Pyren Diaries: Session 2 Combat Mistakes

Hey everyone, Jarred from Monster's & Multiclass. Last week I started a new campaign and decided to make a post session write up to reflect on mistakes and triumphs.  If you missed that and want to read that first you can find it here. If you did read the first one you would know that I am starting a new campaign in a homebrew world. This is my first time doing a homebrew world and I am sure to make some worldbuilding mistakes as well as DMing mistakes.

Last we left off, my players had decided to go around a big room full of goblins. Their reasoning was basically "We should save this for later" after they had a chance to get the drop on the entire room with some great stealth rolls. Really not their brightest move but so it goes. Their next move was to navigate the tunnels some more. While going through the tunnel I had them all roll Constitution saving throws as they approached heaps of wolf poo caking the tunnel. On the fail they had disadvantage on perception checks for the next 10 minutes. This was perfect for the trip wire that was just down the hall and hidden by the poo. With the disadvantage all 4 of them failed. Which is great because my biggest gripe with perception checks is it makes no sense to make only 1 person roll them, but when everyone rolls SOMEONE is going to pass. This was definitely a moment that made me feel pretty smart. It's hard to separate abusing your players and using a monster to the best of it's abilities. One of the things I have learned from the podcast is that monsters live their entire lives as themselves. They know what they are good at. So when goblins have trip wires all around their caves to set off alarms, they are going to put in some distractions to throw off perceptive adventurers.

After moving through the tunnel that was filled with wolf feces they ended up at a 4 way intersection. Whichever way they went I already decided that they were going to get ambushed due to them setting off the alarm. They decided to go to a tunnel that I tried very hard to allude was going back the way they came just in a different tunnel. As they went just a little bit further, another perception check. I feel like perception checks were really over used in these last two sessions. But what is there besides perception when you're getting 4 goblins dropping in from the ceiling with nets in hand? Initiative rolled and only one of them got out unsurprised. I had the goblins drop down on both sides to try and sandwich the group. First move was the just throw nets on whoever the could. Net's are one of the dumbest things in 5e to actually try and use. Unless a creature is already prone and you are 5 feet away, you ALWAYS have disadvantage on the attack. But goblins trying to net their prey is hilarious. One of them actually did get a hit, the other one took advantage of this and tried shoving him to the ground. Don't forget that all creatures can grapple and shove. It can be really useful when trying to change things up. The rest of this combat went about as you'd expect a party of 4 level 4s vs 4 goblins. It was quick but meant to wear down resources. These are my favorite fights as PCs feel like they're on top of the world and controlling everything, but using a spell or taking out some HP is all I need to make the fight a success.

They made their way through the rest of the tunnel. Coming out on the other side left them at the entrance to the wolf poo tunnel. They realized they had messed up and decided to go back. I had a trip wire here that was going to release some rocks but they actually saw this one. No big deal. Back to the intersection and they had a whole bunch of ways to go. It was time for some comic relief.  

This tunnel was small and a new stomach turning smell met their nose. They found a bathroom. They approached slowly and one put their ear against the door. If you really want to test your DMing merit go ahead and act out a goblin taking a shit. It may not be high brow comedy but it will get your group laughing and engaged.

They had a job to do here though so despite the hilarity of a barging in on a goblin the job wouldn't be finished until the paper work was done (Last poo joke I promise). One person kicked the door down as the goblin screamed in terror. I suppose there are few things less alarming than having a door kicked in while you go to the bathroom and then being shot by a crossbow. At least it was quick.

That the previous 25 screams of goblins begging for their life was not just "That rabbit stew that Gruld made"

Next part was when I could finally pay them back for not getting the drop on the goblins in the earlier cave. As they walked down the last tunnel they saw a flash of eyes with a good perception roll (More perception rolls. Will they ever end?). They followed to where the eyes disappeared. I had a secret door here planned so when they turned the corner it was a small alcove that could fit 2 people if they were squished. Perplexed if only for a moment they quickly realized that something worth investigating was going on here. The cleric Elenia who's name I will pronounce right one of these days, rolled a solid investigation check. I gave her the hint of it looked like the stone wall had parts carved out of it. This was obviously a door. Well some how my description made them thing the crack was on the ceiling. One of these days I will give an explanation that makes sense to players. I always feel at a loss for words when it comes to describing a problem. Not sure how to get better at that. Might start keeping track of what does and does not help them.

After a minute or two of fiddling around with different areas of the door, they finally give it a push. This moved the secret door like a swivel. Though heavy it could easily be lifted by two people. So they did that. And on the other side there were about 12 goblins just waiting to shoot them.

If I am being honest I do not feel bad about this. How many hints do I have to drop that "You are going to get ambushed" before I can wash my hands of it and blame them? Im going to say 3. Definitely not 4.

From here it turned into another goblin show down with about 12 goblins, one of which was a goblin boss. Another encounter designed to burn through resources. At this point I was feeling a little bogged down by the amount of enemies. And knowing my final fight this worried me as it had a few more and some more twists to it. It was here that I started making mistakes. Once combats get too large I always do it. Forget to use an ability that makes the fight "the fight". I started treating the goblins Nimble Escape as a Nimble Dodge. Instead of being able to hide or disengage as a bonus action, I started reading it as hide or dodge as a bonus action. Which is actually pretty crazy when goblins have an AC of 15 and the goblin boss had a 17 AC. They made it through the fight fairly easy since I didnt do the dodge bull shit until near the end.

The scavenged the room and finding nothing but a couple of silver on the goblin boss decided to secure the exits and take a well deserved short rest.

Man these goblin corpses actually burn pretty well if you don't mind the smell.

All that was left was one more tunnel. And damned if they weren't ready to slay every last goblin that crossed their path! So it was time to make that difficult if not mechanically then morally! As they turned the corner there was about 25 or so goblins. Most of them young, mothers, and pregnant goblins. I let them get a good look around the corner without being spotted because I wanted to group to talk about it. Now in my campaigns we don't shy away from some darker subject matters. The idea of "Are all X inherently evil and need to die?" is one of my favorites though early in a campaign as it really sets the tone for how messed up everyone is. There was actually some good back and forth here. Which was welcomed as I am trying my best to push the group into more roleplay. Finally the decision was made. And I have to say I was left pretty happy with the conclusion. They were going to scare them off. They popped around the corner, announced their presence. A group of the younger ones charged the group. They were basically going to be one turn kills no matter the damage but they at least died trying to hold them back. While this happened the rest of the goblin group escaped into a nearby room. After the PCs took care of the 4 sacrificial one's, they checked out the nearby room to make sure it was empty. There they saw a goblin who was hurt. They broke their leg in the chaos and couldn't move. The PCs gave him some good berries and told him to get out of there. He complied. Not sure how but I feel like this needs to come back. Most likely those goblins are going to go back to raiding near by villages. Maybe that one will be a goblin boss. Who knows. I'll keep that in the back pocket.

Last room! At this point the PCs were low on basically everything except health. When they went down this last tunnel their were torches lining the walls unlike the rest of the cave. They hear rhythmic drumming and goblin chanting "Hima roka Nilbog!"

As they circled the corner they saw a goblin in a throne made of rotting food and miscellaneous scraps being fanned by two goblin bosses. On top of rafters on each side of the room were 2 goblin bosses drumming along. In the center of the room were 5 goblins and 2 wolves. And of course that goblin, the Nilbog, was in the throne carrying a staff with a goblin face on it and wearing a shirt made of spoons. Gotta throw some nice goblin flavor to spice things up. And what says "odd form of idolization" like spoon clothing?

So I am not going to describe a blow by blow of a 2 hour fight. I don't think I'd have time to prepare for next week if I tried doing that. This fight was going to be tough though. One of the PCs, Krusk, the half orc Eldritch Knight, actually tried running once he saw the overwhelming numbers. I realized quickly that I didn't really give the PCs a good reason to run into the room. I think if I put a human in here currently being beaten or tortured it could have pushed them to be a bit more reckless. But instead they stayed back and took pot shots at the crowd until the mass of goblin bosses, wolves, and the Nilbog could get close. This is where mistakes started coming in hard and fast. I kept up with the Dodglins giving each goblin a dodge as a bonus action. This made them almost impossible to hit. Then, due to a goblins incredibly low "to hit" we basically spent rounds where only 2 or 3 hits were traded across 13 goblins and 4 PCs. Really not great numbers nor exciting combat. When the Nilbog got close he cast a confusion spell on 2 of his own buds as well as 2 PCs. A failure on each side felt fair and I was happy with that. But 2 turns later for our Ranger I completely forgot about the confusion spell. He had one turn of rolling a 10 so he could act as normal, then it just didn't come up again. I think I might need some status effect tokens. Let me look into that...

Well I'm back. The internet told me to "Throw out those milk jug rings because these status effect rings are the last thing I'll ever need" but honestly milk jug rings sound free and a lot fucking easier. So thanks ad telling me to do the opposite!

I have thrown away hundreds of these bastards. Turns out they were all I needed to remember the wizard's concentration checks!

So anyways, the one powerful spell the Nilbog gets and I totally dropped the ball. Oh well. At least his ability of making the PCs grovel for the rest of their turn made them quite frustrated.

Overall this fight turned into another blow by blow trade off with them wearing down the goblin bosses, then the goblins, then the Nilbog. It was really the smartest order because if they went for the Nilbog first they'd be wasting turns and the Nilbog would have puffed out into smoke and found his way into another goblin and repeated the cycle.

With all the mistakes I made though there was one really positive note. They were all on their last legs. No spells left. At all. Barely any HP. The cleric and the druid were both 1 hit from going down and without any healing spells left anyways that meant medicine checks or death saving throws. I think for multiple session dungeon against goblins I couldn't have asked for much more right? Everyone said they had fun.

Funny enough I expected these diaries to end with me realizing I made a ton of mistakes and feeling dumb about them. But getting it down I actually feel the opposite. No one died due to my mistakes. Everyone had a good time and felt challenged. I think the session itself went about as well as it could have!

Things wrapped up with them making their way back to the adventurers guild. I discarded the bandits shaking them down for the noses. It seemed like overkill when they were all on deaths door. They traded them in for a considerable amount of gold when I gave them some time to talk post fight. This was my first attempt at really prodding RP. I basically asked them "Anything you guys want to talk about?". Frustratingly when a player DID try to RP, the rest of the group talked over him trying to divide the gold up. This is an important lesson learned. Every group will be distracted by loot. If we are in loot mode I am going to halt RP and if we are in RP I am going to halt loot divvying. Once they split the gold though the PC offered up the reason why he was in this city. He was looking to participate in the fighting pit. He asked if they wanted to join. Everyone agreed and said "But first we go shopping". So next week is going to be heavy on RP. I think I'll prepare some interesting NPCs and some random encounters while they're walking around the city using a random encounter table I bought on DMsguild for Waterdeep: Dragonheist that I cannot recommend enough.

Closing thoughts, what do you all do when you mess up combat like real bad? And I mean finding out midway through that everything is off? I am trying to move past beating myself up after and just remembering that combats with large amounts of enemies need to be streamlined. But what more is there to do but brush yourself off and try again right?

That's enough from me! Let me know your thoughts on Twitter if you're ever so inclined oh if you're ever so inclined...