This past Sunday, my players visited the Caves of Chaos for what is probably the last time for a while. I'd expected them to go maybe 2-3 times, but in the end we spent the better part of 8 sessions there and 1 solo session that was connected to it. I started a nice little wrapup and then Jeffro posted this nice State of the Borderlands and beat me to the punch.
Here is what I wrote before we first started, back in September.
Approaching the Caves
and here are our sessions in the Caves themselves:
Session 4, Part 1
Session 4, Part 2
State of the Borderlands
So where is the game world right now?
- more and more farmers and traders are showing up at the Keep. The road east, to Stericksburg, has suffered from a lot less raiding-for-kidnapping and raiding-for-loot from the inhabitants of the Caves of Chaos. The area is somewhat safer.
- the orcs and one of the two gnoll tribes in the Caves were slaughtered completely. Partly by the PCs, and the hobgoblins did the rest.
- the budding temple of evil, and its growing army of undead, was wiped out by the PCs and its evil shrines expunged and exorcised. A threat Inquisitor Marco's sect of the church detected has been destroyed.
- the hobgoblins have taken over the orc caves and one of the gnoll caves, and fully brought the two goblin tribes under their thumbs. They're clearly warring with the remaining gnolls. They've put out daytime patrols, patrol around the caves area at night (at least), and organized the goblins into their ranks.
- the Lord of the Maze was killed three times by the PCs and came back . . . and they expect him to do it again. They left his spear and mail shirt - two things he keeps coming to retrieve - with the hobgoblins for the express sneaky purpose of the LotM having to kill hobgoblins to get them back.
- As a GM, this was meant as a shakedown - a chance for the players to get used to pure 4e rules (not all of them played 4e characters before), to old-school semi-adversarial GMing, the cost-and-upkeep setting rules, and to a deliberately extra-lethal campaign. It worked well for that, I think.
- So, my first impression of the matchup of 250 point DFers vs. the caves was this - "I do expect them to cut through most of the inhabitants like a hot knife through butter . . . But critical hits, FP expenditure, expendables expenditure, and the occasional disastrous tactical choice will take their toll."
It did, as a matter of fact. Volos died due to a tough foe and a bad defense roll or two. Inq. Marco almost died from a critical failure. Borriz came pretty close this past session, too. A couple NPCs died. A lot of arrows, holy water, and a few assorted potions got used up. And magical energy was expended in spades.
- Generally the players have fought pretty well and been more careful than bold, even when facing relatively weak threats. This saved them a couple time, IMO, when dangerous traps or bad luck struck.
- I did expect them to take a few trips, but not eight of them.
- As you might have noticed, no bugbears (I put another tribe of gnolls there, more noted for cleverness than strength) or kobolds (I don't like kobalds, I swapped in more goblins).
- Important Villains vs. Fungible Monsters. My last game was more story-oriented (player-driven story, and a sandbox, but story was big). So villains were important, and I had to spend a lot of time thinking about how to keep them alive, how they'd fight, and what they'd do in response to threats and outside events. It would be bad in that game if I forgot to protect against Attack A and the PCs used it to kill the Major Villain in one blow. That would potentially shatter verisimilitude as players would wonder how and why the villain survived all this time or did these things history said he'd done. In this DF game, monsters aren't particularly important (generally). They're fungible, which major NPCs weren't. If Attack A wipes out a powerful monster, it's fine, I'll just use more or different ones. Neither approach is better or worse than the other, IMO. Villains emerged from player actions in my game but took more work in the long run. Monsters emerge solely from my decisions, but once I've created them and set them they don't take a lot of effort or followup.
- My XP rules work well in actual play, for my group anyway.
- Having game date and real world date match works, but the slow rate of meetings means I need to hand out more treasure to cover the weekly upkeep from downtime. That's also me adjusting to a GURPS DF "you get 40% of value of good sold" vs. my old-time D&D approach of "you get 100% of the listed value of treasure" approach. So yeah, I needed to lay out more rewards.
- Reactions from the inhabitants was a little challenging as a GM. So much of what they did worked out to be re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The PCs were just way too powerful for them. It could be disheartening as the GM - why spend the time to adjust their tactics when they'll just die in five seconds of combat no matter what? But it was a good experience overall in learning what weak fodder need to do to face down real threats. Barring unlimited numbers (which wouldn't hurt), they need to be vicious, organized, ruthless, and sneaky. Even then I expect a slaughter!