[DM ONLY!!!] Session 2 Planning

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I ran session 2 tonight for my GMs and wanted to share my thoughts on the session, as-written.

Please note, if you are a player and not the DM, that this post has a LOT of spoilers. Please move along. You don't want to ruin the fun for yourself and your table!
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Once more, we have a huge, beautiful map with neat terrain features... that we don't get to use. An area of mud off to the side, which PCs are unlikely to end up in, and which is only difficult terrain. A sewer pit that just gives cover from ranged attacks (and which, physically, should be rising waters, about to overflow.


PCs can sneak up to the guards, but once they're noticed, the fight is on. The zealot guards are too powerful to take out in one hit, which means alerting the inside guards is certain. Which means you're going to have the fight at the entryway, and not use all the terrain inside.



The warlocks have a power to stop PCs from getting in... except they have to be within 2 squares, and it's only a push 2. They're supposed to push the PCs into the mud... but again, the mud is only difficult terrain. This doesn't hinder the PCs nearly enough to be effective. Having high-hp creatures outside was far more effective at bottlenecking them from getting inside.


Recommended changes that I would make:


1) The zealots at the door are minions. There are still 3 full-hp zealots inside, but the ones at the door are just minions, there to raise the alarm. PCs who stealth or bluff past them can get into the safe house without raising the alarm, and can one-shot the minions if they luck out and win initiative or a surprise round (the minions won't raise the alarm until their turn). This extends the skill challenge, and rewards PCs for non-brute-force tactics.


2) When the PCs cross the water barrier, the mental alarm is sounded. in fact, one might ask why this happens at all-- I don't think the players learn anything from it, and it doesn't move the encounter forward. You could have the mental alarm not happen, just the "Hey! Enemies!" shouted by one of the zealots.


3) The sewer has a negative effect while you're inside it. This is more likely to harm the bad guys, but since both the zealots and the warlocks have a forced movement encounter power, it can also harm PCs. I would go with either ongoing 3 poison damage, or dazed, depending on which you feel is more fun for the PCs (if using the daze, I'd add a zealot with their pull attack, cause that's FUN). Note: creatures who are prone in the sewer are not drowning.


4) The warlock's "push 2" power sucks, frankly. I'd make it a ranged power, rather than a close burst, unless you use #3, where they can push PCs into the sewer. Then it's more fun. 


5) There's an area of mud near the entrance (as shown on the map). Creatures who start or end their turn in the mud are slowed until the end of their next turn (this allows the warlocks and zealots to force-move PCs into it with impunity).


6) For my sanity, the sewer does not end in a cave in, but rather in a fine grate that cannot be passed by normal means. It continues underwater, sloping down towards the Sea of Swords. This has no tactical change, but keeps the sewer from breaking the laws of fluid dynamics.


7) Dont' forget Zan can be used as a human shield. It never came up at the table, because the fight didn't get past the water curtain. That's boring-- I want the PCs to have to worry about hitting the little boy, or accidentally throwing him into the sewer (we played last week that the garroter could move his victim with him when being force-moved, making the earthmote a far more dangerous threat to the lady! Give the same property to someone using Zan as a human shield, and you have instant story, as the PCs choose whether or not it's OK to hurt the little boy in order to save him....)


Goal this week: Try to get the fight to mainly happen inside the safe house, where the interesting terrain is!
 

Thanks Mortaine for some great suggestions there, will definately be implementing some of those.

Also, how about anyone taking ongoing fire damage that moves through the water curtain (either willing or forced) gets an immediate save to "snuff" the flames?

I think dazing from the sewage would make sense, could be described as wretching from the foulness. Though as the Ashmadai have been using this place regularly I would say that they are immune to it.

I think I'll have the walkways blocked by cave ins but the sewage channels still empty out, albeit slowly and mainly just the fluid part, explaining the stench and not being able to drown in (its too solid to submerge in), so the Ashmadai are basically using it as a smelly cave to hide in.

"Well that encounter was easy....er, guys, why is the DM grinning?" (party members last words)

It's not a party till the screaming starts!

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I'll be running this in D&D Next; thanks to your comments, I'll give this a thorough going-over tonight to make sure it hangs together through conversion!

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D&D Next: VALOREIGN Home Game Development, Kalani's Homebrew and Original Content | General Campaign Stuff: Bawylie's Budget Dungeons

"D&D is an elf from Tolkien, a barbarian from Howard, and a mage from Vance fighting monsters from Lovecraft in a room that looks like it might have been designed by Wells and Giger." -- TiaNadiezja

ALHazred: Please post the changes you make to this thread in a spoiler tag, too! I have one table of Next, and one DM who is willing to run either-- I'd really appreciate being able to point them here for converting these changes to the Next format.
I ran a test of this encounter to check balance as well. I ran it with 6 characters, all pregens except a Cleric rolled for this group in the place of the Druid.

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I started all the monsters in their suggested locations, but I added a Ashmadai Thug from week 1 behind the curtain in the mouth of the cave. 

The starting location was close enough that the dwarf, who gained first initiave, was able to make it to the first Zealot  and base him there and then the party was able to keep the melee part of the fight outside and the Warlocks had a ranged penalty because of the water curtain. So I agree with the above post in that the mouth of the cave actually ends of working in favor of the PC's and not the cultists. I really like the idea of the minion guards and drarwng the fight inside. 

I was doing my best to try to push the PC's into the mud, but it's just too far away. I finally had one Warlock teleport outside and use his AoE, which was effective, but then he was a sitting duck. The idea for that power is to allow them to hit somone with the fire attack and then teleport to that advantageous location. If you are planning to hit somone with Hellfire and then teleport to attack with your encounter on his next turn, it probably won't happen. They will saved it away before you get the chance, especially if there is a Leader in the group.

I like the idea of changing Concussive Inferno from a burst 2 to a ranged. A ranged close burst within 10 would be better in my mind.

As far as the sewage goes, I will also be using the dazed effect with the colorful wretching idea mentioned above, but with one caveat. Ander ended up jumping in there while in rat form in my encounter to move behind a Warlock, and I elected not to penalize for movement or effect while in his rat form. 

As for the overall battle, it was pretty balanaced adding in the Thug for 6 players. The dwarf went down unconcious once, but the Cleric was able to get him up again. All but one character was bloodied when combat ended, and some, the Assassin and the Wizard, were dangerously close to going down and not for some bad damage rolls, would have done so.


In all, I like the encounter and I'm hoping it goes as well as my simulation. Thanks for the suggestions.
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The idea for that power is to allow them to hit somone with the fire attack and then teleport to that advantageous location. If you are planning to hit somone with Hellfire and then teleport to attack with your encounter on his next turn, it probably won't happen.



Hellfire's a standard, and the teleport is a  move. So you could hellfire then teleport to swap places, to bring one of the PCs into the safe house to get messed up by the other warlock and/or a zealot.

My other issue with Vargas is that he teleports away before the PCs see him-- again, he doesn't contribute to the suspense of the storyline. I'd rather have the PCs find out about him either from the boy, if they got there in time, or from prisoners... or not at all, if they don't follow-up with questions.
 
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Hellfire's a standard, and the teleport is a  move. So you could hellfire then teleport to swap places, to bring one of the PCs into the safe house to get messed up by the other warlock and/or a zealot.


Exactly, that's the point I'm making. Do your move (teleport) in the same turn as Hellfire because it most likely won't be active by the time his turn comes back around. It's possible that the other Warlock might be able to take advantage of it though, so keep an eye out for that.


ALHazred: Please post the changes you make to this thread in a spoiler tag, too! I have one table of Next, and one DM who is willing to run either-- I'd really appreciate being able to point them here for converting these changes to the Next format.

Mortaine, sure thing! Sorry it's late!

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The D&D Next version replaces the 3 Branded Zealots with 4 DDN versions, which are really tough opponents for 3rd level DDN characters. It replaces the 2 Hellfire Warlocks with 1 Cultist of Asmodeus, who has more powers than a Branded Zealot, but fewer hit points. Because of the higher hit points of the Zealots, most of the fight will probably end up happening outside in the DDN version as well.

Since the Cultist's only means to force movement is with his 1/day Infernal Seduction ability, you're going to have to use the Zealot's Hellfire Chain attacks to move characters into the special terrain. If the fight happens outside, that's unlikely, since the range on the Chain is only 15 feet.

Recommended changes, based on mortaine's list in post #1:

1. Change the 2 Branded Zealots by the entrance for 2 Dark Acolytes from the Bestiary page 10. The other 2 Branded Zealots go where the Hs are on the inset map. They should go down easy, and draw the players inside. I would have the two Branded Zealots behind the sewer start the encounter hidden from the party; if the PCs are looking for enemies, have the Zealots make Dex checks contested by the PCs Wis checks.

Then, have 2 Branded Zealots arrive one round after the party in inside and attack them from behind, pushing them into the safehouse.

2. I agree with getting rid of the mental signal. Seems unnecessary, except maybe in a novelization.

3. The easiest effect to accomplish making the sewer a bad place to fight in, is to give people in the sewer disadvantage on attack rolls, skill checks, and Dex saving throws. However, if you are in the sewer channcel, I would still use the effect that you get half cover from ranged attacks.

4. The Custist of Asmodeus is a decent support guy, but he has few hit points. I'd put him where the Z is on the inset map, and just say Zan is next to him. This also lets him use Zan as a human shield, to emphasize his evilness and give him a better chance to survive.

5. Characters starting their turn in the mud by the entrance having their speed reduced by 10 feet until the end of their turn.

6. I would use this, makes more senes.

7. I can't agree strongly enough. Using Zan to force moral choices should give this fight more drama.

My experience has been that DDN fights take far less time, leading to more time for other stuff to go on during the session. The recommendation from the conversion document, if you have extra time, is to have Lord Neverember call the characters to audience, in order to question then about what's been going on. This is fine, and lets the characters meet important NPCs; it's especially appropriate if any of the PCs are "Champions of Neverwinter" and so more politically valuable.

If you decide to use this optional encounter, you need details about characters and places that are not present in this adventure. Use this:

After the battle, as Lady Nidris cradles her son, you are hailed by a stern woman in plate mail surrounded by guards. This is General Sabine, Lord Neverember's right-hand woman. "Lord Neverember requests the honor of your presence. Shall we?"

You take a ferry across the bay of Neverwinter to the Hall of Justice. Formerly a temple to the dead god Tyr, it now functions as the most visible sign of the authority of the Lord Protector. Despite its current status as a civic structure, its imposing edifice leaves no question as to its former status as a religious bulwark of the triumph of order over chaos.

You are ushered up the tall bluff into the Hall, through high-ceiling corridors and into a private sitting room, appointed in fine fashion but lacking in ostentation. Waiting for you is a broad-shouldered middle-aged man with auburn hair that is graying at the temples. As you enter, he is reading from a sheaf of reports, some of them so new that the ink stains his fingers. He stands when he sees you, and gestures at the other comfortable seats scattered about the room. "Aha, you must be the heroes I have heard so much about. Please, sit, we have much to discuss."

Have him quiz them regarding the events, and make it clear that he is taking the events in the city more seriously. This is a good opportunity to lay out some red herrings if you like, or otherwise add flavor to the chaos the Ashmadai are unleashing on Neverwinter. He could also mention he is thinking of offering 1,000 gp bounty for the capture of the Tormentor.

When you're done, Neverember has the characters ferried back to the city. You'll have to modify the opening box text for the following session.

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D&D Next: VALOREIGN Home Game Development, Kalani's Homebrew and Original Content | General Campaign Stuff: Bawylie's Budget Dungeons

"D&D is an elf from Tolkien, a barbarian from Howard, and a mage from Vance fighting monsters from Lovecraft in a room that looks like it might have been designed by Wells and Giger." -- TiaNadiezja