D&D Encounters (Week 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 18, 2010

“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.

Player rewards

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)

Think long-term

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).

Higher Quality

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.

Minimal Prep

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.

Fringe benefits

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.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 math_geek March 18, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Really that tough? Our group tanked the encounter fairly fast. In fact, I rolled late in the initiative order, and the fight was finished before my fourth turn. No-one had used APs or Daily’s either. We did get a bit lucky with ranged characters and terrain advantages, so I could see other groups having problems, but I actually kind of hope future fights are more challenging.

2 Vinciente March 18, 2010 at 8:36 pm

This reads more like someone who made up half of it based on info provided from other sources. For example the mention of when you get the first extended rest is entirely off, there is another opportunity well before the one you mentioned. Then you use “I was told…” phrases, which further evidence that you are providing a 2nd (or even 3rd) hand account regarding D&D Encounters.
Another matter, which may have been a clerical error (because of 2 Githzerai Monk entries), is your party size of seven which would not be a legal table for a sanctioned event such as this.
The final issue I am seeing is that you are making it sound like this is for players using more experienced play tactics. While the table I ran, had at least half of the players being brand new (or not played since the 70s) & they were able to handle their first encounter without wasting surges or daily powers.
I think you should get a DM with this package to play you through the first night a few times, so you can have it beat into your head just how average the encounter was & that it is not as complicated as you have implied.

3 Ameron March 18, 2010 at 11:11 pm

@math_geek
If your party had multiple ranged attackers then this encounter would certainly be easier. My party had only one ranged attacker who unfortunately had cold dice and missed a lot. The heavy-hitting melee attackers had a hard time getting to the heart of the fight. This left the soft, nimble strikers to take the brunt of the initial assault. I think we’ll see terrain change from encounter to encounter to provide advantages for different types of PCs.

@Vinciente
Welcome to Dungeon’s Master.

I want to be perfectly clear that I am participating in D&D Encounters as a player and not as the DM. As such I collaborated with the DM from my group in preparation for this write up. I asked him to provide details without giving away any spoilers. This is why the section about the DM is written as a second hand account.

The DM coordinating D&D Encounters at my FLGS gave an introductory speech to everyone before play began in which he said there was only one opportunity for an extended rest (between encounters 6 and 7). I can only go with the information he provided since I haven’t read the adventure. Believe me, I’ll welcome an extended rest sooner.

The party listing (with 2 monks and 7 total PCs) is correct. We had one extra player that we didn’t want to turn away so the DM made an exception and let him join the game. The player understood that he wouldn’t get official credit for playing since the maximum number of players is capped at 6.

Wizards is clearly trying to use D&D Encounters to promote their new PHB3 and get new players interested in D&D. However, if PCs do in fact need to go 6 encounters before getting an extended rest then tactics will play a very important part in this series. I think too many players (both new and experienced) forget that 4e D&D was designed with the expectation that PCs will trek on and keep fighting for more than a couple of encounters at a time before resting.

As I mentioned in the comment above, the party make-up will drastically affect how hard or easy the encounter is. We had three PCs fall off the ledge in the fist round (two defenders and the leader). By effectively removing the most heavily armored PCs from combat the rest of us took a lot of damage. I think four or five PCs used action points and at least one or two daily powers were used.

One of the most interesting things about a shared campaign like this is that everyone will have different experiences. My party had a difficult time, but apparently many others did not.

Thanks for the comment.

4 JEB March 19, 2010 at 3:48 am

I think this sounds like great fun … unfortunately I live in Norway (the country not the place), and am not aware of any places where they run DD Encounter … :-(

One of the unfortunate side-effects of living in the boons of Europe …

One question, though … and this may be a typing error … How do you gain 9hp from Astral Seal?

“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.”

I believed it heals 2+CHA … and I don’t think a first lvl Human Cleric has a Charisma of 24??? Or does he?? Man … that’s maximizing!!

5 Neuroglyph March 19, 2010 at 8:05 am

Wish I could have gotten out to play this week… but Wednesday nights are not good. But it sounds like Week 1 of the new program is off to a great start!
.-= Neuroglyph´s last blog ..Review of Player’s Handbook 3 by Wizards of the Coast =-.

6 Dan McAllister March 19, 2010 at 11:24 am

JEB: Healer’s Lore class feature.
HEALER’S LORE
Your study of healing allows you to make the most of your healing prayers. When you grant healing with one of your cleric powers that has the healing keyword, add your Wisdom modifier to the hit points the recipient regains.
WIS 20 = +5 Hps.

7 Jason March 19, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I am running this. While 7 players is technically too many, the adventure specifically addresses what to do with more than 6 or less than 4 players. It is built for 4-6 but it isn’t a fast rule like it is for LFR according to the adventure itself. There’s no reason to exclude someone for that.

There are options for more than one extended rest.

8 Dominic Amann March 20, 2010 at 10:33 am

@vinciente
I am glad I don’t have to play at the same table as you to have anything beat into my head. If you could read properly, you would have got that ameron was only playing the adventure and that he does not read the encounters before playing them. You would also know that every party’s experience is different, dice can run cold, party mechanics might be sub-optimal, and the DM might be tactically different.

But most importantly, I am glad I don’t have to play at the same table as you because you are just rude.

9 JEB March 21, 2010 at 9:05 am

@Dan McAllister ….
My Bad … should have thought of that … thx …

Still sounds like great fun though … and I like that you want to plan ahead and tactically use as few surges as possible … That`s what always puzzles me as a DM, when should the players be able to take an extended rest … I find it hard to pace the action while still giving the players the feeling that they logically cannot take an extended rest yet …

10 amrowe1999 March 23, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Thought i would chime in and state how my first session went. I am the DM for the group and it was hellish on both sides of the coin the players had a monk than went first in the round and was able to quite literally explode the dwarf guarding the bridge with a single attack(hit for like 40 hp) but then proceeded to get ganked from the bandits and was killed before the end of the encounter. The one defender was locked down by the tiefling who cursed him and then starting burning him for the rest of the encounter. While the party one the night it was not without the loss of a player.

As you can see from my groups session we had possibly a harsher encounter than that of ameron but my group still had fun none-the-less

11 Ameron March 24, 2010 at 9:17 am

@JEB
I’m sure there are other gamers in Norway. It just may take a little more effort to find them. You can always try to get some non-gamers to play D&D with you.

@Neuroglyph
If you’re in the GTA there is also a session played on Mondays at 401 Games. Check the Wizards site for a FLGS near you and find out when they’re ruining D&D Encounters. I can’t imagine everyone is running exclusively on Wednesdays.

@Dan McAllister
Thanks for jumping in.

@Jason
Thank you for providing that additional detail.

@Dominic Amann
What more can I say? Thanks, Dom.

@JEB
I’ve tried to work aspects into my games where the PCs know bad things are likely to happen if they don’t keep moving. That way they know that my expectation as the DM is for them to do at least 4+ encounters before an extended rest. It doesn’t always work out, but they’re getting better.

@amrowe1999
Wow, a PC was killed in the first encounter. I thought we had it rough. Oh well, sometimes the DMs dice are hot.

12 amrowe1999 March 24, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Ill say i dont think i rolled less than a 15 for pretty much the whole night. Just finished week 2 tonight and can add three more dying models to the list while they were all saved before the end of the encounter i had three more PCs below 0 hp during the encounter. Tomnight i could roll no less than 15 for all but i think three attacks and yet all of my players still enjoyed themselves and are eagerly awaiting week 3

13 Jim April 14, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Just curious if these encounters are somewhere for dl’ as well.

14 Neil Luna January 27, 2014 at 3:51 pm
15 Ameron (Derek Myers) January 28, 2014 at 6:34 pm

@Neil Luna
This was the publicity image Wizards used for D&D Encounters season 1. I copied it from the Wizards of the Coast website.

16 Don Elson September 10, 2014 at 6:19 am

Could D&D Encounters be played at home?

17 Ameron (Derek Myers) September 10, 2014 at 3:52 pm

@Don Elson
The program has changed considerably since it first launched. It’s in its 19th season as I post this reply. The adventure can be purchased and played at home. However, I don’t think you get XP for Organized Play if you run it as a home game. Visit the Adventurers League website for more on the current state of public play.

18 Don Elson September 10, 2014 at 10:52 pm

@Ameron
Thank you for leading me to where I need to go.

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