GenCon: Ultimate Dungeon Delve

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 14, 2009

Yesterday I made my first attempt to conquer the ultimate dungeon delve and failed. My party only made it through three of the six encounters required to win the competition. If I can get a ticket, I’m going to try and tackle the delve again before GenCon is over. I figure I can put my knowledge of the first three encounters to good use and not make the same mistakes twice. Until then, here are the highlights of my ultimate dungeon delve experience at GenCon.

The Party

So after all my declarations about having the ultimate character, I was talked into playing something else at the last minute. My original character design was a Cleric that was all about healing without expending surges and providing temporary hit points. I still like this build and think this character would work well, but the group I ended up in already had a Fighter and a Warlord, so they needed strikers. So I ended up playing a completely maximized archer Ranger. We recruited two more strikers, a Rogue and another Ranger. So the leader – defender – striker – striker – striker party was complete and we began.

The Tactics

Our tactics were solid. The Fighter ran into melee and marked the primary target with the Ranger at his side, while the Rogue moved to flank. The archer Ranger stood back and took out spell casters and minions. The Warlord provided second tier melee support and healing. Our lack of a controller didn’t seem to hurt us at all. We ganged up on one target at a time and had little difficulties killing everything.

The Monsters

The ultimate dungeon delve is different than a normal D&D game in many ways. The biggest difference I noticed about the three encounters we participated in was that the monsters came in waves. At the beginning of combat we had a few monsters on the board and then about three or four rounds in, more (often different) monsters with full hit points and different tactics entered the fray. This forced us to change tactics and be more mindful of positioning, especially for the archer.

The Terrain

D&D 4e is all about using terrain. Fights rarely take place in a flat, 20 x 20 foot room, clear of obstacles and hazards. The encounter in the delve have a lot of creative terrain and obstacles and not being mindful of these things hurt us badly. In one encounter a PC ended his turn adjacent to a fire pit which in and of itself wasn’t a problem. But unbeknownst to us, the monster had the ability to slide opponents. Next round the PC was in the fire taking a lot of ongoing damage. Another encounter took place on the edge of a waterfall. The water was difficult terrain requiring Athletics checks to move through and the monsters kept trying to push the PCs over the edge. My lesson learned is to be mindful of things on the map (other than the monsters) that may hurt you and do what you can to stay safe.

The Clock

As everyone kept telling me that time is your biggest opponent in the ultimate dungeon delve. That is ultimately what did out party in. We completed the first encounter with 16:46 remaining on the clock. The DM was extremely impressed with our speed (and so were we). We only used three action points and two daily powers. We completed the second encounter with only 2:30 remaining on the clock. This time we only used one action point and two daily powers. We did not complete the third encounter.

With less than five minutes to go and only one monster remaining we started attacking it with everything we had. Daily powers, item powers, you name it, we did it. As the last minute ticked down we had our attack rolls and damage per-rolled and waited for our turn to come around. The clock beeped and we didn’t make it. Looking at how much damage was already pre-rolled we asked the DM if these next two attacks would have killed the monster. He said yes, it would have. So we missed out by less than a minute.

However, we expended all of our dailies and all of our action points to get as far as we did. Two PCs had zero healing surges remaining. So even if we made it on to encounter four, we would have gotten slaughtered.

The Learning Experience

Following my experience with the ultimate dungeon delve, this is what I’m going to do differently next time.

  • Get a Cleric.
    The Warlord was good as a back-up melee character, but I think the absence of a true healer hurt us. Healing surges we rarely maximized and that was costly.
  • Take Durability.
    The durability feat is your friend. If you can take it, you should take it. My Ranger only had seven healing surges. That was one for each of the six encounters with one left over. Not enough. Unless a PC can heal without surges you need durability.
  • Watch the clock more closely.
    We knew we were under the gun, but didn’t really pick things up until there were about five minutes remaining. You have to play the entire encounter like there are only five minutes left.
  • Be more observant.
    The hazardous terrain and the second wave of monsters really screwed my party. Next time I’m going to advise everyone to watch the board more closely and try to anticipate where additional foes might enter the combat.

All in all I had a lot of fun with the ultimate dungeon delve. Playing under a timer really makes you pay close attention to your character and what’s happening around you. I’d strongly recommend that if you have the Dungeon Delve hardcover that you try one of the heroic tier delves and keep your party to the 45 minute time limit. It’s a lot harder than you think and it makes for a very rewarding victory after every successfully completed encounter.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 skallawag August 14, 2009 at 11:51 am

My questions to you:
Were party members being hit by multiple monsters?
If monsters were coming in waves, why would you not want a controller either to do damage en masse, or push/shift/move those mobs around?

Personally, I think the best damage mitigation is not to get hit. A good Controller fills this role and that’s what these character types were designed for.

2 Emod August 18, 2009 at 12:16 am

skallawag, I’m not sure that waves of monsters necessarily implied minions, and remember the objective is to beat the encounter. While a controller can certainly help you live and avoid damage it they don’t take the monsters down which what they inevitably fell to. Sure they’d have died at the start of the next round from the sounds of it…

Ameron, the last UDD was mostly undead from the sounds of it. Was there a similar theme here? The Game over at Critical Hits suggested having resistances but that seems like an impossible thing to actually plan for.

3 Ameron August 18, 2009 at 8:40 am

@skallawag
There were very few instances where the monsters game at us in mobs. I can only think of one time when one guy was mobbed and it actually worked well for the Rogue. I agree that not getting hit is a good tactic. In the three encounters we faced, all the monsters have ranged and melee attacks so moving them around the room would have made little difference. Knocking them prone, slowing them and dazing them would have helped.

@Emod
You’re correct; there were no minions at all. None of the monsters we faced were undead.

4 skallawag August 18, 2009 at 9:57 am

For the parties who were successful in the Ultimate delve, do you know what their party breakdown looked like?

5 skallawag August 18, 2009 at 10:11 am

Oh, I forgot to mention… a good controller would have been pushing the enemies into the rough terrain, over the waterfalls – basically taking any mobs, not necessarily minions, out of the fight. I didn’t imply minions when I made my initial comment – if people think controllers are only good for controlling minions, they need to pull their head out of the sand. While it may be a favored, yet slightly narrow minded, tactic to do all out damage – those of us who have played MMORPGs usually understand the need of crowd control (enchanters in Everquest, sheeping/banishing in WoW, etc.). 4E seems to have been transitioned into a pen/paper based MMORPG with the use of “roles” and my personal feeling that parties need to be balanced accordingly.

6 Ameron August 19, 2009 at 12:42 pm

UPDATE: Only four teams successfully completed the Ultimate Dungeon Delve at Gencon. I have no idea what classes/roles were used. If any of our readers know (or better yet I you were on one of those winning teams) please post a comment.

@skallawag
I agree that a controller can be useful with regards to pushing opponents into pits or off of cliffs. But in this kind of an event, time was as big an opponent as the monsters. If pushing the monsters meant that the PCs couldn’t hit it on their turn then it just prolonged the fight. Of course, in some cases taking the pressure off of a fellow PC may allow them to focus on just one monster at a time. When next I try the UDD I’m going to seriously consider trading out a striker for a controller.

7 Craig Willcutt August 21, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Hello,

I am the DM who ran this for Ameron and his group. While I cannot remember the specifics of his particular group I do remember him because he gave me his card to get to this site. I was there to see 2 groups pass through and one group got to the last encounter at my table. The first group to complete it actually ran through it already a time before, reached encounter 5 and then had to leave. They came back, one guy having to buy back ($80) his lost GenCon badge to play.

The first group had something like Warlord, Cleric, Rogue, Warlock and Warden (I think). The second group was a bit different with an Artificer, Fighter, Rogue and two other somethings.

On to some insider stuff.

The Delve
Let me tell you that the Delve was just as stressful for the DMs as it was for the players. Having to keep track of monsters, conditions and five players in a timed environment can be tough. What made it worse (for everyone) is that there were some players’ actions that caused us to bring the hammer down; such as removing “power rolling”.

As noted the Delve took place in different environments with different levels in certain encounters. Each encounter got progressively more difficult with the monsters becoming more and more synergistic. Fields got smaller too, or more dynamic, to bring out the best of tactians.

I did not see the Delve for Origions (?) or Comic Con but I was hearing that the success rate was close to 30%. This new Delve, many felt, was a knee jerk reaction to that and caused the encounters to be harder than many expected.

My Perspective
The Delve came down to two things:
1. Party readiness – If you showed up either not knowing 4E that well or your characters well you were already behind the 8-ball. 45 minutes came quick.
2. How bad did the DM run the encounter – This happened to many judges, myself included. I was amazed at the shift of ideology from delves past with the Players vs. DM ideology usually being seen. Most judges actually wanted to see the players succeed. This was especially true in trying to rush to give the players more rounds of combat.

While the first point is self explainatory I would like to touch on the second point.

As DMs we wanted the Delve to be challenging but fair. A buddy of mine and I actually thought that the Delve should have been 4.5 hours total. Get as far as you can until the clock beeps. The 45 minute-per-encounter limit made things highly stressfull and, at many tables (including a couple of mine), left the DM getting cursed at and blamed for the Delve structure and the way it was written.

An issue with the 45 minute rule caused me to try and get through the attacks on my end quicker. The problem that caused is monsters not getting everything they should and, at times, some DMs losing HP counts or forgetting to recharge powers. Sure, it is great for the group, but for DMs it sucked. I read through the mod numerous times but with all of the DCs, recharge powers and traps (along with their own DCs) it still was difficult to remember everything while on the clock. In fact, I ended up giving out info on encounter 5 which required a roll to get. A HUGE snafu that greatly aided the party. Eh, mistakes happen.

Tactics
You know, even though I ran it, I really couldn’t offer more than “use fast tactics, plan your actions before your turn and hope you roll well”.

The best table I fielded (the Encounter 6 table) had Ranged Ranger (Greatbow spec I believe), Warlock (minion popping curse), Cleric (HUGE healer), Fighter with Wizard feat (or a possible Hyrid) and a Wizard Hybrid (cannot recall the other class).

The key was that Ranger. Not only did he roll amazingly well (seriously: AMAZING) but his damage was obscene. If his Twin Strike hit (which it often did) he was getting 30+ damage. The Warlock followed with crazy damage and temp HP’s. The Cleric let everyone stay cozy and un-bloodied.

The problem came in the final encounter. Their tactis were sound but they took too much time to engae the “big guns”. Coupled with a small battlefield and monsters that immobilized and stunned the ranger went down…twice. Third time was the charm.

With two of four members bloodied we were getting ready to enter the skill challenge which would have changed things for them (for the better). As it would happen though…the clock beeped. Given 5 or 10 more minutes they would have been successful. Thanks to the impromptu fire alarm my final delve ended at 1AM.

[MODS may need/want to format this post]

8 Ameron August 24, 2009 at 1:02 pm

@Craig Willcutt
Wow, what a great post. Thank you so much for giving us the DM’s perspective.

I agree that the key to victory is party readiness. If the group knew each other ahead of time and built their characters with group dynamics in mind then those players had a clear advantage.

I also agree that everyone at the table needs to know the rules and know their character. If you have to waste time looking something up then you’re toast.

I want to compliment you on a job well done. Even though we didn’t get past encounter three, I didn’t feel that our failure was in any way related to bad DMing. You did a great job with us and I’d be happy to play at your table in the future. Anyone who trashed talked the DMs or blamed them are just sore losers. It’s just a game, get over it.

9 Jim Goings September 7, 2009 at 2:59 pm

I don’t think you need a cleric… we won with an artificer. I think the most important element to winning is practicing beforehand and having excellent teamwork. I posted an article of our experience here:
http://www.dragonavenue.com/dnd/post/we_won_the_pax_2009_ultimate_dungeon_delve/
.-= Jim Goings´s last blog ..We Won the PAX 2009 Ultimate Dungeon Delve =-.

10 Ameron September 9, 2009 at 9:30 am

@Jim Goings
Congratulations on your victory. After playing an Artificer I think they are even better suited to this kind of adventure than any other healer because their infusions are powered before combat and lets the party spread healing surges a little bit more evenly.

I agree that teamwork is the real key to success in the ultimate dungeon delve.

Thanks for the link.

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