D&D Encounters Dark Sun (Week 5)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 8, 2010

The party survived. I was shocked. When I was reading the encounter in preparation for week 5 I was sure it would be a TPK. But as so often happens in D&D, the players did the unexpected and lived.

Since week 1 the PCs have had their butts kicked all over the place. They’ve taken exorbitant amounts of damage and use way more resources each week than one might expect to during a typical D&D encounter. Coming into week 5 they were literally down to their last legs. But after four weeks of hell, the PCs finally got lucky and that made all the difference.

The encounter began, as it has every week, with the ongoing skill challenge. The players continued to demonstrate creativity. I remembered to provide the skill cards this week and they worked exactly as I’d hoped they would. The players, upon realizing that they actually had 17 skills and not just the four or five on their character sheet, suddenly tried using different skills. I also let them know that a moderate check for level 1 PCs is DC 10. From there the skill challenge was easy. And everyone was grateful when I told them that they each regained one healing surge for completing the skill challenge. Suddenly they weren’t going into the last fight with zero surges.

As we moved onto the combat part of the encounter something unusual happened. The players got hot dice. For the first time in five encounters some of them actually rolled better initiatives than the monsters. Yuka immediately engaged one of the Poisonscale Slitherers. For the next three round these two “hugged” it out as Yuka continued grappling it.

Shakirr rushed the Ssuran Shaman and dealt a ton of damage. The Ssuran Shaman tried to dominate Shakirr but missed. He then climbed on top of the rocks to get a better vantage point for next round. It would end up being for not. During the next round Shakirr climbed up next to him, attacked, hit and pushed the Shaman off the rocks. The fall did max damage and the Shaman was killed before he could act in round two.

The two other Poisonscale Slitherers split their fire. One attacked Barcan and landed a solid blow bringing him to within a few hit points of unconsciousness. The other attacked Castri and also squarely connected. Phye, Barcan and Castri then went to work. The PCs hit with almost every attack which was helping tremendously. Unfortunately they weren’t doing a lot of damage (except for Barcan who was rolling amazing).

The real surprise was during the second round when a giant Ankheg emerged from the middle of the battlefield. I had Castri, the only PC trained in Nature, make a monster knowledge check. A successful check revealed that the Ankheg could be directed to attack with a high enough Nature check. After that everyone was trying to get the Ankheg to work for them. Shakirr was the victor for the next two rounds directing the Ankheg to attack the Poisonscale Slitherers.

After the party defeated two of the three the Poisonscale Slitherers, with the help of the Ankheg, the final combatant managed to get control of the Ankheg for one round. But by this time my dice were ice cold and I wasn’t hitting anything. When the last Poisonscale Slitherer was finally killed the PCs were in rough shape. With the exception of Shakiir they were all bloodied. Barcn had by that point climed on top of the rocks and was attacking the Ankheg for a safe distance. Castri, who had fallen unconscious twice already and was out of healing surged also climbed on top of some rocks. And then I did a bad thing.

I suggested to Castri that he climb on the rocks to the left and not those on the right like he indicated since he’d have a better firing arc if the Ankhag moved. What I didn’t realize until the Ankheg’s turn was that although Castri was out of melee range, he was still in range of the monster’s breath weapon. Had he climbed where the player wanted to, he would have been safe. Oh well, maybe my dice would stay cold. Nope. The creature spit acid on three of the PCs and Castri was down (again). Sorry.

Knowing this was the last encounter before an extended rest the PCs used all of their remaining daily powers and made short work of the Ankheg. In the end Castri was the only one making death saves and the party managed to stabilize him before he died. I was impressed with they groups tactics and was even more impressed that they all survived. I was sure it would be a TPK.

The encounter was listed as a level 2 encounter, but that was a misprint. It was really a level 4 encounter. The combined XP for the five monsters was 825, not 675 as listed. A level 4 encounter for five PCs is worth 875. Knowing how much difficulty the party had in the past four weeks I didn’t see how they could handle a level 4 encounter in their condition. But they did. My hats off to them. Good job, guys.

Leveling Up

Next week begins chapter two: Tomb of a Long, Lost Age. The PCs all begin fresh at level 2. Wizards of the Coast did not provide level two character sheets. Instead they provided a one-page handout with all of the level 2 adjustments.

Upon quick review of the level 2 changes the other DMs and I decided that we’re going to tweak the PCs a little bit. We’ll still have one version of the pre-generated characters ready to go, exactly as Wizards wants us to. However, we’re going to work together to create alternative, better optimized PCs. I’m not sure what they revised version of our six heroes will look like, but I’ll post the specific details next week.

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.

Did you manage to survive until the end of chapter one? Now that it’s over, what were your thoughts? Has Dark Sun won you over or are you fed up with the brutality of this campaign setting?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mike July 8, 2010 at 9:28 am

Being a new player and starting D&D just two weeks from yesterday, I played as Jarvix. For a level 2/4 encounter, I didn’t see this one as all that bad. Of course, my first turn really helped things…my dice were MOLTEN then.

I moved into the black sand for the extra 1d6 necrotic damage, put both my power points into Dishearten and targeted both Slitherers with it. I scored crits on BOTH of them, killing one and nearly killing the other.

Of course after that my dice and my brain started getting cold. :) Couldn’t hit anything after that, though I did pass a Perception check to notice movement in the sands just to my right. (I was on a rock by this point.) I decided not to move and paid for it on Ankheg’s next turn when I got pretty well destroyed. :)

This actually seemed like a more balanced encounter for our group of 4 PCs, at least in my novice opinion. :)

2 Mbeacom July 8, 2010 at 9:53 am

We all survived, only Phye went down, but was revived quickly.

This was my first time doing encounters, and I was a little disappointed that the DM didn’t appreciate much creativity at the table. Several of us tried different things during combat but were repeatedly shot down. At one point, when we were battling over control of the Ankheg, I had it grappled (Yuka). I offered that maybe through a strength/athletics check, I could muscle its gaze towards our PC with the high nature skill and avert its gaze from the shaman, thus giving our PC a +2 or at least giving the the Shaman a -2 to his check. No go, he just laughed it off. I thought it was a good idea. I kind of shut down after that.

3 lev July 9, 2010 at 3:55 am

Ameron, I am confused – why are you going to revise the NPCs? Are you playing a non-official version of DarkSun? I was under the impression that, since our DCI numbers are being reported to WoTC for participating in these sessions, we had to use the characters exactly as written if we wanted to be legitimate players.

4 Ameron July 9, 2010 at 11:12 am

@Mike
Sounds like your party did ok. Good rolls (and crits) always make things easier. I agree that after playing this encounter it didn’t seem that bad. But when I was reading it beforehand I was very, very concerned that it was going to demolish a resource-depleted party. In this regard I was glad my instincts were wrong.

@Mbeacom
Based on your comments I too am surprised that that the DM wasn’t more accommodating. I had a similar experience last year at GenCon. It can be extremely frustrating when you try to be creative and are constantly shot down. Just don’t let the experience discourage you. Keep trying the outrageous and imaginative. Eventually you’ll get a DM who lets you try those truly heroic actions.

@lev
We are going to revise the PCs to try and make them a little bit more optimal. We’ve had a lot of complaints from the players at my FLGS and I’ve read a lot of negative comments online. There seems to be consensus that the PCs could have been better built. Working with the other DMs we’re going to try and do just that. I’m not talking about a total rebuild, just a few tweaks that will make the characters better for combat.

Whether or not we let the players use the revised versions of the PCs has yet to be determined. We’ll discuss it before next week’s game.

But you make a good point about playing in a sanctioned game. One thing people often forget is that the DM does have some latitude to make changes to sanctioned RPGA adventures. In LFR games a DM can add or remove monsters, or even change monsters altogether if he feels it makes for a better game. The collective opinion by the DMs at my FLGS is that tweaking the pre-generated characters falls into this same category of discretion that is allowed and encouraged by DMs to improve the game. It’s certainly a grey area.

5 mbeacom July 9, 2010 at 11:33 am

@Ameron,

Thanks, I’m about to DM a game this weekend for some guys who are still pretty green. I’m very excited to “say yes”. I just hope that my performance as DM can elicit the types of heroic confrontations that I think make for a more enjoyable experience.

@lev,

I realize it’s a sanctioned game, but if the players are getting frustrated with build issues and it’s hampering the experience when just a few small tweaks could set things straight, I think it’s the DMs responsibility to at least CONSIDER making a few changes. It’s not like he’s going to be handing out vorpal swords. I think it’s pretty clear that whatever changes Ameron has in mind, they will be well within the sanctioned ruleset and adhere to the spirit of the Encounters experience.

Even in my one play experience, reading through the character sheet I was given and glancing at a few others, I had lots of questions and concerns, even just based on the abbreviation of the stats, nevermind the typos. The characters were pretty obviously rushed, which is not a big deal when the DM has the ability to make small corrections.

6 Reno July 10, 2010 at 7:00 am

Here is a great thread where someone has laboriously leveled all of the pre-gens up to 2 and presented us with more in-depth character sheets (incorporating all the errata, so they are (I think) error-free). He’s done the same for the pregens given to us in the Free RPG day adventure ‘Bloodsand Arena’, which I have been allowing my players to use, to give them twelve characters to choose from. Remember when looking at these sheets that in addition to the +1 to attack from 1/2 level, these guys are also getting a flat +1 bonus to attack and damage to balance the fact that they can’t just go to a store and buy healing pots and magical items.

I am allowing my guys the option to choose their own 2nd level utility feats, thus making their characters more their own creation and less a prepackaged cardboard cutout. I make em all power cards anyway, so it isn’t a big deal to print out 5 or 6 more for next week. I am not tinkering with attributes/skills -yet-, but in August when the books come out, I’m going to let my more experienced players (that have been chafing a bit at the idiotic way some of these characters are built) either tweak their character or come up with something from scratch if they want, and I’ll probably adjust the stats of the rest where it seems mandated.

Remember that all the organizer turns in to WotC is the DCI#s of who played on a given day. I feel it’s our responsibility as DMs to enhance the enjoyment of the game in whatever way we can, and my veteran players are definitely not as happy as they could be.

7 Pat L July 16, 2010 at 11:01 am

We survived, if only barely. This was the first week our second DM showed up so we split our oversized group of 10-12 players into two. That made managing everything a lot easier. We had a full group and by the end of the encounter only two players went down, Castri and Shikirr. Our Barcan died on week 4 but he came back with a -1 death penalty to all of his skills, attacks, and defenses, and I, playing Jarvix, have been riding on zero healing surges since week 2 and 1 hit point since week 4. The only one of us who wasn’t near death in the beginning was Yuka but even he was bloodied once we were through with this one.

To make things interesting, our DM has had the obsidian shardstorm hot on our trail so we’ve never had more than 5 minutes to rest in the desert and as we fought this battle it came dangerously close to us. Right as we finished the Ankheg off, and before we took down the snakefolk, I climbed a rock to see that the shardstorm was merely 15 rounds away. I rolled poor because checking again for safe measure the next round it turned out to be only 4 rounds away. We dove for the Ankheg’s burrow with less than a round to spare before the shardstorm trapped us inside (Not without finishing off the Snakefolk). We climbed down a massive cliff to find ourselves inside the cavern that chapter two takes place in. Looking forward to next session!

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