The Name Game
When I first heard that season 3 was going to be called Keep on the Borderlands I was immediately excited. The classic adventure of the same name is one of my all time favourite D&D modules. Borrowing the familiar name was a good way to get some old-school gamers excited about D&D Encounters.
However, when I finally sat down to play the game I was a little bit disappointed. Aside from the name, this had nothing to do with the original Keep on the Borderlands. I was expecting an expedition to the Caves of Chaos, but instead we got the Chaos Scar. I still enjoyed the adventure, but I felt that Wizards pulled a bit of a bait and switch.
Meet the Pre-Gens
Berrian, Eldeth, Hagen, Quinn, Merric and Sola. After 20 weeks I feel that I really know these six adventurers. At our table four of these pre-gens were present throughout the entire run of season 3. The other two made regular appearances as well. Although players were strongly encouraged to make their own characters, and many at our FLGS did, those using the pre-gens were quite content to play them, myself included.
The characters were well built and well rounded. They weren’t just min/maxed for combat. They actually had balanced scores and decent power selections. When comparing these six pre-gens to the previous ones provided for seasons 1 and 2, I have to say that these were far superior. Clearly Wizards of the Coast put a little bit more thought and care into creating these characters. I’m sure the feedback Wizards received about how much people disliked the other pre-gens motivated them to make these ones better.
I was a bit disappointed, although not surprised, that Wizards didn’t issue level 2 or level 3 versions of their pre-generated characters. I didn’t expect new laminated cards, but I was surprised that nothing was made available on their website. How hard would it be to provide the Character Builder files for these six characters on the Wizards of the Coast website for download? Even if they’re not going to level them for us, make the level 1 versions available and we’ll level them ourselves. Many of us ended up entering all of the data into Character Builder anyway.
I suspect their number one reason for not providing leveled characters or the Character Builder files was to encourage people to make their own PCs. I get that. But I think they missed an easy win by not giving us the CB files.
Pre-generated Character: 8 on a d10
D&D isn’t a game that you win in the traditional sense. But one way that you know you’re on the right track is by receiving treasure. Everyone likes to get loot, especially magic loot. In this area I felt that Keep on the Borderlands really fell short.
During a traditional game in which you play many encounters in one sitting there’s always some kind of reward at the end of the night. At least that’s been my experience. Even LFR gives everyone the choice of a treasure bundle at the end of an adventure.
Playing only one encounter a week meant that it was a long time between rewards and this really stung. When we finally found a magic item everyone wanted it (and I don’t blame them).
The monetary rewards were inconsequential. None of the PCs earned enough to buy anything more than the occasional potion, but no one at my table even did that. In a couple of cases there was no time in-game for the PCs to make purchases once they had coin because the story didn’t allow for a break.
Considering that the vast majority of people will never play these characters again anything that didn’t provide immediate gratification was useless. I know that I didn’t even track money on my PC. I got a healing potion early in the adventure and didn’t end up using it until encounter 20.
One thing that the adventure didn’t seem to take into account (and maybe this was an isolated incident at my FLGS – although I doubt it) was that some players we not present every week. We had a few players participate in the early chapters, collect a magic item, and then not return for subsequent weeks. This meant that the magic weapon the party should have possessed was missing. In the grand scheme of things a +1 here or there might not have made that big a difference, but you never know.
Another issue we had was that our average party had 6-8 players. This meant more monsters during combat (which is fine) but it didn’t provide additional treasure. I will admit that the DM was good about letting players who joined in chapters 4 and 5 begin with a common magic item.
My suggestion to Wizards is to reduce the amount of gp rewarded to PCs and throw in more consumables or even another low level magic item or two.
Here’s a list of all the magic treasure rewarded throughout the entire 20 weeks.
- Chapter 1) Healing Potion
- Chapter 2) common implement (level 2)
- Chapter 2) common armor (level 5)
- Chapter 2) common weapon (level 4)
- Chapter 2) common neck (level 3)
- Chapter 2) Healing Potion
- Chapter 3) common arms (level 2)
- Chapter 3) uncommon weapon or implement (level 2)
- Chapter 3) Healing Potion
- Chapter 4) common arms (level 4)
- Chapter 4) common armor (level 6)
- Chapter 4) uncommon weapon or implement (level 5)
- Chapter 5) common item (level 5)
- Chapter 5) Healing Potions x2
Each PC earned the following consumables and coins.
- Chapter 1) 40 gp
- Chapter 2) 119 gp
- Chapter 3) 87 gp
- Chapter 4) 109 gp
- Chapter 1) Herbal poultice
- Chapter 3) Herbal poultice
- Chapter 4) Healing Potion
- Chapter 5) Anti-venom
Rewarded at the end of the final encounter
- Chapter 5) common neck (level 6)
- Chapter 5) uncommon weapon or implement (level 7)
- Chapter 5) 110 gp each
Rewards: 6 on a d10
Overall I really enjoyed the adventure. That being said I do have some criticisms. Right off the bat I have to say that 20 weeks was just too log for a week-by-week adventure. By the time we got to the final chapter most of us forgot what happened in the first chapter. I applaud Wizards or taking on such a grand challenge, but I don’t think it worked as well as anyone hoped.
This was readily apparent when we had a new player join for week 20 .In order to bring her up to speed we explained what happened so far. I was able to do this in just a few short sentences. Most of what happened in the middle wasn’t necessary for the recap and that, in my opinion, meant that it was probably unnecessary. Again, I enjoyed the entire run, I just think it was too long.
At the beginning of the adventure there seemed to be a lot of railroading. The PCs had to interact with certain NPC and take on certain tasks whether they wanted to or not. I understand that some railroading is required in any printed adventure, but this really felt more forced than it should have. The most blatant part was the hanging of Ferdinand Ronnik. Fortunately Wizards backpedaled and used their “change history” ritual to suddenly say that Ronnik wasn’t hanged, he was just imprisoned.
I noticed and was pained by the lack of skill challenges over the 20 weeks. I wasn’t expecting to go a full week (1 encounter) without combat, but there was a real absence of skill challenges during the adventure. I find that skill challenges encourage role-playing. They also serve as a good reminder that D&D is about more than just hack and slash. For newer players coming to D&D through D&D Encounters Wizards is doing them a real disservice by not showcasing the value and richness of skill challenges.
The combat encounters themselves were very well done. The monsters often had complimenting powers and made use of terrain features. They hit hard, but that just encouraged players to play smarter. By having the PCs fight some of the same monsters from week to week the players could use what they learned during previous fights to make subsequent encounters easier.
The maps were, as usual, great and full of interesting terrain features. Some maps even provided varying elevation giving PCs a chance to fight in 3D. Most encounters used a map that was large enough to allow for tactical movement and a lot of creatures. This was especially noticeable and important during chapter five when there were minions galore.
The thing I’m most likely to take away from this adventure and use in my own game is the idea of the players running friendly minions. Throughout encounters 17-20 the PCs were aided by soldiers (minions) in each fight. The players each got a minion and that minion acted at the same time as the PC. It allowed for a lot more monsters to be involved in the combat without unfairly overpowering the PCs.
Adventure: 8 on a d10
I’ve been participating in D&D Encounters since day one and I’m really enjoying the experience. There were some lulls along the way, but I’m a huge supporter of the D&D Encounters program. I believe that it’s been wildly successful for Wizards and I hope for many FLGS across the continent (and around the world). It’s a great way to showcase D&D and draw in new players.
We had about 10 new players on top of our core 6-10 come out and try D&D during this season’s 20-week run. Some stayed and some didn’t but the exposure was there. If not for this program none of them would likely have ever sat down to play. I want to applaud Wizards on a job well done.
I will be DMing the next season of D&D Encounters: March of the Phantom Brigade. I’ve already read through the first chapter of the adventure and it looks awesome. There will be plenty of opportunities for role-playing. The pre-generated characters are available now. I also did an interview for the Shatter Sea in which I provide some thoughts and insights about what’s in store for season 4.
D&D Encounters: Keep on the Borderlands: 8 on a d10
What were your thoughts on season 3? Are you any more or less likely to come out for season 4? If this was your introduction to D&D how did you find the experiences?
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.