D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands (Week 11)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 2, 2010

Using the keys found in each of the previous two rooms the heroes opened the doors and entered the vault. They’d found the treasure room. Now all they had to do was find the treasure. The only question now is what kind of guardians will they have to defeat to gain their reward?

Our party had six members this week: Berrian, Eldeth, Hagen, Quinn, Sola and another Wizard. We began the encounter by recapping the events to date for one of the new players. It’s amazing just which details players remember and believe are important when compared to what actually happened and what is actually important.

As the back-up DM for my group I have a copy of the adventure, just in case I need to step up and run an encounter or two. I also use it as a reference after Wednesday night’s game while I’m writing up the weekly article. This gives me a lot more insight into what’s actually going on and is one of the big reasons I try not to be the decision-maker for our party.

When the other players recapped the events from the previous 10 weeks I have to bite my tongue and not chime in with important details that they forgot or overlooked. Fortunately the DM of10 does jump in with subtle reminders when this happens, but not always. This is a problem that happens all the time in D&D, but I think it’s even more prevalent with D&D Encounters. After all we only do one encounter a week. After 10 weeks we’re bound to forget some of the details. Unfortunately for us, forgetting those details, even from just a couple of weeks back, made things a lot more difficult during this week’s encounter.

We entered the room and immediately realized that there were no other doors or exits beside the one we came through. This was clearly our final destination. Knowing that all of the room before this one had traps and guardians, we proceeded with extreme caution. The party moved up, one-by-one spreading out around the first pit and taking up a tactical position behind the pillars. When Eldeth moved closer to the coffins a ghostly form began to take shape at the far end of the room.

The undead creature (which we identified as a Specter) addressed the group and we quickly deduced that it was Greysen, or at least some twisted form of his essence. The Specter rambled on but none of the PCs knew what he was talking about. Finally Eldeth got fed up with trying to talk to a creature that was obviously insane and charged him.

Greysen let forth a Howl for the Dead and then disappeared before Eldeth reached him. Quinn and the Wizard, both of whom had moved closer to the Specter during the dialogue, now stood adjacent to the nearest coffin. From within the nearby pit three undead Witherlings emerged. Each one engaged the closest PC and attacked.

With the three new combatants still clearly visible and posing an immediate threat to three of the heroes, the party followed their standard operating procedure – everyone take on a different creature rather than work together to drop one at a time. You’d think after 10 weeks we’d know better. Guess not.

Sola moved toward Quinn to help him fight his Witherling. These two characters have worked together quite effectively over the past few encounters. Facing undead opponents for the first time Sola was finally able to use her Smite Undead channel divinity power. But first thing’s first, she moved in and used Sun Burst to deal some radiant damage and grant the party temporary hit points. After hitting with that attack she used her action point to use Smite Undead and again hit for big damage, bloodying the Witherling.

Quinn acted next. Using he radiant weapon he acquired in one of the previous encounters, he finally had a chance to use it against some undead foes. He scored a solid hit and destroyed the first Witherling. Undead beware, Quinn and Sola are here to kick some butt!

Next up was Hagen, who charged the Witherling nearest the Wizard (and managed to get a flanking bonus in the process). A solid hit but not enough to bloody it. The Wizard meanwhile was focused on the pit nearest the front door. As Sola passed by the pit earlier, she noticed that some of the bones were moving and possibly trying to stand up. The Wizard decided to ready Beguiling Strands just in case the bones became animate skeletons. Sure enough five skeletons emerged from the pit. The Wizard missed the closest one but rolled no less than 17 on the four subsequent attack rolls, killing those minions before they were ever a real threat. The remaining skeleton had no trouble hitting the Wizard.

Seeing only one minion remaining, Berrian decided to destroy it with a Magic Missile rather than risk missing it with Arc Lightning.

With five of the six PCs grouped together, the Specter moved in between us and used his Bone Barrage. The close burst 2 attack hit everyone but Quinn for 3d6+4, sliding us two squares, bloodying the four of us who got hit and knocking the Wizard unconscious. The Specter then used his action point to go invisible again.

Quinn and Hagen teamed up on the Witherling that originally engaged the Wizard. Although they both hit they rolled really low damage, leaving the creature alive and above bloodied. It then shifter out of harms way and moved towards Eldeth. The two Witherlings flanked the Dwarf and attacked her with everything they had. Fortunately only one hit.

Berrian attacked with Arc Lightning dropping the one that Quinn and Hagen sof10ed up earlier. Eldeth decided to charge the remaining Witherling even though she was already adjacent to it. So she moved away, drawing an opportunity attack in the process, but avoiding a hit. She then turned around and charged the Witherling. She hit and rolled the maximum damage. She decided to use Power Strike and throw on another 1d12 for good measure. That killed the final Witherling.

Hagen and Quinn couldn’t find the Specter so they decided to open the first coffin in hope of drawing out it out into the open. It worked. The Specter appeared in between the heroes again and attacked with Bone Barrage. Hagen and Quinn were both hit. The Wizard, low on hit points and out of healing surges attacked from a safe distance with Magic Missile to guarantee a hit. This bloodied the Specter which resulted in another Howl for the Dead. Five more minion skeletons were summoned around the Specter.

Berrian used Arc Lightning to hit the Specter and take out one of the minions. Sola stepped up and used Brand of the Sun to inflict more radiant damage to the Specter. Quinn used the daily power on his weapon to attack in a burst 1. He missed the Specter but killed three minions. Hagen moved in and used his Smite Undead, scoring the first crit of the night and inflicting maximum radiant damage to the Specter, killing it for good. Berrian used another Magic Missile to take out the final remaining minion.

When the combat was over we rested and searched the room. We found a lot of coins, mostly copper, valuing about 600 gp. It’s a good thing Gorn gave us all of those backpacks and sacks to carry out the treasure. We also found a magical weapon and magic arm item. The DM told us that there was another item hidden but that we needed to be very specific about where we searched in order to find it. He gave us each one chance to guess correctly and make a Perception check. We failed miserably and didn’t get the final item. He told us if we’d continued talking with the Specter at the beginning it would have revealed the location accidentally. Oh well.

Our group found the role-playing at the beginning of this encounter difficult. We didn’t know or understand what the Specter was talking about. I think this is a problem with the way D&D Encounters is set up. If we’d been playing this as one long adventure we’d likely have remembered the names and history that the Specter was talking about. But since it had been a couple of weeks the names and events meant nothing to us. We didn’t know what to say so we decided to destroy the undead monster.

How did week 11 go for your group? Did you have better luck than we did with the dialogue or did you just attack? Anybody loose a PC this week? With the both Clerics present this week, the extra radiant damage made the encounter a lot easier for us. Was our experience unique or did other groups find this week’s combat easier than the past two weeks?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gormal December 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Dang I am sorry that imissed this week as a pretty regular player I might have remember the spectre’s name as dwarf could have spoke the language and of course i am missing out on the fun.

2 Liam Gallagher December 2, 2010 at 2:11 pm

I can only agree about the role playing problems. Though I was a fresh face at the table I felt akin to the slightly dim fighter I was playing who wouldn’t have remembered half the details or names. It seems to me that there was far to many plot points to really get a feel for the political conflict very much beyond that fact that it did exist.

Props to the DM.

3 Ameron December 3, 2010 at 8:47 am

@Gormal
You were missed. We certainly could have used a striker.

@Liam Gallagher
I expected you to be a little bit lost having not played in the previous 10 encounters, but isn’t the whole point of the D&D Encounters program to be easy and accessible for new players, no matter where they join in? I think that a 20-week adventure is much too long for this kind of program. The arcs need to be shorter.

4 Lahrs December 5, 2010 at 11:56 am

Our group did fairly well, though they definitely took some lumps.

We welcomed in a thri-kreen ranger. Normally this was a banned race, but since he was new to D&D encounters yet had already made his character (not new to 4th), I let it slide so we could get going.

After last week’s debacle from splitting the group, they tended to stay much closer together this week, which was a blessing and a curse. I made the encounter more difficult again since we have had a constant group of six experienced players, and they just expect tough battles, so I added an additional botched witherling and a total of 8 witherling motes.

Before the battle started though, the fighter bravely moved toward the crypts while the rest of the group huddled near the entrance. When Ramthane appeared and gave his spiel, and before the others could stop him, the fighter charged, ending any chance of diplomacy.

The group found the witherling motes to hit hard, especially since they ganged up on the party members, but also went down easy. The fighter in particular did some massive damage with his executioner axe. 1d12 with a brutal 2, it is a bit OP, but, that is what he has. The brutal 2 changed two rolls, totaling three damage, into rerolls totaling 22. The wizard spent most of her time casting magic missile and arc lightning, but also got in a great shot of beguiling strands, which sent four witherling motes to their death from fall damage.

Due to the damage output by Ramthane and the witherlings, the two clerics spent all their time healing and were not able to get a shot on Ramthane, which would have made the fight easier. Ramthane was able to get two bone barrages off, though not on the same turn.

Every turn, Ramthane was able to appear and attack, giving him the bonus damage on his double attack. We had a small debate on whether the auto-hit of magic missile could target Ramthane while invisible, but someone from the other table said it could not, and we didn’t bother looking it up to confirm and just went with it.

The turning point in the battle was when our new ranger friend correctly guessed which square Ramthane was hiding in, and then criting the specter for some nice damage. Now that the specter was essentially marked for a round, all the group had to do was overcome the -5 for total concealment, which the cleric, finally having a chance to attack Ramthane, was able to do, and disabled Ramthane’s insubstantial ability for the round. At this point, Ramthane went down fast, and with a few more rounds to clean up the rest, the party was victorious, but three are nearly out of surges, two are out of surges and the new guy lucking out and being near full. The next battle is going to be rough, but everyone still has their dailies, which should make the battle go a bit more in their favor.

The group did get all of the treasure. The fighter grabbed the gloves, the monk found some bracers of mighty striking (+2 to melee damage) and the cleric found a new item I made up, a hammer which gives an additional 2 healing when granting others a healing surge. If something similar is in any of the D&D books, please let me know so I can point her to a more official version.

Role playing has been very non-existent in the last three sessions. There could have been some in this session, but the fighter was a little over anxious to get started. As the DM, I am up for more roleplaying, but as long as my group ends the night feeling good and having enjoyed themselves, I can accept some dungeon crawling. As long as everyone’s group is up to it, there should be plenty of roleplaying options this coming Wednesday, assuming we do not get snowed in.

@Ameron, I may have a different view because we have a good number of regulars (8 haven’t missed a session so far this season, two have missed only one, not bad for two tables) that we enjoy the longer arcs. What I also like seeing is every time we do get someone new, three weeks ago my brother, and this week the ranger for example, the group gets to explain the entire story again. This allows the party to correct each other’s versions, but also puts the entire story back into their minds. If you do not already, you may want to introduce a weekly recap of everything going on, which will also allow you to fill in some of the story they missed. Normally I wouldn’t fill in details, but I think Encounters lends itself for a little extra DM input.

5 Ameron December 7, 2010 at 8:51 am

@Lahrs
We’ve noticed a sharp lack of role-playing at our table over the past three encounters too. The DM told us that this week’s encounter is very RP heavy. I’m all for some hack-and-slash, as long as I know there’s so rewarding RP at the end. And in this case there seems to be just that. If the next chapter is just another dungeon crawl I’m going to be disappointed.

We’ve had similar debate about magic missile. I’m not sure of the correct ruling, but here’s how we’ve done it. The Wizard can, but is not required to, make a Perception check. He then chooses a square to target. If he succeeded at his Perception check then he obviously knows the correct square. If the invisible creature is in that square it gets hit.

I think a weekly recap is a great idea and if DMs aren’t already doing it I encourage them to do so. I like the idea of having the players recap, but I think the DMs need to point out obvious mistakes that the players wouldn’t likely make if they’d been playing it all in one shot.

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