Like it’s 1981 all over again, part nine

Three heroes, four Hobgoblins. Two of the heroes are battered and bruised at 3/4 hit points and three or four healing surges remaining, while the Wizard is fresh as a daisy and spoiling for a fight.

In the room are the Hobgoblins – two Soldiers, an Archer and a Warcaster. There’s also two captives huddled in a corner – a couple of local farmkids who (unknown to the sergeant who sent our heroes on this wild goosechase) thought they’d impress the village girls by spending a night in the Haunted Keep. And yes, they’ve both pissed their pants.

There’s a locked iron box against a side wall and a rug in the centre of the room that hides a trapdoor down to Level 2 just in case my players want to continue playing 4e D&D, old style.

Now, I’ve used the Hobgoblin Warcaster before and he’s one tough critter who fights well above his weight. Like all Hobgoblins he’s got a chance to shrug off save-based effects immediately, has two ranged attacks that can either toss characters around like a ragdoll or knock them prone. Up close he’s just as tough with a Lightning strike from his staff which does a serious amount of damage and dazes the poor hittee until the end of the Warcaster’s next turn. Combine that with Force Lure and he can pull a foe toward him one round to Shock Staff him the next.

The downside to the Warcaster is that all of his abilities recharge on the roll of a d6. That’s a lot of in-game tracking for just a single monster. Instead of this, I decide the he can use his Shock Staff every other round, Force Lure twice in the encounter and Force Pulse just once. It’s easier that way.

The great thing about 4e Hobgoblins is that they’ve got something highly unusual for your typical monster-fodder race – training in the History skill. To my mind, they’re like Klingons – they have a strong and rich oral tradition and are proud of their past. I love that. These particular Hobgoblins are in the Haunted Keep searching for the mortal remains of The-La-Ka, a legendary “Hero” of their people.

Not that the players are interested in any of this, of course. They just wanna fight. Initiative is rolled.

“I rolled a 20! Does that mean I do critical initiative?”

The captives in the corner add an extra tactical wrinkle to the combat; they can’t just lob a Freezing Cloud into the room or it’s goodbye Farm Boys. This limits Mahkra’s options somewhat (bwahahahaha!) so instead he lobs a Cloud of Daggers at the Warcaster and tries to manoeuvre around the edge of the room to position himself between the villagers and the Hobgoblins.

Squidgee has the same idea, using Acrobatics to get across the room (wall running Halfling Jesters!) and Sly Flourish against the Archer.

Hairy Bob…. well, Hairy Bob just charges in. It’s what he does.

I’m happy to say that all of the Hobgoblin’s attacks in the first round miss (heck, my highest roll was a 4). Mahkra gets to the farmboys and unleashes Icy Hell Freezing Cloud into the middle of the room. The Warcaster takes 7 damage, then another 8 on his turn. The Soldiers fare equally poorly and the Archer takes damage once. Hairy Bob (who is also in the blast) makes his saves. Which is nice.

The Hobgoblins have been wrong-footed. The Archer is up close and personal while the Soldiers are at the back, faring poorly against Hairy Bob. The Warcaster is in the middle of the room and uses Force Lure to drag Squidgee toward him to use his Shock Staff on him next round. No such luck.

Our Squidg’ uses Deft Srike to position himself so the Warcaster is between himself and Hairy Bob. Sneak Attack. Hairy Bob then turns (ignoring the Soldiers for a second) and also Sneak Attacks. Ouchouchouchouchouch.

It’s over.

One Solider and the Archer don’t last much longer, and the last Hobgoblin surrenders, agreeing to tell the players all he knows about the lower levels and swearing that His People will never enter the Haunted Keep again.

In the iron box they find 60gp, 300sp and a Magic Item level 3 of their choosing (Treasure Parcels 9 & 4 from the DMG).

We leave it there. We’ve played 4e D&D using nothing more than our minds, character sheets & dice and lived to tell the tale. It’s been a short adventure full of laugher, fun, stupidity and all the things that make D&D great, and it’s been a pleasure to be DM. This could have been any edition of D&D but the fact that it was 4e added something to the game. Every character class had options, both in-combat and out. I presented a Skill Challenge, and the players lapped it up.

Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat.

10 Comments on “Like it’s 1981 all over again, part nine”

  1. I enjoyed reading this. I really enjoyed how you ran this. I enjoyed hearing about how the players took to it.

    Right up to the point I read this: they find 60gp, 300sp and a Magic Item level 3 of their choosing (Treasure Parcels 9 & 4 from the DMG).

    Really? I kept reading that elsewhere but it never really sunk in. I must have really skipped that part in my (now a year old) reading of 4E. Why didn’t you pick it for them?

    Maybe I’m missing something in context, but how does that work? Do you think it’s a good idea? What’s to prevent players from deciding they want to pick treasure parcels, or monsters faced? I’m not be facetious, I’m just curious what you think?

    Good series, but man, that was a dash of cold water in the face. Are you going to try again? If so, what are you going to change next time?

    follow @chgowiz on twitter

  2. @Chgowiz Letting the players pick their own magic items is a LOT of fun! Tell ’em the level of the item then just sit back as they fight, negotiate and beg over the spoils. It’s a lot more fun than giving them something they don’t want so they just sell it for something else instead. This way they get what they’re happy with and I (as Lazy GM) don’t have to do much thinking. Perfect.

    The dip into the Magic Items section of the PHB (or Adventurer’s Vault, or whatever) is their reward for reaching this particular milestone in the adventure. It means they have more of a vested interest in the item because (from a meta-gaming perspective) they picked it themselves. If I’d put a Flaming Longsword in there that’s one thing, but if the Fighter has had to talk the players into that fact that a Flaming Longsword is exactly what the party needs and He Must Have It, it’s a whole ‘nuther ballgame. It’s his. He fought for it. He won it.

    I hadn’t planned to give them free choice of items every time, but it’s worked out that way. If I wanted to plant an item that’s plot-specific I’d either put that in place, or adapt the story around whatever the players choose.

    The only thing I do drop in (as per the DMG guidelines, give or take) are Potions of Healing. Players never, ever, think of getting those.

    The DMG (pg 125) advocates the players giving you a wishlist of items in advance that they’d like to receive which you (as GM) then work into the adventure. That’s ok if you can get the players to think that far ahead :D If (for example) a Ranger really wants a Thundering Longbow, I’ll try to work in a chance for him to obtain one (a side-quest, maybe).

    What’s to stop them choosing the monsters? If you’re a good GM, they do. Their choice of classes and playstyle should guide the type of foes you throw at ’em. Without the Wizard in the party I knew that a horde of minions would make for a challenging encounter, especially with Mike’s “just wade into the middle and start swinging” nature.

    We’re planning to continue to Level 2 after they’ve rested up and reported back to the sergeant. They’ve around 650XP each and really want to break into 2nd level next time. We’ll see.

    Incidentaly, they chose a Staff of the War Mage +1 for Mahkra. Niiiiiiiiice.

    Ok. This comment is now longer than the blogpost. I’ll shut up now.

    follow @greywulf on twitter

  3. Wow.

    That’s just so alien to me. I like magic items to be … well … magical and mysterious and full of possible weal or woe. I think that would be a deal breaker for me as a DM, if my players handed me a wishlist of expectations. I guess for me, part of the fun is constructing, adding and planning how magic items will be part of my campaign.

    Now the thought of hearing about an item through talk, rumor or adventuring, then going to achieve it is one thing – but for a player to have an expectation that because he/she wants a “Thundering Longbow” that he/she *should* get it… I know, different strokes, and that’s OK – I just know that is really antithetical to how I feel/see/want to do D&D. It just really hit me today reading your stuff. If I’m going to be giving the players what they want on their wishlists, then I would feel like a “CYOA” book than a DM. That’s me. (Jeez, I have to keep saying that because I’m going to get roasted, but this is just like a huge eyeopener into how foreign 4th is to me…)

    I’m glad you had fun and it’s fun to read your writeups.

    follow @chgowiz on twitter

  4. @Chgowiz Worry ye not – 4e D&D works just fine with the GM in control of giving out magic items too; I’m just happy playing a little looser than that for our current campaign. I suspect the way we’re doing it isn’t necessarily the norm either. And of course – if the players do give you a wishlist, you’re entirely in your rights to completely ignore it :D

    follow @greywulf on twitter

  5. The idea of a wishlist is an optional one. 4e doesn’t encourage giving players a free choice of magic items. 4e includes a disenchant item ritual so that when you give them something that they don’t like, they can turn it into something more useful but at a loss of value of 80%. That isn’t exactly giving them whatever they want. That is giving them what you want, or 20% of waht they want. If the norm was to give them anything that they wanted, then this ritual wouldn’t be necessary.

    Not to say that Greywulf is doing it wrong. There are optional suggestions that point toward the direction he has taken, but the DMG does not even get close to suggesting that you award “fill in the blank X level magic items”. Even with the wish list, there is the assumption that the DM will place them in his campaign in a way that makes sense, if he places them in the campaign at all. Greywulf has just made his life easier, and singe this doesn’t appear to be a super serious game, offloading some responsibility to the players is a great idea.

    I personaly hate the whole process and idea of ubiquitous magic items that are necessary for PCs to be able to compete. I have stripped them out of my campaigns almost completely, and I only use the equivalent of artifacts. Every magic item has a name and a history. PCs do not get to choose them.

  6. Greywulf: And of course – if the players do give you a wishlist, you’re entirely in your rights to completely ignore it :D

    PA: 4e includes a disenchant item ritual so that when you give them something that they don’t like, they can turn it into something more useful but at a loss of value of 80%. That isn’t exactly giving them whatever they want. That is giving them what you want, or 20% of waht they want. If the norm was to give them anything that they wanted, then this ritual wouldn’t be necessary.

    It’s my hangup, but I don’t see it as “not giving the player something just because I can” – I see it that there’s a sense of ‘entitlement’ and an expectation now. That ritual, to me, enforces that point. (“DM didn’t give me my +3 Pony, dammit, so I’ll cast this to create a +3 toy statue. So there!”)

    I’m not saying Greywulf did it right or wrong, I’m saying that the fact that the concept is there is foreign to me. Ah, I’m starting to repeat myself so I’ll just leave it at that.

    follow @chgowiz on twitter

  7. On subject – :)

    This has been a great write up and a really enjoyable read. You’ve inspired me to work up a similar one-shot to have ready to spring on my players should we be down a couple and have to cancel one night. Now, I’ll be almost rooting for it to happen.

    @Chgowiz – this whole “player entitlement” thing is a myth, blown up and spread around the tubes. Wish lists are entirely optional, the DM can use whatever method he chooses, even random (thanks to Asmor’s Utilities). The treasure section in the DMG encourages DMs to hand out useful treasure. And since 4e went away from 3es magic shops on every corner approach, they threw in some mechanics to handle disenchanting or selling old or less useful items for 20% value.

    Doesn’t much matter what the DMG says anyway, DMs will do it in a way that makes them comfortable. I had a DM back in my 1e days who just gave out gold, gems and the like, rarely any magic at all, just a lot of currency. Then when we’d arrive in town there would inevitably be a magic item shop and he’d just hand us the DMG and Unearthed Arcana to “shop” their selection and buy what we wanted.

  8. Very strong series here bud. I’ve said it all along, but the wrapup here deserves another toast….”yay you!”

    I really ejoyed reading along, and felt as if I was there the whole time with ya’ll. Wish I was.

    On the “players choose items” thing, I experienced this for the first time last week, in a 4th level 4e campaign I’m in. Each party member got to choose a level 6? or 7? item (can’t recall ATM). That seems a bit over the top, and it did kinda rub me weird at first (me being a player in said game), but we are a mall group (began as only 3 members, now a solid 4), so that may be the reason to sorta help us out a bit, plus the DM did say that the loot will not just “come”, it will be sparse, but when it does come, it will be very generous. So I guess that’s true.

    BTW, I chose a +2 Mage’s Bastard Sword for my melee oriented Cleric….ha! You might think that sounds stooooopid, but it’s a +3 proficiency weapon that I can use without a feat…nice!

    Anyway, back on track….GREAT POSTS! Looking forward to the continuing saga, bud.

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