Thursday, December 8, 2011

ToEE 4E Session 3 - The Dragon!

We begin in an inner chamber of the ruined moathouse with our quartet of heroes - Torgar - Dwarf Druid (and his bear companion Po), Apollo - Elf Bladesinger, Isaac - Human Swordmage, and Torin - Dragonborn Paladin. After fighting off the dire rats in the middle of the night, they sleep a little later than usual and wake up ready once again. Looking at their sketch map they realize that there can't be too many unexplored areas left and they resolve to thoroughly search the entire place - for both stragglers and loot.

Heading into the southern end near where they fought the giant snakes, they begin smashing down doors and tossing the interior. The old wooden doors give them quite a bit of trouble but they manage to overcome this. As they ransack the place they find no opposition - fortunate, given the amount of noise they are making - and discover a sword hidden behind a stout piece of furniture. The Bladesinger pronounces it magical, a Luck Blade, and claims it for himself as no one else uses a sword as their primary weapon.

Moving to the north end of the place they discover a set of stairs leading down but after some debate decide to finish clearing out the upper level before descending. They work through some otherwise empty rooms and halls, finding a few trinkets. They then break into an old kitchen, disturbing a nest of stirges and finding a whole mess of trouble.

The stirges swarm the Paladin and the Bladesinger who are in more exposed positions in the room. The Swordmage tries to help, but the Druid and his bear are hindered by the narrow doorway and the efforts of the others to fight off the attacking bloodsuckers. They prove to be tough opponents and by the time two stirges are killed the Paladin is also down!  He soon regathers his strength and rejoins the fight but it's a near thing. Eventually the Druid and the bear manage to get into positions to help and the situation turns around at that point. As the last stirge turns to buzz away the Bladesinger splatters it with his magical blade. The battered and bloodied party rests briefly, uses some healing magic, discovers a magical suit of acid-resistant hide armor (folded up on a butcher block for some forgotten reason) and resolves to push on to the last unopened door in the place.

The Paladin and the bear force open the large doors and walk into a room that is partially open to the sky.It is also apparently home to a small black dragon, who is reared up next to a battered wooden chest and asking in draconic just what the heck is going on? The Paladin replies diplomatically that they are exploring the ruin and tries to figure out if the party is in shape to take on this horse-sized wyrm. The Druid offers to trade magical items with the dragon but the dragon interprets this as an offer of tribute, which he accepts - "leave the item on the floor and back out of the room and you may live".  There's nor way our heroes are going to agree to this and so now a fight breaks out.

The Paladin and the Swordmage charge the dragon while the Bladesinger stands his ground and launches his spells. As the two warriors run up the dragon lets fly with his acid breath, catching every member of the party but the druid, wounding everyone and killing Po. Dripping and smoking, the team responds and tears into the dragon with sword and spell. The Druid pauses to restore his friend to life but is now exposed and when the wounded dragon sprays his acid again he blasts the entire party, dropping the Paladin - and the bear! Enraged, the heroes send even more violence against the dragon with the Bladesinger stepping back to get out of blast range and the Druid, somewhat protected from the acid breath by his new acid-resistant hide armor, moves into a better position to fight the beast up close. Once again the beast spews forth liquid smoking death, severely wounding the Swordmage this time and killing the Paladin! The Druid strikes hard and the Bladesinger blasts away with magic missiles, staggering the dragon. It tears into the Druid with its formidable claws, but the newly-returned Po flies into a rage at the sight of this thing hurting his friend and rips the thing apart in response, ending the danger and the carnage in a furious assault.

Battered and with one member down for good, the heroes rest briefly, gather up their loot, and stagger back to Hommlet for the night, bringing word of the bandits' (and a dragon's) demise.

DM Notes: This was a nice little run that got our temple game moving again after a longer than expected break. I figured they could clear the upper level of the Moathouse in one more session and they did so thoroughly.

As they went to start smashing in doors they discovered that they are a pretty low strength party, making those Strength checks to break down doors a lot tougher than usual. The bear was recruited to be the primary battering ram as his Strength of 20 is the highest in the group by far. Once inside I use a combination of Perception rolls and common sense (if you look inside a drawer you can see what's in the drawer, no roll necessary) and had a little fun with them as they insisted there had to be something in one of the rooms because they rolled really high:

DM: "OK you think there must be something in this room"

Blaster: "Can I assist?"

DM: "Sure"

Red: "28 with the assist"

DM: "You don't find anything yet but it must be here somewhere"

Repeat until frustrated Apprentices finally catch on that they are chasing their tails here and move on.

They seriously debated going downstairs - "Because there's more stuff and more XP's down there" - and then decided to make sure the upper floor was empty first so they wouldn't get ambushed. I think that's sound reasoning in general, not just in D&D.

The Stirge fight was much tougher than I expected. These are, again, out of the Monster Vault and are pretty nasty mechanically but they are also fun to run. They have a fairly normal attack but once they hit they attach and do ongoing 5 damage at that point, untyped. So if two of them latch on, that's 10 points per round coming out of your adventurer and that's a lot. Their AC and Reflex Defense also go up when they attach so it makes them that much harder to hit. Now it's only a move action to try and break loose (it's considered a grab when they plug in) but it's a tricky thing in a tight space and these aren't minions, so they don't drop in one hit. It's considered to be a level two encounter but my level one party had a tough time with it and took nine rounds to end it.

I think the dragon surprised them, especially since Apprentice Red had just made a comment after finding the stairs that "We have a dungeon, now we just need a dragon".  I want to give them some credit here too - they did try to talk to it first! It didn't go the way they hoped but they did try. My idea here was that this was a very young dragon wounded and on its own. It holed up here in the moathouse to recover and gathered up some treasure in an old chest that it might be able to carry off when it decided to move on. This was not a part of the original ToEE but I added it because a) I wanted another "big" monster and the giant lizard in the original made me think "dragon" and b) I think dragons should show up more than they do in a lot of published adventures, old and new. One of the best moments in my 3E RttToEE campaign was when my extremely confident players walked into the Moathouse courtyard. Some of them  had played or run the original ToEE and were thinking it would still be a "starter area". When the blue dragon appeared the look on their faces was priceless, as was their reaction in trying to deal with a sudden major threat in an area where they had been expecting quiet. When you have cool iconic monsters in the game you should USE THEM! So I did. I killed the bear twice and the paladin once, thanks to two good recharge rolls and the bloodied breath ability. Firing off the breath that many times and hitting that many characters may be a personal record, especially considering it only lasted three rounds! Stat-wise I used a tweaked "Fledgling White Dragon" from the Monster Vault which is a Level 1 Solo.

Mechanically, the main thing that I learned here is that I need to watch levels more closely now. Having only a 4 character party combined with using the powered-up monster stats from the MV means that my guys are taking more of a beating than the older low-level runs did. Monster damage is significantly higher now, and having no striker types means that fights last longer. The Sentinel Druid is a decent healer but two defenders and an easily hit bear mean there is a lot of damage to heal. In my main campaign they were taking on encounters 3 and 4 levels higher just to give some teeth to the monsters. I'm thinking I need to adjust things back to truly reflect a 4-man party or I need to keep the levels down, possibly both. They ended with enough XP to level up to 2nd and Apprentice Blaster was pondering whether to bring back his Paladin or make a new character. They both retreated to the character builder right after and were checking their options for next time.

Beyond the mechanics I learned that the Apprentices instincts are right on and they are having the same kinds of conversations we used to have back when we were playing B/X D&D and AD&D. I choose to see that as confirmation that I'm doing something right. It also tells me that despite all the changes in things over the last 30 years that some things are just fun - army men, BB guns, firecrackers, and looting and mayhem with D&D.

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