D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands (Week 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on September 23, 2010

D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands kicked off yesterday. Although the number or participants at my FLGS has been steadily dwindling over the past few weeks we had enough people to run the first encounter last night.

D&D Encounters is a great way for new people to try their hand at being the DM. And that’s exactly what happened at our table. Few players at my FLGS have made every game since D&D Encounters began, but one of the most consistent participants decided that he was going to step up and DM this time around. I don’t know if this was his first time ever DMing or just his first time DMing D&D Encounters, but he did a phenomenal job.

Contained within the first few pages of the adventure is a very brief background for DMs. It gives a high level overview of the Restwell Keep and some of the important NPC found therein. There is a note indicating that more information can be found in the article The Keep on the Chaos Scar from Dungeon #176 (DDI subscription required). Our DM decided to do his homework. He printed the relevant article and thoroughly reviewed it. He also found an article and a map of the Chaos Scar. As a player I found these extra details made a big difference. It was just one more reason that the fist week’s encounter was so much fun.

The adventure began, as most new adventures do, with a fair amount of expository and explanation. The DM set the stage and explained why we were starting this grand adventure. The players took a few minutes to introduce ourselves and talk about our new characters. We used the pre-generated characters provided. Our party included Berrian the Wizard, Merric the Rogue, Quinn the Fighter and Sola the Cleric (which is the character I played). It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve played in a party of four and all of the classic characters types were represented (Wizard, Rogue, Fighter and Cleric). I knew right away that this was going to be a good night.

The first hour was spent exploring Restwell Keep and meeting the locals. During our time in the keep we met Friar Benwick. He explained the situation regarding the missing man, Gordi. He asked for our help. Before agreeing to rush blindly into the wilds to find Gordi we did some more investigating.

The players at my table did a wonderful job role-playing this part of the encounter. I made a conscious effort to try and make sure everyone got ample opportunity to participate. Althought D&D tends to attract very outgoing personalities (at least in my experience) I know that it can be tough to get into character if you’re new. And we had two new players at our table. Both of the new guys did a great job. One played up the social aspects of Merric while the other ran Quinn as a stoic, no-nonsense knight.

It’s so easy to just skip the “slow” parts and get to the combat. I was glad to see that the players wanted more and that the DM had adequately planed for that eventuality. The intro and initial role-playing took about an hour, and then it was onto the combat.

Any time you play a character you didn’t make yourself there are issues. The biggest issue being a lack of familiarity with what this PCs is actually capable of doing. At level 1 this isn’t usually a big problem and with the PCs created using the D&D Essentials rules it made the problem even less of an issue. But it still took most of the combat to adequately familiarize ourselves with these characters.

The combat began when we found the kidnappers holed up in a cave. Merric and Berrian decided to try a stealthy approach, but both of them flubbed their Stealth checks. Quinn and Sola announced their presence and sought a peaceful solution. The Dragonborn trapper told us to move on and that no one was being kept here against their will. We declared that we didn’t believe him and that we needed to check things out for ourselves. Initiative time.

Do you know what happens when the players roll awful initiative checks? The monsters form a defensive position near the cave mouth and force the PCs to fight at the bottleneck. Quinn and Sola formed a defensive line of our own and stood ready to take some hits (which we did). Merric, trying to get combat advantage, moved deeper into the cave and onto the other side of the enemies. This left him open to attacks from the minions with poisonous blow darts.

It didn’t take long for our party to come together and work better tactically. Berrian stayed back and used ranged attacks to destroy the minions. Unfortunately it took three or four rounds to manage it.

As Sola the healer I did what I could to keep Merric conscious. First I used Healing Word. Then I used Sun Burst to give everyone 5 temporary hit points. I decided to use my action point and attacked with Blessing of Battle to give Merric resist 2. That was all I could do for now.

Quinn went toe-to-toe with the trapper and the drake. Quinn’s dice were on fire. He hit with every attack roll he made. I don’t think I saw anything lower than a 12 all night (except for the 2 he rolled for initiative).

As hot as Quinn’s dice were, Merric’s dice were equally cold. He hit a couple of times but rolled well below average on his damage rolls. Not a good thing when you’re the striker. After three rounds he’d fallen unconscious and was making death saves.

Quinn and Sola managed to drop the drake and Berrian finally finished off the minions. Quinn took his first hit from the trapper’s net and was dragged to the edge of the pit. I was able to use Brand of the Sun to give him a save which let him escape the immobilizing effect of the net. He and the trapper then tried pushing each other into the pit, but the trapper kept missing and although Quinn kept hitting the trapper kept making his save to avoid falling over the ledge.

Berrian stepped in and used Charm of Misplaced Wrath. The trapper was dazed and finally slid into the pit. He took the maximum 10 damage from the fall and was killed when he hit the bottom.

Merric finally managed to roll 19 on his death save, and with the +2 bonus from Sola’s Sun Domain power he revived himself just as the combat ended. Sola gave up two standard actins to administer first aid towards the end of the fight but it wasn’t until the very last round that Merric woke up.

After the opponents were dealt with, we discovered Gordi bound at the bottom of the pit. We were lucky that when the trapper fell into the pit he didn’t crush poor Gordi. We also found evidence that these kidnappers were in league with the Cult of Tiamat. Next week’s encounter is already starting to look very exciting.

I really enjoyed the first week of this new season. When I heard it was going to be called Keep on the Borderlands I wasn’t sure how much of the adventure would be the same as the classic module. From what I’ve seen it won’t have much in common with its namesake. But it’s only the first week. There are still 19 more encounters still to come. So who knows, we may yet find the Caves of Chaos.

How did you find the first week? Did you use the pre-generated characters? Do you miss Dark Sun or are you glad it’s finally back to a more traditional D&D setting?

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1 Pseckler September 23, 2010 at 10:11 am

I am signed up to DM but since we had Dark Sun wrapping up at the same time, we did one table of that and one table of the Keep, so I played..this time. Next week I’m definitely DMing.

We kicked off by doing some quick character generation. I made a halfling wizard and my 12yo son made a slayer, and we joined up with an Essentials elf assassin, Hagen, & Merric, and.. we got our butts kicked.

Well, we started out by doing some roleplaying with Berwick and getting details.. and then heading out to the swamp-grotto afterwards.

I think I was the first to get knocked out, jumping bravely in with my halfling wizard. Hagen was the true star of the day, followed by Merric. Our assassin kept doding in and out of the mouth of the cave shooting, but was rolling terribly. My son’s slayer, Leraos, got into it with the guard drake and laid down a massive smackdown on it..but then he got critted by a blowgun dart..automatically unconscious. I finally got healed and untangled from the net.. several attempts made to drop me in the hole. I started firing magic missile to regulate on the lizardfolk..

It was fun. I want to DM next week because I had a lot of ideas about making the keep come alive- showing some maps and so on, and improvising some roleplaying scenes for example.

Looking forward to next week!

2 Lahrs September 23, 2010 at 10:42 am

Long… very very long. We had a whole bunch of new people, which forced an extra table. I love that we had so many new people, but I had to train a new DM while running my own game, which had a few newbies as well. I enjoyed myself, but I am exhausted.

Dark Sun had virtually no role playing, yet Keep on the Borderlands has a ton of it if people are willing to try. One of the new guys was amazing. Even though he used a pre-gen, he had a full character background and was asking in character, about events outside of the module. Threw me off guard at first, but then I ran with it and now his character has a brother in trouble with church of Avarda in Fallcrest and needs Benwich’s help to get his brother out. Has nothing to do with our campaign, but was awesome. Once he started role playing, a few others slowly picked up on some cues. We have a long way to go, but I think we had a very successful night.

Both tables rolled well, but nothing extraordinary, so the encounters were probably at the ideal challenge level. The adventures could not see up on the ledge due to lack of light, so the needlers had a free attack before jumping down into view. The rolled the lowest on initiative, so the group had already rushed in and formed tactics. I was pleased to see the group working together so quickly to. They changed tactic and handled the situation without too much trouble.

We had two wizards, one pre-gen, one from the character builder. Builder dropped a lightning pillar, and the pre-gen shoved a bunch of people into the zone, doing a large portion of damage.

The drake caused some problems. He stood next to Kesk, which made his damage a 1d10 +9. The Drake got a few solid attacks in before dying.

Kesk surrendered, and a high intimidate check made him spill the beans, which reinforced Ronnick’s connection to Tiamet.

The module is great, even though I only have the first four encounters, I have high hopes for the rest.

DDI was supposed to update the Character Builder today to incorporate Essentials, but since they didn’t, I felt even better about letting my players use the basic races and classes we talked about earlier. Still, one of my regulars threw a fit about not being allowed to play a minotaur. I guess you can’t please every one.

3 Dave September 23, 2010 at 11:15 am

Just remember: “Bree-yark” is Goblin for “We surrender”. =)

4 Carlo September 23, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I played Quinn for this event, along with the pregen Wizard, Storm Cleric, and a custom made Thief. The added roleplaying was fun, but I find a bunch of strangers don’t have that synergy of a veteran group, so sometimes people steal the spotlight or become overbearing in their ideas.
Our encounter was a little rough, mainly because the dart blower Minions hitting at +10 and 5 damage quickly added up. My Knight took most of the beating (I guess that means I defended well?), and our Cleric used both his Healing Words early on so things were a bit tense for Quinn for a bit. Still, we managed to finish everything off without anyone going down or dying.
I’m looking forward to next week, that’s for sure.

5 Ameron September 23, 2010 at 3:04 pm

It sounds like everyone had a great time at your table. I like the idea of creating characters as a group before the game begins. That’s one thing that character builder has removed from D&D that I actually miss a lot.

We had the same issue for the first week of Dark Sun. We had to prep a DM on the fly in order to get another table ready. The hype for a new season is great, but if you don’t have a back-up DM (or two) this kind of thing may happen.

I’m glad to hear that so many people got into the role-playing. As a DM I’ve learned that if the players are willing to role-play then I should sit back and let them. If they have a creative background or know of some interesting lore then I’ll try to work that into the story. Collaborative story-telling is what separates a good game from a great game.

Two of the players at our table brought “regular” characters but agreed to play the Essentials pre-gens this week. In the end I think they enjoyed the experience.

It’s funny how that is the one thing people tend to remember from the original KotB adventure. If I remember next week I’ll try to use that line and see how many people get it.

Even though I wasn’t the DM I tried to make sure that there weren’t any “spotlight hogs” dominating the table. I tried to encourage everyone to participate and I think it worked. But you’re right, that can certainly be an issue when nobody knows each other.

6 Sunyaku September 23, 2010 at 10:21 pm

I think the highlight of the encounter at my table was when only the Trapper remained, facing off against four bloodied adventurers. Quinn thought he’d be sneaky and get behind the Trapper… but the Trapper was table to net him, leap over the pit, drag Quinn through the fire, and then into the pit. Quinn fell unconscious from a high roll of fire and falling damage. Quinn’s allies managed to finish the trapper before long though.

Quinn was the only one to actually fall into the pit. There must have been at least a half-dozen successful saves to avoid falling.

7 Neuroglyph September 24, 2010 at 1:29 am

I am curious as to how Players responded to the Slayer and the Thief builds – did they find them too limiting at all? In my playtest of the Red Box, even with Players new to D&D 4E, they found the Slayer to be an overly simplified Character. And the Player with the Thief felt that her options were quite limited as well by combat circumstance.

Did you find that to be true at the D&D Encounters tables?

8 Gormal September 25, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Great recap, Ameron. I was Merric in our group. I was really prepared to play with full rules not knowing how encounters worked. It was great fun and hope that life allows me to attend next week. I love the reckless brakage rules when rolling a 1. Glad I hit with that roll and did some major damage to the Dragonborn leader. Yeah reckless breakage. All good fun.

9 Gormal September 25, 2010 at 10:15 pm

oh did I mention I hate drakes

10 Ameron September 27, 2010 at 2:22 pm

It’s funny how lucky PCs and monsters seem to be when it comes to making the “catch the ledge” save and not fall in pits or over ledges. It seems that this save is made more frequently than any other in the games I play. It certainly makes things more exciting.

I don’t think our combat lasted long enough for any of the players to get a real sense of whether or not the characters were too limiting. I think that by eliminating the plethora of choices the players can focus on the describing how they do what they do rather than worrying about which power to use. But you raise an interesting point. I’ll keep my ears open for this kind of criticism as we play through the next few weeks and I’ll include it (good or bad) in future write-ups.

I’m glad you had a good time. We’ve found that a lot of people have come out to play D&D Encounters but after a week or two they stop coming back. We’re glad you showed up and look forward to seeing you back at the table long-term.

I hate drakes too.

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