As a part of my attempts to bring the quality of my ongoing weekly D&D game up to a higher level, I've been taking some steps recently (detailed in previous installments from this blog) to rectify some issues with the game.
One of the big issues I've been struggling with is a lack of progress. It took us 18 months to get from 1st to 10th level in the campaign, which is about 8 months longer than I would have liked. Since I began working on repairing my campaign, things have sped up nicely, and we've covered about four levels in the last 4-5 months. However, I wanted to shake things up a bit, and really accelerate the campaign into the Paragon Tier. So, accepting the suggestions of some of my players, I decided to make our 10th level adventure a single, all-day session that would be run without interruption and get the heroes all the way up to level 11.
I have recently noticed that my players have been showing more interest and excitement in the plot when it touched on distant events, things beyond the North and Icewind Dale (where the entire Heroic Tier of the campaign has been set), so I wanted to make sure this adventure pretty much wrapped up a lot of the dangling plot threads that were still hanging out there. I won't go into the full detail on those, but you can read more about my campaign by visiting my Obsidian Portal campaign page.
I also wanted to do something special. More than just a fun, long day of playing D&D, I wanted the capstone adventure of the Heroic Tier to be a bit more epic. So, I made sure to put a lot more prep time into this adventure than I normally would. We put the game on a two-week hiaitus for the holidays, so I had plenty of time to prepare. The encounters I planned were much more elaborate, including the siege of an ancient githyanki citadel and the fight with their dragon nemesis, all taking place during an ongoing battle. We also played in one of the larger conference rooms here at WotC, which have an audio jack to which I was able to hook up my iPod and play music in the background during the game; I used the soundtracks to World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, plus the Shards of Eberron soundtrack that came with the Sharn: City of Towers book, and a small amount of the Planescape: Torment soundtrack. I used two of the Heroscape Tower sets to create a fortress wall, and then used Dungeon Tiles to construct the battlefield outside the citadel, the courtyard, and then the citadel's interior. Here are some shots from that battle:
While I'm sure you're finding this fascinating, you are probably also wondering what value this session had toward repairing my campaign. The biggest value, I think, is the shake-up aspect. With this session, the campaign really took a major turn, story-wise. No longer are the heroes just frontier warriors who have helped some towns here and there; now, they are movers-and-shakers who have liberated the entire Icewind Dale from oppression, slain the most powerful dragon in the North, obtained a hefty amount of the McGuffin substance of the campaign, and (perhaps most excitingly) come into possession of a githyanki Astral ship. That last one is pretty important, as they have gone from being slow overland travelers (who lacked a ritual caster to perform teleportation rituals) to sailors of the skies (and, perhaps, the planes). This increased mobility is likely to change the tenor of the campaign from frontier heroes fighting against evil outlaws to...something else. And I think that has a lot of value, as it's going to (hopefully) keep the game from stagnating. Next week when the players come to the table, they won't know what to expect, and I hope that excites them and holds their interest.
Also, I wanted to reward my players with a really exciting and different play experience. My players have really had a good attitude about all of the changes I've been implementing, and I wanted to give them a really large-scale session that would send them into the next tier with a bang. I think it's important to make sure that your players know you appreciate them, and what better way than by going the extra mile to really do a good job preparing? Best of all, most of this prep work was very easy, and I know many DMs out there go through more effort on a weekly basis. Still, I think the combination of the all-day session, the extra terrain bits, the extra effort I put into the encounters, and the resolution of plot threads plus the doling out of great treasure really combined to make, what I think, was the best session of the campaign so far.
The players now have, plot-wise, a near clean-slate with a few plot hooks leading into Paragon Tier. It's my hope that their newfound freedom and mobility will encourage them to be a bit more proactive in telling me what they want to do (via their own actions). Likewise, two of the players joined later in the campaign, and missed out on about half a tier's worth of plot. It's my hope that, thanks to this shake-up and resolution of dangling plots, the newer players will become more invested in the story of the campaign, as they will be on even footing with the other players.