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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PirateGuy

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    Default Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Saph's adventures with the Red Hand of Doom inspired me to start running it myself. My plan was to run it over the course of spring semester '09, and I already have a group lined up for that - but I got home for the holidays and realized that I really, really wanted to play. Besides, I thought it would be a good idea to give it a test-run before I ran it for real - I've been hyping this a lot for my school chums and I don't want to screw this one up. I'd like to journal the "real" run-through come spring, since I doubt that I'll have enough time to go through the entire module over the course of a month. Hell, I'd be impressed if we make it past Rhest.

    With that in mind, I made some calls. I was planning on four players (number and type will fluctuate due to availability throughout this campaign) but due to an inopportune snowstorm, only two people made it. We decided to roll up four characters and have each play two, since we all really wanted to play. This isn't something that I like doing, but it was better than the alternative - hopefully, we won't have to do it again.

    Needless to say, spoilers for the Red Hand of Doom abound, so proceed at your own risk.

    The party so far (all level 5):
    Spoiler
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    Jason Schruder, human factotum with all feats going to Font of Inspiration. Sharing the skillmonkey role, and the strongest arcanist in the party, amusingly enough. With 20 HP, his ongoing survival is a bit of a concern.

    Tyv Taika, human spellthief. The other arcanist and skillmonkey. With TWF, Craven, and two +1 shortswords (see below), he's a force to be reckoned with. There are enough casters among the Horde to make this interesting, IMHO.

    Luan Phien, elven druid (shapeshifter variant). His spells haven't seen a whole lot of use, outside of healing, but I forsee a lot of good uses for his shifting. Can hold his own in combat, too, but has piss-poor AC.

    Clutch, warforged fighter. Took Oversized TWF and Monkey Grip. When I told the player that this wouldn't let him wield two greatswords, he said that he knew, and that the intent was to switch off between two longswords and a large greatsword. I just shook my head and let him. Still a good tank, since he rolled insanely well for HP (62 at 5th level!) and took Adamatine Body.


    The events of the evening:
    Spoiler
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    The party fought off the marauder ambush handily, immobilizing half the hobgoblins with Entangle and taking out the reinforcements with a flaming Web (I ruled that the road was deep enough for it to have "walls"). The fighter was particularly effective, shrugging off blows and dealing out massive damage by Power Attacking with his greatsword. They made it into Drellin's Ferry and accepted the mission from Norro Winston and Captain Soranna, and headed out into the Witchwood the next day after buying some supplies. They were attacked by warg riders on the road - not much of a challenge (and dear lord I hate mounted combat rules). After narrowly averting a fight with Jorr (the warforged thought the dogs were attacking, and picked one up by the scruff of the neck) they defused the situation and hired him along as a guide.

    That's where we wrapped up the first session. It's been fun, but I'm looking forward to the battle of the keep, as it will hopefully provide them with a real challenge.


    Observations so far:

    Spoiler
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    -Treasure is all over the board. After two combats, the party has two +1 shortswords, three sets of +1 banded mail, and more masterwork weapons than they know what to do with. Fortunately, they're not the kind of party to take everything they find in the hopes of selling it later, since if they were, they'd be SOL - I don't think there's enough cash in the Vale. Since character creation was rushed, they didn't get even close to WBL for starting equipment, but the characters in the spring campaign will. Seeing how much treasure there is so early on, I'm considering not doing this... although since most of the treasure is equipment that they won't be able to sell, how much of a problem is this really? And how exactly is the Horde managing to equip all these people with such expensive equipment? I guess I'm just worried about the power level being upset by an influx of treasure, but clearly the answer isn't to only give the Horde equipment not worth looting.

    -I'm not sure whether or not random encounters are worth keeping. They add to verisimilitude, and (as Saph showed) can result in vast amounts of lulz, but I'm worried that they'll just bog everything down.

    -Spell selections for NPC spellcasters are not what I would have chosen for them. It might be a lot of work to change them all, but it will probably be worth it.

    -I love the attention to detail. We very nearly veered off on a sidequest to identify the bodies of the merchants in the abandoned farmhouse and return them to their families - next time, when something like this happens, I'll just let it roll.

    -I keep forgetting to keep track of terrain modifiers. Since these will generally help the opponents more than the PCs, I should... not do that? Any suggestions on how to keep track of all this stuff in a big fight?

    -I'm not yet sure how to handle social situations. I don't want to leave them up to a flat Diplomacy roll, and it seems silly that, for example, Norro would withhold any information about the Horde, or that Jorr wouldn't want to work with the PCs in clearing the goblins out of his forest. How much would it change things if I ditched all the diplomacy checks altogether and just played it by ear? The various states (indifferent, hostile, friendly) aren't really well defined anyway.

    -Some of the threads between locations are a little weak. Norro sends them into the Witchwood to deal with the hobgoblins, but how is that supposed to lead them to Vraath Keep? They were headed there anyway (using the suggested adventure hook), but when the party entered the Witchwood, it was with two distinct goals - find the Keep, and find the hobgoblins. It seems a little too convenient that these happen to coincide. I just had Jorr tell them that he suspects that hobgoblins are occupying the Keep, which is a reasonable thing for him to know.

    -I expect balancing encounters, power-wise, to be an ongoing challenge. I think this is more of an inherent problem with 3.5 than with the module, since the module does a decent job (with noted exceptions above) on its own. The party in the spring will consist of a batman-ish wizard, a rogue/swashbuckler, a scout, a favored soul, and a crusader, and those people know how to play, so... it will be interesting, to say the least.
    My Red Hand of Doom campaign journal: Part I, Part II
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  2. - Top - End - #2
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    Planetar

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Heh, you guys got further than we did on our first session! Having two players probably speeds the game up quite a bit.

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    Observations so far:

    -Treasure is all over the board. After two combats, the party has two +1 shortswords, three sets of +1 banded mail, and more masterwork weapons than they know what to do with. Fortunately, they're not the kind of party to take everything they find in the hopes of selling it later, since if they were, they'd be SOL - I don't think there's enough cash in the Vale. Since character creation was rushed, they didn't get even close to WBL for starting equipment, but the characters in the spring campaign will. Seeing how much treasure there is so early on, I'm considering not doing this... although since most of the treasure is equipment that they won't be able to sell, how much of a problem is this really? And how exactly is the Horde managing to equip all these people with such expensive equipment? I guess I'm just worried about the power level being upset by an influx of treasure, but clearly the answer isn't to only give the Horde equipment not worth looting.
    There feels like a lot of treasure early on, but it's balanced by the fact that quite a few of the later encounters (and most of the randoms) supply no treasure at all. Carrying all the stuff (and finding buyers) can also be a hassle. The real limiting factor on the money the PCs earn, though, is that there's nothing good they can buy with it! Both Drellin's Ferry and Starsong Hill have an 800 GP limit on purchases.

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    -I'm not sure whether or not random encounters are worth keeping. They add to verisimilitude, and (as Saph showed) can result in vast amounts of lulz, but I'm worried that they'll just bog everything down.
    Random encounters can really mount up. The way I've been doing it is to get the players to make the rolls - makes it feel less arbitrary and does reinforce the idea that the place is dangerous.

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    -Spell selections for NPC spellcasters are not what I would have chosen for them. It might be a lot of work to change them all, but it will probably be worth it.
    I think this is best done as a mirror thing. The NPCs should have spells that are of an equivalent power level to what the PCs are using.

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    -I'm not yet sure how to handle social situations. I don't want to leave them up to a flat Diplomacy roll, and it seems silly that, for example, Norro would withhold any information about the Horde, or that Jorr wouldn't want to work with the PCs in clearing the goblins out of his forest. How much would it change things if I ditched all the diplomacy checks altogether and just played it by ear? The various states (indifferent, hostile, friendly) aren't really well defined anyway.
    I do a mixture; both the roleplaying and the Diplomacy result make a difference. If they RP well but roll badly they'll never get a bad result, but they won't get as much as they could have done.

    It's hard to ditch it completely, because some of the awards in Chapters 1, 2, and 4 give PCs various degrees of benefits and VPs depending on how good their Diplomacy results are. Anyway, there should be some benefit for the players who've chosen to invest points in social skills.

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    -I expect balancing encounters, power-wise, to be an ongoing challenge. I think this is more of an inherent problem with 3.5 than with the module, since the module does a decent job (with noted exceptions above) on its own. The party in the spring will consist of a batman-ish wizard, a rogue/swashbuckler, a scout, a favored soul, and a crusader, and those people know how to play, so... it will be interesting, to say the least.
    *winces* Yeah, that could hurt. I ended up disallowing ToB for my campaign, because a single crusader could literally have beaten most of the encounters on his own (and one with a really good wizard backing him up would have been even worse).

    Remember that the RHoD opponents are 90% core-only and are not designed for maximum combat effectiveness. Hobgoblin Warrior 3s are not remotely a challenge for a ToB character, and a sorcerer whose primary spell is lightning bolt is a joke compared to a wizard with a spellbook full of the most powerful stuff from five different sourcebooks.

    There are three possible solutions to this problem:

    a) Let the players blast their way through effortlessly.
    b) Ban everything above a certain power level.
    c) Boost the opponents to compensate.

    I've been doing a mixture of b) and c). Banning everything that's too powerful is less work, but limits your players, while boosting the opponents is probably the better solution but involves a lot more effort.

    Anyway, you'll work it out as you go. Let us know what happens! :)

    - Saph
    I'm the author of the Alex Verus series of urban fantasy novels. Fated is the first, and Book #10 in the series, Fallen, is out as of September 2019. For updates, check my blog!

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Quote Originally Posted by Saph
    I do a mixture; both the roleplaying and the Diplomacy result make a difference. If they RP well but roll badly they'll never get a bad result, but they won't get as much as they could have done.

    It's hard to ditch it completely, because some of the awards in Chapters 1, 2, and 4 give PCs various degrees of benefits and VPs depending on how good their Diplomacy results are. Anyway, there should be some benefit for the players who've chosen to invest points in social skills.
    One trick I've tried with more experienced roleplayers is to have them roll first, then roleplay in a way that reflects the Diplomacy result. So, rolling a 2 with a CHA penalty and no ranks in Diplomacy (or Bluff/Intimidate, for that matter), tends to lead to them committing some horrible cultural faux pas, saying something unintentionally (or intentionally!) insulting, etc. With players who are actually willing to laugh at themselves, it tends to be fun for everybody.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Matthew's Avatar

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Looking forward to reading more. I would keep the random encounters, as I think things may be a bit bland without them. You can always adjust them to be more in keeping with a fast paced game (random monsters are more likely to run away when faced with a hard fight, as well).
    It is a joyful thing indeed to hold intimate converse with a man after one’s own heart, chatting without reserve about things of interest or the fleeting topics of the world; but such, alas, are few and far between.

    – Yoshida Kenko (1283-1350), Tsurezure-Gusa (1340)

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Quote Originally Posted by Matthew View Post
    Looking forward to reading more. I would keep the random encounters, as I think things may be a bit bland without them. You can always adjust them to be more in keeping with a fast paced game (random monsters are more likely to run away when faced with a hard fight, as well).
    This is exactly what I did - they fought two warg riders, killed one, the other fled. I think I'll keep them, though, and I like Saph's idea of letting the players roll. It will be a challenge not to make the encounters seem kind of arbitrary, but I guess that's on me as a DM. There was just something very unsatisfying about the way it played out last time.

    As for the power level, I hadn't really realized until I started running it how much of an issue it would be. The players have already put a lot of work into their characters (the crusader went through half a dozen builds) and I don't want to nerf them after the fact, though I'm not averse to doing so if absolutely necessary. I'm not worried about the scout or the favored soul, I'm only worried about the rogue/swashbuckler because I let him take Craven (which even he thought was a little cheesy), and I'm a little worried about the crusader, but he seems to be focusing more on defense then spiked chain lockdown stuff. The wizard... well, I can handle wizards. Maybe. I've been coaching him myself, but I imagine I'll live to regret that.

    I feel like I could do a lot by just amping up the difficulty of the basic troops a little (Alertness as their one feat? Really? I swapped it out for Point Blank Shot, and gave them Precise shot to boot, mentally swapping out their Warrior levels for Fighter levels. Otherwise, they would have been even less effective in their archery role. I might revamp them more fully, changing them to be Fighters instead of Warriors.) and changing spell selections. Inspired by the section on how the Horde responds when the PCs are higher level, I've been toying with the idea of suicide bombers, and how exactly that might play out.

    But really, if the players are going to be clever about it, I want them to be successful - they should be rewarded for playing smart. I just want to make them bleed a little.

    But this is neither here nor there - just thoughts I was having while observing how readily a party of four 5th level hastily-made not-particularly-optimal characters carved through an EL 8 encounter.

    Finally, I'm going to try to play the social encounters more by-the-book - both because the module requires it to an extent, and because I realized, in retrospect, that getting Jorr on their side was just railroading on my part. He really should have tried to kill them for hurting his dawgs.
    My Red Hand of Doom campaign journal: Part I, Part II
    Love the Third Amendment?

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    I found the random encounters were useful in getting the party to the appropriate level for the area they are in... though due to their route choice they did drag on a bit.
    Quote Originally Posted by Lilly View Post
    I am now going to begin blaming everything that goes wrong on Charity. Just for gits and shiggles. And not even just things on the forums. Summer! Charity!

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    Titan in the Playground
     
    Matthew's Avatar

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    This is exactly what I did - they fought two warg riders, killed one, the other fled. I think I'll keep them, though, and I like Saph's idea of letting the players roll. It will be a challenge not to make the encounters seem kind of arbitrary, but I guess that's on me as a DM. There was just something very unsatisfying about the way it played out last time.
    Yeah, integrating random encounters satisfactorily tends to require a deal of thought on the part of the game master. What are those two Worg riders up to? Scouts, deserters, lost? What will they do on seeing a bunch of heavily armed adventurers. Track them? Run away? Attack? Random encounters need not be about combat, and it's very reasonable to give the player characters the option of avoiding them.
    It is a joyful thing indeed to hold intimate converse with a man after one’s own heart, chatting without reserve about things of interest or the fleeting topics of the world; but such, alas, are few and far between.

    – Yoshida Kenko (1283-1350), Tsurezure-Gusa (1340)

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    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    If you're using ToB you should just go all out and replace all the levels of enemies with melee classes with levels in ToB classes. Come up with a few different templates for maneuvers known and prepared and you should be set.

    It's more work, but it will make battles a lot more interesting tactically when the enemies start using the PC's own tricks on them.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Second session went well. Let's see if I can get it all down before my sleep-deprived brain loses its grip on reality.

    Trying to learn from my mistakes of last session, I invited eight people to tonight's session, on the assumption that some of them wouldn't be able to make it. This was almost a big mistake - eight people showed up, and I only managed to mitigate the situation somewhat by convincing my brother to co-DM instead of playing (which was actually extremely helpful). Seven players wasn't so bad, though things did tend to get bogged down and we didn't get quite as far as I had hoped.

    Needless to say, the party composition changed somewhat from last time.

    The new party:
    Spoiler
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    The characters of Clutch, Luan, and Tyv stuck around from last time, but only Tyv remained with the original player. Adding to this, we had:

    Mantega Pantalones, human paladin. Focused on charging, but not quite an übercharger, since the character preferred to charge into combat and then fight from horseback with longsword. The horse is kind of a badass - his hooves were dealing about the same amount of damage as the sword.

    Bowen, human ranger. The build is somewhere halfway between melee and ranged focused, as the character was one hastily advanced from a previous campaign. I'll probably let this player re-spec, if she so desires - otherwise, she'll fall behind pretty quickly. Amusingly enough, Favored Enemy (magical beast) kept being useful over and over and over again - the hydra, the manticore, the wargs.

    Ervange, human favored soul of Kord. Perfectly reasonable character, perhaps a little too inclined towards healing and summoning magic, but nothing wrong with that.

    Lilo, strongheart halfling swordsage. I was a little worried about this character with regards to the others, but so far the player seems content to bamf around with Shadow Jaunt and throw Shadow Garrotes at people, so it worked out. I'll be keeping a close eye on this one, though - he seems to have too many stances.

    My brother also rolled up an as-of-yet-unnamed warlock who was not used. Also unplayed was Jason the factotum - for the duration of the session, he was napping in Jorr's cabin.

    We also redid the feat selection for Clutch - apparently the player who made him "accidentally" took too many feats. This really ticked me off, but I'm going to give the player the benefit of the doubt and assume it was an honest mistake.


    With seven players, I felt the need to tweak some of the encounters to make them appropriately challenging.

    Here's what I did:
    Spoiler
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    Changed the hydra at the causeway into a pyrohydra, with his breath weapon only dealing 1d6 per head

    Added two hobgoblin veterans to the barracks at Vraath's Keep

    Gave the manticore at the keep an additional 20 HP

    Reworked Koth's spell list, and gave him a scroll of Stinking Cloud

    Finally, though this didn't come up yet, I made the hobgoblin sergeant at the bridge into a Warblade 4, as per Username's suggestion, with mostly White Raven maneuvers.

    These changes worked out well, for the most part. I'll probably keep some or all of these changes when I run the module "for real".


    The events of the evening:
    Spoiler
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    The old characters departed from Jorr's cabin and met up with the new characters (minus the paladin) who were the survivors of another expedition sent by Norro to investigate the hobgoblin menace. When they realized that they were after the same thing, they joined forces and headed north.

    First up: the infamous hydra encounter. I was looking forward to this greatly, and I was not disappointed, though it did not go entirely how I expected.

    The moment I mentioned the wagon, the fighter and the favored soul immediately went over to check it out. The druid, in eagle form, spotted the hydra, but it was too late. The two characters were nearly cut off from the rest of the party.

    The challenge here was the difficulty of getting into melee with the hydra - the bog made shifting impossible, so in order to get up next to it, the players had to move, which provoked an attack from each head. (I had to read that bit in the rules twice. That's just brutal.) It got nastier when the hydra retreated (he couldn't really go up to the causeway like he was "supposed" to - those two characters jumped down into the bog!) and forced the players to go into the deep bog to get in range, and even nastier when I realized that the hydra had cover in deep water. An arcanist would have really helped here, but without one, the best they could do was have the ranger, the druid, and the spellthief feather it with arrows, which barely kept up with its fast healing. (They didn't even consider severing the heads - see my other thread on hydras.) Anyway, it was pretty brutal - by the time the swordsage finally dropped the thing with Shadow Garrote (and Shadow Jaunt was invaluable) the favored soul, the spellthief, and the druid (victim of a poorly-planned aerial charge in eagle form... six AoEs against AC 12 ain't pretty) were unconscious. I could have been really nasty and had the unconscious players start drowning in the bog, but they had already suffered enough for one battle.

    Also, the favored soul summoned a squid to fight the hydra. It died very quickly, but it was hilarious.

    Then it was off to Vraath Keep. This battle was immense, and very confusing - it would be nice if they had a timeline of events (barracks hobgoblins alerted, Koth comes out, manticore comes out) but it's all so dependent on what the players do that the only reasonable solution seems to be to read the encounter very, very thoroughly and try to get a feel for the defenders of the keep as a whole, so the reaction can play out realistically.

    They approached the keep in broad daylight and decided to just walk on in. I'm a little worried that they won't realize that was a bad idea - that sort of thing will probably get them killed in Rhest. The fighter and the swordsage insisted on searching the gardener's shack, which of course promptly collapsed on them. (They both heard the impending collapse - their response was to go stand near the doorway, so they could leave if they really had to. Go figure.) They realized that this would almost certainly alert the guards, so they positioned themselves for battle. It would have been neat if they managed to hide from the guards, but no such luck; the favored soul cast buffs in the northern guard tower and the paladin and fighter blocked the entrance.

    First to emerge were the warg riders, who raised the alarm and attacked. They dispatched the riders fairly quickly, and the wargs retreated into the stables, but by then the hobgoblins had armed themselves and swarmed out of the barracks. The manticore came out at around this time, though they somehow managed to not notice this for several rounds of terrible spot checks. (They were smart enough to leave it alone.)

    By the time they had finished off the hobgoblins, who didn't pose much of a challenge, Koth and the minotaur had emerged, and the manticore began showering everyone with spikes, which was quite effective. Meanwhile, the ranger and the druid were finishing off the wargs in the stable. The rest of them quickly killed the minotaur, and while Koth got off a Fireball (swapped out for Lightning Bolt) and a Stinking Cloud (from scroll), they managed to corner him in the barracks. He blasted away with his wand of magic missile and dropped the warblade, but by that point they had finished off the manticore with a combination of ranged attacks, the druid's eagle form, and a celestial giant bee. Completely surrounded, and with one hit point left, Koth surrendered.

    After knocking him unconscious and stealing all his spells via spellthief, they looted his body and found the map. (I was pretty happy that one of the players, upon looking at the map, immediately noted that they could slow the horde by destroying the bridge.) They then healed him a little and interrogated him with a successful intimidate check from the paladin. They now know about the Horde, and that they need to try to destroy the bridge and warn the town.

    They found the treasure vault, and that was that for the time being. They'll have to decide what to do with Koth next session.


    All in all, an excellent session. Combat dragged a little with seven players, especially because some of them were fairly new to the rules, but having a co-DM to run the NPCs and look up rules was very helpful.

    Observations:
    Spoiler
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    -Koth's save DCs are too low. And he has ranks in bluff, but not concentration. WTF? Granted, he has an Int penalty, but not having any ranks in concentration screwed him over big time - when he was cornered, he couldn't cast defensively, which might have saved him.

    -Koth was too easily cornered. Perhaps next time, he'll stand up in the tower and cast spells below.

    -The battle of the keep had a really nice flow to it. I need to try to preserve that.

    -Still not sure how I'm going to convince them to actually see the Horde. Fortunately, the druid can just fly over and get a visual - but how do I explain that Norro won't believe them otherwise? Is it really necessary? It is pretty cool...
    My Red Hand of Doom campaign journal: Part I, Part II
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  10. - Top - End - #10
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    GnomeWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    rhod is mostly core so if your party ius using ToB and stuff like that then ya koth isnt going to be tough to them at all. if your party opmtimizes then u r going to need to tweak just about all of the encounters to be challenging to them. also if u think koths DCs are 2 low just raise them u r the DM afterall

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    I agree, to an extent, with the danger of allowing ToB classes and the potential they have for an upset in the balance of power. However, in my experience, a character is only as powerful as the player who runs it. For example, in the hydra encounter, the swordsage spent the first 3/4 of the battle teleporting around with Shadow Jaunt, trying to get close enough to attack without provoking. This was kind of foolish on his part, of course, and he probably won't do it again, but it just goes to show that when Batman prepares Hold Portal in every spell slot, he's not so über anymore.

    Thus far, the most powerful character has proven to be... the straight fighter. With Adamantine Body and ~60 HP, he's nigh invulnerable to straight-up hitting. With 18 Str, PA, and a greatsword, he's death on roller skates. I know this won't last, and that he won't seem so powerful once he fails a Will save, and that lots of encounters can bring out his weaknesses (such as, again, the hydra... he spent most of it wading around in the bog provoking AoO's) but when it comes to bashing hobgoblins, there's no better.

    So, I'm worried about ToB, but it's not the most of my worries as far as balancing these encounters.

    EDIT: I know I can just tweak Koth's save DCs, but I'd rather do so within the rules. I boosted his Charisma to 18, which helped, but beyond that I'd have to start giving him various magic items, and I'd rather not run the risk of having those items fall into the hands of the party.

    The real problem with Koth was that he got cornered, because the minotaur fell so quickly (next time I'll probably give him armor and class levels) and didn't have any ranks in Concentration, so he couldn't cast defensively. As I said above, next time I'll probably have him stand on top of the tower and cast spells down, while the minotaur holds them off the base of the tower. Also, it will be easier for him to fly away.

    But this brings up another issue that I've been having. These encounters become a lot more challenging when I run each monster as a veritable Sun Tzu, but that's not terribly realistic. I mean, Koth has an Int of 8 - he's not going to be coming up with brilliant or complicated plans. With stuff like the hydra and the wargs - I play them like the unintelligent beasts they are. So playing the battles "realistically" is another challenge, though it's a fun one.
    Last edited by kjones; 2008-12-26 at 12:13 PM.
    My Red Hand of Doom campaign journal: Part I, Part II
    Love the Third Amendment?

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    GnomeWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    if u want to stay inside the rules give him spell focus in the skewl he has the most spells in or in the one his most useful spells are in.
    ya koth is dumb doesnt mean u have to play him that way, he is a bugbear after all

    EDIT: u can play most everybody dumb and then when they get to like ulwai and the ghostlord they can be pleasantly surprised.

  13. - Top - End - #13
    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    But this brings up another issue that I've been having. These encounters become a lot more challenging when I run each monster as a veritable Sun Tzu, but that's not terribly realistic. I mean, Koth has an Int of 8 - he's not going to be coming up with brilliant or complicated plans. With stuff like the hydra and the wargs - I play them like the unintelligent beasts they are. So playing the battles "realistically" is another challenge, though it's a fun one.
    I think this is a common misconception people have. Every monster in the MM has elaborate tactics, right down to int 2 wolves, and including dumb orcs and the like. And int 8 is just a little below average. Heck, 1/3 of your typical group might be int 8, and I don't mean the "special" guy. And since fighting is their life; i.e., what they think about, experienced and plan for; I'd put an int 8 warrior at least on par with the average int 10 player. Heck, even if you give an int 12 average on account of nerdom I think they'd still be that smart when it comes to battle tactics (other things not such much, but plz don't go overboard, it's just a -1). I'm tired of seeing people go over the top to play something as stereotypically dumb. When do you ever see that outside of cartoons?

    Anyway I'm strongly considering running RHoD too, so it's nice to read another journal. You better believe I'll be reading through each encounter bit by bit. <subscribed>
    Last edited by ericgrau; 2008-12-27 at 09:41 AM.

  14. - Top - End - #14
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Quote Originally Posted by ericgrau View Post
    I think this is a common misconception people have. Every monster in the MM has elaborate tactics, right down to int 2 wolves, and including dumb orcs and the like. And int 8 is just a little below average. Heck, 1/3 of your typical group might be int 8, and I don't mean the "special" guy. And since fighting is their life; i.e., what they think about, experienced and plan for; I'd put an int 8 warrior at least on par with the average int 10 player. Heck, even if you give an int 12 average on account of nerdom I think they'd still be that smart when it comes to battle tactics (other things not such much, but plz don't go overboard, it's just a -1). I'm tired of seeing people go over the top to play something as stereotypically dumb. When do you ever see that outside of cartoons?

    Anyway I'm strongly considering running RHoD too, so it's nice to read another journal. You better believe I'll be reading through each encounter bit by bit. <subscribed>
    I agree with you to an extent. Wolves have elaborate tactics - but they're instinctual, and more importantly, inflexible. If a wolf goes up against a dedicated tripper build, someone he can't knock down, he'll keep trying. If the wolf was smarter, it would vary up its tactics, but wolves have animal intelligence. Regardless of the intricacies of their tactics, they aren't very adaptable.

    Let's consider the hydra encounter. The "smartest" thing for the hydra to have done would have been to completely submerge itself in the water (that cover bonus would have made it very difficult to hit) and blast everyone in range with fire breath. If anyone made it into melee, it would have taken a 5-ft step back so that they would have to provoke again.

    But hydras just aren't that smart. They're not going to optimize the use of their 10-ft reach, or squeeze every last point out of every last terrain modifier. They're going to bite things until they die, and breathe fire when they can get a few people in the blast, and if that's not working, well, clearly you're not biting hard enough.

    I do agree with you regarding Koth, however. I wouldn't (and didn't) play him like a bumbling buffoon. If nothing else, he wouldn't have made it to 5th level if he didn't possess at least some degree of base cunning. But again, with Int 8, he's no hydra, but he's none too bright. Maybe he makes a mistake in spell placement, maybe he makes a tactical error that allows him to get cornered, maybe he puts his ranks into Bluff rather than Concentration. These are all perfectly reasonable things for someone with Int 8 to do.

    The real challenge is balancing verisimilitude with challengingness (not a word). Obviously, if I play each NPC to the tactical hilt, encounters become more challenging; if I allow the NPCs to make foolish decisions, they become easier. If nothing else, it's a useful way to adjust difficulty on-the-fly. ("Koth panics, and accidentally catches himself in the blast of the fireball.")

    Obviously, this can strain verisimilitude if the cleverness of your enemies scales to match the party, so be reasonable, and be consistent. Most of the time, the "best" choice isn't particularly complicated - foot soldiers are going to want to get into flanking without provoking AoO's, archers are going to take down the unarmored guys in the back, casters will target the guys in the front with stuff that requires Reflex and Will saves, and the guys in the back with stuff that requires Fortitude saves. This is just stuff that you would know if you lived in this world. If you didn't know it, you wouldn't have survived to this level.
    My Red Hand of Doom campaign journal: Part I, Part II
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  15. - Top - End - #15
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PirateGuy

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    Another memorable session last night - the party made it to Skull Gorge Bridge.

    The party in attendance:
    Spoiler
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    Vesta, elven warlock. New character, closest thing they had to an arcane caster for this session, but performed admirably in that role, as he has tricked himself out with a wide array of wands and scrolls
    Mantega Pantalones, human paladin
    Bowen, human ranger
    Luan, elven druid
    Clutch, warforged fighter
    Lilo, strongheart halfling swordsage (joined about halfway through the session)


    Having just finished clearing out Vraath Keep in the previous session, here's what happened:
    Spoiler
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    Since a few characters in attendance last time wouldn't be here this time, we agreed that those characters (Ervange the favored soul, Tyv the spellthief) would return to Drellin's Ferry to attempt to warn the townsfolk, with Koth in tow to add some veracity to their claims. At first, I was just going to let them make it back without incident, but if I can get the players together, I might retroactively throw an encounter their way on their return voyage. Of course, Koth will try to escape - the chaos of the upcoming evacuation should provide him with some opportunity, but I'll have to figure out a way to make an attempt without it seeming cheap.
    The rest of the party rested in Vraath Keep, and set off north along the Dawn Way. When they found the forest giant marker on the road, both the druid and the ranger, who have both tricked out Knowledge: Nature for some reason, recognized it immediately, and decided to investigate.
    The encounter with Old Warklegnaw was a lot of fun - I played him as a somewhat senile curmudgeon, but made it clear that he was not to be trifled with. I managed to play it "by the book" (that is, with Diplomacy checks) while still involving some good role-playing. They managed to convince him that they weren't a threat, and he was somewhat impressed that they'd taken care of the Keep (unfriendly to indifferent). They offered him the gauntlet (friendly), and then the druid surprised me by offering to cast remove disease after he complained about his red ache, which I ruled was enough to bring him up to helpful. The party was hoping that Old Warklegnaw would come help them destroy the bridge, but were disappointed to learn that it would be at least a week for him to go to the Wyrmsmoke Mountains, rally his friends, and return. Still, after the newly disease-free, spiked-gauntlet-wearing forest giant leapt to his feet and smashed a tree to splinters for the sheer joy of feeling healthy, everyone was pretty happy.
    It took them another day to make it to the bridge, which they scouted out using the druid's avian form. (This is the last time I'm going to let them get away with this. Several hobgoblins escaped from the bridge battle, and by the time they make it to Rhest, word will have spread among the Horde to watch out for eagles...) I'm not sure why I didn't see this coming, but they immediately started planning ways to sneak up on the bridge and destroy it with magic without having to fight the defenders. Perfectly reasonable, but I wasn't expecting it at all.
    Fortunately for fans of large-scale battles, the only applicable spells they had were Soften Earth and Stone and Stone Shape. They crafted a plan in which after nightfall, the druid (with Invisibility cast) would fly along the gorge and onto the center of the bridge, shift into human, cast Soften Earth and Stone (underneath the towers, since it doesn't affect worked stone), and fly away.
    There were a few hitches to their plan. First, the spell wasn't quite as effective as they had hoped. Second, it started to rain, and the dragon's keen senses were able to detect the rain-outlined druid in the darkness. The acid-spattered druid managed to escape, but the party was more or less back to where they started.
    They didn't think the bridge guards would fall for the same trick twice, so they went back to Plan B: Charge! The next morning (they decided against a nighttime assault, since hobgoblins, dragons, and hell hounds all have darkvision) they began sneaking towards the bridge and made it to within 70 feet of the watchtowers before they were spotted. Impressive, considering that most of them were making Hide checks untrained.
    The fighter and the paladin moved to hold the bridge, and the hellhounds were dispatched almost instantly. The warlock took out one hobgoblin with a sleep scroll, and kept running around healing, buffing, and eldritch blasting (for some reason, the party was relying primarily on his wands for healing). The ranger hung back and fired at the dragon, while the druid went head-to-head with the hobgoblin in the other watchtower.
    (Halfway through the combat, the swordsage player arrived. He spent several rounds running towards the battle, yelling "Guys, why did you leave me behind in the forest?", threw a Shadow Garrote at the hobgoblin sergeant, and was dropped into negatives by dragon breath the next round. Kind of an anticlimax.)
    Most of the hobgoblins held back and used their bows, but the sergeant and two hobgoblins stormed the bridge. (Read my previous entry for the modifications I made to the sergeant.) The bottleneck held off the sergeant for around, but the sergeant dropped the fighter with Battle Leader's Charge. Meanwhile, Ozyrrandion the dragon is flying around, blasting as often as he can, and they're not hurting him that much - he's staying out of the range of eldritch blast, and his high AC is deterring the ranger. The next round, the paladin takes four arrows to the chest and drops to negatives. Even when the warlock dropped the sergeant, things were not looking good for our heroes.
    Meanwhile, the druid, who has been locked in brutal single combat with a hobgoblin all this time, finally manages to kill him. He realizes that he'd better start casting some spells, so he drops a sleet storm on the remaining four hobgoblins and, unwittingly, Ozyrrandion (who has returned to his roost to heal, and who just drank his potion of invisibility... except now he's clearly outlined by the sleet!) That bought them the round they needed to recover and regroup. The druid followed up the sleet storm with Call Lightning, and I ruled that the sleet storm was sufficient to boost it from 3d6 to 3d10. He starts blasting away, and the tide turns. The dragon charged at the warlock, who survived the acid breath and returned fire with eldritch blast, the druid hits him with another bolt, and the ranger dropped him with a well-placed arrow.
    So, the paladin, fighter, and swordsage were all unconscious, but nobody died (the warforged stabilized automatically, and the other two got lucky). After looting the bodies, they start hacking away at the bridge, [i]unknowingly attacking the secret weak spot in the southeast corner[i]. The powerattacking warforged and the remaining uses of Call Lightning made short work of the bridge, which went crashing down into the gorge.
    While the rest of the party rested, the druid, in eagle form, flew across and got a good look at the horde. Come morning, they started making their way back towards Drellin's Ferry, and when they arrived, they met with Winston, Soranna, and the others. By this point, it was around midnight - I wasn't planning to stop, but I suddenly began to feel somewhat under the weather (I had eaten a lot of brownies) so we wrapped up for the evening.


    So what happens next?
    Spoiler
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    With the destruction of the bridge and the aid of the Twistusks, Drellin's Ferry has plenty of time (well, not really, but you know what I mean) to evacuate - the Horde won't arrive until Day 18. They've slowed them by an entire week! They returned to Drellin's Ferry at the end of Day 7 (left on day 2, got to the keep at the end of day 2, found the giants on day 3, got to the bridge on day 4, destroyed it on day 5, then two days returning... I know you don't care, gentle reader, but I was just making sure I had it straight) so I'll probably give them a day or two of downtime before I turn up the heat with the Goblin Raid and Chimera encounters. After that, and the meeting with the council, it's up to them. The fighter is keen on facing the horde - if he wants to, I'll let him.


    Observations:
    Spoiler
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    -Am I doing travel times right? They're already back in Drellin's Ferry, and it's only Day 8. They're moving at the speed of the slowest party member (20 ft), which is 16 miles per day. Granted, they're in the forest, but they're on a "road or trail", so that shouldn't matter. It's not a big problem - it just means that they'll have plenty of time to clear everyone out of Drellin's Ferry.

    -I'm enjoying rolling randomly for weather, but I'm considering crafting a custom table to better model the climate of the Vale. It's not really arid, exactly, but otherwise I keep getting rain...

    -The terrain around the Gorge isn't well described. There's some cover, since you can hide for your approach, but how much cover? The ranger kept trying to hide from the dragon in the undergrowth (which probably wouldn't have worked anyway with his Spot and Listen modifiers), you see.

    -I think that I might be unintentionally telegraphing hints to my players. They remembered the gauntlet, and made the connection to Warklegnaw, and they found the secret weak point by sheer luck (granted, if you're attacking the bridge from the south, you've got a 50/50 chance). If they manage to evacuate Drellin's Ferry, they'll get maximum VPs for this chapter. They're doing well... too well. DUN DUN DUN
    My Red Hand of Doom campaign journal: Part I, Part II
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  16. - Top - End - #16
    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Here ya go:
    http://www.d20srd.org/srd/wilderness.htm#forestTerrain
    Undergrowth

    Vines, roots, and short bushes cover much of the ground in a forest. A space covered with light undergrowth costs 2 squares of movement to move into, and it provides concealment. Undergrowth increases the DC of Tumble and Move Silently checks by 2 because the leaves and branches get in the way. Heavy undergrowth costs 4 squares of movement to move into, and it provides concealment with a 30% miss chance (instead of the usual 20%). It increases the DC of Tumble and Move Silently checks by 5. Heavy undergrowth is easy to hide in, granting a +5 circumstance bonus on Hide checks. Running and charging are impossible. Squares with undergrowth are often clustered together. Undergrowth and trees aren’t mutually exclusive; it’s common for a 5-foot square to have both a tree and undergrowth.
    And sneaking halves your speed again unless you take a -5. Maybe it'd help to do a made-up sketch of it on the map so PCs know where they can sneak. You could sketch tree trunks too (see same link).
    Last edited by ericgrau; 2008-12-28 at 03:07 PM.

  17. - Top - End - #17
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    Planetar

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Heh, sounds like a lot of fun. Obviously worked out well.

    I've been finding there's a huge difference between Medium-sized and Large-sized dragons. My party fought Ozyrrandion (Medium-sized) and survived the first time despite using less-than-effective tactics, but Regiarix, upgraded an age category, to Young Adult (Large) nearly TPKed them.

    My party cured Warklegnaw with a remove disease as well, with the same results as you. :)

    The big battles like Skull Gorge Bridge are definitely the highlight of Red Hand of Doom. With interesting terrain, an objective, and an assortment of monsters there's lots of good ingredients.

    And yes, I think you're doing travel times right. If the party moves fast time isn't a problem - it's only an issue when they start saying "Oh, let's stop for the day, I've used two of my high-level spells."

    - Saph
    I'm the author of the Alex Verus series of urban fantasy novels. Fated is the first, and Book #10 in the series, Fallen, is out as of September 2019. For updates, check my blog!

  18. - Top - End - #18
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Another exciting and entertaining session last night as the party finished Chapter I and started Chapter II. This session saw the campaign's first fatality as well, and any session where I kill a PC is a win in my book.

    We had a full house in attendance - eight PCs. Once again, my brother helped alleviate the madness of the situation by co-DMing. Here's what we had:
    Spoiler
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    From last session:
    Vesta, elven warlock
    Mantega Pantalones, human paladin
    Clutch, warforged fighter
    Bowen, human ranger
    Luon, elven druid

    Returning from previous sessions:
    Tyv, human spellthief
    Ervange, human favored soul

    New this session:
    Posse McDolphinLaser (yes, really), human wizard

    I was a little worried about the wizard player, for several reasons. One, a full arcanist has a lot of potential for imbalance. Two, they take forever to roll. Three, the player (older brother of the spellthief player) is somewhat notorious for his short attention span, destructive tendencies, and disdain for structured (read: non-freeform) RPGs.
    My fears proved unfounded. The wizard player chose well-balanced spells, finished fairly quickly, and roleplayed calmly, reasonably, and well. He was the driving force between the blockade assault - more on that in a bit.


    I toughened up a few of the encounters to take the number of players into account. Here's the changes I made, lifted mostly from Saph:
    Spoiler
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    In the Goblin Raid encounter, added an extra warg rider and an extra hell hound to the first wave, and an extra war adept to the second wave.

    Changed around the spell selection for the war adepts - gave one fireball, the other slow, and gave them both acid arrow

    Added a war adept to the blockade (didn't help)

    Gave the chimera 20 additional hit points (didn't help)


    At the end of the last session, the party destroyed Skull Gorge Bridge and returned to Drellin's Ferry in The events of the session:
    Spoiler
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    The party spent a day resting, healing, shopping, and getting their items identified. That night, a raiding party attacked the west bank of the Elsir River. The party rolled out of their beds and set off on the ferry to fight off the threat.
    The hell hounds dropped almost immediately, as they have for this entire campaign. The warg riders fared a little better, and tried to draw off and isolate individual PCs - they managed to isolate the paladin, who charged straight ahead, but with her high AC and the goblins' pitiful damage, she didn't notice.
    Then the second wave showed up, and things turned south. One of the adepts caught half the party (and the surviving wargs) in a fireball, dropping the spellthief and badly wounding everyone else. The other caught most of the party with slow, though everyone saved except the paladin. The druid immobilized half the hobgoblins with a sleet storm, and the other half were distracted by an astonishingly effective summoned bombadier beetle, but it took a little while to recover from the first assault.
    The first adept poked his head out of the storm and was creamed by readied actions. The second took his time buffing and summoned a howler to help him out, which did some damage to the fighter. By the time the storm dissipated, the favored soul and the spellthief were in position to attack the caster. Surrounded, he tried to escape, blasting the favored soul with a lesser electric orb before making his flying getaway.

    "Ok, the orb hits you for 20 electric damage. What does that put you at?
    "... -17. Can I change my energy resistance from cold to electric?"
    "No."

    They managed to incapacitate him with a magic missile as he tried to make his escape, but the damage was done - Ervange had fallen.

    Then they raised him with the Staff of Life. Bit of an anticlimax, really.

    The next morning, they met with the town leaders and had little difficulty in convincing them that evacuation would be the best option. (See below for my thoughts on this encounter.) Later that day, the chimera attacked the town - it was dead before it hit the ground. Stupid eight players and their action advantage. Furthermore, they received word from a Lion of Brindol of a blockade on the Rhest trail. Finally, they interrogated the captured adept and learned of a Horde base in the ruined city of Rhest.

    The evacuation took several days, but by Day 13, the town was almost empty, so the party borrowed horses and set off towards the Blackfens. They decided that they could "safely" force-march their mounts for two hours a day to cover 40 miles per day, and so made it to the blockade after four days of hard travel.

    The druid scouted the blockade in eagle form, but by now the Horde knows to look out for suspicious looking eagles, so he beat a hasty retreat. Rather than risking a frontal assault (that rabbit's dynamite!) they took a step back, and concocted a plan.

    They waited until nightfall - the night was clear, and starlit. The favored soul circumvented the blockade, taking the long way around so he could be sure to make it by unobserved. He then cast ghost sound, mimicking the sound of an approaching unit on horseback. The rest of the party huddled close around the wizard, who cast invisibility sphere - the seven of them started making untrained Move Silently checks, while the hobgoblins, distracted, went over to the north side of the tower and peered out into the gloom.

    The party made it to within 40 feet of the watchtower before their presence was detected, so they stopped for a little while - the hobgoblins, not seeing anything, went back to worrying about this approaching patrol from the north. They sent out four hobgoblins, who quickly spotted the favored soul, who started running away. The hobgoblins gave chase.

    The invisible group was heard again, and the adept poked his head over the palisade, trying to aim a fireball by ear. That was the party's cue to attack.

    The warforged bashed down the door, while the wizard flew up and fireballed the rooftop defenders into oblivion. The hobgoblin patrol that had been sent out heard the commotion, and started running back towards the watchtower, and the favored soul gave chase.

    At this point, I started playing the Benny Hill theme - the encounter was over, save for the mopping up. That's where we wrapped up for the evening - next session will have the party venturing into the Blackfens.


    Observations:
    Spoiler
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    -Apparently, spellthieves lack proficiency with short swords - simple weapons only. WTF? I don't see any compelling reason not to give them the same proficiency list as rogues.

    -The "convince the town council to evacuate" roleplaying encounter was clunky at best. The party had multiple prisoners (Koth, a War Adept) in Drellin's Ferry confess to the approaching horde. Iormel's arguments in the face of that evidence came off as silly. I could have just given them massive circumstance bonuses to their Diplomacy checks (they already had +8 from showing the map, fighting the raid, and bringing in Jorr) but at that point, the encounter becomes a formality. Furthermore, the module was ambiguous as to how the encounter is resolved. Do the party need to convince a majority? Unanimous consensus? Two-thirds? Just Norro Winston? I basically just gave this one to them, since in the face of the evidence at hand, anyone could see that attempting to stand and fight would be utter lunacy.

    -The connection between Chapter I and Chapter II is tenuous at best. The only given hook is when the Lion of Brindol arrives to notify Winston about the road blocks to the north. However, why should the party care about some blockaded roads when the Red Hand is on its way? Winston and Sorrana talk about reinforcements from the north, but there aren't any. Furthermore, how is the party supposed to make the leap from the blockades to the Blackfens? Once they get there, they can find the razorfiends and the Tiri Kitor, but why would they go there in the first place? If they hadn't managed to capture and interrogate Koth, they would be at loose ends by that point.

    -The chimera went down pathetically quickly. I guess that shows what an eight-player action advantage will do.

    -The party is moving very quickly, force-marching their mounts across the vale. It's only Day 17 - the horde will invade Drellin's Ferry the next day. They have a whole month before the horde reaches Brindol. This made some of the encounters suggested for travelers crossing the vale a little silly, since the horde hadn't made it that far yet. I'll have to modify them if I run them later, since the party will be higher level.

    -I keep trying to figure out ways to make battles against lots of mooks interesting. For example, my brother remembered that for warg riders, you can negate a ranged attack with a Ride check - this made them much more annoying. Cover helped the blockade defenders a little, but not much. By the time they get to higher levels, this will just get silly.

    -Most of the party is only 6th level at this point - a few are still at 5th. Hopefully this will progress more quickly once the party size thins out a little.

    -I'll probably only have time for one more session - two at most. I hope I can fit in the Battle of Rhest - I've modified it substantially (Regiarax is now a Young Adult, Saarvith is now 9th level).

    -Are these posts tl;dr? I guess if they are, then you're not reading this question - I'll try to pare them down in the future.
    My Red Hand of Doom campaign journal: Part I, Part II
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  19. - Top - End - #19
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Iku Rex's Avatar

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    -Are these posts tl;dr? I guess if they are, then you're not reading this question - I'll try to pare them down in the future.
    I don't think they're too long.

    BTW: Don't use the spoiler tags. It's just annoying. Why would I want to avoid reading about the campaign after opening a "Campaign Journal" thread?

  20. - Top - End - #20
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    No, no, please use spoiler tags. They make a big difference in readability. Helps break down the wall of text thing, and you can find what you're looking for much easier.
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  21. - Top - End - #21
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Quote Originally Posted by Inyssius Tor View Post
    No, no, please use spoiler tags. They make a big difference in readability. Helps break down the wall of text thing, and you can find what you're looking for much easier.
    This is why I do it. It's easy enough to click them all open and read it as a wall-of-text, if that's what you want, but you can't take a wall-of-text and break it up into nice, easily manageable sections.
    My Red Hand of Doom campaign journal: Part I, Part II
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  22. - Top - End - #22
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    Planetar

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    The action advantage is a big deal. For my 7-player group I just got into the habit of doubling the numbers of the vanilla encounters. Two razorfiends instead of one, for example.

    Yeah, the negotiation is kind of a foregone conclusion. Remember, though, that it takes a lot to convince an entire village to just up stakes and run - the PCs have seen the horde, but the people of Drellin's Ferry haven't. It makes sense for it to take a little time to sink in.

    - Saph
    I'm the author of the Alex Verus series of urban fantasy novels. Fated is the first, and Book #10 in the series, Fallen, is out as of September 2019. For updates, check my blog!

  23. - Top - End - #23
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    That will also help with the experience issue - more monsters means more levels.

    Other stray observations:
    -The ranger took Favored Enemy: Magical Beast as her first favored enemy. I don't remember why - the character is from an old campaign, but I don't remember facing any magical beasts there either. Since starting RHoD, it seems like every other monster is a magical beast. I'm sure it's just coincidence, but to wit, here's all the kinds of magical beasts they've faced thus far:
    Spoiler
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    Wargs
    Hydra
    Chimera
    Manticore
    Hell Hounds
    I mean, I think that's the entirety of that category or something. Here's all the monsters they've faced that aren't magical beasts:
    Spoiler
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    Goblins
    Hobgoblins
    Bugbear
    Minotaur
    Dragon
    Ogres
    I don't mind giving the ranger her moment in the sun, but come on. And of course, her other favored enemy is Dragons...

    -It seems a shame that the developers spent so much time statting out an encounter (the massacre at Drellin's Ferry) that they did not intend for you to run. I'm tempted to goad the next party into staying and fighting, just for my own edification.

    -I'm working on my own random weather table for Elsir Vale, as the one in the DMG yields rain too frequently for the season. I'll post it here when I'm finished.

    -Seriously, what's with all the magical beasts?
    My Red Hand of Doom campaign journal: Part I, Part II
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  24. - Top - End - #24
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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    -The ranger took Favored Enemy: Magical Beast as her first favored enemy. I don't remember why - the character is from an old campaign, but I don't remember facing any magical beasts there either. Since starting RHoD, it seems like every other monster is a magical beast. I'm sure it's just coincidence, but to wit, here's all the kinds of magical beasts they've faced thus far:
    Spoiler
    Show

    Wargs
    Hydra
    Chimera
    Manticore
    Hell Hounds
    I mean, I think that's the entirety of that category or something. Here's all the monsters they've faced that aren't magical beasts:
    Spoiler
    Show

    Goblins
    Hobgoblins
    Bugbear
    Minotaur
    Dragon
    Ogres
    I don't mind giving the ranger her moment in the sun, but come on. And of course, her other favored enemy is Dragons...
    Hey, don't feel TOO bad - when I had a Ranger in RHoD, he had Dragons AND Goblins as Favored Enemies WITHOUT any foreknowledge of the campaign. He was a new-ish player, though, and the only real "tank," though, so I just let him go with it.

    And YES, please keep the spoilers - I use 'em too much myself, probably, but I like the organization they bring.
    Last edited by RTGoodman; 2009-01-04 at 02:27 AM.
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  25. - Top - End - #25
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    The most recent session was also our last for this group, as I'll be going back to school soon. However, I'll be starting all over with a new group of five, all of whom are experienced roleplayers, and we'll most certainly be playing through the entirety of the module. This is also a group (in)famous for their knack for getting into and out of somewhat crazy situations, so who knows where they'll end up? Running the first two chapters gave me a much better sense of the module's strengths and weaknesses, so I'm really looking forward to it.

    That will start in a week or two, so stay tuned. In the meantime, the party made it through the Battle of Rhest, and achieved victory in a most satisfactory fashion. In attendance:
    Spoiler
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    Mantega Pantalones, human paladin
    Vesta, elven warlock
    Clutch, warforged fighter
    Tyv, human spellthief
    Bowen, human ranger
    Luon, elven druid
    Lilo, halfling swordsage
    Ervange, human favored soul


    Since this was another full house with eight players, I modified the encounters extensively, stolen from Saph:
    Spoiler
    Show

    Added another razorfiend to the first encounter in the swamp
    Gave the ogres and the ettin in Rhest 2 levels of warrior
    Made Regiarix a young adult
    Made Saarvith two levels higher

    I considered adding another razorfiend to the hatchery, but... I have a heart.


    We started with the destruction of the garrison at the roadblock. Here's how it went down:
    Spoiler
    Show

    The party journeyed into the Blackfens - the druid started scouting ahead in eagle form, but couldn't keep it up once they reached the swamp. They slogged through until they were ambushed by two razorfiends - they put up a good fight, landing a few augmented criticals even, but were dispatched handily.
    They found the treasure horde on the island and were eagerly looting (I changed around some of the items to make them more appropriate for the party - the spellthief used sickles, so the rapier became a sickle) when the elves arrived. Driving off the razorfiends and giving them the jade band was enough to make Killiar friendly, and he flew off with the promise of returning with enough owls for all eight players.
    By the time they made it to Starsong Hill, it was nighttime. I kind of botched the encounter with Sellyria and Trellara, since it wasn't clear what she did and didn't know about the Horde and about Rhest, and really all I wanted was to get everyone to Rhest. I wish I had spent more time developing the elves, but I wasn't selling it and the players weren't buying it.
    It was still fun, though - they spent the morning buying, selling, and trading with the elves, and the funeral was amusing. I described the song being led by Trellara, and we started arguing which modeled it better - at first, we were considering Enya and tracks from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, but it quickly broke down into discussion and playing of "Starlight" by Muse, "The Final Countdown", and "Yakety Sax".
    Anyway, the players weren't picking up my hints that they could try to perform at the funeral, but the warforged opened it up by rolling a natural 1 on a Perform (Breakdance) check, and then everyone wanted to try, with some success.
    The next morning, they set off to the ruins of Rhest, borrowing boats from the elves. They slaughtered a manticore in a random encounter and made it to the edge of the lake. They spotted the lizardfolk huts and were immediately very, very frightened. They spent a long, long time trying to figure out how they could sneak into one of the lizardfolk huts without alerting the lizardfolk - a reasonable concern, but as they were doing this, events were playing out on the lake. They took advantage of the departure of one group of lizardfolk to infiltrate their hut.
    They then started arguing about what they wanted to do about the lizardfolk. After they realized that Regiarax had killed two of the lizardfolk that had gone to talk to him, they hit upon the idea of negotiating with the lizardfolk to rise up against their masters. (They were acting under the assumption that all the lizardfolk were working together.) A good idea, but most negotiations don't start with breaking and entering with weapons drawn - the lizardfolk, upon returning, were not conducive to negotiating.
    They killed two of them easily (the warforged hid underneath the water, which is just awesome) and the other two surrendered. They interrogated them, learned of the situation in the town hall, and let them go.
    They abandoned their initial plan of waiting until nightfall, and came up with a much cleverer one. They would use the lizardfolk rafts to approach the town hall, casting Silent Image to create the illusion of lizardfolk riding the rafts, and pretending to be prisoners of the lizardfolk. This allowed them to get up to the town hall undetected, although there were a few tense moments when the hobgoblins in the bell tower hailed them in Common. The lizardfolk only spoke Draconic, and so wouldn't have replied, but the party didn't know this - one of them quietly cast Ghost sound to create the illusion of grunting, growling responses, and the hobgoblins let them pass without incident.
    The ogres on the boardwalk figured it out pretty quickly, though, and one ran off to warn the others. They dropped the other within a round - so much for those warrior levels - and then charged up the stairs, dispatching the ogres up there within a few rounds, but not before the warlock cast a scroll of Fly on the paladin's mount - aerial charges were a serious source of damage in this battle.
    Unbeknownst to them, the ogre that escaped managed to warn the rest of the defenders of the keep, who readied themselves for battle - Saarvith mounted Regiarix, and they cast some buffs.
    A few of them, including the Druid's summoned bear, ran down the stairs and into the ettin. A round later, the mindbender emerged and tried to cast Suggestion on the fighter, to no avail.
    They managed to surround the ettin and drop him (so much for those warrior levels) pretty quickly, but not before the mindbender successfully Dominated the fighter and sent him off to the hatchery to get "reinforcements" (thank you, Saph). They charged into the room and cornered the mindbender just as Saarvith and Regiarix emerged. The mindbender tried to cast Invisibility and escape, but the summoned bear (who somehow survived this whole battle) sniffed him out, and they slaughtered him. However, Regiarix and Saarvith started dealing out serious damage - when people fled to the rooftop, they followed suit.
    Meanwhile, the warforged found the hatchery - he knocked on the door and shouted "Anyone home?" The razorfiend responded by breaking down the door and tearing into him, but then the mindbender died and the domination broke. The warforged fled back to the town hall rather than fight a razorfiend one-on-one.
    The party tried to kill Regiarix, but wasn't getting through his 28 AC, so they started focusing on Saarvith, which worked a whole lot better. The warforged returned, with the razorfiend in hot pursuit, so the spellthief, who had stolen Charm Monster from the mindbender, used it on the razorfiend, who failed his save. Having no particular loyalty to Saarvith, he started attacking him, and this probably turned the tide of battle.
    At this point, Regiarix was still doing fine, but Saarvith was hurting - he fled, drank a potion, took another blast from Eldritch Spear, and fled for good. The party used the razorfiend to swim over and kill the hobgoblins in the bell tower while they looted - they also used him to search for Regiarax's horde, and found the phylactery.

    I will really try to make these shorter in the future, so thank you for slogging through.


    Observations:
    Spoiler
    Show

    -The battle got pretty crowded with eight people. The battlefield played out nicely, though - people fought the dragon on the rooftop, then ran downstairs to heal up before charging back up. A Dispel Magic would have really helped them, though.

    -I didn't forget to get the bladebearer from the bell tower involved in the battle, but I did forget about the lizardmen. By the time they showed up, however, they would have just been a nuisance.

    -Again, the diplomacy rules as written frequently came off as awkward here. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me for the elves to be unfriendly towards a group of people who clearly are interested in helping them just because of some bad die rolls. I winged a lot of this stuff, and will probably continue to do so.

    - This session highlighted the tenuousness between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. I was discussing this in a postmortem with one of the players, who said that after the evacuation of Drellin's Ferry, she would have preferred to wage guerrilla warfare on the horde, but "you obviously wanted us to go north". Furthermore, the connection between destroying the blockades and entering the Blackfens is also a little tenuous - why would the party just wander into the Blackfens? I was trying to come up with ideas as to why clearing the blockades and destroying the outpost at Rhest is more important to the protection of the Vale than trying to confront the Horde. I had two ideas. The first is that there is the Vale's only chance for outside help is the Kingdom of Foobar to the north, and they can't send an envoy when the blockades still stand and the outpost threatens the road. The second is that the magical version of the Wells Fargo Wagon is scheduled to come down from the north, loaded down with treasure and magic items. If the players don't destroy the blockade and the outpost, all that stuff will fall into the hands of the Horde, making them that much stronger. If they do, those items will be available for sale in Brindol later on. Either way, these provide strong motivation to go up to the Blackfens.

    -What is travel supposed to be like in the Blackfens before they find the elves? There's a trail on the map, but it kind of trails off (no pun intended). That's where I had the party encounter the razorfiends, so it doesn't really matter, but is there really supposed to be a road there? When I do this next time, I'll have a lot more fun with the terrain.

    -Where are they supposed to arrive at the lake from? If they're coming up the stream, it makes sense that it would be from the estuary to the southwest, but it's not specified. I guess it doesn't matter all that much.

    -I think I screwed up the mounted combat rules for Saarvith and Regiarix - he should have been able to negate some of the ranged attacks against Regiarix, and he should have been out of reach of most melee attacks.


    All in all, a satisfying mini-campaign. We'll see how it goes when I have to do it "for real" with my friends at school.

    EDIT: Of course, take a wild guess as to the type of the Razorfiends. That's right, more goddamn magical beasts. At that point, I just buried my head and my hands and damn near hung up my screen for good.
    Last edited by kjones; 2009-01-10 at 09:01 PM.
    My Red Hand of Doom campaign journal: Part I, Part II
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  26. - Top - End - #26
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Matthew's Avatar

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Sounds like it all went well! Hopefully, even after you run this again for folks at school, you'lll be able to finish things off with your home group during the next holiday (or the holiday after that, given that Easter is really better spent revising).

    The "Kingdom of Foobar?" Really? Heh, heh. Somebody at WotC still has a sense of humour it seems.

    The questions you are positing are interesting to me, as I assumed there would be a lot more hand holding in the Red Hand of Doom than there appears to be plotwise. These are definitely areas where you are going to have to "fill in the blanks", which potentially makes them more pliable to your "vision" for the module.

    Interesting stuff, anyway. I look forward to reading about your second run through.
    It is a joyful thing indeed to hold intimate converse with a man after one’s own heart, chatting without reserve about things of interest or the fleeting topics of the world; but such, alas, are few and far between.

    – Yoshida Kenko (1283-1350), Tsurezure-Gusa (1340)

  27. - Top - End - #27
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    Planetar

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    I think you're right to point out the link between Chapter 1 and 2 as one of the weak points in the narrative. The clearest hint the PCs get is the final conversation with Norro Winston, but it's a bit heavy-handed - as your player said, it is a bit of a case of the GM telling you where to go.

    Sounds like you did a good job running the battle - eight players is a lot to deal with. You must have done a pretty long session to get all that in!

    And heh, yeah. I didn't notice, but this campaign is magical beast city. :)

    - Saph
    I'm the author of the Alex Verus series of urban fantasy novels. Fated is the first, and Book #10 in the series, Fallen, is out as of September 2019. For updates, check my blog!

  28. - Top - End - #28
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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    Mantega Pantalones, human paladin
    When I first saw this, I miss-read it as Magenta Pantalones...

    *snicker* Sir Purple Pants! *lulz*

    Sorry, had to...
    Quote Originally Posted by Fax Celestis View Post
    AILHAY THULUCAY! AILHAY THULUCAY! AILHAY THULUCAY!
    _________________________________
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  29. - Top - End - #29
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Quote Originally Posted by Keld Denar View Post
    When I first saw this, I miss-read it as Magenta Pantalones...

    *snicker* Sir Purple Pants! *lulz*

    Sorry, had to...
    It's even worse than that. These players enjoy generating character names by taking a few words and translating them into various languages using Google until they come up with something cool. So the druid, "Luan Phien", is Vietnamese for "alternate" or something like that, because he started out as the spellthief player's second character. In that same vein, "Tyv Taika" is Norwegian (?) for "spell thief", and "Lilo" (can't remember his full name) the swordsage was generated in a similar fashion.

    "Mantega Pantalones" is Portuguese (?) for "Butter pants".

    Quote Originally Posted by Matthew View Post
    The "Kingdom of Foobar?" Really? Heh, heh. Somebody at WotC still has a sense of humour it seems.

    The questions you are positing are interesting to me, as I assumed there would be a lot more hand holding in the Red Hand of Doom than there appears to be plotwise. These are definitely areas where you are going to have to "fill in the blanks", which potentially makes them more pliable to your "vision" for the module.
    The Kingdom of Foobar is my name, not Wizards'. Unfortunately, I can't use it, because 3 out of 5 of my players are Computer Science students, and I would never catch the end of it...

    Also unfortunately, I probably won't finish running this campaign for that first group - I'll probably be quite sick of it by the time I finish it for my school chums. Furthermore, the players wanted to know what happened next, and figuring that I wouldn't have much of a chance to finish playing with them, I gave them some spoilers...

    Looking back, I probably shouldn't have, but maybe they'll forget all that stuff. And I hung on to all the character sheets, of course.

    Quote Originally Posted by Saph View Post
    I think you're right to point out the link between Chapter 1 and 2 as one of the weak points in the narrative. The clearest hint the PCs get is the final conversation with Norro Winston, but it's a bit heavy-handed - as your player said, it is a bit of a case of the GM telling you where to go.

    Sounds like you did a good job running the battle - eight players is a lot to deal with. You must have done a pretty long session to get all that in!

    And heh, yeah. I didn't notice, but this campaign is magical beast city. :)
    I don't mind "filling in the blanks" left by the module. Hell, I enjoy it. But I'm glad that I had the opportunity to run through this and figure out where exactly those blanks are. It's strange, because the designers mention that your players might have trouble figuring out that they're supposed to go to the Thornwastes after finding the phylactery, but they just assume that you'll want to go running into the Blackfens.

    In that same conversation with the ranger player, we discussed at length the implications of waging guerrilla warfare against the Horde. There's little doubt in my mind that a clever, careful group of players could do significant damage to the Horde, and it's to the credit of the designers that they have detailed the challenges one would have to overcome in order to assassinate the chief warlord.

    There are a few problems with this, however. The module specifies that if the warlord is killed, another will rise to take his place, which is reasonable - but how many lower-level commanders would one have to kill in order to seriously damage the organizational structure of the horde? How much would it take to demoralize them?

    These can be hand-waved away by saying that the horde is driven by religious fanaticism and thus any such efforts would only bolster their resolve, but I think that's a bit of a cop-out. In any event, it's not something that I want to have to deal with - I think I'm best off making it clear that confronting the horde head-on is a Bad Idea (TM), even if it isn't.

    As for the magical beasts... It became something of an in-joke with our group. "What's that? Is it a magical beast?", etc. The problem was that the ranger player was my lady friend, and everyone assumed that I was making it up to help out her character. In fact, the opposite was true - we realized halfway through that she should have been dealing +4 to damage, not +2.

    I'm not sure if I've mentioned this already, but the upcoming group consists of:

    Gale, Desert Elf Scout 3/Ranger 2, focused on archery
    Sarth, Human Favored Soul 5, focused on buffing and healing
    Cameron Arillir, Human Swashbuckler 3/Rogue 2, focused on the Daring Outlaw feat
    Ross Hammond, Human Paladin Variant 5, focused on piety, hitting stuff with swords, and ridiculous AC
    Imsril, Human Wizard 5, focused on being Batman.

    Needless to say, I'll be modifying the encounters extensively. I think that these two groups might be comparable in power - 8 > 5, but these guys know how to play, and they're starting with full WBL.
    My Red Hand of Doom campaign journal: Part I, Part II
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  30. - Top - End - #30
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    Matthew's Avatar

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    Default Re: Yet Another Red Hand Of Doom Campaign Journal

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    The Kingdom of Foobar is my name, not Wizards'. Unfortunately, I can't use it, because 3 out of 5 of my players are Computer Science students, and I would never catch the end of it...
    Oh well.

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    Also unfortunately, I probably won't finish running this campaign for that first group - I'll probably be quite sick of it by the time I finish it for my school chums. Furthermore, the players wanted to know what happened next, and figuring that I wouldn't have much of a chance to finish playing with them, I gave them some spoilers...

    Looking back, I probably shouldn't have, but maybe they'll forget all that stuff. And I hung on to all the character sheets, of course.
    A pity. I have done something similar before. Better in the long run to keep your cards close to your chest, I have since found.

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    I don't mind "filling in the blanks" left by the module. Hell, I enjoy it. But I'm glad that I had the opportunity to run through this and figure out where exactly those blanks are. It's strange, because the designers mention that your players might have trouble figuring out that they're supposed to go to the Thornwastes after finding the phylactery, but they just assume that you'll want to go running into the Blackfens.
    Good. Probably just an editing issue.

    Quote Originally Posted by kjones View Post
    In that same conversation with the ranger player, we discussed at length the implications of waging guerrilla warfare against the Horde. There's little doubt in my mind that a clever, careful group of players could do significant damage to the Horde, and it's to the credit of the designers that they have detailed the challenges one would have to overcome in order to assassinate the chief warlord.

    There are a few problems with this, however. The module specifies that if the warlord is killed, another will rise to take his place, which is reasonable - but how many lower-level commanders would one have to kill in order to seriously damage the organizational structure of the horde? How much would it take to demoralize them?

    These can be hand-waved away by saying that the horde is driven by religious fanaticism and thus any such efforts would only bolster their resolve, but I think that's a bit of a cop-out. In any event, it's not something that I want to have to deal with - I think I'm best off making it clear that confronting the horde head-on is a Bad Idea (TM), even if it isn't.
    An interesting proposition. You could probably draw up a roster or something if it came to it. Maybe there is some advice to be taken from Heroes of Battle or a third party resource, such as Malhavoc Press' Cry Havoc.
    It is a joyful thing indeed to hold intimate converse with a man after one’s own heart, chatting without reserve about things of interest or the fleeting topics of the world; but such, alas, are few and far between.

    – Yoshida Kenko (1283-1350), Tsurezure-Gusa (1340)

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