Thursday 1 February 2024

In person D&D

Last weekend I ran my D&D game in person at Rule Zero, board game café in Stratford. We normally run online, but all the players were in London for the weekend, so we booked a table for a few hours.

It's a nice large venue, with enough space between the tables that you're not absolutely packed in. When we were there, a Lorcana tournament was running downstairs, while a few card and board games and two games of 40K all going on upstairs.

The venue also has an extensive food and drink menu. It's good stuff, too - not a sad grey burger or disappointing sandwiches. I would definitely go again, just for the food.

The party had just finished the Lost Mine of Phandelver campaign, which gave me the freedom to come up with an adventure myself. I went with two encounters - a meeting with some travelling merchants that was attacked by a Chimera, then big undead encounter.

I used a PWorks gaming mat with Monster Fight Club and Mantic Terrain Crate scenery. I've been wanting to do a fully "set dressed" D&D encounter since I got back into D&D - I was really keen to avoid using a plain mat with drawn on detail. At this stage, it meant I was designing the encounter locations around what I had painted and ready to go.

The party were on their way to deal with an undead threat their Warlock had dreamed of when they met some clerics of Mystra, goddess of magic on the road. They had some convenient magic items for sale. This was very much me looking at what the party had picked up from the pre-written adventure and looking for gaps. Plus, you know, a Cloak of Billowing for the Being A Hero obsessed warlock.

Here's where I found the first difference to running online. When running online I'll have D&D Beyond open constantly, and be constantly looking up and referring to spells and so on to check their wording and rules. In person, I didn't want to do this on my phone, nor lug my laptop with me, so I did without. This meant I didn't spot that Tasha's Hideous Laughter shouldn't be able to affect a Chimera, as its Int is too low - we even discussed it at the table, but rather than hold the game up looking it up, I ran with it. After it's initial round of combat scared the absolute bejesus out of the party, it ended up locked down in a fit of laughter as I couldn't roll over a 3 on it's wisdom saves, and it was quickly dispatched.

We had a little break, and I moved around the scenery and swapped a few pieces out to make an area corrupted by foul undead magics. I knew I had enough undead to put together a good themed encounter, and it's not hard for the party to be sure that they're definitely wrong 'uns. The encounter consisted of a Deathlock (an undead warlock) a skeletal centaur and skeletal ogre, and two shadows (an incorporeal low level undead).

To make sure that the fight stayed a challenge, the villains were doing a ritual around three spooky looking standing stones. The players could either destroy them or complete an Arcana or Religion check to de-power them. The idea broadly was to regenerate the shadows as an ongoing threat as a way of keeping the pressure on the encounter and make it feel threatening.

Early on, the party cleric charged into the middle of the undead then fired off a Turn Undead, which scared off a lot of the lower level villains while the players focussed on taking out the spell caster. The centaur, who'd passed, made a very chunky charge attack into the cleric which kept the players feeling threatened.

The head villain then got absolutely nuked a bit earlier than I anticipated, so I decided to have the stones start to regenerate him. The mechanic I used was that each still-active stone rolled a "Death Save" for him, and if he got three "saves", he'd come back. I signalled this very clearly with a glowing ball of energy and lines of power coming from the stones - this wasn't a complicated puzzle!

The players cottoned on about this, finished off the centaur, then decided to blow up the stones with a mix of eldritch blasts and a well placed Thunderwave. With the stones shattered, the day was saved, and we retired to some of our friends' nearby flat for celebratory pizza and to pet their very good dog.


  1. Looks like a great event you ran and the venue looks perfect.

    1. I was really pleased with it, and the venue is excellent. Definitely going to go again.