Cast of Characters
Keyleth Arwyl: Elven Protector Druid (Circle of Shelter, Beastwalker Circle)
Fen Silverfang: Longtooth Shifter Berserker (Temperate Lands)
Sophia Vermillion: Half-Elven Valorous Bard
Miyako "Mia" Sotoko: Human Centered Breath Monk
Zeus: Dwarven Wrathful Invoker
Wow, we finally finished this adventure after over 2 months of not playing! Though it wasn't necessarily avoidable, this session felt really rushed. The DM is leaving for Paraguay in a few days, and shortly after he gets back I'm moving out of state until around August for work. So this was definitely destined to be our last session for quite some time, which meant that it had to be concluded. The DM cut some stuff, but we still ended up cutting it really close, and we didn't even get a proper denouement.
At the end of the last session the heroes were ambushed during their extended rest, and they decided to rest again after the fight to refresh all of their resources. They saw smoke above the mountain the previous day, and so they headed in that direction. Due to a miscommunication I was picturing a very different geography than the DM. In my mind's eye, we were on an island of at least 50ish square miles with a relatively large volcanic peak that rose at least a thousand feet up, if not a bit more. In truth the island was probably closer to 10ish square miles with a roughly 100 foot tall cliff "ridge" that ran down the middle of the island, and was probably only a few hundred meters wide at most. Oops.
Anyways, the party made their way up toward where the smoke was coming from, Mia and Keyleth stealthily scouting ahead. They came to the cliff face and found a gate flanked by 2 trolls (chained up nearby) and 2 archers in protected battlements just above the gate. Though their movement in the brush was spotted, Keyleth ran into the open as a wild boar, and then pretended to flee back in the direction they came when she saw the trolls. Basically, the idea was to put the guards at ease, thinking the rustling was just wild animals. Mia snuck further around, while Keyleth went back to the others. She sent Fen to find Mia so the two of them could climb the cliff in secret beyond the line of sight of the guards. They were to come at the gate from above. They began by rolling large boulders over the edge on top of the unwitting trolls, but soon ran short on available rocks (and time). As soon as they secured their rope and started rappelling down the ranged guys revealed their position by attacking. One of the trolls was incredibly tough for a level 7 party (a level 12 Battle Troll from MV...I hate high-level soldiers). Halfway through the battle I was convinced we'd have to flee from him even after defeating everyone else, but we prevailed in the end. It was a long slog thanks to the fact that we only had 1 fire power at our disposal, and it was an encounter power (Sophie picked Burning Spray as her Dilettante!). We decided the best course of action was to wait until any trolls in a given battle were all dropped, and then "finish them" with Burning Spray as a coup-de-grace. So the troll's consistent regen was pretty annoying.
Zeus ended up taking quite a bit of damage (being bloodied 3 times!). Though the plan was for Fen and Mia to take out the archers first, Fen ended up simply dropping off of the rope and eating some minor falling damage (thanks to Acrobat Boots he was still able to move + charge next turn) because the trolls ended up being far more dangerous than expected. This was because Keyleth and Zeus rolled horribly at the beginning of the encounter, making our attempts to control the trolls futile. I'm convinced that a few lucky (big!) hits from Fen and consistent Vicious Mockery damage/debuff from Sophie (including 1 crit) were the only reasons we fared so well against the Battle Troll.
In any case, the party triumphed and then Mia crit-picked the lock to the gate. She then rolled a 1 to pick the lock of the next door inside, which was built into a cave-in. The door shifted when Fen broke it open, but Zeus determined that the stones were stable enough for them to safely pass (from a metagame perspective, we were pretty nervous about this since we knew that his Dungeoneering role wasn't all that high). The party was soon in a room filled with stacked crates, that led to a staircase outside of a rock ledge (we'd made it through the "mountain"). The stairs led to a lagoon where Fen saw 2 trolls and several pirates loading things onto schooners when he peeked around the corner. There was also a child manacled to the wall of the cave, whom we freed and told to hide (though he was convinced that we were all pirates playing a cruel joke on him, and when he saw Keyleth use Wild Shape he accused her of being a demon).
We were off to a great start in this battle, with Keyleth nonchalantly flying onto the roof of a building and off the other side in dodo-form to get to an advantageous position. Mia then used Crane's Wings to jump off the rock ledge, over the staircase, and through the window of the building (to find herself surrounded by 5 thugs who ended up being minions). Fen set himself up at a bottleneck at the bottom of the stairs, and Keyleth opened the battle with Vine Serpents, successfully hitting both trolls. One troll would remain restrained for the entire combat, never making a single attack (very unlucky with the saves!), while the other was immediately barraged with other control attacks after making his second save (the first being Charm Beast, forcing him to attack the other troll). Sophie and Zeus pretty much sniped from the rock ledge the entire time (at least until Sophie needed to come down to dish out some heals). Because he tended not to get to use Longtooth Shifting very often, Fen elected not to heal himself after reaching just above his bloodied value from the racial power's regen in the previous encounter. Starting the encounter almost bloodied, it would take only one hit before he could activate Longtooth Shifting again. His high defenses actually prevented him from being hit for quite a while. Perhaps my favorite "Fen moment," however, was when Mia was badly injured and way out of Sophie's healing range. Fen instructed her to jump aboard the schooner that he was fighting pirates on (with his aura still up) and park herself next to him. She soon went down, but he was able to bring her right back up with Swift Recovery. Soooo glad I picked that skill power for him at level 6! The defense bonus from having used her second wind also saved her butt during the next round of archer attacks. Overall the battle was won fairly easily, in no small part thanks to Keyleth's luck with Vine Serpents. That has been so effective at wrecking encounters that it's probably my favorite daily power now.
As I said before, this session was very rushed. We called it immediately after this battle (during which there were a lot of distractions so it took longer than it probably had to), with the DM basically saying "congratulations, you have 2 schooners so you can get back now." No roleplaying to find out who the kid was, no closure after dragging our pirate prisoner around for this whole adventure, nothing to resolve the fact that we destroyed Captain Jack's ship (or what we would do with our new surplus of ships), and perhaps most disappointing, no resolution for Sophie's case of herpes. Keyleth had been collecting herbs for use as ritual components to reduce the cost of the Remove Affliction ritual, and we also never investigated that possibly corrupt Cleric in the next town over. The DM had admitted that he's not great at improvising, but I still would have preferred going through with that little side quest (after all, improvisation is an absolutely critical skill for any GM, and the only way to become comfortable with it is to actually do it).
I may follow this up with a longer post later, but lately I've been thinking about the weaknesses of 4E and tonight really highlighted some of those. I like how free-form and flexible the system is out of combat, but combat lies on the complete opposite end of that spectrum which can create a bit of a disconnect. It almost feels like you're playing 2 different games at times, with OoC being a sleek, streamlined RPG and combat being a highly involved tactical miniatures game. The length of combat also tends to remove you from the main narrative for long periods of time. I also dislike the way that the system scales with level, and despise the magic item and treasure system (which we've thankfully been largely ignoring in this campaign). I really think that combat can be simplified and made more efficient while preserving most of the tactical depth, but it would be a tough thing to accomplish. Finally, there's just something "off" about efficient use of resources (a combination of recovering everything after an extended rest, no long-term effects in general, and a lack of momentum-building mechanics that restrict flexibility in designing variable-length adventuring days).
I think a lot of these thoughts are a direct result of having played The One Ring several times now. Though it's a very different system than D&D 4E and I wouldn't want one to turn into the other, so to speak, I think I'm starting to prefer a lot of elements in a game like TOR. I'm finding myself looking more and more forward to what the designers have in store for us with 5E/D&DN, hoping for something that plays a bit like 1E D&D but with the "polish" and some modern elements of 4E. I'd like quick, exciting combats with an easily-accessible option for tactical depth on a system that above-all emphasizes narrative elements. I'd like to avoid the restrictive, simulationist rules of 3E (particularly for OoC stuff) in favor of something streamlined and easy-to-use like some elements of 4E (replicating the "feel" of TOR with decidedly D&D mechanics). Ultimately if the new game doesn't deliver I'm starting to feel confident that I'd be able to create a "hybrid" system that does more or less exactly what I want it to (especially since such modularity is one of the major design goals of D&DN anyways).