D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands (Week 18.)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 20, 2011

The siege on Restwell Keep continued. The PCs managed to stop the lizardman army from breaching the front gates long enough for reinforcements to arrive and shore up the defenses. Now the heroes moved through the inner courtyard towards Fountain Square to meet up with Lord Drysdale. When they arrive at Fountain Square they see a dozen lizardfolk overwhelming Drysdale’s soldiers. “They’re coming from Benwick’s house,” cries one of the solders. “They must have a tunnel.”

This week we were a party of eight: Berrian, Hagen, Quinn, Sola, a Cavalier, a Rogue, a Runepriest and a Sorcerer. Just like last week’s encounter, the players each got to command one of the soldiers in addition to their own PC on their turn. The soldiers were minions who could attack using their swords or crossbows.

After a quick assessment of the situation, the PCs realized that the only way to stop the lizardfolk from using the tunnel was to collapse the house on top of it. The only way to do that quickly enough to make a difference was to blast it with a nearby catapult. The challenge would be to get the attention of the men currently firing the catapult and getting them to target the house.

Sola, acting near the top of the initiative (for once) blasted the horn Drysdale gave each of the PCs last week. All of the soldiers within her line of sight immediately turned to look at her. She shouted and motioned to the catapult men to destroy the house. They understood and reloaded the catapult.

Sola was also the first PC to make a high enough Perception check to notice Ronnik hiding in a nearby building. After blasting her horn and shouting commands to the soldiers, she turned to face Ronnik. In her most intimidating demeanour she told him to “Get out here and help us defend the keep… or else.” A 23 Intimidate check was enough to bring Ronnik into the combat.

The first round of combat was a chaotic mess. The lizardfolk acted early in the initiative and managed to kill two of the six soldier minions before we even had a chance to use them. The rest of the party did what they’re best at, split up and faced different foes. This was probably why the encounter took us three hours to complete.

Berrian decided that the safest place for him was atop a nearby building. He used Fey Step to teleport to a safer vantage point. From there he used Magic Missile and Arc Lightning with tremendous success throughout the combat. The only problem was that he couldn’t see the entire battlefield so there were some rounds where he couldn’t target any bad guys. However, he did manage to go the entire encounter without taking any damage. Considering he was down to 3 of 6 healing surges that was the best outcome he could have hoped for.

Quinn on the other hand was not so fortunate. He immediately rushed into the melee fray and activated his defender aura. After the first round he didn’t move (except when dragged). Round after round he attacked the nearest enemy. He did exactly what a good defender is supposed to do and draw attacks that might have otherwise have been directed at the softer PCs. Although he never dropped during the fight he did require a lot of healing which burned through most of his remaining healing surges. I predict that Quinn will die heroically defending the rest of the party before this chapter is over.

Learning from last week’s mistakes, the players moved the minions back from melee and had them all use their crossbows. This kept them out of harms way and let them peg off the minions from a safe distance. The PCs put themselves between the soldiers and the rest of the monsters keeping the archers alive and getting those extra attacks against the minions throughout the fight.

The catapult began firing on Sola’s next turn and landed a direct hit on Ronnik’s house. The next round they weren’t as accurate. On a miss we rolled to determine what direct the stray shot went and how many squares. They scored a direct hit on the adjacent building. Good thing it wasn’t the one Berrian was on top of. On the third round of catapult fire they scored another hit on Ronnik’s house, destroying it and collapsing the tunnel. That left the PCs to contain and destroy the remaining lizardfolk in the Fountain Square.

Before the tunnel was collapsed more and more lizardfolk emerged from the tunnel. The archers managed to take out a lot of the minions, but we ended up with four trappers and two Needlefang Drake Swarms to contend with. Because we were all targeting different creature the combat took a long time and a lot of the PCs took serious damage.

After the first 90 minutes our dice went ice cold. Everyone was missing, except for the soldiers who rolled a lot of 20s. Eventually we managed to take out all of the minions and trappers but the swarms became a real pain in the butt. Any attack on them that wasn’t a blast or bust only dealt half damage, and we were rolling like crap.

The only PCs with blast and burst attacks were Berrian and the Sorcerer. However, these attacks targeted everyone in the area of effect including friendly targets. That meant that we had to resort to weapon attacks on the swarms.

The swarms kept trying to attack the soldiers. If the soldiers began their turns next to the swarm they’d take enough damage to drop them so they kept a respectful distance away. Fortunately Sola grant many of them 5 temporary hit points so they were able to take a swarm attack and stay up for another round or two when they did find themselves next to the swarm.

Defeating two swarms took almost an hour. It was a long and boring scenario. Personally if I was the DM I would have called the fight. However, I understand the reasons for playing it out until the bitter end. With two more encounters to go it is important that the players’ resources be accurately maintained. By calling the fight you don’t know if someone would have lost 1 or 4 more healing surges. I suppose it’s even possible that someone could have died – unlikely, but possible.

I thought on its surface this week’s encounter was good. Like last week, I enjoyed using the minions. I think the practice we got last week running two characters helped some players a lot. The combat was still slow, but not anywhere as bad as it was the week before.

Adding the catapult was a nice touch. If I had designed this encounter I might have had the catapult use flaming ammunition which would have ignited Ronnik’s house. After the house collapsed, creatures pushed into the fire would take automatic damage. This would have made things a bit more exciting. As it was the combat was static and boring for the most part. There was minimal interesting terrain and there was very little tactical movement required. Everyone picked a foe and went toe-to-toe.

With only two weeks remaining I’m just looking forward to the end. I’m getting kind of bored with my character and I just want to try something new and different. This seems to be the way a lot of the other players feel too. I compliment Wizards for the ambitious goal of a 20-week adventure, but it’s just too long. I’m glad that moving forward they’re going to a 13-week format. That seems like the perfect length.

How did your party handle this week’s encounter? How long did it take you to complete it? Did you have as much trouble with the swarms as we did? How many rounds before your catapult destroyed the house? Any interesting things happen on a miss? Is your group feeling as burned out as we are?

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Neldar January 20, 2011 at 11:50 am

Sounds like the problems with this combat is the party. The encounter is challenging and dynamic when the party uses some tactics to play to its strengths and minimizes its weaknesses.

Fey Stepping to the building minimized a weakness as did hiding the minions behind the PCs. Good job on those two fronts.

Attacking separate targets is playing against your strengths. Get the players to stop doing that and the non-swarm guys drop really fast.

The swarms are also easy to handle so long as everyone recognizes that D&D is a team game. Flank on a diagonal (but not both) and never on a side so the wizard and sorcerer can drop their areas in a way that avoids allies. If you can’t get to a position that gives flanking without blocking area and close attacks, don’t flank. Just go for a regular attack (Sneak Attack is pretty much always worse than an area or burst attack), or use a ranged attack or go about setting off second winds and protecting other allies in case the swarm breaks free.

If the best thing you can do is beat on the swarm one drake at a time, you need to do it smart by manipulating the initiative order or using abilities that let you move after attacking so that the wizard and sorcerer can always use close or area attacks.

There is never a good reason to get caught in the blast/burst attack’s radius when it’s attacking a swarm.

2 Ameron January 20, 2011 at 12:47 pm

@Neldar
I agree with everything you said. The challenges we’ve experienced are in part because there are a lot of very inexperienced players in our group. I have no problem delaying my action or doing something that’s a non-attack with my standard action (like using Heal to grant an ally a save or reviving a dying comrade) however most of the other players are so anxious to get to their turn and do something awesome that the team dynamics are completely non-existent. On the rare occasions when someone does have a good idea that involves more than their own character it often become one player telling everyone else what to do (which is another big problem we have at our table). I’ve learned to take all of this in stride and enjoy D&D Encounters for what it is at my FLGS. I’ve been trying to coach the newer player with gentle feedback but even that’s a delicate balancing act.

3 Alton January 20, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Encounters is working then. I have experienced many new players in my games and I have the same situations. They only want to slay things. Too much WoW where that is the only solution to the problem.

What FLGS do you all play at? I would like to drop by for a session during March break when I am down in Toronto.

4 Ameron January 20, 2011 at 2:06 pm

@Alton
We play at Dueling Gounds in Toronto. D&D Encounters begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday night. No need to sign up in advanced, just show up ready to play and we’ll make sure you get a seat at the table. We get new players almost every other week. I really hope we can get enough people out to run two solid tables for season 4. I’m going to be the primary DM for the next season.

5 Gormal January 21, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Being one of the newbies at Ameron’s table, I have been finding it takes a while to learn many of the intrict rules. Reading through each power and knowing exactly how it works. With the big battles it makes it even more challengiong. With the numbers at the table (8), it becomes harder to focus on what is happening. It is nice that we have a few experienced players at the table. It has benn fun but I agree with Ameron very long. Espically since I will not be taking this character on to another adventure where I might have som more ownership,

6 Alton January 21, 2011 at 4:16 pm

@ Ameron

Sounds good. Since I am Primary everything in this small town, I will see what encounter we will be at. I will not read it. I am surprised that word of mouth has not spread, or that you have not had many players; especially since Dueling Grounds is the only store running Keep. If you need another DM when I get there, I will be more than happy to jump in and help.

@ Gormal

It is one of the biggest problems I have found with my gaming tables. we usually get 7-8 players a session and I have had a couple of players not come back b/c they were bored. I have had to schedule to 2 days of the week and some of the people came back on the odd days. Don’t give up and hopefully you get more players for the next season.

7 gormal January 21, 2011 at 9:52 pm

@Alton
only bored when its not my round little inpatient enjoying most of the gang at the table and looking foward to my own group and playing the next set of encounters

8 Albert January 22, 2011 at 2:55 am

This weeks Encounter went off like clock work. One of our rouges got the catapult to blow up the house in only two attempts. Awesome…We had two new players that night and it looked like they had fun. This time around almost all of our minions got taken out save two who stayed well out of reach of the lizardmen. This week has been cake for my ranger as my rapid shot is just mowing down the minions…I haven’t even been hit yet…*rolls eyes*

The swarms (only two made it out) were a pain in the butt almost taking out a rouge, a new guys fighter, and my brother the cleric…but we handled it before it grew out of hand…

Our group isn’t burnt out at all…We are looking forward to the next session of encounters though…

I should be leveling up to 3ed level at the end of next weeks encounter…I can’t wait! I bet its going to be another dragon fight…gotta stay on our toes!

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