Dungeon Mastering


Kenku Hideout: Part 1

Kenku HideoutKenku HideoutA few weeks ago, I ran Treed! for my players. The results of their endeavor were a number of dead enemies and a captured Kenku. They wanted to interrogate the Kenku in hopes of finding more information about the kidnapped Darkmagics and also to see if there was any loot around. As a result of their interrogations (a skill challenge), they found out that the Kenku hideout was nearby and that one of the guards liked to sleep on the job.

They waited patiently for their time to attack and, when it came, proceed to climb up to the first level of the hideout. Just as the captured Kenku said, the guard was asleep at his post. The rogue quickly took him out and the party started moving towards the nearest set of double doors. However, they were unable to approach the doors without rousing the suspicion of the remaining Kenku guards. They took the first guard out without issue, and were to the door before the rest could get in position.

The sword mage decided to open the door and he saw quite a sight. Right near the door, a number of Kenku were playing cards. In a corner to the left, two Kenkus were playing dice and to the rear, four of them were eating super. One of the Kenkus came right up to the doorway. This worried the adventurers quite a bit and they decided the best course of action was to close the door again.

In the mean time, some of the Kenku guards were now in position to attack. The wing mage guard had no issue coming out of the shadows and engaging the adventurers, while the sneaks waited until they could take advantage of the area and hide. Eventually, the inevitable happened and all were engaged in the fight.

This was a tough fight for my group, partly because currently we only have four level 6 players. I also adjusted the monster stats by subtracting 2 from each of their defenses and adding a 2 to each of their attacks. More about that can be found here. Besides the hide/stealth rules, the other thing I've found hard to keep track of during a game is light effects. I've found it really hard to keep track of light levels, light sources, types of sight, and the like. These things are particularly important when trying to use the hide/stealth rules, since the darkness can provide concealment, but I feel like trying to keep track of who can see what really slows down the game. What do you think?

Encounter Details

Players (Level 6)

  • Anka - Shadar-Kai Swordmage
  • Birkalis - Half-Elf Bard
  • Finnan - Halfing Rogue
  • Skamos - Tiefling Psion

Monsters

  • 4 Kenku Sneak (Level 4 Lurker) [DDI]
  • 8 Kenku Warrior (Level 7 Skirmisher Minion) Modified from [DDI]
  • 4 Kenku Wing Mage (Level 5 Artillery) Modified from [DDI]

Notes

  • Remember to take advantage of the Kenku sneaks ability to hide whenever it has cover from an ally. This could include moving your sneaks in such a way that gives each other advantage.
  • Warriors do extra damage when they have combat advantage. Wing mages can help provide combat advantage by using Death Flock.
  • Wing mages can also fly. This can help them get into combat easier, especially the ones acting as guards. It didn't happen in our game and one way to make it easier would be to decrease the space between the main hideout and the guard platforms.

Adjusting Monster Stats, Monster Synergies, and Hiding

At our last game, I decided to do something a bit different and did an across the board changing of monster stats. In this case, that meant giving the monsters a -2 to each of their defenses and a +2 to their attack rolls. The reason? The number of misses on both sides of the "screen" were just to high to be fun and seemed to drag out the game. My players now hit more, which made them happy, and were also hit a little more often, which lead to drama and tension. My husband even sent a tweet during the game when his halfling rogue went down for the count.

Once my players have made it through the entire little adventure, I'll post it here with more details. However, another point I would like to stress is the use of monster synergies. For instance, I used Kenku sneaks in this encounter, and they have the ability to become hidden if they have cover from another Kenku. This makes it very important for them to hang back in the crowd. In our case, they were behind a group of minions, which was great for them until the monk unleased an area attack that took out most of the minions.

Finally, I find the stealth and hide rules really confusing. I hope the new D&D rules compendium tries to make it much simpler. Either that, or someone should write an article that sums up all the information in one place with a section on frequently asked questions. I tried to look up most of the rules before the session but with the information spread across multiple books, I found it a bit difficult. Since the first part of the encounter involved them dealing with hidden guards, it meant a slow start to the encounter, especially since they found the rules a bit confusing as well.

A Dragon and His Minions

During a recent gaming session, I tried something a little new. I decided it was time for my players to meet one of the dragons inhabiting Newham Shire. To play the role of the dragon who was to terrorize the small town of Lolling Green during a kidnapping, I chose Razecoreth, a young green dragon warlock [DDI]. All I did was adjust his level to be more in line with the level of my players.

However, I was concerned that since the player characters would not be in a confined area and the dragon is a solo monster, those PCs with ranged attacks would just hang out too far away from the dragon for it to be an effective menace. To make things more interesting, I added some Shadar-Kai minions into the mix, based off of the Shadar-Kai Gloomblades [DDI]. To set up the scene, I explained that the inn in the center of town was on fire and that they could see figures running around in the dark causing general mayhem. I introduced the Shadar-Kai after the first round and added more each round, rolling a d4 to determine the number to add. These minions were one level lower than the PCs and could easily come up behind PCs who were hanging out far from the main scene of action.

While I thought it worked out pretty well overall, it did bring up one big issue with using the minion game mechanic. My players treat minion characters differently than they do "regular" characters and try to translate the game mechanic of 1 hp into a role-playing tactic. For example, they tried to convince the last Shadar-Kai warrior to surrender because one hit would kill him. I feel it's a long-standing problem with D&D's hit point system and I'm not sure the best way to play around it. If I hadn't gotten thrown off by the obvious meta-game comment, I think I would have explained that these guys had already been through a heck of a fight (which they had) and that's why they were such easy kills. But such story solutions don't always present themselves. How do you deal with the issue when it comes up?

Herding Cats: What to do When A Player Misses

Between season premieres, sporting events, family, and just plain life events, getting the crew together every week can be a bit like herding cats. What is a gaming group, and in particular a DM, to do?

Run an Episodic Campaign

The best defense is a good offense. If you can get your players back to home base at the end of most sessions, it becomes a lot easier to figure out a reason why a missing player's character is not around for a particular adventure. I'm running our current campaign a bit like this. While I've found it a lot easier to plan and change the story line to fit what my players want by running it this way, I definitely feel a bit like I'm writing for a sitcom. I have about 2 hours to present the conflict, have my players come up with their solution for resolving it, and then, actually resolve the conflict, all while tying the story to the parts that came before and setting up the story lines to come. A standard combat encounter takes about a hour of that time, so we generally are limited to 1 - 1.5 encounters during that time period. In addition, since my players often don't know that they can't make it until the last minute, it's hard to spotlight characters since I risk the important character not making it for the session. But these are not insurmountable problems and an episodic campaign handles them much better than campaigns with longer story arcs and lots of overland adventures.

Fill in Character Back Story

Often, character back stories and down time get glossed over in the course of regular game play. The characters might spend a few months in between major adventures but what they did during that time never gets discussed. Or players might have written pages of back story that never gets used in game. When a full group of players is available, it doesn't make as much sense to spotlight players to the degree necessary to bring this out. However, if you are down to two or three players, it makes perfect sense.

Run the Character Anyway

It's always possible to just have another player, or the DM run the character. I'm not sure how much I would really recommend this one unless it's absolutely necessary. Many players don't feel comfortable running another person's character, in part because they are afraid of being blamed if the character dies and also because, at least in 4e, characters are so complex, it can be really hard to keep them straight. Chris Heard had the idea of "stunt doubles" or people who can't commit to being a regular party member but who can come to occasional games and run the character of a missing player or the monsters if everyone shows up.

If having a player run two PCs is asking too much and no stunt doubles are around, another option is to have the DM or a player run the character as an NPC or companion character. Again, Chris is the source of both of these ideas. The nice thing about running the character this way is that the reduced power choices makes the character a lot easier to run, but you still have all the benefits of having the character present, particularly for the story line. For instance, you might not want to go to the mage's tower without your wizard or trudge through an ancient ruin without your party's history major.

These are some of the options I've heard of, do you have any suggestions?

The Motto is "Never Split the Party" for a Reason

One of my players has a great blog about his experiences and thoughts regarding D&D and recently he wrote an entry about something that happened in one of our sessions. Due to how the session evolved, he felt that his character would do something completely different from the rest of the party. Basically, they were accompanying the king and queen back to their capital city and it was clear that the king's chief advisor was not quite right. Mike's character, Skamos, as someone who is generally leery of all authority, understandably wanted to follow around the advisor, but the rest of the party (and to some degree, the story) wanted to be in another location. This left me with a hard dilemma. He could go off and do what he wanted, realistically meaning he could be out of the game for the rest of the session at least. Alternatively, I could find a way to get him to the rest of the action. Since I want everyone at my table to have fun, I did the latter. Someone wearing a cloak just like the character he was following and of the same height and build left the inn where the king and queen were staying and traveled to the tavern where the rest of the group was hanging out, having a few drinks and flirting with the locals. I felt terrible doing it, but at least everyone was together right?

Unfortunately, it turns out it was just the beginning of the story just not flowing in the way I had hoped. The character also didn't feel like sharing in the libations. Completely understandable, since well, they were adulterated with goodnight tincture, but that wasn't something the characters would have known. This meant that when they went outside to get some fresh air, his character was the only one standing while the rest of them passed out. And when the bad guys who were there to kidnap them asked him to give up his weapons, he refused to do so. Which left me with the choices of attempting to (and probably actually) killing his character, leaving him behind or having the NPCs allow him to go with them with his weapons. In the end, I chose the last option, but I just felt like a complete failure at this point. As a person playing the game, I know that none of the other players want to sit out a session. Also, I really try to not railroad my players and had their characters all decided to call it a night and never go out drinking, I would have come up with a completely different story. But I was having a really hard time figuring out what to do when only some wanted to go in a particular direction.

Days, well really a few weeks later, I know that the failure wasn't completely my fault. Sure, there are things I could have done better. Having a better understanding of the motivations of my players' characters would definitely help. Finding other ways to get the unsuspecting PC unconscious would help too. But in the end, the burden isn't the DM's alone. Just like the NPCs can't always act the way they "naturally" would, PCs need to have the same flexibility. Otherwise, it can be a bit not fun and, at that point, why keep playing? And if a player is particularly adamant about not going with the rest of the group, as much as it might hurt to do it, it might be better to let them go. I do like his idea of letting the other players play the other NPCs in the fight, although I would be concerned that they might be a little easy on him since they might need him later.

All that said, I think there are times when the party could be split. Ameron on the Dungeon's Master has a great article about how splitting the party worked really well in a game he was in. And having a Leverage-style game would be really cool now and then. However, unless it's one of those times, please do you DM a small favor and don't split the party.

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