I felt really frotzed going in--I hadn't really been able to do much planning for the session. I had been meaning to prepare gifts from Oakhame to the party, develop the ogre mage, and work on preparing an upgraded Slade for Lori--and I didn't do any of these things. I attribute this to new-job foo, and I don't blame myself for being underprepared, though I do regret it.
So, I made a few tweaks to the ogre mage during dinner, so that there would be some surprises. And then I let the players (sans Lori, who had to do schoolwork) drive the episode. This worked out to have several distinct phases:
1. Aerial reconnaissance. This included the amusing bit of Liandra, in hawk form, kidnapping a rat from the keep for interrogation. But it worked and provided them with some more clues.
2. Interrogation of the captured ogre and the rat. This was as close as i came to really playing a role in the session. It did include some funny bits when Grulik the ogre (who was not bright, even for ogres) took an excessively direct answer to the questions being posed. "How did you know where to go to attack us?" "Followed Barlu in front of me."
The conversation with the rat was interesting in a different way, because I decided that the rat's perception of the world is mostly based on smell, with sight a far second.
3. Kyle's invisible spy mission. I was glad that Kyle got a chance to be the star of the show for a while. He pushed his luck a bit by letting the invisibility wear off, but still managed to make it out safely because the ogres were not very disciplined.
I felt pleased with one cool bit where Kyle looked in on the ogre mage, and realized that it was invisible even while writing its journal.
I think I was very generous with information (and with things not going wrong) in the interrogation and spy mission phases, but I feel no regrets about that.
4. The next phase was a long phase of planning (until 11pm). It may be just as well that Lori wasn't there for this, because she gets bored by such things. But the players who were there seemed to enjoy it well enough, and it meant that I could take things easy for a bit.
5. At 11, we started the big battle.
The players did have a good plan, but they weren't all invisible and silent as they walked by the ogre mage's office. So the ogre mage did have a few rounds to prepare as they arranged themselves. Then as they struck, he struck back with a tanglefoot bag upon which he'd cast a silence spell. This could have really shut down Larissa's fireball output. However, since she was hovering off the ground, I decided that there was a 25% chance that the silent part of the goo was still on the ground--and when I rolled the dice, that 25% came up. Lucky Larissa.
The ogre mage did not get to use his full offensive capabilities, because he got tagged and damaged pretty quickly. (Ogre mages do not have many HP for their CR). He did have a few good moments of inviting ogre smackdown on Turok and Prolix--both of them visited the zone of single-digit hit points.
Trying to catch the fleeing ogre was fairly exciting, too, as he went invisible again to avoid conspicuous flour, then used gaseous form to go out the window. Unfortunately for him, Larissa had made it out of the building with high-speed flying, and managed to hit him with her last fireball. (And this raised the question of "what happens to the items carried by someone in gaseous form who gets hit by a fireball?"
There were other excitements too, such as the demonstration that a rogue with improved invisibility can be extremely dangerous.
So this worked very well:
- it was an exciting combat
- it demonstrated how effective the PCs can be when they plan ahead (and commit most of their resources to one fight).
- It wasn't too planned--there were exciting surprises that grew naturally out of the PCs plans, without me feeling like a nasty GM.
I didn't really do much roleplaying in the fight--I don't think the ogre mage said anything, and I didn't describe the action much. That didn't seem to be missed too much by the players, so I don't mind too much--but I'd still like to be in a more descriptive habit, and it could have advanced the plot if the ogre mage had snarled nasty things as it fought.