The five adventurers descended into the ruins, climbing quickly and quietly down a sturdy rope ladder. A dim green light greeted the small band of heroes as they entered a large chamber. From atop a damp ledge, they cautiously surveyed the area, taking in the features of the room, including a number of glowing crystals, pools of water fed by a subterranean stream, and a grisly collection of partially consumed humanoid corpses. The party decided to remain on the ledge while the druid’s animal companion, a large wolf, explored the grotto. Even though they expected to be confronted by the chamber’s draconic occupant at any moment, they still almost jumped out of their skins when the black dragon broke cover, erupting out of the water and attacking the wolf. Eldeth was the first to recover from the shock of the black’s sudden and violent appearance. With a booming battle cry to Moradin, the dwarf charged fearlessly down the embankment and to the water’s edge. Eldeth’s greataxe bit deeply into the dragon’s flank, drawing first blood on the small band’s dread foe.
* * * * *
And so began our battle to the death with the female black dragon, Vermastryx (Week 16: Into the Dragon Lair). Truth be told, I didn’t want to be the first one to head down there and have a go at that dragon, but I was next up in the initiative order after she appeared. At the start of my turn, a loud voice inside my head preached eminently sensible words of caution: “Wait here, a safe distance away, and see what the dragon does next…” “Stay here and let some other fool be the first one down there…” But then a small, insistent voice started to whisper words of folly and recklessness: “Ye’re a dwarf. Ye have a huge axe in yer hands. Are ye really going to stand here like a coward when there be a dragon down there begging to be killt???”
Sometimes it just comes down to asking, “What would my character do?”
By the end of the fight, one member of our party was dead-dead, another was unconscious and dying, but the cleric, knight, and Eldeth were able (by the skin of our teeth) to take down Vermastryx. I had five hit points left when she fell and I don’t think the cleric or knight were much better off. Whew.
Now it’s back to Restwell Keep to rescue it from the attack of Benwick and Vermastryx’s brother, Yulbraxis. A hero’s work is never done.
I’ve enjoyed all of the Encounters sessions so far (only four more to go!), but one thing that has started to bother me about the adventure as a whole is the complete lack of meaningful decision points for the players. I mean, the story itself has been fairly engaging and (especially since the dragons entered the picture) it has definitely featured rising action building toward a pivotal moment of maximum tension, but…
But just once I wish the adventure would’ve provided the players with an opportunity to make a decision that inserts a branch point into the story. I understand that the whole structure of the preplanned Encounters sessions is designed to do certain things well and to gloss over other aspects of gameplay…
But I’d still like to have the choice of opening the door on the left instead of the one on the right. And I realize that if the players make unexpected choices, it forces the DM to improvise, but the solution to that is as simple as WotC providing the DM with instructions that say something like, “If the PCs open the left door, then such & such happens… If the PCs open the right door, then this & that happens…”
The DMG2 says, “Strong decision points give the players a sense of freedom and influence over the course of events.” The lack of decision points in the Encounters sessions sometimes makes me feel that I’m simply along for the ride. This is unfortunate since it makes the adventure less interesting to me. It’s less interesting because nothing going on in the adventure has been my choice. Choices have consequences that help shape the storyline. If the players have no choices to make outside of tactical decisions in combat situations, then they’ve had no influence over the course of events and haven’t helped shape the storyline. And, ultimately, that’s why I play D&D: I play to participate in an adventure and help shape a story. If I’m not going to have the chance to do that, then I might as well just stay home and read a book.