Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Let's polish and play the adventure!
The plot, basically.
We finally made it! The adventure is complete!

Well... not yet. D&D is a collaborative game. Until the players interact with the world, we have no idea what will happen. So, this will be a bit of a recap, and a bit of explanation about what changed between when I finished writing the adventure and what happened by the time we finished.

First, though, the characters.

One of my regulars, Shannon, played a gnome cleric of Ilmater named Tinyanna, or "Tee" for short. She was friendly and considerate, as many of Shannon's characters are, but Tee was ready to sacrifice for her God, being a cleric of the God of Martyrs. Another regular, Megan, played a human wizard/artificer named Oszifur, or "Oz". He was 85 years old and rarely said things that made complete sense. I had let Megan know ahead of time that there was a possibility of character death at the end of the adventure, so she played a character that she wouldn't mind only playing once.

My two other players were folks that I play with less often. Bria is in my Dragonborn game, and she played a half-orc wizard named Slough (rhymes with "off"). She was smart but a little awkward, and her Relentless trait compensated for her wizardly low hit points. Quinn, who was in my previous campaigns but hasn't been around as much, popped in to play Arkan, a human paladin sworn to Heironious. He was eager to murder things in the name of his God, which I guess is all you can ask of a paladin.

Additionally, since my world, Ahneria, is a high-magic setting (and their employer was a powerful spellcaster), I decided to let each player choose an uncommon magic item for their character. For the most part these didn't come into play, but I have to mention it because Slough decided to pick a group of Cranium Rats as her item. I decided that the rats weren't quite smart enough to cast/control magic or communicate (they were less than a full swarm), but whenever Slough cast a spell, they would do their best to imitate her. Which means they rolled on the wild magic table. Hilarity ensued.

What Changed

The real stars of the show
Before I get into the hilarious antics that the players added to the game, I want to cover the things that changed from my initial concept of the game. Because there were quite a few.

First off, we didn't start with the ship landing on Craitane. Rather, I had a couple player-directed scenes on the ship before they landed. I did this to introduce NPCs, and to see which ones the PCs would pick as their "favorites". That doesn't mean they necessarily liked them, but if they would engage with their concepts.

Also, a few minutes into the game I realized that I completely forgot to name the halfling geologist. So he became "nameless" and diverted any attempt to find out his name. Any port in a storm!

When the players landed, I forgot a bunch of things they were supposed to find. I missed the walls, as well as the first minotaur statue they would have found. Also, I forgot to place the ship with petrified dwarves in it at the start. So, I decided that there were networks of ice caves below the surface of the continent, and the ship had been dragged there before they had formed. They found it by rappelling into the cave, and discovered a single remaining dwarf statue on board. Finally, the abandoned camp they were supposed to find ended up being moved to the ruins. I guess the dwarf expedition got further than I planned!

The blizzard turned out not to work as well as I thought. I reduced the successes needed to 6 because I could tell the players were getting frustrated. I also reduced the DC to 15 - this group of wizards and holy folks was definitely not equipped for wilderness travel.

I learned a lesson here. For skill challenges, you have to have something new and different happen for every single round of checks. The classic example is a chase scene - you "place" each round of checks in a different location with its own obstacles and features. Obviously a winter wasteland affords less opportunity for variety, but at least I could have mixed up the terrain a bit.
Slough: Fireballs like nobody's business
We ended up with 2 NPC survivors: the mute carpenter, Hollis, and the chaos-worshipping mapper Ketie. I really wasn't expecting that any of the NPCs would survive, and I did my best to fit them into the group. Ketie became a voice of reason, and Hollis became an extra pair of hands when Arkan couldn't do something alone. Plus, I decided they would have a background romance. Just for fun.

In the entrance hall, the players completely skipped the lore written on the walls. I'm okay with that - I think I over-emphasized the importance of finding a path down into the bottom of the ruins instead of hinting that there were secrets to be uncovered. Also, the dice pool worked well as a means of determining when the floor would break out from beneath them, but I think I should have made the players more aware of it.

The players went through the rest of the ruins as expected (well, along the path I planned. Nothing was expected). They decided to help the rogue dragon Byrru kill his brother Azzyr, and received the Orrery. Then, they made their way to the final valley.

In making their choice about the final fate of their group, they sought guidance from Ilmater, Heironious, and Pelor. I decided to give them a little bit of extra lore here, but not enough to reveal any of the bigger plans I have for Ahneria. Of course, Ilmater encouraged Tee to sacrifice herself for the good of the world, and Heironious encouraged Arkan to stay alive and fight in the war between Dragons and Minotaurs. So their choice wasn't really any easier.

I also helped them figure out that the trigger for the petrification was intelligence. None of them had an INT score of 5 or less, however. They briefly considered reducing the Rats' numbers to lower their collective intelligence, but then realized the Rats could Wild Magic into the astral plane during the solstice and then return.

Tee: as adorable as she is devoted
In the end, they decided to place the Orrery and turn to stone. They left notes, a helm of telepathy, and Slough's rats to warn the world about the danger of the item. Not that they expected it to last, but they didn't want a follow-up expedition to accidentally start a war.

Overall, I think the game went fairly well. The first part of the game could have been planned better, and the NPCs were an unexpected development. But the latter half of the game, as well as the final choice, was quite excellent.

What the Players Did

No game is complete until the players get there. So, here's some fun highlights of how the players brought the game world to life.

Slough refused to abandon or eat their sled dogs. In fact, she carried one under each arm to keep them safe. Also, she connected with the nameless halfling geologist, and demanded to know his name as he was dying. Since I had already established he wouldn't say it to just anyone, I had to make it embarrassing. So I texted Bria the halfling geologist's name - Brock Rocky Rockerson Rockrocker.
Check out his horse...
Arken used his Find Steed spell immediately, and proceeded to use his horse to destroy every minotaur statue he came across. They also used the steed to carry dwarf statues, and move quickly when needed.

Slough's Cranium Rats became a hilarious addition to the group simply by the virtue of rolling on the Wild Magic table. They summoned tiny unicorns, burped pink bubbles, and turned in to sheep a few times. The most memorable roll definitely came when Hollis and Ketie's romance was reaching its peak, and they shared their first kiss. The Rats began to shoot into the sky and explode, like little meat-filled fireworks. Though it certainly added to the mood, Hollis and Ketie were then showered with rat meat, which Tee then gathered and healed until Slough had her Rats back.

Oz was constantly taking notes and talking about game mechanics in-character, a classic source of hilarity which had the other players believing the 85-year-old wizard was indeed unhinged. However, the notes came in handy in deciphering lore and leaving warnings for future adventurers.

Tee used "Bestow Curse" on one of the dragons they fought, which manifested as leather bindings due to her God's... preferences. She also nearly used the Minotaur shaman's cursed journal to consult Baphomet before they made their decision. However, they worried that they might attract unwanted attention in that case.

In the end, it's the players that make D&D fun. The Rats, the steed, the meta-comments, and the final decision all contributed to an enjoyable game.
Until next time, Oz!
I think we've talked about this adventure quite long enough! I'm glad it's over, but I also enjoyed talking through my process. Maybe in a year I'll do this again, and see how my process has changed!

Thanks for reading!

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