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.
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.
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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?