Although this session recap is being posted now, in the New Year of 2020, mostly so I can remind my players that we are gaming tonight, the final session of Crypt of the Smoke Dragon was actually ran before Christmas 2019. We all wanted a quick session, so that we could finish up and get ready for a new adventure in the new year, and not have to worry about over running into conflicts with upcoming work-related Christmas parties that often happen around that time of year. Thankfully, the finale of Crypt of the Smoke Dragon didn’t disappoint in this regard.
We had left the party, consisting of Greywulf, Stardancer, Develan, and Zanthar Rex, preparing to face off against the Smoke Dragon, a mist-based undead dragon that had billowed forth from an enchanted brazier in the back of the room. They had Maxie, Stardancer’s new-found animal companion – a small dog – to aid them, and aid them she would.
And Bang, the Dragon Was Gone
The ensuing conflict was swift, as Greywulf, Stardancer, and Develan engaged the Smoke Dragon in hand to hand combat. Naturally, Maxie followed her new mistress into battle, and when the Smoke Dragon almost killed Stardancer, Maxie was there to give the Smoke Dragon what for.
However, all of this was a distraction, as Zanthar Rex remembered the weakness of the Smoke Dragon, and headed straight for the brazier instead. Zanthar destroyed the brazier, which instantly weakened the Smoke Dragon, allowing for Stardancer to strike the final blow and destroying the beast.
With this, all that was left to do was the looting, with the typical improvement item for each character – advanced spell scrolls for the Cleric and Wizard, better armour for the Fighter, and a pair of silk boots for the Rogue. This last item got a muted response from Sian – a pair of boots? They weren’t magical as far as anybody could tell, so why a pair of boots? Unknown to her, but the boots were in fact a skill item essentially designed to make the Rogue sneak better, because, you know, that is what Rogues do.
With that, the adventure was over, as the party headed back to Haven, and I still had a good hour to spare. So, what should I do? Well, I had been planning ahead, and I knew that the next adventure I had planned was the Ruined Tower, another quick tutorial adventure in the D&D Fast Play series, which would introduce Haven and the Vale much more meaningfully. So why not provide a sneak preview, and allow the players to set up their new characters early?
Cue the groan from Ouro, and the inevitable griping, because “the joy in roleplaying is seeing your characters grow.” I understand where he’s coming from, but that helps if you know what you want to play, and Sian hasn’t reached that stage yet. So I am essentially giving her a taste of various characters, and building up a “party stable” of pre-generated characters that both Ouro and Sian can play with, all in a campaign set around the concept that a number of aspiring adventurers, including some kidnapped unfortunates, are uncovering the mysteries within Haven and the Vale. I am also giving Ouro the chance to explore outside his comfort zone, although he doesn’t seem to have grasped that opportunity. Plus, for my own benefit, as a gaming historian, I am getting to play my way through D&D history, without fully scaring off Sian and Ouro with the realities of OD&D.
So, I quickly reassure Ouro that this is all neccessary as part of the story of the Vale. The victims of Zanzer Tem are still recovering, and the party sent to defeat the Smoke Dragon by the Patrician are victorious, and slowly make their return journey to town. I am not sure that Ouro and Sian quite appreciate that it’s only been about three in game days since escaping Zanzer’s Dungeon, and in D&D, natural healing is at a rate of 1 hit per level, or 2 with full bed rest. Thus swapping characters is a good way to get straight into the game, knowing that by the time you return to the previous characters, they would have rested up. This also makes them useful if there’s a TPK and everyone needs new characters for some reason. I do intend to take the training wheels off sometime, after all.
With that, we get to picking the party. The choice is from two human Fighters, one a ranged combatant with a longbow and longsword, and the other a melee-focused fighter armed with a greatsword and several daggers. Backup comes in the form of a halfling Rogue, and a human Mage. A nice relatively balanced party that has replaced the healer for another fighter, simply because the adventure is so short.
Ouro had first choice, and decided to go with the Rogue. I decided that each player should take one of the fighters, so Ouro chose the ranged Fighter – mostly because his artwork reminded him of Tanis Half-Elven from Dragonlance. This left Sian with the melee Fighter and the Mage. Cue Sian moaning about her pregens, amusingly dubbing them “the peewee” and “the wuss.” She bemoaned the Fighter’s lack of ranged weapons besides the daggers, conveniently ignoring the fact that her fighter had the best melee weapon in the party. She also moaned about the Mage only having one spell – magic missile.
I silently rolled my eyes, and explained how the whole point of playing the low-level Mage in 2nd Edition was that you had to decide when the best time to use her limited spells was, and that as a pre-gen, the decision of choosing what spell to take was critical. I pointed out to her that the Mage had a spellbook which contained sleep, a spell that Nuggin had previously used to great effect, whenever Ouro remembered to have him memorise it, in Zanzer’s Dungeon.
Why was this? Well, because we are playing with a hybrid 3.x rules system, which was significantly more powerful than earlier versions, especially in terms of ability score modifiers to saves, I had lowered all the pre-gen characters to 1st level. This meant reducing the spells Sian’s Mage had down to one – and I knew that there’s only one encounter where sleep would actually have any effect. I didn’t want Sian missing that opportunity and then having a spell that could only affect the party.
Despite the griping, I know that both Ouro and Sian both enjoy gaming, regardless of what characters they get, so whilst voicing disappointment, it wasn’t that important. I think both players are trying to get to grips with what isn’t a conventional game for them, by any stretch of the imagination.
Sian still needs a taste for the sort of characters available so that she can choose what she wants to play, giving her more agency without too much demand – she doesn’t enjoy reading rulebooks or doing “homework”, and giving her too many options can easily overwhelm her.
Ouro, on the other hand, whilst a veteran player compared to Sian, still has a somewhat limited scope when playing, as whilst he is familiar with 3.x, doesn’t have a great deal of scope with other editions and systems. This is a chance for him to relearn and replace some preconceptions he has, a few of which are actively self-limiting in nature.
But most importantly, it’s a chance for both players to find their balance in playing styles, so that they are both engaged and taking active part in the game. It’s about reminding Ouro that he doesn’t know everything about the game, and therefore allowing him to explore alongside Sian, so they can both work together and decide who should take the lead when. Sian shouldn’t feel like she must defer to Ouro, and Ouro shouldn’t feel like he is obligated to take the lead in the adventure.
What’s the Point?
Ultimately though, I just want both Sian and Ouro to be happy gaming, and this campaign is a sandbox environment to allow them to do that at a slower pace. All of these adventures were designed to provide a taster of their relevant systems, typically before they move on to the core rules themselves. They don’t assume any knowledge of roleplaying before – which is always amusing when I do the read-aloud text about how “we are going to be creating a story together” over and over.
Sometimes I think Ouro and I both forget what it was like to experience our first game when we were young, and how Sian never had that opportunity. I don’t know about Ouro, but I certainly wish I could get that sense of wonder and excitement back, and I want to share that with them both. I want to say that we will get there, even as we get older – and that’s the goal for 2020.