Tag Archives: 4E

Harkenwold: Reaved

This past Friday’s session was, as I’d hoped was the last session of the Reavers of Harkenwold campaign. As I’d expected, it ended in a TPK.

In the penultimate session, the heroes had headed to Iron Keep to kill/arrest Nazin Redthorn and cripple the Iron Circle’s ambitions in the area.  They’d scouted around the keep, located the keep’s sally port, and broke in.  I was pleased and surprised by this: the writer certainly hadn’t accounted for the PCs avoiding the front door entirely and the sally port was on the first floor of what’s effectively the final building (side-stepping a lot of fighting).

They’re going to end this thing, yeah.

The folks on the other sally port put up more of a fight than the heroes expected, though, and the battle frightened several servants who ran away.  This made the party too nervous… so they hoofed it.

In the aftermath, the keep was on high alert, and sent out some patrols to find the group that snuck in, stabbed some people and left.  A plan was formed to ambush one of those patrols, murder them, and sneak into the Keep disguised as members of the Iron Circle.  (As I’d recast the Iron Circle as human supremacists, the party’s dwarf and goliath would be “prisoners.)

So, at this point, they’d (effectively) done it the easy way, decided it was too hard, and then decided to go back and do it the hard way.

In the final session, they made contact with another patrol, Bluffed them convincingly, and then accompanied them to the keep’s gate.

Bluff rolls were extremely good, for the record.  Too good for the party’s own good, really; they let the heroes dig themselves a deeper and deeper hole before things hit the fan.

They’d convinced the gate commander they were legitimate.  The portcullis was coming up… and one of the members of the patrol they’d bamboozled noticed something wrong with the rope “restraining” the party’s dwarven cleric.

“He’s getting loose!”

At this point, I expected one the other PCs to punch him in and “subdue” him.

Instead, they basically did this:

So, that happened.  The thief, tumbled under the half-raised portcullis, ran into a nearby tower, and was engaged by a clanking iron dog.  The goliath jumped high and scrambled over the rampart over the gate.

The rest of the party stuck together outside of the keep and fought the rest of the patrol they’d tricked.

To be clear, the party’s now split: one guy in full view of half the keep’s sentries (and their crossbows), another locked in a tower with a robot dog, and three guys sticking together but blowing their rolls and standing in front of some murderholes.

I low-balled a few things (the gatehouse door was suspiciously easy to break down, for example), but the combat started off grim and only got grimmer.  There was a whole group of sentinels, for example, in full view of the combat completely unmolested by the PCs over entirely too many turns for them not to have called for help.

So, just as they’re finally getting a grip on their enemies… another wave showed up and, well, yeah.

There was a great deal of laudable, “I can get to your corpse in time!” that sadly proved untrue.  And, of course, once one PC drops, it’s downhill from there.

I’m not sorry for it, though.  As I’ve said, I was ready to be done with the campaign, and I think the players were, too.  I’m ready for the next thing, clearly.  And, really: it was the only way things could have reasonably worked out.  I didn’t go out of my way for the TPK… it was inevitable.

Reavers of Harkenwold

As the sidebar indicates, I’m currently in the process of running Reavers of Harkenwold (from the 4E Essentials Dungeons Master’s Kit) for a group of six (that hovers around four to five per session due to real life).

I’m running it because 1) I wanted to play some 4E and nobody else was running it and 2) I wanted to see how running a game based on a module would work.  My previous 4E effort felt like it required more active preparation than I really have bandwidth to perform said active preparation, and module does all the work, right?

Also, I’m functionally a new GM.  I’ve stabbed at running games infrequently over the years, but nothing truly extended.  It’s something I want to do, partly because it’s something I want to do and partly because there are games I want to play and if I don’t run ’em nobody will.  The only way to go from being an inexperienced, poor GM is practice.  (Well, maybe not the only way, but you take my meaning.)

Reavers is wrapping up, approaching its climax.  I have some thoughts on the game.

People who think 4E is not deadly are NUTS.  I’m running a published scenario, one that is judged to be “good.”  Without ever intending to, I kill a player almost every game.

I don’t go out of my way to make fights difficult. Encounters always have “Tactics” sections; I never get to them. I fumble around, pushing NPCs across the grid and rolling dice for them and making quiet “derp” noises.  And, in doing so, I’m butchering PCs left and right like I hate my goddamn players, heaping their mangled corpses like firewood by the dungeon entrance.

That “Death Saving Throw” thing neckbeards like to complain about?  :shudder: According to Untimately (though I don’t think he realizes it), that sucker makes 4E more deadly than AD&D, 3E, and a heap of retroclones. In most of these games, you have a range between -X and 0 in which you’re down but not dead.  4E has the the same… but with a timer: fail three Death Saving Throws and you’re gone. On average, it should take 7 DSTs (I think?) to kill a character.  At my table, with my players and with their dice, it runs more towards the 4-5.

Heck, I even had one character go from “standing” to “greasy, scorched stain on the cavern wall” in a single hit, with damage that blew past zero and then moved on to negative bloodied.

Worse: because encounters in 4E are intended to be difficult, having a PC drop at the wrong moment makes everything harder for everyone still standing… and makes it that much more likely that someone is about to go down.

Of six starting characters (and a dog) , two of them might see the end of the module.  (Not the dog.)

We decided, from the beginning, that we were going to let the dice do their thing, but I don’t actually want my games to be quite as deadly as this 4E game has been.  I’d like the threat of character death to be real and present, but I’d like to have players have the chance to get a little invested in their characters before their ripped apart by bullywugs.

Fights, fights, fights. Nobody will argue that 4E module design leaves something to be desired.  They focus on encounters and not much else (which, frankly, isn’t terribly different from the OSR modules I’ve read, but still).  Since I’m approaching the module from a “save me time” perspective, this inevitably meant that the game was about getting from Fight 1 to Fight 2 to Fight 3… lamentable.

This is as much my fault as the module’s though.  I’m confident that, if I were running something where I had more room to improvise, less direction about fight this then that then this other thing, and room for my players to become attached to their characters, I’d have been more satisfied with the game.

The Module saved me time? I’m not sure it did.  Yes, it saved me from having to plan out encounters (:cough:), but I had to review half the dang module before every session to make sure I (relatively unsuccessfully) kept the details and facts about what was going down straight.

Where I improvised and inserted details that worked well (“The Iron Circle are a bunch of anti-demihuman racists!”) were, inevitably, contradicted by the module (“Except for all the Tieflings and Dragonborn running around the final fortress!”), which made (at least a bit) more work for me.

I like 4E.  A lot.  I don’t think there’s any game out there that does combat as tactical and interesting as it does.  (That I like it is a good thing; the shelf full of 4E books proves I’m invested in the system.)  As I spent the bulk of my free time fiddling with miniatures, I very much value systems that use them.  I don’t think the problems I’ve had with this game are endemic to 4E, either.

I do think that the module experiment has run its course, though.  Hopefully we’ll wrap things up with the next session (and, the way things are going, it likely will, with a TPK :/ ) so I can move on to the next thing.