Session Report: Goblin caves

A continuation of a previous foray into the Caves of Chaos. The PCs were trying to rescue a merchant's daughter and a signet ring she carried. The characters were different, and we had swapped one player, but we decided to continue after briefing the new player.

Jarrod: Marek the Halfling Monk (new player)
Matt: Turk the Halfling Rogue
Stephen: Alek the Human Cleric (played a dwarven fighter this time around)

Rounding out the team were 3 human warriors from the bestiary. They hired on some out of work mercenaries the first time around, but I didn't know what to do with them. This time, I wrote the necessary info on an index card and let them control the mercs in combat. I vetoed one decision - to have the warriors hurl their only spear when 15 feet from a bunch of goblins. This went over pretty well, and if we ever use hirelings again, I'll definitely use this method.

We also played with a grid and tokens this game, which helped because my ability to describe distance and physical location is not very good. I'm going to work on that while DMing, but this feels a lot more doable for 4e players (me and one other player in the group.) We've just been dividing by 5 to get the number of squares without any regard to diagonals.

We played for two and a half hours and got through two fights of goblins, two social encounters (one with the goblin chieftain who'd surrendered and one with the merchant who led them on this quest in the first place). As for exploration, we did a few wisdom checks for searching apparent dead-ends, and choices between exits in a room. When they defeated the goblin chieftain, there was a bit of loot-searching as well.

Highlights:
-I found the section on how many monsters to throw at a party, so I won't be launching giant encounters and TPKing parties on accident anymore!
-The game was light enough to get out of the way when I needed to improvise. Ability checks are all I need when I have a little bit of inspiration to work from.
-I only played with goblins, a goblin leader, and a few human warriors, but was able to run them pretty well. I don't know how it'll go when I'm running monsters on opposite ends of the monster manual.
-Initiative tracking with my Gamemastery combat pad worked great. I don't have any kind of stand for it, so I just propped it up against the wall and made Matt arrange the magnets.

Lowlights:
-I'm still working on internalizing the conditions for getting advantage and disadvantage. I'm thinking about making some kind of chart, even though it'll need to be updated each time the rules change.

I may have to work from a different adventure than the Caves of Chaos. With little direction from the module itself, I'm improvising often and it's kinda draining. I'm going to try converting The Sunless Citadel and some other adventures to try. When I ran 4e, I made all my own adventures, but I always thought they were lacking. Working from the example adventures is my set of training wheels. Soon I'll take them off and go nuts!

Looking forward to next week's game, and feeling optimistic about D&D Next!
Nice read.   One thing I'm noticing from your report and many others is that with D&DNext, it seems pretty easy to run games for any number of PCs.  Some groups I've read about were only 2 or 3, some were 4 or 5, and some were even as much as 7.  I like that flexibility.  

I look forward to reading more of your adventures.   I'm looking forward to running another session with my group too.

Cheers.     

A Brave Knight of WTF - "Wielder of the Sword of Balance"

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog

 

 

+1 to what Rhenny said on all accounts.

I agree on the group size assessment.   I play pretty often... and the party size ranges from 1 to 8, with 3 or 4 being the most common. 

With a single player, the open-world aspect fits well, because simple narration will give the player plenty of ideas on how much or little trouble they are looking for.   Because there's not the need for dynamic encounters with multiple roles, a single character played smart and designed for solo or small group play works well.  I have noticed, however, that currently, by far, most single or duo groups sessions I have run have gone with Fighter.  Because of the variety in maneuver choices, the different paths to success defensively (DEX/Finesse or STR/Heavy), and the better HD, without losing much in skills and roleplay options, the Fighter has become a popular pick.  It was the Rogue, but no longer.

With larger groups, the speed of combat is the key.  Granted, not having to track as many effects is a great relief as a DM, but nothing grinds a game down more than player disconnect.  When heavy combat meant waiting 20 minutes or more for their turn, players would often lose focus and even simply look for other forms of entertainment when it wasn't their turn.  In turn, that would mean that when their turn did arrive, they took longer to assess the situation, make decisions, and determine their course of action.  Which slowed it down even more... awful.

Clean, quick, easy to adjudicate rules with fun, easy to play classes allow for mass combat without the timesink.  I hope, at the core, 5E keeps this to heart.   
Thanks for the encouragement, guys! I'm thinking about the future and what my style of DMing is, and how much/what kind of stuff I need to prepare for adventures. I found at first that the Caves of Chaos were too bare and I didn't have anythign to work with, but I've improvised some social situations and characters and now it feels a little more comfortable. I still don't have much investment in the caves, and my characters are pretty 1-dimensional. Thinking about converting a work-in-progress setting to a campaign for the playtest. Any tips you guys have one that front?
Thanks for the encouragement, guys! I'm thinking about the future and what my style of DMing is, and how much/what kind of stuff I need to prepare for adventures. I found at first that the Caves of Chaos were too bare and I didn't have anythign to work with, but I've improvised some social situations and characters and now it feels a little more comfortable. I still don't have much investment in the caves, and my characters are pretty 1-dimensional. Thinking about converting a work-in-progress setting to a campaign for the playtest. Any tips you guys have one that front?



Like with any adventure, make sure you vary the encounter types (puzzle or obstacle, combat, interaction, trap with combat, trap without combat, exploration).  D&DNext makes it pretty easy to flow from one type of encounter into another.  I've found it really easy to have combats turn into interactions, explorations turn into combats, interactions turn into combats, puzzles turn into exploration with traps, etc.  The way the game plays seems to make balancing the different pillars easier because in 1 hour it is easy to spend 20 minutes interacting and exploring, 10 minutes in combat, 10 minutes with a non-combat encounter, 10 minutes with another combat, and 10 minutes with even a third encounter that could be interaction/exploration/combat.   

Also vary the combat encounter difficulties and try to see what really threatens your group.  I've found that it is much easier for the party to handle limited numbers of monsters.  The monsters are kind of weak as written.   But...beware.  If you allow 3 or 4 monsters to attack any individual PC (even a high AC PC) you have the potential to make it much more dangerous.   So far, in 3 levels of play, the most dangerous creature vs. my players has been the Stirge.  Stirges are not that tough and they don't do a ton of damage, but if they swarm and hit, they suck the life right out of the PC.   A rogue in one of my games got attacked by 4 of them and 3 of them hit.  He ran screaming back to the cleric to get a heal before going unconscious.  He managed to dislodge 2 of them, but with another one still sucking his blood, he was brought down to 2 hp again.  Very scary.

I like to add +2 to monster to hit scores pretty much across the board.  We find that that makes them a little more of a threat.   For unique and special encounters I also add hp to the star villian and give it a special ability to make it more interesting.   The more I DM, the more comfortable I am getting with modifiying the monsters in the beastiary.    

I've always found that many times it is easier to run my own adventures than to try to use premade adventures.   I'm really enjoying the more open/sandboxy type adventures that D&DNext has updated (Caves of Chaos and Isle of Dread).   Because they are light on story, but heavy on locations and backdrops, it gives me freedom to do whatever I like.   With this go around using Caves of Chaos, I got my players to roleplay much more than they have on other adventures that are too story driven.   They had fun trying to interact with the different monsters, trying to play one against the other or form alliances to penetrate more deeply into the caves.   That type of dynamic environment worked well for my group.

I created a 1st level adventure for my group (which took me about 1 hour to whip up in note form).   It had 8 encounters (6 of which were combat related), but there was also room to explore.   We were able to play it through in 2 1/2 hours.   That was amazing.   So...advice...make sure you have enough material ready for your session, unless you are willing to call it quits early (or you are really good at improvising encounters/scenes to play through).
  
Most of all...just have fun...see how you can use the rules and the options in the playtest.   Enjoy.            

A Brave Knight of WTF - "Wielder of the Sword of Balance"

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog

 

 

Rhenny has offered just a treasure trove of good DM loot, but I'll see if I can't add a little more to the coffers.

What I am going to suggest is purely for improvisational play.  Nothing will ever compare to having the time and energy to fully flesh out NPCs and the world with detail and depth... but that's not always practical.
 
1st) Trust yourself.  It's your world.  Doesn't matter if it's a published campaign setting, a thin sketch from a module, or completely created by yourself (fully or on the fly) - it's yours as soon as you put on the DM hat and put your voice to the actions within it.  Do what you think feels natural and let both you and your world grow together.

2nd) Challenge yourself to give each NPC (even creatures in combat if you dare) one distinguishing characteristic.  It doesn't have to be outrageous or in-depth.  Nor does it have to be complicated or important.  Just something.

I'll give you a quick example for the Keep on the Borderlands I just used afresh.  Group went to the blacksmith to pick up some gear and met Leiln for the first time.  Off the top of my head, I decided he had a 3-legged dog that was always brushing up against his legs lovingly, despite the singe marks and scars from being around the forge too often.  Took me about 2 seconds to come up with that and I didn't put any more thought into it... until one of the PCs asked the smith what his dog's name was (lamely, I said Rufus, but hey, it was first thing that came to mind).  They asked about the leg so I just invented a quick story about how the smith was out looking for a rare plant he heard could help strengthen steel when added to brine for cooling when he was attacked by lizardmen in the swamp.  The dog saved his life by attacking the assailants, but the blacksmith thought him dead until it came limping into the smithy three days later, sans a leg and nearly dead from blood loss.

That night ended up being an impromptu adventure to avenge the dog's leg as the group went into the swamp hunting for the lizardfolk who had attacked them, earning the trust and friendship of Leiln along with some perks for having a blacksmith in their debt.

Sometimes I use an accent or a limp or a word they always repeat or an unique clothing style, etc, etc (three nights ago, they stopped at a roadside tavern with a bartender who always talked through a mannequin).  Most the time it's pretty mild... a slight studder.. always nodding when they talk... a wink at the end of every sentence as you were always in on a secret... a slow, ponderous way of talking.. bluntness.. smiling... and so forth.  And sometimes, the mood strikes me to give them something more interesting.

In the end, if you do this as often as you feel comfortable, it'll get easier to give more character to your characters.

3rd)  It's your world but it's their story.  Let the players help you as much as you can.  I don't push my groups towards anything, I just give them what's available and let them write the plot.  The Caves of Chaos was perfect for this.  Plenty of rumors, suggestions for adventure, and places of interest.  Tracks of kobolds, kidnap victims, farms that were attacked, a swamp of mystery, a dark forest, etc.  But there was also a keep full of personalities and possibilities, too.  I've had a group that spent 90 minutes just learning the keep itself to start because they wanted to explore it (and it helped me learn it, too).  Other groups see the obvious signs of trouble and headed to the caves to see what the kobolds were up to.  A player stuck solo last week investigated the attack on a farm and reports of a werewolf.  And that recent group went off to seek lizardfolk who had threatened the blacksmith and crippled his dog.

4th) If all else fails, Plagiarize unashamedly. I might immitate Han Solo in one setting and Captain Jack Sparrow in another.  Gandalf for a town elder and the Wicked Witch of the West for his wife.  Characters from TV, Books, etc.  Whatever strikes my fancy in a pinch will work.  If nothing else, it makes the game more fun for me and sometimes humorous for the group.

5th) Finally (since I am running out of time here), don't worry about how you are doing, just look at the results.  If the players are having fun, you are doing a great job.   It doesn't matter how detailed or shallow your NPCs and/or world is... there's only one goal when you sit down at the table to play D&D with friends... to enjoy yourselves.
Thanks for the advice, guys! I haven't been playing for the past few years, but I've been subscribed to Roleplaying Tips and read up on DMing advice for a long time. I feel like my DM muscles took over a few times and made my job easier during that last session. Sometimes I feel like I am supposed to do more, and whenever I get caught unprepared for something, I panic before making something up. I'm working on relaxing and spending that panic energy on improvisation.

One thing I was proud of was in the Keep, when the PCs were hunting for rumors. They rolled a 9, I think, and got "There is a maiden held prisoner in the Caves (F)." So I had a merchant who'd put the word out about his missing daughter. They bit and asked him about it, and he offered 50 gold for his daughter, who went missing in a caravan attack along the border road. If they couldn't find her, at least bring back her signet ring, a priceless family heirloom. When the PCs finally found the ring, the goblin chieftain who had it didn't know anything about the girl. So they went back and bamboozled the merchant into giving 75 gold for the ring. I haven't yet decided what the ring is for.

I think that worked well, but when I was coming up with the stuff, it all seemed scary. Like, what if these characters aren't believable enough?

Sounds like you did your part as DM perfectly to me.

I think that worked well, but when I was coming up with the stuff, it all seemed scary. Like, what if these characters aren't believable enough?

It's a world of magic and the improbable (from our Earthly perspective).  The merchant could sprout a second head and it would be believable. :P  The ring could contain the soul of his late wife who's desperately trying to escape his clutches but is always being brought back to him by adventurers.

When you suspend disbelief, nothing is impossible.  

Sounds like you did your part as DM perfectly to me.

I think that worked well, but when I was coming up with the stuff, it all seemed scary. Like, what if these characters aren't believable enough?

It's a world of magic and the improbable (from our Earthly perspective).  The merchant could sprout a second head and it would be believable. :P  The ring could contain the soul of his late wife who's desperately trying to escape his clutches but is always being brought back to him by adventurers.

When you suspend disbelief, nothing is impossible.  



That's what I love about magic!  Great advice Shade...nice ideas Metalman42.  Happy gaming.

A Brave Knight of WTF - "Wielder of the Sword of Balance"

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog