Monday, October 11, 2010

My Red Box Adventure (Part Three)

(Possible Red Box adventure spoilers below)

(DM Screen not included)

This time around I swore I'd be ready. On Saturday night after the kids went to bed I set to work on the dining room table. Gone were the salt and pepper shakers, the napkins, and the placemats. The lazy susan stayed (the players put most of the dice and left over figures on it, too bad it turned into a distraction for the younger one). I put out the map for the "Crossroads" encounter and set up a screen behind which I would work my DM magic. I went through all of the encounters in the Red Box and did my best to not only understand them, but to set aside the right tokens and try to figure out what would happen in each room.

I put the kids' character sheets at their places at the table and even handed out the "Second Wind" cards and action point tokens. I liked having the cards for each of the powers there, it added something tactile to the experience and knowing my girls, it would help them remember which powers they'd used. But while I was handing out the cards, I noticed something. My friend had created his character (Human Fighter) using the Character Builder tool. And I had created a fourth character (Dwarven Fighter) for the group for some additional muscle. While I didn't expect the Red Box to provide a card for every fighter power, the set seemed to be woefully under serving the fighter class. I looked through the cards three times. Not a single fighter Daily Power was to be found. I wonder if I missed something, or perhaps a sheet of cards never made it into my box. The cleric and mage classes had a ton of cards though.

For all of the other powers, we just cut out the ones we printed from the character builder.

I went to bed late on Saturday night as prepared as I could be.

Sunday morning came and we were ready. My friend arrived with a couple armloads of snacks and beverages, further endearing him to my daughters.

A few things conspired to trip us up, but we did the best we could. A massive heatwave rolled into town so we moved the game time up to 10AM rather than post lunch to help avoid the worst of the mid-day heat.

My older daughter sat down to finish the last two pages for her character and noticed that our d20 from the Red Box was missing. Odd! I suspect our cat absconded with it, but we looked all over the house and never did find it. Luckily my friend brought plenty of dice with him.

My friend was still learning the new ruleset and so he felt it would be better for me to do the majority of the work for the fourth character (the Dwarven Fighter I created for them). This made my job tricky as I had a lot of balls in the air. I did my best to make the dwarf just bonk whatever was closest and not do much based on the DM information I had (separating DM knowledge from player knowledge from character knowledge! Phew!). In turn, my friend kept track of the HP and healing surges for the whole party and generally stepped in with ideas whenever the kids seemed to be stuck. That was a tremendous help.

In a few places I gave the kids some hints about searching rooms or examining objects. For example, even though I mentioned the pool of water and the basins and the braziers in encounter 1, they never thought to examine them. So I said things like "you notice something sparkle at the far end of the room." And my friend helped with these things too.

The party moved on to the encounter with the white dragon and decided to try to talk their way through it. I think those kinds of skill challenges are fun and I was happy to have them attempt alternative approaches.

Of course, I just plain failed at coming up with a way to make the conversation last for at least 8 skill checks. I ended up letting them pass after just four or five successes with zero failures. Part of this is, again, my lack of experience as a DM. I knew exactly where the conversation was going to go, but I just had a hard time coming up with what seemed like obvious filler. What could have been an epic encounter for the party fell a bit flat. That said, I overheard the girls in the next week talking about bluffing their way past dragons...

From there they went into the room with Kurrash (Kurresh?) the bugbear and we decided that would be the final battle of the day. Everyone used their daily powers and the party made quick work of the enemies. What a remarkable difference from our first attempt where a handful of goblins handed out a TPK.

And so we put the "The End?" on the session with the plan to eventually meet up to finish the rest of the small adventure.

Now, some things I handled incorectly as DM:

  • I had no idea how the thief works, and so I didn't know how to guide my younger daughter in doing anything other than throwing daggers all day. I know I could have made it a lot more fun for her if I could have had more for her character to do. I will add that to my list of things to learn before next time.
  •  Skill checks. I tried to throw a few in there for them so they could get more into the non-combat parts. I can do better there for sure.

  • Keeping it moving. Working the fourth character as well as the monsters was just too much for me to handle. Even with a large area behind the screen in which to keep my notes/etc. I still kept losing my place and forgetting stuff.

  • Modifiers! There are just too many of them! It's so hard to remember who has combat advantage, who's used a Second Wind, who's standing in a hex/field/area of effect/etc. etc. Add in "marked" targets, bloodied, etc. and I just plain had a hard time keeping it all straight in my head. I'll need to rely on the players to do a better job of keeping track of their modifiers so I can at least just have the monsters' to track.

  • FUN! I didn't quite make the experience as fun as I had hoped. For our first/aborted/ill-conceived attempt a few months ago, I had written a lot of backstory and descriptive text that was tailored for my friend and my daughters. They seemed to enjoy that part of things. Using this adventure, it was up to me to add in the fun stuff that would keep their attention but I was so worried about keeping track of everything else (writing down initiative, tracking every monster's HP, conditions, etc., etc.) that I didn't improvise enough. And, yes, I should have been thinking of things before the game to keep drawing the kids in. I know next time will be better in this regard as I've had more time to learn.

And there you have it. One man's (and his daughters') experience with the Red Box.

LOVED: Lots of goodies in the box that I can use for future sessions.

TOLERATED: Typos/inconsistencies in the materials (a real pet peeve of mine for professional writing) and seeming lack of cards for the fighter class.

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