Saturday, February 7, 2009

Excavation Site

The Excavation Site is a great encounter in principle, but it's let down by the fact that your players will never come here.

The encounter features three goblins excavating a room for treasure. They have dug a deep pit, and then bridged portions of the pit with rickety wooden planks. Players triggering the encounter will face a two-level fight against the goblins and their guard drakes while struggling to stay balanced on the planks. It's a great tactical set-up. (In typical Keep fashion, there's no mention of what the goblins are digging for, other than "treasure" which they "doubt they will ever find".)

This location is tucked away in a dead end to the east of the Goblin Guard Room. You can come to it in one of three ways. First, you can head east immediately upon entering the dungeon, which, although possible, doesn't happen. Secondly, you can discover it at a later stage in the course of attempting to completely map the dungeon (more of which later). And thirdly, you notice it while chasing Balgron the Fat from his bedroom to the cave complex.

It works reasonably well if the players come to it straight up; this seems to be how it was designed. However, if it's reached after the conclusion of the Chieftain's Lair encounter, it's anti-climactic. These random goblin goons trivialise the players' early struggles. (The module seems to know this, as it calls it "Encounter Three" and places its page before the page for the Chieftain's Lair.) I opted for having these goblins surrender when my players came on them, but it's a shame that this otherwise decent scenario couldn't have been placed more squarely on the main storyline.

The forgotten-corner setting of this encounter, and the rather senseless "excavation", suggest that this encounter was not originally intended to be placed here, and may in fact have been created for another adventure altogether. It really makes no sense for this digging to be occurring, considering that the goblins know what is underneath this room - the second level of the dungeon! Which they can walk to perfectly safely, if they are so inclined, without structurally weakening the entire dungeon.

As far as game design goes, the lesson here is if you have a really great set-up for an encounter, (1) it doesn't have to make sense as long as it's fun, and (2) if you genuinely think it's fun, put it where your players will find it, not tucked away in an optional dead-end.


Lucky Adrastus said...

I put a hexer in the room, and had him command Stormclaw Scorpions (replacing the guard drakes, which were duplicative of the guard drakes in the Dragon Burial site encounter).

My party fought Balgron first in his room (coming through the front door) and he fled here from that fight. So when they came to this room, they fought him, the sharpshooters, the hexer, and the scorpions, which was very challenging. The ability of the hexer to blind people let Balgron get use our of his extra damage on combat advantage, which is otherwise hard for him to get b/c he's mostly ranged.

DBB said...

When I ran this, this was, in fact, the first room gone to after the initial entry encounter.

Kameron said...

Whether the PCs come to this room before they head west depends on how you played out the goblin guard room encounter. I used the goblins ranged attacks and "fear" of melee to retreat and draw the PCs south into the guard room. The goblin warrior that started in the storeroom on the other side of the east door fled toward the excavation site and the PCs are chasing him down.

If you instead had the goblins rush into the room with the pit trap and fight to the death, I could see how this area would never be discovered, but that would be the DM's vault for not playing to the goblins' tactics and tendencies.