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…

Pop Goes the Weasel – Wrath of the Minotaur Session 5

The fun and games continued this session, as the party dived right in and continued to explore Alaxus’ Tomb. Their first surprise was a real doozie – the corridor leading further into the tomb caved in behind them. Once the dust had settled, several feet of rock had settled in their path to freedom. Not that this bothered the party much, as there surely had to be another way out. Not even I, as a notorious “Murder GM” would be THAT mean…

So, with little choice, the party pressed on, and they discovered the fallen body of a warrior from the Church of the Holy Defender – at least, that’s what was hinted at by the plate armour and the sunburst design on the shield nearby. No weapon was to be found though.

Elanna decided to don the plate armour, turning her Armour Class into a formidable 21. That means that for the majority of the opponents in the dungeon, I was looking at natural 20s to hit. Michifer opted to take the shield, boosting the cleric’s AC to 21 as well, simply because Thordar wanted to keep using his Greataxe in combat.

Body looted, the party picked a door – south was as good a direction as any. Alas, this led straight to the encounter with the kobold leader. This was supposed to be a tough fight, as the kobold leader had gotten hold of the fallen warrior’s magical broadsword. Aside the kobold leader stood eight other kobolds, and the most fearsome of the combatants – two giant weasels. The kobold leader saw the PCs and yelled “Kill them!”

With that, battle was joined. With the highest armour classes, both Elanna and Michifer waded into battle. They stood just inside the doorway. Apparently, they had misheard the kobold leader, because they decided that what he had cried was “Kill me!” They duly obliged, ignoring all the other opponents in the room.

As all the other combatants in the room, including the weasels, required natural 20s to hit, the party were confident that none of the creatures could hit them. Turn after turn, they attacked and failed to hit, “chewing on Elanna’s boot” as Sian began to say, as her armour seemed impenetrable. Michifer was not so lucky, as a weasel scored a nat 20 and found the chink in the armour, dealing enough damage to take Michifer down in one go.

The party was concerned, because with their cleric down, their healing potential was essentially wiped out. They had no other form of healing, and would have to rely on what they could find as they sought a way out of Alaxus’ Tomb.

Luckily for them, the combat was mostly over, and the party mopped up the remaining creatures, including the two weasels, which the party discovered weren’t the one-hit wimps the kobolds were. Michifer was barely holding on, and the party searched the room for their salvation. They found it in the form of a potion of healing that contained TWO doses. Enough to get Michifer back on his feet.

The party decided to rest, despite Ouro’s objections. Ouro was concerned about the party resting after ever encounter, but I assured him that as long it was only after every significant encounter, they would be okay. After all, wasn’t Michifer nearly dying a significant encounter? With this, and it being the end of the session, Ouro agreed to rest, and had Michifer heal Thordar with his cure light wounds spell. Thordar had been at half health since the kobold archers had nearly killed him, so Ouro breathed a sigh of relief – the party was almost fully healed and ready to continue trying to find a way out. Or deal with Alaxus, whom the party clearly decided was a lich…

(Spoiler: I played the encounter by the book, but when Michifer went down, the party saw my benevolent side. The kobold leader had a potion of healing in his treasures. I decided that it would seem kind of pointless for the party to go through the fight, only to have to use their only alternative source of healing to restore Michifer. So, to avoid the sense of crushing despair, I elected to give the potion an additional dose. That way, they could restore Michifer, who had gone down primarily due to bad luck, and still have a dose remaining, which they would no doubt probably end up using in the final combat…)

Lesson Learned? Wrath of the Minotaur – Session 4

Following the pointed lesson with the kobold archers in the last session, we kicked off this session in the middle of combat. The door to the room had been closed, giving the party time to reconsider their options.

Sian favoured running in and engaging the archers with Elanna, whilst using Thaddeus to provide some fire support, with actual fire from flaming oil.

Ouro, however, suggested a somewhat sneakier option: that the party noisily withdraw back to the previous room, as if they were running away, and then hide, so as to try and lure the kobolds out and maybe even trick them into splitting up by trying to encircle them.

Ouro’s plan seemed to be based on tactical knowledge he assumed the kobolds would follow, based on the limited knowledge that they had of the dungeon. Ouro didn’t know that the passage to the west, which they assumed led to the first chamber, was actually blocked off by a cave in – the party hadn’t bothered to check that route before heading south and encountering the gelatinous cube.

Sian once again deferred to Ouro’s somewhat flawed judgement, and so the party fled back to the previous room, put out their light. Elanna took the option to use her potion of healing to restore some of her health, as she felt that she needed it if the plan was to end up failing.

The kobolds fired at the door once again. this time eleven arrows hit the closed door. But then there was some yipping (kobold language that nobody in the party understands), as the kobolds debated among themselves about what to do next. They weren’t going to split up, as Ouro anticipated, as there was nowhere else for them to go – they knew the corridor to the first chamber was blocked by a cave in. But neither did they want to give up their tactical advantage just yet. So, they argued among themselves before sending one of their remaining number to go open the door and check things out.

Alas, several members of their party totally botched their stealth rolls, meaning that the kobold sent to look out the door had spotted them. Unfortunately for the kobolds, by hiding behind the door, the party had almost total cover and thus the kobolds couldn’t get a line of sight to attack them with ranged attacks without entering the corridor and approaching the room.

Thus, this is what the kobolds did, as they all rushed down the corridor to get a better shot at the party. Once they were confined in the tight space of the corridor, Thaddeus took the opportunity to step out from his hiding place and hurl a flask of flaming oil right into the middle of the kobolds. Two were killed outright by the flames, and another two took damage, although they managed not to be set alight. Most importantly though, the fire filled the centre of the corridor, dividing the kobolds in two.

Those at the rear fled back into the room, and readied their bows for any incoming onslaught, unable to fire through the flames, and unwilling to risk death charging through it. For now, they were out of the combat until the fire died out.

Those at the front had little choice but to move forwards and try to fight their way through the party in front of them. Two held the front line, dropping their shortbows for shortswords, whilst the two behind the readied their ranged weapons, willing to fire through their comrades, if neccessary. All four were slaughtered in a few rounds, with Elanna easily cleaving the kobolds up with copious overkill from her greatsword.

The party used the time whilst the fire in the corridor burnt itself out, to loot the bodies of the kobolds they had slain previously in the narrow tunnel, hoping to recover some form of healing, Alas, all they found was some gold coins, and a dead scorpion.

When the flames had died down, the party returned to the room where they first encountered the kobolds. They had three more of the creatures to face off against. Two held their shortbows ready to fire, whilst the third watched the doorway for the party’s approach.

This time, there was no hesitation, as Elanna moved down the corridor and attacked the kobold with a fury that saw him slain with a certain sense of grace and brutality. With the numbers now in their favour, Thordar took the opportunity to charge down the corridor and attack one of the kobold archers, dispatching the creature just as swiftly, with the kobold’s arrows missing the oncoming dwarf. It was all but over the following round, when Elanna moved up and finished the final kobold.

Exhausted, the party recovered and looted the bodies looking for more healing. Unfortunately, there was no healing to be found, as all these kobolds seemed to hold what amounted to 100 gold pieces, and a metal ring on a chain that one kobold at the back wore around his neck. The crude scribbling inside of it added to the sense of mystery it possessed, so the party pocketed it with the rest of their loot.

The party wanted to rest, but this room didin’t seem like a suitably safe place to do so, and their curiousity was peaked. Thordar checked the room, and the doors, and opened the west door first. Ouro had wondered why his plan to split the party hadn’t worked as he had hoped, but upon finding that the corridor was caved in, was satisifed that the kobolds had nowhere else to go. Time for another door, and this time they chose north, sensing a certain amount of symmetry to this tomb.

The way north led to another corridor ending in a wooden door, with the only difference to previous non-collapsed corridors is that someone or something had scrawled a red cross on the door in dried blood.

Wary, the party opened the door and found the room contained four treasure chests. Three were unopened, but the fourth was opened and a big scorch mark surrounded the chest. Thordar examined the chest and noted that whilst it seemed empty, a sliding panel in the lid concealed a small ring. Thordar pocketed it, and moved on to the other chests.

All three of the remaining chests were closed with latches, but unlocked. Somewhat curious, Thordar looked for traps, but Thaddeus stopped the dwarf as he was about to lift the latch, pointing out that their was some sort of sticky residue underneath them all. Thaddeus realised this could be a sort of flammable material, like that of alchemists fire, which could combust explosively when the latch was opened.

Warily, the party stepped back. If the scorch marks on the floor surrounding the open chest was anything to go by, the party would be caught in the blast if any such explosives went off whilst they were next to the chest, but they would be safely out of reach if they were further away. With that Thordar reached for his trusty trap-finding stick, preparing to try and flip the latches from afar.

Unfortunately, the dwarf wasn’t suited to such work, and Elanna took the stick and proceeded to deftly flip each latch open. In quick succession, the material under each of the latches combusted and exploded into a flaming ball before dissipating just as quickly, leaving the contents of each chest intact. Thordar examined all the chests thoroughly, and found that each chest contained 200 gold coins, but were otherwise empty.

With only one door into the room, the party realised that this was an ideal place to rest and recover. Michifer and Thaddeus refreshed their spells, and the party recovered a little health, ready for further adventures on the morrow…

A Pointed Lesson: Wrath of the Minotaur – Session 3

Sometimes it can be hard to be a good GM. To be torn between providing a challenge, being fair with the rules, and not punishing the players for doing dumb things. Last session was one of those sessions.

In the previous session, Thaddeus experimented with pyrotechnics by using flaming oil on a gelatinous cube. It was fairly successful, if by successful, you meant creating a bonfire at the end of a narrow tunnel leading into the darkness, and needing to wait for it to burn out before you continue.

Unknown to the party, at the other end of said tunnel, there are four kobolds. Kobolds can see in the dark, so it’s unlikely that they would miss the massive signal flare the party decided to use to forewarn anyone they were coming. As such, given that they know someone is coming, and that they have a tactical advantage, the kobolds surround the tunnel entrance.

This is only a slight deviation from the encounter script, as it is essentially the same as giving the kobolds a surprise turn. After all, their first action was to rush up to the tunnel and try and block the party from entering the room. So we now have a narrow tunnel blocked by kobolds.

The party enter the tunnel blithely unaware of what awaits them. The tunnel is narrow, what with it being a narrow tunnel and all, so the party need to go in single file, with anyone taller than a dwarf having to crawl. So naturally, Thordar leads the way bravely as the only hero in the party not crawling.

Thordar is a fighter. Fighters are stubborn. Thordar is a dwarf. Dwarves are stubborn (and Scottish).  Thordar leads the party. Thordar encounters the kobolds at the end of the tunnel. Thordar decides to stand and fight. Thordar misses repeatedly whilst blocking the tunnel exit.

It took several turns of this before the party decided to retreat back down the tunnel. Thordar was hesitant to retreat, but eventually relented and slowly withdrew step by step, whilst attacking and missing the kobolds that entered into the tunnel after him.

Finally, the party turned the tables on the kobolds, as the kobolds reached the end of the tunnel, where the rest of the party could join in with the fight. It should have been a slaughter, but it wasn’t. One of the kobolds managed to flee back up the tunnel and escape the room, in order to go and warn the kobolds in a nearby room of the party’s approach.

The party duly approached and found themselves facing off against thirteen kobolds, all but one armed with shortbows aimed at the door they entered by, thanks to the escaping kobold. Thordar decides to close the door, and whilst the party deliberate, they hear the thunk thunk thunk of twelve arrows hitting the far side of the door, followed by the sound of bows being readied once again.

Thordar decides that they need cover to enter the room, and promptly goes to the other end of the corridor to try and dismantle the door and turn it into a makeshift tower shield. Okay, I say, but it’ll take a few rounds. Elanna asks why they don’t just rush in, after all, they can reach the kobolds in one turn. Ultimately, she opts to do nothing, not even hold the door closed.

What’s a GM to do in this situation? The party is vulnerable, and a lack of communication and coordination in combat is a weakness that really should be exploited, especially by cunning kobolds.

So, the thirteenth kobold goes and opens the door. The other kobolds are already aiming at the door, so as soon as it opens, twelve arrows fire. Elanna is standing by the door, but I take pity on her, and rule that half the arrows are fired at her, whilst the remaining six are split between Thordar, Michifer, and Thaddeus. A few hits are scored and damage is dealt.

With a rumble of irritation, Thordar abandons his plan and returns to the doorway, where he and Elanna fight and defeat the kobold that now blocks their way.

But behind him, another twelve arrows are readied and released by what is essentially a firing squad. The doorway and the hallway behind it are a killing zone, and I rule that this time, all twelve arrows are split between Elanna and Thordar.

Thordar goes down, dying, and Elanna isn’t much better. Player dismay sets in, and they are ready to give up. Ouro is ready to let Thordar die and have the rest of the party flee the Tomb of Alaxus. Sian is despairing at why they didn’t just rush the kobolds in the first place. Before player bickering and despondency fully takes over, I urge the players to close the door and regroup. Elanna has a potion of healing to get Thordar back on his feet, but is only on two hit points herself.

That’s where I called the session. It’s unusual to stop in the middle of combat, but I think that the players needed to gather their thoughts and think about what they can do. They have resources. Encounters like this challenge the players because they aren’t just simple melee combats. The party can’t always just get away with standing and swinging. Sometimes they need a plan, and to stick to it.

But most of all, the players need to communicate. I know Ouro assumed the Sian would have Elanna hold the door shut whilst Thordar spent however long dismantling the other door. But he didn’t communicate this to Sian, and it never occurred to Sian that Elanna should hold the door shut. It’s easy to see where the issues with communication are, and hopefully, my players will learn from this and play a little bit better.

It’s easy to blame such things on Roll20, and it can be hard to get to grips with a new party every few sessions, where the players get to play multiple characters each. But the key to every encounter, every session, and every adventure is communication. Perhaps after this weeks pointed lesson, they will take this onboard going forward.