D&D Encounters (Weeks 3 & 4)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 8, 2010

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.

What’s in store for seasons two and three of the D&D Encounters program? We have some rumours and some facts. But first, our ongoing coverage continues as we share our thought and feedback from D&D Encounters (weeks 3 & 4).

D&D Encounters (Week 3)

This was a make it or break it week for a lot of people. The encounter was a 2-part skill challenge, each complexity 2 (6 successes before 3 failures). As an advocate of skill challenges I thought it was a great way to shake things up and remind everyone that not all encounters involve combat. However, a lot of players, especially new players who jumped in at week 3, felt cheated.

I spoke with over 25 players and three different DMs after week 3 and here’s what I discovered (based on my limited sampling). The level of enjoyment was directly proportional to a) the DMs willingness to really role-play the situation, and b) the players’ willingness to see this as more than an opportunity to roll dice. I suppose this is pretty much the case during any skill challenge, but it seemed more emphasized in this kind of program where there’s only one encounter each week.

Some players were unfortunate enough to have a DM who played it like a combat encounter. The DM read the setup and then asked the PCs to start rolling skill checks. After each check the DM read the result provided in the adventure text. The experienced players assumed that there would be combat after the skill checks so they didn’t bother role-playing. The new players didn’t know what the skill challenge was or how it worked so they just did what the DM told them to do and rolled. After 20 minutes the encounter was finished and six players left feeling cheated and angry.

Meanwhile at my table the DM went above and beyond expectations. He realized that the more he played up the setting, the scenario and the people, the more the players would interact with everything. It gave the party fantastic opportunities to role-play and we made a bunch of successful skill checks along the way. The DM took a delve-style encounter and made it feel like part of a home game. After almost two hours we finished both parts of the skill challenge. Everyone agreed that it was the most fun encounter we’d played so far.

D&D Encounters (Week 4)

This week’s encounter was different because it had a built in time limit. Week 4 began with a skill challenge but quickly moved into a combat encounter. The PCs were caught between monsters guarding the doorway in front of them and a collapsing passage behind them. The PCs need to get past the guardians one way or another before they were killed in combat or crushed by the debris.

Speaking with a couple of the DMs afterward they shared their confusion about part of this week’s encounter. The encounter began with a complexity 1 skill challenge (4 successes before 3 failures) where the PCs interact with a creature guarding a door. However, the outcome of the conversation is pretty much the same regardless of whether or not the PCs succeed of fail – the guardian and his companions attack the PCs. The only benefit we could see from successfully completing the skill challenge was garnering bits of information provided in the form of cryptic clues. Perhaps after we’ve complete a few more weeks of D&D Encounters we’ll get a better idea of what the guardian was actually talking about.

I had a particularly rough week, my worst so far. I started off by rolling a 20 for initiative which secured my place at the top of the order. On my turn a rushed the first guardian and attacked. I rolled another 20 (my first crit of D&D Encounters). Unfortunately none of my companions went until after all the monsters attacked. I was flanked by two skirmishers. They both hit, each doing 1d8+5 and another 1d6 of sneak dice. I took 18 damage from the first attacker and 14 damage from the second. My level 1 Monk only had 28 hit points so he fell down, hard.

I rolled (and failed) my death saves for the next two rounds while the rest of the party worked together to take down the monsters. Finally one of my allies revived me and I got to make one more attack before all the monsters were defeated.

On the up side I managed to inflict 15 points of damage with my crit so I earned +1 renown point and my companion got to revive a dying ally so he also got +1 renown point. On the down side I expended all but one of my remaining healing surges and that still didn’t bring me back to full hit points. I hope we get an extended rest soon.

Upcoming Seasons of D&D Encounters

There’s a lot of speculation about what the next couple of seasons of D&D Encounters will be like. Most of the people I’ve talked to think that season two will be paragon level and season three will be epic level. Some also think that season two will feature a Dark Sun adventure since the new campaign setting is coming out around the time that season two begins.

Regardless of the rumours and speculation about the upcoming seasons of D&D Encounters, Wizards has release something awesome in preparation for season three.

Earlier this week Wizards launched the Creature Competition: Encounters.

“Choose your favorite monsters, let ’em go head-to-head, and help decide which will be featured in the Season 3 D&D Encounters adventure!”

Whether you’re interested in playing D&D Encounters or not, you should definitely check out this awesome round-robin of the most iconic monsters in D&D. If the monster crowned champion is truly going to be in season three then rumours that it’s going to feature epic level PCs seems more and more likely.

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.

How did D&D Encounters (week 3) go for you and your party? Did you like the skill challenge? Do you think that there should there be a combat encounter every week? If the upcoming seasons of D&D Encounters feature higher leveled characters are you more or less likely to play?

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1 SpectacledBear April 8, 2010 at 10:02 am

My ranger shared the same fate in Session 4. I was at the top of the initiative order, moved into the room, bloodied a guardian and then proceeded to get beat on. By round two I was down and dying badly.

I’m not sure that these encounters are aligned to showcase D&D to new players in the best way possible. At our table we have a new DM and several new players (some new to pen and paper RPGs completely) and they’ve found these encounters very tough. We succeeded, but the guardian and imp seemed much tougher than the 140 XP we received.

2 Jason Flowers April 8, 2010 at 10:28 am

Great recap! I too was lucky enough to have a DM who really let us flex our role playing muscles in week three. When the other table running at my FLGS finished after only 30 minutes, my table looked at each other with a knowing, “So sad. No RPing for you guys” look. I can see how this encounter might not have been very exciting for new players especially, but there was an optional combat in between the two skill challenges that my party jumped at (finished in 1 and 1/7th of a round, hah), but still got a little sword-swinging and spell-hurling action in. I agree completely that this had the possibility of being the most exciting and fulfilling encounter yet. Its also sad that there have been so many people turned off of Encounters because of a bad/inexperienced DM. Hopefully, people who felt let down last week showed up yesterday to take part in a pretty cool combat (damn you falling rocks!!)

3 Dixon Trimline April 8, 2010 at 10:44 am

I’m loving these recaps. Well-written and engaging, with just a little bit thrilling. I could so feel the pain of dropping right away in combat, and then watching from the sidelines (downlines? deadlines?). Well, at least you got the critical.

Also, I loved your thoughts about Week 3, and thanks for doing the extra legwork in the round-the-room interviews. So, DMs really do matter. Who woulda thunk it?

4 Jeff April 8, 2010 at 10:59 am

I enjoyed week three, though the two people who joined us for only that week were a little let down by it. I think that skill challenges like you said can be hit or miss depending on the DM, week three we sort of had two dm’s and week 4 just the one that stepped in to help. He had I think a better grasp on what can happen with a good story, and added a lot of flavor to the encounters, both three and four.

It seems to be the case that our group is futzing with the story a little, they killed the wrong person in the first encounter, and in the fourth we answered wrong and skipped the skill challenge.

The DM also thought that the encounter was a little too easy for us and made it far more interesting, to the point that I went down as the party’s healer. However I think as a party we have only spent about 10 surges total so far including the first week when I am not sure if they had a healer or not.

5 Toldain April 8, 2010 at 11:00 am

May I recommend looking at the initiative order and choosing the delay or ready options? Or perhaps a ranged attack?

I’m just saying…
.-= Toldain´s last blog ..Lucky in Love, Unlucky in PVP =-.

6 Shane April 8, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Hey, I was that ally that revived you! 😛 Sorry I couldn’t do it sooner, but I figured it was priority to take out one of the golems with the flanking bonuses. I was the “down at the start” guy in the first session, so I know how that feels. Have only taken 4 damage since then, though, so I guess I learned how to play my assassin a little better.

I really hope youre right about the scaling tiers for encounters, though, and about the next being Dark Sun. Those would both be excellent, in my opinion.

7 panzerleader April 8, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Your write-ups are great, keep up the good reporting. It is an incredibly fun and engaging experience for me and I hope the growing numbers of people who show up at the game store. Encounters is my first time Dming in a public-area as well as for complete strangers, and it is a blast, check my site for a perspective from the other side of the screen. Not too spoilerrific I hope.

I had the good fortune of having time for some prep-work prior to week 3, and I decided tosupply them a map (an incredibly detailed map of undermountain, but tiny and blurry) with vague circles describing areas such as “kings” or “Ice” that the players must navigate through, like landmarks, to their destination. As though a wandering party might not go in a direct route.

Two pieces of advice guided my handling of the challenge. The first was that if skill challenge rolls are being made oftener than every 5 minutes, then there is a problem. Encouraging description of how the skills are used is most important. It was a loosely done affair witjh all the palyers engaged in choosing who and which skill would be the next one used.

The second item I came up with that night, and it is this: have all kids of skill rolls, minor ones that might influence things one way or another, or that might unlock pieces of the puzzle, or even just cos the player wats to roll a die. Then the major roll comes, and often times it goes un-noticed in the many checks being made.

Anyhow, great post, great website, you have a new fan
.-= panzerleader´s last blog ..Dungeons and Dragons Encounters: Undermountain Week 4 =-.

8 Rach April 13, 2010 at 2:29 am

I’m really hit-or-miss on the Encounters. I’m actually a store employee that’s getting paid to run it (and DM a group), but Wednesday was already a full night for our store (Magic and Board Games) so it’s loud and crowded and not a very good environment for the hard of hearing, which includes this DM.

My favourite was actually week 3, because there felt like there was so little material provided RP-wise that I had to completely make it up. Unfortunately, that was also the week we had enough people for a group split, and the person that offered to DM has a bit of a reputation. Let’s just say his group was done in half an hour and then he just ran battle after battle to keep his group busy. Week 3 is the worst week to have a DM new to the material come in, for sure.

I try to encourage the players to play what they want, regardless of roles, but I can see that it’s pointless. I admit, I’m primarily a 3.5 DM and player, and the rigidity frustrates me a bit.

Week 4, I was the one done early. The vets in my party picked up that the imp was the leader and just took him down, turn 2. After that, there was nothing I could do to stretch it out, and there was very little wiggle-room to add anything at that point. I was a little frustrated, and so were my players. I tried to get them role playing, but they didn’t bite.

Overall, I think I just have problems running other peoples’ material. I’m hoping that studying it more closely before-hand might help, especially when the crowding and noise makes it difficult to even hear what the players are saying!

9 Joe April 14, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Hmm, our DM gave us an extended rest after the last session! :X

10 Ameron April 15, 2010 at 10:57 am

My delayed response to these comments was not intentional. I generally compose my feedback in Word and then cut and paste them. I composed the responses last week but must have forgotten to paste them. Sorry about that.

It’s a real challenge to create interesting and balanced encounters when in theory the party could be made up of any 4-6 classes. I suspect we’ll find that some encounters are certainly more suitable to some classes than others. Just look at the first encounter as an example. If your party had ranged attackers then it was a cake walk. If you had 6 melee characters, crossing the bridge single file became a real chore.

@Jason Flowers
The people I spoke with who were disappointed did show up for week 4 and seemed to have a better time this week. I think one of the reasons the week 3 was so successful for my table was that the DM really encouraged us to provide a detailed recap of what happening until that point. Because we’d focused on more than number crunching during weeks 1 and 2 we felt connected to the story. The new players at our table didn’t feel lost and jumped right into the skill challenge.

@Dixon Trimline
Thanks, Dixon. We’re making a more conscious effort at Dungeon’s Master to be more involved with the local gaming community. By participating in D&D Encounters and other RPGA events at my FLGS I can write about it and hopefully get other gamers interesting in these public events (and supporting their FLGS in the process).

It sounds like your party is expending far fewer resources than mine. I’m sure that has a lot to do with the party make up.

I think you brought up a good point about the DM making adjustments to the adventure. Just because the adventure is a sanctioned event, doesn’t mean that the DM isn’t allowed to be creative. In fact it usually says on page 1 that the DM should feel free to adjust the encounters to better fit the party. Too few DMs do this. Most just run it as printed and don’t even consider making the smallest adjustments. Good on your DM for taking some initiative.

Delay? NEVER! As someone who tends to play PCs with terrible initiative modifiers I rarely have the honour of acting first. I was so jazzed about rolling a 20 I didn’t really think about the consequences of running in. But in retrospect delaying would have been the smartest decision.

Thanks, Shane. Because of your assistance I don’t have to roll up a new PC for D&D Encounters week 5.

Welcome to Dungeon’s master. I know that a lot of players can’t participate in the weekly D&D Encounters program so I’m trying to let everyone live vicariously through my experiences. It’s good to see that other gamers are sharing their experiences online as well (great write up, by the way). I’m glad so many readers enjoy the coverage. I’m trying to keep them somewhat spoiler-free just in case people ever get a change to play the adventure.

As a huge fan and advocate for skill challenges and I think your advice is bang on the money. Nothing bothers me more than everyone shouting out a skill and rolling. Where’s the detail? Where’s the role-playing? It’s even worse with assist rolls. But this is a discussion for another time.

It can be tough to create mood when there’s a lot of distractions. In addition to D&D Encounters I play weekly at another FLGS and it’s exactly as you describe. There’s 30-40 people crammed in a small area playing many different games and all competing to be heard. But that’s half the fun of playing in public games.

It’s tough to get players to role-play when they aren’t interested in do so. I often look to experienced players at the table to encourage the newbies. But even that doesn’t work all the time.

Our DM didn’t give us a rest at the end of encounter 4. He said we’d have to decide whether or not we wanted an sort rest or an extended rest at the beginning of encounter 5.

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