Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guardians of the Vale - Final Placement of the Campaign

So I've had a fair amount of placement chaos with this campaign. In the end I've placed it in the sample starting area from the FR Campaign Guide. Why? Well...

The generic campaign Nentir Vale idea was one I liked but it really isn't compatible with a Forgotten Realms campaign as the history and the gods are incompatible. Yes I could convert them but what's the point of converting a nice little start area that much? Plus I figure I can use it as-is in my Legendary Greyhawk idea whenever I finally get to run that. So, no Nentir Vale in Faerun.

Damara has potential as it's close to Vaasa (Warlock Knights and the Witch King) and not terribly detailed. The geography is close enough to the Nentir Vale that I could almost fit it in. The land has ties to Orcus cultists going back into history so it fits well with the main theme of the 4E Adventure Path. The great glacier to the north could allow for some good adventures too. I even found a nice supplement that adds more of an Orcus theme to the first 3 adventures and I really liked the way it was shaping up - the fight against Orcus, the other stuff...wait Orcus is trying to take the power of the Raven Queen? FR doesn't have a Raven Queen. The usual substitute is Shar, but she's a greater goddess that's a pretty big player in things. Really? This isn't going to work real well in my head. Let's save it for the Ancient Greyhawk campaign or until I rework it to better fit in Damara.

Additionally I started thinking and I'm not sure I want the Apprentices' first big campaign to center around a demon's just not my favorite theme for the youngsters. Tiamat maybe - big evil dragons are cooler than the demon undead guy at their age. This totally blows my original plan. Great.

So I started looking at the Scales of War adventure path - it's built around dragons and things. The first adventure is...not impressive. The raid part is fine but the dungeon is kind of a mess. The second adventure though is very cool and looks like something straight out of Lord of the Rings - I can use that. But I still need a setting.

I re-read Loudwater in the FR Campaign Guide and it's good. It has a nice little map with just enough detail to be useful. So there, goodbye Fallcrest, hello Loudwater. It's also located in a very interesting part of Faerun locally, plus it's within a fairly short journey of Baldur's Gate, Waterdeep. and the Moonsea (where the other game is located). Forest, Mountains, Desert, Badlands are all close by. This looks like a nice region to start in with a lot of small areas I can put my own spin on.

So the plan is this: The campaign will be centered in the Gray Vale Region. Loudwater will be the starting town but they can wander wherever they want.  They will finish up the Kobold Hall trip and still be at level 1. This will roll right into the raid encounter and the Ogre Barrow adventure which should put them at 2nd. This will lead into whatever part of the Rivenroar scenario I decide to steal and the Icy Spire adventure from the Dungeon Annual which is set nearby and looks pretty cool. This should put them up around 3rd level. At that point I will run them through Siege of Borodin's Watch (Scales of War #2) or the Scepter Tower of Spellgard, whichever they choose to do. After that it's probably Thunderpsire Labyrinth which will be located under the Star Mounts. We may do Pyramid of Shadows or we may do more Scales of War after that, it really depends on what they decide to pursue - which is as it should be.

So I still get to work in some of the adventure path. If we have enough low-level time I may end up running the Realms conversion of Keep on the Shadowfell which I disliked originally but I may be OK with now since I'm reserving the Orcus version for another campaign.  It may come into play along with Scepter Tower if I have another group start up in the same area - a handy option to have.

One campaign plotted out for the first 5 levels, the groundwork for another campaign laid - that's some good work. One of the Apprentices is now reading the 4E FR Player's Guide and the other one will read it afterwards so their dip into Realmslore has begun. With the first adventure underway we're off to a good start.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Guardians of the Vale - Session 1

It is Spring, 1479 D.R. - The Year of the Ageless One. In the town of Loudwater trade caravans begin to arrive as winter fades and with them the itinerant adventurers that always seem to be a part of trade and travels. A new band steps forth - an Elven Ranger, a Dragonborn Paladin, a Dwarven Warlord, and a Shifter Druid. No one knows their names yet but they will - destiny awaits!

Seeking opportunity they speak to Captain Harrowleaf, captain of the local guards. He has been trying to deal with kobold activity along one of the trade roads and, seeing opportunity here himself, offers the adventurers a 10gp bounty for each dead kobold and a 100gp bonus if they can slay the leader of this band and bring back his signature bone mask. The party agrees, hands are shaken, and they head out down the road where the raids are taking place, seeking a burned out manor house known locally as "Kobold Hall".

Locating the ruins with no difficulty the group descends a stone staircase into darkness. Inside there is a good-sized stone room with a pool of glowing slime and several surprised kobolds. The group charges the scaled ones and things seem to be going well until the paladin finds himself cut off from the rest, surrounded and being attacked from all sides. Both the paladin and the druid are hit with entangling glue pots from kobold slings, which doesn't help matters.The ranger fires shot after shot into the kobolds but things still look grim until the dwarf launches himself into the fight and relieves the pressure on the paladin. The remaining enemies are quickly slain and the party pauses to catch their breath.

Down another short stairway the party sees another large room with an altar in one corner, some stone coffins in the center of the room, and a couple of suits of armor in niches along th walls. Having been warned by the survivors of a previous expedition, the party knew this area was trapped and dangerous so they moved in with great caution. Three kobolds were in the room and they moved to engage. The heroes made an effort to track where the creatures moved but in the heat of combat it was nearly impossible. Reluctantly they moved to engage, virtually cringing as they did so. Combat was short once they did take it to hand to hand. The paladin was hit by a paralyzing dart as he attempted to disable one trap, but the group was otherwise in good shape. A bag of gold was found on the altar as wound were bound, then the team moved on.

Descending another set of stairs the group found another large room with another slime pit and some more stone coffins. It also contained 6 more kobolds who started shooting at the party as soon as they entered. The elf ranger quickly dropped one of the slingers with a pair of well-aimed shots. The dwarf burst into action and charged the raised platforms at the end of the room, climbed up the platform, and slew a kobold atop it! The dragonborn paladin moved to the other side of the room and charged the platform there. As he reached the stage instead of climbing up he blasted the area with his lightning breath, blowing one kobold away. The shifter druid was unfortunate enough to be hit by another glue pot and pinned in place for almost the entire battle, though he did fire off his firebird several times.
Having cleared the platform of kobolds the dwarf was met by a guard drake charging up a set of stairs behind the platform. In a short fierce combat the beast was slain by the dwarf with fire support from the ranger and the druid. He charged down another set of stairs and was met by another charging guard drake that proceeded to savage his leg while a wounded kobold took shots at him from behind the beast. Frustrated by the platform, the paladin hacked down a door with his battle axe to aid the dwarf and the elf moved to get a clear shot into the melee. In the end the heroes prevailed with a battered dwarf and a sticky druid, dejected by his ill luck with the glue shots from the kobolds. After this the party decided to post a guard and catch some shuteye, worn out from their battles this day.

Following their break the team moved up a long hallway and encountered a room with a high ceiling and some kind of platform in the center. As they entered a huge boulder rolled out of a chute in the ceiling and  began circling the room, heading right for them - some managed to scramble out of the way but many of the party members were hit by the giant rock and knocked aside. Right after this a small flying lizard darted out and attacked the dwarf, who was farthest into the room. Two kobolds also appeared atop the platform and began raining shots down into the party, immobilizing the dwarf and the druid in short order. Stuck in place, the dwarf is nearly hit by the boulder again but manages to break free and leap aside just in time. The druid gets pinned in one corner and is subject to repeated attacks by the flying lizard which he cannot seem to fight off. He does however see the kobold leader and his bodyguards up on a platform on the other side of the room and calls out to the rest of the team what he sees.
Leaping into action the ranger is quickly atop the platform and fires off a mighty shot striking the kobold leader and nearly slaying him! Staggering, the kobold fires back with a spell that does nothing, only to be struck again by an arrow from the ranger which puts him down for good.
Enraged, the bodyguards wade in to avenge their leader. The paladin engages them and takes a serious beating, as does the ranger who is forced to fight hand to hand instead of leaping around firing off shots from his bow. In the end though the party fights through to victory, slaying everything in the room as the boulder finally comes to rest.
Searching the bodies turns up a silver key and a note about a secret door. The dwarf decides to explore a bit after a short rest and the rest of the party hurries to keep up with him. Descending a long flight of stairs, they find the air growing cooler as they emerge in a large natural cave. There is a frozen pool in the center of the room and the dwarf charges forward to investigate. As he does, a large white dragon uncurls and emerges from behind a large stone, looking none too happy at the intruders in his lair...

DM notes: This was actually spread over two sessions but they were pretty close together so I lumped them into one. This was the apprentices' second attempt at 4E and it went much much better for a few reasons - One, the DM knows a lot more about the game now. Two, they know a lot more about D&D too. Three, they have their own copies of the PHB and used the character builder to make characters, ensuring that the numbers are all on their character sheets and eliminating a lot of  page-flipping during combat but giving them time to read the rules between sessions.

One thing I've noticed is that I always have rules to look up after a session with them because they try some crazy stuff.  Shooting into melee, fighting around corners, nitty-gritty cover rules, using acrobatics instead of athletics to get up on a 10' ledge. I like it - it keeps me on my toes and shows they are thinking about the game. They are also diligent about collecting weapons from their enemies, a nice old-school touch.

Some of you may also notice I moved the campaign once again. More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

4E Dungeon Magazine Annual - A Short Review

This will be a short review  as this is a pretty straightforward book. It's a 160 page hardback published in 2010 and consists entirely of adventures previously published as part of DDI on the WOTC website. There are only 5 adventures (2xLvl 3, lvl 7, lvl 15, and lvl 21) here treated with far more depth than the "Dungeon Delve" encounters. Knowing that my advice to another DM would be to flip through this book and read the summary for each adventure and see if enough of them interest you to buy it. That's really the best way to check out this book.

For myself there were three reasons I purchased it:
1) I've become something of a completist on 4E D&D books - gotta catch 'em all!
2) I saw immediate use for one of the adventures and a pretty good chance I could use  almost all of the rest at some point
3) It was cheap, like single-digits cheap.

I'm not going to review each of the adventures. They are a bit of a grab-bag as one of them is technically Forgotten Realms though there is nothing tied to the Realms in it, one is from the middle of the Scales of War adventure path which is kind of an odd choice - why not publish the whole path as a book? As it is, one of a series is kind of hard to use on its own - and one is from Eberron and is pretty heavily Eberron flavored though I am contemplating ways to drop it into the Realms. This kind of material is nice in that as a DM you can accumulate adventures and delve-type encounters and keep a general idea of what you have in the back of your mind which allows you to pull out level-appropriate random side treks out whenever the players decide to go wandering the countryside. Plus if there is one you like yo ucan foreshadow a bit and drop in hints and links to it during the earlier adventures of your group.

So in the end there is nothing here I think is bad, plenty I think is good, and if you can find it a reasonable price then it's a good addition to your DM Resource Library.