The first encounter of our final 3.5e session had taken a little over an hour, I think, although with the confusion of people arriving and just greeting each other, it might not have been that long. Perhaps more to the point, the combat had only just reached its 5th round. The Ogres and Blasphemes got to act twice each; old father Copperleaf had four actions in all. By the dint of the daze effect of the Blasphemes, I’d dropped Greg down to two actions in the entire combat, but I was sure he’d make up for it in the future. He didn’t disappoint.
3rd Edition: Combinations and Specialisations
One the most glorious things about 3rd edition D&D has been the breadth of scope it has given the players as regards to their characters. I am a big fan of allowing the conception of the character to be reflected in the mechanical underpinnings of the game. Although in previous editions, we were fairly content to play the part given to us, as time has gone on the game has allowed more and more styles of characters to be constructed.
Strangely enough, and despite the fears of Gary Gygax, 3rd edition multiclassing did not lead to the advent of the one-man-band “supercharacter”. Instead, 3rd edition rewarded specialisation. Characters might be built out of many parts, but those parts would be chosen very carefully by the players so that they achieved the ultimate goal; and that normally was a very specialist one!
EN World’s Piratecat one described me as an “early adopter”, in that I was normally one of the first to not only buy a new 3e book, but to integrate it into my campaigns. That was definitely been the case for this campaign, and my players aided me in it wholeheartedly. Consider…
- Sarah was playing a Fochluchan Lyrist (from Complete Adventurer) with druid shapeshifting (from PHB2).
- Greg was playing an Incarnate (from Magic of Incarnum)
- Adam was playing a Dwarf Soulknife/Illumine Soul (from the Expanded Psionics Handbook and Complete Psionic), with feats from Races of Stone and Player’s Handbook II
- Nathaniel was playing a Knight (from PHB2) with manuevers from Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords.
The final session included monsters from Monster Manual I and Monster Manual V.
The variety of experience was astounding. And, mostly, it all hung together.
The problem with all of this variety came from the specific combinations of powers that made the specialist so much more effective than the generalist. Sarah’s Fochluchan Lyrist was not a bad character by any means, but took a back seat to the other characters when combat came along. And some of the problems with 3e were fundamental to the system; issues that could not be fixed without pulling everything down and relaying the foundations. More on that later!
The Second Encounter: The Tender Wings of Fear
Upon the party’s return to the upper world, I joked that they’d been down there for months (which is how long it’d taken us to play all the sessions of their exploration). Note to the wise: if you write a maze to confuse and confound your players, expect them to be confused and confounded!
Sarah pointed out that they’d been in an outpost of Chaos, so it was entirely possible that they had been down there for months. It’d certainly explain how the armies of Ulek and the Fhoi Myore had managed to reach this outlying spur of the Principality of Ulek. Every so often you have to go with the theme of the thing rather than looking too closely for explanations. This was the final session, and it was going to be a big one!
Enter plot explositors A & B, otherwise known as Countess “Penny” and Lady Caitlin, who explained to the party that they (and the armies of Ulek) had driven the Fhoi Myore up to this sacred site, where they hoped to trap the Fhoi Myore in great stone rings… also, it seemed that the planar boundaries were thinner here. Whatever Daddy Dearest had been doing in the labyrinth below, it can’t have been good, and stopping it could only give the good guys an advantage, right?
Just to add an extra detail into the ongoing story of Ulek, I announced that the Countess was now betrothed to one of the scions of the Keoish royal house. As expected, Willem didn’t take it at all well. I’d first introduced “Penny” into the campaign in its original incarnation, and both Sarah and Nathaniel had lots of good memories of the roguish Penny, then a young girl, getting into all sorts of trouble. Now her guardian (the Count) was dead and she was the Countess… a lot of things were coming to their fruition.
Instructed to harry the Fhoi Myore army where they saw fit, the group headed on out into the forest. There they discovered a lot of soldiers – friendly soldiers – retreating from something further into the forest. As they feared no fear, they headed further in to discover a pair of humanmercenaries – highly trained mercenaries (hum Ftr 16) – and a flock of four Blackwings.
What’s a Blackwing? It’s an undead vulture from MMV that has a fear attack when it dives or screams. Of course, this was a high-level party and they’d all had Heroes’ Feast for breakfast, so goodbye fear effects.
Honestly, this didn’t bother me so much. The Blackwings were fairly weak in the first place – especially compared to this party – and the main purpose of the next two encounters was not to be really, really challenging but instead to allow the players to revel in being 16th level characters! It worked, of course. (What bothers me more is how a lot of 3e combat, especially with fear effects, becomes a binary affair. Either you’ve got the protection, or you’re in trouble. I rather hope 4e can fix that problem).
One of the best purchases I’ve made have been the D&D Dungeon Tiles set “Ruins of the Wild”. I really hope we get another of them at some point, because wilderness maps are tricky. I have two sets, and for these final encounters I just shuffled the tiles around to form the battlemats. You’ll also notice if you look closely that the enemy don’t look much like undead vultures – rather more like a dragonne and some giant bats. A misconception about D&D Miniatures is that its about getting the right miniatures. No, it’s about getting a lot of miniatures, of which many will be close enough to the monsters you want to portray. Getting the right miniature – like the Mounted Paladin mini for Nate’s character – is just a bonus.
Undead creatures make the cleric cohort and Adam (who, as an Illumine Soul, has special anti-undead powers) very happy. This combat really didn’t take very long at all – just reaching the third round – but that’s ok. The Blackwings won initiative, made their initial attacks (mostly ineffective), and then went “poof” into clouds of dust as Quickened Turn Undead made short work of them. The mercenaries were made of sterner stuff.
Just not much sterner.
I think I also made the mistake of moving the mercenaries up in one turn and not attacking with them. Ragnagor and Willem did quite a bit of damage to them as a result, and I don’t think they inflicted much in return. Adam’s Ragnagor got the last blow in, and the second encounter was over. The party rejoiced and moved further in…