D&D Encounters: Legacy of the Crystal Shard Session 1 Recap

This week we ran two tables of D&D Next for the first session of Legacy of the Crystal Shard. Both groups were looking forward to the adventure after the very successful launch event on Sunday. My table had 4 players. 


Initially, the party was interested in resting and receiing healing from the town guard by the gate, meeting some grumbling soldiers and speaking a little with Helda Silverstream. She took note of the adventurers but the party was more interested in the tale of a Barbarian tied up in the town square, blamed for a robbery of gold and also blamed by more than a few in Bryn Shander of bringing the morning's Yeti attack with him.

The party spent most of their time investigating the so-called crimes of Hengar, and interrogating the shopkeeper, eventually arranging to have the Barbarian freed. After buying some black ice trinkets from a dwarven peddler who warned the group to steer clear of the Dwarven valley, the party reunited with Hengar, who immediately threw in with the group. Hengar believes that Tempus has willed these companions together, and believes the party can return to the Tribe of the Elk to defeat the Ice Witch who haunts the tundra.

Referred to the roughest tavern in town, the group discussed their options and noticed that a shady character, "Slim" arrived with a group of Ship Rethnor thugs in tow. The party was worried that these thugs were after a bounty on the party's heads, and after a while a Harper showed up asking after the same room. Curious and eager to help the Harper out of any danger he might be in, the party ran upstairs to Slim's common room, only to find the Harper murdered.

A fight ensued where all of the Rethnor thugs were killed, but Slim, a wererat, scurreid out the window in his rat form. Searching the dead harper before any authorities could arrive, the players found a note in the Harper's pockets, addressed to an "Aarun", asking for help. The letter was signed "Mithann". 


The players really enjoyed the adventure. Icewind Dale made an immediate impression, and with so many opportunities to travel from place to place, the players seemed excited to explore the surroundings and meet these colorful characters. 

From the DM point of view, the first week of this was overwhelming. The other DM and I spend a solid hour cramming every detail in during prep that we could, and even then I was sent to the book to look over next steps. I think given another 2 weeks I will have a much better grasp on what else is there in the adventure, but this week really put us to the test.

THE GOOD: Opportunity for combat, colorful characters, fantasy flavor much more present than last season.  Icewind Dale seems like a place that the group wants to explore, Baldur's Gate was a very divisive setting. Playing the Barbarians and Dwarves was particularly fun, with very strong and distinct cultures from what the players have been used to.

THE BAD: The opening session could have used a little more structure. I found that I was unsure whether I would find the details of certain NPCs and situations along the way in the Encounters, Campaign, or Adventure book. (FWIW, this isn't the first D&D adventure to have 3 sub books with overlapping material!)

THE UGLY: Hengar doesn't have a stat block! He roared into battle alongside his companions, calling out the name of his god, and immediately the combat ground to a halt as I looked for his stats, in vain!




Choosing Your Paragon Path is an Adventure!

The journey of all epic tales truly begins when the hero is taken out of his comfort zone and must go into the underworld or some place of terrible danger to face his destiny. When he returns, he has been reborn into his new life, with the sword, or the princess, or the secret knowledge. In the case of 4e D&D, characters entering Paragon tier are literally transformed, as they gain new powers and traits which heavily theme their characters. The characters will never be the same.

My home campaign, Days of High Adventure (Obsidian Portal Link), has just hit party level 8, and the players' attention is starting to move towards Paragon Tier. I've decided to do levels 8, 9 and 10 as a series of larger, epic fantasy adventures, each featuring a specific member of the party, that will explore how each character comes to choose their paragon path. My players have obliged me by telling me their chosen path, and we're going to have fun getting there!

I'll be sharing my plot breakdowns, including encounters, sessions and pacing, after the adventures run so as not to spoil it for my players. However, there are a couple of design goals I have for Paragon Path adventures that could be useful for any discerning DM.

A fantastic setting: The Paragon Quest should take place in a fantasy setting which is like a big, glorious, burning neon sign in the sky that says ADVENTURE. There should be setpieces that tell your players that something IMPORTANT is happening.

The characters beliefs are challenged: Why did player choose the Paragon Path they did? What benefits do they gain? What liabilities do they incur? The adventure should explore exactly what the change means to the character and dramatize every element. The decision should feel momentous. The character needs to make a real decision to press forward with their path - once the adventure is over, they own it!

The quester should shine: This adventure ends with one character choosing their path, it should also be a showcase for their abilities. Giants for your defenders to lock down, minions for your controller to blow up, skirmishers and artillery for your strikers to stab, undead and rival leaders for your leaders to deal with. Out of combat, your quester's decisions are front and center.

The other heroes have key roles: Everyone in the party should be invested. By the end of the adventure, there should be a feeling of great purpose, and relief. The quester never would have been able to reach their goal without the help of their friends. This can be a mechanical point or a story point.

The stakes for Paragon tier are laid out: Paragon adventures deal with the work of whole tribes or nations. Paragons are sought out for their strength, wisdom and leadership. What sort of work will the quester be "signed up" for when they accept this path? Layout some hooks for future developments and opportunities to foreshadow conflicts and even possible epic destinies.