MM2 Worldwide D&D Game Day: Behind the Screen

gameday2009_mm2Over a month ago, I discovered that Monster Manual 2 Game Day would fall smack dab in the middle of Balticon, so I decided I’d try to combine peanut butter and chocolate and sign up to run the game day at my Friendly Local Science Fiction Con. I hadn’t been happy with the previous game day at the game store closest to where I live, and didn’t particularly want to leave the con to head to a game store that day, so I navigated through the RPGA signup system to run it myself (and hey, get a pile of minis to boot). The signup system proved to be challenging, to say the least, but I learned a valuable lesson that complaining on Twitter often gets things done.

After getting the supplies in hand, I put out the call for players. Due to the nature of how I signed up to run it and the time frame involved, there wasn’t much advertising that could be done for it, so I had to rely (at least for one session) on my existing contacts. Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem: before I knew it, I had 6 players ready to go. However, when the time came to run, the gaming room at Balticon was full! (It’s a very small room to begin with). So I improvised and held it my room, where I was planning on running my next adventure of my campaign anyway. I left the promotional materials in prominent locations, and arranged for everyone to meet me up in my room for a session of the D&D Game Day.

With 6 players, I had to roll an extra character, so I asked the extra player what he wanted, and we settled on a gnome bard. I quickly generated one using the character builder and printed it out at the hotel’s business center (for $5, ouch!) and before long, we were off.

The adventure was Journey Through The Silver Caves, a straightforward dungeon-crawl that puts the PCs on the trail of a kobold wyrmpriest who stole an important book of prophecy from a local fortress. (I will spoil some about the adventure, so if you’re planning on playing through it at some point later, consider yourself warned). The PCs meet at the fortress and receive information about what they’re seeking, the caves nearby, and most importantly, their reward. I explained that the PCs had traveled together for a short time, but were forgetful about each other and so should make short, awkward introductions about their race and profession before continuing. After the typical introduction around the table, the group arrived at the caves.

encounter1

Encounter 1 featured the wyrmpriest, drakes and orcs. On round 3, the harpy swooped down and lifted the kobold away. It’s a bit of a cop-out (and my players wanted to know exactly how far the harpy had flown so they could take pot-shots at it) but it did serve to drive them forward. It was also a bit disappointing that in an adventure designed to show off new monsters from a new monster book, they decided to make the first encounter all variants of monsters we already knew about (and who didn’t do anything particularly cool or exciting compared to their existing counterparts). After finishing off the orcs and drakes remaining, they spotted the orc duck behind the next corner, and pursued after a short rest.

encounter2

Encounter 2 featured beetles, arbablasters (an extra one added for player 6), and the dreaded rust monster. The rust monster fight, as expected, was the highlight of the adventure. Not only did the PCs specifically change their tactics to deal with them (which is usually enjoyable to prevent fights from all seeming the same), but it forced the Dwarven Paladin to be a little more cautious after his full plate became a snack. The beetles too were an interesting addition and kept the same picked on Dwarf buried in rubble for a while, and the arbablasters provided support fire (though they weren’t anything new to this group who fought them way back in the Treasure of Talon Pass).

players

Encounter 3 was a skill challenge on a raft down a river that runs through the Silver Caves. I was very glad to see a full skill challenge included, especially one so well developed. The caves had a number of stages as they progressed down the river, leading it to be a more interesting encounter than a single scene one. I ran the skill challenge completely “by the book” instead of the more free form way that I normally do, both because that made more sense at an introductory event and because Original Sultan suggested I try it. It worked out quite well, telling them what skills were allowed and what they did. I still have mixed feelings about running skill challenges that way though: for one, I’m not sure it would work nearly as well in a role-playing intensive skill challenge as opposed to an action one, and secondly, there were a few places where I turned down other skill uses to keep with it as written. Still, a successful experiment, I would say. Big kudos to the author of the adventure for writing the skill challenge in a very clear fashion that made it easy to flow (so to speak) from one segment to the next. (Also, possibly the first time that asking the classic question “do you have any magic items to aid us in our quest?” is actually planned for!)

encounter4

Encounter 4, the final encounter, started with the raft arriving in another cave (on the flipside of the poster map) and a battle against the Wyrmpriest transformed into a silver dragon-ish creature, some more orc goons, and an orc warlord/cleric kind of guy. Once again, I added a monster to account for the extra PC. While reading the suggestions for what to add, it occurred to me that the harpy from Encounter 1 seems to have disappeared. Apparently as written, the harpy drops off the wyrmpriest to do the ritual, then skips town. So to make the whole thing make more sense to me, I added the harpy back in as the extra monster. The fight worked out well, since even though the PCs tried to focus fire on the wyrmpriest, the map was too spread out and the creatures forced everyone to fight in different areas. The tiefling warlord, in particular, conducted his own epic one-on-one battle against an orc near the raft. The dragonborn rogue found herself enraptured by the harpy and moving away from the main fight, until the harpy was engulfed in a critical fireball tossed by the wizard who wanted to take the bridge for herself.

tieflingfight

In 4e, you can tell when the tide of battle shifts into clearly the PC’s favor, and after a few monsters were taken out, it became clear what was going to happen. The silver dragon/wyrmpriest combo managed to do some damage before dropping (and went to bloodied quickly thanks to the successful skill challenge giving an advantage) but our heroes were victorious, and recovered the prophecy book they were looking for, and grabbed whatever loot they could.

dmdaveHere’s my conclusions on the MM2 Game Day Adventure:

Critical Hits

  • Adventure is well-organized for DMs, especially the skill challenge.
  • Actually finished in the time frame allotted (3-4 hours) instead of lasting twice as long as it should.
  • Characters seemed to have fewer errors, making them mostly playable by just the sheets as written.
  • Rust monsters are fun, and were placed in an encounter that made them serious threats.
  • Skill challenge that worked well to show off some of the non-combat aspects of 4e.
  • Free minis are always good, but I almost like the free poster map better.

Critical Misses

  • For an adventure that was supposed to show off new creatures, it seemed to rely on variants of old standbys, without much to differentiate them from the old monsters. (Orcs with falchions do not count as new and interesting).
  • Still not much in the way of social interaction roleplaying: there was a bit during the skill challenge where they talk to ghosts, but I wish the adventures would start with a little more roleplaying to introduce the adventure instead of relying mostly on boxed text.

Critical Bwuh?

  • Harpy taxi service, and an orc on a canoe that can avoid ghosts when the PCs cannot.
  • All the characters had genders except for the Eladrin (whose miniature was clearly female).
  • The adventures need to specify just a little more clearly where the PCs come in on the map.

I do think WotC is zeroing in on how to make these game days running smoothly, and I look forward to the next one. I understand the DM2 game day will be quite interesting, so I look forward to that… and if there’s a need for a DM, I’ll gladly volunteer again. (Especially if I get the same group of players… you guys and girl rocked!)

You can check out all of my MM2 D&D Game Day pics in my Flickr set.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, the Geek's Dream Girl.

Comments

  1. > He also is the envy of geeks everywhere because he’s dating e

    TRUE!

    Oh, and great write-up, Dave :D

  2. Ha! Thanks on both counts. :) You reminded me that I needed to update my byline once again…

  3. I agree with a couple of the misses you mentioned. My players though were able to chalk up the Orc passing the skill challenge as having something the Ghosts needed to pass.

    GeekBob´s last post: Games Day and the Naked Dworc

  4. GeekBob: Yeah, my rationale after the fact was that the lackeys had been given fake letters of passage as suggested in the challenge.

  5. Good to hear it didn’t take as long as the paragon level ones before. The map is pretty cool. Wizards would do well to start releasing big poster maps and stuff alongside dungeon tiles. Then they could release things like forest trails and so on that may be too niche for a whole set of dungeon tiles pretty cheaply.

    Wyatt´s last post: Don’t Split The XP Budget (MM2 Review Part 1)

  6. I can’t believe you let a picture of me slip into this post!! ;-)

    For those who missed it, I did an ongoing Twitter color commentary during the game. You can probably search for #dndgd and find it that way.

    It was a very fun little adventure. My rogue ended up surviving the final encounter with one hit point left. It was glorious.

    Geek’s Dream Girl´s last post: Moradin’s Lass: Hot Dwarven Men, a Demigod, and a Quest

  7. Great article…makes me wish I could read through that adventure. I had a blast playing, but did have a couple questions coming out of it.

    Also, very cool that Wil Wheaton read, and saw you wearing the shirt he designed!

    pjstoneson´s last post: Is that a Lite Brite?

  8. JS Dougan says:

    I’d add to the critical bwah list the choice of daily powers for the warlord — they both triggered on some really oddball conditions, and passed on some other useful powers. (I’m a big, big fan of Lead the Attack as a level 1 daily.)

  9. GDG: No favoritism there :)

    JS: True, and I remember the player of the Dwarven Paladin questioning the power selection of that character as well. Harder for me to gauge those things from that side of the screen, but I think you’re right.

  10. TheMainEvent says:

    As the Dwarf Player: It seemed to me that they tried really hard to ‘show’ how ‘effective’ a Paladin with reasonable strength, constitution, wisdom, and charisma could be rather than focusing on one. I was never a fan of the stats needed to use all the Paladins benefits, and this WotC-sanctioned sample Paladin convinced me of it. Regardless, good times.

  11. While the Warlord powers were unorthodox, they were still pretty useful. Fearless Rescue in particular is one of our Warlord’s favourite attacks.

    For reference, Dave, the sheets can be downloaded here:
    http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/4dnd/gameday&BAC=may09

    Graham´s last post: Oh my, he’s at it again!

  12. Heya Dave,

    Found you via the Dwarven Paladins’ blog. The two of you have convinced me to give 4e a try.

    (okay, you convinced me to convince my husband to give it a try – it is his turn to DM- but anyway)

    I am not a fan of pre-made modules but we may try a few of those as well, especially with the time requirements being fairly accurate.

    Oh, did the maps come with the module? (They are really nice)

  13. I ran the same event this past weekend, and found it to be the best one put forward by WotC so far. A few goofy things, mostly the ones that you mentioned, but overall, everyone had fun, and it wasn’t too much trouble to run. I was very pleased with the Skill Challenge as layed out, as well.

    Our group mostly wondered why the barbarian had a Healer’s Brooch. They ended up trading it for an extra item for the Paladin, who had lost his armor, as well.

  14. Great write-up, thanks! I have recently returned to the D&D fold, running my kids through the freebie H1 module. I notice you had a laptop open, but couldn’t quite make out what was running – a spreadsheet, perhaps? Any tips on apps or techniques for using one? Are there special apps you use?

  15. Kit: Awesome! Hope you guys have fun with it. Maps did come with it, but they could be reproduced by using dungeon tiles too.

    Brady: Spreadsheet was it. I use it to track initiative, HP, and ongoing effects. In my actual campaign, I also use it to access my campaign wiki and the D&D compendium.

  16. Noumenon says:

    After finishing off the orcs and drakes remaining, they spotted the orc duck behind the next corner

    Ooh! New monster! Some kind of orc-avian hybrid?

  17. @Noumenon: LOL, wow that took me a minute! Good one.

    I’m sad that I couldn’t make it on Saturday to try this adventure out, but I’m very happy that the rust monsters worked out exactly as they should have. As Wil mentioned in his post, the shared experience of events like this (and Irontooth in KotSF) are amazing for the hobby and community.

  18. In my actual campaign, I also use it to access my campaign wiki and the D&D compendium.

    Campaign wiki. Of course. *sigh* I have a lot to catch up on. Last time I DMed small, non-floppy floppy disks were the big new thing.

  19. Brady: Heh, I just find the Campaign Wiki to be the electronic alternative to a notebook (which I also still use). It makes it easier for my players (who are all busy professionals) to keep up to date with my game world, the other players, how much XP they got (VERY important) and so on. It’s not for every group, but kinda cool.

  20. Chance the Warlord says:

    Thanks for the write-up of your game. Our DM ran things a bit… differently. For instance the wyrmpriest was presented as two different priests — and no harpy rescue. Skill challenge was skipped entirely. (I’d be interested to see how the challenge was presented as I’m still learning how to handle challenges as a DM myself). Didn’t get the full dragon transformation, since we didn’t take an extended rest, I guess. I liked playing the Warlord though. I might use him as a build for a character of my own sometime.

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