Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
The Favorites of Selune - Gardmore Abbey - Session 18

Before the summer break, in the previous session we stopped with a cliffhanger: The middle of a fight with a red dragon. The fight had the group somewhat worried, because the dragon had breathed on them already twice, and several rounds of concentrating fire hadn't even bloodied him. So in this session they changed tactics, and first attacked the kobolds. The kobold shaman, who had healed the dragon once already and cast buffs, died first. Then the kobold defenders went down. With only the dragon left, the fight then was a lot easier. The cleric pulled out all stoppers and cast some daily healing powers to keep everybody alive. And although the dragon got a third breath off when he was bloodied, he ultimately was overwhelmed.

The group found a lot of treasure in the dragon's hoard, including 3 more cards from the Deck of Many Things. They now had 20 out of 22 cards of that deck, and knew that Lord Padraig of Winterhaven had the remaining two. After a short rest they left the dungeon. And to their surprise Lord Padraig, with his court mage and a troop of soldiers was waiting for them upstairs. He had been informed that the group has cleansed the temple of Gardmore Abbey, and had come himself with his retinue to see whether the abbey had been completely cleared of monsters.

When the group approached Lord Padraig, the magic of the Deck of Many Things artifact manifested itself. All the cards from everybody flew together, ripping through pockets, to reconstitute the full deck. The deck then floated in the air between the group and Lord Padraig, sending out a telepathic message to everybody, promising the possibility of great fortune if somebody would dare to draw a card. Lord Padraig stepped forward and pronounced his claim on the Deck of Many Things, for the defense of his town Winterhaven. But the sorceress of the group was quick to grab and pocket the deck.

That still left them all in a standoff situation. The group didn't especially want to attack Lord Padraig, nor did he want to attack them. The Favorites of Selune tried to convince Padraig that the artifact was chaotic and could well bring harm to Winterhaven. But Lord Padraig had searched for the artifact for a long time and was convinced that he would be able to use it responsibly, not drawing a card on a whim, but using it only if Winterhaven was in danger. He was willing to take a chance when a dire situation would require it, and didn't consider that as chaotic.

The cleric wanted to bring the deck to the temple of Selune in Fallcrest, but Lord Padraig didn't want other regional lords to get hold of that artifact [And I as the DM didn't want another NPC to tell the group what to do with the deck. They had spent a year to collect it, it was their decision whether to use it, give it to Padraig, or destroy it.]. He proposed that the group could leave the deck with him, and go to Fallcrest without it to ask advice, but of course the adventurers didn't want to let go of the deck so easily.

Unfortunately my players aren't really good at taking a decision together. Everybody had his own ideas and they couldn't agree on making a proposal to Lord Padraig that would have resolved the situation. So after some back and forth the wizard cast his mage hand, snatched the deck from the sorceress, and drew a card (without consent from the other players). Now the Gardmore Abbey version of the Deck of Many Things has more positive cards than negative cards, and of the negative cards only two are really catastrophic. Rely on our wizard to draw one of those: The Void, which captured his soul in a far away prison, left his body lifeless on the ground, and gave a quest to the other players to find back the lost soul.

Technically the wizard isn't dead. But for all practical purposes his character is out, and he has to roll a new character. Otherwise he wouldn't have a character to play while the Favorites of Selune quest for his lost soul. So I'm counting this as the second character death of the campaign. The player decided that he wants to reroll as a druid, and so I improvised the start of the quest for the wizard's soul: A divination from the temple of Selune leads the group to a druid they already met in Harkenwold. The druid can locate the soul of the wizard in the Feywild, and knows how to get to a portal in the troll marshes several weeks travel to the north. To show them the way he sends his young apprentice (which will be the new druid character) to accompany the group. At this point we ended the session, and the Madness at Gardmore Abbey adventure was concluded with the players leveling up to level 9. Onward to the next adventure!

I thought you didn't like instant kills that come out of the blue and couldn't be avoided? Then again, if you were getting annoyed with their bickering, instant player death is an infamous tactic.
I don't think it was a DMed instant death. I suspect it was a honest roll on the table made by the player him/herself.
I suspect it was a honest roll on the table made by the player him/herself.

The box of Madness at Gardmore Abbey comes with an actual deck of cards for the Deck of Many Things. So the player really drew a physical card from a shuffled deck, with the outcomes for all cards being detailed in the Gardmore Abbey booklet 1.

The whole adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey is about collecting these cards while simultaneously discovering how an unlucky draw from the deck during an orc invasion caused the downfall of the abbey. Thus the deck inherently comes with a huge warning label: "Random outcome! Bad things can possibly happen if you draw a bad card!". I would hardly describe that as being "out of the blue".

The Deck of Many Things is a classic artifact which in different versions exists in many editions of D&D. The details vary, but the deck always gives a random result, with a chance of something very good (+1 level, a lot of gold, etc.) or something very bad (instant kill) happening. As long as the players are sufficiently warned of the possible outcomes, it is then up to them to decide whether they want to risk it.

As an aside, I noticed that players who start to get bored with their characters tend to be more likely to take really crazy risks, because they don't really mind rolling another character if things go wrong.
Classic artifact or not, it is still a massive random that they cannot influence. The choice is either randomness or nothing. Playing well will not reward them with better or worse results.

Personally I'm not a fan of 1-20 you lose, 21-100 you win no matter if it comes with a a chicken (forfit roll for a minor win). I'd of probably switched the death condition into a soul draining portal. Undead get spawned and player takes gets slowly deleveled until the portal closes (hence making a timed encounter). Then they get the same mission (rescue part of their soul to regain levels) and can make a meaningful choice to come on the mission with the delevelled character or bring a substitute while the original recuperates. With your version

On risk, it seems as though your group is unbalanced. Most of the participants seem to be risk adverse while one or two are more gung-ho. I imagine that makes encounter planning quite tricky.
I cannot remember the exact details but a couple of years ago I had a friend playing a French-middle age game. One of the actions each turn was to fight in wars and choose brave you would be. You'd select a number 2-12 (2D6) that needed to be equalled or beaten survive the battle (with higher numbers giving greater rewards). My friend rolled a terrible starting character so repeatedly calling a 12 to get himself killed. It took until the third attempt before he finally died on the battlefront.
Sorry if that comes across overly critical. It isn't supposed to be. I admire that you always play "as the dice roll" and avoid fudging while advocating against situations where one bad roll can spell doom to even an optimally playing group. I was a just a little surprise you'd permit such a huge random one-shot.
I was a just a little surprise you'd permit such a huge random one-shot.

I am not a fan of huge randomness. The original adventure is structured in a way that the players are quite likely to end up drawing a card from the Deck of Many Things. I already modified that to stress the other possibilities: Hand the deck to Lord Padraig, or go on a quest to destroy the deck. One of which WOULD have happened if the decision had been made by group consent.

In the end it is like the player pushing the big red button which is labeled "deadly trap, don't push!". If I don't want to railroad my players into making certain decisions, I must accept the possibility of them making a stupid decision.
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