This week, in Fallen Heroes...
Our heroes set out after resting at the Wizard's tower, heading for the Dwarf's keep. The journey was almost incident free, except for a strange, mysterious, and apparently incorporeal person appearing along the way. After babbling a few nonsense sentences about everyone being so small and how tiny it was in here (this encounter occurred in the great outdoors, in a wide-open field) he made some remarks about each player, hints at their true backstory, causing players to question each other temporarily.
At last, the players made it to the Keep, only to find it guarded by a small, blue dragon. It was the middle of the night and the dragon forced them to wait for morning, but once the sun rose the dragon allowed the players to enter after reciting a "poem" hinting of traps the players had to surpass to make it inside the dwarfs keep. One player, Galixo, who had previously admitted to having a draconic ancestor, was disturbed by what he considered this petty excuse for a dragon.
Once past the dragon, players found themselves in a weaving passage walled by hedges. It was cold, ice cold, inside with snow on the ground (despite the fairly moderate temperature outside). First they had to surpass deadly spikes that were triggered by any motion into the area of their reach, by jamming the gears with Atticus' longsword (which was lost to the maze.) Then, a series of hidden nets captured those players who were not nimble enough to dodge away, though the capture managed to free themselves. The third trap was a 25 foot pool of deadly ice cold water, which the sorcerer Henrick simply froze over as the group walked safely across. Then, the next turn was blocked by a cloud of tiny buglike creatures which attacked when noises were made. Players snuck or sprinted their way through to find the final trap, a solid, impassable door. It did not take long for the players to realize that the flying creatures were actually keys, and after a minute of fumbling, managed to catch one and unlock the door. This was the last trap and players entered the Keep.
The dwarf, an eccentric hermit and inventor named Gakkeren, welcomed the players. When they informed him of their need to reach the Fortress of Souls, he readily agreed to take them on his Airship. He also offered some helpful items and set off to prepare the ship. Unfortunately, the army of Orcs and Kobolds had somehow followed the players and were advancing after them through the dwarfs maze. Players had to divide into groups - some to help the dwarf ready the airship, the others to hold off the Kobolds and Orcs til the ship was ready. Players with the dwarf faced a series of tasks to ready the ship, while Galixo and Atticus fought off the invading army long enough for the ship to be readied. Though they had to toss a few Kobolds ship, the players escaped safely.
I think my favorite thing about this campaign so far is the hidden nature of the character's backstories. I required each player to write one, and not reveal the details to the others. They present a surface character, but as time goes on and the players interact, they slowly learn about each other. The storytelling and roleplaying aspects of DnD are really enhanced by this interaction. Players cant assume anything about each other. There could be a traitor in the midst. Their could be sworn enemies. Players do not know. These characters work together because they have to, but they are uneasy about each other, and there have been some great interactions independent of my GMing - except for the situations I put them in.
I was fairly impressed by the players' handling of the traps. though I had come up with some potential DCs for certain checks, I created each trap without a fully thought out solution. Players had to use their creativity and their minds to get past each one, and they did not disappoint.
I will mention one sort of gaming 'mechanic' i used broadly here, and that is indirect usage of skills. Players didn't necessarily know it at the time (and may not realize it til they read this) but many of the skill checks did not directly affect actions. For example, with the net traps, many players chose to roll their acrobatics skill to attempt to get past the nets safely. There was no target acrobatics skill check to be made though. Instead, each square that contained a net, the player had to make a reflex save. If failed, they were caught up in the net, but if successful they had to move one square. If there was another net in that square, another reflex save was made, with the same potential outcomes. The acrobatics check came in the play in the form of a bonus towards the reflex save. For every 5 points rolled in Acrobatics, players recieved a +1 to their reflex check. Because of this, Seebo Beren, our resident gnome and rogue extraordinaire, managed to flip, cartwheel, and jump past every single net with a +5 to his reflex save (and a +7 reflex save to start.) I think this use of skills can allow players to be creative to get a higher rate of success, without resorting to a simple pass/fail check. It helps when the players don't know exactly how their skills are being evaluated. It encourages a variety of skill use, though, when it doesn't come down to simply pass/fail.
The other 'mechanic' though it doesn't involve numbers that I was quite fond of this session was the introduction of Hakar the Wanderer in the mix. This was the crazy incorporeal dude the players encountered at the beginning. Hakar is a character I created long ago for a specific fantasy universe, but I've found it enjoyable to bring him in to other realms. He is a seemingly crazy wizard who speaks in riddles and incoherent speech, often of things to come. Much of what he says does not seem to make sense, until what he speaks of actually happens, and then the riddles become clear. In truth he is very wise, very perceptive, and very, very powerful.
I used Hakar in this session for two reasons. 1, to provide some forshadowing of some things to come, to provide hints of future dangers, and to suggest that the quest these players are on might be bigger than it at first seemed. Secondly, though the player's backstories are secret from each other, they are not secret to me. And for the story, for the campaign, I have many encounters specifically designed to bring out secrets and test the characters against each other. This first encounter with Hakar revealed and hinted at secrets for each player, resulting in some pretty cool character interaction. I find it exceptionally enjoyable to sit back for a few minutes and allow the players to dialogue with each other.
The last thing I will comment on is the use of Pathfinder, instead of DnD 3.5, rulebooks. One significant change in Pathfinder from 3.5 is the ability for Wizards and Sorcerers to use their level 0 spells freely, with no limit per day. I saw the effect this had when Henrick, our sorcerer, felt free to use his spells to try and help get past the traps. Dancing Lights, Ray of Frost, Mage Hands - all these things he used freely and multiple times, not burdened by a limited use, and not feeling useless in the later battle without a chance to rest. And the level-0 spells are very simple and weak, but still useful (especially in skill-based challenges), so it doesn't give an overblown advantage to magic users. I approve.
Any questions about the mechanics I've used or the storytelling aspects? Any thoughts or ideas of your own? Let me know in the comments!
Next week - Chapter 3: Flying Heroes.