Merric's Musings

Thoughts from an Australian Board Gamer and RPGer
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Three Games - all different versions of D&D

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Ramping up my reviewing.
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Happily playing games for many, many years.
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I’m feeling really good about last week’s role-playing. Three games, each with a different version of the D&D rules, all memorable for their own reasons. There are times when things come together, and that was the case this week.

D&D Encounters – Legacy of the Crystal Shard – D&D Next

This has been a challenging season to run, but it’s been getting a lot better as it continues. The last season (Murder in Baldur’s Gate) presented the characters with three factions they could work with. This one presents three factions they’re trying to stop. The complication here is that there isn’t enough time to stop them all! So, in this session I ran the first interlude, where the threat they hadn’t been dealing with yet became much more active and dangerous.

This is great adventure-writing. The adventure might look physically similar to Murder in Baldur’s Gate, but the change in focus makes it run quite differently. Another big difference is that the encounters are much more fleshed out than in the previous season – the first one gave you a bunch of enemy stats and let you determine the specifics of the encounter. This one suggests numbers and set-up for the encounters. It’s still very free-form, but I’m finding it aiding me a lot more. Against that, I’ve found the adventure much more sprawling and confusing to grasp, but this session everything came together really well.

It’s also notable that we had two role-playing encounters and four combats in under two hours of play; a big win for the speed of D&D Next, after my well-documented problems with the speed of 4E.

Greyhawk – Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil – D&D 4E

Monte Cook’s Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil is one of the big adventures of the 3E era. It was designed for a party of 4th level characters and would take them to about 10th level. Or thereabouts. I’m using it as the final adventure of my 4E campaign which I began when 4E was first released in 2008. The characters are now about 27th level, but the ease of adjusting monsters in 4E means that I’m finding it very easy to run. Admittedly, it didn’t help that for this session the notes I’d made on the monster stats hadn’t saved properly to the cloud and so I had to do some fancy footwork to fill the void. Luckily, I’m getting pretty good at estimating the stats (and the DM screen with its damage codes makes it a lot easier to wing things).

After a few sessions of slogging it through the crater mines, it was something of a relief to put in more role-playing and also bring back the idea of Adam’s original character, Archibald, as the chief villain behind the adventure. They’ve known he’s been involved, but he was revealed to be “Number 2” in the Doom Dreamers of Tharizdun this session.

But without doubt, the big event of the session was the group discovering a Deck of Many Things. I somehow completely missed it in my read-through beforehand (not that unusual), and so I didn’t have the Deck printed in Madness of Gardmore Abbey with me. Pity. However, the internet allowed me to find Rodney Thompson’s 2010 version of the Deck’s effects for 4e, and having adjusted a regular set of cards I was set.

This was not the first experience of some of the players with a Deck of Many Things; Greg and Adam had both encountered one when playing through Dungeonland about 10 years ago in my 3E Greyhawk campaign. (Yes, I am perfectly happy adapting adventures for all editions of D&D). So, all of the group – save Martin, as he’s wiser than the others – was happy to draw from the deck. And, by the end of the draws, Greg was imprisoned (DONJON) and Paul’s soul was taken (VOID). It’s quite likely that without Rodney’s notes I might have just left that there (go create new PCs!), but Rodney’s work inspired me to actually have the group break from the Temple quest for a session or two to recovered their lost friends. (It also gave me the details needed for the other, more positive effects, that Adam and Rich earned).

So, off to the Depths of the Earth and (quite likely) the Astral Plane before we return to the Temple. It’s a natural break-point in the adventure in any case, and should work well to getting their levels closer to 30th before the final encounters.

Greyhawk Vikings – The Caverns of the Oracle – AD&D

The week’s D&D ended with the continuing AD&D game. Six players turned up for this session, and they continued dealing with the Knights of Hextor and their Hellhounds. This time I did have all my notes with me, but, as usual for this game, I’m improvising a lot of the map and encounters. There are times in my life when I pre-plan everything, but this isn’t one of those times. Instead, I draw the map one step ahead of the characters and work out what is in each room either according to what should be there (based on theme) or let the dice tell me.

The knights are definitely giving the group some tough encounters, especially as I had most of them working as archers whilst the hellhounds engaged the party in melee. Jesse’s magic-user was back this session, so he was able to take out some of the knights, but the rooms were big enough that his area of effect spells weren’t as effective as they normally are. (We also had Callan running four players in his RIFTS game, so it was a good Saturday evening’s role-playing).

The group found some good treasure, enough for a number of the players to gain a level. Rich’s thief had finally reached level 10 by the end of the session. I’m going to be very interested if he tries to set up a thieves’ guild.

However, the major challenge of the adventure came when the group set off a magical teleportation trap and ended up in a gauntlet of quite dangerous encounters – four wights, two flesh golems and then two cockatrices – before they found their way back to the main dungeon and were able to escape. The wights really gave the party a shock, and they were saved mainly due to having three clerics with the party, and by Tait carrying around a large supply of oil. The group is actually very light on magic weapons at the moment (thanks, in no small part, to the encounter with caryatid columns a few sessions back), and so might not have been able to take advantage of the turning – they still would have had to go into melee with the wights – but Tait’s oil got them out of a tricky situation.

The flesh golems were more standard, but they did so much damage it was a confused version of musical chairs, with characters retiring from the front ranks and handing over their magical weapons to fresh combatants whilst the clerics kept busy healing everyone. No-one died, but it was close.

And the cockatrices? The party were very worried about them, with one hit on the front rank in the first round almost causing a petrifaction, but luckily the saving throw was made. And, at this point, one of the group realised that they held a scroll of protection against petrifaction! With that in hand, they were able to overcome the last challenge and make their way out of the gauntlet, although a few more knights and hellhounds stood in their way...

So, that was my week’s role-playing. Next week, more D&D Encounters and AD&D, but the Friday night game alternates back to Martin’s Deadlands Noir game (where I actually play rather than run the game!)
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