Blood-fing-thirsty

I’ve been running a lot of games of Port Havenholde for some time now. The popularity of the game has expanded immensely, with several waves of new players entering the fold. Unfortunately, with that, we’ve also lost some players (for now anyways) that I typically play with. I’m not sure if they’ve just been preoccupied or what, but they haven’t played in some time. Nearly all of the new players, with the exception of maybe one, has really enjoyed themselves and keep coming back for more.

One thing I don’t think they are enjoying is PC death that seems to happen regularly! I’ve been keeping a wiki online to track player characters and in-game information about the town and whatnot. I keep a list of characters there; the living and the fallen. Here’s a snapshot of our current characters:

The Adventurers of Port Havenholde

Living
Controllers
Llewellenar – Female Elf Seeker – 3rd Level

Defenders
Jhintoth – Male Kobold Paladin (Bahamut) – 3rd Level
Nathaniel – Male Human Fighter – 3rd Level
Alin – Male Human Fighter – 1st Level
Jabronicus – Male Eladrin Swordmage – 1st Level
Grundle Grimhammer – Male Dwarf Fighter – 1st Level
Harbek – Male Dwarf Warden – 1st Level

Leaders
Gwyer Rose – Male Human Bard – 1st Level
Trey Dradul – Male Human Artificer – 1st Level

Strikers
Leucis – Male Tiefling Rogue – 1st Level
Olo Nimblefoot – Male Halfling Rogue – 1st Level

And, now a snapshot of who has died:

Fallen
Tariq – Male Deva Cleric (Tymora) – 3rd Level
Garuph – Male Dwarven Ranger – 2nd Level
Aelar – Male Elf Assassin – 1st Level
Burell – Male Eladrin Avenger – 1st Level
Darvin Bersk – Male Human Bard – 1st Level
Garoon – Male Shifter Cleric (Melora) – 1st Level
Kalasta – Male Dragonborn Paladin (The Silver Flame) – 1st Level
Lu – Female Human Paladin (Kord) – 1st Level
Minharath – Male Kalashtar Cleric (Ioun) – 1st Level
R’gile – Male Dwarven Artificer – 1st Level
Talamonde – Male Human Wizard – 1st Level
Xuli – Female Drow Sorceress – 1st Level

As you can see, the list of “fallen” adventurers is substantial. In fact, many players are on their third characters. I believe there is only one player who is still on his first, and that’s a battlerager fighter, who seem to be nigh indestructible with their temporary hit points. I say “nigh” because during the last session, he very nearly bit the dust.

Because of all this, I’ve acquired the title of “His Bloodythirstyness”. Yikes. I keep reminding the players that a lot of the deaths are centered around being less-than-cautious, tactical errors and bad luck. Afterall, I’m only playing the pre-determined encounters as they happen… I try to play the monsters as ‘realistic’ as possible. Most intelligent creatures don’t go after downed PCs, while animals and bloodthirsty creatures might take a bite out of an unconscious PC. Most of the encounters are pre-determined via random encounter tables and pre-planning dungeons. So, I do feel good about being an arbiter, or judge, more so than a challenger, an enemy of the players.

On the other hand, there’s a secret to this that I should divulge. For one, I like that Port Havenholde has a reputation for being the deadliest campaign most of these guys have played. I like how cautious and empowered the players who reach level 2 and 3 feel; the sense of accomplishment I can see on their faces. Don’t get me wrong, I would love for these guys to level up and quickly so they can get to exploring all these higher level areas I’m itching to unveil. But, I also like the sense of dread players have when they realize they are in an area well out of their league. It’s intense, and very suspenseful to see if they survive.

Part of this “degree of difficulty” is by design. I’m designing nearly every encounter around the idea that there are 5 PCs in the party. This basically means, if you have less than 5 PCs, you are at a disadvantage, even against encounters equal to your level. If you are silly enough to adventure with 3 PCs, you are even further behind the curve (and I believe most people have learned to try and get 4 PCs at least!). In addition, my random encounter tables are designed with a bell-curve grade of difficulty. Meaning, you have a chance of encountering those standard budget encounters, or… you might face off against something much easier – or much more difficult.

I roll to randomly determine the situation (whether one side is aware, or both) based on the stealthiness of the party, so if you do happen upon a harder encounter that you are unaware of, the decision to fight them might not be in your hands.

Most dungeons are of a level equal to the region. If I have a 1st level forest, most dungeons will be 1st level in there. Meaning, you are almost better off finding a dungeon and delving than you are roaming around aimlessly. After all, you will most likely encounter level 1 encounters in a level 1 dungeon.

The exception to this rule is, of course, the “pocket of danger” the original West Marches campaign detailed. I’ve spread several “high-danger” areas in each region, and in some cases, each dungeon. The PCs have encountered one of these areas in my 1st Level Forest (an island set in the center of an undead lake) and unfortunately they also happened upon one area and the first “dungeon” they happened upon was a pocket of danger… This was where the aforementioned battlerager nearly died. Let’s hope they avoid that area for a while.

Next time, I’m talking about turning the standard treasure parcel tables into random treasure tables.

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