Thursday, December 17, 2020

Lessons Learned 24

The following happened months, MONTHS I say, ago. In the before times, and then global pandemic hit and we have not played in my campaign since. Maybe after the first of the year we will see the first of several vaccines come out, and we will finish this thing up. Excuse me if I have forgotten anything, or the details have become muddled, but I have been busy in the interim.

The party got to dabble in the sandbox, and then I railroaded them right into the giants' lair. After their last adventure, a side quest where I let them choose which path to take, I once again used their affiliation with the government to go where I wanted them to go. For those of you not following all of that, in my desire to fight "murderhobo-ism" I tied the party to a paramilitary organization at the very beginning of this campaign, which makes them be responsible to their local government and which also lets me guide the group from time to time. This adventure is the classic Against the Giants, originally published all the way back in 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but lovingly updated to 5e by Wizards of the Coast and published in Tales from the Yawning Portal. Unlike the two other arcs of this campaign, which I stole whole-cloth from 3rd edition and had to modify to 5th as we played (usually before each session, but sometimes as we were playing them out), this arc has already been translated for me, by professionals! 

There is, however, still much preparation that I have had to do for this arc, and the party is not past the first of three parts of the adventure. I highly encourage you to read Fiddleback's (of GM Word of the Week fame) review, I guess you would call it, of this particular module, Fiddleback vs Against the Giants. If you are planning on running this series of adventures, heed the man's warning and prepare your butt off. I will let you read what Master Fiddleback wrote for yourself, but I do want to relay some of the things I had to do to get the first third of this arc running smooth. 

One moment while I digress on my use of the word "master" just now. I did not use it, as has become anathema to the liberal left snowflakes, in the manner of "master and slave". Yes, slavery was (still is) abhorrent, and GitHub was right in discontinuing the term "master" as it was traditional to call the orginating code "master", and the subsequent code "slaves". However, not every use of the word master is about slavery. My use of the word master just now refers to a master craftsman (craftsperson, fine, PC bullshit, grumble grumble), as in apprentice, journeyman, master. Good on GitHub for dropping it, but not every other usage of the word should be abandoned, unless it directly reflects back to slavery. My buck fifty on the matter.

The first thing I realized in setting up this adventure is the broad scope of monsters and NPCs in this one fort. The original creators (quite possibly Master Gygax himself) did not want you to get bored by running into the same monster over and over, so there are numerous different monsters and NPCs. There was no way I could keep track of them all trying to flip between the pages of the Monster Manual, so I wrote all of their stats onto 3x5 note cards. I am not kidding, there is like 30 separate monster types and NPCs in just the first third of the adventure. Now, you do not have to hand write them onto note cards, you could compile them onto a couple of pages and print them out. However you do it, do something and do not try to reference the books mid-session, as you will slow everything down as you flip back and forth betwixt all the different baddies.

Speaking of monsters, the adventure gives you the positions of all of the said monsters inside this two level fort at one specific time. Making sure your party reaches the fort at that time is easy, but after that, the players could decide to do something other than kick open the doors and commence to rolling for initiative. My party scouted the fort from the shadows, and then withdrew to discuss options, then snuck back in the next night to assassinate the head giant, after most of the giants went to bed. Totally throws the whole lot of baddies into a spin and suddenly what is in the book is no longer correct. Time passes, the monsters and NPCs, if you want this to be realistic, move to different parts of the fort and go about their different routines doing different things at different parts of the day in different areas of the fort. No, the adventure does not tell you what these routines are or where any of the baddies are at any other time of day, you have to decide as the DM what these routines are and where the monsters are at throughout the day. You will want to do this before your players and their characters arrive at the fort, as you will be too busy directing the scene to figure all of this out on the fly. For my session prep, I charted out where everyone was at and what they were doing at various parts of the day - in the deep of night after the feast, during the morning, then the afternoon, and finally early evening just before the feast. You do not have to go that detailed, or you may decide to go even further, whatever works for you. I did make the decision that until the party did something to interrupt it, the feast described in the adventure module would reoccur every evening at roughly the same time, just so I would not have to reinvent that particular wheel. 

Beyond all of that, the adventure is, and has been since the first edition, very vague on many of the particulars - how do the PCs get the job? where are these giants' strongholds exactly? how does the party travel to these locations? how do some of the non-automatically evil giants react to the party? what will drive off each band of giants, also known as what is their breaking point? For most of these questions, like how does the party travel to the hill giant fort, I have let the players figure it out. For these kinds of questions, as long as the party has not made an obvious bad decision, they will automatically succeed, but they still feel powerful and their actions and decisions have an effect on the world. For the other questions, you as the DM have to figure this stuff out ahead of time. Or during play. Like I had no idea my party would go straight to assassinating the hill giant chief, but they did and they managed to pull it off. Did this drive away the other giants? No, I decided on the spot, but it did create a bit of a power vacuum, and as a result there is some infighting that the PCs could take advantage of. Some folks will see this lack of concrete information on every aspect or possibility as a failing by the adventure's author, but I think you cannot possibly cover down on EVERY eventuality in the scenario, you as an author can only do so much on any product, and there has to be a point where you say "enough is enough", end it and publish it. Take it as a challenge to improve your DM'ing skills, and try not to whine about it too much.

Not really a lesson learned, but a funny story in and of itself - my party has a fascination with the Awaken spell. At the beginning of the previous arc of the campaign, the party traveled to the ranger's tavern (we used Pathfinder's Ultimate Campaign book for some downtime options, and the ranger built a tavern, the druid built a sacred grove and herbal shop, and the paladin, as the party's leader, oversaw the construction of their guild's chapterhouse) and one of the party joked they were going into the ranger's personal bedroom and stealing his badger. "How do you know he has a badger," I asked, "and that he keeps it in his bedroom?" "He's a ranger," came the reply, "don't they all have a badger in their bedrooms?" So I rolled Luck (I just use percentile dice and kind of guesstimate what the likelihood of anything happening is, and just roll with it), and rolled very, very high. So the party finds a badger in the ranger's bedroom... which they then proceeded to die pink, shave all it's fur off except for a mohawk, put a bikini on (another roll, this badger is female), and then the druid gets the bright idea they should Awaken the poor thing. Which they did, and then gifted a spare Headband of Intellect no one in the party was using (obviously). Said badger, now wearing a very nicely tailored suit, runs the ranger's tavern while the ranger is off on adventures with the party. Also the badger was given a lot of marijuana (the druid and ranger were the biggest pot dealers in this particular corner of the empire, and after they made friends with the myconids at the end of the last campaign arc, are also now the biggest 'shroom dealers) which helped soothe the badger down after the whole "shaved and dyed pink" thing. 

But it does not stop there. The party's newest member is a dwarven cleric who came with his own giant boar to ride around on. What did the party do after the dwarf got to trusting the rest of the party? They Awakened his boar. Then the ranger, whose family has a fascination with wolves and werewolves, managed to make a dire wolf his loyal pet after nearly killing it, definitely killing its former master, and bringing said wolf back from the brink of death. Which the party then Awakened. But no extra Headbands of Intellect for what I have been playing as the party's new peanut gallery. Think Waldorf and Statler from The Muppet Show, except they each weigh half a ton, are the size of a horse, only have an INT of 6, and could maul you at their leisure. I am dreading what they will Awaken next, but also fascinated at the same time, like a train wreck you just cannot tear your eyes away from.

That is all for this post. Sorry for the delay, but the COVID has kept me and the family busy. My group is still playing online when we can get manage to get together, but it has not been as regular as any of us would like. Hope you and yours are doing well and surviving the pandemic.

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