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 idea... but it worked surprisingly well! This is going to be a long post, but if you want to skip, I've put headings at the start of each section.
EDIT: This post was animated by All Things DnD, here's a link to the video!
EDIT 2: And thanks to Omegatron9 for helping to get this post back. Don't know how it half deleted itself.
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 TricksteMoon 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 overtuned something and the worst happened.
Once PCs were made, it was nearing 6pm, 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 to 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 as its country. 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. Horseworts School of Eldritchcraft and Lizardry).
During the festivities, some of the more perceptive folk began to notice strange phenomena occuring. Electrical sparks shoot off of metal cutlery, corners of tablecloths rising and blowing in a nonexistant 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 happen... and 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 shop 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"). Lady Tania claimed to have a method of transport to the ship, but required a special item from her quarters at the castle, which was at this point cut off from them by the 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 two. 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 2 Githyanki Warriors.
- The centaur Bard I mentioned earlier did his bardliest on the dragon, rolled a Natural 20, and was quite unsurprised when it didn't 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's 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 himif he attacks them, only subdue, as he's the only one who knows where some of the oldest books are.
- The party fight through hoards of Githyanki on their way to the University. Once inside, they seem safe, as it isn't 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 isn't 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 and an ape-like screech echoed throughout.
- 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 statblock with a few spells changed out, and spellcasting ability switched to INT (with the actual score numbers also swapped too). We got all 3 roars off!
- One of the party actually died fighting the librarian. The shadow sorcerer had a Wand of Wonder, and became charmed. It created a cloud of butterflies around his ally when he targeted them with it. Seemingly harmless, but when Hairian knocked him down with a Legendary Action, no one could see that he was dying until it was too late.
- The player didn't 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's on.
- Two of the party 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, that 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, didn't think this ambush through. The wall closed behind them on the 3rd round, plunging the room first into dim light, then darkness. But she was dead already so it didn't 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 holding a bullseye lanturn (60ft bright light, 60ft dim light) they couldn't see the far end. Nor could they see the walls, 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 it 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 EK 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, aesthetic is important for these kind of things!"
- Quick run up to castle roof. Tania transforms into her Adult Silver Dragon form, human-sized cloak still visible tied around her neck, (cue "Aww!" from some of the players).
- Quick description of chaos in city below, and of the badger-headed angel who they can see chasing the other party through the streets (cue a "What the fuck?" 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 of 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's 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. 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 (an 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 BBEG 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, that turns would have a bit of a time limit on them if to much umm-ing and ahh-ing happened, and if they would keep talking as quiet 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, 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 around to 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 hadn't damaged the Alhoon 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. 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 didn't mattter). 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 OOC Afterparty
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.
This is the kind of thing Reddit is quick to point out isn't 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've had in ages, so much so that I actually went and posted this. All the players loved it, some have asked when the next one is (!!!) I'm considering it...
Even the first time players picked up enough rules to play, have fun, and not really get outshone by the ones who've been playing longer.
I'd 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.