Musings on Our Third Session

Things have been on a roll over here at Nerd Headquarters.

I’ve noticed that, after three sessions, things are getting smoother—and that’s taking into account our damn smooth start. The few kinks we’ve had are definitely being ironed out quickly and people are getting more comfortable with their characters. I also noticed that each time I write one of these, there’s much less listed under “Things That Could Have Gone Better” and much more listed under “Things That Went Great.”

Session Summary

Session 3 took place on Sunday, April 10, 2011.

Larion’s defeat—and subsequent capture—is quickly interrupted by the arrival of a cadre of guards. The heavily armored half-orcs and dwarves shout variations of “Surrender! Drop your weapons! Get down on the ground!” The group has no choice but to comply; their strength flagged and two of their number lie on the cold stone floor, dying. Fortunately, as the guards fan out, they quickly discover Maril and Ykoren and immediately tend to their wounds.

Next, the companions are stripped and searched for anything that could prove a danger to the Depository watch. As this occurs, four more guards—gagged, tied, and unconscious—are found on the second-floor balcony next to a very disoriented halfling. At last, the real Rivereye Badgerface has been revealed. As the halfling is being ushered outside to safety, his attention is drawn to a small bauble atop the growing pile of possessions being taken from the group: Peppin’s signet ring. Rivereye looks askance at the five men, who are all, in turn, staring at Kara. Shaken out of her reverie, she speaks Peppin’s code phrase.

Suddenly, the diminutive halfling hails the group as saviors. Within moments, everything is cleared up and the true story of what had occurred comes to light. Rivereye is deeply saddened to hear of Peppin’s untimely murder, but more important things had to be taken care of: the case with the vital military intelligence had been stolen. It seems that Larion, disguised as Rivereye, entered the Depository with two eladrin thugs. They caught the guards and Rivereye unawares, disarmed them, and tied them up for use as hostages. Fortunately, Rivereye was able to convince Larion that the case was rigged to explode if opened before intoning the proper password.

Enraged, Larion sent his men off with the case, telling them to get in contact with someone named Shealis at place called Gabal’s School. Additionally, Rivereye was sure he heard mention of “an escape tunnel to the Singing Chasm” and that it was a week away from completion. There was also talk of a mission and a return to Shahalesti.

With Rivereye’s story told, the companions turn their attention to Larion. One of the guards—secretly a member of the rebellion—convinces the other guards to allow the group a few moments of alone time with the prisoner. Unfortunately, the interrogation of Larion proves fruitless. It seems he is either fearless of what the group could do to him, or possibly more fearful of what would happen to him by his master if he broke.

The group leave the Depository, intending to follow up on the information Rivereye had overheard. First, however, Kara suggests they rest for the night at the rebellion’s safe house.

Outside, the battle rages on. Overhead, dragons and their riders fight against the Gate Pass Griffon Guard; dragonblood pours down like rain. Suddenly, there is a particularly loud roar—a dragon and a griffin collide into each other, nearly throwing their riders. The griffon and its rider recover as the dragon and its rider plummet to the earth. In short order, the dragon runs out of sky and crashes into the roof of a building just ahead of the group. For a few seconds, an eerie calm surrounds the building. Then, a woman’s bloodcurdling scream echos down the street, but stops as quickly as it had started with little more than a gurgle. The scream is replaced with a child’s fearful wailing.

Moving toward the sound, the group is surprised to see the dragonrider has survived his landing and is making his way out of the wreckage of the house with a hostage—a small boy. The man drips with malice, obviously caring nothing of the child he has clutched in a claw-like grip. The companions block the man’s path. He smiles wickedly, and then quietly whispers that if they move in closer, the boy will die.

Not willing to back down and let this monster escape into the burning city, the companions charge. A quick slice to the throat kills the young boy; the dragonrider tosses the limp body into the snow and advances. Though alone, he provides more than enough of a match for the companions. In the end, three of the group’s number fall before Arender finally deals the deathblow—a dagger to the back of the skull. Flagnus struggles against the closing blackness, yet finally succumbs to the ultimate slumber.

Broken and bleeding, the group stands in the snow, wondering what fate has in store for them next.

Changes to the Adventure

Absolutely nothing! Our session picked up after Larion’s capture and continued with his interrogation. We then dallied with a bit of guard roleplay and wrapped up after Flagnus’ defeat. This portion of the adventure felt pitch perfect and I didn’t feel like anything needed to be adjusted, added, or removed. Oh wait, I lied—I changed the bad guy’s name from “Flaganus” to “Flagnus.” I felt removing the “a” made it flow better.

Encounter Modifications

Fallen Devil: Since this encounter took place on the streets of a city under attack, it gave me the opportunity to pull out all the stops: themed lighting, smoke, and all the ruined cardstock buildings I’d constructed in advance. Also, one of Sunday’s big surprises was that Flagnus was actually a black dragon. No, not in the narrative of the game, as in he was a shapechanger. I mean mechanically, he was fluffed from a black dragon. It was one of the most fun combats I’d run in a long time.

For a more detailed account on how Fallen Devil was reconstructed for my group, please see Redesigning Encounters: Fallen Devil.

Things That Could Have Gone Better

Very little! Really, only one thing stood out as gross miscalculation on my part: Larion’s interrogation. Before the PC’s advanced on the captured foe, they spoke with Rivereye, who quickly revealed all that he had overheard. After this mini information dump, there was literally nothing else that could have been gained by speaking with Larion. This was a horribly missed opportunity, as it would have been much more interesting to have the group drag the details out of Larion through roleplay.

Things That Went Great

NPC’s

We finally found the proper balance surrounding NPC’s in the game. Before the combat with Flagnus began, I quickly roleplayed Kara and Rivereye’s role in the coming battle, and then they faded into the background. No one roleplayed them and they took no actions. It was great! This freed up a ton of time, making the combat run quickly and smoothly. Although now, as I look back, the two NPC’s should have made their way to fallen PC’s to administer Heal checks. Next time, I’ll place a note on the whiteboard (see below) under the last person in the initiative order, reminding me to ask the following question: “Is there anything important the NPC’s should be doing?” If the answer is no, we’ll quickly move back to the top of the round.

Initiative

Goodbye software, goodbye index cards! We pulled out my magnetic whiteboard, wrote each combatant on a strip of white magnet, and placed them in the proper order. No fuss, no muss! This freed Seth to focus on his character. I felt much better about not having to give anyone a task or something to keep track of. With the whiteboard in plain view, everyone was responsible for making sure they were ready to go when it was their turn. Without question, this sped up combat a ton. There wasn’t a single time were I felt we were waiting for someone. The pace was frantic and the momentum was palpable, as all combats should be.

Condition Cards

These were the true heroes of the game. As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, I’d designed and printed out condition cards for my group to use. Well, they worked perfectly! The moment someone came under the effect of a condition, a card was handed to that player with a note on when it ended. As soon as the effect was over, the card was handed back. Additionally, I went the extra mile and made cards unique to each player for every power they had that caused a non-standard condition.

Fortune Cards

This session finally saw their first use. I’d been holding off on writing out any set of codified rules because I really didn’t know how I wanted them to work. By the end of Sunday’s session, I’d figured it out—I don’t want them to work any specific way. I want them to provide enhancement to our games without any kind of laws holding back their use. Want to trade them between players? Sure! Want to save up three and hand them back in to recharge a Daily? Whatever! Have a Fortune Card that is only a word or two off from what you want it to do? Let’s give it a shot, maybe tossing in a skill check for good measure. The point is, we played fast and loose with their use because we had the singular goal of having fun. As long as fun was had, they worked. The Fortune Cards didn’t suddenly make anyone a shining star above all else—they simply added small mechanical boons that added depth and flavor to the combat.

Combat Length

The combat took two hours—which is exactly how long I wanted it to last. Flagnus was a “mini-boss” of sorts, and I had planned to level the characters after it. Due to these things, I wanted the combat to be the focus of the session. I never once felt the combat was running too long; it was exciting right up to Arender’s final dagger throw.

Photographs

Last, but not least, here are the pictures from our session.