There are two things that struck me about this session. The first had to do with maps. When exploring the ziggurat that seemed to be the source of raids against trade caravans headed to and from Headwater, the players took care to make a map and make notes of what they did not want to tangle with while only two players were available. This week, we had a fuller slate of players and a random roll produced an NPC magic user newly arrived with the first caravan seen in some time. The party hired him on and retained the services of the surviving mercenary they had with them last session.
The players then proceeded to take out the map and study it, planning their next assault based on what they had seen before. This delighted me, as this is an aspect of the old ways that (being a bit of a map geek) I truly adore. The party was well rewarded for their efforts — the tactics that they used as a result of their map worked brilliantly.
This leads me to my second observation. The party tackled a couple of monsters that they probably had no business trying to take down, and they succeeded because they used tactics and took advantage of terrain to great effect. Older versions of D&D allow for this — the system is mechanically wide open enough to allow players to be creative in combat situations. The Referee, in turn, is free to make ad hoc decisions on a case by case basis as to how much such creativity affects the situation. In other words, as a Referee I was free to reward the players for their planning, foresight, cunning and creativity. Please note: the creatures they attacked would have easily killed the entire party in a straight fight, and even with all that planning, forethought, cunning and creativity had it not been for a couple of lucky rolls, one or more characters would have died. Thus, the players came out knowing that they had truly succeeded on their own merit.
In my own experience, this is in contrast to combat in 3.5. The mechanics actually get in the way of the kind of creativity displayed by my players. When every aspect of combat is covered by a universal mechanic and a character is not a combat specialist, the mechanics themselves make creative play too risky to even try ("that sounds great, but the DC is still going to a 20"). I have even witnessed a combat where the mechanics actually made it impossible for the party to win. Understanding this, the DM allowed the party to succeed by fiat. This destroyed all sense of accomplishment and rendered the whole exercise meaningless.
The party defeated a pair of monstrous ape-like creatures with creative use of spells and coordinated attacks. The NPC magic user, Xerxes, proved to be extremely useful — his Charm Person and Light spells were used to great effect. He was also fun to role play — he comes off as an arrogant academic that plays well against the bravado of the party.
As an example of the creativity used by the party, they took the head of one of the ape-creatures and cast a Light spell on it. They then used it to intimidate a couple of groups of humanoids (I rewarded the party with morale checks, one of which proved critical).
This was the first time the party managed to find some significant treasure, including a couple of things that are magical. The party has not yet had the courage to try anything out, so we shall see what comes of that.
There are also a some new rumors that the party has come across. Dn. Guron has been in communication with his bishop. It seems that there is a single reference in an obscure scroll in the Church's archives to a lost city deep in the Giant Insect Jungle that is somehow connected to the mask the party found in session 4. There has also been a rash of murders in the city that has the bishop concerned. In addition, the party was able to confirm a rumor from the recent caravan arriving in Headwater — the orcs are no longer at the Monastery. The party noted tracks going into the Monastery, but none coming out.
11 minutes ago