Shorter post this time guys– turns out we didn’t get much done except for fighting.
The battle continued long and hard for some time– at different times, everyone went down to negative hit points, and things looked very grim. Eneko the Human Bard and Elysia the Half-Elven Ranger both suggested to retreat at one point, but fresh plans gave them hope– Gavriil the Human Arcanist used a dimensional-step ability to teleport sixty feet away, backed up some more, and then read his Scroll of Chain Lightning which he had obtained not long ago in the tower on Candlemere island! This took a large chunk of health out of the majority of the trolls that were clustered around the rest of the party, and the group felt reinvigorated!
Unfortunately, this success was somewhat mitigated by the trolls’ ferocity, who took their anger out upon Noruas, the Human Gunslinger (who had been dealing out fiery death from afar previously). Though she was deeply wounded and near death, she continued the fight, firing as much as she could and felling green monster after green monster, until finally, unable to continue any further, she was hit by the swipe of a troll’s claw, and collapsed to the ground, the life leaving her eyes and she said with her last breath: “Don’t….sell my stuff…”
This sent a heavy blow to the party’s morale, but they were determined to take care of the remaining nine trolls. Elysia, now reduced to a single hit-point, took the only sensible course of action she could think of– she grabbed one of her Tree Feather Tokens that she had received from the Dryad Melianse, and threw it on the ground, grabbing at a branch as a large oak tree sprang up on the spot, launching her sixty feet into the air! From here, she began firing arrows down at the trolls gathering beneath, while an Invisible Gavriil moved over and healed a downed Eneko and his horse. From there, the Arcanist used his Quick Step to slide up to a second tree that Elysia magically grew, and likewise started using ranged attacks to soften up the trolls. Eneko, having been revived, spurred his horse through a large group of trolls that had surrounded him and broke free, galloping away to relative safety.
Eyeing up the situation, one of the trolls barked out some orders in Giant, which Elysia and Gavriil understood to mean “Forget them, we have the food we need. They’re nothing. Back to the farm!” The majority of the beasts began to follow this troll back to their pillaged spoils, which apparently didn’t sit too well with the party. Gavriil insulted some of the ones nearest him at the base of the tree to taunt them back into trying to climb up (which thus far had been pretty unsuccessful), and Eneko used a spell to rattle the speaking troll’s skeleton around inside his body, dealing almost enough damage to put him down. Roaring with anger, he and his companions once again charged back towards the party, and those at the base of the trees began trying to shake the Ranger and Arcanist loose, almost managing to dislodge Elysia!
The two in the tree were able to stay safe in their height advantage however, while Eneko continued to use his faster horse to stay at range of the horde of trolls while he fired arrows into them. Eventually, after a great period of time, the party was able to whittle the trolls away into nothingness, finally emerging victorious…but at what cost?
Players, do not read!
This session was the first in a very, very long time where I walked away feeling like I completely failed.
In preparation for the session, I had thought of several possible outcomes and planned for a bit of them. My most likely expectation was that everyone would go down, and I would have the trolls capture the party, bringing them back to Hargulka’s stronghold. From there, they would face the troll king, who would tell them that he’d ransom them back to the kingdom in exchange for large tracts of farmland. Depending on how the party reacted to that would determine what would happen next– if they accepted this as reasonable, then the transaction would go through and they’d be returned to their kingdom to plot possible revenge; if they were completely against this idea, the rest of their kingdom leaders would send their army down south, tracking the mass of trolls, and fight the army of trolls while Chief Sootscale infiltrated the stronghold and broke the PC’s out of prison.
This almost happened– early on in the session, I had Gavriil, Eneko, and Elysia all down for the count. Only Noruas remained standing, and she used her turn to grab a potion of healing and feed it to Elysia beside her. Elysia then revived Gavriil, who then Quick Stepped away, and you know the rest of that. Thus my second most anticipated outcome– the party would retreat to fight another day once they realized that two dozen trolls was not an encounter they would live through. If the PC’s started to retreat, the trolls would briefly continue until one of them called them off, to return to their farm and spoils of war (very similar to how it happened in the session when they all got out of the troll’s reach). This would allow the group to escape alive, while adding a bit of humiliation to motivate their revenge to return and decimate the army. This tactic was used in the session but instead was met with aggression by the players– they taunted the trolls back into attacking them, which at that point seemed dangerous to me.
Thus we come around to my least expected outcome– the party would find some way to defeat all of the trolls, using their wits, items, and lots of luck. This….only kind of happened. After throwing out the idea of immediate escape when the majority of the party went down, I think they decided to throw the good money after the bad, as it were, once Noruas was killed. They’d lost too much to give up, so they had to keep fighting. I will admit that Elysia’s use of the tree feather token was brilliant– it made for a fast escape route, and later she tied one onto an arrow and shot it into a troll, which I gave a chance to fall off and hit the ground; it did, a new tree sprouted up right next to the previous one, and it ended up giving the troll bark-burn and squishing him between the two oaks.
Once the party was in a position where the trolls would be almost completely ineffective, I felt that the encounter was ready to come to a close. We’d been running the same combat for about two and a half hours, all of the players looked like they were tired of the fight and ready to move on, but then they decided to draw the trolls back in when they retreated– they wanted to be done, but they still wanted victory. It was theoretically possible that these trolls could have been defeated by the PC’s in this position– Gavriil had an Acid Splash cantrip, which dealt little damage but would stop the trolls regeneration, and thus the party had an unlimited source of troll killing to add to Elysia’s dwindling fire arrows and Eneko’s numerous acid flasks. Additionally, as the GM who dictates what is reasonable and feasible in the world, I felt that the trolls would have given up yet again after realizing that they couldn’t touch the party, going back to the farm out of their range. Yet I felt that wouldn’t meet the party’s wish of totally crushing these remaining enemies, and that they would simply try their hardest to lure them back to kill.
With all that in mind, I did something I usually don’t like doing much at all– I handwaved the rest of the combat. “Okay, so here’s what happens: You guys spend a bunch of time, the rest of your fire arrows, half of your acid flasks, five charges from each of your healing wands, and the remainder of your level one and two spells, and by the end you manage to slay the last eight trolls. The sun is now low to the sky, burned bodies laying across the ruined fields, a haze of smoke from the barn laying across the area.” It undercuts the narrative in my opinion, and it’s quite possible that I robbed whatever sense of accomplishment that the party might have been feeling for (mostly) surviving the encounter, but if I hadn’t done that we would have carried the fight over into the next session, and that wasn’t something that I think any of us wanted to do.
By the end of the session, I felt like I had failed in the main role of a GM: to provide the party with a fun experience. It was also never my intention to kill off a party member– I made sure before attacking each PC to check that they weren’t down, and if they told me they went down, I had the second or third attack from the troll hit someone else. My hope was that the PC’s would go down and further the story that way, or escape and further the story that way, but a death wasn’t what I was looking to do in this situation. Thus that night, I learned a very important lesson: You should always ask for a copy of the character sheet for each player. As a GM it is not only important to know your party’s capabilities, but it’s important to know of any special abilities or equipment they might possess. In this case, the list of special abilities on our Gunslinger happened to include something that allowed her to keep firing her weapons even while in the negatives, up until the point where she would die from the damage dealt.
So….yeah. I was taken aback when she went from up and firing, to taking seven damage and dead. It felt a little bad, as that was something that I specifically didn’t want to do, and she was the most reliable source of damage of the party, their best chance for destroying every single troll there. I think perhaps if she’d made it up into a tree, with the fire ammo spell still on her, the party would have been able to quickly finish off the trolls. Obviously this didn’t happen, and instead we had a fiasco. Noruas’ player after the session revealed that she wasn’t yet certain if she wanted the group to try and rez her, or if she’d rather just bring a new character to the next session, thinking about an Antipaladin. Between then and now, she has decided to be rezzed, as she wants to continue with Noruas for awhile longer yet (and multiclass her into a Barbarian archetype that gives a +4 bonus to Dex while raging).
The session ended on what seemed to me at least a pretty down note, but I’m hoping that next time, things will move a bit better. I anticipate a retaliatory strike at Hargulka’s territory after rezzing their companion back in Restov, which will get them into the endgame of the book– defeating Hargulka, realizing that Elbat Dnuor has been attacked by a giant Owlbear, and tracking and defeating the Owlbear. Then…onto the Varnhold Vanishing!