Jun 22, 2009

Spontaneity in 4E, winging it - and setting heads on fire.

Greetings all, apologies for the barren week - I was busy :) 'Nuff said.

Today, I wanted to talk about my 4E campaign - Assault on the Lightless Depths. Seemingly forever ago, I stated on this very blog, that I wanted to design the "perfect" adventure. This has been a mixed bag. So far, what I have to show for my efforts is 30 pages of sword-swinging, peasant bashing, giant catfish catching goodness. Soon, I hope to make a .PDF available for critique and such, but for now I want to talk a little about my last game.

The weekend before last (Due to Father's day and all) We played a 6 hour session at my house. We last left off with the party leaving the King's Road to investigate a rather close plume of black smoke they had spotted in the morning. There, they found "One".

One, is one of three white dragon younglings that were hatched and raised by a Kobold clan, after the abandoned nest was found. The knows nothing of any backstory, as they killed the dragon's keepers along with the beast itself. They DID, however, ask me why it's wings were nothing more than scabbed stumps. In fact, they were led to believe (Via Dungeoneering and nature checks) that dragons were intelligent as well. This odd beast seemed more like a giant, poorly trained lizard - something akin to a hunting dog the size of a pony :)

With two new party members being introduced (A Dhampyr swordmage, and a Kenku wizard) in the middle of a pretty nasty fight, the chaos was legendary! But they kept coming back to the dragon. "Why are it's wings missing?" "Why is it stupid?" "Why doesn't it just eat the Kobolds?" "How did they train it?" The party was intrigued.

As they floundered about in search of answers (not realizing that collectively they had already figured it all out) they continued on and began searching the wrecked camp that had attracted their attention (Via smoke) and evidently the ire of the kobolds.

Questioning the injured swordmage, they noticed that she was one of the runebound - just like they were. Backstories exchanged, she was invited to join the party until they reached civilization again. In the meantime, she informed them that she and a "bird-man" had been assigned to guard an archaeological expedition dispatched by a local wizard. The spring rains, along with the odd seismic activity recent to the region, had uncovered an ancient tomb that apparently dated back some 4-700 years.

Still missing the bird-man, as well as a Dragonborn paladin of the raven queen, it was decided that they would investigate the tomb - helping the swordmage to complete her mission. It soon dawned on the party that the tomb was infested with Kruthik!

Now, our party is mostly unaligned. We have an unaligned Warlord. An unaligned Swordmage. and an unaligned Kenku Wizard. They do their thing, and are always polite, courteous, and very mindful of their actions, and how they affect the world around them. But every group has their oddballs. Mine are a Lawful Good Dragonborn fighter, and her foil - and evil Shadar-kai warlock.

The warlock is a pretty twisted fellow. A runaway from his people for crimes that will not be mentioned...okay, he's a traitor and a coward, with a very powerful enemy who is actively seeking him out (though he doesn't know this yet). He always makes the choice that leads to personal gain and profit. He always chooses "Kill the captives, they are too expensive to feed" approach. He steals from the party at every turn, and routinely curses party member who look like they are near death.

While the rest of the party is pretty live-and-let-live, he is opposed by The fighter. She is a self-righteous, opinionated, first into combat type that rarely compromises on ANY issue that attracts her attention. Like a paladin - without all the foofy holy crap :)

She fastidiously shares loot and information, and is always first to charge to the front lines to defend the party or strike down bad guys.

This in mind, Lets return to the tomb. After a tough Kruthik encounter, the party takes a short rest, and hears a feeble cry for help echoing from a small tunnel broken into the granite walls of the tomb. The swordmage recognizes it as Otto, one of the henchman from her expedition. He is obviously terrified, and is calling out for death - due to unimagineable suffering.

While the party tries to decide what to do, the Warlock sneaks into the tunnel and finds the kenku wizard tangled up within a bloodstained canvas tent. No sooner is he freed, they look around and notice they are being watched by scores of little red glowing eyes - swaying rythmically in time to a rumbling inthe earth.

Backing away slowly, they both decide to leave the screaming man to his dark fate - when the earth explodes and a Kruthik Hive lord pops up - blocking their escape! The party has been bickering over the best course until this point, then it's GO time! With the two weakest member trapped in the hive, they choose to carve a path to their comrades and rescue them - treasure be damned!

Now, as they effortlessly cut through the lower level minions and other associated pissants, I paid attention to their in-character banter. In particular, the part where the fighter and warlord exchange boring bug squashing jokes :) The hive lord is not amused, and succeeds in luring them a few more precious squares - triggering the hive QUEEN to burst out behing them, effectively cutting the party in half. This ended the bug jokes, and began the soiled breeches jokes.

After a grueling battle of attrition, the hive lord (and lady) are defeated, leaving the party to tend to their wounds - when the piteous wailing from deeper within the caverns resume! The fighter is heart-wrenched to do SOMETHING, and proceeds further into the caves.

About this time, the rest of the party is rolling skill checks like mad and piece together that the "hive" is actually a partially finished crypt of some kind dating back to before the union of men and dwarves long ago. Apparently, barbarians of the Elk tribe dug this out as a resting place for their chieftains long before it was sealed up, and the newer tomb was built.

The warlock smells ancient treasure, and only a team of oxen could have kept him from joining his arch-nemesis in exploring the rest of the caves. The two of them exchange heated banter and insults as they enter the room holding a bloodied human partially encased in some sort of stone. His piteous screams caused by the kruthik larvae chewing on his exposed extremities.

Winning initiative, the warlock walks past him, pausing for a moment (The player asking what kind of action it would be to piss on him) before continuing back to where he sensed magical emanations. The VERY pissed off fighter saved the poor soul, BTW.

Moving into the final room, the warlock takes advantage of being alone to approach the stone sarcophogus placed between two large gilt sword bearing skeletons. Without hesitation, he slides the lid back...and is introduced to karma!

At this point, I might add, the players themselves were arguing a LOT. There was some tension, and in character threats had been made. Trying to defuse this to some extent, I made a spontaneous judgement call. The result of which being that the fighter rounded the corner just as the bright white flash of the radiant energy trap made itself known!

Picture if you will, the party dick talking all kinds of trash to you. You stop to help a wounded man KNOWING in your bones he is going to rob the party blind. Now picture coming around the corner, executioner's axe held at the ready - this time is one time too far - When there is a flash, and said party dick is running around in circles SCREAMING that his head is on FIRE! White fire no less :) Now ask yourself, "What would I do in that situation?" If you are my player, you flip your axe around and (using it's handle) start beating the fire out!

This went on for three rounds (bad saves!), well - 4 for the clubbing the fire out (I saw a cinder!) before all was under control. Fences were mended. Player tension defused.

And the best part? The entire session evolved from this note:

CR:7 Kruthik nest - tombs/catacombs - not too easy!
2 separate encounters!! (7 and 8?)
New players already in-situ. Characters unknown.
Treasure: Rune carved antlers (Arcana DC 18)
Healing potions in crude ceramic pots
Crude gold coins w/no stampings
Game well, folks :)


The Last Rogue said...

Bravo! Good show!

greywulf said...

Terrific stuff!!! :D

Swordgleam said...

Like a lot. Reminds me a little of my party. Which makes me think, why are the noble ones always tanks and the sneaky ones typically magic users?(With the occasional rogue thrown in.) Now I want to see a party with a money-grubbing paladin (of Tiamat, anyone?) and a stouthearted warlock.

Donny_the_DM said...

Thank you gents :)

It was a good, fun session. The player tension was a little discomforting, but I think that the humor I shot in there went a long way to alleviate that :)

Ironically, I was originally going to have the skeletons animate or swing their swords - but holy fire seemed much more appropriate.

This weekend I get to introduce my Aasimar monk to the party in our age of worms game. Talk about a meat grinder!

@Swordgleam - Agreed. With Paladins now able to cross the whole spectrum of alignments and such, I have been REALLY wanting to play an unaligned or evil one.

Tiamat it is :)

Helmsman said...

As a player I would have backlashed against that Warlock long ago. About the time he would have tried to piss on the hostage I'm absolutely certain he would have lost the tools necessary to do so.

Donny_the_DM said...

Lol! I completely agree. As a player, I have all my DM nitpicks, as well as my character's RP hangups to deal with, Chaotic stupid warlocks as often as not become a distraction and annoyance.

Having fun with an aasimar monk right now - a tiny little white haired asian man with an accent & mannerisms that keep the party rolling on the floor.

Sometimes it's fun to play an over-the-top stereotype - and sometimes it is just too much.