Six strangers find themselves in the cramped room sitting room of a once-wealthy merchant, who fidgets and stammers through his words. In a nearby city—shrouded in a bizarre permanent darkness—lies his family’s former wealth, and he begs them to return what remains of it. Can these strangers band together to enter the walled Forbidden zones and find the manor ruins? Will they survive what remains to protect it? There’s only one way to find out…
I’m going to try something new here, and introduce my readers to a side of me I usually reserve for my closest friends. For the past four months my distraction du jour has been the new Dungeons & Dragons Living Forgotten Realms campaign. My character, the repulsive yet good-natured Körgeth Tunneldredger has travelled around the Realms finding adventure—and having it find him.
Living Forgotten Realms is a more strictly-administered version of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, where DMs report their results online and players earn in- and out-of-character awards that they take with them from game to game. The modules are designed for conventions, but the true benefit is that anyone in the world can sit down together and play the game with the character they’ve built themselves, and so long as it adheres to the creation rules, won’t disrupt or imbalance the game.
I’ve since passed the test to DM home games, and have twice run Pieter Sleijpen’s module, Inheritance. It’s an incredibly well-written module with some nice free-form RP opportunities and brutally challenging combat.
Warning: I’ve tried to omit any information that might spoil the module for a first-time player, but inherently there are some clues. If you want to play this module, you probably shouldn’t be reading this.
Unlike most modules, Inheritance has quite a focus on skill challenges and RP-only encounters, less on fights. I find Skill Challenges … um … challenging to run for a couple reasons:
- During free-form RP, type-A players tend to dominate the encounters.
- When one player succeeds a check, many DMs will announce, “you notice <dramatic revelation>.” But by doing so, it stifles RP, as the players have no need to converse with each other.
- Players often metagame, attempting to do what they’re good at, rather than what fits the situation. These types of skill challenges often become backwards: the player asks, “I’d like to make a Diplomacy check; what do I do?” This is largely because the penalty for failing skill checks is quite high (you usually need two times more successes than failures).
- Especially towards the end of the adventure, fatigued players and DMs will resort to “saving throw versus box text” in order to move on to the next combat.
I tried to compensate for these problems by forcing a little extra role playing. Instead of announcing “You notice <the thing you notice>.” I handed the character pre-printed card describing what they noticed. At the top of each card, I put a warning that reading the card verbatim or showing it to other players would result in a -2 to all rolls for the rest of the encounter. My players loved the drama caused by the small rewards, and really ran with at.
In addition to the skill challenges are the nasty fights. Most LFR combats are not incredibly challenging. Many are downright easy. In the first combat of Inheritance, I managed to drop a leader and a defender on the same round before any of the monsters died. TPK is not fun for anyone, and while the last fight is partly avoidable, the fact is not inherently obvious and it would have killed the party.
The DM’s instructions suggest that a level 5, complexity 3 skill challenge can convince some of the enemies from attacking, but never really fleshes out how that would work. I knew my players would take that option if it seemed available, so I wrote one.
The fight turned out to be epic, and everyone played a role. The defenders and a striker kept the other monsters at bay, while the rest took turns aiding each other in what turned out to be a very difficult skill challenge. It ended up 7/3, with the next check (and some great RP) deciding victory or defeat. A very close die roll sealed the win.
Afterwards, everybody cheered. Even me.
My only regret is that the players succeeded in the first skill challenge. Their success kept them from meeting a very intriguing NPC, and I was excited to role-play his sadistic slow clap as the players emerged from the Forbidden Zones…
- Körgeth’s solution to this problem is to repeat (often interrupting) the DM, in-character. DM: “you notice a trap door.” Me, pointing: “I’ve noticed a trap door!” Someone usually chuckles. ↩