Plenty of intrigue, not so much combat this week as the players delve deeper into the city’s mysteries.
Matt and Tom each deal with crowded tables of 8 players!
Another combat-free week of 4th edition D&D role-playing!
Saturday was the Free Launch Event for the new D&D Encounters season, “Murder in Baldur’s Gate.” The encounter consisted of an introduction to the city, then a series of events that occur in increasingly rapid succession.
My table was six players; three veterans of earlier Encounters seasons, one new player who was experienced with 3rd edition, and two players who had never played D&D before. This adventure doesn’t include pre-gen characters, so I brought the classic assortment; Fargrim and Brandis were the new players’ selection, and my 3e player subscribed to DDI just to build a character – he played a druid. My veterans brought a wizard, a variation on Belgos the drow ranger… the sixth player, one of Matt’s “Dungeon Team Six” brought an elf ranger built to maximize his damage.
I gave them some narrative as the party entered Baldur’s Gate, through the Black Dragon Gate. The adventure doesn’t supply any PC hooks for being in the city, so I kept the “why you’re here” part of the narrative to a minimum. Rather I described some of the landmarks they pass, and the milling crowd that pushes them toward the Wide to hear Duke Adrian’s speech. The first event ‘Thieves!’ involved the paladin, but the rangers were sharp-eyed and quickly spotted the cutpurses. One was near enough to apprehend, and the Watch took him away. Then the crossbows began shooting as the ‘Murderers!’ event, and half the party had no answer. The city map shows the Wide as extending about 100 yards in every direction from the statue of Minsc – which was on the encounter battlemap.
Since the crossbows are in upper-floor windows, and the closest buildings are 8 move actions away, the fighter, paladin, and druid were not able to deal with them. The rangers and wizard (with Magic Missile) engaged the crossbowmen, killing four. The druid headed straight for Duke Adrian, to try to protect him. Meanwhile, the melee guys were position to confront the next event, ‘Butchers!’ Three thugs were moving through the crowd, causing them to scatter. The fighter and paladin confronted one of the thugs, who growled that it was Viekang’s day, and that he would be the one, not Adrian. Blows were struck at that point, and the butchers started killing townsfolk while the PCs took their antagonist down.
As the last butcher was on his last HP, Viekang arrives at the platform from off map. The druid was still trying to get Adrian to move when Viekang charged to attack. The druid helped Adrian with a flank bonus, and the rangers turned their arrows toward Viekang as well. The rangers made short work him, and the wizard made his way back onto the map, having left it to get within spell range of the crossbows.
Viekang was down, and the players briefly thought their work was done…
Then Duke Adrian cried out in “Highlander” style pain, and tore off his armor. The PCs were on him immediately – Fargrim had readied a charge in case anything went wrong on the platform, and the druid was right there. The Bhaalspawn got a claw hit or two, but didn’t quite get to bite anyone. Then the elf ranger unloaded: one Twin Strike shot was a critical; then his Action Point Twin Shot scored two hits – both max damage with the greatbow! The Bhaalspawn burst in a cloud of bloody mist.
The battle over, it was time for NPC introductions. The druid, alone on the platform, was approached by Imbralym Skoond while Duke Silvershield congratulated the other PCs. Then Flaming Fist leader Ravengard spoke with the fighter and paladin. He invited the party to meet with him on Wyrm’s Rock. The rangers had concealed themselves in a merchant stall a good distance from the platform, so the rogue Rael found them there. She told them the others were not to be trusted, and that they should meet her at Little Calimshan. The wizard was left out of all these conversations, but wanted in on all of them.
So the session ended with the players each having slightly different information; the formal beginning of the season will pick up with the players deciding if they will pursue any of these contacts, or go off into the big city to seek other adventures…
For my part as DM, this adventure is going to be a real test. Unlike previous adventures, Murder in Baldur’s Gate is much less structured: there are numerous events described, but the players could very well miss most, or even all, of them if they choose to disregard the various plot hooks provided. My role will be to get the players to bite on a hook, while keeping the players on a long leash. It is strongly implied that they should have a great sense of freedom to act, to wander wherever they like. Thus, if they are not drawn to any plot hooks, I will have to be nimble enough to relocate those hooks, or herd them toward a hook… without forcing them to make choices they don’t want.
Another challenge is that, with this open structure, players may choose to split up and go off on their own. In fact, that may be the best option if the party wants to affect the course of events. But it means dividing my time and theirs into smaller periods of play time during the session. and, if a combat breaks out, keeping that from devouring the limited time for the week will have to be a top priority. This season players will have to pay an entry fee to the store, so they should expect something in return; namely, time spent playing D&D, not watching others play. That will be the trickiest part of DMing Murder in Baldur’s Gate!
Tom runs a table of 4th edition players (including two new to D&D), and Jack playtests D&D Next, in this introduction to the biggest Encounters adventure ever!
For the last session and climactic battle for the Diamond Staff, I decided to put my collection of TerraClips to use and produce 3D map of the tiered Vault of Song.
Besides being three levels, there are walls, stairs, and even floating stalactites of crystal to portray in this chamber.
I began by visualizing the map in the form of the TerraClips tiles I owned. These tiles are all of set dimensions: 3×3, 3×6, and 6×6 (1 inch) squares. Although I own plenty of Dungeon Tiles, I liked the idea of increasing the size of each tier, from the 2 squares wide shown above to 3 squares – this would allow for more maneuvering, and give characters a place to get out of line of sight.
The assortment of pieces in the different sets determined which floor sections I used for each of the tiers. The outer pieces are from the Dungeon Essentials and Vault of Ruin sets, while the inner set are mostly Buildings of Malifaux with a couple of Streets of Malifaux to fill out the floor. Between the 3×3 floor pieces are the walls, all of which came from the Dungeons and Vault sets.
As I assembled each quadrant of the chamber, I made use of other pieces to provide supports. TerraClips are very sturdy, but also heavy when all combined as in this structure. Clipping extra walls to the underside of the floors made each section quite stable.
For ease of transport I left each quadrant separated, and in play leaving each separated worked out pretty well.
The stairs fit on the map, but not in the locations shown in the poster version; I also like having the stairs set off somewhat, forcing a bit more movement.
In the above picture you can see the walls as well; this addition gave a clear depiction of their role in the overall layout. The players could easily visualize the advantage of using the wall as cover, for instance.
As the encounter played out, characters Fey Stepped and Nimbly Climbed from one level to another, guarded stairs or jumped down from them, and had to cope with fighting in three dimensions.
(I even made crystals from shipping labels, pipe cleaners, and Alea Tools markers for bases.)
You’ll also notice 2 Dungeon Tiles in use, for the pool and to give a bit of tunnel outside the vault to set up on.
The Vault of Song worked brilliantly to bring this battle to life, and drew admiring views from players at other tables and passing store patrons alike. For my players it was their first time playing in a full diorama, and I hope it inspired their imaginations!
For me, well I’m a prop-loving DM: when this good a chance to pull out some toys and show off a bit comes up, I will happily put in a couple of hours to enhance my players’ experience of Dungeons & Dragons.
Jack and Matt deal with tables of differing strength, while Tom brings a 3-D vault of song for his players to battle within!
A brief recounting of battles with dragon guardians and a few Zhent soldiers.
Back to a straightforward week of combat for Jack, Matt, and Tom!
Tom’s table is still learning, Matt’s table is still an elite fighting force, and Jack’s table make him work with all their role-play!