4

The Art of War

Riding high from their swift and decisive victory over the druids of the Winery, the group made a quick trip to Yester Hill where they were confronted by all manner of opportunity to scout and come up with a plan.

The impossibly large wicker statue, the wall being truck by lightning, the druid performing the ritual, the blights, the Gulthias Tree, the wall of fog… The list goes on! Instead though, as every good adventuring party does, they chose to dive in head first resulting in an absolute onslaught from all angles. Our biggest battle to date from any game, and here’s how it went down.

 

In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.

– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

 

Being thrown over the wall by Rhogar was only the beginning of Zook’s troubles. The lightning damage took him within four hit points of being permanently dead. He pulled through with the help of Grom and decided to disrupt the druid from his trance like ritual over the statue. This caused the druid to fire a sliver of flame toward the monument of dried wood sending it ablaze and releasing the monster within – a 30ft tall rampaging blight. The blight immediately swung for the first things it saw, in this case being both Zook and the summoning druid, wrapping the druid up with its thorny roots – a feat the druid found to be disturbingly orgasmic. Eitherway, the fight was on.

The blight destroyed the wall and subsequently destroyed the lightning spell attached to it on his way to inflict further carnage on the party. Swiping at both Grom and Vertiginus with his branch like arms before trapping them in the confines of his roots and squeezing the life from their lungs. A quick blast of Rhogar’s lightning breath caused him to change his focus toward the Dragonborn whilst both D’Lyla and Jack took turns damaging the monstrous plant from afar.

Not content with constriction being their means of death, the blight that the group had come to know as Wintersplinter took a bite out of Vertiginus with its wooden maw. Swiping at both Grom and Rhogar in the process. Calling on the powers of nature, Grom called forth a batch of flying snakes which took chunks out of the blight and following suit, Vertiginus summoned some ghostly spirits who ripped large chunks of bark from the tree. A few missed attempts by Zook lead to an opening from Rhogar where he carved into the creature with his Katana and D’Lyla dealt a heavy blow with her crossbow before also being caught in the root prison. Jack, seeing the carnage spent a few rounds supporting his allies with healing spells and inspiration but the fight at this point was quickly slipping away from them.

Going into this battle had me concerned that given how little recon they’d done, we’d be headed for a night which ended in a TPK. I had toyed with adjusting the difficulty of the encounter a few times but ultimately didn’t want to do a disservice to the adventure or the players sense of agency. It was their decisions that lead to this combat being set up the way it was and it’d be their decisions that pulled them through it.

The tide of the battle took another drastic downswing for the group once a band of druids and wildmen beserkers arrived. With the as of yet untouched vine blights, I currently had 16 characters on the battle map under my control. A group of 6 druids and their leader, a group of 6 wildmen beserkers, 3 vine blights and of course, Wintersplinter.

Conscious that such a long fight would end up being a huge slog I was also worried about how to handle so many differing types of enemy and keeping track of all their information. Before the fight I analysed all the enemies and figured out what their goals would be. Taking their goals into account, I looked at the spells and abilities they had and tried to find a way where they could use these to meet their objectives. The druids had alot of crowd control, so their opening gambit would be to pin the party down. With the party unable to move freely, they could pluck away at them with spells and ranged attacks focusing some nasty damage toward the party’s own spellcasters. If any of the players were able to break free from their restricted movement then they’d come face to face with a small squad of beserkers who’d hack them down with axes. All of this whilst Wintersplinter inflicted as much damage as it could would cause the group to have to divide their attention between the multiple enemy units.

Pretty much all of them fell unconscious at least once and each time they went down, death was only a die roll away as failed saves caused by splash damage and the bloodthirsty wildmen began to add up.

Suddenly (and likely to a heroic Lord of the Rings style hero melody) Wintersplinter was on fire, Zook had climbed up his back, Grom had summoned a pack of wolves, Vertiginus was smiting everything, D’Lyla had retreated to a copse of trees to snipe enemies from afar and Jack was showing off his best blade skills while simultaneously keeping the group moving. The group really pulled together and played each class to its strength, fulfilling group roles almost unconsciously. There was no discussion about who would be doing what, it all just fell into place as each of the guys took their character and did what each of them were designed to do best. The support and utility of Grom and Jack and to a degree, Vert was balanced out by the damage each of them were also putting out. The focus fire of D’Lyla and Zook and the heavy armour of Rhogar meant they too were sliding into the classic roles of archetypal heroes from every adventure tale.

The beauty of this is how seemless it all was. The guys didn’t know they had done it, at the time I didn’t know they’d done it and suddenly this fight went from being very much stacked against them to being a hard fought, but well deserved victory for the team. Wintersplinter fell and the group made short work of the remaining druids and wildmen. There were still a handful of hairy moments, including an instant where Vertiginus would have met his god in person if it wasn’t for a few bad dice rolls on my part but the group eventually pulled it out of the bag.

It also speaks volumes for the precision and elegance of the class design and balance in D&D 5e, something I’ve never really paid too much attention to but seeing it play out in real time was amazing. I think it’d be hard for the characters not to have bonded over that combat, I definitely think it drew the players closer together. Every dice roll carried so much weight, every miss, every hit, every spell thrown and sword swung was literally life and death for the characters.

This battle was a real turning point for our group and one I think we’ll talk about for a long time and look back on as the session where everyone finally “got it.” Good work, team!

(Thanks @paul for the pictures)

Craig

Dungeon Master / Jedi / Nerd

4 Comments

  1. Fantastic write up and some great points made… We certainly got the ‘party strahded’…. Brought a tear to my eye… Still feel emotional thinking about it… But it was a great team effort and included in that Craig’s amazing game management….. Thanks guys 😪

  2. I was devastated about missing the start (even more so after seeing the middle and how it ended) But it was a special evening and that’s pretty much all down to the Craig, the effort put into it all and precision of it all, from maps, to enemies, their motivations and everything in between. a truly fantastic DM. As for the team, it was almost like a movie, the hero’s pull together in the time of need and do what they’re each best at, supporting each other and conquering the foes. Strahd better be quaking in his boots!

    • Also, as a first time D&D player, you continue to amaze me Craig. Every session I feel like I’ve seen what you can do and then you manage to do something even more spectacular. I’m truly in awe of you and your skills and lucky to be a part of it all.

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