Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Week 5 of the Campaign - Prep Article - In Search of a Hill Giant

I am into my fifth week of my 3rd Dungeons and Dragons campaign with my Virtual Table group. I relayed some of the information on how I set up the campaign and today I am updating the process and using this as a sample of how I plan my weekly sessions. Let's get started. Warning: this article contains Frandor Keep Spoilers.

On Saturday I posted a summary of the night's session on our group's forum. The party used the session to deal a blow to the local group of Brigands known as Rikar's Ravens and will start off this week leveling to 2nd. On Sunday I updated the character wealth on the forum to give the party a chance to shop. Both of these actions are standard activities for our group and take about 30 mins total. I rolled on my random rumor tables and posted the results for the group to digest at the same time. The group has a meeting in character each week to decide what rumors to pursue. Tonight at midnight the vote closes and the Hill Giant rumor is leading the pack by a long-shot. It is now mathematically impossible for any other result to be achieved.Any one familiar with 4E's monster manual and hill giants are probably wondering WTH? Hill giants are level 8 to level 13 standard monsters. This is well out of the threat range of a second level party.

So why would I do this? The answer is simple during week 3 one of my players met a down on his luck bounty hunter named Larzon. Larzon was down on his luck due to being unable to find and slay the hill giant he tracked to the area. This was to be a hint at a future adventure opportunity. My player, whom we will call Mr. Instigator, decided he would scream out a challenge to the hill giant and issue a warning. He is playing a half-orc thief, and as such he knows giant. The rest of the group has no idea what he hollered, but I am sure the giant would have taken offense. A 20 on the giant's perception check ensured the echo would reach his ears.  I dearly love Mr. Instigator. He keeps my game moving and doesn't let the game bog down. The big problem is he loves to be hated so I have to respond in a manner that makes the rest of the party gasp and him chuckle. So during the rumor list last week I posted this as the warlord's rumor. (The warlord was out of town and missed so...)

Seiler - Does not show at the meeting; his time spent with the blacksmith's daughter has become greater lately. Now, his sister is also in town. They haven't been eating at the Broken Hilt though due to the large boulder that now sits in the middle of the dining hall. Rumor has it that a large boulder arrived via the roof. Apparently, if you believe such tales, a hill giant launched the boulder from the mountain top and missed his target for it landed in the Broken Hilt.

Now, during week four the promise of the Ravens' treasure protected by a gnarly beast was more interesting to the party than the Hill Giant rumor was. This probably had to do with the lack of funds most of the party was suffering from and the hate they had developed for the Ravens. This week though Mr. Instigator is leading the charge out into the wild to find the Giant and bring him down once and for all.

Building the Adventure

The party will start in the Keep. My standard party is pretty weak in Nature. The best one in the group has a whopping +6, that is my son the Wizard. These are city dwelling folk trying to make their living on the frontier tsk, tsk. I have dropped hints about the forums as my PCs shop, hinting about Larzon's superior woods lore.

Encounter 1 Role-playing - Larzon Bayz - Optional

Description text

Larzon is an enormous Draegarian, his minotaur horns are shod in iron and his dragonborn scales are a fierce bright orange. His studded leather armor is supple and well oiled. A greatsword sticks above his left shoulder. A heavy crossbow with a quarrel case is never far from his reach.

  • Compentent Hunter
  • Drinker/ Gambler
  • Sterile Race
  • Born of a Far Continent Dragonborn and Minotaur
  • Often found sitting sharpening his sword in front of his tent

  • Found his way to Frandor tracking a hill giant
  • Along the way he was offered a bounty for retrieving stolen property from thugs (Rikar's Ravens)
  • He has since lost the trail and only hears rumors (like the one about the boulder in the Broken Hilt Tavern) 
  • With no luck on either front he eventually moved out of the Keep and set up his tent in Quarry town 
  • Despite his success as a Bounty Hunter he has little to show for it 
  • Drinking and Gambling eat up his income 
  • Often said over a Legasa Ale
Larzon "No better quarry than some scum who deserves a killing."

This is the basics of Larzon's character. The party met him when he bought them an ale for taking out one of the Ravens' Lieutenants. I want to bring him back in now to aid the party with the hill giant. It is entirely possible that the party will never make the trip to Q-town to get his aid. That's fine. I prep it any way.

I want to have a challenge set up to get the party to interact and get to know Larzon a little more. My initial idea is to have him drinking like Inigo Montoya in the Princess Bride. I don't want him to seem totally useless however, so I decide to go with dice instead. This gives two of my players the ability to revisit some role-playing from week 2 when they used Sorcery and Psionics to rip off a poor dragonborn guard man in a game of poker. In fact I will have the guard come back for this game of chance as well. Rounding out my gambler's will be a human Jiric Helsan. The PCs haven't met Jiric yet but his interest in wild creatures could put a spin on the whole adventure. He is a slaver that ships demi-humans and monsters south to the arena. He can perk up at the mention of the giant and create an inter party debate.

This gives me three NPCs in the situation with different goals.
I list them out with their agendas like so:

Jiric Helsan - Convince party to bring back the giant alive (offering 500 sp), introduction to the party for future ops or as an enemy at the parties option
Lazon Bayz - Happy to see party again , he tries to get them off track and into the gambling; if beaten at dice or convinced by party that they need his help will walk away
Shathen "Shast", Man-at-arms - Not so happy to see Crazelle and Zusk; wants a rematch, wearing plain clothes, If the party loses some of his months pay back to him he can provide info about sightings of the giant as a lead

Encounter 1a Skill Challenge or RP - Where is the monster?

Complexity 1 if skill challenge, dcs will be level 4 to be competitive with their skill sets

If the party doesn't bite on the Larzon hook, I still have to get them to the adventure site. They have heard the boulder was hurled from Karpar Peak, but my monster doesn't live there since it is the location of a watch tower. Those guards might be a good place to start. A few easy checks talking to them using Social Skills (Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate, and Insight) would do the trick here. This is a good idea and I will make it simpler because of that.

Alternatively the party could use general monster knowledge and try and locate the monster that way.
As cruel as it is I will make these moderate and hard checks. (History, Dungeoneering, Nature at moderate and Religion, Arcana, Perception at hard) I throw perception in here as part of the tracking skill set. This is the straightforward kick in the door method, and plays to the party's weaknesses instead of their strengths.

I should have a third example option here but I am having vapor lock. Maybe it will come to me over the next few days. For now it is enough to decide that Physical skills will be at moderate DCs though I don't see a clear way to use them in this situation. (Stealth, Thievery, Acrobatics, Athletics, Endurance, Heal)

Encounter 2 Exploration/Travel - Mt. Tanara

Here I describe the terrain as the PCs approach. This satisfies my Ms. Explorer's desire to see the world. She will interact with the environment so I need to describe the splintered trees and large foot prints. She is a professional CSI which leads to challenges, luckily I can count on Mr. Instigator to keep things moving if we are stalling.
I also will throw in a random encounter. I have sixteen left from my initial prep. Only six of these are guaranteed combat encounters. The others are role-play and exploration. I prepare a second version of the dwarf miners one. It originally read:

"A half-dozen dwarves in miners clothing lounge casually on a fallen log next to the road. They eye you suspiciously as you approach. "

Now it reads:
"A half-dozen winded dwarves squat behind a copse of bushes. They scan the tree tops cautiously, picks and shovels wielded as makeshift weapons in their hands."

This will add nicely to the tension of facing the giant in a few moments. Depending on the players actions they may gain a bonus to the confrontation with the giant by interacting with the dwarves that just survived a brush with death.

Encounter 3 Combat - At the Giant's Lair - Mt. Tanara

For the actual fight I want something lethal but attainable. There is every chance a character or more will die Saturday. This isn't my ideal desire but it will reinforce the fact that this environment is truly sand-box and be careful what you take on. I take the 12th level Hill Giant Rockthrower from Monster Manual 3 to use as my base monster. This is way out of my players threat range. I adjust down five levels. Dropping its AC and defenses appropriately. I do the same for Attacks and damage. This monster has three attacks Greatclub, Knockdown Throw, and Shattering Rockburst. My RP reason for the low level is the hill giants old age. This will also be important for its solitude.

This monster will effectively be run as a solo monster so I want to make sure it has varied actions and can deal with five separate attackers at once. Its area burst dazing power is ok for this but it is a recharge and a standard. I do a search for other hill giants and don't find anything that strikes my fancy. I expand my search to all giant like creatures and find a Kick power I like from the Monster Vault Ettin. I rename the power Foot Shove and keep it as a move. It doesn't damage but it keeps the Giant mobile. Its still not enough with two defenders (Pally, and Fight...Weapon Master) a striker (Thief) and a Warlord (blah, Marshall) my players are melee heavy.

I add a power I call mighty roar as a minor. I have it do a d4 of thunder damage and push those hit 1 square giving the giant room to maneuver. This could get annoying for me as well as the players, so Recharge 4, 5, 6. I check my player's resistances, and verify no one is playing a dwarf :D. Only the wild sorcerer has a 1 in 10 chance to ignore this damage type and she probably won't be close enough, but I decide if she reduces all the damage the push fails as well. Validates her choices and could be of tactical significance, even at a long shot on the dice.Half way home, I upgrade the brute to an elite to keep the encounter tough.

The rest is terrain and victory conditions. The giant's lair is chosen for its limiting approach. I place four locations that allow PCs to get up and have height advantages, these will benefit the ranged characters if they can utilize them. I force a difficult approach with a deep pit allowing me to take a round to taunt and beat on them. I add climbing areas and difficult terrain. The Githyanki wizard will be able to allow one PC to bypass this difficult approach, allowing him to shine. I set the DC's for the climb at 14, see yesterdays article to understand why.

Hill Giant Lair with Symbols

These leave a single use terrain power and my victory condition. The single use terrain will be to trigger the avalanche of stones precariously balanced above the cave entrance. I will hint at this thru out the encounter as the giant plucks boulders from it to hurl at the party. For example "As the giant grabs another boulder from the cliffside, the sound of loose scree sliding down between the boulders reaches your ears." The trigger will be thunder/force damage to the hill side, or an athletics check to dislodge a key boulder etc.

The single use terrain ties into the two methods of victory conditions. Should the rock slide be triggered the hill giant will be pinned unconscious beneath the rubble. This will allow the PCs to sell him off to Jiric the Slaver, if they so choose. The other option is to bloody the creature and manage to succeed on the DC 25 intimidate check. The party has a max roll of 32 on intimidate so this has a 35% chance of success.Hmmm, any treasure? Need to research hill giant lore to see how I can modify a weapon, or gear appropriately. Leave that for tomorrow and another article

Encounter 4 RP - Wrap Up
The party can wrap up by getting the giant back down the mountain alive if applicable, meet up with Larzon to tell of the exploit, take the ears in to collect the bounty, bury their dead or do something else I don't even see during the prep.

Jiric has two story awards tied to him - one for going to work for him and one for putting him out of business
Larzon has two story awards tied to him - only one matters for this adventure, if the party used his aid or not
The party will garner a large amount of fame for pulling this off, as new of a band as they are, this reward will be to reputation

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