D&D Encounters: Murder in Baldur’s Gate (Week 6)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on September 26, 2013

murder-in-baldurs-gate-coverBaldur’s Gate faced a crippling garbage strike during last week’s session. The PCs used magic to summon monsters to eat the garbage and clean the streets. The success of such a creative endeavour endeared Carl the Paladin, the party’s leader, to the residents of Baldur’s Gate and now his name is being shouted from the rooftops as a possible candidate for Duke.

This week at Harry T North in Toronto we ran three tables of D&D Next. The other two DMs each ran tables with five players. Three of my five regulars notified me that they’d be absent this week; fortunately we had two brand new players walk in so I added them to my group brining us up to a very manageable party of four. The party ended up consisting of two Dwarf Fighters and two Human Clerics – sometimes you get balance, sometimes you don’t.

The new players had some previous experience with RPGs, but nothing recent. I gave them a brief recap of what had happened so far in the adventure and then asked them how they saw these characters fitting in to the story. I suggested we just say they already knew some of the previous PCs but they didn’t want to do that (which was fine). They decided that they were wandering adventurers. When they heard the tales of Carl the Paladin they decided to find him and see if he really was as great as the stories made him sound.

Building the Roster

Fighter #1 and Cleric #1 (both returning PCs and currently affiliated with the Flaming Fist) were asked to go to the Wide and await an official proclamation that was going to be made today. If it was anything like the reintroduction of the sumptuary laws there could be trouble and the Fist wanted some officers there to see first hand what the reaction was like.

As they walked from Wyrm’s Rock to the Basilisk’s Gate they happened to bump into two travelers, Fighter #2 and Cleric #2 (funny how that happens in D&D, isn’t it?). The newcomers immediately asked these law officers if they’d heard of Carl the Paladin. The player running our would-be nominee for Duke was absent this week so Carl was off on a special assignment which is what the PCs told these curious strangers.

Fighter #2 went on to explain that he wanted to challenge Carl to a duel so that he could see if the stories of the Paladin’s abilities were true or exaggerated. Carl’s friends made no comment and downplayed their affiliation to the absent Paladin.

The strangers having never been to Baldur’s Gate asked the other PCs where they could find some fresh food and replacement supplies including a new crossbow. The PCs suggested they visit the open marketplace called the Wide. Since the PCs were heading there already they continued travelling together.

The Fist PCs cautioned their new friends about the sumptuary laws and advised the newcomers to hide their valuable looking gear lest the offending articles be confiscated.

As the foursome walked through the Lower City people called out to the PCs thanking them (and Carl) for taking care of the garbage problem. Even though Carl wasn’t there, his allies were apparently just as famous as him. This fact was not lost on the newcomers. Clearly these PCs knew Carl well and could lead them to him. The new PCs decided to stick with them for now.

A New Curfew & A New Tax

In the Wide the PCs had an opportunity to role-play and interact with the merchants. About the same time they finished getting the supplies they needed, an officer of the parliament took the stage and began making the new declaration. In response to the growing disturbances throughout Baldur’s Gate, the Dukes and parliament have implemented a new curfew: Upper City will bar its gates after 3 bells to nonresidents.

Residents of Upper City cheered the new law; merchants from Lower City and Outer City booed and threw objects at the stage. Over the next half hour merchants got into arguments and even fist fights with each other over the news. The Watch was in full force in the Wide and maintained law and order. As 3 bells approached over half the merchants packed up to leave the Wide.

The PCs heard a lot of grumbling from Lower City and Outer City merchants. More than a few talked about ways to skirt this new hindrance, and the most popular suggestion was to use Underceller to smuggle goods in and out of Upper City after the new curfew. Underceller was not a term any of the PCs were familiar with.

After a bit of questioning, the PCs learned that Underceller is a series of passages and tunnels that links many of Baldur’s Gate’s buildings together. The catacombs are chaotic, unmapped, and dangerous. But they do run beneath the entire city and could be used to bypass the gates after they’re closed for the night. However, using the tunnels in this way would be illegal. The PCs took the night to think on everything that happened.

The next day the PCs learned that in reaction to the new curfew the Harbormaster decided to start charging a new tax on goods such as incense, spices, wines, magic supplies and art object; typically things that are only bought by residents of Upper City.

Searching for Underceller

Since the PCs had no jurisdiction in Upper City they decide not to get involved in the political battle that was playing out. Instead they decided to investigate Underceller. They found Lower City merchants who stood to lose a lot because of the new curfew and asked how serious they were about using Underceller to bypass the gates. It took most of the day but they eventually found a few who were willing to do it.

Underceller is dangerous, that is a fact, so the PCs decide to provide their service as bodyguards and agreed to escort struggling merchants in and out of Upper City through Underceller. The merchants agree but wouldn’t go until the PCs made sure the way was safe and well mapped. Now the PCs need to find an entrance and a guide.

Despite an afternoon spent trying to learn more about Underceller, the PCs were unsuccessful until they saw a familiar face beckoning them into an ally. It was a Guild operative they’d spoken with before. He said he’s heard what they were planning and could help. He knows a guide who will take them through Underceller. In exchange for this introduction he says they have to do him a favour. Once they start leading merchants through Underceller he wants them to take a merchant from Outer City that he chooses on every run, no questions asked. They agreed. He gave them a location and told them to be there tomorrow morning.

Coran’s Party

Amidst all chaos of a day spent on the streets of Baldur’s Gate the PCs are hand delivered an invitation to a private soiree. The party was being hosted by Coran, a retired adventurer and a local celebrity in Baldur’s Gate. His party’s are well known as being fantastic and exclusive so the PCs made a point of going.

In order to get the players in the right mood I described the party as a wild night in Las Vegas. Whatever they could image was likely happening. It was a who’s who of local celebrities.

They met Coran and Fighter #2 wanted to fight him to see just how tough he was. Coran defused the situation with drink and stories of great adventures. Coran made numerous remarks about the new tax the harbormaster introduced and wondered who would profit most from hording. The PCs were disinterested and didn’t care at all about the behind-the-scenes political ramifications of such actions.

Welcome to Underceller

The next morning the PCs met their guide. He clearly liked to “party” and was definitely on something (I described him as Otto the bus driver from the Simpsons). Fighter #2 was really hung over from Coran’s party so the guide offered him magic pills to cure his ailment. He took them and they worked, sort of. His hangover was gone but he was having trouble distinguishing colours. Red looked blue, green looked orange, etc.

The PCs told their guide that until they had a safe route mapped through Underceller they couldn’t help the struggling merchants. The guide understood and led the way.

The journey was tedious and they had to backtrack many time to find passages that were dry, structurally sound, and devoid of offensive odors. After spending most of the day underground the guide was confident that they’d almost reached their destination and would surface near the Wide.

Just then the party (except Fighter #2 and the guide) heard movement up ahead. They proceeded cautiously into a large chamber that branched off in many directions. Fighter #1 advanced towards the sounds and was beset upon by two Skeletons. The first scored a crit and nearly killed him with a single blow.

The rest of the party sprang into action as they heard more sounds coming from all directions. Skeletons appeared from all sides surrounding the party. The heroes fought valiantly and in no time destroyed four skeletons. Cleric #2 healed the wounded PCs as they needed it and Cleric #1 turned undead forcing three of the nearby skeletons to retreat. Fighter #2 had more trouble than the others fighting these creatures because he didn’t have a bludgeoning weapon, but he still held his ground.

The fight was fast and dangerous. It only took a few rounds but the players had fun. They wrongly assumed the skeletons were more of a threat than they really were because of the initial crit (which they didn’t know was a crit). As it turned out the skeletons needed 16 or better to hit the PCs and I only landed a few blows.

With the passage cleared of trouble they completed their task and arrive in the Wide. They returned through Underceller to check the accuracy of their map and were confident that they’d found a safe and reliable way through. The next day they began helping the merchants bypass the gate and stay in Upper City past curfew.

Although Carl wasn’t actually present he was given all the credit and praise for helping the little guy stick it to the man. The new PCs were now seen as part of Carl’s crew whether they liked it or not. The other PCs were happy to give Carl the credit as it enhanced his reputation and moved him one step closer to becoming the next Duke.

Thoughts

This was another disjointed week. The DM is presented with a few tidbits of information and has to figure out a way to dump the necessary information on the PCs in a way that makes sense. When my PCs were at Coran’s party the charismatic NPC hinted at a few possible courses of investigation but the PCs had absolutely no interest in following up on any of them.

Anticipating this possibility I again had a mini-combat encounter in my back pocket that I could use if things went a bit off script, which it did. The combat was quick and fun. The monsters didn’t pose much of a threat but did emphasize the dangers of Underceller.

We’re only at the halfway point and I’m really feeling burned out and tired with this season. I just want it to be over. Because I keep having new players join my table (which is something D&D Encounters is supposed to encourage) it’s really hard to get the continuity that the other groups are getting. The few people who have been there since the beginning do seem to be enjoying it. The new players on the other hand don’t have any investment in the story and want to things outside of the printed adventure (which is understandable).

How are things going at your FLGS? Has your party remained the same throughout the whole season or has it changed week to week? For those where it’s changed how are you finding the season? How many groups paid the harbormaster a visit? How did that work out? Did any other groups explore Underceller?

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Recounting Encounters is a weekly podcast I record with fellow Toronto DM, Craig Sutherland, and Marc Talbot (Alton) from 20ft Radius in which we recount that week’s experiences with D&D Encounters. We share the highlights from our respective FLGS and we talk about what worked, what didn’t and what we might have done differently. Find all episodes of Recounting Encounters on iTunes.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 LordOcampo September 26, 2013 at 11:24 am

This is a taxing adventure indeed. As you know I just started last week. My players loved it, the role-playing was awesome, of the best I’ve seen in newbies, but I found myself having to make more preparations and assimilate a huge load of information than ever before. In the end I threw my notes to the wastebasket and let the players take the choices, relying on everything I had learned and the way the first “season” had to go. They ended up purchasing a parrot, one and a half yard of very expensive silk -the only female, angry because everybody was trying to look up her pixie’s skirt in the Wide- and nearly setting several stalls on fire, but as Kirk said: It.Was.Fun.
LordOcampo´s last blog post ..Nuevos usos de los puntos de acción

2 Justin Yanta September 26, 2013 at 2:08 pm

I agree with you both. I am still finishing up writing what happened but I was a little overwhelmed with all that was going on. We did not even get to the party and the taxes just the law (where half the group got tossed in jail). Next week I think we will get though the end of Stage 5 and I hope Stage 6. Also they went back and fixed Stage 4 Garbage Problem so I guess I need to make some updates.

3 Greg Schulze September 26, 2013 at 5:16 pm

As of last night Fantasy Flight Games in Roseville is running Encounters no more. The DM, running the “adventure” as is, went to the bathroom. One of the players then muttered “I’m bored. We should leave soon.” At 9 p.m. she gave her boyfriend “the look” and he said, “Well, look at the time. We should get going.” And that’s when I piped up, “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. This adventure, if you could call it one, is boring.” We all agreed, and agreed to quit playing it, and to switch to something else next Wednesday. We’re looking at FFG Star Wars, made by the company that hosts us. Oh well, it was a good run of organized play while it happened.

4 Justin Yanta September 26, 2013 at 5:21 pm

So this week started off with everyone in the group spending the first 30 min to update their characters to the new Next rules. I felt it was better to change to the new rules since they will match the final rules and give them a better taste of what Wizards will be doing with the product. The main things we noticed were:
- Barbarians were cut down in this release. No more 1/2 damage and only a few extra hp. Also losing the ADV on melee attacks hurts too.
- Bards are now in the game. I did not allow anyone to switch to a bard but people were happy to see them
- Drows, Tieflings, Kenders, Warforges, and Dragonborn oh my. Yes so many races and so little time. One that stood out the most for me was Drows. If they are in sunlight they take a Disadvantage on all rolls just like how they were in the original books. I also liked the Dragon Color determined the Dragonborn’s powers. Finally if Kenders were in the game before the last update they would be perfect for Baldur’s Gate. Their power would help a lot in the game.

So after a week of political intrigue the party went a rested at the Blushing Mermaid. They all had bad dreams and thus were only able to get a short rest. The party this week consisted of:
• Human Ranger (Owl)
• Half-Elf Mage (Twil) (2 1st Level Spells Remaining)
• Half-Orc Cleric (Lucy) (2 1st level Spells Remaining, 0 Divinity, 0 Hit Dice)
• Wood Elf Paladin (Woodarrow) (1 1st level Spells)
• Tinker Gnome Rogue (Nezzle)
• Half-Orc Rogue (Jackal)
• Half-Orc Barbarian (Torrak Karrot)
• Stout Halfling Barbarian (Kah-Kaww) (0 Hit Dice, 1 Rage)
• Half-Elf (LG) Paladin (Jeff) (2 1st level Spells Remaining)

Blushing Mermaid and Upper City (Everyone):
The party woke up and everyone talked about their bad dreams. Nezzle decided it was time to have one of them in the running for Duke. The party spent 15 minutes discussing why they should not be Duke until Nezzle said she would do it. She then went with the group to the hall of records and forged a birth certificate of her and that she is a Noble so she could be Duke. The party as they moved around town kept hearing about rat attacks and people getting sick. The group decided it was time to clean up the streets so they headed to talk to Silvershield since he was in charge of the sanitation of the city. Silvershield complained about how his friend was being blackmailed and forced out of running for the Duke. He wanted his name cleared and to find out who set him up. The party of course knew it was them but kept quiet. Finally the party got Silvershield to pay them 6 gold each to take care of the sanitation problems of the city. They were heading back to Baldur’s Gate when the clock struck 3 bells (5:30PM). The Watch closed the gates and started arresting people.

Jackal, Woodarrow, Twil and Owl all ran for it while Nezzle trusted in here standing to get out of trouble. The guards (20 of them) stopped Nezzle and her group and demanded documentation or they would be arrested. Nezzle produced her papers and said she belonged here. Her papers held up and she was told to head back home before anything else happened. Nezzle then told them that the others were part of her group and they were let go too. The ones that ran had a small skill challenge where Jackal and Owl were captured and the others got away. Nezzle and the group headed to the Watch’s prison and collected Owl and Jackal. They all then headed to the Three Old Kegs for the night but noticed rats breaking into houses and people screaming. The group followed some of the rats and it lead them to the sewers. The group decided they could stop the rats and get some more support for Nezzle for Duke.

Sewers (Everyone):
So I drew out a map on the dry erase graph board and added some sewer tiles to complete it. The group made it to a break in the sewers where there was a cave. The rats kept going in and out of the cave. This started the combat for the night (30 rats, 2 unknown vs. 9 PCs).

The combat vs the rats was quick but still they got hit once and a while. Woodarrow and Jeff suffered some ill effect from the bites and are now diseased (I am going to make them suffer DIS on all CON, STR and DEX rolls till they get healed). The party fought their way into the cave and met Thurgo Songbuckle. Thurgo told them they needed to leave or suffer the fate of all in the city. The Party did not even talk but attacked Thurgo and he call his assistant to help him (a generic Werewolf). This fight the Werewolf did nothing (missed all 3 turns) and got hit by some silvered arrows and magic. Thurgo critical hit on Jackal and also diseased him (same as the others. I decided that he would not suffer lycanthropy). The party took them out but spent more Spells and resources. They also found a magical mace in but are not sure what to do with it. The party left the sewers and then headed to talk to the sanitation people. After talking to a few of them they were able to figure out it would cost 150gp to get them working again. The party pooled resources and were able to get the sanitation people back on the job. They then told everyone in Baldur’s Gate that is was Nezzle that was the one that got rid of the rats and cleaned the streets. People are now looking at Nezzle for Duke.

GM VIEW:
OK the party really needed a fight so I included the special rat attack into the game. They liked it but still are not sure which way to turn since so much is happening. Next week we will get the Taxes and Party completed and move into Stage 6 but still there is so much to do and not enough time for everything. This week we went for 3 1/2 hours and we could of done more but it was late. I think maybe in a week or 2 things will get the characters focused toward the events coming up but right now I have to prod them a lot to go somewhere. They want to do so much and are having a lot of fun Role playing but it makes the sessions a lot longer since we keep doing a lot of side quests. Still I am enjoying this a lot even if it takes me 4-6 hours a week to get ready for the next session.

5 Spykes September 26, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Game HQ – OKC, OK

We had three tables of 6 players each again this week. My group had dispatched the wererat halfling twins from last week and discovered and nice secret access from the Upper City sewers to the Lower City sewers. When they emerged from the sewers, the city was in a huge uproar because the Minsc and Boo statue was discovered to have been vandalized. Because of the rat and roof slate adventures, they were a little behind on the main flow of events. Ravenguard spoke with them briefly telling them that he wanted the culprits captured and brought in alive to stand trial and that this was to be their sole focus, since mobs were forming outside Flaming Fist offices demanding justice.

One of the PCs decided to go off on his own for some reason, and check back in with Rilsa. He seemed to think it was it was no problem going to see Rilsa after not seeing her for quite some time, joining the Flaming Fist and completing tasks for them counter to the efforts of the Guild. He acted surprised when his character was jumped in Little Calimshan and knocked out cold for the remainder of the session.

The rest of the party found the clues at the Ranger statue which lead them to the patriars home. They also encountered the Master of Cobbles at the crime scene who implored them to kill the offenders and enticed them with a 150 gp reward. Once at the patriar’s home, they find Silvershield who was personally looking into the matter. Recognizing them from Founder’s Day, The Duke put his cards on the table and, together with the parents, offered the PCs a 300 gp reward for the discrete and safe return of the teens, even giving them the idea that they should begin their hunt with talking to the gate guards.

They had no trouble tracking them successfully to their Outer City hiding place. Convincing the potter to give up the teens, they decided to dress them down, disguising them as commoners and to casually proceed back to Upper City. They took the ferry back to Brampton and were proceeding through Lower City just fine when they encountered a little rub. From a side alley they notice a dark figure whom they recognize as the man who accompanied Rilsa back at the beginning of the adventure. He is accompanied by two thugs who are carrying another man. When he lifts the unconscious, bloody face of the man, they realize it is their companion whom they had not seen in quite a while. The man’s only comment was, “Trade?”

We ended things there, but it was clear that we will begin next week with an initiative roll.

This session, even though there was no combat, was great fun. I can, however, sympathize with what Ameron and others are saying regarding the difficulties of the adventure when you have a rotating player base each week. Our table is pretty much the same players every time, so I love it. But he has a point. I think that WotC needs to provide a supplement to adventures of this style in the Encounters packet that is a more traditional linear option for tables with constantly new players or DM’s with little time for preparation. This should come with battle maps. This adventure is a huge time investment for the DM. This is counter to the spirit of the Encounters format. The whole point to Encounters was to get a quick simple game in each week that doesn’t require much preparation and gives the players a little taste of all three pillars of the D&D experience. If you have a consistent turnout of players, then you can deviate from that and realize the potential of an adventure written like this one. Otherwise, it becomes very difficult to DM and not as much fun to play.

6 Vobekhan September 26, 2013 at 6:57 pm

We have been lucky at Tabletop Tyrants this season to have had both tables fairly consistantly full of the same players, with 3 new players joining us this week.
This week saw the most prep put into it, but that was because we wanted to run our modified version of “planted evidence” crypt crawl with the Ravenloft tiles.
To be honest it was a nice diversion but I think most of the players actually prefer the combat light RP of this season.
We also chose to switch to the latest playtest packet “Mid-adventure” as we thought it was better to test the newest (and final) version rather than wait another 6 or 7 weeks before changing.
Vobekhan´s last blog post ..D&D Enc Murder in Baldur’s Gate – Session 6

7 dan September 26, 2013 at 7:13 pm

This session, we had 2 tables on next and a table of 4e. My table of next had a forest gnome barbarian, a rock gnome druid, an elf druid, and an elf ranger. We decided to check with both our guid and flaming fist contacts, and found nothing to actively do, though we did learn that there was a new curfew in place, and ravenguard had convinced the harbor master to begin taking a luxury tax in response, as the lower city merchants were hurt by the curfew. He asked us to listen to how people responded to this, but had nothing else for us.
After leaving, we were approached by a lantern lass, who delivered an invitation to a party the following night.
With a day and a half to kill, we decided to investigate a bowl that we had found in the trash, which we knew was used for alchemy, and we recognized the symbol on the bottom as that of a maker of fireworks. We deduced that the bowl was used for creating the smoke powder for fireworks, and that such a thing, even cracked, would be dangerous in the wrong hands. We decided to pay the firework maker a visit. When asked about this bowl, he was upset, and stated that he didn’t think any of his were missing, and any apprentice clumsy enough to crack it like that deserved to be flogged. We accompanied him to the lab where the powder was made to check the inventory, and the elves each guarded the emergency exits in case he fled. Upon his return, we regrouped, and determined where he got his bowls, from a potter named Tacy Sans. We decided to check him next. The merchant had only one more lead: a man had come in a few weeks ago, asking a lot of questions, including where he got his bowls. He gave a description, and we went on our way.
In light of the new curfew, the watch was looking for additional guards, and our ranger had decided to join. He had to leave our party at this point to arrive at his guard shift. The rest of us went to investigate the potter, only to find him absent. His apprentice was there, but had no information regarding the bowl, as only her master dealt with the bowls, as they were masterworks. We told her to send for us when her master had returned, and made our way to an inn.
There, we were asked by a group of 3 lantern lasses if we needed guides or messengers. The barbarian suddenly had a great idea, and asked them if they knew where to find the firework merchant at this time of night. They took us to an entrance to the under cellar, where we told them to wait for us, as we would have another job for them when we returned. We pages the toll, and left for the merchant’s house. The druids both turned into mutts, and the barbarian (forest gnome) cast minor illusion to hide inside the illusion of another one. They made their way, but were heard by a group of guards, one of whom investigated. It happened to be the ranger, who couldn’t see through the illusion, but whom the party recognized. The barbarian told him quickly what they were doing, surprising the ranger, but securing his help in the upper city. He told the rest of his patrol he was getting rid of the dogs that wandered in, and to go ahead.
Once at the merchant’s house, he invited us in, and the barbarian played sketch artist using minor illusion to get the description of the suspect, and they returned to the inn where they were to meet the lamp lasses by way of the gate, as their guard escort got them out without a hitch. The barbarian showed the lasses the image of the suspect (through minor illusion), and promised a reward for information.
We then spent the next day until the party relaxing at the inn, where the rock gnome was building a spring-powered launcher for his clockwork tools, that could also act as a firework launcher. Then, we went to the party. We were told by the host that he heard what we were doing, and that if we needed anything, that his door was open. Just so long as we use the back door (implying covert visits, not literally the back door). He also told us that the luxury tax would allow us to see who was stocking up on what, if we could obtain the shipping manifest.
The following day, we went to the harbor, and tried to convince the harbor master to let us see the manifest, but he refused. So the barbarian had his stoat hide in the office, and look for the manifest. Upon the return of the stoat, the gnomes squeezed down the chimney, and the stoat showed them where the manifest was kept. After a failed attempt at picking the lock, the gnome druid simply used his greataxe to break the cabinet open. They took the manifest back to the inn, where they tried to open it. It held shut, and began shouting thief, alerting guards in the common room.
And that’s where the session ended…

So far, we are enjoying the adventure itself, but between the constantly changing party, and the story changing between tables, it gets difficult for players to feel like they make a difference from week to week. Also, it seems like the adventure gives job hooks and results, but very little in the way of clues, or info that would help the players if they are on the right track. This makes it frustrating to players, when the hook is obvious, but the solution is abstract. It requires a lot more prep work by the DM, which is unnecessary, especially since it is an expensive adventure. It is a great concept for an adventure, and a DM with the time to flesh it out would greatly benefit from it, especially in a home campaign. But in a public play style, where the goal is show up and play for a couple of hours per week, it is difficult to make work. There are too many variables and restrictions on time. If a new player shows up for one session, they don’t get to experience all 3 pillars of play. They get a lot of role-play, and a bit of exploration, but get combat only one in five times, and then it is short, and gives little idea of the potential of the game and characters.
Again, for a general adventure, awesome. For encounters, not so much. If the new cost for adventures doesn’t end encounters, I worry that this adventure will, as it unfortunately did with Greg above.

8 Mike September 26, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Same group as last time, pixie assassin/warlock, pixie wizard, werewolf assassin, rabbit rogue and changeling druid. We started off hearing that there had been a freak snowstorm Imbrilum Scoond chief wizard of Gond had been found frozen while purportedly traveling to a brothel for some child abuse. The DM had messaged me in between games and strongly hinted that this was the wrath of Auril as a response to his disrespecting her in the previous session and I got a new magic dagger with his soul trapped inside.
The group had several ideas on how to get Rilsa elected. The simplest were leaving magic mouths around town praising her from our wizard. Then, the warlock hired some beggars and vagrants to infiltrate crowds and praise her and shout down her enemies. The assassin suggested having the 2 pixies pay pigeons (in bread and birdseed) to defecate on her political enemies. We tried to reconcile the priests and thieves again, with no luck. They both wanted to know if Scoond’s death had been a murder. I had a good idea what was going on with Auril, but since it was sort of my fault, but I kept mostly quiet at this point. We spied on the priests and found out that there was evidence of powerful divine magic. I suggested we blame it on Bhaal to try to unite against a common enemy, but the thieves wanted proof. Scoond’s body was well protected so we investigated the scene of the crime. Everyone made their own investigations of the area. Magical inquiries just showed powerful magical cold, but a nearby resident had witnessed a divine agent of a winter goddesses come down and kill him. That answered that question. The rabbit suggested we manufacture evidence of Bhaal anyway, but the group decided to be honest and report the truth.
That took us to our next mission. We really wanted to find Wilmur Bronzebreaker, the dwarf we had framed for robbery (and who was the actual subsequent murderer of 2 watch members). If we could deliver him to Rilsa that would enhance her position as being tough on crime and maybe soften the priesst and watch on her. Rilsa had no idea where he was, but did know where his cousin, Nant Thangol was. (The violent tax collector from episode 1) We arrived before his shift ended to ambush him, but he was already meeting with another Flaming Fist (later found out to be Gilden Marsh, the murdering javelin thrower from episode 1). All we could hear of their conversation was to be ready for tonight. We didn’t initially follow Marsh but our rabbit/rogue rolled 2 natural 20s and picked up his trail, which led back to the Marsh estate and evidence of a dwarf hiding there. He reported back and the group snuck over, under and through the back wall of the estate. We found a small house which held Bronzebreaker, Marsh, some Flaming Fists and most importantly 2 minotaurs! Was Cookslayer betraying us? Then we noticed that one of them was the minotaur who had been turned into a toad, so we figured it was probably a splinter group who had felt humiliated after last episode.
There was a nearby tower which part of the party investigated. They found a ghost that led to a hidden tunnel under the house. Meanwhile the assassin/warlock and I waited outside and noticed Nant Thangol coming down the path. It got a little tense because of the split party and multiple different tasks needing to be done but we managed. The assassin/warlock one shotted Nant on the surprise round and I used a Daily to duplicate his appearance. I approached the door as Nant and muffed my bluff with a natural 1 making the door guards very suspicious. Fortunately when Marsh appeared I rolled better and convinced him I (Nant) had been attacked and he should send some guards to find the attackers. At this point half the group was inside the house having followed the secret passage and the warlock and I were at the door. It seemed like a good time to fight so I (Nant) shouted that Marsh had betrayed us and it was probably his friends who robbed me. Then everyone attacked. With about 20 minutes left in the session we needed to make it a quick fight. Our pixie wizard turned the minotaur into a toad again. (not technically allowed, but it was too funny not to do it.) We interrogated the minotaurs and they said they were a group of 5 who had been dissatisfied with the Cookslayer and gave us the names of the other ones. We also started having to roll saves NOT to kill people. Most of us made the saves, but the assassin failed when attacking Gilden Marsh. Just as well, as he was a murderous dirtbag who we really hated. We didn’t have time to turn over our prisoners and information this session so we will do it next session.
Overall a good session. We have had a relatively constant group so that probably helped with some of the issues others are experiencing. Also, of course, we had Joe’s rewritten adventure. Plot wise it was fun. We got to wrap up some loose threads and take out some murderers who deserved what was coming to them. It certainly feels like we are making progress. I also feel happy with the side we picked as the others are seeming fairly bad and so far theres nothing (that we know) too terrible about the Thieves Guild. It’s interesting that we have to save to NOT kill now. We have been trying to avoid doing anything TOO evil or dishonest, but that is obviously going to be harder now. (I don’t regret killing Marsh. He deserved it.) The mystery at the beginning was difficult for me since I knew more about what was going on than the other players. I didn’t want to speak up in the beginning because that would cut short the investigation and lay the blame on me, but when I did speak up the other players didn’t believe me anyway. Oh well.
As a group, I think we are making a little progress. Planning was much less contentious today, although we still had the problem of everyone wanting to get their own plan used (myself included). Still better than no one caring to think up a plan. The only (minor) problem was we spent so much time on the murder investigation that the fight was very rushed in the end. Most of the other players handled it fine. A bigger problem is that I didn’t handle it well and I was a little rude and pushy because I was worried about time. Anyone who is reading this. I apologize. I’ll try not to do it again and be more relaxed next time.

9 Gwyn September 27, 2013 at 2:53 am

I must protest. WOTC made a point of stressing that parties should try to stick together for this season, and with good reason. At our table (where we haven’t deviated much from the text, aside from working in player choices effectively), the roleplaying has been very intense (both among the players and with the DM), the story has been massively engrossing, we have had some of our most intense and driven sessions when no combat came up whatsoever. This has been because of a collaborative effort between the players and the DM to really sink our fingers into the campaign. And all of this has been through Encounters. If your party makeup is shifting constantly week-to-week, perhaps it’s best to do what your colleague did and wait until everyone can get together for a double session.
MIBG is an experiment. It is Wizards trying out the roleplay-focused gameplay of 5thEd on a grander scale, and some of us really really want that. Not everybody needs a monster to slay every single week; some of us feel more rewarded when we lie through our teeth and barely scrape by in a clandestine investigation. The meat of this module shouldn’t be ignored, and if the table can’t sustain it, maybe that’s the problem?

10 dan September 27, 2013 at 3:36 am

I agree that there is no need for a fight EVERY week, and everyone at my flgs does seem to love the roleplay, but at the same time, this adventure doesn’t quite fit the intent of encounters, which is to cater to new players by having a balance of all 3 ‘pillars’ of the game. Instead, this adventure showcases one pillar, roleplay, and almost completely ignores the other two. In addition, any frustration with the adventure on the part of the players is more that it came under-prepared. In the past, encounters has been intended to have little prep time required, as it is supposed to cater to busy DMs and new players.
While there can be some intense interactions with NPCs, most weeks seem to just be a lengthy investigation, with little to go off of, and barely any satisfaction or payout (at least in my group). Also, level gain is not nearly as quick as we would like. We are 6 weeks in, and still level 2. If I understand the apprentice tier properly, it is intended to take very little time to get to the next level, but taking as long as it is, we are getting pretty bored with what our current level provides. Our characters are seeming to stagnate.
Yes, I feel like the switching tables is something that needs to be solved at a local level, but we have between 1 and 3 tables per week, and the players don’t know who will be there and who won’t, so skipping a week is not a viable option. The only thing we could do is assign each player to a DM at the beginning, and if too many more people show up, they get their own new table. But with a long season, where new people come and go with regularity, even this seems difficult. The only other thing I can think of would be to find some middle ground on the adventures.

11 Joe Lastowski September 27, 2013 at 8:02 am

We had 4 tables running 4e at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA. We’re still running the rewritten custom version of MIBG that we put together to better match the 4e play style.

This week was supposed to be a non-combat session wherein the parties tried to get their faction-leader elected to the empty Duke seat (if they served the priests, it was actually the wizard Skoond that they were campaigning for, since Silvershield is already a Duke). Players were free to try whatever they wanted to accomplish this. Some went to bars to find out what the common people in each district wanted. Others went to rallies the other candidates were having, to learn what they were up against. Others tried to hold their own rallies or recruit/bribe certain groups to help them. It was a widely varied session, but all driven by the players’ ideas.

Some examples of things folks did include:
- telling out-of-work dwarves in the lower city that if Ravengard (the party works with the soldiers) was elected, there’d be more jobs on the police force for them.
- bribing/convincing some wizard students who’d been working for the priest’s campaign that they’d be better-off with the protection of the Flaming Fist, which turned the message on the magical campaign butterfly paper “wonders “they were sending off through the city from pro-Skoond to pro-Ravengard.
- negotiating a dispute between cattle farmers and lumberjacks over land usage in the city, and assuring both sides that with Ravengard in charge, there would be clear laws written to benefit everyone equally.

At my table, folks were happy to avoid combat, and even when there was talk of ballot stealing/tampering, they chose to resolve it with roleplaying and skill challenges. At the other 2 tables, combat broke out between the players and the thieves stealing the ballots, but folks at those tables had gotten in enough roleplaying by that point that they were ready for a throw-down fight. In the end, whatever faction the party served got its candidate elected, though all the PCs at every table felt like their efforts were significantly responsible for this.

While it’s been a TON of work to get the raw material of this season into a form that our players have been able to enjoy, I think it’s been worth the effort. There was one new player a the store this week (an 11-yr-old boy who played a pregen wizard), and I got to talk to his parents afterward while they waited for his table to finish up. It sort of reinvigorated my own love of D&D in general to talk about the process of collaborative storytelling, the way I approach DMing as a writing teacher, and the different benefits of playing (socialization techniques, friendships, constructive problem-solving ideas, healthy expression of frustration, encouragement of creative thinking, etc). When his table was done, that player also talked about all the fun he’d had, which was just fantastic. I know folks have been really down on the specifics of this season, but D&D as a whole is still a very worthwhile experience, and as long as we (as DMs) are willing to put in the investment of work ahead of time, the payoffs are still phenomenal.
Joe Lastowski´s last blog post ..What The Average Joe Thinks…Reaper’s BONES Miniatures

12 Joe Lastowski September 27, 2013 at 8:06 am

@Greg Schulze, that’s sad to hear about your group. For what it’s worth, that FF Star Wars system is pretty fun, and I think there’s a new release coming out soon to cover the Rebellion. I was part of that playtest too (just like the NEXT playtest), and it was a series of weekly updates based on player feedback. Really made us feel like we were being listened to, and the system is now fairly slick. Good luck!

13 Gwyn September 27, 2013 at 10:33 am

@ dan, That’s a good point. Encounters can be a difficult venue for this kind of campaign. But for my part, it’s the only game I can get to right now, and I am so happy that it’s the kind of game I like to see. I sort of fear that WoTC will abandon this RP-forward experiment in organized play, because Dungeon’s Master isn’t the only negative feedback they’re getting.

14 Justin Yanta September 27, 2013 at 10:36 am

@Greg Schulze, I am also sorry to hear that you stopped. I agree that if you are DMing this session it has required a lot of prep and it is hard to keep a flow if everyone keeps changing. I think this does give a great feel for a long campaign and my 9 year old daughter that plays with us is now wanting to DM and make her own story (she likes that you can have people play in a world you make). Still if I had never DM before or if I just showed up with no prep then I think the game would be dull and hard to get into. I hope you enjoy Star Wars (it is a fun system especially the dice once you get use to them).

15 bisonic September 27, 2013 at 12:22 pm

My group was six people for Next and it was an absolute disaster. The more politically interested players were missing and the remaining people did not respond to a single plot hook unless it was jammed down their throats.

They had been working with the Flaming Fist but Skoond had offered them some money in exchange for the safe return of the children and any thought of justice went out the window. They walked the children across Wyrm’s Crossing and took a ferry to the docks and stright through the sea gate to Silvershield. The next day they met with Ravengard in a bath house which was extremely awkward for every one involved. He explained the import tax briefly and asked them to inform Caldwell of a claim his products are defective. He also asked for their loyalty, which they readily pledged.

They went to Caldwell’s house and started trying to gain information about the man and his house. I gave them some Downton Abby like gossip which they took to be the most important thing they had heard all season. Caldwell met with them gladly but they just babbled at him before threatening to expose his maid’s dalliance with one of his footmen. When he started laughing they threatened him with the claims about his business. He was outraged and he stormed off as they claimed they were being his friend and that he now owes them a favor.
They were tempted to follow the maid home when they recieved invitations for Coran’s party and decided to go to that instead.

They were then met with the curfew but the invitations gave them a pass. Coran plainly said that they should look into people stocking up on strange goods and he went off dancing. They instantly forgot anything Coran said and sat at the Helm and Cloak for a few days drinking Silvershield’s daily stipend before Coran returned and insisted they go to the harbor and speak to the harbor master. They immediately trudged down there, commenting that the pilling garbage was just what the patriars deserve for the passing sumptory laws. They met the harbor master and were so obtuse and befuddled that I had the man flat out give them leads. They eventually found their way to the fireworks shop but spent most of their time trying to purchase things that will be a pain in my ass later as I explain why carring 30 lbs of brightly smokepowder was a bad idea. They immediately flashed badges at anyone who asked them anything and started literally tearing into warehouses without asking the workers a single question except “Where are the explosives?”

Eventually they followed a lead towards Bloomridge and busted in to a tavern and demanded to know if anyone had seen anything strange. At this point I told them of Mordencai’s Mansion, a building that no one ever came out of. I meant it as flavor but they took this as adventurer bait and are going to enter the mansion to see if it is where the dragon dung is ending up. This is a reasonable suspicion, given the lack of actual availible evidence. I gave them a few warnings of “No one comes out of there alive.” After that I ended the game.

The players are not enjoying the intreague and are lashing out against it. They don’t want to be playing politics and so they are following every hint and allegation like it is the only way to proceed. Every NPC who isn’t actively helping them is treated like a servant until I bring out a combat grid. The group needs to try to be pesuasive but none of them are any good at it so they turn into huge jerks to everyone. They have earned themselves a reputation as thugs and villians. At this point they have angered the Guild, are well on their way to being cast out of the Fist, and have proven mostly useless to Silvershield. They never really accomplish their missions and the ones they have legitimately tried to complete are the ones that can’t be finished as later story depends on it. The only way they see forward is through killing everyone and I am reluctant to run that kind of game.

They have no interest in being a group or working for a purpose. They believe themselves to be working class heroes while sipping wine with the Patriars and pushing everyone else around. From here on out no faction is likely to trust them to do anything more complicated then kill kobolds in the sewers, which they would rather be doing anyway. I am just trying to think of a way to keep the plot moving along without them becoming known as murderers and making it a prison based game or making the city too hostile to stay in. The only thing I can do now is have the repercussions of their actions hit them like a ton of bricks but how can you do that to people who were not there to make those decisions and call that fun?

I’ve found myself running a bad, boring game and I hate it. I need to calm down and be more commanding with my players. The fact that one player went into a screed about taxes while I was setting up did not help the group’s mood any. I’m confronted with either indulging their worst tendencies or distracting them with pointless fights for the next few weeks as the city explodes behind them. I wanted to run a game with heroes but the combination of the plot, the players, and my mistakes as DM have taken away that option.

16 dan September 27, 2013 at 3:06 pm

@gwyn:
I don’t want to see wotc give up on the roleplay idea either, but I do want to see more of a balance. I know that in previous seasons a lot of people complained about being railroaded, and all combat feeling the same (cultists specifically came up a lot). There were many complaints that combat took center stage, and exploration and roleplay took a very small background role. In this campaign, they ‘fix’ the issue of too much combat focus by focusing completely on roleplay. Granted, it is a great campaign, and in a more closed-group set-up it would flourish (as it seems to in locations that keep the same consistent party). I just think they need to focus more on balancing their adventures to the 3 pillars, as opposed to focusing on one at a time.

@bisonic:
I know some groups add very small combat encounters regularly, which can curb some of the bloodlust. Also, I know that there are some optional side jobs that revolve around combat, while still positively impacting their reputations. They seem to want to just force their ways through the adventure, and don’t seem to pick up on the leads you give them, but follow imagined leads instead. I have a DM at my flgs who deals with this kind of thing by having their leads point to a more obvious clue to get them back on track.
Maybe the solution could lie with a combat encounter in the mansion, where they could find a valuable clue? Not knowing what the adventure says, I only pose this as an example, but I hope it helps.

17 Greg Schulze September 28, 2013 at 9:31 am

@Joe Latowski. FFG Beta Rebellion book was sitting on the front counter of the FF Event Center. The Encounters DM works in the FF warehouse, so he obviously had a copy. I just glossed it over. I was informed that the Rebellion had duties instead of obligations. We plan on starting it Wednesday.

18 Gwyn September 29, 2013 at 2:32 pm

A possible solution to Ameron’s problem, with the frequent joiners and inconsistent attendance of the core group, is that all of these NPCs have different goals and plot points they hit on—why not have newcomers play some of those parts of the story? Maybe they can be wetwork contractors Silvershield brings in (he does love his deniability) or thieves being “initiated” by the guild. It’s a hard approach to prepare your sessions for, but it might invest newcomers into the setting while advancing the “main” group’s plot. The only problem I can forsee is that it might result in PvP if not handled delicately. Then again, it’s mostly just an extension of the “let them play monsters” suggestion from the party-splitting piece.

19 bisonic September 30, 2013 at 12:04 pm

@Dan, I am going to start doing that. The mansion is going to give them a valuable clue they lacked before. This will give them a way to effect how one faction is operating and will give them a stable footing for the rest of the season. This will likely please any political people and satiate the bloodlust. I just felt dirty writing that last part. Throwing in a combat encounter every week is going to eat up time both at the table and in prep but, hopefully, increase enjoyment.

@Gwen, that solution is not workable in the Encounters format. You would need either a spare block of time to give the new players info and get them invested or a second DM that you work in concert with like a few of the stores are doing. There might be an occasional situation where you can give the new player a mission to act as a mole but more than one of those and people are going to see all new players as spies. As for creating opposing groups, it will only lead to unbalanced fights that eat up more than half your session. I don’t want my new players, who tend to have either no experience in the system or in RPG’s in general, being brought in to act as cannon fodder and get trampled by the more experienced PC’s. More prep time is something I am already doing since my PC’s don’t know how to do anything delicately.

I do appreciate that this is a very RP heavy season and that it is a trial run but I think it has a huge weakness that is leading my PC’s to get more violent. There is no path that lets them feel like heroes and regularly robs them of any sense of control. For weeks they felt ineffective as they tried to maneuver between the politics with roleplaying and I wanted them to have every choice availible. It was too much for either side to handle. My PC’s also have no interest in Baldur’s Gate. None of them had played the games and do not care about what happens to the town. I am worried the same thing will happen with Icewind Dale.

I am glad that your table is able to handle the nuances of the setting and can attend regularly. Your group relishes in the story and flavor and I love being in those kinds of games. I don’t remember Wizards ever expressing that cohesive groups were important in any of the published materials. It is not a realistic expectation for my store and I did not suspect it would become such an issue. Even if the same people show up, they rarely act like a group. Perhaps it would help if I added some kind of meta-device like making them official adventuring companies. If every table thought of itself as a branch of something like Aquisitions, Inc. there would be more expectation of teamwork.

20 Kashiro October 1, 2013 at 10:13 pm

This does not work for Encounters, period. Both players and the Dm’s are flat out frustrated with the adventure. May work great for a home campaign but not in the way Encounters is structured. I can see more people walking away if the next season is anything like this one.

21 David Argall October 10, 2013 at 2:24 am

Well, it was not a complete disaster…
One player rage-quit, apparently due to our annoying thief [tho his interest in the game was rather low anyway. Several others were missing, tho they had the excuse of bad weather.
Unfortunately, we may have caught up to the other tables, because we went thru several of the encounters without really getting anywhere. We looked into trying to persuade one of the candidates to withdraw, and ended up more or less supporting him. [We investigated and could find no evidence the claimed secret evil actually existed.] Then we looked into the garbage strike, and eventually found the strikers were being paid not to work. A crime boss we traced this to said he was doing this to support a god. We reported this back to our boss and called it a night, rather early.
Given I don’t get to see the adventure, I don’t know how much is DM fault and how much adventure flaw, but either way, I am not sure we will be playing after another week or two. As others have suggested, no combat, and no idea what is going on is not a good combination. As others have said, this adventure seems to require a lot of work from the DM to make it work. And I don’t think our DM is up to extraordinary efforts like that.

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