This is the next is a series of posts that serves as a "commentary track" to Risus Monkey's Katja's Diary. It comments on session 10 of the D&D 3.0 game we played in the early 2000's. I know I am way behind the actual write ups, but I hope to catch up soon.
I think all DM's can look back at games they've run, point to a session or two, and say "YES! That is it. I want all my sessions to be like that." My philosophy guy, John Dewey, says these things are called "consummatory experiences", where everything comes together and builds in a natural rhythm to it's own fruition, without external interruptions. These things stand as AN experience, one we return to time and time again for emotional sustenance and to use to help us have these good experiences again. This session was one of those. As Risus Monkey said, we had plenty of fun after this, but in terms of sheer one-session awesomeness, this was it.
Strangely enough, one of the thing I remember most about this session was where it was played. Bob (who played Boaz) and Jane (who played Orion) had just built a back deck and gotten some new deck furniture (from Cthulhu's Librarian at Plow and Hearth, no doubt). It was an amazing Sunday afternoon -- warm, breezy, sunny -- so we decided to play outside. It was great to do this, but it created a bit of incongruity with the actual scenario playing out, as the Dunn's castle was a cold, undead-filled fortress in the middle of a lake.
Why was this the Best. Session. Evar!? It's hard to put my finer on all of the reasons, though I'll try. I'm sure the day was part of it. Even though it didn't fit the setting of the story, it was hard NOT to feel good on such a nice day, sitting outside, with your friends. Killing zombies.
Second, everyone contributed. Katja had come into her own as a cleric and the first real encounter saw her turning undead. Boaz not only did his cleric stuff, but took control of the situation and everyone (mostly) followed his plan. Kreed did a lot of undead decapitating. Sunny and Orion dealt with minions to give the big guys room to take out the Dunn. And Bix, well, Bix charged in heedlessly and was all heroic -- both of which were very in character.
Third, the adventure had cool encounters and villains. I pegged the encounter level just right. The Dunn was a wight, which proved challenging but not too difficult. I also gave him some Boots of Striding and Springing. Although that particular magic item would come back to bite me in the ass (I don't use the term "broken" much, but those things were very, very broken in 3.0 D&D), they gave the big villain some added spice, as he bounded up stairs and across rooms. There were enough secondary minions to add to the drama but not get in the way of the main encounter. I also thought those minions were, at least occasionally, used in a cool way. I especially liked the skeletons rising out of the muck.
Forth, the setting had atmosphere. The Dunn's castle wasn't anything special. I just sketched it out on some graph paper (I'll try to get a scan up soon) and gave myself a rough layout of the monsters and furnishings. But then I added some nice atmospheric touches, like the birch trees forming the palisade that looked like bones. Katja's diary does a good job of adding to the bits I placed in the game. I thought everyone bought into the smaller details I placed and appreciated them.
Fifth, there was heroism and sacrifice. The party won the day without anyone even going unconscious. But Bix got whacked by the wight enough to loose a couple of levels. That was sobering and costly enough so the party didn't feel like it was a total rout. The fact that Bix suffered mainly because he was keeping the Dunn occupied so that others could move into position and take him out just added to the heroism.
Finally, there was still mystery and plot remaining. This session certainly stood alone as a major victory for the party. But there were other elements which could have led to more adventures. The first was the ghost of Garym Ultaugh. Katja was right to be suspicious, as he was a nasty assassin who had been imprisoned by the Dunn before the Dunn was cursed. The party let him go. Had the game not taken the major detour it did months later, they would have heard about him again (and, presumably, realized what they'd done and taken steps to fix it). The second was the gold. But that comes up in future sessions.
I hope everyone has lots of sessions in their games as good as this one.