After getting things off to a rolling start last session, the party made sporadic progress this time. We had two main things we were going to investigate: first tracking down an artifact on behalf of the archeologist, hopefully earning passage out of this enclosed valley; secondly, dealing with some bandits and/or vampires.
Before embarking on any of these objectives, we got a bit bogged down in purchasing equipment, perhaps not the most entertaining element of a D&D adventure. Haggling over a +5 Vorpal Weapon, OK, but time-consuming haggling over a 3GP mace and sleeping bags is not to my mind gaming at its finest. However, a tip: if a merchant all of a sudden offers you cold-wrought iron weapons somewhat randomly, buy them. One thing I’ve learned about D&D, there are so many kinds of damage reduction, you want to be prepared, and if the GM drops something specific on you it’s best to take heed. I also learned here that “cold iron” in fact refers to the process of forming it, not to the fact that it is kept refrigerated.
Anyway, after gearing up, we attempt to leave town. At this point, plot lines start to further proliferate, to the point that it starts getting hard to keep them straight. For starters, there is a bounty hunter out after the escaped slave Amathyya whom we have taken under our protection. We have a little parley with the bounty hunter, who is somewhat intractable and refuses a payoff. So we tell her to get lost, which she does – for the moment anyway – but it appears that Amathyya may bring us trouble. Amathyya also turns out to be a mid-level (3rd or so) Bard, with some useful skills. We discover a warrant out for the capture of some slave traders, who may or may not be the bandits who ambushed the archeologist’s party. There is some evidence that the whole Vampire story is bogus (as we suspected, not least for the unfortunate meta-game reason that even a low-level Vampire would be too much for our party to handle), but there is some other funky undead action going on here, with corpses spontaneously rising. Or so some locals of dubious credibility say. And there is a kid who wants to tag along, further increasing our entourage of hangers-on.
We choose to track the bandits (if you recall last time, we found some frozen corpses on the outskirts of town where the archaeologist’s party had been ambushed). We track them up the mountain, where we are ambushed by a demon of some description who had been teleported in, further complicating things (good thing we picked up those cold iron weapons), and then the party of bandits. The Demon takes some work to dispose of, but Berek and his spiked chain – once he’s been Enlarge Personed and Bull Strengthed – makes short work of the bandits, after some quick thinking by Zerkestor who puts up a Wall of Wind which blocks their arrow fire. The bandits do in fact turn out to be the slave traders. Then, in the finest D&D tradition, we loot the bodies, and call it a night.
I had two major observations after this session.
Firstly, I think we as a party need to be a little more focussed. We spent an hour or so just haggling over nickel-and-dime equipment and roleplaying interactions with shopkeepers. To me, this is not where the action is.
Secondly, I’m starting to think there are just too many things going on here. Any 2 of the currently active plot lines would make one full adventure, but we seem to have 4 or 5 (or more). More focus would be good. It does kind of remind me of the big jump from 80s American games to 90s European games, in which the euros pruned away all the chrome and excess from the American games to produce sleek, streamlined games that focussed on the good, interesting stuff, the real decision-making. I’ve commented before that I know that the toughest thing to do as a game designer is to throw good stuff away, but it’s frequently the best thing to make the other good stuff even better.
Part of all this is also that I haven’t quite figured out what I’m looking for in a good RPG. Certainly it’s not the tactical game of whacking bad guys, as I have plenty of games of this type that do a way better job than D&D. RPGs score generally of course in the much more open-ended problem solving, the opportunity for character development, and the just plain fun of trying to assume the personality of a more heroic character than we get to experience in everyday life. But I guess I’m still not quite sure exactly where the game is, for me personally. Once I figure it out, it will help me a lot.