Hi everyone, I'm still fairly new to being a DM and this is my second attempt to run the SC hardcover... my first group dissolved due to scheduling problems.
My regular players are as follows:
Half-Orc Druid (worships Gruumsh)
My campaign has only gone through two sessions so far, and the action has gone at a surprising pace. There were a few problems I wanted to ask your advice about, so I'll go through them one at a time.
Firstly, game balance. These skulks the party has been fighting are CR2, yet they die quite easily to the fighter's greatsword. Nobody else got a chance to even fight, really. Weapon Focus, Power Attack and Cleave make him unstoppable. The question has never been IF the party will win, but how quickly. Even when half the party fell into a spike pit, and the fighter was caught alone by four hobgoblins, he defeated them all. Basically I'm wondering if I need to make things a little more difficult to keep it interesting.
The players were wounded in the fight, so naturally they decide to leave and heal for the night. There is no sense of urgency to saving the children... they've slept three times despite skipping most of Jzadirune. Having raised a general alarm, I have all the remaining hobgoblins in the fortress chase them but they still make it out. Now I've decided when the elevator reaches the top they will have to deal with some very angry dark creepers (none of whom they have seen yet). Hopefully all the crossbows pointed at them will make diplomacy look favorable, and maybe they'll go slay the Grell or find a cure for the Vanishing. Or maybe they'll continue killing anything that moves. We'll see.
I'm thinking of increasing the number of hobgoblins down there, and having them use all the equipment in the armory combined with a solid defense plan to fight the characters once they come back down. It's only fair the hobgoblins get to prepare if the adventurers are going to use hit-and-run tactics. Maybe I will have a single hobgoblin wave a flag of truce, informing the party that Kazmojen is in the middle of an important business deal and therefore would rather speak with them than have a pitched battle. Then, have all the other hobgoblins waiting in ambush inside the main room. Perhaps I will punish their lack of speed by having one of the four orphans already sold off to an anonymous buyer. Some of you on these boards have said the battle with Kazmojen is already pretty tough for a group of level two adventurers... but I disagree. When I ran a group of four adventurers last year, they made short work of him. In any event, I think it's more exciting to totally outnumber the players with hobgoblins, then have Fario and Fellian emerge from invisibility to sneak attack a couple of them.
Secondly there is the issue of roleplaying. How do I promote it more when all my players seem too eager to advance the action? These aren't newbies... I have seen in other tabletop and LARP settings that they're perfectly capable of good roleplaying. But they aren't. They're just reveling in their stats, and shouting OOC excitedly about "oooh i know what monster that is" etc. etc. The first session was a joke as all the characters scrambled to "coincidentally" choose each other as companions for an adventurer's group. There was the feeling of "let's hurry and get this done so we can get to the meat of the game." There's nothing wrong with that, exactly, but for a game this huge in scope and length, there has to be involving roleplay or they'll eventually get bored with their characters and lose interest in the game. So I'm totally open to any advice you guys have for me in that regard. I want to bring these characters to life.
The fighter has some decent roleplaying, I guess. He is a blacksmith's apprentice who seeks to bring business to the shop by converting himself into a walking advertisement. He has "Gurnezarn's Smithy" etched onto his banded mail, and frequently boasts of how he will one day slay Hookface.
The bard has frustrated me to no end. She is playing Anjali Lathenmire, the rich girl who ran away to join the pirates in Sasserine. Now she returns to Cauldron, and I give her plenty of opportunities to talk/fight with her parents/sister, but she just ignores them, instead asking if they will give her any weapons/potions. I even had Cora nearly DIE from the attack on the kobolds, and it didn't affect her one bit. The 'friendship' between her and Gurnezarn's apprentice is a bit weird, also. The following is only a *slight* abbreviation of the convo they actually had:
"Hey, I'm back after being gone for two years."
"Hey, we were childhood friends. What you been up to?"
"Y'know, being a pirate. playing the fiddle, eating limes, getting gangbanged by the rest of the crew."
"Oh, well I'm going to take this sword and go kill things until I'm famous. Do you want to come along?"
"Sure, why not."
The wizard is an interesting character in theory but needs work. She used to be a servant girl in Hollowsky but got sponsored by Lady Knowlern to attend the Academy for magical studies. No one knows she is part black dragon, complete with cute little vestigial wings on her back. She had NO reason to join the party, and hasn't really made friends with any of the other characters. Her character is timid and intellectual. When we encounter 'monsters' in Jzadirune, her first impulse is to befriend them and study them. Meanwhile the rest of the party just kills. And she says nothing.
The Half-Orc Druid was the toughest person to incorporate into the party. He lives as a hermit in the jungle, looking for mystic signs in the entrails of animals. The party wanted someone fierce to fight with them, so the fighter led them to this guy ("I hear he eats children.") I gave him the dream-haunted trait and wrote up some pretty awful nightmares for him...which he hasn't spoken of to anyone. His reasons for joining? Completely a mystery. No sparks flying between the follower of Gruumsh and the elf in his party, either.
The halfling rogue is your stereotypical prankster. She grew up in the orphanage and escaped frequently, learning the pickpocket trade all the while managing to stay independent from the guilds. She's in it for the money... even going so far as to steal weapons from the Lathenmire's Mansion.
The Illumian Monk is another character that just seems to be 'there'. He is the last of his kind and aids the adventurers out of respect for Jenya and St. Cuthbert. Again, rarely speaks in character.
Lastly, there is the issue of a new 7th player. When my roommate heard about the campaign I was running, he eagerly wanted to play. Unfortunately he is far from anyone's favorite person and behind his back is looked down on for being a snob. Still I wanted to be nice so I said he could play if the other players voted it was okay. Then when it came time to vote, nobody would vote or even speak, so I figured it was okay and he was introduced to the other characters as a Cleric of Kord. During the session he earned the annoyance of the other players twice, once by leaving to IM with a girl for nearly an HOUR, and secondly by trying to have a long conversation with the druid in the middle of a full-scale alert inside Kazmojen's Fortress! NOW after the fact I am slowly but surely hearing from the rest of my friends that he has got to go. The question is not if, but HOW I should break the news to him. I do have to live with him for another few months, after all.
To sum it all up, I have my hands full and I'm struggling. It's difficult enough to keep track of all that's going on, while six people are all talking to you at once it seems. I find myself concentrating on keeping the initiatives and HP tallied, and little else. You know that blue text you read to describe rooms? I might as well not even bother. As soon as they hear an object they can fight/loot, they interrupt my description. I'm getting frustrated and I need some tips how to:
1. keep the players happy
2. increase roleplay
3. avoid boring/killing my PCs
4. get my game to 'flow' more easily. it seems really awkward and forced.
Okay, let me see if I can help. I started the adventure path and slowly but surely my group is getting through it. They are about to head into Flood Season so I know exactly what you mean.
1. Keeping them happy is difficult, but play with them. I beat them up pretty badly throughout the whole dungeon. Jzadirune was a cakewalk for my player too, and in hindsight it should be. However, enjoy the Forge, the two Automan guards, and the fight with Kazmojen.
I wouldn't sell the children, because it is really hard for low level adventurers to keep up the pressure. Have them about to be sold or even better, have them be just sold and carried off while they fight. Then, the party has a chance to stop them, but must forget about being full powered.
Also, if you want to pick at them for retreating and coming back, a few random encounters with the skulks might be okay. Eventually the fighter will fail to hit.
And feel free to add a whole ton of hobgoblins to the fight with Kazmojen. This would in theory make the fighter face Kazmojen, while the rest of the party fights the hobgoblins and the howler and retrieve the kids.
2. This one is a bit trickier. There is no one way to force roleplay out of your players. Try to throw some people at them as rp encounters (as in barkeeps, call girls, smiths) who are insulted when the party doesn't remember them....or just forget it. I mean I found that when I wanted something out of the party it didn't happen until I accepted it might not. Its an evil thing parties do.
3. Why not kill them? I know they want their characters to be all cool and awesome and they are heartbroken when those characters die, but death happens. I hate killing my PC's and I try to fudge the dice on occassion. But my PCs have been in the negatives plenty of times now. I suspect some major deaths too. The key is to have a way for them to come back if they do. They are friends with the (soon to be) high priestess of the church. She knows people, if she can't do it herself. I would rule she could do it herself regardless of the AP.
4. Change it. Until I altered my stuff a little, it seemed forced. Make it unique to your world. Change the story, monsters, anything. The beginning is horribly awkward, but any story is at the beginning. Try to foreshadow as much as possible, look up info for ahead, and get them to tell you OOC what their goals and for the character. Find out PrC's, magic items, feats...anything. Any of those can give you a better person to give them direction and they will like it more that way. Also...let them do what they want.....just poke them in the right direction from time to time.
In closing. Have fun with the AP. I look at Tongueater and I feel like all the pain the party dealt me will be over soon. The first two adventures are cakewalks in some aspect for the party. Then it becomes hell. And if you think your party is bad at taking the direction....my party led old women across the streets dressed as the Last Laugh to being their reputation down because the party thought the Last Laugh was going to be the BBEG. And they confused Locks with......a tree grove, a barber, the lake. I sat there with a shocked look on my face for most of the first session.