Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Trouble in Winterhaven - 4e session report

Saturday's game session ended up being a hell of a return to D&D!  We played for about 9 hours, and got further through the adventure than I expected, or was entirely prepared for. But before we get to that, lets start at the beginning.

**WARNING - Keep on the Shadowfell spoilers below!!**

I'm running my cousins through Keep on the Shadowfell.  I did not tell them this, as I didn't want them to start out looking for a keep.  I have the first printing of the adventure, so it hasn't been corrected or added to like the one available on the WotC website.  In addition to the adventure I am using most of The Alexandrian's remix, and a bit of the H1-H3 Orcus conversion.

Since I only had 2 players, and 4e is really designed for 4-5 players, I asked if they wanted to run 2 characters each?  They did, since it would give them greater chance of survival and also expose them to more of the system.  I gave them printouts of the 6 pregens that came with the adventure.  Cory chose to play the dragonborn paladin Rhoger and the halfling rogue Ander.  Alex chose the tiefling warlord Barakes and the human wizard Ulric.

Once that was settled I read them the introduction, asked them to make perception checks, and then laid out the kobold brigands encounter.  The party spotted the kobolds, so there wasn't a surprise round.  The combat played out pretty well, as we all figured out what the characters and monsters do.  The best moment in the fight was when the slinger used the firepot on the warlord.  He opted not to put out the flames!!  He lost his cloak, but since he has resist fire 5, ongoing fire 2 didn't bother him any, and it was pretty impressive looking. 

After looting the bodies they then pressed onto Winterhaven.  We did a bit of roleplaying in the village as they investigated around and found out that Bairwin had taken in Sir Calibran's son after the disgraced knight died while fighting a 2-headed giant.  Perrien didn't take the news well that he's adopted, and the party decided to give the lad a little time before trying to drag him away.  Since they had some spare time they opted to go investigate the kobold situation.

Ninaran, the less than hospitable elf ranger decides that sending these annoying runeborn directly to the kobold lair is probably a good idea.    She draws them a map and sends them on their way.  Taking a southerly dirt path they quickly come upon a dwarven farmer who has been ambushed by kobolds.  This is the Farmer's Jeopardy interlude from the remix.  I didn't use the dwarf's son, and I changed the +2 resounding warhammer (which according to the PHB is a level 7 item!!) into a +1 thundering longsword that he was bringing to Lord Paldrig for the defense of Winterhaven.  For saving his life, and escorting him back to the village he gifted the blade to the party.  The warlord and the paladin argued about who should get it, and in the end the warlord, who had been far more consistent in his ability to actually land hits, was the one to wield it.

Again moving south toward the waterfall, they opted to try to be sneaky about it, and they managed to surprise the kobolds.  I tweaked this encounter a bit, and added the wyrmpriest from the kobold ambush encounter.  The party opted to split up, with the wizard and the rogue coming down from the upper part of the map, while the warlord and paladin came in from the south west corner.  The paladin used an action point to move into range of a clustered group of minions and use his breath attack upon them, killing the bunch with his poisonous breath.  The rogue and wizard focused their attacks upon the wyrmpriest in the magic circle.  He was brought down pretty quickly, and the skirmisher engaged the rogue.  This was a tough fight, and as the paladin and warlord moved north to meet up with their friends the dragonshield ordered the last minion to "Go warn Irontooth!!"  The minion took off, running down the river and was felled by the rogue just before he got through the waterfall. The skirmisher, also ran for the falls, and jumped through before the rogues dagger or the wizards magic could stop him.  The warlord and paladin then took down the dragonshield, just as the skirmisher and 3 minions came through the falls.  The wizard blasted them all with scorching burst.  The skirmisher yelled for more help and ran toward the rogue.  In all an additional 8 minions, 2 skirmishers, and a dragonshield all came through the falls.  The party took a short rest, and then decided they would at least check out the cave.

Irontooth was waiting for them!  With a shield of minions, flanked by his dragonshields, and accompanied by the wyrmpriest he advanced upon the runeborn.  The wizard was mobbed by minions, while the rogue found himself fumbling his daggers.  The warlord tied up one dragonshield, while the rouge went after the other, and the paladin charged Irontooth. It was a brutal fight.  At one point, in order to deal with being swarmed the wizard used burning hands on a group that was mostly minions, a bloodied dragonshield, and the wyrmpriest!  Later he scored a critical on Irontooth with an acid arrow, which also splashed the paladin!!  They finally took everyone down, rested up for a bit, and looted the cave.  The warlord took the armor, passing the magic sword from before to the paladin, and they discovered several notes, one from Kalarel, and a couple from the Bloodreavers of Thunderspire.  The party opted not to take the stairs down to the desecrated  tomb right away, but rather to head back to Winterhaven and rest up.

This was about as far as I'd prepared, and while I was familiar with what was to come, I hadn't really focused on it during my prep time.  However we still had time, and my players were jazzed to continue, so on we went.

The residents of Winterhaven had other ideas, and the party quickly ramped up once the runeborn arrived!  The rogue entertained the crowd while the other 3 did their best to get some info from Valthrun the sage and Lord Paldrig (yeah, I got his name wrong, but I got it wrong the same way the entire game, so now that's his name!)  With more evidence of cultist activity, but not nearly enough info, Valthrun suggests they check out the dragon burial site where Douven Staul was doing some research.

The next day they head back to the kobold lair first and investigate the stairs. They enter the desecrated chamber, spoke with the ghost, and got out.  Their curiosity about the rift/gate/hole is growing. 

On down to the burial site they get ambushed by Agrid the Gnome and his thugs.  The gnome slinger (I changed it from a halfling to a gnome because I thought it made more sense) knocked out the wizard while the paladin and warlord locked down Agrid.  With 2 powerful blows they dropped him to 4 hit points, and he surrendered.  Once they captured him and killed the drakes, the remaining rabble fled, and the slinger sneaked off.   Douven was freed, and they interrogated Agrid, who revealed more info about Kalarel.  They took the stone idol of Orcus that Agrid dug up, and brought the halfling and Douven back to Winterhaven.  In thanks Douven gave his rescuers the magical locket he wore.  They were shown immediately to Lord Paldrig's chambers where they explained what happened.  Before Paldrig could respond an alarm rang out, and a town guard reported that the dead were seen rising from their graves.

The party rushed to the graveyard to find it quiet.  They walked in trying to figure out if this was a joke, or if the dead had gone somewhere else, only to have the undead burst from the ground and attack.  The gravehounds were nasty, as was the undead mage (used the stats for a human mage), but the runeborn managed to defeat the restless dead.  Destroying the magic circle they discovered the note from Kalarel to an unknown party. 

This is where we wrapped up for the night. The group now knows about Sir Keegan's Keep, and intends on investigating it the next day. 

I really enjoyed running this.  I can now say with certainty that 4e is still Dungeons and Dragons, even if the engine that runs it is different.  Now, having said that, KotSF did have some issues, which I knew it would.

Skill challenges, as presented, suck.  I didn't use them, and for the most part made them role play out personal interactions within Winterhaven.

The warlord's Viper Strike at-will we're going to swap out for Furious Smash.

I kept a note about the different encounters on the back of my DM's screen with reminders about bits of info I needed to make sure my players had to keep things moving, and I kept in mind the Three Clue Rule.

There was a bit of railroading going on.  That happens with any published adventure, and while I wanted to give them the freedom to make their own choices about where to go and what to do, I also wanted them to hit the various encounters.  That worked for them, as they also wanted to see the adventure as well as the system.  Plus they're both big video game players, and this adventure can be a lot less of a railroad than some games! 

In addition to being pleased that 4e is still D&D, and the joy of rolling those funny shaped dice, I am thrilled that not only did I have a good time, but that my players did too.  In fact, if they didn't have to drive home I'm pretty sure we'd have kept playing though the rest of the adventure, and maybe even further!

After the game I e-mailed my cousins and asked for their feedback.  The Rogue/Paladin player Cory wrote:
"I definitely like the new combat mechanics, especially the importance of movement (I really like the new shifting/flanking) I felt like it added a new dimension to the combat that just wasn't there before. Maybe it's just my imagination though."

"As for making the game better, I think the biggest improvement to be made is actually in fleshing out our characters, when we used them on Saturday, they were just the 'standard', giving them actual personalities would add a lot." 

Alex, the player of the Warlord/Wizard wrote:
"I like it..."

This is my 100th post.  I'm not sure what it says about a game blog that takes 99 posts before it actually gets around to playing the game the blog is primarily about, but whatever it is, I think this is a very fitting post  for this milestone.   


  1. Congrats on running a successful session! I've been running my party of three players through the Keep on the Shadowfell, though I didn't find out about The Alexandrian's awesome remix until we were well into the adventure. We're playing online, so it's a bit of a different experience, but lots of fun. Good luck as the party moves toward the Keep!

  2. Thanks! It is fun, and we'll be picking up the game in a week and a half! I can't wait.

  3. I ran this adventure twice... you might want to check out the free update it has some good changes.

    I would advise to shorten the actual Keep itself. I feel the adventure is very good 1st adventure until you get to the keep and then it begins to be a grind. Just too many dungeon levels. My players got bored.

    When I ran it again with a different group I combined the best encounters of the 1st and second level together and made it much shorter and they really enjoyed it.

    You should check out the SKill challenge articles on the website. They can be really helpful in running skill challenges.

    Just use them as guidelines for roleplaying. That really is the point. If the players do something.. there is some actual outcomes presented to the player and its more than just one skill check to move on to the next clue so to speak. Its combining roleplaying with rollplaying... since normally outcharacters are better at doing some things than we actual are.