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Chronicles of the Argent Shroud 2 - Disaster Wave

When Last We Left Our Heroes...

...they were aboard Merek Montague's ship, the Spirit of Saint Sofia, heading for the Unclaimed Lands of Ngawe when they were set upon by pirates.

If you haven't already, be sure to check out that instalment where I talk about how I set up the combat encounter and the multiple encounter objectives to make it more interesting than just having everyone stand in a line hitting each other.


We began this session at the top of turn 6 of the combat and things were looking rough for our heroes. One of the ship's masts was on fire, one of the anchors had been dropped, slowing them, and the enemy wizard was en route to drop the other anchor and bring them to a dead stop.

At initiative 20 on this round the heroes saw the silhouette of a floating fortress appear in the distance. If this floating fortress reached them it would swallow their vessel and they would be taken prisoner or worse.

I made a mistake in my communication here and initially described it as being on the horizon line, which meant when it got much closer a few turns later the players assumed it was travelling at insane speeds and escape was impossible. I had meant to describe the feeling of this ship coming from nowhere because they had only just emerged from a dense fog, but I didn't communicate that idea clearly enough, and didn't correct myself in good time, which lead to a few turns of helpless feeling among some of the players I think.

If you make a mistake with your scene description, be sure to correct yourself quickly so the players don't make choices based on that incorrect information.

The next few rounds were a cascade of problems for our heroes. I had expected George, the party monk who can move hundreds of feet per round easily, to cross the length of the ship and take on the enemy wizard, but instead he played very reserved and was only concerned with not taking any more hits in combat, so burned all his movement dipping in and out of fights to deal small chunks of damage to minions before running away again.

Instead, Venena, the party fighter, had to slog up the length of the ship alone to try and deal with the wizard and the anchor problems. She was able to force the wizard overboard, where he was dispatched by a spell from Cornelius, and she was also able to cut loose the anchor and stop the drag of the ship, increasing their speed.

But during all this, no one even attempted to put out the fire on the center mast, and it eventually broke and cam crashing down, damaging a large section of the ship, causing it to take on water and slow again.

The heroes were able to deal with all the enemies aboard the ship after some time, and took one of the smaller pirate vessels to use as a makeshift mine to attempt to escape the pirate fortress. They loaded it with anything and everything remotely flammable or explosive, and Cornelius conjured an illusionary pile of gold on the desk to entice the pirates to take it inside their fortress where it exploded, buying the heroes the time they needed to escape.

But the Spirit of Saint Sofia was badly damaged and looked as though it may not survive the journey to the unclaimed lands, so they changed course and headed for the closest port - the city of Pearl, where they would make repairs and spend the next few days carousing before moving on.

GM Takeaways

Overall the players had fun during their ocean adventure, but there are a few things I noticed as a GM that I need to be mindful of and learn from.

Firstly, while I think having multiple objectives within the combat worked well in the first half off the battle, I think introducing the floating fortress as an element the players needed to consider during the combat added one too many ticking clocks and overwhelmed them.

Three objectives seems like the reasonable upper limit of simultaneous things the players can cope with, while being a manageable level of overwhelmed (because

sometimes you want them to feel that sense of being overwhelmed by the task).

I also think a simpler combat for their first proper outing might have worked better. They have all played 5e before, but not for more than a year so they are all a bit rusty, and we've dived in at level 7 so I think they were a touch overwhelmed by their options a few times, which combined with the number of objective plates they had to spin made it hard to decide what to do each turn.

Finally, you can't rely on players to use their abilities in what you think of as being obvious ways. There were multiple things I expected the players to do over the course of the battle which they didn't even consider; from the Monk using his incredible speed to cross the length of the boat, to the cleric using his prepared Silence spell to prevent the enemy wizard casting spells. The PCs had all the tools they needed for the encounter, but you can't make them use them.

Now, there's definitely an argument to be made for the world is the world and the encounter is the encounter and it doesn't change to fit the PCs, and its their job to figure out how to approach a situation. And while I agree with that on the whole, I could see for a few turns that a few of the players were getting frustrated because they felt like they were helpless in the face of all that was happening. I didn't step in to suggest actions because I want the players to come up with the cool stuff they do on their own, but next time I think I will give them a moment and if they are still struggling I will offer some suggestions or open it to the floor for them to discuss the problem actively.

Art from Waterdeep Dragonheist

But the players enjoyed the session overall, and are now in the city of Pearl and have given me a list of things they would like to do with their time in the city, including checking out the racetrack, the gladiator arena, and finding a priceless artifact to heist. . .


Thank you for the GM take aways, I always appreciate those. Is this article missing the campaign diary tag?

May 03
Replying to

It was indeed missing the tag, nice catch!

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