Friday, June 22, 2012

The Caves of Chaos: Session 3

For the next few weeks since our last playtest game, me and my players had to return to the concerns of real life. We finally had some relatively free time last Sunday; but with the typhoon season coming in full force here in the Philippines, some players caught the usual bout of the cold and were unable to come. In addition, the folks over at MyGfIsADm had to move to a new place on the said date. Some of us came over to help, and so we decided to game there after the deed was done.

As a result, we started really late and didn't get too much dungeon-delving done. We only had a total of four combat encounters - which, when compared to 4E, still counts as a lot of encounters. On the plus side, we persuaded one of GFDM's friends, who also helped the couple move,  to try out D&D. This was her first time playing the game at any iteration, and a new player's perspective is always welcome for a playtest in my opinion. 

Final note: I decided to reshuffle the player characters, so while the names of the characters are similar, they still got different players controlling them, resulting in some kind of schizophrenic characters. I wanted players to get to test as many classes as possible, so this seemed like a good course of action.

Breaking the Module

Being unfamiliar with the
original material, I decided to use
a town from a module I once read.
Injured heavily at the hands of the vicious orcs in the caves, the party of adventurers retreated back to Brindinford. Sir Gundarak Lighthammer was welcomed in the keep of the town's leader, Baron Euphemes II. The dwarf knight seemed to enjoy the accommodations, but he immediately began to notice that something was peculiar about the Baron. He decides to investigate by asking around, beginning with the people supervised by the castle maester. Charisma check, with Diplomacy applied, totalling +4 on the cleric's modifier.

Gundarak easily learned that the baron was unusually ill until about two months ago; but other than that, there was little to suggest that he was acting differently that what one might be led to believe. His suspicions with the baron were further distracted by what he learned of the baron's daughters. The elder one, Maria (who is the splitting image of her mother), is currently being wooed by nobles from all over the region. She seemed to enjoy the attention that was being given to her. On the other hand, the slightly younger Darya preferred to sneak out of the castle on horseback and free herself from the boring and mundane life of a young noblewoman.

Meanwhile, Rakanishu the halfling rogue was as bored as Darya, walking around the town of Brindinford to find things to do. He eventually found himself in Southspur, far from the church of Pelor where the rest of the party resided. There, he found a young human male being mugged by a familiar half-orc face. It took him awhile to recognize him, but eventually (with the use of Thieves' cant), he realized that it was his old friend Krusk.

Seeing an old friend, they decided to catch up and chat even as the thug continued to harass his victim with questions. (Come on! Tell me! What is her usual route when she rides?) The halfling joined in on the fun a little bit by kicking the poor human on the face. And as he laughed with Krusk as he made crude jokes, he picked the pockets of both half-orc thug and human victim. Skill mastery apparently makes rogues a lot more gutsy. And then he said his goodbyes to his friend who was none the wiser.

As he returned to the church of Pelor, he found that Gundarak has joined the rest of the party. He discussed his concern for the young baron's daughter. He asked the rest of the group to accompany him to the keep's stables and interrogate the people there. A free spirit she may be, but she might get herself in trouble. Raka then confirmed it, saying that he believes a plot exists to kidnap the girl.

They then went to back to the castle and began to question the stable boy. It was immediately apparent that the boy was smitten with Darya, so it was easy to convince him to divulge what he knew of the noble's usual route. But before they were on their way, the girl appeared behind them, claiming to have been in the keep the whole day ("In your riding leathers?" Remarked Brother Jonathan with a snort.) 
This is totally NOT Arya Stark.

Deciding to look into the matter some more, Gundarak asked the baron for the honor of joining his family for dinner. Rakanishu helped with the cooking, while the others scrambled for outfits befitting such an occasion.

During the small feast, the disdain of the two daughters towards each other are made apparent by their incessant bickering. A wisdom check also tells Gundarak that, while the baroness maintains a quiet disposition, she seemed to have too many things in her mind at once. Finally, the baron himself seemed very interested in the events inside the caves, and he seemed mildly concerned about the growing presence of a dark cult in the ravine. 

And then, very strangely, the baron inquired if there have been sightings of snakes in the area. The party responded by saying that they haven't noticed any, to which the baron quipped that should they find an unusual serpent, they would be rewarded if it is captured alive. The party found this strange, but with nothing else to go on, they agreed to honor the baron's request... and then asked for sponsorship to the caves. Eager to send the party on their way, he decided to give them four healing potions from the apothecary.

In hindsight, I think giving them four such potions may have seemed too generous. But at the same time, I can't go back on my word, so four potions it is. If nothing else, it will help them get through threats faster while their hit dice are still perilously low.

Just before retiring for the night, Gundarak decided to try his luck with the baroness. When he mentioned the horseback riding habits of her daughter, she responded that she was aware of her free-spirited nature, but has long given up on trying to use a stern hand to control Darya. Instead, she lets her ride everyday whilst being guarded by the squire Matthias. She then expressed concern, for Matthias has not reported to her tonight. Despite this, however, she believes that it would be folly to send in the party to look into the matter because her husband has already sent them to a more pressing matter.

With what they have learned for the night, the group decides to retire. 

As they prepared to leave in the morning, though, the party noticed a commotion near the river. When they decided to investigate, they realized that the source was that of a dead body that was found drifting in the river, who turned out to be the squire, Matthias. (Rakanishu also noted that it was the same human that Krusk was bullying yesterday.) Sensing that the baron's daughter will be in danger today, they decide to forego the caves for the moment to try and track her down.

It had been easier than they thought, thanks in part to using Animal Handling as part of tracking the horse. Gundarak the knight judged, based on the tracks, that the horse Darya had been riding was drugged and sluggish. In no time at all, they were able to find Darya, a rapier drawn as she looks about wildly. Both Ralin the wizard and Rakanishu decided to hide in the trees while the rest of the party confronted the young noble. 

It was not easy to convince the girl to trust them. After all, to her, it seemed as if they had been the ones who drugged her horse. As they tried to talk to her, she warily maintained a swashbuckling posture even as she asked questions from the party. Someone had been teaching her the art of the sword. Soon enough, though, she began to lower her guard thanks to Gundarak talking some sense into her. It was then that Krusk struck, striking from the trees to knock out Darya.
Krusk. Image owned by WotC

Krusk was soon joined by three human thugs, and proudly declared that they outnumbered the knight, for there were only three would-be rescuers to four thugs. Unfortunately for the thugs, they did not know about the hiding wizard and rogue. The humans were quickly dispatched, and Rakanishu personally took care of his friend with a sling shot straight onto the head.

After the short and totally one-sided battle, the party roused Darya. For her part, she stabbed the remaining human who has been captured, breaking her cheap rapier. She then said that it would be the end of her adventures if her father knew what she was doing, and so the party promised not to tell. Satisfied, she was escorted back to Brindinford, where the thankful baroness rewarded the party with a potion of strength.

I really should refrain from potions and just give them some gold pieces I suppose.

Back to the Caves

It was still early on, so the group decided to continue to the caves. The trek took a few hours as usual, and they arrived at the ravine overlooking the dens of monsters by early afternoon.

Before they were able to get far, Tor Ironloins and Brother Jonathan alerted the rest of the party that orcs were setting up a flank so that they can be ambushed. Having seen the orcs coming, (and with a timely Burning Hands spell from Ralin) they were easily able to mount a counter-offensive despite being slightly outnumbered.

Clearly, the orcs have not forgotten them. So the group decided to continue clearing out the orc caves. Climbing to the second tribe of orcs, however, they quickly found that the group has spent the last two days reinforcing the entrance. Wooden logs blocked the mouth of the cave, and a number of sentries were positioned both on watchposts and right outside the entrance. A frontal assault seemed foolhardy, so they sent in Rakanishu to find a better route in.

Rakanishu noticed that the two front sentries were arguing about something and were close to coming to blows. Taking advantage of the situation, he took one of the handaxes that he looted from a prior orc fight and threw it at one of the sentries while neither was looking. The blow was insufficient to kill the orc, but as Raka suspected, the injured creature blamed its companion for the strike and a battle ensued. Wisdom check, then attack roll basically. As the two wrestled, the other orcs laughed and went down from their perches to watch, betting amongst themselves to see who would win.

Once again gaining the element of surprise, the party assaulted the orcs. One of the creatures was almost able to make it back into the cave, but luckily Ralin blasted it with his blue magic missile ball just in time.

Once past the garrison, the dwarves once again utilized their stonecunning to figure out the depth of each tunnel in the cave. Deciding to go for the west branch, they soon fell upon a small group of orcs with their younglings. They did battle with them, and Tor displayed a particular mean streak by hugging and suffocating the orc children before they could alert the other orcs in the cave. And this is from a new player, no less. They were again mostly unscathed, although Rakanishu did receive a particularly nasty blow from one of the orcs that almost dropped him.

After looting the corpses, the group huddled together to try and decide the next course of action.

  • Levelling up is taking too long for me. I suppose the devs are trying to recapture the old-school vibe of not increasing in level too often, but for someone whose experience is limited to 3.5 and 4E, I feel like it's too slow. Certainly, just seeing 2000XP as the target for level 2 is already making me raise an eyebrow. I want two to three sessions in between levels, not four to five.
  • We had a new player who has never experienced tabletop RPGs before, and I think she adjusted well. Although to be fair, we gave her the simplest character (Tor Ironloins the dwarf fighter) to start out with. But she picked up and had a good time, so that's a good thing for me. She tended to stick to options that were available to her in the sheet at first, but towards the end she suffocated a bunch of orc younglings in the typical PC sadist fashion. I'd say she got the D&D feel from the game.
  • On a related note, I had a few musings on the Next fighter in one of my posts. Go check it out. 
  • Improvisation was easy, and making encounters on the fly was a charm. We all know how players tend to move away from the parameters of a module, after all. They took little to no damage from the encounter with Krusk, but the fact is that the thugs have stats that can easily interact with the party with no fear of level consistency was nice. However, I cannot say if this is a product of the system, or of circumstance. I did use orc stats for the half-orc Krusk, and in 4E terms that would probably have been a level 3 monster with a bunch of level 2 human minions. That's not so bad either for the impromptu scenario I had in hand.
  • (Not so serious) I want stats for a mind flayer soon. Brindinford needs one. That being said, I made a somewhat in-depth look on the monster statblocks of this first batch of playtesting, and I think I can make a blog post about it soon.
  • Now that the group has been playing for awhile, they have learned to manage their resources better. They've discarded the 4E "charge in like big damn heroes" mindset, and have become more analytical regarding how their enemies would react to such an assault. As such, they have been making ambushes, and some members have made it a point to hide to make their numbers seem smaller than what they really are. They have so far been in four fights, and only one healing potion and one arcane vancian spell has been used so far. The party still looks to be in a good position.