D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands (Week 4)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on October 14, 2010

Last week Ronnik tried to eliminate any evidence that might tie him to the Cult of Tiamat or Gordi’s kidnapping. Time was of the essence, so the PCs headed to the Well Hideout specified on the map they found in Ronnik’s wall safe.

This week we had a full party of six made up of Merric, Quinn, Hagen, Sola and two Berrians. After running two characters last week I opted to go back to just one character this week – Sola. We had a new player join our table this week. The last time he played D&D was AD&D 2e. So after a quick 10 minute primer on d20 mechanics, and a 5 minute recap of what happened during weeks 1-3 we moved on to D&D Encounters week 4.

The journey to the Well Hideout was pretty straightforward and uneventful. I actually expected the trip to be a mini-skill challenge. A pretty straight forward skill challenge, I’ll grant you that, but it seemed like an opportunity overlooked. Remembering that D&D Encounters is designed to entice new players, I’m disappointed when a lot of emphasis is placed on combat and little to none is put on role-playing. But it’s a long adventure and I’m sure we’ll get plenty of great role-playing opportunities in the weeks to come.

When the PCs made it to the Well Hideout they had a brief opportunity to search and discovered the well itself. It was dry, yet there was evidence that something or someone had gone down the well recently. They also noticed that a section of the wall was somehow unusual and different. Before the PCs could scout or investigate any further they were ambushed by Kobolds.

Five of the PCs were bunched together investigating the well and the unusual wall, meanwhile Merric was off scouting in the brush. Bad news for Merric, as two Kobolds stealthfully encircled him and attacked.

Two Kobolds pushed over the unusual wall getting Quinn and Hagen in the debris. Hagen was pushed backwards and knocked prone; Quinn was pushed down the well. The Kobold slingers hiding in the darkness kept throwing flaming balls (firepots) at the PC – Berrian took the brunt of these attacks getting hit multiple times.

As usual we divided our attacks, wounding many and killing few. Our greatest difficulty was the darkness. The two Berrians used their light spells to illuminate the nearest squares, making close melee combat easier. Sola also had her Sun’s Glow power to keep the area around her bathed in light. However, the PCs kept the fight near the well and as the close combatants kept falling the slingers, attacking from the darkness, kept hitting us from afar.

At the beginning of the battle the DM placed all the monsters on the board, even the ones we couldn’t technically see from where we were located. After a couple of rounds , Berrian (the one not on fire) decided to use Sleep. He could place it to get both slingers and one of the remaining minions. The problem was that the player could see the minis but his PC could not.

The DM ruled (correctly in my opinion) that just because the Berrian’s spell could reach the exact squares to get everyone, the PC didn’t really have the knowledge of which squares the slingers actually occupied. Berrian begrudgingly agreed and targeted a minion instead. The next round the DM had the slingers attack and then move. When he moved them, he took the minis off the map. He told us that until we could see the minis he’d leave them off the map. This way we could target bursts and blasts at random squares and if the Kobolds were in the affected area they’d get whatever was thrown at them.

We spent the next three rounds trying to illuminate the battlefield so we could find the Kobolds. Eventually the DM simply called the fight and told us that the slingers took off. Between their darkvision and exceptional Stealth there was little to no hope we were going to catch them. The DM kindly allowed a last round of Perception checks to spot the fleeing Kobolds. Quinn rolled a 20 and narrowed down the area, but it still wasn’t good enough to pinpoint an exact square. The two Berrians were the only ones capable of hitting the Kobold with a lucky Magic Missile shot, but nether of them rolled a high enough on their Perception checks and the Kobolds escaped.

The encounter ended with the PCs hunkering down for the evening and taking an extended rest. So ended chapter 1 of D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands. I liked that the chapter was only four encounters. Merric was completely out of healing surges going into this encounter. The rest of the party was also getting low on surges. If this had run another week (like the chapters in Dark Sun) things would have been ugly for some of the characters.

I was a little bit disappointed with how the first chapter ended. I enjoyed the encounters but the end seemed a little bit anti-climatic. I understand that the adventure runs 20 weeks and that they need to keep the story going; however, I would have liked some closure. We didn’t get anything of the sort.

For four weeks we’ve acted at the behest of Benwick trying to save the innocent and expose those in league with the Cult of Tiamat. The evidence points to Ronnik but so far we have nothing concrete tying him to the kidnapping, the fire of the ambush at the wall. Perhaps I’m just being to suspicious, but I find too many players just assume that everyone in the game is their friend. I wanted hard evidence before judging and so far I’m not satisfied. We’ll see what chapter 2 brings next week.

What were your thoughts on this week’s encounter and chapter 1 as a whole? Are you finding this adventure more enjoyable than the Dark Sun Encounters? Are you intrigued enough to keep playing through chapter 2?

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1 Ameron October 14, 2010 at 12:31 pm

We were experiencing technical difficulties this morning which is why today’s article is a lot later than usual. Sorry about that.

2 Lahrs October 14, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I do not agree that session 4 was anticlimactic, because my players do not see it as an end to the chapter, just a session. I have my chapter 2 materials and have read through it completely. I definitely do not want to give away spoilers, but if you can separate yourself from thinking session 4 was a chapter end, and more of just a session end, I think you will appreciate the progression through the next 4 sessions.

Dark Sun, I have made my thoughts on it over and over, so no point in beating a dead horse. In comparison to Keep on the Borderlands, all I can say is everyone is having a great time.

We had a returning player, they played session 1, but work obligations kept them away until last night, my group was eager to fill them in on the story. I found this very interesting, because I got to listen to their interpretation of the facts, which wasn’t necessarily the facts they were told. Kind of like if they played the telephone game.

You mentioned you were running low on surges, my group wasn’t, and I think I need to beef up the encounters a bit, maybe through in an additional non-minion and then just adjust the encounter on the fly.

Ok, now for session 4. The fighter checked out the well, and decided to take the rope. Hey, free rope. Meanwhile, thief number one inspected the wall and found it was unstable and had recently been damaged. For some reason, three others in the group decided it would be a great idea to also inspect the wall. Needless to say, four PC’s had bricks falling on their head.

I didn’t place the additional kobolds on the map since the PC’s could not see them, but thief one had the brilliant idea to toss a sun rod, lighting up the area. At this point, they saw a huge wave of kobolds inching closer. This was a great a moment in the encounter. It isn’t like I don’t drop a large group of monsters at the beginning of every combat, but I think when you picture lighting a dark area only to find a large group of monsters advancing on you, it has a more dramatic affect.

The battle was standard, and at the end the dragonshield yelled at a slinger to run and tell Ronnik the PC’s were coming. The group dropped the slinger before it could get off the map, so the dragonshield ran. The mage dropped her daily, phantom chasm, and the dragonshield was knocked prone and immobilized. The fighter ran up and tied up the dragonshield with his free rope, used intimidate, and was able to gain some useful information.

After the dragonshield answered the questions, the group decided to set up camp near the well, however, nobody mentioned anything else about the dragonshield, so I think he won’t be there in the morning.

3 Sunyaku October 14, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Beguiling strands. Action Point. Phantom Chasm. Next player. Fountain of Flames. Two dragonshields and two quickblades toast. Some of them didn’t even get a chance to act the first round.

Even with the encounter scaled up a bit, my table of very experienced players made short work of this encounter. The artillery had a chance to hassle them a little bit, but without the quickblades and dragonshields to slow the advance through the center, it was just a matter of time before all the minions and slingers were toast.

*sigh* I’m just going to have to keep adding more monsters to challenge this group!

In other news, here’s some food for thought. Why would Ronnik, a supposed worshiper of Tiamat, burn down his own building? That’s a HUGE asset loss. And all just to destroy a little evidence? Greed would lead a true worshiper of Tiamat to find a more “efficient” way to eliminate evidence WITHOUT sacrificing considerable monetary assets. And I doubt Ronnik had fire insurance. I thought this was so silly that I made a point of giving this clue to the PCs. Now they don’t really trust anyone, which is making their decision-making process far more entertaining. 🙂

4 Lahrs October 14, 2010 at 11:03 pm

How did your players see all of the monsters to toast four creatures in round one?

5 Kenneth McNay October 15, 2010 at 3:36 am

I’m actually having trouble keeping the players/characters convinced that Benwick is anyone to believe/trust. The outspoken essentials playtest assassin wanted nothing to do with stopping a fire, didn’t see any reason to go out to the wall ambush, and wasn’t too pleased that Sal had walked in and killed their prisoner at the end of the plaza ambush (before questioning stared).

The rest of the party is feeling somewhat unopinionated, but agree they are not convinced Benwick is trustworthy. The assassin has sworn an oath to kill Sal later if there is even a small degree of treachery in the future.

6 Al October 15, 2010 at 9:23 am

Just want to point out to DMs of Season 3 posting here that players do read this, so please be mindful of any potential spoilers. Also, I would like to remind DMs in particular that the Season 3 forums on WotC site has some good discussions going on, as well as Chris Sims himself answering questions concerning the adventure. I don’t want to stop people from posting here because I love reading the stuff here, but just remember that as a DM you may inadvertently ruin a player’s surprise. As a minor spoiler in response to Ameron’s disappointment with Chapter 1’s ending, I will say that the current storyline appears to conclude at the end of Chapter 2.

7 Lahrs October 15, 2010 at 9:31 am

I don’t see a problem with the players suspecting Benwick, I know I would be. Suspecting Benwick and co. could be some great role playing opportunities.

The problem with Encounters and LFR is in most ways, they are railroaded. This doesn’t bother me at all, but when your players, or a player, starts pulling away and not wanting to do the encounter, it creates problems. If the group didn’t go to the bank to stop the fire, the encounter for the night is essentially over. You can role play it, but a session or two of that and your story is going to crumble. You could drastically change the story, which could have ramifications in the future since this isn’t your own campaign and you are somewhat stuck with playing the next chapter a week later, or do some deux ex machina and force them into the encounter, which isn’t fun for anyone.

I promise you, Sal is not going to be a pushover, and could easily take down an assassin. Just knock the assassin out as Sal runs away, assuming the assassin decides to start a fight.

8 Sunyaku October 16, 2010 at 12:12 pm

@Lahrs The first thing that happened in the encounter was the weak wall getting pushed down. After discovering the wall was weak, Quinn immediately declared he wanted to push it over. Little did he know two dragonshields were already in the process of pushing it over onto the unsuspecting group. Quinn failed the opposed check against the Kobolds, and the wall hit a couple players. With the room open, the wizards unloaded (knowing this was the last enc before extended rest) their powers and were able to make short work of the dragonshields and quickblades.

9 Ameron October 21, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I feel that playing only one encounter every week makes pacing difficult. If I was playing an LFR game then I’d likely have 4 encounters in one sitting, and since encounter 4 is the end of the adventure I expect it to be spectacular. With Encounters I want encounter 4 do be awesome, simply because I know that it’s a chapter break. I guess I have to keep in mind that it’s a 20-enocunter adventure.

Having the players provide recaps lets the DM know where he might need to insert reminders or provide clarification (in game of course). Truly devious DMs will actually build on the players mistakes. Normally I’m all for that, but with Encounter I tend to be a lot more forgiving when facts are forgotten or misremembered.

We’ve been rolling so poorly for initiative that no matter how brilliant the players tactics we just can’t catch a break. I’m glad that you recognize that your players are making short work of the adventure as written and that you’re willing to make it more difficult. Nothing worse that playing an encounter you know will be a cake walk.

@Kenneth McNay
I have to agree that my initial thought was let the fire burn, not our problem. But that would have made for a short night and no encounter. Sometimes the DM simply has to push the PCs into it.

I don’t see anything wrong with the players distrusting the NPCs. Too many adventures assume that the PCs gladly accept everyone as friendly. As long as the motivations for mistrust are played out, in-game, I say let them be suspicious.

It never occurred to me to mention that people posting should try and keep their comments spoiler-free. Thanks for the reminder.

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