This week we began the final chapter of the adventure. Over the next four weeks the PCs will help Lord Drysdale and his men defend Restwell Keep from the besieging lizardfolk army lead by Benwick and the Black Dragon. The heroes will defend the Keep or die trying.
All along I was looking hoping for a thrilling conclusion to this 20-week adventure and it looks like that’s exactly what Wizards has in store for us. The PCs are in a situation where things are happening at a rapid pace. They’ll be lucky to get short rests between the fighting. Everything they’ve done until now has some impact on what’s to come during the final weeks. I only hope that the adventure and the execution at my FLGS lives up to my own expectations.
This week’s encounter was quite different from anything we’ve seen at D&D Encounters since the program began. The heroes were put in charge of defending the gate to the outer courtyard. Each player was given control of one soldier (minion) in addition to running their own character. As long as your soldier was still alive you ran him on your turn.
On the surface this is an excellent idea. In fact I had a similar scenario play out during a home game years ago. So I know from first hand experience that if run properly by the DM and the players this can be a very rewarding encounter. However, I felt that this was misplaced at this venue.
D&D Encounters is designed for new players. It’s an introductory program for D&D. At my FLGS we’ve had new players join the game almost every other week. Some of the new players are still struggling to work just one character. Now they’re expected to run two characters. From a story perspective the addition of these ally soldiers is necessary for some believability. After all it really doesn’t make sense for the PCs to be defending the gate alone. But I think that this new element on top of the usual combat mechanics was out of place in an adventure of this low level.
To make the use of secondary characters even more exciting, an observant PC who noticed a small NPC dragon that we befriended during a previous encounter could call upon him to aid the party during the combat. This let one player run a much more versatile and diverse creature as their second character in place of the minion soldier. Of course the player who first noticed the dragon and successfully called to him for help was the most inexperienced player of our group. He was excited that he got to run the small dragon, but I don’t think he was ready to run two characters.
The encounter itself took almost three hours to play out at my FLGS. This was due in part to the long setup required to paint the picture of the ongoing siege. The explanation on how to work the soldiers also took a lot longer that it probably should have. Again, inexperienced players need additional coaching to fully understand what’s different for this encounter
The party had seven heroes this week. Berrian, Hagen, Quinn, Sola, a Cavalier, a Ruinpriest and a crossbow-wielding Rogue. All faces we’d seen over the previous encounters. No one new to the adventure this week.
When the encounter began the PCs were inside the keep. The besieging army was trying to destroy the outer gates. A large Behemoth kept bashing the door. Our job was to fortify the gates and make sure that the monster didn’t get in the easy way (through the front door). Our soldiers were already on the wall and shouted that many lizardfolk were already climbing up the outer wall.
At the top of the initiative on the first round the outer doors were destroy and the Behemoth began ramming the lowered portcullis. The PCs who rolled well on their initiative climbed the ladders and got on top of the wall. The rest were bunched together and the Marsh Mystic created a Swamp’s Grasp zone that slowed and held five of the seven PCs. Quinn, who has no ranged attacks failed his save to get loose three times, effectively removing him from the first three rounds of combat entirely.
Our minions got one round of attacks in before they were swarmed by the lizardmen Warriors and got slaughtered. Only one survived into the second round. The Cavalier spent the entire fight on the wall, blocking the controls to the portcullis. Round after round he attacked the minions, easily hitting and killing them – one at a time.
Sola managed to get on the wall during the first round avoiding the immobilizing zone but ending up too far away to heal the PCs in the courtyard. With no ranged attacks, she eventually jumped over the ledge to take on the Marsh Mystic in melee combat.
The PCs in the courtyard finally managed to get to the portcullis but by the time they did it was destroyed. It only took the Behemoth three rounds to destroy the gate. The players were really confused about how we were expected to keep the beast outside when the gate had so few hit points. (For the record the portcullis had 50 hit pints and resist 5 all damage. The Behemoth attacked twice each round for 3d6+7 per hit.)
When the gate fell the Behemoth trampled five PCs as it entered the courtyard. The ensuing combat was slow and boring. The PCs kept the beast surrounded and it was a race to 0 hit pints using your best at-will power. The Cavalier and Sola both eventually joined in and we finally killed the Behemoth.
Quinn took the most damage as his defenders aura drew all of the Behemoth’s attacks. The rest of the party emerged relatively unscathed spending only 1-2 healing surges each.
After the combat was over the DM explained that we could have opened the portcullis before the Behemoth came charging through, then lowered it and kept it trapped in the courtyard while the PCs attacked and killed it. He also said that we could have dropped the gate on the creature as it run underneath. Both excellent suggestions but nothing any of the players thought of before hand. It seemed to me like we should have been able to roll an Insight check or a History check to see if our character might have come up with those ideas.
One other complication was the 3D elements of combat. With some characters and monsters on the wall, some under the archway, and other on the ground it was difficult to determine who was where. We also had a few debates about the effects of bursts and blasts on the character above the target zone.
The Eladrin’s Fey Step also caused some uncertainty when Berrian wanted to teleport 5 squares up and 5 squares over, essential a diagonal line up and away from his stating point. I think 3D combat can add a lot of great elements to an otherwise regular combat encounter, but it’s tough on a table with inexperienced players.
Despite my criticisms about the encounter I did have a great time. I only wished it could have run more smoothly and a lot faster. It certainly set the tone for the rest of the remaining weeks. We’re already sensing that there will be real closure when this is all over, one way or the other.
How did this week’s encounter play out at your FLGS? Did you come up with any creative ways to use the portcullis that stopped it from being destroyed? Did you find that the waves of minions overran your troops like they did ours or did you have a well positioned controller to take care of them with a blast or two? What were your thoughts on working the soldiers as well as your own character? Do you think it was a good idea or not? Do you agree with me that although it’s a good idea it’s more suitable in a different gaming environment?