AAR: The obligatory Halloween game

28 Nov, 2020, updated 29 Nov, 2020 5e

I like a spooky Halloween game.

Now unfortunately, I have not found a good way of actually setting a creepy tone over the Internet. I normally use something like Dread or Ten Candles to do that for me, but both are very physical games. The former uses an actual Jenga™️ tower and the latter uses ten actual candles as your strength against the metaphorical as well as physical darkness.

Well, COVID has fucked that. 😷

So, instead, here’s the next best thing, a pumpkin-themed 1st-level one-shot. As usual all arts and assets are from 2 minute tabletop. Ironically not the adventure they’ve published this year, 2020, but from a few years back (I think).

A tactical map showing some beholder pumpkins fighting the players

Pumpkins because of course.

Characters

Despite me saying this was a one-shot and the players could have anything, they were very keen for a matching outfit, as it were.

Story

Three half-elves are enjoying drinks in the pub of Poacher’s Crest, enjoying the results of a successful harvest, when a farmer’s wife runs in. Her husband’s been attacked in his field!

The players rushed down to the outskirts of the village, then the paladin cast Detect Good and Evil to see if they could spot hijinks in the tall grass. And sure enough, up ahead something foul lurked…

The evil pumpkins were rapidly chunked by the monk with the warlock supporting, and John (Peters, you know?) the farmer was calmed down and returned to the pub. His wife was overjoyed and presented the players with some candycorn (goodberries) as way of thanks. However our intrepid heroes could see the mists advancing on the village and their friends and neighbours are panicking – except around the miller’s tower, which the mists avoid…

First though, they hear the cry of a child, in the vineyards on the slopes of the Crest they easily defeat some Twig Blights (Burning Hands from the warlock destroys the fire-vulnerable plants). They advance on the mill, whereupon they are pretty much flat-out drained by Stirges.

The party nearly entirely die due to these murder-hornets just not taking no for an answer! Happily the warlock from her remote position (and the pact temporary HP) is able to help the other players to heal.

Sneaking up on the Thing in the mill is unsuccessful and the giant toad-like creature starts trying to swallow the heroes. Eventually it does so, but as the monk starts to perish in the creature’s gullet the paladin slices the toad in twain, freeing him.

A tactical map of a mill with a giant toad inside

Tools

Lessons

My original plan was to not use dndbeyond, and try the character sheets actually in roll20. Turns out it’s too convenient, and I can’t go back. This is worth bearing in mind if I get Foundry - Beyond20 is supposed to work, but it’d be good to check at this point.

My goodness me, I forgot how good KBC is. I think I might use it in preference to my own ideas of a balanced combat as all of a sudden, the players don’t die any more. I rolled around on combat encounters for three 1st player characters and then re-skinned the results (e.g. 5 Baboons and a Bandit for the encounter in the top picture) Then I discovered I can just restrict by type in KBC and picked plants for a while.

This game took two 2 hour sessions, although that includes an hour of how to use roll20 and beyond20 as the players hadn’t used them before. Sorting out Initiative still feels a little unintuitive, but it does work.

The real upset in this game was the stirges. They rolled 20+ three or four times, and two little 2HP mosquitoes killed two thirds of the party! It was certainly memorable.

This left the party reasonably crippled with the sensible policy to retreat and heal up. Technically the paladin had actually permadied due to the damage taken by the stirges, but I permitted a res at the sacrifice of most of the goodberries considering it was the almost end of a one-shot.

I also had the Giant Toad (in harvest/pumpkin orange of course) try to swallow a player rather than just bite, as biting would have killed everyone pretty quickly. The grapple however allowed players to rescue each other, and then the swallow is more exciting I think for being built up a bit.

I hadn’t really given much thought to “what other ways could the Big Bad be approached” so the players considered two choices of “let’s just run in” and “let’s stealth in” whereas with 10 HP between the three of them, this wasn’t really a good move.

Particularly if you roll a 3 on your Stealth!

I should think about some other methods of (players) approaching lairs and telegraph them a bit. But I’m pretty happy with this adventure considering the low effort. It was chill.

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