Nope, we did not play War of the Mecha or any variation thereof. Yes, I brought by mecha stuff, but I was all hot and bothered to play good 'ol D&D after a two week break, and my players were rarin' to face death again. We even had yet another new player (this one named Ben...don't ask) who was anxious to have his character cut down in the prime of his life. I was only too happy to oblige him.
It was a pretty good night in general. Not that I'm trying to play favorites or anything, but I can definitely see an improved life expectancy rate with the players that have been coming to the games longer. Luke's magic-user survived despite being reduced to 1 or 2 hit points in multiple encounters, as did Randy's necromancer, Josh's archer, and Neckbeard the Dwarf (played by Heron).
For the newer guys, the Keep on the Borderlands continues to be a bloodbath. Dave and Ben both got killed once and Greg lost three characters in one night, which may be a record even at my table.
The sad part is, the group got precious little XP for the whole outing. I haven't added up the figures yet, but the unfortunate truth is that running from rats and koboids and occasionally picking up a silver piece or two might keep your character alive, but it doesn't advance you very quickly. "Fortune favors the bold," as they say but sometimes I wonder what's keeping the players from looking for "the big score."
I mean, I do offer some hints. Orc snipers. Rumors of a mad hermit. A mysterious stranger asks them to find her sister in the temple of Chaos and offering platinum pieces. I suppose it could appear I'm just throwing random shit out there to "spice things up" (and certainly "spicing" is part of it), but they aren't taking the hint.
Instead it's "let's hit the kobold caves," even though I've blogged before (and they read my blog!) that the damn kobold caves are a frigging death trap.
I don't care that they're "little creatures" with 2 and 3 hit points...stop thinking this is a video game designed to scale ("oh, you have to fight the little guys first to earn XP to fight the medium guys...."). D&D doesn't work like that! Old school RPGs aren't video games...they're like life, i.e. they aren't simple and easy and linear.
At least, the good ones aren't.
Let's look at the damn kobolds for a second shall we? Let's take a look in depth at this bunch of little dog men.
Less than 1 hit dice. D4 damage with their crappy weapons. Weak armor class.
So how are they surviving in the Caves of Chaos anyway? Why aren't they simply the local delicacy of the bugbear tribe or something? Heck, why haven't they moved away from the caves and looked for an easier ecosystem in which to make their lair?
Two words: Cleverness and Numbers.
And it's these two things that make the kobold warren such a death trap. At mid- to high levels, PCs aren't troubled much by the occasional dead fall or pit trap. At low levels (when saves are weak), these things can take PCs out quick...or weaken them to the point where they're easily killed by a single lucky blow.
And high numbers of monsters means the chances of that lucky blow landing just got ramped up. Would you rather face four orcs or eight kobolds? Well, let's see....an orc needs a 17 or better to hit plate and shield. And a kobold...needs a 17 or better to hit plate and shield.
So you face eight monsters that have a 20% chance of hitting your frontline fighters or four monsters that have the same chance. Plus with multiple foes, the likelihood is that they'll be able to surround you, engage your "squishier" party members, cut-off your retreat, bear you to the ground...you get the point, right?
Also, there's that great equalizer we call "Morale." Monsters check morale after suffering their first casualty and after 50% of their force is gone. Unlike, say, monsters in the World of Warcraft, not every creature is interested in "fighting to the death," which can give adventuring parties a well-needed breather (and a chance to escape the dungeon when resources are getting low).
However, if the monster mob being faced can pass the morale check for that 1st casualty, the large mob of small monsters can absorb many more casualties prior to facing a second morale check. And that means subjecting party members to additional rounds of multiple attacks.
Randy has this to say about goblins: "I hate these guys." And he has good reason to...they've killed more PCs with their half-dozen-sized platoons of spear carriers than the big monsters (minotaurs and owlbears and such) ever have. Because they seem easy; they seem weak...3 hit points each, weak armor class, sure. But they travel in six packs...and if you let one escape they're bringing another 6-pack of reinforcements in short order.
The kobolds? They travel in eight packs. And their females fight, too. Like the males, females have less than 1 hit dice, do only D4 points of damage, and while they only have 2 hit points (as opposed to the males' 3 apiece) who cares, you're already dead because you've been hit multiple times by a bunch of D4 javelins and the little dog men are feasting on your bones.
Now here's the worst part...in addition to the traps and the cultivated packs of disease-carrying rats (also only 2 hit points, but there are 18 of 'em and they all have the same chance to hit as an orc)...HERE's the WORST PART:
They've got bupkiss for treasure.
Being low down on the CoC pecking order, they're carrying copper and silver, having been strong-armed over time by their larger humanoid neighbors; to a TRIBE of kobolds a TRIBE of bugbears is an intimidating threat, and one to which they're willing to pay tribute rather than start a war that will end in genocide.
But to a small adventuring party? Facing a horde of sharp points for a handful of silver is a complete waste of a good character sheet.
Here...y'all want to know how much experience the party pulled out of the kobold warren last night (which killed three PCs)?
107 XP. That's the total party take...including the XP from the 70 or so silver coins they pocketed.
When you divide that amongst the 6 survivors, it sure ain't much to write home about. 17 or so apiece? Maybe 18 or 19 with that bonus for a high Prime Requisite.
Fortune favors the bold. I'm not saying this to be an asshole or call my players chumps. Or rather, maybe I AM an asshole, but I'm tired of them scrabbling around in the dark for chump change. If you want to use your superior technology (plate mail and musket fire) to kill the spear-chucking natives, then do it the Napoleonic way and hire/equip some troops. If you want to be treasure hunters, then go get some treasure...go after the big score!
"Oh, the monsters are too big and dangerous."
What a crock of shit. I mean, fine I didn't think you were heroes anyway, but why does everything have to be a goddamn frontal assault? You've got two or three fighters...out of party of eight or nine. How about thinking like something other than a fighter. Stealth. Negotiation. Trickery. Missile fire and tactics.
Your magic-user can bring down anything up to an ogre in size. Your archer seems to be able to hit fairly regularly at distance (without being hit himself). Your thieves have yet to demonstrate their bushwhacking and backstabbing...and last night you weren't even using the thief to scout ahead (despite still allowing "auto-success" with thief abilities)...how about a little basic recon?
Yes, when Steve's character turned invisible and shot arrows at a crowd of goblins, THAT was dumb and bad and bad things happened (including Steve getting the death he so richly deserved)...that doesn't mean such tactics might not work in the future (or that you might learn from his errors of judgment).
Look, maybe I'm to blame. Every session I ask for a marching order, and my players dutifully line up and parade into whatever hell hole they've chosen to die in this particular evening. The REASON I ask for the marching order is so that I...as a DM that doesn't use miniatures but orients spatially based on these notes and my adventure module map...the REASON is so that I can picture who is standing where when shit hits the fan.
But it is totally okay to break formation!
No need to march off to slaughter, time and time again. You can start in a march and send individuals ahead (or behind for that matter). You can even send a couple of PCs to scout if you're worried a lone dude ain't going to make it back with any intel.
Okay, okay...I feel like I'm berating my players and I don't really want to do that. They had fun (so they tell me) and I had fun (I really did) and it was a good session and everyone (I think) wants to come back again next week. And many PCs ARE surviving these sessions, which is a good thing and a step in the right direction.
But do you want to risk death itself for a handful of silver? Do you want your character's final fate to be the cook pot of a pack of miniature dog men? Come on, people!