D&D Encounters: Lost Crown of Neverwinter (Week 6)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on September 15, 2011

This was without a doubt the worst week I’ve ever had at D&D Encounters. The problem had absolutely nothing to do with the players and everything to do with the encounter. I suspect that I’m not alone with my criticism of this week’s encounter. Let me explain what happened and why I felt that things went so very, very wrong.

I run D&D Encounters at two FLGS in my area. The game played on Wednesday night is the one I usually write about. However, when I can’t make the Wednesday night game I recount the session I played on Monday night with my other group. This week’s field report will follow the Monday night crew. For anyone following this season’s podcasts, don’t worry we still recorded the adventure. However, you won’t recognize any of the voices but mine.

On Monday night we usually have enough people to run two tables; however our second DM was unable to play this week which meant I ended up running one massive table. We started with seven players. Not great but definitely manageable. Within 10 minutes two more players showed up so we ended up running a table of nine. But believe it or not the overflowing game table had nothing to do with the overall problems we faced this week.

The party consisted of a Goliath Fighter (Battlerager), Kalashtar Paladin, Gnome Bladesinger, Warforged Druid (PHB2 build), Tiefling Battlemind, Tiefling Warlock, Human Bard, Eladrin Cleric (Valenae per-gen), Human Wizard (enchanter).

Throughout this article there’s a really good chance I’m going to come across as really negative. My intent is not to turn this into a rant (although I suspect it will become one). After all I’m a huge supporter of D&D Encounters program. I write an article about D&D Encounters every week and I play the adventure twice a week. Although I may have some incidental criticisms once in a while, my overall feeling is that it’s an excellent program. That being said, I felt that this week’s encounter was one of the worst ever in six seasons of D&D Encounters. I realize they can’t all be gems, but this one was riddled with problems.

The problem that really came to a head this week was the blatant railroading that is happening in this adventure. The PCs are in the middle of a political power struggle and are forced to take sides. They’re given the illusion of choice but in the end they have to choose Lord Neverember’s side. Since most of the PCs just arrived in Neverwinter they have no history, personal politics or allegiances. There’s no good reason to force them to be on one side or the other. The adventure even gives them badges from both sides and depending on which one they wear some skill checks are helped or hindered. But in the case of this week’s encounter it didn’t matter. Even if they PC wore the Lost Heir’s badge they still ended up in a fight because they were seen as Lord Neverember’s stooges.

The other huge problem with this week’s encounter was the requirement that the PCs had to go to the House of a Thousand Faces. The mission the heroes accepted from Lord Neverember was to find the Lost Heir or find solid, reliable information to support or discredit his claim on Neverwinter’s throne. Yet during week 4’s encounter they were sidetracked.

If you recall when the PCs arrived at the Wall a group of Bandits had killed the guards and were trying to open the gates. Obviously the PCs stepped in and stopped the Bandits, but this was not really part of their mission. It was a distraction at best. After the combat Seldra the Half-elf explained that these bandits were working for the Dead Rats. Again, this is nice information to have, but not relevant unless the Lost Heir is also a Dead Rat. Unfortunately the adventure railroads the PCs into following-up on this lead even though they have no real motivation to see it through (other than to just do the right thing).

This week’s encounter began when the heroes arrived at the House of a Thousand Faces. The Eladrin and Half-elf running the inn and tavern are kind and welcoming. They’re willing to talk but don’t seem to have any relevant information about the Lost Heir’s or the Dead Rats. They suggest talking to Charl to learn more. Charl is happy to talk about the Lost Heir but clearly knows nothing useful. He has information about the Dead Rats but the adventure says he won’t reveal it unless he’s begging for his life (which at this point isn’t relevant).

In order for the combat part of the encounter to begin Charl has to accuse the heroes of being Lord Neverember supports (which he has no proof of at this point). The heroes are in turn supposed to be offended by the taunting to the point where they’ll want to fight Charl. When this happens Charl and his men attack the party.

This group of heroes has taken special care not to wear the badges they received from the Lost Heir or Lord Neverember. They have done everything they can to remain neutral. Neither Charl nor any other observer has any reason to believe that these heroes are working for Lord Neverember. If anything they might even think the PCs will support the Lost Heir since they did fight by his side against the white dragon. The adventure even gives PCs a substantial bonus to their skills when interacting with Charl if they present the Lost Heir’s badge. There is no reason for this fight to happen. Yet it inevitably does, because what’s a week of D&D Encounters without combat?

My final beef with this week’s encounter is all the information provided to the DM that none of the players ever know about. It turns out that The House of a Thousand Faces is a Harper hideout and that the Eladrin and Half-elf are themselves Harper agents. Fortunately I had PCs at the table with the Harper theme. However, as the Harpers are a secretive organization those PCs did not think it appropriate to reveal these facts to the non-Harper party members. Likewise the Eladrin and Half-elf wouldn’t reveal themselves as Harpers to those not already in the know. So a whole page of the adventure was merely good reading for the DM, but not something that would ever likely come out in the game.

Now that I’ve ranted (damn, I really didn’t want this to become a rant) let me give you some of the details on what happened at the table. The party arrived at The House of a Thousand faces where they interacted with Toram, the Half-elf that, along with his Eladrin sister, run the place. He was cordial but had nothing useful to share when asked about the Lost Heir. The party eventually asked about the Dead Rats and Toram suggested they speak with Charl the Halfling. A few of the nine heroes decided to go over to Charl’s table. Realizing that this could exclude the majority of the players from a social interaction I instead had Toram wave Charl over to the PCs’ table.

Charl also had little to reveal about the Lost Heir. This frustrated the party to no end. Why would they be forced to come here if they couldn’t get the information that the adventure required of them. They asked about the Dead Rats and Charl basically said he works for them on occasion but isn’t a member. By now I was really starting to lose the players. They basically said they were going to kill the Halfling out of frustration. Now I had to improvise.

I had a group of Charl’s associated enter the bar and come over to the PCs’ table to say hi to Charl. While doing this, one of the men successfully pick pocketed a Lord Neverember badge from one of the PCs. The Bandit tried to secretly show it to Charl from across the room but two of the PCs noticed this. As soon as Charl realized that the PCs were working for Lord Neverember he initiated the fight. I didn’t like taking this route, but it was the best I could come up with at a moment’s notice. Charl dropped a smoke pellet and combat began.

I must credit the players because it only took mild prompting for them to realize that these were regular people and that so far no one had been attacked. This was just posturing. The heroes delayed attacking until the Bandits engaged them. After that it was on.

The combat part of the encounter was actually very interesting. I added more Bandits and more manikins. With the confusion already created from the smoke pellet and the six mirrors, it was a very crowded tap-room where the PCs were unsure of which minis were manikins and which were actual opponents.

I deliberately had some of the Bandits remain motionless for a round or two, ignoring the opportunity attacks they’d normally be allowed in order for the PCs not to notice them as threatening. I explained what I was doing to the players and told them that if they used a minor action to make a Perception check they could notice the difference for nearby minis. If a PC ended his turn next to a manikin or Bandit they automatically knew the difference.

As expected the combat with nine PC, eight Bandits and one sneaking Halfling took a long time. The entire session took about 2 hours 15 minutes, most of that being the combat. Charl eventually surrendered when he ran out of smoke pellets and most of his men were unconscious. When the fighting was over the heroes questioned Charl and he told them what he knew of the Dead Rats. Many of the players didn’t care at all. They wanted to know more about the Lost Heir. No one understood why these PC would continue following-up on the Dead Rats. I couldn’t provide them with a good explanation.

I realize I didn’t actually go into the specifics of the combat as I usually do. I felt that taking about the problems was more important. Am I the only one who’s feeling this way? Did I just miss something earlier in the adventurer that would give the heroes the motivation they seemed to be lacking? How are other DMs handing players who want a reason to do this but don’t have one?

I’m worried that frustrated players may give up and stop coming out D&D Encounters or that they’ll instead opt to take on Lair Assault until this season of D&D Encounters is finished. I thought the first few weeks of this adventure were really well done which makes this recent problem encounter so disappointing. What are your thoughts on my situation?

As an added bonus this season we’re recording our D&D Encounters experiences and making them available to you as downloadable podcasts. Listen to the Week 6 Encounter. Bear in mind that these recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at time it may be difficult to hear everyone.

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.

Looking for instant updates? Subscribe to the Dungeon’s Master feed!


FREE ROAMING FOR INTERNATIONAL CALLS!
Check out the best international Sim Cards and save up to 80% on your phone calls, go to roaming free sims and travelsim!

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kevin September 15, 2011 at 10:31 am

I am running this tonight. I am willing to let my very neutral players RP it out and avoid the combat entirely. If they go this route, I will try to provide reasons to keep looking deeper into the Dead Rat connection without explicit railroading. Last week, my players tried to discreetly show Neverember’s badge to the bridge guards, and due to a bad streewise roll, the guard ruined the discretion. I stole the scene from that Paul Hogan movie where he thinks he is an Angel, and the guard let the snipers up in their nests know these guys were OK.

So Charl has intel that they are on the fence. There is evidence of them working for both Neverember and the Lost Heir. I think I have enough material here to steer them toward Chapter 3, without explicit railroading. Railroading is annoying, but it is a necessary evil for public play to some degree. I am looking forward to a week without fighting, if I can pull it off. I may be running 2 tables tonight, and if the players can share the spotlight, a RP encounter with some skill checks (not an explicit challege, unless the player nidge things that way) could very easily make tonight bearable with my second DM out for the week.

I agree with you 149%. And share you annoyances. Hoping to find a creative way out of this week’s annoyances.

I Find your rants very constructive, so they really aren’t rants in the classic sense. More like spirited discussions of a passionate topic.

2 skating bear September 15, 2011 at 10:36 am

It was boring. In our table, Charl said the Lost Heir was a member of the Dead Rats, so we wanted him to prove it, and then he wouldn’t. We were instantly bored, because we had no reason to believe he knew the guy we were seeking. Then a half-orc intimidated him and combat started.

But I had no interest in the Dead Rat Gang or anyone in this Thousand Faces area… if the Lost Heir wants help retaking his birthright, why would he deny meeting supporters who wear the proper badge and want to meet him to help? Best to kill your supporters… truly a great political-military strategy.

…and we killed Charl and have no leads except the one spoon-fed to us by the encounter.

Games like this encourage the players to just sit back and wait to roll, destroying the entire role play and creativity that made D&D a game in the first place.

This is Nintendo!

3 Kiel Chenier September 15, 2011 at 10:40 am

I get where you’re coming from.

My solution to the problem was to lie and re-write the adventure somewhat.

My Charl ‘Halfling member of the Dead Rats’ was like Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone in Batman Begins.

The Harpers Agent Eladrin let slip that the place was a Harper’s hideout after enough heroes flashed their amethyst badges (Her protesting that the place was a family friendly TGI Friday’s-like inn didn’t stick).

After he was beaten, surrendered, Charl spilled his guts to the party, telling them everything, even volunteering to show them the Dead Rats hideout personally.

4 Pedro Rodrigues September 15, 2011 at 10:45 am

We had the same problem with this side trek.

It was compounded by the fact that none of the players had the Harper theme (so all that info was completely lost on us) and that the DM (usually a very good one) wasnt on its best during those two encounters, which meant that things were even more confusing (the manikins didnt even factor into the combat, which is a shame since from your description it looks like a cool setup).

The combat was interesting only because our resources had been really depleted during those other encounters, which made for an intense encounter, but on the other end our sincere attempts to avoid combat were for nothing, due to no meaningful reason (other than the obligatory combat encounter), and the attack came out of the blue (we thought the halfling was either crazy or controlled, which could make sense, but even that failed by the wayside).

To make matters worse, this is the end of the chapter, so the players went on a railroaded wild goose chase.

5 Ted September 15, 2011 at 11:23 am

I, too, was frustrated with the interaction with Charl. I had no desire to hurt him, but it seemed impossible to get any information out of him otherwise. We tried to befriend him, buy him drinks, bribe him with gold, or just read his body language, and none of that produced any results that moved the narrative forward at all. Eventually my Dwarven slayer decided his patience had worn thin and decided to start talking with his greataxe, which started the brawl. Once Charl was bloodied and near death, the Cleric of Oghma brokered a deal. Tell us all you know, and I’ll heal your wounds. Charl consented, and his lips seemed to flap endlessly about everything money and ale could not buy earlier. No one in the party was openly wearing a badge because we wanted to be cautious in the Blacklake district of who we claimed homage to.

I also agree about the plethora of back ground information that really doesn’t get to be used. It’s just flavor, and it highlights many of the cool things about this campaign setting, but doesn’t affect much about this specific encounter or season. I feel that way about a lot of the theme tie in stuff for this season. It’s very neat, but not used to it’s full effect within the parameters of the module.

Here’s my understanding of what the player motivations might be for this encounter, and the lead up to it. I think the motivation is there, but it’s loosely connected, and you have to make some basic assumptions.

Lord Neverember is paying the characters to find out who the Lost Heir is, if he’s legitimate, and if possible, bring the Lost Heir to see Lord Neverember. He tells them to start at the wall (to get an idea of what he’s up against in rebuilding Neverwinter, and why he needs to know if the Lost Heir is a hindrance or a help to those efforts), and then he suggests they go to the Blacklake district to investigate further about the Lost Heir. Presumably because that’s where they’ll find the supporters of the Heir (such as the Sons of Alagondar, which I believe is commonly known to support the heir.)

After the encounter at the wall, the players meet Seldra (some for a second time), and she is loyal to the heir yet an agent of Neverember, a contradiction she does not deny, and that Neverember is also aware of, calling her his (Lord NEs) spy. She tells the players that the bandits were hired by the Dead Rat’s gang, and that the gang is in league with the Sons of Alagondar. So one can make the connection that the supporters of the heir had something to do with attempting to open the gate. If the goal is to find out about the Lost heir, finding his supporters is a good step. Whether that’s to infiltrate or to confront is up to the players.

So now the players have their lead. To follow up on it, they need to find someone that can lead them to either the dead rat’s gang, or the sons of Alagondar, and the best bet they have right now is through the dead rat’s gang. And the link they have to that is the House of a Thousand Faces. Why? Because Seldra said so.

So the whole thing is based on what two people say. Lord Neverember (who specifically said to check out the Blacklake district) and Seldra who says the bandits are working for the Dead Rat’s gang who is in league with the Sons of Alagondar, and who you will be able to get information about at the House of a Thousand faces in the Blacklake district. If your players are suspicious of Seldra (and with the short interaction they had, they probably are) then acting on her word doesn’t seem the best course of action. Still, it’s all we’re given.

I still like this season of encounters a lot. I think it’s a good story. I do recognize that it’s a bit more rail roadish than some of the previous seasons. More than anything, it makes me want to run a home campaign where some of the greater political intrigues and alliances can be fleshed out.

6 Amradorn September 15, 2011 at 11:25 am

I ran into similar troubles. My group has been drifting towards the side of the lost heir and when they got the House of a Thousand faces they were being openly friendly with Charl. With nothing in the printed adventure that allowed for that possibility I improvised.

While the group was drinking with and chating up with Charl I had a second group of adventures enter the place who were loyal to Neverember. The NPC adventures then started the brawl and in the confusion there was some friendly fire.

I have pretty much decided that I’ll let the group continue to support the Lost Heir if they want to and modify the adventure as need be to accommodate the altered path.

7 Wendy McLaren September 15, 2011 at 11:27 am

I had a big table, as well, with 7 players. One of the Tieflings went right up to the halfling and started talking to him but started to intimidate when Charl (which I said was short for Charles — the night was rife with short jokes) had little information to offer. Since we had only just started and I wanted to give the others a chance to roleplay, I asked if anyone wanted to try to diffuse the situation.

Their rolls were terrible, although one PC did catch on that Charl had buddies in the bar. And so combat ensued. Yes, a crowded room full of mirrors and mannequins made for very interesting combat.

I do think the PCs were disappointed not to know more about the Lost Heir. All Charl would tell them was that he was the Heir’s “biggest” supporter.

As for the Harper PC, she decided to turn Charl over to the innkeepers, rather than to Lord Neverember. I’m trying to decide how that will affect things for next time, since the player knew it meant she could be seen as a suspect in the Harper Commander’s murder.

8 Alphastream September 15, 2011 at 11:50 am

I think the idea is that this is supposed to feel like a big reveal and the information should propel the players and their PCs to align against the Lost Heir. I can see how a writer can be thinking this will be compelling (after all, they know the story so well inside their heads).

Don’t worry about the rant. Your column is awesome and your support for Encounters isn’t hurt by this. It may actually be strengthened, because you call it as you see it.

9 Sentack September 15, 2011 at 11:52 am

One thing that shocked me to learn while reading this was that you took on 9 players at once. Why on earth would you run a game with 9 players? That seemed crazy to me. But that’s besides the main point. I will ask, why didn’t you break it down to 2 games of 4 players? Did nobody else want to DM?!

Any case, back to the issue at hand, the Encounter. Yikes! I know some DM’s have been playing up the whole “Pick a side. Evermember? Lost Heir?! Is there really a bad guy in all this!” aspect of the adventure but to learn of this encounter means to me that the module did not only an awful job of presenting this, it contradicts itself! That’s really bad writing.

Good read today, we don’t always need a blow by blow description of what happens. I like these review of the various weeks encounters themselves and a general idea of how well or poorly the players did. Keep up the great work.

10 discerningdm September 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm

One I read about this side-trek I tried to set it up more by playing up the civil strife in Neverwinter. The players really get that the city is tearing itself apart and when Seldra approached them I had her basically spell out “you find the heir, we can broker a meet with Neverember and all will be save”. The oartybhad no problem continuing on the sidetrack, though more than one asked the next session, on the way down to the Wyvern bridge “Why are we going here?”

I was more bothered by the fact that the Wyvern Bridge encounter had no opportunities for roleplaying or non-murdering built into the encounter except for the bridge guards. I spent some extra time describing how the city changed as they approached the outer reaches of the Enclave and how the Mintaran mercenaries were bad dudes, but the thread of the story got a little lost.

Next week (we’re a week behind still) I’ll try to make the conflict a little more inevitable between the dead rats and the party, so the railroad tracks aren’t so clear.

11 Baffal September 15, 2011 at 8:14 pm

First off, the actual tactical part of this encounter was terrific and my entire table of 6 enjoyed it but the railroading in the whole adventure is pretty awful. Since the third session after the fight with the dragon there have been no opportunities for the players to do anything but what’s in the script.

The encounter at the wall was, in my opinion, the worst so far, but wait until next week. But more on that later… Why would Neverember send the party to the wall just to see what he’s been up against? They just fought off an attack of plague-changed creatures and a dragon… wouldn’t he think they get it by now? If not, why hire them?

My players didn’t want to walk into the inn and start asking about a gang called the dead rats… they tried to be cool and work the room but without interacting with Charl, nothing really happens. Then they tried to be nice with him, buy him a drink and get up a game of cards… no guidance about how to play that but that’s OK, I improvised.

But at the end of the encounter when one of the captured bandits tells the party about the boathouse… that’s its guarded during the day by the dead rat gang but no one is foolish enough to go there at night… what did they say?

Of course, we’ve been able to beat all of the bandits and gang members so that’s a known quantity. Why would we go there at night and face uncertainly when we can maybe fight our way in during the day against bandits we know we can beat? I don’t have a good answer for that as DM and I’m not sure how I’m going to handle next week, which starts off telling the party that they’ve decided to go to the boathouse at midnight… chugga, chugga, choo choo!

12 jonathan_sicari September 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm

I actually had an anonymous person tip Charl off that the PCs were working for Neverember.

13 TonyF September 15, 2011 at 9:35 pm

I don’t want to quote the text here due to spoilers, but I thought the last paragraph of “The Truth” in Session 4 (page 25) was intended to setup Session 6.

14 Baffal September 15, 2011 at 9:55 pm

@TonyF yes, that does set up session 6 but in no way addresses the lack of in-game reasons for the characters to actually want to follow the story line. Since that info is only for DM consumption it doesn’t play into the decisions that the characters are making.

Compared to last season when the players had the opportunity to take different paths on at least two different occasions and also added relevant text for situations when the characters chose an unexpected path, this season (so far) has been a total AMTRAK ride.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Encounters and attracting new players to the game… and frankly most of the newbies don’t know when they’re being railroaded… but I do and it demonstrates a lack of effort on WotC’s part.

15 Feeroper September 15, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Agreed.

I was running this in your absence and I also had the same thoughts as I went when I read it ahead of time. Thankfully I had a Harper in my group so some of that info came out, but most of it was largely unused.

What I did with Charl, was instead of having the Harpers send the PCs to him, I had the Eladrin sister set the PC`s up with a table and refreshments so when they went to relax for a bit to get their bearings, they would overhear Charl mouthing off about being close friends with the Heir, and how how he is an man loyal to the heir through and through. I gave him a drunk kind of swagger to try to evoke the bar brawl encounter earlier in the season, and hopefully get the drop on the PCs.

I also described other Patrons getting offended at his loud blathering and foul language, and at that point had Toram come over and have a social encounter with the PC’s and start laying out the hooks for gathering info about Charl. They pretty much took them up and eventually confronted Charl, but it was only moments later that someone decided to flash the Neverember badge (he had some pointed insults for them, and I had him question their real intentions since hed never seen their faces here before, but then he supposed that Neverember would never employ such a wimpy group), so they were all surprised when the bandits jumped in.

The fight went well, and in the end after they confronted Charl after he and the bandits were taken out, he spilled his guts about not actually knowing the heir. After that they got interested in who he was because of how loud mouthed he was before so I was able to get the Dead Rats info in to set up for the next encounter.

But yeah, it was really awkwardly written and clearly made to railroad any possible decisions that could have been made.

16 Sunyaku September 15, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Sheesh, I’m really glad I haven’t been playing encounters the last few weeks, as I’ve been running lair assault. I thought something smelled fishy in the storyline when Lord Neverember asked the party to complete a vague and relatively mundane task that he himself had been incapable of, despite his wealth and power… and the fact that it started with “go investigate this random wall” was simply absurd. Thanks to your weekly recaps, I can see now that I’m having a lot more fun running lair assault than I would have been playing through encounters!

17 Erik Scott de Bie September 16, 2011 at 3:14 pm

How guys,

I am so sorry to hear you’ve been having a tough time. In Ameron’s case, I suspect a number of these misfortunes are a result of trying to engage too many players and the sort of lackluster gameplay that happens from time to time. No matter how well written an encounter might or might not be, sometimes we just have crappy game experiences–it happens to all of us. But that doesn’t by any means excuse me being unclear in my adventure writing, and for that, I apologize.

I took great care to write a LOT of explanatory information to the DM in the actual adventure, mostly in the front matter where it talks about the various factions. Their relationship and the story is a little complicated, but that’s kinda where you’re going to get in a political thriller like this. I would respectfully request you reserve judgment about “that’s just bad writing” unless you’ve read the actual adventure and all that background material.

I’m grateful for the feedback. I would appreciate more constructive criticism (i.e., “I would have wanted more XXXX” or “Maybe less XXXX”) if anyone’s got it. Most of what I’m getting from this thread is “this is bad,” and I’d find “this would be better if XXX” more useful.

I’ve also crafted a much more detailed analysis on the WotC boards: http://community.wizards.com/dungeonsanddragons/go/thread/view/91301/28276071/?sdb=1&post_num=5#506792115

Cheers

18 Erik Scott de Bie September 16, 2011 at 3:19 pm

@Alphastream: Actually, this wasn’t meant to push PCs into aligning against the Heir or not. My entire purpose in crafting the adventure was to let the PCs make their own choices about which side they support (if any). Maybe they’re legitimately serving Neverember’s interests, maybe they want to support the Heir, or maybe they’re only in it for themselves.

Aside from the railroading necessary to run a large-scale game in a short timeframe per session format (which I clearly chafe under), I have purposefully tried to empower player choice as much as possible. And when I can’t go farther, I have to rely on the DMs to modify the adventure as necessary. I highly encourage this!

Cheers

19 Kevin September 16, 2011 at 5:17 pm

My players are still on the fence and haven’t decided who to support. I ran the encounter a day late. (I am in a Cybersecurity class on Wed from 6-10pm this fall)

Some good RP, accompanied by some good skill rolls, and Charl opened up to my players. He knew of their fight against the Dragon, and other plague charged threats, and due to a bad roll the prior week, he had intel that at Wyvern Bridge the party was revealed to be working for Neverember. I used the information in the encounter to spin Charl as a power broker, who is afraid that he might be the patsy if things go south. Being implicated in weaking city defenses to allow plague charged agressors into the city was not what Charl signed up for. He directs the party to the Dead Rat Hideout hoping they can sort out the agenda, and keep him in the clear. Basically I rewrote the encounter, used all of the information I wanted the players to have, and steered them toward the next chapter. The only railroading necessary was keeping the party from taking Charl with them to the Dead Rat Hideout next week. But that gave me an excuse to reward the magic items “As a token of his sincerity”

The players are concerned that Neverember might kill the Heir, and them as well, if he is proved to be legit, and the proof is delivered privately. If he is the real Heir, they feel a public reveal would be safer for them, and the heir, and might corner Neverember into keeping his word, and transferring power.

If the Heir is not legit, they are pretty sure Neverember will be happy as a clam, and their lives not be at risk.

I think they all have lived on a stead diet of X-Files, and are adequately paranoid, while genuinely concerned that their actions could ignite or prevent a civil war in the very tense city.

@Scott. I am sorry that what has been posted here has not been more constructive. I think that now we know you are watching, more constructive postings may follow.

Public Play is a very difficult audience. DM and Players frequently see the rails, and chaff (right along with you) at them. It breaks the illusion, I guess. The format is the diametric opposite of Sandbox. It is nearly impossible not to railroad to some degree. Last Season managed to give more choice that I have seen in public play. Something I enjoyed, don’t think it is the new standard that all public play should expect to meet. It is something to strive for. I enjoyed retooling the encounter as a RP, almost a skill challenge, event. So did 4 of my 5 players. One just wanted to smash skulls, and he accepts that there are many skulls left to smash and didn’t howl too much.

The extra information was something that feed into the RP encounter. I did my best not to turn Charl into a caricature of Joe Pesci’s character in JFK, but in the back of my mind, that was the vision.

Thanks for looking for feedback, and revealing you are watching, and interested in constructive feedback.

20 Erik Scott de Bie September 16, 2011 at 5:27 pm

@Kevin: You’re very welcome, and by all means, people should say whatever they want. I’m just pointing out that I’d really like to do better, and I’d like to get their help. You guys are obviously smart gamers, and I’d love to get some ideas. :)

I also highly support the direction you’re going with the game. That’s exactly the sort of political ambiguity I think the setting fosters. (Fun fact: My initial draft included a section in Neverember’s interaction in session 4 wherein he offers any “shady” PC, such as a dead rat or bregan d’aerthe spy, a substantial bonus for actually assassinating the Lost Heir. But I figured that was reaching too far, and pruned it back to “discrediting” the LH.)

Completely agreed with the railroading thing. It’s ironic, since the Neverwinter setting (which I also worked on) is written to be very obviously a sandbox campaign. This is just one of those instances where I *had* to write a railroad game, and tried to bury the rails as deep as I could. My goal was not unlike Dragon Age in that respect, where you make significant choices that do have consequences, but the same sort of thing can still happen, even if your perceptions of it vary based on your choices.

Cheers

21 Feeroper September 17, 2011 at 12:48 am

Hey Erik,

Sorry if I sounded too harsh without any backup.

I actually do consider this to be the best encounters season yet overall (that I have played), and I would say that this weeks encounter was the first one I was not too keen on for this season.

So to follow up on what I was saying, I guess I would have liked a little more plot relevance in terms of the main seasons story line – or at least to make it feel that way for the PC’s. I felt like I had to jimmy in some info that wasnt necesarily there for me to connect, and I worried about screwing with any details that might contradict by something I make up on the fly. So maybe even a side pannel to suggest how this encounter can be more closely tied to the main plot to catch the PCs interest, just a couple nuggets of info that would be safe for use in order to create a carot on a stick at any point in the encounter. Or even a different set of tactics that can play out differently depending on how the social encounters go in the House?

However, having said that, i am really pleased with this season, and absoloutly love the political intruige created here, so thanks!

22 DeeAnn September 18, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I had almost the opposite experience to most of the other commenters. I thought this was a fun Encounter, with a lot of opportunity to provide story information.

But I’ve been really lucky to have a consistent table each week. I can look at their past behavior to help predict their future behavior.

One of my players (noble theme) wants to be the Heir himself. Another aligned himself with the Heir early on and wears his badge everywhere. And several like to brag with about helping the Heir fight off the dragon in the second Encounter. Given that, I figured that my players were not going into the House of a Thousand faces spouting off about how they support Lord Neverember.

So I looked over the Encounter description and found ways to make it fit my PCs a bit more. I took my cue from the fact that Charl is the kind of guy who hides his allies and ambushes the unwary. As Harpers, the inkeepers’ would know this sort of thing. So I had them drop a fight hint when they steered the PCs toward Charl (“Be careful, he’s spoiling for a fight.”)

Going into the evening, I felt ready with a few solid options:
1.) The PCs say something stupid and the Encounter goes as written.
2.) The PCs are clever and extract Charl’s info through RP/skill challenge
3.) The PCs fail at RP/skill challenge, so Charl won’t give up his info until the PCs “prove themselves worthy.”
4.) The PCs go straight for the fight suggested by the Innkeeper.

My PCs tried for option 2, had some great RP but miserably failed their skill checks. So they got to fight for their info.

It was a fun bar brawl. Interestingly, they allowed the thugs to surrender at first blood, but when a bloodied Charl suggested that he might surrender too, they told him they weren’t finished with him yet.

So he beat them all down to aaah!-no-healing-and-we’re-all at-single-digit-hp before they finally knocked him out. Then they helped clean up the mess in the bar, woke Charl, and we had more fun RP while he spilled his guts.

It was good times.

@Erik This Encounter looks like it was written with the supposition that the PCs would let it be known that they were working for Neverember. As previous comments show, many tables didn’t work out that way.

My “more XXX” suggestion: while I enjoyed coming up with reasons for the fight with Charl, it would have been easier if they were already written out for me–much the way you noted that if the PCs killed Charl in the bar fight, Seldra would come into the Inn to provide his critical story info.

That said, I recognize how difficult it is to write an interesting story that will always follow the same path, while also accounting for the choices that players might make along the way.

And I have to give credit where credit is due; we’re having a great time this season. :)

23 Seb September 19, 2011 at 11:08 pm

My only complaint with this encounter’s design is that there were to many opponents who could dish out Daze status as en encounter power, and they ALL blew that power attacking one or the other of the party defenders. Being dazed means no opportunity attacks, and I’m playing one of two Knights in the group. We basically sat on our thumbs the whole encounter. On the other hand, our controllers wreked awesome havok; at one point we got 5 enemies into a 3×3 block (with no allies in it) and got them all covered with a set of rapdifire attacks, a dragon breath, attack and a hellfire & brimstone zone.

Its been an OK season, much more for the players than the adventure, but isn’t that how it always goes? I don’t mind the railroading, since its entirely expected, and I can almost always find a reason my character would go along with the plot (taking int as a dump stat helps).

24 Sentack September 20, 2011 at 11:41 am

I’ve only glanced at the module myself currently but from what I’ve seen some other DM’s say, this session lacks a lot of the motivation for the players that prior seasons. It also implies choice although it really lacks any.

It’s a good story but it could have used some more editing, I think. A second set of eyes to go over it and point out the fact that while the DM’s are free to change the module, they shouldn’t have to.

25 David September 20, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Two seasons ago (Ghost Tower) had an interesting encounter. Depending on which path you took (high road, middle road, low road) you fought a different group of baddies, but on the same map. This season seems ripe for those kind of schenanigans, who are you siding with the Heir, Neverember, or neither.
Session 4: Saboteurs or Mercenary guards or caught in the middle
Session 5: Bridge Guards or Plaguechanged or Guards attacked by plaguechanged
Session 6: save Charl or attack Charl or bargain with Charl which goes bad.
If they choose the Heir are they now being tracked and hunted by some mercenaries?
If the choose Neverember does the Heir discredit them at ever turn?
If they choose neither are both groups trying to get rid of them?
Granted this ups the page count. Other than the RP aspect there doesn’t seem to be consequences to picking a side. I think a lot of folks love “What if?!” scenarios and this seems like a great place you use it.

26 Ameron (Derek Myers) September 30, 2011 at 7:56 am

D&D Encounters – Only On Wednesday

I was contacted by Wizards and asked to clarify and correct some details I recently posted in my D&D Encounters articles and the follow-up comments; specifically details about playing on nights other than Wednesday. I was asked to post a correction and clear up any confusion my comments might have caused.

During the D&D Public Play seminar held at GenCon this summer there was some discussion about playing D&D Encounters on nights other than Wednesdays. I wrote in my articles that although D&D Encounters happen in most locations on Wednesday, Wizards understand that this will not always be the case for every store. Where I was mistaken was in saying that Wizards was ok if your FLGS runs D&D Encounters on a different night. Apparently I misunderstood the intent of what was said.

Wizards wants to be very clear that they are “committed to our program’s structure, and we do not want stores to think it’s OK to run on nights other than Wednesdays.” Wednesday is the mandatory day to run D&D Encounters. Wizard does periodically check to ensure that stores run D&D Encounters sessions on Wednesdays. If they discover that a store is not compliant, it can lead to punitive action (such as pulling the program from the store).

Stores can run whatever other D&D events they want on any other night and schedule or report their sessions under the “D&D Game” sanction rule. If the store organizer has any questions about it or how it’s done, they can contact their WPN representative.

I realize that my comments about it being ok to play D&D Encounters on other nights of the week, comments that I now realize were made in error, may have caused some confusion. Hopefully this post will clear up any misunderstandings and set the record straight.

27 David Argall October 11, 2011 at 3:26 am

Luck of Chuck 7. Swamp trek

The swamp was a lousy place, and we spent much of our time grumbling, also getting tired and muddy. But eventually the boathouse we had been told about came into view. We all cheered up, until we found out it was guarded, by some plant creatures, nasty things that surprised us.
The resulting fight was rather rough, but we finally disposed of them. Once we were done with them, we could explore a bit, and found we were not the only ones to encounter these plants, just the ones who survived. Poor guy didn’t need his coins anyway.
As we had been told, the boathouse was connected with the sewers, and we soon found the “hidden” trapdoor. So down we go.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: