Although the Apprentices claimed to have made characters weeks ago, when I started setting up for the game there were a lot of last minute decisions and a mad scramble to sort out who was playing what.and we ended up with the following:
Dragonborn Brawling Fighter (Martial Defender)
Drow Bow Ranger (Martial Striker)
Dwarf Swarm Druid (Primal Controller)
Human Devoted Cleric (Divine Leader)
I spent a fair amount of time setting up the background of the Dalelands and the Temple as both elements are new to the boys. Then I dropped them onto the road leading to Hommlet and let them finish working out how they ended up travelling together. They did a pretty good job of this and were soon entering the village. I put out a map of the area so they could see their surroundings. I also had the soundtrack to "Braveheart" playing once I dropped them on the road and they were convinced I had synchronized everything because the music meshed to the in-game activities darn near perfectly for this whole opening sequence.
Feeling pretty pleased with how things were going, I asked them where they were going in the village - expected them to spend some time exploring the area, talking to villagers, and generally getitng to know the place. They asked me two things - 1) Where can we stay? - Inn of the Welcome Wench - and 2) Where can we buy extra gear? - General Store - and then they were ready to head for the temple. I hurredly dropped some rumors on them at the inn to let them know about the moathouse. Since the original report of trouble in the area was bandits attacking the roads, I made sure they heard that most locals assumed that the bandits were hiding out in the moathouse, although none of the locals were going to go there and see. Our novice heroes though were more than ready to pursue this line of thinking.
Showing almost no interest in the village at all, the party ventured forth into the wilderness following an old road then turning off onto a disused track that led to the old outpost. Approaching the ruins they showed admirrable caution, using their skills to spy out the place from a distance and letting some characters cover others as they advanced - if they've learned nothing else from playing Basic they have learned caution!. After a fairly thourough recon, they decided to go ahead and try to cross the old drawbridge.
As they advanced they noticed eyes in the water of the old moat - lots of eyes. Sensing an ambush, they decided to spring it their way and the ranger opened fire with a twin shot from his bow and both shots slammed into something. A group of giant frogs erupted from the water (one of them with two arrows sticking out of it's head) and attacked! Two of them leapt at least twenty feet and attempted to bite the fighter while another leapt at the druid. Two others moved slightly closer and then shot forth their sticky tongues, grabbing heroes and dragging them closer. All atempts by the party to form a coherent line of battle were for naught as the frogs leapt across the battlefield, entangled various party members, and dragged them apart. The ranger was forced to pull his sword and fight up close, while the cleric was bitten and knocked to the ground in short order. The druid came through in the best shape but the fighter and cleric were both bloodied at some point during the fight In the end the ranger killed three, the fighter and the cleric each killed one, and the frogs killed zero though they gave it a good try. The party paused to bind their wounds and catch their breath before moving on. They also cut open the frogs to look for treasure, having deduced that monsters that swallow people might also swallow some of the things that belong to people, and they are rewarded with a large ruby in the stomach of the biggest frog (this was a very proud moment for me...sniff).
Moving through the ruined gates the group saw a large tower to their left and the entrance to a large hall and the main structure of the keep on their right. They opted for the tower first. Listening at the door revealed nothing (heh) so they cautiously opened the door and the fighter moved in, covered by the ranger and his drawn bow.
Hampered briefly by a lack of light (Who's got the sunrod? Hey the fighter has a free hand! Yeah but I need that to fight! Ranger can't do it he's using a bow! Fine, the Druid will do it! Ok where is he? He's here - no here -wait...Just have him stand over here! Now we can all see!) the fighter sees a huge spider on a ledge opposite the door and moves to engage. A second big arachnid leaps toward the door only to be shot by the ranger and then pounced upon by the druid. A swarm of smaller spiders comes out of the ruined upper story and the cleric is forced to engage them to keep the ranger free to use his bow. Amdist the swirling melee the druid shifts to swarm form and engages the spider swarm, fighting fire with fire etc. One Deathjump Spider is dropped pretty quickly but the other proves to be tougher and inflicts some pain on our heroes. The ranger lines up a perfect shot then blows it utterly, his shot skittering off into the collpased part of the ruin. Poisonous bites begin to slow the party's movements, but they persist in the fight, a torchlit affair punctuated by the blast of a shining lance of faith from the cleric now and then, and the mass clicking of the druid's scorpion swarm tearing into the spiders. Soon enough the spiders are slain and the woozy warriors decide to bar the door and stay the night in the tower to recover from their wounds.
The night passes uneventfully - clearly the spiders had cleared everything else out from this part of the ruin - and everyone feels better in the morning, even after sleeping in the musty old tower. The heroes step out into the sun and the battered double doors in the opposite corner of the courtyard beckon.
As they approach the ranger and druid look for tracks (another proud moment), noticing human bootprints near the broken gate and near the stairs to the main keep. Alert, they push open the hanging doors to the hall and see ... nothing. The squeaking of the unoiled doors has robbed them of whatever stealth they might have achieved (after moving across an open, sunlit courtyard) so they smash one door off of its hinges, ensuring no one can secure them against a future entrance. Looking around they see hallways leading off to the right and left and a closed doorway ahead. They decided to go right and walk into the fight of their lives.
At the end of the short dark hallway is a 20' x 30' room full of venomous serpent - very unhappy to be disturbed venomous serpent - in the form of two Deathrattle Vipers. The fighter and the druid are up front, with the cleric and the ranger behind, and the druid quickly learns why he should not be in the front line as he is bitten and poisoned almost before he knows it. The big scaly fighter does his best to keep both serpents occupied, and the ranger fires shot after shot, but the druid is repeatedly bitten and poisoned. When he finally manages to stagger back out of the fight for clerical attention, the fighter is hit and poisoned as well. Hampered by their lack of experience in fighting together this fight does not go well for the new heroes. The fighter eventually finishes off one snake but he then drops from the massive quantites of venom flowing through his veins. The ranger is forced once again to engage up close, drawing steel when he would rather be drawing a bowstring. The cleric's healing is soon exhausted but he does manage to restore some vitality to his companions .Reeling from the rapid up and down experience of poison-healing-poison the druid jumps back into the fight, working with the ranger to encircle the remaining viper and the attended-to fighter joins in as well. In a flurry of strikes they manage to finally slay the beast, and stagger across the room to collapse together, trying to recover from their wounds and hoping that nothing else attacks them in the next few minutes.
This was an excellent start to the campaign as the Apprentices were excited and enthusiastic after not playing 4E for over two months.I kept the background to a minimum unless they asked about something, the music was a big hit, and they were not interested in dawdling about the village - they wanted to go after something. I had prepared the entire upper level and part of the dungeon level of the Moathouse prior to this so I had plenty of material to keep them busy.
I was very happy with the caution they showed - unlike my other regular party they have some ability to go stealthy and they did as they approached the place. They were also good about looking for tracks, rolling for monster knowledge (when it came up later), and asking good questions about what they saw and heard - I think playing some Basic has been good for them, and playing some other games has helped too.
I was less happy with the bickering over what to do in combat - who was going where, what powers to use, when to use them, how much this thing sucks, how much more awesome this character is than that character - all the perils of playing with teenage boys.
The frog combat went alright, but the first few encounters with a new party are always tricky as no one knows who can do what, the synergies between different characters have yet to be discovered, and people tend to forget a lot of what they can do, as when the dwarf completely forgot about his bonus to poison saves and the fighter kept forgetting to mark things to help keep them off of his allies.
The spider combat actually went pretty well but they blew through most of their dailies (eager to try them out) and so they decided to take a long rest right there. It's not a bad spot once the door is barred so there was some player experience at work there.
The viper combat was a very close thing. Probably the toughest fight of the upper level and they went straight to it! At least they were fresh and had a full set of dailies and healing surges. This is where the dwarf''s forgetfulness really hurt him as his terrible armor class meant that he was getting hit almost every round for ongoing 5 poison, but after he backed off he had a hard time shaking it off - that bonus would have helped a lot. After the game it appeared that there might have been math error on the druid's part as well, as his AC was really low. Of course the snakes lower all defenses in a 10' radius too, which makes a bad AC worse, and so maybe it was just inevitable. The swarm druid gets some damage resistance for being in swarm form but he kept forgetting that too and it doesn't help agains ongoing poison damage. The cleric burned up every bit of his healing (including his divine intervention) to keep the party alive and it was barely enough. The ranger had some challenges too, and so after missing with several shots he was informed that perhaps twin strike isn't the answer to all of life's problems and that maybe one good shot for a d10+5 was better than a miss and a hit for 1d10 every round. The brawling fighter realized that being able to immobilize a large poisonous serpent right next to yourself might not be all that great an ability as preventing movement means that it tends to keep right on biting you.
The net outcome of all this, post-game, was that there was a fair amount of dissatisfaction with the characters chosen. I think brawling fighters are cool but as the only defender in a 4-man party I think they might not be the best choice and Apprentice Blaster agreed. He was pretty happy with his bow ranger though. Apprentice Red thought his cleric did alright but the druid just could not stand in melee next to the fighter due to his low AC and hit points yet most of his powers are melee strikes or close blast effects. He was not happy with it either. Because of this, I'm letting them remake their characters for the next session. Right now it looks like the dragonborn fighter is switching to a paladin (better AC, some healing abilities, plus a mark that does damage) and the swarm druid is becoming an Essentials druid. That version is a leader, not a controller, so the cleric may be history as well since a leader druid covers both interests for Red. He also has an animal companion which gives the 4-man team another player on the field and that should help too. More to come...