I just got back from Marmalade Dog 22, a convention in Kalamazoo, Michigan. At the convention I ran the Trouble with Veneration adventure I designed. In this post I'm going to look at how the three different groups approached the same adventure and how their approaches to overcoming the obstacles in it differed.
Before I start into that, one of my goals was to create an adventure that could be run from beginning to end in my time slot. That is, I didn't want the players to get 3/4 of the way through it and then have us run out of time. I'm happy to say that all the groups finished the adventure, and only one group went about five minutes over the slot time to do so. Of course, I had to do some finagling and cutting of scenes to make it happen, but that wasn't unexpected.
It also looked like most of the players were having fun, too. Many of them seemed to be impressed by the miniatures and maps. I think they are accustomed to playing "theater of the mind" D&D. From their reactions during the game and many of their comments during and after, I think I just won many of them over to D&D with minis.
Anyway, that's enough bragging. (I'm awesome, but not that awesome.) On with the show!
Below I'm simply going to walk through room-by-room how the different groups overcame the encounters. I'll include a brief overview of what's in the room (see the adventure PDF for more details) and as many details about the player's actions as I can remember. I found it very interesting to see how different groups of players approached the obstacles in front of them. Hopefully, you will, too. (And if you don't, no one is forcing you to read this.)
A1 - Temple
A massive stone statue of a snake dominates the far end of this room. Gleaming emeralds serve as the statue’s eyes. Smaller statues of humanoids with serpentine heads line the sides of the chamber. Runic writing is engraved on the walls. [The heroes can see no way to proceed farther into the temple compound.]
Groups 1 & 2: Both groups searched around the room and found the secret door. The rogue from group 2 had a blast plucking out the emeralds from the statues' eyes.
Group 3: The heroes searched the statues, but several players rolled really low on Perception. The paladin started pounding on the large snake statue with his hammer. The shaking of the chamber caused the outline of a secret door to become visible, and then the warlock discovered how to open it. (The paladin's solution to many problems was it hit it with his hammer, I was to discover.)
A2 - Guard Room
In this small chamber, a handful of men and women in simple red robes sit around a table playing a game of cards.
Groups 1 & 2: The players simply attacked the guards and killed them. In group 2, the paladin and fighter take two dead bodies each with them. (Don't ask me why... The table thought it was funny; we didn't ask questions.)
Group 3: The guards were horrified as they thought the temple shaking had to do with the ceremony. (I wanted the players to be able to be able to try to talk their way pas the guards. So, I came up with this justification that would allow that strategy. Maybe it's a stretch. Maybe the players didn't buy it. Whatever.) The paladin entered the hallway and attacks outright, but not before the ranger casts spike growth on guards. The paladin charges through the spike growth anyway to squish one of the guards up against the wall. The other guards are decimated by the ranged characters.
A3 - Kitchens
Stovetops, ovens, and counters dominate this room. Cooking utensils, pots, and pans hang from the walls. Six male and female elves in simple white robes are preparing food. [The elves are slaves.]
Group 1: The heroes tell the elves to stay put while they stop the ceremony.
Group 2: The heroes convince the elves to strip down and give them their white robes. Then they tell them to flee the temple.
Group 3: The heroes convince the elves to flee to A1 with weapons and wait there for them to return.
A4 - Dining Hall
A long table runs the length of this room. Six cultists in red robes are eating dinner.
Group 1: Warlock disguised himself as a cultist and distracted the cultists as the other heroes sneaked past. One hero slips on blood, causing noise (rolled a 1 on Stealth). The warlock throws his imp familiar (shape shifted into a rat) on the table to distract them. The rat runs over their food, pissing the cultists off, but also distracting them. The rest of the heroes sneak by, and the warlock leaves to follow them.
Group 2: The heroes try to sneak past the cultists in their white robes. (White robes are for slaves; red are for cultists.) The sorcerer has a fireball readied in case they are spotted. Sure enough, one player rolls low on his Stealth check, and the cultists challenge them because the slaves should be cooking. The sorcerer lets loose his fireball, killing all the cultists but one. The heroes make short work of the last cultist.
Group 3: The warlock is trying to deceive the cultists here, but the ranger doesn’t care. She casts spike growth on them. The group fights the cultists. One is left, but hidden in the room. Two characters go up the ramp to the next level, thinking the room is clear. The cleric and sorcerer check the room out, and the cultist casts hold person on them both. Frozen, they are helpless. Fortunately, the ranger goes back to check the room out, sees what’s going on, and blasts the cultist with a couple arrows, killing him.
B1 - Fountain Room
A large basin of water and fountain occupy this room. The stone fountain is in the form of a snake-human abomination: it has the torso, arms, and head of a human, but instead of legs, it has the body of a snake. Doors across the way lead farther into the temple.
Group 1 & 2: The group investigates the fountain. Someone listens at the door and hears tortured screaming. They break down the doors.
Group 3: The paladin and warlock are investigating the fountain. The pally dunks the warlock’s head in the water to make sure it’s wet. It is. Just as the paladin is about to break the two doors down, the rest of the heroes catch up from their encounter in A4.
B2 - Torture Chamber
Implements of torture fill this large chamber, and flickering torches adorn the walls. Four screaming humans and elves are secured to slabs of stone and four steel cages with captives in them hang over cauldrons full of boiling liquid. Wicked, humanoids with snake-like heads work over the prisoners with hot pincers and knives. One snake creature is lowering one of the cages into a cauldron.
Group 1: The dwarf piles the dead bodies he took from A2 on top of him in front of the door to the room before the group opens the door. I’m not sure what he was aiming for, but it was funny. The heroes don’t stop the yuan-ti malison from dropping the elf into the boiling oil, and he dies horrible. The sorcerer drops a fireball in the room, hurting the enemies, but also killing all the elves.
Group 2: The sorcerer casts web in the room to suspend all the cages and prevent the elves in them from being dropped in the boiling oil. After defeating the enemies, they rescue all the elves.
Group 3: The nightmare speaker casts Hunger of Hadar, and the cleric, with spirit guardians going, moves through the room, inadvertently killing all the elves. (He didn’t know they were there.) The heroes do save one of the elves, with the paladin using lay on hands to heal one of them up.
B3 - Bathes
A ramp slopes down into steaming water. Towels hang from the wall nearest the entrance.
Group 1, 2, and 3: The heroes do nothing special in this room.
B4 - Scythe Trap
Light scrapings cover the stone floor in this corridor. [There are scythe blades hidden in slits along the hallway. Pressure plates at the far end of the hallway trigger the blades.]
Group 1: The group finds the trap and the buttons used to deactivate it for 30 seconds. They throw two dead cultist bodies into the blade area to makes sure the buttons actually disable it. They bodies are diced up and destroyed. Then they go through without any issues.
Group 2: The group finds the trap and how to disable it. They go through without any issues.
Group 3: Everyone rolls very low on their Perception checks, and they can’t figure out how to disable the traps. The paladin is partway through the trapped area before the warlock even finds the trap. Then the warlock and cleric rush through the trapped area as fast as they can. They take some damage. Then they search that side and find the button to disable the trap. The paladin jams a javelin into the hole to disable the trap, and everyone runs through.
C1 - Gathering Hall
The center of this chamber is dominated by a large statue, its lower half the coils of a snake and its upper half humanoid. The walls of the chamber are lined by small statues in the form of humanoid snake men.
Group 1, 2, and 3: None of the groups had time to run this encounter. [When I was designing the adventure, I didn't think there would be enough time for it in a four-hour game slot, but I wanted to include an extra scene just in case one was needed.]
D1 - Soakosh Chambers
The walls of this chamber are covered in an ornate fresco depicting snake creatures ruling over humans, elves, and dwarves from their temples and pyramids. Gilt furniture occupies the room: bed, wardrobe, chest, desk, and bookcases.
Group 1: The heroes ransacked the room and got the magical items in it.
Group 2 and 3: There wasn't enough time left, so I cut this scene out.
D2 - Ceremonial Chamber
Four platforms stand about this room, and in the center of the room is a large pool. Slaughtered captives are tied to columns on each platform, and blood runs down from the platforms into troughs and into the central pool. The pool is filled with blood and massive mass of writhing snakes. Red-robed figures stand around the pool, chanting.
[After the heroes defeat all or most of the yuan-ti purebloods and the pit master, the next wave of this encounter triggers.]
As the last of the yuan-ti fall, the mass of writhing snakes fall into the pool of blood, revealing a massive yuan-ti with multiple heads. “You have slaughtered Meershaulk’s righteous servants. You have committed sacrilege against his sacred snakes. And you have profaned his holy temple. However, you are too late. This day I have risen to divinity, and you all shall pay dearly!” And with that, the monstrosity moves to attack.
Group 1: The sorcerer opens up with a fireball into the middle of the mass of snakes. This damages all the purebloods and the pit master. They defeat the purebloods and pit master fairly easily. When the anathema enters the fight, the sorcerer blinds it with the scroll of blindness (I rolled horribly on my save). Then the heroes beat the thing down fast. I kept rolling horribly on my attack rolls, so the anathema never does any damage against any of them.
Group 2: The sorcerer opens up with a fireball into the middle of the mass of snakes. This damages all the purebloods and the pit master. The pit master puts two of the heroes to sleep before he goes down. When the anathema enters the fight, he casts polymorph on the fighter, and turns her into a bunny. He then puts her into a bag at his waist. On her turn, the fighter/bunny chews out of the bag. Later she bites the anathema with her sharp, pointy teeth, forcing him to make a Concentration check, which he fails. So, she becomes a dwarf again. The anathema drops two characters to 0 hit points. Two other characters are still sleeping. The battle is already going poorly for the heroes, and then the anathema casts polymorph on the fighter again. This time she makes her save. She then lays into the anathema, using power surge, and deals a bit of damage. I end up having the anathema die at 100 hp because we were running low on time, and I wanted the players to win. It was looking like a TPK otherwise.
Group 3: The sorcerer opens up with a fireball into the middle of the mass of snakes. This damages all the purebloods and the pit master. The pit master puts the cleric to sleep, and the other players let him sleep for like three rounds before waking him up. Once the anathema comes out, the heroes are blasting him with spells, eldritch blasts, and arrows. They did a lot of damage quickly to him. The anathema casts darkness and moves to a different spot so the heroes won’t know where to unleash their barrage of ranged attacks. On the monster’s next turn, it lands a critical hit on the paladin with its constrict attack and does 10d6 damage. The paladin drops to under ten hit points and is restrained. The anathema begins to move after the cleric, but the paladin taunts him. I was going to have mercy on the paladin and kill him on the next round, but decide to finish him off with a claw attack. Once the pally is at 0 hit points, the anathema turns to the cleric and attacks. I roll low and all the attacks miss the cleric. At this point the anathema is outside the darkness spell, and the rest of the heroes unleash on it. Finally, the anathema goes down.
That's it, my grand analysis. Less analysis, I suppose, and more just recounting what the different groups did. But I found it interesting. And, if you've made it this far, I'll wager a bet you found it interesting as well.
Cheers and happy gaming!