Over the weekend, I started a 4E campaign for my son Nolan and his friends. The plan is to take them through the entire Keep on the Shadowfell module, and then probably into Thunderspire Labyrinth, with possible detours into various level-appropriate Delves, or something from Monte Cook's awesome new project, Dungeon-a-Day, if it makes sense to incorporate it into the campaign. This is continued from Part I.
If you've read the Delve I'm talking about, you can probably see the first change I made: rather than make this a mine, I made it a tower, primarily because I had dungeon tiles that supported that (as you can see in the photo), but also because I wanted to challenge myself to make small modifications right away – we're only going to have 3 PCs for most of this, I think, and I'll be required to make a lot of adjustments as the campaign unfolds.
The Delve I took them through has three encounters that are supposed to get increasingly difficult. The first one takes place on the surface, and the last two are in different areas beneath the tower (or the mine, if you run it verbatim from the book.) I scaled the difficulty back a little bit, because it was just the three of them. I was genuinely worried that the last encounter may kill them, but I was surprised when the second encounter nearly killed them all.
It's not a particularly difficult encounter. The PCs come down some stairs, where they find some rubble (difficult terrain) in a small chamber. Beyond the chamber, there's a hallway with a large statue in the middle of it. Tapestries line the wall, and a few Kobolds lurk in the darkness. In our session, one of the minions from the first encounter had fled down the stairs, so the bad guys knew the PCs were coming.
Nolan's friend who played the rogue wanted to sneak down to the bottom of the stairs and see if he could pick anything up about the room. I had him make stealth and perceptions checks while I rolled perception checks for the Kobolds. He rolled very well, and they did not, so I told him, "You creep down the stairs as silently as you can. When you get to the bottom, you see that there's some dried blood on the rubble. You also see a hallway, with a statue of a dwarf in it," I grabbed some dungeon tiles from behind my screen and set them out. I didn't have a statue tile, so I used a little Chessex dice box for it. "You can hear some creatures in the hallway. What was your perception roll, again?"
"28," he said.
"Wow, nice." I said. "You can see that the statue looks unstable, and it's been seriously defaced. There are two Kobolds lurking behind it."
"I'm going to sneak back up the stairs and tell them all this," he said.
"Okay, go ahead."
I was pleased that they were making an effort to be quiet. In the first encounter, they'd all sort of run around the ground outside the tower, making no effort to be stealthy at all, even after they'd spotted little Kobold clawprints in the muck around the place. This gave the Kobolds a surprise round as soon as one of the PCs moved into their line of sight, and that PC (the wizard) ended up immobilized for several rounds by a gluepot.
They decided that the wizard would attack the statue with a magic missile, because it does force damage.
I thought this was a very clever idea, but I was completely unprepared for it, and didn't even think to suggest he use Mage Hand instead until just now, as I was writing this post. (Looking at the pre-gen character he's using, though, I see that it doesn't list Mage Hand, even though it's in the PHB as a wizard class feature, which is kind of lame. I'll have to correct that before our next session.) Anyway, I knew that the statue would topple with a DC 10 strength check, but I didn't see anywhere in the rules that said magic missile actually pushed anything. I wanted to reward clever thinking, though, and I always want my players to feel like anything is possible, so I decided that any roll better than 10 would score a hit, and if he rolled a critical or max damage, it would topple the statue. Imperfect, but it was the best I could come up with in the 5 seconds I had to make the decision. (Looking through the DMG last night, I see that what I came up with on the fly is close to what I'd have found in the book: statues are hit on a 5 or better, and this one would have had 10HP, so ... go me.)
The wizard hit, but only rolled 5 points of damage.
"Magical energy crackles out of your hands and streaks across the chamber, trailing little sparkles behind it."
They all looked at me.
"What?" I said, knowing exactly why.
"It hits the statue square in the beard, but only leaves a scorched mark."
"I don't like that this eladrin is damaging a stature of a dwarf," Nolan said.
"I'm just trying to crush the monsters," his friend said.
I noted this on the obligatory DM's scratch pad. "From inside the hallway, you hear grunting and snarling. Roll initiative," I said. Dice clattered across the table, and I arranged their character's initiative cards accordingly.
In the first encounter, they didn't work together as a team, mostly because they were getting used to the idea of playing this game together. I tried to nudge them, but I didn't want to interfere too much – hey, if they're going to get themselves killed, they're going to get themselves killed – and it was just the encounter itself being pretty easy that saved them from any real threat of TPK. They didn't start working together as a team in this encounter, either. That, combined with the monsters rolling well and the PCs rolling poorly, nearly killed them. But when they started getting clobbered, I saw a shift in the party dynamic: Nolan, who has a great deal of RPG (tabletop and computer) experience, started suggesting tactics for them all, and that's the only reason they survived.
The statue ended up falling down when the Kobolds behind it pushed it over toward the rogue and the fighter, but it missed them. One of the creatures, though, a Kobold Wyrmpriest, really put the hurt on them. The rogue was eventually knocked unconscious, and though he made his death save on the next turn, I could tell that it shook them all up.
"That's good," I thought, "they need to feel like something real is at stake here, and they're not just going to respawn if they die."
When the encounter was over, I reminded them that they could climb back up the stairs if they wanted to, and take an extended rest in the camp, where they thought they'd be safe. Instead, they decided to rest for 6 hours in the dungeon. I thought that there was a chance they'd be interrupted by some kind of wandering monster (like a small level 1 encounter of Kobolds or something) so I made six rolls – one for each hour – but I guess the Kobolds were all out watching the Kobold World Series or something, because nobody showed up to harrass them.
"Okay, you're all rested up, and nobody harrassed you. What would you like to do?"
"I want to do something about the statue," Nolan said. "I don't like that it's just all crumbled down there like that."
"Sure," I said. "You spend some time gathering up the pieces as best as you can, and you say a prayer to Moradin. You feel a little better."
I didn't tell him, but I gave him 25XP for good roleplaying, and they all walked down the hallway to the closed doors that separated them from the final encounter.
The kids are playing a Halfling Rogue, an Eladrin Wizard, and a Dwarf Fighter. The kid who is playing the Rogue is really into being a thief, and from the moment he sat down, he wanted to pick locks and detect traps. In the description of the area, the doors that separate the second and third encounters aren't anything special, but I wanted to give him something fun to do, so when he asked me if he could check for traps, I let him. There weren't any, but I decided to lock the doors so he could try to pick them. He made a bunch of really good stealth, perception, and thievery rolls all in succession, so I decided that everything went perfectly for him. He wanted to peek through the door, so I let him do that, too. All four Kobolds on the other side of the door rolled single-digit perception checks, and he rolled over 20 on his stealth, so I decided that meant they didn't see him peeking through a small crack between the doors.
Nolan looked at the situation and said, "Okay, here's what we do: I'm going to kick in this door. Koka [the halfling] is going to charge into the room and sneak attack that guy there. Immeral [the wizard], you hang back and cast magic missile on him."
I was so proud of their teamwork and ingenuity, I decided that if the dwarf was able to kick in the door (DC 15 - it's wooden and very old) they would get a surprise round. Nolan rolled 19, and the final encounter began with a bang.
They made quick work of some minions and bloodied one of the two Kobold Slyblades (who I'd expected would be very serious threats) in the first two rounds. That's when they saw the dragon.
Continued in Part 3...