We decided to have a “bonus” session over Thanksgiving for those in our D&D group who were interested; we ended up playing with 4. Kim was originally going to run a module, but she’s been swamped at work, so I decided to run one for the first time in the year and change we’ve been playing.
All my ideas for a module centered around the temple of Pelor. Interestingly, all the deities in D&D are very pagan, they are always just explained in terms of what they are gods “of”, and never what their followers actually believe. So firstly, I fleshed out the followers of Pelor a bit to get a handle on their angle. Interestingly, this didn’t help much when it came to actually running the adventure – I didn’t feel I could put all that much in without turning it into too much lecturing, not enough action – although it did help provide the inspiration to a great degree.
My first idea was a mainly “social” type adventure, in which the characters are tasked to track down a prophet of Pelor who (interestingly) is a merchant and doesn’t realize he’s a prophet of Pelor, deal with a merchant guild trying to assassinate him, and convince him to come study with the church for a while. Promising, simple idea (the adventure had to be completed in one session), until I realized the sum total of the social skills in the party were a paltry 4 ranks of Diplomacy on the Cleric. Clearly, something a little more standard was going to be required.
So, inspired by Dan Brown’s recent The DaVinci Code, we instead went on a quest to retrieve some long-lost records of ancient knowledge, hounded along the way by some followers of Vecna. I liked how some of the stuff worked, was not happy with others. The part I was most disappointed with was, unfortunately, the encounters. I had seriously misjudged how powerful the adversaries needed to be, and wasn’t as good at making on-the-fly decisions as I had hoped. For example, the party was ambushed by handful of Rogues and a Wizard. I had taken measures to ensure the bad guys were ready (their Wizard had detected the party in advance with Clarivoyance and prepped a Mage Armor for a couple of his buddies and a Phantom Steed for his own escape if necessary – ordinarily a fairly worthless spell due to the long casting time). I figured the ambush would be pretty threatening given everyone was a rogue and getting good sneak attack bonuses on the first round. Then, at the last minute, I all of a sudden worried it might be too deadly, and gave the Druid and Ranger (with big spots) probably a too-easy spot check. Then I completely forgot to give the ambushers the full benefit of cover and concealment when the party started shooting back. This combined to take an encounter that was probably only modestly challenging to begin with and make it too easy. This was the encounter I screwed up the most, but in general I was not happy either with how well I ran the battles or with how well I had been able to scale the challenge. This was a problem because D&D is of course to a large degree about the encounters, as you have a lot of tactical options and they are interesting to fight generally – but only if there is serious risk, which I think the party never felt there was.
There also ended up being a couple holes in the plot. I had a high level Rogue/Assassin that I had determined was going to ambush the party at some point. Unfortunately, the place where he ended up doing it (the very end, at an underwater location) made no sense. He should have done it in a city, which would have been far more interesting (is the Mage willing to use his Fireball when he is blasting civilians?), instead of popping up inexplicably at the end. The place where I had intended the ambush to occur (and where I think I had the most interesting encounter set up), the party ended up bypassing since it was somewhat peripheral.
Anyway, if I run an adventure again, I’m going to have spend a lot more time prepping myself on the combats. While I haven’t GM’d in probably 10 years, and never did it much, I do remember this has always been a weak point in my game. Even figuring out what I wanted to do with the combats wasn’t enough to keep me on the straight path once the game started.