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Ebon Hand Cultist
(1/2/04 11:35 pm)
Too Much Combat
I'm running the Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil right now and the group is in the Crater Ridge Mines (they just finished maps A and L).

I'm beginning to think the CRM is too hack-and-slash for me. It doesn't seem like there is enough story, roleplaying or problem solving opportunities.

Could I be playing it differently? The group knows what is going on at this point, they know what they want (keys), the enemy isn't that tough, and they are just plowing through the opposition. It seems pretty straight forward.

Any suggestions?

Cordo Crowfoot
Deathmantle Cultist
(1/3/04 3:58 am)
Re: Too Much Combat
It can definitely turn into a grind. You aren't the first group to feel that by any means.

I would recommend just taking every single opportunity to try to eke some role-playing/non-combat out of every encounter that it is possible. Have Vranthis and Mooliwik try to recruit them and get them involved in inter temple bickering. Make it obvious to the players that subterfuge is an option - i.e. with complex guards commenting "Hey, they don't have any symbols! Attack!" even if they are forced to attack.

If there are sections that are just clearly going to be a walkthrough and a waste of time for your players, arrange events so that the walkover encounters get wiped out. Two caveats to that would be that you can still be sure your players are gaining the levels they will need for later and that having a certain level of easy encounters is fun for your players, as it allows them to enjoy the power they have rightfully gained.

Tolling Bell Cultist
(1/3/04 4:45 am)
Re: Too Much Combat
Make sure that you have guards and characters from neighbouring rooms come in to aid the bad guys fighting the PCs. A handful of big, session-long pitched battles are much more fun than a long series of tiny skirmishes.

Mr Kaze
Ebon Hand Cultist
(1/3/04 9:56 am)
Re: Too Much Combat
Add more environment to spice things up a bit. These mineshafts -- most of which are just natural tunnels -- are 100 years old and the cult seems to be a little short on anybody with Knowledge: Engineering or Profession: Miner to ensure that they're safe. Perhaps the new Underdark book might have some advice on subterrainian dangers? Or perhaps you could could add more burrowing creatures (see the bit on creature substitution, below) to create some?

Add some side quests. I'm replacing the Blade Spirit in the forge with a ghost who needs Tulian's Eye to go in peace. (See "Mr. Kaze's Major Alterations" for more on this.) This gives me the opportunity to add a puzzle -- like Fire and Water -- from The Book of Challenges to spice things up a bit on the treasure hunt. Note that you'll have to work your challenges around what your players can do -- if they've got a huge adamant greatsword, then they'll likely not think twice about some wussy iron bars that are in their way.

And you can reduce the monster quantity and increase their quality.
- Pull out half the guards from any "lots of guards" encounter and give all of the others a spare class level or two. They won't cause much more damage, but they also won't be relegated to the role of "Great Cleave Fodder" that they are now.
- Take out some of the most random of encounters -- Dire Apes, Giant Ants, Darkmantles, Black Pudding, that sort of thing -- and add comparable CR/EL fights to the temples to make them seem more impressive (as I frequently get the feeling that the elemental temples of pure evil, death and destruction! are also the safest places to be raising a family in this mountain. Can't say much 'bout the school system, though :p ). But going for "Bigger temples, smaller tunnels" should at least help to focus fights rather than having nigh-random encounters that are as dangerous as the people trying to detonate the world.
- And feel free to swap out creatures that Monte's randomly drawn from a hat with others of similar CR. For example, did you realize that an large half-fiend gibbering mouther (6 HD) is still (supposedly) the same CR as a destrachan? And it has ground manipulation, darkness as a spell-like ability, two kinds of damage reduction, spell resistance and most common forms of energy resistance? Why, the ground manipulation combined with Stalagos water to create quicksand that we can cover with darkness should add some real tension to the combat that we'd not be able to get from a common temple melee...

The amazing moral of the story for me that really hit home after the first ill-fated run of the campaign was that if the DM doesn't like the story that's being told, then it's probably a bit lacking for the players, too -- you have to be willing to actively change the story to keep yourself and your players engaged. If you've got some white-out handy, maybe you could sign your name on the front of your book next to Monte Cook's to remind yourself of this fact...

Hope it helps -- and doesn't result in a TPK
::Kaze (has had too much time on his hands while the players went travelling for the holidays)

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