D&D Game Day: Vault of the Dracolich – Wrap up

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 17, 2013

game-day-2013On Saturday, June 15, gamers in Toronto gathered in the basement cafeteria of a local college and stormed the Vault of the Dracolich. Despite some initial logistical challenges the event ran smoothly and everyone had a great time. Today we’re going to share our story and photos from 2013 D&D Game Day in Toronto.

A Rocky Start

The decision to hold our Game Day event at a neutral site and not at any one particular FLGS seemed good in theory. We could draw players from multiple shops in the area without any of the owners feeling that their store was being sleighed and their players poached. Some of the participating stores are on the fringes of the city and difficult for many players to get to. The college was a convenient downtown location close to public transit and with plenty of parking. It was ideal for everyone involved.

Our main sponsor, Harry T North, had already coordinated a huge Magic tournament on the same day as D&D Game Day. The plan was to give the D&D players a section of the gymnasium to play our adventure. When we arrived at the gym it was a zoo. The Magic tournament had 150 people sign up in advance, but the coordinators arranged for space to accommodate 250. By noon they had 400 people show up and that number kept growing. There was no place for D&D (there wasn’t even enough space for Magic). The Magic tournament spilled out into an adjacent common area and the cafeteria one floor below. We were a group without a play space.

gameday-june15-room-3Fortunately the college campus is large and there are plenty of other places large enough to accommodate all the D&D players. Since there were no Saturday classes almost the entire building was empty. We finally found a suitable location in the basement. Many players joked about the appropriateness of being sent to the basement to play D&D since that’s the stereotype they’ve had to live down for years.

Organizing the Troops

I won’t go into a lot of detail about each group’s adventures but I will make a few general comments based on my

Once we got settled in we started to compare characters. Many of the players were regulars from D&D Encounters and had made characters during the slot 0 session the week before. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for character generation on Game Day so anyone who didn’t come prepared had to use one of the pre-generated characters. As more players arrived, some with little to no D&D experience, others just not familiar with D&D Next, our DMs helped them choose a suitable pre-gen.

Initially we had ten DMs (including me) ready to run tables if needed. On the day of the event two DMs cancelled. By the time we were ready to begin playing we had about 25 players so I divided the group into five parties. This freed me of my DMing responsibilities and let me be the coordinator full-time. It also let a couple of the other DMs relax and enjoy the day as a player. I made a point of partnering the player DMs up with my rookie DMs who were still learning D&D Next.

The parties were somewhat balanced, but when friends wanted to play with friends it made a few groups lopsided. Among the five tables we only had two clerics, but we had 10 Barbarians. The Monks were also very well represented with at least one at every table.

More players wandered into our area during the first hour of play so I sat them wherever we had room. By the end I believe we had three tables of six and two tables of seven. If more of the players had been on time I would have run six tables, reducing the numbers at each table, but it all worked out ok in the end. We had about 40-45 people by the end of the day, including the DMs and myself.

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The Main Event

Let me provide a quick overview of the adventure for those not familiar with it. A retired Wizard sent out a call for heroes. In his heyday, the Wizard’s adventuring party brazenly explored a Dragon’s lair in search of a magical artifact called the Diamond Staff of Chomylla. They were unable to retrieve the staff but managed to map the layout of the dungeon. Now, decades later, the Wizard believes that the time is right to attempt another mission to recover the staff.

He’s too old to go, so he’s asking the heroes to work together and storm the dungeon simultaneously from different directions. The idea is that the PCs can work quickly to dispatch any enemies within the caverns and recover the staff before the undead Dragon awakens and can act to stop them.

The Wizard knows the staff is within the central chamber where the Dracolich resides. In order to retrieve the staff the PCs must find four idols hidden throughout the lair. Only after they’ve found all four idols can they hope to succeed with their mission. He emphasized that the primary objective is to retrieve the staff. If the Dracolich manages to unlock the power of the staff it will spell doom for the Dalelands and possibly even the Realms.

Before the parties were teleported to their respective entrances, each team designated a captain. The captains were each given a circlet of telepathy so that the parties could remain in constant communication with each other.

The Map

The Wizard gave each hero a copy of the map his adventuring party sketched the last time they were in the dungeon. The DMs all had traditional poster maps, but none of them opted to use them. Three DMs relied on the sketch map for the entire game, one DM (with significant artistic talent) drew his own sketches of each room on individual pages ahead of time, and the last DM recreated the entire map on 1-inch graph paper.

I hung a larger poster map of the dungeon in a central location so that all tables could see it. Using the window clings provided, I denoted where each party was on the map, and put an X on each room after it was cleared. This let the tables know the rough location of the other parties at any time.

Here’s where each table began their journey.

  • Table 1 – Room 1: Bhall Temple Entryway (DM Craig Sutherland)
  • Table 2 – Room 12: Waterfall Entrance (DM Marc Davignon)
  • Table 3 – Room 31: Summoning Chamber (DM Chris Lyttle)
  • Table 4 – Room 25: Guard Huts (DM Kiel Chenier)
  • Table 5 – Room 5: Guard Hall (DM Connie Li)
Table 1 Table 2
gameday-june15-table-craig gameday-june15-table-marc
Table 3 Table 4
gameday-june15-table-chris gameday-june15-table-kiel
Table 5
gameday-june15-table-connie

I won’t go into a lot of detail about each group’s adventures but I will make a few general comments based on my observations.

Table 1 had a good mix of the three pillars of D&D. They explored, engaged in dialogue and role-playing, and had a fair amount of combat. Of all the groups they seemed to have the fewest unexpected challenges and were well prepared to face whatever they came across.

Table 2 made the most progress. The managed to traverse almost all of the watery sections of the map (excluding the Hydra’s Lair) and continue around the top of the map in record speed. I think the cleared eight or nine areas in the first hour.

Table 3 was sent on a suicide mission. They had the toughest time as they were sent to the heart of the dungeon. When they came face-to-face with monsters in their starting location they ran. Every time they moved into a new room there were more monsters. Eventually they were pinned down and forced to fight monsters from three adjacent rooms simultaneously. After an hour they suffered a horrific TPK. They were revived and sent back to the dungeon through the main entranceway to help another group that was having trouble of their own.

Table 4 had a great time using diplomacy and deception to talk their way past monsters. It was 45 minutes before someone slipped up and revealed their true purpose for being in the dungeon. That sparked the ire of all the monsters they’d bypassed making their first fight incredibly tough. They managed to emerge victorious and found the first idol. This, however, awoke the Dracolich and they were the first party to face it.

Table 5 had the most trouble advancing beyond their initial starting point. It took them 30 minutes just to get through the first door. It took them another 30 minutes before some of the PCs split into an adjacent room. As with Table 3 the noise of the fighting drew in creatures from nearby rooms making things even more difficult.

By about the 90 minute mark the parties managed to explore most of the dungeon and they’d found two idols. Some groups managed to meet face-to-face, exchange notes, come up with a new plan, and then move on. With monsters being drawn away from their starting positions to face PCs in other rooms the later exploration was a lot easier and a lot faster.

Looking at the remaining unexplored areas, the heroes made pretty good guesses about where the final two idols must be. It took another 30-45 minutes for them to recover them. Two parties teamed up to face the Hydra, one group headed to the treasure vault while the remaining two faced the Dracolich for a couple of rounds before taking a much needed short rest.

Once the PCs had all the idols, everyone regrouped and took a short rest (if they hadn’t already). Although the recent D&D Next rules update says a short rest takes 1 hour, we all agreed to house rule it and say it only took 5 minutes. This seemed more plausible given the events that were happening in the dungeon. If the party sat around for an hour the Dracolich could have easily destroyed them while they were resting. We also took this opportunity to take a real life short rest.

gameday-june15-map-01 gameday-june15-map-02
 gameday-june15-map-03 gameday-june15-map-04
gameday-june15-map-05 gameday-june15-map-06
gameday-june15-map-07 gameday-june15-map-08

The Finale

gameday-june15-final-tablesThe finale required the heroes to form into four groups to accomplish four very specific tasks. We shuffled the players around and formed four massive parties. Each group was assigned a task

  1. Disable the wards
  2. Distract the Dracolich
  3. Distract the undead
  4. Stop the simulacrum

Even though all 40 PCs were technically in the same space, each table had its own map and only focused on their own mission. This made the logistics a bit easier.

The group facing the simulacrum only needed two full rounds to destroy it. With the large party this took about 15 minutes of real time. Most of the players who defeated the simulacrum joined the groups facing he undead minions and the Dracolich. The undead provide to be challenging but by about the 30 minute mark they had them all destroyed. The group facing the actual Dracolich realized they couldn’t hurt it while the wards were still in place so they had to stand there and take hits until the wards were down.

The party trying to take down the wards was not having much luck and it took about 45 minutes of real time before they were successful, even with a few new players joining in to help. Sometimes the dice just don’t cooperate.

When the wards were disabled it only took one round for all of these heroes to defeat the Dracolich. Once he was down the PCs easily recovered the staff and headed back to the Wizard’s tower to present him with the prize.

Thoughts

This was an amazing event. Even though I didn’t actually play or DM, it was still a lot of fun. Everyone I spoke with had a blast. I’d played in a couple of Battle Interactive LFR adventures before but this event was way better.

Using the D&D Next rules made things go a lot faster, especially the combat. The absence of a lot of detail on the character sheet encouraged players to be imaginative and think beyond the numbers on the page.

There were only a couple of things that I felt didn’t work well in this adventure.

Making the summoning chamber a primary starting location was a terrible idea. It was an absolute death sentence to the poor party who drew that short straw.

I realize that with so many PCs it’s tough to come up with a way to have them all battle the big boss at the end, but as it was presented here it didn’t really work with our group. The tables all finished at different times and it got more and more complicated to incorporate players who wanted to jump into another group’s fight. The fact that the Dracolich could resist all damage until all four wards were down really made that task most important and most timely. Because it took so long for our group to succeed we had 20 players standing around doing nothing but waiting for over 15 minutes. It really sucked the fun and the energy out of the room. What should have been a thrilling victory ended with a whimper.

If I was to run this again I would make one significant change. If we had more than four parties involved I’d have each party designate one representative to be part of a strike force. In the event that any party was in over their head I could call in the strike force and those PCs would immediately be teleported into the room to help for a round or two. When their time was up they’d all return to their group. Just my two cents.

Despite my few critiques I think this was a great adventure and it ran very smoothly. The concept was neat and the execution was so much fun. I’d like to thank the three authors Mike Shea, Teos Abadia and Scott Fitzgerald Gray. Great job guys!

I’d also like to give a huge shout out to all of the DMs. They did a fantastic job. Without DMs these events don’t work, so thank you to all my DMs.

And finally I’d like to thank Harry T North in Toronto, my FLGS. They booked the space, provided all the Game Day kits, and even donated prizes.

Did you participate in D&D Game Day? How did it go at your FLGS? What was your favourite part of the adventure? What would you change if you had to play it again?


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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dudero June 17, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Were there any rewards? In game or out? How much exp was given for the next season? Sounds like a blast.

2 Mike Shea June 17, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Thank you very much for the writeup! I was really worried how it would come out and it’s great to hear it came out as well as it did for such a large group. I ran it in Maryland with only two groups, which was much more manageable but still had the multi-group feel.

Thanks again and I’m really glad you guys had a great time. Scott, Teos, and I had a great time working on it.

3 Joe June 17, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Wow, that sounds massive… and fantastic. Did you run into any issues with players getting teleported to other tables and/or killed players rising as undead? Those were the two biggest worry areas I had reading through the adventure ahead of time.

Our store has nobody interested in D&D Next at all. When we announced the Next-only nature of the adventure at a previous D&D Encounters week, there was an outcry against it, so we ran a 4e conversion of the adventure I had written up (with many fewer side-quests and time allotted for the longer 4e combat rounds). In addition, we had issues with other Free RPG Day events drawing away players and general scheduling restrictions, so we ran it with one table each time (though it ran twice on Saturday & twice on Sunday).

The party of 4 (barbarian, wizard, cleric, rogue) who ran through the adventure when I DMed the first session on Saturday got very close to death several times, but managed to pull out the victory in the end. Overall, folks liked it, and it provided a decent prelude to the upcoming D&D Encounters season.

4 Spykes June 17, 2013 at 2:35 pm

We only had two tables of six people, but the event was still a great success. One team started in the Temple and the other started at the Obelisk, as we tried to put plenty of space between them. The temple party moved pretty fast and was able to clear most of the Temple rooms, leaving only the library, before finding the idol in the cult leader’s room. Their battle with the dracolich occurred just after the other party and very close by. The, who started in the lake area, only had a few encounters before battling the Hydra and claiming the idol. Bboth parties converged in the treasure room at the same time. In the final battle, the group fighting the Dracolich was struggling with just six players. When the wards were finally dropped, several characters were barely hanging on. There was a half-orc Paladin skilled in jumping and also had Boots of Striding and Jumping who was the obvious choice to grab the staff and did so with no problems. After that it was pretty easy for them to make their escape outside to meet Imani.

This was a very imaginative and fun adventure idea and I hope they do more like this. I wish they would have worked the need for the gates into the adventure a little more. None of them were used in our adventure and I thought the idea swapping players around from group to group on a bad roll sounded like great fun. I’m sure with more groups, they came into play much more. Overall I give the event an A. Great fun!

5 Ameron (Derek Myers) June 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm

@Dudero
The characters from Game Day can be used for this season of D&D Encounters. They earned 500 XP for completing the Game Day adventure and can keep 1 magic item they recovered from the dungeon. Don’t forget that this is only applicable if you’re using the D&D Next play test rules for D&D Encounters. If you’re running it as 4e then your Game Day character, XP and magic items are not allowed. No other rewards in or out of game, aside from some of the Free RPG Day swag.

@Mike Shea
I heard about another store than ran the even two weeks ago with only three tables and it took them 6 hours. Despite the challenges of having a large group I think it worked better with lots of tables.

@Joe
Only one PC used the teleportation circles and it was just for exploration. He arrived in rooms that were already cleared out so he came right back. Other than our TPK, none of the other PCs died (amazingly).

@Spykes
Sounds like your group still had a great time despite having only two tables. Where did your Paladin find the magic boots? Did your DMs award additional treasure to help keep things balanced? Or did you run it as 4e and give the PCs normal starting magic items?

I agree about the teleportation circles. As I mentioned above they never really can into play. Some kind of random party swap power/effect could have made for a really interesting moment during the adventure.

6 Vobekhan June 17, 2013 at 5:05 pm

We ran a single table of 7 players (most of which had never played Next, and it was my first time DMing it rather than playing it) we also had a link via twitter (#UKVotD) with another two teams in Nottingham that were playing on a map that had been blown up to battle grid size (2m x 3m!).

Main hiccup we had was familiarity with the rules and the players not being used to running Theatre of the Mind, but gradually it got better.

I noted my comments on our progress and also those of my players on my blog – these may seem quite negative when you read them but surprisingly all the players have agreed to continue using Next for the new Encounters season and 2 of the players from Games day are planning on joining us for the first time (one of which doesnt even live in our city but is willing to travel each week for a 2-hour game!).

7 Don Cee June 17, 2013 at 6:50 pm

We had a blast in Nashville and Robert Schwalb as the dracolich was one for the history books! We had 2 tables and everyone had a good time. The players got the dracolich to flee at the end of the adventure!

8 Slammy June 17, 2013 at 8:15 pm

I was the coordinator and a DM for my group at my FLGS. We had 3 tables of four, mostly regulars. We did have one table of an entire family with mother/father/2 kids. Unfortunately the mother died during the first fight, and even though she was revived, she had a “headache” and made the whole family leave. So with only two groups, we played on. Time flew by, but even after 3 hours we still didn’t finish. I tried to save some time for the last battle, but during a real life short rest some people decided they had to leave and we called it a day. Even though it wasn’t finished I think everyone had a great time, and it went very well.

9 Hiro June 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm

A lot of our Encounters regulars aren’t too fond of NEXT and bailed out on the Game Day. We only had a single table of 6 that became 7 about 30 minutes in via a late arrival. I should preface this by saying that I have not been fond of the NEXT rules since their launch and hadn’t looked at them in about 3 or 4 updates.

That being said, this was a really strong module. Probably the best module I have had the chance to run since I became an Encounters DM. While we didn’t get to experience the brilliant multi-party interaction, it was still a lot of fun. While I have some reservations about NEXT, things ran smoothly and more importantly it felt easy on me as far as running and adjudicating things for the game.

We went through about six or seven combats, which was a nice change of pace from 4e. I made some director’s cut style changes to the finale since it felt lackluster for one table. Instead, they faced down Dretchroyaster directly while trying to swipe the Staff. After claiming it, we had a rather fun chase scene as the dracolich was in hot pursuit of the party smashing through his own vault trying to race back to the entrance and escape.

All in all, a very good Game Day experience. We’ll be running our new season of Encounters in the rules for NEXT to line up with this little prologue and I’m interested to see how it will work in some longer term play.

10 wrath June 19, 2013 at 3:18 pm

maybe I read the rules wrong but I thought Resist All damage was he just takes half damage for any damage he takes.

Under Resistance it says half damage, not no damage. Did I not read the ability right for the dracolich?

11 John Welker July 1, 2013 at 5:55 pm

I have been requested to run several games for SpoCon 2013 our local Sci-Fi / fantasy convention on August 19 to the 11th. It was our desire to run Vault of the Dracolich because its multi-table format and player handouts is a perfect fit for our convention. Unfortunately, none of the local games stores in the Spokane area realized that VotD did not come with the Free RPG Day kit and had to be ordered separately. Also Wizards can not provide any additional copies of the module or handouts at this time.

So I am reaching out to all my fellow players, DMs, and store owners to help. If anyone who played and/ or ran this module have extra materials they can spare, wether thats character sheets, maps, etcetera or even the full kit with advertisements, it would be greatly appreciated.

PM me if you can help

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