D&D Encounters (Week 9)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 13, 2010

Before starting D&D Encounter week 9, I had a tough decision to make. Last week we had a total party kill (TPK). I had to decide if I wanted to resurrect my Gith Monk and keep playing him for the remaining four weeks or if I should play a totally different character? I weighed the pros and cons very carefully all week.

Pros – I’ve played this character for eight sessions. He and I have history. I know is powers and I’ve finally got a good sense of who he is. He’s got a magical weapon, a big advantage for a striker. He’s also earned about 40 renown points and could easily hit 50 before the end of the 12 weeks.

Cons – He died last week earning exactly 0 XP. Even if I opt to return him to life he’ll still only be level 1. Since there are no more opportunities for an extended rest he’ll stay level 1 for the four remaining encounters. He’ll also incur the modified D&D Encounters death penalty which is -1 to all rolls until he reaches one milestone (so the end of week 10). That pretty much offsets the +1 enhancement bonus from the magic weapon.

Weighing these options I decided to shelve my Monk and come at the final four encounters with a brand new character. Introducing the Human Warlord. One thing we’ve sorely lacked at my FLGS are leaders. We finally had a player show up with a Cleric a few weeks ago, and that helped considerably. But the Warlord I’ve created is an equal mix of offense and defense. And he has healing magic, so there’s that too. After playing him for just one encounter I know I made the right choice.

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.

Continuity Problems

One of the things I’ve enjoyed thus far with D&D Encounters is the ever-changing party make up. We’ve had between 7 and 20 players show up from week to week at my FLGS. We usually end up with enough players for three tables. That being the case I’ve made a point of switching between tables every few sessions. This let me play under three different DMs and let me get a chance to play with just about everyone by the end of the 12 weeks. But I learned this week that the very design of D&D Encounters that’s led to the flexibility I’ve enjoyed thus far may be partly responsible for the TPK we experienced last week.

Before this week’s game we had an informal discussion with the DM. Since some of the players at my table didn’t play last week they wanted to a) know what they missed and b) hear all about how they dodged death. During our conversation the DM (who couldn’t play last week) mentioned that the PCs could have taken actions to weaken one of the monsters during the last fight. Specifically if we’d asked for aid, in-character, a benefactor would have appeared and suppressed a monster’s damaging aura. Without the aura I think we would have survived, or at least had a fighting chance last week.

This news came as a complete surprise to the players (me included). How would we have possibly known to ask for aid? The DM said that there were clues over the past few encounters, but none of us remembered the clues to which he referred. It turned out that some DMs really played up these clues and other did not. What really seemed odd to me was that the biggest, and apparently the most obvious clue was apparently provided in the encounter from week 4.

If D&D Encounters played out like an LFR adventure we’d get four encounters each night. In that situation asking the players to remember details from the previous few encounters isn’t a big deal. But with four weeks of real time between the clue and the payoff it’s tough to expect that the players would remember a detail that seemed unimportant at the time.

I think this is a failing in the way that D&D Encounters is set up. Each encounter needs to be self-contained. If we’re supposed to really remember something that will drastically affect our likelihood of survival then we need something to jog our memory.

I want to be perfectly clear that this rant is in no way a jab or criticism again any of the DMs. They’ve been doing a superb job. I know them all pretty well and I’m the first to sing their praises. They each have a unique style and are all excellent DMs. My criticism is in the adventure’s design, not the way it was run.

Another One Bites the Dust

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – karma, dude, karma. I’m a big believer that what goes around comes around, especially in D&D. This week we saw another shining example of this phenomenon. You call it bad luck, I call it karma.

Before the first encounter began one of the players who missed last week’s TPK was joking that he was going to be the only guy at the table to get his renown points for surviving eight encounters. He didn’t say it in a mocking or malicious way, it was just an off-the-cuff remark that we all laughed at. Unfortunately the gaming gods do not like to be mocked and before he could even act in the first round he’d fallen unconscious and was making death saves.

On my turn I used Inspiring Word to heal him, but before his turn came around again he was attacked and brought below his negative bloodied value. After only one and-a-half rounds, the guy who avoided the TPK last week was dead. Karma.

Other than this unfortunate character death in round two, we had a great time and little difficulty defeating this week’s encounter. In all fairness the DM did scale it down a little bit. After all, we were a party of six (well, five) level 1 PCs. Apparently the adventure assumes that most or all of the PCs will be level 2 by this time and the difficulty of the encounters has been ramped up accordingly. Even with the reduced power level the monsters still hurt when they hit. We were luck that we all read the article on Wizards of the Coast this week, Tactics 101: Player’s Strategy Guide Excerpts about Focusing Fire on one monster at a time. Following this strategy made all the difference.

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.

Has anyone else changed characters since beginning D&D Encounters? Was it because your first character died, did you just want to try something new, or was your change motivated by a missing role at your gaming table?

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jedrious May 13, 2010 at 11:00 am

We had a HARD time with week 9, due mostly to our small party and our HP situation, our party consists of: human fighter 1, HP of 30; human paladin 2, HP of 28; minotaur runepriest 1, HP of 26; and me, wilden druid 2, HP of 33. By round 3, both defenders were negative bloody, i’m multiclassed battlemind so the runepriest and I bottled up in a corner with me in swarm form and him in protection state, giving me essentially resist 5 all, I still got my “take 50 enemy damage reward” we ended up “winning” only due to my making a Nat 20 on a death save, the runepriest died around round 14, the beholder finally died on round 18.

2 dsowa May 13, 2010 at 11:45 am

I actually spent a couple of weeks trying to kill off my character. I made the “mistake” of making a balanced character and spent several weeks missing every roll while the optimized characters around me did loads of damage. I wanted to ditch him and move on. Dwarves are still very hard to kill even if they aren’t doing much damage so he lived on. Fortunately he leveled up after last week and that made all the difference. Now the compromises of level 1 have given way to lots of control in level 2. Several AoOs later and he is holding the center just like he should and continues to be tough to kill. Down to 2 hp at one point but the cleric powered him back up and he took the first renown points for 50 damage in one encounter. Last night we had a great mix of players 2 fighters, 1 paladin, 1 ranged ranger, 1 cleric, and 1wizard. Lots of different skills, some big hitters, some controlling and all the marking anyone could want. We have had everything from 4 to 9 PCs and some really odd class combos (the night of a thousand defenders) but last night was the best encounter yet.

3 Kenneth McNay May 13, 2010 at 1:09 pm

this was a good week for our group. certainly it challenged the group significantly as one defender was dropped quickly by two drakes, a ranger was dropped somewhat quick as well. I had three walk-ins for this week and four regulars. I didn’t want to exclude one of the walk-ins, nor one of the regulars, so we ran with all 7; I added a third drake.

It was a pretty good encounter, but the kidnapping and escape was a hard thing to pull off. The team was serious about protecting Fayne and targeting Xeres. Still, he got away with Fayne. I had the walk-ins leap through the portal alongside Fayne to aid in story continuity. So the regulars had barely escaped death last week; the new entrants were introduced by the ‘trusted’ patron.

It was a good week to DM. There is little chance that the team will want to rest until Fayne is safe.

4 Dungeon Newbie May 14, 2010 at 3:09 am

I’m glad you decided to change character. I don’t really like monks in general(don’t ask me why-I don’t know) and I was getting a little tired of hearing the exploits of a monk. Warlords are MUCH better. Too bad about that magical weapon, though. Anyway, I agree with you on the “clue, then four weeks or so later ask us to act on it” crap. I mean, that is just lazy designing! Anyway, good job on this article. Keep it up!

5 Kenneth McNay May 14, 2010 at 6:19 am

@ Dungeon Newbie: the clue about the identity of the apprentice was a strange element to include. the story gives instructions that the spirit of the apprentice should appear and kill the arua of the specter if the players call out her name. it also instructs that the spirit should appear even if they are having a hard time of things, but haven’t figured out the clues.

my players got the clues and put them together before that encounter and spoke her name aloud. they pulled that off at the end of the second underground encounter in her spell-casting chamber.

i figured that since they had called it out earlier that she needed to appear during the final battle. Even so, all three dropped. None had failed a DST; they all dropped in the same round. So I had the spirit able to give them each 5 hp and they could keep fighting. From that moment on, not a single one of them got hit again in that fight.

I wouldn’t call it lazy design, but it is confusing. I’m not certain that the clues are easy to add up. During the bedchamber scene, few players could stand still long enough to listen to the read-aloud text and put pieces together. With a fluid group in which clues might not get shared with each player…that just makes it even more difficult for them to realize how it all adds up.

also, our group happens to have not a single divine nor arcane nor primal class. all are martial. so there are simply some things that just don’t make much sense to them about the entire environment.

6 Ameron May 17, 2010 at 8:51 am

@Jedrious
Wow! 18 rounds of combat. That must have been pretty grueling experience. It always sucks when a PC dies, but that fact they you were victorious after 18 rounds is very impressive. Good job.

@dsowa
I know exactly how you feel. I’ve learned that for RPGA sanctioned events it’s almost counter-productive to build balanced characters. Go for combat superiority every time. It sucks that the non-combat elements (like skill challenges) take a back seat most of the time. On the flip side – as you discovered – a little bit of short-term pain can lead to a lot of long-term gain if you plan ahead when creating your character. Sounds like you growing pains were worth it in the end.

@Kenneth McNay
The way the kidnapping played out at our table it seemed like the PCs were not supposed to have any reasonable chance of rescuing Fayne. So we let the wizard escape with her and just focused on the fight. We knew we’d need to chase them in the end but it seemed like a scripted story mechanic that we couldn’t change. It sounds like your table had fun with the role-playing side of it.

@Dungeon Newbie
I’ve always disliked Monks in previous editions myself, which was part of my motivation for plying one now. I knew if I didn’t like the class I could switch with little reproduction. In the end I really enjoyed the 4e build, but I was getting bored with him at level 1.

As for the adventure design, I think the creators didn’t anticipate or foresee the issues that I described. I don’t think it’s a problem with the design in normal circumstances, but in these circumstances it was a big oversight.

@Kenneth McNay
Thanks for jumping in. You make an excellent point that sometimes the party just won’t have the correct (or typical) skill-set or powers that the adventure designers expect. I’ve had that happen once before when a hard Thievery check was necessary to complete a skill challenge. Without the check the PC were killed in an explosion. Fortunately we had a PC trained in Thievery. The next table over wasn’t as fortunate.

7 Lahrs May 17, 2010 at 1:22 pm

My group had an easy time in week 8, so we were confident coming into week 9 after two level ups and an extended rest.

Unfortunately, week 9 proved to be much more difficult, and we were one round away from a TPK. By the end, only two party members remained, my shielding swordmage with 3 HP and a monk with 7, and unfortunate to both, we were adjacent to the beholder. On activation, the monk took 5 for being next to the beholder, but the dice gods blessed us with our first crit in 3 sessions, and we finally dropped the last creature. I would have died as soon as I activated, and all the beholder had to do, assuming it missed on its attacks, was move adjacent to the monk for the TPK from its aura. Sometimes, luck is simply on your side.

Our biggest issue was our lack of magical gear. Our DM up to week 7 had been quite stingy, and what we did find was rather useless (boots of spider climb for example). We had a new DM for week 8 and 9, and despite breaking continuity, at the end of the last encounter, allowed us to trade in our useless equipment for some more class specific goodness. This should help out in the sessions to come.

8 Ameron May 25, 2010 at 12:56 pm

@Lahrs
It is my understanding that there are set items in the adventure. Some treasure is specifically linked to the overall story arc (like the Staff of the Apprentice) while others are more generic (any item level 5 or lower). If your DM has been choosing the generic treasure for you then that seems like kind of a cheat to me. I’m pretty sure the intent of the adventure is for every PC to get at least one magical item. In fact two DMS I’ve played with refused to let PCs with items take another until everyone at the table had one already.

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