D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands (Week 20)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 3, 2011

This was it, the final culmination of everything we’d worked for over the past 19 weeks. The heroes helped defend the keep over the past three weeks while Benwick and his allies, the black dragon and the lizardman army, attempted to take control. This week the heroes had their final showdown with Benwick. There were only two possible outcomes: The death of Benwick or the death of the PCs. Let the showdown begin.

Knowing this was the final week of D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands we had a great turnout. We had a party of eight including Berrian, Eldeth, Hagen, Quinn, Sola, a Cavalier, a Rogue and a Runepriest. The extra party members meant the DM had to balance the encounter by adding more monsters. Add to the mix three soldier minions, the priestess Chendera and a friendly bailiff named Kendon and the battle was a very busy and crowded scene.

The two defenders, Quinn and the Cavalier, were both down to just one healing surge each. The Rogue had none. Sola on the other hand had six. Eldeth, who was absent during the previous encounters in this chapter, had all of her surges. This meant that the guys who had traditionally been at the front of the battle needed to step back and let a few of the others take point. Unfortunately Quinn rolled the highest initiative and Sola the lowest, so despite our best intentions things got ugly fast.

With so many combatants on the map the combat was extremely crowded. This meant that any time Benwick used a blast or burst attack it targeted a lot of the PCs at once. We decided to keep two of our three soldiers, along with the Rogue and Berrian, near the front doors. This kept them out of harms way from melee attacks and let them provide covering fire as necessary.

Quinn was the first combatant into the room and he failed to notice the first Deathrattle Viper hiding behind one of the columns. It attacked him, bloodying him in the first round. The Runepriest and Sola moved up to help him. Sola used her Cure Light Wounds to grant Quinn healing without expending a surge.

Eldeth raced past the first melee battle and charge directly towards Benwick. She managed to land a solid blow early in the combat. Unfortunately she too failed to notice a hidden Viper and was also attacked.

The Cavalier, Hagen, Chendera and Kendon worked their way up the other side of the room towards Benwick. None of them noticed the Vipers either. For better or worse, this group managed to stay together and two Vipers engaged them simultaneously.

Benwick launched his snake pellets early in the first round and all four of the stupid snaked managed to hit and blind their targets. Chendera was effectively removed from the entire battle as she failed her save at least five times in a row.

Much like every other battle this season we did an excellent job of facing off against all of the opponents simultaneously, spreading the damage across all of them and dropping none. With so many of the PCs down to their last few hit points and healing surges things didn’t look good.

During the third round Benwick called out to Kendon and invited him to switch sides and join him. Quinn, the next to act, tried a Diplomacy check to convince Kendon not to listen to Benwick. Unfortunately he wasn’t convincing enough because Kendon changed sides mid-battle. This was made additionally painful because by this point Kendon had +2 to all defenses (from Hagen’s daily power) and 5 temporary hit points (from Sola’s encounter power). Talk about insult to injury.

It took a couple of rounds for us to finally destroy the first Viper and all of Benwick’s snakes from the snake pellets. By then the Cavalier was unconscious, the minions were all dead, and the Runepriest kept falling unconscious and then getting healed. It was bleak.

I’d like to note for the record that tonight of all nights was when karma decided to balance the scales for our table. Berrian, who had rolled stellar throughout D&D Encounters, began rolling the worst rolls of the season. Quinn, who’s damage rolls had been consistently high, rolled 1 on just about every attack. Meanwhile, the DM hit with almost every attack, doing maximum damage more than twice every round. The DM also rolled more crits during this encounter than in all of the previous 19 encounters combined. I know that what goes around comes around but ouch!

The battle raged on for almost 3 hours of real time. For the last hour everything on the map was bloodied. Tactics were pretty much gone as the group was all mangled together in one massive grouping. Everyone just kept swinging and attacking the closest combatant. Eldeth finally managed to drop Benwick to exactly 0 hit points.

Kendon was still fighting and two Vipers were still on the board when Benwick fell. With a very realistic chance that the PC would die as well, I did what any good leader should. Sola ran over to the unconscious Lord Drysdale, pickup him up and then fled the combat. She called out to the heroes to follow here into the narrow passage where the remaining combatants couldn’t surround them. Chendera was first to follow and she quickly healed Lord Drysdale, ensuring that he would live despite the hero’s fate.

One round later Kendon and the remaining Vipers realized that things were done and they fled. A few PCs kept firing at them as they ran away, but it was clear that they weren’t going to keep fighting back. The PCs were successful. We defended the keep and saved Lord Drysdale.

With the encounter over the DM described the aftermath of the siege. Lord Drysdale agreed to change the way he rules Restwell Keep. He realized that if he’d been more attentive to everything in the keep things might not have escalated to the level they did. The PCs were again acknowledged as heroes. They were rewarded with gold and magical treasures. The reputation they came to the keep on the borderlands to establish was earned though blood and deed.

Sometime over the next week I’ll post an article that sums up my thoughts on D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands. But until then, here are some of the highlights.

I thought that 20 weeks was too long for a game that’s only played one week at a time. Howeer, I believe it would make an excellent adventure for a group just starting out that could do one chapter at a time in one sitting.

I really liked the pre-generated characters this time around. They were much better than those provided for the Dark Sun adventure in season 2.

My biggest criticism is the way rewards were handled. I felt that the distribution of loot, specifically magical treasure, was extremely mismanaged. We had a couple of players show up for the first few adventures and then never come back. Before they left they claimed a couple of items. This meant that subsequent encounters were that much more challenging because no one in the group had a +1 sword or +1 armor as the author might have believed. Awarding two items at the end of the adventure was just insulting since none of these character will ever be used again.

I also felt that the monetary rewards were unnecessary since there was nothing of any real value the PCs could purchase. The PCs weren’t going to earn enough to buy a level 1 magic item so what’s the point. If I ever ran this adventure again I’d just tally up all the cash and when the party had enough to get a magic item I’d add it to the next encounter’s rewards.

But I don’t want to focus on just the negative. As I said I really enjoyed the adventure and I’m really looking forward to season 4, D&D Encounters: Marc of the Phantom Brigade that begins next week. I’ll be the DM for my group so the weekly recaps going forward will offer more insight from that point of view.

To everyone who participated in D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands, I hope you enjoyed your experience. Be sure to thank your FLGS for hosting the event and be sure to purchase something from them. If you don’t support them then they have less reason to keep hosting these weekly games. I’d like to thank Wayne at Dueling Grounds in Toronto for his continued support of the D&D Encounters program. I’d also like to thank our DM, Al for doing such and excellent job over the past 20 weeks.

How did the final encounter go for your group? Did the heroes emerge victorious? Did anyone die? What are your overall thoughts on this season of D&D Encounters?

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, including the pre-generated characters for the upcoming season 4 of D&D Encounters: March of the Phantom Brigade.

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1 Neldar February 3, 2011 at 9:32 am

We didn’t get to play week 20 this week. Due to blizzards we were still on week 19. The DM plays straight up and we got ruined. My sentinel, unbloodied was outright killed by the dragon when he double attacked and crit with one.

I don’t know when we’ll have the climatic fight.

2 QuackTape February 3, 2011 at 10:28 am

The monetary piece is something that I find hard in my own game sometimes. The amount of money given is more or less wasted unless I remind people that they can buy things between adventures.

I didn’t play Season 3 (but I’ll be DMing Season 4) so I don’t know how much gold was given out, but perhaps it would’ve been useful to remind players that buying potions is cheap and very useful (50 for a healing potion, 40 for a potion of resistance, etc). Technically they are lvl 4 and 5, but that should’ve been attainable during the second half of the season.

The item awards also seems off. Perhaps as the DM it’d make sense to create generic cards for “+1 armor” or “+1 weapon.” The item can be assigned to a primary player, but in their absence another player might borrow it for the night. This could easily get sloppy though with an inconsistent group, but from reading your recaps its seems you had a core team by the end and it would’ve worked. Season 4 looks like it might get even more skewed though given the Fortune Cards and inconsistency of PC leveling. I’ll have to consider work arounds for that as I plan …

3 Al February 3, 2011 at 10:35 am

A couple of quick points to make about next season’s Encounter program “March of the Phantom Brigade” for anyone planning to play a character of their own making, think about your background for the character.

The PCs will be part of a group that wants to establish a new settlement, so think of reasons why your character would be interested in doing such a thing, are they perhaps running away from a past best forgotten or towards a future they can be more in control of? Besides their command of arms, magic or healing what other ways can they contribute to a new settlement? Their appears to be lots of opportunity for role-play and backgrounds would definitely add to the story.

4 Randilin February 3, 2011 at 11:16 am

I’ve been playing since encounters kicked off almost a year ago and have been a DM since Dark Sun. I thought keep on the Boarderlands was a really enjoyable story. My biggest beef with it over all is that as DMs we were kept in the dark. It would have been nice to know up front how some of the NPCs tied in to the later encounters.

My table found the finally encounter to be really challenging. The majority of the table was blinded, blinded and or slowed at some point during the encounter. So in the end it was a hard fought victory. Although the killing blow was stolen from the PC’s when one of them used a city guard to shot his bow at Benwick and took away his last four hit points. Everyone took it really well and I added some stuff into the final flavour text about him being promoted to head of the watch.

5 Gormal February 3, 2011 at 1:13 pm

I wanted to put out my thanks to Al our DM as well. He put up with a lot form us. eight players is alot to handle. Though there were some distracting moments; over all this was a lot of Fun. I also want to thanks ameron for being there, your knowledge wa help full for the party. As well, everyone who showed up over the weeks we really had a great group of people. Espically those that showed up as regular as possible. Looking foward to another 12 weeks. And I am excited about tracking my own xp for this next one. I would like to say i am looking foward to kicking ass but think about playing a controller clas or leader, so I might not be kicking that much ass. Lastly I would like to thank dueling grounds as well for let us use their space to play. Thanks All it was fun.

6 Lahrs February 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm

A lot to comment on.

A quick recap, the battle went well and in fact, I had a few comments on how easy it was compared to the prior three. Our only problem stemmed from the Warlord coming in with only one healing surge which was quickly expended. He was holding two healing potions which he could not use, and for the first time in 4th, I thought about how dumb it was that a healing surge is required to using a healing potion.

Our group did not have any extra guards to bring into battle, but Chendera and Kendon joined in. The vipers proved to be the big baddies, and with our strong party I had three instead of the normal two. They hit hard, and except for one attack, all hit on the first and secondary attack. Their high defenses, especially reflex, made them hard to hit.

The first to go was our monk, who ran in, grabbed the table cloth, and with a 19 athletics check, pulled the cloth over two of the vipers, clearing the table, immobilizing and blinding the vipers for one round.

Benwick, represented by a Yuan-ti mage mini, threw out snake pellets, bringing forth four minions, which were completely dispatched three turns later by beguiling strands from the wizard. When it comes to minions, no matter the level, a controller can wipe them all out quickly. For the final boss, Benwick did not hit that hard, and if I were to rerun the battle, I would either level up Benwick or add in another viper to increase the difficulty.

The warlord engaged the final viper, which did hit hard and the ongoing poison proved to be a problem, even with the +2 to saving throws against poison from the Serpents Eye.

One problem I have brought up in the past and still have an issue with is saving the dailies until the final fight, which proved to be a problem this week as well. Fortunately, the prior three weeks were difficult enough that a daily here and there was spent, but there were still plenty left over for week 20, and clerics (we have two) have some strong daily powers. This helped make the battle much easier.

In round three, things did get a bit interesting when Benwick tried to convince Kendon to change sides. Benwick rolled off against the Warlord and both rolled well and tied. I decided the tie wasn’t enough to convince Kendon to switch, but definitely put him at ease continuing with the group, so for that round, Kendon just held his actions. The next round, there was another roll off between Benwick and the warlord, and despite aid from the group, a nat 1 does not get very far and Kendon switched sides. The next round, Benwick was killed. So that is a good lesson for everyone, if you are going to switch sides, switch to the side that wins.

I looked over the treasure chart earlier, and let the players collect this weeks magical items last week. It seemed a horrible idea to dish out goodies when they couldn’t be used. The items didn’t prove to be a difference maker, but at least they were used for one session.

I agree with Ameron, 20 weeks is a long time. It is one of those ‘no duh’ moments, but last week I realized 20 weeks was 5 months of gaming, and that is a long time for one storyline that lasts only three levels. I am much happier with only going 13 weeks, but I think I would be even happier completing a season in 10.

I am lucky when it comes to having a large group of regulars, as the magic item situation is not such a big issue, but when an item would go to a newer or less reliable player, we use generic magic item cards, that way they do not get lost in the future.

For the record, renown cards ARE legal in Season 4, you just cannot combine fortune and renown cards. I decided what I was going to do with fortune cards, since they are not exactly high on anyone’s list to get now as it is, is they get to treat any fortune card as if it were a renown card. That way, they can bring in any one card to use for the encounter.

As a few have mentioned, the money is an issue, since it seems worthless. I like Ameron’s idea though of adding it up and then giving out an additional magic item once one could be purchased. Something needs to be done to give it more meaning.

Overall, we enjoyed the campaign and are looking forward to season 4. I have looked over the whole campaign, and it looks decent. Now Wizards just needs to put out packs of minis’ that matches up with the campaign, that would be highly beneficial, and out of all the money making tactics they are trying, that seems to be lost potential. I am happy to see DM’s are given the entire campaign in one shot again as opposed to waiting around for the chapters which was a royal pain. Also, Wizards sent out an awesome DM packet of appreciation. I loved the free swag.

7 Halfie February 5, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Bit late on this but meh couldn’t hurt. Runepriest here and would just like to thank Al for a great job DMing for the group, really breathed life into the campaign. Looking forward for to a great next season, thinking something that hits hard but dosen’t take many hits, maybe a rogue, drow rogue? hmm…anyways, I would like to also extend my thanks to Ameron and Liam for answering all my questions, welcoming me to the sessions at the Dueling Grounds and for keeping me up to date. Thanks Ameron for these great recaps (awesome for new players) and to the Dueling Grounds for hosting such a cool event. Long live Encounters 😀

8 Sunyaku February 6, 2011 at 11:57 pm

I have to admit I found this last encounter very boring. The ending just didn’t seem sneaky enough for a “season of serpents”. So with the approval of my fellow DMs and my WPN organizer, I significantly altered this encounter.

At my table in the previous encounter, the players tried to use the Serpent’s Eye to intimidate Benwick as they played for him the dying sounds of the dragon Yulbraxis. I had Benwick roll an opposed intimidate check, and he crit’d. He said, “Ahh, petulant, persistent children. The death of the dragons leaves but a greater power void for me to fill, just as the destruction of the cult of Tiamat did! No matter, foolish adventurers, you are already too late…”

When the players entered the chapel with Kendon, they found Lord Drysdale conscious at the far end of the room. Two large snakes and a few cobras were milling about, and Benwick was nowhere to be found. That’s because I made Benwick a shapeshifter, and was impersonating Drysdale. This caught my table of overpowered veteran players (http://heroesofshadow.com/2011/overpowered-essentials-players.html) completely off guard. They never suspected a thing. I set high DCs for the perception/insight checks to see Drysdale’s body under some rubble, or to detect Benwick’s guise, but no one even tried. They took the situation for exactly what it appeared to be, expecting Benwick to be invisible or to come down the stairs at some point in the fight. I secretly rolled an insight check for the player who was doing most of the talking with Drysdale/Benwick, but Benwick’s bluff check was too high.

Talking to Benwick/Drysdale, he informed the group that he had been poisoned and that he had heard the players talking to Benwick through the Serpent’s Eye, but that he did not know where Benwick had fled. The players encouraged Benwick/Drysdale to crawl toward Chendara and the exit while they battled the snakes. By the time Benwick/Drysdale reached the exit and got behind the players, all the characters were in the room. They used an antivenom vial on him and gave him some other healing. At the bottom of the round, the oldest veteran at the table realized that something was horribly wrong. He asked, “Wait a second… do we know that this is ACTUALLY Lord Drysdale?” But by then it was too late.

At the top of the next round, the doors behind the party slammed. The shapeshifter morphed back into the familiar form of Benwick, and laughed maniacally. More giant snakes slithered onto the scene from the far room and the far stairs. Pokemaster Benwick summoned more cobras. At this time, we played out the treachery of Kendon. However, the players successfully intervened and Kendon remained on their side. But that just meant Kendon was another target for Benwick’s close blast 5 biting coils. Almost everyone in the group was in range, and Kendon was crit by this attack. Serves him right. 🙂

This normally overpowered group of players was now actually concerned for their well-being. They were surrounded on all sides, and the spellcasters in the back were now adjacent to multiple minions. From here, it played out as a tough fight. A couple of PCs briefly dropped unconscious, but no one died. I had a lot more fun running the encounter this way, and I think the players did too.

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