I run two different D&D campaigns; one game is weekly, one game is bi-weekly. My bi-weekly game (on Tuesday nights) is currently going through my 4E conversion of The Red Hand of Doom. At my request, we are utilizing all Essentials character classes, partly because I am dying to see how these new mechanics play out, and partly because I wanted to grab a little more of that classic D&D feel that Essentials aims to provide.
The characters in our group of heroes are: Desmo (Human Evoker Mage), Asterion (Minotaur Knight), Father Hagerty (Half-elf Warpriest), Magnus (Dragonborn Slayer), and Ashgrim (Halfling Fey Pact Hexblade).
Our first session starts with an ending, the ending of Kalarel (whom I renamed Karax), to be exact. Wrapping up H1: Keep on the Shadowfell, we began with the final battle of that adventure, using the version of Karax that rips your still beating heart out of your chest. Staring down into the gaping hole leading to the lowest level of the Keep, the group saw blood trickling down an elaborate chained pulley system from a creaking, ancient Dwarven lift system. In the darkness below, the chanting of Karax could be heard as he performed the ritual to open a portal to Thanatos and conquer the world with an army of the living dead. The group got into the rusted steel lift, and began descending into the darkness. As the machine worked to bring the heroes down, Karax turned his attention to the heroes and began casting his dark spells as zombies began shambling out of the black gate. Desmo, ever cautious, stayed on the relative safety of the lift while the rest of the party slid down the blood-slick chains to join the fray. The villain was killed, slain on the very altar of the Demon-Prince Orcus, and the portal to that dark netherworld sealed once again. Afterwards, Karax’s spellbook and chest of gold were recovered. Desmo claimed the dreaded Rod of Ruin, an artifact of great power and great evil, confident in his ability to harness its power for good. Last amongst their findings was a curious map of “Vraath Keep”. What was Karax planning here?
The heroes returned to Winterhaven to a joyous welcome. The festivities were limited, however, as many of the townsfolk were still missing, placed into slavery by the machinations of the Bloodreaver Clan of Hobgoblins. After talking to the sage, Valthrun the Prescient, it was discovered that Vraath Keep was an old bastion of Nerath, now long-abandoned, that once held back a force of giants in the Witchwood outside the village of Drellin’s Ferry. After taking a well-deserved rest, the heroes sought out the Dwarves of the Wyvernwatch Mountains. (This all happened a few weeks ago, so I’m a little shaky on some of the details here. I believe the players associated Dwarves with mining, and then mining with slaves. The train of logic kind of eluded me, but I just rolled with it.)
After many days travel, the adventurer’s came through the cities of the Elsir Vale, including bustling Brindol, and upon The Sanctuary of the Sacred Stone, a Dwarven monastery noted for its hospitality and kindness towards travelling strangers. The stone building was set into the side of the mountain, amongst the snowy pass and cold, bitter winds of the high altitudes. Upon the north face of the building, however, no light shone from its stained-glass windows. No smoke rose from its chimney. The stout wooden entryway door had been nearly ripped off its hinges. The peaceful Dwarves lay scattered about the central prayer-room; decapitated, disemboweled, and burned to death. A grisly scene if there ever were one. Clearly, someone had been here before, and with ill-intentions. Gathering their belongings, the heroes proceeded onto the second leg of their quest, to Drellin’s Ferry and Vraath Keep.
+ We usually play for a little over 3 hours, starting at 7:00pm and ending sometime after 10:00pm. Despite this, we end up with (at most!) two combat encounters per night. The combat encounters go pretty quick, many of them of small distractions way below the level of the party. The issue here is that a). this group likes to fart around and get off-subject a lot, an b). we do quite a bit of exploration and roleplaying. There’s a lot of talking to the locales and other non-dice activities that puts me personally out of my usual comfort zone. It’s been really awesome, by the way, relaxed when it needs to be, and accentuates the tension of the more uncommon hard fights.
+ Going to the southern mountains this early in the adventure threw me for a loop! I did originally plan on integrating my opus of an adventure into the story of The Red Hand of Doom, so I wasn’t completely unprepared, but there was a lot of adlibbing during this part. Keeping me on my toes! I also gave the PCs a few more days time before the events start really moving on the calendar, since the original adventure doesn’t account for a trip to the Dwarves and I didn’t want to punish the group for going out there. It will add quite a bit of verisimilitude to the story when they piece things together.
+ No one has figured out (yet) that they need to really hustle their asses in this adventure. I’ve been making a point of tracking how much time everything takes and handed out a campaign calendar. I’ve been breaking the days up into 6 hour intervals, which fits well with the 6 hour typical Extended Rest. I feel like the rule stating that there is only one Extended Rest per 24 hour period is going to come into play as well. Desmo’s player decided to get his character a horse pretty early on, but I think that was more to accentuate his character’s pimpin’ style.
+ Catch Phrase of the Night: “Work smarter, not harder”.