On the road to Spellguard – the final mile before destination

I hadn’t gamed with my fellow players for months – two of them now had new characters and another one had none. She retired her old character which didn’t do much for her and didn’t have time to prepare a new one.

I had a scenario ready to introduce the new characters and bridge our current situation to the « Tower of Spellgard » scenario. I was a bit bummed out to be missing one player – one who is usually a strong role player.

I love having one or two role players – they really help me move the story forward and make it more interesting for the occasional « lurker ». And I’m mostly a role player myself.

This threw me a bit, but I could adjust my scenario and come up with a cool encounter and an intro to Spellgard.

Two things were preparing to bite me in the arse and change my plans : I was prepared for Spellgard one month ago and due to many events happening in my personnal life, did not find the time and energy to re-absorb it. I was really stressed out about playing in Spellgard and scared half-brainless about running it wrong.

The second thing is that I played with ChattyDM’s gang the night before and I didn’t get enough sleep. In retrospect, I was probably too tired.

In any case, my entrance scenario was something I was ready for and that I replayed countless times in my head. I even test-played the encounter a few times to make sure it could be interesting.

The setup was as such:

The group was in the caravan, on their way to Spellgard. On the road, they picked up a brainless barbarian, carrying with him a magical chest which, he said, contained a magic thunder rock given to him by the gods to make him rich and popular with women of his tribe.

He ran tests on it and knew that it made the ground tremble when he hit it with a stick. His tribe’s shaman put it in a magical protective chest and sent him to the city to get it inspected by some very important mages.

While they were conversing with the fellow, a screeching sound was heard from the sky. When they popped their head out of the caravan wagon to see what made the noise, they heard some kind of a loud flapping noise.

Aiming straight for the caravan was a big dragon made up of sown together parts of other dragons. In its claw, it struggled to hold a swordmage while its rider – an armored man – was wrestling with a diminutive mage… Which I thought was a pretty cool way to throw in new players!

The players in the caravan braced for impact. The swordmage managed to slash at the dragons’ wing in hopes to change its aim.

The dragon was deviated, but still crashed on the wagon. Upon impact, the armored rider teleported out of its armor.

The caravan wagon was broken, but no one was seriously hurt. The chest, however, was opened and the thunder stone was visible inside.

They recognized the « patchwork dragon » as the creature they had « freed » in their first adventure and that probably tore at the small village they had visited earlier. It now seemed to be aiming for them.

The combat started and seemed to keep all of my players quite engaged. The dragon had no qualms about using its breath and fear weapons and giving them the hardest time possible.

The dumb barbarian also participated to the battle, but could only act if the players instructed them. As a minor action, a player could scream an order to the barbarian. On its turn, it would choose one of the commands randomly and obey it.

The players quickly noticed the ground near the point of impact was cracking when the dragon was walking upon it.

The players rapidly devised a plan to have the dragon crush the thunder stone, which involved asking the barbarian to jump and grapple the dragon. In no time, they managed to collapse the ground and send the dragon and most of the players fighting underground. My way of having the terrain change and keep things interesting.

A few players managed to stay on top and used their ranged attack to shoot at the creature.

Underground, the dragon made use of its could of darkness to try to surprise its prey. After a few clever ruses and tactics, they heroes managed to slay the beast.

The combat lasted nearly 3 hours. Yes. Three hours. During the whole time, the players were actively engaged but I felt that the energy was getting low and called a break for food.

We were supposed to resume play after food, but I was so exhausted I actually fell asleep. It was running late so the game ended in that weird phase : we had what I perceived was a good fight and I think the players involved had fun too.

But there was no reward and no feeling of conclusion. I did buy some time for Spellgard, though.

Here are a few things I struggled with : the two levels of height in combat and fighting in a cloud of darkness.

For the height levels my instincts told me to calculate height and use distances, but my understanding of the rules was to avoid using height. So I mostly downplayed the dragon here and allowed the higher grounds to shoot down with inpunity.

For the darkness, I had planned a few cool scenes to take advantage of that, but my play testing told me that while it was tactially sound for the dragon to use the clould of darkness, it made the combat long and boring. After a few rounds of playing « battle ship » in the magical darkness, I let it go.

I had some fun, but was too tired to conclude properly and got stuck with an odd feeling about the game. I don’t think I’m pulling my players willingly in this story line… and I don’t feel most of my players even like their characters.

We might have to do something drastic, next time I DM.

Next game, however, I won’t be DMing – Steve (who DMed this group before me) will host a game for his birthday as DM. I can’t wait to play Kellen again (a younger, alternate, version of the one I played at Chatty’s).