Sunless Citadel: Session 6

Hello everyone! Well, it finally happened, my party completed The Sunless Citadel, strap in for the exciting conclusion of this six session adventure.

When my last session ended, my party had just a few more rooms to go, before reaching Belak the Outcast, and the vile Gulthias tree. The party, rejoined by Milbee (who was absent our last session), ventured through a ruined library. Amidst the jumble of broken bookshelves, moldy paper, and debris Starfall found a magical scroll, protected in a scroll case made of human bone. Milbee quickly identified this as a scroll of Animate Dead.

More interestingly Starfall found a dark, leather bound tome, embossed with a silver skull on the front.

Necromancer Spell Book

Not quite this, but it’s close!

The mysterious book was locked shut, with no apparent keyholes. After taking a little time to examine it, Milbee and Noble found the correct words of power. Uttering the magical words, the skull’s mouth creaked open with a hiss. In a croaking, deep, voice it uttered, “Give tribute, the liquid of life, a few drops will do, then I shall reveal my secrets.” The skull’s mouth then remained open.

This was a riddle I tried to make myself, not terribly tough to solve, but hey riddles aren’t a talent of mine :).

Before anyone could stop him, Noble sliced his finger, dribbling several drops of blood into the mouth. With a loud click the book popped open, and Milbee flipped through. The Front of the book was labeled “The Spellbook of Amansur.”

After a quick knowledge history check, Noble remembered Amansur was a powerful necromancer with the Death’s Head Cult. When the cult lost power Amansur disappeared, and his spellbook was lost.

The party proceeded to joke that perhaps Milbee was this lost wizard, and asked how old he was :).

Realizing it would take weeks to pour over the extensive volume, Milbee suggested the party moved on.

Cautiously creeping down a flight of steps, the party ventured deeper into the citadel, following a hallway to two side by side doors. One door was locked, while the other Aldo discovered had rustling on the other side.

Worried that creatures would come out of one door, while dealing with the other, half the party held back watching one door, while Aldo and Milbee opened a door. Inside the room were 4 goblin gardeners, which reacted surprisingly fast, 2 attacking Aldo, dealing him a brutal cut. The other two grabbed crossbows and began to fire shots. While I did get some good hits in, the party was far to powerful for 4 mere goblins, and slew them relatively quickly.

Goblin Ambush

The second room turned out to be a study, with some shelves and a desk with various books scattered on it. The other room, the one the goblins had been in, had a collapsed wall which trailed into a cavern filled with scraggly trees growing off the unnatural violet light of the carpet of mushrooms growing on the ceiling.

Aldo, having taken a bit of damage from the goblins, requested the party take a short rest in the study. The party agreed, and while resting Starfall and Noble investigated the room’s contents. Starfall saw a red volume labeled “The Tome of Ultimate Power,” apparently excited by finding the spellbook before Starfall immediately reached for the book.

Noble’s desperate shouts of, “Wait, what, NOOOO” were not fast enough. The book was trapped and exploded in a ball of fire.

fireball

Both Noble and Starfall were caught in the fiery explosion, failing their Dexterity saves. The fire knocked out Noble and left Starfall barely standing. It may have been the other way, i’m not certain, I was a little too busy taking sadistic glee that such a simple and obvious trap had worked!

The wooden desk was completely reduced to cinders, while the neighboring bookshelves were scorched, but saved by the party. Much of Belak’s work and research was lost; however, Milbee found one complete volume which looked promising and took it for future study.

Rather beaten up, the party had to rest a further hour; however, Aldo used a song of rest (actually playing a tune on his phone) which added 6 to their hitpoints regained.

Now fully healed, the party moved into the natural cavern known as the Twilight Grove. In the distance they could see the ruins of vine covered castle walls, and a massive, pale, skeletal tree, shaped roughly like a hand, the Gulthias Tree.

Gulthias Tree

Some awesome person actually made a Gulthis Tree miniature for their game!

They quickly came under attack by a few twig blights, and then a whole horde of 10. While I did manage to do minor damage here and there, overall the party shrugged off their blows.

twig_blight

Aldo, in the confusion of the combat, cast Invisibility on himself, and ventured up ahead of the party. He spotted a human knight, dressed in a breastplate, as well as the escaped cultist, a robed female, 3 twig blights, and the fabled Belak who was wielding a pale, bone like quarterstaff. Both the knight and the female had odd bark-like skin.

Hearing the combat with the party, the group of villains, minus Belak charged off towards the party. Belak meanwhile put his hand on the gross tree and began muttering.

At about this point things got a little crazy.

My party were getting a little worried, as they suspected the humans charging them would be rather powerful. Meanwhile, Aldo’s player declared, I think I am going to regret this and invisibly charged Belak, casting Thunderwave. The blast blew back the evil Druid; however, the bizarre tree shuttered, as if effected by the blow, “oh shit,” muttered Aldo’s player, “guys I think I am dead.”

While it took a few rounds the party handled the evil humans and twig blights pretty easily, they were level 1 NPCs. During the combat Noble discovered the knight’s and the female’s eyes were glazed over, like they were being mind controlled.

Aldo, now visible, noticed a giant tree frog, Belak’s pet, lurking behind him. The frog bit him, wrapping him in his tongue; however, the slippery bard fired off another Thunderwave, forcing the frog to release him, throwing it backwards, and damaging the tree further. He then attempted to flee running 20′ back to the party (they were roughly 200′ away). Unluckily for him, the Gulthias tree had more weapons then just it’s branches. Needles sprouted out of the reaching branches and shot at Aldo, missing him. The frog jumped up attacking again, and yet again Aldo escaped with a Thunderwave, fleeing further; however, the tree fired another volley of needles knocking the bard out.

Aldo’s player attempted to hand me his character; however, I asked he keep it, so he could roll versus death.

Both Milbee and Aman by this point were rushing towards the tree, hoping to save their valiant friend. After a round of running, the pair drew within range of the tree’s needles. Milbee, ducked behind a tree;however, Aman took massive damage as I critically hit him while disadvantaged, yup back to back natural 20s, for a massive 20 some damage!

Milbee jumping forward to a different tree, cast invisibility on Aman, and hoped his own cover would be enough.

Rushing forward, invisible;le and out of harm’s way, Aman saw Aldo’s body cut in several places, draped on the tree’s trunk, his blood disappearing into the bark. As he watched, the halfling’s body began to be pulled into the trunk. The blood and life force of the halfling appeared to be closing the tree’s wounds.

Meanwhile, Milbee shot bursts of fire at the tree, while heroically ducking back into cover, avoiding multiple volleys of needles. At this time the party discovered that fire was particularly effective against the tree. (Milbee was shot at at least 6 times, over the course of a few rounds, and never hit!)

Having finished off the rest of the enemies, Starfall and Noble also began the several round sprint to join the fight against the tree.

Aman, invisible, rushed up to Belak, delivering two brutal hits, slaying the druid instantaneously.

Belak

The Gulthias tree walloped the Mul in return, nearly knocking him out. Milbee continued to chip away at the tree with Fiery Blast (I think that is the spell’s name). Starfall and Noble were nearly close enough to help. The giant frog attempted to hurt Aman, but his martial skill and armor protected him.

The defiant Mul got one last chance to strike the tree, before it clubbed him again, knocking him out and also beginning to drag him into it’s depths.

Finally in range to help, Starfall wielding a Flame Sword, swiped into the Gulthias tree, hitting and dealing double fire damage for an amazing 6D6 fire damage + 1d8+ 3 slaying the foul tree. Defeated, the pale tree burst apart in a shower of blood, coating everyone but Milbee.

Despite Aldo being knocked out for at least 6 rounds, he had only rolled 1 failed save vs. death, and Aman also stubbornly held onto life. Both of them were saved by the rest of the party. (Oh some where someone killed the poor tree frog)

At this point, the party realized that while everything was drenched in blood, Belak was completely clean, with a small bloodless circle formed around his staff. Starfall, ever reckless, picked up the weapon. She gained an understanding of it, it’s name was “Thirster,” created from the Gulthias tree, it fed off blood and the life force of opponents, healing half the damage dealt back to the wielder. While clearly unnatural, no traces of evil or sentience could be found on it. Starfall, who frequently wielded a staff, naturally took the weapon. The party gathered the mystical healing fruit out of the remains of the tree, they were forced to use 1/3 of the servings to revive the very damaged Aldo, who was beyond the aid of normal healing. Left with 2 more servings of the mystical fruit the party packed it away.

Relieved no one had died, the party decided to back track to the room they had ignored in their first session, entering it, overcoming another riddle, and finding a sarcophagus. They opened it, and were attacked by the mummy contained within. Taking massive damage the party did over come the monster, looting its corpse.

After resting yet again, the party then returned to Oakhurst. There they had a cagey conversation with the mayor, Erky Timbers, the gnome they had freed, burst in and vouched for the party. Convinced of their loyalty, the party and the mayor openly discussed the village’s cultist. It turns out several members of the village had fled town, after stealing weapons, supplies, and horses from various people around town. It was largely presumed after investigating their homes that something shady was going on with them. A hunter spotted them heading North toward the Village of Hommlet, a village close to the infamous Temple of Elemental Evil, which in my world is rumored to be where the Death’s Head Cult first rose. The mayor requested the party hunted down the fleeing cultists, bring them to justice, and seek out any gathering of cultists in those old ruins.

temple of elemental evil

As a reward he has offered the party a writ of honor, essentially a fancy letter where he vouches for the honor and skill of the party. The party, stating they weren’t done with those cultists, agreed to pursue them, but stated they would spend a few days in Oakhurst to deal with some purchases and recuperation.

I will post a indepth review with my thoughts on the Sunless Citadel adventure, most likely later this week.

Some thoughts on this session. Overall I had a blast. I really liked personalizing both the magical items I rewarded the party with, I thought they were much more interesting then a basic spell book or a 1+ staff. This is something I hope to continue to do in my game.

In the original adventure module the Gulthias tree never came alive to attack the party, nor was it healed by wounded enemies. I think both these things really made this an exciting conclusion to the adventure, and emphasized the most interesting thing the in the adventure, the Gulthias tree, rather then making the climax Belak. To create the Gulthias tree, I basically took the stats of an ogre, gave it two attacks, no movement, and let it heal when a unconscious enemy was failing saves versus death on it. This is a process known as reskinning, which I may also discuss further in the future. In the meantime anyone interested a great indepth discussion of reskinning should check out the podcast the RPGAcademy, table topics #84 and #85.

Hopefully you have enjoyed my log of this adventure. I would love to hear peoples’ thoughts on how the climax was. I plan to continue this log into our next adventure The Temple of Elemental Evil (very excited for this one!)

 

Character Knowledge vs Player Knowledge

Hello everyone, after a recent discussion with my group I have been thinking about one of the age old D&D debates, Character Knowledge vs. Player Knowledge, also known as Metagaming.

Meta Gaming

What is metagaming?

Before i begin discussing my thoughts I am sure some people are wondering what do this mean and how does it matter. Basically it is inevitable that some player(s) will have knowledge that their character may or may not possess.

Often, it is the grizzled veterans who run into this the most. After years or decades playing, it is tough to not to have parts of the Monster Manual memorized, especially for those players that also DM. This can manifest itself in a character utilizing the perfect strategy against a monster, despite the fact that the party has never encountered it. Or it could even take place during character creation, for example if the players know they are entering Castle Ravenloft they may spend extra money to purchase silver weapons, because the players, but not the characters, know undead will be their main enemy.

Grizzled vets may also have played an adventure already, if you are using a prewritten adventure. For example, one of my Dad’s and his group’s favorite adventures is Keep on the Borderlands, they have played through it dozens of times. This means that they remember, without investigating, what most of the caves hold, and which ones to  go in first, for big rewards. It also means that some of the false rumors in the book don’t have the same impact, as they know the rumors are false.

New players could also have this happen. Perhaps the best example from either vets or new players is when a Rogue rolls a Natural 1 to search for traps, suddenly everyone is either hesitant to open the door, or also asking to search themselves!

fireball1

Why metagaming is a problem?

I could go on longer, but I think it’s pretty clear what I mean by Character Knowledge vs. Player Knowledge.

Now, some people may be wondering, why is this a problem? Characters metagaming can have several negative impacts on the game. Metagaming can disrupt the immersion of the game. Metagaming can turn what would be an exciting encounter against a new monster, into a cake walk, as players use abilities to take advantage of monster weaknesses that they learned in another game, with another character. Finally, metagaming can really bog down game play, as people attempt to bully, argue, or reason their way into characters doing things that just doesn’t make sense for the character.

Meta Gaming 3

I have played with players who try stunts like this, it is fun for no one. 

As a players, how can I avoid metagaming?

Avoiding metagaming; however, does not mean that players cannot use their own logic, problem solving, and even personal knowledge.

Most player knowledge actually makes sense for characters to possess. Even the dumbest fighter would have heard that goblins are cowardly, ogres are strong but dumb, and that vampire drink blood. It is not even outside the realm of possibilities that most characters have heard that trolls are weak to fire, after all trolls are not that uncommon, and vanquishing adventures would love to spread stories of their conquests.

Think of all the various pieces of knowledge and trivia we possess about our own world, your own characters will have at least that much, most likely more, as they, unlike most of us, have been out wandering around, facing dangers, and testing their skills along their journey to be adventures.

I often find someone stopping and discussing whether or not their character would know X or Y is actually just as disruptive as just using the knowledge.

So where does the line between playing smart and metagaming lay? Honestly there is no black and white divide, smarter characters will know more about their world, while survivalist will obviously have large stock piles of info on the natural world. I find that the best way to avoid metagaming is to think a little bit about your character’s background. Where did they grow up? Who raised them? What did they do before their adventuring career?

These questions help supply context of what knowledge your character possesses, which will help you avoid metagaming. For example, if I am playing a Human Wizard, raised in a city his whole life, chances are he does not know what poison ivy looks like; however, his time studying books should allow him to know that ghouls are a form of undead with paralyzing touch, as they are a pretty common threat. What age a Red Dragon begins casting certain spells; however, is much rarer knowledge, that this character most likely does not possess. This is when a DM may require researching it in game, or a knowledge check. After all, dragons are rare creatures, and information that specific rarer still.

Using this method can also help you think about what knowledge your character may possess, that you yourself do not. This is where die rolls, with specific goals come in. For example, I really enjoyed playing a country priest, who had knowledge of farming and healing. When presented with some uncommon plant growth I asked the DM if I could examine it and use my knowlege nature skill to gain some knowledge on it. I myself would have no idea about various patterns of plant growth, but my characters did.

Meta gaming 2

What tools does a DM have to stop metagaming?

The biggest deterrent for metagaming is perhaps unsurprisingly the DM.

Some DMs I have talked to set hard and fast rules about what players know and what characters do. They are concerned about stopping players from metagaming, and have discussions about it when it pops up. This style emphasizes putting the responsibility on the players to not metagame.

While this isn’t a bad strategy, I think there are a few tips I can give that will quickly deter instances of metagaming. My style tweaks the game in slight ways from time to time, that makes metagaming knowledge less valuable. My players know this, and so often are focused on information in the game, rather then their stockpile of experience, to overcome challenges. Here are some of my tips:

  • As the Dm feel free to tweak or change pre-written adventures or monsters. Maybe this particular tribe of orcs is very skilled in magic, but not as physically strong. Perhaps you switched the occupants of a cave in Keep on the Borderlands. Subtle changes like this can keep a party of players on their toes, while also continually discovering new things in the world, always a fun experience. When tweaking common monsters like orcs, goblins, kobolds, ect. I suggest before the end of the adventure supplying some logical reason they were different. In the orc example, maybe their leader is a ancient wizard, who uses them for his own nefarious purposes and as apprentices. If you do this players will go into your adventures with some basic knowledge; however, they will also constantly be aware that threats could be different then expected. Don’t switch this up too frequently, as you want most common monsters to stay that way, common and basic.
  • When appropriate, ask a player to roll something hidden, or do the roll yourself. This heightens tension and excitement for the rest of the players. If a player is attempting to mentally reason whether their character would be worried or not, the impact of a scare, threat, or trap will be lessened. Keeping the knowledge hidden until it happens removes this problem.
  • Encourage and allow opportunities for interested characters to research villains, religions, rare monsters, or frequent threats. By doing this, you are giving an outlet for their curiosity and desire to equip their characters with tools to face threats. This can also be a great chance to bring in elements of the story plot that might otherwise not be clear to the party. You can also charge money and time for their research, which is an excellent chance to relieve players of their vast piles of loot.
  • Finally, be firm, fair, and consistent with players. Don’t get into arguments of logic or reasoning, just make a ruling, and continue on with the game. If you do this in a consistent and fair way, the game will move on fine, and most players should be fine with it. If you keep having problems with a player, consider talking to them, or even not inviting them back.

Those are my thoughts on player knowledge vs character knowledge, what are your thoughts on it? Have you had any instances where this has really impacted a game?

Sunless Citadel: Session 5

Greetings, my group recently played our 5th session of The Sunless Citadel. This particular session, while having some cool moments, was very unfocused, which caused the players to not get as much done. My group and I had not hung out for a while, and so we kept derailing into conversations with each other, eventually deciding to give up on play and just hang out a bit.

Also of note Milbee was unable to make this session, which according to Aldo’s player, deprived the party of Milbee’s unique form of focused chaos.

After a long rest, the party scaled down the vine covered walls of the gaping pit, descending even deeper into the Sunless Citadel. The vines they clung to were pale and glowed weirdly iridescent, lighting up the area in an shimmering glow.

The circular pit emptied into a compost filled room, with hundreds of glowing fungi within. Two robed figures stood in the corner of the room, mechanically shoveling and spreading compost from a large pile. The entire floor was covered in a squishy, earthy, and gooey layer, but the robed figures seemed unaware of the party. After a few seconds evaluating the situation the party attacked the robed figures, which slowly turned around farming implements raised.

The robed gardeners revealed themselves to be ghastly skeletons, and combat ensued.

skeleton

When combat started several Twig Blights popped out of the layer of compost and ran to assist the skeletal gardeners; however, three twig blights and two skeletons were no match for the party, which handily smashed the creatures apart. I did scratch Noble with a twig blight dealing 3 points of damage, but other then that the party largely conquered with no trouble.

The noise of the combat drew the attention of the neighboring room’s occupant, Durthu the Hunter, a bugbear, and his two hulking giant rat hounds Rip and Fang.

Bugbear 01a  The party quickly formed an excellent plan, in which Starfall used a spell to rapidly retreat down an opposite passageway, purposefully drawing the attention of Durthu and his hounds, while the rest of the party laid in wait hoping to ambush the hunter.

This was partially successful, with the bugbear cautiously entering the room, sending his giant rats rushing after Starfall. The party then sprung their trap and dealt some respectable damage to the bugbear.

Not intimidate a large combat ensued, with the giant rats Rip and Fang turning around to team up against Aldo, nearly knocking him out, while Durthu attempted to smash up the party with a wickedly barbed javelin. Some great threats passed between Durthu and Aman, with Aman claiming he would take the bugbear’s skull and drink out of it, brutal!

Despite the bugbear’s large reservoir of hitpoints the party quickly slew Rip and Fang, and knocked out Durthu for questioning.

Starfall while in wolf form, in a sadistic turn of events, bit off the bugbear’s ear attempting to intimidate him. Aman, piggy backing off of Starfall’s threats reminded the bugbear, and the party, that he would drinking ale from the bugbear’s skull.

On a side note, what is it about taking an enemy prisoner that turns nearly every D&D character into a twisted torturer!

Aldo and Noble using words and reason drew some information out of the bugbear, nothing really new; however, they did get him to agree to lead them through a backdoor, bypassing several guards on the way to the Twilight Grove.

Starfall, not satisfied with the deal, took the bugbear’s antler helmet, a trophy he had taken during one of his hunting trips. Incised the bugbear demanded his helmet back, and an argument ensued between the party. Eventually the party convinced Starfall to give the helmet back, while I only half jokingly contemplated giving all my creatures fake teeth filled with cyanide to avoid similar issues in the future.

Durthu then led the party through the dungeon, as he agreed, after which the party released him, after another brief argument, of course.

Here the party to my surprised pulled their act together and utilized an excellent combination of stealth and spells. Aldo, sneaking ahead, viewed many rooms similar to the first mushroom garden they found; however, in these bugbears dressed in floppy straw hats, equipped with rakes and hoes, tended to the crop. Several rooms branched off these gardens, with both skeleton and goblin workers doing odd jobs.

Aldo then used the Sleep spell to put two bugbear gardeners asleep, allowing the party to bypass not only these gardeners, but also the side rooms of enemies, moving directly along the path to Belak, and the end of their quest. Along the way Starfall took samples of the unusual plant growth to study later.

Sleep Spell

After a short hallway, the party came upon a room completely empty of the glowing plants they had grown accustomed to. All that could be seen were to glowing red circles, almost like eyes watching them.

Cautiously entering the room, the party saw the red light came from gaping holes in place of the eyes of a skull statue, which Aldo rightly guessed once housed precious stones. Several creepy statues stood around the room, and Starfall investigated one which had the inscription “Fear is the mind killer, Death is only the beginning.”

With that the flickering shadows created by the party’s torches reached out and attacked. One roughly human shaped shadow reached out of the statue clawing Starfall, two others sprung up attacking other party members.

Shadow

After the initial assault, and Starfall coming dangerously close to being turned into a shadow herself, the party struck back utilizing several radiant damaging spells, which quickly destroyed the dangerous creatures.

With both Noble and Starfall drained of a lot of their strength the party decided to take a long rest, and it is here we decided to stop.

I am curious, do other players (or even my players) find that captives often become points of contention between characters? If so does anyone have suggestions on how to solve this beyond making taking prisoners impossible? It is something that frequently pops up in my games and I always struggle with how to keep the questioning moving, character interactions reasonable, and then get the game back on track. If you have some thoughts on this, or anything else I have mentioned please post in the comments, I would love to hear from some of my readers :).

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed  this recount of my fifth session of The Sunless Citadel, it is my guess that next session will be the final one of this adventure, and lead into the next phase of this campaign :).