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?
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.