Since our two year long 4e campaign just ended, we are cleansing our gaming pallets over the holiday season by playing some other games. This week we played the Red Box Starter Set. Like last week’s game, we played the included introductory adventure, called “Twisting Halls.” Using Encounters Pre-generated characters from the 3rd and 4th+ Essentials seasons of D&D Encounters, the players used 4e analogs of the same characters from the Pathfinder Box the week before. Therefore we ended up with the clerics Sola and Hagen (Dasz); the warriors Quinn and Edith (The first ‘l’ in a dwarven syllable is always silent); the wizards Jarren and Barrian; and finally the elf roguess Keira Knightly.
Aside: One of the greatest treasures of my “Encounter Days” as a dm are the wonderful pre-generated character cards I have collected. Glossy, colorful, sturdy, and concise, these characters offer everything a new player needs to jump right into the game. They are easy to read, and with a few exceptions, they offer all the pertinent information a player might require during a gaming session. The last three seasons have used the same six pre-gens, so I am glad to have gotten the variety of the first four seasons, including Dark Sun.
The Adventure “Twisting Halls” is represented by a high quality poster map of a very packed and cluttered dungeon. Like introductory adventures from the dawn of time, it is full of classic monsters, traps, treasures and puzzles. The premise of the adventure is to return a box stolen from a caravan during a goblin raid. That raid took place in the “Read This First!” choose-your-own-adventure from the box, and so in our case it was backstory. The goblins were led by a robed figure on a black horse, and the adventurers followed their trail back to a mound, with two cellar-like stone stairways ending at doors. Right or left?
The party of adventurers stumbled down the steps and the thief checked out the stone double doors, before they were blasted open by Quinn. Two goblins screech “Intruder alert!” and launch attacks. A guard drake soon joins from an accompanying room, and then a goblin hex-curser starts shooting blinding bolts from cover behind an urn. A dark horse whickers in a corner by a pool of water. After being blinded, QUinn wandered over to the shying horse, and notices that even though spider webs and dust surround the pool, it is strangely clear. The fght is quickly over, and after a cursory examination, the party heads north. Pushing through the doors, the fighter Quinn is confronted by a spear clutching kobold. It eyes the knight with fear and suspicion, but when Quinn doesnt instantly attack, the kobold beckons him forward, down the hall, past more kobolds and through a red velvet curtain. The rest of the party follows at a discreet distance.
Quinn feels the chill in the air and a white dragon asks why do they dare trespass? After role playing a discussion, and a skill challenge, the dragon admitted he hated the wizard Maraleth and agreed to let a few of them pass if they agreed to defeat the dragon’s nemesis. The two wizards and the rogue, however, were forced to pay 19 gold apiece to enrichen the dragon’s hoard. The encounter could have played out differently, as a very difficult combat, but the players chose to pursue alternative means, which was fun, and hilariously the same thing, only opposite happened last week: they role played the goblins and fought the dragon. It may have been the rogue, who was swallowed whole last week, who prompted her fellows to follow a less violent approach.
It worked, and they passed through the dragon’s lair to be confronted by a squad of goblin archers and their pet dire rats. The three who payed were first through the door, and they had to endure a surprise round alone. One mage was knocked unconscious by a charging dire rat, and the other mage somehow managed to remain standing with no less than six feathered shafts sprouting from his chest. It was pretty freaking hilarious, but the muscle soon arrived, having negotiated a free passage for themselves through the room. (Hey that 19 gold is too important to just give away, they are here to find treasure, not lose it.) Then wizards took their revenge, popping each goblin head with a magic missiles until none remained intact. Quinn dashed towards the end of the hall like a mad man and tottered to a sudden halt at the edge of a pit trap concealed by the moldy rug.
The surprise battle soon ended, and the party was confronted with their first puzzle, in the form of the chess piece battle. They had to negotiate the chamber by moving as either a knight or bishop, while fighting an opposing team of four pawns, knight, rook, and queen. The challenge was fun as the players learned how to enter the room and join the chess board. There was some confusion over the movement effects of certain powers, and how they related to the chess moves. The principle idea was to move as a piece, but fight as usual, so we decided move effects would work as normal, and I also allowed people to use charge with their chess moves. It was an interesting and fun puzzle-combat.
The next chamber was a room full of statues and alters and some human thugs, but it was getting late, so I removed the combat and the room was fairly boring after that. Hagen the cleric, with Sola’s aid tried to remove the evil necromancy surrounding an alter, but failed miserably, and may have even caused the flow of evil to increase. Not the first time Sola has wondered about her fellow cleric’s true alignment…
Forgetting the neo-otyugh chamber (oops wrong dungeon) the characters bee-lined directly to the final climactic encounter, which was an exciting battle with the wizard Malareth and his undead companions. The fight was brutal, but quick, and there was lots of healing. The critical moment in the fight happened when the cleric Sola used her last healing to revive Hagen, so he could revive the fallen wizard. Everyone managed to pick themselves off the ground, and Edith the dwarf practically soloed the hulking zombie (described as a huge and bloated fat humanoid, like the zombie in the grocery store in Zombie Land, rather than an ogre.
The wizard could immobilize, and had a rechargeable necromantic burst attack that hit everyone in the party at least once, but other than that he was fairly lackluster. The skeletons had an incredibly high armor class for some reason, and really high hit points. I guess they were the “soldier” type, and they boxed the party in at the doorway (as usual for practically every batle of the night) and when the skeletons finally fell, the zombie hulk and the pathetically evil necromancer were soon to follow. Each character found one million gold pieces and retired to a country estate, the end.
Overall it was a fun adventure. More combat heavy than Pathfinder by default, but not always necessary, as can be seen by the role playing through the dragon scene. The interesting fact is that each box set approached the same classic “mini dungeon” introductory adventure in almost the exact same way, yet each of them were totally unique in the specifics. After the adventure, we talked a little bit about the differences between the two, and few people were ready to say one same was better or more fun (with the exception of my wife “3e is a saint!”) The consensus was definitely to continue playing 4e if it were ever to come to a vote, and since I am already in the planing stages of the next campaign, my preference is also with 4e. There are just too many options, it is like a drug. Pixie bards, vampires, goliath berzerkers, and satyrs are just a few of the infinitude of character options available in 4e.
Oh and it was our last game session of the year, nad it was our little x-mas party to boot. Good food, good friends, good gaming, and to top it all off, I, the humble dm, found some good little gifts to bestow on my players, in thanks for them returning week after week, year after year, to listen to me incoherently babble for hours on end. There is no subject I cannot spew forth as though with expertise, and there is every subject that I can be found lacking in said expertise, but my friends and family understand that about me, and apparentyl they are ok with it, so I gave each of them a little dragon momento as an x-mas present.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!