Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, March 07, 2012
The Favorites of Selune campaign - Level 1 - Session 1

So after the level 0 "tutorial" to Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition, this week the campaign started in earnest, with the players having proper RAW (Rules as Written) level 1 characters. The characters have spent the last 12 months in the temple of Selune in the town of Fallcrest in the Nentir Vale. Which, because I wanted to use the Forgotten Realms setting, I transplanted into the Snakewood Forest in eastern Amn.

At the start of the adventure, the high priest Ressilmae Starlight of the temple of Selune talks to the characters, congratulating them on their training progress. He suggests that it would be time to travel around a bit to get the sort of experience you can't get by simple training. And it just so happens that he has a minor task for the players, a task for which a group of armed characters is better suited than sending a single acolyte: Two weeks ago the mage Arris Dreamweaver from the village of Winterhaven visited the temple of Selune in Fallcrest. He asked whether he could borrow a magical item in the possession of the temple: A ring of depetrification. As he implored the high priest that this was to save an innocent farmer turned to stone, the priest agreed. But although the mage had promised to return the ring in a week (Winterhaven is 3 days away on foot), he never came back. Now father Ressilmae is worried that something could have happened to the mage, as the roads aren't safe these days. He wants the players to travel to Winterhaven, check if Arris is allright, collect the ring from him, and bring the ring back to Fallcrest. (Cue in a golden exclamation mark over the head of the high priest, and quest with a 250 xp promised reward for bringing the ring back.)

There is some roleplaying with the priest, and the characters equipping themselves for the rest of the game day. The next morning they leave Fallcrest towards the west, following the King's Road. Despite its name the road is in a bad state, overgrown in many places, and obvioulsy not all that frequently used. The players decide to let the halfling ranger go a few steps ahead of the group, due to having the highest perception skill. On the first day nothing special happens. But in the afternoon of the second day, when the road leads through the Gardbury Downs, the group is ambushed by kobolds.

Now the original adventure has two encounters in which different groups of kobolds ambush the players twice on the same map. I found that rather weak, so I skipped directly to the second ambush, which is a bit harder. But basically it was a standard fight, which the players mastered without problems. The kobolds have a "strength in numbers" power which makes it advantageous for them to gang up on the same player character, but then in consequence they become easy targets for area effect powers.

The wizard of the group likes to experiment with his spells. So in this fight he cast the Ghost Sound spell behind two kobolds, producing the sound of an angry bear, hoping to distract the kobolds. Now this isn't really foreseen in the spell description. But the general rule for a DM is to say yes to everything, and then determine a difficulty level depending on how crazy the idea is. In this case the idea wasn't actually all that crazy, because the rules let a player with the bluff skill distract an enemy exactly like that, with a "look, behind you!" ruse. So I had the mage roll his INT versus the kobolds intuition, and he managed to distract both of them. As we have a rogue in the group, getting such a combat advantage against the enemies is very effective, dealing 2d6 extra damage from the rogue's sneak attack. The players used that a lot to great effect, with the warlord having powers that allow other player to shift their characters into a flanking position.

The combat ended with one kobold fleeing south, and the party looting the magic hammer the kobold wyrmpriest had wielded against them. At this point the group had two obvious choices to continue: Follow the kobold to his lair, or continue the road to Winterhaven. I would have predicted they would do the former, but apparently they weren't very interested in the kobolds and go towards the village.

On the evening of the third day, the group reaches Winterhaven. A bit outside the village is a broken circle of 9 standing stones, with a huge symbol of a sundown scratched into the white stone of the hill behind it. The players just pass that to reach the village before the gate is closed. The soldier at the gate directs them to the inn, where the priest Father Matthias and some farmers are playing cards. The inn is curiously decorated, with one half full of weapons, armor, and hunting trophies, while the other half has flowers and amateur paintings. The players quickly realize that the innkeeper and his wife made a compromise on how to decorate. :) While looking at the paintings, the players notice a painting of the standing stones and the sundown symbol, only that on the painting there are 11 stones: A full circle with one bigger stone in the middle.

The players quickly make friends, and are being invited by the priest of Chauntea to visit his temple on the next day. Asked about Arris and the standing stones, the villagers tell them that Arris was found death near the standing stones 2 days ago. He had no visible wounds and his face was frozen in fear. The villagers are waiting for their Lord, Padraig, to come home from his kobold hunt tomorrow, to decide what to do with the corpse. Currently it is stored in the stables opposite the inn. The villagers have many different theories what the standing stones are, and most call them "The Witches of the Glade", thinking a spell from some witches backfired on them. Others believe a basilisk petrified a group of farmers. Less superstitious villagers believe the stones to either mark a grave, or to align with the sun on solstice as some sort of calendar.

When the last villagers leave the inn and the players are planning to go to bed, they notice two things: A mace on the wall starts glowing with a blue light, and there are combat noises from outside. The group rushes outside, with the mage having taken the glowing mace, to see a strange kind of zombie attacking the farmers who last left the inn. That turns out to be an easy enough fight, although it is clear that this is no ordinary zombie, being a lot tougher than that. The zombie is clearly Arris, and his skin is overgrown with some sort of fungal growth. That leads to some hilarity, when the mage first undresses the zombie in the hope that his robe is magic, but then starts getting afraid of being infected by the fungus. The zombie is wearing the ring of depetrification on his finger. But the group decides to stay a bit more in the village to find out more about the curious circumstances of Arris dead.

So this is how far we got during the first level 1 session. I basically intertwined two very different adventures to make the commercial adventure module from WotC more interesting. Tune in next time when the players will probably explore Arris' death, and the mysteriously missing standing stones. And what about the kobolds in their lair still threatening the road and the village?

Sounds like a fun adventure. Makes me miss my d&d Daud :-)
You mention twice the Kobolds' lair, though your players weren't in the least interested in it. Might you be using this blog to influence your players' decisions out of game?

Anyway, I'm enjoying the story. One of the nice things about table-top gaming is the pace. Your players have spent a comfortable evening on this investigation, and it's just starting. In an online on-rails game, they'd have arrived in the village about five minutes after leaving the temple (running right through and past the kobold ambush!), killed Arris the zombie in the next five minutes, taken the quest loot and returned directly to Ressilmae the questgiver, ignoring the rest of the story (unless Ressilmae subsequently ordered them to investigate).
I think in setting a mission for the players and they duely heading in the direction the GM points, you've begun undercutting what you'd enjoy.

What do the player characters actually want in life? Let me guess, like a million characters I've seen before, they don't actually want anything and they are probably quite skilled enough not to wont for food and shelter as well, so you can't just fall back on survivalism (cause every character wants to survive - well, usually).

Wheedle some character life goals out of the players, before you suddenly find your bored with pointing for the PC's where to go, yet if you don't they do nothing.
So, how is the somewhat MMO-like D&D 4 combat working for your group? I notice you have a Warlord, that often leads to a very tactical combat feel, with lots of positioning and extra attacks. Very different feel than the more healing oriented cleric play from earlier editions.
If the adventurers are not going to the lair, let the lair come to adventurers... Gypsy Goblins, anyone heard about them?

Great story, reading it feels like playing the game.
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