Pacing in the Wilderness

Eye of the Wyvern is a wilderness adventure, and I thought that I would talk about the differences in pacing when running a wilderness adventure.

The Plot-Driven Adventure

Firstly, it should be noted that there are several different types of wilderness adventure. Eye of the Wyvern is an event-driven adventure, where the party moves from one encounter to another by the decisions they make. It’s a rather simple linear adventure, as most of the encounters are sequential. In between such encounters, you have routine tasks like setting up camp and keeping watch.

In such adventures, the pacing is often one significant encounter each day, with the party at nearly full strength, allowing them to be slightly tougher than you might find in a dungeon environment. This significant encounter might not just be during the day though, as night time encounters, and planned campsite ambushes might also be possibilities. Alternatively, there might be fewer, weaker encounters, which the PCs can be expected to overcome whilst travelling in the wilderness.

The Road Trip

Similar to the plot-driven adventure, you might have the journey or road trip. Typically, these adventures don’t necessarily focus on the wilderness, instead having the PCs move between sites of interest such as settlements and adventure locations. In such adventures, the party might have random encounters in the wilderness on their journey, but the chances of this vary, and sometimes GMs will skip these encounters entirely, especially if the journey is part of an adventure.

For example, Wrath of the Minotaur had the party move through the wilderness to the Tomb of Alaxus, but there were no encounters along the route. The journey was covered by a cut-scene, and the adventure focused more on exploring the tomb.

The Cut Scene Journey

The GM might also use this approach when moving the party between adventures, such as from their starting town to another settlement that serves as the start for their next adventure. Once again, the journey may be handled by a cut-scene rather than worrying about random encounters.

When PCs do have random encounters in the wilderness, these are often stronger than when in the dungeon, as it is often assumed that the random encounter will be the significant encounter for the day. It should also be noted that quite often, the GM will use a “status quo” approach to wilderness encounters, where the encounters are not necessarily scaled to party level, and that the party will be able to run from any overpowering encounters. This often makes wilderness encounters much more dangerous than dungeon encounters.

The Hex Crawl

A final type of wilderness adventure is the exploration, often referred to as a “hex crawl” adventure. In these adventures, the party is exploring the wilderness much like they would a dungeon. However, where as a dungeon often confines the party to specific routes, wilderness exploration typically allows the party the freedom to explore in any direction, barring any natural features that the party either cannot or will find difficult to overcome.

For example, in an adventure where the party has to explore the wilderness, they will sometimes find the area they get to explore confined by land-based obstacles like cliffs and mountains, or water-based obstacles like rivers and seas. Such obstacles may be crossed with preparation, however, like getting a ship to explore the ocean, but these can often be an adventure in itself.

In terms of encounters when exploring, besides possible random encounters as above, the party will typically comes across sites of interest. These sites could be simple encounters, or may be settlements or dungeons that the party can explore and replenish supplies. These sites will often become the significant encounter of the day, otherwise an empty hex might have a random encounter.

Hex Crawl in The Vale

We haven’t currently had a “hex crawl” adventure in the campaign, especially as the players have tackled adventures throughout The Vale already. As such, the Vale is pretty much explored and mapped, although the could easily be other sites of interest hidden within.

It should be noted that the exploration adventure has fallen out of favour over the past decade or so, as it can be tedious and repetitive to explore any wilderness hex by hex. Plus, such adventures often only take place on the fringes of settled lands, and quite often campaigns focus on more populated areas, especially if they focus on intrigue and politics, rather than exploration. It can take a LOT of work to prepare a wilderness exploration adventure, and even more work to justify it within the context of a campaign. Instead, the plot-driven or road trip adventure types are often used instead, as they are easier and quicker to apply and justify within a campaign.

Wilderness Pacing

Ultimately though, whatever type of wilderness adventure you are having, it’s often the case that the party will have only one significant encounter per day, and this typically translates to only one or two significant encounters per session.

Ambushed! – Eye of the Wyvern Session 2

GMing can be hard, and stressful, at times. This week’s session was one of those times. Having left the adventure on a cliffhanger, everyone was riding high and looking to get into a fight with some wyvernlings in the barn at “Bobbie’s” farm.

The encounter itself was fairly easy. There were four wyvernlings in the barn. Two were at the end of the barn attacking the cows, who were mooing noisily to attract the heroes. The other two where hidden in the hayloft that surrounded the walls of the barn, waiting by the doors to ambush any heroes that entered.

The Distressing Doors

Naturally, the heroes wanted to open the doors, and after rolling initiative, Sian went first with Peregrine. Because of the ambush, I wanted to make sure that I knew where Peregrine was when the doors were opened. Unfortunately, Sian wasn’t very clear on her intentions, and got frustrated as she tried to explain to me what she wanted to do. Ouro got frustrated as well, and they were both demanding me to just “open the damn door.” As things got heated, said no and downed tools, taking ten minutes out to cool off.

Turns out that what Sian wanted Peregrine to do was to open the double doors, stepping backwards so that the door was between Peregrine and the barn. This provided cover to Peregrine, and allowed the others to see into, and possibly enter, the barn. However, this wasn’t what she was saying to me, and I was unable to see how Peregrine was trying to open the door AND see inside the barn himself.

Resuming Normal Service

Anyways, after cooling off, and a bit more explaining from Sian to clarify what she wanted Peregrine to do, we got back into the encounter. The heroes cautiously approached the barn, standing in the doorway and taking the wyvernlings by the cows with ranged weapons.

The wyvernlings displayed their rudimentary cunning – instead of mindlessly charging the heroes in the doorway, the two wyvernlings by the cows used the pillars supporting the hayloft as cover to approach the party, preventing ranged attacks from the doorway. Meanwhile, the two wyvernlings up in the hayloft held still, and waited to a more opportune time to spring their trap.

The Wyvernlings Strike

The heroes slowly entered the barn, and also used cover from pillars supporting the hayloft to try and attack the wyvernlings from range. However, in doing this, they had to split up and move away from the doorway and under the hayloft. It was only after Sunblayze and Peregrine had moved under the hayloft that Darkblade managed to spot the wyverns up above, moments before they sprung their ambush.

Darkblade shouted a warning and attacked one of the wyverns in the hayloft with his longbow. This warning was enough to give Peregrine time to turn around before the wyvernlings sprung their trap and left down behind him. This effectively split the party, and melee was joined.

The combat was swift and brutal from there, and soon all four wyvernlings had been dispatched by sword and bow. Somehow, the heroes had managed to make it through relatively unscathed.

The Heroes Victorious

With the excitement over, the farmers shouted their approval and held an impromptu celebration at “Bobbie’s” farm, where the party was invited to stay the night. Old John told the party to prepare, as they would be heading into the mountains and exploring beyond the falls, to find out where the creatures were coming from. In addition, Murri suggested that the party take the supplies he had brought to Wyvern Falls, giving them two potions of healing and three elixirs of health. He then got out his sock puppet theatre and proceeded to tell the heroic tale of Murri the Mighty Wyvern Slayer, who had taught the heroes all they needed to know in order to defeat the “beasties in the barn.”

Yet Another Cliffhanger

The following day, the party set off, climbing the falls and following the river beyond. It was hard going, and the party didn’t make much headway into the mountains, but as evening approached and the sun set, the party heard a strange gutteral chanting ahead.

Here is where the session ended, providing yet another cliffhanger to resolve. Could this be the final battle –  the cause of the wyvernling attack?

Session Debriefing

I would like to note that after the session, Ouro spoke to me about the issues within the session. He said that he thought that I was being a jerk, and that I was making a joke by not opening the door. I explained my reasoning, and stated that I do not appreciate being called a jerk. We both put it down to miscommunication in the end, but Ouro’s feedback was useful in a way.

Turns out that Ouro had been expecting an ambush, and he said that my concerns about party placement opening the door due to the wyvernling ambush was unfounded. He said that I should have just kept the game going, and let any misplacement happen. I noted that my concern is largely down to my reputation as a “murder GM” – one that is entirely unwarranted in most cases, especially since none of the PCs have actually died yet.

In Reflection

Personally, it’s not nice to have a session breakdown like this one did, but I am glad that I was able to take a break and cool off, before returning. I am not sure that I would have returned, if Sian hadn’t asked me to. I was tempted to end the session and restart the following week. It’s not often that the pressure of being a GM gets to me, to the point that I want to end the session, but I got to that point this week.

Still, looking back at it, having been able to cool off, and afterwards, putting it down to miscommunication, what else should I expect from three autistic gamers? But that’s what makes the game fun, and we will all get better with time. Plus, there were no hard feelings following the session. That’s one thing I will praise our group for – we are all able to speak openly about how we feel, even when we annoy each other or get frustrated, without bearing any grudges. That, I think, is what makes our group strong in the end.

Into the Wilderness – Eye of the Wyvern: Session 1

After a week hiatus, because The Ruined Tower and Wrath of the Minotaur were so draining, we commenced with the second of the Dungeons and Dragons Fast-Play adventures: Eye of the Wyvern.

As a wilderness adventure, Eye of the Wyvern has a different pace than the Ruined Tower or Wrath of the Minotaur, since the adventure consists of discrete events in the wilderness, rather than rooms in a dungeon. That means a lot of maps detailing various encounter areas, rather than a single dungeon map to explore.

Because of the fact that there are more maps, many of which are generic wilderness maps, wilderness adventures are slightly more work to prepare for Roll 20, as you need to provide battle maps even for generic areas like campsites.

However, they are also less work, because the pace of the adventure dictates that there will be fewer, but tougher, encounters that are spaced out by time, rather than whether or not the PCs enter a room or not. As such, the GM has much more control over how and when the encounters occur, and is able to more fully dictate the pacing of the adventure.

It was great to finally be able to use the map of The Vale as an actual map that tokens were moved on, rather than just a reference of where adventures were taking place. This made making the map of The Vale seem much more useful than just a vanity project for myself as GM.

Turning Back Time

The party of Elanna, Michifer, Thaddeus, and Thordar went to explore the Tomb of Alaxus, the Minotaur Mage, having set off in the morning, starting a three day trek through the mountains. As we saw in their adventures, they would spend two days in the Tomb, before making the three day trek back with all their loot after defeating the Minotaur mage. This means that party would be away for a total of eight days.

So, with that, we returned to the party of Darkblade, Peregrine, Niles, and Sunblayze, that had elected to remain behind in case of trouble, taking time back to when the other party had left. They didn’t have to wait long for an adventure of their own – the following day the Patriarch called for them to attend his office at noon.

The remaining party members dutifully attended, and it turns out that their help was needed once more. Three merchants had returned to Haven from their regular trip to Wyvern Falls, a small farming outpost in the north of the Vale, bringing with them a request for aid from the farmers of the area. The merchants told of how the farmers were being attacked by beasts from the wilderness, and continued attacks put the farmers, their families, and their livestock in danger.

The Patriarch nodded sagely, and gave the heroes their orders. They were to prepare to leave Haven the following morning and head to Wyvern Falls, in order to help the farmers end the menace, and kill whatever beasts were attacking them. Wyvern Falls was three days journey away, along a well known trail through the Vale.

The party were then dismissed, as they seemed not in the mood to ask any questions, instead more focused on their preparations. My players seemed to be getting more used to some of the threats they would face, and thus opted to purchase some additional weapons and armour for their characters. Sian, in particular, decided that Sunblayze the Spellsword was particularly fragile, and thus elected to get her a shortbow and some ring mail for the adventure ahead.

The Journey Begins

Preparations done, the action moved to the following day, where the party were met by the Patriarch just before they departed Haven. The Patriarch wished them luck, and handed them a map of the Vale and a letter of introduction, before seeing them off on the journey to Wyvern Falls.

The fun part of any wilderness adventure has to be camping, as the party starts to establish an order for how they will rest overnight. With this, I bought out a generic campsite battle map I had found. I knew their were to be no encounters in the night, but I wanted my players to think that there might be, so I got them to decide upon guard schedules. Once they were done, I told them that there were no encounters and we returned to the map of the Vale.

During the next day, the party travelled and encountered Murri, a travelling halfling merchant who was also heading to Wyvern Falls. Murri told the party that the farmers had been attacked by poisonous creatures, which Ouro asserted were Wyverns. As such, the farmers had clubbed together to give Murri the funds to purchase some potions of healing and elixirs of health in order to help the farmers deal with the menace. Murri offered to sell these to the party, but the party declined. So, instead, Murri offered to travel with the party to Wyvern Falls.

Attack in the Night

It was getting dark just after their encounter with Murri, so the party and their halfling travelling companion opted to share the campsite that was so well known on the route. The party set their standard guard schedule, and Murri promptly went to sleep, snoring loudly.

That night, there was to be an encounter. Three creatures approached the camp around midnight, just as Darkblade was handing over to Niles and preparing to sleep. Darkblade had just removed his armour when they both heard the approach. Within moments, the three creatures emerged from the bushes and were upon the camp. Combat had started.

Niles bravely rushed to defend the camp. Darkblade emerged, unarmoured, to face the creatures as well, but not before waking Peregrine up with a swift kick to the head. Peregrine rose, and woke Sunblayze up with a swift kick to the head, before beginning to don his armour. Peregrine wore platemail, and thus it would take two turns for the paladin to be ready to fight. Sunblayze likewise donned her armour, but the much lighter ring mail would only take a round to don.

Darkblade and Niles bravely fought the beasts, and soon Sunblayze was ready to lend a hand with her shortbow. The dispatched one on the creatures, but were hard pressed against the other two. Peregrine emerged to turn the tables against the beasts, but not before one of them had managed to land Niles a grievous blow, taking him down and out of the fight.

Luckily, Peregrine was able to use his Lay on Hands ability to save Niles from certain death, and they soon got the unlucky halfling patched up and back on his feet. A nights rest, and further healing from Peregrine saw Niles soon recover some of his fighting strength.

In the morning, Murri was aghast that he had slept through the night’s excitement, and offered the party his healing items at a reduced rate, telling them that the farmers would understand. However, the party declined, and together the party and the travelling halfling merchant finished their journey and reached Wyvern Falls.

Arriving at Wyvern Falls

Whatever the party were expecting at Wyvern Falls, this wasn’t it, as the outpost was little more than a permanent wooden structure where the local farmers could meet up. They were greeted by a young boy called Bobbie, who was posted to await their arrival whilst the adults continued about their work.

Bobbie was mightily impressed with the exploits of these heroes, and Murri was all too eager to explain how he had found these heroes and they had already faced off against some of the beasts when they camped the night before. Wowed, Bobbie immediately raced off to inform his parents that the heroes had arrived, and that a meeting was to be called in Wyvern Falls that evening.

Within hours, farmers started arriving from across the region to attend the meeting at Wyvern Falls. One farmer is identified as Old John, the informal leader of the farmers. Old John calls the meeting to order, informing the attendees that the party is there from Haven to help deal with the creatures attacking their farms.

During the meeting, Old John motions for a steely-eyed old woman called Ferga to speak to the party. Ferga relates how she spotted these beasts coming from the falls nearby that the outpost of Wyvern Falls is named after. That is where the creatures’ lair will be.

Just then Bobbie returns with grave news. The creatures are attacking his farm! Old John looks at the party and states that this is where they start proving their worth as heroes. This seemed like a suitable cliffhanger upon which to end the session…

On the Level

After several months of gaming and character changes, my players have finally gained a new level of experience with their party. Although we will be switching to a new party consisting of the other four PCs for our next adventure, I decided to let my players have the pleasure of leveling up their current party before ending the session.

You might be asking why I did this. The answer is simple: leveling up the characters is a promise that we will be returning to these characters in the near future. I still intend to let the players choose which characters go on which adventures, so it might not be in the following adventure based on what the players decide, but it will be within the next few adventures.

I didn’t let the players level up the party of Zanthar Rex, simply because I don’t know if these characters will ever be used again. They make great backup characters should there be any fatalities or a Total Party Kill, but I have no real plans of future adventures for them at this point.

As for the Escapees from Zanzer’s Dungeon, I do intent to have the players return to this party, and to explore Stonekeep. However, this will be long in the future, as both myself and my players will have gotten more experience in the campaign, and with D&D itself.

It’s fairly easy to justify this long, extended break – the party were ordinary townsfolk before being kidnapped, and it was through their ordeals in Zanzer’s Dungeon that they learnt whether they can fight, whether they could cast spells, or whether they had an aptitude for stealthiness and thievery. Their faith was tested, as they made do with what they could readily learn and practice. They found some of the tools they needed, but they hadn’t completed the training that other adventurers received, and thus whilst it’s safe to assume that they will remain adventurers for a while, they aren’t necessarily prepared to explore Stonekeep at this time.

Classes and Leveling

So, what does gaining a level actually mean? Well, for now, the main benefits of gaining a level is that they get tougher, and more able to survive their adventures. This means they gain more hit points, and their saving throw bonuses increase. All adventurers gain these benefits, although how they improve their saves and how many extra hitpoints they gain is determined by their class.

In all cases, on becoming 2nd Level, the saving throw bonuses they get increase by +1, for a total of +3. This means that Elanna and Thordar, as fighters, increased their Fortitude saving throws by +1, whilst Michifer and Thaddeus, as a Cleric and Mage, both increased their Will saving throws by +1.

Likewise, upon becoming 2nd Level, each character gains another hit die worth of hit points to their maximum. The fighters both got +1d10 extra hit points, whilst Michifer got +1d8 hp, and Thaddeus got +1d4 hp. They also got to add their Constitution modifiers to hit points, and with all characters having positive modifiers for Constitution, the player were guaranteed a reasonable amount of extra hp. This would be the first time the players rolled for hit points, as their characters were all given pregenerated hit points at first level.

Finally, classes often get bonuses to their abilities at 2nd level. This caused a number of issues as class abilities have not been fully developed at this point, largely because of the significant difference between 3rd edition and previous editions. In Third Edition D&D, the D20 system was the result of a major overhaul, meaning that most classes and abilities were essentially rewritten, and version 3.5 resulted in yet more, albeit less drastic, changes to classes and their abilities.

Leveling Fighters

Fighters have always been bottom of the barrel when it comes to abilities, simply because they focus on doing something every class can do, but doing it very, very well – fight. In 3rd edition, Fighters would be able to specialise in various styles, so they might be strong melee damage dealers, agile archers, or highly defensive protectors of the rest of the party. But the core of the character is simple – they hit things, and they do it well.

Thus, Fighters get a +1 bonus to attacks in combat. The idea of Base Attack Bonus hasn’t been covered yet. Prior to 3rd edition, all characters had a THAC0 of 20, and thus did not get any bonuses to attacks. However, even in Basic D&D, Fighters increased their fighting ability the fastest, so a +1 bonus to attacks is a reasonable ability for now.

Leveling Spellcasters

Spellcasters like Clerics and Mages were defined very much by their spellcasting abilities in every edition of the game. However, it seemed like every version of D&D not only varied how spellcasting worked, but also what characters could cast spells, when they could cast spells, and how they advanced in their spellcasting. However, at 2nd Level, the easiest approach is to say that they to prepare and cast an extra 1st level spell.

For Thaddeus, this was simple, as his spellbook contains two spells – sleep and magic missile. This means that Thaddeus can choose to prepare one of each spell, or to prepare two of either spell. Spell choice is still important for spellcasters, but right now, the focus is on preparing the right spells in balance, as this is a key aspect of any mage character. Just as fighters can specialise in what weapons they use and how they fight, spellcasters get to choose whether they want to be prepared for anything with a general spread of spells, or whether they tailor their spell selections by focusing on preparing certain spells multiple times.

For Michifer, this is a little more complicated. Clerics have to prepare spells, but they have access to every spell provided by their deity, immortal, or philosophy. Given the sheer range of spells in the game, this can be a lot of spells for the cleric to choose from. However, since it’s up to the GM to provide said list of spells, I can choose to limit the spell list to certain spells. In Wrath of the Minotaur, I limited Michifer to cure light wounds spell simply because this is the most critical spell any divine caster can learn, and helps keep the party alive.

However, with an extra spell slot and a potentially wider spell list, 2nd Level Clerics get to start defining how they operate in the party. Will they be battle medics and backup fighters, or will they their magic more extensively to support the party or hinder their enemies?

What About Rogues?

Luckily, with Niles not being in the party, I wouldn’t have to think about the role of rogues and what they get at 2nd level just yet. Over the various editions, theives and rogues have changed their abilities quite extensively, and is still the issue of some debate over the roles they should play in the party. This covers a lot of stuff that I am not quite ready to incorporate into our games just yet…

The Minotaur Mage – Wrath of the Minotaur Session 6

Finally, after six sessions, the party of Elanna, Thaddeus, Michifer, and Thordar successfully defeated Alaxus, the Minotaur Mage, and returned to Haven. Here’s how it went down…

The party finished their rest in the lair of the Kobold Lord, having recovered a strange silver key that looked identical to the silver key around the neck of Alaxus the Minotaur Mage shown in the various painted murals the party had discovered thus far.

They had two ways to go, so the party headed north. They suspected a certain symmetry to the dungeon, and were correct when they entered a room beyond the now seemingly inevitable “Corridor of the Wooden Door”, as the standardised 10-foot wide, 30-foot long corridors were now being called.

The room was empty besides several piles of leaves an debris. The party surmised that this must have come from outside, so this must be their means of escaping the dungeon. They took the decision to bravely close the door and deal with this room later – they had a Minotaur Mage to hunt!

This left one way to progress, and whilst the corridor was the same as the others, the door at the end wasn’t. Instead of a wooden door, there stood two slabs of solid obsidian. Unsurprisingly, they were locked, but surprisingly, once opened with the silver key, the heavy stone slabs were easy to move on hinges that seemed to withstood the time that the rest of the dungeon hadn’t.

Beyond, the final battle seemed to await – four minotaur zombies blocked a dias in the middle of the room. As the party entered, the the lid of the stone sarcophagus on the dais slid aside, and a minotaur in green robes stepped out. Alaxus was alive, and had been transformed in to a one of the minotaurs he was renowned for.

With a final warning from Alaxus, battle was joined. Elanna took the lead and charged one of the minotaur zombies, cleaving it in twain with a single blow. Turns out that they weren’t as tough as they looked.

Alaxus, on the ohter hand, was a different story, and after the minotaur mage cast shield on himself, rendering him immune to magic missiles and harder to hit in ranged combat, Thaddeus decided to show what he was capable of. With a bit of maneuvering, Thaddeus unleashed the lightning bolt from his scroll, directly at Alaxus. The lightning bolt caused grievous damage to the minotaur mage, and frying one of the minotaur zombies in the process.

Thordar and Michifer took care of the remaining minotaur zombies, as Alaxus used his own enlarge spell to increase his already impressive size. Elanna didn’t hesitate, and charged the mage, harrassing him and his spellcasting. This proved deadly effective, and Elanna was able to cut down the mage where he stood as he attempted to unleash another spell.

The combat was quick and brutal, and so was the looting. Behind the dias, piles of treasure amassed by Alaxus sat in unlocked wooden chests. There were coins and gems a plenty, enough to completely fill the few sacks the party had brought with them. But not all the treasure was monetary, because there were also stacks of tomes filled with valuable lore, which the party knew the Patriarch would appreciate.

After the battle, the party left the room, locking the obsidian doors behind them. This would preserve the remaining tomes within, and they headed back to what they suspected was the way out. The piles of leaves were quickly torched with flaming oil once it was discovered that they were infested with angry giant centipedes, but this was only a minor delay, as the party made their journey back to Haven.

The patriarch was happy to meet them, learn of their adventures, and rewarded them for their treasures. He offered the party his services for identifying the items they found, at his usual rate, but with over 10,000 gold brought back from the Tomb of Alaxus, the party had no qualms in paying this.

As the session ended, all that was heard heard was a subtle coughing from the Patriarch, muttering something about a customary 10 percent tithe to the church. After all, they could afford it now. Plus, the Patriarch had provided the party with extra potions of healing for returning the remains of the fallen warrior from the Church of the Holy Defender, and they aren’t cheap to make, you know…