Barbigazl: Part Two - DM Notes [By Peter A. Check out the Hobgoblin on Warg action!]
This chapter of the game featured our first blood in terms of PC losses in the death of Wayne's Magic User Oban. Right off the bat I'll say that he wasn't a target of mine, but he certainly did himself few favours in terms of contributions to the party (though to be fair, a cursory glance at his character sheet revealed that he was Chaotic in alignment, so perhaps he should have been given more points for the style of play). The other contributing factors in this episode are the Hobgoblins themselves. In 'my' world of course Orcs no longer exist, so hobgoblins have 'stepped up' to claim that niche. In terms of Basic D&D there’s little difference between Hobgoblins and Orcs – perhaps one hit point, so after a few years of not using Orcs I found I didn't miss them at all. The inference that Hobgoblins are of the same 'race' as Goblins makes sense of their use in this game anyway.
I'm a big fan of sometimes literal interpretations of monster descriptions – in another game I once ran a devastating ambush on a party of about this strength with half a dozen bugbears among some snow-covered funeral barrows. This Hobgoblin encounter was a variation on that as, like Bugbears, it's written in their descriptions that Hobgoblins favour ambush as their means of attack. The fact that they can wander out in broad daylight with no fight penalties (unlike Goblins) was an added bonus; so they were just playing to type. Oban was a likely target because of his low AC and ineffectiveness, and that's it. As I say, he wasn't targeted by me, but it made sense that the Hobgoblins, commanded by a leader smart enough to recognize the danger of a suspiciously unarmoured human, would select their target prudently, and pick off the weak first rather than spread their shots among several better-armoured fighters. It worked like a dream – Oban's team literally froze once they had a member dangling off the ice shelf, and then once taking the strain of Oban's body, they weren't able to do much else but form a shield wall.
Alrick's offer of flying and doing a recce of the area was inspired and earned his player some extra experience points. There was also good play from Thaddeus, even though his tactic of becoming invisible using his magical ring and sneaking about that place was becoming rather predictable. Thaddeus is a Thief of course, so I couldn't begrudge him those self-preservation tactics any more than I could fault Oban and Kogaun's disappearing during fights either (although Kogaun did at least join the battle). Nevertheless, a combination of magical weapons and a weird house rule that allowed double damage to a sneak attack and double dagger attacks meant that Thads could be a relatively devastating fighter, to the risk of overshadowing the actual fighter classes in the group. As he was the only Thief I didn't like the idea – he already was unique in that aspect, and to allow all these other bonuses actually diluted his other talents. Still, Paul's time in the game was fast drawing to a close, and while he was enjoying it and Thaddeus wasn't actually putting a bias on anything, there was no harm done. Certainly this encounter, initially with the dice loaded in the Hobgoblins' favour, provided enough challenges for them all (the party never found out, but the Hobgoblin leader himself had a cloak of invisibility and used it – to escape and warn others).
For me it was another clunky battle with too many participants once Hurin's Dwarves reached the far shore, and I didn't even bother to concentrate on what could be tricky fighting conditions – narrow ice trenches. The battle became simple diceplay, and the party made pretty short work of their enemy. While Oban's equipment were auctioned in real time by characters who 'were just looking out for him' (the player's other PCs), I devised a way of splitting the party for a while, and removing some extraneous firepower. The lower level Dwarves weren't doing the job of being cannon fodder because the PCs were simply too powerful for the encounters and no-one except a stuck and unarmoured magic User was really suffering. Additionally, Hurin's influence was strong enough among the more powerful 'hero' Dwarf NPCs, so the threat of numbers wasn’t as necessary.