August 17, 2013 Session 1st level August Playtest of D&DNext
We played for about 2 ½ hours. This time I DMd for a 6 person group. I tried to run the game more like a real campaign instead of just a rush to have the PCs get in as many combats as possible so I set up the campaign and let the players explain a little about their own characters. Briefly, here’s what we started with:
Squeak, the Halfling rogue thief. She used to be a messenger for a small clan of Halflings near Travensburg, but now she is ready to explore and plunder.
Erkas, the Dwarven Druid, a guide, who lives in a small home just outside the village. His warlike Dwarven blood seems to be at odds with his affinity for nature.
Nalcon, the Human Lightbringer Cleric, a noble on horseback who came from Freehold, the big city 15 miles to the south of Travensburg. He is lawful and likes to keep clean literally. He is an effeminate highborn who has left Freehold to prove to his family that he is made from sterner stuff.
Fid, the Dwarven Fighter, a blacksmith for Travensburg who has decided to try his luck adventuring instead of shopkeeping.
Kleeeg, the Human Barbarian of the North, a mysterious guide who appeared from the frozen northlands. Wrapped in skins and studded leather armor, he wields a great axe with ease.
Fawnsworth, the Forest Gnome Mage, an ex-Jester who was run out of the Snow Lynx Clan – one too many offensive jokes about the Gnome king. He studies to become an illusionist and likes to perform street magic for anyone who will watch.
This adventure is a highly modified version Unearthing the Past by Jesse Decker
As the group assembled on the road that goes through Travensburg…the one and only road, they saw the Regent of the town himself posting a notice on a wall. A food wagon was supposed to arrive yesterday, but it didn’t. The winter has been horrible and the village is nearly out of food. As Alexi Traven, the Regent, finished posting the sign asking for help, he turned to speak to those gathered around him. Since the Halfling was just to his left, he spoke with her and asked for help from the group who looked to him like the adventuring type. After speaking for a short while, the group learned that Traven sent out the two Johnson boys to go check on the wagon’s arrival yesterday, but they never returned. The group decided to check it out.
The adventurers walked out of town and followed the wagon path to the east. As they traveled, the Fawnsworth the Gnome and Nalcon, the noble on horseback, took the rear and chatted gleefully. The two Dwarves kept to the front with the Barbarian and the rogue in between. They traveled for a few hours and then Erkas felt uneasy, as if they were being watched. Before the stragglers (mainly Fawnsworth the Gnome) were attacked by 4 emaciated wolves, Erkas and Keeeg shouted out. Fid, moving quickly positioned himself in front of Fawnsworth and readied his longsword and shield for the wolves attack. Erkas threw some fire seeds at one of the wolves, singeing one a bit, while Fawnsworth fired a frozen ray at the wounded wolf, grazing it slightly. Then, 3 of the wolves bounded towards Fid, attempting to gang attack the sturdy Dwarf. The wolves bit into him and did some damage (9 points out of 12), but Fid hacked at one cutting it down. As the other wolves pulled and ripped at Fid, Squeak fired an arrow and hit one solidly and Kleeeg brought his great axe down on the beast ending its life with a neat slice through its shoulder blade. The injured Dwarf called to the cleric asking for some healing. Nalcon, keeping his horse safe from harm, responded with a healing word, soothing some but not all of the horrible wounds. As the party fought with the wolves, Nalcon decided that they looked hungry, so he took some of his horse’s feed and threw it over their heads. The wolves looked at it with interest. Most of the group decided to watch the wolves and ready actions to defend themselves if the wolves attacked, but Squeak, fired another arrow at one of the wolves injuring it badly. Then, Fawnsworth stepped forth and took out a food ration and tried to communicate with the wolves. The wolves were so hungry, they were transfixed by the horse feed and the rations, so they withdrew so that they could eat and save themselves. Out of harms way, winded and still wounded from the attack, Fid ushered his strength and was able to move on.
A few hours later, the group crested a small hill and saw the wagon about 40’ ahead of them. 4 green cloaked humanoids were trying to pull the horse and wagon to the south. It was stuck, and blood soaked the ground all around the wagon. This was the food wagon that was supposed to arrive in Travensburg, and there were a number of dead bodies in the snow…undoubtedly the wagon drivers and the Johnson boys. One cloaked figure pointed at the adventurers and alerted the others. Kleeg’s keen eyes could tell that one of the cloaked figures on the other side of the horse carried a staff, while the 3 closest to them had shortswords and daggers. As the two groups fought, it was clear that these were Orcs, but the one in the back was a human mage who moved behind the wagon and wounded Erkas with a frosty bolt. The others moved around and tried to take down the orcs, but they withstood a few attacks. Erkas casted entangle and restrained 2 of the Orcs, and eventually the group took a few of the Orcs down. Realizing that he was in danger, the mage started to run to the south. Nalcon’s holy flame played around the remaining Orc, and it went down, unconscious, not dead. Nalcon wanted to take the vile creature alive. The others tried to pursue the mage, but the mage was escaping. Kleeg could see the mage through the trees and snow, but his bowshot did not hit the mark. The others lost sight of the mage, so Erkas ran after him and summoned forth another entangle spell in an area where he thought the mage would be. Luckily, they heard a yelp; the mage was restrained. Nalcon on horseback galloped closer and told the mage to place himself on the ground and surrender so that they could capture and bring him back for a trial. The mage acquiesced.
The group tried to find out more about the mage, but he just said he was a lone hungry mage with some Orcs, just bandits…thugs. The group didn’t buy it, but the mage would not say more. He insisted that they bring him and the living Orc to Travensburg for trial. The group was perplexed…why would he so willingly go back with them? They could not get the mage to speak more so they tied him and the Orc up and pulled the wagon out of the mucky snow. They also took the bodies of the dead humans and made it back to Travensburg before nightfall.
In Travensburg, they spoke with the Alexi Traven and Miles Wellhorn, the Captain of the Guards. All the while, the group suspected that someone in the town may be in cahoots with the mage they had captured. Traven was horrified at what had happened. He called for the Johnson family with heavy heart. Then he said that these vile criminals would pay. The captain of the guards was bold and said clearly that he did not recognize the mage. With that, the mage seemed to shudder, more frightened now. To get to the bottom of this whole affair, Fid examined some of the prisoner’s belongings. Then he went to the merchant in town and spoke with him. He found that one of the guards actually bought that very staff from the merchant a few weeks back. With this knowledge, Fid returned and told the others. They asked if they could speak with the guards and Fid took each one in private and questioned them. One guard, Johan, was sweating more than usual. Ultimately he broke down and said that he bought the staff for someone. He didn’t know who he was, but he got paid. Then when Fid brought Johan face to face with the mage, Johan verified that the mage was the guy. He had unknowingly aided the criminal, and he felt horrible shame. He told them he’d accept any punishment, but he never knew that this mage, Marsam Tembler it turned out to be, was a threat. With that, Marsam also spoke out, "My brother is out in the wilderness...he won't stand for this. He and his forces will rise against this village." Then Fid broke his kneecaps with a warhammer blow and Erkas used Shillelagh to smash Marsam's face, breaking teeth and crumpling him to the ground. Alexi Traven was shocked to hear of this threat, so he turned to the adventurers and asked them to find the brother and his forces before they endangered the village. The adventurers agreed to set out in the morning.
Treasure: 80 gp from The Regent as a reward and 47 gp in a pouch that Marsam carried, plus 22 sp from the other Orcs.
My summary does not do the justice to the roleplaying we did in this session. We had a ball playing characters this session to set up the campaign and to interact and figure out the mystery that Marsam presented. As such, we only had two small battles, but the session was rich.
Using pre-determined characteristics and ability checks helped me play Marsam, and the other NPCs in Travensburg (fearful and serious Traven; bold and charismatic Captain Wellhorn; Cranky, old merchant). The ability checks also gave the players chances to sense motive, intimidate, try to persuade and cajole. Based on their rolls, and what I felt was appropriate, it took them a while to break Marsam and figure out that the guard had contact with Marsam before. One player used cultural lore (human) and political lore to gain leverage, and that also helped me build the story.
Not having skills made it really easy to move the story along. I let the players say/do anything they thought using wisdom, charisma, intelligence checks as applicable. It was refreshingly easy. Sometimes I asked them to roll so that I could gauge general reactions that helped me steer the action/conversations, but at a crucial moment, I asked the group to pick one representative to do the speaking and make the roll (most notably right before Marsam cracked under the pressure). At this point, Nalcon made an opposed charisma check vs. Marsam, with advantage, and Nalcon won). This worked well. From listening to the latest WoTC livestream, this seems kind of like the direction WotC will be going as they develop their interaction rules.
On the other hand, Cultural Lore was strange. It felt awkward. First, as I was making some pre-gens for some of my players, I found it difficult to decide what types of cultural lore to give. Cultural lore based on race seems strange. How can you know about all humans in general? Would regional lore be easier to judge? Lore by region? Or is cultural lore just too difficult to include? Can someone know the culture of the Northern Realms? The underdark? The drow of the underdark? All orcs or only the Bloody Fang Clan? It is hard to judge and decide what to do with cultural lore.
Also, after the game, we thought about how Lore works with Expertise Dice. How does any lore work with the Assassin's keen intellect? Assassins add Expertise to Intelligence checks? If they have human lore and they use their keen intellect, they will be rolling d20+10+expertise dice. Chances are, they will know too much. Why should they know more than a mage when it comes to knowledge based checks? I'm not sure Assassins should get the expertise in intelligence. Maybe they should just get Poison Lore or Trap Making Lore. Maybe they should get extra lore like that instead of the Expertise...or maybe they should just get Dexterity Expertise like the thief rogue.
I'm interested to see what WotC does with skills in the next package. \
As far as the combats went, I wanted them to be easy to average encounters, and they played pretty much that way (about 3 rounds each). The Dwarven Fighter was hurt pretty badly by the wolves (gang attack helped them hit). The Dwarven Druid was hurt moderately by Marsam’s ray of frost, but the use of entangle twice really saved a lot of damage and ultimately prevented Marsam from escaping.
Oh…that dang Orc “relentless” abilty…I always forget to use it. I think it is too much of a pain in the butt to incorporate. It adds extra calculation and rolling to the game, and since it only triggers when the Orc falls to 0 hit points it is easy for me to forget.
Fun all around. After the session all PC went up to 2nd level. I’m accelerating increase in level so that we can playtest more levels each week as we continue the adventure.
As always, my summaries are only approximations of the game session.
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