I ran another session of Icewind Dale. I had 1 of my previous 5 gone, and had another 4 to take their place.Normally, when people hear I have a table of 8, they raise an eyebrow and I haughtily proclaim my Personal best is 15 and large tables don’t scare me. This week, however, I had a table of 8 and it was exhausting. I realize, in retrospect, the ability to run large tables is an active skill, one that deteriorates without practice. Which I have not had much of lately. So that’s really good to know.
I had forgotten that a group of 8 doesn’t divide their attention very well. You can’t drop subtle hints to a single player while confronting the group. As the table increases in size, it becomes less of a story telling game, and more of a conductor trying to direct an avalanche towards plot. You can do it, if the plot is miraculously moved to being downhill of the avalanche, but you have to have a clever head and clever feet, and I feel like I was lacking.
Who you gonna call?
One of my favorite things about Frost Maiden is it takes 2 old mechanics, and makes them into a lot of interesting bad guys. Plenty of awakened creatures (because apparently, the frost druids that inhabit the dales have been able to cast that without components. Or they love having a pair of trees next to them so much, they’re willing to fork over 1000gp every time they show up on the random encounter table.), but more relevant to this week, there are a ghosts walking around the Dales, sometimes with a physical body that they’ve borrowed. And that’s pretty cool. Ghosts have some interesting mechanics, even in 5e, and we get to see them in a new light.
The thing with ghosts, tho, is that they bring up all sorts of weird edge cases in D&D. And by that I mean spells. Other mechanics sometimes have edge cases, but spells are this odd amalgamate of flavor and ideas from older editions that lead to a bunch of weird interactions between various mechanics.
I ran a LOT of these wrong. I was not ready to deal with the party entering combat with a possesing ghost and immediately bombard it with spells. See, when a ghost possesses someone, D&D gets weird. Because the ghost is kinda there, kinda not, some spells ignore it, other’s don’t. Ghost’s aren’t supposed to be able to be targeted with spells, but if they’re able to be effected looks like it’s less defined.
I ran 2 spells wrong in that part of the night, (and 1 later) which is worrisome. So I decided to go through all the level 1 spells and cantrips, just to make sure I know how things interact for the future.
- Booming Blade: does the Host move “Intentionally?” That is SOOO debatable. I’d probably let booming blade trigger if the caster knew the host was possessed, but if they didn’t know, that first time it didn’t work right could be a clue.
- Chill Touch: While it does have a part that targets undead, that more of a rider, not a key part of the spell, so I would say it would target the host. Plus, ghosts would be immune to the damage, so you’re being nice. You can be even nicer by letting the ghost have disadvantage on the next attack. Another clue??
- Create Bonfire: RAW, I’m not actually sure where the ghost is, but I imagine it shares a space with the host, so if the host takes the damage, the ghost would too. I’d probably just do it to the host, tho. Most AoE will fall under this ruling.
- Guidance: Can you touch a ghost? I guess if you hit it with a sword. Still, in a host, the ghost would not get Guidance’s help, even if it was casting it on itself
- Lightning Lure: There is no rules, even in my private ghost rules, that would let it happen, but man, I want to let a character yank a ghost out a host with chains of lightning.
- Message: As written, a ghost cannot be the target of a message spell. A host replying is odd, because speaking is not an action, so RAW, they might be able to reply? I probably wouldn’t allow a reply, I think. But being able to send a private message to the host could be an amazing story beat.
- Resistance is the same as guidance
- Vicious Mockery is a weird spell, as it requires you to see the target, and the target to be able to hear you.
- Alarm: It depends on how you’ve worded the parameters of your spell, but as I read it, if you’ve specified “the party” as not triggering the alarm, a ghost riding a host would set it off.
- Bless: Great to have before being possessed, really bad to have on a host once possessed.
- Cause Fear: this spell really, REALLY doesn’t work on possessing ghosts, but it’s important to note: if the host if frightened, the ghost does not have disadvantage, as it’s the ghost attacking
- Ceremony: I would let ceremony include an exorcism. We need more ceremonies.
- Command: A weird one. It’d have it land, but get ignored as a clue. Maybe there could be a command that could prompt a contest of wills between the ghost and host or the caster? idk. A lot of the early mind control is going to be in a same boat.
- Dissonant Whispers: this is one of the spells I messed up. I ruled that it could hit the ghost, because I hadn’t read Possession closely enough
- Faerie Fire: This probably works on just the host, but if you rule that ghosts are just invisible, this will make them stick out and lose that. So keep that in mind.
- Feather Fall: Where the ghost actually is might make this a crucial casting. I’d rule that the ghost is in the host’s body until separated, and doesn’t count as a person for feather fall (or Teleport, for that matter…)
- Protection from Evil and Good is 100% designed to fight ghosts. Reread this before every encounter with a ghost.
- Sleep is weird. It’s not going to do much in a combat encounter with a ghost and host, but I can’t explain why.
I think that’s all the early spells with odd wrinkles. It’s hard to tell what I’ve covered and what I may have missed.
Basically, ghosts are weird and you should remember that.
In addition to killing a PC this week in a way that wasn’t entirely fair (sorry Demetrius!), there were choices PCs could make that would just straight up kill them. Or at the very least, remove them from the campaign. I need to make sure to open my next session actually telling my new players that.
Also, there needs to be a bit more, idk, warning or telegraphing or something in that one monster room. I didn’t realize how horrible it’s one attack would be on a level 1 creature. I think how I ran it was unfair. I don’t know what I would have done differently, but I wish I had done something.
Plot Hooks Missed
Due to large party trouble, I missed one or two macguffins that could be useful later. I’m not going to sweat it, but in a smaller party, I probably would have made sure they were at least recognized by the party. One of them was dropped due to my poor descriptions, so I need to get better at that.
Also, in terms of potential, where did these kobolds come from? The story as is has them travelling looking for a place to settle, but where did they originate? Is there some big kobold den somewhere? Could be a good source of story.
With a hole to the Underdark, I was ready to drop Frost Maiden and start Out of the Abyss if needed, although I certainly need to go brush up on that first session. I’m not sure how much the Underdark is effected by the endless winter. The only factor I know of is that a lot of Duergar have headed to the surface in Icewind. Figuring out ways to tie that in might be useful.
I think I did okay, all told. There might be one or two small things that I can do better, but I don’t know if it’s worth adding here. I’m starting to see some of the holes in Frost Maiden, as I knew I would, but they feel more like “This just needs some TLC” as opposed to “This needs re-written entirely.” which is a big difference. I have an article I’m working on that covers the big problem I’m seeing. But I have to make up some terminology for it, which always takes a while.