Actual Play – Breaking into the Bricklayer’s Guild (2/6/2009)

System: Dungeons and Dragons

The Dungeons and Dragons story continued with the troubleshooting team following up on a lead from our guild master Jilnik. Our enemy Lord Aberidge was using the services of the Bricklayers to move goods for him on the docks, and we went down to break things up.

The encounter format was skill challenge, combat, combat. This particular format allows the heroes to use an action point in both fights, as they are unusable in skill challenges. The first skill challenge was very interesting. The DM has been playing around with creating challenges that force the players to dedicate their efforts in particular directions, but giving them some freedom in how they do it. In this case we had three objectives (find a way in, locate the alarms and distract the guards) and each of these had to be tied together. In order to physically represent this challenge, we were all given died marshmallows and tasked to make a pyramid (of sorts) but connecting those three points (also marshmallows) together. We used toothpicks to stick it all together. Each success allowed us to add a marshmallow to the structure, but we had to narrate how that fit into the three objectives. For instance, if we were tying “distract the guards” with “find the secret way in” one of the characters got into a discussion of bricklaying with the guards and asked him for a tour. All the while keeping his eye open for secret ways in.

The combats were well varied, the first was vs. human guards, the second was vs. human guards who’s souls had been ripped out and their bodies had been magically mutated into dire vermin. Yummy!

What rocked

The skill challenge was very cool. I like props, I like characters narrating and I like using skills, so for me this was a big win. I encourage DMs to think if skill challenges like this, that give players lots of options but those options all have to reasonably tie into the task.

The last combat was very cool in description. I really like the idea of a pissed off wizard (necromancer?) who can turn his hired help into vermin that will attack us. It made a combat encounter that we could have normally only found in a dungeon or the wilderness make sense in the city.

Failing equaled an interesting option. I was one of the two people who actually failed a skill check. Instead of just loosing at my task, my character Ace ran into some of his old crew… and boy did they not like him. He returned to the heroes beat up and wearing nothing but a tattered and torn woman’s shift. It was humorous but also illuminating as I got to discover more about my character’s back-story.

What could have been improved

You can’t spend action points in skill challenges. I found myself somewhat frustrated when I failed a skill check twice in a row and was wishing I could have used an action point to either take another action, or just reroll a failed roll. I know some DMs have made this a house rule and I think we should consider it.

AoE persistent spells make combat boring and slow. It was really clear to the wizard, as we were going through tight quarters that maintaining a stinking cloud in front of us was a great way to keep everyone from getting to us, or to make them take lots of damage doing so. In the second fight the warlock had an effect that did the same thing. For us melee types who a) end up getting hit by these effects and b) want to get in the fray, this is very boring. I think the DM is going to check errata on the Sticking cloud spell as the way we have interpreted it makes it brutally powerful, but even if it can’t be moved “onto” someone, it still will do a great job of blocking off huge chunks of the map. Personally, while I find this a great tactic, it seems counter to the spirit of heroic battles.