D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands (Week 13)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 16, 2010

Never underestimate the how quickly you’ll get an audience with the Lord of the keep when you announce that dragons are going to attack. Of course, having a solid reputation for heroism and a couple of witnesses to corroborate your claims doesn’t hurt things either.

We began right where we left off last week. We’d just defeated Benwick’s men, killing Gorn and subduing the others. Upon learning the details of Benwick’s plan from his cronies, we marched our prisoners directly to the inner court where we demanded an immediate audience with Lord Drysdale. His guards were somewhat reluctant and even suspicious of us initially, but mention of two black dragons en route to level the castle had a way of getting them to grant us the audience we requested.

The guards ushered us right to the Lord’s audience chamber where we recounted everything that happened, beginning with the pending attack from two black dragons. Always play your best cards first. No point in holding them back and then not getting a chance to play them (the same thing pretty much goes for daily powers).

We also made sure to mention that Ronnik might not be guilty and that Lord Drysdale might want to consider looking at the new evidence before making a ruling on Ronnik’s final fate. I then rocked the Diplomacy check with a 25 so Lord Drysdale didn’t think I was just some jerk trying to tell him how to run his keep.

He called to his men and ordered them to begin preparations for defending the keep from the possible dragon onslaught. He then charged the party with finding Benwick and the dragons and gathering information. Of course if we could stop the attack on the keep that would also be looked upon in very favourable light. We accepted his assignment and after a much needed extended rest we were off to the swamplands in search of the dragons’ lair.

The journey through the swampy marshlands was difficult and hazardous. To make things even more difficult our party makeup underwent some significant changes since the last encounter. Quinn and Sola were the only regulars present this week, but they were accompanied by two new adventurers. A Human Rogue armed with a hand crossbow and a Dragonborn Sorcerer. Strikers are always welcome, but their combat optimization meant that this skill challenge was going to be really tough. If only Berrian or our other Wizard were here this week. But alas were only a party of four.

As expected we got lost, got bitten by insects, fell in a river and got lost again, before finally finding the markers that led the way to our destination. By the time we reached the clearing the entire party was down a healing surge. Considering Athletics and Endurance were strong skills for three of the four PCs we really did poorly with the rolling. But that just made for a more interesting role-playing session.

If the dice continued to roll that badly we might not have survived the first combat of this chapter. Luckily things changed for the better… at least with regards to the dice.

We entered the clearing and didn’t see any signs of danger so we proceeded. First the Rogue. He moved towards the webs intending to use them for cover. Unfortunately a giant spider hiding in the webs attacked him before he even realized what was happening. The Rogue was bleeding from puncture marks and was taking ongoing poison damage.

Before anyone could go to the Rogue’s aid, two big lizardmen with spears came out from the brush and threw them at the Rogue. Both hit, bloodying him.

Quinn moved up to help the wounded Rogue and landed a crushing blow against the spider. The Sorcerer then attacked the spider, but just couldn’t kill it. It clung to life by the thinnest thread. Realizing that the poison damage could be a significant threat to the party, the Sorcerer used a class feature to change his normal resistance to poison and grant resist 5 poison to the Rogue.

Just as Sola was about to move towards the spider and go for the kill, darts shot out from foliage, but didn’t hit anyone. Sola moved to help her allies and got a crit on the first attack. Too bad the monster only had 1 hit point left. Oh well, a kill’s a kill. The attack granted the Rogue a save against the ongoing poison and he made it (not that it really mattered with his newly gained resistance).

The Rogue then moved closer to the lizardmen and tried to shoot them with his crossbow. As he moved through the webbed area he was held tight and immobilized. No worries, he could still shoot and was still within the requisite 5 squares for combat advantage to apply. A hit for over 20 points of damage. This is the kind of output our party has been sorely lacking in previous weeks. Welcome aboard strikers. Failing his save, the Rogue remained tangled in the webs.

Before anyone else could act a second spider emerged from beneath the webs and attacked Quinn. He took his damage like a man and didn’t complain. He in turn hit the second spider. The Sorcerer then blasted it and easily killed it. Did I mention how awesome it is to have two strikers who can really dish out damage?

The lizardmen threw javelins again hitting Quinn and the Rogue. The Rogue returned fire, but was unable to add sneak dice. He hit but damage was marginal. He again failed his save and remained entangled in the webs. More darts came out of the bushes and still none of them hit any of the heroes.

Sola decided that she should delay and wait for Quinn to move into melee before she did. That way his aura should keep her from getting attacked. Quinn managed to get around the webs without getting stuck. He engaged the closest lizardman. Sola came off of delay and followed him right in as soon as she healed the bloodied Rogue. She too managed to avoid the webs.

The Sorcerer provided ranged support and with Quinn, Sola giving it to the lizardman in melee combat he didn’t last very long. One down, one to go. The Rogue finally managed to free himself from the webs around the same time the attackers with the darts stating hitting. Fortunately they were using poison and couldn’t do enough damage to injure the Rouge, the Sorcerer or Sola (who was wearing an Amulet of Life which provided her with resist 5 poison). We decided to ignore the needlers until the big guys were down.

Two more rounds of combat was all it took to defeat the second lizardman. Quinn and Sola flanked him, while the Sorcerer attacked form a safe distance. The Rogue wanted to help too, even though without combat advantage and sneak dice his damage was pitiful. However, we managed to get the lizardman down to just a few remaining hit points and it ended up being the Rogue who got the kill shot. Never underestimate a striker’s ability to kill something.

After killing the annoying needlers we searched the clearing and discovered a body within the webs. The corpse was dead beyond recognition, the spiders having long ago feasted upon it. However, we did find magical arm items on the body. We decided to give those to our new Sorcerer friend who proved himself invaluable during the combat.

For the first time ever, the party focused fire and took out the monsters quickly and orderly. Having the resist poison made a huge difference too. In the end neither Sola nor the Sorcerer ended up taking any damage. The Rogue on the other hand already burned through half of his healing surges.

I don’t know if the DM accoutered for one less player, two of which were relatively new to 4e D&D, but I though this encounter played out very well. Having the role-playing and the skill challenge at the beginning was a welcome change from the constant hack and slash of the last chapter. This encounter was challenging but we managed to handle it. Good tactics and strong offense made all the difference. The fact that the DMs dice got ice cold after the first round certainly helped as well.

Next week our group is going to play two encounters (week 14 and week 15). We’re concerned that we won’t get enough people together to play the week between Christmas and New Years. We’ll still post the write up one week at a time so don’t worry, no spoilers in next week’s recap. How are other groups handling the game during the holidays? Is anyone else doing a double next week or are groups more likely to do a make-up game afterwards?

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lahrs December 16, 2010 at 12:19 pm

We are battling snow and ice storms as well as the holiday, but we still managed an extra two people this week, which was nice, and I expect them to return in the following weeks. If we ever get another two people, I am going to have to open up a third table. As far as the holidays, unless the weather gets worse, we are open for business, but if next week sees a huge drop, I may cancel the following week.

I loved the skill challenge, and for the first time I was able to get everyone to describe how they were using the skills and they talked about what they should do instead of a free for all ‘I roll this.’ Our Thri-kreen scaled a tree and used his perception check to earn a success and move the group forward, the fighter used endurance to lighten the load of others, making it easier going for them, and the mage rolled a nat 20 on a dungeoneering check, so she knew for a fact there wasn’t a dungeon in front of them. That last one didn’t help anyone, but we had a good laugh. Ultimately, they failed their history check three times and thus failed the skill encounter and lost a surge in the process. Still, we all enjoyed the extra encounter that wasn’t a straight up fight. I would like to see more of those in the future, it did not take long, but was a great addition.

The loss of the surge was the worst that happened last night, and I even upped the difficulty. Our monk went first, and after failing his perception check, ran straight into a web, stopping his turn and putting him in direct fire of three emerging spiders (module set up for two, but I added a third). The spiders went next, and I decided to throw a little mercy in there and had one attack the lizardman. The monk took some heavy damage from the other two, including being poisoned. Fortunately for him, one of our clerics was up next. Two weeks ago when the group plundered Ramthane’s lair, the cleric picked up a mace which also gave the cleric the ability to add 2 to every healing surge she granted to another player. It may have only been two points, but it was a big help to a monk who was down to a quarter of his life.

With the spiders and lizardman now in view, the fighter charged into the middle of the fray (double move), unfortunately, his movement was stopped after getting entangled in a web. Still, he was able to get off a glowering stair to put a huge -5 to attack others on the surrounding monsters. This proved most useful, even though three of the monsters hit him between turns, he prevented two of the party from getting hit, and our second cleric made sure the fighters life stayed in the black.

After the needlers emerged, the wizard dropped a burst 5 fire spell, which I cannot remember the name right now off the top of my head. This took our two of the minions right away, damaged a spider and lizardman, nicely missed the fighter (attacked all creatures, not just enemies), and burned away all of the webbing, freeing the fighter and monk. The initial blast missed one of the minions, but anyone who started or moved into the lingering blast on their turn took three damage, so when the minions turn started, it instantly died. Not bad for one spell, but this made the fight too easy.

The thri-kreen ranger, whose favorite past time must be climbing, scaled another tree and began picking off the left overs from above. One round and a half rounds in, and it was pretty much clean up duty. Everyone rolled well, including myself, so there was damage going around, the wizard and one of the clerics really took some lumps, but it turned out to be an easy victory from the group. This is another reason I am happy there was the added skill challenge.

The one nice benefit from finishing so fast was I was able to sit in on the other table, which had our two newbies. Their table did not have the same luck, so I was able to put in some quality time with our new people and help them out. I had a lot of fun doing this as I enjoy teaching new people. Normally I get all of the newbies, but my table has been full for quite awhile.

I was also curious in seeing how well the other DM was running everything. I run the entire Encounters, Game Day and homebrew program for our store, so ultimately everything rests on my shoulders. I do not believe in interfering with how another DMs style unless there is a huge problem, but I was pleased to see first hand how well everything was going.

I do have one question for everyone though. There is a player in the second group who is beyond slow while playing and even worse while DMing. He knows the game, and I am still not sure what is going on, but when I mean slow, I mean slow. During the last Game Day where he DMed a table, his group took nearly 7 hours to finish the campaign, and it was his fault. It was also one of the very few times I have ever interfered with another person DMing, but as soon as he rolled the dice I would announce the results and I even told the group the week spots of the enemies (I jumped in for a player who had already left). Anyway, he wants to DM a table next season, and is nearly begging me to let him do it. I have already tried working with him to speed up his game, giving every pointer and short cut I could think of, but he is still super slow. I can think of two solutions, bluntly tell him no since he is too slow, or sit in on his group and interfere to speed things up like I did at Game Day? I am open to any other suggestions.

2 Randy Marchese December 16, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Awesome encounter this week even though I was beaten up by that spider and javelins (I’m the Human Rogue). In retrospect I should of used a perception check to spot enemies instead to just going in but everyone has 20/20 hindsight. I know now I have to be extra cautious for the coming encounters so perception checks first to spot enemies and always assume there are traps so use dungoneering/perception to check. The 5 resist from our Sorcerer was truly invaluable to me I would have been real trouble from the poison talk about a stroke of genius. So until Wednesday which I will definitely attend.

3 Al December 16, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Encounters actually may be better for your DM because its only 1 encounter a night. Even taking your time you should be done tops 2 1/2 – 3 hrs. Assuming his group starts around 6 pm he should be done by 9 pm when most stores close. You may have to keep an eye on him the first couple of weeks. Make sure you tell him that you expect him to be ready, meaning having read and understood the evenings encounter including monster tactics prior to getting to the venue. Also, see if he needs help in organizing setup before the session start.

4 Sunyaku December 17, 2010 at 12:42 am

Our FLGS is still a week behind you, and I’ve heard of no plans to break over the holidays… though I doubt we’ll catch up. I’ve been told Wizards budgeted 24 weeks for this season of encounters (20 weeks of play), so even if we delay a couple weeks, there should still be a nice break before the next season begins.

In related news, the 100 point reward card is truly an iron man challenge! I realized yesterday that if you play and survive all 20 weeks, you’ll only have 82 points. If you create your own character and use the character builder, you can get to 92. If you complete all quests, that gets you to 97, but you’ll still need a few other achievements to get to 100. :-(
Sunyaku´s last blog post ..Essentials Content Delivery Strategy

5 Lahrs December 17, 2010 at 4:17 am

Assuming those in the running do not miss any sessions, I have five players (between two tables) who can hit 100 by the end of the season, and I am going to be quite upset if Wizards doesn’t send at least four cards (two per kit). It is in their rules that if there are more players who hit 100 than the very few cards they send, we should determine and give it to the most deserving. I am sorry, but everyone who puts in the time to show up every session and works hard to hit 100 is most deserving and should get the reward.

I do think the 20 point card this season is the best, most useful card that has come out since Encounters beginning, so I am hoping the 100 point card is worthwhile. I should be getting mine in three weeks.

6 Jeff December 18, 2010 at 1:15 am

Hey. I was the Dragonborne Sorcerer, Marz. The power we mentioned was elemental shift which changed my fire resist to poison until end of encounter and gave it to one ally. It was more a fluke when I decided to use it. I knew there were spiders about and the Rogue needed poison resist. But I had not idea of the blow dart snipers were hiding about when I used it.

I was hoping our rogue could get more sneak attacks but not everything goes as planned!

I used two attacks, dragon breath area attack, and a fire area attack, on the sniper in one turn and both missed that was the biggest disappointment for me.

Its true I didn’t take a single point of damage. Darts hit me. But they didn’t cause any hurt.

See you next week. Elemental Shift is a daily power so it won’t save us twice! The next two encounters will be tougher.

Thanks for the arms slot item!

7 Ameron December 22, 2010 at 2:16 pm

@everyone
Sorry for the late replies. I was on vacation for the past week.

@Lahrs
Nothing would please me more than to have a bunch of new folks walk in and have to open up more tables for D&D Encounters between Christmas and New Years. But the reality is that our core group can’t all be there so we figured doing a double this week better rewards the people who come out every week.

I found that the newer players struggled a bit with the skill challenge. They seemed too focused on only using the skills they were really good at and didn’t focus as much on the role-playing. Experience will help, as well as encouragement from the other players and the DM.

Sitting in on other games when you’re not playing can be tremendously helpful. I’ve also found listening to actual play podcasts is a good way to learn from other DMs and players too.

The slow DM problem. I’ve experienced this at one of the other FLGS where I play so I feel your pain. I guess the most important feedback I can provide is to keep encouraging him. If you’re too critical then you may loose a very eager DM. However, providing honest feedback in a helpful and constructive way is probably your best way to resolve this.

I’d encourage the slow DM to co-DM with you one night. Have him watch you. Walk him through what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Emphasize that it’s more important to keep things moving then to get every tiny detail perfect. The next week, you let him DM and you watch him. Again, offer constructive advice and make sure he understands why you’re making your suggestions.

I’d also take a minute to remind the players that this DM is learning and to try and help him as they can. If one of the players tracks initiative that is suddenly one less thing for the DM to do.

@Randy Marchese
Experience is the best teacher in real life and in D&D. Doing something wild and crazy once isn’t too bad. Doing it again and again without thought of the consequences can be detrimental. Have fun and keep doing what you think the character would do. If the character would realize his mistakes, then correct the behaviour. If he’s a free spirit who likes danger then maybe he continues doing things his way.

@Al
Excellent feedback. Thanks for jumping in Al.

@Sunyaku
According to my calendar there are 7 weeks left until the end of this season of D&D Encounters. Season 4 begins on February 9. Looks like your group will need to hold a make-up session or do a double.

With only four regulars at our table we should have ample cards for everyone (since our store gets two kits). But I agree that anyone who actually makes the point-barrier should automatically get whatever cards their eligible for.

(Did you leave a comment as Marisol Perry? It was flagged as Spam by my filter and was almost identical to this comment so I didn’t approve it.)

@Jeff
We look forward to seeing you again. Put that item to good use.

8 Sunyaku December 24, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Nope Ameron, I did not leave a comment as Marisol Perry. I am, and always will be Sunyaku. :-)

In related news, my FLGS played this encounter this week, and the table I played at TPK’d. Players rolled poorly. DM rolled well. Cleric went down before casting a single heal. Then the defender dropped. Then the other rogue dropped. Despite my buying 3 healing potions between chapters, and getting 5 temps with every surge, it was death all around. The cleric even managed to roll a 20 on one of his death saves, but the spider that was slowly wrapping him up round after round quickly put a stop to that. My dwarven rogue took over 70 points of damage before finally dropping.

With one absence, and now one TPK, I think it is mathematically impossible to reach 100 points. To add insult to injury, this would have been the night that I survived my 12th week. :-(
Sunyaku´s last blog post ..Heroes of Shadow – Dissected

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