D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands (Week 19)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 27, 2011

The Keep continued to be overrun by Liazrdfolk. As the PCs ran towards the Inner Keep to fortify their defensive position they caught glimpses of the Black Dragon, Yulbraxis breathing acid on Lord Drysdale’s men in the square. They immediately rushed to aid these brave men. These heroes had already slain one Black Dragon, it was time to kill another one.

For the first time in weeks our party was down to only six players and what a difference it made. I’m not suggesting that anyone get turned away from a D&D game, especially D&D Encounters, but with the numbers back to normal the game ran a lot smoother and a lot faster. I think it’s fair to say that this was also at least in part because after 19 weeks most of us have come to know our characters so well we could run them with our eyes closed.

For week 19 our party consisted of Berrian, Quinn, Sola, a Cavalier, a Rogue and a Runepriest. No new players and no new characters this week. Just six PCs that we’d come to know and love.

Before the combat began the PCs noticed the priestess Chendera speaking to one of her acolytes. Calling to her she joined the party, informing them that Lord Drysdale was poisoned and taken to the Inner Keep. In order to get there the PCs had to pass through the square where the Black Dragon was wreaking havoc down upon the remaining soldiers.

As was the case in the previous two weeks’ encounters each PC got a soldier minion to run in addition to their own character. The DM informed us that unlike the previous two encounters, any soldier that survived this week’s combat would follow the party into the final battle next week, including Chendera. After our poor handling of the soldiers during the past week this was going to pose a real challenge for our table.

We began the encounter in a narrow alley. Both Quinn and Sola got 20 on their initiative checks. Unfortunately Yulbraxis got even higher. He dove at the approaching party, charging the Cavalier and trapping the party in the alley.

The DM allowed us to move around the nearest building even though that was off the map. This let Quinn, Sola and Chendera to move away from the rest of the party before the Dragon got to act again. When it did, it unleashed its Shroud of Gloom, making those heroes effected vulnerable to acid. Using his action point, Yulbraxis then used his breath weapon on the same PCs, dropping the Cavalier before he even got to act once.

The Rogue climbed on top of a nearby building to try and get a better vantage point and avoid any other attacks from the Dragon. Berrian blasted the Dragon and then moved around the corner and off the map.

The Runepriest attacked the Dragon and landed a solid hit with his daily attack. Unfortunately every time the Dragon was hit, all adjacent characters took acid damage from the cast-off blood. The Cavalier was getting closer and closer to his negative bloodied value. With his ongoing damage and acid vulnerability he might be dead-dead at the beginning of his first turn. Fortunately the Runepriest healed him, giving him enough hit points to awaken and live through the ongoing damage (barely).

Our soldier minions all used their crossbows to attack the Lizardmen Warriors (minions). Our dice were hot when it came to minion on minion action. Again we saw a lot of 20s show up when those soldiers were attacking (which really sucked since a minion’s damage is the same on a crit as any other successful hit). In the end three of our minions survived through the entire encounter.

Berrian and Sola focused on the Lizardmen Magi. Berrian being far enough away to avoid any retaliatory attacks and Sola having great defenses and poison resistance from her Amulet of Health (which I only just learned was errataed and now only provides resist 2 and not resist 5 as originally printed in the PHB).

The two Magi didn’t last long but they both managed to get their Poison Rain bursts off before being killed, damaging the Cavalier, the Rogue, the Runepriest and Berrian.

The real battle was between the PCs and Yulbraxis the Black Dragon. Our two biggest obstacles were his acid blood and his ability to fly. When he was on the ground the melee combatants were quick to surround him, but that also meant that we were hurting each other every time we hurt him. When he decided to fly away we all took opportunity attacks which hurt us a lot more than it hurt him. Being able to fly meant that he could easily attack the Rogue and soldier on top of a nearby rooftop.

The Cavalier and the Rogue spent most of the battle unconscious. Both were vulnerable and taking ongoing damage. If not for the Runepriest’s quick thinking both of these PCs would nave died before the end of the encounter.

A particularly obscure and rarely used rule came into play during this week’s encounter when the Dragon attack the Cavalier. Earlier that round the Cavalier received a +3 bonus to his AC from the Runepriest and then another +2 to his AC when he used his Second Wind. The Dragon was blinded yet still chose to try and attack the Cavalier. The Dragon rolled a 20. However, working in the -5 to the attack for being blinded and +5 to the Cavalier’s AC meant that the 20 wasn’t a crit, just an automatic hit with regular damage. No one else at the table was even aware that a 20 can, in some rare circumstances, be anything less than a crit. Had the hit been a true crit it would have dropped the Cavalier. Because it was just regular damage he managed to survive that attack (only to fall from cast-off acid blood when the next PC hit the Dragon).

Sola’s Sun Burst once again made a big difference early in the fight as it gave three PCs and three minions 5 temporary hit points each. She focused her attacks on the Lizard Magi avoiding a lot of the Dragon’s attacks and making it through the encounter relatively unscathed. After three encounters I’m taking Sola into the final fight with 6 of 9 healing surges, an action point and both of her daily powers. She’s been incredibly lucky the past three weeks.

The Cavalier and Quinn are both going into the final fight with zero healing surges. The Rogue has only one. If the defenders can’t take the pounding that their role demands then things might get really ugly really fast in the final fight.

After the Lizardmen Maji fell it only took a couple more rounds to finally slay the Dragon. Berrian had hot dice this week scoring three 20s, one on the final attack against the Dragon, destroying it mid-air with Arc Lightning.

We managed to complete this week’s encounter in about 75 minutes. The encounter was fun and straight forward. After the previous few marathon sessions I was glad that things ran so quickly this week.

We realized the importance of initiative this week. If we’d acted before the Dragon in the initiative we might not have been trapped in the alley. If even a couple of PCs managed to get into the square earlier things might have played out very differently. The other lesson we’re learning is that some characters just don’t have enough hit points or healing surges. We all agreed that for the next season of D&D Encounters Improved Initiative, Durability and Toughness will all be strong choices for our level 1 feat selection.

D&D Encounters Season 4: March of the Phantom Brigade

So far our FLGS has not yet received any of the materials for the upcoming D&D Encounters Season 4: March of the Phantom Brigade. As soon as they do we’ll post the pre-generated character for your review. Until then all we know is what’s been announced on the Wizards of the Coast website.

Adventure Introduction

The adventure begins with the heroes as part of a caravan of pilgrims setting out to found a town in the ruins of Castle Inverness. The heroes are 1st-level adventurers who have been hired to ensure that the caravan reaches Inverness safely. Here’s the opening read-aloud text:

You and your companions stand huddled in the chill of early morning, blowing clouds of mist with every breath. Dawn is just breaking, and the shadowed walls of Hammerfast loom above you. A caravan of settlers is preparing to depart, and you are among them.

Some months ago, a call went out from the temple of Moradin in Hammerfast seeking able-bodied settlers to establish a new town to the southwest. Desiring to settle in this new town, you answered the call and now stand in a field outside the town awaiting the caravan’s departure.

How did you fare against the Black Dragon in this week’s encounter? Did anyone at your table get killed? How banged up is your party heading into the final encounter?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Neldar January 27, 2011 at 10:59 am

We got snowed out. Next week will be a double session for the finale.

I can’t wait for it.

2 Gormal January 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm

I liked this week However, I found going down so fast shows that there are some tweeks that I think need to happen with the monsters themselves particularly around the amount of damage and the way it comes out. I know dragons are supposed to be tough but for our level this one did a hell of alot of damage in one swoop. oh defenders hit and defenders die. Next week should be interesting concerned about the shape shifters.

3 Wally January 27, 2011 at 1:48 pm

I was playing the cleric this week and I figured out the acid blood maybe a tad to late. I asked the two fighters to hold until after I went which no monster would of interceded between them and me. Lo behold action points and everything from the fighters thinking they could do damage (paladin and a slayer) I go down. I took 30 damage because of actions from my own players actions rather then monsters.
I guess vegence was served when I got a heal from the priestess and I ended up dropping the dragon and looking at dead strikers who wouldn’t listen.

4 Sunyaku January 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm

I decided it was very unfair for all the players to start off backed into a corner with a dragon that was basically guarenteed to act before them. I let the players start anywhere on the side of the courtyard opposite the dragon. The players still took a ton of damage, but at least they could move around a bit.

It was also entertaining that I had Yulbraxis try to run away, but the next player up had a longbow, and wanted to shoot at the dragon even though it was off the board. I allowed it. Solid hit. The player after that magic missiled the dragon, finishing him off and causing him to crash in a building in a different area of the keep.

5 Ameron January 28, 2011 at 11:03 am

@Neldar
In a way I envy your group. I think that playing this final chapter (or even just a couple of encounters) all at once would have made it a lot more exciting.

@Gormal
I think the damage output is suitable, I think it just serves as a strong reminder to players that tactics are important. Not every monster is defeated by hitting it with a sword.

Shape shifters? Do you know something the rest of us don’t?

@Wally
You’d think that once we realized our own attacks were causing adjacent allies damage we’d stop hitting the dragon, at least long enough for the wounded to move away. But no, few groups seemed to have made that realization and as a result a lot of healing surges were expended.

@Sunyaku
I’m with you. If I was the DM I would have allowed the PCs to act for one full round before bringing in the dragon. But I can’t faulty DMs who ran it as written. My criticism is on the encounter designer. The “players start here” box is one of the things I dislike most about organized play.

Players hate to let the monsters get away. DMs should realize this and keep that in mind if the monster is likely to flee. Assume that it will take a couple of hits as it flies away. If you wait until it’s literally down to its last few hit points it’s not going to get away. Someone will always find an attack that will work given the range and circumstance. But I have to admit, this often makes for a spectacular finish.

6 Neldar January 28, 2011 at 11:06 am

Don’t envy us. We’ve had so much snow the Boston papers are reporting snowfall in Shaqs, not inches.

I do like the idea of playing both encounters on the same night though. That’ll be a stunning finish.

7 Gormal January 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Ameron if you remeber from our end of the second chapter the dwarf captain and the aids of bynwick were shape shifters. And just vent my concern for us as players next week.

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