Two Sessions In

We completed our second session Wednesday, September 2nd. It was actually my birthday and foregoing a celebration, I decided to play D&D Port Havenholde instead. Heh.

We decided that this campaign would best be suited to a public location, so we’ve been scouting a lot of possibilities; local game shops, restaurants, etc… We settled on Gattiland (for those unfortunate enough to never experience Gattiland, it’s a pizza/salad bar buffet that also has games and whatnot – they also have ‘meeting rooms’ they reserve for free) and it proved to be a very nice location to play and they even let me borrow some glass cleaner for my battle mat. At $8.27 a head, the unlimited food and drink proved to be excellent for our group (some more than others). The players consisted of our normal group with two significant additions, an old player that we actually kicked out of our former campaign who was gracious enough to play with us again and a completely new player recruited off the web. Our first session started out well enough. I had the PCs arrive in Port Havenholde, describing the ominous walls encircling the town, and be greeted by the Duke’s lackey who in turn showed them the way to the Admiral’s Rest, the only tavern/inn in town.

Immediately, I noticed a need/want from the players to speak with this fellow and try to get a quest or something out of him. I knew this might happen, which is why I didn’t want to have the Duke himself meet them. He promptly ended the conversation and left them on the porch of the inn. It’s obvious that no adventurer’s have been to this place in a while (the inn is strictly for adventurers) and they take up a seat at one of the many empty tables. This is where I injected the first kick in the butt out of the city gates. I decided to use the treasure map approach Ben talked about in his blog and even directly stole the table map idea directly from the West Marches, with hopes to emulate the various PCs adding to it as time went on.

This worked. The PCs were out of the Black Gate before they knew it and on the ancient cobblestone road that led to the forest out there. I made one significant mistake during the first session that I later retconned when the second session rolled around. I had my map drawn up (thanks to my wife’s artistry skills), but I had yet to put a scale on the map for myself to determine distances. I made one up at the last minute and suffice to say it was WAY too large of a scale. It took the first party a whole day just to reach the forest. I didn’t like that at all. For the second session, I adjusted the scale and I’m happy to say the second session was much better in this respect.

With this I’ll say my group has adopted a forum as our default method of discussion and it’s proven popular. I’ve used this to put out info, discuss various concerns, and even explain my retconning of the map. I feel like these discussions give the players more investment in the game world and they’ve offered a lot to the world considering we’ve only played two sessions.

Travel was somewhat glossed over during the first session as A) I didn’t have the rules fixed yet, and B) I wanted to get the PCs out into the wilderness and to a cool location. The first location I decided would be a ruined tower in the woods marked on their map with a “here lies treasure” and an X. While the actual rules for navigating were glossed over, I did roll for random encounters and sure enough, the PCs did see some things. Up until this point, I’ve been giving the PCs the option to engage in the random encounters. They’ll either see clues, or the creatures in the distance. I find this tactic a good one because it gives the PCs more choice over whether they engage. In the future though, I’m sure I’ll throw in an ambush or two (especially now that one of the kobolds escaped their encounter during the second session).

The PCs eventually found the tower and killed the creatures inhabiting the outside of it. By this time though, the first session was running low on time and they decided to return to town. This prompted a series of questions on the forums the following day about one party doing work to find the dungeon and then another party coming in and looting it and taking all the treasure. Suffice to say this was a lengthy debate, but I think I diminished it by simply explaining that this is exactly the kind of thing that drives player motivation to play again. Do you want to play next session and get in on that ruined tower you found last session, or let someone else take the loot?

Feedback after the first session was excellent and I definitely got the sense that the players enjoyed themselves and would come back for more. And they did.

The second session had two returning players from the first and two new players, my nephew (and long time player for me) and another new recruit off the internet. The group seemed to mesh well and after a brief introduction back at the Admiral’s Rest, we were off on adventure again. The ranger from the first session led the party back to the tower (after inserting and using the new Navigation rules), not before ambushing some kobolds traveling through the wilderness and having a lengthy battle. They picked up right where the first party left off and entered the tower. The next battle was where the first character death of Port Havenholde would happen. It just so happened to be my wife’s character (and I always sleep on the couch when that happens), but in the interest of maintaining the passive role of DM and letting the environment be active, she unfortunately fell to negative hit points and a ghoul leaped on her and ripped her throat out. The rest of the party managed to survive but barely. They returned back to town afterward with the body of their fallen defender in tow. I think they realize now – this is a dangerous world.

Our first two sessions happened during weekdays and I’m really hoping to start getting more weekend sessions going for a number of reasons. The 4th Edition system has lengthier encounters (our second session had two total encounters and they lasted roughly 1-1/2 hours per battle) and as players are still adjusting to new characters and for some a new system, our battles have been very slow. I’d rather not instill a time rule during combat so that players feel rushed, so I’m hoping as time goes on they get more comfortable with their powers and whatnot so we can speed up combat. Playing during the week has allowed us around 3.5 to 4 hours of gameplay. A weekend session would extend that to 5 or 6 hours. So, I’m hoping players will catch on and realize more game time = more adventure time = more XP and loot.

For now, I’ve been letting players track XP on their own. They also have been tracking loot, but I haven’t really heard any discussion about how to divide it – even from the first session, but I’ve decided to take a completely hands off approach when it comes to player issues like that.

I need to talk about making a calendar and further use of treasure to tell a story and get the PCs to other places.

Note: I didn’t have time to update the 1st session in a single post due to a work influx and moving at home. Sorry about that.


4 Responses to “Two Sessions In”

  1. 1 Tommi September 4, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    How exactly do you handle navigation?

  2. 3 Tommi September 7, 2009 at 6:13 am

    Ahh, okay. I don’t subscribe to insider, so I did not know about that.

    • 4 Michael Pfaff October 24, 2009 at 10:43 pm

      Here’s the basic gist of what I got for Navigation:

      [i]Note: We didn’t really use these rules for the first session. For one, I wanted to get you guys out and to a location. Secondly, I didn’t have the rules, nor the wilderness littered with cool locales. A lot of time thus far was spent on random encounter tables and developing the setting and regions. No biggie, each subsequent session will have more and more of the world fleshed out. But, now that we’ve got the ball rolling, I plan to use a Navigation Ruleset such as described below. The numbers in the article won’t necessarily match my numbers (I mean for DCs and such), but you get the idea. You can find the original article [url=]here[/url].

      Generally, Nature will be used for above ground. Dungeoneering will be used below ground (dungeons and caves). In addition, each “day” outside of the city walls will require an Endurance check. Failure will generally mean 1 less surge to your maximum until you get bed rest and whatnot. Success means no loss of surges. A campfire will give you a bonus to this check.[/i]


      The following rules aren’t a skill challenge, but they serve as a handy wrapper for lending structure to outdoor exploration. Like the Endurance check to resist the effects of an extreme environment, these rules add flavor to the space between skill challenges or serve as a linking mechanism for outdoor encounters.

      Wandering through the wilds is no easy feat. Without a road or clear landmarks to follow, even an experienced traveler can become hopelessly lost. This system works best if you use a hex map or grid to track the characters’ movement.

      As the PCs travel, each hour one character must make a Nature check to navigate. The DC depends on the terrain. As a rule of thumb, you can pick a level and DC relative to the characters’ level, or you can create basic DCs determined by the density and nature of terrain.

      Terrain Type DC
      Plains, clear ground 15
      Forest, hills 17
      Dense forest, forbidding mountains 19
      Astral sea 23
      Elemental chaos 25

      Other characters can attempt to aid the skill check, but there are two special rules. First, the attempt to aid another uses the Nature check’s DC. Second, a failed attempt to aid causes a –2 penalty to the check. If you’ve ever argued over a map or directions while driving, you know that wrong advice can be much worse than no advice at all..

      If the check succeeds, the PCs travel in their intended direction. If they fail, they wander off course. The PCs instead travel 1 hex (or square) to the right or left of their intended destination. Make these checks in secret, so the PCs are never positive of their progress.

      This mechanic is simple, but it’s merely a timewaster and exercise in dice rolling if you do not stock the wilderness with monster lairs, weird sites, and other locations as described above. In that case, a few missed Nature checks can send the PCs stumbling into a green dragon’s territory, cause them to stumble across a goblin village, or lead them to discover a forgotten temple to Bahamut.

      The real fun in this approach lies in watching the party wander the land, stumbling into adventure, and learning about the world around them. It really shines when you have obstacles and encounters built up beforehand. If that’s more work than you have time for, or if you want to keep the wilderness at least somewhat vague for future development, you can whip up a table of random encounters.

      The easiest table uses a d20. Don’t force yourself to come up with 20 different encounters. By assigning some encounters a higher chance to occur, like 1-5 on the table, you can reflect the more common dangers and hazards of a region. Each number on the table you assign to an encounter gives a 5% chance that the characters run across it.

      Whenever the characters fail a Nature check to navigate, roll a d20. On a 10 or higher, roll on your table for a random encounter. You can assume that if the PCs succeed in their Nature check, they avoid any unwanted hazards.

      The encounter table should reflect the nature of the wilderness. In a dark, fey-haunted wood, the table includes lots of treants, satyrs, and dryads. You should create a mix of creatures that challenge the party and that reflect the game world. If some of the monsters are clearly too difficult for the PCs to fight, be sure to include some option for a noncombat solution to the battle. The PCs might need to run, offer a bribe, hide, or outwit the creature. Part of the fun of D&D lies in creating interesting situations that present lots of options. Embrace that!

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