[DM Only] Sessions 3 and 4 planning

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I ran my DMs through sessions 3 and 4 last night. The party consists of: 2 knights, 1 bladesinger, and a warpriest of the death domain. They don't have a striker, aside from the bladesinger, so fights can bog down quite a bit. This is a switch from the Wednesday groups, where we have almost no defenders on any table, and plenty of striker action.

Session 3:

Session 3 is a crowded fight in a crowded bar. It's easy for the PCs to have mobility problems, especially starting out in a zone of difficult terrain (the chairs).

ALL the PCs wanted to jump in an interrupt Horan's box text. Every one of them. Seriously, if it wasn't to openly mock him, it was to heal him, or unbolt the door (mage hand abuse), or attack the devils. With that in mind, I would have everyone roll initiative at the beginning of the night, before the role-playing and investigation inside the Leviathan, adjust the devils' initiatives as if they delayed to act first, then when they want to jump into the fight, you can more organically transition into it. Possibly even saving Horan's life (only to be slain, tragically, by ruffians).

I made the insight check to identify a ruffian a minor action. This was problematic for one player, who then wanted to retcon after I had ID'd the ruffians. Normally, I would say TS, which is what I did initially. The other players insisted they wouldn't use the information. My solution was to change which inn patrons were ruffians.

With 62 hp, the ruffians become something of a slog. Also, it's tough to get the PCs to provoke from them simply by attacking patrons at the other end of the bar.

The potential synergy in this fight is great, but it's hard to position the devils well. I'd adjust the Icy Exhalation to be "enemies" rather than creatures, because technically, the Fimbrul devil killed the Scorch devil in my fight, and that seemed cheesy. I had the Scorch go down on the next PC hit-- I prefer for the PCs to be the ones to strike the final blow against such creatures.

The Scorch devil's Choking Ashes was useless-- it never went off, because the PC just moved away first.

Warned about devils, one of the PCs went to the bar and procured barrels of water, which he positioned around the Leviathan. I ruled that, if you ended your turn there, the barrel would break, giving a free saving throw vs ongoing fire damage. PCs thought that was an acceptable and cool effect. Of course, the devils don't do ongoing fire damage, but it was still clever thinking on their parts.

Suggested changes: 

This is a bar. As a minor action, a PC can pick up a chair to remove the difficult terrain in a square (the last square in a 4-square table should be considered the table). Standard action to turn a table over, removing difficult terrain and granting cover.

Make the athletics check to break a window a minor action, or allow it to break as part of a bull rush. Most of my PCs would have loved to be able to throw guys out the windows. Also note that the windows aren't on the map-- make some up.

If you have no strikers, reduce the ruffian hit points, maybe drop it down by a third. If you have no defenders, reduce the damage a bit.

In my party, with two essentials defenders, I would have given it an add-on "uses an attack power, or shifts" because a huge part of the defenders' control abilities are that the enemies can't even get away from the auras, and the Scorch devil's ability was like a very pathetic echo of defense. If you have a high-mobility party, I would definitely add this into the Scorch's power description.

If you need to scale it down, reduce the ruffian hit points or make the ruffians minions, and add more of them to the fight (useful if you have some controllers, too).

Because I am out of town next week, we also ran through Session 4: 

I admit, I was frustrated and a bit tired when we started session 4. I do not recommend being at all "off" for this session. It's a tough fight, with a lot  going on. It's especially tough to run a skill challenge with possible micro-fights, followed by a big fight, in one session. If your players don't immediately pick up the dice at the end of session 3, you could run the skill challenge from session 4 that night.

I gave a milestone but no rest between the skill challenge and the fight at Vargas' house. So everyone goes into that fight with an AP.

We probably would have ended this in a TPK if I hadn't decided to handwave the remaining thugs and finish up. But that had more to do with bad positioning than anything else.

We had one rules issue, which was a power that says "creatures flanking you do not get combat advantage." The  thugs get CA without flanking, but by being in the position, RAW might imply that they don't get it. I ruled at the table that they get CA because they get that no matter what position they're in-- the power just prevents them from getting it because of flanking. Had one player who wouldn't let it go, though (not the one affected).

All the  thugs missed on their recharge power, which never recharged. Ah, well.

The fight stayed bottle necked at the door. This despite two of the party moving around to the back of the building to try and get in through the nonexistent back door. I gave them a window (around the corner!) which they burst through to help Vargas.

Vargas was more complicated. Plot-immune NPCs are difficult to run in a combat. On the one hand, you don't want Vargas to die. You want him to be somewhat effective in defending himself and his home, so the PCs will respect him. At the same time, if he overshadows anyone, they will hate him for kill-stealing. Nonetheless, if you play it right, the PCs will know some of his abilities when they face him later in the campaign.

I kept him largely in the background, hiding in the stairwell and coming out to hit a devil with a lightning spear attack. 

Suggested changes:
Again, the windows aren't well defined, so draw some in.

The top level map will probably not be used in this fight, unless you add enemies up there.

Afterwards, we discussed how to keep Vargas from overshadowing, while still being effective and respectable. If Vargas is unarmed when the ashamadai break in, then there's a reason for him to run away for 3 rounds (upstairs to get his lightning spear), then come back as reinforcements. He should only soften the enemies up, though-- even if he does enough damage to kill, unless a PC is actually dying, don't let him be the killing stroke, especially for the devil.

It's possible the PCs will rob or attempt to rob Vargas. Remember he can teleport away, leaving behind the treasure they would normally get from this fight. If this happens, obviously Vargas will be openly hostile when the party encounters him later.
As always many thanks for these insights Mortaine. Will definately be using some of this in this weeks session.

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Always welcome!
That's very helpful, Mortaine! Thanks!

When I initially turned over my first draft, I had extensive rules for bar fighting (including rules for being different amounts of drunk), but they were cut for what I like to say were space reasons.

I think the INTENTION of the combat advantage issue is that the enemies' ability to gain combat advantage without flanking is supposed to supersede proof against flanking. Being incapable of being flanked is not the same as being incapable of granting combat advantage. I don't believe there is (or should be) any foolproof way to avoid granting combat advantage on a longterm basis (there might be round-based abilities), though there might be abilities that reduce or eliminate an enemy's bonus to hit you when attacking with combat advantage. But if they have special abilities that trigger when attacking with combat advantage (like sneak attack), those still go off regardless of any bonus they may or may not have to hit you.

That said, deal with it as you will. As the DM, you are the final arbiter. Make a call and move on. If a player refuses to let it go and is disrupting the game, you are fully within your rights to ask that player to be quiet or leave. Because that player is violating the social contract of the game and messing with everyone's fun.

Session 4 Note:

When dealing with Vargas, remember that he is a wizard, and his magic isn't necessarily bounded by what's listed in the book. If you need him to turn invisible and flee, that's totally reasonable. Also, fudge the dice--don't let him kill any enemies. If he's going to land a fatal blow, reduce that enemy to 1 hp, so that a PC can take the enemy down.

If Vargas does get *killed* in the battle, just have him teleport away, as though a contingency spell went off. Because there's no reason to think that might not happen. You can have him return if the PCs are obviously friendly, or just leave them to their own devices if Vargas didn't get a good feel on them (or they attacked him).

I wasn't real crazy about the Knocking on Doors sequence, so I've revised things a bit. I'm throwing in a little detour from a side quest I introduced at the start of week one. Our Heir of Delzoun character was approached prior to the adventure starting by a young dwarf claiming to have information regarding the location of Gauntlgrym. He was to meet him at the Moonstone Mask as week one opened, but never showed up. Naturally the kidnapping rumors surfaced and the PCs have surmized his fate. Tonight however, I will be bringing him back and he will offer a short replacement for the first part of week 3 session. It reads long, but I think it will play faster than it looks. Still, I plan to expedite it as much as possible.

Session 3 - Heir of Delzoun PC adventure alternative

As Lady Nidris’ carriage fades down the dark street, the rain begins to intensify. The docks are unusually dark. The light from the tavern and a single passer-by are the only signs of life you see.

The walker is Gerran Grimhammer (DC13 Perception), the dwarf the players were supposed to meet earlier at the Moonstone Mask. He is walking in a trance-like state, making his way past you toward the tavern. If confronted he maintains an blank stare and continually mumbles the word, “Leviathan.” If restrained or forcibly snapped out of his trance, he doesn’t know where he is or why he’s there or what has happened to him. He bears the mark of Asmodeus on his chest. Gerran had prepared a ritual that he was going to activate when he met with the Heir of Delzoun PC at the Moonstone. The ritual is a vision experience that is shared with an intended target, revealing information regarding the location of Gauntlgrym. When Gerran comes around and sees the PC he was supposed to meet at the Moonstone Mask, he cries out, “It’s you! Help me!” and reaches out and grabs the Dwarf’s hands. This triggers the activation of the ritual. All allies within a burst 5 are affected.

Because of Gerrans’ experience with the Tormenter, the ritual is corrupted by his inner struggle to regain his mental control. Nearby characters are engulfed in the vision and must complete a series of skill checks to successfully reach the end of the event. Success or failure will determine Gerran’s mental state at the end of the ritual.

When Gerran grabs your hands, the world around you fades away into darkness. When you regain your bearings, you are standing on the side of a mountain at the mouth of a mine shaft. Before you stands Gerran, who is now dressed in full armor. He commands, “Let’s go now, time is not on our side. Make haste!” He turns and starts down the mine shaft. A short way in, there is a series of minecarts. Gerran turns and says, “It’s a long way to where we are going. We won’t make it in time unless we take these.” He then hops into the first cart and starts down the shaft. He cries back, “Only use the brakes when you have to, otherwise they’ll bind up! You’ll know when.” He disappears into the darkness.

Mine Cart - (DC13 Athletics) Gerran takes the first cart by himself. Two people can fit per cart. Brake lever must be applied at three critical points, two turns and the end, otherwise the cart goes too fast and jumps the track. The giant image of the Tormenter’s devil mask floats in the air at two sharp turns and at the end before the tracks ends into a caved-in wall. If the DC fails, the cart derails into the image and crashes. Characters in a cart that crashes take 3d10 virtual falling damage and must take time to re-set the mine cart back on the tracks. Any player that dies in the ritual disappears and wakes up, sustaining no real damage. That player is put on hold however, as all players will experience waking from the ritual simultaneously. Players can aid another for a +2 bonus on the DC. Two failures causes this event to be a failure. The distance to travel is too great to cover on foot. Two failures in any given cart is an overall failure. Braking prior to turns to attempt to slow the cart will cause the brakes to heat up and become ineffective for a -2 penalty to the check.

Catacombs - (DC13 Dungeoneering) The minecart tracks end deep in the mines and the PCs are faced with a series tunnels the must navigate through. Three successful group DC13 Dungeoneering checks before three failures will help Gerran navigate his way successfully through the labyrinth of mine passages. Each failed check leads to a dead-end where you see the Tormenter standing and laughing at you. After three successful checks, the passage finally opens onto a ledge overhanging a deep chasm.

Rope Bridge - (DC13 Acrobatics) A precarious rope bridge spans the chasm with nothing but darkness below. Gerran goes across first with no problem. If they think of it, two players are able to aid another by stabilizing the bridge from either side, (DC13 Athletics), except for the last person across in which only one person may aid. Failing grants a saving throw or that person falls and dies in the ritual. They wake with everyone else but are out of the remaining ritual event. If the person it tied off with a rope, they will take 2d10 falling damage and another check must be made. If the number of failures equals more than half of the number of players, the bridge event fails.

Door Room - (DC16 Religion or History group check) This is an octagonal room with 6 statues of ancient dwarven leaders, each one with a raised hand. There is a solid stone door opposite the entrance. Three statues are of leaders descended from royal blood and the others are not. Gerran knows that placing your hand to the hand of the three royal statues will open the passage, but his history is fuzzy. A failed DC causes one of the false statues to turn into the Tormenter, who will laugh and disappear in a wisp of black smoke. Choosing a correct statue causes it to glow a golden light. A Dwarf grants the party a +1 bonus, while an Heir of Delzoun grants a +3 bonus. Three successes before three failures succeeds the Door Room event.

When the third leader is chosen, the opposite door raises. It leads down a long corridor which opens in a large cavern. At the far end are two enormous doors carved in dwarven design. The doors make a booming sound and one begins to open slowly. A lone dwarf dressed in ancient garb steps out and beckons to you. (see pic from Neverwinter guide) Gerran bolts for the doors as fast as he can before you realize what’s going on.

Regardless of what the PCs do, Gerran enters the doorway and is lost in the light. The light from within grows increasingly brighter. If an heir of Delzoun is still in the party, the doorkeeper beckons to him. The door opens wide and everything around you is engulfed in a golden white light. The PCs snap back to where the event started in good health. Only a few seconds have passed in real time. If two or more of the events were failed, Gerran is alive but not conscious. The guards show up at this point. They offer to take Gerran for treatment to Helm’s Hold. If three or four challenges were passed, Gerran wakes and is grateful to them. He remembers nothing about his kidnapping or torture. He is anxious to return to his kin, but will stay and aid the PCs if they request it. He will not stay with them past this session however.

I'm sure my skill challenge mechanics are rough, but you get the idea. I may have Gerran return when they reach Helm's Hold, we'll see. This is my first attempt at writing anything like this, so I know there's plenty of room for improvement. It's also pretty late in the week, so not much time to get feedback either. I'll let you know how it goes.

Awesome-- I hope you'll post about it in the field report thread! 

I'm curious: are you running 4e or Next? 
Awesome-- I hope you'll post about it in the field report thread! 

I'm curious: are you running 4e or Next? 

What stats are people using for the three Mintarn soldiers who might get into the fight from outside (see the For Neverwinter section of the session)?
I am using the town guards from last season's Encounter on page 28.
Welp, I was all set for some roleplaying the hunt for clues, had NPC face cards, etc.

My PCs listened to the opening blurb. "Oh, look! A bar! Let's start there!" Finished the evening in record time. Even had time to do the suggested side encounter for Next playtesters (which they used good planning to beat).

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