Here there be Spoilers: Players wanting to be surprised when they play Lair Assault should steer away now!
The other weekend, I sat down to judge my first session of Lair Assault – Forge of the Dawn Titan. In a sort of “slot zero” session, I had arranged for many of the DMs at my local game store to have a chance to play through the module before having to run it for participating players.
I could do a book-report style summary of the story going on with Lair Assault, but I think that would steal a lot from reading the module itself – which I highly encourage. It seems like common sense but I will re-state the obvious: read the module in advance. Lair Assault isn’t laid out like Encounters or other published adventures. Encounters is simple, Lair Assault is a couple degrees beyond that.
Then entire module is built around a fire theme. I was not impressed with how they implemented the theme, it felt very dull and uninspired. The designers took a sort of brute-force approach to making fire damage deadly: Halving resistance, massive auto-damage in certain situations, fire themed monsters, etc. I imagine it was possibly a conscious decision to use something with straight forward execution. While WotC has emphasized Lair Assault is supposed to be for experienced players and DMs, I can’t help but think they took into account that this is a totally new program and it will probably draw new and intermediate DMs from its sister event: Encounters.
The Run Down
I don’t want to write an exhaustive report of everything in the module, but for reference’s sake, here are some bullet points:
- The party knows who and what they’re there for: Mordai Veil.
- The party knows the map, thanks to Lord Neverember, so the DM doesn’t need to conceal the map.
- The dungeon runs as one long encounter, one initiative and go!
- They have 20 rounds to complete their goal, no resting!
- After 4 rounds fire erupts from the forge, causing all kinds of damage and changes to the map.
- DM should play smart and mean, even with normally dumb monsters.
- DMs should be playing to TPK, but not by fudging, bending the rules, or being a dick.
- Expect the party to be optimized to the max. If they aren’t, don’t soften the blows.
- Party wins or fails, game ends at 20 rounds.
- Dish out Glory Points and challenge them to run it again sometime – possibly in Nightmare Mode!
Not bad at all, reading, and selecting your monsters are your main goals. There are groups of monsters at certain levels (4 through 7) and you have to select which ones you’d like to use for your upcoming session. As far as prep work goes, it’s fairly easy, basically a run of “Level Four: Choose A or B, Level Five: Choose C or D, etc.” If you’re running Nightmare mode you get to choose one additional monster per level. Minions count for four of that monster – so if you select the minion cultists, you get to play 4 cultists on the map.
In addition to the swappable monsters, there are two pre-picked monsters: Mordai Veil himself (of course) and a fire elemental. Mordai Veil is required to be placed in a certain room (The Forge), but the fire elemental can actually go anywhere on the map just like the other creatures. You can scatter your creatures all over the map, but no more than four per room (you can group the minions or split them up, they still count as only one creature).
Placing your monsters is possibly the most tactical decision you’ll have to make in your prep work. You could flip a coin to pick your monsters, but placing them becomes a careful study in environment and monster interaction. The map has rooms with different hazards that you should be doing your best to take advantage of at all times. Placing your monsters in rooms where they can benefit, or in rooms where they can cause great disadvantage to the characters is ideal. A DM should also consider their timeline. The map changes drastically after 4 rounds, I had to take this into account when placing my monsters. The module comes with a mini reference map that is laminated – it was ideal for marking monster locations with dry erase.
The map is large and interesting. There isn’t a square of wasted space and all of the rooms have something unique going on in each of them. Know your group and you can judge the route they might take. A new group that hasn’t done Lair Assault is likely to try for the most direct route, while a group that has already made those mistakes will avoid repeating mistakes or missing any advantages they can gain.
Be Prepared… for Metagaming
Lair Assault is not a lark through story roleplaying land. That’s not to say as a DM you shouldn’t bother roleplaying the NPCs and monsters as they fight the party – by all means do so! Have Mordai mock and taunt the characters, have the cultists scream their loyalty to Maegera as they die, whatever rocks your socks.
Don’t be surprised, however; if the group has read up on the module and knows exactly what to avoid and what to take advantage of. If the metagaming bothers you, consider telling yourself this: the module explicitly states that Lord Neverember hired wizards to scry on the location – this is why the party is describes has having “map in hand” when the adventure begins. Any metagame knowledge might be roleplayed as some information or insight gained from those many scrying sessions. In any case, it is still impossible for your players to know exactly which monsters you’ve selected and where you’ve placed all of them until they encounter them directly. However, don’t tolerate metagaming that ruins the fun for other players. Players only get one chance to be surprised, and surprise is fun. If a pushy metagamer is spoiling things for other players, be firm and ask them to scale it back.
If the party fails, TPKs, or even if a few characters die but the mission is accomplished, remind them this is meant to be a try-try-again challenge. For those that succeed dare them to try Nightmare Mode, or challenge them to gain every possible Glory Point (including the secret ones). Focus on making Lair Assault deadly fun and it will be!
- Related: Lair Assault Tools over at TheSheDM’s blog!