The Elder God’s Cavern level 2, session 2 (continued)

Last time, the group made their way through level 2 of the multi-level D&D 5e dungeon I am running. They found some new allies, and were about to assault the hobgoblin lair to recover the parts for the submersible that would take them to the next level. The group included Uatu (a halfling warlock), Black Lotus (a drow monk), Crohm (a human fighter), Dre (a dragonborn barbarian) and Goris (a half-orc barbarian).

They moved forward cautiously, Black Lotus in the lead. The passageway became more regular, as if workers had carved flat corrridors out of the stone. They came to a wide, square-shaped room with a heavyset door at the opposite when arrows flew by them.

Two hobgoblins were hiding behind barricades, firing. Uatu fired eldritch blasts in return, while the rest of the group charged. Suddenly more arrows flew by them, as they saw hobgoblins firing from murder holes in the door. The group started to pull back but Dre charged the doors, smashing them open [he wasn’t supposed to be able to do that, but rolled a natural 20]

The group took out the hobgoblin archers, but more appeared at the end of the passageway, and continued to fire. They killed a few of them, but the group was out of spells, wounded and exhausted, when a gruff voice called out to them.

It was Grort, the leader of the hobgoblin. He asked for a truce, arguing that he’d lost many fighters, but the group couldn’t kill all of them. They agreed, and everyone lowered their weapons. Uatu told him they wanted to get to the lower levels, and needed the gnome the hobgoblins had captured.

The gnome, Fonken, was brought out [he may sound familiar. Fonken is one of my characters (who I’ll do an Origin Stories post on eventually) that I’ve used in another adventure as well]. The group tried to convince the hobgoblins to let Fonken go, but they refused. Grort asked for all the group’s treasure, which didn’t go over well. At an impasse, Grort then challenged one of them to single combat.

Black Lotus stepped up, and the fight began. A weakened Black Lotus was visibly struggling, when Uatu walked over to a robed human who accompanied Grort. Uatu pointed out Grort was weakened, and suggested the human make a bid for leadership. He was convincing [rolled well on persuasion] and just as Grort was about to strike a killing blow on Black Lotus, the human cast a spell and a pillar of fire descended on Grort, killing him [he cast sacred flame]

The human announced he was in charge, and the hobgoblins—irritated with Grort’s leadership, and respecting strength—welcome that.  The human agreed to let Fonken fix the submersible and be free if he helped them maintain their own drainage system [the group didn’t really get into this, but Fonken had used parts from the submersible to create pumps to keep the hobgoblin lair dry; the tunnels for these could have provided another entryway for the group]

Everyone agreed to this deal, the bandits held a feast for the group, and then set off the next morning.

Here’s the prepared text for their exit:

With a jolt and a shudder, the device activates. You begin to sink into the water, and strange lights ignire on the outside of the device. Looking out the windows, you can see the device floating downwards, towards a dark hole in the river that must lead deeper into the hill. The device enters the hole with a whoosh, shaking a bit. You can see the rock walls flying by—you’re travelling incredibly fast now. Suddenly the walls disappear, and you’re in a fantastically large cavern. The lights don’t even reach the walls, and it’s almost as if you’re in the ocean. You start to see other lights in the deep, and realize there are glowing fish out there. And you jump back with a start as a gigantic fish, the size of a house, passes by. Suddenly you realize you’ve been travelling fast and deep enough to reach deep into the earth.

Just as you begin to worry about where you’re going, the walls close in around you again and you can see daylight. The device comes to rest in a strange upwards-flowing waterfall, moves out of the water, and settles into a cradle. The doors open up.

Looking around, you see you’re in a long, broad tunnel. As you orient yourselves, you realize this must run the length of the hill. At the west end of the tunnel, you can see daylight. At the east end is a stone door.

The group found a sealed door at one end of the cavern, and at the other they came out into a narrow valley holding a decrepit, creepy-looking house.

To be continued in Level 3 of The Elder God’s Cavern…

[I am saving my commentary on the creation of this dungeon till the end, but I wanted to say a few things about how this level played out. I had prepared a few ways in for both the bullywug and hobgoblin lair. I also came up with negotiation possibilities for both. The group found the bullywug secret entrance, which helped. For the hobgoblins, there was a control room for the submersible that was turned into a pumping station by Fonken. The group could have used tunnels in this station to sneak through the hobgoblin lair.

It seemed like a good practice when creating a lair, to set up options for sneaking and negotiation (in addition to frontal assault). That can make the adventure more interesting, and appeal to different types of groups.]



The Elder God’s Cavern, level 2, session 2

The group re-formed to finish the second level of the dungeon. We had Crohm (human fighter), Uatu (halfling warlock), Black Lotus (drow monk), and two newcomers: Dre (dragonborn barbarian) and Goris (half-orc barbarian). I run the group through Meetup, so try to accommodate people who join halfway through. Once again, we met at the excellent Killer Rabbit Comics and Games in South Burlington, VT.

The group took a long rest to recover from the fight. After waking, they heard a commotion: what sounded like shouting, and someone running towards them.

They decided to prepare by hiding the tiger corpse to avoid raising suspicion. Unfortunately, it proved heavier than they expected, so they were still pulling on it as a dragonborn and half-orc ran into the cavern, followed soon after by three hobgoblins [everyone failed their strength checks].

The group rushed to attack, while the Dre and Goris turned on their pursuers. Goris ripped out one of the tiger’s fangs to use as a dagger, and Dre attacked with his hands. The group quickly took care of the hobgoblins, and introduced themselves to the new-comers. They had been travelling through the highlands to the west when they were set upon by a group of hobgoblins and captured. Their captors were escorting them back to their lair when they made a break for it.

After introductions, the group explained what they were trying to accomplish. The newcomers knew the way to the hobgoblin lair, but they decided to look for the alternative power source for the submersible first. Heading northwest, they came into a slimy cavern that ended in the rushing river. While exploring the riverbank, a green slime dropped on Uatu, injuring him. He scraped it off with a rock, and they moved on.

The next cavern was overgrown with waist-high (for a human) mushrooms. The group began cutting their way through when suddenly a horrid shrieking sound erupted beside them. Uatu saw it was coming from a strange fungus, and realized it was a shrieker [rolled a Nature check]. He tugged on it, but it wouldn’t budge. Goris tried to help by tugging on Uatu, but it still wouldn’t come out. Then Dre shouted, “I’ll just smash it!” ran over, and missed, kicking Uatu in the head [two failed strength checks, and a critical failure by Dre].

The group decided to move on. They came out in a familiar passageway. Remembering that it led to the trapped passageway Black Lotus stumbled over (last session), they headed the other direction.

They came out into a ruined temple. A statue of a blinded and maimed god stood on a pedestal, with a sealed chest behind him. On the pedestal was written, “follow in my footsteps to gain my aid.” On the wall were carving of horrific beasts—reminiscent of the tentacled creatures in the carvings above them—attacking human cities but being held back by figures emitting light. In one corner, a figure holding back the beasts had a different beast behind him, aiding him.

The group tried to figure out how to open the chest, but it wouldn’t budge. Black Lotus walked in the direction the statue was looking, but nothing happened. Uatu identified the statue as Tyr [religion check], and Dre closed his eyes and walked blindly. At this, the statue clicked open. Inside they found a decanter of endless water, a rope of climbing, and two sending stones.

They backtracked their way south, past the tiger lair, to a large, oddly shaped room with numerous, dark, alcoves. The floor was covered with a fungus Goris recognized as growing from corpses, and the room had a horrid, rotting smell. As they carefully explored the alcoves, a ghoul appeared out of the darkness, and bit Uatu in the shoulder.

The others rushed in as two other ghouls and a zombie came out of the darkness. The ghouls bit Black Lotus and Dre as well, but they fought off the stiffness in their limbs [succeeded in saving throw against paralysis]. They defeated the undead rather easily [I was a little disappointed, was hoping for a least one paralysis]. In the alcoves they found assorted treasure, and a glowing stone [“does it look like a power source?” one of my players facetiously asked]

They headed back to the passageway to the hobgoblin lair. Remembering the traps last time, Black Lotus walked carefully, but still got hit with an arrow. He then decided to poke the floor ahead of him with a stick, and discovered the rest of the traps. Unfortunately, that included a set of bells that rang alarmingly loud…

Continued next week.

Thoughts on dealing with multiple PC ability checks

This is a post on some guidelines I’ve developed in my sessions (for 5th edition D&D) on ability checks. This may be blindingly obvious, and something everyone else does, but I thought I’d write it down in case it’s helpful.

These guidelines are inspired by my experience as a PC. I often like to invest in intelligence skills (in D&D) or knowledge skills in other games. It’s interesting to have a player who’s an expert in something besides fighting and talking, but it can come in handy. It doesn’t always work out though.

In one D&D campaign, I had a wizard who had proficiency in all the intelligence skills (arcana, religion, etc.). But I never used any of them, because my DM never called on them, and didn’t see the need to when I suggested it. This was frustrating.

When I was playing Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, though, I had a different experience. My character was Arkdo (who I wrote about here), a Duros archeologist. He had a lot of knowledge of the Outer Rim and interesting lore. So the GM would occasionally suggest I roll when encountering new situations. This helped out the group immensely.

Out of sympathy with characters who invest in utility skills, I’ve adopted that approach. If a character is proficient in survival, I suggest they roll to see if they can figure out which direction they’ve been heading underground. If a character is proficient in religion, I have them roll to see if they recognize the half-ruined altar they’ve discovered. It increases immersion, and includes all players in the game.

But a problem often arises. When I suggest a player rolls and they fail, the rest of the group asks if they can roll as well. More often than not, someone will roll a success. This kind of defeats the purpose of my suggestion, which was based on certain character’s background knowledge or hunches.

The solution I came up with was pretty simple, and role-play appropriate. I’ve started telling players that they have a choice with these sort of checks, and they must declare it ahead of time. Either the PC I suggested roll is the only one who can attempt the check, or all PCs attempt it as a group check. This fits with role-play; one character has a hunch something is off, and either looks into it themselves or tells the group, and the whole group checks it out.

This has been working well so far. Players still get some control over their ability checks, but I also get to include all players in exploration without making the game too easy.

Any thoughts? Does this seem useful? Is there a better way to handle this?

Origin Stories: Roland, mechanics

Last time I presented the backstory of Roland, an Aasimar paladin. This time I’ll discuss how I created this character. This was kind of a case of group need driving character creation, although I had an archetype in mind for the character I’d use.

Our group seemed like it could use a tank and a healer, so paladin seemed appropriate here. I was intrigued by the Aasimar race since it appeared in the Volo’s Guide book; I played an Aasimar Paladin in Neverwinter Nights 2, and thought it was an interesting idea. So I thought I’d go that route here as well.

There are three Aasimar sub-races, the protector, the scourge and the fallen. All Aasimar get a Charisma bonus, but they get a second bonus (and additional powers) by sub-race. The protector fit the initial idea of my character, but it received a Wisdom bonus, which was not very useful. I went with the scourge Aasimar instead, which got a helpful strength bonus.  Scourge Aasimar are consumed by their celestial nature and desire to defeat evil, and can use their power to cause an explosion of searing radiant light that harms themselves and nearby enemies.

The choice of this sub-race influenced my decisions for focusing the paladin class. Paladins get a choice of “oaths” at 3rd level, which give them standards for behavior and a variety of powers. The Oath of Devotion is closest to the classic LG Paladin we all love. Then there is the Oath of the Ancients, which one of my friends describe as a green knight; a holy protector of the wilds. I played this sort of character in the past. Then there is the Oath of Vengeance, a paladin focused more on defeating evil than spreading righteousness. (There are additional oaths in the supplements as well if people are interested).

I was leaning towards oath of Devotion, but the scourge Aasimar fit with the idea of an Oath of Vengeance Paladin. So I decided to create the character with that eventual path in mind. This didn’t have any effect on creation at first level, but it did affect my backstory (as I will discuss in a bit).

For stats, I rolled them instead of taking the pre-set values. I thought I’d go for a little randomness, in the hopes of getting a powerful character. I ended up with a 16 and two 14s, along with some more mediocre rolls. So, not great but not bad either. I put the 16 in strength, which ended up as a 17 with the sub-race bonus. And one of the 14s went into Charisma, which increased to 16 with my bonus. I then put the second 14 into Constitution. So I had a starting character with pretty good stats for the most useful attributes (Strength for fighting, Charisma for spells and social interaction), and respectable Constitution for hit points.

I turned to the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide for my background. One of the new backgrounds  in this supplement is “Knight of the Order.” I chose the Knights of the Gilded Eye, an order dedicated to Helm. I thought it made sense for an Aasimar to have been taken in by a knightly order, and I’d been interested in trying one of the new backgrounds for awhile.

I could now work out my skills. I took Athletics and Religion for my Paladin; Athletics is always useful, and while knowledge skills are often under-used I liked proficiency in Religion for role-playing reasons. Then for my background, I took Persuasion and Insight. Both of these should come in handy. I really wanted Intimidation, which fit with the backstory I was developing as I finished character creation (again, see below) but I thought that would be redundant. My background gives me persuasion, so I felt like it would be a waste to also use Intimidation. I later realized that both would have been useful, so that’s worth remembering for the future; go with your gut.

For alignment, I went with Lawful Good. There is some debate about the appropriate alignment for Oath of Vengeance Paladins, with some suggesting they be Lawful Neutral and others Chaotic Good. I don’t think ruthlessness particularly corresponds to any one alignment (with the exception of certain behaviors like killing prisoners). Helm is Lawful Neutral, but Aasimar are Good; Lawful Good is the obvious mix of the two. I don’t think alignment necessarily determines personality, it just sets parameters for behavior. So Lawful Good behavior guidelines combined with my personality traits seems like it would produce my character. There will be some tensions, especially when dealing with evildoers who don’t cooperate, but that could make for a good character, as I’ve discussed. (At some point I’ll write about alignment, which I really think we under-utilize, but that’s another post).

Finally, I just took the basic starting equipment. For my weapon I chose a war hammer instead of the default longsword. It had the same stats, but I wanted to try something different. I also kind of liked the idea of my scourage Aasimar resembling Thor at times in combat…

So by this point you may have figured out where my backstory came from. A scourge Aasimar spends much of his life in hiding due to his obvious celestial nature; many reject or expect too much of them, while evildoers want to kill these celestial representatives. Meanwhile, an Oath of Vengeance Paladin has a Batman-esque need to defeat evil everywhere. Where would this come from? And why would a new member of a Knightly Order be travelling on his own?

I tied this all together with last week’s backstory. Roland was sent to the knightly order by his mother to keep him safe. But his unit was ambushed and wiped out, which explains why Roland was on his own and driven by a desire for vengeance. Based on this backstory, I chose his personality traits (drawn from the soldier background); he obeys authority and is polite, but is haunted by the death of his comrades, for which he feels responsible.

So that’s how I developed Roland. The party had a hole to fill, but I was able to use the basic archetype–tanking paladin–to come up with a unique and fun character. Since I am currently using Roland in a campaign, I’ll have a post up in a few weeks on how I leveled him up through the first few levels, and how I’ve been roleplaying him.




Origin Stories: Roland, backstory

As I’ve discussed on Twitter, I’ve started a new 5e D&D campaign as a player (the first time I’ve been a player in a few years). We’re running through the Sunless Citadel adventure in Tales from the Yawning Portal, before starting Tomb of Annihilation. I thought I’d start a new Origin Stories post–my series on the background and mechanics of characters I’ve played–for my character in this campaign.

I’ll add posts as he levels up, which may be useful for players looking for info on how to advance their characters. As always, part 1 is the backstory, and part 2 is the actual mechanics of character creation.

My character is Roland Arkbury, an Aasimar Paladin (aasimars are human touched by celestial blood, kind of like a good version of tieflings).

Roland was born in Mulhorand, among a surge of Aasimar births in that war-torn land [as discussed in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and online]. Roland’s mother fled with him when he was young (he never knew his father) . They settled in Neverwinter, where his mother worked odd jobs. Roland’s celestial nature became apparent as he neared puberty, however, so his mother sent him to a local Knightly Lodge–of the Knights of the Gilded Eye–to properly train him.

The Knights trained and supported Roland well, and he became devoted to the worship of Helm. After graduating from squiredom, he joined his unit on their first patrol through the Mere of Dead Mean. Unfortunately, they were being followed…

A group of cultists of Orcus had become aware of the Aasimar in Neverwinter and desired him for their rituals. They followed the knights deep into the swamp, surrounded them and attacked.

Realizing what the cultists were after, Roland’s commander ordered him to fall back behind the more experienced knights. The knights fought bravely, slaying many cultists, but they were outnumbered and outmatched by the evil cleric of Orcus who led the cultists.

As the last of his brothers in arms fell before the onslaught, Roland drew his warhammer and threw back his hood. His glowing eyes flared in rage and he called out a challenge to the cultists. He knew he would probably not win, but he would avenge as many of his friends as he could.

Suddenly, a flurry of arrows shot out of the darkness. Seizing the confusion, Roland charged and, combined with his mysterious savior, killed the remaining cultists.

As the last of them fell, a man stepped out of the shadows. He introduced himself as Evan. His village had been destroyed by the undead, so he now ranged the wilds, hunting them whenever he could find them. Roland thanked him for his aid, and asked if he would help him bury the knights.

After they finished, Evan mentioned he had heard that a wealthy woman in the village of Oakhurst was looking for heroes, to help find some missing relatives. He suggested they join up to check out the situation. Roland agreed, and secretly vowed to never rest in his struggle against evil, and to never forget how he had led his brothers into death…

Next week I’ll present the character creation mechanics for Roland.

The Elder God’s Cavern, level 2, part 2

Last time, our heroes entered the second level of the mysterious caverns outside town to investigate the source of a ghost terrorizing the populace. They met a goblin who led them to a secret door into the lair of a “frog people.”

The group opened the secret door, and snuck into the room beyond it. It looked like a store room full of food and cheap supplies. They crept forward, and found a room that looked like barracks, with numerous “frog people” (which they identified as bullywugs) sleeping. Black Lotus tried to creep up to one to investigate but kicked a chamber pot. A giant toad in the room croaked with alarm, leapt at Black Lotus…and sailed into the corridor behind him [I rolled a critical failure on the attack]

By this point the Bullywugs were awake, and attacked. One ran to the south, calling for help, but Uatu killed him with an Eldritch blast. Black Lotus and Crohm attempted to kill the others, but the noise had attracted reinforcements. Bullwugs entered from both direction, surrounding the group.

Crohm asked to see their leader, but one bullywug threatened to kill them. Thinking quickly, Black Lotus said he thought only their king could provide orders. The bullywugs, fearful of upsetting their leader, agreed, and brought them to him.

The King, Globgust, was angry to see these “surface invaders.” The group managed to talk him down, and offered to do what they could to make things right. The King told them about the fight with the hobgoblins, and said he would reward them if they drove the hobgoblins out. He also told them of the device for travelling into the river. He stole its power source, which he used to replicate the bullywugs’ swampy home in the cavern. He did not want to part with it, but he knew a backup source was lost somewhere in the southeast part of the caverns. [there weren’t any stats for powerful Bullywugs, so I used the Kuo-toa whip stats]

The group agreed—unsure whether or not they would really be able to wipe out a hobgoblin encampment—and were escorted out of the bullywug lair.

They headed north, trying to backtrack through the twisting caverns to find the more managed corridors they’d travelled down earlier. As they were walking, focused on keeping in a generally northernly direction, they stumbled on two lizardfolk. The lizardfolk, angered at the intrusion into their territory, demanded a toll to pass.

Confident in their negotiation skills, the group tried to talk their way out of it, pointing to the hobgoblin threat. The lizardfolk had managed to hide from others in this cavern, though, and were unconvinced. Crohm then tried to lie about some gems they had. The lizardfolk saw through this, and attacked.

They both struck Crohm, felling him. Uatu pulled back, and let loose with his eldritch blasts, while Black Lotus killed the two with a flurry of blows. After reviving Crohm, and taking a short rest, they moved on.

Eventually they found their way back to the bridge. Uatu examined it, and found a space where the lever fit. Installing it, they raised the bridge out of the water, and crossed over. On the opposite side, they saw the device Hoggle had mentioned. It looked like a room with windows bobbing in the current. There was a control panel next to it, but some parts were missing and it seemed to do nothing.

The group pressed forward. They came to a fork. The northern passages were perfectly straight and well-maintained, and the southern ones were more twisting and waterworn [this was meant to be a sign of the path to the hobgoblins]. They followed the northern passages, with Black Lotus searching for traps. Suddenly, arrows shot out of the wall, piercing him in the side. After walking a bit farther the ground opened up beneath him, and he fell ten feet into disgusting water. Shortly after that, he tripped over a wire and the ceiling collapsed. He managed to get out of the way, but realizing he was setting off a series of deadly traps, the group decided to head to the south. [he was not rolling well on Investigation]

After passing through some slimy empty caverns, the group came into a room that showed signs of recent habitation. There was straw and bones strewn around the floor. They crept forward, and Black Lotus heard a growl come from a dark alcove in the east wall. Suddenly, a sabretooth tiger leapt out of the shadows and attacked.

Uatu acted quickly, launching a witch bolt at the beast. It exploded over the tiger, singing its fur and causing it to scream in pain. Injured and angered it leapt at Uatu, grabbed him in its teeth, and shook him before throwing his limp body against the wall. Crohm and Black Lotus charged, surrounding the tiger. Thankfully, the witch bolt had hurt it enough that the two could kill it with little difficulty.

After finding some treasure from the tiger’s previous victims, and reviving Uatu, the group took a much needed rest.

Tune in later for the conclusion of the Elder God’s Cavern, level 2…

The Elder God’s Cavern, level 2, part 1

As I’ve discussed, I am working on a multi-level dungeon that will take characters from Level 1 to 5. Each level is an open-ended dungeon crawl with the objective of getting to the next level, but there is a storyline connecting them as the group progresses (I don’t want to give away any details in case my players read this).

Last time, a group of new adventurers were hired by a mysterious stranger to figure out why a river had gone dry. The town the river supplied was suffering, and he offered a rich reward for their help. The group entered the ruins of an ancient wizard’s tower and discovered a group of bandits had blocked the river. Along the way they found signs the wizard had worshiped strange, tentacled beings that seemed to threaten the world. After releasing the river, a ghostly voice emerged from the depths, and the group fled in terror…

The group from the first session of the Elder God’s Cavern re-gathered to being the next part of our journey. We had Uatu (Halfling warlock), Black Lotus (drow monk), and Crohm (human warrior). Nailo—the elf ranger—wasn’t able to make it.

After returning to the village in triumph, the group were cheered as heroes for restoring the river. They then proceeded to celebrate for the next week, spending much of the loot they found in the cavern on fine food, drink and clothing. Unfortunately, Nailo spent a bit too much, and skipped town in the middle of the night to avoid a bar tab (which Black Lotus had to pick up) [this is how I explained his absence]

As the group finished up another night in the pub, they heard a horrifying scream from outside. Rushing out, they saw a ghost grabbing a man, and flying up into the air with him. The ghost wailed, and the group recognized it as the same voice they heard as they freed the river.

Uatu panicked, and jumped headfirst into a rain barrel, but the rest of the group maintained their composure [he failed a Wisdom check]. As the ghost disappeared with the man, the cowering villagers turned on the group. They shouted at them for bringing this evil upon them, and started threatening their lives.

The group gathered back to back (after Crohm fished out Uatu), and thankfully Randulf appeared—in a burst of smoke and brimstone—to calm the crowd. He reminded the villagers that the group had saved them by freeing the river. If that indeed caused the ghost to appear, he was sure the group would fix it. He nudged Black Lotus as he said this. Taking his hint, the group offered to leave immediately and investigate.

They hiked through the night towards the hill with the river flowing through it. As they got closer, they realized an eerie silence hung over it, the normal nighttime sounds of insects and animals were missing. They slept fitfully by the side of the mountain, and entered the cavern the next morning.

As they travelled through the level they’d recently cleared out, they noted it was just as still and quiet as the outside. They stumbled upon the body of an elderly wizard; there were scorch marks around her, as if she’s used all her spells, but she seemed to have died of fright. Shaken, the group moved on, and found the stairs they had uncovered their last time here.

Climbing down the stairs they came into a damp cavern full of ankle-deep water (waist-deep for Uatu). The group moved out towards a closed door at the other end, when suddenly two constrictor snakes attacked. One managed to wrap itself around Uatu and drag him into the river, but the rest of the group freed him and killed the snakes before moving on.

They came on a forked passageway. One path looked relatively well-maintained, with a smooth floor and corners cut into the rock. The other looked like a natural cavern, worn and twisting. They chose the artificial path, which took them along a rushing river. Uatu noticed that the river flowed uphill, eventually bursting into the level above them in a sort of reverse waterfall. The group made a note to investigate that further.

As the group crept along in darkness, Black Lotus snuck ahead. He came upon a goblin peeing into the river. He snuck up behind the goblin, grabbed it, and held his knife to his throat. He then called for the group to catch up as he interrogated it.

The goblin—who introduced himself as Hoggle—tried to convince the group he was friendly, and just lived in these caverns. After Crohm smoothed things over, Hoggle told them a bit about the level. A group of “frog people” lived to the south, and they fought with hobgoblins across the river. The “frog people” had taken the controls for the bridge, leaving it submerged in the water, to defend against hobgoblin attacks. When asked about a ghost, he said something horrible flew through the cavern about a week ago, but he hid. He knew of a way down to lower levels, a weird machine floating on the opposite river bank; he didn’t know much about it, besides the fact that the hobgoblins took something from it.

After the rest of the group treated him nicely, Hoggle agreed to take them to his lair, which has a secret door into the “frog people” camp. He tried to keep his distance from Black Lotus, though.

The group passed a fountain flowing from a wall, but decided not to investigate it. They then arrived at Hoggle’s lair, a small cavern set high up above the river bank. He showed them the secret door, but asked that they promise not to tell the “frog people” about him. [this was meant to be an ally for the group, so I found it funny they nearly killed him.]

I’ll post the rest of our first session on level 2 next week.

Why I love D&D

This is a short post for people who are kind of interested in trying D&D but aren’t sure if they’d really like it. It’s hard to explain what makes this game so great, so I’m going to give an example of a great in-game moment that captures the unpredictable fun of D&D. Hopefully veterans will recognize this sort of story, though, and enjoy this post as well.

I recently started a new campaign as a player character, rather than a DM (who runs the game). I’ve been mostly DM-ing for awhile, so I was looking forward to playing from the other side. My character is an Aasimar Paladin, Roland. Paladins are the stereotypical holy knights from literature, like Sir Percival. Aasimars are a D&D creation, the offspring of a celestial being and a human. So he’s basically a really holy warrior.

My group and I were exploring a castle that had sunk into the earth (the Sunless Citadel adventure from Tales of the Yawning Portal). At one point we found a room containing five sarcophagi. Paladins can sense undead, so I determined there were skeletons in each of them. We readied ourselves for a fight, and opened one.

The other four opened as well, and the skeletons stumbled out. My character particularly hates undead—undead cultists killed a unit of his knightly order—and excitedly rushed into battle. But he rolled a low initiative. Initiative rolls determine who goes first in combat, so low rolls means you have to wait for others.

The group’s ranger went first, killing one in a volley of arrows. The wizard went next, damaging a skeleton with a fire bolt. After a few more turns Roland finally got to attack…and missed. The group’s rogue killed another skeleton in a flurry of dagger stabs, while the dwarf barbarian hacked another to bits with his axe. Roland swung…and missed again.

Soon there was only one skeleton left, and Roland began to despair he would have a chance to demonstrate his martial prowess. The dwarf barbarian swung and damage the skeleton, but it was still up. Then it was Roland’s turn.

He attacked, and hit! But he didn’t just hit the skeleton. I rolled a 20 on the attack dice and a maximum on damage (8). A natural 20 on attack is a critical hit, which means damage is doubled. And the skeletons were vulnerable to the war hammer I wielded (they’re more hurt by bludgeoning damage) so the damage was doubled again. It ended up with 22 points of damage.

Roland shouted a challenge, swung…and the skeleton exploded into dust.

And that’s why I love D&D.

It’s always hard to predict what will happen, as a powerful warrior can miss with every attack in combat. But just when all seems lost, you land a good blow, and have a satisfying encounter like this one.

Sometimes it can be pretty dramatic, such as a recent adventure I ran in which the entire group except the fighter was knocked unconscious in a fight with the hobgoblin boss. The fighter charged the hobgoblin and fought him on one on, killing the enemy with a lucky blow.

Everyone has stories like this, stories you can’t quite replicate in computer games or more structured tabletop games. And that’s why I love D&D.

Why don’t I play wizards in CRPGs?

I know it’s kind of weird to write a blog post asking my readers a question about myself. But it’s a question I’ve been pondering recently.

I started re-playing the expansions for Neverwinter Nights. The two expansions—Shadows of Undrendtide and Hordes of the Underdark—actually form a series separate from the main Neverwinter Nights campaign. It takes your character from level 1 to epic levels, and is a lot of fun.

As I was making my character, I realized I tend to play melee characters in computer-based role playing games (CRPGs). My first game ever—Baldur’s Gate—used a paladin, and I repeated that in its sequels. Other times I’ve played a ranger or a melee-focused rogue, but that’s as far as I stray.

That’s not the case with pen and paper RPGs, like D&D 5th edition. While I have played paladins here, I’ve also played clerics, warlocks and wizards. My favorite so far was a wizard (Fonken, who I’ll discuss here at some point). So I thought I’d try a wizard in my latest play-through of Neverwinter Nights. But after about halfway through Shadows of Undrentide, I stopped.

Why? Part of it is the nature of that game; your choice of henchman disadvantages non-frontline characters. But it was also the gameplay. I found myself spamming the same set of attack spells in each combat. And if the enemy broke through my outer defenses, I had to reload the last save. Ultimately, it proved one-dimensional and both tough and boring at the same time. So now I’m playing as a ranger.

But obviously some people play CRPGs as a wizard, and have a lot of fun. So the problem must not be in a design flaw, but some difference between tabletop and computer-based Dungeons and Dragons games.

Indeed, the tabletop experience as a wizard is a lot different than in a computer game. Some people do just spam magic missile, and have a great time. But there is a lot of opportunity to use attack spells that disadvantage enemies, giving your melee companions a chance to attack. And all the non-combat encounters provide an opportunity to use utility spells in a manner that really makes your party’s lives easier. I tend to follow this guide’s approach to wizard, which de-emphasizes damage per second (dps) and focuses more on controlling the environment.

A lot of this doesn’t translate into computer games. There are many spells I prepare as a wizard that I never use, as the situation doesn’t arise or there are other easier means. For example, in Shadows of Undrentide, I had knock prepared, but my panther familiar ended up just breaking down locked doors. So as a wizard you tend to gravitate towards spells that cause a lot of damage or that summon allies.

As a result, wizards just become dps machines. This is the role they play in World of Warcraft. That might be fine if you have a large party to control—as in Baldur’s Gate—but when you control just yourself and a henchman (like in Neverwinter Nights) it can be limiting.

More importantly, it’s not what draws people to play a wizard. Wizards are smart and inquisitive. They’re masters of lore and problem solvers. None of that comes across if you just cast attack spells over and over. I guess you could still add in some role-playing elements, but it’s rarely directly connected to the story.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is a way around this. Games like the Elder Scrolls—in which there is a lot more freedom to interact with the environment—are more fun to play as a wizard. You can use your spells in creative ways to avoid combat if needed. But ultimately, a lot of the non-combat encounters from D&D would be difficult to pull off in a video game (although if someone has a good example, please let me know).

Overall, this may be a good case of how tabletop gaming does not translate well into computer games. They’re both good, but are not exactly the same experience. Are there other areas where we lose something important if players only know D&D through computers? Am I being unfair to “support” characters in computer games?

Out of the Abyss conclusions, wrap-up

Well, my final session for the first half of Out of the Abyss never happened. A few of the members cancelled at the last minute (I may write a post on how to deal with this increasingly common part of modern gaming) and the rest of us decided to play the excellent Lords of Waterdeep instead.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I’m taking a break from DM-ing and we’ll be starting a new campaign, so we thought we’d just move on. I’ll still be doing walkthroughs of our sessions, although from the perspective of a player.

In this post, I thought I’d write up how I was planning to conclude part 1 of Out of the Abyss, in case anyone is following along for ideas to use in their own campaigns. I’ll also provide a few of my thoughts on the campaign.

Concluding Part 1

When we left off, the group was getting ready to wage the Battle for Blingdenstone. They needed to accomplish a few tasks for the deep gnomes before the battle could begin. And then, assuming they defeated the villainous Pudding King, the deep gnomes would lead the party to an exit from the Underdark.

The campaign book provides several tasks for the group. Some occur around Blingdenstone–putting deep gnome ghosts to rest, cleansing a holy site, defeating Ogremoch’s Bane (which corrupts earth elementals), and finding Entemoch’s Boon, which aids in their summoning. There were others that took the group to other areas of the Underdark–fetching special fungus materials from Neverlight Grove, and procuring a shipment of high-quality weapons from Gracklestugh. For each task the group undertook, they would gain some benefits in the battle.

I decided against running the outside-Blingdentsone tasks. These would be useful if the group went to Blingdenstone first, and the DM wanted them to fully explore the Underdark. But it would add too much time (and be a little annoying for them) to backtrack now. I was going to run through each of the three tasks in Blingdenstone, though, as they were varied adventures that provided more depth to the city.

After that would be the battle. This involves the group dealing with a few random encounters before battling two powerful oozes and then the Pudding King himself. As I’ve done before, I pre-rolled the random encounters so they would be all set–in this case the group would fight two waves of black puddings and ochre jellies. I’d then run the final battles.

The escape details are left up to the DM. I tried to come up with a simple, but memorable final battle. The deep gnomes would escort the group to an exit they knew of. This is a cave lit with wondrous light, which is a mixture of nightlight fungi growing in it and…daylight! The cave has a shaft leading up to another cave, which opens onto the surface.

The upper cave was an ancient elven temple, which they carved out and structured to Corellan Larethian. They carved steps into the shaft, and set up mirrors so the two sets of lights could intermix. If this sounds a little familiar, I took the idea of an abandoned elf temple as an Underdark exit from Baldur’s Gate 2 (see my thoughts on these games here).

But the drow who had initially captured the party would be awaiting them, as they’d gained intelligence on the party’s movements while they were in Blingdenstone. The drow would be hiding, try and surprise the party, and a chase would ensue.

I drew out a map and would use miniatures to track the progress of the chase. The varied terrain and option to ascend into daylight might have led to some interesting tactics.

And that would be it; they would be free from the Underdark, hoping they’d never have to return… (which is what would have happened if we continued the campaign)

Thoughts on Out of the Abyss

Overall, I thought this was a very well-done adventure. It’s my first published multi-adventure campaign for D&D, and I thought they did a good job. The encounters were varied and interesting, and the setting made for some memorable adventures.

DMs definitely need to read through the whole thing a few times, though. The adventure is open-ended, so you’ll need to have all chapters prepared simultaneously. Also, the flow of the adventure is not always clear. Without planning out various options, you may stumble while directing the players; this was especially the case in Gracklestugh.

My big complaint would be the cinematic nature of some encounters. As I’ve noted, at times the players just sit back and watch as things occur. Nothing they do really affects the outcome. This is particularly the case in the Kuo-Toa city on Darklake. Some parties may enjoy this, as they can interact with NPCs and try various options as things progress. My party tended to be on the quiet side, though, so they kind of waited until they had to act. So I’d be prepared for these sequences if you have a similar type of party.

But all in all, it was great. Maybe at some point I’ll reconvene the party and return to the Underdark…