The D&D Open Championship is a chance for the best D&D players to pit their skills against one of the most difficult adventures Wizards can put together. It’s intended to be grueling and to force players into making really difficult decisions. And to make it even more difficult the players have only 45 minutes in which to complete each encounter. When the clock runs out it’s game over. This is one instance when it truly is the players vs. the DM
This year Wizards had help creating the adventure, The Fires of Mount Hotenow. There was a contest in which they asked people to submit their ideas for killer encounters. The best five were used to make up the adventure. One other important aspect of the D&D Championship that was changed was that this year players were allowed to continue playing the adventure, even if they timed out. However, they didn’t earn any additional points after timing out. In past years if you ran out of time you were done – full stop. But this year it was possible to complete the entire adventure even if you took more than 45 minutes in the first encounter. If, however, the entire party was killed then it was truly over.
I was again teamed up with the members of “The C Team.” We played in the second slot of the second day. Of the 44 parties that went before us only two completed the Championship for real, and five more completed it after timing out. As it turned out, no one else managed to complete the adventure in any of the subsequent slots. So once again Wizards put together an adventure that was brutal. And man, was it both fun and frustrating at the same time!
One of the pivotal components of this year’s D&D Championship was that the heroes needed to save and protect innocent bystanders. This isn’t really something new to D&D, but the level of involvement certainly wasn’t typical for most gamers. Usually if there are non-combatants in an encounter the monsters won’t focus on them once the PCs enter the fight. Likewise, the DM usually has the regular people stand out of the way or flee. That was not the case in this adventure.
The PCs were five crew members of a sailing ship. Before the adventure began, 20 members of the crew were captured during a raid. The PCs led the rescue attempt and successfully saved their friends. The men were exhausted and malnourished so the heroes brought them to a safe house where they could rest and regain their strength.
The adventure itself began when nearby Mount Hotenow erupted. With the volcano spewing molten lava throughout the city and the ground shaking beneath them, the PCs needed to get the crewmen, still in pretty bad shape, safely to their ship.
The DM made it very clear that the ultimate objective, to sail away from the city before it was destroyed by the volcano, could only be accomplished if there were at least 11 people on board the ship to perform the tasks require to sail it. This number could include some or all of the PCs. Assuming all the PCs survived; they would nee to bring at least six crewmen with them. If they made it to the ship without these men, then they wouldn’t have enough hands to get the ship moving.
Encounter 1 was a race to get as many people out of the safe house as possible before it collapsed. Molten lava was erupting from the floor, blocking the front door. The windows were barred and reinforced. Anyone moving more than three squares would fall prone unless they made a successful Acrobatics check. The NPCs required a 13 to be successful.
Too make things even more interesting one of the other notable crewmen who was supposed to be helping the PCs chose this moment to reveal that he was actually a traitor. He summoned a bunch of monsters to keep the PCs trapped inside the burning building while he attacked from a distance.
Every round after the first six more crewmen appeared on the map as they pushed their way downstairs from the second floor. We began by focusing fire on the initial monsters while two PCs tried to get the nearest window open. It had 50 hit points and ended up taking four rounds of attacks to break through. Once open it still required a pretty significant Athletics check to get out.
More and more monsters continued emerging from the summoning portal and we were quickly overwhelmed. There were practically no free spaces on the map with all the monsters, PCs and crewmen trying to get outside. We managed to get three crewmen out the window before the clock demanded that we abandon them. Four of the five PCs took fire damage while intentionally running though the lava to escape the burning building. Encounter 1 took 44:30. We managed to finish with 30 seconds to spare, but 17 crewmen perished in the building, either to the monsters attacks or crushing damage as the building collapsed on top of them.
Encounter 2 forced the party seek safe passage through a fallen clock tower as they made their way to the coastline. The tower was divided into eight different compartments, each connected with a sealed hatch. As the PCs opened each hatch, monsters attacked them. The monsters usually tried to position themselves in front of the hatches blocking the way through. This left few options. None of the pre-generated PCs has powers they could safely use in such cramped quarters to push the monsters out of the way.
We were forced to use bull rush attacks. Strategic monster placement often meant that we were forced to draw opportunity attacks in order to gain any forward movements. We also had the three crewmen with us, and since they were minions, they could not afford to take a hit or they’d be killed. Because we ended up trying to kill every monster before proceeding on to the next area we wasted too much time. The clock tower began collapsing all around us giving us ample additional motive to move faster, but the monsters continued blocking the doorways or standing next to them and getting opportunity attacks on everyone as they ran past.
With time running out we tried to make a break for it and hope we survived the opportunity attacks. We managed to advance all the way to the sixth room, but by then we had three rooms worth of monsters to deal with all at once. When we timed out it was a welcome reprieve. I believe that we could have made it out of the clock tower, but I’m positive it would have meant the death of the three crewmen and at least one or two of the PCs.
We decided not to play the rest of the adventure, but the DM was kind enough to walk us through the remaining of the encounters. Given our play-style we would not have made it.
Encounter 3 had the PCs trying to outrun a cloud of ash. Being engulfed knocked you unconscious. Any creature that began their turn in the cloud that was unconscious died of asphyxiation. There was the ash cloud behind the PCs, buildings on fire in front and to one side of them, and on the remaining side the water boiled as lava poured into it. The PCs needed to demonstrate patience because on a subsequent round a Bulette emerged from the ground. Any PCs who didn’t wait were just asking to take unnecessary damage from one of the unsafe areas surrounding them.
If the PCs tried to fight the Bulette, they were toast. The needed to make an immediate B-line for the tunnel the creature just burrowed out of. This was the only safe course of action and doing so led the PCs down to the sewers and onto the next encounter. Any delay to get in the hole meant death from the monster or the ash cloud.
Encounter 4 took place in the sewers. Among the monsters hiding in the murky waters was a Hydra. It was hidden and the PCs were likely to go right past it as they attempted to escape the sewers. The Hydra had threatening reach 2 and made multiple attacks. There were, of course other creatures in the sewers to keep everyone occupied.
Behind the Hydra and certainly within it’s reach, was a grate that requires an obscene Athletics check to open. The DM didn’t think that most parties could make the check, even if all five PCs worked together. This was one obstacle that practically required some of the ship’s crewmen to complete. With many hands lifting, everyone could escape. However, if there were only a few then a miraculous check was the only way to proceed. If I remember correctly the gate had 400 hit points, so destroying out was possible but time consuming.
Encounter 5 was a race to the ship. Between the PCs and the ship were terrain obstacles and malicious NPCs. The NPC party was well armed and had tactics and powers that allowed some of them to grant their allies to get free attacks. They were supposed to be very evenly matched for the party, but remember that by this point the heroes were already down resources from completing four difficult encounters.
The PCs also had to get from the dock where they were to the dock where their ship was moored. They could used the bridges or jump the 20-foot gap and the 10-foot gap. Remember that they needed 11 people to work the ship so just getting there wasn’t good enough. Fortunately there were non-combatant NPCs that the heroes could try to win over and get to help them. There were exactly 10, so even if only one PC made it they could, in theory still get the ship away to safety if they got all the NPCs to agree to help.
The DM told us that one of the two groups that completed the adventure managed to get all 10 of the new crew on board and then the final PC needed to make a difficult jump check to get on the deck. If they failed the check there wasn’t enough time to climb back onto the docks and try the jump again. Fortunate the PCs made the check and that team advanced.
Only six teams managed to advance to the finals: The Evil League of Evil, Gigolo’s Slippers, xx1337xx, Critzkreig, Stir of Echoes, and Don’t Make this Weird. Unfortunately I have no idea what the final round of the D&D Championship was like becasue once we were eliminated I managed to get another event in that slot. If anyone who was at GenCon has details about what happened in the finals please post them below. Better yet, if you were a player or a DM we’d love to hear about the final round of play.
Overall I still had a great time playing in the D&D Championship. It’s a good reminder that no matter how much you play D&D or how advanced a player you think you are, there are still encounters that are possible to overcome but that are so tough most people wont. If this appeals to you then you should watch for the new Lair Assault public play series coming in September. I’ll have more about that in an article on D&D Public Play later this week.