DM Chronicles, Session 6: Perfectly Paced Action Crunch! (Part 2)

BloodhulkImage Source: Monster Manual IV, Wizards of the Coast, Artist: Jim Nelson

In which ChattyDM’s players find all kinds of trouble and manage to always come out on top. See part 1 here.

The players entered deeper in the tomb’s second level, finding themselves in a large “T” shaped room. It featured 2 more stone-doors-with-levers contraptions.

The room contained 2 particular D&D DM challenges: 2 Sonic Blast Glyphs of Warding sitting in very precise spots on the floor and an illusionary wall hiding an old Umber Hulk tunnel.

Now as mentioned here, I was using D&D tiles for each and every room (with Franky being nice enough to move the tiles around to scroll the Dungeon) and had the players set their figurines in front of each entrance as if a fight was about to break.

Now the problem with traps in rooms is that the players need to state quite clearly where they step if you want to trigger the trap without the very predictable cry of outrage of the likes of ‘I never said I stepped there!” However, when you ask where the players step, the whole group become avatars of caution, metagaming, quite naturally, that you’re about to spring your latest deathtrap on them.

But using the tiles and letting the players moving their own figurines around as they went to explore parts of the room actually made my job a lot easier. Cixi went to examine the illusionary wall first and stepped on the glyph without triggering it.

Aside: Being a Iron Hero and not supposed to be used in a default d20 fantasy setting, I had to hack quite a few houserules for Cixi (actually from our last abandoned campaign where Cixi was a character). Iron Heroes was designed to allow characters that are on par (actually a bit ahead) of standard d20 character but without any Magic Items.

I worked an in-game reason why a Iron hero can’t wield/wear/use a magic item or be healed by magic. One of the side effects of this was to make Iron Heroes immune to all magic spells and spell-like abilities that allow a save vs Fort or Will (except from outsiders). So Cixi basically saw through the illusionary wall and failed to trigger the magical trap.

So when a player finally moved his figurine right over the glyph, I stopped the game and had the glyph explode, catching 3 players in the blast, and pushing Cixi through the illusionary wall just for kicks (I had informed Franky/Cixi but not the other players) . A Glyph blast requests a Ref save so Cixi got hit too. (Nobody complained so I guess it’s a good if a bit evil approach)

The players detected the other glyph and decided to explore the tunnel, leaving the 2 closed doors for later. I must say it’s refreshing to play a few non-linear Dungeon Crawls, with all those choices and possible reactions of denizens.

They got into another defiled room with no apparent usable exit. They rapidly found a lever inside a coffin as well as the double falchion-spring blade trap placed to chop unwary arms. Once sprung the trap resets after a bit, so while the players were discussing the best course of action, I voiced a loud “click” every 5-6 seconds or so. It was funny to hear the shift in conversations as I was doing this. After 9 clicks, I said ‘Clonk’ and Eric said ‘the trap resets after 1 minute’… Clever boy!

That opened another passage down to the tomb’s third level. Which the players eagerly sent Lille to explore (I had to rewind a bit since I assumed the whole party took the stairs… Wrong assumption to make when you have a flying, invisible Tinkerbell in the party). She saw more than what she bargained for and promptly came back.

They faced 2 Giant Bloodhulks (think Hill Giant Fast Zombies pumped with way too much blood, see image) over a battlefield featuring a 60-80 foot long, 10-15 foot wide crevice. Once again the fight was fun and intense.

The Bloodhulks have tremendously high HP (200), low AC (13) and one hard hitting, 10′ reach slam per turn (avg 20 pts of damage). Originally the room contained 2 Child of Sehan but I had decided, quite understandably, to replace them.

During the fight, Cixi got really hurt for the 1st time during the campaign. Enough so that another hit would send her into the dying range. While the players were trying to find a way to tank the Giant to protect her, I hinted that being a kickass skill machine (all Iron Heroes are) maybe she could tumble/jump her way over the crevice.

Now, in order to avoid what happened to Crueger (you know, the Bridge falling Hellbred Crusader) a few sessions ago, I broke the pacing of the game to take the time to clearly spell out what the tumbling (to dodge giant fists) and jumping DCs were and what were the consequences of failing. Franky accepted the odds, dodged the undead giants and cleared the hole in the ground. Gooooooo Cixi!

I think it was worth taking the time to do this as she was now out of danger and Franky was grateful.

Once the monsters were slain, the evening was nearing to an end and I was starting to look for a good Cliffhanger point. They explored an empty room featuring yet another defiled coffin. But when I saw Aravar (Elven Duskblade/Arcane Archer) and Nogard spend significant effort looking for loot, I decided to place some hidden bling under the sarcophagus.

You see, Stef (Nogard’s player) had dropped a lot of hints that he wanted to add a dragon religion element to his character. And while I added clear dragon flavoured shamanistic elements in the tomb to please him, I more or less ignored all his attempts to play with the tomb’s fluff (ex: spending time to restore desecrated coffins and such) as were very much into the Crunch of the adventure.

So I decided to generate a tresure and make the coffin the tomb of some Dragon Priest…. just after I resolved the floor collapsing under Aravar and sending him crashing down 100′ down the 4th level floor into a Stalagmite strewn cavern. He survived the trap quite nicely thanks to the selection of a swift 1-round duration fly spells.

The loot was all draconic-related (ancient dragon-stamped gold coins, a gold idol, some priestly gold-threaded vestment) and a pair of magic gloves! (All generated in less than 5 minutes using the Magic Item Compendium)! I’ll make it fit with the campaign later, I’m not worried at all.

At that time, it was past 10h30, so I let the players open one last Stone door. It was locked, so Nogard stepped up to it and axed it to bits with his new Axe. I showed a picture of what came out and ended the game there … (Nope I’m not going to tell… tune in next time!)

Lessons Learned:

  • Improv rocks, even low-grade, non-earth shattering improv!
  • Critical hits against non-critable creatures might not be such a big deal after all (Welcome to the blogosphere ve4grm!).

What players liked:

  • The Pace, the action, the bling!
  • Kicking butt and feeling competent!
  • Dice that actually roll good results!
  • Part of the group levels up to nine at the next game

What players disliked:

  • Not much, though Stef would have liked to Roleplay a bit more than I was willing to do that night. To make up for it, I offerd by email to give him a significant XP bonus (10% of leveling up XP) to reward his efforts in spite of my resistance.

What’s next:

  • Conclude the adventure.
  • Factor in some downtime to allow players to unwind and do non-adventure stuff (Shop, interact, find a group name, etc).


  1. Yeah! I’ll be able to propose again the same name for our group… 😉

    I so imagine us introducing ourselves as the Emerald Quintet with each player taking a pose manga style… So cheesy it’s scary! LOL!

    Someday they’ll cave-in to my subconscious ploy! Mwahaha!

  2. You know Yan, there is a trope for that: