D&D Encounters (Week 7)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 29, 2010

“This is the best example of a level 2 solo monster I’ve ever seen.” High praise from our very experienced DM. During D&D Encounters week 7 the players discovered just how powerful and dangerous solo monsters really are.

D&D Encounters is a 12-part adventure from Wizards of the Coast and it’s played out one encounter each week over 12 weeks.

When you’re only playing one encounter a week you want every encounter to be interesting, fun and take more than a few rounds to complete. If the encounter isn’t balanced you either finish so quickly that the players feel cheated or the monster is just so powerful that the some (or all) of the PCs die trying to defeat it. When we realized that we were up against a solo monster this week I hoped we’d find some happy middle ground and I was not disappointed.

Players Victorious

We were again a party of four this week, but we were fortunate enough to have a leader in our party. Of the 20 or more players who have thus far participated in D&D Encounters at my FLGS, only one person is playing a leader. If you want to make friends quickly, that’s certainly a good way to do it.

Without giving too much away, and not wanting to bore you with a round-by-round account of our encounter, I will say that in the end we defeated the solo monster. It took two daily powers, three action points, two healing words, a few Astral Seals, well timed temporary hit points, and two failed death saves by our healer, but we eventually prevailed.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge that karma is a huge part of my D&D experience. After my awesome double 20s when attacking with my daily power last week it seemed only fitting that I roll poorly when it counted the most this week. To kill the monster I only needed to hit, and thanks to powers from my allies I only needed to roll a 3, yet I rolled a 1. The monster then attacked everyone, knocking two of my companions unconscious before the Psion attacked, rolling a 16 and dropping our foe.

The Solo Monster

Getting back to the monster for a minute, it was a tough solo. It had reach 2 and could attack 2 creatures as a standard attack (at-will). It could also, as a minor action, attack with a close burst 10 (at-will). Then there was the other standard attack, close burst 3 that recharged on 5 and 6. Did I mention that it had threatening reach 2 and an aura 2? This was one tough beastie.

As a melee combatant, my Monk really took a pounding. Even when I got close enough to attack I still took damage every round from the aura. With only four PCs, the monster could and did attack all of us every round. It used its 2 action points and its teleportation ability to maximum effect whenever we though we devised a good plan of attack. Add to that a good DM with a keen eye for tactics and the combat was a dangerous and exhilarating challenge. The monster’s defenses were reasonable, but not crazy. So when we did attack we usually hit. But as a solo it had a lot of hit points.

As a player I had fun fighting this monster. As a DM I can’t wait to use it in my home game. I’ll be very surprised if we see any more solos in D&D Encounters during this season, and if that hold true then Wizards did an excellent job showcasing this type of creature.

Slow Progress

Normally, after playing the same character for seven weeks you’d be level 3. Assume four encounters each week times seven weeks for 28 encounters. The average PC requires 10-13 encounters to level up, so by now level 3 is very realistic. Yet after seven weeks I’m still level 1.

I understand that the whole point of D&D encounters is that each week you’re only supposed to complete one encounter, but the slow pacing is starting to get to me. I find that I like my character less and less each week. However, I’m not sure if this is because I expect him to be more powerful than he is (because we’re only doing one encounter each week) or if I genuinely don’t like this class, race or combination. I was ready to scrap this character last week but decided to give him one more encounter. And then I had the super encounter where I totally rocked. So now I’m really conflicted.

I’ve played other games where after a few levels I realized I didn’t like my character so I retired him. No regrets, I just moved on. But with D&D Encounters I’m having a really hard time taking this approach. I figure that I need to play at least one more encounter before I have enough XP to level (eight encounters all together). As much as I dislike my character, I’m even less thrilled about the prospect of starting fresh and having to play though eight more weeks before the new PC hits level 2. With only 12 encounters total, switching now means no chance of leveling before the end.

So I’m pretty much forced to stick with my Githzerai Monk for the remaining five encounters. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not an awful character, I just find that I’m already bored. Yet I believe that if I was playing this exact same character in weekly FLR adventures I’d enjoy him a lot more. Probably because after seven weeks he’d be a level or two more powerful, have a couple of new powers, a new feat, more hit points, swapped anything that I’m not using for something else and have a couple of useful magic items.

The only negative thing I’m hearing over and over again about D&D encounters is that the pacing is too slow. I don’t think people mind playing only one encounter each week, but there needs to be some way to earn more than the standard amount of XP. The advancement rate would still be slower than normal, but at least PCs could level up more quickly and fewer of us would get this bored this quickly.

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.

What are your thoughts on D&D Encounters so far? Do you think the pacing is too slow? Would you be more inclined to play if the characters advanced more quickly? What did you think of this week’s encounter? Do you think the solo monster was as great as we did? Do you think it was too powerful for a party of level 1 PCs?

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1 AlphaAnt April 29, 2010 at 10:02 am

I am also not enjoying the slow pace, to the extent that I don’t know if I will continue D&D Encounters in the second season. And I haven’t even gotten through 7 weeks yet, as my FLGS started a few weeks late due to scheduling issues. I think I’m just holding out until the end so I can move my character over to LFR.

To be fair, I’m not the target market for it, though. It’s aimed at the wide-eyed 10-year-old that usually sits across from me, not at a 30-year-old D&D junkie like me. For him, I think the sessions are just long enough to keep his interest. Hopefully this will be the gateway event that will keep him coming back after the 12 weeks are over.

2 Shane April 29, 2010 at 11:42 am

Heyo, I was the assassin at your table.

I agree wholeheartedly that the pacing is too slow. Being level 1 is only fun because of the fresh start and the new allies and the whole experience of getting started on something new… Effectively, we’ve been “starting something new” for 2 months now. While the actual in-game time is the same, the out of game time really changes our perception of it.

I, also, will not be coming back for season 2 unless it looks VERY interesting.

3 Kenneth McNay April 29, 2010 at 2:09 pm

i disagree with the pacing. While I’d like for the experience to have two encounters during each session and a worthwhile-roleplay-deep skill challenge included as well, I wouldn’t trade the slow progress. One of the troubling circumstances we are currently undergoing is the fluid group. Some weeks, lots of players have arrived. Other weeks we’ve waited thirty minutes just to have 3 players at the table. Walk-ins are common for a week but won’t commit to weekly play. One drawback of this is the fresh supply of PCs makes for easy encounters becuase the daily powers and healing surges aren’t getting used up. If a regular decides to swap his/her character, again, a fresh PC enters the party which is supposedly trapped underground….

the continuity gets jumbled. It is fun. but there is some loss of story. This week, after the fight (in which i forgot the aura!), the recent entrant wanted to search the two cleared rooms because she hadn’t been around for that. I let her search through a room to find a small collection of coins that the rest of the party must have missed. Everyone was eager to see what was next, but I know that they’ve got another encounter coming and couldn’t allow them much time to search the entire floor.

i’ll be around to DM or PC during season 2 and beyond, but i hope that some of these little grievances can be better resolved. Also, i would like to run without XP and simply declare a level-up so that incoming players don’t have to start out far below the party average. Perhaps during season 2 i’ll allow for the players to choose a character, then make sure that new entrants pick up a character of someone not present to maintain party continuity…don’t know. might not work out well.

4 mike April 29, 2010 at 4:23 pm

mind you i DM the local game, and i don’t find it slow. My goal is to ensure that the players don’t either by adding twists and turns. I find the twitter from wotc makes it interesting as well.

As for being tired with a character that does suck. i see D&D encounters not as the place where you want to try something new. You don’t try new deck ideas at friday night magic, you bring the big guns.

5 Alan April 29, 2010 at 4:56 pm

I’m not sure if it’s pacing exactly or expectations. I found the 1st encounter setup my expectations quite high for the following ones, and to be frank, some left me wanting. Plus its not like a regular D&D session at home or LFR, where like your previous posting there will probably be highs & lows for each character. If a character runs into a couple of encounters in a row with crap luck the player is looking at a couple of frustrating weeks which certainly will dull their enthusiasm.

I don’t understand given the fact that table makeup can and does change from week to week that there isn’t an extended rest between sessions. That way each week’s encounter can be made quite deadly accounting for everyone having dailies available.

On a side note, we had our first never played pnp D&D player walk up yesterday and it was a lot of fun. I’ve been meaning to give our DM a shout out and can’t think of a better time than how he handled our newbie. The player came with a great character concept a “mischievous goblin sorcerer” but didn’t have a completed character sheet prepared. To make things worse since pretty much all of the rest of us use the CB, nobody brings the books to games anymore, which to my mind is great about 4th edition. So our DM passed him the cleric pregen that he had with him and told the newbie to just make his powers sound “sorcerous”. To his credit the newbie RPed his character amazingly well. So here’s to you “Liam” great job DMing the encounters up till now.

6 panzerleader April 29, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Well, i t sounds like some disillusionment/weariness is setting in? Although, when you say “I was ready to scrap this character last week but decided to give him one more encounter. And then I had the super encounter where I totally rocked. So now I’m really conflicted.” Don’t you realize that if you levelled faster you might not have experienced these swings of badassery?

So you would have gone on to a new character and never had that awesome experience. I’m just playing devils advocate here 🙂

I wish that each night would be a skill challenge-roleplay and then battle, thus doubling the XP given in one fell swoop and thus levelling every 4-5 encounters .
.-= panzerleader´s last blog ..Critical Hits and Misses in 4e, part 2 =-.

7 Ameron April 30, 2010 at 9:11 am

Your observations seem keenly accurate. My understanding is that D&D Encounters is indeed designed to entice newer YOUNGER players. Having a 1-2 hour gaming session each week is probably just long enough to keep them hooked. But for many of us in the old guard it’s painfully slow.

If D&D Encounters season 2 is low heroic tier I too will likely pass. I’d rather spend my night playing a full-on LFR adventure.

Perhaps we can get a group of players together to blow through the entire D&D Encounters adventure in two or three sessions (4-6 encounters each time) over a weekend. Of course we’d have to wait until the end of the 12 weeks to get the materials, but I wonder how much more we’d enjoy the experience?

@Kenneth McNay
There are certainly up sides to the slow pacing. Everyone is really putting a lot of effort into developing their character beyond just hack ‘n slash numbers.

I’m with you on the two encounters a week idea. A skill challenge and combat challenge every week would be perfect.

Having all PC level up after, say week 6 or 8 would be ideal. Forget individual XP, you just level. It would keep things balanced and not penalize a player who had to miss a week or two.

The only reason I played the Monk was that I was power gaming. I didn’t know exactly how the renown points worked, but I understood that playing PHB3 classes and races got me easy points. I’ve earned the first reward card after the first encounter and haven’t had the opportunity to use it yet.

It’s a strange situation to have some PCs down powers and surges yet new players join in at 100%. I’m not sure how you resolve that. I don’t think giving everyone extended rests between sessions is the right solution. The encounters are designed to tax the party’s resources. If everyone is fresh at the beginning of every encounter then the monsters need to be a lot tougher to force PCs to expend those resources every time. Otherwise it’ll be a cake walk (in my opinion).

I think all the DMs I’ve played with are doing great. So to Liam, Jonathan and Monty, thanks for DMing and keep up the great work. We couldn’t run these games without you.

If I’d level up more quickly I don’t think I’d be disappointed with my character. I’d still be running him and when those awesome moments came, I’d just have more choice around what powers to use and what items to wield.

Again, I think a skill challenge and combat challenge every week is a great idea. It’ll also generate more opportunities for role-playing and more XP for everyone. This seems like the best solution to my pacing issues.

8 Allen Gould May 30, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I don’t mind the pace, if they managed to keep to it.

Our group is a bit large (normally 5, we’ve hit 7 once or twice), but the short time-lines are important because there are two couples with children. Two hours is about the maximum amount of time you can keep a three-year-old entertained before extreme actions are necessary.

The problem we’re facing is that the encounters take a *lot* more than the 90-120 minutes advertised. Our weeks generally lean towards 2.5- 3 hours, and twice we’ve had to adjourn and come back on the weekend to finish up.

Note that this is by large an experienced group of players (out of the six-man table last week, we had an experienced DM, four long-term LG players (one of whom DMs), and two “newbies” (but had been playing a few weeks). There’s not a lot of dead time going on.

The group consensus is that you’re not *supposed* to carry one character through – the encounters are up-sized expected a constant stream of new players, bringing fresh characters.

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