I started a new campaign last Friday at our regularly scheduled session. Tired of being frustrated by attendance, I decided that the Basic D&D Doctor StrangeRoll game would occur only when all non-redundant PC could be present. The rest of the time, we would play D&D 4E in Eberron. My newest player (my wife) was also getting frustrated at the no-shows (partly because we host and partly because with attendance low enough to not continue the game, it’s hard to play the game to learn it). I’m not certain players always appreciate (or are aware) of the amount of work that goes into both hosting a game and running a game and when people don’t show up without telling you until the last minute, it’s frustrating.
Now, D&D 4E is not my favorite system, but after a week or so of conducting informal research on the Internet, I determined that it was one of the more well-regarded systems for teaching a new player Dungeons & Dragons as well as offering sufficient character customization for veteran players to feel like they really had options. Basically, it’s a version that’s both newbie- and veteran-friendly. As an added plus, it’s very easy to prep for. Since I have a novel I’m trying to get published before Christmas, I didn’t need a time sink. I had the players create 2nd-level PCs, because I was going to used a canned adventure for an intro, and it recommended 2nd level PCs.
With all that out of the way, let’s get acquainted with the characters:
Theirastra is a female eladrin shaman. Trapped on Eberron with the rest of the eladrin after the Day of Mourning, she fights for the preservation of the natural world with her panther spirit companion. Zarna is a female drow hexblade. She returned to Khorvaire from Xen’Drik with a researcher from Morgrave University. Vistra Kodiak is a male dwarf warden. Wizar the Wizarion is a male fire genesai wizard/barbarian hybrid*. The Hand of Wisdom is a warforged cleric.
The PCs are working for a researcher from Morgrave University, Master Yorel d’Tharashk. He pays them to travel the breadth of Khorvaire finding relics, rare treasures, and antiquities for him. He’s particularly interested in dragon shards and relics from Xen’Drik, but cannot currently afford to sponsor an expedition there.
Through his sources, Master Yorel located a relic known as the Coat of Eyes and believed a House Tharashk inquisitive in the village of Blackroot knows the location. So, he sent his Finders to the Shadow Marches to meet with Doria Veledaar and bring the coat back to him. When they arrived in Blackroot, they were greeted with a very cold reception by the village reeve. The orcs of the Shadow Marches do not like outsiders, but they were able to persuade the reeve to at least direct them to Doria Veledaar. They were informed that she recently left Blackroot, but they were welcome to poke around her now-vacant house.
Immediately they saw now all was as it seemed, as there was evidence of a struggle in Doria’s home. They found a broken obsidian dagger, a trail of blood, and some sort of amulet made from a mummified eye. They also noticed that the Veledaar house was not the only vacant home in the village. As they looked around these other houses, an old orc approached them with a cryptic message, “It’s the Harvest. Sowing the new crop. This night, with three moons in the sky and darkness below. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll be out of here before it comes for you, too.” When they tried to question him further, he acted as if he had never spoken to them and had no idea what they were talking about. Theirastra could also sense an aura of magic around the village.
They followed the trail of blood and the confluences of the magical aura to a cave. Two orcs guarded the entrance and didn’t buy the group’s story that they were sightseeing. They readied their axes. As the battle was joined, two men joined in the fray from the cave. After the party defeated them, they discovered the men to be cultists carrying mummified symbols similar to the amulet they found in the Veledaar house. One of the orcs had a strange, worm-like thing in his mouth which continued to writhe and pulse even after his death. Wizar placed it in his pouch. They pressed on, deeper in the cave. The passageway in which they traveled was filled with glowing text crawling on the walls. It seemed alive, and creepy. They were able to translate it as a list of names, but did not see any they recognized. They could hear chanting from deeper within the cavern.
The passageway led to another room which contained an alcove and a pattern of symbols on the floor. The pattern slithered and shifted like a nest of vipers, and they heard strange whispers in the back of their minds. The chanting from ahead was louder, as well. Avoid the symbols, they looked into the alcove and saw three defaced shrines. They decided to follow the chanting and left the shrines and symbols behind, undisturbed. The chanting led them to a large chamber filled with men and orcs, all kneeling prayer around a figure with sunken eyesockets filled with cilia and tentacles coming off its shoulders (naturally, I got rid of my dolgaunt miniatures a few weeks ago and had to use a mind flayer instead). In the back of the cavern was a large eye embedded in the wall. Eyes were embedded in the exposed flesh of the worshipping cultists.
Neither side wasted time joining the battle.
The large eye shot out some sort of ray, dazing a few of the heroes, but in the end, our adventurers were victorious. When the great eye was destroyed, a crack opened in the ground near one of the cavern walls. The crack opened a tunnel leading deeper underground. They also found another weird tentacle thing around the arm of one of the cultists, which Wizar again pocketed. They prepared to proceed down the hole….**
And with that, the session ended. 4E combat was just as slow as I remember, and though I tried to let people know that they were next after another party member’s turn, some of them still didn’t decide what they were doing until it was actually their turn (and with all the powers 4E PCs have to choose from, that can drag things out). I have researched some ways to speed up combat under 4E, and I am going to slowly work some of these things into the game (they shouldn’t actually affect the players at all, except give them the same reward for less work during combat…I can’t imagine anyone would have a problem with that).
As you might have noticed, based on the characters, it looked like a full party. That’s because one of the people I didn’t think was going to come found out at the last minute that he could come and asked if he could bring a friend (who previous gamed with us during the first Doctor Who game), so I actually had a full table.
* I expressed some reservations about the combination. The player offered after the session to replace Wizar with a pixie vampire/paladin. Now, normally I lock stuff like this out of my campaigns because, well…I just don’t like these kind of options. But, I threw this together at the last minute and didn’t have time to come up with a player handout that outlined what kind of races/classes I would allow in my campaign. So, I have decided to treat this PC like the Great Gazoo. The player is often (about 40%-60%) out of town on business, so his characters come and go. I have decided they exist in a different continuum, so when he’s here, his characters pop in, cause mischief (or help out, whatever the case may be) and when he’s absent, they vanish.
** “Why are you always preparing? Just GO!” — Dark Helmet, Spaceballs