The 2011 D&D Open Championship

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 9, 2011

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.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ragnarok August 9, 2011 at 10:06 am

I didn’t realize that could play the whole adventure to completion. That would have been fun. Our DM said we could finish that encounter. My buddy and I were the only ones of our group that could go this year (we had a team last year). We ended up getting split up and I got paired with jobbers and he had to sit next to a stinky guy with a fungal infection in his pits (vomit). Bottom line we were tired and took the opportunity to volunteer for WotC the next morning and we had to prep.

I liked the theme of this years adventure but it was disappointing that the executioner had to be fixed. I feel that was sloppy. it was also frustrating that maps for 20% smaller than they should have been. moving the crew members around was tough.

2 Johnny August 9, 2011 at 10:16 am

Awesome write up! Can’t wait to actually play in one of these events!

You say “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.”

I’m interested to hear what your play style was and why you don’t think you would have made it. What do you feel would have worked better?

3 Ameron August 10, 2011 at 11:28 am

@Ragnarok
I liked that this year’s adventure was very linear and that the story had urgency built in. PCs couldn’t take multiple short rests to maximize healing. They had to go, go, go in order to escape the volcano and survive. The screw up with the maps being printed 20% smaller than normal was a huge disappointment. I agree that the crowded map was even more crowded when the squares were smaller than 1-inch scale.

@Johnny
We were very direct. We didn’t consider (until after) that delaying and readying actions might have made more sense. We realized that time was a factor but didn’t do anything about it until there was only about 10 minutes left. If we’d taken a few more risks earlier in the encounter we might have reaped some lucky successes earlier and not screwed ourselves so badly. These adventures are really for players that are thinking tactically all the time. Our team certainly included tactical thinkers but we kept falling back into old habits of just attacking monsters. We need to learn to ask more questions and not take anything for granted.

4 sndwurks August 17, 2011 at 2:21 am

Hey, Ameron. Congrats on the link from Wizards.com.

5 Tom August 17, 2011 at 3:41 am

Thank you for the recap. I hope we see several more. I also posted a run through of the adventure here.

I was on Team Don’t Make This Weird

6 John Jones August 17, 2011 at 7:23 am

I was on “Don’t Make This Weird”, and we took second place — Evil League of Evil won the whole schmiel. Here’s a link to a post in the D&D Community where another member of “Don’t Make This Weird” wrote up our experience _mostly_ accurately.

The final round was a single encounter — a battle with a 15th level volcano dragon, a hag of some sort, two displacer beasts and four manticores. The whole thing took place on an island. It was a meat grinder, to be sure.

According to a Championship judge who posts lower in the thread linked above, it was possible to talk your way out of having to fight the Hag, but as far as I know, no one did that, so it’s sort of a non-issue (although it’s key to keep in mind, for future years, that there are often ways to mitigate encounters).

In the end, Evil League of Evil defeated the entire encounter and had two party member survive. No other team completed the encounter, but we came closest (we were 13 HP away from killing the last manticore, everything else was dead). The third place team had not managed to kill off the dragon and I think one or two of the manticores when they lost the rest of their team. And, I’m sorry, I don’t remember exactly who the third place team was, but it could have been The C team.

Actually Critskriegers deserve a strong honorable mention — I think they were basically 4th overall, but if you like this sort of high-intensity combat maximized game, one of the Critskriegers also ran a little side tournament called the Fourthcore Deathmatch Tournament — head to head, player versus player deathmatch arenas. It was teams of first level characters, respawning after every death (and teams scored points for deaths)… in the end, it was crazy, awesome fun (we came in second place there, too, damn it!)
https://mail.google.com/mail/#search/deathmatch/131cffe171fe50fd

Our gang has been playing the championship for years — going back to the last several years of 3.5. We miss some things about the old format — the competition used to involved 3 rounds of competition (a semifinal round before the finals) so there was more opportunity to play this sort of high-stakes game. Also, the time limit used to be for the entire adventure ( four hours for the adventure) and now it’s per encounter (45 minutes per encounter) which means many teams wash out and don’t get to play a whole slot worth of the game. It clearly take a lot of the bookkeeping out of judging and promoting teams from one round to the next, but to my mind it seems like putting ease of judging ahead of a good experience for the players is a bit of putting the cart before the horse. Of course, you can always play through the rest of your session if you want, even after you’ve run out of time, but most teams don’t, probably out of disappointment and frustration.

7 Dave Rickard August 21, 2011 at 8:26 am

I was on “Evil League of Evil”. We sort of squeaked out of the first round; we finished the second encounter with four seconds to spare. From comments the organizers made afterward, it seemed like basically every team that made it through the second encounter made it to the final, so it was really that one where 90% of the teams washed out. One issue we encountered was that since we were the only table at our slot that made it past #2, several of the DM’s wandered over to watch us. Then our DM started discussing tactics, etc. with those DM’s during later encounters while we were still on the timer. Overall, though, we made it through which is always a large part luck and the DM, so I can’t complain.

The Finals round was very different, as John Jones mentioned. Fortunately we picked the right order to try to drop enemies (hag first, then dragon). Two of us had died by the time the dragon went down, but at that point it was kind of a war of attrition, and we were doing more damage than we were taking. We lost a third party member before it ended, but it was a matter of getting through rounds quickly enough to drop the remaining enemies before time ran out.

8 Jeff Scifert August 22, 2011 at 9:05 pm

I was also on the “Evil League of Evil” team. As Dave mentioned, we did not have too much trouble the first round, the second round almost cost us (as it did a majority of the teams), the third round was not too bad, as we quickly realized that the Bulette tunnel was the avenue of escape and we beelined for it ASAP with the crew. I was playing Eric the fighter and even grappled one of the minotaur baddies and drug him into the hole with me :) The fourth encounter was a tough one, but we managed to daze the hydra enough times that it was effectively neutered long enough for us to get many of the crew out. A lot of jumping, swimming and running to get to the exit, though! The 5th encounter was a tough one. The crew had all bunched up and many were taken out by a burst attack, and we ended up timing out; we were unsure that we would make the finals, which we found out the next afternoon that we did do to only 2 teams actually completing the 5 rounds.

The Final round was tough, as expected, but with judicious use of control powers and killing the hag in 2 rounds, our focus turned towards the dragon and we eventually killed it. The manticores coup de graced 2 party members and the Druid died later under a ranged assault. The assassin’s cloud of darkness saved our bacon and by hiding out in it and relying on ranged tactics, and good use of some Stealth roles, the assassin and the fighter (who used the weapon power to turn his axe into a javelin as needed) ranged the manticore’s to death eventually, only venturing out once to take on a manticore that had turned chicken :) Was an exciting and nail-biting finish to a tough series of encounters, but we had a blast.

9 Derek Schubert August 25, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Another member of the “Evil League of Evil” here!

We heard that Encounter 1 of the qualifying round eliminated about 90% of the teams, because they got bogged down by enemies and couldn’t move the crew (the minions) to a safe exit. For us, however, it was the easiest encounter of the competition. We rolled well on initiative and managed to prevent the portal from opening at all. This meant that we had only the three enemies who started on the map. We kept enemies grabbed or dazed while we moved our crew toward the front door, but it didn’t really matter: we finished off the last enemy after only 25 minutes.

Encounter 2 was a real grind, with one enemy per room/levels, a lot of rooms/levels to go through, and round-by-round changing effects as the tower tilted. We didn’t bull rush, but simply killed each enemy in turn. Moving the crew-minions turned out to be a waste of time; we would have done better if we had left most of the crew at the start and brought along a few minions to open doors for the PCs.

I had the most fun with Encounter 3, because it let me (playing the assassin/executioner) use a utility power to move 35 creatures each round: a Close Burst 5, Move action, allowing my PC and all allies in the burst to shift 2 squares, and then Sustain Move to do it again. We had to start all 30 crew-minions on the map (instead of bringing on a few per round) — and, as Ragnarok mentioned, the maps were printed at smaller than a 1″ grid, so we couldn’t fit 1″ tokens for our crew on the map, but we used peanuts instead. With the assassin in the middle of the pack, all 5 PCs and all 30 crew were shifting. It was like a giant jellyfish pulsing across the battlefield. We knew that we had to stay ahead of the ash cloud, so this was the perfect way to grant movement off-turn.

Encounter 4, as Jeff said, went OK for us because we dazed and slowed the hydra and kept it from boxing us in. We had to leave about half of the crew on the map (i.e. lose them) by getting the last PC (mine) off of the map with about 3 minutes on the clock, because the hydra was going to act next, and we weren’t certain that my PC would survive its attacks. Better to abandon some crew and ensure that all PCs survived.

In Encounter 5, we dropped some enemies early, but the enemy controller kept weakening our strikers, we spent too much time trying to determine whether to fight or run, and eventually we just couldn’t finish.

In the Final mega-encounter, we did have some lucky rolls (but unlucky positioning that doomed two of our PCs early) and we won the war of attrition at the end. Afterward, a few of us even noticed that we had overlooked certain powers or feats that might have kept some of our PCs alive longer, but it was a moot point.

It’s tough to have only 45 minutes per encounter, with no “rollover minutes”. Encounters 2, 4, and/or 5 might gone differently if we had gotten to use our extra 20 minutes from Encounter 1.

I enjoyed playing these 10th-level PCs more than the 25th-level PCs last year; at 10th level, there’s enough variety in the PCs (powers, feats, and items) to reward perceptiveness and creativity by the players when they choose their actions, but not so many things that it overwhelms the players — and also not hundreds of monster hit points to grind through.

Anyway, thanks again for posting this thread, Ameron! It’s interesting to hear other players’ experiences of the same adventure.

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