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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Adventures in Eberron: The Heist

Yesterday I played in the Eberron campaign again. I wrote about the previous session here.

Each session is better than the last one. Yesterday's session continued that trend, and we really captured the "D&D feeling." I learned quite a bit about pacing and it has made me take a step back and re-think a few things.

Last time we did a lot of mini-missions. This time we basically focused on a single scenario.

In this campaign, we are assembling the deck of many things. The cards are spread out all over Sharn, the city of towers. One of the cards is in the possession of this woman, her last name is Tain. I don't know anything about Eberron, so I don't know if this is some kind of major NPC or not.

This Tain person had used the card to control an NPC and do some bad stuff. We decided to break into her place and steal the card.

The Plan

The DM had drawn some giant poster maps of Tain Manor and the compound. Our characters were able to obtain the layout to the manor and we planned our assault.

A good portion of the session just involved us players planning. As a DM, I hate this. I desperately try to avoid "wasting" table time on what I often consider to be abstract nothing-talk.

I like my sessions to be two, maybe three hours long. In this group, we play six or seven hours. So there's plenty of "breathing room." We can mess around as much as we like.

What I found yesterday was that the planning process was really about us taking control of the game. The DM was allowing us to tackle this map any way we wanted. It was quite liberating.

I usually hate planning because it tends to drag, but here it didn't feel like it dragged at all. We kept coming up with funnier and funnier ideas.

The vault we needed to break into was past Tain's bedroom. Her kids had rooms right down the hall. I was a bit baffled about how we could sneak through her room without waking her. I assumed there would be magical traps that would go off (I was right).

Another player said that we should plan our break-in during mealtime. Tain and her kids would be eating downstairs. The upstairs area would be free! That was such a smart idea, I was really excited.

Our Plan Goes Horribly Wrong

So it went like this. We paid off a delivery guy who was scheduled to deliver a crate of stuff for Tain Manor. All of us got in the crate, except for the fighter. The party fighter drove the cart, and the donkey pulling it.

The idea was that the crate would be dropped off in a storage area, we'd break out and get to sneaking.

But when we got there, the guards took the crate and told the fighter to go home! They plopped us in the storage room, but the fighter was gone.

We busted out of our crate, I cast invisibility and twinned it (I'm a sorcerer). So two of us were invisible, and poor Jenny, our sidekick NPC, was not.

We went and stole some servant clothes, using prestidigitation to draw two servants away.

The fighter climbed the wall, found us and put on some servant clothes.

We crept into Tain Manor. The wizard and I were invisible. The fighter and Jenny bluffed their way upstairs.

We made our way into Tain's room and encountered our magically-compelled NPC friend. We subdued her and made our way to the vault.

The Magic Vault

The vault was guarded by these three magic paintings. The contents of the vault magically changed depending on which of the paintings were hanging on the wall. So we had to experiment with them.

This is where our poor hireling comes in. It's Jenny's job to be trap bait. So she opens the door and goes in, and vanishes. Poor Jenny. We triggered a magical alarm and we knew guards were on their way.

We tried every combination, and there was all sorts of weird stuff in the vault. We finally opened the door and the interior of the vault was red. The card was on a shelf, and there was a gibbering mouther in there.

I've never fought a gibbering mouther before. It was awesome. It has two auras - one blinds you, one turns the floor to gooey madness.

The guards burst in to the room and we were in big trouble. We were on the third floor, and my character was ankle-deep in gibbering floor goo. I asked the DM if it was possible to actually slide through the goo to the floor below. He said yes!

So we're fending off the guards and the mouther, sinking into the quicksand floor.

Poor Jenny bursts out of the vault and tries to help us. As we sink through the floor and fall into a bathroom, we hear Jenny get murdered by the mouther (she has the stats of a commoner). That's our second hireling dead.

We plopped through the floor and ended up pinned in a tiny room with guards in both doors. Our fighter used a trip attack to drop the guard blocking one door.


Our wizard was getting hurt bad. I cast fly and twinned it, so our fighter could fly too. I grabbed the wizard and we flew out of Tain Manor. To our dismay, Tain's brother was on a griffon and chased us. The griffon was extremely fast.

Tain's brother cast fireball, which actually killed our wizard. I made my save but I was in bad shape. I made my concentration check, thankfully. I still had the unconscious wizard in my arms. I almost wanted to fail it, because then I could plummet and cast feather fall to put some distance between us and the griffon (we were way at the top of the city of Sharn, hundreds of feet in the air). 

The DM had described another tower right by us. I knew I couldn't take another hit, so I flew through a window in the tower that was too small for the griffon to fit through. I tried to get out of line of sight of the window.

There were two old men in there, quilting. I dumped a potion of healing in the wizard. She came to, made her way to the window and blasted the griffon and the wizard with a lightning bolt spell. She killed them both!

I gave the old guys money for the window and a bottle of frostmantle fire (eberron booze). They gave me a quilt.

I flew over to the dead body of Tain's brother. I put a pot of dirt next to him and planted a magic bean in it. I rolled on the chart, and I summoned a bunch of pink toads that I assumed would transform into grizzly bears when touched! A pretty nice present for Tain and her men, if you ask me.

We flew home. We only need five more cards to complete the deck of many things.

The other players were laughing and talking about how bad our plan was and how we bungled everything. I didn't see it that way at all. We got the card! And it was awesome. Very few D&D plans actually work out. I mean, the DM kind of has to throw in wrinkles, or else the adventure would be pretty boring, right?

Jenny was dead, so we recruited a new hireling. The DM rolled on the NPC chart. We got this old gnome lady who is "extremely ugly," according to the chart. As fate would have it, she is also on a search for romance.

That's where we stopped.

Managing Table Time

The whole thing has made me re-think how I run my games to a degree. As a DM, I am always cracking the whip. I hate wasted time. But in this case it wasn't really wasted time. We the players were, in a way, creating the adventure.

As a DM, generally I don't create situations where my players need to make a big plan, because it often leads to problems. If I do, I always have an NPC tell offer up a default plan that they can take if they want, so we can get to the action. Here are some of the more common issues I've seen when groups put their heads together to figure out how to approach a situation:
  • Dominant Personality: One player takes control and talks over everyone else. Other players let it happen but secretly get more annoyed each time it occurs. 
  • Arguing: Arguments break out. A lot of times, players simply can't agree on the best course of action. This is often caused by one player wanting a plan that allows them to use one of their special abilities or items, even though it may be extremely risky.
  • Weird Ideas: You may have noticed this - some players have really weird (to you, at least) ideas of what would work and what wouldn't. I can't tell you how many times I've had a player say out loud that the group shouldn't do something because X will happen - and I have no idea why they think that. In those cases, I use an NPC to tell them X will not happen. 
  • Not Understanding the DM's Style: People think really differently, and it can make for a bumpy D&D experience. A lot of times this is driven by players who think that everything in the world is scaled for their level. In my games, if you are thrown in jail for doing something terrible in town (such as killing a bartender to avenge an insult) - you're in jail. You're probably not getting out and you might have to make a new character. I make this very clear before the heroes do something that might get them arrested, but it still comes up now and then. My brother ran Drizzt as a character back in the 90's. He committed murder in a major city, and he's been languishing in prison ever since.
  • Everyone is Passive: This is like that couple you might know, who say to each other: "What do you want to do?" and the other one says, "I don't know, what do you want to do?" And so they don't do anything. Sometimes you get a group like that. Nobody wants to take control. That can be really weird for you as a DM. It can be downright excruciating and will make you want to railroad them all the time just to keep things from grinding to a halt.
  • Some Players Get Bored: Planning is also the time when some players mentally check out. While a few more involved players are brainstorming, other players just doodle or flip through a book or whatever. That only really gets annoying when these players then have the gall to complain later about the plan.
But in this group, it wasn't a problem. We all contributed and hammered out a fun plan that seemed logical (at the time).

It's so weird for me being a player. I have to keep stopping myself from trying to facilitate the game. That's not my job! I get to sit back and enjoy. It's actually kind of hard for me.

The DM has me keep track of initiative, which makes it even trickier. When combat rolls around I am keeping things rolling and telling everyone to take their turn. On one hand, I like it because I like to keep things moving. On the other hand, it puts me in DM mode and I kind of forget my role at the table.


Sarren Greywolf said...

This sounds like a great campaign, I'm enjoying reading about it already.

I started reading a few of your blogs a few days ago and really enjoyed the campaigns you ran, specifically the 'Rise of Tiamat' and the 'Princes of the Apocalypse'. (Really feel for you about the incident at the shop. I've been in similar situations, though not in a D&D sense, and I empathise very much.)

I've recently bought the 5e starter pack for my family and friends to play (my little boy is almost 10 and is so excited!) because we really enjoy other board games and thought that pushing tabletop one step further would be great. As I've never played D&D before, I'm trying to trawl through the rules, the guide, the player book, etc. to try and figure out how best to run a game, particularly as most of the players will be either young or... quite frankly very silly. Myself included.

Do you have any tips for a complete and utter beginner DM? I'm away for a few months at the moment and have some time, so I'm even trying to create a first chapter adventure revolving around Ardeep Forest, near Waterdeep. This will be specifically designed to get us used to travel, interaction, thinking outside the box, noticing things and a small degree of combat. Is this a good idea, or should I stick with the 'Lost Mine of Phandelver' that came with the pack?

Sorry about the long post too...

Brett Day said...

I'm not the Maestro here, but I would suggest doing Lost Mines, unless you know there is something in there that won't appeal to your players, you have something else in mind that they really want to do. It's a good starter adventure, and slowly puts more and more control into the DM's hands, teaching you what you need to know to DM anything else later.

And Sean, I just wanted to say, Eberron and Planescape are the two settings I most want to run/play in but haven't yet. I am so jealous of you, good sir

Sean said...

Sarren Greywolf: Thanks! I really liked running games for those kids in the store. Tips for a beginner: Don't worry about getting all the rules right. You have a lot of buffer time, as the first 8 sessions or so are the "golden" time that everyone looks back on fondly - the time they are first experiencing all of the new fun things you can do in D&D. I think most DMs homebrew.. if you don't run phandelver, you should read some of it to understand how an adventure is structured and what you should have prepared. Also, silly is good. The whole point of the game is to have fun! So don't worry about getting everything right on the first shot, just focus on having a good time. Remember that part of the fun DM is that you can create your own style, like a movie director. Your game can be funny, intense, intricate, whatever you like. You can be extra-lenient as far as danger goes in the first session, but don't make things so easy that the players get the feeling their characters can't die. I would suggest that you at the very least make a list of a bunch of monster stats of monsters you plan to use, and maybe note down rules you find tricky - concentration, surprise rules, the page number for conditions, and the page numbers of a few spells that might be used by the players or your NPCs in the game. Good luck!

Brett Day: Thanks Brett! I love Planescape. Eberron I never really was that into, but it is very fun to get to play through a setting I know absolutely nothing about. The DM is really into Eberron so he knows a lot and it's really fun. I love Sharn, the city of towers.

Sarren Greywolf said...

Brett: Thanks, I was looking at Phandelver and thought that it might be a little heavy for young minds, but I suppose I can always tweak it if it starts grinding on them. I shall give it a whirl.

Sean: Thanks for the advice. I'm going through your blogs and finding all sorts of useful stuff, so again I really appreciate you posting all of your shenanigans. Currently reading your 'Dead in Thay' series. The 'Dirty D&D' thread was also... enlightening and may come in useful for more mature audiences later!

The first chapter I've started brewing myself starts off pretty tame: A wizard in Waterdeep called Derwinnic (an anagram of Rincewind, if you like your Pratchett) sends them to retrieve a book. "It's just a book." Apparently. It's not just a book, but not too many spoilers here yet.

They get sent to Ardeep Forest and there are very simple Twig Blight encounters at first, a couple of Stirges and a Bullywug in a pond who can be bribed for information. A farmer further down the road (with an enchanted garden, naturally) can give them information if they buy his enchanted produce. However, if he finds out that they've spoken to that "Slimy fiend of a creature", or they are rude to him, in the pond, he will ignore them.

It will get trickier as it goes on, but I'm having great fun inventing the NPCs and all the different little scenarios that might come about.