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Gen Con 2014 report: Secrets of Sokol Keep

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Secrets of Sokol Keep

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I was the odd man out in this adventuring party, which consisted of a group of five other players who all knew each other. It was a diverse group too -- I played my dwarf Tobias Hyrthstone as the only cleric, but all of the core classes were represented, including fighters, a wizard, a monk, and a halfling rogue. A psychotic halfling rogue. Unfortunately none of that would save us from a TPK.

Our heroes tried to investigate why the lighthouse went out at a local tavern. A brawl erupted when the halfling rogue, who was talking politely to a dockworker, was attacked. The halfling retaliated with a sneak attack by staving in the dockworker's head, murdering him. The next round the group's wizard cast sleep, stopping the fight completely. Within five minutes we had a dilemma, in which my neutral good cleric could easily have turned his new companion in to be arrested. Instead, Tobias just kept drinking while the party decided what to do.

We eventually high-tailed it out of there. The DM did not, as far as I know, apply Enmity of the Black Fist (the consequence for a murder vs. a simple brawl) to the player in question. It was just poor adventure design -- the odds are high that players who are new to 5th Edition would just attack without understanding how lethal their attacks can be. Additionally, the DM didn't make it a point of explaining that 5th has a "instant unconscious" rule that can be switch lethal to non-lethal damage at the instant the foe reaches 0 hit points. We were off to a rocky start.

We then tried to get both the House Sokol Administrative Office and the Black Fist Guardpost to reward us for fixing the lighthouse, playing both sides against each other in the process. It was clear that my group was not good aligned.

The party paid for transportation to the island, and to our DM's credit he role-played the cantankerous old goat who poled the ferry. He had one good eye, which our halfling looked into and saw his own death. No joke, the player made that comment about how the ferryman's eye was magical and that he saw his own fate, and then made a few nervous jokes about things not ending well. He had no idea how right he was.

We roamed the keep, trying to figure out how to turn the lighthouse back on (frequent joke, "did you flip the switch?"). A spirit led us around by the nose, knocking on things to get our attention. It all felt like a bad Scooby Doo mystery. We eventually found a journal with a password; that password led us through a secret door to our eventual doom.

Roaming an underground temple dedicated to Dagon (not dragon, Dagon, the Lovecraftian deity of Deep Ones), when we crossed three suits of animated armor. At this point I had made the decision that Tobias would cast healing spells, as the party was well-rounded and capable of dishing out damage. Here's the statistics of the animated armors: AC 18, HP 33, two +4 attacks each round inflicting 1d6+2 damage. That's six attacks in a round for those of you counting along at home.

The first problem was that we couldn't do enough damage to take one of the armors out. It pummeled our warriors and easily took out our halfling rogue in one blow. Tobias healed him back up. The monk was next -- Tobias healed her, and she went down again. The halfling rogue went down after that and Tobias was now out of healing spells. Then he went down, and the rest of the party was mowed over, with our fighter taking one armor out and the fighter the last to go down swinging. Total Party Kill.

I've never seen anything like this in all my games in the RPGA. This wasn't poor planning on the party's part -- the statues come to life flanking on either side. And because there were no maps, we had no ability to determine even how to beat a strategic retreat. In short, 5th Edition's school of tough knocks isn't particularly accommodating to short sessions like this. New players are eager to jump into combat, but the massive amount of hit points, high AC, and multiple attacks guaranteed the armors would slaughter the party. The DM rebooted the game and we started again with just two animated armors.

This time things went much smoother. Tobias opted for all out offensive, using guiding bolt to inflict 4d6 damage and bestowing advantage to the rogue, who then sneak attacked the armor. We mopped up the room with just two of the armors (4 attacks/round vs. 6).

We then traversed a room where if you fall into a pit of water, ghouls attack. Tobias of course fell in. Remember, paralysis + water = death by suffocation. Fortunately, the party was able to beat the ghouls back. The halfling thief discovered a Dagon statue along the way, which he decided was his, and began hearing whispers to kill us all (this was entirely ad libbed by the DM). The halfling started taking these ideas seriously, plotting to become the new Dagon.

When we got to the temple room where a zombie with a dagger sticking out of its back sat up and declared its allegiance to Dagon, Tobias cut it off mid-speech with another guiding bolt. The party leapt to the attack, dispatching the two zombies and two skeletons. Or to put it another way, the finale was weak compared to the animated murder machines we faced in the beginning.

Our DM did his best, following the adventure's guidelines for a well-rounded six-person party that was considered strong. But the short of it is that this adventure was poorly designed, exacerbated by 5th Edition's new power structure (no maps, powerful monsters vs. 1st level characters).

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