Thursday, February 25, 2010

B2 Campaign Ideas: How The Caves React

The last game I DM'ed this past December used B2 The Keep On The Borderlands as the main setting. The common criticism of this module is the fact that all of these different humanoid tribes live in close proximity with each other with relatively little conflict or cooperation one way or the other. In my efforts to expand the module contents, I'm going to propose a reactionary system for the inhabitants of the Caves.

[Note: Not like I'm actively DMing at this point, but if the ideas start floating around in my head, I might as well put them down.]

In order to impose some kind of system for the humanoids to react to incursions by adventurers, I need to create a framework for an ad hoc organization of the tribes as a whole. Ostensibly, the evil cleric in the temple cave is a cleric of the Elder Elemental God, also providing a hook into the Temple of Elemental Evil as an expansion to the B2 campaign area. If the PCs discover the link, or bring back evidence to the Curate in the Keep, it will provide a hook for a trip to Hommlett.

Even though this Cleric would be chaotic in nature, he still exerts a degree of control due to his power and small legion of zombies and acolytes. If the PCs are on the verge of breaking the Caves and scattering the tribes within, the Cleric will lose his influence and be forced to hole up in his Temple or hatch some other evil plan. This will form a basis for loosely uniting the tribes in reaction to PC incursions. Overall, the individual reactions of the tribes will be on a local level, basically, an increased state of alertness and defensive postures within their caves. On the larger level, as the PCs begin to put a dent into the Caves, a more concerted effort will be put forth by the baddies to prepare for adventurers.

This provides a loose context for establishing a relathionship between tribes of humanoids that would otherwise be warring each other. Some of the Caves that house baddies like the Ogre and Minotaur still work. The Ogre can still be a "mercenary" of sorts to the Goblins; as long as the Ogre is doing more damage outside the Caves than inside, the cleric would not interfere. The Minotaur continues to subside on sacrifices and enjoys ruling his little maze-like domain. Both of these heavy hitters provide an opportunity for the Cleric to use them in interesting situations if need be, such as an expensive bodyguard or even a magically controlled pawn.

The system here will be a simple counter that accumulates every time the PCs raid the Caves with a weight based on the amount of damage they do. I'll put forth a working list of what actions will increment this Threat Level and what value will warrant a response and the form of that response.

[I started to specify actions with a particular point value, but scrapped that in favor of a qualitative system, leaving it more open to interpretation and improvisation rather than a rigid system.]

Nuisance increments to Threat Level:

* Spotting adventuring parties within the ravine or actually encountering the inhabitants of a cave.
* Raiding the Kobold cave, even if the entire tribe is shattered. These guys would be the lowest on the totem pole, only allowed to exist in the complex due to the fact that they are decent cannon fodder. Also allows the PCs to at least have access to some combat experience without having all the Caves on high alert.
* Killing a small number of humanoids, such as during a wilderness random encounter or a limited skirmish inside the caves.
* Killing a significant number of Goblins in Cave D, but not shattering the tribe.

Ultimately, these actions can be taken without any real organized reaction.

Minor Threats:

* A serious raid into the lower level caves (Goblins in D) that results in shattering the tribe, killing the chief, or otherwise putting the Goblins out of action. While still low on the totem pole, Goblins are at least enough of a challenge to alert the rest of the tribes that there is a competent force of adventurers lurking.
* Killing the Ogre (Cave E). The Ogre represents a significant foe and would rouse the other tribes.
* Similarly, the Owl Bear in Cave G.
* A raid into the middle level caves (the Orcs in B and C, Hobgoblins in H, Bugbears in F) that defeats a significant number of monsters, roughly a large encounter's worth, but otherwise leaves the tribe intact. These troops represent a significant force for Chaos, so casualties will be felt.

Major Threats:

* Killing the Minotaur in Cave I. Only seasoned adventurers and do-gooders would be capable of navigating the maze and slaying the Minotaur.
* Causing massive casualties to one of the middle level caves, including killing the chief or shattering the tribe. This would be a severe blow to Chaos' manpower.
* Raiding the Temple Cave K. Even a minor encounter and a few slain zombies would be taken personally by the Cleric.
* Any significant raid into the Temple cave would probably be the highest insult short of actually killing the Cleric himself.

Potential Reactions

A single minor threat would force a guard to be placed at the entrance to the ravine. This would be a large group of kobolds (if left alive) as a disposable warning force, or a group of goblins that would be capable of putting up a fight before falling back. Multiple minor threats would increase the guard's presence at the ravine mouth, up to a 24/7 watch and a few mobile groups of Orc, Hobgoblins, or Bugbears patrolling about a quarter mile around the Caves. This is probably the maximum amount of organization that could be enacted given the mash-up of species. Patrolling groups would fight any adventurers found; a severely outmatched patrol would either flee to reform later or possibly  fall back to combine with other patrols/guards. Patrols are also a great opportunity to ambush adventurers after they have finished a raid and are burdened with loot.

A single major threat by itself would prompt a full guard compliment at the ravine and around the caves. A major threat plus some lingering minor threats would provoke a counter-attack as detailed below. Multiple major threats or a raid into the Temple would provoke the harshest counter attacks from below, assuming the Caves still had significant manpower available.

Counterattack Encounters:

* The Cleric would lead a contingent of forces to attack the ramshackle town outside the Keep along the river. (I added this to expand the Keep setting; populated mainly by refugees from the Giant incursions happening in Geof). The primary goal of the raid would be a quick attack to gain prisoners and corpses to animate as zombies.The incursion would seek to avoid confrontation with the Keep's forces. The PCs could get involved with a running battle to attempt to save the would-be slaves or even a quick follow up rescue mission. Or just not care.

* If a particular band of adventurers has really caught the ire of the Cleric, such as raiding his Temple, the Cleric would arrange to have the PCs killed. This could lead to a number of different encounters. The brigands or wild men could be hired out to stalk and attack the PCs after they leave the Keep. The Hermit could be charmed into entering the Keep and attacking the PCs, kind of a medieval suicide attack. If the adventurers use the same path to access the Caves multiple times, the tracks could be found and a nice deadly trap laid. The acolytes of the Cleric could try to gain entry to the Keep, sign on with the PCs as henchmen/hirelings, and lead them to their doom in the Minotaur Cave or an ambush in the Temple. Any or all of these tactics could be used to fight back against a group that has the Caves on the ropes.

Overall, this puts a couple good ideas down in writing to further expand B2, help develop the low-level campaign setting, and help add some dimensions to the classic dungeon romp module. The end goal would be to add enough content to the area to have the PCs run up to at least 3rd level up to 5th level with enough planned content and opportunities for improvised situations without necessitating a railroad to completely clear the Caves. Getting a single group of adventurers to this level would really be a solid start to a lasting campaign.

Some other ideas floating around in my head including B1 in to the relative area. Possibly farther up in the mountains off to the NW of the mapped area. A few hooks could be sprinkled in to integrate the new adventure location. But that would be a separate post.

So I hope you enjoyed my entirely too long, rambling posts... At least they serve to get my thoughts down for the day I actually resume DMing...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Current State of Affairs

The upcoming blog of the September 6th session with me as DM was the final meeting of the first band of stalwart PCs. This session ended my involvement with this group out of Rock Hill until December 09. At this point, I was personally very frustrated. I had just finished the 3rd 3.5 game as a PC and was not really enjoying myself. Sure, it felt good to be gaming again, but the 6 hour sessions were seriously grating. The amount of enjoyment was more centered around "Yay, D&D again!" rather than the game at hand. With this in my heart, gaming was quickly becoming less and less attractive. I took a week off from playing, then ran this session with the PCs. By the end of it, I was pretty discouraged even with DMing, precipitating my departure for almost 4 months.

Of course, after the December session, I haven't played since either, so another 2 months went by. While I've been hankering to DM some more, the pull to game is being outweighed by the massive amount of work that has to be done between my jobs and the house especially with Kathy working by day and at Grad school by night. I had built my December session off of the B-series module material, allowing me to generate campaign settings very time efficiently. However, giving up those 6 hours every Sunday is like giving up $100 in work from my writing job, or house and yard work that needs to be done and only piles up, or spending quality time with my wife.

Yea, boo hoo to me, I'm just soooo busy. Either way, it's tough to fit gaming in. Oh, how the halcyon days of being a teenager with more free time than I knew what to do with have passed me by...

Maybe it will come full circle again some day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

3.5 Game, PC, Session 3, August 30th

Well, the 3rd and final installment in my 3.5e foray as a PC. Seeing as how I am going to try to recall this bugger from almost 6 months in the past, you will have to excuse my piss poor post.

Rejoining our heroes from last session, the Exposition-Matic Druid we rescued told us the entire low down on the Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) we would be facing down to put an end to this story thread. The guy is named Vandor and is a Blighter, one of the myriad of supplemental classes. They seem to be quasi-Druids who can cast a fireball centered on themselves (which does not hurt them) at will. I'm sure ( or at least hope ) that the power has restrictions, but I don't know since I don't own the sourcebook.

Vandor is currently being held prisoner in the town at the end of the river that were are traveling on. Only, the twist is that he escaped from prison, but is apparently still hiding out in town. We make our way to town, but large sections of the city are blocked off (I can't remember why for the life of me.) Some PCs go into a tavern and start trouble with an NPC, while Josh talks to a bum who knows all about underground sewer tunnels that can take us to where Vandor is hiding. Josh also talks/skill checks his way into a library of sorts to find an old layout of the city to guide our journey. This also leads to the RIVETING skill check when Josh asks if anyone else is in the library, prompting Justin to call for a Search check...

Armed with our knowledge we stroll towards the bad part of town ready to kick ass. Well, the party him-haws and it takes a while before everyone actually agrees to enter the building complex where the BBEG is hiding.

Throughout these last 3 adventures, the concept of wandering monsters, overland encounters, and any content besides the path from start to finish are all completely absent. Call it meta-gaming, but the end result is that I (we) have nothing to fear from non-scripted encounters. So it is all the same whether we charge through the wilderness or through the bad pat of town, it seems to be all the same in the end. That's typically why I am usually so insistent on moving forward with little regard to other lines of thought. Not much reason to try to deviate from a path when the DM only lays railroad tracks.

Regardless, we run headlong into some 3e-brand encounter planning, with a set of encounters designed with the DMG guidelines about summing up enough encounters with X challenge rating for a night's session. First encounter is a couple of adventurer types who are a room or two ahead of us. We pursue trying to talk to them, but eventually we run into a group of bugbears/gnolls/whatever, with some bodies on the ground. The demi-humans fight to the death (not sure if there was a reason or just the total absence of the concept of moral and self-preservation among intelligent humanoids), and in a twist, some of the bodies turn out to be dopplegangers that attack us after the fight. Now, it is an interesting turn of events to use these guys to lure us into an encounter, but why did they wait until we killed all of the bugbears to attack? Or, let us move on, weakened from the fight, and wait to attack us at our weakest moment?

Well, they go down and we get some plot exposition. It seems we weren't the first guys to try to tackle the BBEG and one of the survivors of a previous party shows up to give us the tactical low down on the rest of the night's hacking. We trudge onward with an NPC in tow and suddenly some monster/demon/devil/whatnot appears in front of us and DOINKs.

We head upstairs, closing in on the BBEG, or at least our allotment of rated encounters towards 100%. We come across a wall of iron blocking out way. Thankfully, a small pack of rust monsters eats its way through from the other side and battle is joined. It's rather hokey, that is iron wall was set up, but then rust monsters are around? And all staged just for us?

Through the former wall and we encounter the bodies of a previous party of adventurers. In true Final Fantasy fashion, we are able to loot the corpses dry, try on new arms and armor, and fully equip and prepare ourselves for the boss who waits patiently in the next room without disturbing us.

Now, this final fight was a pretty good challenge, I will have to admit. It was just the BBEG, but not a typical DOINK. This guy's ability to do an area of affect damage to anyone within melee range really put us off of our game. It was a constant struggle to try to do damage to him without getting caught in his super attack. There was a good twist that we all missed, he had one of his plague plants in the room, so if we went towards it, he wouldn't use his fire attack dealy for fear of destroying it.

We ended up taking him down without any permanent casualties, presumably ending the plague threat. Justin confirmed this by asking us if we wanted to play the same characters in the next campaign. This is totally alien to me, why build up a character and develop a persona to just ditch them after every episode?

Either way, we finished another railroad, but this one at least went through some pretty scenery, so the enjoyment factor was a notch higher than previous adventures. It was still a linear adventure with everything preplanned and no real room for creativity, negotiation, or clever plans. There was at least one challenging encounter and some room for smart thinking, even if we missed it.

Maybe Justin's DMing got better over the months between this session and now, but I never took the chance to find out. Trying to block off 6 or so hours every Sunday is entirely beyond me. Until last December, I had not been playing with them for over 3 months. Either way, he was describing one upcoming session where the PCs were going to trudge through a forest full of vampires to kill a master vampire to lift the curse on some Paladin NPC. Not really a good indication of a change in adventure styles.

Oh well. On to the next 1e session I DM'ed...