So this weeks D&D game blew chunks. There’s loads of reasons why, and I want to get some of them down now in the interests of making things better for the future. Overall, I’m still loving My Favourite Game, and really look forward to our weekly sessions. I’m still jonesin’ to get back behind the screen, and I’ve never been so busy with world building. So for a session to fall flat is a real heartbreaker. Here’s what happened.
So DJK is running Scepter Tower of Spellguard while I take a break from DMing duties for a bit. I think it’s fair to say that DMing is not his strongest attribute, where he really shines is as a player. He gets great mileage out of that as he can run bad guys really, really well. Now we stumble into an encounter that looks pretty straightforward. There’s an evil cleric, and he’s on his own, and the terrain isn’t exactly arduous. So we know he’s a solo, and they are worth about 5 normal monsters. Time to pile on the pain. For the first couple of rounds, everything goes swimmingly. I get to use my new encounter power, happy days. Then things go a little sour. Essentially, for about 15 rounds nobody rolled higher than a 10 to hit. Nobody. Every bit of damage we’d managed up to that point got undone by the bad guys regeneration. It took ages to figure out he was actually a vampire. This is where all DMs need to listen up, you have to advertise the abilities of your monsters so that the players know how to play the encounter. That doesn’t mean slapping the statblock down and just becoming a referee, it means subtle clues and slow reveals so that the nature of the threat becomes apparent through it’s actions. Had we known, our tactics might have changed. That wouldn’t have helped our lousy rolling, but it might have turned frustration into a challenge.
I should also point out that we had no dailies and limited action points. There’s a lot of commentary about the 15 minute adventuring day and how 4e tries to obviate that. To be honest, I’m still seeing no real reason (outside of the story demands) for parties to not take an extended rest whenever they can. We certainly took some punishment for not being fully loaded for bear. We also have two strikers in the party. They couldn’t hit for toffee. The vampires AC was 24 (I think) which is a big ask for a 3rd level Ranger to hit. Even our Sorcerer who targets Reflex was struggling. That lest our cleric to keep the Warlord and the Swordmage up and fighting for as long as possible. However, then the vampire rolled to dominate. Dominate is absolutely brutal. It targets Will, which is usually the low defence. If successful (and it was) you not only lose the a PC for a time, it becomes part of the enemy’s arsenal too. So with every dominate the ratio shifts from 5 against 1 to 4 against 2, which is a big swing. The vampire must have dominated every member of the party at one point or another. even shaking off the dominate leaves you dazed, and that’s another killer condition right there.
We simply had no options if we didn’t want to just run. We had to pound the thing, and do it faster than it could regenerate, or get hits back from it’s zone, or suck hits out of us. the numbers didn’t stack up. DJK revealed at the end that the vamp had nearly 300 hp. That can’t be right. A level 6 human cleric vampire solo with a hundred hp more than a level 11 vampire lord? Nah.
Skip to the end and DJK had to start pulling his punches to avoid a TPK. We’re wise to that and to be honest I’d rather go down swinging than walk out with an empty victory. In fairness to DJK, he then started playing for keeps. Our Warlord and Cleric went down hard, stayed down and actually got to minus bloodied. Game over. At this point the three remaining PCs started heading for the door, but finally the law of averages came back online and our two strikers earned their keep with a couple of crits, enough to put down the seemingly invincible vampire. Session ends.
Other commentators have complained about combat grind before, and this is my first real experience of it. Two and a half hours on one encounter is way too much. Lot’s of small issues contributed to it, it’s no ones personal fault at all. Lessons have been learned I hope. On the positive side, Julio and Danurai at least get to try out some new stuff from PHB II, which they are excited by.
When I get back in the DMs chair I’ll be running things differently from how I normally do it. I’m still having fun playing D&D, but now I’m getting more confident that I need to install some house rules to really make it sing.