D&D: Sidrea Kickoff

This was the official kickoff session for Dan’s new campaign world, Sidrea. The party includes Berek, the spiked-chain wielding human Fighter raised by dwarves; Dalrick, the Ranger-Barbarian who has a thing against goblins; Soyoko, the Wild Elf Sorcerer; Haeythir, the Grey Elven Wizard of mysterious purpose; and Zerkestor, the Cleric of Mighty Zethunor, who gets nervous around bad weather.

We have all been gathered together, without explanation, to learn at a rather mysterious college at a hidden location that trains the best and brightest of Sidrea for future greatness. The studies don’t go on for too long, though, before Soyoko starts having unsettling dreams about dark tentacles emerging from the earth – which, quite frankly, is never a good sign. The various staff don’t seem terribly concerned about this, although there is a general sense of dark portents. And then, before you know it, wham – creatures being gated in from the abyss, weresnakes of some description, and general mayhem. Taking some time out for Berek to demonstrate his mastery of killing lots of things with a big honking spiked chain, the party decides to let the 16th level Wizard handle the giant killing machines while we make our escape, guided by a letter from the Dean and aided by his parrot familiar. The letter instructs us to rendezvous at a particular location at some later date.

After stepping through the escape-teleporter, we find ourselves in a cave. It’s cold. There’s lots of ice. We seem to have left our winter clothes back in the dorm, so this is not so good. We find an escaped slave named Amathyya Calanor hiding here, a half-elf. Haeythir has a mysterious insight that she isn’t dangerous, so we help her out, heal her up, and she joins our party. We sneak past a sleeping bear, and she then guides us into town – although not before we discover some frozen corpses of Dwarves and Men.

On arrival in town, we find that we are in the middle of a valley in the mountains, and the way out is blocked until spring. Plus, the innkeeper seems to have a thing about garlic. Oh, yeah, the vampires. There is also a woman who would like us to acquire a lost heirloom of her family for her, since 4 of her party were just recently killed off – some Dwarves and Men, apparently. Having not much to do until the passes clear, and since she offers a guide for a shortcut out under the mountains, we take it under consideration, to begin again next time.

This was a nice adventure, Dan has done a lot of work on this setting and it showed in both the details and in the confidence with which he could GM the session, which is always important. It was still the “pilot episode” in some sense, in that there was a lot of setup but the characters didn’t get to actively do as much as is usually the case. But still, both Kim and I are looking forward to the next session.

Can I offer a suggestion for gamemasters? Seriously consider banning or altering the Spiked Chain. While the thing doesn’t appear abusive on first inspection, when combined with various feats (Power Attack particularly in 3.5, and also Whirlwind Attack and Combat Reflexes) and spells like Enlarge, I’ve really come to the conclusion that this weapon is grossly out of line. It’s a reach weapon that can attack adjacent at no penalty, it’s two-handed so the new power attack feat (which doubles the bonus for two handed weapons) allows it to do massive damage, and with enlarge and whirlwhind attack it becomes staggeringly abusive. And it’s only 5 GP more than a Rapier. It’s better than any other exotic weapon in every respect except maybe it’s critical threat range. Sorry guys, but they just plain screwed up this one.

This was also my first chance in a while to mess around with PCGen, the free tool for generating d20 PCs. I’ve always just used pencil and paper because generating PCs for D&D and such is really just not that involved. I must say that PCGen didn’t do much to sell me. Rule number one of software development: if you have one overwhelmingly common use case (like, say, generating low-level standard D&D characters using classes and races in the Player’s Handbook) make sure that one is easy. Generating new characters in PCGen is not easy, neither is leveling them up. Sure, it tracks a lot of stuff for you to make sure you don’t make mistakes, which is good, but it also requires you to track a lot of stuff in your head because information is so hard to get at and you can’t see a significant portion of your character at one time – you’ve to flip between some 6 or 8 different screens. All in all, I found it took 2-3 times as long to generate a character in PCGen as it did the old fashioned way, so I stopped. All that, and it’s still pretty easy to make mistakes.

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