On Adventures in Phlan, Public Play

I've never been to a public play event before.

Probably for the same reason a lot of you haven't. I'm an introvert. People who go to public play are probably those types of people who aren't welcome in groups. You'll be playing in front of people you don't know.

But the combination of 5th edition and a return to my Pool of Radiance roots by jamming around Phlan, and a gaming store run by a good friend, and another friend (Raphael!) being at the game were enough to draw me out.

After all, I've killed Tyranthraxus. I'd like to see what Phlan looked like in person after I saved it.

So into the building I go. It's smoke-free and packed with people. I don't see anyone I recognize anywhere. There's lots of tables laden with Pathfinder volumes. I walk around on automatic, trying simultaneously not to be seen and find the table for my game. I'm early, right? No one will be here yet.

Olivia sees me, she's my friend who owns the store. She points me in the right direction. I see that I'm the last player to arrive, besides the Dungeon Master. Yet isn't early enough, everyone is here. I see a plush chair sitting empty and wonder who's it reserved for. All others are sitting in metal folding chairs. Is this a trick?

Of course it's a trick. The chair is empty because it has no wheels and is unstable. I sit and wobble wildly, across from the stark orange wall. I keep the chair.

My character is finished. I am one of a few that have complete characters. Another player, Rob informs me with a sly smile, that his barbarian is prepared. It's not really a barbarian thoughit's a D&D basic fighter with the outlander background skinned as a barbarian. This makes me happy.

Other players are furiously scribbling. I'm introduced to a bunch of people. I remember no ones name moments after being told them, but I'm writing them down.  Raphel my friend is busy finishing his illusionist, Nerbler Fundangler. Everything about this screams risk. An Illusionist with an unknown Dungeon Master? Naming your character Nerbler Fundangler? I look at the name on my character sheet. Vengance Godmourner the Zhentarim Paladin of Lathander. I keep my thoughts to myself.

Another player walks up to the table. It's someone I know! What's he doing at a public play event? What am I doing at a public play event? I ask about his group. He broke up with them. He is seeing other games. He says he's a D&D slut, doesn't want to settle down, he's been with the same group too long. I tell him I can't invite him to my already too full Sunday group. It's a good thing for him, considering how many people caught the stomach bug when I got sick while running the game this week. A player later texted me after the game in response to my query, "You sick?"

.o(But d&d was worth it)

We talk about our kids. Because we love our kids. I'll spare you the agony. The Dungeon Master arrives: chops, hipster glasses, carrying a case full of gaming supplies, doesn't look like a jerk. Explains that we'll be going on five missions, taking an hour each. There's five hours scheduled for these missions. We complete only four.

He checks each persons character sheet, making notes and asking questions. Group has two paladins, two barbarians (one faux), a ranger, a rogue, and an illusionist. I'm simultaneously smiling and shaking my head. I'm already entertained. Tomas, the player of the actual barbarian says his character is now a doctor and doesn't like to rage or get angry. The character's name? Killdrac.

Chris the Dungeon Master is great. I wouldn't even bother critiquing him if he didn't do such a good job running the game. It's not like I'm running events for seven strangers one or more times a week. The Dungeon Master (and several of the other players) are part of a local gaming organization. Raphael my friend has been telling me for weeks that they are insular and don't like outsiders. I'm at this table for about five minutes before I realize that was sarcasm. I had a great time and Chris is a good Dungeon Master.

There's a teahouse of adventure. Madam Freona has five daughters, one for each adventure. The first mission is a barnburner, literally. Is there ever a barn that encounters an adventuring party that doesn't get set on fire? The answer is yes, the ones that get knocked down first. 

We get fake diamonds to trade for a fake dragon egg. We don't know the egg is fake, and really we're not convinced that the fake diamonds will do the job. The Dungeon Master lets us know they will, all we need to do is plant a pin on the person selling the egg so the Harpers can scry on them later. I think encounters encourages using a lot of Quantum Ogre advice for simple expedience reasons. Necessity is the mother I guess.

We head to the exchange. It goes without trouble, but after the buyers leave the thieves guild shows up and wants the egg. Again, we don't know the egg is fake, so to hell with the thieves. We draw steel. Some of the members of the party are outside the barn. I'm confused because in the five rounds of combat everyone makes it inside except for the Wood Elf Birdle run by Rebecca. I don't recall her mentioning that she was hiding outside on the moon. We start killing people. There's people on the loft. The ground floor is clear and the stairs are blocked. It's actually a ladder, but we continue to call them stairs, long after the illusionist sets them on fire. It's 10 feet up to the loft. I say I jump up there. The Dungeon Master gives me the eyeball.

"What?" I say. "I've got a strength of 16!"
He says "What armor are you wearing?"
I narrow my eyes at him. "Chain."
"I'm trying to decide between that being a DC 15 or DC 20 task"
I hold my tongue. I can jump up to a 10 foot platform. It's a matter of technique. If you can grab it with your hands, and do a pull-up, it's trivial to do, even if you're carrying fifty or sixty pounds. I know from experience.
He says "DC 15."
I think pass. Although I still am wondering where the wood elf is.

My father calls, I mute the call with a text that says "Playing organized play at gaming store."

He asks if I get paid for doing it. Only by proxy.

The second mission is invading and killing some goblins that inhabit an abandoned dragon's lair. Lucky for us goblins are Birdle's favored enemy. We track them quickly and overhear a conversation with a magically disappearing non-player character.

I am a bold Paladin of Vengance. I loudly announce that they should lay down their arms and face the light. Two bolts from arrow slits drop my Paladin. Killdrac true to his description stabilizes me. Both the illusionist and the rogue attempt illusions to block the arrow slits.

Why should illusionists get to have fun? The goblins ignore the illusion without it even requiring an action. My first level abjurer with thunderwave can do 70 damage in a round. The bard in my game can set of 10 foot radius shatterballs doing 3d8 damage time and time again. But an illusionist wants to create a static image blocking vision? way OP.

Always a bad idea to take an illusionist to an event with an unknown Dungeon Master. We brought up the whole "It takes an action to interact with an illusion." Well, apparently goblins can take this action and still fire their bows. This is not the problem it appears to be, because when the illusionist runs forward, he is killed because rocks fall. Or maybe it was after that with arrows. Whatever, Raphael died a lot. Once he's dead, who really cares about illusion rules? Well, probably the rogue headed arcane trickster, but it'll be a while before he as to worry about that. It was customer appreciation day and I was eating some of the offered food while my character rested as his group killed the bugbear. 

It looked bad, but the rest of the group pulled it out in the end. Back at town, we short-rested it up. A new character was created. This time a bard. The table behind us yelled. Someone built their Mathfinder character correctly, loudly announcing that they had one-shot the boss of the module. Jubilation and applause from everyone rang out. 

Back at the teahouse we were conscripted to head off to a crypt. There was the possibility a lady who was long dead might have been a dragon and there was a risk someone might be trying to raise her as a dracolich. Another daughter, another time of day, things certainly designed to help us distinguish one adventure from another, but the noise and chaos caused them all to blend together. 

A small crypt, a small puzzle with a hit point tax, a strange cauldron with instructions on a mystic formula. Of course it said, "do not drink". A few minutes later after drinking, the bard was rolling up a new bard. 

There were some zombies to kill. We began to function better as a team. The Dungeon Master used an interesting variation of Over/Under initiative, except in this case, play moved clockwise from the high roll. Sadly, all the high dexterity players were to my left. What's odd is that one of them moved places to the right of the Dungeon Master, clearly aware of this rule. Were they intentionally anti-metagaming? Was their a social subtext I was missing?

There's always a social subtext I'm missing. 

We took a break, before our fourth and final mission, and I leveled Vengeance Godmourner to level 2. Several other players also leveled their characters. We were conscripted again to rescue a girl from the clutches of some evil cult. There was a fair amount of realms flavor by this point. Another daughter, descriptions of food, feathers in a hat. People more knowledgeable about the realms than I explained it as it happened. 

The final confrontation was with a grick. I used one of these last week. I couldn't help relaying the very crucial information that they are resistant to all weapons. Was that a terrible thing? Being the player that says the monster statistics out loud at the table? It is, I'm afraid. I'm that player. I may be good at running games, but I'm the worst at playing them.

Weapons were all we had. Six of us fought the grick. When I say fought, I mean I charged in the room and the grick dropped me. The barbarian seeing that we had the situation not at all in hand, singlehandedly held off four thugs and a wolf at the doorway all by himself for five rounds. He almost didn't survive. Killdrac was MVP for sure. 

The grick eventually fell. I had a chance for a mighty smite—advantage from inspiration, 2d6 for weapon, 2d8 for smite, 1d4 for searing. I roll a 1 and a 4 on my attack roll. Sometimes the bear gets you. The rogue took it down the very next action. 

I would say there are a lot of convenient circumstances of people teleporting away and treasures disintegrating. I might think this might cause problems when players begin to have options to deal with those things. But organized play seems to want to hand out about one hundred experience or so an hour. At those rates, it's a grind. Sure a fifth or sixth level character might have some options. I think you'd have to play five times a month for six to eight months to reach that.

I got to go to the realms. It was a good time, friendly and welcoming, like a party where everyone happens to be role-playing. I didn't hear any negative banter, there were children and a solid mix of people. One Pathfinder table was being run by someone in high school. Gamers to be sure, but more variety then you might expect. There were adventures, danger, laughs, and heroics. If this is the public play experience, then the support Wizards of the Coast is giving game stores is doing them a favor. 

Hack & Slash 
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  1. Sounds like a great time ... Makes me less hesitant to give it a go sometime. (though I agree with the DM, jumping up to a basketball rim, in chain mail, and keeping hold of it without having something to wrap your fingers around would be difficult IMO)

  2. Glad to see you had fun!

    Defiance in Phlan is kind of a stingy adventure. Most other adventure give 300-600 XP, and have one Magic item per adventure.

    If you get a chance to play Shadow on the Moonsea, The Scroll Thief, or Tales Trees Tell, definitely do, they're the best of the 9 or so Expeditions available for public play.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this article, VALIS.

  4. New DMs and new groups are always a bit of roulette. I joined one organized play for 3 weeks running, and I eventually got sick of the guy that was playing a home-brewed psionics (using 3.x material) in the last bit of the Next playtest. He'd killed the NPC that the DM was clumsily trying to turn from a combat encounter to a negotiated "I'll surrender for an adventure hint", and the rest of the players were trying to take the bait but the attention hogger said 'no' for all of us and killed the NPC. After that, my cleric of Ra refused to heal the attention hog, but that was only a hiccup as the home-brewed psionics were able to convert his power points to hit points for healing - lots of erasing and 'calculating'. Uh-huh. Attention-hogger keeps bringing up his character's backstory even though it doesn't relate to the adventure. "My character lost her daughter and" ... "Lost your daughter? Sounds careless."

  5. No subtext, I tried to coordinate an advantageous initiative arrangement, but I met resistance from an individual so I just moved back to my original seat :P

  6. It's Thomas and Kildrak, but otherwise a good read.

  7. We should all be so fortunate that our wives would allow us out for such a thing, and it would actually be worth her later wrath.


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