D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands (Week 16)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 6, 2011

The creatures guarding the entrance to the dragon’s lair were defeated, now it’s time to face the dragon herself. The party briefly debated how to proceed. The sneaky PCs could try to use Stealth to get the lay of the land undetected. The tanks could charge in and run full steam ahead towards any opponents that might be present. Or we could try Diplomacy and see if we could talk the dragon into not attacking the Keep.

Eventually the dim-witted Eldeth got restless and decided that a frontal assault was the way to proceed. Before anyone could change her mind she was already going down the ladder and into the hole, ready to fight the dragon or die trying. The rest of the party reluctantly followed. Fortunately level heads prevailed and we convinced Eldeth to hold her killer instinct in check until while we tried to parley.

This week we were again a party of seven, but the roster had a few changes from the previous weeks, including one brand new player. The familiar faces included Berrian, Eldeth and Sola along with a Cavalier, Sorcerer and Rogue. Our newest party member was a Ruinpriest.

Both Eldeth and the Ruinpriest were joining us with full resources since neither of them was present for any of the other encounters in the chapter. Hopefully adding two fresh adventurers would make up for everyone else’s depleted resources. The Rogue was down to one healing surge, the Sorcerer two and Sola three. So although the addition of another leader would normally be a huge boon for this party, with three characters down to their last few healing surges more healing magic may not matter.

Everyone followed Eldeth down the ladder except for the two leaders, Sola and the Ruinpriest who waiting above until the coast was clear or combat started. The Dragonborn Sorcerer called out to Vermastyx in draconic. He claimed that we were here to negotiate a peaceful resolution with the dragon and would pay handsomely for it.

After two rounds of calling out without getting a response the PCs decided to explore the dragon’s lair. We split up and took different sections of the cavern.

Eldeth, still feeling a little bit bloodthirsty was most brazen heading furthest away from the group. The Rogue went just as far in the opposite direction, trying to find cover to hide behind as he moved stealthfully. The Cavalier tried to remain equidistant to the Rogue and Eldeth so that he could help either one if they faced danger.

Both Eldeth and the Rogue noticed that there were areas in the stream that were darker, likely because that section of the water was considerably deeper. However, neither of them saw anything threatening in the water.

The Sorcerer and Berrian used Arcana to try and learn more about the strange green glowing crystals spread throughout the dragon’s lair. They determined that the crystals could channel some kind of elemental energy, but regrettably their poor rolls revealed little else.

Sola and the Ruinpriest cautiously descended the ladder and took a look around. Sola realized that for a dragon’s lair there was very little treasure about. Could the lizradfoldk we encountered last week have been wrong? If two dragons lived here where is all of their loot? Sola moved closer to where Eldeth was scouting in order to peer around the corner in search of loot. And that’s when Vermastyx revealed herself.

From beneath the water the large black dragon emerged. She taunted us with words and then followed it up with attacks. Sola and Eldeth were already in melee and the Caviler and Ruinpriest quickly joined the fray. The dragon used her Shroud of Gloom and coated the four adjacent adventurers and the nearby Sorcerer with corrosive acid. We all suffered vulnerability 5 to acid and -2 to all attacks. The only way to remove the shroud was to spend a standard action and make a successful Heal check.

Before we even had a chance to deal with the shroud the dragon moved, drawing opportunity attacks and only getting hit by one of four, and then breathed on the five heroes shrouded in gloom. Sola was missed, the other four were hit. Those hit took a lot of acid damage and ongoing 5 acid damage. The vulnerability 5 meant 5 more damage now and 5 more at the beginning of their turns. By the next round four of the seven PCs were well below their bloodied value. The DM’s prediction of a TPK was starting to look accurate.

The players decided to do the smart thing and make Heal checks. Everyone affected by the shroud used their standard action to make a Heal check and get rid of the gloom. Fortunately we all had action points so we after removing the shroud everyone engaged the dragon again.

Sola realized that she was more valuable as a healer then a combatant so she used her standard action and her action point to remove the Sorcerer’s shroud effects and then heal him, otherwise the ongoing damage would have dropped him at the beginning of his turn.

Over the next few rounds the heavy hitters attacked the dragon relentlessly. The Rogue managed to get a few good shots in with his crossbow before eventually getting hit and falling unconscious. The Cavalier did his job as a defender and drew attacks as often as possible. Unfortunately he too fell unconscious after taking massive damage.

By the time the dragon was bloodied the remaining heroes were in pretty bad shape. The only one safe from the dragon’s attacks thus far was Berrian. The dragon realized this too. She dove into the water, swam through underwater tunnels, and emerged next to Berrian. In one round she managed to bring the Wizard from full hit points to zero.

The heroes spent the next couple of rounds chasing the dragon as it kept using the underwater tunnels to swim around the cavern. We finally managed to get it to stay in one place long enough to hurt it. It was during this melee that Sola used Healing Word on herself and managed to revive the Rogue with the extra healing her power granted.

Just when we thought we had things firmly in hand the dragon recharged her breath weapon again and let loose on the Ruinpriest, Eldeth and Sola. This time the dragon hit one of the crystals with her breath. The crystals around the room emitted Acid Breath Echoes, elemental-like creatures that attacked us.

The Ruinpriest shifted away from the Echoes and into melee with the dragon. He scored a hit and blinded her. Sola and Eldeth moved in for the kill.

Down to her last few hit points and blinded from the Ruinpriests attack, Vermastyx agreed to surrender if we spared her life. The party wasn’t willing to talk now. We tried that earlier and she wasn’t willing to listen. It wasn’t until she realized that her death was imminent that she opted to surrender. We fought on.

Sola and Eldeth both scored hits, but it was the severely wounded Rogue with only 2 hit points firing his hand crossbow that finally killed the black dragon. The party quickly revived their dying comrades Berrian, the Ruinpriest and the Cavalier. It was a tough fight but we survived. No one died. No TPK.

Regrettably Berrian was stuck making death saves for the final four rounds of combat. His rolls were phenomenal: 17, 19, 17 and 18. If he’d been conscious his attacks would have ended the combat a lot earlier. As it was he managed to holds on until help finally arrived.

When the euphoria of killing a dragon wore off we realized that we didn’t get any information out of her. One of the goals of our quest was to gather information. Our bloodlust and survival instinct demanded that we keep fighting to the death – ours or the dragons. In retrospect maybe the last few shots at the dragon should have been non-lethal so that we could have tried interrogating her – too late now. We’ll see how this lack of information comes back to haunt us for the final chapter of the adventure. In the mean time we managed to kill a dragon!

Searching the underwater passages revealed the missing treasure. Coins, jewels and magic items were all ours for the taking. Hopefully the Keep would still be standing when we return and we’d have someplace to spend our newly gotten gains. We’ll find out next week when we begin the final chapter of the Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents.

For the remaining four encounters the PCs advance to level 3. Things will no doubt get even more difficult. Dungeon’s Master will be providing PDF copies of the level 3 pre-generated characters before next week’s adventure. Be sure to visit us again before you play D&D Encounters next Wednesday if you need a level 3 copy of any of your favourite heroes.

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.

Vermastyx Gallery

On the lighter side of D&D Encounters, the player running Eldeth spent a lot of time imagining all of the positive outcomes that might have transpired if only the party had won the dragon’s heart rather than killing it. See a few carefree illustrations below.

Vermastyx loves to dance, but it wasn’t until she met Eldeth that she had the courage to finally do it.

Vermastyx makes cookies for Eldeth and her friend. Mmmm chocolate chip, Eldeth’s favourite.

Vermastyx takes Eldeth and her friend flying through the sky. What a beautiful day, even Mr. Sun is wearing shades.

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1 Randy Marchese January 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I can’t believe I survived this week talk about luck (hey Rogue here again). In retrospect I guess I should have used non lethal but then again we gave the dragon a chance to be civil and it spit in our faces. Plus it’s hard to trust the dragon because it was dying, it would have probably said anything to get us to stop and it would of tried to take us down the first opportunity it got.

2 Lahrs January 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Although obvious, it is unfortunate how much impact a DM’s mood can impact a playing session. During sessions 14 and 15, I have to admit I really didn’t want to be there. Both sessions ended up being straight up hack and slash, and due to weather conditions, a few of my lively regulars were not able to make it. I am fortunate in that my players who showed up did have a good time, but I could tell my ‘I am here because I have to be here’ attitude did not make for great sessions. This past session though saw all of our regulars return, a new member, some good RP and a great battle. My DM funk had worn off and we all had a great session.

The group descended down into the cavern and our shoeless monk became a bit disgusted that he was walking all over dead bodies and decided his time would be best served exploring the area. He climbed up and peaked over the ledge, spotting a small pool of water and some strange glowing crystal formations. Our wizard rolled well with an arcana check and was able to get all of the information pertaining to the elemental crystal formations, but breaking off a small chunk of the rock proved unbeneficial. In the meantime, Sola was able to recognize that part of the bodies of the dead were not just chewed on, but partially dissolved from acid. This debunked the piranha in the water theory.

Brashear, our fighter, attempted to check the depth of the water by dipping in his executioner axe, but instead, fell in, destroying any attempt of being silent. He did however discover the water was not very deep, at least at the point where he fell in. It was at this point the monk wandered too close to one of the bolt holes, causing Vermastyx to leap out of the water with a nasty opening bite attack and the start of battle. With a +10 to init, it was not a surprise that Vermastyx went first. She opened with her Shroud of Gloom and then her breath weapon, doing sizeable damage to everyone but the fighter, who was quick enough to dodge most of the acid, taking only half damage. The breath weapon also dissolved one of the crystal formations, and since I did not have any good minis for acid breath echoes, my group was instead confronted by four acid bats for all of 30 seconds. Minions do not stand up well to controllers. Fountain of Flame took care of all of the minions and a sizeable chunk of life off of the dragon.

I have mentioned I had an issue with this in the past, but since there is nothing I can do to fix the problem, the remainder of the first round was nothing but daily spells and attacks, doing serious damage to the black dragon and some great buffing (+2 to party defenses until end of the encounter from either Sola or Agan). Knowing when they will get a full rest takes away the guesswork of when to use dailies. It unfortunately makes the final encounter of the chapter much easier than it should.

Regardless, the fight was on. Our fighter, who just loves using taunts, went full on with insults and rushed in to engage the black dragon, doing 28 damage on his first swing, and by the end of the first round, had bloodied the dragon. This triggered a second breath attack from the dragon, but with the additional +2 to all defenses and just average rolls from me, failed to hit a single person (they ended up just taking 4 damage each from half damage).

Still, the dragon was not done, and taking advantage of action points and the double attack from his claws, it was able to dig in and shred the fighter with four hits in one round, dropping him down and freeing up space for the dragon to dart back into her bolt hole.

The next few turns were cat and mouse, as the dragon used the bolt holes to her advantage, jumping out from one, attacking, and then diving back in. This is where having two healers really makes a difference and just as important, the few players who missed a session or two still had enough healing surges to stay healthy. The monk on the other hand, who had not missed a session, used his last healing surge in the first round. I don’t want to penalize people who can’t show up from time to time, but it is unfair for them to come in fresh to a large battle while others who show up every week have taken a pounding to health and resources.

Still, the party was in great shape all things considered when the dragon hovered off a ledge while attacking, when the monk, throwing caution to the wind and deciding to do something daring, jumped off the ledge and onto the dragons back (nat 20 on athletics check!) grappled the dragon with a bola (successful attack) and pinned its wings causing the dragon to crash to the ground doing extra fall damage. At this point, the dragon was pinned and although very nasty, was willing to negotiate its surrender.

The role playing went well, and the group spared the dragon’s life in exchange that the dragon agreed to not take part in the battle on the keep. The group, trying to be honorable, left the dragon with her gold and only took the magic items, though the monk is definitely not pleased with either decision (leaving the gold and especially letting the dragon live). This will be a fun development for future sessions.

I have read over the last chapter, and I am very pleased with how they allow prior decisions play into the upcoming sessions. There is plenty of roleplaying opportunity with the hack and slash. Also, I received the last set of renown cards and I was given 12, which will allow all of my regulars who get 100 points get one, and some extras to give out as prizes at future game days or other functions that I so choose. I am interested in seeing how the upcoming Fortune cards will play into future sessions. Does anyone know if there will be renown cards next season?

Since I have one hellacious headache right now, I am going to stop. Looking forward to next session though, it is going to be fantastic!

3 Alberto Maciel January 10, 2011 at 10:41 am

Hello! I’ve just run into your blog and I’m enjoying it! Thanks for the read. I’m also playing Encounters at my local shop. It was my first real taste of D&D and it got me hooked. Anyways, I play with my brother (a human Cleric), and three other guys (two rouges and a fighter) that we played with when we first got there. I started with that pre-gen rouge but wanting something else to spice up the party I make a Human Ranger (Essentials Hunter).

Vermastyx was such a pain but we have been egging on the DM for a while now that these encounters were too easy! I was expecting something much harsher and boy did this last one deliver! We (it was the usual party of five with a wizard added in) got down there and the rouges started to sniff around. I basically just hid waiting to shoot the teeth of this dragon. One rouge went down and the other went up, well turns out the dragon was on the upper part of the cave.

Bam! She came out and almost ate our halfling rouge up! He retreated back towards us and the dragon came right after…it just so happened that everybody was still balled up at the entrance save the other rouge. BAM! We all got hit with the shroud…then the breath…then there was the crystals making the acid echo things…which made extras on the next round (due to our complaints of difficulty)…then the dragon recharged her breath…more acid damage and acid echos…extra acid echos

It was rough but the wiz and I took out most of the echos when they came with our crowd control…the rouges went at it with the dragon…oh and I didn’t mention this but…we sorta befriended the copper dragon (Mox I think her name was?) way back…and we made a pact that we would give her all kinds of gold and lair stuff…if she would help us out in ONE battle…(Our DM lets us do crazy stuff when we roll 20s I guess? Hes great at DMing in my book) Anyways, That copper dragon came in and with that we put Vermastyx…simi down? We got the info from her…

I got K.Oed twice…(it helps to have a cleric brother) but no deaths…

OH man this is getting long (I was trying to keep it short)…well I had fun and I hope both of our groups make it to the end with out a death.

4 Blake January 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Our Encounters table ran into a lot of trouble with this one. Normally one of the most frustrating things is being stunned, because of the action denial, it sucks. The de-facto action denial of being dropped repeatedly sucks even harder. The shroud requiring a standard action and a skill check to remove instead of being (save ends) was more de-facto action denial. Extremely frustrating, deadly encounter – very much at odds with the virtual cakewalk this season has otherwise been. We had two warpriests and spent all their time getting everyone back in the fight. We still ended up with one death: there were two characters down and a round away from death, and the sunpriest could only save one of them.

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