Yesterday, we had the latest session of our Thunderspire Labyrinth D&D 4e game. I’m very glad to say that it went much better than the last one, and I enjoyed it tremendously. Greg was able to make this session, so we had six players plus one DM (that was me, if somehow you haven’t worked out I’m normally the DM for D&D sessions around here).
You can see the gang setting up the session here. From left and then around the table, there’s Adam, Nate, Greg, Josh, Ben and Lily. For those who want a better shot of those on the right-hand side of the table, try this photo:
Nate’s disappeared out of shot, but you’ve got a better picture of Josh, Ben and Lily.
We started this session early because Nathaniel had to disappear down to Melbourne to say goodbye to a friend. Which meant we started at the ungodly hour of 10 am. Well, that’s when Josh, Adam and I turned up. Others straggled in afterwards. (We held this at Nate’s place, so he was there already). So, it was closer to 10.30 when everyone was there, and then there was the usual friendly chatter before the session – we basically only see each other at these sessions, so there’s a lot to catch up on – and so about 11 or a little later we actually started playing.
The really great thing about starting early was that my end time wasn’t so constricted. Nate had to go at 2.30, but we were able to stay a little later as long as we closed the door behind us (which we think we did…) I didn’t have the “must leave at 6 to get home for dinner” problem. That was really, really good. I wouldn’t mind starting a few more of these Sunday sessions early – perhaps 11am? I wonder what everyone else thinks of that…
So, anyway, on to the adventure we went. We had one more of the gnoll rooms of the “Well of Demons” to deal with, and then it was onto the quests to find the items needed to enter the inner sanctum.
One of the best things about this section of the adventure was that the four encounters were all, in fact, quite different. This was a big difference to the last session where it was basically three straight combats. The first encounter was the PCs massively overwhelming the lone gnoll and their pet, and getting some unexpected assistance from other NPC adventurers – this was great because I also got to do some roleplaying. The second encounter was a skill challenge/roleplaying opportunity with some ghosts. The third encounter was wacky beyond description – the PCs crossed a hall with their eyes closed, only to find that at the other end were some monsters that got free strikes on them… and the final encounter was a more straight-up combat with some really nasty demons – with a bunch of traps that kept triggering and messing up the plans of the PCs.
One problem with this session was that I brought the wrong set of monster miniatures! So, the “gnolls” fighting the PCs were actually skeletons. Oops. Except for the gnoll fighting Lily’s halfling in the back, which was actually a gnoll. I keep two sets of monster miniatures ready, one for each of the campaigns I’m running, and I grabbed the wrong set (after putting the PC miniatures in it…)
Still, we’re used to proxying. I really need to remember to bring a better mini for Nate’s half-elf warlock – we’ve been using a cloaked sword-wielder which doesn’t quite work.
The skill challenge was interesting, especially as I’m pretty sure it was written pre-errata. I think it could give more aid for roleplaying the NPCs – the notes that are there gave me a pretty good idea of their personalities, but a few examples of what they might say would have been really, really useful. Watching our more talkative players trying to convince the NPCs that they meant well was great fun – especially Greg. Greg’s talkative; he’s just not very good at it. And he knows he isn’t, so his contributions tend to be extremely amusing and not a little unhelpful from time to time.
We used a bit of Aid Another in the diplomacy checks, but I think I should be allowing more of it. Hmm.
Anyway, I ignored part of the skill challenge results just so I could get pertinent information over to the players – that, yes, the slaves were still alive and were being prepared for sacrifice, and that they needed to retrieve a few items before they’d be able to enter the inner sanctum. And the players were amusing me, which is always a bonus and makes me want to tell them more stuff.
The next encounter, the hall of mirrors (which the PCs advanced through with their eyes shut) was the most fun encounter of the session. You see, Lily advanced first into the room (she was consistently getting around 30 for her initiative, while everyone else was in the 10-15 range normally). So, she was the first to encounter a mirror, which trapped her in a little demiplane with a crazed gnoll. Uh oh!
From there, you had the rest of the group creeping along the walls with their eyes shut, hoping to reach something to bring her back, and Greg’s Dragonborn Paladin attacking a mirror and getting trapped along with Lily.
Then came the bit where they rescued Lily, Greg & the Gnoll (whilst still dealing with other monsters), only to have Greg pop back into the mirror… Lily going unconscious… Greg, the Gnoll and Josh’s dwarf playing “mirror tag” as they popped in and out of the mirror-prison…
It was all really confusing and hugely fun. Lily’s rogue was dying at one point, but, thankfully, the gang managed to get to her and heal her.
After that, the final encounter was somewhat an anticlimax, despite being pretty fun. It actually was a fairly standard combat, all things considered, except for all the demon-pillar-traps, which were really problematic for the players. Adam’s wizard darted into the room, around the corner, and grabbed the artefact they were wanting, but in doing so released the rest of the trapped demons. Oops. Nate and Adam combined with their zone powers to do nasty things to the demons, but the combat saw a few PCs really badly hurt and sometimes even unconscious.
I think I’ve identified one of the issuesI can sometimes have with 4e combat: when a PC goes down, even though healing him normally lifts him up to about 1/4 of his HP or more, he’s still very much on the edge of death. Greg was up and down and up and down this combat, and it causes a few problems in tempo. At least Ben was here this session – his Warlord really helped keep the party alive. However, losing one of the front-line fighters (as seems fairly common in 4e) definitely hurts the party, and can extend a combat markedly.
Not sure if it’s really a problem, but it’s something that does occur.
I am not finding that a combat’s result is determined a long time before its end – the result of that last combat was definitely up in the air for all but the last round or two – but it does seem the tempo and excitement of the combat faded in the last few rounds. Don’t know if my players have the same feeling – what do you think, guys?
But yes, a much better session than last fortnight, and enough to make me really happy about where 4e is at present.