Spoiler Alert! This post contains information about the first Lair Assault: Forge of the Dawn Titan!
Don’t read any further if you don’t want to know some of the tricks.
One of my players was sick tonight and we had been talking about running Forge ever since I found a download (as far as I can tell, none of the FLGS in the area are running it). We’re a pretty hardcore bunch, but the initial response was not good. Not because my guys can’t adapt to the challenge, but because it wasn’t the sort of challenge that captures their imagination. The short version: encounters that come down to having exactly the right skills and not getting buttrammed by dice rolls simply aren’t fun.
The first round started badly, only one of the PCs rolling above a 5 on initiative. They also rolled poorly on the Perception checks to figure out that the pools weren’t water, but they started with the assumption that they were probably not safe anyhow. The hellhound went first and clipped four of the five characters for fairly major damage. The guy that gave me feedback on the Dragonborn five-man that I proposed for this module was exactly right: they’re not in any way tuned for this. The thing is, I don’t know as there is any way to jack up Reflex in a way that would be meaningful. Most of the stuff in the forge is going to hit a lot. Of course, it didn’t help that my dice were rolling hot (pun not intended!). Out of my first 13 attacks, I hit with 11.
Because the players knew that there was a time limit, they decided to head down the gullet – into the collapsing room. Three characters were in that room when it was flooded with lava. Then they discovered that the door was fake and would require an 18 on the die to break down. The feeling was that it’s one thing to punish the players for trying to take that route. It’s quite another to have it be practically impossible. 20 damage per square is simply too much. Again, my players came up with ways to work around the lava, but none of them were fun. The collapsing room is really random. If you make that Strength check, you feel great. If you fail it too often, you feel like crap. That leaves either the platform room or the rune room.
When you combine that with the room with the collapsing platforms, they felt that there was too much emphasis on Athletics. They also felt that the timing thing took the emphasis off problem solving and put it on a bizarre “racing” style. The doors shutting at the end of each player’s turn also left a bad taste in their mouth. They were trying to be on board with the “just keep moving” plan, but the closing doors seemed intended simply to make meeting certain thresholds impossible. They also had a lot of questions that the module couldn’t answer – can one hold open the door? You would think that would come up during playtesting, but if it was in there, I missed it.
The rune room pissed my players off. They were okay with halved fire resistances. It’s a fire dungeon and you want to minimize how much damage you can take off the top. That’s fine. If you take the rune path, however, even if you cross before it goes from vulnerable 5 to vulnerable 10, you’re still screwed out of the effort you put into fire resist. Having enough fire resist to make a difference in this dungeon requires some design compromises. The rune room strips all that away without any way of recovering it and that’s bad encounter design.
With three of the characters trapped in the collapsing room, the rogue and the cleric went to open the other doors and see as much as they could before they died. I think the biggest knock against the lair assault was the after-TPK discussion. Most of the time, the mechanical talk after a session is about what they could have done differently with what they had. It’s about choices and priorities. The talk tonight was all about the very, very narrow design options they have left. It’s one thing to build a strong, flexible character and pilot it through a touch challenge. It’s quite another to have to tailor a character to a specific environment. They were no where near as enthusiastic about running it again as I had expected. My group is pretty gung-ho, but not for this.