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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