The masked ball was a great chance for the players to show their socialising chops. I wanted to see this kind of scene as it’s seriously missing from the official adventures. I was also well aware that my regular group has been having a blast with those games, where it’s almost exclusively played by the initiative count. So, when the story merited it, guys with crossbows burst in.
This one could have been very complex indeed. There was the crowd of diplomats, the Royal Eyes of Aundair, the vampire and his sister, and of course the PCs. This could have turned into a DM’s nightmare with three distinct sides. In fact there could only ever really have been two, with two parties versus one. The wild cards were the Royal Eyes agents. I started with them attacking the PCs as well as trying to take down the vampire. In their (royal) eyes it could well have been a strange alliance they saw before them. That made the encounter pretty muich unwinnable on pure numbers. Thanks to Pete’s diplomatic skills the agents believed the PC’s story and the tables were turned. The Eyes then sided with the party and dogpiled the vampire. I used the crowd as a kind of mobile hazard.
In theory I’m not happy with the encounter. I was ‘playing’ the Eyes in the second half and that meant the players were left watching me roll for NPCs attacks and damage, not much of a spectator sport. Also there was the whole gaseous form escape with the vampire and it was starting to grate on me, let alone the players. What saved it was the vampire’s sister Grilsha. She was underlevelled for the adventure and she went down hard and fast. That meant I could play up the vampires dilemma of whether to stay and save her (becoming captured in the process) or fleeing in true vampire style. I chose the latter. Which left the party with an old fashioned ‘what shall we do with the prisoner?’ situation, exacerbated by the Royal Eyes agents who technically had jurisdiction over the case as they saw it. The combat took place on Aundair territory after all. I enjoyed playing the Aundairians as kind of British Intelligence types mixed in with a bit of Lord Flashheart.
Like I say, in theory this encounter was a pig to run and keep control of. In practice, it went pretty well. It was, again, very Eberron in tone. It wasn’t in any sense balanced, but then again, in a one shot nobody is expecting xp so does that really matter? The NPCs were fun to play up, there was a great sense of tension at the beginning and some honest to goodness drama when the vampire left his sister behind in order to escape.
Next up we took a looong break to get a beer and some curry. I wanted a nice relaxing weekend and having a curry with your mates takes precedence over everything doesn’t it?
While the lads ate I ran to Julio’s computer to print off some of the encounters I’d prepped up on Google Docs the night before. I also printed off the images for the rest of the game just in case. I knew time was against us now. Our break to eat had lasted two and a half hours somehow so there would have to be some encounters dropped. I was reasonably comfortable with how things had gone. Usually I need to have everything at my fingertips in order to feel in control. This time I knew Id have to go with the flow to a certain extent. With a couple of hours to go and no real idea where the players would take the adventure, it was time to start again.
Airships. I love airships. My all time favourite game remains Earthdawn and the airships have a large part to play in that abiding love. All the guys were familiar with that game yet even so the Eberron versions got an ‘oooohh’ when I showed them the imagery and described the elemental roaring around the hull. The party had to dash for the airship as that was where Luccan the vampire was headed. He’d left some obstacles in the parties way in the shape of zombie’d up air crew. These were minions and the guys had fun slapping them left and right, throwing them off gangplanks etc. Simple stuff that I wouldn’t have put into a normal session as it was a bit of a walkover. Mind you, I’m not a huge fan of the one hour combats that balanced encounters tend to bring, so maybe these sort of combats are the answer to that?
Once aboard I slapped down the map that Dan had printed off for us. He’s managed to wrestle photoshop into submission and can take maps from the WotC site, remove the tags and print them off at 1″ squares for play. WotC still makes this way too hard to do, which is nuts. There’s no way the Dungeon Tiles can cope with all the maps they themselves insist on using, and to get the ship tiles you have to jump through a bazillion dumbass hoops and join the RPGA (I’d love to, but can’t figure out how…). I’d grabbed a Paizo ship flipmat (overall, meh…) but Dan’s efforts were better. It was night aboard the ship so there was only a skeleton crew aboard. I’d had the captain and his men all dominated by Luccan while he stowed away. That gave the PCs a chance to come over all crazy with their descriptions of zombies and vampires and the rest. I played up the captain as one of those duty bound officer types who were polite enough even when awoken from a deep sleep by a team of mercenaries covered in blood (I’m assuming they weren’t still in their masks from the ball, which could have been interesting…). The party had to drag a dead zombie into the bridge before the captain would believe their story. With that the search for Luccan could begin. The captain had to throw them a bone about there being a locker of holding aboard, it’s not something the players would have known about after all.
It’s here my memory fails me. The party either dragged the locker up onto the deck and released Luccan at this point, or they were attacked by a boat load of Emerald Claw raiders. It was one or the other! I’ll go with Luccan first of all. The lads asked about what their characters would know about vampire lore as they were struggling to think of a way round the gaseous form effect. I flipped open the Monster Manual to see what they might know and there it was clear as day. The vampire would be in a poor state seeing as it hadn’t had the chance to recuperate in it’s coffin, so poor that the party had a good chance of bringing him down. One of the benefits of the adventure structure was that there has really only been one or two encounters per day so the party had plenty of dailies left with which to nova the bad guy. He went down reasonably soon and the adventure was won at that point. I think he was too high a level for the adventure in hindsight. his defences were such that the players really struggled to land a blow. I was worried about a TPK on more than one occasion, but as Dan reminded me later, Luccan wasn’t dealing much damage back either, in fact I don’t think I bloodied a PC at any point. Giving him the Soul Blade helped (when I remembered to add it’s effects). More time in prep would have made this a better encounter that’s for sure.
Now then, the Emerald Claw. These guys were imported from a much later stage in the adventure when it became obvious that we weren’t going to play out the story as the author planned. Shame really, we’d have had a lightning rail journey, a warforged ambush and an ancient goblin ziggurat to come. To be honest, my prep had started to fail me at this point anyway. I didn’t have many structured encounters left in my folder so it was time to bring the game to a close. A skiff full of Claw raiders was just the ticket. Again, I had them a couple of levels lower than usual and it meant we didn’t spend too long finishing them off.
Luccan was defeated. The party were victorious.
Overall I enjoyed the adventure. the conversion process was educational to say the least and I’ll likely have another stab at it before long. The guys had a good time (I think!) and Eberron came across really well. Lessons for next time? Prep properly! There’s still loads of room for improvisation (more than I originally thought), but I’d have like to have had a whole bunch of tactical encounters of appropriate levels ready to pick from. Same with skill challenges, I had loads of opportunities to showcase them in this game and although it was cool to fall back on the old ways I think we owed it to the system to give it a better go.
If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ve enjoyed the report and I’d love to hear your comments. Cheers!