Thursday, September 30, 2010
Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 7: Into the Well
We begin outside the door discovered down Kuto's Well. Our heroes are::
Uthal, Goliath Barbarian 2
Tavar, Deva Invoker 2
Kordan, Human Fighter 2
Javanni, Half Elf Bard 2
Mikal, Human Warlock 2
Althea, Eladrin Wizard 2
Dropping all attempts at stealth the party makes several noisy attempts to force open the stouter-than-it-appears wooden door. Eventually it gives and opens up to a short, hallway leading to another set of double doors. Again stealth is ignored as battering begins and soon this set of doors is smashed down, revealing a set and ready group of kobold guards - battle begins!
One larger, fiercer kobold stands in the center of a line, with 2 kobold pikemen on each side of him. Behind this line of armored, braced, and ready warriors stands a robed kobold with a wild look in his eyes and sparks dancing around his head. As Kordan attempts to enter the room and join in direct battle, he notices a slimy substance on the floor in front of the defense line but it's too late - he slips and falls flat directly in front of the big kobold. This gains him a glorious spearing by that warrior and by the 2 on either side of him. Uthal attempts to step past his downed comrade but slips on the slime and suffers a similar fate.The invoker, wizard, warlock, and bard all provide supporting fire via various arcane blasts but the fight is not going well for the heroes.
Sensing a need to change things up, Althea teleports into the room behind the defense line and unleashes a thunderwave, blasting kobolds all over the place and disrupting their formation. Regaining their feet, Kordan and Uthal wade into combat but are quickly surrounded by the shifty creatures, taking a serious beating from kobold spears while the wizard has been frozen and poisoned by blasts from the erratic kobold wizard.
With the situation growing more desperate, Althea shakes off some of the aftereffects and lets off a thunderwave that catches several kobolds plus Uthal! In the ensuing chaos, Kordan and Uthal attempt to reform some kind of defensive position from which they can support each other while the Kobold wild mage turns his attention to the Eladrin spell-flinger and begins a duel. The heroes seem to be cursed somehow, unable to lay their weapons on the quick-reacting creatures. Things look bad, even with fire support from Javanni, Mikal, and Tavar, to the point that Mikal considers entering the room himself. That's when Althea unleashes another spell that takes out some of the kobolds but also injures Uthal and he falls, unconscious and bleeding. The situation is grim and a retreat is considered.
But No! No retreat will be made! Kordan takes down one scaly pikeman in a furious rage! Javanni leaps in to render aid to the fallen barbarian! Tavar blasts one of the remaining kobolds as Mikal charges in and finishes it off with an eldritch strike! The battle ends with the team battered and blasted but victorious!
Pausing to bind up wounds and refocus their energy, the party decides to press on. The kobolds have to be removed from the well and it appears that negotiation is unlikely at this point. One odd note- The chief kobold called out to something called "The Emerald Queen" as he falls - a name not known to the group. Filing it away they kick down the only other door in the room and advance.
Down a short hallway the heroes enter a large columned hall. Although they do use caution they are swarmed by more kobolds as they move in. Better prepared this time they maintain a formation and fight them off without serious injury. Afterwards they realize they have slain two dozen of the things, mostly females and younger ones apparently.
Looking around the room they see two other doors. They head to one and Kordan scouts down the hallway behind it, soon discovering a hidden pit, falling down a long ways onto some spikes, seriously injuring himself and making a lot of noise. There is a door directly across from the pit and as the rest of the party attempts to extract the fighter Javanni pushes the door open, revealing a room full of armed kobolds. One of them bellows in broken common "You dare to challenge the Emerald Prince?! Prepare to die!"
Another great session even if we did only get two encounters done. We got started mostly on time but that fight in the guardroom took over 2 hours. It wasn't a grind, it was just a very tense fight and the players could not roll out of the single digits which prolonged things quite a bit. It was one of the best combats we have had and I felt pretty good when it was over - the party didn't feel over matched but it wasn't a cakewalk either. The higher hit points of 4E does prolong the fights but it also gives the players (and the DM) the chance to adjust their tactics to the situation if they are not doing well making for a more interesting fight. The wizard at one point was slowed, weakened, and bloodied but she was still having fun. The fighter was bloodied and the barbarian was bloodied twice, dropping once.
The second combat was a fight against 24 minions because I wanted to see how that would go. The minions did inflict a fair amount of damage on some of the characters but it takes numbers to get enough hits to generate enough damage to scare a PC and they rarely last long enough to get 2 chances to hit an opponent. Still, multiple waves of kobolds rushing in and chucking javelins was kind of fun and that fight was much shorter. I will probably keep variations of this in play for some time to come. A spellcaster standing behind a wall of 20 minions could make things interesting.
Some have said that 4E is all about combat and not about roleplaying. I disagree - sometimes combat IS roleplaying! When the wizard hits the fighter with a thunderwave spell and he starts questioning her in character, that's roleplaying! The word isn't a synonym for "solving a mystery" or "meeting NPC's" - Roleplaying encompasses all of those things and more, including combat. Think of Star Wars, think of Schwarzenegger movies, think of the LOTR movies - a lot of the humor and a fair amount of the drama between characters comes during the combat/action scenes. It's part of the deal and not a small part. When a player shouts his character's battlecry, when a player threatens his opponent in-character, when a player or character gives a "Yes" as the enemy falls or a "Damn" as a companion falls that's RP in it's most natural form and it's right at the heart of the D&D game. I've seen it in every edition of the game, form Basic to 4th. I'll have more on this idea in another post but it's an old tired complaint that needs to be put to rest.
One other note on encounter design - in general I try to make notes, or at least have an idea in my head, of 2 different "levels" for an encounter.
There's the "surprised by the party" level, which in the above case would have found the kobolds standing around talking and maybe playing kobold poker. Even if they are not technically surprised they would usually spend the 1st round reacting to the party. In 1-2-3E it meant no short-duration prep spells would be cast in advance, only get-out-of-bed spells like those wonderful 3.0 Bull's Strength and the like. Weapons may be drawn or not (Spears yes swords probably not) and the advantage is probably with the PC's as they are more ready for a fight. plus any sentries or messengers have not had time to alert another room or more guards before the fight starts which gives the party a chance to take them out first.
Then there is the "On Guard" level which means the bad guys are armed and in position, some buffs may have been cast, some sneaky types may be hidden. This is pretty typical in my games as my players rarely bother with stealth and a closed door usually gives at least one round of warning before the meatshields come crashing in. I don't really worry about passive perception when there is at least one character in plate clanking down the hall - I'm not giving a "passive stealth check" in that situation. It's effectively one round of warning - they can move, draw weapons, cast a spell, and that's about it. Warning messengers are usually out of the room already or ready to run. Doors to the rest of the area are locked if that's a normal defense mechanism.
For the really ridiculous situations I do occasionally pull out "Ambush" level - this is what happened above. There were multiple rounds of bashing on first one door, then another, before the party got to the kobold guard post. That gave them plenty of time to set up the maximum possible preparedness to stop these intruders. Perfect formation with overlapping strike zones, slime fully dispersed (DC10 acrobatics check when entering or go prone), and a held action to strike the first target that enters their reach. It led to a very bloody encounter and meant the common room was warned and had time to hide - hey, it's a frontal assault against a prepared defense, that's how it should go. The same thing happened to a lesser degree with the pit trap in front of the final door - it's both a combat element and a warning system, so the chieftain had time to arm up his boys prior to engaging.
Anyway it was a good session and I'm looking forward to the next one and it sounds like my players are too - that's really the goal