I ran a new adventure this past Sunday that was essentially our holiday session. The party finished the first story arc of the campaign and I felt like I’d been leading them by the nose, making them do what I wanted. I wasn’t giving them a lot of opportunities to roleplay (in all fairness we’re all new to the game and don’t RP much), and I also didn’t give them a lot of opportunities to make their own decisions. So I started working on a small holiday adventure for them. I will admit that as a DM I like to plagiarize. This time I stole the story from the classic Batman: The Animated series episode Heart of Ice. I started working on some of the elements I wanted to add to this story, such as a vignette, a skill challenge, a handful of actually unique combat encounters, an interesting story, some time to RP their characters, and some good background and flavour for the City. Seeing as this was their first time in a real City I wanted to make it a great experience.
Well, I can tell you right now things did not go as planned, but the adventure turned out to be a smashing success. Work and life gets in the way (and I’m also a bit of a procrastinator), so I didn’t have everything done for the session. The skill challenge wasn’t well developed (I ended up flying by the seat of my pants for this one), and I didn’t have all my flavour text, hooks, and interesting bits of lore written down. But it didn’t matter.
The original idea for the session was that the party would begin at the Inn, learn of an undead mage who protected the city that is now terrorizing it, find his location-shifting tower (through a skill challenge), infiltrate the tower for information, discover his plan to destroy a nobleman for revenge, and then rush off to stop him just as he kills the ‘batman’ like character. I began with them in the Inn, reminding them that they’ve all been away from home and may be a bit homesick, and then handed them a drink menu. Being a bit of a world-building fanatic I actually wrote up a drink list of Beer, Spirits, and Wine. I also wrote a second version of the list with constitution DCs so that whoever chose to drink would start rolling against them. Between the owner of the Inn, an admiring waitress who desperately sought tales of far off places, and a drink menu with interestingly named beverages, I almost didn’t have to do anything. The genasi and dwarf started drinking right away, the dark elf rogue rolled bluff checks to make everyone think that she was drinking, and the elf druid thought she would play it safe by sticking to wine. She rolled pretty badly. After quite a bit of talking, drinking, and general jack-assery, the party decided that they could take on this nasty evil-doer themselves and attempted to escape the bar while the owner, the waitress and town guards tried to get them all to stay. The rogue shimmied up to the roof of the inn, unlocked their window, grabbed all their equipment, and convinced their impressionable kobold companion to come with them. By this point I called for a break while I grabbed my DMG 2 and rolled up a companion character play sheet for the kobold. I even let the party choose what class to base the kobold on. They chose the avenger and I had their kobold ready for them in a few minutes. They went barreling off into the city streets where they ran through my hastily designed skill challenge which the players stated was one of the best ones they’ve played (I personally felt it was terrible but they had fun so I don’t care). Soon enough they pin-pointed the shifting tower, the rogue picked the lock on the front door and they began the search for the wizard. After a couple of combat encounters with some animated statues, magical flying books in a library, and some metal snakes, the party started feeling the pain. The books and an animated statue calling itself the librarian called off their attack though and the statue promised to give the party three magic items as long as they did no more damage to the library. They went off on their merry way with some ill-gotten gains. The next floor landed the druid a very nice magical staff and with it they journeyed to the top of the tower and confronted the evil undead wizard.
The skill challenge was poorly done, a whole faction of evil villains were left out in the cold, the vignette didn’t even get touched and the entire session only took place in the Inn, the skill challenge, and the tower. I felt it like it was the worst session I had ever run, and yet my players congratulated me on what they thought was one of the best. They all went home and I was left pondering how this disaster of a session somehow turned into a golden moment of roleplaying and fun. I think I’ve come to realize that I’m still doing more planning than is necessary. I sweat the details when I don’t have to, and sometimes letting a bunch of players loose in an Inn with a drink list and the promise of adventure is all you need for a good time.