D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands (Week 8.)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 11, 2010

Using the information gained from the small copper dragon at the end of last week’s encounter the PCs rushed into the swamp in hopes of saving Benwick from ambush. Our party this week consisted of Berrian, Hagen, Quinn, Sola and two unique characters, an Assassin and a Wizard. So with a full roster we braved ahead.

We arrived at the ambush site just in time to witness the ambush taking place. As we approached we overheard the Dragonborn leader addressing Ronnik and telling him that they will “seal their arrangement with blood.” The Dragonborn was standing menacingly over Benwick; Ronnik was standing over Benwick’s fallen comrades Sal and Gordi. Four lizardfolk address Ronnik in Draconic before attacking the PCs.

For the first time in many weeks the heroes rolled decent initiatives. I suggested that we learn from previous mistakes and focus our attacks on one opponent, or at least on one area of the map. That suggestion fell on deaf ears. The Assassin acted first, and charged Ronnik. Quinn acted next and charged the Dragonborn. Now we had to PCs attacking different opponents on opposite sides of the clearing.

Knowing that the Assassin (played as a Rogue in weeks 1-7) had a tendency to be a little bit reckless and bloodthirsty, I decided to help him. Sola charged and attacked Ronnik, but missed. Hagen, following Quinn’s lead charged towards the Dragonborn. Ronnik attacked the Assassin, scoring nearly the maximum damage and bloodying him.

The party was now in three groups. Sola and the Assassin had engaged Ronnik, Quinn and Hagen engaged the Dragonborn, and the two Wizards remained at the edge of the clearing all alone. The lizardfolk decided to divide and conquer.

The Assassin was hit with a greatclub and was knocked unconscious. Sola was hit with a poisoned javelin for 8 damage and 5 ongoing poison damage. Fortunately for Sola, I choose an Amulet of Health +1 as the neck item she discovered last week (which provides resist poison 5) so what should have been a serious blow was merely a minor inconvenience. The other lizardfolk attacked Quinn with the greatclub and knocking him prone. And the final one threw a javelin at the Wizards, but missed. The Dragonborn pounded on Quinn bloodying him.

The Wizard moved up and used hypnosis to have one of the lizardfolk attack his companion. Berrian used arc lightning to score two solid hits. After one round we had successfully attacked and damage just about every monster on the board, killing none. We’d also spread ourselves out too far to be helpful to one another.

The Assassin made a death save, not getting any better or worse. Quinn activated his Defender Aura drawing the attention of nearby monsters. He then stood up and retaliated against the Dragonborn.

On my turn I decided to gamble. Rather than use a Healing Word on the unconscious Assassin I instead used Soothing Light to grant him a save with a +2 bonus. This combined with my Sun Domain feature (granting an additional +2) meant that he’d revive himself if he rolled a 16 or better on his death save. He rolled exactly 16. I then moved closer to Quinn, Hagen, the Dragonborn and one of the lizardfolk. I attacked the lizardfolk with Sun Burst scoring a solid hit and granting Quinn, Hagen, the Wizard and myself 5 temporary hit points. At the end of my turn I failed my save against the ongoing poison (good thing I had the resist 5 poison from the amulet).

Hagen continued to help Quinn and the two of them focused on the Dragonborn. The Wizard used Beguiling Strands to push the lizardfolk back, keeping them too far away from Berrian to attack him. Berrian, who hasn’t moved more than a few squares in any of the last three encounters, stood his ground and kept using Arc Lightning to singe two lizardfolk at a time. Ronnik disengaged from the combat, keeping to the edge of the clearing and watching the battle unfold.

During the next round the Dragonborn was defeated along with one of the lizardfolk. The ongoing 5 poison was starting to take a noticeable affect on the party as we all kept failing our saves. Had Sola not chosen an Amulet of Health she would have been out of combat and likely dead-dead. She failed that save 6 times before finally making it.

The lizardfolk continued to be more trouble then they were worth scoring hit after hit and poisoning everyone round after round. By the time the PCs took them all down we were in bad shape. Sola, Quinn, the Assassin and the Wizard were all out of healing surges and nowhere near full hit points. Both Clerics had used both of their Healing Words so the party was completely out of healing. In our sorry state we tried to resolve the situation with Ronnik peacefully and without any more bloodshed.

Ronnik wasn’t having any of it. He refused to talk. Sola noticed that he seemed to be under some kind of influence, possibly magical or alchemical. Regrettably Ronnik would not allow the PCs to help him. He eventually snapped and began attacking us. This second phase of combat was long and brutal. Since we didn’t have time for a short rest some of the heroes were still trying to save against the poison or trying not to die.

Again we ended up splitting our forces. Some of us tried to revive our fallen comrades while the heavy hitters took down Ronnik without killing him. Eventually we succeeded. Ronnik was subdued and all of the PCs were saved before anyone accumulated 3 strikes (although Berrian and the Assassin were both rolling death saves with 2 strikes already against them).

The party, accompanied by Benwick, Sal, Gordi and the bound Ronnik returned to Restwell Keep. Based on Ronnik’s erratic behaviour and utter shock at learning that his house had burned down, the PCs were not entirely sure that the evidence we’d accumulated until this point was entirely accurate. There seemed to be more going on then we knew. Unfortunately Ronnik was almost immediately found guilty of his crimes and hanged.

If it turns out that Ronnik was not guilty and an innocent man was put to death then I’m a bit disappointed with the adventure. It seems to force the PCs to take certain actions without questioning them. We’ve been expressing concern that something bigger was going on but the way the adventure is designed we weren’t really afforded the opportunity to investigate. We weren’t given the opportunity to try and “cure” Ronnik before returning him to the Keep, nor were we given adequate time to try and prove or disprove his claim of innocence. In fact we weren’t allowed to talk to him at all after we handed him over to the authorities.

During this chapter the PCs recovered the missing Serpent’s Eye jewel. Because of our reluctance to trust anyone after seeing how thing unfolded, we were penalized and not given a full reward. We didn’t intend to keep the gem, but didn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands again. So we instead decided to see that it was returned to its rightful owner ourselves. Apparently if we’d blindly handed it over to Ronnik we’d have earned 75 gp, but because we played and acted smart, we only got 40 gp.

I’m still having fun playing D&D Encounters, but I’m not really getting into the bigger story. I feel like it’s just week after week of hack and slash (which I’m ok with). I want to get into the story and the role-playing, but the adventure doesn’t seem to present much flexibility. We’ll see how thing progress next week as we begin chapter 3 and the PCs level up.

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1 Kevin November 11, 2010 at 11:48 am

As a DM who runs encounters, I echo your feelings to a large degree. I do not want to spoil the story for anyone, so will not go into detail. I also had Ronnik tried and hanged for his offenses. The next chapter makes reference to Ronnik not being hanged yet. I am seriously considering a RetCon of the hanging, and state he was sentenced to be hanged this week, and let the next chapter play out with the actual execution at the end of Ch 3. It may not be relevant, but I like the Ch3 version of these events more than Ch2’s version.

Part of the justification of releasing Encounter 1 chapter at a time was it allowed Wizards to make changes as the season evolved.

My players also struggled with returning the Serpent’s Eye. Not to criticize your DM, but I gave the PC’s the option of talking to Ronnik in the clearing, on the way back to Restwell, or at Restwell. That was how I read the resolution of the encounter and chapter. My players had minimal interaction with Ronnik and turned him over to Drysdale’s men upon return to the Keep.

Another thought, if your party later determines that Ronnik did not deserve to be hanged, Raise Dead is an option. Might take some effort; I do not think any of the priests at Restwell are capable.

Again, not trying to criticize any DM or player’s choices, only pointing out that unlike the real world, our players and DM’s have some extra options if things turn out significantly different than they appear at the end of Ch 2.

Hope you enjoy the remaining 12 sessions.

2 Al November 11, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Quick FYI, Ronnik isn’t dead yet but as been found guilty and is scheduled to be hanged shortly. I’ll give the party a bit more details on the denouement at the start on next session. But, a quick point, based on evidence presented he looks guilty as sin.

3 Al November 11, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Actually you have given me a idea for the start of next session, I hope that I can pull it off correctly.

4 Alton November 11, 2010 at 12:58 pm

The module does say that Ronnick is executed a few days later. I had a player suspect that Ronnick was not guilty of all the crimes Benwick thinks he committed and wanted to ask the Lord of the Keep to give him a few days to prove his guilt or innocence. He thought it was weird during the burning of the house that Ronnick would try to set a trap for the party. He wondered how Ronnick would know the party would put out the fire in time to find it etc…

Since the next chapter takes place (I think) 1 or 2 days later, Ronnick is not hanged at this time.

Personally, I am trying to keep Ronnick alive and maybe use him as an NPC if the characters manage to free him. I think this would be cool. I agree with Ameron that this is basically a Hack n’ Slash adventure so far, but being the DM for my group, all I can say is that it gets better. So cheer up Ameron and you will be rewarded…

5 Lahrs November 11, 2010 at 7:45 pm

We missed session 7 since I was across the country for a funeral, so last night we did a double. I am still exhausted from flight, funeral, D&D, catching up in school, time zone changes and everything else in the last two weeks, so I am not going to do a big write up.

Overall, things went well, the fight with Mox was much more difficult than the final battle. Mox eventually gave in after losing 2/3 of his life and the wizard started telling him jokes. Mox felt he was thoroughly entertained by the fight and the jokes and decided the group was a lot more fun than Ronnick.

The battle in 2-8 thoroughly convinced the group that something was up and really through some doubt on the overall situation, Benwick and Ronnick. Unfortunately, I had to railroad them and since the module did say Ronnick was hung (my group finished him off with non-lethal damage since they were sure something wasn’t right). The group was rather upset Ronnick was hung, but I am in agreement with Kevin and may retcon the situation and follow Alton’s advice, he hasn’t been hung yet.
The guy has so much damning evidence against him, and he will most likely be hung, but I do think there is more role playing involved first.

@Kevin – I have my chapter 3 materials, but do not see anything about Ronnick not being hung yet, can you point me to it.

6 Noumenon November 12, 2010 at 6:06 am

Rules question, just because rolling a natural 20 makes you revive yourself, does not seem to me that rolling a 16 + 4 makes you revive yourself. Just going off the 3.5 notion of crits here.

7 Alton November 12, 2010 at 6:14 am

@ Noumenon

The rules state natural 20 to revive yourself. Some powers allow you to increase that “threat range” of the feature like Sola did last week.

8 Al November 12, 2010 at 11:23 am

@ Lahrs

If Ronnik wasn’t killed and brought to trial, at the end of chapter 3 Chris Sims does allow the characters to present any new evidence that will either save him or put the final nail in his coffin. I believe its in the conclusion after encounter 3-12.

9 Al November 12, 2010 at 11:34 am

One of the problems the DMs are having is that at the end of chapter 2 Ronnik’s faith seems sealed. But Chris back-peddles a bit in chapter 3 leaving it open to maybe he can be exonerated. But again its not fully explained at the conclusion of chapter 3 which leaves me to believe sometime in Chapter 4 may change things around again. This would be my complaint about this season’s storyline.

10 Kevin November 12, 2010 at 10:42 pm

@Lahrs – The reference I found is on page 11, the last paragraph on the page, and again on page 19, In the 2nd paragraph, of the section titled “Prisoners”.

I am going to retcon my concluding comments, like I mentioned, to now read “After a few days, Ronnik is found guilty and sentenced to hang for his crimes.” Rather than what was written in Chapter 2.

Again, I am not trying to spoil anything for any players, nor am I criticizing any DM’s decision how they play this out. Like the original poster and several commenters, I am not liking some elements of the plot, and am looking to make some minor changes to let the players be in more control of the outcome.

Thanks for the ear, and the ideas.

11 Kevin November 12, 2010 at 10:44 pm

In the interest of not spoiling the plot details any further for those who are playing, rather than running encounters, if any DM’s want to talk about this offline, I can be reached at a yahoo address.


12 Ameron November 15, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Thanks for your input. I want to be clear that I’m not criticizing my DM. He’s doing a great job. I’m criticizing the adventure for the way it’s constructed. Perhaps if the entire 20 weeks were available at once it would be easier for DMs to make adjustments without ruining the larger story. We’ll see how things play out.

I’m looking forward to the next game. Let’s see how things turn out.
Note: Al is the DM for my game.

If I had to give season 3 a grade, I’d give it a solid C. But if it gets better, as you alluded to, then perhaps a B is still salvageable. I have to remember that we’re not even half way through so I’m trying not to be too critical or too negative (yet).

We took Ronnik down with non-lethal attacks too. After all, the PCs are all of good alignment and killing him didn’t seem right, especially when we realized he might not be the menacing villain he’d thus far been depicted as. Even though we think he might not be guilty, the evidence we collected is pretty damning.

I see this has already been answered by other commenters (thanks) but I’d like to weigh in too. When a character makes a death save, any roll that totals 20 or higher means they can spend a healing surge. This is why feats like Human Perseverance are so popular. Where there is some debate is whether or not a power that grants a save can grant a death save. Some DMs say yes others say no. I think the rules as written say no, but the intent is very much a yes, so it’s a long-standing debate.

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