Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Public Dungeon Master: Encounters at the Red Castle #12

Tonight I had a full house for the penultimate encounter of the Dark Legacy of Evard.  There were eight players at the table, the largest group yet.  Any more and we'll need another Dungeon Master.  Once again, people brought their friends, people new to the game but who picked it up quickly enough.

The battle took place as the world once more fell into shadow, and a dark library appeared.  The players went ahead and knocked on the front door.  They were answered by a butler who refused to open the door at first, but soon succumbed to the authority of a Suggestion spell cast by the new Wizard player. 

Entering the library, the heroes bantered a bit with the possessed wizard Vontarin/Nathaire.  He claimed that he would break the curse himself, that he didn't need their help, but they saw through the lies and the battle was joined. 

This was a neat little two tiered battle, made all the more fun by the precarious book shelves and the bookshelf models I brought along to fall down on the minis.  The books did a lot of damage!  We ended with the spirit of Vontarin whispering from his dark prison, offering undreamt of wealth and power in exchange for a new bodily vessel.  What will the heroes do?

Even with 8 heroes, I only added a second Dark Butler on the second floor and it was still a close fight.  One player went down, and many were worried at various points.  I spread the hurt around and did a lot of public rolling to determine which character I would attack.  No one has died this encounter season, so I think I had better be merciless next session.

A couple notes:
I need to establish a quick primer for new players:
  • How to read a the character sheet
  • How to read a "power"
  • The basics of combat tactics etc.  
Along the way it wouldn't hurt to establish some table rules as well:
  • Don't tell people what to do on their turn
  • Try to describe your actions narratively 
  • Make sure you know your basic attack bonus 
  • Do your own math and tell me the total number etc
A single "Welcome to the Dungeon" page might go a long way.

It feels like this is gaining a bit of popularity, but I know attendance will still fluctuate wildly.  Nevertheless, I love it that people are bringing their friends.  I dig that there's a group of ladies who are ditching happy hour to roll the dice.  Soon they'll be painting their own minis.

I do have some critiques of the adventure itself, but I will save them for next week.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Public Dungeon Master: Encounters at the Red Castle #11

In which I encounter an entirely new table, and conquer it!

Tonight I arrived at the game store to pick up my specially ordered Dire Boar mini, and to run a D&D Encounter, the 11th of the current season, nearly the end of the line.  I had been quite smug about my returning player ratio but that began to fall apart last week.  This week I took a call at the store from a trio of players who were late but promised to arrive.  They never did.

Instead, a young lad of 14 or so was waiting for me, a neophyte to the Dungeons and Dragons, though he had his own dice.  He was soon joined by an even younger lad with his mother in tow.  Mom sat in the corner with her Kingsolver book while her son bellied up to the table for his first D&D experience.  Both chose fighters.  Then the ladies arrived from last week, with a third friend as well.  Suddenly we had five players, potentially eight if the others showed, and I was scrambling for enough characters and minis.  Luckily I had enough stuff floating around my traveling kit.  The third gal was also a first timer.  That made the most experienced player a veteran of 5 sessions.  They were all figuring their d20 from their d12.

The characters were an Elven Thief, an Eladrin Cleric, a Drow Hunter, a Dragonborn Knight, and a Dwarf Slayer.

I explained the game a bit, but didn't sweat it too much.  "Roll your d20 and add the number.  Use your red powers!  Here's a damage die.  Ok let's go!"  I certainly didn't try to explain how an rpg works, rather I threw them right into it.  I recapped the story a bit and asked for the players to describe their character's actions as they explored the ruined monastery in the last rays of the setting sun.  They eased into it.  I took a skill check from each and moved the narrative right into the fight.  Who needs a skill challenge?  This is just storytelling guided by dice.  The dice were not particularly strong and so the heroes were ambushed.

As they entered the abbey, the Dark Elf Hunter was shot in the throat with a poisoned dart.  Suddenly there were goblin-like Dark Ones with their goaty hooves, living Shadows grasping, and fiery Tar Devils attacking from all sides!  The ambush was brutal, and although the cleric was attentive to her duties, handing out healing and extra saves, there were still a couple of near casualties.

Everyone had a great time and looks forward to the next week as we near the finale.

As a public DM, this was a particularly satisfying game for me, seeing the quiet excitement on the faces of the young boys, and the sort of silly fun the ladies were having was a real treat.  The youngest kid just said, "I hit it with my axe," every time, but he said it with great enthusiasm.  The older boy took his role as protector quite seriously and saved the thief with a natural 20 on a First Aid check.  (I made them do their addition each time the rolled.)  The ladies came up with rude names for their foes and cursed the dice that brought their side of the table a steady stream of 3 and 4s. 

It was very different from playing with experienced gamers, less attention to rules, but a keen sense of that wonderment we all search for in these games of fantasy.  This kind of experience may be closest to what I am personally looking for in D&D.  It is like the best days teaching in a classroom, holding court with an enthusiastic and engaged audience, guiding the discussion towards it's logical conclusion.  Fun times.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Public Dungeon Master: Encounters at the Red Castle #10

"Another statue in the shape of a harsh angelic guardian watches over this room~ which also contains a well brimming with dark water."

I walked into the store today and got to rapping with the owner.  He asked how Encounters has been going.  I said, "Oh yeah it's been great.  A couple of kids have been at every session.  Good regular group."  Of course they didn't show up this time.  Luckily, one of my regulars did, about five minutes late finding me sitting at an empty table with battle-mat and dice at the ready.
We waited for a bit and finally her friend showed up, another newbie to the D&D.  Usually I call three players a quorum, but for Encounters, two was fine.  There I was, playing Dungeons and Dragons with two girls, a first in my long gaming career!  I tried to drag the cashier into the mix, but he had to catalog Magic cards, so I just added a Knight to the Thief and Cleric party.  The Knight's tag line was "Don't you DARE ignore me!" which is fitting for an NPC.  After a quick recap, the heroes entered the Crypt below the Monastery.
I didn't mod the encounter for the 3 PCs.  This made for a tense fight, with all the heroes bloodied by the end, and some close calls along the way.  This was a "connected room dungeon" battle.  My goal was to get the players to explore a bit of it as the battle progressed and keep it from getting static.  I was able to guide it in that direction and I 'm glad I did.  These are the little DM lessons to be learned from Encounters.
There were some memorable moments.  The thief, on fire thanks to a Blazing Skeleton, jumped into a Holy Well to find that this holy water gave her a blessing as well!  The cleric had to make some decisions about healing herself or the knight, and finally there was a bit of discussion about whether to desecrate a coffin to get some treasure.  Pragmatism won.
On reflection, I've been really lucky with the continuity of the player group so far.  Today was the first time I sat down and wondered if anyone would show up.  I'm sure glad that didn't happen the first week I showed up to DM Encounters.
Tonight I won at D&D because one player on her fourth week of  brought in another new recruit, so the Encounters plan is working.  Huzzah!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Public Dungeon Master: Encounters at the Red Castle

This Encounters season has been humming along.  I'm proud to say I've  had a majority of returning players for the last couple months.  We  must be having fun!

At the end of Chapter 2 the heroes have been  investigating the Curse of Evard that has been laid upon the town and now the must defend the populace from the depredations of a second night in the  netherworld known as the Shadowfell.  This night the townsfolk have barricaded themselves into the Armory, and other safehouses, but rumour stirs (confirmed by the interrogation of a grey goblin with cloven  hoofs) that an army of the dead is marching upon the town.

The  group for the last few weeks has consisted of Miranna, a Shade Binder(Warlock); Belgos, a  Drow Hunter (Ranger); Brandis, a Paladin (who has willingly been corrupted by a devil's sword to become a Blackguard); Valinnae, a Cleric of Pelor; and Keira, an Elven  Thief.

During their patrols the heroes felt a malaise and deep  despondency drag at them, and though they shook it off, they were  obliged to help prop up the moral of the local militia, who seemed ready  to pack it in.  The Cleric showed them the light of Pelor, while the  Blackguard, Drow and Warlock told of much worse tales than theirs, and  that combined with a whiff of rum perked them and they had a small army of their own to command!  Each player received a small card with  Militia Minion stats and got to choose a mini fig.  I suggested they name them but nobody did.

The band of defenders returned to the  Armory to discover it was under attack!  Swarms of skeletons with spears  battered the Armory doors, and two blazing pyrotechnic skeletons  orchestrated the events.  A lurking shadow stalker waited for an opportunity to strike.

The ranged abilities of the monsters  combined with the big building made for a different sort of fight.  The  heroes were hurt and very vulnerable to being in a fire corridor,  especially when the fire skeletons started lobbing mortars.  However, the army was mostly minions and the militia's firepower was quite effective against them.  The thief ended up defeating the shadow stalker upon the roof, while the Cleric unleashed Aspect of Wrath to slay all  skeletons who approached, and take down both Blazing Bones as well (I  think).  The Blackguard caught on fire and jumped in the river.

The army was defeated, no heroes died, and dawn broke over the town.  Just another night in the Shadowfell.  Everyone made 3rd level and everyone got a random Fortune Card.