedly ushers them in and says that he finally had some time to look at enchanting or imbuing that ring Thotham had given him. He says that he would not be willing to imbue it with power because it is an elven house ring, explaining that these rings are passed down from generation to generation from the noble Elf families of the clans and often used as betrothal rings. Instead he offers Thotham a trade; he will let each adventurer choose a low-level (level 1) magic item from a drawer that he has filled with them if they will give him the ring. He explains that the house mage of the elf clan from whence this ring comes has a ritual that Valthrun wants, but as of yet this mage has not been willing to share. Valthrun believes that returning the ring will tip the scale in his favor. Valthrun also gives them the remaining reagents that they need to be able to perform the ritual that will bring the Shadow Key into the Mortal World. The adventurers head out to the cave with the map they received from Delphina Moongleam to lead the way.

The Faded Acaelia Cave

They arrive at the cave without incident and find the path behind the waterfall to enter. Kat sneaks up ahead to scout out what is inside the cave. Unfortunately she fails her stealth check and as quickly as she spots the eight kobolds standing guard inside (two kobold skirmishers and six minions), they also spot her.

Kat attacks first, tossing a vial of alchemist’s fire at a group of congregated kobolds. Two minions are enveloped in flame and the skirmisher takes some fire damage as well. Some of the kobolds attempt to rush attack the party as they stand on the edge of the waterfall in the mouth of the cave. One kobold in particular tries to charge into Luna, but trips right before he gets to her (rolls a 1) and ends up face down in the water at Luna’s feet. She swiftly ends his life and his body drifts off the edge of the cave entrance, swept up in the current. The party dispatches the minions very quickly (which is good, because this party has no controller) and begins to work the skirmishers down during the first round of combat.

The party spreads into their positions with Luna and Kat in the front dealing and taking damage, engaging and drawing most of the foes towards them. Ronen steps to the side to take on some foes flanking in from another passage, and Thotham stays back attacking from range. The few kobolds that try to take him on prove too weak to land much of any hits on the Goliath with the massive bow.

The second round starts with more kobold minions running into the cave entrance to join the fray. The party continues its assault and fares well for the next two rounds, before the final wave of enemies rushes in. Ronen spots them first as he breaks through the enemies flanking in from the side passage. An abnormally large goblin named Grimp (Irontooth from KotS, lvl 3 Brute), two kobold dragonshields (lvl 2 Soldier) and a kobold wyrmpriest (lvl 3 Artillery–Leader) all make their way toward the PCs.

The wyrmpriest immediately yells out to the kobold troops, inciting faith in them to fight on (he heals them). Grimp pulls out his two large battle axes and charges at Luna. The battle grows intense and eventually Ronen decides to try out the new summoning spell he learned from studying his Turathian Tome; he summons an infernal mongrel to his side (a custom creature of my own creation: a devilish dog with a barbed tail). The mongrel comes leaping through the summoning portal and latches onto the neck of the kobold dragonshield in front of it.

Thotham balances attacking the kobolds around him and his friends and even manages to shout out some inspiring words to urge them on in battle (he heals them). The nastiest of the melee occurs in the center of the cave entrance, where Luna, Katryn, Grimp, and a couple of kobolds battle it out. Luna is able to get herself separated enough at one point to ram charge into Grimp, laying him down flat on the ground. Ronen continues his swath of terror and destruction to the side of the room, attacking with his mongrel and unleashing his dark powers on the kobolds around him.

At one point Kat slips into the shadows and reappears in flanking position, ready to stab a foe in the back. She then moves to the wyrmpriest and uses her Shadowdance leather armor’s daily power to darken the light above the wyrmpriest’s head, concealing her in the now prevalent shadows so she can sneak attack him.

The fight rages on for a few more rounds until our heroes emerge victorious. They search and find plenty of Faded Acaelia for use in the ritual and to give to Valthrun. They loot the bodies and find Grimp’s treasure trove, where he had been stockpiling the loot from the caravans raids. Luna finds a matching armor set that has leather veteran’s armor and a horned helm that will be perfect for her ram assault charges that she loves to make.

The Shadow Key

The party goes back to the mausoleum to perform the ritual. Thotham casts the ritual and, as he proceeds, Katryn begins to feel a familiarity that she hasn’t felt in a long time–she feels home. The room enwraps in shadow and she feels the presence of a powerful shadow presence. The Shadow Key eventually reveals itself, coming almost fully into the Mortal World; it is a silver-hilted dagger where shadows dance and flicker throughout the clear obsidian blade (it is a Sacrifical Dagger +2 to which I gave an additional power that enhances/extends her Shadow Jaunt by 2 squares. She can choose to use either the Shadow Jaunt Enhancement or the inherent Sacrificial Dagger power each day).

What Worked

For the Valthrun ring trade scene, I printed off 8 item cards for things like a magic rod +1, an amulet of protection +1, burglar’s gloves, etc. This allowed them to feel like they were shopping I think, and it meant that I didn’t have to decide their magic items as much–it allowed them to decide what they wanted a little bit more.

Revealing how Ninaran escaped was a good idea I think. It wasn’t anything incredible, but everyone–especially Brian–seemed genuinely intrigued by the revelation.

Giving the players Area of Effect (AoE) weapons–the Alchemist’s Fire–allowed for them to deal with the large number of minions without getting overwhelmed. I gave them three, thinking that they’d use all three. Instead they only used one and then fought off the rest through other means. I am glad to know that there are ways to make up for the lack of a particular role in a group (although Controller may be the easiest one for which to compensate).

I finally made up for the lack of Magic Items that the PCs had been receiving. It felt like a treasure dump to me, but my hope is that to them it felt like a hard-earned reward. It was nice to be able to hand them an Item Card and see their eyes light up.

Where It Faltered

Having the combat come at them in waves was an interesting shift from the normal combat encounters we’ve been running. It allowed for them to fight more monsters in a manageable way. I do feel like it dragged by the end, though. I think I need to work on ways to make the 2nd or 3rd wave bring something new to the table and not just be more combat. For example, the third wave of Grimp and friends could have been the 2nd wave and then we could have just done away with the 2nd wave. The fight wouldn’t have dragged on as long and Grimp’s arrival would have felt more significant.

Sierra is pregnant and as such gets exhausted rather easily. By the end  of this session she was lying on the couch falling asleep. The combat had taken so long that I was concerned that other players would be burned out on the whole experience so I just sort of rushed through the scene’s descriptions and actions. Looking back I realize two things:

1. I didn’t need to end the session with them obtaining the Shadow Key. I could have left it on a cliffhanger with them arriving to the mausoleum and as they prepare to get the key, something bad happens, someone shows up, or whatever. If time is gone and patience is up, don’t be afraid to just call it quits by leaving things undone for the next time.

2. Combat always takes longer than I anticipate. There is a logical amount of action that a single 3 hour session can fit in and I keep trying to squeeze in more than it can handle. Pretty much a 3-hour session can realistically fit in two combat encounters of the party’s level and some small amounts of role playing. If the battle is going to be massive then I need to make it one encounter and bring in a Skill Challenge instead.

Enders

I am very interested in some feedback from you guys who play in these games. What I am looking for in particular is the following:

1. Write-up help. My memory is not that great so there will be lots of things that I miss. Especially where combat is concerned, as I just have too many things to try and remember/focus on during the battle to remember all of the fun/cool moments. Please feel free to chime in with your recollections of what you thought was fun, cool, exciting, crazy, terrifying, or whatever.

2. Critiques. I am relatively new to this DMing thing. While I do feel very confident in my abilities to run a fun game, I know that I need constant improvement and I welcome that. Anything that you feel just wasn’t done correctly? Let me know.

3. Requests. Is there something on here that you are not seeing that you would like to see? I am willing to try my hand at just about anything that you would be interested in seeing (despite my meager and limited resources). This could be that you want me to record the sessions on my laptop while we play and then post them up here for you to download and listen to. Maybe you want a more “behind the scenes” look at adventure prep. Perhaps you want more visual aides to enhance the write-up experience. Whatever you’d enjoy, let me know and I will see what I can do.

The Brotherhood Session 2: Find Douven Stahl June 3, 2010

Posted by elopingcamel in 4e, DM, Keep on the Shadowfell, Narrative, The Brotherhood.
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Tonight I had the pleasure of running Group 1 through the Douven Stahl side quest of Keep on the Shadowfell. We introduced some new blood to the group with our players Michael and Ben (it was Michael’s first time playing 4e and Ben’s second), and everyone seemed to get along well and enjoy the play session, so I’d say it was a success.

My idea for this session was to introduce the guys to one another and set the stage for the campaign to develop. I had taken the back story for Ben’s character and come up with some ideas for where it could lead, but I didn’t want to plan too far ahead before I could get a feel for what the guys would want out of the campaign.

Robot Rollcall

Carlsberg Torres – Human Ranger/Rogue (multiclass) played by Jed

Perrywinkle – Eladrin Swordmage played by Matt

Ocieleoz (Ocie for short) – Human Paladin of Ioun played by Ben

Dak – Githzerai Monk played by Michael

What Happened

We jumped right into the action, having the heroes arrive at the dragon burial site to find Ensil the Gnome Skulk (lvl 2 Lurker), his 4 Human Rabble (lvl 2 Minions), and 2 Guard Drakes (lvl 2 Brutes) gathered around a massive pit lined with bones. The party begins talking to Ensil, asking him if he knows Douven Stahl or has seen a dwarf. He says no but invites them to come on down to the bottom of the excavation site to see what he has found. As they near they notice a blanket covering a small bundle in the corner. Carlsberg and Ocie hear some soft mumbling coming from underneath the blanket and, as soon as they ask Ensil about it, he yells out “Attack” and disappears behind a rock along the edge of the pit. The fight is on!

Dak finds himself between the two Guard Drakes and immediately unleashes a flurry of blows on both of them. He and Perrywinkle spent most of the remainder of the fight focusing on those two nasty foes, dishing out and taking blows each turn. Carlsberg runs down toward the Human Rabble, flipping off of the side of the dirt slope and twin-strike launching daggers at two of the foes mid flip. Both of his daggers embed deeply into the throats of the Human Rabble minions, killing them both instantly.

Ocieleoz spends much of the fight doing his job of drawing fire from the enemy–the Human Rabble focus their attacks on him while Carlsberg cartwheels and flips around killing them–but is unable to land much of any blows on the minions. Dak is both dishing out and taking heavy amounts of damage, with the Guard Drakes flanking him at times and landing many bite attacks to his legs. The tough brutes were there to guard Ensil and to take lots of damage and they certainly do their job.

During all of this fighting, Ensil is trying to sneak around the pit to a more advantageous position where he can step out of the shadows and sneak attack someone into oblivion. Unfortunately his initial attacks prove utterly ineffectual as he (I) keeps rolling 1s.

Carlsberg kills off the next Human Rabble minion with a knee-slide maneuver that allows him a great angle to throw a dagger into his foe’s crotch. He successfully hits for some severe severing damage (if I haven’t mentioned already… Carlsberg fancies himself a bit of a potions master/experimentalist. He is constantly collecting bits and pieces for his alchemical hobby).

Perrywinkle and Dak team up well against their scaled foes, with one of Perrywinkle’s magic-imbued sword attacks sending off a chain of lightning from one Drake to the other. While they are thus engaged–and Carlsberg’s attention is on the only Human Rabble left, who was battling Ocieleoz–Ensil creeps out of the shadows and swings his war pick at Carlsberg’s back. Somehow he misses. Carlsberg immediately runs forward away from the devious gnome, jumps off of the body of a fallen human minion, and attempts to flip off of Ocieleoz’s shoulder so he can throw daggers at both the gnome and human while spinning through the air. Unfortunately, he slips on Ocie’s shoulder during takeoff, falling to the ground. He is able to get off his daggers though, one cutting into the gnome’s thigh and the other sinking deeply between the human’s ribs. He ends his turn prone, with no Human Rabble minions left alive and Ensil disappearing once again, using his Fade Away racial power.

With the Drakes being the only foes left to see, Ocie moves towards them to try and lend a hand–but continues his poor rolling instead. Frustrated, he moves away from the battle a few steps to try and clear his head. At that moment Perrywinkle’s blade erupts in green flames, and he slices his sword deep into the flank of the Drake and then swings his blade around to come stabbing down into the skull and brain of the now bloodied Drake; it collapses in a lifeless heap.

Dak continues his rain of blows on the remaining four-legged reptilian creature, who lands a return bite on the Monk. Right after this, Ensil reappears suddenly, standing over Carlsberg’s prone body, and swings his nasty pick down into Carlsberg’s shoulder, scoring a wicked hit. Enraged, Carlsberg grabs his two daggers and slices upward between the small thighs, dismembering the poor gnome’s “satchel.” Immediately afterward, Carlsberg flips up from his prone position, crosses his arms, and taunts his now manhoodless foe.

Back around the other side of the dragon pit, Perrywinkle’s blade erupts into green flames once again, this time coming down to kill the remaining Guard Drake. The PCs begin to move toward Carlsberg and Ensil who–recognizing that the battle was lost–decides to flee. He takes one last swing at Carlsberg (scoring a critical hit and dealing a tremendous amount of damage), digging his war pick deep into Carlsberg’s side; Carlsberg drops unconscious and dying on the floor. Ensil makes a break for it.

Ocie runs over to Carlsberg, lays his hands on his head and heals his wounds, returning Carlsberg to good health and conscious life. Ocie then, already on his knees, raises his voice in prayer to his god. Ioun answers and Ensil feels the terrible wrath of the god’s noble paladin servant; Ensil falls dead to the ground.

The Blackguard

The heroes search the bodies and find an amulet (which they soon find out belongs to Douven Stahl and which they return to him) and a tiny black shield tattoo on Ensil’s right ring finger. Under the blankets they find Douven Stahl, bound and gagged. He thanks them and points out the small wooden box hidden under some exposed roots that contains some gold and a tarnished, ancient looking silver mirror. Douven also points out another cache of bottles of ale wrapped in damp cloths, hiding behind some other exposed roots.

They get back to Winterhaven and split up. Carslberg and Douven end up in the tavern, laughing and drinking the night away. After a time Douven decides to give his amulet to his new friend Carlsberg. The other heroes visit Valthrun the Prescient’s tower, where they find Vellan the Mulletted visiting with his old friend Valthrun. They report on the events and learn that the mirror is one of three mirrors that Vellan is searching for. The men that attacked Douven Stahl were Blackguard and they are searching for the mirrors for some vile purpose. Vellan keeps things pretty close to the chest–he won’t tell them what the mirror is for or how it is used–but he does explain that the Blackguard is a secretive and very dangerous cult that has recently sprung up. They worship a mortal man named Davron Black who is convinced (from the telling of a prophecy) that he is destined to replace/become a god. His Blackguard are his mighty warriors who carry out his destructive purposes and his right-hand man is a heavily scarred (at least in his face) man named Akron. His followers all have the tiny black shield of Davron Black tattooed on their right ring finger. Vellan confesses that he now has two of the three mirrors and that some of his agents in the Brotherhood are currently searching for the whereabouts of the third mirror.

What I Liked

All four of these players bring something fun and exciting to the table. I am very encouraged by the interest that many are showing toward developing their back stories and playing out that story’s development in the game. I intentionally left the design of this campaign at a minimum for now, because I wanted to have the room to grow into the story organically, based off of what the players wanted to do or thought would be fun. Thus far, they are very interested in the mirror and heading to Fallcrest, where the two Blackguard said that Ensil should meet them.

I am also pleased to see that Carlsberg Torres’ character seems balanced with the rest of the party. Jed had a very specific character design at the beginning and I made some compromises that would allow him to build that character but not be overpowered. My fear has been that in doing so I may have made him underpowered, but he actually carried on well against the minions and Ensil, dealing out enough damage to fulfill his role as a striker without being too difficult to hit or dealing too much damage.

What I Can Improve

It is early still so perhaps this is premature, but I need to make sure that the players know their options better. I forgot to tell Michael about Action Points until after a round when it might have been very useful to use one (he needed to use his Second Wind to heal himself, but he wasn’t able to then make an attack). Michael didn’t seem bugged so I’m not worried about it, but I should review the options better beforehand so that players don’t feel cheated learning about something they could have done differently that might have been cool or fun for them (or worse, something that would have made a BIG difference for them in terms of success or failure in an encounter).

Enders

I have wanted to be careful that, for the two groups for which I am running campaigns, the plots and storyline are not the same. I now feel more confident that even if there are common elements, the development of these two campaigns will be unique and exciting for both the players and me as the DM. Exciting times my friends.

KotS Session 3: Death to Ninaran – Part 2 June 2, 2010

Posted by elopingcamel in 4e, DM, Keep on the Shadowfell, Narrative.
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Part 1 here.

Battle Tested, Mother Approved

Heeding Sister Linora’s directions, the party heads down into the temple cellar where they find a secret door hidden behind a linen shelf. They follow the tunnel well below the temple until it leads to a bend, where they can see a three-way intersection ahead. Kat sneaks up ahead to scout the tunnel, but she ends up triggering a False-pit Trap (from the DMG). She narrowly avoids falling in, but right afterward the PCs hear a female voice cry out, “Now!” A soft click follows and then another trap is sprung; the ceiling of the tunnel caves in on them (the Rockslide Trap from the DMG). No one took damage from the first trap, but everyone takes lots of damage from the second. Then the fight breaks out! Four level 2 PCs against Ninaran (level 4 archer), 2 kobold dragonshields (level 2 soldiers) positioned perfectly just on the other side of the pit trap as to block the PCs from getting across easily and also making flanking positions more difficult to come by, and a kobold minion (which became a kobold skirmisher, because Ronen expended a daily on the minion (Contagion) and I didn’t have the heart to have it kill the minion before it had the chance to inflict some damage). The Skirmisher has only half HP instead.

Ronen’s Contagion doesn’t work exactly as planned, though. It effectively damages the kobold Skirmisher, but on the Skirmisher’s next turn he attacks Thotham, who is standing right next to the pit. The kobold rolls a 1. In keeping with my tradition of 1’s being auto-failures because it means that something went wrong with the attack, the Skirmisher loses his balance as he swings at the massive Goliath Bard, and slips over the edge of the pit (taking damage in the fall). I didn’t realize it until afterward, but this meant that Ninaran was now out of distance to have the Contagion spread to her. Ah well…sorry Ronen; it was unintentional but well played on my part nonetheless.

The kobolds and Ninaran focus their early attacks on Luna, dropping her unconscious within the second round. Thotham revives her with a healing or inspiring song. Luna had a rough night at first because the monsters were laying it on thick against her and she was not rolling high enough to attack back really. Sierra grew frustrated. I made it worse when she failed an attack roll, decided to use an action point, and then failed that roll. She was one shy of the target DC of the kobold dragonshield’s AC. She was NOT pleased that I didn’t let her have that attack be successful but she got over it quickly. Her Form of the Fearsome Ram daily/encounter duo power once again saves the say and makes Luna look like a formidable foe. After all the rest of the monsters (kobolds) are dead, Luna jumps onto a mound of dirt and launches herself at Ninaran, while in her ram form. She knocks into Ninaran and pushes her back 3 squares. She deals a lot of damage and it is immediately apparent that Ninaran is quickly dying. They kill her after she swears at them, begins to cry, and mentions that they had killed her boyfriend, Helvec.

The party recovers the book, gold and XP, Ninaran’s small silver dart blower, and Kat takes Ninaran’s shadow-black, leather armor. They head back up to the temple to rest and recover before further exploring the tunnels beneath the temple.

What I Learned

I’m going to look into how minions deal with saving throws. Looking back, I probably didn’t need to change the minion to a skirmisher on the fly–I could have allowed the death of the minion to be an automatic failed saving throw. This would have allowed Ronen’s use of his daily to actually work without me accidentally messing up its effectiveness. I do have some concerns about this approach though, just because if a minion is weak enough to be killed from a single damage point, then perhaps they are meant to not be affected by saving throw-type effects. We will keep the current ruling until there is evidence that it needs to be changed. All in all I felt like changing the minion to a skirmisher worked out alright. It did mean less daily power damage overall, but it allowed for the swift slaughter of a mangy kobold foe whose own stupidity launched him helplessly into a pit from which there would be no escape.

KotS Session 3: Death to Ninaran – Part 1 June 2, 2010

Posted by elopingcamel in 4e, DM, Keep on the Shadowfell, Narrative.
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Starters

I am going to begin implementing a new format from here on out. Normal type indicates my thoughts, explanations, and interruptions as a DM and italicized type will indicate narrative recapping of the session. I am willing to change that around if it feels like too much italicized  reading–just let me know.

Where Did We Leave Off?

We pick up this week exactly where we had left off last time; Lord Padraig arrives at the PCs’ rooms to find that they have been attacked and robbed. He asks about what was taken and the PCs–Ronen in particular–tell him only that a tome of great value was stolen. Padraig apologizes profusely and stations guards outside of the rooms to stand watch during the night.

Investigation

The next day the PCs wake up and decide to go in search of some info before the festivities begin. They go talk to Sister Linora about the stolen book, thinking that maybe she was behind the robbery. They quickly discover that she is innocent of that crime and frankly not dangerous. They decide to go talk to Valthrun the Prescient and ask him about the robbery; Sister Linora had mentioned that Valthrun was the only person that she had really talked to about the events in/at the Mausoleum. Valthrun is ecstatic to see the PCs again and immediately begins to fill them in on what he learned about the Shadow Key. It exists between the world in which the PCs live and the Shadowfell. It does not truly belong to either world and thus can act as a conduit between the two worlds. It is essentially a portal that would open a rift to the Shadowfell. The fact that it exists between the two worlds also means that it is difficult to locate. A special ritual would be needed (to which they all groaned aloud and said, “NO! The book!”–HA!) to find it, and the fact that Helvec was down in the Mausoleum means that the Shadow Key is likely there. Valthrun also said that one of the reagents they would need to perform the ritual is a Faded Acaelia–a rare flower. Valthrun recommends that the heroes go talk to Delphina Moongleam about where to find one.

The PCs head down to talk to Delphina. By this hour the townsfolk have gathered in the market square for the celebration so the heroes are met with warm smiles and enthusiastic hand shakes/pats on the back. They talk to Delphina who informs them that the flower can be found in a cave by a waterfall up by the old keep. She then draws them a map of how to get there, explaining that she’d take them up there herself but that she felt it was too dangerous these days–it just always feels like someone is watching her.

Fanfare for the Uncommon Man

Lord Padraig arrives to begin the celebration. He seats himself, his wife, and the heroes up on a makeshift stage in the market square, where a good view of the crowd will be afforded them. Halfway through his speech, Luna and Thotham notice a glint of metal from the crowd. They peer closer just in time to see a dart fly out of a small metal tube, directly at Thotham! Thotham also sees that the hooded figure has short, light-colored hair; it’s Ninaran! Thotham takes the dart to the neck and the night’s skill challenge begins.

The Skill Challenge was the Urban Chase one from the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG). I set it as level 2, complexity 2 (6 successes before 3 failures). The PCs rocked it. Not a single failure. This was both because the PCs rolled really well and because I believe the DCs were too easy. I will definitely be raising them a little  in the future. Truth be told, I am kind of glad that the Skill Challenge DCs were easy though, because this was this group’s first time through a skill challenge. It was nice to have it be something simple and understandable for them. It went quickly, it gave them a chance to be creative and have fun and in the end, they all said that they really enjoyed it. So… mission accomplished.

Thotham had summoned Tenser’s Floating Disc earlier just for the fun of it (Joe had never done a ritual before and thought he’d see what this one did). He decides to just use it as a hover disc for himself to sit upon and float around town. He had not dismissed it before the skill challenge started so at one point, he has it move out over the crowd, while Kat jumps onto it from the stage. She then does a nice acrobatic check for a success. Kat also has the final success and climbs on top of a roof for a better view in time to see Ninaran run into the temple.

A Test

The party sprints into the temple, just after hearing a loud scream from inside. They enter to find Sister Linora stabbed and dying on the floor. Thotham heals her, she rewards them with a potion of healing each, and she tells them to where Ninaran ran.

This part of the session was designed as a morality/alignment test of sorts. I wanted there to be consequences for choosing one action or another. In this case they had the choice to either heal Sister Linora or to leave her to die. By choosing to heal her they earned healing potions from her and will gain favor from the townspeople, maybe even her god, but Ninaran also had more time to prepare traps for their pursuit. Had they chosen not to heal her, then Ninaran would not have had as much time to prepare her traps for them so the encounter would have been easier, but they would not have gained favor with the townspeople. I didn’t really explain this to the PCs at the time, but later when I let Sierra know this type of out-of-game design on my part she seemed to really enjoy learning it. So I think I will share it with the group as well next session, because I want them to feel and know that their in-game choices are meaningful.

What Worked

The role-playing aspect of this game went really well I thought. I tried to not have it drag on for so long as in previous sessions. It was nice though because it felt like the players were sincerely interested in learning about the Shadow Key and in tracking down any leads on that stolen book. The role playing just felt more natural and organic and not forced in any way, because it was a means to an end. I think that is a good lesson for me: role playing should have a purpose or it feels unnecessary and is boring for my players.

Enders

I will get Part 2 up asap, because that is where the battle (and thus fun) really begins.

KotS Session 2: A Thief in the Night May 24, 2010

Posted by elopingcamel in 4e, DM, Keep on the Shadowfell, Narrative.
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Hail The Conquering Heroes!

The heroes travel back to Winterhaven with Sister Linora and the two boys they just rescued. The more they travel, the more Ronen becomes leery of Sister Linora’s incessant pleading that he destroy the ancient tome. He decides to change the cover of the book, swapping it with one of his own tome covers. The party arrives at Winterhaven and are escorted to Lord Padraig’s palace. They share details with him of what happened and he thanks them for their kind deed. He decides to have a day of feasting and celebration in their honor the next day, starting at noon, in the market square. He also invites them to be his special guests at the palace, while they are in town. His assistant Gareth tends to them and many of the party determine that they don’t trust Gareth.

They party goes around town for a bit to sell and purchase items. They meet a few of the more notable locals: Bairwin Wildarson who runs a shopped that deals in slightly more exotic items, Valthrun the Prescient who is the town’s mage in residence, Salvana Wrafton who owns the local tavern, and Delphina Moongleam who sells flowers in the market. Thotham leaves a ring with Valthrun to see if he will enchant it. The party also asks Valthrun about Kalarel, Ninaran, and the Shadow Key. Valthrun agrees to look into them for the party.

So Sneakily They Come Into Your Room

The group eventually heads to Lord Padraig’s manor to sleep. During the night, they are awakened by intruders dressed in black, sneaking around their rooms (the males were in one room and the females were sharing the adjoining room). Fighting breaks out and before they can shut off the escape, one of the thieves throws Helvec’s book out of the window. Ronen drops a nasty spell and then teleports outside of the room to see a short-haired woman rounding the corner. He takes off after her, leaving Thotham alone to fend for himself.

The ladies meanwhile are fighting off the intruders in their room with a great deal of success. Katryn is melding into and out of the shadows, getting sneak attack damage on many foes. Although Luna is surrounded and prone, laying in her bed, she successfully fends off the attackers while Katryn dishes out damage.

Ronen, running after the female book thief with short hair, turns the corner to disappointingly find the courtyard empty. Frustrated he briefly searches for signs of her escape but is unable to find any leads so he heads back to the room. He finds Thotham in trouble and helps to dispatch the remaining assailants, but not before Thotham drops unconscious to the floor.

The last attacker in the girls’ room tries to make an escape but catches a dagger to the leg that causes him to stumble and get stuck halfway in the window. Luna, changing to her Form of the Fearsome Ram, charges at the attacker, instantly killing him and popping his head off of his spine from the force.

Lord Padraig’s guards arrive too late to be of any assistance, but Padraig insists that the guard be doubled around the room so the heroes can get a good night’s sleep.

Final Thoughts

This felt like a very successful session. Seeing Brian’s face when the short-haired woman disappeared without a trace was priceless for me; it was a look of utter sadness (which informed me that he was thoroughly invested). No worries, he will have the chance to get that book back.

Joe was trying out a Goliath Shaman instead of his Bard and although the Shaman seems like a really cool class, I think he felt like the Bard was more of what he was looking for in the end, so he will go back to that.

Sierra was not feeling well and it got worse as the night went on, so the fact that she had fun at all made me happy.

The nicest surprise from this session was how involved Jessica was. She seemed to really enjoy herself and to be focused on what her character was doing. She made an excellent sneak.

Keep On The Shadowfell: A New Beginning May 17, 2010

Posted by elopingcamel in 4e, DM, Keep on the Shadowfell, Narrative.
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With Group 1 (Jed, Matt, Jen, and Sierra) on a seriously long hiatus (sad), I decided to run Keep on the Shadowfell (KotS) with a different group and let the other group’s adventure be my own home-brewed one. Luckily, we hadn’t gotten very far in KotS, so Sierra didn’t have to repeat anything. For Group 2 (Joe, Jessica, Brian, and Sierra) I skipped the Douven Stahl side quest and began with the free RPG Day adventure Into the Shadowhaunt.

Robot Rollcall

To be honest, we didn’t really bother with doing much of any back story for these characters. Joe always puts a bit more into back story than others so he had some bits about his Goliath Bard being one of the lore keepers for his society (they store knowledge through song). His bard is out exploring as part of his journey/test for manhood. Everyone else is beginning with little to no back story.

Luna – Longtooth Shifter Warden (played by Sierra)

Thotham – Goliath Bard (played by Joe)

Katryn – Shadar-kai Rogue (played by Jessica)

Ronen – Deva Warlock (played by Brian)

The Adventure Begins

The heroes arrive to find the town of Winterhaven on edge; two local boys were recently kidnapped. They group is approached by Sister Linora–the priestess at the local temple and grounds tender at the local graveyard–who claims to have seen men entering the mausoleum at the graveyard. She says that she saw them go in but never saw them come back out. When she eventually worked up the courage to go into the mausoleum, it was empty. The heroes agree to go with her to investigate.

It Was Puzzling

Into the Shadowhaunt has a nice puzzle for the PCs to solve before they can find the secret entrance that leads under the mausoleum. For the sake of avoiding spoilers (at least as far as official, published adventures go), we’ll skip much of that aspect of this session and just comment on how impressed everyone was with Brian’s knowledge of medieval vocabulary and problem-solving skills.

Into the Shadowhaunt

Having solved the puzzle of the secret entrance into the belly of the mausoleum, the adventurers come to their first fight; hobgoblin mercenaries crouched behind oil-filled sarcophagi. The hobgoblins begin peppering them with ranged attacks while some of the PCs charge in. They get their first surprise when Luna tries to climb on the sarcophagus, only to have the lid break in on her, the flame igniting the oil beneath her. They eventually dispatch the hobgoblins and continue their search of the boys.

Traveling through tunnels, they come to an opening in the cavern below the mausoleum. They see a door with a large devil’s head on it and a passage forking off. They decide to investigate the passage first and soon find the man behind the kidnappings; an elf necromancer standing atop a high, glowing platform with an ancient tome open in front of him. He is chanting and involved in some sort of ritual. A fight erupts and soon the evil elf is joined by skeletons from an alcove to the side. The fight takes its toll on both sides but the elf seems to have the upper hand from his lofty position. Eventually Katryn and Luna work out a plan for Kat to crouch down a couple feet from the pedestal and for Luna to use her Form of the Fearsome Ram to charge toward the elf, leap off of Kat’s back, and slam into the elf mage. It works brilliantly, knocking the elf from his perch and just about killing him. They kill off the skeletons, loot the elf, and then find the boys in the room with the devil’s head.

They leave the mausoleum to find Sister Linora still waiting for them. She is ecstatic to see the boys again, but obviously nervous about Ronen keeping the elf’s book. The two boys explain that the elf’s name was Helvec and that he planned on sacrificing the boys to perform a ritual that would allow him to locate something called the Shadow Key. The heroes also find a note inside the book from someone named Kalarel. He warned Helvec against failure and said that he was sending someone named Ninaran to supervise Helvec’s attempts.

Enders

The session ended with the heroes returning to town. I really liked the way that Into the Shadowhaunt tied into Keep on the Shadowfell. The heroes got a couple of rings, Helvec’s robes and the ancient tome as well. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and it seemed like a successful first run of 4e with the new group.

New Blood May 17, 2010

Posted by elopingcamel in 4e, DM, Keep on the Shadowfell, The Brotherhood.
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Last night my step cousin and his friend (my friend as well, but I met him through my step cousin) came over to give Dungeons and Dragons a try. We spent the first hour or so going over the basics of the game and creating characters. Then I ran them through the first two encounters of the DMG mini-adventure Kobold Hall. It went really well and they seemed to truly enjoy themselves.

My cousin (Tyler) decided to be a Wilden Druid and his friend (Ben) went with a Human Paladin who worships Ioun. The encounters weren’t very challenging but I mainly wanted them to get a feel for how the game works and how terrain can function in a 3D way, providing cover and helping/hindering them.

The plan right now is to incorporate them into the game I had been running previously for Jed (Carlsberg Torres). The rest of that group is not really interested in pursuing the game besides Jed, so I will start where he left off and add in Tyler and Ben, as well as another friend named Michael who wants to come give it a try. I’m going to break off from the Keep on the Shadowfell, though. I started running a different group through that one and I don’t want to do it twice. So, this will really be my first time having total and complete free reign in making up a world and campaign, all for new players. I have DMed long enough now to feel comfortable doing so.

Anyway, from now on the Keep on the Shadowfell write-ups will be about Group 2’s adventure and Group 1’s adventure will get a new name. For now I will call them the The Brotherhood, but that will likely change as the game goes on.

Consider yourself updated.

Another Shift May 13, 2010

Posted by elopingcamel in 4e, DM, Keep on the Shadowfell.
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I am getting good at changing plans. The 3.5e group that I was playing with (remember young Fetalus? Of course you do) finished our campaign (not really, but we finished the published adventure we were doing) and decided to try our hand at 4e (I admit to using my powers of persuasion to try my best to influence them to try 4e. It actually wasn’t that hard to be honest. Everyone was more than willing to give it a go in the end). So, I decided that I will be running them through Keep on the Shadowfell. This will mean two things: 1.) I will be changing my other group’s adventure so that they are not running Keep on the Shadowfell any longer and 2.) I will be liberally chopping up, removing, and replacing bits from the adventure to tailor it to this new group.

My reasons for doing this are that my first group that was running through it are a little easier to prepare for in my way of thinking. They are all very new to the game, they have not experienced much of the game and they are more of a hack and slash group anyway. Minimal story/plot lining is necessary and winging it is really easy. With this new group I will be DMing, some of them are old pros. This is a little intimidating for me, so I thought it would be beneficial to run something pre-made and then just tailor it to them.

So, I will finish the first group’s adventure with them finding Douven Staul (which was a side quest anyway) and then have them move on to new and totally original adventures (thus giving me the much desired and needed experience of creating my own adventures without the stress of having to make them mind-blowingly good for guys who have seen it all already). The second group I will run through Keep on the Shadowfell, but I will not use the Douven Staul storyline at all (as my wife is in both groups and I don’t want her to have to repeat anything). I am going to insert instead the adventure module from Into the Shadowhaunt. I am going to tailor some of it though, so that Helvec and Ninaran are lovers and are both working for Kalarel. Helvec is working underneath the Mausoleum looking for a relic that will allow Kalarel to open the rift to the Shadowfell (as well as Helvec performing his own sadistic rituals for his own private purposes). My hope is that this will accomplish the following things:

1. It will give an early and easy intro for everyone into the world of 4e with one of the Game Day adventures.

2. It will introduce key NPCs and villains from the get go as well as needed information.

3. It will create a strong motive for a later encounter with Ninaran who is very bitter about the murder of her lover.

4. It will create some interesting Skill Challenges (specifically I am thinking of one where Ninaran steals the relic that the heroes recover when they kill Helvec and the heroes chase her through the market and town via a Skill Challenge).

We will start next weekend, so I have some preparation to do before then, but I think that things are off to a great start so far. I’ll give info about the PCs next time.