Friday, January 11, 2013

Wrapping up the campaign (for now)

Dungeon Crawling by lightningtumble
The second last session we played was a short handed with only three PCs who could make it.  I try to end the sessions in a town or at least in a camp so that when the inevitable cancellations happen they don't impact the game too much.  I would like sometime to take that practice a step further and run a game where the PCs are drawn from a larger pool of players and each adventure is an outing of PCs from the local meeting place - taking a page from the West Marches sandbox play book.  I don't see that working with meatspace group as much since it would require a large pool of players and some way to queue folks up and turn others down each session - something I wouldn't think I could be good at - but maybe I can try it out if I run something on G+.

Anyway three players and I prepared something light based on their existing goals.  I thought that the players would want to do a light crawl for treasure since the monastery they had been exploring might be too dangerous for such a small group (their perception not mine).  I figured they would try to recover the remains of Kane's brother or at least go out into the hills to try to find another dwarven ruin to loot.  They did neither.  They decided to look at the map they had that showed a ton of interesting known places, and pick a totally uninteresting island out in the middle of the lake instead.  They even asked around in Milham about that island and everyone told them that they had never heard of anything interesting out on there.  They went there anyway.  My only explanation for this is I think they thought everyone was lying to them or they were metagaming and thought I would have to make something up.  I did make something up but it wasn't a secret tower of adventure, it was a crappy little village full of weird inbred NPCs.

It actually was quite fun and I got a chance to verbally abuse the PCs and  inject some weird historical info that otherwise might not have come out in game, but it wasn't a Hidden Tower of Adventure by any stretch. The most (only) exciting thing was a couple spiders.  I could have dropped in a one page dungeon - in fact if it had been a full house I would have felt obligated to insert some kind of adventure or at least a set-piece encounter.  I also wasn't going to cave in and justify the expectation that the world revolved around a wandering pack of three murder hobos; five murder hobos maybe, but not three.  Also with only three players I felt freer to play a lot of NPCs and converse with them more without excluding anyone from the interaction, which made it less boring for them than it might have been.  It worked out and we had a decent time playing off one another, dropping in jokes and conversing about things the PCs normally wouldn't care about, like the weird name of their home town or how rude it was to just walk up and case out someone's yard looking for clues.  It was a shorter session too which saved it from itself.

The last session was a blockbuster however.  We had everyone geared up to play and the party had decided ahead of time that they wanted to go back to the monastery and seek out the artifact that they were pretty sure lie in it's depths.  SO they travelled south, explored the empty upper caves and came to the conclusion that soldiers from Red Towers had been exploring here in the interim.  They figured that out by coming across soldier bodies and scenes of slaughter.  That got them fired up to get active in their treasure hunting and it also let me clean up a bunch of the lower level monsters that they hadn't encountered but who were no challenge to the party anymore.  The first few levels of the dungeon was kind of statted for level 1-3 and the party was now level 3-4 and there were five of them so when they did meet monsters they managed to beat them fairly easily.  However it wasn't a cake walk and there were a lot of fights they did have, and the creatures below were pretty nasty.  They would have had a pretty tough time, but they were playing well and they were rolling like demons.  Kane's web spell made a huge difference as more than once they used it to avoid combat against a mob of creatures by tangling the whole passage up.  They won almost every initiative, and I haven't seen so many natural 20s rolled in one session ever I think.  Also I'm a believer that adventures shouldn't be scaled on the fly.   If you meet a dragon I'm not going to scale back his stats - so you should run away.  But if you are webbing up kobolds and rolling great against ghouls, I'm not going to scale up their stats to make it harder either.  A card laid is a card played.

So the group was smashing their way though the dungeon and they were also finding a lot of treasure  - most of it treasure they was there before but they had missed because they had run away or had to retreat for healing.  I don't generally give wandering goblins treasure to carry around but I do think that if you beat the goblin general in his lair you'll see all the loot he's extracted from his little mob.   But they were finding those lairs and since they had found so little treasure before, now it seemed like a windfall.  The poor wandering troupe was getting some serious loot and you could tell that they were liking this smash and grab lifestyle.  They finally made it to the manticiore lair (where they had run away from before) and this time they managed to kill the remaining beasts and get the treasure, including the Gauntlet of Ulthur that they had been seeking.  There were still rooms more and mysteries below, but we decided to wrap it up there.

I think it was the best session of the campaign since they threw themselves into the crawl aspect and managed to accomplish a lot.  This is probably because it was the last session and they were less worried about consequences. I think that if they had done more of this kind of derring do earlier on they would have seen how the game was geared more towards a dungeon crawl and less on intrigue and pre-defined story.  They probably would have lost more characters along the way too.  I think there were a lot of times where the party might have spent too much time looking for the story hook when they should have just gone back to a ruin and hauled out some loot - and that's my fault for not explaining it well (for fear of railroading their decisions as much as anything). But all in all I had a really good time running the game and I would never have developed out so many NPCs and locations if they had just tucked in and cleared out one or two old ruins instead of wandering all over poking into things.  There were also some definite signs of wanting to pick up Beacon again sometime in the future, and even some of the same characters, and that is OK by me as it would be nice to see how level 4-7 plays and it would also be nice to return to the Milham setting which I've grown quite fond of.

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