Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Dortherdoreft: Initial Thoughts and Lessons

Spoiler: the Derro babies in cages totally stole the show...

So, Thomas and I ran our two session, same dungeon, themed New Year's D&D, Dortherdoreft. First he ran a party of all Dwarves through and then 48 hours later I ran a party of all Drow through. We wanted to both have some iconic player character class choices, like Dwarven Cleric and Drow Priestess of Lolth, and also to feature some icon Underdark features. We also decided to try and provide both some challenges for the PCs but also some places where their iconic abilities could shine. Here are my thoughts about how it went and lessons learned, both as player of a Dwarf Battlemaster Fighter and as a GM. We're hoping to tweak and write up the adventure for everyone to take a look at, but for now, here's some initial thoughts. You can find Thomas' thoughts on Dortherdoreft on his blog.

  • We used a pair of Dyson's maps that connected, The Gates of the City and The Mithril Hall. If you're having a hard time visualizing where they connect, look for the double-wide hallway near the top of the Gates map and the middle of the Mithril Hall map. The maps worked really well, offering lots of loops and confusion, but both Thomas and I, and then the two players who played both session, found that we knew where we were in the map. Were we to do it over, I might have not utilized the Mithril Hall and had the Drow enter from below, maybe using the Iron Halls as their entrance. Then Thomas and I would only have one shared map and had sections of the dungeon we weren't intimately familiar with.
  • We did each close off rooms and hallways, which worked well. Thomas had his schtick that the Gnome illusionist allies of the Dwarven king had gems that made doors/hallways look like plain wall or rubble, which worked well and set up an excellent little puzzle at the end. For my part, I used the in-game time between our sessions to have an earthquake occur, so that a large section flooded, making it less likely that the Drow would explore that section.
  • I'm sure Thomas will comment on this in his write up that he thought my strategy of not drawing out the whole map for players, but just drawing out bits and pieces to show their immediate surroundings, worked well, but that was honestly accidental and initially just a matter of my not starting to draw the map in a great spot on the mat, but it might be a strategy I keep in mind and deploy consciously in the future.
  • For the thematic parties, it definitely helped that we limited class and sub-class options and that we provided some roleplaying aids. We ended up with mostly iconic character choices, though in hindsight I'd have had one of the two Drow rangers be switched if I'd had more time and not been battling a sinus infection. Thomas used some classic Dwarven personality types from the 2e Complete Book of Dwarves, like 'Pragmatist' and 'Grumbler' which were fun to roleplay and guess after the game. I found a list of Drow cultural traits that explained how Drow thought about treachery, superiority and even why they might practice humility.
  • Overall, I think the Dwarf party was a little more successful as a thematic party group because there were a couple of sub-races instead of just one, though we did try and bring some gender differences to the Drow and offer Levitate in place of Darkness. But going with an all evil party, of a traditionally villainous race, it was just a little harder to get as effective a thematic feel for the Drow.
  • The other big issue that we didn't consider before hand was the impact of an all Dwarf party that all had a +2 CON modifier and conversely, the impact of an all Drow party lacking that. Add to that a heavier balance of warriors (two fighters, a paladin and a ranger) on the Dwarf side and there was definitely not as much healing needed for the Dwarf party as there was for the Drow party. On my rewrite I plan to take the Drow lack of high CON PCs into account when thinking of enemy damage output and I think that Thomas' section could have even upped the damage/danger some.
  • Playing to iconic Dwarf features/abilities worked better as well, I think. There were stone work traps that Dwarves easily identified and avoided, and the Derro used lots of poison that Dwarves could shrug off. Trying to utilize the Drow Faerie Fire ability, I included a pair of Invisible Stalkers but they nearly killed on PC and with their high Dex avoided three or four castings of Faerie Fire, so in the final write-up, that might change to a less dexterous enemy whose gotten a hold of an invisibility potion or something.
  • We each gave the players background information and goals, which worked fairly well, but in a few instances we forgot to give the PCs the ability to really use what they got. In the Dwarf game, my PC got a vial of Acid, Alchemist Fire and lamp oil and knew they would work against trolls. Unfortunately they're all treated as improvised ranged attacks, meaning my low DEX fighter had a +0 to his attack rolls with them and I actually ended up taking an action one round to just hand the Alchemist Fire to the Rogue. It would have been better to give my PC proficiency with thrown bottles (or improvised ranged attacks) or to have given that information/equipment to the Rogue who would have at least had a DEX bonus for her attack. 
  • For my part, I made a similar error with one of my Drow PC's goals. I gave the PC a goal of obtaining magic items to help restore their house to prominence, but with the higher percentage of magic users and the main Drow goal being finding a particular magic item, there was little chance for that player to find a magic item and keep it. I should have at the least given them a few lead lined boxes to hide magic items away in and maybe a bonus proficiency in Sleight of Hand to help.
  • Thomas' enemies felt much more flavorful than mine. He utilized Trolls well and then his Derro stole the show, with fetal savants in cages as Derro alarms. I used an Elf Archmage and Human Veterans, the aforementioned Invisible Stalkers, and Kuo-Toa that the party never really encountered, but none felt as flavorful or as interesting. Something that I have a few ideas on how to improve when we do our revision before we publish.
  • This wasn't an issue for the Dwarf game, but was a major one for the Drow game... Secret Notes. At the start it was suggested people text me instead of passing notes, which I said no to, because we had wanted to not have people on their phones during the games and because my cell sometimes has issues sending/receiving texts in a timely fashion. But when the inevitably secrecy and betrayals came to a head at the end of the session there was a flurry of note passing but then at crucial times only one or two people obviously passing me notes. I tried to compensate for this by having a couple rounds of everyone passing a note, just putting a smiley face if they didn't have a secret, but that still didn't quite work as it's quick to put a :) on a notecard and a little less quick to write out a plan of ambushing the other Lolth priestess. This is one reason why I'd like to try and run both the Dwarf and Drow sessions again using Roll20 where players could use the Whisper feature to let me know of their secret plans (as well as being interested in seeing how it works when we get to reveal bits of the map).
  • Overall, it was an enjoyable 14-ish hours of gaming. I had a blast playing Yngvarr Brassshield, Dwarven Battlemaster Mercenary and though the Drow game dragged a little more in combat (Drow being sneakier and having more spellcasters making weighty decisions on if they really needed to sacrifice sorcery points to get another counterspell out against the archmage) it was enjoyable to see how the players attempted to complete secret goals and descended further and further into paranoia and (some attempted) treachery. 
  • I'm keeping mum on some other things as I'm still working out how I want to adjust/update for our final write-ups and as I said, I would really enjoy attempting another run of these modules using Roll20.

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