Being a DM is sometimes hard and thankless work. A lot of time goes into planning for a game, especially for a campaign - and when you just throw it together, it makes for a lesser experience for the players as well as the DM itself. Too many games collapse under their own ennui after a time.
But a good DM will try to listen to his players. For all of our attempts at doing the right thing, we are not gods. We are not always right. And we don't know everything. If it wasn't for the players showing up and participating - there would be no game.
This was the 1st time in this campaign that i had a player quite openly voice and show his displeasure. Not everyone felt the same way, in fact one of them enjoyed the path and tone of the current adventure - but in this case, the unhappy player needed to be dealt with and done immediately. So I listened.
And by next meeting, I changed a few key points on the rest of the adventure which made it alter from a linear encounter line to a fluid encounter line. More work for me, but I think ultimately, the right..and only...decision a caring DM could possibly make.
Write up follows:
We picked up on Watermonth the 10th, just about 4:15 PM. Leaving the thallid attack and perimeter of the forest behind we drew up into a wide avenue of people and worked our way into the depths of the forest. No other thallids came out, no areas of the ivy or trees snagged out and grabbed at us. We walked on (slowly) for about 15 minutes or so until we came to what seemed to be an old wall bisecting the trees. It was aged and uneven, ranging from 3 to 5 feet tall in places. To the left of where we were there was a section where the stones had been knocked down or torn free, providing an 8' gap in the stones. A red breasted robin was there eating bugs out of the mortared joints.
There was consternation on the safety of this area and Zoltan was voted to snap himself forward and scout it out. He went to the wall away from the gap, and quietly hopped over and began looking around. He was lost to our sight. He circuited the area for a bit but during his walk, something clubbed him in the back of the skull and he went down swiftly; knocked out.
We waited to see Zoltan for 15 minutes and when he didn't return, we thought there was a problem. We began going to go forward when Dehteron called on Frey for some guidance, and noted that there was a bit dug just in front of the gap – and if we walked into it, it would have collapsed. Using his boar spear he spread it open and revealed it, 6' deep and the bottom was covered in a green shredded pile of poison oak, sumac, and ivy. Then arrows shot from the woods and Detheron was struck. Group moved back and we talked on what was going to happen.
Meanwhile, Zoltan had awakened and found himself gagged and tied upside down, dangling from a 20' line, pack and obvious weapons missing, his head 2' off the ground and a bear trap just below him. Lovely. He reached into his belt and began twisting it so his hands behind him could get his hidden blade and began to cut his bonds free.
Group decided to race to the wall and climb over en mass but half of them were stuck fast by a web arrow and the other half got across. Then there was more arrow play and the webs were set ablaze – burning those who were stuck. Zoltan cut his hands free and began climbing up the rope holding him to the tree to the branch above.
Karis went over the wall finally – and stepped in a bear trap. It hurt and his leg was held fast. Detheron tried to go over and he stepped on a bear trap. The orcs ran to help him. Blunt arrow smacked Karis in the head and knocked the half ogre out. Everyone was scanning the forest, arrows held ready, trying to find the elusive bow user. Detheron was freed, and then Karis was freed and awoken. So far we had been hurt and bloodied – but the foe remained hidden. Zoltan had been cut free and climbed down the tree very quietly – missing his pack, weapons – but used his bardic skill and sent a message (quietly) to Karis, telling him that the party should go on, he was going to stay behind and find the guy and he was ok.
Group reconvened and thinking Karis' words as weird, they drew up again into marching order – this time two lines strong, and moved out. Zoltan waited and watched a green cloaked guy drop slowly out of the trees armed with a recurved bow –and with the damned robin fluttering around him. Taking careful aim, he fired a light spell at the guy's armor setting it up like a neon sign and yelled out, "GUYS! HERE! HE'S HERE!!"
Group whirled around with bows already at the ready and let fly. Guy was hit a bunch of times as he sucked down a potion. Smokey charged the man who jumped straight up at the last moment – and kept going up! To a tree branch 25' over head. More arrows were shot and Zoltan fired a sleep spell now – it bounced off the guy but nailed every bird in the tree – and about 30 of them fell down like rain – one of them the robin.
The guy (armor alight) went even higher in the tree and was lost in the leaves. High up he blew a strange whistle and a hundred of birds in nearby trees were made crazy and descended on the group, buffeting them and flapping around them and forcing them to cover their head and face. A few minutes later the birds calmed down and returned to normal – but the ranger had disappeared and we couldn't find him. The guy's robin was found on the floor and we killed it.
After waiting a bit and healing up some hurts, we figured the guy was gone OR was following us (we know we hurt him pretty bad) – and figured we should keep going. The forest remained dense and thick, but we guessed we had an hour and a half of light still. About 25 minutes later we heard a voice shout that we needed to stop and give up our money. 30 2' tall brown skinned spindly men in green hats and clothes made of rags and pelts emerged from the foliage around us in a circle – each one holding a tiny bow with some poison covered arrows.
One more of them came out, moving slowly and tentatively and went to Zoltan first – telling him to drop his bag. Zoltan did and the brownie showed it into a pouch at HIS side – and it went it real deep! Magic! Magical pouch! Then the brownie grabbed Gwyn's and then moved on to Karis'. He was getting frantic and having some problems and threatened to shoot the group should they stop making him get flustered and lose his concentration.
Zoltan then threw safety to the wind and charged the brownie to smack him. Brownie yelled out Fire! Fire! But the arrows that were shot didn't affect most of the group except for the two orcs and Evian who assumed the shafts were real. The group surrounded the brownie who tried to stave off the inevitable with a hasty mirror image spell – but before it could portal itself away, it had been hurt, hacked up, and then finished off by Smokey. Zoltan retuned everyone's pouches and we noted the brownie had some coins of his own in the magical pouch as well as four...I mean two, that's right, two small cut emeralds. That's all Zoltan found in there. Just ask him.
We figured to move on a small amount and then set up camp. We split up watch into 3 sets of 3 and the party got some sleep. About midnight we had this occur:
In the almost solid darkness of the deep night, there is the faintest rustle of turning leaves. The scent of loam and earthy things washes over you briefly as the breeze passes. You hear the minute clatter of twigs tapping as the branches overhead blow into one another and then the sonorous groaning of the heavy trunks shifting against the earth.
But the vibrations continue, and they no longer feel like they come from the passing breezes, but from the ground itself. The vibrations swell suddenly, awakening your friends who start and stare about, eyes wide and searching frantically. The air seems to ripple and like a racing animal it courses away from the heart of the forest and washes over the party like dancing fires over wax.
Somewhere in the distant night, you can hear a wolf's howl followed with a girl's keening scream. Both of them meld together and fade until bit by bit, the night insects emerge once more and fill the quiet vacuum with their symphonic buzzing and cricking.
Nothing else happened and we all eventually woke up the next morning well rested and ready. We broke our fast and readied our spells and moved on out. We stumbled into some thallids – 8 of them, and quickly took them on – however we also noted that the thallids began splitting swiftly and even though we took a few out – we were quickly facing 14 of them. Damn.
Detheron took out Blossombane and activating it, the Thallids suddenly stopped moving. He stood there holding the wand alight while the party shoved the thallids into a pile and began dousing it with oil. The druid began taking damage – first 2, then 4 with some pain, then 6 with more – as the wand grew ragged thorns up and down its length that pushed through the druids hand and was sucking his blood.
Figuring the pile big enough Puck set it ablaze and we let the thallid bodies burn until Detheron stopped the wand's power and relaxed. We healed some hurts and counted ourselves better off – and readied ourselves for more walking.
Came upon a burbling stream next, about 3-4 feet deep, 14' wide. A centaur was in the middle of it, fishing with a net, throwing his catch to a camp he had made up on the other bank. A heavy and long bow was there as well as his own personal belongings. We talked for a bit and sent Puck out to talk with it. It was simple but told Puck that he didn't belong here. No man. Not a place for man. Turn around and leave. Go!
We figured it was a sympathizer with the Circle of Thorns and there were hasty thoughts to plug it and be done. Some poison was being applied to arrows. Zoltan went off to try and get a better position to flank it. Detheron went out next to talk to the centaur. Similar conversation but more of it. Admitted Circle was here. Tehpaguar is doing important work. Just leave, don't understand. The centaur was getting frustrated with Detheron's words and started to walk out of the stream towards its bow when the group shot it. The centaur was really hurt and poisoned badly and it grabbed its own weapon and galloped off sobbing in agony. We couldn't keep up so we went through its camp taking its gear and tah-duh! A potion of Extra-healing. Kudos for us.
We moved on and found a place where the ground seemed to have small 3-4" fires come out of it. It didn't consume the underbrush or give off heat. But the group figured (at Zoltan's behest who was getting frustrated with the forest and began storming ahead and away) to circumvent the area and move out. Beyond that we were surprised by a half dozen thallids who attacked us from behind. Kalarig and Zoltan held off briefly until the bard cloak ported into the tree as the thallids split and then split again.
Now facing 21 of them Puck was using Blossombane (since Detheron was unable to – had used it just before) and the thallids were sent to sleepy land. We shoved them into a pile and more oil was applied and then set on fire. Puck isn't made of as stern stuff as Detheron so the painful wounds were quickly overwhelming the sorcerer who passed out after taking lots of damage. Two of the wounded and burning thallids got up to run away, but Zoltan leapt out of the tree on one of them killing it and Evian hacked the last one to bits with her sword.
We tended to our many hurts and discussed what was coming up. The druids KNOW we are here – they have to. They have been sending thallids against us, we lost a ranger in the beginning who must have gone ahead to report to Tehpaguar and the Circle of who we were and some of our capabilities, and the centaur ran off ahead as well – wounded and poisoned and if he lived – also must have told someone of who we were and what we were doing.
We reshifted the party marching order and Zoltan took point, ears straining to listen. He caught what sounded like buzzing sounds and high pitched voices talking some sort of elvish up ahead – maybe a dozen of them. We circled far to the left and hopefully left the fairies or pixies or sprites behind.
For a while longer, we hacked and stomped our way through the underbrush and thick forest until a voice called out from ahead for us to stop. We have come far enough. Brave we must be. Not a place for man. Identified itself as Xishalan and said he was a member of the Circle of Thorns. Would escort us back to the forest's edge and we would have to give up whatever medallions we had that allowed us to get this far but we couldn't stay. Had to go and now. We figured the druid was invisible but real close – and Zoltan grew cross and began walking forward. Xishalan pleaded not to force his hand, group then all moved as one towards the voice and the druid appeared while casting a spell.
And there was the druid, a snarling leopard, a giant brown coated badger, three hawks, and a 6' long strangely antennaed beetle. And we ended it here.