D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands (Week 10)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 25, 2010

This week’s encounter picked up with the party still trekking through the dungeon. Our party was made up of the same five heroes that entered the dungeon last week: Berrian, Quinn, Sola, an Assassin and a Wizard. It looked like this encounter was going to be nothing more than straight up combat with minimal role-playing opportunities. That was until Sola decided to shake things up a bit.

Before the party opened and passed through the doors, Sola had two things she wanted to discuss with the party. Her first suggestion was to re-activate the statue before they left the room from last week’s encounter – that way if anyone tried to follow the party deeper into the dungeon they would have to deal with the trap. The party agreed that this was a good idea; unfortunately we were unable to re-activate the trap.

Sola’s second suggestion was about division of treasure. Splitting gold three ways seemed unfair. After all the party was doing all the dangerous work. She was also not convinced that Benwick was being 100% honest with the party. So if the PCs decided to keep all of the gold what could Benwick and Gorn do about it? After all, they wanted to keep things quiet. If silence was that important then they’d have no recourse against the party if we changed the deal. If Gorn’s true interest was in the Dwarven Ruins as he said then as long as we gave those to him he should be content, if not a bit irked. The rest of the party had misgivings about not standing by the arranged agreement, but they said they’d think about it and we’d figure it out before we left the dungeon.

Discussions over, the party used the iron key to open the door and enter the next room. We saw the glowing pool directly in front of us and staircases on the right and left leading up to balconies. At the far end of the room on the balcony level was a great set of iron doors. As with the previous room there were no apparent monsters or guardians present so we proceeded cautiously. Quinn, Sola and Berrian took the stairs to the right; the Wizard and the Assassin moved towards the glowing pool.

Neither the Assassin nor the Wizard could see anything around or inside of the pool. Sola, however, from atop the 10-foot high balcony noticed a key submerged in the pool and pointed it out to her comrades below. They still couldn’t see it, so Sola used Sun’s Glow on a coin and flipped it into the pool near the key. As soon as the coin hit the water the room came to life as guardians appear to defend the key, the pool and the room itself.

On the lower level a Stonefist Defender emerged from the wall directly below the door. It moved towards the Assassin. On the upper level another Stonefist Defender emerged on the balcony right beside Sola and Quinn. Across the room on the opposite balcony a third Stonefist Defender appeared and began moving around the balcony towards Quinn and Sola. In the far corner of the upper level a giant, mobile Ballista construct took aim at the heroes nearest the pool on the lower level.

Sola and Quinn teamed up and focused fire on the nearest Guardian. Berrian provided additional firepower from further back on the balcony, away from all of the monsters. The other Guardian made its way around the balcony and engaged Quinn and Sola before they could dispatch the first one. Berrian moved closer and tried pushing the Guardians off of the ledge and away from his comrades. Unfortunately they both made their save and neither fell off the ledge. Another round of focused fire dropped the first one and a magic missile from Berrian took care of the second one.

Meanwhile the Assassin and the Wizard faced heavy opposition on the lower level. The Wizard avoided the one-on-one combat underway between the Assassin and the Guardian, choosing instead to enter the pool and grab the key. Before he could leave the pool the Ballista shot him. To add insult to injury (literally) a new opponent entered the fray and attacked. A small flying creature we identified as a Clay Scout shot the Wizard and then moved closer, attempting to reclaim the key. The Wizard was down to just a few remaining hit points and was unable to see the pesky Clay Scout. He tried attacking as many squares as possible with a blast. He hit the Guardian but completely missed the Clay Scout. He was unable to leave the pool on his turn and was again shot by the Ballista, falling unconscious and dropping the key.

With the battle on the balcony under control, Quinn moved towards the animated Ballista. Berrian ran down the stairs to help his friend near the pool. Sola jumped off of the balcony in an attempt to get close enough to the Wizard to revive him with her magic. She landed hard (taking 8 points of damage) but brought the Wizard to consciousness. Unfortunately the Clay Scout and the Ballista kept attacking him and he quickly fell unconscious again.

The Assassin managed to drop the Guardian with a little bit of help from Berrian and Sola. However, the Clay Scout with the key in hand shifted his focus to the Assassin that just destroyed his Guardian friend.

Quinn finally got close enough to the Ballista to attack it, but it wouldn’t stop shooting at the PCs below. Quinn got opportunity attacks whenever it fired, but it still just took the damage. It didn’t help that Quinn kept rolling 1s and 2s on his damage rolls when he did finally connect. Berrian began targeting the Ballista and the combined effort eventually destroyed it.

Everyone began ganging up on the Clay Scout since he was the only opponent remaining and because he had the key to the door. What should have been an easy mopping up was a lot more difficult then expected. Every time one of us attacked the Clay Scout its redirect power kept forcing the PCs to battle each other. Eventually everyone by Quinn and the Assassin moved away, not wanting to risk taking any more damage from friendly fire.

After destroying all of the monsters the PCs took a much needed rest. After last weeks combat in which no one fell unconscious this week the Wizard was required to make death saves after just three rounds. Fortunately no on died, but most of the party is extremely low on healing surges. The next two encounters are going to be tough.

For the second week in a row I had to wonder what would have happened if the PCs decided not to fight the monsters. Assuming the guardians didn’t activate until the pool was disturbed (which the DM confirmed) we could have moved to the door, picked the lock, and moved on without combat. The DM told us that as soon as we tried the door the guardians would have attacked. However, if we made our Thievery checks quickly enough we could have pushed through and closed the doors behind us likely only taking minimal damage. Last week’s encounter could have been avoided in much the same way.

Of course we would most likely face all of those monsters on the way out, assuming there wasn’t another exit, so we wouldn’t have avoided the combat all together, just tackled it in a different order. More importantly, if we had to face the monsters on the way out, we could just focus on getting past them, rather than destroying them. If this had been a home game, I think my usual gaming group would have opted for this kind of tactic. However, if we’d tried to avoid combat like this during D&D Encounter it would have made for a very quick and boring week 9 and week 10 encounter. The week 11 and week 12 encounter on the other hand would likely be longer and a lot more exciting – not to mention deadly.

I’m not saying that this leg of the adventure is badly constructed; I’m just saying that it doesn’t allow for this kind of player ingenuity if it’s being run as a one encounter each week adventure. But I’m curious if anyone tried this approach either this week or last week. If so how did the DM handle it? I’d be even more curious about how the DM will handle the trip out of the dungeon.

How did D&D Encounters week 10 play out at your FLGS? Did anyone try to just avoid the combat as I described above? Did anyone suffer losses or maybe even a TPK? For all of those tables where the players have made their own characters, are you seeing balance in the four roles or are your parties heavy in one or two roles and possibly even lacking any of the role (like leader)? If this is the case is it making things easier or more difficult?

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1 Al November 25, 2010 at 4:14 pm

F.Y.I Gorn’s interest lies in the dwarven relics that the party finds not the ruins themselves.

2 Kevin November 25, 2010 at 9:15 pm

I had the entire party bloddied, knocked the wizard unconscious twice, in the end the party prevailed. (Had I added another Arbalester, they would have been finished off). My regulars all customized characters using the new Character Builder, the one new guy used a pre-gen leveled to level 2, but he expects to make one for next week.
My players have not yet though of ammending the deal with Benwick, but I expect it between the next 2 sessions from Rand (Merric customized) he has larceny in his heart. The balance so far seems to be solid. The player who remade Hagen made more of a Sola/Hagen blend, giving them about the best dedicated healer they can have with Essentials.
I have kept them on the verge of a TPK for 6 of the 10 encounters so far, it is very hard on the healing surges, which always makes them dislike the encounters format of requiring a fixed ammount of progress between extended rests. It is rare I tag the mage who never enters the room, but this week she hit zero hp 2x. Going to make the last encounter very challenging when they have 1 and 2 surges each left.

3 Ameron November 26, 2010 at 8:05 am

Thanks for the clarification. Although I did say ruins I was thinking relics/artifacts, not just a vague description of what we say written on the walls.

I’ve found that when players sit down and go through four or five encounters in one sitting (like in an LFR adventure, for example) they’re a lot more conscious about their resources, like healing surges. They’re better able to judge when to use them and when not to. The one encounter per week format makes it harder to establish continuity. As a result people assume that they’re fresh every week when that’s rarely the case. What we I’ve seen is a brashness that comes back to bite us during the last encounter.

4 Lahrs November 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm

One of the biggest changes I have made recently as a DM is to drop the DM screen on the majority of my rolls. Every attack and damage roll is now done in full view. I can’t say exactly why I did it, but I like the fact my group can see the honesty in what is going on. The only time I hide my rolls now are against some checks.

This was a tough encounter for my group. I kept rolling the recharge on the ballista, which the group saw in full, and it built tension every time I did it as they knew what was coming. Before the battle, the group split, the fighter and a cleric went left on the catwalk, while the remaining group went right. The wizard used her mage hand to fetch the key, but with the movement on the hand going so slow, it took three turns to get back to her. I was shocked when nobody mentioned dropping the key and just concentrating on the battle. As per the battle tactics, the enemies focused on the one with the key. I debated whether or not using a mage hand would count as the monsters knowing who had the key, and decided that they could recognize a magic user. The ballista attacked the incoming fighter and cleric, and shot a few bolts at other party members from time to time, but the rest focused on the wizard, dropping her quickly. This is when things got really hairy since the group had split, the ballista was doing some serious damage, and the Guardian and scouts were in flanking position before the group really got going. Battle tactics seemed to fly out the window this week, maybe my players were tired, I don’t know, but they usually work very well together.

The monk finally got his moment of greatness, which is awesome because the last month has been horrible to him (tons of missed attacks and so forth.) The monk tackled (bull rushed) the clay scout off of the catwalk which landed on the guardian below, killing both. The guy needed a personal victory, and since he killed two enemies, the group decided it was a moment of greatness.

The only one to actually drop was the wizard, but after the battle it took a lot of healing surges to recover, and with two sessions left, my group is dangerously low. I am not out to kill anyone, and with the dice in full view it is impossible to tweak the numbers, so it is possible we are looking at a future TPK, though I hope it doesn’t come to that. Ameron, I believe you made a valid point over the use of resources in a weekly encounter vs. multiple encounters in one sitting. One problem I noticed is the group’s unwillingness to use dailies, since they know at the end of the chapter they get a rest. Most of the time, a group will not know when they will get a full rest, and therefore do not know for how long they should hold onto the power, so they are more inclined to use it.

Now that the second Essentials book has come out, the wizard is thinking about trying out the Druid. I think the return of the druid pet familiar is going to add a new dynamic to the group, especially if she chooses the bear. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I believe all allies get a +2 bonus to all defenses while within the bear’s aura (1). That can make a huge difference, especially if the bear remains behind the fighter.

I am not one for straight up dungeon crawl, which is what the last two sessions have been, but there are role-playing opportunities ahead, and everyone is excited about getting some treasure. Our group is also deciding whether they should divvy up the goods. When Gorn and Benwick basically left them to do all the work with some flimsy excuses, the group is wondering why the other two even deserve anything, minus a token finder’s fee for pointing out the dungeon. If I were in their shoes, I would probably think the same thing.

5 Ameron December 7, 2010 at 9:20 am

I have no objections to DMs who roll behind the screen, but it does add to the excitement when the players can see the result, especially with it’s a key roll and the DM get s 1 or a 20. The down side is that it’s more difficult for the DM to fudge a roll (in the player’s favour) if the numbers are out in the open. I don’t do it often, but sometimes I inflict less damage if it means the difference between consciousness and unconsciousness. But only in extreme circumstances and only if the player has done something worthy of that DM gift.

Great write-up, as usual.

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