Last week we returned to D&D after the holidays. It was an interesting session to me, as I felt it demonstrated some of the strengths in the campaign decisions I recently made, and perhaps showed a couple of places where I need to adjust. I will insert a couple of observations below.
The session was attended by 5 players. The druid and wizard were not present.
The game started inside the caves of the kuo-toa. They had not yet found prisoners, but had also seemingly avoided discovery. However a guard further down a tunnel had heard the final battle in the last
session and gone to the nearby priest (known as Whips in the kuo-toa culture). They sent the gnome rogue to scout ahead, who spotted the posse coming at them. He retreated and they made an ambush and relatively easily defeated the kuo-toa, but a couple of them escaped (and ran back to their mama).
However, the gnome who was sent down the tunnel to investigate failed to see the tracks going into an underwater tunnel, where the prisoners had been led. Therefore they moved quickly on, and found beyond some barricades a spawning pool for tad-pool-like kuo-toa. The mama-kuo toa and some friends came and attacked them as soon as they disturbed the pool. She was pretty tough with 3 attacks and high damage and poison. Luck was with the players though, and no-one were knocked to zero. They did expend a couple of the potions they found. After the mama-boss the group retreated, as they were pretty low on resources. As they had not found the prisoners, they decided to go back in, to see if they couldn’t locate them.
They actively investigate the water logged tunnel, the ranger saw the trail and found prisoners in a stockade beyond 10 meters of flooded tunnel. There were 8 or 9 prisoners, some of whom were wounded, and some who were combat able. They gave them weapons and fled from the loot the kuo-toa took from the wrecked ship, and went back to the forest. Here they decided to do a short rest and then take the prisoners along the trail of another survivor for a couple of hours, before they made camp.
The kuo-toa sent out a strong patrol to catch their escaped prisoners, and caught up with the group shortly after they made camp. The kuo-toa attacked with numbers in their favour, and with a couple of crits by them, the group was quickly reduced to the Warlock, who used a Darkness spell to conceal himself in, while being able to fire Eldritch blast out of it, and the half-orc fighter/cleric. However, when only the Warlock remained, the kuo-toa had taken heavy losses and had no counter to the darkness, they fled. Leaving the group with one prisoner dead, and a missing finger on the ranger/paladin.
I have stopped thinking about balance, and award less xp for fighting monsters. It works very positively in many ways.
– I spend much less time trying to make encounters and monsters and figuring out CR and xp awards. With 5-7 PCs its nearly impossible anyway…
– I worry less that the group easily defeats or are hard pressed by an encounter, and let the dice fall where they may. I’m simply not invested
– It encourages the players to think, and get scared and worried, because they know I haven’t ‘balanced it’ for their sake.
For the big final encounter, I looked at the number of kuo-toa left in the lair, and sent out a good strong group that felt realistic. I counted out a few regular kuo-toa, who would be fighting the NPC prisoners, but 12 kuo-toa, 2 whips and a monitor were a problem for five 3rd level characters.
The Warlock was highly effective the entire session with his darkness/spell sniper/eldritch blast combo. That was good from my point of view. He has built something effective, and he and the group should be rewarded for it. Of course, it could turn into a problem if the entire group feels outshined by it, or if it just becomes a default strategy. At slightly higher levels the opposition can have various counter moves, such as area spells, blind sense, dispel etc., so I’m not overly worried.
All of the characters got to use their special abilities, and getting those into play is important to me as a DM.
I did love that they overcome a very difficult encounter. With only 25% xp given, I felt it was a bit low. That kind of success should perhaps be separately rewarded.
A couple of things could have gone better.
– I would have liked to have had the tidal dynamics in the dungeon more in play.
– The paladin/ranger player felt bored some of the time, partly because he was hit by a couple of crits in the final encounter, and was down in round 2. I really hate when a player is bored.
– Based upon my descriptions the players made some more or less mistaken assumptions. Obviously my descriptions aren’t perfect, and a solution would be to tip our play style a bit more towards how Chris Perkins does it with his Acquisitions Incorporated. The players ask more clarifying questions, if they want information about a feature that is mentioned in the description. I like that a lot, as it lends itself better to improvisation, and the players potentially makes less faulty assumptions.
For next time:
– Encourage players to ask more clarifying questions, instead of making false assumptions.
– Be mindful of the warlocks powerful combo and group dynamics.
– Make a separate xp award for victory against all odds.
*The featured image is a kuo-toa whip and from the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.