D&D Encounters Dark Sun (Week 11)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 19, 2010

As Fury of the Wastewalker chapter 3 began the party was captured by savage Halflings. Among the captives were some new faces as players were encouraged to create their own PCs. How will these new adventurers work with the pre-generated characters? Let’s find out.

Our numbers held steady at nine. Not enough players to run two tables but more than enough for a normally balanced encounter. For the second week in a row, our DM agreed to run the encounter with a party of eight.

This was the first week that we were allowed to create our own characters. After all of the complaining over the past 10 weeks about how bad the pre-generated characters were, I expected almost everyone to arrive with their own character. I was wrong. Of the eight players only three of us made new characters. The new party members included a Human Ranger (armed with a superior crossbow), a Human Fighter, and my character, a Minotaur Seeker (a race and class I’d never played before). The other five players stuck with the level 3 versions of the pre-generated characters – Castri being the only one missing.

One of the easiest ways to distinguish a good DM from a great DM is by their ability to be flexible and make changes on the fly. Our DM decided that the introduction to chapter 3 was a little bit weak so he tweaked it a bit. We were still captured by the Halflings and shoved into holding pens as the adventure suggested, but that’s where he decided to deviate from the scripted adventure for the betterment of the encounter.

The PCs were paired up and put into four separate cages in different areas of the map. Each pair of PCs could work together to escape, but that was the extent of aiding another player. So we began the encounter with some role-playing as each PC described what they were going to do to try and escape.

I was paired with Phye (run by the player who used Barcan Prime last week). Phye decided to “flip out” and started yelling and screaming until the guards came over to investigate. The astute Halfling easily saw through the ruse and all Phye got was the butt end of a spear to the gut for her troubles. Meanwhile the new Fighter, paired with Jarvix) tried to reach for the guard’s spear as he walked past the cell. But this guard was alert and the Fighter was unsuccessful. However, when the Halfling guard tried to butt-end the insolent Fighter for his actions, the Fighter made another grab for the spear. This time he was successful and he managed to shove the business end of the spear back into the guard’s stomach. With the guard injured, the Fighter used the spear to force open the door.

On the other side of the camp Yuka and Shikirr worked together to break open their cell door using a combination of Athletics and Stealth. The new Ranger and Barcan used Thievery to pick the lock and escape. Seeing all of their gear – including their weapons – just lying in a pile off to one side of the room, they quickly moved and armed themselves. The DM made it clear that with a standard action a PC could grab their weapon and one other item (like a shield or a neck item). There was not enough time during the heat of combat to don armor.

Now that three of the four cells were open the Halflings realized trouble was brewing and they started fighting for keeps, attacking the PCs who already moved out of their cells.

Meanwhile Phye and the Seeker (me) were still trapped inside of our cell. Phye used her Dimension Swap to free herself from the cell and switch places with the new Ranger. Her thinking was that a Ranger armed with a crossbow didn’t need to be in melee anyway. I got fed up with being caged so as part of my Charging Gore attack I smashed out of the cell (with a successful Athletics check) and kept barreling forward into the guard with the spear would to his stomach. I connected soundly bloodying him and knocking him prone.

As the PC continued fighting the Halflings we realized that at least two other Halflings were missing from the fight. With all of the noise they would be aware something was amiss and would likely return quickly.

On my next turn I moved towards the equipment pile and grabbed my Bastard Sword (a Farbound Spellblade +1) and my light shield. As a minor action I activated a stance that let me crit on 19-20. I then used an action point to make a ranged at-will attack by throwing my sword. (Yes, a ranged attack with a sword – look up Farbound Spellblade, it’s pretty cool that way.) I rolled 19. Crit! I threw the blade and it cut the Halfling in two, killing him instantly. I’ll take my moment of greatness reward now.

Meanwhile, Barcan found himself flanked by two Halflings. He decided to use Blazing Starfall. But in order to do that he’d need to include himself in the burst. Phye cried out that if he did that and took damage she wasn’t going to heal him. Barcan did it anyway. The two attacks against the Halflings came up 3 and 4, two misses. The attack roll against himself was 17, a solid hit. And then he proceeded to roll the maximum damage. The next round the two Halflings both struck solid blows and Barcan was unconscious with ongoing 5 poison damage. Fortunately Phye reneged and provided Barcan with some healing.

As we finished off the initial batch of Halfling guards, four more joined in the fight. Two climbed atop the wall and used ranged blast attacks on the PCs dumb enough to stay clumped together (me included). The other two engaged the Ranger and Jarvix in melee, limiting their ranged attack abilities.

Working together we managed to pull the two ranged attackers off of the wall. I then used a power that dazed both of them. This let Shikirr trap them both next to a wall. If they wanted to use ranged powers while dazed they would provide Opportunity Attacks from him. Since they were both blooded and likely going to die anyway they tried to hit us with their burst power again. But Shikirr’s hot dice held true and he managed to kill both attackers before they could get the ranged attacks off. Our new Fighter helped defeat the other two Halflings bothering the ranged attackers. We quickly grabbed the rest of our gear and took off before any more Halflings arrived.

Although I was a player for this awesome encounter I was ready to DM a second table if necessary. So when I got home I re-read the encounter for week 11 to see what changes the DM made. I really like how he adjusted the skill challenge at the beginning. His method was a lot more exciting and kept all the players engaged. Having the PCs unarmed and unarmored also added a bit of excitement and forced the PCs to decide if they really needed their stuff to fight. Jarvix and Barcan were fine without their gear, but the rest of the PCs used a standard action to retrieve their weapons during combat. Having us unarmored made it more likely we would take hits and suffer damage (which we did).

He also tweaked the monsters. He started by adding a second wave of monsters (which I certainly expected seeing as how there were eight of us). I really liked that he changed the Halfling Wilders’ Mind Thrust from a power that usually targets one creature to a ranged blast 1 within 10. He also gave it a secondary property that imposed -1 to attack rolls for each creature hit in the blast. So I took a -3 on my attack after three of us were hit in the blast. I’m not sure if he adjusted their defenses or hit points, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he raised them a little bit just to keep things exciting.

Letting me create and play my own character has made a huge difference. I was starting to get a little bit bored with D&D Encounters and I realize it was largely because I didn’t care at all about the pre-generated characters. Jumping in at level 3 also helped a lot. I enjoy heroic tier but I’m just not that interested in starting at level 1. I get that new players need to start at the beginning, but adding a level or two adds so much more to the character.

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 did chapter 3 begin for everyone else? How many people created their own characters and how many just kept using the level 3 versions of the pre-generated characters? Tell us (briefly) what some of the new characters were like and how they improved the party make-up.

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1 Andy August 19, 2010 at 10:08 am

A couple of us had created new characters as well. I created a minotaur shaman to try and help with the healing since that is always an issue.

We ended up with just four of us locked in a cell. While telling us of our impending doom/dinner, one of the guards mentioned the leader. We asked to see the leader.

We tried a couple different tacks in talking with the leader trying to get him to see the error of his ways and let us go. It was not going well. With a successful perception check, we noticed he was more interested in how we showed up.

I started telling him stories of our adventures underground and the spirits that we met. This got his attention.

We expressed our desire to be restoring of nature and how much we loved the trees we saw outside our cell window.

A couple diplomacy checks later and all was good. He has a task for us to complete but will help us on our trip back to civilization.

As we collected our stuff from the table, the other table at the store was deep into combat and were surprised to see us stand so soon. Score one for diplomacy and role-playing.

2 Sunyaku August 19, 2010 at 10:10 am

Numbers were down this week at my FLGS. With my usual DM gone that evening, I sat down at a new table with three other people, playing with a DM notorious for TPK’ing. Two of us created new characters– I crafted a Goliath Lifespirit Warden (Defender/Leader). I forget what the other guy had… it was all sloppy hand-written notes on an unorganized piece of paper (he was told it would be allowed this week, but he needed to have a real character sheet next time). He was a leader type– I think he made a sort of modified Phye.

We chose the diplomatic route, convincing the guards to let us speak to their leader. We then succeeded (barely) in the skills challenge to convince tribe leader to let us go to retrieve something of value for the tribe (100lbs of metal ore, to be stolen from the mining camp my character used to be a slave boss at). They kept our stuff, of course. So then we had to sneak back in to it.

I thought we were fairly stealthy in our approach… until Phye rolled a 2 on her Stealth check and stepped on a small animal. We weren’t able to stop the savages from ringing the alarm. We started to fight, but that was taking too long, so we all took lots of opportunity attacks grabbing our stuff and running away. In the end 3 players were bloodied (except me, my new character is extra beefy… a refreshing change after playing Castri for several weeks), no one was knocked unconscious, we all got away with our stuff, some extra survival bags, and a magic item.

And we all get “props” from other players at the FLGS for surviving the notorious TPK’er quite well. It was a good time. 😀

At one of the other tables, however, they chose to fight nearly to the death. Three finally escaped, but the last had so many reinforcements blocking his path that he couldn’t so he died. In general, I agree with the earlier statement that with all the complaining, I was surprised more people didn’t craft their own characters. Maybe those people just aren’t showing up for encounters anymore. 🙁

I put a lot of thought into my new character, and I had a wonderful time. 😀

3 Randilin August 19, 2010 at 10:25 am

Our local game store has been gradually increasing in players and had to add a 4th table which is a pretty good sign of things to come. As far as custom character go we, the dms, met and discussed it. We agreed to allow custom character with the requirement that you brought a paper copy of the Campaign guide with you to be used at the table if it was required. None of the regular DMs have the slightest interest in Dark Sun and haven’t bothered to pick up the book. So bottom line is that we only had one person bring in their own character.

My table last night was nearly a TPK, the used athletics to break bars and then completely botch the stealth checks to leave and failed the skill challenge. Castri who had lived through the first 2 chapters died. The only survivor was Phye who slipped in to the room and grabbed his stuff and then bolted after using all the healing he could and trying to help the part. Once he hit 1 hit point he was gone.

The table beside was finished in 45 minutes, they did great on the challenge and then beat down the halflings and gave them the option to surrounder which they took.

4 Jeff August 19, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Did the people who created new characters use the new Character Themes as well or were they typical DnD builds? Just curious.

5 Andy August 19, 2010 at 5:58 pm

At our table, we shared the Dark Sun book and each chose a theme.

6 Thunderhorn August 19, 2010 at 6:14 pm

I rolled, a minotaur stormsoul warden with the primal guardian theme… almost all of my powers had the thunder keyword which is why his tribe called him Thunderhorn. The great thing about encounters is, besides allowing me to learn 4e, that i got to play Barcan (Ranged Striker), Jarvix (Controller), and Castri (Melee Striker). I knew I wanted to roll a leader/defender for this chapter and I think with out a doubt warden is one of the most fun classes I’ve gotten to play. They are also extremely survivable with their high constitution and life-font class feature, which is great given the hostility of Dark Sun!

7 Sunyaku August 19, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Yep, everyone with new characters chose themes at our game shop.

8 Will August 20, 2010 at 12:09 am

We were a bit short of players, so the three of us each played two characters. I was prepared to run Phye, but Yuka was a new experience for me. Sadly, Yuka didn’t make it. I now get to add “Eaten by Halflings” to my list of interesting character deaths. Gotta love it!

9 Dan August 20, 2010 at 7:30 pm

I was all excited to try out my new halfling monk, “Nibbles of the Thunderbunny Tribe” (yay for cannabals!!!). Unfortunately, I became the default DM for this encounter because we had too many people for one group. Don’t misunderstand me, I love to DM and I think I do a fairly good job of it, but I was completely unprepaired (I didn’t bring my minis/tokens, I had absoultly zero time to look over the encounter, and I had to help one of the players finish creating his character while also introducing another player who had never played 4e or Dark Sun before… Eeek!). Well, be that as it may, the encounter went fairly well because I eased up on the difficulty since we had only 4 players and one was completely new (I had the first wave of reenforcements come one round later). I let the new guy play my character (he used Nibbles’ daily power right off the bat of course). Anyway, I guess I’ll just have to come prepaired to DM from now on and wait for the oppertunity to let Nibbles wreak havoc upon Athas at some other time…

10 Ameron August 23, 2010 at 12:24 am

Had this encounter been played out during my home game I think we would have proceeded in much the same way as your party did. However, I find with D&D Encounter that the players are a lot less likely to take a diplomatic and role-playing approach to solving problems if it means no combat. That’s always been one of my biggest complaints about doing only one encounter each week. But my hat’s off to your table for making it work and having a good time in the process. I’ll bet your subsequent weeks are easier since you’ll have more healing surges, daily powers and actions points in your bag of tricks. Sometimes there’s a lot to be said for avoiding combat.

Another great example of how talking can often be more productive that fighting. I liked your decision to try and stealth it back into camp for your stuff.

I’m confident that as more people realize they can make their own character (for the rest of the Dark Sun campaign as well as all new seasons) we’ll see some of the complainers who stopped coming out return Wednesday nights.

Four tables! That’s awesome. Do you find that the same people tend to play together or is there an appetite for switching it up in order to meet some of the newer players and play with different DMs?

As for the DS book, we had three at the table so everyone had ample opportunity to read up on themes as well as new Dark Sun feats.

Yes, we used the new DS themes. However, even though the new PCs used themes (I choose Dune Trader) it didn’t really have much bearing on the encounter. I think as more people bring their own characters to the game we’ll see the themes become more integrated into the campaign.

We figured that if the theme gave you an extra encounter power it was a good idea to take one, even if you weren’t sure about it. We’ll see how much impact it has in the weeks to come.

Good back-story. I find that I too use D&D Encounters as an opportunity to try out new character builds. It gives me an opportunity to figure out if I like playing a certain build or not. Historically I’ve not been a big fan of playing the controller (although I understand their value to the party) which is why I choose to play a seeker on Wednesday nights. If I enjoy it I’ll look at creating one for my home campaign and give my strikers a chance to rest.

Running two characters is difficult even for experienced players. But if your only options are to run two characters or not play, then I guess running two PCs is the way to go.

11 Randilin August 25, 2010 at 3:36 pm

@Ameron – For the most part each DM has 4 regular players who have been at their table since the start. The last two slots tend to float about with new arrivals who may or may not return the next week.

The themes are one of the few reasons I’m considering picking up the DS Campaign Guide. Although I’m hoping they will show up in the builder and the essential books.

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