[I highly doubt any of my players are reading this, but if you are — stop here!]
I’ve spent the last few sessions of our weekly lunchtime 5e game building up to the module “Temple Lair of the Lizardmen” from Judges Guild’s Book of Treasure Maps II, and as our session gets underway, the PCs have just arrived in the ruined village of Vandain (re-positioned to map 11, hex 0903 for those who are interested.) The current PC group consists of:
- Benji, Halfling Rogue 2
- Mixit, Human Fighter 2
- Aseret, Human Fighter 1
- Arioka, Elf Ranger 2
- Yee Mun, Elf Wizard 1
- Elvira, Elf Wizard 2
Granted, most of my players are pretty new to the game, but they have all acquired to varying degrees the “caution-almost-to-the-point-of-paranoia” trait common to old-school dungeoneers. In previous adventures, they have handled themselves quite well, making wise and clever decisions. Not so this time…
Before leaving Southwatch Tower and boating down the Muddy River to Vandain, the PCs knew to be on the lookout for a band of lizardmen of unknown size, which has been attacking caravans and travelers in the region. There are clear indications on the PCs’ treasure map that indicates the location of “watchmen” (and, more generally, the presence of lizardmen) in and around the ruined village. With all this information, what do they do? They walk across the open marshy ground towards Vandain like tourists, blundering around enough that the lizardmen are eventually alerted to their presence. No scouting, no sneaking, nothing, despite traveling into town from the north (where their arrival by boat is undetected) and observing from distance “a humanoid form move between the buildings.”
Surprise, surprise, the PCs walk around the corner of a building right into an ambush. Spears thrown by the two lizardman sentinels hit their (randomly-determined) targets, the two party wizards. One of the lizardmen immediately retreats to raise the alarm back at the lair, and the other follows his two guard crocodiles into the fray. When the dust settles, one crocodile is dead, two PCs are incapacitated and making Death Saves, and the remaining foes are bloodied and retreating.
The PCs hastily stabilize their unconscious comrades and drag them into the furthest-outlying ruined building. As our 1-hour session draws to a close, the players ask about using Hit Dice to recover lost hit points. I explain the rules about Short Rests (1 hour minimum) and Hit Dice, and offer friendly warning hints to the effect that holing up to camp here at this time may not be the best idea! Despite my attempts to dissuade them, they decide to spend an hour in the ruined building. As the players will find out next week, it only takes about 5 minutes for the quick reaction force of 5 lizardmen to reach the scene of the melee, and a couple more minutes to follow the path of bloody, bent marsh grass (through which the wounded PCs were dragged) to the party’s location…
Some additional thoughts:
- The players were lucky that before the session, I referenced the Monster Manual and magnanimously downgraded the original module’s Giant Crocodiles (9d12+27 hp!) to normal Crocodiles (3d10+3 hp). It really would have been curtains for them… On this note, I’m really not a fan (so far) of the across-the-board hit point inflation in 5th edition.
- I had good dice and the players had pretty lousy dice for most of the session, which always makes a difference.
- My gripe about inflated hit points aside, combat pretty fast, easy, and fun. I’m really thankful that 5e did away with all of 3rd edition’s fiddly rules for Attacks of Opportunity, which was one of the things that very quickly killed 3e for me.
- I don’t pay too much attention to Challenge Ratings. Put stuff out there, provide the players ways to gather information, encourage good strategy, tactics, and clever play, and, if they still run into something too tough, remind them that “running away to fight another day” is always an acceptable option.
- Finally, on a related note, if players blunder around without thinking, let the dice fall where they may…