D&D Adventurers League: Session 5 Report (PLUS: Bonus DM Report!)

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Adventurers League

Apparently the table I’ve been playing for the previous four sessions has done fairly well with the current adventure — the other three tables were catching up to us, and we’d exhausted all the side-quests. Next week (Session 6) is supposed to be a turning point and a major event (or the start of a major event) in the current Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure and those of us playing at Titan Games & Comics will all start next week at the same point in the story.

For Session 5, our regular DM (Martin) was out, and in stepped Chris. I’d had Chris as a DM a few weekend back at Expeditions where he ran four of us through one of the five hour-long mini-adventures in the Defiance in Phlan story. Chris probably remembered my character as the sorcerer who decided to grab a handful of gold at a very poorly chosen opportunity, triggering a trap and causing some tense moments with my fellow party members. Won’t do that again. Lesson learned. Well, Chris stepped in for Martin and was forced to create a custom mini-quest on the spot. And he nailed it.

If you read my report for Session 4, you’ll know that my party was tasked with rescuing a group of children stuck in the nearby church during the attack on the town. We managed to get in, get the kids, and get back to the keep. But apparently… we missed something.

I’ve got a few items of interest to share with you (along with a bonus write-up from a DM’s POV) not related to the night’s adventure, but I’ll hold off on those until after the adventure summary. Since this night’s adventure was unique and designed on the spot, there’s really not much need for the spoiler warning below, but then again… some other DM might like the idea and run with it. So… spoiler warning stays.

*** NOTE SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS BELOW ***

*** Do not read further if you wish to play in the Hoard of the Dragon Queen Adventure ***

*** NOTE SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS BELOW ***

Our party must have been spotted on its way back to the keep by a watchman because word of our success in finding the children in the church had already reached the parents who greeted us just inside the secret tunnel. Tears and hugs were fast as the parents rushed their children back to the safety of the keep’s walls. While so many injured townsfolk were still receiving attention, a few healers were pulled aside and blessed our group, including the injured rogue, Anton. We were beyond exhausted, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to cast any of my more powerful spells without a much needed rest. But the calm had not yet returned to the keep, and as we healed and tried to rest an older gentleman approached us with concern on his face. What more would these people ask of my tired and injured colleagues?

Tonight we managed to get the band back together, so to speak. In our party:

Essie — Human Fighter (returning)
Chi Tan — Human Fighter (returning)
Griffon — Half-Elf Cleric (not the same Griffon from Sessions 2-4)
Niloshis Quietwalker — Half-Elf Sorcerer (me)
Anton — Human Rogue (returning)
Rolan D’Crits — Wood Elf Ranger (returning)

We lost Pelaios (Teafling Sorcerer) but got our ranger back. And a few sessions back we had a player with Griffon the Half-Elf Cleric who had to leave the game due to illness. We took that player’s character name and applied it to the Dwarf Cleric pre-generated character. But now the “real” Griffon returned. Still, spell casting is pretty much gone with the exception of cantrips because a long rest is needed to recover the slots necessary to cast spells. My level 2 sorcerer received 2 Sorcery Points that can be exchanged to “purchase” a one-shot spell slot… and I took advantage of that option during this session! Anton got healed up (to a point) and our DM scratched his head and managed to pull together a fun adventure that would hold us until next week. (DM Chris hinted at a major turning point in the adventure.)

We should have said no. Rescuing the children, escorting some families to the keep, and even defending the sawmill… I had no problem with those tasks. People were in danger, and we were in the best place to assist. But now this stranger wanted us to return to the church to find and bring back some hokey religious relics? I understood Griffon wanting to help here, and even Chi has a hard time saying no to those in need. But just a bunch of bones and pieces of metal? Were those really going to provide any benefit to those dozens who lay dying or severely injured? And to make matters worse, the relics were hidden. We were given only the briefest of description regarding the hidden location. What if enemies still remained inside the church? I think Anton would have agreed with me if I’d been more vocal about walking away, but I have a hard time saying no to Chi. I owed Chi. I had put his life in danger recently with an extremely idiotic display of greed. And he was going back for the relics. Essie and Rolan were in as well. I knew Anton wasn’t liking this plan. But… I owed Chi. 

Chris wasn’t about to let us just sneak quietly back to the church. We weren’t ten feet out of the secret tunnel when a group of kobolds surprised us. And each and every one of us rolled a low Initiative. I believe Chris was actually laughing. Four kobolds. You’d think it would have been a quick fight, but check out my log sheet PDF (link below) and you’ll see that the first bit of combat took a bit longer than we expected. A lot of misses, and even my Firebolt only did 1DMG on the first hit I made. Ridiculous. We were victorious, but check out the log sheets and you’ll notice that a few of our party took some solid damage pretty early in the night, especially Chi and Essie. Yikes.

The risks we were taking for relics. Relics! Chi and Essie were already bleeding and we hadn’t yet even reached the church. I suspected the church wouldn’t be empty, and half of my colleagues were already injured. Close to the church we spotted another group of kobolds but thankfully we were able to stay hidden. We avoided them, but I got the impression Rolan was itching for a fight. Give him some darkness and a few bushes to hide in, and he’s ready to open fire with that bow of his. We managed to reach the church without any more encounters, and Anton volunteered to move in for a closer look. He signaled us that the church was not empty and then motioned for us to climb the wall and join him at the back door. He held up six fingers. And in we went…

The nice thing about having a rogue in your party is the sneakiness AND the sneak attack ability. He rolled a Nat20… DM Chris jokingly said he could put on a puppet show and wouldn’t grab the lone kobold’s attention near the door. One kobold down… four to go plus a human priest… of the evil variety. We had Surprise, and we took advantage of it. Everyone targeted the priest, hoping to take him out fast and early. Chi fired an arrow at the priest… it missed but the priest didn’t even notice! Of course, my Firebolt came next which missed. And the priest DID notice that. A nearby Kobold decided to defend his boss by targeting, in Chris’s words, “the guy with the smoking hands.” I took 6 damage. That was the maximum the kobold could do with his sling weapon. Things were off to a bad start.

The priest didn’t last long, but the kobolds must have decided on some stronger armor because they were holding their own. Chi took one out with one swing, but the remaining three creatures just took the hits. And kept taking them. I thought I’d be smart and cast a Sleep spell on a few of them, but Chi got a bit too close or I missed my target. Two kobolds dropped to the ground and Chi started swaying. He wasn’t asleep, but I probably shouldn’t have done that. Now I probably owe him again. I softened up one of the remaining kobolds with a Poison Spray, and Essie finished it off while it was kicking and coughing up the poison. Griffon paused during his healings to swing at one and knocked him dead. It was nice to see our cleric in the heat of battle for a change! The battle ended with two snoring kobolds on the ground. We gagged and tied them up, and Griffon suggested we take them back to the keep. Meanwhile, Anton began his search for the hidden compartment. He found it. But opening it… that was entirely different issue.

Here’s the thing — DM Chris had us on edge. Throughout the fights and sneaks in the forest, he had us constantly worrying if we were making the wrong decision. Here’s this secret compartment in the floor, hopefully with the relics. And even our rogue is a bit nervous to just open it up because our DM is smiling and waiting on us to decide what to do. Honestly, it took us five or ten minutes of discussion and brainstorming to figure out how to open this crazy thing up (a key had broken off in the lock, too). Finally Essie just decided to open it and look inside after we’d used our spears and daggers to try and pry open the lid to trigger any traps…

Nothing. Well played, DM. Well played.

Here’s the thing about holy relics. Apparently they don’t like to be touched by just anyone. Essie’s a good fighter, and he means well. Always seems to do the right thing. But the burns he suffered on his hands after trying to pull out the silk cloth holding the relics had me and a few others a bit worried. Griffon did some religious mumbo-jumbo and decided it would be safe for him to handle. And what do you know? He was right. Still, it would have been nice to have been warned that the relics had that kind of power. Griffon tucked them away in his bag, and we were in agreement that a quick return to the keep was in order. Of course, Essie reminded us that we needed to search the bodies. Sixty silver pieces… ten silver for each of us. Put another way, that’s about one gold coin for each of us. I’m not going to say that I didn’t briefly consider nudging Anton and suggest we might get a nice price for those relics in the next town. Anyway, Griffon was already out the door, headed back to the keep. Relics.

Of course, DM Chris wasn’t going to just let us back in the keep without a final encounter. Apparently a small group of kobolds had discovered the secret tunnel, so we had to dispatch them before they spilled the secret. It was a fast fight… over quick. We got the relics inside, returned them (grudgingly), and were awarded with 125XP each. Not bad.

Session 5 ended early for us, but I didn’t mind. I’m on the schedule for Session 6 next week and anxious to see what’s coming. I’ll be back here again next week with that report. But in the meantime… here are some thoughts and notes about this week’s session.

* XP and Gold — The 10 silver pieces was funny. Would make a great shirt — “My party fought and defeated 15+ kobolds and all we got was one lousy gold piece.” What took the sting away was that 125XP. It doesn’t help me now, but added to my current XP count and when I get that overdue Long Rest my half-elf sorcerer will be bumped up to level 3. Woo Hoo!

* New DM — Losing Martin for the night and having Chris step in was fine. I had no problem with it. Chris is a good DM, and has his own methods of storytelling. For instance, you’ll notice I don’t have any photos from the night. The first time I had Chris as a DM a few weekends back, I was told he does “adventures of the mind” — we used our miniatures occasionally for party order but that was it. I absolutely enjoyed it, and it was a nice change of pace.

* Recordkeeping — You can download a 4-page PDF of my handwritten adventure log for Session 5 here.

* A Giveaway — Coordinator Topher had a nice surprise at the beginning of the night. He asked for a show of hands for those who didn’t own a copy of the Player’s Handbook. Those that didn’t have a copy were asked to roll a d20. One of the players got a free copy of the PH courtesy of Wizards of the Coast. That was awesome.

* Podcast and Tarrasque Fight Reminder —  Listen to Topher Kohan’s latest podcast over at TheTomeShow.com! Also, don’t forget about Topher’s upcoming live stream event on Sunday, Sept 21 at 7:30pm EDT — The Tome Show Presents The Round Table Tarrasque Takedown — “Come watch as DM +Mike Shea creates a bevy of obstacles and murderous monsters for the level 20 PCs of +Topher Kohan+Joe Lastowski+CHRISTOPHER DUDLEY, and James Introcaso to take on culminating in a battle with that paragon of destruction and wanton rampage – the Tarrasque!”  This event will be broadcast on Google+ Hangouts and on Youtube. Here’s a link to the event that will show how the 5e high-level combat and role-playing is done against the updated Tarrasque.

* Thank you — A big thanks again to Titan Games & Comics in Smyrna, GA. The crew there always makes players feel welcome, and a purchase at the register of $5 gets you a re-roll ticket good for one re-roll during the night’s adventure. If you’re in the Atlanta area, come and join us — sign up via Titan’s Meetup.com link.

* A First! — I want to congratulate Topher and his crew of DMs for doing such a great job of hosting 20+ players each week. And for Session 5, I got to see my first female DM ever. I love it. I know female DMs aren’t new, but I’ve never encountered it until today. I didn’t get a chance to listen in, but the players at that table were having fun and laughing… and that’s all that matters.

For the past five weeks, I’ve enjoyed sharing the details about my Encounters adventure. This has been from a player’s POV. Some of you might be interested in a DMs thoughts. If so, continue reading… fellow GeekDad.com reader Sean provided me with a fun read (it’s detailed, so grab a comfortable reading spot), and I hope you enjoy it — thanks, Sean!

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Note: Sean is a father of 4 residing in Rome, New York. He is a chef by trade, and a nerd by choice. Returning to D&D after a decades-long hiatus, he looks forward to telling new stories and creating new memories. He lives with 3 daughters, a son, and 2 cats, Monet and Van Gogh.

Your time as caravan guards has been uneventful, aside from the random deer sighting and that unfortunate encounter with a “striped cat”. You are looking forward to finally reaching your destination, Greenest. For Ashen this is a homecoming of sorts, having spent many years in his younger days hunting the forests around the town.

As you near the crest of the final hill, you see plumes of smoke rising in the distance. The faint smell of wood fires tickles your nostrils. “The town is burning!” yells the foremost guard as he wheels his horse back towards the caravan. Spurring your own mounts forward, you reach the crest and see the town below. Many of the buildings seem to be on fire and many figures, mere dots from this distance, are scurrying about.

A feeling of dread suddenly overcomes your group. A noise like the rushing wind comes from behind you, becoming increasingly louder. Looking skyward, your hair stands on end, and an electric shock seems to course over your bodies. A large winged creature passes overhead, mere yards above the caravan. Taking no notice of your group, it swoops down on the town, focusing on its target.

“By the hells!” yells the scout, as a very large dragon, scales shimmering like cobalt, closes on the town.

Thus began my return to Dungeon Mastering after nearly 20 years away from the game. The impetus for this homecoming of sorts was the release of D&D‘s 5th Edition, and my perusal of Of Dice and Men, a wonderful book by David E. Ewalt. It pretty much summarized my experience with discovering D&D, and it brought to the fore my longing to play again.

I began playing D&D in 1980, when I happened upon a certain blue box in the hall of my junior high school. I took it home, opened it up, and changed my life. No longer was I a short, chubby kid with a wild imagination, now I was Peon Sneakabout, a halfling rogue! I was entering tombs, exploring lost caverns, and visiting Isles of Dread. I was disarming traps, either on purpose, or accidentally. I was battling trolls, fleeing from hobgoblins,  and accomplishing so much more than I could in the real world.

After years of playing, I wanted to do more; I wanted to be the storyteller, the shaper of worlds, the designer of dreams. I wanted to be a Dungeon Master. It wasn’t about being the all-powerful, it was about wanting to bring my own ideas to the table. It was wanting to make adventures that people enjoyed and found challenging. When we played, I wanted to make memories for others, tales that would be told and re-told.

When I am asked, or see questions asked, what it takes to be a good DM, I realize there is no “right” answer. You need to know the rules, certainly, but you need to know when to apply the rules, and when to adjust them to suit your needs. You need to be able to tell a story, of course, but you also need to be humble enough to accept that your story is being told in large part by the players. The rooms you spent months designing, and the treasure you labored over to get just right, can all be relegated to the trash bin by one decision made by a player. More often than not, a player will do something unexpected, and not covered by the rules and the story, and this is where you discover the first and greatest rule of DMing: Be flexible.

A DM needs to be able to think on-the-fly. He needs to be able to come up with an instant story, a quick description, a prompt plotline, an unforeseen rules interpretation. What does the pointless barn look like? What does the headpiece of the random NPC resemble? Oh, the gate to the stream is locked? We go the other direction… what do we see? What do I need to roll to grab the rope trailing from the horse, and swing myself onto it, while grabbing my halfling partner from the fire?

Being a DM means performing 3-4 hours of improvisation, 3-4 hours of voice work, and countless hours of prep work, every week. It is herding cats, it is juggling anywhere from 3-8 personalities at the same time, both yours and the players. A DM has to control Chaos, instill some semblance of Law, and remain Neutral at the same time. It isn’t for everyone, it is hard work, but it pays off on the faces of the players. When you see a group of grown men and women leaning forward in their seats in anticipation of what you’re about to so, or looking away in dread as the crucial d20 is rolling across the table, or actually cheering and high-fiving each other as the dragon falls, you realize why you undertook this task. No matter the work involved, no matter the disappointments you experience, you love being a DM.

After I read Of Dice and Men, it reawakened a desire to play the game. I knew 5th Edition was just around the corner. I had been keeping an eye on the play testing threads and tweets in the preceding years, and it looked like the game was headed more towards the story-based play I loved in the first couple editions, and away from the numbers play and min-maxing that seemed to be prevalent in the 3rd and 4th iteration of the game.

I downloaded the Basic Rules and read through them with the fervor of a Priest of Orcus in a room full of corpses. Here was the terminology I had missed: Armor Class, Elf, Paladin, Savings Throws, Proficiencies. Familiar terms all, returning to my memory from long-forgotten rooms deep in my subconscious. I broke out some of my older modules and started using muscles I had ignored for many years.

Now that I had the desire, and some of the knowledge, I needed players. D&D Adventurers League provided the last piece of my puzzle. I contacted my local game store, Mind Games in Oneida NY, and asked if they were participating in the AL. Tim, the owner, assured me they were and mentioned that they had a need for a Dungeon Master to run one of the games. Serendipity perhaps, but I think it was more of destiny. I was meant to rediscover this game at this time with this edition. We set up the game to begin on the opening day of the Adventurers League play.

As luck would have it, real life interfered and we began play the second week of the AL. This gave me another week to peruse the material and learn the module, or at least what I needed to know to run it!

The first night arrived, and with it a table of 6 players, and myself. To my joyful surprise, one of the players was brand new to D&D and we were his first game. It’s always exciting to see someone embrace the game.

We sat down and I brought out the Faction Folders. The players were very excited at the swag, and chose their desired factions. The folders are very well done, with the small disclaimer that the shiny smooth record sheets (Players Sheet and Adventurers Log) were too smooth to work well with most pens. Naturally, I had foreseen this, (by that I mean I had read the complaints on the internet) and made copies of the sheets for the players

The character creation process has always been a favorite time of mine, with all the excitement of a new baby, but without the messy diapers and crying. The players dove right in with vigor, and I helped with their characters as I made my own Sorcerer. The process did take nearly the entire first session, as we had 7 players, myself included, and 2, count them, 2 copies of the Players Handbook and one set of Basic Rules. Pages were flipping with abandon, as the questions flew: What is my modifier for xx score? What do I get for starting equipment? What should I choose for a back-story? Can I have a bag of flour as starting equipment? (Of course.) What’s the damage for a short sword? Can I use a custom weapon, with a hammer on one end and a pick on the other? Do you allow Chaotic Evil characters? (Not in AL, no.)

We chose the method of taking the preset scores (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) and then applying the modifiers for races. Our new player noticed and wondered about the seemingly unbalanced feature of a Human; gaining a +1 to EACH ability score. I had him look over the other races, see their various features, and then determine the balance of said increase. A short while later, he chose Dwarf as his race.

Being a beginning player, he asked the group which character he should play. I asked him some of his interests, and we decided he would make a good, pure, Fighter. “Role-playing and working your character are more important than numbers” I told him, and made sure he wanted to be a fighter due to that, and not just because he had a higher chance of survivability as a tank. “No”, he assured me, “I always wanted to be Thorin Oakenshield from The Hobbit, and now I can.” I think that’s why I first wanted to be a mage; because I loved Gandalf and Merlin.

Sean's Players

When all was said and done, we had the following group make up:

Falconhoof – Wood Elf Ranger
Wayrockett – Gnome Fighter (Pound for pound, our toughest member)
Mist Hunter – High Elf Ranger (See a pattern yet?)
Ashen Lorethain – Half Elf Ranger
Angus – Dwarf Fighter (Brand new player to boot!)
Fyn – High Elf Warlock

A couple of the players noted the distinct lack of healing power, but they figured they would make do with Potions and the generosity (and paid services) of others for healing. They did all opt to spend the 5GP each on a Healers Kit. (“Good choice,” I was heard to say). One player surmised that with the firepower they had, most battles would end without the party taking much damage.

Ed note: A faction will raise a player character from the dead only one time based on good will, after that the meter starts running.

Ed note redux: The meter has started running!

I enjoyed creating my character as much as the players did. I created Laran Silcarnum, Human Sorcerer. I chose this combination for the role-playing aspect of it. I think of him as a mutant, with the power to shape magic. Of course, he is unable to fully control his powers, so he has the Wild Magic origin path. As a small foible, he is often heard uttering the phrase “here goes nothing” as he casts a spell. The new PHB offers many different bread crumbs for back-story and ways to make your character a more complete entity, and not just numbers on a page. The PHB is very well done in my opinion, and I look forward to reading it and rereading it multiple times before I get my Monsters Manual.

Once character creation was finished, we had about 30 minutes left to play. I really wanted the new player to experience the game, so we jumped right in.

The dragons passing has left you breathless. What do you do? “I charge down the final stretch to the town, following the dragon” said Mist. “I go with him” was Falconhoofs response. The rest of the party secured the caravan, having them make their way slowly, and on guard for any more trouble, to the town.

The smell of smoke and burning wood greets you as you pass between two buildings and into the town. Screams can be heard from all directions, and you catch glimpses of scaly creatures passing in and out of your field of view. “We dismount and move forward slowly, examining the closest building,” said the ranger. “As you near the building, a man and woman, with three children in tow, run out from around the corner. Fear is etched upon their faces, as their pursuers come into view.” “Go on!” yells the woman, as she turns and faces the kobolds, broken spear in hand. She takes on a grim visage, as she faces her enemy, determined to protect her family.

“What do you do?” I ask? “We charge to intercept the kobolds before they reach the woman”.

Roll initiative….

It’s good to be back.

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