For session two we were finally up to our full party of four and my players found themselves rather busy, with three tasks to complete and some challenging combat encounters!
My main focus was general preparation, in this session the party had three separate interconnecting tasks to accomplish with no set method to complete them, this is why I love using pre-written material such as ‘Ebonclad’ as it gave me a couple of suggested ways in which players could (and would likely) complete each task. However, players being players I still had to plan for the unexpected because as every DM will know, you have to expected the unexpected!
So, how do I plan for the unexpected? I always try to have a complete idea of the story even if the players weren’t involved for half of it. Who does what, when do they do it, and where does it take place, etc. It’s not set in stone, because that’s where the players come in. Having the complete story allows me to know what is happening, whenever and wherever the players decide to interact with a certain npc, or visit a particular area, etc.
For example, throughout the session my players were trying to hunt down an NPC so I had it’s schedule for the day briefly written out so I knew where they were and what they were doing all day. Much like many movie protagonist, the party were always just one step (minutes) behind their target.
As for the combat I used a Basilisk as written in the Ebonclad story, but it could be a deadly challenge for a lvl 2 party with poor rolls. So in-spite of the party being a strong four I still edited monster stat blocks to keep my experienced players on their toes and to allow use of deadly monsters at a low level! For one monster encounter I used a new born Basilisk, I reduced the effect of its petrification, both lowering the DC and the magic required to cure its effects from a Greater Restoration to a Lesser Restoration. I obviously didn’t tell the players that, instead they got to panic and find this out through playing the game! Personally, I enjoy using higher level monsters with altered stat lines, you just have to find a reason for their power decrease.
For example it could be any of the following reasons; new born/ infantile, injured, half-breed, drained (by a magical effect or previous fight) or limited presence (a creature from another plane only partly materialised or an incorporeal creature who can’t fully form).