D&D Encounters (Week 10)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 20, 2010

We’ve got more information about D&D Encounters Season 2: Dark Sun. But before we get into that, let’s see how things went for our heroes in the week 10 session of D&D Encounters.

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?

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D&D Encounters: Dark Sun

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.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Al May 20, 2010 at 9:47 am

Note a partial spoiler for encounter 10 is near the end of this post, so beware .

I think that it is very important especially for DMs running the encounters to visit the official encounters group page and check the forum for updates & errata regarding each week’s encounter. Here is a link to the official page http://www.community.wizards.com/dungeonsanddragons .

I’m also coping and pasting a couple of posts from the designer, the first about “Leveling Up”:

“Leveling Up
The third chapter of the Encounters is meant to be fought through by a 2nd level party. If, after the first two chapters, you have a number of PCs who are just short of 2nd level (like 200 or less away), you should grant them enough *virtual XP* to knock them up to 2nd level. No one should come out of the Encounters series with artificially inflated XP counts, but you should also throw your PCs a bone and let them be 2nd level going into Enc 3-1, which is pretty tough.

If there’s one or two PCs that hasn’t been around since the beginning (i.e., only been in one chapter, not both) then you can leave them at 1st level, but you should grant the player the option to level up virtually.”

The second concerning “Typos” in encounter 10:

“There’s a typo in the module which lists the Pacifying Spore ability as at-will, rather than what it *should be*, which is an Encounter power. Do NOT let your monsters have this as an at-will attack, or things will go pretty south, pretty fast.”

“The two rotpriests were the suggested scaling for 6 characters (basically, add one monster of the encounter level to make it a level 3 encounter for 6 characters [900 xp]).

So if you only have 5 players at your table, REMOVE one of the rotpriests.

If you insist on running it as presented, award each character an additional 30 xp.

If you have only 4 PCs, remove either both rotpriests or one rotpriest and one guard.”

2 Jason May 20, 2010 at 9:48 am

There were a few problems with the write up for this encounter. Most notably the guards ability to pacify players should have been an encounter power and not an at-will.

Level up everyone. Tell people to boost themselves to level 2, but continue tracking XP properly. It was dumb for WotC to not include this, but when prepping for week 9 our DMs quickly noticed the problem and we all agreed to let everyone play as a level 2 character. I believe in the next season everyone levels at the same time regardless of XP gain just to keep the encounters properly balanced.

I’ve got nothing for how to handle the lost players taking magic items, but I’ve not seen it be an issue since everyone leveled up.

The write up has two leaders and one of them should be removed for weaker parties, the brutes aren’t too tough without he leader support. That 2d10 at-will the leaders have is brutal, but their at-will burst is nasty (at least it targets everyone in range and not just the PCs).

3 Kenneth McNay May 20, 2010 at 10:30 am

the magic items have been nearly useless as we do not have an arcane user in the group to really make the most of them. but, it is compounded by the fact that one player wants so badly to have magic items, regardless of their value that he bartered with one of the possesors of a magic item to get it from them; he doesn’t make use of either. so, those are both lost in terms of value to the group. at least a third item went to an individual that will be holding it despite the attempts to buy it from her character.

i found that the bottleneck of the doorway made the fight incredibly easy for the largely ranged group. no one used a daily and no one used an encounter power (aside from healing words) for the entire fight, yet they were able to quickly shut down the attackers.

Honestly, I’m ready to run DS and drop the remaining encounters of this season. I’ve really lost steam from previous weeks in terms of DM enjoyment.

Also, Dark Sun should be much more fun as the group is beginning to lose its fluidity for a more routine group that has been consistent about showing up ontime and with the same character each week. This shows me that the concept of a weekly even is certainly going to be a success, but some of the bugs need to be worked out of the system.

4 Jeff May 20, 2010 at 10:39 am

I just wanted to pipe in and echo some of the thoughts above. Your experience at the table pretty much matched mine.

We had two groups at our shop for session 10. Our group had 6 members, We had a pacifist cleric (the only level 2), a barbarian (who failed 8! saves in a row from being engulfed – we wrote up an award for him—this effectively removed our one striker from the encounter ), a battlemind, a rune priest, a fighter, and a paladin; we were light on strikers and controllers. That’s the nature of Encounters; you don’t know who’s going to show up to play.

The other group had 4 members, all level 1. Both parties wiped. Afterward, we discussed what we thought were the reasons:

1) It seemed to us that the encounters are balanced for an optimal party, but with the juggling of folks at the table, the teams are exactly the opposite. Our start times are staggered to accommodate when people show up, so you play with who is available.

Perhaps the Encounters sessions should be treated as one-offs rather than an ongoing scenario. Each week, players could bring multiple characters and assemble an appropriately balanced team. If everyone did this, at least all the roles would be covered. The down side is that no one would advance in level, and magic items would likely be on characters not being used.

2) The burst from the 2 critters really seemed like it should have been an encounter power OR have had a recharge, not have been an at-will. Also, the way the power was worded meant an action point couldn’t be used to gain/use a standard action (you couldn’t use a standard action on your turn at all). That’s just crazy powerful.

3) The splitting-the-damage-across-all-the bad guys gimmick was neat, and we caught on to it early on, but we just couldn’t do anything about it. AOE attackers would have really shined in this scenario, and we had none. Having some burst and blast powers on our side would have effectively ended the scenario much quicker. I would theorize that any teams that completed the encounter likely had some aoe damage capability.

4) Having the damage distribution gimmick AND the standard action was a one-two punch that laid waste to the party. Either on it’s own is impressive, but both were devastating.

5 Lahrs May 20, 2010 at 7:09 pm

@Ameron

Through the 10 encounters we have not had a TPK, close, but we have always managed, and I believe it is because we have overcome some of your group’s shortcomings.

First, because we have not had any TPKs, the XP flow has been consistent and we are all level two, except for the two new guys who played their first game this week and used the pre-made cards. Those two new players will be bringing level two characters in next week.

Second, and I think most important, is even though we have had some fluidity in the people playing, we have had a solid core of players who show up every week. We have divided our roles well, and we trust that the other person will fulfill their role properly. Having trust that the defender will defend, the leader will throw out the proper buffs at the right time and the strikers will work together to take down enemies is a huge benefit. Experience as a team cannot be underestimated, even with a group of seasoned players.

College recently ended for the semester, so we lost two people last week, but the above mentioned newbies filled in nicely, despite their lack of experience in D&D. They were eager to learn and actually listened when our group helped them grasp the game.

That said, until I read Al’s comment, I didn’t know the stun spore was supposed to be an encounter power, and I will have to let our DM know next Wednesday. Not that it will change anything, but that power was absolutely brutal and a few of our players finally earned (not sure if it is a good thing) the 50 damage in an encounter achievement. At least we can now say we stood up to the extra difficulty and survived.

I wanted to say I thoroughly enjoy your write ups Ameron. Do you plan on continuing the recaps during the Dark Sun encounters?

6 Dungeon Newbie May 21, 2010 at 3:12 am

Excuse me, but what are the 4 roles? I’m a newbie so… yeah. I know 2 are Striker and Defender, but what are the others? Healer and Ranged? Or what?

7 Begindnd May 21, 2010 at 4:10 am

@Dungeon Newbie
The four roles are Striker, Defender, Controller and Leader, and it’s a good idea to have 2 defenders and one of the others in a party! Hope this helps :)

I have a few questions as well regards to these weekly encounters that WotC are doing. It’s a good idea to try and revive D&D again, especially as the 4th edition is tailored towards new players (and veryyyy combat based!). I want to take my friend down who has never played D&D before and I have never been to any of the sessions!

Do you create your own character before turning up?
Can you jump in whatever week you want or do you have to be there from the start?
Is it “newbie” friendly? I don’t want my friend to be intimidated!

I live in the UK so there’s one in Manchester that I can take her to!

Thanks!
.-= Begindnd´s last blog ..Players ruining my passion =-.

8 mc monte May 21, 2010 at 10:11 am

@Al and Jason

Hey, I’ve DM’ed about half of the Encounters Ameron has reported on, including this one. I ran the encounter aware of the errata and scaling. Pacifying Burst was not spammed, and I did remove a Rotpriest to account for having only 4 players.

This encounter was brutal, though, because of the myconids ability to share their damage, which nullifies the common party tactic of focus-fire. Add to that the regeneration of the Rotpriest, the on-death effect of both the minions and the rotpriests to heal everyone close by, and some brutally high attack and damage bonus, not to mention defenses.

Couple that with some challenging tactics and a bottleneck on the bridge, and it’s a tough encounter. Were it not for some lucky rolls — several instances where the PCs rolled high, and I rolled low (and I roll in the open), this week would have been a TPK several round sooner.

9 Lahrs May 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm

@Begindnd

The Encounters are very newbie friendly, but depending on the willingness of the other players to teach and be patient as well as the willingness of your friends to listen plays an important role. Still, we had two new people in our last session (10) who were able to pick up the basics of the game quickly and they had a good time.

Experienced players will want to bring in their own character, but included in the Encounters package are pre-made characters so anyone can quickly jump into the game. In fact, I would recommend newbies starting with the pre-made characters as the cards Wizards provides are fairly basic, but that is good for new players.

You can jump in whenever, though unless your DM rules otherwise, you will begin at level 1, whereas players from the beginning will be level 2. The new season is about to start in three weeks or so, but I would recommend taking your friends down now as even two sessions under the belt before the next season will be a major boon. The only warning I would have is throwing newbies into the fire in what is sure to be some grueling final encounters. So let them know ahead of time what they are getting into, and not to get discouraged if things go bad for them. Then again, who knows, maybe they will get that timely crit and be the hero! That will definitely make them want to come back for season 2.

The roles as I see them:
Defender is your tank, but not necessarily a meat shield like you would think in an MMO. Defenders in many ways try to control the way the battle goes defensively.

Strikers are your damage dealers, which should be fairly straight forward.

Leaders are buffers, debuffers and healers. Their job is to make the group better by increasing their abilities and decreasing the enemies.

The controller manages the game offensively, and has more AoE than the other classes.

10 Ameron May 25, 2010 at 12:53 pm

@Al
As it turned out the DMs at my FLGS did visit the Wizards site and knew to errata the monsters. But from the sounds of the other comments many other DMs just played it as written.

Thank you for providing some clarification on leveling up. I think I’m going to up my PC to level 2 for next week. After all, I’ve played all 10 weeks to date so I think I’m due (not to mention that I have more than enough XP).

@Jason
I think if the rest of the table levels up that will lessen the impact of missing a few magic items.

@Kenneth McNay
Our party (of 4) split into two groups. Two PCs went into the room while two stayed on the bridge. Normally I’m not a big fan of splitting up, but when we realized that focused fire had little effect we had to try something different.

I’m going to see if anyone is interested in re-playing D&D Encounters season one over three sessions. I’ll bet that everyone has a lot more fun. I know of three FLGS running D&D Encounters and one of them already said that for the Dark Sun Encounters they’re not running it weekly. They’re going to do three massive play sessions.

I think the long-term survival of D&D Encounters is to make the adventures shorter. I thought 12 weeks was drawn out, but Dark Sun is 15 weeks. If they kept them at 6-8 weeks I think more people would make an effort to come every week. As it is now only a few people I know of have played all 10 weeks.

@Jeff
The encounters are absolutely 100% intended for a balanced party representing all the roles. Having a roster to choose from is an excellent idea. I think the Dark Sun Encounters will be like that since all the PCs are pre-generated.

I’m going to take this encounter and adapt it for my paragon game. I suspect they’ll have just as much difficulty as the level 1 PCs. But it should be an interesting exercise, especially if they survive.

@Lahrs
I had never seen a TPK in 4e until D&D Encounters. Now I’ve seen too many. If your party has managed to survive then you’re clearly doing something right. Consistent attendance is certainly a huge advantage in this kind of setting.

My intent is to run the Dark Sun Encounters as the DM. I’ll keep doing the write ups but this time it’ll be from the DMs perspective. I suspect that I won’t have as much to say week to week so I’ll likely do a report every two weeks. But we’ll see what happens. With Dark Sun being so popular and so mysterious (at least to me) I may find I have a lot more to talk about than I first thought.

@Dungeon Newbie
The four roles are Controller, Defender, Leader and Striker (thanks, Begindnd). As a guy who really likes rolling a lot of damage dice, I find I play a lot of strikers.

@Begindnd
“Do you create your own character before turning up?”
It’s better if you do that way you play exactly what you want to play, but it’s not mandatory. There are pre-generated characters provided.

“Can you jump in whatever week you want or do you have to be there from the start?”
Absolutely. That’s exactly what Wizards of the Coast wants to see happen.

“Is it “newbie” friendly? I don’t want my friend to be intimidated!”
Yes and no. It’s designed to be welcoming for all players, new and experienced. If you get a good table then you shouldn’t have any issues. I have found that on occasion some hardcore players will dominate the table, so be mindful of that. But this is certainly the exception. The tables I’ve played at have welcomed new folks every week, many new to D&D.

Be sure to let us know how your first D&D Encounters session went.

@mc monte
Always nice to get the DMs perspective. Thanks for chiming in.

@Lahrs
Thanks for jumping in. Much appreciated.

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