After a break over August, our group is resuming the weekly remote D&D game. Attendance may be lower than over the past year and a half, because in our part of the world society is gradually reopening. For some of us at least, this means a return to something resembling a normal social life. As a result there are more diversions on Friday evenings besides logging on to Zoom and throwing some dice.
Anyway, for our first post-summer game I had nothing prepared and it just so happened we had the exact same group as during the last session, when we ended our play-through of The Coming of Sorg on a cliffhanger. As a result we decided to pick up where we left off. Good thing I had blogged notes, and also took photos of the battle map.
- Hetz Zuril, level 3 thief, carrying a potion of animal mastery, and a ring of regeneration
- Baiar, level 3 fighter, wearing a girdle of giant’s might
- Cobrynth, level 3 cleric, carrying a staff of mastery and a ring of telekinesis
- Ralik & Tovak, heavy foot soldiers
- Trisdik & Mazian, handgunners
We resumed at the moment when the party had penetrated the high temple had engaged in combat Vnaud the high priest, his acolytes, and the rhino-sized demon maggot known as Sorg. Long story short, Baiar the fighter and his two heavy footmen and two handgunners make short work of most of the acolytes. The thief Hetz Zuril takes out the high priest with a well-aimed crossbow bolt from a concealed position. Meanwhile Cobrynth the cleric uses his staff of mastery to compel a pair of acolytes to throw themselves at Sorg. The acolytes screamed in pain at the bile that spurted from Sorg’s wounds, and melted their daggers. The players concluded simply stabbing away at Sorg would not be the solution. The unfortunate dominated acolytes were then used as human shields against Sorg’s bile spit attack. Baiar closes the distance and aided by his girdle of giant’s might tips the demon from the altar it was draped over, and proceeds to bash it with the altar itself! Cobrynth, having run out of acolytes to control, uses his ring of telekinesis to levitate a piece of crumbled column from outside into the temple to plug up Sorg’s disgusting bile-spitting orifice. Sorg ultimately succumbs under the extreme violence inflicted on it but the party, but not before exploding in a mess of bile that destroys much of the arms and armor of the men standing close to it. At the end of it all, two men-at-arms have perished, and the remaining two have had their fill and ask to be let go, which Baiar graciously does.
Afterwards, the party heads outside and inspects the pool adjacent to the high temple. There they find the rapidly decaying corpse of an enormous fish-like demon. (It has perished with the departure of Sorg.) They then continue to what Cobrynth, who is a cleric of Deel, knows to be a brewery. Here they are surprised by a group of cultists led by a man named Len, who wears an eye-catching medallion.
An uneasy conversation develops. The party asks the cultists why they are holed up in the brewery. They say they are hiding from the emanations produced by the demon in the high temple, whom they believe is not the real Sorg but an imposter. The party say they have destroyed Sorg, which the cultists don’t believe. The party are confused as well, and try to confirm if the cultists are on the side of Sorg, or not. The cultists readily agree they are still fully on board with the idea of summoning the real Sorg. This, paired with the prospect of treasure in the form of the necklace worn by Len, is enough for Hetz to take a surprise shot at the leader. Len is severely wounded but not killed, and immediately disappears between the barrels. The acolytes attack but are made short work of by Baiar and his henchmen. Len retaliates by knocking out Cobrynth with a sneak attack of his own. Baiar digs through the barrels with his giant strength, locates Len, and unceremoniously ends his life.
They pocket the necklace. Cobrynth is revived with the help of Hetz’s ring of regeneration. And here we decide to end the adventure, for real this time. During the customary debrief, I explain what was in the other buildings. We talk a little bit about the different ways they could have approached the adventure.
Some reflections on what happened during the session, in no particular order:
- A high-level thief as adversary can be quite deadly, if ran correctly. I managed to resist the urge to have Len simply charge the player characters and instead had him hide so he could take pot shots at them. Made for an interesting dynamic.
- The conversation with Len was the first time I tried to apply my “new” doctrine for running social encounters. After an initial exchange in-character, I ask the players what they hope to get out of the conversation, and I make sure they are clear on what the NPCs’ goals are. We then try to somehow resolve the scene swiftly, either by rolling some dice (typically a reaction roll from my end) and/or simply roleplaying a little more. This made the whole thing drag on much less than it usually did.
- My players have developed a strong treasure-seeking reflex from many sessions in Castle Xyntillan under a xp-for-gold regime. This on-page adventure is very thin on treasure as written. Running it as a one-shot with pregens this is no big deal. But as part of a proper campaign it would definitely need some work.
- I again ran combat in my “new” approach. At the top of each round I declare what monsters will be doing, then players declare what they are intending to do, we roll for initiative, and then we resolve each side’s actions in the order of movement, missile, magic, and melee. This makes for a smoother back and forth. Some players expressed that they like the extra gambling element that comes with having to declare before initiative is rolled. I should say though that I do allow players to adjust their course of action if events during the round have radically changed the situation. Within reason, of course. I am also not super strict with the order of actions, but I do think I will change them to the following: missile, movement, melee, and magic. This is roughly in order of how fast each action can occur.
- This new approach to combat also opens the door to the possibility of interrupting a spell-caster, although I need to think some more about what it would take exactly. Being engaged in melee? Or also being shot at? Only if you take damage? Something to think about.
- We also had an interesting situation with a character disengaging from melee. I rule that you use up half your movement if you want to get away safely, but then I had an acolyte catch up and get a bonus for attacking from behind. This maybe also happened because we use circular tokens on a battle mat and those don’t have a facing. Obviously, when you safely disengage from melee you should keep facing your opponent and so they might be able to catch up with you but they would not able to stab you in the back.
- The dominated acolytes being used to block off Sorg’s bile spit attack was an interesting case to adjudicate. I decided they would simply block off one attack and then perish. But looking back I could have also treated them as cover, say for a -4 to-hit. And if the attack failed by that margin rule that the dominated acolyte was hit in stead.
- Similarly, I had to think on my feet about how much damage a demon larva would take if it was bashed with an altar by a character wearing a girdle of giant’s might. I think I was really generous and went with three or possibly four dice of damage. But I could have also stuck with the general rule that a character using this magic item simply does double the normal damage. We were using the item descriptions from Delving Deeper in this game. Afterwards I cross-compared with Swords & Wizardry and Old School Essentials and it’s kind of interesting to see how they differ.
- Come to think of it, Sorg should have probably only been harmed by non-mundane weapons. Oh well.
And that’s about it. This one-page adventure was an interesting experience to run. I think to make it really rewarding under a classic D&D framework, it needs more work from the referee, particularly on the front of treasure. I felt a bit dissatisfied when we finished, because after defeating Sorg there isn’t much else to do. In hind sight I should have just ended the game when the demon was slain, and narrated what happened during the mopping-up afterwards. But I did not have the presence of mind to do so. Better luck next time.