D&D Encounters: Dark Legacy of Evard (Week 3)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 26, 2011

After securing the armory, Captain Grimbold and the rest of the volunteer militia arrived and equipped themselves. Now the townsfolk were armed and capable of defending Duponde from the shadow creatures that were running rampant throughout the city. Grimbold asked the PCs if they would assist the militia and take to the streets, helping the locals and destroying or chasing off any threats that may be lurking in the shadows. The PCs eagerly agreed.

At our local FLGS we again had enough players to run three tables. At my table we had five PCs: Jarren, a Dragonborn Paladin, a Human Warlock, a Human Vampire and a Githzerai Swordmage. This is the first time in about 20 sessions that there wasn’t a leader at my table.

The PCs had a few different tasks before them as they roamed the streets in search of danger. First and foremost they were trying to keep the local safe. Secondly they were trying to find any monsters prowling the streets and eliminate them. And thirdly they were trying to accomplish the first two tasks as quickly as possible so as to keep the volunteer militia from having to fight anything beyond their abilities (which was pretty much everything).

Jarren began with a Streetwise check (which he failed miserably) and lead the party through the streets. After about 15 minutes they hadn’t seen any signs of shadow creatures and realized they were going in circles. The Paladin made a successful Perception check and heard the sound of monsters a few street away.

When they got closer to the where they heard the sounds they noticed a few of the townsfolk were getting brave (or stupid) and were venturing into the streets to fight the monsters. The Swordmage used Diplomacy to calm the citizens down, appealed to their logical and rational sides and convinced them to remain inside where they’d be safe.

The Paladin, again hearing the monsters nearby, sprinted around the corner in pursuit, making a stellar Athletics check. The rest of the party all had to make Endurance checks to catch him (which they did). The Vampire and the Swordmage decided to run through an alley to cut off the monsters. A team effort on the Streetwise check resulted in two party members ahead of the monsters and three behind.

When the PCs arrived on the scene the noticed three Dusk Beasts (two-headed shadow drakes) trying to get inside the homes of the frightened townsfolk. The Swordmage climbed on top of the nearest building, ran across the roof, and jumped down on to the nearest Dusk Beast, impaling it with his sword. Before any of the Swordmage’s allies could join in the fight the Dusk Beasts retaliated.

Two teamed up on the Swordmage, knocking him prone and each one biting him with both heads. The Vampire emerged from the shadows and brought the nearest Dusk Beast from full to bloodied with a huge hit.

The Warlock climbed onto a nearby roof to get a better vantage on the battle, firing at the Dusk Beasts with ranged attacks. Unfortunately his first two attacks both missed.

Two Lurching Shadows, the same kind of minions that devastated the party last week tried to used Shadow Meld to give Jarren and the Paladin the “necrotic hug.” Both Shadows missed. Jarren, learning from last week’s mistakes, used Magic Missile to destroy one of the Shadows. The Paladin just as easily took out the other Shadow on his turn.

The Warlock was caught by surprise on the rooftop and a crossbow bolt that was clearly intended for him just missed, exploding in a nearby square. He failed his Perception check and had no idea where the bolt came from, other than the general direction.

The Swordmage marked the nearest Dusk Beast and continued to lay into him good with his sword. Unfortunately another Dusk Beast joined the fray and attacked him, hitting hard. The one that took the hit from the Vampire managed to take a bite out of the undead PC. The fourth and final Dusk Beast charged the Paladin, hitting him soundly.

The Vampire again stuck and hit the Dusk Beast in front of him, killing it easily. Two more Shadows emerged and joined the fight. One attacked the Swordmage, getting him with the necrotic hug and the other flew up to the roof and attacked the Warlock, missing horribly.

The Warlock faced off against the Shadow for three rounds before finally killing it. Fortunately the Shadow had a difficult time connecting so the Warlock didn’t take any damage from the necrotic hug.

The Swordmage wasn’t as lucky. He fell victim to the hug, bringing him dangerously close to 0 hit points. He made his save on the very next turn so he only got one hug before the Vampire moved in to kill it. The Swordmage used his Second Wind in order to stay conscious. Fortunately the Dusk Beast that was marked attack and missed him on two consecutive rounds. The other one moved over to face off against the Paladin.

The Paladin and Jarren worked together to deal with the Dusk Beasts nearest to them. The focused fire until one was dead and then moved on to the fresh one. I guess getting killed every week will teach you to play smart eventually. The Dusk Beasts couldn’t get through the Paladin’s high AC and he ended up taking only minimal damage during the fight, not even enough to get bloodied. Jarren took to higher ground and managed to remain unscathed.

Throughout the fight the Shadow Bolter kept firing his crossbow at random PCs. He managed to hit the Warlock on the rooftop once, but missed on four other opportunities. Eventually the Vampire spotted him, moved right up next to the Shadow Bolter and using an action point, made two overwhelming attacks to kill him.

The combat only lasted 5 or 6 rounds. The entire session was completed in about an hour (something that hasn’t happened at my FLGS in a few months). Surprisingly no one fell unconscious. The party was so heavily geared to deal damage that they killed all the monsters before any of them could drop a single PC. The lack of a leader didn’t even slow down this party. They took on all challengers, used smart tactics, rolled really well and emerged with an easy victory.

The encounter as written was listed as level 2 and consisted of three Dusk Beasts, two Leeching Shadow minions and one Shadow Bolter. Knowing my players were all level 3 I added one more Dusk Beast (a level 2 Brute) and two more minions. Based on how devastated the PCs were after last week’s encounter, and based on feedback in the comments of last week’s write-up, I figured this would provide an adequate challenge. If things went well (which they did) then I knew this could be a very quick and relatively easy encounter.

For those of you that were in the city, how did you find this week’s encounter? Did you think it was easier than the previous two weeks? What about the tables that spent the past two weeks in the forest? How did that side of the story play out? How is everyone doing in the healing surge department? Is anyone going into next week’s final encounter of the first chapter as banged up as most of the PCs were last season by this time?

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1 Bill Newsome May 26, 2011 at 10:43 am

My table spent the last two encounters chasing down the halfling Remy. At this week’s table, we had 4 level-3 characters: two fighters and two vryloka vampires. The party decided to have a fighter and vampire sneak around behind Remy’s camp while the remaining fighter and vampire talked with Remy directly. The conversation played out that Remy, though frightened, was convinced to tell the PC’s what he knew about the ritual and Nathaire. When the party tried to demand that Remy accompany them back to town to explain, he got defensive and refused to return. It was then that combat broke out. The PCs focused mainly on Remy, bloodying him in two rounds. In the third round of combat, Remy was knocked unconscious. One of the fighters tried to bluff the guards into surrendering by drawing back his warhammer to hit Remy; the guards didn’t surrender, but instead tried the same tactic on one of the vampires who, by that time, had fallen unconscious. One of the guards drew back his mace above the fallen vampire, indicating that if the unconscious Remy were attacked, the ally would be attacked with a coup de grace as well. At this time, I expected the PCs to relent, leave the halfling alive, and attack the guards in an attempt to save their fallen ally; boy, did I ever misjudge the PCs. The PCs decided to attempt a coup de grace on Remy to try to intimidate the guards into submission, realizing their maximum damage probably wouldn’t kill the halfling outright at this point by reaching his negative bloodied value. The fighter attempted this, prompting one of the guards to make a successful coup de grace against the fallen vampire, thus killing him. At this point, the party decided to kill the halfling outright since the guards didn’t surrender; after performing another coup de grace on the halfling, the party killed him and thus prompted the remaining guards and snipers to surrender, as they had no hope of protecting Remy anymore. On a personal note, this encounter was a milestone for me as a DM: this marks the first time I have actually killed a PC.

2 Seb Wiers May 26, 2011 at 5:44 pm

[i]For those of you that were in the city, how did you find this week’s encounter? Did you think it was easier than the previous two weeks?[/i]

The session was almost certainly harder than the previous two weeks, just based on the XP reward. Week one was 300 per player, week 2 250 per, and this week was 550 per (at our level 3 table). We had 5 players week 1&2, and only 4 this week, but even so, that’s a bigger XP budget than either previous week (though part of the XP may have been the skill challenge).

Speaking of the skill challenge, our group isn’t well suited to in-city challenges; we just don’t have enough of the skills trained to pull it off. So we ended up getting surprised rather than doing the surprising (we were trying to lure the animals in by making noises like wounded people). We probably should have taken the woods-friendly option (what with a Druid and Ranger in the group) at the start of session 2, but it seemed more important to protect the city residents from danger than to run after some miscreant halfling in the middle of the night.

The fight for chapter 3 went OK. We expected a 5th player to be bringing a striker, but he was absent that night. So we had a Leader (my Sentinel Druid), Defender (Knight), Controller (Hunter Ranger) and a Striker (Shadow-Pact Type Warlock). Sounds good in theory, but I think the damage output was a bit low. Still, nobody died or was reduced to less than 2 surges, so we should be fine in the next fight. A couple people did get knocked out, though not for long enough to be making any death saves (Knight got revived before his next turn, Hunter went down in the last turn). My druid got bloodied and his bear died, but that’s no big thing given he has 13 healing surges and had only previously used 3. The warlock, thankfully, was never even bloodied.

I think the fight lasted 5 turns, and took maybe an hour, but it hardly seemed easy for that! We never did kill (or even bloody) the Bolter- DM had him run off once we killed the hounds and shadows, as he was clearly out-classed at that point.

Take away notes are that our group needs to not get split across the map (especially as half the party works best by defending adjacent allies). Its a very tanky group (with the Warlock as the glass cannon) but we’ve been playing skirmish-striker style, which we simply do not have the damage output to do successfully (plus it wastes half the group’s talents).

3 Seb Wiers May 26, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Note- As for Ameron, our table was all level 3. But instead of adding more creatures to even up the CR, our GM had leveled the enemies by boosting defenses / damage / attack bonuses. We weren’t facing the stock monsters!

4 Sunyaku May 26, 2011 at 7:26 pm

My character for this season is a level one dragonborn infernal pact hexblade with 30 hit points. In these first three encounters, I’ve taken 42.3 points of damage, and not received the 50+ damage renown award. The death cleric at the table also has not received this renown reward, and his damage average was slightly higher. This is madness!

5 Dixon Trimline May 27, 2011 at 8:41 am

After playing spider exterminator last week, we hunted down Remy in the forest this week and botched the entire encounter from the first moment. Step 1) Split up. Step 2) Direct attacks at different opponents. Step 3) Litter the ground with party bodies. It’s a recipe for success!

For the sake of shiny and new, I’m very pleased that there was shuffling at our tables, which meant a new DM and three new players (Sam the human cavalier was back, but Therapoza the drow warpriest, Gander the human slayer, Matthew the human scout were all new to me, playing Feral the human sentinel). Last week, our group lacked a striker and felt it. This week, we lacked a controller and REALLY felt it.

As an aside, it seems odd that these encounters are SO optimized for tactical groups, and the players coming to these games have little to no experience with 4E. Does it really sell the system to get your keister kicked every week?

6 Seb Wiers May 27, 2011 at 12:31 pm

@ Dixon – I had no experience with 4e previous to joining encounters in session 6 last season, and I’d say YES, having challenging encounters does sell the system. I’m new to 4e, but not to gaming in general. If I come into a game and its so easy that I can’t see how playing better would matter, I’m not going to stick with that game. If its obvious that things like teamwork make a difference, I’ve got something to work towards.

“No experience with 4e” does not mean “not a tactical group” – a lot of tactics from other games carry over. Most Encounters players have some experience with multi-player pc / console games, for example.

7 Dixon Trimline May 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm

@Seb: You make a fair point. I guess it’s a weakness of mine, getting frustrated by players who respond in a non-tactical manner. On the other hand, I don’t want to be THAT guy, running all the characters for everyone else: “Okay, you with the warpriest, you should do this, and cavalier, you should move over here, and slayer, focus your attacks on this guy…”

I hate those people, and I feel like I’m starting to become one.

8 Seb Wiers May 29, 2011 at 12:24 pm

@ Dixon- yeah, I could easily fall into the same trap. It probably helps that my LGS is running 5 tables. The organizer tries to group people at tables along the lines of player style. As such, all the folks at my table (mostly pulled from the store’s wargming club members) at least understand why something might be be a bad tactical option, even if they still want to do it for style / characterization reasons.

9 Sunyaku May 30, 2011 at 6:49 pm

I’m curious to see where we hit the ceiling– our FLGS has had more players every week for the past few weeks. I believe we’re up to 10-12 tables over three time slots (4pm kids, 6:30pm adults, 8:30pm adults).

10 Paik the Kenku Monk June 2, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Our group got smoked and almost a TPK. We were low on hit points, and our roles sucked. The DM was on fire and hit with every role and high damage output as wee. We just barely survived thanks to calling in the militia. They spared us some time and allowed some heals from our embittered cleric (who was not a very good team player this week). The lack of time for a rest definitely was a factor in this encounter. Three of our players are still very new and are still having issues with roles and playing (as to be expected) but they are coming along. We are looking into character mix and bringing in another cleric for next week. As we are about to level up, I expect it to get harder as the encounter go. My Kenku monk is ready and I have studied him extensively (again) and found some other tricks. Excited to try them out.

11 Ameron June 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Sorry for the delayed response. Didn’t realize that I’d let this one slip through without jumping in earlier.

@Bill Newsome
Thanks for sharing your experiences doing the “other” possible side of the adventure. I’m running Dark Legacy of Evard on two different nights and both groups opted for the armory.

As much as I don’t like to kill of PCs when I’m the DM, sometimes it’s unavoidable. As long as the players realize that this could have been avoided if they’d made different decisions then it’s not usually a really big deal. It’s when you kill PCs and they had absolutely no way to avoid it that things get ugly in and out of game.

During the Dark Sun D&D Encounters last year we had TPKs almost every other week. The DMs got used to killing the PCs in a big hurry.

@Seb Wiers
Skill challenges are still one of the more difficult parts of 4e to explain and teach to new players. Although some classes are definitely more suited to certain skill challenges the DCs were still relatively low for most checks so even untrained PCs should have had a good (50/50) chance of making a successful check unassisted. As the DM, I rely on the role-playing to determine success or not. If the player is really getting into it and is creative I usually award a success regardless of the check. But every DM and every group will handle it differently. Do what works best for you.

I agree that just because the party’s roles are balanced (controller, defender, leader, striker) doesn’t ensure smooth combat. A party that relies on one lone striker to deal damage may find it tough if that players dice get cold. With more strikers in the game than any other role, it’s unusual to find a party with only one (or even zero) strikers.

Sounds like your group still managed to have a good time and emerge victorious, so good on them. You’re right that they should probably review their combat tactics and play to the strengths of everyone and not just the strikers.

@Seb Wiers
The other DM at my FLGS has opted to beef up the monsters rather than add to their numbers. Each DM will do what they’re more comfortable with. I find that when I beef up the monster I tend to overestimate the abilities of the PCs. Using the ones from the book means that every week the PCs will get to kill lots of monsters. Since many of the monsters are level 1 they’re easy to hit and easy to kill. This makes the newer players really feel good when they take out a bunch in one fight.

We stopped recording Renown Points since at my FLGS. Since no one is using the Fortune Cards, there’s no incentive to earn more points than the next guy. We also found that we’ve received enough rewards to just give them to everyone at the end.

If you’re taking that much damage how are you doing for healing surges? Will you have any left at all by the final encounter? If not you may need to change your tactics and not put yourself in a position where you take so much damage. I know that’s not always possible, but maybe someone else should take point in future weeks. I’m just saying.

@Dixon Trimline
When I was a player (during season 1 and season 2) I tired to bounce from table to table every week. This let me play under different DMs and meet more of the players. I’ve tried to encourage this behaviour now that I’m the DM, but the players want to form a party and keep with it.

As for selling the system to new players, I think D&D Encounters is doing a great job. We’re seeing new players almost every week. Most return and most purchase the books and dice. Making the games more tactical generated buzz from the experienced players, which helps. I am very glad to see more skill challenges and more opportunities for actual role-playing which was practically non-existent in the first two seasons.

You have 10-12 tables every week! That’s awesome. Talk about a strong gaming community. Where do you live? At my FLGS they only have space to accommodate 3 tables. They have Warhammer and Magic happening Wednesday nights so real estate is at a premium.

@Paik the Kenku
I don’t think it’s possible for a party of five, level 1 characters to get through the first chapter without at least one character death. The encounters are tough. If you’ve got even a couple of new or relatively inexperienced players at your table then you’re toast (as you’ve experienced first hand). All I can suggest is to bring along more leaders (which it sounds like you’re planning to do) and ensure that they keep the party alive. And watch those healing surges! Recommend Durability as a level 2 feat for anyone who takes a lot of damage.

12 David Argall June 6, 2011 at 1:18 am

Songs of Song-3-Forest Fight

Now the road split, and split again, not to mention side paths. Our pace had to slow down, and became noisy as we argued over what was the true path we should follow. Our poor ranger became quite disgusted over the mess we were making of it all. However, we pressed on and managed to find our goal [despite our best efforts?], or maybe it found us. Suddenly we were ambushed.
Perhaps we were just lucky, but our attackers did not seem too skilled and we were not hurt much in the immediate attack. Still we were outnumbered and somewhat worried at first. But then the skills of my companions started to tell.
Horag and Kargun suffered much of the damage at our front, but they were well able to handle the opposition with a little help, part of which was my healing. [That confirmed that neither was in fact human. Rather they are some shadow race, tho I am still unsure which. However, for now, that will mean merely that I need to take some extra care when healing them. Even if a tifling had much right to be fussy about companions, it would not be while my life is under frequent attack.] The bandits were soon falling.
In the rear, the ranger, Fargrim the dwarf, and Suprano soon had things under control [with minor help from me] and were able to relieve the pressure on the blackguards. We rapidly went from being outnumbered to outnumbering, and then to finding the fight was over.
Fortunately I had the foresight to insist we take prisoners. They told us much about what was going on, tho unfortunately not the things we really want to know. These were henchmen of that mage we had met, and had been supplementing their pay by robbing a few locals while waiting for their boss to carry out some task he had told them little about. Their boss’s assistant came running into camp in a panic, so they figure something went wrong, but they didn’t learn what before our loud approach was heard and they set up an ambush. They had thought the assistant was going to help them, but apparently he snuck off. And our attempts to find out which way failed to find the trail.
While we were looking, one of our prisoners was killed, apparently by a vampire. That fixed suspicion on Suprano, whose behavior has been suspicious for some time. However, there was little concern over the death of someone who may well be hung when we take him back to town, and with everything so confused and dangerous, nobody wants to look too closely at where any help is coming from. [I do wonder if I am doing our prisoner any favor by bringing him back to town, but he will have little chance out here on his own.]
The search did discover a nice amount of loot [which the previous owners of which no long have a use for unfortunately], which will be very nice if we should survive, and a strange journal, apparently written by the wizard. Sadly it is in code, but it may yet tell us what is going on here.
For now, it is back to town. And maybe we will be checking out that graveyard. It may well be the center of the problem.

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