Things are rolling again with the Adventurers League–the new season has started with the Elemental Evil theme, and I’m back in the weekly DM chair for at least another four to five months. Before I get started, I can already hear a bunch of you asking “where’s the DM report for Session 1?” I’ll give a little summary shortly of what happened last week, but the truth of the matter is I had just returned from spring break with my family and was completely swamped with work when I returned. But not this week… NOPE! I had a chance to sit down and do some prep work for what I hope my players really enjoyed.
Before I get to the night’s adventure, I’d like to point out that Wizards of the Coast and Adventurers League are really stepping up to the plate and giving players and DMs a considerable amount of help and resources. So let me give a huge THANK YOU to WotC and AL for all the hard work they do in helping DMs provide some entertaining adventuring for players, and for making certain new players feel welcome and unintimidated with a fun but not too stressful series of opening adventures.
Two weeks back, Titan Games & Comics held a character generation night (Wed) and players were once again offered up the chance to join a faction (five in all)–while supplies lasted, players were each given a faction folder that contained information on that faction, two special in-game items they could use (one for the tabletop game and another for the online RPG), and a name plate for the table to help other players get used to their new level 1 characters’ names and classes. In addition to the standard 5e D&D classes and races, prior to the kickoff of the Elemental Evil season, a 25-page PDF was released that provided some new races and spells for players.
WotC and AL didn’t ignore the DMs, either–instead of a faction folder, DMs were given a special Elemental Evil-themed folder that contained a name plate, a reward certificate (for a player of our own–we earn XP for DMing that can be applied to characters we wish to play in other AL events such as Expeditions), and a page of quotes that can be used by various baddies and other individuals during the season.
For Elemental Evil, DMs have been provided with a subset of adventures that are found in the full-sized Princes of the Apocalypse book (releasing in the next few weeks). As with the previous season’s Hoard of the Dragon Queen, this set of adventures is designed to take the players from level 1 to level 4, with further leveling possible through a home campaign. I haven’t got my hands on the book yet, but as a DM I was provided a PDF that should get my players through half a dozen or more sessions…
I can’t speak for every AL gaming group, but my group typically has between 21 and 28 players. (Seating is limited to four tables with each table having 6 players and 1 DM.) Our event coordinator, Topher Kohan, decided to mix things up a bit and moved the DMs to different tables this season. DMs stay put–the players can come in and sit wherever they wish. This has the advantage of allowing players to move (if they wish) from table to table and have a chance to play with all four DMs. To keep things stable for the players, Topher created a Google+ group specifically for the DMs so we could discuss the sessions privately and synchronize the game play–the idea is a player who finishes one session with one DM can move to another table the following week and pick up right where the previous session left off. No repeating of an adventure and no missing a portion because one DM might be slightly ahead in the story.
Note: Topher Kohan does frequent podcasts for The Tome Show, and he brought to my attention that this Sunday there’s a special broadcast that will be demonstrating the mob combat rules introduced with the special Unearthed Arcana: When Armies Clash release a few weeks back. You can find out more about the show here.
This isn’t to say that a DM can’t drift from the planned adventure a bit–the adventure stories are provided as a guideline, but it’s often up to the DM to get the players from point A to point B. This means that each table has a different take on the night’s adventure, but by the end of the evening all players SHOULD be primed for the next week’s session. Session 1 was designed to offer the players a chance to investigate the small town of Red Larch and meet some of its residence. Red Larch acts as a home base for the early sessions, so all four DMs agreed to toss in a random encounter or two as the players explored the town and a stopping point was agreed upon that would lead to Session 2.
My six players began Session 1 rolling into town, meeting up with the constable (a friendly guy), and discovering the two main roads in and out of town are plagued by bandits. The players didn’t have to go far to find trouble–just sitting and resting in the tavern they spotted a bandit they’d encountered outside of town. The bandit didn’t see them, so they followed him… right into a nearby quarry as the sun was going down. Some sort of meeting was going on (two wagons on one side, one on the other). Things went south when the two groups began fighting, and if one of my players hadn’t snuck in and hid underneath a wagon, the players might have been able to avoid combat completely. They ended up rescuing one of the townsfolk who had caught a bandit and was trying to negotiate with the group of thieves for his release in exchange for the stolen loot. They earned the trust of the constable when the fight was over and the rescued man told what had happened. Session 1 ended with the constable asking the players to get a good rest and find him the next morning for some “freelance work.”
Four of the Session 1 players returned to my table for Session 2. Sitting at my table this week were (character name, race, class):
Tom, Goliath Barbarian
Krieger, Deep Gnome Barbarian (seriously)
Stormwind, Half-Elf Bard
Tsunami, Water Genasi Monk
Thord, Goliath Monk
Donovan, Human Cleric
The adventure began simple enough–the players woke in the town inn after hearing a commotion downstairs. Heading down, they saw the constable in heated discussion with five men. These five men turned out to be key business leaders in town, and the leader, Elak, seemed to be the one in charge. In no uncertain terms, he wanted the bandits hunted down… and he offered a sizable bounty on each bandit head that was returned. The constable found this a bit disturbing, but this group (with one Lawful Evil barbarian and the rest of questionable ethics) didn’t have a problem with it. During the discussions, two of the team saw the five men exchange a strange hand gesture–A club? An order? Some secret handshake thing? Unknown… but they took the challenge and were given very specific directions to what most believed to be the bandits’ hideout–a small redoubt a half-dozen miles out of town. They were also told that a spellcaster had been seen hanging with the bandits holding a peculiar wand–the players were told they could keep the wand if they were successful.
The players wasted no time in saddling up and riding for the small tower. A few encounters along the way were ignored–they wanted combat, so I planned on giving it to them. This season, all players are allowed one free resurrection (from their respective factions), so I didn’t fudge any of the combat dice rolls tonight, and I already had them going up against a good sized group of bandits who had a cleric and a sorcerer (both level 2) as backups.
From the tree-line 100 yards out, Krieger used some stealth to scout… nothing was seen. They suspected the tower wasn’t empty and decided on a full blown rush to the tower. They dashed, and a few random rolls were on their side… only when they got within about 50 feet of the tower was Tom (one of the huge Goliaths) spotted. A yell went out. Three players ran at the tower from the east, two to the west, and Tom right up to the big gaping hole in the south wall.
The battle was against 7 bandits, one cleric, and one sorcerer. The sorcerer and cleric manned the top of the tower with a single archer while the rest of the bandits rushed to the players who made their way inside the outer wall (ground level). Then the fun began…
Poor Krieger. For multiple player targets (for the archer above), I would roll dice for a random selection, and Krieger kept getting hit. Hit. Hit. At one point he was down to a hit point or two… but he got a healing. Then the bear came around. Bear? Oh, yeah… I forgot to mention that the bandits had a bear in a cage outside the tower, and the sight and smell of the adventurers drove him crazy. A roll of 15 or higher each turn would allow him to bust out… and I made the roll on the first try. It’s always fun to introduce a wild animal to an attempt at orderly combat.
Combat was pretty even on all fronts, and the sorcerer (with 3 level 1 spell slots) tossed down a Sleep spell and targeted an area very close to the bear (not to help the players but to hopefully remove the bear from a possible attack on the bandits). Down went the bear… down went Stormwind. Zzzz.
Meanwhile, Tom the Goliath had rushed up the tower and fought a single bandit coming down the stairs. A pretty easy fight, but then Tom ran into a closed and locked wooden door leading to the top of the tower. What to do? What does a barbarian always do? Bash… the door took enough damage in one attack that it was in pieces.
Downstairs, Krieger continued to be the target of the archer as I was weighing the random roll in his favor because the two other players were hugging the tower wall while he was out in the open. On the other side of the tower, Donovan (Cleric) and Tsunami took down one weak bandit but ran into an elite bandit who was giving them a bit more trouble. They ran… fast. Elite Bandit gave chase. Where did they run? Into the tower. So, for those keeping score… Tom’s in the tower, Donovan… then Tsunami. Krieger gave a wake-up kick to Stormwind who was a bit groggy and prone… Thord (Goliath Monk) decided to help him out by actually standing him up and shoving him in a general direction. In these two went to the tower.
Up on top, Tom rushed out… and proceeded to run straight at the cleric. Out came the rules on collision and knocking someone off a tower or perch. Tom rolled his Strength check… I failed my Dexterity check. Bye bye, cleric… over he went. (The falling height was a guaranteed death.) Tom turned–“Who’s next?”–and the sorcerer immediately put him to sleep. And because Krieger was still downstairs, the archer popped another arrow in his direction–but missed this time!
Tsunami and Donovan dispatched the Elite Bandit and they hit the top of the tower. SLEEP! I had three players all snoozing on top of the tower. Up came Stormwind who tossed out a mini earthquake in the general direction of the sorcerer and archer. The archer took enough damage for an immediate death, but the 10′ knock-back sent him over the edge. I gave the sorcerer a random chance of being knocked into the wall and not through the spaces in the tower wall… I rolled it in front of the players. Over he went.
Down below lay the sleeping bear. With 8 hit points left. One of the players noticed that the archer went over the wall above the bear. “Does the archer land on the bear?” I gave it a 30% chance and rolled that in front of the players. A 10. I let Stormwind roll the falling damage. He rolled an 8. Bear-splosion.
Krieger took the bounty literally and started cutting off heads. They looted the place and found way more gold than level 1 players should be allowed to keep (this is in addition to the bounty that would be paid). Oh, and the wand. It went over the wall with the sorcerer. I also gave the wand a 30% chance of shattering. I rolled a d100… and got a 10. No more wand. Sorry, folks.
I think the players had fun. As I stated earlier, I wasn’t out for blood, but I wasn’t going to fudge any dice rolls. A hit was a hit, and the damage delivered was the damage. Two players almost died… it was so close. I was a bit worried about the enemies I had arranged for my six players, but I believe I nailed the mix because I don’t think the players ever felt 100% safe and secure. They returned to town, collected their reward, and were told to grab a night’s rest because the towns leaders were wanting to discuss with them a deal to stick around awhile and address some other issues…
All in all, I had a blast running the night’s adventure. I try to keep combat moving as fast as possible, and the only real slowdown was having the roll all the Initiative rolls for the bandit party (which I should have done beforehand). Still, things moved fast, and the players didn’t question my DM judgement calls when they needed to be made quickly.
Red Larch is a dangerous place to be right now… Session 3 next week should be interesting.