Weekend in the Realms 2009

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 9, 2009

the-icy-queens-crossing-cover

On Saturday I participated in the 2009 Weekend in the Realms. “The Icy Queen’s Crossing” is an Living Forgotten Realms adventure for character of 1st to 4th level. Although pre-generated characters were provided, players were free to bring their own LFR character as long as they weren’t above level 4.

One of the things that made this event unique is that the “adventure takes place in the aftermath of the events depicted in the new Forgotten Realms novel The Fall of Highwatch, which was released on November 4.” Previous events have been tied to the release of gaming products like the PHB 2, the Monster Manual 2 and the DMG 2, but this is the first time a 4e adventure has been tied to a novel.

The purpose of these “event” games is to bring new players into the fold. These games are played in public settings, usually game stores and public libraries. Experienced players can meet new people and new players can get an introduction to D&D. It’s win-win. The adventure is straight forward and doesn’t require any background or familiarity with the game. With that in mind, here are the ups and downs of my experience playing in the 2009 Weekend in the Realms.

The Good

Meet new people and exchange ideas

These public events are great. I’ve participated in four over the last year and at each game I’ve introduced new gamers to D&D, played with experienced gamers I’d never met before and had a great time all around. Although I have a regular weekly game at my house, it’s always nice to play in a different setting with different people.

Not all players and DMs do things exactly the same way. I’m always fascinated to discover the little differences like seeing how other players track damage, speak in character and even roll dice (yes there are different ways to roll dice).

It’s also a good opportunity to see how other DMs handle certain situations. You don’t realize how many house rules you use until you’re playing with strangers. You’re not necessarily doing anything wrong, just differently. Public games are a great chance to trade tip, tricks and shortcuts with other gamers. If it’s worked for them it might work for you too, and vice-versa.

Tokens, not minis

I know that putting this in the good category will cause a lot of DMs to disagree with me, but I liked that no free minis were provided for this event. This time around Wizards provided flat, two-dimensional tokens. Previous events of this nature, such as the World Wide D&D Game Days provided minis for every monster in the adventure as well as minis of the pre-generated PCs. I always thought this was lavish and unnecessary. What they provided this time around did the job just fine.

When it comes to these kinds of public games, the DM who runs the adventure generally keeps the materials afterwards. I think this is totally fair. After all if no one DMs then there’s no game. The promise of free swag is a good way to recruit a DM if you can’t otherwise find a volunteer.

Even though providing free minis is a good way for Wizards to advertise some of the other peripheral products they sell, I think it was an unnecessary expense. At the end of the day, minis cost money to make and money to ship. By replacing the minis with tokens on cardstock, Wizards has no doubt cut their costs substantially. I’d rather give up free minis and keep having these kinds of events then see it get cancelled because the materials cost too much to provide.

The Bad

Where’s the role-playing?

D&D is a role-playing game. I’m always disappointed when the role-playing takes a back seat to killing monsters. This adventure is set up in much the same way as the dungeon delves. The PCs are given a very simple introduction and motivation: “Free my husband and I’ll reward you with magic and gold.” Then it’s three combat encounters. No talking, just kill, kill, kill.

I understand that if you’re trying to entice new players you want to get them hooked quickly. I’ll admit that combat is a great way to do this. However, there is more to D&D then fighting monsters. This adventure didn’t really provide any opportunities to role-play.

I guess the danger of putting too much role-playing in an introductory game is that shy players will feel excluded and may not want to play again, and vocal players will dominate the table. If the DM is a rookie then this could be a disastrous situation. I guess Wizards would rather avoid complications of this nature and just exclude role-playing this time around.

Adventure for characters of 1st-4th level? Not a chance.

Normally LFR adventures provide a low level and high level version. The difference is that the monsters are appropriately scaled for tougher or weaker PCs. Playing the high level will provide more XP and better treasure. This adventure was one size fits all. Party’s with PCs above 1st level won’t be challenged at all. We certainly weren’t.

Here’s what our party looked like.

  • Level 1 Human Wizard
  • Level 2 Elf Ranger
  • Level 3 Tiefling Warlock
  • Level 3 Minotaur Barbarian
  • Level 4 Warforged Warden

The first combat was fun. It mixed ranged and melee attacks from various monsters. It even had additional monsters enter the combat a couple of rounds in (I think this is a great tactic that more DMs need to adopt). Of all the encounters in this adventure, the first encounter was the one I enjoyed the most. By the time we finished we’d all used all of our encounter power, a couple of action points, and two PCs needed to use their second wind.

The second combat was a disaster. It was way too easy. The PCs entered a winding cave they knew to be defended from within. The monsters tried to use ranged attacks, but the PCs moved in quickly. Then the monsters swarmed the PCs and in just two rounds we killed everything. The DM didn’t make use of unique terrain, nor did she use the attackers complimenting abilities to their best potential. The DM’s error in judgment, combined with great teamwork from the PCs resulted in the second encounter taking only four rounds to complete. I’m glad I used my daily power in the first round.

The third and final encounter was another disaster. It was by far the most boring combat of the game. The PCs rolled really poor initiatives. The monsters swarmed us at the mouth of the cave and combat remained in one place. Again the potential use of terrain and special abilities was removed because everyone bunched up. Our party was uniquely suited for this scenario. The Barbarian and the Warden stood in front doing melee attacks and the Ranger, Warlock and Wizard stood back and attacked from range. Three rounds later it was over. The Warlock and the Wizard never even had an opportunity to use their daily powers.

The Ugly

Skill Challenges

There were two skill challenges in this adventure. Both felt tacked on and completely unnecessary. Both were complexity 1 (4 successes required before 3 failures). The first skill challenge was disarming a magical trap as part of the first encounter. The intent seemed to be that the PCs should focus some attention on this while the fight raged on. We ignored it. The result was that some PCs were slowed (not an issue for the three ranged attackers), and the damage was negligible. After we defeated the monsters we all focused on the trap together and beat the sill challenge in one round.

The second skill challenge was at the very end of the adventure. The PCs needed to free a magically imprisoned NPC. As with the previous skill challenge it seemed that the PCs were supposed to try and free the NPC while combat was going on around them. We focused on the fighting because we didn’t have any other choice. Because we were swarmed at the cave mouth we didn’t even know that there was an imprisoned NPC in the room until all the monsters were dead. After that we again all work together and defeated the skill challenge in one round. It was an extremely anti-climatic ending. It really felt like something was missing. When it was clear that the adventure was over, the players all looked around with a “Was that it?” look of disappointment.

The Verdict

All in all I am glad I participated in the Weekend in the Realms. It was a chance to play D&D outside of my normal game with players I’d never met before. I got to talk D&D and plug my blog (shameless, I know). Despite my harsh criticisms of this adventure, I would be disappointed if Wizards pulled the plug. I enjoy playing in these events and look forward to the next one scheduled for March 2010 in conjunction with the release of the PHB3. If you live in the Greater Toronto Area and want to join me and the rest of the Dungeon’s Master team in March for the next World Wide D&D Game Day, send us an email.

the-fall-of-high-watch-coverTo find out more about The Fall of Highwatch (Chosen of Nendawen, Book I) by Mark Sehestedt and to download a sample chapter, visit Wizards of the Coast.

For more on these kinds of public gaming events, read my review of Worldwide D&D Game Day 2009 from March and Worldwide D&D Game Day – Monster Manual 2 from May. And be sure to check out the 10 Things I Learned at Worldwide D&D Game Day.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Phaezen November 9, 2009 at 10:03 am

I find myself agreeing with most of what you have here. The group I ran were all 1st level, so the combats were a bit harder on them.

However the skill challenges were too easy, with the DCs seeming to be on the way too low side (The eladrin mage pregen could not fail the arcana DCs.).

Definately looking forward to next years games days though.
.-= Phaezen´s last blog ..LFR Weekend in The Realms =-.

2 Sean Holland November 9, 2009 at 10:57 am

Sadly, due to it being UGA’s Homecoming Football Game at the same time, we did not get enough players to run this even. Looked fun though. And I like the counters too.
.-= Sean Holland´s last blog ..Review – From the Laboratory of the Mad Wizard Shadmar (Revision 2) =-.

3 Wanderer November 9, 2009 at 11:10 am

Sounds like your DM could have prepared a little bit more.

Each encounter had provisions for scaling for the # of PCs in the party 4-6 as well as 3 difficulty levels 1, 2, 3-4.

And the whole point of the final encounter was to roleplay the skill challenge and avoid fighting the 3 Elite “monsters”
.-= Wanderer´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

4 Kensan_Oni November 9, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I was able to participate at our local Weekend in the Realms gameday, and I will say that for me, it worked out pretty well. We consisted of 2 2nd levels and 3 1st levels (I just had started a new character, and we had 2 new players), and the experinced players and DM all noted this was a “Don’t kill the new players” scenario, and wasn’t that challenging.

The DM made it really obvious that we could defeat the last encounter with a skill challenge, so we had everyone ignoring the little fight and being diplomatic with the guards and religious and arcane with the spirit to shuffle it off. That worked out pretty well. We feel sorry for the one group that got bogged down into a combat at the group.

In any case, I felt it was fun, and although I am not sure I would want to play it again, it wasn’t too bad.

5 TheKyle November 9, 2009 at 1:49 pm

We worked roleplaying into the game by shuffling some information around. A wizard used Mage Hand, Prestidigitation and Ghost Sound to haunt the barbarians inside the caves and shame Loggoth (who should not have been conscious as per the adventure) into coming outside and becoming an ally. They were then able to negotiate a duel with the demon caster for supremacy and respect. The last encounter a dragonborn was able to talk with the wyrmling and join forces with the creatures to help save the Ice Queen. So we ended up with one fight and two roleplaying encounters. That being said, that outcome is very different from the written adventure.

I think it depends on the group, the DM and how willing people are to go outside of the material.

6 Kameron November 9, 2009 at 1:57 pm

I’m pleased to hear WotC included tokens with the module. This is a practice I’d like to see them extend to all of their published adventures. I’ve found that buying the plastic minis is just too expensive as a DM. Save the minis for the PCs.
.-= Kameron´s last blog ..Practice range =-.

7 Paul November 10, 2009 at 11:53 am

Our library had reduced hours for the event, allowing for about 3 1/2 hours of play. There were many players who were learning how to play D&D at this event. None of our groups got past the second encounter, but we’re having them finish the adventure this week.

How long did the event run at your location?

8 Ameron November 12, 2009 at 8:37 am

@everyone
Sorry for the delayed response, I’ve been on vacation for the last week.

@Phaezen
I absolutely agree about the DCs in the skill challenge. It was a 4 before 3, so the PCs were pretty much guaranteed victory. There should have been at least a couple of more difficult DCs thrown in.

@Sean Holland
The materials are available in PDF format if you’d like to run it as a one-off game. I don’t know if you could run it as a sanctioned event, but it might still be worth giving it a try. It is a good introductory adventure if you’re trying to get new players into D&D.

@Wanderer
I agree that my DM could have prepared more. I’ve since read the adventure (which I didn’t have access to when I wrote this article) and I see that the skill challenges could have (and perhaps should have) been run differently.

@Kensan_Oni
I got the sense that it was a “don’t kill the new players” too. It sounds like playing out the final battle as a skill challenge was an interesting way to do it. If I run this as a DM for another group in the future I’m going to make sure they realize this is an option. I’m glad to hear it worked well for some groups.

@TheKyle
Sounds like your group had a lot of fun and a lot of success by playing smart. You’re right that it really comes down to the DM and the willingness of the players to try more than hack and slash. I’m glad it worked so well for your group.

@Kameron
I really liked the tokens. They even had bloodied images on the flip side so keeping track of that was a breeze. It meant the DM didn’t have to lug nearly as much stuff around.

@Paul
Our group consisted of three hard-core gamers (myself included), one guy who had played a couple of times before (at other public events like this one) and one first-timer. The DM has been playing and DMing for years. The entire adventure took us about 3.5 hours. But that being said we didn’t seem to incorporate the skill challenges into the game as well as we could have. The more role-playing you try to include the longer the game will take. Unless of course you avoid combat all together by talking your way through it (which from the comments above seems like a realist approach).

It’s important not to rush if you’ve got new players. Make sure they understand what’s going on. If that means taking more time, I’d say slow down and take more time.

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