7 November 2015

Averaigne campaign - session 03

Today's session is brought to you by the letters T, P and K. Yup, only three sessions in and the players managed to combine overconfidence with abysmal dice rolling (with their brand new sets of polydice which I'd bought them, all parcelled up in little drawstring bags like treasure) to such an extent that I couldn't tip things in their favour and they all died. But I'm jumping ahead...

[The story so far]

Session 03 - Crossing the gully, noisily, and then blundering about

Concerned for the health of Bernard the magic-user [he was down to 1hp, and the player was sick so didn't make today's game], the party left him with a torch and a whistle to keep watch over their rear, while they proceeded over the bridge.

They eased their way out onto the bridge, Bregans taking the lead, carrying the shield borrowed from Staedtler in case of archers. The bridge was crudely constructed but more than strong enough to bear their weight. Halfway across, Bregans slipped on a slimy plank and nearly fell in, noticing the face-down body at the bottom of the gully as he did so. Thinking this might be Carl [the farmer's nephew they were looking for], they decided to drop a stick on him to see if he was conscious. They missed, but the splash, and subsequent waft, of stagnant water that resulted convinced them that he was probably drowned, even if he'd reached the bottom alive.

Fortunately for my sanity they decided against a game of D&D Pooh sticks, and pressed on into the chamber on the other side. This was almost a mirror image of that which they'd just come from; the same carvings, the same sort of stone, even the same demonic face as extravagant wall decoration. This mouth was closed, however. Heading in, and with the torch held high to look around, they noticed the end of a rope hanging down from a hole in the ceiling as well as a descending spiral staircase in one corner of the room. Freaked out by the dangling rope they first tried to pull it down then, when it wouldn't budge, to burn it so that nothing could climb down it. It wouldn't catch so they started to soak it with lamp oil, at which point harsh laughter and a couple of arrows shot down the hole and made them jump back. Unsure how to proceed, they tried to persuade whoever was up there to come down, shouting up to them promises of gold if they did. When no-one appeared they headed down the spiral stairs with the shouts from the unseen watchers from the hole ringing in their ears.

Emerging into another large room, seemingly directly beneath that from which they'd descended, they saw that it was strewn with piles of straw covered with rough blankets. In the centre of the room was a crude wooden table with lumps of masonry broken off the wall decorations as ad hoc benches. Oh, and six goblins ready to defend their lair, having had plenty of warning of the adventurers' approach...

Goblins. These were posted on The Guild forum by user Fantasy Fixtures.
The goblins swarmed forward, two attacking the cleric of Alathea, and one against each of the two fighters and the halfling. The sixth, evidently the leader, shouted directions from atop the table, and it all kicked off!

Staedtler missed with his slingshot and was promptly cut down by his foe as he scrabbled for his sword. [At this point I had a moment's panic and decided that "dead" characters would keep track of the number of rounds they's been dead for and that this would link into how difficult it would be for Berignon to heal them back to 1hp when their still-warm corpses were dragged back to the Four Javelins inn. I didn't spell this out to the players except to say that Staedtler's player should keep a tally of how long he was "dead" for]. Jean did better with his crossbow and wounded his opponent before slaying him in the next round. Unfortunately, Staedtler's killer then repeated his success and skewered the halfling.

At this point, a clatter down the steps behind them proved to be the cavalry rather than ambushers from above - Bernard had heard the echoes of the fighting and made a theatrical entrance chanting eldritch words and slamming his staff down onto the stones, an effect only spoiled by his voice cracking with a squeak at the end of his spell. Hey, he's only 19 and can't even get a neckbeard to grow! [The other players decided that he would have come to their rescue. I made a couple of % rolls to check the likelihood and then played him as an NPC. I decided that, as Bernard would certainly have been killed if the rest had died it was acceptable to take over his character. I did feel awkward doing so and I guess it's something we'll discuss before our next session so there's an agreed procedure for missing players in future] Regardless of the tone, the spell worked, outlining the magic-user in a pale blue glow as he waded in to join his comrades in arms. First he caught the boss goblin under the chin with his staff, breaking its neck with an audible crack [natural 20 to hit].

Encouraged by their friend's arrival, Bregans slew one of his goblins and wounded the other, while Pierre battled fruitlessly with his [seriously, the dice rolling here was dire from the players - a sudden and ill-timed run of sub-8 rolls that went on for about five or six rounds of combat]. Ultimately, Bernard's intervention was to no avail. First he was killed, then Pierre fell, and finally Bregans succumbed to the sharp blades and viciousness of the goblins....

Total. Party. Kill.


Post Game Ponderings

Oh dear. We played yesterday afternoon and I've been mulling over since then whether the TPK was my fault because of my inexperience as a DM. Perhaps, partly at least. I think, however, it was mostly due to their decision to press on while low on hit points, at low character levels, after stomping around and making loads of noise in a complex which they'd already seen was infested with goblins. I think they'll be more cautious in future!

The other thing that reassured me was how keen they were to roll up new characters and dive back in to the world of Averaigne! So we spent a little time on that to round off the session on a high, or leastways not a low, point. I allowed them 6x3d6 in order, plus a 3d6 wildcard that they could swap in for any stat (but no switching the others around), as well as giving them the max hp for their level one characters (M-U got 4, Fighter got 8, Elf fighter/magic-user got 6 etc.). So far we have one fighter, one cleric, one magic-user, and one elf fighter/magic-user. The fifth player will roll his up next week. Interestingly they were much more thoughtful about the equipment they bought, planning for climbing, camping, trap-setting and molotov-making. I think this could still work out really well - it's like we've played the training mission and now the campaign proper can start.

Input welcome from experienced DMs,


  1. It's funny how much I have been looking forward to reading their progress since the half term hiatus.

    Shame they got their arse handed to them on a plate but you live (?) and learn. Having had to kill off several Mordheim Warbands and start again myself, they will only learn from the experience.

    1. I was really looking forward to it, too! They were so chuffed when I opened the little wooden box with pouches of dice in and offered them round. Nice lads, all.

      I'm no stranger to restarting Bloodbowl teams, but my (now fading) concern was that my inexperience had forced the restart on them. The Bregans player was the most disappointed "But Bregans had gone through moral quandaries and everything!"

      I think they'll look after their new characters a lot more carefully.

  2. The party faced the results of the situation that they were well warned about and bad dice rolls (a random factor that is always a risk). I don't see how this was anything but a combination of bad luck and perhaps bad planning the players' part. D&D *should* feel dangerous. If the players were eager to get back to it, they are obviously having fun, and that is your main (only?) job as DM. Good work!

    1. Thanks, Riley :)

      Yes, they had put themselves in a position where a little bad luck was going to kill them all, but they did have fun so I shall stop feeling responsible. I will, however, use it to keep learning how to be a better DM.

  3. Yep, it sounds like, in the face of clearly telegraphed dangers (body in the gully, enemies above/behind, equal odds against defenders on their own turf), they let their inner "action hero" get the best of them. This yields dead faster than any run of bad dice luck.

    A few things you may want to consider moving forward:

    1. Because high character mortality is a function of the game at low levels, it's okay (even preferable) for character back story to emerge bit-by-bit through play -- the DM and the player both discover that the elf is terrified by spiders via player-assertion *after* an encounter with one. This way there is no sense of investment/effort wasted as when the level 1 dwarf with the 3 page back story takes an arrow to the throat in his very first encounter.

    2. Consider having a group of the local village lads grab pitchforks and join the PCs. In addition to soaking up some hits, they can provide replacement characters for players who lose a character mid-session.

    3. Consider dropping in a mentor -- a grizzled old fellow who can't fight their battles for them, but who can dispense some suggestions ("Fly, you fools!" or "Use the mirror to peek round the corner first, you git!").

    4. Respect the body-count. Reaching level 4 (B/X level title "hero") feels amazing because not every character made it. It may take a long time and there may be setbacks and disappointments, but if the goal is maximum player fun then do them the favor of not "going easy" on them. The end result is well worth it.

    1. Thank you, Jarrett, for taking the time to write all that useful advice! I really appreciate it.

      I am going to have the new characters rock up at the inn where the old priest they were escorting was waiting for them (he can then give them all the story which, for inexperienced players, will be really useful to break the potential problem of players knowing more than their characters). I'll then combine your suggestions (2) and (3) if they decide to head up to the gully to find out what happened to the last lot.

      Number 4 is quite challenging, and it was the determination that reward must be balanced with meaningful risk that meant I decided that I hadn't messed up when the TPK happened.

      Thanks again.

  4. I too look forward to your recaps, I have a young gamer of my own on the way, I desperately hope he/she expresses an interest in playing.
    I've run a few different systems as DM/GM primarily in D&D 3.5, my advice is to always roll openly, it creates a narrative all its own.
    I would strongly recommend implementing Independent heals for PC either through potions or godly favour. I remember ages ago allowing players to oversleep to count as being well rested which gave a bonus to HP but also gave arch nemesis more time to plot and scheme....
    I think you are doing a great job and hope you keep them interested. Best of luck!

    1. Young gamers are great - when a game goes well, their delight at the novel possibilities of imaginative play is exhilarating.

      I like the idea of unbidden divine favour, and the likelihood of that happening might increase as the underlying power struggle of Averaigne develops...