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4E Road of Chain's Campaign

4th Edition

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So I'm back in the DMs chair with my main group and busily prepping for my next campaign. Going to talk about it on this thread. Now most campaign threads belong in a different section of the boards but my purpose here is not to talk about what happens in my campaign so much as to talk about 4E based on the the types of things that come to my attention while prepping and playing in this campaign. I do a lot of conversions of adventures from older editions so there is likely a lot of focus on elements of converting adventures to 4E.

I've decided to start my campaign off with with Tim and Eileen Conners Escape From Meenlock Prison and I'm about halfway through that conversion at this point. I'll delve into my thoughts on converting this adventure in my next post.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules Subscriber

I shall watch with interest.

So I've finished with my first run through of Escape From Meenlock Prison. I've not designed any of the combat encounters, just rewritten the adventure itself.

One of the first things that comes to mind when considering this adventure is that there really are not a ton of skill checks involved. Prior to writing the thing out I actually thought it might be a pretty skill heavy adventure since I made the error of presuming that combat light=skill heavy.

There is no correlation there really at all and I should have known better then to jump to that conclusion. In reality the horror theme behind this adventure actually pushes skills and skill checks further into the background. More often then not the DM wants something to happen, or not to happen, for atmospheric reasons.

The most egregious example is early in the Chateau where Rook and his cronies are trying to trick the players into the cellar. The adventure works if the PCs won't get tricked into the cellar but its nothing but problems from the DMs point of view.

The big nightmare scenario for the DM is if the party decides to split up prior to entering the basement. Chances are whoever is left up top can't take on Rook and his cronies - if it comes to a fight the DM will probably be forced to kill the PCs right there. If it does not come to a fight then some of the players just managed to avoid the adventure. They literally have nothing to do for, like the next two sessions.

The DM needs to move heaven and earth to get the PCs down into the basement as a group just so we have a good game that everyone can play. Needless to say allowing things like insight to succeed here is just a bad idea. So here I simply wrote that element out - all insight checks no matter the roll won't beat Rook or Mr. Fines Bluff Check - their scores are unbeatable no matter what.

We see some other examples of this throughout the adventure where the best case scenario is for the PCs to make their check. Things like hearing whispers etc. Here I tended to go with pretty easy DCs. I don't like to be to heavy handed with my adventures since I am looking for something that feels organic. I'll play the odds and trust that if the players get 80% of the thematic horror elements the adventure will still work fine.

The only area where I'm prone to leave things more or less as they are is with NPC interactions with the prisoners since I'm pretty sure that things will be interesting whether or not the players see through some of the lies or not. In other words success or failure both lead to interesting places.

I noticed that the adventure had a lot of really small combats. I'm not even sure I'd have liked that element in 3.5 never mind 4E. I've cut most of these and reduced things down to just a handful of combat encounters. The 'ambush' right at the start of the cellars (area #4) is a pretty good scene. Here I expand things out so that the ambush is much larger. There are a lot more prisoners, some hidden in nearby cells and there is a Meenlock here as well.

I don't have another combat until right at the end when the PCs have met the Warden being transformed into a Meenlock. This scene was just to much fun to pass up. The Meenlocks trying to drag the warden away is just the kind of twist that makes for a good combat and allows me to have tougher Meenlocks as some of them will be using actions to try and drag the warden off. A tug of war over him provides should be good stuff.

My third Combat is in area #13, the Meenlock lair. I'm going to give the Meenlock a Dimensional Door ability and they always flee back to here when bloodied. Here they fight to the death.

Final fight is presumably against Rook and his gang. That brings the combat up too four encounters for the adventure.

Despite the relatively small number of combat encounters I think the adventure should offer quite a bit of interesting play.

There are a fair bit of moving parts in this adventure. For one there are a lot of NPCs in this thing and if the PCs start freeing a bunch of them then things are going to get a little complicated. My plan is to run with companion characters from DMG2 and Hirelings from Mordenkainen's Fantastic Emporium. Spice this up by having 'triggers' on a lot of them stating how they will react - usually by running away. Nonetheless I am concerned that we could be dealing with a party that is 5 players and 6 NPCs at some point and that is pretty extreme. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

There tend to be other moving parts in the adventure as well. Many of the NPCs plan to move about. Freeing some will cause them to try and go to other parts of the cellar as well. The PCs don't realize it but they are on a time limit after which Rook will have made his departure etc.

Ultimately the adventure is skill light but its pretty role playing heavy. I expect a lot of player interaction - especially when the players begin to figure out that they are dealing with a really dysfunctional prison.

It did not really dawn on me in my first reading of this but the players are actually faced with nothing but bad choices in terms of this prison. Freeing prisoners means a lot of bad people will likely flee into the countryside. Leaving people locked up is pretty nasty if the Meenlocks are not dead but even if they are the players still need to figure out what to do about the prisoners - its not particularly right to leave them to starve to death down there after all. I actually pretty much cut the 'Concluding the Adventure' section of the original work as this tended to make it so that the most likely result wrapped things up nicely. Here I'll leave the ending more open ended - even if the Warden is saved he still has to recover and by 4E rules that will not only take some time but is not a certainty. Forcing the players to grapple with all these grey ares actually strikes me as the perfect end to a new adventure in a campaign...its just dripping with character development opportunities - the kinds of scenes that influence how a player views his character going forward.

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules Subscriber

I have converted my fair share of adventures to 4E. Some things I have noted in my conversions:

1. As you identified lots of small fights with single creatures is not only boring but not really in the design of 4E. I generally just drop fights if they are only there to roll dice or add xp to the total pool. 4E fights should all have some form of hook to make them memorable. Specific monster tactics or terrain is really useful.

2. In 4E I try and throw scenarios at my characters and not think out how to resolve them other than having some crude ideas. I purposely let the players work out how to use rituals or skills to resolve the scenarios without forcing them into a given solution. These skill uses can bust out into a skill challenge, or it can be a simple skill check. Too many 3.5 modules say "your players can find X on a perception Y check". They players are expected to say the magic words "I make a perception check" and they have the info. In 4E I make them specify their actions, and then work out if their actions would allow a check. I mention this due to your comments on the horror theme and skill checks. If the player takes the right actions, they get the check. Also I play skill checks as not automatically good things happen.

Take the cellar scenario above. The players will almost certainly be suspicious (mine would be) but would their CHARACTERS? If they say that their characters are suspicious and ask for insight rolls, let them have them. If they make them they sense something is amiss, but don't give them a huge amount of detail. If the characters begin combat, make em hurt. There is a nice rule in 4E that you can turn a killing blow into a knockout if you want. Overwhelm the characters and knock them out, take their stuff, and put them in the cellar. In horror themed games, you don't have to be fair about balanced combats. As long as the players are aware that they cannot slash their way through all encounters.

3. 4E really works well with a narravist approach to playing. That is, the narrative is the thing in the foreground rather than the characters amazing set of abilities and powers. You have to have players who like that style of course. If skills fail, let them have a partial success with some penalties. Skill successes don't have to mean they get whatever they ask for. And sometimes stuff happens to characters that is not fair, it just happens (some great ideas in Book of Vile Darkness).

Alan_Beven wrote:

I have converted my fair share of adventures to 4E. Some things I have noted in my conversions:

1. As you identified lots of small fights with single creatures is not only boring but not really in the design of 4E. I generally just drop fights if they are only there to roll dice or add xp to the total pool. 4E fights should all have some form of hook to make them memorable. Specific monster tactics or terrain is really useful.

We are very much in agreement about this. I'm really not a fan of encounters that do not meaningfully move the plot forward. 95% of the time I really just don't see the need for 'filler' encounters when you can just make sure that there is more 'plot' in your campaign.

About a decade ago it dawned on me that I would never run all the adventures that I liked from my collection. There simply where not enough game nights left in my life span to do so.

The logical conclusion then is run less encounters in adventures - keeping things down to just the ones that are well worth every ones time. If it then requires that the DM three adventures for every two levels the PCs gain instead of one level per adventure...well so much the better, you as the DM got an opportunity to put your players through an extra quality adventure from your collection.

I'll make a couple exceptions to this rule - sometimes 'attrition' is a big part of the plot. The Old 1E adventure Isle of the Ape works like that and if I did a conversion to 4E of Isle of the APE I'd have lots of encounters.

The other exception I can think of is 'classic style D&D' themed adventures. I'll generally throw one of these in every tier and in this case deathtrap dungeon is the whole theme of the adventure and in this case the battle with the Laernian Hydra might just be 'because it lives in the dungeon and your clearing that place out searching for the McGuffin.

Would you be willing to share your conversions? Have the converted mods been posted anywhere? Thanks in advance! :-)

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules Subscriber
orbrover wrote:
Would you be willing to share your conversions? Have the converted mods been posted anywhere? Thanks in advance! :-)

Were you asking me or the OP?

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules Subscriber
Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:
Alan_Beven wrote:

I have converted my fair share of adventures to 4E. Some things I have noted in my conversions:

1. As you identified lots of small fights with single creatures is not only boring but not really in the design of 4E. I generally just drop fights if they are only there to roll dice or add xp to the total pool. 4E fights should all have some form of hook to make them memorable. Specific monster tactics or terrain is really useful.

We are very much in agreement about this. I'm really not a fan of encounters that do not meaningfully move the plot forward. 95% of the time I really just don't see the need for 'filler' encounters when you can just make sure that there is more 'plot' in your campaign.

About a decade ago it dawned on me that I would never run all the adventures that I liked from my collection. There simply where not enough game nights left in my life span to do so.

The logical conclusion then is run less encounters in adventures - keeping things down to just the ones that are well worth every ones time. If it then requires that the DM three adventures for every two levels the PCs gain instead of one level per adventure...well so much the better, you as the DM got an opportunity to put your players through an extra quality adventure from your collection.

I'll make a couple exceptions to this rule - sometimes 'attrition' is a big part of the plot. The Old 1E adventure Isle of the Ape works like that and if I did a conversion to 4E of Isle of the APE I'd have lots of encounters.

The other exception I can think of is 'classic style D&D' themed adventures. I'll generally throw one of these in every tier and in this case deathtrap dungeon is the whole theme of the adventure and in this case the battle with the Laernian Hydra might just be 'because it lives in the dungeon and your clearing that place out searching for the McGuffin.

I very much agree with your approach. I have also had a similar revelation about combats consuming way too much story time. As a consequence 4e has become my favoutite edition of DND due to me being able to build fun combats that are relatively fast but also have some memorable hooks.

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Remember you can sometimes convert combat encounters into skill challenges. I recently did this with the sunken plague ship combat encounters found in "Seven Days To The Grave." The shipwreck as originally written in the AP module contained 3 or 4 small combat encounters that really didn't translate well to 4E. So I devised a skill challenge for investigating the 4 areas of the ship. The PCs had a limited amount of time before magic wore off and they would drown. Each success allowed them to spend less time exploring an area while each failure added more time to explore the area. The players commented on the feeling of urgency and tension building the skill challenge provided. Out of 60 minutes allotted, the party explored all areas within 59 minutes and successfully completed the skill challenge.

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules Subscriber

Thats a very clever idea. I like that a lot.

So I ran the first session today and it inspired some thoughts, particularly on the adventure Escape from Meenlock Prison.

One of the things I noticed in this adventure was just how excellent the pacing of the reveal really is. Eileen and Tim Conners really nailed this aspect I I think that would be true in any edition or game system really.

As a DM I think that reading this or near any adventure really often gives us DMs the impression that too much information is flowing out too quickly. In fact this ran near perfectly at my table - you've got the bloodstain that tells the players that something has gone wrong, the initial combat that confirms it, especially since a Meenlock is in that encounter. My players healed up the guy that had lost his intestines but I played him as totally cracked but even so they got a little more information. They talk with another prisoner shortly after that - Simon Redturn I think who try's to pass himself off as Lyle Benedict and then and he gives a slightly off version of the story but adds more. Shortly after this my players talk to the Surgeon who can pretty much tell them the whole story and the story is confirmed by Obam Parks who knows his father, the Warden, never came back.

It reads as a pretty straightforward reveal of what is going on but in play each new piece of information added to the gristmill of my players speculations which went from 'we walked into a prison break, through to 'oh f%@@ - that is not the real warden up there', near the end of the session when they pretty much had the whole story.

I'm not really sue I can say I ever had a 'horror' adventure during the session but I did have one that felt like good investigation and certainly there was some concern with the teleporting Meenlocks and even more concern when they realized that the where trapped down here.

Combat ran pretty quick for me despite this often being cited as an issue in 4E. Now my policy as a DM is to just do the first thing that comes to mind with my monsters. As a general rule (as good poker players will tell you) your first instinct is probably correct in any case and its important to me that my monsters are run as fast as possible so that we can get the action back on the players.

I also really did not notice the issue with monsters having to many hps. That might change at later levels and it could be a product of my players making moderately optimized characters but my players pretty much badly wounded a third level enemy on their first round dropped him on the second and started on his buddy who would drop on round three etc. Basically one enemy went down every round after the first. If anything I was little concerned that the bad guys where not sticking around long enough. My Meenlock in the first encounter did not really have time to show off that many abilities before it had to teleport out - though what I built was nasty with a 'horrid link' power that meant that when it was hit the player it was linked to took equal damage.

Some fun there with the rogue player saying I'm going to gut this thing like a fish and the linked player yelling 'No - don't hurt - you'll kill me!' I have to say that Horrid Link and this ilk of power is pretty sweet used against players that have finagled obscene damage out put.

In any case I do sort of wonder what the difference is between what is happening at my table and what is happening at the table of DMs that tend to go with 1/2 hps double damage type house rules for combats.

My final thought on the session was the usual concern over amount of time the DM needs to prep. Thing is my players are solidly through half this adventure after about 3 1/2 hours of play. It took me a lot longer then that to build it.

While 4E made designing combats much faster there seems to be little to choose from between any edition of D&D when one is designing dialogue and flavour text. The prolem remains that it takes a lot longer to write this type of material then it does to play through it - I almost understand filler combats slows the games down to give the DM enough time to convert the next adventure.

As it stands it feels like I worked like a maniac to have this adventure ready in time and now I'm not even going to be able to take much of a break before I better get to work converting Salvage Operation for my next adventure.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules Subscriber

Do you write out flavour text in prose or just do notes?

Aubrey the Malformed wrote:
Do you write out flavour text in prose or just do notes?

I write it in prose though nothing all that extreme - I'm not trying to make it poetry - not usually anyway.

Alan_Beven wrote:

2. In 4E I try and throw scenarios at my characters and not think out how to resolve them other than having some crude ideas. I purposely let the players work out how to use rituals or skills to resolve the scenarios without forcing them into a given solution. These skill uses can bust out into a skill challenge, or it can be a simple skill check. Too many 3.5 modules say "your players can find X on a perception Y check". They players are expected to say the magic words "I make a perception check" and they have the info. In 4E I make them specify their actions, and then work out if their actions would allow a check. I mention this due to your comments on the horror theme and skill checks. If the player takes the right actions, they get the check. Also I play skill checks as not automatically good things happen.

Take the cellar scenario above. The players will almost certainly be suspicious (mine would be) but would their CHARACTERS? If they say that their characters are suspicious and ask for insight rolls, let them have them. If they make them they sense something is amiss, but don't give them a huge amount of detail. If the characters begin combat, make em hurt. There is a nice rule in 4E that you can turn a killing blow into a knockout if you want. Overwhelm the characters and knock them out, take their stuff, and put them in the cellar. In horror themed games, you don't have to be fair about balanced combats. As long as the players are aware that they cannot slash their way through all encounters.

In terms of how the players get access to skill rolls I'm right along with you in the sense that I don't normally let players just roll an athletics check or some such - they need to tell me what they are doing and I'll tell them when they need to roll. If nothing else it adds some more roleplaying and plays to a 4E strength in that most PCs have a shot at least of succeeding on most checks.

In terms of working out the solutions however we do end up in a grey area for me. There is always some concern about writing myself into a corner. Generally I'm going to be more concerned with situations where there is a danger of loosing the fun. In your example above you cover what the DM is to do if the player is ambushed and knocked out - but its still a dangerous area - players can be resourceful and what do I do if the player escapes the Chateau?

Of less though still signiifcant concern is tht knocking the player out and dumping him in the cellar does not really help with the pacing...trapped in the cellar seems a lot more powerful emotionally when you slowly work out that your trapped in the cellar then when the DM 'tells' you this outright.

Hence this is the sort of area where I'm going to really going to use every trick I know and even bend the rules in order to railroad the players into the spot I want them to be in. They can use their ingenuity to escape the prison. Obviously DM heavy handedness should be rare and aimed at a specific goal as well. Keeping it rare generally allows it to be much more effective. My players don't expect it from me which really helps in pulling it also means that they almost never recognize it when it does happen to them.

In Postscript:
Playerd through this section yestarday. One of the things that I had not realized was that the way the adventure is set up the players are not really likely to make the obvious conclusion. I mean they straight off did not think the guards where your standard guards but another player pointed out 'why would they be? this is a political prison.' In effect a lot of the abnormalities by Rooks gang where attributed to the non-standard nature of the prison itself by the PCs.

Furthermore while they did a routine insight check at some point upstairs once they realized the mess they seem to have forgotten that they did as it passe quickly without real comment. They actually think they forgot.

Llacheu wrote:
Remember you can sometimes convert combat encounters into skill challenges. I recently did this with the sunken plague ship combat encounters found in "Seven Days To The Grave." The shipwreck as originally written in the AP module contained 3 or 4 small combat encounters that really didn't translate well to 4E. So I devised a skill challenge for investigating the 4 areas of the ship. The PCs had a limited amount of time before magic wore off and they would drown. Each success allowed them to spend less time exploring an area while each failure added more time to explore the area. The players commented on the feeling of urgency and tension building the skill challenge provided. Out of 60 minutes allotted, the party explored all areas within 59 minutes and successfully completed the skill challenge.

Definitely. Probably the most common example is the military battle where the DM obviously does not want to have the PCs fighting swarms of measly Orcs but we recognize that this would be happening.

I recall reading by a poster on these forums (I'll have to look around and see if I can find the name) an interesting example where he did the first part of a battle against a kobold tribe via a skill challenge and then had the players roll initiative when they got to the chieftains room.

I'd be interested in that skill challenge if you can find it and re-post it here please.

In regards to your question on going with 1/2 hps double damage type house rules for combats I don't think it's needed. I don't use this for my group and they do just fine. I do however take great care to give them a good mix of different types of mobs in each encounter. Some minions, some middle toughs, and then at least one good AC/HP baddy. This gives the players a feeling of being a true hero able to slay beasts in a single blow, but at the same time keep things challenging for them.

However, I rarely go with large groups of mobs unless they are a majority of minions who die with the first hit. Otherwise the combat will indeed slow way down and everyone will feel like they are sinking in quick sand after round 4 and still seeing half the mobs still alive!

Llacheu wrote:

I'd be interested in that skill challenge if you can find it and re-post it here please.

In regards to your question on going with 1/2 hps double damage type house rules for combats I don't think it's needed. I don't use this for my group and they do just fine. I do however take great care to give them a good mix of different types of mobs in each encounter. Some minions, some middle toughs, and then at least one good AC/HP baddy. This gives the players a feeling of being a true hero able to slay beasts in a single blow, but at the same time keep things challenging for them.

However, I rarely go with large groups of mobs unless they are a majority of minions who die with the first hit. Otherwise the combat will indeed slow way down and everyone will feel like they are sinking in quick sand after round 4 and still seeing half the mobs still alive!

My feelings are a little less structured. I'm more interested in variety then in maintaining one style of combats. While I care if a fight runs an hour and a half I don't care a ton. My big concern is not to have three fights nearly back to back that each run an hour and a half - one is fine and I do like it if my players are sometimes down to their at wills just so long is this has not gotten to be the norm.

As to the skill challenge - the example I saw was not a written out Skill challenge - just a suggestion on another way of thinking about them. As it stands I've not found myself really using Skill Challenges except for one small, in combat, one. They are in my DMs toolbox and I I'm willing to break one out if the scene works well with one however.

So I find myself puuting togetehr a rough map of part of the upper Chateau for the final battle with Rook. One of the issues I've struggled with in this conversion is coming up with some interesting hook for each of the encounters. As written most older edition encounters don't really have hooks. By hook I mean some element of the encounter that makes it unique and not a straight up brawl. Ultimately I found a hook for three of my four encounters, the first has the Meenlock itself and the impact that has on the rest of team evil. The second has the meenlocks trying to drag the warden away and the third I added a 'seed' from the far realm that became where the Meenlocks teleport too and also the place they want to drag their victims too. I'm just giving it a regeneration effect as that will allow Meenlocks that dimension door back to it to recover their hps...kind of gets me around the fact that monsters only having one healing surge - by which I mean it gets me around having to track their surges.

However I just don't really have an idea for Rook and his crew...I think maybe I'll leave this as a straight up brawl though. I have a niggling suspicion that this is a real 'revenge' fight and I might not want to clutter the encounter up as it might distract from that element. Instead of working on a gimmick for the fight itself I might instead work on some combat dialog for Rook and the gang members - I just have this feeling that the whole scene might benefit more from Rook et al. talking during the combat then it will from having him drop a shelf or some such on the PCs.

Finished off Escape from Meenlock Prison.

A number of things came up in the last two sessions. One of the more interesting from a 4E perspective was in my battle with the Meenlocks. The conversion of them that I created pretty much went with their standard mind control type abilities. This worked really well in the first encounter where there was only one and it was a 'change of pace' from the fight with prisoners.

The second time my players met the Meenlocks in their chamber with a bunch of them it really pissed off one of the players and annoyed a number of others. The thing is my players have new characters and they really wanted to test drive them out in combat. Something that they just where not able to do with all these mind control and action denial effects floating around.

The lesson I took from this was that its probably best for the DM avoid action denial and mind control type encounters early in 1st level and probably for the first fight after the players gain a level - in these combats the players are keen to try out their new toys and the encounter will seem most fun to them if they get to do that. Brute heavy encounters should probably the default choice here. After the players have gotten a chance to play with thier toys the DM can get a little more creative in stopping the players from doing what they would like to do.

We also had a big blow up in the group regarding what to do about death and dying. Common issue that comes up in regards to 4E at least for me. I've delved into the topic before.

At the time I had sent out the house rule package along with the initial players guide and it had included the house rules I was planning on using which are a death save that comes up 1-3 is auto death. My players where used to 'DM tries and kill down players through negitive bloodied value damage' from the previous DM and we had played 'by the book' for 12 levels in the previous campaign but that had not resulted in a single fatality - nothing even all that close. It was the players complaining that their was no excitement that had gotten the previous DM to switch to 'focused fire' which is what we have been calling the DM tactic of attempting to find the groups weak link and knock him past negative bloodied.

In any case first death save in the game comes up and low and behold - character dies by my house rule. I suspect that if this had come up in a few adventures there would not have been a real issue - but in this case it was the first roll and half the players had not paid any real attention to the house rule document I sent so this was out of the blue - none of the players had played under this rule itself so I instantly had a players revolt on my hands.

Nothing for it but to give on this point and then start talking about what is desired by the group.

The previous DM liked focused fire but most of the group did not like the whole element of all the monsters constantly committing suicide in order to have a shot of hitting a downed character. That broke things into two camps in the focused fire proponents. One one side there was an argument that really it during the times when a character is down that the game is most tension packed and its one of the most exciting points in the game.

The other version of this went along the lines that having every combat be meta-gamed by the DM in order to try and kill a player means monster behavior is really odd and whatever gains in tension one gets from that are not worth weird meta-gamed combats and the amount of time it takes the DM to do the monsters turns under those conditions. Instead one can have specific 'focused fire' encounters. Presumably teh early encounters are not done this way and run 'as normal' but in final encounters and such the DM pulls out the stops.

Most of the group was not to happy with this however as it means playing most encounters in essentially 'God mode' with fights being generally drained of their excitement simply because they don't have any real chance of proving to be a challenge.

The alternate proposal was to change the rules so that anytime a character went down it made its first death save at that exact moment and that any death save that came up a 1 was instant death.

Interestingly this is little more then a variant on my original house rule and, long term, probably more lethal then my 1-3 version since its much more difficult to insure that a character never goes down then it it is to insure that everyone else in the party has some way of helping a downed character before they need to make a death save.

At the moment this is what we are going with. I note that it actually pushes things in the direction of traditional D&D in that the danger point is going down itself - something that was true in 1st-3rd. Sometimes with a 10 hp buffer...but after 5th or 6th that buffer was pretty arbitrary in any case since most hits by monsters did significantly more then 10 points of damage.

The final element of interest in the conversion of Escape from Meenlock Prison was just how much role playing came out of the end of that adventure. We left off a session just at the end of the combat in the upper chateau and everyone races home. Type of end to a session where everyone should have left 20 minutes ago but the combat was 'almost done' so the group finishes the combat and leaves almost immediately.

The result is the start of are last session is really the wrap up for Escape from Meenlock Prison. I mentioned above that I intentionally left things somewhat open ended instead of using the provided conclusion that sort of wraps things up nicely at the end. Basically speaking I'm looking for the players to make choices and develop their characters more them anything here and open ended situations full of shades of grey are the perfect vehicle for that.

As it turned out the wrap up would consume the entire session...what was about 2 paragraphs in my notes turned out to be full of issues for the players.

They had the two prisoners, Lyle Benedict and Blessed of Hern but, where of course now not so sure if they wanted to bring Blessed of Hern back. They have a Warden who will shortly make a Meenlock Corruption check and no way to heal him here. Several of the prisoners they freed had not been good characters and had taken the opportunity of their fight with Rooks gang to make a break for it. There was this fat merchant currently panicking because he thinks this is a jail break...and a successful one at that. On top of all this a merchant caravan is due to show up not to long from in the future - though my players don't know that and, of course they have a totally dysfunctional political prison with no remaining guards that is full of a mixture of bad people and reasonably good people.

Just listing off all the immediate issues really does make it clear why this was a super heavy role playing session.

For the fun of it I'll spoiler how this played out with my group.


While my players had discussed the idea of immediatly chasing the two escaped prisoners (Verin Sylk - a convicted murderer & the Fence Rook was interested in freeing) it turned out that the lure of loot was to much. So after a search and a short rest the bad guys have a serious lead on the Players.

At this point the players finally head out after the prisoners but its worth noting that they had their horses tied up just off the Chateau property...and I figure the Fence probably has a pretty high perception check - he's a fence after all.

End result is the players realize that two of their horses are gone...worse yet the two best horses are gone. At this point the players pretty much abandon the idea that they are ever going to catch these guys and head back into the Chateau.

Once there they interview all the remaining prisoners using the Surgeon to tell them what each prisoner did. I had done some additional material on some of the prisoners - mainly just 'work this into your homebrew' type work but that meant that more of the prisoners where 'shades of grey'. It appears my players are pretty lenient though. Accountant in for skimming from his noble employers but now having served more then 7 years is let go. Of more surprise is I had a guy in for looting. Basically speaking in the main city of the campaign rioting is not illegal as the peasants do it constantly - after every chariot race even pretty much. But the guy they found locked up had been locked up by the authorities because he had made a real habit of being at every riot and had some significant talent at starting riots. His goal was to then steal stuff while the riot was going on. The authorities lock him up in the secret political prison because he's clearly a major trouble maker even if what he is doing is not technically illegal. I'm surprised when my players really debate this guy and decide to let him go.

Having done all this they take Rook, who they just disabled and Lyle Benedict (not a good guy in my version) and a couple of other guys - shackle them up and and start heading for the nearest sizable settlement so that they can try and get the Warden healed.

Just out the door and they encounter the merchants, including the drunk fat guy that ran off thinking there was a jail break going on. They try and convince the head merchant that they are some how on the up and up and that the Chateau is 'broken' or maybe their on legitimate business etc. but their story is full of holes - they realize part way through that they don't want to admit to letting anyone go so the scene does not play well. What they do manage to convince the caravan leader about is that they are quite possibly a match for her caravan guards so after a kind of tense moving around each other the players are on their way again - I have the merchants continue on to the Chateau to investigate.

The players arrive in the nearest city and proceed to the nearest ritual shop...where they soon realize that they can't afford a cure disease ritual. If you want to watch players squirm stick them in this sort of situation. They could sell their newly acquired magic items and afford the ritual and what it would cost to pay some one to cast it...but they sure don't want to.

They try and convince the ritual shop owner to do it pro-bono but his position is people die of disease all the time - what makes this guy so special. They have no real answer for that.

One of my players is tries an interesting tack...'do you have some sort of quest we can do for you to get the ritual?' I say 'umm, no.' The players is pretty unhappy though concedes that maybe every NPC in a fantasy world does not have a quest they need done. Ultimately the players give up, figuring they have more leverage back in the capital where there are people that actually know about this secret political prison.

This means the warden needs to make a check on the trip back to the capital. The cleric in the party can use heal but cits still a pretty tough check - especially because I leave Meenlock corruption as a 9th level disease even though I reduced the actual Meenlocks.

Low and behold they blow the roll and the Warden begins to transform. All hell breaks out among the players over who is responsible and then most of them refuse to do a swift mercy kill leaving it to the cleric...who has a mace. So I'm cracking up going - your going to mercy kill the guy by bludgeoning him top death with a mace?!? Finally another player steps forward and says he'll do it with a dagger.

Once back in the capital the players arrive to make the hand off to Tarrow Shtik and collect their reward. Another fun scene for me as I have him freaking out when they show up with a bunch of other prisoners as well that they want him to incarcerate. They where supposed to keep this discrete and know there are extra prisoners and they warden is terrified about the consequences. I'm playing the scene for laughs but there is a dangerous undercurrent as well with the Warden trying to get the Players to hold onto the prisoners 'for just an hour' so he can get some people he trusts to deal with this since he does not trust most of his subordinates in the capitals official prison. I also have them make an insight check here against Rook - they notice that for the first time since they captured Rook he's looking like the cat who stole the cream.

This causes them to start changing the deal with Tarrow Shtik as they are not sure why Rook is happy but they don't like it (Rook is happy because he recognizes that Tarrow Shtik is terrified about any of this leaking - as a consummate con man Rook realizes that he can almost certainly simply talk his way into freedom - after all he was locked up in a secret political prison - he's never had a trial and never technically did anything wrong. He can use this and Tarrow Shtik's fears to convince Tarrow Shtik to just let him go in return for a promise that he'll keep his mouth shut).

The PCs collect their reward. In theory here I could have argued that they should not have gotten their reward because they did not keep the 'be discreet' part of the contract. My feeling though is that if I had tried to do that I'd not have had happy players. That's kind of a dick move by the DM in a way that throwing them all sorts of plot curves is not. So I give them their reward gold and off they go with Rook in hand.

Finally they need to figure out what to do with rook and after an interrogation with lots of intimidate checks they figure out some of the nobles he conned. They pretty much tie him up and leave him in front of one of those noble houses and run like hell hoping the nobles don't spot them.

All in all this high role playing session was a lot of fun for me as a DM. I found my group split a little on it however. Two of the players seemed to only be engaged part of the time while three players where generally fine with a session without combat.

Its odd thinking about role playing in general in RPGs. Obviously there is a lot of variance between how much different groups like RPing but I really must say that I noticed a big difference between doing all this RPing as the DM and the same sorts of sessions when I was a player. RP heavy sessions seem to be really a lot of fun for the DM. I'm not 100% sure why but maybe its in part that the DM remains pretty heavily in the lime light during such sessions and the Dm is really engaged in constantly thinking about what he'll do whenever the players debate the various courses of action open to them.

When I was a player in the RP heavy parts of the adventure it tended to be very much punctuated entertainment. Sometimes I was in the spotlight and that was fun and sometimes what was going down was really funny and that was fun but a lot of the time I'm just kind of not part of the game. I suppose that is true of combat as well but combat has a lot more busy work that helps to keep a player engaged.

One thing I did not really consider or worry about during the session was using DM tricks to try and make sure all the players are engaged. I think this is something I should give some more thought to going forward. As it stands I tend to have a players that is a bit of a spotlight hog - he'll jump forward and take over unless other players actively fight for the chance to talk plus some of the players were just quite. Part of the issue is that high RP sessions are unstructured and without that structure any player that is a little tired that night tends to really fade out and not be part of the action.

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I don't have anything useful to add, but I wouldnt want you to stop posting in case you thought there wasnt much interest. It's great to hear your thinking about this stuff. Cheers.

Thanks Steve. I did pretty much know it'd tend to feel very 'blog like'. I've done threads along the same lines in the past for one reason or another and they often get this feel. Still they are more interactive then actual blogs - sometimes what I say does get some one talking and I'm always a big fan of debating something.

I think this is one of the reasons I gravitate toward a message board instead of spending time on my actual blog and my feeling is you often see the opposite with people that are big fans of doing blogs. They tend to respond a bit to some comments but mainly want to just move on to the next topic and say what they have to say about that.

So I finished reading Sly Flourish's DM tips book. bought a copy off the internet. As a side note if you ever decide to buy this you might want to consider splurging for the bound version. I bought the online version and printed it out and the cost to print the thing out almost surely made this a lot more expensive then just buying a bound version in the first place...and I don't have as nice a copy and I would have if I had bought the bound version to boot.

In any case I'll say that I found the book interesting. Very little was actually new to me in the book and I can't say I always agreed with the author but I figure I agreed 95% of the time.

One problem is the book really is showing its age. Some of the recommendations are not valid due to more recent rules updates. There are some I think would have been addressed differently now that we have that much more play testing under our belts.

All in all it reminds me of a reading spree I did of Dungeon and Dragon six or so months ago where I pretty much read the first 3 years of 4E over the course of a few months and a lot of the recommendations felt dated there as well.

So I'm now in the final stages of my final edit on Shut In which is to be adventure #2 in my campaign.

Originally I had planned to do Salvage Operation but after reading through Salvage Operation it dawned on me that it would make a great vehicle to fore shadow a visit to The Isle of the Ape (from 1E) which I hope to use in Paragon.

The problem is that Salvage Operation does not really deal with a ship that visited a Dinosaur Island. That is easy enough to fix but I quickly realize that I'm hitting an issue that concerns me with 4E.

Basically speaking it'd be no problem for me to lower some dinosaurs down enough that they would be a reasonable challenge for 2nd level characters.

Thing is just because one can do something in 4E does not necessarily mean that one should. One of the elements that I think 4E DMs really need to grapple with is that they have so much power to do whatever the hell it is they want to do that they can seriously screw with things like campaign or even game perceptions if they are not careful.

Some of your players may not care but some might. Two of the low points for me personally as a player in Scales of War where both in line with this. In one incidence we where attacked by three dragons. These where the most f%&~ing wimpy dragons I have ever had the displeasure of fighting. I mean they where large - they had breath weapons and cool names...they where dragons...and then it became clear that the designer of this encounter had just used 4Es ease of modification to create a 'flight' of Dragons that where really just meant to be an 'at level' challenge for this part of the adventure.

My suspicion is that the author was looking for a cool scene - we where on an air ship when the attack came and three dragons attack the airship probably seemed awesome.

For me the problem was that to manage this scene the author had to 'cheapen' Dragons. I was pissed when we fought not one but three Dragons and pretty much kicked their asses without even cracking out dailies. They where Dragons G&!+*!mit and as a player I expect to have fear and loathing when I face such a monster - that we kicked their asses with ease just made me angry personally.

There was a second example where we met a Beholder and it turned out to be some cold variant that was a total pushover. I was annoyed there for the same reason - In some ways more - I'd never fought a Beholder before and we where 15th or so a good Solo one probably was a reasonable if hard fight. As it stands it was a total cake walk to kill this 'standard monster' Beholder and that was a let down...I mean how many chances in ones real life will you have a character that is going to fight a beholder? In nearly 30 years I had never before ran or been in a a fight with a beholder. In 1st and 2nd I'd used their appearance nearby to cause players to flee in terror but that is it. Finally getting to fight one and having it be a wuss was not fun.

Ultimately - to tie this back to the beginning - the point is that as 4E DMs we can do all sorts of things - we could, in the extreme, make Gods low level challenges but we need to be very careful about using this power because it ultimately detracts from the game to use a God in this manner no matter how awesome the scene might seem. There are exceptions - that God Foetus in the Aqe of Worms adventure Three Faces of Evil actually works quite well but there one understands that they are dealing with a Foetus of a God and one involved in Premature Birth as well...and it still kicks a fair bit of ass.

The point is that I can't use Dinosaurs in a 2nd level adventure...if I establish that in my campaign world 2nd level characters can take such creatures on then it cheapens the dinosaurs and makes dealing with them in low Paragon Tier less satisfying.

On the other hand I can probably get away with careful use of them with a 6th level party if they are going to do the main event in low Paragon. I'll need to pick smaller Dino's and only use a few but that should be easy to arrange on a derelict ship...after aqll a T-Rex would not fit but a little dino would.

OK so thoughts on Shut In. I ran this yestarday and if I where to sum it up in one sentence I'd say - Great atmosphere, terrible pacing.

All in all I liked the adventure but its not without its flaws and a few of the flaws are made more salient when trying to do a 4E conversion.

One of the issues are there are not very many ways forward in this adventure. There are, for all intents and purposes only really two clues in the whole adventure that might get the characters on the move. One is all the meat in the basement and the other is the moaning sounds that characters might hear over night.

One of the big issues with the adventure is that significant defining elements don't really come into play until time passes. My experience with players - and even being a player - is that its hard to let go and say 'OK we wait until X period of time' without more or less being told to do so.

For example, with my group, the players show up at the house, meet the major NPCs and do some interesting role playing. For a bit everything is great but pretty soon the players really have gotten all the worthwhile information they can get with Lady Auraluna around. They can't really sneak into locked doors with her up and about. They can't get anything from her daughter etc. etc. and yet they are wracking their brain trying to think up ideas. They just don't have any clues and they are working on a false premise (that they need to defend the residents of the house).

What had started out entertaining soon begins to drag out and is becoming both boring and frustrating.

In essence, and this comes up repeatedly in this adventure, the set up works against 'player psychology'.

In retrospect what I should have done was, at the first sign that players where out of ideas and getting frustrated I should have stated - "well if your out of ideas we can move on to the dinner party".

There is a meta game element involved in my doing that which would maybe have made it clear to the players that its time to move on and await more clues. Unfortunately I let them play this out until they gave up on their own and decided to wait for the dinner party themselves and that meant they spent to much time being frustrated while wracking their brain for more ideas.

The next problem is that the dinner party itself - while some what interesting does not really do much for the adventure. In theory it allows the players to get some bonuses and penalties for later diplomacy checks to ingratiate themselves with the daughter Ceseli and they may irritate Lady Auraluna but I'm willing to bet that neither of these will ever be of importance to the adventure because the players won't let enough time pass for this to be a real factor.

With my group once the Dinner Party was done and everyone retired they tossed the house. The problem here is that there are, once again, a number of clues that pertain to making Ceseli like them but only one real clue that is likely to really come into play - the meat in the basement. Though the accounting does play a part in the met in the basement clue.

Even here I had to go over the top. I had given Lady Auraluna another big dog in in part to make sure there where more enemies in the final fight since 4E works better if there are more then 2 baddies unless its a very well designed solo encounter and this adventure does not really accommodate that. This means that Lady Auraluna's damn dogs can help to explain the meat.

What I did was stick 4 cow carcasses in the basement - badly salted and with parts hacked off. That got my players attention when they snooped down there. Even the players could figure out that there was just no way two dogs where eating that much meat and the accounts indicated that the house was buying cows rather often.

This along with the moaning they hear but can't find at least does lead the players forward. Now they want to ask questions so they do pretty quickly state - we wait until people get up. I could also see players breaking into the elevator here as well but either way we are now in the end game of the adventure and the elements meant to influence Lady Auraluna and Ceseli have already become irrelevant despite them not having come into play in any meaningful way. Players that break into the elevator will find the secret chamber and ones - like my players who decide to talk will only likely have one question - whats with the meat?

Here Lady Auraluna gives an unbelievable answer while Barnsworth and Ceseli don't really have much to add. At this point my players quickly worked out a distraction plan meant to allow them to toss the normally occupied rooms, did so but, as normal what clues there are don't really go anywhere except figuring out that the elevator has a mechanism to go another floor down - actually the written adventure does not indicate that this is obvious but I feel its needed or the players just butt against a stone wall with no way forward without lots of frustration.

So know players want to get down and they likely quickly do find a way down - I believe my players said we wait until night and then break into the elevator shaft - after which they discover the secret chamber and the adventure will conclude after a couple of fights.

End result is we really don't have a situation where there will be enough time for the diplomacy checks on Ceseli and Lady Auraluna would factor in.

Ultimately half the written material for the adventure just does not really play a part in said adventure.

Subplots, rumors, and The Appendix

I've decided to start giving some of my posts titles so I can find them again and to help organize my thoughts.

Here I've noticed that I've found myself doing some significant extra's with my adventures in the form of character development. My suspicion is that this is nothing new for most DMs. Basically, while I usually do my adventures in the style of Dungeon Magazine as it was laid out during the Paizo era I've added a section called 'Adventure Introduction' where I put in the threads for my players character's sub plots. I should probably come up with a different title for that as it dawns on me that, while I've so far always done this near the start of an adventure there is no requirement for this to be at the front of an adventure. It may actually be more impactful when its worked into the adventure. Come to think of it Subplots is probably a perfectly good title.

In the same vein I've found myself putting in rumors some where in the4 adventure or other foreshadowing elements for future adventures - again something that most DMs probably do.

The real gold mine and something of a new discovery for me as a DM is a separate document I've started keeping for the campaign I've started calling The Appendix. Basically here I note all the loose threads that have bee left from the previous adventure with the intention of following up on them in future adventures. This really came to pass because my conversion of Escape from Meenlock Prison ended up with just so many loose threads that I new I'd forget them if I did not write them down Since then I've realized that most of my adventures probably have more loose threads then I initially credit them for and that these elements might be of some interest later in the campaign. The notes would also be an excellent resource when I run my next campaign since I could use them to drop 'easter eggs' from older campaigns into the current ones.

Group Make Up
It always strikes me how heavily the group make up impacts how the group plays out. This seems to be really coming to the fore in my group as its full of 'controllers'. Now to be clear there is only one actual controller but the leader went Pacafist Cleric...which is really a kind of controller. There is also a warlord that is being designed along the lines of a lazy lord and, when one looks more cloesely at that class you end up with another kind of controller. Finally we have a Battlemind in the Defenders shoes - Defenders are always a kind of controller but some really accent the Battlemind while a Weapons Master is more 'stay put' controller.

Thing is I've noticed with this party that my Solo or elite or what have you is absolutely screwed. I turned Peck into this raging murderer with all sorts of 'I burst and hit every friggen body' type powers and they murdered him in two rounds.

After they mopped the floor with that encounter I thought they where just a lot more powerful then I had anticipated...however that was the first encounter of the session - we then started up on The Menagerie and in the first room they come up against the 'starter' battle of the adventure. 3 Dretch and 2 Cockatrices. A bit tough but I'd have said the Battle with Peck was actually harder. It actually turned into something that was maybe one bad roll away from the players fleeing, leaving two petrified companions behind.

I'm left wondering why it is that they roll right over what I thought a tough final fight in one combat only to be practically rolled in the next. What I come up with is that the first encounter played to their strengths while the second encounter played against their weaknesses.

This is always true with any D&D group but I guess I'm just figuring out this groups strengths and weaknesses and they are kind of 'broad stroke'. With 4 of the 5 players basically a kind of controller my players have debuffs as an art form. Any single enemy can be blinded, weakened, and stuffed with enough penalties to make their attacks -10 to hit. This is what happened to Puck...his great attack and even reasonable mobility was no match for the piled on debuffs.

The second fight was such a huge problem because team evil had no obvious target to debuff. They could pick any random enemy but it barely mattered. The Dretch penalized the players just for being in their aura. The Cockatrice are the ultimate lurkers and where impossible to pin down.

This combined with the fact that the players opening gambit saw their one sriker get pretty overwhelmed really lay down the punishment. Once I took that striker out of the picture I actually knocked off a ton of the PCs damage potential because the Lazy Lord needs that striker in order for him to lay on the hurt.

At the moment there is a lot of infighting among my players over who's not pulling their weight. The blame seems to be landing at the Battleminds feet for not 'keeping them off us'. I personally think its misplaced. I don't think any defender at low level would have been that good at handling these baddies.

I actually think its the Lazylord and the Cleric that are more of an issue. Clerics don't do much damage but a Pacifist Cleric does almost none and the Lazy Lord only does damage if I've not taken the one striker in the group out of the fight. Once I do deal with the single 'threat' in this party the rest of the PCs are extremely sub-optimal.

Not really sure how this ill ultimately play out but I will say that I'm a tad bummed that my group has made the 'anti-solo' party. I really like big mean baddies a lot more then groups most of the time. The fact that they are pretty much straight out designed to wreck something like a Dragon is a bit of a bummer.

The Menagerie
This was an interesting adventure to design. I really thought it would be pretty quick but I have so many sub plots going on know that this was not to be...Though I suppose I'd have been really in trouble if the adventure had been larger.

The best part of this adventure from a DMs perspective is that it is combat city. The players should be entertained for two-three sessions giving me some time to try and get ahead in adventure prep.

One of the first things I notice when considering this adventure for 4E is that you actually need to run it at a much lower level. In 3.5 a Rust monster and one other creature would have been a reasonable challenge for the group but when I put this together I find myself needing to use more creatures and yet not wanting to use too many of the 'signature' creatures.

Two cockatrices is already a lot of Cockatrice. On the other hand sticking in 3 more 5th level monsters would reduce the impact of the signature creatures. My solution is to have the signature creatures but have them supported by other creatures of generally a bit lower in level. So 6th level Rust Monster and some 4th level and 3rd level creatures in order to get to the XP budget for each encounter. I'm not sure how I'd have made the budget work if the players where actually 4th or 5th level and the Cockatrices where an 'at level' Challenge.

There is also the problem that the Ravid does not exist in 4E. That said none of my players have ever fought one nor have I ever used one. I simply build a solo with telekent5ically inspired powers.

Since I was so short on monsters for these encounters I spent a lot of the early prep time scanning through the monster books looking for fun baddies for my players to fight. This was itself entertaining and the adventure really does provide the DM with a excuse to use a lot of monsters with unusual powers together. That is really the highlight element of the adventure - lots of critters that are so iconic in D&D but that you don't get an excuse to use all that often.

Truth is if the DM was willing to get creative you could use the basics of The Menagerie for a wide range of levels with a wide range of critters. Pretty much the only thing that the DM needs to stay away from is humanoids which is always welcome. Its usually pretty easy to find a reason to have the players fighting humanoids of one sort or another and much harder to find a reason they are dealing with lost of monstrous monsters.

Walking the Same Ground
So I'm doing something a tad odd with this campaign. Basically speaking my last campaign took place in the middle of a big war with goblinoids invading the main country of the campaign world. That campaign never resolved the issue. it was really about what it might be like to be a group of hero's involved in such a world shaking event without actually being the guys who find the BBEG and save the world.

Here I'm actually going back and doing the more traditional - 'your group is destined to save the wold from this menace' type scenario. Interestingly that means that I'm going over the same time line again with my players.

Its a bit of an interesting experience, so far not disruptive because I've kept the groups in very different locations so what this has so far amounted to is the players recognizing some of the rumors (and knowing how they will ultimately turn out). One I'm having a lot of fun with - there is this persistent rumor that 'the Princess can be saved and that she is dead is a big cover up by the authorities.' Last campaign my players investigate this and found her the players know 'she's dead'...its just an unfounded conspiracy theory.

As a DM its been interesting making adventures around this as well since there is already quite a lot of established material. I find myself reviewing my old notes a lot in order to work on this campaign...despite that I've come to realize just how much was never really fleshed out.

For example one of the questions I never really answered in the last campaign was 'how was the big enemy base actually set up - how did they get there and what did they need to do that'? The last campaign stuck them much more immediately into the action - this one is much more investigative since the last campaign had reactive hero's, the players reacted to the threats that where developing while this one is much more about identifying who is at the heart of all this and how did BBEG orchestrate this whole thing.

Its admittedly a bit insane to run two full campaigns in order to get this effect but its certainly different from anything I have run before. It probably requires a War of the Lance or Out of the Ashes type scenario to make it worthwhile. In effect this is ground worth retreading mainly because the background event is so earthshaking and campaign altering that the story being told justifies being told from several different angles.

Murder In Oakbridge
Most of the way through converting this adventure and I've come to realize its odd in a number of ways. I mean there is the obvious fact that its a murder mystery type adventure and those are very uncommon in D&D under any circumstances but even beyond that it became clear to me that Murder In Oakbridge is not really an Agatha Christie stye who dunnit either.

Its not immediately obvious when you first read it but the clues don't really build up to point to the culprit. Ziki's disguise is such that its unlikely the PCs will ever see through it - if they had the means to do so then the adventure probably ends almost before it begins since they will probably be in her presence and looking for a suspect right after the first murder - she's a maid at the Blue Bird Inn and the PCs probably investigate the Bluebird and Kroga's Bakery after finding the flour clue.

This is in fact the closest they'll come to having a shot at beating her disguise in all likelihood. After this the clues generally point away from Ziki toward a lot of red herrings and such. Looking more closely at the adventure I've come to realize that its not really figuring out who is the murderer that is how the PCs are likely to break the case - they won't likely figure out who the murderer is - instead they probably break the case by finding out out the connections between the murder victem's and then catching Ziki in a counter ambush while she tries and commits one of the murders.

My players missed their calling
I just made a table where I put in the skills and noted the best PC with the best and second best in that skill.

This seemed relevant after all my players are supposed to be investigators in the big city. Turns out that pretty much my whole group is really good at bluff and intimidate with one player shining at stealth and thievery.

It dawns on me that my players missed their calling - this is not a group of investigators...its a street gang. They should stake out a corner and start pushing drugs.

Death by Chair!

Name: Otavin, Male Deva
Class/Level: Pacafist Warpriest 2nd
Adventure: The Menagerie (converted to 4E)

Catalyst: Battling the Ravid in the final encounter the warpriest had been pumping out the healing for the last few sessions as The Menagerie is a real meat grinder.

In the final combat the PCs faced off with the Ravid after failing to figure out a way to trick it into a container (it was not immediately hostile and was mainly butting its head at the window trying to get outside). Ravids animate things or telekenetically tosses PCs around and such. Otavin was being a good leader and checking with the group every round to see if anyone needed healing. Unfortunately Otavin neglected to consider if he needed healing himself and one of the chairs animated by the Ravid came by and stomped him to death. The murdering chair was promptly dispatched by Otavin's shocked companions.

Definitely one of the best kills I've ever managed to get as a DM.

One solution to the five minute work day

So back in the day it seemed like half the adventures would start out with some awesome guy who could ostensibly kill the whole adventuring party sending them on some quest with some elaborate reason why he was not doing the quest himself.

It dawns on me that this was never friggen necessary. In fact I have rarely seen a better method for stopping the players from taking things like long rests then the existence of other adventurers that are perfectly happy to do the quest at hand.

I mean nothing stirred my players more to action in The Menagerie then the threat of the other arriving adventurers who would show up and 'win' the adventure. When The Watch showed up near the end and started yelling up "Don't worry help is on the way - we've sent a runner to the Gold Dragon Inn to get some veteran adventurers to come and help you" my players started debating whether they even had enough time for a short rest.

More thoughts on Murder In Oakbridge
Just about done with rewriting this at this point. I have to say that the organization in this adventure is just terrible. I mean I think its an awesome adventure - at least from reading it. But the layout really leaves something to be desired.

The basic setup is to describe some of the main locations in the dventure - and of course that explanation often includes some information about important NPCs. Then we have the description of the events which are done in a time line type format and that too has some descriptions about NPCs - often adding information to what we know about NPCs we have already encountered in the places section. Finally we have a series of Encounters where the adventure tries to anticipate where the adventurers are likely to go doring the advnture and here we get even more information about NPCs and once again this is often new information on NPCs that have already been descussed.

In effect to understand an NPCs place in the adventure it might e required to keep in mind information that is located in three seperate parts of the adventure. Sheer madness.

More strangely the adventure seems to contain some locals that don't really have a point in the adventure at all. For example why the retired wizard? What's his purpose for being in this adventure. He's described on the master NPC list and his home is described but there is never a part of the adventure that really lay's out why players would visit or inquire about him...never mind his pregnant wife. The Smith has the same deal.

On the other hand Kroga's wife Kelindra Brax will likely be suspected of lying to the PCs during the adventure since she will seem really nervous when she is vouching for Kroga being with her during the murders. This means she has a role in this adventure and yet there is no sign of her on the master NPC list nor do the maids at the Bluebird show up though they presumably interact with the PCs whenever the PCs are at the Bluebird which appears to be the 'hub' point in this adventure.

In the end this adenture and ones like it are, at at a fundamental level, NPC driven and NPC driven adventures, after they deal with the background, plot synopsis and maybe local background (in this case a brief overview of the Oakbridge neighborhood), should go into detail about the NPCs either in order of importance or some other method of organization. We would know all there is to know about these NPCs before we deal with the locations, events or encounters.

I wonder if the author ran out of preparation time prior to submitting. I converted the heck out of this adventure including some significant plot changes in it was kind of through the process of going through the locals, time line and then events that the NPCs seemed to become fully fleshed out. So I can see how this would be how things looked after a first draft. Its just that there should have been a second draft that reorganized the material and put everything into a better layout.

The 4E Optimization Pitfall
So my players are all to some degree or another optimizers and individually all of their builds are pretty good. Something interesting I have had confirmed for me is that 4E is really about teamwork.

Put another way - its possible for the sum of the group to be less then its individual parts. At this point I think the group should call themselves Battlemind and the Squishies since there is one good defender and 4 support characters none of whom can take any heat at all and most of whom are actually ranged builds.

I even went so far as to get them to engage in a thought experiment. The party is walking down an alley when its ambushed. The battlemind goes up to block one end of the alley...who blocks the other end? The answer at this point is 'no one - instead we are all slaughtered without mercy by our killer DM since we have no second party member that can take any heat in combat'.

Its not the only issue with the party either...the other problem I see is the plethora of debuffs. They fought a Blue Dragon Wyrmiling a couple of sessions ago and the first round the Dragon was something like -10 to hit and dazed; obviously it accomplished nothing that round. Next round its -6 to hit and weakened - so it pretty much lost that round too. Fortunately for the Dragon its not really taking much damage and after these two rounds (there where a couple of rounds against this artillery dragons minions before they got to it) the party is tapped out on powers except for their at wills and the dragon still has about 50% of its hps so it proceeds to beat the snot out of the party.

All in all its very much testament to how important the teamwork element is in 4E. At this point the cleric's dead and the group would benefit most from ignoring the rave reviews the pacifist healer cleric gets on the optimization forums and go with a front line fighting cleric. We'll see if they figure that out.

Reworking Alchemy Items
Looking over many of the alchemy items in 4E I find that while I think the basic skeleton of the idea was actually really inspired they messed up the execution.

Basically speaking 4E Alchemy items are pretty much powers in a bottle. Their self contained nature makes them really easy to work with. The problem for me was that their power level was not adequately pegged. A consumable needs to do whatever it is going to do either really well or it needs to be usable in a very small amount of time. In effect no one is going to throw Alchemist's Acid at a baddie unless the Alchemist's Acid is either more powerful then their at will attacks (and preferably better then their encounter powers) or they can use these items as well as their more baseline powers (say they are minor actions to use).

Personally I'd like to see a revamp from the ground up of all consumables but that is not going to happen. Since that is the case I think that there are some reasonably good potions, elixirs etc. out there and I'm not going to worry about fixing these for this campaign. However with alchemy items almost always being just the pits I implement a house rule to handle this element. Basically I'm make specialized cards for all Alchemy items when they are found (and I'm handing them out heavily) and specifying that finding such an item 'unlocks' it in terms of buying the item or even the formula to make your own. I then keep this information in a document (which is really a price list and rows of power cards with the various items) available for the players to access (its up on Google Docs with the rest of the campaign material).

The main area that needs modification is usually the 'to hit' section. I use a formula of Level of item +6 to figure that element out (which makes the items really accurate as one moves into Paragon etc. level). This makes the items more attractive and, at higher level, helps to compensate them for the fact that they have a hard time competing with the players combo power choices.

Fantasy Chariot Racing
So my players have decided to follow up on a sub-plot where they are going to join the Chariot Races. That leaves me desperately trying to figure out how I'm actually going to simulate fantasy chariot racing in 4E. I know I want it to be a skill heavy system where the players use their skills to make their chariot do things like go faster and turn sharper and I know that I probably want some kind of combat but don't want the races all to be decided due to the fact that everyone is dead except one Chariot.

I'm going to have to think on this in order to make a game that keeps all the players involved. What I might do is have the races be in teams. So I split the players into two chariots.

Summary of The Oakbridge Murders

OK so we finished this adventure last Wednesday night and it turned out to be some of the best gaming my group and I have had in a long while.

Now its worth pointing out that I modded the heck out of this - the victems are no longer part of a circus but instead where part of a merchant caravan that got sucked into supply materials for the end of campaign finale BBEG super evil base in the middle of the jungle. The victims then deserted when they figured out what was going on and how bad it was - they where led by a greedy merchant but where not prepared for this. Ziki is an assassin, part of a whole network that one of BBEG's lieutenants run in the Empire's capital city where the adventure takes place and her job was to clean up loose ends.

I did a total rewrite and reorganization on this adventure and came up with a PDF of about 50 pages...though a bunch of that is character sub-plot stuff and not part of the main adventure. Still this thing really needed some reorganizing as I pointed out in a post above. Mainly I concentrated information about the NPCs into a dramatis persona section I put in the beginning of the adventure.

I kept a journal of this adventure where I handed out a summary in email form after the sessions because murder mystery's really require that the players don't forget everything they learned between sessions.

I also added a couple of combat encounters. My players really like to have a good fight in each session so I try and provide and this adventure really only came with two combats - Lucian and Ziki. I had Ziki hire people for two hit attempts as well as part of the adventure as I guessed that the adventure would run about 4 sessions.

For my group this worked really well as it gave the adventure near perfect pacing. Lots of great role playing, good atmosphere, and top it off like a sundae with a combat encounter (my players favorite part) is just about the perfect mix for my groups 4 hour sessions. More combats and they tend to get fatigued but an awesome combat encounter is usually the highlight of the session for them.

Because I already have it written out I'll provide the write up of the sessions.

Recap of The Oakbridge Murders.


Day 1 Late Morning:
The party is approached at Tasty Tillie’s by Viduk Sleet, an older Watch Captain assigned to the Oakbridge neighbourhood as a quit place to spend getting cats down off ledges and such in the last years before he retires. He has approached you at the suggestion of his sergeant who apparently takes coffee at Tasty Tillie’s and recognizes you guys from the capture of the notorious Swan Street Slicer (Peck from the adventure The House on Swan Streetmodified Shut In. Viduk Sleet tells you that a murder has taken place in the Oakbridge Neighbourhood and asks that you take the contract to solve the murder – he say’s he will even sweeten the deal by throwing in a couple of Speak with Dead rituals. You guys agree and head off to the Oakbridge Neighbourhood.

Day 1 Afternoon:
You are taken to the Oakbridge Mortuary where you briefly talk with the proprietor Loffer Fog and investigate the body of the deceased Svans. You learn that Svans was found with his face smashed in having apparently taken a tumble five stories to the street from his balcony. Investigating his body turns up nothing (roll higher!) except that a square flense of skin had been removed from his chest post mortem and that, with his face smashed in he has no mouth capable of talking meaning that he is not a legal target for a Speak with Dead ritual (house rule in effect in any campaign I run).

You investigate Svans home and search it. Two more clues come to light – one is that there is a spray of blood on the balcony and that near the inside of the balcony door is a small pile of flour. Svans currently has no flour in his home.

Day 1 Evening:
This write up makes it seem like I led my PCs around but its an after the fact report - they actually asked about places that used flour etc.You visit the local baker, a surely portly individual named Kroga Brax who’s Bakery has lots of flour. Kroga Brax looks at the flour and pronounces it of far inferior quality then anything he would use.

You head over to the Bluebird Inn. Proprietor’s are Graff Pandrong, his wife Sarlina Pandrong their daughter Mina Pandrong and son Horken Pandrong as well as three maids, Adrina Smokesinger and the sisters Zeta and Thema Fog (no relation to Loffar Fog). The Dwarven Cook Borgo Stonehammer and the janitor a Half-Orc named Drummer.

Talking with the cook Borgo Stonehammer about the flour he pronounces the party’s sample “yep looks like flour”. It is also learned that Borgo Stonehammer has a connection with Svans. Borgo Stonehammer was the cook for a caravan led by Svans some years back but he claims that they have no real contact. Svans was apparently a greedy merchant and it may be that his greed led to the caravan splitting up. Borgo indicates that last he heard Svan was some kind of an art dealer – something to investigate in the morning.

The party chooses to stay the night at the Bluebird.

Day 2 Morning and Afternoon:
The day is spent running down Svans art dealer acquaintances who are scattered across the width and breadth of Telhran. Only about half of them that can be found are found today and it will take another morning and afternoon to talk/vet the rest of them. So far none of them have known anything that really adds to the case but your hopeful that you'll eventually turn up something.

What you did learn talking with Svan’s art dealer acquaintances brings to light only confirmation that he was once a caravan master and that he was a lot better at that then he was as an art dealer.

Day 2 Evening
Back at the Bluebird Drummer is playing that night and on the small stage is dancing the beautiful Eladrin Carilina Dawnchilde. Attempts to talk to Drummer are unsuccessful and he refuses to engage in conversation. Talking with Borgo Stonehammer and Carilina Dawnchilde reveals that Carilina Dawnchilde was also part of the Caravan and that the Caravans head guard, Lucian Cruzgar often stops by the Bluebird where he drowns his past in drink and scares the living daylights out of everyone with ravings and stories of blood and gore. Carilina Dawnchilde thinks he is one of the most dangerous men she has ever met but has never seen him more then scare the crap out of anyone since her days in Svans Caravan.

In the late evening the party heads over to Lucian Cruzgar’s apartment to talk with him. While shouting back and forth through his door, getting nothing but paranoid ravings from Lucian you hear him slam open a door or window from the back of his apartment and decide to bust down the door...Session 1 ends

...or teleport through to the other side. Lessis sends his projection through the door – finds no one there but the back window open. Uses an action point to fey step into the room and unlock the bolt. Other party members open door and begin to enter the apartment. Place is a dump – refuse strewn about and really disturbing paintings scattered about half hazard hung from the wall. Looks like there is adventurers gear on a desk.

This encounter is substantially enhanced in my conversion, designed to provide a mobile rooftop encounter - Lucian is designed as a highly mobile solo with excellent range capabilities

Wojtek is first to enter the second room of the apartment and does not spot the Blastpatch until its too late. The explosion does significant damage and immobilizes him. In the next round the pixie Slick Rick flies up to the roof where Lucian is located. Soon the rest of the party gets to the roof top where a running battle soon ensues with Lucian proving to be extremely adept on the roof top – particularly an ability to leap up to grab ledges within 10 feet and haul himself over as a free action meaning he has a comparatively easy time keeping out in front of the party.

Lucian proves devastating with his crossbow laying out 30+ points of damage a round plus tossing nets and pepper bombs as minors. The party on the other hand, despite having an advantage that their Eladrin and Pixie can see in the dim light of the rooftop at night while Lucian is penalized can’t seem to manage to really lay down damage. Its not until the later part of round two that the party draws first blood and its not until round four that damage starts to get significant. Lucian meanwhile keeps laying out the hurt every single round and right at the point where he is bloodied the party finds itself out of healing, scattered the breadth of a series of roof tops and no longer in a position to win but in serous danger that one by one they’ll be picked off.

A retreat is called and it takes a round for Lucian to figure out that the party is pulling out. It soon becomes clear that Lucian is following and a discussion about fighting him in his apartment is considered. Its decided that this is too dangerous – some of the party members though have a few rounds in the apartment and do a brief search, grabbing some gold Lucian has as well as a bunch of alchemical items. A painting of his is snagged and it becomes clear that he paints these disturbing images himself – they are pretty good but very disturbing and violent and done on the cheapest newsprint. There is no sign that Lucian actually cooks for himself and certainly no flour here. The very brief inspection brings to light no clear clues or anything obviously linking him to Svans. Nothing like that is obviously out in the open anyway. The rest of the party gets in the window and the whole group beats feet down the stairs and out the front door of the apartment building.

The group seeks out Viduk Sleet and tells him that when they knocked on Lucian's door he jumped out and attacked them – Viduk Sleet wants to know if the army should be called in the but the party says not yet. The party then returns to the Bluebird where they find that the place is nearly empty this late. They gather in one of their rooms and prepare to rest but also to withstand an assault if need be. Night passes mainly uneventfully though the inn is rather a noisy place with people in nearby rooms and maybe even in the apartments above the Inn often making noises in the night, arguing, having sex, cooking etc. etc.

Day 3 Morning:
The party heads downstairs and is having breakfast when Theta Fog, one of the Bluebirds maids, screams and runs up from downstairs. When the party investigates they find Drummer, the Half-Orc janitor has been murdered. Checking the body makes it clear that it was done with an unusual curved dagger and an axe. The axe that was used is soon located in a woodbox in the hall in front of Drummers room. The room is a bit of a mess and looks like a violent fight took place here, the drum set for instances has been knocked down. Drummer has Had his pants pulled down and a square Flense of skin has been removed post mortem from his left buttock. Its decided to use one of the Speak With Dead rituals on Drummer and after the religion check is made the party gets one question. They ask him “what do you know about your attacker” (or something to that effect). Drummer's corpse says that he was attacked by a female about five and a half feet tall who he thought he recognized from somewhere but he can’t quite place her.” In my version Ziki is an assassin and has had ninja training etc. so she can disguise herself...Drummer knows Adrina Smokesinger pretty well though so he partially sees through her disguise.

The party decides that they want to go and speak to the Eladrin Dancer Carilina Dawnchilde again and start to ask around about her and where she lives “She's beautiful! I can't see why she got that thug Roctar to marry her”. They ask around about Roctar Folami and get “I hear he trains warriors. Not sure he deserves that pretty wife of his” further questions bring up that Roctar and Carilina live together and their address as well as that Roctar generally does contract work for The Watch training them to take down rioters without putting swords through their guts and such since its not good for the Gladiatorial games or the Chariot Races if to many rioters die in the inevitable post game riot.

The party heads over to Carilina and Roctars home, when they are climbing the stairs to their apartment the group is ambushed by some dude with a bladed hand Crossbow, a tiefling mage, an female Veiled Eladrin Warrior and a couple of sell swords This conversion takes place in a nieghbourood of a city the size of Waterdeep - once she killed Svans a group of investigators would be given the case (in this case my PCs), Ziki knows this because its standard procedure. She has access to funds and made arrangements to deal with the investigators before she committed the first murder - hear she used an intermediary in her organization to set an ambush in Roctar's stair case when she heard the PCs where going there. This combat is another preset one meant to be an interesting fight in a circular staircase that rises up a bunch of levels. I could set this up because practically every building in the neighborhood is an the trigger for this encounter is 'anytime from day 3 on + PCs enter a building'. The group briefly considers retreating down the stairs and out the front door in order to fight in the street but decide to push forward. Turns out that is a good plan as the group is pretty good at knocking these guys over the banister, tossing the mage and one of the sell swords 50 feet down the stairs on round one – which hurts the sell sword bad and kills the mage outright. Soon enough the bad guys are dispatched and the group continues on their way to Carilina and Roctars apartment...(Session 2 ends)

....There is no answer from Roctar and Carilina’s apartment. Slick Rick picks the lock and the group takes a look around the apartment. There is no sign of a murder though the place is really well furnished in a kind of modern style. The inhabitants are not poor either and their is a fair amount of money in the apartment including small change more or less lying around (in purses and such) and a safe with more substantial sums. With no evidence that the inhabitants are dead however the group leaves the money.

They ask around at the Blue Bird for the likely whereabouts of Roctar and Carilina. Carilina would presumably normally be home but Roctar works with The Watch training them in unarmed tactics especially when dealing with rioters. The facility for the training is way across the city however in the Old City district. The group heads off there.

Day 3 Afternoon
The group gets to the facility in the late afternoon and finds Roctar getting off shift. They ask him a few questions but before they can get really to the meat of the conversation they ask him about Carilina and where she might be found. Roctar freaks out when its revealed that she was not at home and pretty much runs back to his apartment with the party on his tail.

Day 3 Evening
Carilina is back home when they arrive however and after a brief argument between her and Roctar about where she was (she says grocery shopping) things settle down and the party starts to grill them. The Party has a strong suspicion that the murders are some how connected to the caravan that Svans used to lead. It appears that this is the common link between all the murder victims.

Carilina and Roctar expand upon what that was all about.
I gave a brief synopsis of this during the actual session and then enhanced it significantly when I did the summary for them by email
Svans was a caravan master who led a caravan. He was a bit of a greedy merchant and was willing to take on some shady transport deals. Some years back (around five years ago now) Svans began taking contracts to move supplies and even people for a handful of well paying clients. At first smaller less important jobs but as things continued the jobs got larger and so did the corresponding pay. Eventually Svans started finding himself moving things like weapons and even hidden members of the Lord of Hates Clergy from places around the Haddath Empire to cities near the Darkwood. He also moved boxes and crates which he was told not to investigate and he did so without letting his curiosity overcome his greed. Then came the jobs to move the merchandise actually into the darkwood along with orders to evade Halfling patrols along the southern border of the Darkwood and Cavalier patrols along The Darkest Road (a road built through the Darkwood that leads to Last Refuge – a mountaintop fortress maintained by the Cavalier Council used to keep the goblinoids in check through raids and such). With success in that Svans next job was especially dangerous and lucrative – they went straight into the heart of Darkness deep into the Darkwood and there they found some kind of city being built. Deep in a large jungle valley where these extensive ruins, really old but around and on top of the ruins there was massive amounts of construction going on. A full on Cathedral to the Lord of Hate, buildings and fortifications and in the centre of the place was some kind of massive black gate, led to nowhere but sometimes individuals would enter it and vanish. Then there where the goblinoids and mercenaries. The place was just teaming with them, thousands, maybe more then ten thousand.

The place was some kind of a cross between anarchy and order. In one place you’d see some goblinoids diligently working on building some fortifications and yet when you walked down the street these goblinoids might murder each other right in the open with no one caring. Being mostly humans we had some real trouble. At one point an Ogre made a swipe at Carilina and I saw Lucian leap onto our lead carriage and fill his head full of crossbow bolts. I swear the Ogre must have had seven or eight bolts protruding from its head before it stopped moving. Not the only kill we had either, I myself (Roctar) struck down a couple of Orcs as we moved through the streets just to convince their tribesmen not to try and rob the Caravan and I know Volin took some goblinoids down as well.

In any case we finally get to this plaza near the heart of the city where we have been told to make our delivery. All of a sudden half the square seems to be covered by a shadow and goblinoids start to flee out of the plaza. We where shouting about how we might run as well but with the carriages it was all to disorganized for any of us to do anything before this massive dragon lands with the force of an Earthquake directly in front of us. The thing was huge, big as a cottage, It was sleek and totally black except for these massive and penetrating yellow eyes. It lowered its neck and this individual gets off of it. Not alive – some kind of undead, dressed all fancy like an aristocrat but the clothes are all done in this style that is really old. Looked like some of the older statues you see in the Captian’s Plaza (area #2 in the Nobles district – new laws or changes to the laws are announced there to inform the public of the will of the Emperor...though the district mainly has noble houses and temples so usually the Crier is really only informing a bunch of disinterested pigeons about the will of the Emperor (bureaucrats though will soon have copies and if it effects the common citizens soon everyone will know)). The undead noble introduced the Dragon as Midnight, that Dragon’s gaze was hypnotic and terrifying. I’m not easily shaken but there was something about the way it looked at legs turned to jello. Even Lucian seemed to be dazed and lost in its presence
[Carilina quips: “Only time in my life I saw him scared of anything”].

I kind of vaguely heard the undead order some hobgoblins to start to unload the carriages and then there were orcs swarming over us and dragging us away. As they were dragging us away the undead said that we where property of The Chosen know. When I recovered I killed a couple of the Orcs but had lost my spear somewhere and they finally pinned me down and started to do this tattoo (Rocter shows the one on his muscled chest). When eventually it was done and I made my way back it turned out that it had happened to everyone but Carilina had not returned yet.

[Carilina starts making little whiny mewling noises like her throat is very constricted]

When she finally showed up she was actually crawling. I went and carried her from the edge of the Plaza. They had put the tattoo mainly on our chests and arms and such but with her they put the Tattoo right at the very top of her thigh and that’s not all they did to her while they where administering the Tattoo.

Roctar: “Lucian and myself, even Svans and Borgo wanted too hunt those f@++ing Orc Bastards down and kill them off right there but Volin talked us out of it saying that even if we could find the right orcs, nearly impossible, we’d be overwhelmed. I still wake up at nights regretting not finding those bastards”.

Carilina: ”It was the right decision Roctar”.

Roctar: “It lacks honour”.

Carilina: [sarcastic] “Oh that would have been just a great ending to a f&&@ing terrible experience – everyone I love goes and gets themselves killed”.

Roctar: [angry] “I lost a piece of my soul when I ran from that fight”.

Carilina: [angry] “Not as big a piece as me”.

[Roctar pauses and visibly regains control of himself]

We then made our way to the edge of the city in the jungle, Svans must have gotten new orders as he knew where he was taking us. We where joined by a tribe of Orcs the next day. We really wanted to kill them but Volin said not yet. As we pulled onto the Darkest Road heading out of the Darkwood some us started talking to Svans, after what had happened to Carilina we where done. Even Svans agreed that this had all gotten way too deep, Svans promised that he’d make it up to us if we could get back to Telhran. Thing is now we where surrounded by Orcs and I was not sure we could take them – at least not without losses. Volin said he’d take care of that – he was our scout so it was mainly his job to make sure we did not bump into any Cavaliers or Halfling patrols. Anyway he must have led us right to a big one because just as we where getting near the edge of the Darkwood all of a sudden the f&~$ing air is full of sling stones and then halflings on dogs and a couple of Cavaliers charge the Caravan. Lucian is motioning us back and not returning fire. I figure he was letting the Halflings and Orcs kill each other. Must have been what Volin wanted all along. There was this Half Orc among them, we had started calling him Drummer that gets stabbed in the stomach by one of the Cavaliers and my crazy wife takes off past Lucian to try and save him. How she could even look at an Orc after what they did to her I’ll never know.

Carilina: [yelling from the apartments kitchen] “He’s half human Roctar - all the other Orcs bullied him, hell he barely ever used his weapons and he wanted to learn how to play our drums”.

So there is a banged up but still ready to fight Cavalier standing over Drummer and my wife is running right at him, I saw him take a stance to receive a charge – I thought she was dead right there – then Lucian starts with the crazy shots, I don’t know how he does it but suddenly the Cavalier is bristling with bolts, one gets him right in the throat drops him right there. At that Borgo takes off to help Carilina drag Drummer out of the fray. Meanwhile some of the Halflings have turned their attention to Lucian but they never had a chance, Lucian just starts dropping them.

That was pretty much the end of the fight and some of the Orcs start coming back toward the caravan whooping their victory. Well Volin and I just look at each other and start walking toward them...they never new what hit them. Volin and I just started dropping them right and left. I figured this was Volin’s plan all along, but maybe Volin never cleared it with Lucian or something. Suddenly Lucian is shouting at us and takes off into the jungle. When he came back he said that more of the orcs where still out there looting halflings and such and that he had not managed to get them all as they scattered in all directions.

Any way with that we left the Darkwood. Once on the Imperial Road Sven says he’s taking us back to Telhran and then disbanding the caravan. Well everyone but Lucian thinks this is a great plan. Lucian seems to think we’d actually be safer working for these a&~%!!$s then loosing ourself in Telhran. He seemed to believe that these Chosen would come after us.

Carilina: [from the kitchen] “Maybe they did – you know Lucian claims he’s killed two assassins come for us when he’s in his cups at the Bluebird”

Roctar: “Oh come on babe...the guy is cracked. He thinks everyone is an assassin. I heard that some art collectors or some such knocked on his door yesterday and he just up and opened the door and attacked them.”

Carilina: [Returning from the kitchen with beverages for everyone] “I heard he was shooting urchins on the roof”

Roctar: “I got this direct from a watchman I was training who said he heard it from Viduk – Lucian jumped out and just attacked some people that had knocked on his front door for no reason at all. The guy thinks even the most innocuous unarmed people are bloody assassins. If he later went up to the roof and started shooting at urchins well that just proves my point – the guy needs to be arrested and sent to the loony bin. I bet the only reason The Watch hasn’t done it yet is ‘cause he’d kill six or ten of them as assassins before they could take him down”.

In any case we overruled Lucian and Svans took us back to Telhran. He disbanded the caravan, gave us our shares – a lot more actually – I think he was really feeling guilty about what happened to Carilina and the crap he had gotten us into. He had a real fatherly relationship with Carilina when we where in the caravan so what happened to her, well he kind of blamed himself.

Carilina: “I kind of hate to say it...but I blame him to”

Roctar: “yeah, me to babe, me to.”

Pretty much that was the end of it – he called in a favour from Graff to get Borgo and Drummer jobs. I already had some money put aside and figured I could find work with The Watch. Volin is already pretty well to do, his mother is some kind of a Dean of the colleges or some such from Xak Merrith – he was never doing anything more them slumming when he was working with us. The guy up and wandered into he wilderness and became some kind of a mountain man before he hooked up with Svan and became our scout but originally he was part of the upper crust down in Xak Merrith.

I new Svan lived in the neighbourhood, most of us did, as Graff found us our apartments but I never talked to Svan again after the caravan broke up. I don’t think any of us did.

Day 3 Evening Cont.
After arranging with The Watch to guard Roctar and Carilina the party decides to go and see Borgo, they get no response from his room and Slick Rick attempts to pick the lock. Sadly he blows it and breaks the lock at which point the party tries to break down the door. No dice the door is immune to their attempts to bust it open everyone of my PCs has a terrible strength score, finally they just turn the door into fire wood with their weapons. They find Borgo dead on his bed, healing check reveals that his throat was slit between twelve and twenty four hours ago. Likely died in his sleep. The lock on his window has been picked and Slick Rick can determine that whoever did it was good. Their is some flour on the windowsill.

The group then decides to visit Volin despite the fact that its past 10th bell now. They find Volin and tell him that they are sure that an assassin is targeting him. When they try and get into his apartment though he starts to get evasive and there is something that he is hiding. Suspicious Wojtek manages a really impressive intimidation check and for a moment the proud Volin backs away from the door – that’s enough for most of the group to file into the apartment and spread out. When they get to the bedroom they are surprised to find Carilina in Volin’s bed wearing nothing but a sheet.

The group decides that they are willing to keep Volin and Carilina’s secret so they escort them both back to the Blue Bird separately.

Day 4 Very Early Morning
Its now past 12th bell and the party goes to pick up Roctar, on their way there however they are ambushed by a Ogrillion a human swashbuckler type and a Dueragar Another ambush arranged by Ziki - this one was a contingency plan made with a retainer - it takes place on a street so usable anytime the PCs are on a street. The fight starts off fairly well with the group effectively focusing fire on the Dueragar and then the swashbuckler but the Ogrillion keeps things on edge right to the end when he finally takes Gladdness, the parties defender. Things are touch and go for a few rounds there as no one in the group can effectively go head to head with the Ogrillon and the party spends several rounds flinging consumables that damage and hinder movement at the Ogrillion while backing down the street finally managing to take it down. With that the party searches the bodies, finds some gold, and then continues on their way...(Session 3 ends)

...When they get to Roctar’s they find the door open and no sign of the guard. Note this is out of sequence for the adventure...this is improvisation on myt part - at this point I'm pretty sure I know how the adventure will end - with Ziki trying to poison the party and then launching an attack on them in the Blue Bird - I know I'll do this right at breakfast after the PCs take their long rest - here I'm taking an opportunity to kill Roctar so that I don't have to worry about him in the upcoming fight...he'd fight with Ziki - I've established that this is the kind of man he is - Volin will try and take Carilina to safety - so best for my upcoming encounter if Roctar exits stage left The party enters the house and find the guard with his throat cut and pulled out of line of sight of the door. They find Roctar face down in his weight room – he has been stabbed in the back and then had his throat slit. He must not have died instantly however because in his fist are some long strands of dark hair.

The PCs race back to the Bluebird where they find Carilina and Volin safe and asleep (in separate rooms as they expect Roctar to show up). The party wakes up Viduk in the watch house and get him to set up a couple of guards on the door, they then make camp with Carilina and Volin in the common room of the Bluebird and decide to take sleep (with watches) before working out some more concrete plans in the morning.

The night passes peacefully and the party chooses to partake in breakfast before making further plans however further planning is cut short when the final act starts.

Breakfast was poisoned and just as the PCs start retching up their breakfast the villain reveals herself – The Assassin, who goes by the name Ziki was playing the part of Adrina of the maids at the Bluebird (hence kitchen help – that is the flour connection). While the PCs are fighting off nasty poison they are engaged by Ziki – now in her magic armour with her curved dagger and ready for combat.

Ziki can summon grizzly bears and is a well trained assassin, backed by the fact that her opposition is dealing with being poisoned (ongoing 5 poison (save ends), after effect ongoing 5 poison (save ends) keeps things dicey for some time. Particularly because Ziki has many defensive immediate interrupts that allow her to avoid or mitigate being hit. Nonetheless her main offensive capabilities in the early part of the encounter is summoning Grizzly bears meaning she is not hitting very hard initially. Eventually there is a critical mass of grizzly’s (the three she can summon) and the grizzly’s start doing significant damage (they also kill at least three patrons) but the party is reasonably good at using control on the bears and eventually manage to get them down into the lower level where they have little impact on the fight, this combined with a concentrated effort to focus all fire on Ziki means that they eventually work through her defences and start doing serous damage, eventually the party manages to drop Ziki (all and all one of the easier combats in the adventure).

The party searches her body and then her room. On her they find Delver’s Armour +2 and a Phantom Soldier - they knew what they would find as I always give my baddies the powers that come with their magic items so they had seen the Phantom Soldier and apparently Delvers Armour +2 is desired because they started calling dibs on each other when she used its power. In her room in a secret compartment behind her headboard they find more then twenty skin swatches all bearing Three Dragon Tattoos (Ziki has such a Tattoo between her breasts as well). They also find information about her next target – Blessed of Hern, who is an individual the PCs would like to locate as well.

The killer has been uncovered and dispatched – so ends the adventure The Oakbridge Murders.

OK so what worked and what did not work for me in this adventure?

  • Well for starters my suspicion that the smith and the arcanist were wastes of space turns out to be justified. They have no link to the murders so they have no reason to be in the adventure. My players never interacted with the, why would they?

  • The next thing that comes to mind is that there is a key point in this adventure. At the end of day 2 and the very begining of day 3 Ziki kills Borgo and Drummer...until she does that you really don't have much of an adventure - as the DM you need to move heaven and earth to get the adventure past this point in the time line...once Ziki makes the second and third murders your golden in terms of letting the players solve this however the hell they want to. Until this point your players have, like, three clues that don't lead anywhere and even if they where to, somehow, make a breakthrough and find Adrina with just this information that would make this into a crappy adventure. So on both a game and meta-game level you need to get them from the start of the adventure till a few hours past midnight on day three.

    Thing is everything in player psychology is working against you here. Players are trained to keep dancing until the music stops (The DM tells them they found the answer) and they won't let it go. I mean I knew this would be a problem - I added Svans business contacts literally to be a time sink to get them past this point but with hours to go before morning when they could talk with the business contacts they where going crazy trying to make the clues fit into something or get the NPCs to give them the answer. My players are bored and frustrated and yet I can't get them to just wait to let events develop - all their instincts are to not do that, heck I know from an adventure I was in as a player that my instincts are not to do that. I'm honestly at a loss as to what I could have done differently to make them stop and just wait while checking on Svans art dealer associates, in the adventure I pretty much cheated and tricked them - it took several tries and my players still spent at least 45 minutes bored and frustrated. This was the low point of the adventure for all of us and have no solution.

  • Note that on this vien things where actually seriously unraveling for me at the early stage in the adventure - quickly following the time line my players investigate Svans, find flour, go investigate people who use flour nearby (Bluebird and Korga). They start with Korga who says 'not mine' and they immediatly follow up with did you know Svans? Korga says no but their next stop is Borga who answers the same question with yes - years ago I worked with him...well being players their obvious followup question is 'tell us everything' and Borgo, who does not want to talk about it can do nothing but arrouse their suspicions when his answers get evasive.

    Their visit to Lucian was really part of the same type of situation. Finding no real clues after talking to Svans art dealer contacts they are bound and determined to make some headway for the evening of day 2 - as far as they are concerned they have nothing yet so they must not be looking hard enough (really, of course, they need to wait until events develop). So they are grilling Carilina between dances because they got Borgo to give up that she and Drummer where also part of the Caravan (they wanted all names of course - early question when they find out Borgo once knew Svans). Carilina gives up Lucian and its off to see far only on the basis of a tenuous connection. Really its only after Lucian kicks their behinds and they need to take a long rest which finally gets me past that critical late day 2/early day 3 point that this adventure settles down and starts to feel under control - at this point they have some clues so lots of leads and I could not care less when they solve this thing from this point on.

  • Initially Lucian winning seemed to frustrate a few of my players - there was a very vocal split in the ranks between a few players that felt that the game was just too hard because they had to retreat and other players pointing out that loosing a fight and having to run was really pretty rare and its fine if it happens once in a while - The fact that my players rolling had been really bad and my rolling was very good really caused this however - Lucian was tough but he was certainly beatable. Big part of my problem is I have a fundamental disconnect in my group with how tough they want this to be with one player really preferring things to be easier and the rest of the group liking the game when its hard. Nothing I can really do about that. From the perspective of the rest of the adventure it works out well since 'Lucian is bad ass' is a meme in the background players from this point forward really agree - he is friggen bad ass. They are also somewhat relieved that they did not kill him when it later becomes clear that he's not responsible - just a bit unhinged.

  • After this point the adventure goes smoothly though looking at how they solved it reveals that they never really did much in the way of putting clues together - they really just follow an NPC trail. Drummer id dead morning of day 3. Their reaction after getting the clues is we want to talk to Caralina again - I assume because she knew drummer - they actually never realize that Drummer and Borgo are tight. From there they can't find Carilina but she lives with Roctar so they go find him. He leds them back to his place where they are once again in the presence of Carilina and immediatly its on to Svans caravan. Really right from the start they latched on to this element and they never do give it up. Roctar spills the beans and from here its just a matter of rounding up the rest of the caravan members and the sequence plays out to the final confrontation with Ziki. Note that I always new Ziki would do food poison (if possible) and attack for the finale instead of making the PCs try and figure out it was Adrina - I honestly don't think there are really enough clues for that so getting her to come to the PCs is the only option.

  • I threw in a few extra combats but that was really just a pacing element for my players since they really want to have a fight every session if possible and I judged things such that they would get roughly one fight per session. Even set it up so two of the fights where essentially usable by the DM almost at will just to insure that the pacing worked out well.

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Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:

Fantasy Chariot Racing

So my players have decided to follow up on a sub-plot where they are going to join the Chariot Races. That leaves me desperately trying to figure out how I'm actually going to simulate fantasy chariot racing in 4E. I know I want it to be a skill heavy system where the players use their skills to make their chariot do things like go faster and turn sharper and I know that I probably want some kind of combat but don't want the races all to be decided due to the fact that everyone is dead except one Chariot.

I'm going to have to think on this in order to make a game that keeps all the players involved. What I might do is have the races be in teams. So I split the players into two chariots.

Maybe inflicting harm on the other riders imposes penalties on their skill checks (either through wounding them or distracting them) but there is an enforced rule that anything goes, barring death. So if they go to far or actually kill anyone, they'll be disqualified - yet the combat-focussed characters can have an influence by hampering the other teams' progress.

I'm actually beginning to back away from the fantasy Chariot Racing beyond just making a skill challenge. Did not totally drop the idea but I figured out a real flaw in it which is that in a chariot race there are more then two sides. In effect I'm trying to play a game where I as the DM run three chariots while my players run just run one. This is one of those cases where this is a bad idea for gamist reasons...the DM should not consistently be taking noteably longer to do his turns then all of his five players.

I might still manage something if either the Chariot Races are just 2 team affairs or if I can come up with some model that makes doing the DMs turns really quick but its not really looking hopeful right now.

One idea I might explore is a kind mini-game in which everything is driven by the players skill checks - when they make their skill checks their chariot goes forward faster and when they blow them the other chariots get beneficial moves.

The Saporo Caves
For the next adventure I wanted to move the PCs out of the city for a more classic dungeon and the fact that the PCs are looking for a Chariot Racing Charter provides the excuse. Essentially I simply set it up so that Eligos the Sage (From Age or Worms fame) could arrange for the PCs to get a Charter in return for dealing with a goblin problem up in the northern part of the Empire in the lands of the Chin-Tuo.

This adventure was pretty problematic to create. I seemed to constantly hit stumbling blocks. Initially the plan was to use Roarwater Caves from Dungeon #15.

After reading it though the adventure did not really seem to work. First off its really a kind of classic 1st edition adventure...tons of very small encounters. This works badly in 4E where the encounters take to long to set up and play out while not providing any real challenge. I really wanted to use the fact that this was going to be a dungeon to provide some spectacular environments for the PCs to fight in. Done right this can be a strong point in 4E and while my players had been very happy with the plot aspects of the urban adventuring it was not really possible to do really unique environments.

So at this stage I went with make my own caves and decided to do this in very much the 4E Dungeon Delve style. Pretty much this would be a string of encounters each meant to provide an interesting environment.

About the point I made this decision I saw a Saporo Beer Commercial that has a pretty interesting oriental fantasy theme in it. One can watch the commercial on youtube - I've watched it a good dozen times while prepping this, sadly for the corp that makes this commercial I straight out don't like beer so they'll never sell to me.

This inspiration was really useful as I was stumped for encounter ideas. While the encounter ideas did not actually turn out looking like this commercial it did provide me with enough seeds of ideas that I was able to expand things out.

Even with all this help I still found this to be a particularly difficult adventure to put together. I'm just not much for Delve style adventures and making one has just reinforced this element in my mind. I don't think I'll go with this style adventure again. I mean I really need to have the stunning environment elements in my game but not this way. I'll have to work them in another way. These Delves just don't have enough roleplaying or exploration for my tastes - I love the excuse to make great set pieces but there has to be a better way.

This is particularly true since I think only two of the with a Giant Ferris Wheel and another with a swift flowing underground river and a battle on little goblin boats...were really something so outlandish that I could not have worked it in somehow into a different style adventure. The problem is the working such things in. Generally I just go with the flow of the adventure and that rarely suggests things like Giant Ferris Wheels.

Working out how to get such dramatic encounters into more traditionally designed high plot and roleplaying adventures is something I really need to work on in my 4E DMing.

More Thoughts on Dungeon Delves

It'd be so nice if things where just straight forward. I've ran my players through almost all of the encounters in my Saporo Caves adventure and my players where, in general, really impressed. hey like combat and these where some pretty interesting combat scenes with some spectacular environments.

I, on the other hand, have had the point about how much I dislike this style of adventure design driven home by the next adventure - which I am dutifully prepping as they get near the end of the Saporo Caves. I note just how hard I found it to make the Saporo Caves and O think a great big chunk of that difficulty is simply that the caves did not excite me - they are really pretty inauthentic creations. Little more then 5 interesting encounters loosely strung together. However interesting the encounters are I can't really believe in this place in any real sense. The food supply elements are just barely covered living space is highly abstract, purpose and motivation of the inhabitants are weak at best etc.

Simply put its not a real damn place (well in the context of an adventure local). This would be so much easier if my players did not enjoy themselves but of course they really did. This of course gets us to one of the most fundamental disconnects between DMs and players. The DM knows what is going on and if he carefully crafted something that feels authentic he knows it. The players only really rarely are in a head space where this is either all that obvious or all that meaningful. For them a thin veneer of realism is often just as good as something that has been well thought out since they rarely have the inclination to test whether or not what they are looking at is a thin veneer or not. My players saw the barrels full of fish and encountered ovens. For them that pretty much sums up the food issue. I'm the one realizing that its not been adequately explained how the goblins get the fish from fishing boats to the caves or when and how that happens (since I made no such location not wanting to draw the players away from the action of the adventure).

My other issues are much the same - lack of good living space is not something they are likely to even really notice when they are currently worried about just how low the party is on surges and its the same story for the rest of the things I dislike about the inauthenticity of this adventure. The players are more then fine with something I consider an incomplete facade but am faced with the frustrating realization that when I do make much more authentic adventure locals I'm, at least some of the time, limited by just how fantastic I can be in the encounter design (the part the players do notice) due to the fact that I am trying to be reasonably authentic when explaining how things came to be.

All in all somewhat frustrating and without any really good solution.

Player Buy In
I've managed to get some really good mileage out of player buy in in terms of the campaign world the last few sessions. As my last adventure ended my players lit a warning fire and caused a Lord of the Rings movie type scene where their warning of imminent invasion was seen by other warning towers who lit their warning fires causing towers even further away to light theirs ultimately warning the whole of the northern provinces of the coming invasion and I segued into a whole 'historian's voice' type epilogue for the adventure covering how future historians would view their actions and how significant it all was.

I followed this with the next session by using the Players travel back to the big city to have them at ground zero when the first of the coastal attacks on the Empire came - coastal attacks the players know, on an abstract level, would come to pass because this campaigns time line overlaps with my last campaigns time line. This afforded me the chance to do the whole commentators voice thing yet again (but now at the beginning of the adventure) in which I covered the whole scene (in reasonable brevity) throughout the Empire on the eve of the big war the players know is coming. During this I cover where the attack on the city is coming from - giving this element of the adventure away - but those paying attention in my last campaign know that the Galleys raiding the coasts are full of minotaurs and in fact even as I'm reading through the list of events when I get to the part where the galleys make their run toward the coast one of the players comments that they are probably minotaur galleys.

I also throw the players a large bone here - throwing into my rendition a comment along the lines of "and far to the south around the town of Frell a group of adventurers is closing in on a Red Dragon and its Death Knight rider - he will be the first of The Chosen to die". This of course is exactly what their last adventuring party was doing during this time frame so the players pick that up real fast with cat calls of "That's us - that Dragon is going down" and the like.

This followed up with having the players be participants on the receiving end of one of these raids - something that their previous characters had knowledge of and in fact will - in some months time help alleviate by finding the home base of the minotaur raiders really brought the campaign world to life for many of the players - and they are really excited about the whole 'epic feel' to the campaign.

I've had really exceptionally positive feedback from a bunch of players over the last few sessions, the main theme of the comments I'm getting is just how epic this all is and how its so awesome that they get to be in the centre of this as it unfolds. Of course every D&D campaign has the players in the centre of the things - nature of the game but what is much rarer and harder to pull off is to get them to go beyond acknowledging that they are the heros in an epic fantasy story and actually 'feel' it on some kind of an emotional level.

All that said I wish I new exactly what it was that I was doing right here - I mean I've run good epic type campaigns before but I've never managed this kind of buy in before. I want to some how bottle this so I can break it out whenever it called for but I'm not sure precisely what I'm doing right. Is it the fact that the players have been down enough of this road that they recognize events and now feel like they are in them? Is its the fairly heavy concentration on the PCs and their backgrounds so that they care about their characters personal lives and therefore care about the world their characters live in? Something else I'm not noticing - heck maybe they have just all gotten more sleep then usual the last few sessions. I wish I new for sure so that I could be sure to repeat it in all future campaigns but for now I guess I'll just have to be happy with my players buying into the current campaign.

Encounter Thoughts and Oddities

So I've been doing a series of scenes in a city under attack and that has resulted in stuff like defending a Cathedral under attack which turned into both a fantastic encounter and raised some interesting elements.

First off a bit about the encounter. Basically the PCs have to defend a big Cathedral - I made it by buying the Paizo Cathedral PDF and then in GIMP I added a steeple, an underground section and, trickily, a huge stained glass window on the back (its sneaky because the PCs are unlikely to realize that this is a way into the Cathedral). I also used cut parts of Paizo's town Game Mastery map to put streets outside of the temple as I needed room for the attackers to deploy.

The Cathedral represented a a strong point that the citizens of the doomed city where gathering at and defending and had already rebuffed a light attack. This was significant because it meant that the next assault on the temple would not take place for some time.

I provided my PCs with a list of the supplies they could find in the temple and then encouraged them to start designing stuff to fortify the temple. Basically saying they could make their own home made traps. Note only is this different and was a lot of fun for the players but its actually something that 4E is really excellent at. The key is the average damage tables and the DC by level charts - its here that the DM goes to figure out how the PCs contraptions work. So when they made spiked barrels they planned to drop on the first Minotaur's that came up the stairs from the basement I just looked up the average damage by level and used that - I went up or down a few levels based on how nasty the trap sounded and also how much of their 'resources' they used. Basically I don't want them turning a single nail into a death trap when they have hundreds of nails but I might give them more damage for something that sounded nasty and used lots of their resources.

Needless to say this part was pretty much a big hit among my players who had a lot of fun letting their imagination free to think up nasty traps. Once in play this element worked as well and really added to the encounter.

Another element that works really well in 4E was the NPC temple defenders. I mean there where a lot of them in this encounter, 12 militia, 3 veteran Watchmen and a Samurai. Ive mentioned before that the minion rules work really well for these guys. Essentially the PCs had access to a whole bunch of easy to use but reasonably effective NPCs. There is no question that this adds time to how long the encounter takes to play out but it also adds a lot of atmosphere and the well designed minions tip the balance for me - historically I avoided NPCs like the plague due to added complexity but it works in 4E.

This does bring up a conundrum for XP, one of several in this encounter. Should I subtract xp from the encounter considering that the players are getting all this help. If I did what the heck is the XP deducted for 'improvised traps'? I choose not to but this becomes a pretty outrageous sized encounter since the PCs don't just have lots of allied minions and improvised traps this was also the 'birth' scene for a PC that had worked with me to become the pawn of an evil Goddess Umberlie. In effect they end up in her temple and during the course of it the player will take actions at the instigation of Umberlie in order to save himself and as many of the people in the Temple as possible that ultimately culminate in the PC pledging his soul and binding the pact by committing human sacrifice with her ritual dagger while Umberlie, an evil Goddess, watches all in order to gain enough power to win.

Hence I have what amounts to a 17th level encounter (by monster xp) that my 5th level party is engaged in - but they have access to so many extra resources that they can win it. So does all this help for team PC deduct from the xp of the encounter? Now personally I'm OK with some acceleration in the campaign - 30 levels is a lot of frigging levels, so faster leveling is fine with me - I'll give them the XP but its certainly a grey area in the rules.

This also gets me to another element I've noticed with 4E that is at least less prevalent in other editions. I mean this huge set up required that the PCs enter the Cathedral in the first place but what if they did not. I actually gave them other options but made the Cathedral seem like the best option. The players where even discussing it when one of the more co-operative players pretty much announced, geez guys the DM has shown us where he wants this to be - we take the bait and lets keep going.

This brought up an interesting discussion during a break with the co-operative player (after seeing the huge temple etc.) is chiding me for even giving the players the option - I should have had them flee into the temple during the descriptive text in his view. This got another player in on it who was arguing in favour of having the 'illusion of choice'. Interestingly neither player wanted me to give them the real option to skip the encounter and I would have been hard pressed if they had skipped it as well.

I have skipped or changed encounters before but not really pivotal ones. Its against my nature and previous experience with DMing to railroad the players but 4E works best when the huge set pieces are played through and is not that strong for lots of small uninteresting battles. I'm thinking I might put the PCs in the encounter when there really is no other reasonable option in terms of what is good for the story and the current adventure while leaving the players with choices when there really are choices and I don't seriously care which option the PCs take.

Its definitely and odd juxtaposition. 4Es easy and strong skill system makes offering a complete sandbox in some parts of adventures really easy and works really well and yet once combat enters the picture one really wants to have more of a rail road.

I'm enjoying this thread, and would just like to encourage you to keep it up. Thanks. :)

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