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How I Ran An Epic One-Shot For 13 Players And Lived To Tell The Tale

A group of friends and I recently had the idea to create a one-shot for 12 players.

The idea was that we would split the players into 3 groups of 4, have 3 DMs that could

run the groups simultaneously, then bring them all together for a massive boss battle

with 12 players and 3 DMs at one table.

In the end, we ran for 13 players as someone else wanted a part of it.

This is, at first glance, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad ideabut it worked surprisingly

well!

Stage 1: The Hero's Ascension

So we met each group 2 days before the event to build characters.

We had decided to build at Level 14, specifically because one of the DMs wanted the possibility

of someone playing Abserd.

No one played Abserd.

A few players already had characters in mind; some had done up character sheets already.

For those players, it was mostly rolling stats, enjoying the atmosphere, and helping other

players with their characters.

Some of my favourites included: A Shadow Sorcerer using the spell point variant

A PAM-Sentinel Eldritch Knight with a Scottish Accent

An Arcane Archer who dual wielded hand crossbows A changeling Arcane Trickster/Moon Druid multiclass

A firbolg Grave Cleric of Concordia (a Homebrew goddess in my campaign setting, goddess of

all Clerics) A centaur Swords Bard from the player who

has made 3/3 of his characters centaurs.

They always have the same name, but a different personality and class.

We think they must be related, despite not living in the same campaign worlds.

The DMs had also made 3 backup characters in case we had over-tuned something and the

worst happened.

Once PCs were made, it was nearing 6pm, the session having started around 4.

Not wanting some of our first-time players to leave without getting to play, we had designed

a few shorter basic quests to bring the parties together.

The kingdom of Isselnier is at war.

Resources are spread thin.

In this hour of desperation, an agent of the crown has approached each group to deal with

certain supernatural incursions that cannot be otherwise dealt with in this time of conflict:

A duke has revealed himself to be a powerful vampire, and the players have tracked him

to his castle where they must kill him before more people are turned or killed.

The demons of the abyss have opened a gateway into the material plane at the most opportune

time, and with no other defence available, the party must stop the invading fiends.

A group of corrupted celestials are rumoured to have desecrated an ancient temple in the

desert and taken up residence within.

This is the quest I DMed, and I can honestly say that people do not get to use celestials'

stat blocks enough!

A deva, a ki-rin, and a planetar were under the command of a devil named Hassatan, who

was just a normal lizard stat-wise.

He escaped alive

Each of the groups made it through 2-3 encounters themed around this challenge.

The environment and progression was left to each DM themselves.

Afterwards, each group was given a selection of magic items: 1 common, 3 uncommon, and

1 rare per person in the party, to be split as they saw fit.

Stage 2: The Victory Feast

Having completed their respective goals, the parties returned to the capital city of Isselnier,

which shared the same name.

A great feast was to be held in the central courtyard of the city, open to prince and

pauper, hero and healer alike.

Among those attending were King Siegebert, a loud man that I can't imagine as anyone

other than Brian Blessed; Lady Tania, advisor to the king and adventurer enthusiast; and

Professor Gambledore, archmage of Maremole's University of Pact Magic and Lizardfolk Druid

Practices (a.k.a. Horsewort's School of Eldritchcraft and Lizardry).

During the festivities, some of the more perceptive folk began to notice strange phenomena occurring.

Electrical sparks shoot off of metal cutlery, corners of tablecloths rising and blowing

in a nonexistent wind, and a faint rumbling that grew louder and louder over time.

Soon, this rumble caught the attention of all as it aggressively rose in volume.

Everyone braced themselves, expecting something - anything - to happenand then all went

silent.

Ominous though the silence was, one attendee had yet to notice.

King Siegebert finished his joke at the high table: "... and then I said, 'Who will rid

me of this turbulent priest?!'"

With a loud crack, a Githyanki skyship appeared over the city, and red dragons began to disembark

in droves.

Gambledore cast what appeared to be Meteor Swarm, but it had no effect on the ship as

a psionic shield absorbed the blast.

The players and nobility began to brainstorm.

There were 4 clear tasks that needed to be completed: defend the city, get the shield

down, get up to the ship, get inside the ship.

The chief priests of the Cathedral of Concordia had the idea that ringing the mithril bell

that hung in the tallest tower may disrupt the shield (it would, because *plot* (emphasise

this word).

Lady Tania claimed to have a method of transport to the ship, but required a special item from

her quarters at the castle, at this point cut off from them by Gith.

She claimed there was a secret passage to the castle that they could use.

Gambledore announced that he owned an artifact called the Cannon of de Rolo that he won off

a bespectacled, silver haired man in a game of chance, as well as an Apparatus of Kwalish

to fire out of it, which were both at the University.

Tasks assigned, the group split into 3, the guards and mages took up defensive positions,

and the game was on.

Stage 3: The 3 Quests

Now, I was DMing Lady Tania's quest, and I only got vague details about the other 2.

But I was involved in the planning, so I know what was supposed to happen, and I did hear

some of the highlights.

Stage 3a: The Fat Lady Rings, a.k.a. Take Me to Church

On the way to the Cathedral, the group is waylaid by a Young Red Dragon and two Githyanki

Warriors.

The centaur Bard I mentioned earlier did his bardliest on the dragon, rolled a Natural

20, and was quite unsurprised when it did not work anyway.

Standing in the shadows, anyone with a Passive Perception >25 notices a solitary Drow standing

in an alleyway, staring motionless at the skyship, waiting for something, though the

party has no way to reach them.

They also see a flash from the shield as if something just tried and failed to break through

it.

Travelling on to the cathedral, they meet some priests carrying the bell away, trying

to save it from possible raiders, and convince them to give it to them to use.

Once at the cathedral, the party is confronted with a statue that had stood on the site since

before there was even a cathedral there: a statue of a badger-headed angel, that on their

entry comes to life, announces itself to be named Kethis, and accuses them of stealing

the bell.

Immune to reasoning and logical thought, the angel attacks.

The party runs.

They get the priests to the bell tower and send them up to start ringing, while they

ran for their lives and drew Kethis away from the priests.

Kethis is a homebrewed creature by one of the other DMs; not sure what he can do, but

I hear it is probably for the best that they ran.

Stage 3b: The Cannon of de Rolo, a.k.a. Ook Before they leave, the party is told the way

to the School, that the Apparatus of Kwalish is in his office, and that the cannon is on

the top floor of the library tower.

He warns the players not to anger the librarian, and not to kill him if he attacks them -- only

subdue, as he is the only one who knows where some of the oldest books are.

The party fights through hoards of Githyanki on their way to the University.

Once inside, they seem safe, as it is not being attacked yet.

They get the apparatus, spend a minute or two learning how to use it, then head to the

library.

On the ground floor of the library, they find an Arcanaloth and a Mezzoloth stealing arcane

tomes.

The shadow sorcerer goes for the "You seem to want these books, what would happen if

I burned them?"

method of negotiation, and immediately gets hit with a Finger of Death.

Professor Snadagast, a lizardfolk Druid hiding on a higher floor, tells the party that the

librarian is not currently in one of his rages, not having heard about the attack.

At that moment a crashing of glass is heard as a red dragon flies in through the roof

of the library, before being absolutely destroyed by a creature on the top floor.

Afterwards, an ape-like screech echoed throughout the library.

When the party arrives on the top floor, they were confronted by Hairian Scarrian, the librarian:

a 10ft tall giant gorilla spellcaster.

He.

Was.

Angry.

He used an Androsphinx's stat block with a few spells changed out, and spellcasting ability

switched to INT (with the actual score numbers also swapped).

We got all 3 roars off!

One of the party members actually died fighting the librarian.

The shadow sorcerer had a Wand of Wonder, and became charmed.

The wand created a cloud of butterflies around his ally when he targeted them with it.

Though seemingly harmless, when Hairian knocked him down with a Legendary Action, no one could

see that he was dying until it was too late.

The player did not actually mind his character dying, as he was quite happy with the backup

character he got to use: a Githyanki Barbarian/Fighter that was on that dragon that just died, and

has suffered severe memory loss due to impact.

He remembers he was fighting, but not his name, or what side he was on.

Two of the party members squeeze into the Apparatus and fire it out of the Cannon de

Rolo.

The others have magic items that allow flight, so they can follow.

Stage 3c: The Cloak of Mordenkainen, a.k.a. Slime Time Broadcasting

Yay!

My quest!

Here we go!

My group had a 5th player, which was fine; we hopefully had the encounters balanced for

5 players + the NPC.

The players followed Tania to an unassuming wall which, once she muttered the command

phrase formed a glowing circular glyph, shattered into several pieces, seemingly having developed

a fault after a long time out of use.

I pulled out a few cut up pieces of paper with parts of the glyph on them and the players

solved the puzzle in real life.

This caused the glyph to open.

Loudly.

A doorway into a small chamber with a ladder leading down underground was revealed.

Once down there, the players were ambushed from behind by a Githyanki Supreme Commander

who heard the noise and, frankly, did not think this ambush through.

The wall closed behind them on the 3rd round, plunging the room first into dim light, then

into darkness.

But she was dead already so it did not affect the fight.

Going deeper, the tunnel became slimy.

The ground and walls were slick, and the terrain difficult.

Some of the higher-Intelligence members of the group began to receive mental messages,

snippets of musings on the presence of a powerful mind, an alliance, a long awaited opportunity,

and 6 little mites to be dealt with first.

They arrived at a long, metal bridge, across an open cavern, so long that even with one

of the party members holding a bullseye lantern, and bright and dim light each covering 60ft.

They could not see the far end.

Nor could they see the walls, the ceiling, or the bottom of the pit below.

The Eldritch Knight lit a flask of oil and dropped it.

After several long seconds, they saw the light go out.

They never heard it hit the bottom.

Tania told them that this bridge was over an underground reservoir that the city used

for drinking water.

The bridge had no rails or walls, and was also covered in a similar slime, though this

was more sticky than slick.

The party cleric, who had obviously watched the episode of Critical Role where something

all too similar occurred, suggested a rope to tie the group into a people chain.

Insert Jurassic Park reference here.

Using full movement and dash on a bridge that was difficult terrain meant 30ft per round.

Each round the telepathic voice, seemingly amplified by the bridge, rung out as sound

and psychic energy, as the party heard the megalomaniac-style ramblings of whatever was

down here.

Wisdom saves all round!

Every round!

It was a lowish DC, so they were mostly fine.

But eventually, one cracked.

And so the goblin Rogue stood catatonic for the round, and had to be carried by the Paladin.

There was only one other failure crossing the bridge, right at the end.

The goblin booked it off the edge of the bridge 5ft from the other side of this 200ft long

trek.

PSA: ropes are a good investment for any adventuring party.

The next room had a gargoyle in it.

Not the monster, just the water feature.

Water poured out of its mouth down through a grated area of floor.

Or rather, it did, until an Aboleth tentacle broke through the grating and ripped the head

clean off.

Then it climbed into the room, accompanied by 9 sahuagin of varying types as the room

began to fill with water.

The Eldritch Knight cleared 4 sahuagin with a single Fireball, then succumbed to the Aboleth's

Enslave ability.

The wizard then cast Banishment.

So long Aboleth, we barely knew thee.

All the enslaved Sahuagin and the Eldritch Knight were released, not that it mattered

much, as the party had just incinerated half of their companions and were going to pay.

A massacre of various fishmen and fishwomen swiftly followed.

Each round, the water level rose by 5ft, but the party got through and climbed the ladder

out.

At which point, I heard that the others had completed their quests, and went full cutscene

mode.

Quick explanation of safety mechanism that stops the water flooding the castle.

Quick explanation of how Banishment left the Aboleth stranded in the Plane of Water as

the wizard held concentration on it for the full duration.

Quick description of dash up to Lady Tania's quarters and grabs a sparkling robe of stars

and blue and red.

Quick answer to the question "What is it, what does it do?":

"The Cloak of Mordenkainen.

He was a great wizard, the cloak is said to grant incredible spellcasting prowess.

This one is a replica though.

But, y'know, aesthetics is important for these kind of things!"

Quick run up to the castle roof.

Tania transforms into her Adult Silver Dragon form, the human-sized cloak still visible

tied around her neck, cue "Aww!" from some of the players.

Quick description of chaos in the city below, and of the badger-headed angel who they can

see chasing the other party through the streets, cue a "What the hell?" from the players, and

a "That's what I thought!" from me.

They swoop down and save the others.

Quick description of how a cannon goes off behind them, and a metal barrel flies through

the air and smashes a hole in the ship, pursued by a Broom of Flying and whatever else the

party is using to fly up.

ON TO THE FINAL BATTLE!!

Stage 4: It's the Final Beatdown! (kazoo music) We get everyone into the same room.

It is crowded, but not too bad.

The players are reminded of how they all got to the ship.

We tell them that the Apparatus of Kwalish is basically unusable in its current condition,

then describe how as Lady Tania in her dragon form lets the party down, she is ripped from

the edge of the ship by an Adult Red Dragon, and they fall spiralling until they smash

into the bell tower below.

The bell stops ringing, the shield comes back up.

We tell the players that if anyone has Catnap prepared, now is the time to use it.

About 6 players take a spell-assisted 10 minute short rest.

Now is probably a good time to mention that, throughout the quest, any time someone was

incapacitated, we have been taking note of it.

Those 6 players now join the ranks of the Rogue who went catatonic on the bridge, and

one other character from a different group.

As I hastily wrote out sheets to track all the HP in the battle ahead, the other 2 DMs

described the scene.

Bodies of Githyanki warriors strewn across the floors of corridors, no real resistance

as they delved deeper into the ship towards its power source.

As they arrived at the entrance to the room, they saw a group of 2 Drow warriors; and 5

Mind Flayers - one with a much larger mass of facial tentacles, a Ulitharid, and one

with much paler skin in a dark robe, an Alhoon, the last seemingly under the distrustful gaze

of the Ulitharid as it completed some rituals around whatever was powering this particular

Gith ship.

The ritual complete, the glass covering shattered, and up rose an Elder Brain.

After a brief telepathic Big Bad Evil Guy speech, something something destruction domination

etc, all the Illithids simultaneously spun around and attacked.

We collected initiative rolls and had everyone sit in that order for ease of management.

We asked everyone if they could plan their turns in advance, then turns would have a

bit of a time limit on them if too much umm-ing and ahh-ing happened, and if they would keep

talking as quietly as possible when not taking an action so we could hear each player on

their turn.

And so the battle began!

An early Hold Monster from the Wizard was cut off with the Elder Brain's "Break Concentration"

ability.

A lot of Mind Blasts went off, and several people got stunned.

The Paladin's summoned Griffon steed died.

When the Drow were killed, they released 2 Intellect Devourers.

Some Greater Invisibility was cast and Sneak Attacks were had by all.

Yes, someone got their brain eaten by a Brain-Dog.

We brought the player behind the DM screen to run his now Intellect Devourer-controlled

body as an enemy.

When the Elder Brain believed the party near defeated, he seized the opportunity to turn

on the Alhoon.

Unfortunately for him, the players had not damaged the Alhoon even once that fight, and

he immediately made a Star Wars: TFA reference and cast a 5th level Scorching Ray into several

Mind Flayers.

A couple of other players were knocked unconscious, the Gith Barbarian/Fighter backup character

failed 3 death saves.

I think the Shadow Sorcerer got a Natural 20 on one of his.

The Brain-Dog controlling the PC crawled out of its host once it died and was hit through

the base of the ship by one of the party members.

We noted that it hit Gambledore in the head as he finished off a group of Githyanki on

the ground.

Eventually, the Elder Brain was brought down.

Seeing this, the Alhoon tried to Plane Shift away.

But the Wizard got the Counterspell; we forgot that Innate Casting has no components, but

it did not matter.

The Ulitharid got his Plane Shift Countered by the centaur Bard, and in the end, only

one Mind Flayer made it out alive.

The Grave Cleric got a Revivify off on the character who died to Brain-Dog.

Yay!

At this point, Kethis, the badger-headed angel from earlier burst through the ship's hull.

After a loud proclamation that he would destroy them all, he was smashed through the opposite

side of the ship by a Red Dragon that was chasing him.

Then since they had a diamond left over, he went over to their dead Githyanki backup character,

used Revivify on him, and pushed him out of the ship at the same time.

And so it was that that player died 3 times.

Stage 5: The Out of Character After Party Once we ended the game, and everyone calmed

down from their celebrations, we gave out some slips of paper we had printed off, with

a space to vote other players for certain awards we had created.

They each had a little disclaimer on the bottom, in the style of the ones in the front of each

official book.

We had told the players there would be prizes, but to avoid metagaming, the only one we told

them the name of was "Best Roleplaying".

We had some of the prizes available as per party, awarded by the DMs.

Others were determined by player vote.

A few of the categories were: Best "How-Do-You-Want-To-Do-This"

Worst Luck Most Likely to Seduce a Dragon

Least Likely to Go on a Quest Again Most Likely to Cast Fireball on Themselves

Most Likely to Overthrow the Governing Monarch, Establishing a Communist Regime and Ruling

over Isselnier with an Iron Fist Most Likely to Become a Lich

MVP of the Final Battle The prizes came in the form of plastic drinking

cups with a label stuck to the side of them in Rainbow Comic Sans, filled with various

sweets.

Overall

This is the kind of thing people are quick to point out is not going to work.

In general, I agree, for a normal campaign this would have been hell.

But the amount of fun I had as a DM running this mess was the most I have had in ages.

All the players loved it, some have asked when the next one is?!

And I am considering it!

Even the first time players picked up enough rules to play, have fun, and not really get

outshone by the ones who have been playing longer.

I would encourage anyone who wants to try something of this scale to do so if you can

get enough people to run it!

10/10, would DM again.

Thirteen players and three DMs, amazing.

Despite the challenges of that many players, the DMs managed to craft a game for new players

and veterans alike.

Have you ever played in a huge game like this?

Please let us know and comment below!

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The Description of Narrated D&D Story: How I Ran An Epic One-Shot For 13 Players And Lived To Tell The Tale