So, I have a problem with this season of D&D Encounters. Mostly, its fucking boring. There is nothing fun to do with the setting or in the adventures. Let me back up a bit first. I started going to the Encounters program back in season 2, Dark Sun. I quit 8 weeks later, around the 3rd or 4th session of season 3 because I was bored and attendance had shriveled to nothing. The adventures were pointless combat slogs. I heard they got better in later seasons, but from what I read they were still stuck in that 4th Edition Slog mentality of fight after fight after fight. Boring. This changed with Murder in Baldur’s Gate. I didn’t play this adventure. But word of mouth on this thing was shit hot. When more than one person writes on their blog, “Is this adventure appropriate for twelve year olds?” I am sold. Because in order for it to be inappropriate it has to, you know, have a story.
I bought the adventure on Amazon for about 20 bucks, I honestly would’ve paid more. It is that good. Someone deserves to get their knuckles wrapped for including no monster stat blocks of any kind in the paid adventure, but this thing is solid. If you watched the Thieves World video on Spoony Experiment, the adventure is actually very similar where the PCs are thrust into this political situation with no easy resolution. The adventure is actually kind of written so the PCs are forced to work for one of three evil patrons and whoever they side with actually falls further and further down the dark side. I can see how some groups would say, “if we can’t help anyone, what’s the point?” But the thing is really designed to run on player creativity and respond to ingenuity. I really couldn’t be more impressed without actually playing the adventure.
Then this season rolled around: Legacy of the Crystal Shard. I haven’t read any Icewind Dale books nor have I played the game. And our introductory adventure was a real blast. We fought yetis, met NPCs, and got involved in the setting. My biggest fear after my angry departure from the Dark Clouds Gather group was that my character, yet another charismatic rogue, would be completely unsuited for the adventure. I actually started rolling up a more grizzled character better suited to what I thought would be the environment before the DM handed me a motivation saying I was fleeing town after “an incident.” This was the perfect background for my character, he’s a down on his luck con man forced to leave town after something goes wrong. It fit exactly. That launch game went great, couldn’t be happier.
Then we get to the next session. The guy running the thing needed to leave, so he gave the DM reins to someone who’d never DMed before and we had three identical fights against identical enemies. Hmm…not good but hey life happens. Second session, there’s a political situation in town with an election for the mayor/speaker. But then, there’s clearly a Good Choice and an Evil Choice. So rather than get us embroiled in the town…the clearly evil guy sends thugs to kill you…ummm….okay I was kind of having fun with the politics but I guess we can have a fight. Except the fight is in the town hall and there are no civilian or guards of any kind. When over, we go to the Evil Dude’s warehouse and immediately get into another fight. This one didn’t bother me because it felt earned. It was time to have a fight, you’re breaking into the guys evil base, violence ensues. Except he’s got an armory, a zombie room, a torture room, and a room with the kidnapped speaker. We have no idea why what’s happening is happening because we’ve spent all of three minutes with these NPCs. But we don’t need to spend time with them because as presented, these NPCs might as well be Mother Teresa and Snidely Whiplash.
Murder in Baldur’s Gate revolves around three NPCs committing evil acts with varying levels of overtness. They all think they’re doing the right thing. Torlin Silvershield is easily the most evil of the three because he doesn’t really have a plan outside of imposing an oligarchy and killing the poor people. Ravenguard is straight up trying to impose law & order. It may be harsh and unfeeling, but its what he thinks is needed. Rilsa is probably the most relatable, trying to lead some kind of proletariat revolution that frequently crosses the line with pushes to anarchy. The adventure works because the NPCs are flawed characters. They’re painted with shades of grey, no one is really good, but if the PCs don’t get involved as a kind of balancing power, they’ll tear apart the city.
Legacy has Duvessa, friend to all living things who everyone loves. Then Vaelish Gant, the asshole. I try to be a good creative player, but I’m very hard on storylines or quest hooks that make me feel like a chump for accepting them. You’re supposed to champion Duvessa because what the fuck else would you do? I tried to drag my feet and really dig into the politics in order to be kind of a kingmaker to swing the election to whoever could pay for it, then the evil guy attacked us. Why? We didn’t do anything yet. He could’ve sat on ass and maybe we would’ve helped him. I want to be a good player and help the DM but I can only be so complicit on a railroad adventure. And it chafes because I know how open the last adventure could be, and that we met all these different people the first adventure, now they’re gone in exchange for vastly less interesting people.
Then we get to last night, session 3. The organizer throws the reins to another guy who, god bless him he’s trying but he doesn’t know the adventure. Duvessa friend to all living things sends us on an errand of mercy and goodwill to treat with the Elk Tribe Barbarians. On the way we have a random encounter with some fucking unbalanced winter wolves who have breath weapons that beat the allmighty christ out of us. Maybe it was balanced on paper, but level 3 Next character get fucked up from area of effect 4d6 damage. To quote Leonine Roar, a great blog you should read, “Why focus an entire hour of a session in a pointless fight that does not advance the adventure, the player’s quests or their motivations at all?” It was long, felt long, and worst of all, this was a pointless way to drain our resources before any kind of climatic fight.
So we get to this Barbarian village. Immediately the Barbarians have a problem they could use our help with. There are some asshole barbarians, the Bear Tribe, that are hogging the Elk Tribe’s sacred pool. For all the development these guys got, it might as well have been one guy with a fucking exclamation point over his head asking us to clear wolves out. Again, I don’t want to be the jerkass PC that makes the DM’s life hell, but, the hook sucks. And we know there’s a more interesting adventure back in town. Fortunately I wasn’t the only guy with a problem tonight. No one was that interested in helping recover the sacred the pool for the Elk Tribe. No one was interested because no one cared. There was no connection to this tribe, we didn’t owe them anything, they didn’t offer us anything. The pool needs to be saved because “Do you want to play D&D tonight?” Well, if its pointless combat than…NO! I’m not interested. And for once, my charismatic avoid a fight at any cost attitude was not alone. The group, largely made up of newcomers who will jump at any quest hook no matter how poorly explained, really had a problem with this one.
But it wasn’t really helping the Elk Tribe that was the problem so much as, when we get to the pool and find the Bear tribe, everyone wanted to use diplomacy to convince them to leave. There was not one person in the group, of new, blood hungry players, who wanted to roll in and just murder these people they didn’t know. Bottom line, the party had no stake in who controlled this fucking pool. We didn’t care and we didn’t want to fight about it. Meanwhile the new DM is losing his mind like a Wall Street CEO in front of Elizabeth Warren trying to come up with an explanation for why these guys completely refuse to talk to us. It’s a naked blatant railroad. And a railroad is fine, but don’t throw us into a situation and pretend we have a choice then. If the adventure had to be a fight, why not just make them feral animals instead of people? It was bad. And I really want to read the adventure because I refuse to believe that the next adventure after Murder in Baldur’s gate is supposed to be this much of a combat slog.
Our initial solution was single combat between our monk and their leader, which he wins, then they attack us. So we’re forced at gunpoint to murder these Bear Tribers in cold blood. Everyone was kind of bored because they tortured the last survivor. The dude has a map with a mark that says hostages. Are you fucking kidding me? The Barbarians ask us to free their hostages, we have no choice otherwise there’s no adventure, the night ends with us on the way to a dragon’s cave to rescue hostages we don’t know or care about to help from people we also don’t know or care about to kill. I don’t know if I’m going to go back.
Lessons for the Evening
- If a random encounter takes more than 15 minutes, you’re fucking it up.
- Lack of game prep is a learned skill. It takes an experienced DM to walk in with nothing planned, especially if you’re running a published module.
- If none of the PCs want to go on the adventure, don’t force them. It’s called a quest hook because they have to bite.