“D&D Encounters is an exciting, weekly campaign that plays out one epic encounter at a time.” I played the first encounter last night and I had a blast. It took about two hours to complete the first encounter and it was more fun than most full LFR adventures I’ve played.
D&D Encounters is a 12-part adventure from Wizards of the Coast and it’s played out one encounter each week over the next 12 weeks. It’s takes the best elements from RPGA Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) and the Ultimate Dungeon Delve (UDD) and mashes them together. All PCs begin at level 1 and can earn enough XP to reach level 2 after completing six encounters. The challenge is surviving that long since there isn’t an opportunity to take an extended rest until the end of encounter six.
After playing the first encounter here are my initial thoughts and observations.
Sign up in advance and arrive early
Wizards has done such a great job of spreading the word that there’s lots of interest in this new program. Since I knew the guy coordinating everything at my Friendly Local Gaming Shop (FLGS) I knew I had a guaranteed spot at a table. But when we arrived there were already 13 other people waiting to play. Fortunately we were able to recruit another DM at a moment’s notice. This also meant we ended up with a table of seven players. After we started there were at least six more people who showed up looking to play. Next week we’re adding another table. If you’re interested in playing, visit your FLGS and see if they have a sign-up sheet. If not, get there early as space may be limited.
Although you don’t have to play all 12 encounters there are benefits to doing so. Players earn renown points every time they play. When you earn enough points you get in-game reward cards exclusive to D&D Encounters. These are similar to the RPGA LRF rewards cards. There are ways to earn renown points both in and out of game. If you’ve created your own PC using character builder you get renown points. If you play a class or race from PHB3 you earn more points. During play if you help a fallen ally you get points. The complete list on available on the Wizards website. Each player records and tracks their own renown points on the Undermountain Play Tracker.
You need a balanced party
Our party consisted of the following characters.
- Drow Assassin (striker)
- Githzerai Monk (striker)
- Elf Seeker (controller)
- Githzerai Monk (striker)
- Dwarf Warden (defender)
- Dragonborn Paladin (defender)
- Human Cleric (leader)
We struggled through the first few rounds before we started to work better as a team. Having all four roles represented made all the difference. The other table lacked a leader and suffered immensely for it. I’d recommend bringing two characters of different roles and then see what the table needs most. Three guys at our table brought multiple characters with them and that let us make sure all the roles were covered.
The following six pre-generated character are also available.
- Kalla, Githzerai Monk (striker)
- Quinaro, Elf Ranger (striker)
- Alvenor, Human Paladin (defender)
- Heretus, Tiefling Psion (controller)
- Beliel, Drow Warlock (striker)
- Eselda, Half-Elf Cleric (leader)
The adventure’s overall setup reminded me a lot of the Ultimate Dungeon Delve. During the D&D Encounters there is only one opportunity for an extended rest – between encounters six and seven. This is also the point at which PCs who have played the first six adventures will have enough XP to advance to level 2. That means that players need to be mindful of how and when they use daily powers, healing surges and action points. Smart play and sound tactics will make all the difference.
For example, I’m playing a Monk with 8 healing surges. At the end of the first encounter I’d lost exactly half of my hit points. Rather than spend two healing surges between encounters, I’ve decided to use only one. I’m going to enter the next encounter down 7 hit points. My intent is to coordinate with the party Cleric. During the next combat he’ll use Astral Seal on the closest monster. I’ll attack it and if I hit I’ll regain 9 hit points without using a healing surge. It’s this kind of tactical planning that will make all the difference in this kind of game. The biggest hurdle most people had during the UDD was that they ran out of healing surges before the final encounter. I suspect that will be the case with D&D Encounters as well.
Build your PCs for combat
Don’t waste your time on role-playing flavour. Max the ability scores you need most for fighting. I was told that there are a few skill challenges and some minor role-playing, but in the end it all comes down to surviving the fights (which is unfortunate). Healing without spending healing surges is key. If you can take a power, feat or ability that allows you to heal without expending a healing surge, take it. Alternatively try to find ways to maximize the results when you do expend a healing surge. And finally, consider taking Durability as your level 1 feat. You’ll need it.
The DMs Point of View
My session of D&D Encounters was run by my DM from another campingn I’m currently playing. He shared some of his thoughts on the program (without revealing any spoilers, of course).
The quality of the adventure and each encounter is far superior to other games he’s read, including many LFR adventures. Each encounter is presented in a 2-page spread with the map in the centre, the description on the left and the monsters’ stat blocks on the right. Everything the DM needs on facing pages. No flipping back and forth during the game. The adventure also provides DMs with options if the PCs don’t make the obvious choices.
Because of the great presentation the DM’s prep time is minimal. Although they recommend that the DM read the entire adventure before running an encounter you can easily get away with reading only one encounter each week. Full colour, 1-inch scale maps are provided for every encounter. Tokens are also provided. And most importantly, unlike LFR games, the DM does not need to track anything. The FLGS records attendance and the players keep track of their own progress. The DM is only responsible for reading and running each encounter. That’s it. So if you’ve always wanted to DM, this is your shot.
Wizards of the Coast has pulled all the stops for this new program. In addition to all the great stuff relating directly to the game itself, a number of baubles accompanied the adventure package.
- For starter the FLGS gets a $25 Pizza Hut gift certificate. This is probabily not enough to feed everyone, but it’s a nice gesture.
- Each package comes with a (low-end) digital camera. Wizards asks that you take lots of pictures and post them to facebook and twitter.
- The DM gets a small stack of cards with useful rules and conditions on them. This helps keep things moving since no one needs to stop and look up rules.
- The adventure begins in the Yawning Portal tavern so Wizards included coasters from Waterdeep’s most infamous tavern in the package.
Gamers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)
Gamers in the GTA who would like to participate in upcoming D&D Encounter sessions should sign up through Warhorn to guarentee your seat at the table. You can register to play at Dueling Grounds (one encounter played each week) or at 401 Games (two encounters are played every other week). If there’s enough interest, the DMs suggested that a couple of make-up days might be arranged after the first few encounters are completed. This gives players who missed a game or two an opportunity to catch up and earn more renown points.
If you’re interested in hearing more about our experiences playing the first encounter, our DM recorded a podcast of the session. Visit The Shattered Sea blog for weekly updates.
Visit the Dungeon’s Master D&D Encounters Archive for all of our ongoing weekly coverage as well as other great D&D Encounters articles and resources.