This week I was back behind the DM’s screen. We had a full party of six, three players using the pre-generated characters – Barcan, Phye and Castri – while the other three players brought their own PCs – the familiar archer Ranger (who died last week), the Human Warlord and a new Thri-kreen Fighter.
D&D Encounters is doing exactly what it was intended to do, bring in new players. Every week for the past four weeks we’ve had at least one player join D&D Encounters for the first time. Some of these players are 4e veterans who finally came out to see what all the fuss is about. Others are brand new to the hobby. Either way, it’s great to see some new faces coming out to play on Wednesday nights. Now if only we could keep the rest of the participants coming back. Having the new players is great, but we’re loosing members of our core group just as quickly. Our numbers have been holding between seven and nine since the beginning of chapter 2. I suspect that things will pick up again when the summer ends and we move on to Season 3.
I decided that last week’s impromptu skill challenge to traverse the jungle worked so well I’d start that way again. Each player had an opportunity to describe some way that they would help the party. We got the usual Nature and Perception checks to find the best path and to avoid natural hazards, but I thought a couple of the players really came up with good ideas.
One player used Diplomacy to console the party after loosing two PCs in the last fight. This is an aspect of D&D that is rarely seen – emotional stress. These characters have been through some very difficult situations and loosing two more friends to vicious swarming, flesh-eating lizards must have been particularly traumatic. I was so impressed by this idea that I was going to grant it a success regardless of the roll. As it turned out the player rolled over 20 anyway. Even the biggest, toughest fighters in the group had a good cry while they grieved for their fallen comrades.
The other idea I liked was foraging for food and water. It seems so obvious, but over the past few weeks no one’s brought it up. These PCs had almost no rations after they left the underground tomb in chapter 2. Given the heat and physical exertion required to escape the Halflings and fight the lizards and panther, they’d be starved. The Nature check was so high I allowed all of the PCs to regain a lost healing surge to represent the rejuvenation that accompanied the meal.
I honestly didn’t expect a lot of role-playing during D&D Encounters. I assumed that week after week it would be nothing but hack and slash. Again I was surprised by the resourcefulness of these players and their desire to make the game more than just combat.
The PCs eventually reached the chasm that was the scene of this week’s encounter. Before they could assess what was going on they noticed four humanoids scrambling down the side of the cliff-face. Suddenly a burst of lightning crackled and flashed, momentarily blinding the party. When their sight returned they realized that part of the cliff had been dislodged and that the climbers had fallen to their deaths. Across the chasm the PCs noticed a group of skinny humanoids (that they quickly identified as Gith) scavenging the bodies.
The PCs immediately attacked. The Ranger did his thing, hunkered down and started shooting (no need to move any closer when you’ve got a bow). The Warlord (also an archer build) did the same. The rest of the party approached the makeshift bridge. Unfortunately the Gith had ranged attacks too and they started shooting back. Two of the Hobblers used their encounter powers to pin down the Warlord and the Fighter (both immobilized, save ends). Not a big deal to the Warlord but the Fighter was too far from the fight to do anything useful until he saved.
Castri was the first of the PCs to brave the bridge. Unfortunately he didn’t notice that there was a residual electrical charge from the lightning on the bridge and he was zapped as he moved. The Spearhead leader and two of his allies moved in and focused fire on Castri (does this sound like déjà vu to anyone else?).
Phye, seeing her comrade getting mauled (again) moved in to help. Fortunately she wasn’t taking chances with the booby-trapped bridge and jumped. She managed to only clear 1 square, but unbeknownst to her that was the booby-trapped square so it was all good.
The rest of the party, the Ranger, the Warlord and Barcan focused all of their firepower on the Spearhead. He was bloodied after two rounds. The Fighter was stuck making saves and failing miserably. I’m not sure what’s worse, being removed from the fight because you’re unconscious or stunned, or being fully aware of the fight going on around you and not having any worthwhile ranged attacks to contribute?
While standing next to the Spearhead, Phye used her Dimension Swap to change places with the Fighter. This allowed him to get back into the battle even though he was still immobilized. And of course he saved on his very next turn.
Down to just a few hit points and knowing the end was near, the Spearhead used his Focused Stab on Castri, hitting and dropping him (2d12+7 damage). Fortunately Castri wasn’t bloodied before the attack or he would have taken even more damage. Phye moved back onto the bridge to get close enough to help Castri.
The Spearhead managed to live through another round and recharged his Focused Stab. This time the Fighter was the target. A solid hit. And since he was bloodied he took 3d12+7 and was dazed. This was when I brought in my second wave of minons. I held back two Piercers knowing that their push attacks would be more useful when the PCs were finally on this side of the chasm.
One moved up and attached Phye. She was hit. When she rolled her save to catch the ledge she only rolled a 5. But the quick thinking Phye, used Adept’s Insight as a free action, augmented it and got to add 1d4+1 to her save. She needed to roll a 4… and didn’t. She fell. But she rolled a 19 on her next save and only took 1d10 falling damage before catching the ledge of the chasm.
After that it was just a matter of time before the heroes cleaned up. The Spearhead went down, almost bringing the Fighter back to unconsciousness in the process. It’s a good thing the Warlord managed to save against being immobilized and moved close enough to heal the round before. The Hobblers were no match for focused fire and Barcan took care of the Piercer minions. One minion managed to flee, but the rest of the Giths all fell to the heroes.
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.
D&D Encounters Season 3
This week Wizards of the Coast revealed more information about the upcoming Season 3 of D&D Encounters in Chris Tulach’s article Return to Adventure! – D&D Play Spotlight. Here’s what they wrote.
Explore the Chaos Scar in D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands
The next season of D&D Encounters begins on September 22 with a classic-feel campaign: the Keep on the Borderlands! The adventure, A Season of Serpents, highlights the new D&D Essentials books as the characters explore the dangerous lands of the Chaos Scar near Restwell Keep. A traditional D&D play experience coupled with an amazingly fun story arc written by Chris Sims, this season is sure to be an exciting return to the days of D&D yore. I’ve been barraged with questions about this season, and now’s the time to give answers!
How long is this season?
D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands is broken up into five chapters of four sessions each, for a total of 20 sessions of D&D play. The season starts on September 22 and lasts through February 2, 2011. At the beginning of Chapter 3, characters will bump up to 2nd level. When Chapter 5 starts, characters will become 3rd level.
How will character creation work with D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands?
Players can create characters using the D&D Fantasy Roleplaying Game boxed set (A.K.A., the “Red Box”) or the Heroes of the Fallen Lands book. The second book will have more options for players, but both are viable. Both will be available prior to the first session of the season. Once Chapter 3 starts, players can use the Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms book to make a new character or update their existing character if they want.
We’re proceeding with a limited set of rules for character creation to make it easier for new players to jump in, and we think that existing players will love the new character builds in the Essentials series of books. The slayer, knight, thief, mage, and warpriest are “classic” character builds that fit very well into the feel of the season. In addition, DMs know exactly what rules material will be brought to the table, which should help them provide a better play experience for their group.
Pre-generated characters will be provided if you don’t want to “roll your own.” All of these characters are also built with the new Essentials character options.