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.
If not for two PCs who made miraculous death saves we were looking at another TPK. Even with those great rolls at exactly the right time, the two other members of the party were killed this week. I’m quickly learning that the final chapter (encounters 9-12) of the adventure, Halaster’s Lost Apprentice, is a lot more difficult that the first two chapters. And I have some thoughts on just why that’s the case.
Since week 1 of D&D Encounters we’ve had a fair amount of turnover. During one of the early sessions we had three full tables and had to turn people away. Recently it’s been a struggle to get enough players for two tables. This is to be expected when you structure an event like this, its very nature is designed to have people come and go every week. But the adventure itself doesn’t seem to be taking this eventuality into consideration. Players who might have reached level 2 by now have stopped coming. Other players have joined over the past few weeks and are starting fresh.
Where the players at my FLGS have really noticed a gap is with magical items. There are precious few in the adventure to begin with, and many of the ones awarded after the first few weeks found their way into the hands of players who have stopped coming. So now we’re playing the final chapter of an adventure that assumes some, or all, of the PCs are level 2 and that at least a few have magical items.
This week our party consisted of a Cleric, Psion, Avenger and Warlord. The DM scaled the encounter a little bit by removing one of the three brutes; otherwise it was run as written. Once again we got crushed.
Every week D&D Encounters throws something new at the PCs. One week it was swarms, another week it was a solo. We’ve fought monsters with auras, monsters that regenerate and monsters that deflect attacks onto other PCs. This week we fought monsters that could transfer their damage from one to the other. The result was three monsters with one giant pool of hit points to draw from. So any tactics designed to concentrate fire and drop some monsters quickly were useless. We realized that when we finally delivered enough damage to kill one, all three would likely drop in the same round.
Given the extreme circumstances we faced this week I did a lot of things I wouldn’t normally do. I intentionally provoked opportunity attacks during three rounds. I was extremely lucky that none of the monsters making those attacks actually hit. The first and second time I provoked opportunity attacks it was because I used a ranged attack to help my allies while opponents were standing adjacent to me. The third time, I provoked an opportunity attack when I moved far enough away from an adjacent monster to avoid being attacked on my turn.
But drawing potentially unnecessary attacks from my opponents wasn’t the only uncharacteristic tactic I followed this week. After two of my comrades fell in the same round I did something I’ve never done before – I ran away from combat, climbed on top of a book case, made a Stealth check and used my second wind. On my next turn I was planning to flee from the remaining monsters, assuming that they killed the only other surviving party member. Fortunately (for him) the Cleric was still alive after the monster attacked and he cried out to tell me so. Knowing he was still alive I couldn’t just leave him. It took seven more rounds for my Warlord and the pacifist Cleric to finally kill the last bloodied monster.
It was a brutal encounter for our party. Without a defender to mark foes and draw attention away from the other PCs, the monsters were free to attack whomever they wanted using whatever tactics they wanted. They were constantly moving around the room and when they all ganged up on the weakest party members there was little we could do to pull them off. At level 1 you need a balanced party. If you’re missing any of the four roles you’re in trouble.
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 are the magic items being distributed among your group? Have people with the magic treasure stopped coming? Are we having an unusually difficult time with these encounters or are others finding them as tough as the folks at my FLGS?
I managed to get my hands on some more information about D&D Encounters Season 2: Dark Sun. Here’s the player’s primer. I assume this will be available on the Wizards of the Coast website before season 2 begins on June 9. For those who can’t wait that long or for those who are just interested in Dark Sun, here’s the primer.
And for more information on Dark Sun, check out the D&D Play Spotlight article by Chris Tulach on the Wizards of the Coast Website, Dark Sun Summer.
Welcome to Athas: A Quick Player’s Primer
The world of the DARK SUN Campaign Setting is unique in several ways. Many familiar trappings of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game are missing or turned on their heads. Athas is not a place of shining knights and robed wizards, of deep forests and divine pantheons. To venture over the sands of Athas is to enter a world of savagery and splendor that draws on different traditions of fantasy and storytelling. Simple survival beneath the deep red sun is often its own adventure.
Newcomers to Athas have many things to learn about the world, its people, and its monsters, but the following eight characteristics encapsulate the most important features of the DARK SUN campaign setting.
The World is a Desert: Athas is a hot, arid planet covered with endless seas of dunes, lifeless salt flats, stony wastes, rocky badlands, thorny scrublands, and worse. From the first moments of dawn, the crimson sun beats down from an olive-tinged sky. Temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees by midmorning and can reach 130 degrees or more by late afternoon. The wind is like the blast of a furnace, offering no relief from the oppressive heat. Dust and sand borne on the breeze coat everything with yellow-orange silt. In this forbidding world, cities and villages exist only in a few oases or verdant plains. The world beyond these islands of civilization is a barren wasteland roamed by nomads, raiders, and hungry monsters.
The World is Savage: Life on Athas is brutal and short. Bloodthirsty raiders, greedy slavers, and hordes of inhuman savages overrun the deserts and wastelands. The cities are little better; each chokes in the grip of an immortal tyrant. The vile institution of slavery is widespread on Athas, and many unfortunates spend their lives in chains, toiling for brutal taskmasters. Every year hundreds of slaves, perhaps thousands, are sent to their deaths in bloody arena spectacles. Charity, compassion, kindness—these qualities exist, but they are rare and precious blooms. Only a fool hopes for such riches.
Metal is Scarce: Most arms and armor are made of bone, stone, wood, and other such materials. Mail or plate armor exists only in the treasuries of the sorcerer-kings. Steel blades are almost priceless, weapons that many heroes never see during their lifetimes.
Arcane Magic Defiles the World: The reckless use of arcane magic during ancient wars reduced Athas to a wasteland. To cast an arcane spell, one must gather power from the living world nearby. Plants wither to black ash, crippling pain wracks animals and people, and the soil is sterilized; nothing can grow in that spot again. It is possible to cast spells with care, avoiding any more damage to the world, but defiling is more potent than preserving. As a result, sorcerers, wizards, and other wielders of arcane magic are generally reviled and persecuted across Athas regardless of whether they preserve or defile. Only the most powerful spellcasters can wield arcane might without fear of reprisals.
Sorcerer-Kings Rule the City-States: Terrible defilers of immense power rule all but one of the city-states. These mighty spellcasters have held their thrones for centuries; no one alive remembers a time before the sorcerer-kings. Some claim to be gods, and some claim to serve gods. Some are brutal oppressors, where others are more subtle in their tyranny. The sorcerer-kings govern through priesthoods or bureaucracies of greedy, ambitious templars, lesser defilers who can call upon the kings’ powers.
The Gods are Silent: Long ago, when the planet was green, the brutal might of the primordials overcame the gods. Today, Athas is a world without deities. There are no clerics, no paladins, and no prophets or religious orders. In the absence of divine influence, other powers have come to prominence in the world. Psionic power is well known and widely practiced on Athas; even unintelligent desert monsters can have deadly psionic abilities. Shamans and druids call upon the primal powers of the world, which are often sculpted by the influence of elemental power.
Fierce Monsters Roam the World: The desert planet has its own deadly ecology. Many creatures that are familiar sights on milder worlds have long since died out or never existed at all. Athas has no cattle, swine, or horses; instead, people tend flocks of erdlus, ride on kanks or crodlus, and draw wagons with inixes and mekillots. Wild creatures such as lions, bears, and wolves are almost nonexistent. In their place are terrors such as the id fiend, the baazrag, and the tembo.
Familiar Races Aren’t What You Expect: Typical fantasy stereotypes don’t apply to Athasian heroes. In many DUNGEONS & DRAGONS settings, elves are wise, benevolent forest-dwellers who guard their homelands from intrusions of evil. On Athas, elves are a nomadic race of herders, raiders, peddlers, and thieves. Halflings aren’t amiable river-folk; they’re xenophobic headhunters and cannibals who hunt and kill trespassers in their mountain forests. Goliaths—or half-giants, as they are commonly known—are brutal mercenaries that serve as elite guards and enforcers for the sorcerer-kings and their templars in many city-states.