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Archive for June 9th, 2010

A well thought out adventure with great encounters

This final entry into the 12 week course Dungeon Adventuring in Undermountain 101 brings the series to a close. DnD Encounters has been great fun to dm and the scads of players who have showed up week after week tell me the players are having a blast too. I have to hand it to Wizards of the Coast – they hit on a winning strategy to bring in new and returning players. I am content knowing I did my fair share of showing off the game I love so much to new people. The Encounters format is so wildly successful, in fact, that CNN has written an article about its awesomeness.

As awesome as Wizards of the Coast is for setting up this program, it is the players who made it a success. Their enthusiasm for the encounters, their fortitude to stick it out week after week, and their engagement, that is, their ability to let the outside world drop away for a couple hours each week and to “geek out” with funny voices, swinging swords, and moving little plastic toys all over a map board – these are the things that made Encounters Season 1 so memorable and fun.

There was Dave, and his wife-to-be Jenna. Dave might be some kind of Magic the Gathering star, Im not sure, vbut he was a solid player from week one, never shirking from a stand up fight, and his character Hax (nee Hex when he reached second level and multi-classed into a Warlock) was always in the front lines of combat or the back lines of his enemy, the teleporting bastid. His earthshock ability (as a minor) was a bane to all his foes. Jenna was new to Dnd but that didnt stop her halfling Sorceress Midget from tossing lightning bolts like a mini Thor. Her enthusiasm was contagious, she couldnt wait to start flinging dice like they too were lightning bolts.

Ron, I have called the moral center of the party. he played an Ardent, a new psionic character who was a healer (buck up soldier, Im sending you good thoughts) as well as a melee fighter with a big long pole arm. He too was there every week, and his healing kept the party alive through more than one encounter. His ardent, Kantash, had troubles hitting, but when he did manage to land a blow, it was news worthy.

Steve was the wise old campaigner of the bunch. A fellow dm by day, he had a firm grasp of the rules and sound tactics for every fight. Much to my delight, this tactic usually involved charging into the thick of battle as a free action before we even rolled initiative. His battlemind character, Torak, took a savage beating every battle, and probably took twice as much damage as everyone else combined, except for Hex, who was a close second. Torak also dished out savage beatings, and at 2nd level, when he multi-classed into Avenger, his enemies could neither defeat him nor flee from his brutal judgment.

Eddie played the rogue Stilgar. (I too have used that name before, because Stilgar is one of the most bad-ass characters in all science fiction. Read Dune if you havent. Go ahead and see the movies too.) Eddie was returning to Dnd From a hazy second edition past, and still has a big old bag of dice to prove it. His rogue was played to perfect affect, and many were the times when Stilgar would spend a round or two positioning for a huge strike. He could pull off some of the highest damage of anyone at the table, but oh the misses were painful to see. (Thank god for half damage on a miss with dailies)

Richard and Jake came late, about halfway through the season. They had played at different tables prior to arriving at mine. These two gents were dnd pros, who had maximized characters and knew the rules backwards and forwards. In fact, I came to rely on these two and Steve for many of the rules which they knew better than I! (Having played dnd for 20+ yrs. the various editions tend to blend together in my brain into some monstrous sort of Uber-rules, so pulling out the 4e specific rule is sometimes tricky) Richard played a shardmind for a few sessions, who was able to do pretty good ranged damage, but came back to his drow assassin Shivra for the final episode. Shivra was a stone cold killing machine, and whenever Shivra chose a target, I knew that monsters time was up. Jake on the other hand, played a shaman better than I have ever seen one played. In fact, before Shaman John, I wasnt even sure on how some of the mechanics worked, and any shaman playtests before had restulted in dull, barely playable characters. Shaman John and his fire eagle spirit companion were a force to be reckoned with, aiding allies, hindering foes, and dishing out a respectable serving of pain as well.

Jonathon Sloan came late to the party, only just then hearing about it, but he made up for it with a surplus of gusto. He stepped in as an elven archer ranger (technically he stepped OUT of the dragonborne ranger) and proceeded to twin strike anything and everything he could see, which was a lot with that elven perception. He also had the honor and tragedy of having the only character to die permanently in the party. The poor elven ranger (who I incorrectly called Stu the whole time he was with us for some reason) was killed by intersecting close bursts while unconcious in the famed mushroom room, backed against the wall, and unable to use his bow to maximum affect. It was a glorious death though, in an era when PC death is becoming rare. He was replaced by Erranus, whose magic missiles, arcane and phantom bolts flew as fast as the twin strikes ever did.

Finally we can never forget Roy and Deanna and their 11 week old child (whose name unforgivably escapes me) who played as much as they could before lifes rich pageant of demands forced them to give up their wednesday hacking and slashing. Geryon the ranger was well known for including allies in his breath weapon and other burst attacks, even catching his own wife in it once! But he always had good reason and the best intentions. And her deva invoker was angelic, smiting evil and defending good at all times. These two will always have an honorary place at my table, if not an actual one.

Aside: Roy also expressed interest in dming, which I sincerely hope he follows up on. I think he would make a great dm. Our trade is often a thankless one, but fulfilling in so many ways. We are instructor, coach, judge, author, improvisational actor, mediator, and leader all in one. This multitude of roles also allows us to screw up often without too much ire from the players, they are very understanding of our limitations. For example, even a badly done voice of some monster or non player character is better than no voice. And trust me when I tell you my voices are bad – eventually Jenna offered to take over the lines of any females the party encounters. One way to look at dming might be to compare it to the conductor of an orchestra. We aim to bring harmony and synchronicty to the event, and whether we write our own music or translate anothers, we are trying to draw forth the best from our players,as individuals, and as a group. Another way to look at it would be to imagine herding cats. No one can be perfect at this and I am sure I am worse then most, in fact at one point, this weekly article was going to be about the mistakes I made during each episode, but I quickly realized that the blog would end up being much too long. For anyone interested in bcoming a dm, or becoming a better dm, the video podcast of Chris Perkins, DM to the Stars is the first best place to look. He is my dm hero, lol. Also the creative manager of the brand or something.

Well, I guess I should say something about the encounter. It was a fitting climactic battle. In many ways it was a return to the first encounter of the series – once again Fayne was on the ground unconscious, once again there was a rickety bridge, this time over a rushing underground river. They finally came up against the big bad guy, the demonic eladrin Xeres, brother to Fayne, and a swordmage of no mean skills. His allies included a few more elves – this time of the archer variety, as well as a hidden spider on the ceiling and a choker lurking in the shadows. I must say, the two combats we have had with elves have been incredibly fun. I love throwing these enemies at the party, and it may be the first time in all my years of dming that I used elves as bad guys. I was lovin it. Mental note: fight more elves.

The party fought this battle with surgical precision. Each character was used to the best of his abilities and the party worked together to form “synergy affects” against which no enemy could long stand. The party turned the tide on Xeres quickly, and the river became more a hindrance for him and his crew than for the PCs. It was no easy battle though. The spider took out the sorceress, thus giving credence to his name Deathjump Spider. However the wizard Erranus hit him with so many magic missile the spider leapt away to be shot dead off the ceiling, dropping with its legs curled up.

The choker choked, slimy tentacle fingers slithering around their necks and tightening with extraordinary strength. His reach 2 was problematic, especially when some one wanted to hack at his arms. I ruled that was impossible – giving the metaphor of a big brother holding a little brother at bay with his longer reach, unable to hit back. Apparently I had many little brothers in the group, as they were quick to point out that they always found a way to strike back. Looking back, I should have allowed an attack against the arms, perhaps at a negative. Cuz you know what, They re probably right. His abilty to shift damage I described as the choker pulling the pc forward while he lunged and thus their heads momentarily swapping positions, just as the rogues mace landed for example- BOOOONG!

The battlemind waded into thick of battle. The sorceress became a miniature Thor. The wizard had a tommy-gun full of magic bullets. The ardent led with his pole arm and his motivational presence. Hex hexed and haxed. Stilgar rattled his enemies with his mace. Shivra, running late, chose his target and and came in like a silent banshee ninja from hell. Shaman John and his fire eagle spirit sprang into action wherever he was needed most.

Xeres didnt stand a chance. Knocked into the water, he teleported invisibly only to be thumped on the back of the head the next round by Stilgar who uncannily moved adjacent to him even though he knew not where Xeres was. The spiders fate we have learned. Of the choker, being on their side of the water made him the target of everyone and their big brothers. He fell to burst and area affects.

Victorious, the party gathered up their winnings from the damsel in distress. She turned out to be not so good after all (in fact, at another table they ended up fighting her in a second encounter that night – which was a totally awesome idea for those who might have the extra time – sadly we didnt.) And everyone was happy to have completed the adventure. And maybe just the littlest bit sad that it was over.

But what is this, season 2 is starting without so much as a free Wednesday in between? No time to reminisce over past accomplishments, folks, it is once more into he breach!

The Dark Sun is Rising

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