Monday, February 23, 2015

Introducing - The Outlanders

In which a new campaign is launched, and the players demonstrate their quality.

We started the new campaign last night.  A few of the guys have played some 5E, for the others this was their first foray.  I kicked off with some basic ground rules:

  • The campaign is built around a "delve" concept, short dungeons meant to be completed in a single evening.  I expect each game to start and end in town, to support an episodic cast of players.  If you miss one week, you're free to show up the next and know that you'll be able to jump in.
  • 5E combat features a lot of swing - monsters and characters that hit hard, and dice matter; the players should plan on utilizing sound old school tactics.
  • While I like the Inspiration mechanic, I plan on focusing it more on things that reinforce the setting than character background choices like bonds and ideals that might draw focus from group play.  Invoking the gods or demonstrating heroic ideals from the epics are good examples of play that could earn inspiration.

The players for the first night introduced their characters - Modred, a Gold Dragonborn Bard; Etor, a Spartan Fighter; Gati, a Halfling Rogue; Aldrian, an Elf Druid.

Modred:  The Dragonborn are a manufactured race, created from dragon's teeth sown in the ground (ala the myth of Cadmus and Jason - the Spartoi).  Modred has come to Taenarum to confront Hades in song, and liberate the spirits of the dead Dragonborn, or join them.  (I totally want to see a death metal showdown some day, like Finn versus Death).

Etor:  Etor was a Spartan soldier who deserted on an overseas campaign, and spent years in the wilds north of Greece.  He's come to Taenarum because he's a professional adventurer now.

Gati:  Halflings originate on an isolated island that was discovered by explorers after the Trojan War - when members of the Greek fleet were blown off course.  The race indulges in drink, pleasure, and leisure, and hold Dionysus as their patron deity.  (Now I can't help but picture Halflings as the chubby little satyrs from Fantasia).  Since the Halflings have learned about the outside world (and vice versa) many youthful Halflings have stowed away to see the wider world.  That's why Gati left too.

Aldrian:  Aldrian is an elf druid revering Artemis in the wild forests beyond the Alps.  A vision called him to the south of Greece.  He believes the will of the goddess will be served by exploring the dungeon.

The players agreed that they met at the Adventurer's Guild Hall in Psammathous Bay, the small seaside village along the cape from which jaunts to Taenarum are launched.  They call themselves 'The Outlanders', because they all managed to choose Outlander as a character background, sight unseen.  One of the hallmarks of the Adventurer's Guildhall is a "scoreboard" on the wall, where a running tally of total gold earned is kept on the wall, along with the status of various rival adventuring parties.   The game was officially 'in session' with Lykourgos, the proprietor of the guild hall, banging a tankard on the bar top loud enough to silence the crowd.  "A new group of adventurers has incorporated.  They call themselves The Outlanders."  Lykourgos walked over to the scoreboard and hung the placard with the player's group name on the bottom rung of the scoreboard, with zero points.  "Outlanders - welcome to the Scoreboard!"  And many cries of 'huzzah' went up around the tavern, and then the various rival groups went back to their drinks and conversations… although comments like "Wonder how long it will take for that group to end up in the dead pile", was also heard a few times around the hall.

The players spent some time seeing what kind of rumors they could pick up, and whether there were any quests being dangled about the town (queue the sound of furious DM dice rolls).  A distraught woman at the bar, Desma, was hoping to hire adventurers to rescue her husband from a dryad.  His companions returned to Sparta, leaving him enslaved in the clutches of a vampish dryad.  Meanwhile, the captain of the guard pointed out how Lord Yorgos, the ruler of the nearby area, would be happy if an adventuring party took care of some bandits that were camping somewhere near the entrance.  In both cases, the more powerful local adventuring parties - the Nefarious Nine, or the Big Gold Hunters - couldn't be bothered with dryads or bandits - so the players saw these as good opportunities for themselves.  Off they went to the dungeon.

The walk to Taenarum from the village cove is a couple of miles across sun drenched hills and the ridge line.  At the end of the cape, overlooking the vast and open water, is a high sea cliff and a large passage carved into the living stone.  The post and lintel of the doorway is chiseled with images of giants holding up the roof, and a weather worn visage of a gorgon over the entrance.  The players prepared a torch and descended into the darkness.

The road to the underworld is spacious and high ceilinged, a broad twenty foot passage with numerous nooks, alcoves, side rooms, and even side passages.  After about twenty minutes, the players came to the first dungeon - an archway with a long passage leading off to the right.

How I drew up the first delve area in my planning went something like this… the players would miss a trip wire, alerting the nearby bandit camp, causing an ambush in the bandit area that would drain most of the party resources.  The party would be softened up for the "bandit captain", a super dangerous encounter for 1st level characters.  I'd be fine if the bandit captain dropped most of the players and then took the party prisoner.  Getting sand kicked in your face at first level is good for building character, amiright?

What really happened is that the Halfling thief checked the hall for traps, easily found the trip wire, disabled it, and found the bandits long before they knew anyone was there.  The players ambushed the bandits, wiping them out without a problem, and were also able to surprise the bandit captain in his lair a few minutes later.  Things didn't look good for the DM's team.

Despite the players seriously outplaying me, the raw power of the bandit captain versus four first level fighters began to tilt the fight.  The bandit captain was on the other side of a large table, and Etor charged from one side, and the Dragonborn charged from the other.  Etor was dropped to zero hit points by the bandit's "three attacks per round" routine, and while the druid was using 'healing word' to revive the fighter, the Dragonborn got pounded.  The Dragonborn was knocked out of the fight, the Druid took his place and was also knocked out of the fight, and the Halfling needed to run under the table and start doing thief backstabby types of things.  A timely critical by Etor finished the bandit captain, and the players were able to stabilize and revive their fallen friends.

Despite my stated goal of finishing an entire delve per night, this night was heavy on roleplaying in town, telling war stories from Gen Con's past, and otherwise just catching up and getting the band back together, so over half the night was spent on that kind of stuff.  Not willing to risk the wrath of They Who Must Be Obeyed (the wives, and it was a work night) we ended on time and the group returned to town.  I imagine the players will finish this area next week and then I'll post a map of the area.

Overall, it was a fun game night.  Player skill matters, but the damage output of monsters is high enough that hot or cold dice create a lot of tension round to round.  I have some concerns about how this "delve approach" of short game nights will work versus resource management, healing, and spells, but I'm willing to see how it goes.

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