August 21st, 2002


D&D, Aug-21-2002

The game had been scheduled for Tuesday, but that was the only day that Lori's father had available to work on her car. I was amazed that we were able to reschedule for the next day.

In this session, the PCs brought back Duke Lareth to the castle.

During the night, Prolix woke up with a sudden start from the ring that he still wore. He woke up the others quickly and dashed for the duke's chambers, with the others coming close behind.

There was an assassin in the Duke's chambers, preparing to kill the Duke. A fun battle ensued, with semi-prepared PCs fighting against an increasingly-desperate assassin who used poisoned blades.

Liandra had potions of neutralize poison on hand, which had an especially dramatic effect--both the Duke and Turok found themselves in the privy, discharging poison in every way possible. But both felt much better afterwards.

Dani asked, "So, whose face is on the coins the assassin's carrying?", which I felt somewhat undercut the coolness of my setting up the face on the coins as a clue. Oh well--it's still better than not understanding the significance of the clue.

They went down to confront Mellan, who crumbled like a sandcastle, and drew Keland out in the confrontation. I tried a sort of handoff mechanism in this conversation; when Mellan entered the conversation, I handed the character of Lareth off to Kevin, and then I handed Mellan off to Dani. This tactic worked pretty well--better than me trying to play three characters myself would have, I think. I did have some trouble forcing Keland into the conversation--the right moment for him to lose his head passed too quickly.

(I hadn't planned for Keland to be the villain--according to the module, he was innocent. But the players started getting suspicious of him due to flaws in the module, and I decided to run with it; it made more sense than the plot as written.)

The next game day featured Kaylin hiring the heroes to carry Mellan into exile. I felt pretty good about the outcome of that conversation; the players seemed to grasp all the subtle points I was trying to convey: that Lareth was hiding behind the screen, not officially present; that Lareth and Kaylin would shed no tears if Mellan were dead, but needed to insure his safety for political and mystical reasons.

And then off to the eyrie that Duke Lareth had spotted. They easily made it through the three challenges that the builder had set, and got both magic treasure (by far the biggest magic hoard they've seen so far) and a letter of backstory.

I had meant to artificially age the letter to make it look like an antique, but I ran out of time before the session. Alas.

Once again, I underestimated my players--they seemed to get all the clues that I introduced in the letter, even the ones that I had meant to be subtle. Oh well--this is really much better than the alternatives. But I want to figure out how to slow the pace of clues, so that the PCs are still learning more every session (or at least every adventure), but things go a bit slower. I should probably introduce more red herrings.

And yay, the horrible module is done! Here is a partial list of problems I've found with AEG's adventure The Lost King, by Eric Steiger:

- According to the Player's Handbook, the dimension door that the wizard is supposed to have used to transport the king transports the wizard, too. There's no ordinary way that it could transport the king but not the wizard. (This was part of what triggered the player's suspicions of Keland. I did come up with a fairly nice magical item to justify this, though.)
- The opening action of the adventure features a cloudkill trap that will be a save-or-die for the 5-7th level characters the module is aimed for. (I got caught off-guard by this one, and had to fudge visibly.)
- The opening action features secret doors that the PCs have to find in order to proceed with the rest of the adventure.
- The guide for the mountain encounters says 'these are all independent encounters, and can be run in any order'. This is just a pusillanimous way of saying 'we couldn't come up with encounters that made any sense together.' (I dropped most of the encounters.)
- One of the encounters features the PCs (level 5-7, remember) escorting a group of villagers to safety under the terrors of a CR 14 adult red dragon. (!) The module says that the dragon "having eaten his fill and destroyed the village, is content merely to terrorize the villagers, and uses his breath weapon from the air, not bothering to land." Even so, there's no possible way that these villagers can travel a mile under the onslaught of a 12d10 breath weapon being used every 1d4 rounds. (I eliminated this encounter with extreme prejudice.)
- I quote:

The ring eventually guides the PCs to the base of Godsword Peak, the tallest mountain in the Aelier range. From this point on, if they are not already, the PCs are have [sic] to walk. The mountain is very difficult terrain, and anybody who doesn't have the Climb skill should be at a disadvantage (GM's discretion). Periodically have the PCs make Climb checks of increasing difficulty. Do not penalize them for bad die rolls; the idea is to remind them that they are climbing a very difficult mountain face.'

If there's not any consequence to making or failing the roll, why make it? (I used a few climbs, of fixed DCs.)
- The new monster in the adventure cannot talk with humanoids, but has charm person as a spell-like ability, which it uses "for getting people to do funny things". (I skipped the encounter with the monster, with a bit of sadness--I thought Lori would like an encounter with a faerie cat, but it made no sense.)
- "The 3 hill giants, however, are not friendly, and do leave without a fight." I'm willing to overlook typos, though I feel they have no place in a professional product. But leaving out a 'not' makes a big difference. (I left out the hill giants.)
- Once the PCs have brought the King back:

In the dead of night, the PCs hear a scream. If they rise to investigate, they find King Lareth collapsed on the floor and a figure heading out the bedroom window. Kaylin arrives an instant later. She calls for the healers as the PCs chase down the assassin.

Doesn't the King have guards? Why would the PCs be able to get there in time? Wouldn't the assassin use his death attack to kill Lareth in one blow? How could the PCs chase down the assassin effectively if he has such a lead?
- Every monster in the adventure has above-average hit points.
- There's no significant treasure anywhere in the adventure. (That's part of why I put the hoard at the end.)
- The module claims that it should be worth about 6500 xp. Even with all the encounters I left out, it came in about three times that high.

As others have mentioned, there was some unfortunate rudeness during this session. As DM, this is really my problem to deal with--but I chickened out and didn't address it before the next session.

(It seems the GM is always the leader of a RPG group. I wonder if there's any other way to do things.)