Old Traps, New Module

Yesterday we played the last game in the Thousand Fangs Below Module and as we were having an extended game the party made their first entry into the final module of the Serpent’s Skull adventure path, Sanctum of the Serpent God.  The party showed over the entire game some solid, innovative play but also fell into some old traps that they had moved on from as the game progressed.

It all started as the players moved into the “dungeon” level of the Thousand Fangs Fortress to find a captive there.  The group initially came across some guards and reinforcements in a wide open cavern.  This style of play really suits the group where they have open spaces and are highly mobile.  Initially it got a bit bogged down as the players got bottlenecked in some stairs but they soon fought their way out and got mobile.  I thought they were doing very well as the group was largely tapped out of resources and each round was becoming a round of saving resources for a possible final battle.  Regardless of this the players did not “fall over” as they normally do when light on resources and they moved further into the dungeon and found their target.  They also found a highly skilled invisible rogue who did not appear when see invisibility or invisibility purge was used which confused the group.  However they dealt with the situation and managed to take him down after one of the group transformed into an earth elemental and kept the party informed of the opponents likely position.  The battle was over with no fatalities within seven rounds.

Moving on to the final module of the adventure path

The group got the captive out, freed a bunch of slaves and made their way safely out of the fortress, returning to camp where they got some (rare) time off as the captive recovered from his physical and mental torture.  The group sold unwanted treasure (like +4 bracers of armour!!! I KNOW!) and did some purchasing of their own.  They also got to cosy up to a few of the encampment they had been getting close to and generally relax a bit.  This marked the turning point from the Thousand Fangs Below module into the Sanctum of the Serpent God and the group were finally called to an audience with the captive and all the highly ranked members of their encampment.

The meeting gave them a lot more of the whole picture that they had been missing for a while and also allowed them the opportunity to ask a lot of questions of someone who actually knew a good deal about the subject.  The party were a bit tentative at first but then began to ask the right questions and find out that to fight the encroaching evil the serpentfolk were creating they would first need to find a weapon.  They knew the rough location of the weapon but not what form the weapon would appear as so they kitted up and in the morning teleported into the under city once again on a quest of vital importance.

The group at this point were having a bit of a tea break, discussing magical treasure and various other bits and pieces.  I let it wander for a while and then got a little bored so I drew the next map on the flip mat.  Now I knew that there were roughly three fully formed encounters on the portion of map that I had decided to draw and a further three or four just off the edges of it.  In essence, within the immediate area of the map and just off its edges there were three CR15 encounters, three CR 16 encounter and three CR10 encounters.  Not only that, these encounters were with creatures they have only ever faced in combat once (a long time ago now) and several new creatures that were unknown, even to the experienced players.

A big area may contain more than one encounter people…

Now, if you recall my blog entry about using minis you will remember I listed a number of issues about the practice.  Well, I now have one to add to this and it is this.  If you draw a map, not only will the players believe that an encounter is at hand BUT they will believe that there is only one encounter to be had on the portion of map you draw.  Bad assumption players.  I thought nothing of drawing a larger map, after all, what I drew the players could see most of so show it to them.  Once the chatter about magic items died down and everyone had their fill of pizza we returned to the game and they decided on a path of action, all that relied on assumptions which proved their downfall in the first combat encounter of this module.  These assumptions, along with their repercussions are listed below.

  1. They assumed that the map would only contain one encounter.  Because of this they managed to involve one of the CR15 encounters and three of the CR16 encounters all at once.  There were the four players (all 15th level), three NPC’s (ranging between 11th and 15th level) and a cohort at 14th level to take on what actually tallied up to be very close to a CR20 encounter and well out of the groups ability to handle as a single encounter.  The scouts immediately flew over the main part of the map to a couple of interesting points right at the back of the map.  I attempted to entice them to one of the singular encounters but both ignored it and kept moving.
  2. The players assumed that invisible was spelt i-n-v-u-l-n-e-r-a-b-l-e.  One of the players made a so-so perception roll on his invisible flying scouting trip and got out stealthed by a new combatant that had the ability to see invisible as an innate ability.  There were several short remarks as the pair of invisible flying scouts got surprised by these opponents.  It was wholly an assumption that lead to this as to date there are probably only about three encounters in the adventure path that had creatures that could see invisible.  These scouts assumed that the trend would continue.  Also, when one of the same scouts attempted to turn invisible and get away from a different creature he had an attack of opportunity (AoO) against him that hit and knocked him unconscious.  This creature could not see invisible but had a +36 base perception and noticed him as he left.  Again, not a happy camper.
  3. They stopped working as a team.  This may be a bit controversial with the group but from where I was sitting the combat evolved into a lot of singular aims in a bad situations.  Sure, the players had some bad rolls, but so did the enemies with half of the combatants coming down with confusion from one of the abilities of the enemies.  
  4. Finally (and this had little to no repercussion but I had to put it here as proof) one of the players stated quite clearly “We should have started buffing as soon as he drew the map.” See, use mini’s and maps and the players will assume there are encounters to be had.

Luckily for the players though they decided to withdraw at the right time.  There was only one death, and that was from an NPC that had been with them since the first module.  The death appears to be a final one also as he was absorbed by a giant acidic ooze.  The group made it back to their encampment OK although depressed.  There was some snippiness at the end of the night and although I had a good time I think some of the players may have walked away a little taken aback.  I did say to my daughter on my way home though that this is the final module and it was time to shine or die.  She quite frankly came back at me and told me that she was going to shine, and I hope they all rise to the challenge and shine together.

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