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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - Foreshadowing Chris Perkins Adventures

Last night we played another online game. In this session, I was primarily trying to set up future adventures. There are two old, somewhat obscure Chris Perkins adventures that I'm going to run in the next few sessions. I will also run at least one scenario from the 5e kobold press Book of Lairs.
This adventure follows up on the other three adventures I ran
Online Plans: My plan going forward is to have two online groups. I'll run a game for each every other week.

Right now, I am thinking that for this group (THE KEY RING), once they hit level 7, I'll start an old adventure that I want to run and we'll put those on youtube. For the other group, once the new adventure comes out, we'll start that.

What is the New Adventure? If I don't like the new adventure, then we'll do something else. I am guessing I'll like the new one, though. The two big guesses as far as what it will be about is that it will either involve the Tomb of Horrors or it will be a Planescape thing. Who knows? I have no idea.

Other Campaigns: It doesn't really bother me because if I don't like the new adventure, I have a bunch of Pathfinder adventure paths that I am dying to run in 5th edition. I also have a huge list of stuff I want to run (some of which I've written about in this blog over two years ago) and haven't gotten to: Spelljammer, a Castle Greyhawk campaign, Age of Worms, or the AD&D I-series merged together.

I really like the idea of running Egg of the Phoenix,  Dwellers of the Forbidden City and all that stuff.

I have put a TON of work into making my own Castle Greyhawk and the weird thing about it is that it might suck. I find that megadungeons are hard to run without getting boring.

The key for me will be using the group's time in the city of Greyhawk to do fun things and that might keep it fresh. I think one of my strengths in D&D i running city stuff. I'm much better running NPCs than I am in some other areas.

Dispater - The devil villain behind everything

Figuring out Online Games: Tonight was all about figuring out what the best way to run a two hour session online is. Previously, I'd run sessions where I'd try to cram an entire adventure into a very short timeframe. Tonight, I tried the Perkins Dice, Camera, Action method. I just ran one or two scenarios/scenes and I let the group explore them fully.

I think everybody agreed that the Perkins method was better. That's going to make it tricky for me to run published adventures, especially old ones converted to 5e. I'm going to have streamline dungeons in a major way and junk a lot of stuff.

Chris Perkins seems to be able to keep most of the content of Curse of Strahd while using his method. For example, with the Wachterhouse, the group didn't explore it room by room. Lady Wachter showed Strix through a portion of it, and that was it.

So instead of a full-blown exhaustive exploration, the group has a specific objective or location to get to and they just make their way through the other stuff rather than kicking in every door.

That will be an adjustment for me but I think we can work it out.

Describing Places: The other thing about tonight was that I underestimated the skill in which Chris Perkins is able to portray a scene. I am a very visual person. I tend to under-describe things because the image is already in my head. Also, describing a room is hard. If a room has a balcony, a raised section, a lowered section, pillars and more, it can be hard to accurately portray it through words. Especially once people start moving around!

I think what I am going to do is to send the players maps before the session. They'll have the layout right there in front of them. This is an issue that Roll20 might solve, because you can put a map on the screen that everyone can see. We'll try that soon.

I like theater of the mind the best, but it has its own challenges.
Pathfinder version of Dispater

Ditch the Flashbacks/Solo Stuff: The second half of the session was much better than the first half. I  love to run "flashback" type things, but it just eats up too much time online and I get antsy about having other players sit and wait. From now on I'm going to just play D&D like a normal person.

One exciting idea, though, is that I could run little side solo moments for players during the week. With online stuff, all we have to do is be online at the same time, we don't have to travel and clear 3 hours from our daily schedules.

That means that if a hero gets split off from the group during a session, we could go online and play through it during the week and we won't waste table time during the actual session. With solo play, you can get a lot more done in just half an hour than with a full group.

In this session, I tried to do a bunch of things:
  • Add Lemeuel to THE KEY RING (a success!)
  • Tie together the stories of all three online adventures I ran (a success, but just too much info/NPCs to digest in 2 hours)
  • Put lots of keys in (piece of cake)
  • Foreshadow Perkinses (done!)
The Party: The Key Ring

(Andrew) Finy Teetoe - Halfling Rogue
(Pat) Gurn Sirensong - Gnome Bard
(Ashley) Lemuel - Human Rogue
(Joe) Zavagor - Half-orc Warlock

Toxin the Green Dragon

Here's the basic idea. I connected all of the bad guys from the the three previous online adventures as members/affiliates of a cult devoted to devils and Dispater. The hierarchy goes like this
  • Leader: Toxin the Green Dragon villain from Perkinses
  • Second-in-Command: Scarra the Abishai villain from Perkinses
  • Third in Command: Igbalneum the Flame Dragon Wyrmling villain from Book of Lairs
  • Lieutenant: SKARGLE the Shapechanger villain from the mold man adventure - he has russet mold and he can turn people into mold men with it
  • Valued Employee: Dornella A rogue who is stealing things for them
  • Minions/Cannon Fodder: Mold Men and Tiefling Cultists
Demons vs. Devils/The Blood War: It's kind of a running theme in my game that the battle between law and chaos is primarily fought by demons (chaos) and devils (law). For whatever reason, my groups end up working alongside demons to fight devils.The demon lords so far:
  • Eeman the demon lord patron of Zavagor
  • Tharzax the demon lord of poison from the mike mearls adventure
So.. in this thing, I tried to float the notion that Selicia the werespider and worshipers of Tharzax can be an ally of the heroes.

Skargle is running around on a mysterious mission for the devils, using his mold men to create chaos  while he and Dornella steal what they need.

The schemes:
  • The devils really want to find that wizard brain from the first key ring adventure
  • Loren the sage from the first key ring adventure is aducted by the devils
  • Dornella ends up imprisoned in a magic cube and everybody wants to steal that cube.
The Judiciary Auction: There's a new thing in the city. People who commit crimes are placed in magic cubes. The cubes are sold at an auction. Once a prisoner is decubed, it's common courtesy for the prisoner to serve the person who freed them for a week.

This is from that DCC RPG adventure that I really liked.

We started off with some solo stuff. I'll trim it down to the basics because it's very convoluted.

Solo Adventures

Figurines of Wondrous Power

Lemuel: Lemuel the rogue was hired by Aubreck to find the werespider. Lemuel meets Aryzon, a mysterious shopowner, who helped Lemuel figure out that the werespider will be at the Judicial Auction.

Lemuel got a look at what was actually in the crate that the group from the Mearls adventure had been hired to retrieve:
  • A magic cloak
  • Three figurines of wondrous power: Bronze griffon, ebony fly, and marble elephant.
Finy: Finy the rogue met Selicia the werespider in the city. He liked her and he hit on her. They ended up at the House of Healing from the mold men adventure. Selicia later showed him the altar to Tharzax she was making in a dilapidated building. Finy got creeped out when he found out that ritual sacrifices would be involved. He left.

Gurn: Gurn the bard had nightmares - he had visions of Zotzpox the imp writhing in a maggot pit. Then, a dragon/demon (abishai) came and retrieved him. Gurn seems to have some kind of special link to Zotzpox after last adventure.

Loren the sage gave Gurn the wizard brain and told him to hide it somewhere. Loren was in some kind of trouble. Gurn buried it in one of the parks in the city. Then he found out that Loren was missing and his shop was burned to the ground. An eyewitness said that SKARGLE was involved.

Zavagor: Zavagor the warlock spent a week training in magic under Pollidemia, a big NPC from my old campaigns. He has to do menial tasks for her. Pollidemia told Zavagor a legend: Zavagor's patron Eeman was once bound by a wizard named Keraptis. In order to be freed, she gave him a powerful unique magic item - the deck of destinies. This is stuff that will play into an adventure down the road.

Zavagor had a vision from Eeman in the bathtub. Eeman told him that she has placed 13 keys in areas he was fated to visit. Once Zavagor found the keys, he could unlock doors and learn what he wanted to know - how to end his family's debt to Eeman.

Eeman told him that devils had infested the city. She told him he can work with agents of Tharzax to battle them.

No More: Took way too long, way to much information, won't do it again. I like what I came up with, but it's too much at once. I am going to have to learn to become comfortable with a session with fewer details and more open space.

The whole thing boiled down to the fact that the group needed to go to the judiciary auction at the end of the week. They did.

The Prisoner Cube Auction

The Judiciary Auction
There was a huge crowd looking to buy prisoner cubes. Tons of NPCs were here:
  • Aryzon: The Perkins shop owner NPC
  • Edwin Allister: The healer from the mold men adventure
  • Pellerax: An NPC wizard from a Perkins adventure. He was here to de-cube prisoners for a price.
  • Selicia the Werespider: She was lurking in the shadows
  • SKARGLE the Shapeshifter: He was hiding in a vacant building with his cronies and cages full of rabid mold men.
Key-Related Activities: Zavagor had been told that two of the keys he needed were here at the auction. He'd learn that Selicia had one key on a necklace. The other key was in a cart full of keys as part of a clearance sale.

The group is called the key ring. I decided that every adventure has to have some kind of key in it and I thought I'd go overboard for this one.

Bidding: I had cooked up a bunch of goofy prisoners in cubes for people to bid on. There was a precocious girl who always got into adventures. Zavagor, good guy that he is, paid for her release and handed her to her mother. Pellerax the NPC wizard had been being patronizing to Zavagor, but he was most impressed. Pellerax is  memebr of a famous adventuring party in the city.

Other cubes:
  • A kleptomaniac dwarf who was stealing windchimes from people's porches. 
  • A githzerai instigator. I was hoping the group would free her so that I could use all of the githzerai sayings like "There cannot be two skies." But they didn't.
The Scheme of Skargle: Dornella's cube was about to be auctioned. Skargle's plan went into effect. Down the street there was an explosion, Mold men were on a rampage.

The crowd scattered. Most of the guards and NPCs ran toward the danger. The heroes did not.

Once the area was cleared out, Skargle released mold men into the square. The mold men swarmed the remaining guards and 3 of them came at the heroes.

Vegepygmy Troubles: Finy ran up to the cart and grabbed the cube containing Dornella. He and Lemuel battled a mold man. To their dismay, they saw that the mold men kept regenerating and getting up despite the fact that they dropped it to 0 hit points multiple times.

Selicia the werespider raced out and actually helped the heroes. She turned into a spider swarm and covered the mold man.

Lemuel recognized her from the Mearls adventure. Selicia had actually revived the bad guy of that adventure and Lemuel was intent on killing her.

When Selicia realized this, she actually tried to flee in human form but the group stabbed her repeatedly. Finy took the opportunity to snatch the key on her necklace with a deft roll.

Selicia was down and had but a single hit point left. She called on Tharzax for aid and got nothing. The group took pity on her and spared her.

Raining Keys: Gurn battled a mold man and was using bard powers to assist his allies. He ended up fighting two at once. A mold man dove at Zavagor and missed, landing in the key cart. Key went flying everywhere in slow motion . The key ring was doing battle as keys fell all around them.

Eventually, the key that Zavagor needed flew right at him.

Zavagor scorched the mold man with a spell and started a fire that was spreading. Some barrels of fruit caught fire.

Zavagor saw that the mold man was vulnerable to fire. The only way to actually take down a mold man is with fire and a few other things.

The warlock yelled out that fire would kill them. Finy ran over and dumped oil all over two mold men that were attacking Gurn.

Then Zavagor used his new power that allowed his eldritch blast to push things. He sent a flaming barrel of fruit at two mold men covered in oil. The flaming barrel truck them and exploded. The mold men were no more.
Silver Dragon
Phase Two: Tiefling snipers set up on the rooftops. They were covering Skargle, who ran for the cube cart. Skargle looked through the cubes but couldn't find Dornella. Finy had already taken her cube.

Finy climbed a roof and sent a sniper plummeting to his doom. Lemuel climbed the roof on the opposite side of the square and took down the other two.

Too Many Vegepygmies: Someone in the vacant building unleashed 10 more mold men, who ran onto the scene.

From their vantage point on the roof, they learned Aryzon's secret.

They saw Aryzon run into a dark area and transform into.. a silver dragon! The dragon breathed on the mold men and killed them all. Skargle fled the scene.

Aftermath: The heroes had gotten the cube. Aryzon asked to speak with them in his shop. I should note that I mentioned a number of times that he was wearing a necklace with a crystal claw. This item is of course a Perkins creation that plays into a future adventure.

Aryzon told the heroes that he believed that dragons and devils had teamed up and were hatching some kind of plot against the city.

He got dramatic: "These fiends must be stopped. Let me ask you something: Can you kill a dragon?"

I originally was going to stop the session right there, but their reaction was so funny I kept it going for a second.

Aryzon asked them if they can kill a dragon. Their response was a three-second pause, and then "...No."

Then, somebody said: "Do you mean, you?"

Aryzon said: "Of course I don't mean me! I mean the flame dragon member of the devil cult!"

Totally cracked me up. There was a few times during the game that they really made me laugh. This group is really fun to play with.

Depth: I definitely feel like I need to make sure that I run everything in a cinematic manner. Battles shouldn't be trading rolls - it should be tackling, witty repartee, using the environment, running away when it makes sense, all that stuff.

I think the next session is going to involve a Shawn Merwin adventure from the Book of Lairs which has a dragon wyrmling in it. It's for 3rd level characters and the key ring is now officially 3rd level.

Thinking about things.. this group has two rogues, a bard and a warlock. This seems like the perfect group to run a heist adventure for.

There is this old 2e Lankhmar adventure that I tried to run as a kid but I wasn't really able to pull off at all. I think I might try it now. The adventurers have to infiltrate a party full of nobles and steal a magic gem. I think that would be a really fun thing to watch this group do.


Ryan said...

Fun write up! Cool to see the overlap between all three online games. How does the online style compare to your face to face experience? Is there any feedback from it that you would incorporate into your tabletop games?

Jason R said...

I understand what you are trying to accomplish with the two key encounters per session. What about all the downtime activities of a more mundane nature that the group might want to do from time to time? Would you use the one-on-one sessions to handle those?

I am looking forward to these being on YouTube!

Garrett said...

Sean, you mention struggling with running megadungeons and not making them boring. I've run into the same thing in the past. One of my favorite 3E campaigns is Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. Huge challenge in running that dungeon and making it feel alive. However, I recently ran across some advice that mentioned trying to run a megadungeon as a city. Treat various areas of the dungeon as you would districts. Consider the interaction between its denizens as you would between factions in a city. Which groups are allies? Which compete over territory? Etc... Afterwards, it made me want to take another swing at ToEE with that perspective. Since you embrace running city adventures, I wonder if a similar approach could work for you?

Ashley said...

Well, technically I only took down one sniper; you missed the part where Gurn charmed the last one, introduced himself as Finy, and talked the tiefling into telling him where his secret base was so they could get drinks together later. That was probably one of my favorite moments from Saturday, although– again– the whole thing was a blast. Everyone was on the ball and great to play with. Yourself included!

Kevin said...

Hello Sean,

I have absolutely loved this articles about the online games. Lately, I am addicted to reading modules and attempting to run them as one shots. So these articles have been hitting close to home!

One thing that you have mentioned that is interesting me is the whole Perkin's Method you continue to bring up. Is there a place I can read about this at all?


Sean said...

Ryan: Online is cool but the conversation thing is really weird. It's better than I thought it was going to be!

Jason R: Downtime I think I would set up over email and then pull the trigger on at the start of a session if something was going to happen.

Garrett: That is a fantastic idea. I am definitely going to try that. There's an adventure I'm going to run that is very mega-dungeon-y and I think this might be the best approach to it. Thank you!

Ashley: I never know what details to cut or not! I tend to write too much so I try to trim out stuff. I'll try and edit that in. Thank you, you were great!

Kevin: There is no article about the perkins method (i should probably write one!). When I talk about it, I just mean the way he ran 4e and now 5e curse of strahd - his sessions contain one big encounter and that's it. It seems to work really well and potentially cuts down on your prep time in a major way. The trick is in knowing how to take a published adventure and run it in that fashion.

Jason R said...

Speaking of Chris Perkins adventures, I really like Dragon's Delve from Dungeon #62 as part of a dwarves-centric campaign. It's got some interesting dynamics going on with the dwarves, an interesting spin on both the driving force behind the adventure start and the identity of the main villain. As a bonus, the cool player map and great pencil art are super visuals.

Sean said...

Jason R: After I read your comment, I looked this adventure up. I am going to run it! Thanks for the suggestion, I would have missed it.

Angel charls said...

I have often said that my primary role behind the DM screen is to entertain my players, which includes keeping them in suspense. Suspense heightens anxiety and uncertainty, and one way to create suspense in a D&D game is to put characters in jeopardy and then cut away to something else, thus leaving players anxious. Take the Wednesday night group, which was all but obliterated in our penultimate game session. Instead of picking up where the campaign left off and answering the big question on their minds Are the characters truly dead? I went somewhere else entirely and kept the players in suspense for 20 minutes.

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