D&D Encounters: Beyond the Crystal Cave (Week 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 24, 2011

This week we began season 7 of D&D Encounters and started out journey Beyond the Crystal Cave. Although technically season 7 began last week with a slot 0 session, we opted to just take the week off. When we began this week everyone was refreshed after having a week off and came prepared with a brand new level 1 character. Most players were excited to try the new racers, classes and themes from the Heroes of the Feywild and I’m pleased to say that more than one player had his very own copy of the book. The DMs were the only ones who purchased the Neverwinter Campaign Guide last season, much to the disappointment of our hosts.

Our numbers still continue to hover between 7-10 people. This week we had too many for one table and not enough for two so I ran a party with seven PCs. The issue we’re facing at our FLGS is that even if we had enough players to run two tables we don’t have a secondary DM. Our previous back-up DMs are no longer coming out for D&D Encounters and the players that are coming out don’t have enough experience to feel comfortable being the DM. We may have to throw someone to the wolves and let a rookie run a second table if out number increase significantly.

Meanwhile at the other FLGS where I play we had three full tables with six players at each, so I guess geography and scheduling has a lot to do with it too.

The seven player party consisted of a Pixie Bard (Master Skald) [Unseelie Agent], Human Seeker [Unseelie Agent], Hamadryad Paladin (Cavalier), Wilden Monk [Sidhe Lord], Satyr Warlock (Hexblede) [Unseelie Agent], Pixie Rogue (Thief) [Fey Beast Tamer], and Elf Monk/Ranger Hybrid.

Introduction

A year before the events of week 1 the town of Crystalbrook began experiencing unnatural winds and mists. From within the strange fog, blue-skinned Fey creatures emerged to pillage the town and murder the people. Those in Crystalbrook blame these attacks on the Fey creatures that live in the nearby Sildaine Forest. Meanwhile residents of the Sildaine Forest who have suffered similar attacks believe the problems to stem from primal spirits awakened when residents of Crystalbrook began practicing black magic.

Over the past year both sides took bolder steps in assigning blame resulting in numerous altercations; altercations that have resulted in some deaths and continue to escalate. It was starting to look like war was inevitable.

However two weeks ago everything changed when Orlando (son of Lady Anna Tamora, ruler of Crystalbrook) and Juliana (daughter of Lord Carric, chief of the Sildaine Elves) went missing on the same day. Both Tamora and Carric knew Orlando and Juliana were lovers, but neither knew the extent of the relationship.

As the parents focus on finding their missing children they have temporarily ceased their petty bickering and asked Count Varis Sybar, ruler of the nearby town of Sybar for aid. Count Varis realized this was an opportunity to restore peace in the region and sent word for adventures who could act in his stead as mediators.

The Adventure Begins

Once the players were brought up to speed on the adventure background each of them needed to select one of three backgrounds: Crystalbrook, Sildaine Forest or Sybar. This was a very creative way to get everyone on board without having to come up with some lame excuse for why this eclectic group of PCs would agree to adventure together. By having them all hail from one of the three affected areas in the region they have a stronger motive to work together and resolve the situation to everyone’s mutual benefit. It also makes interaction with the local NPCs a lot easier. As it turned out we had three PCs from Crystal Brook, three from the Sildaine Forest and one from Sybar.

The adventure began with the heroes gathered in Count Varis’s palace. They introduced themselves and then we began. Count Varis explained the situation and asked the PCs for help. He offered them 50 gp up front and another 50 gp when they returned both children safely (and alive) to their parents. He also alluded that the grateful parents may offer their own rewards if the PCs were successful. The PCs agreed (which was good or else it would have been the shortest season of D&D Encounters yet) and then proceeded to Crystalbrook (only because it was closer than the Sildaine Forest).

As they approached Crystalbrook they saw the strange fog and mist rolling over one of the town’s walls. From the nearby gate they could see and hear the sounds of combat. They rushed to investigate, ready to fight if necessary.

Fighting the Fey

Normally I do a pretty detailed play-by-play of how the combat went, but as this was the first session and there was a lot of story to cover, I’m only going to share the combat highlights.

Right off the bat I had all the PCs make knowledge checks and they were able to identify the little blue Fey creatures as Xivorts – not that it did them much good.

The Net Casters managed to entangle everyone as they came through the gates. They used their bolas on PCs with bows or other ranged weapons forcing them to attack from the ground (and suffer the -2 attack penalty for doing so). The Slashers stayed away from entangled PCs that did not possess ranged weapons or implements. This frustrated the melee combatants without bows or other ranged attacks.

The players felt that it was unfair they couldn’t extract themselves from the nets by any means other than a saving throw (or teleportation). I described the nets as living vines that would constantly wrap themselves around the heroes no matter how much they squirmed. After being trapped and practically useless for multiple rounds one of the players running a melee combatant asked if he could use a standard action to grant his adjacent ally a save. I said yes, it required a Heal check of 15 or more. He then asked if he could use Thievery or Athletics to make the check given the circumstances. I was impressed and absolutely said yes to that. The next round the PCs worked together and helped each other escape.

With two Pixies in the party we got our first taste of 3D combat. What a huge pain in the butt. I’m not going to get into it too much here as I’m going to write a post about it next week, but I already dislike the flying PCs. The Pixie Rogue flew on top of the wall and then used his sling to attack from above. He also used his Pixie Dust to let the Seeker fly up to the other wall. When the monsters realized they were getting destroyed from above I had the Darters focus fire. With three Darters making two attacks each and my dice burning up the table, I managed to bring the Seeker from full to 0 hit points in one round. The Rogue managed to kill one of the Darters but on the next round still took four hit reducing him to single digit hit points.

I employed really good tactics with my monsters and the PCs did what they always do and everyone targeted a different monster, killing none in the first few rounds. Eventually they took out the Netters first and that allowed them to move around and clean up the rest of the Xivorts. A couple of the PCs are down to only three healing surges. This should make the remaining three encounters very interesting.

We’re Not Done Yet

In almost every previous session of D&D Encounters the combat was the climax of the night. When the fight was done the session was done. Well this week things were a little bit out of the ordinary. Although there was a good chunk of expository and role-playing before the fight, there was still a fair amount to do afterwards as well. After all the PCs just got to Crystalbrook and hadn’t yet met with Lady Tamora.

The town guards showed up shortly after the last of the Xivorts were defeated. They asked the heroes what happened, clearly suspicious of the strangers covered in blood and exhausted from fighting. When the guards spotted the PCs from Crystalbrook they relaxed a bit. The PCs from Crystalbrook explained why there were here, why they were fighting and who their companions were. Wendig the town drunk corroborated their story although he embellished parts and told a few outright lies to make the heroes sound better.

The heroes had little trouble convincing the guards of their true intentions and when they mentioned that they were going to try to find Orlando the guards realized that the PCs were not a threat. The guards escorted the PCs to Tamora Manor where they met with Lady Tamora.

The guard accompanying the PCs explained what happened and dropped a few local names of people who witnessed the fighting. The PCs introduced themselves and explained that they were sent by Count Varis to try to find Orlando and Juliana and return them safely to their respective homes.

Lady Tamora displayed signs of outward hostility to the foreigners and only spoke directly to the PCs from Crystalbrook. She showed the PCs the note she found in Orlando’s room after he disappeared. Although only signed “J” she knew it was from Juliana. Lady Tamora believes Juliana lured Orlando away from the safety of Tamora Manor so that the Elves could kidnap and imprison him. Blinded by her grief she refused to believe that anything else was possible.

When asked of the Crystal Cave mentioned in the note she referred to it as a dangerous place in Fey territory. When Orlando first disappeared she sent a search party to the Crystal Cave to see if he was there but they have not yet returned.

The heroes from Crystalbrook promised to do whatever they could to ensure Juliana’s safe return. Lady Tamora wished them good luck and offered those from Crystalbrook a healing potion. She seemed embarrassed that she could not offer more than that at this time. She thanked them and bid the party farewell.

Wasting no time the PCs then made their way to the Sildaine Forest to meet with Lord Carric. They were stopped by armed guards on the border of Fey territory. They were given seconds to explain who they were and what they were doing here. This time the heroes from Sildaine Forest stepped up and explained the story. The guards gladly escorted them to Lord Carric.

When they met him face-to-face he was clearly wrought with grief. He had difficulty hiding his emotions around the PCs. Clearly he missed his daughter and was very concerned for her safety.

After the PCs recounted all that had happened so far, including their meeting with Lady Tamora, Lord Carric agreed to help in any way he could. He explained that Juliana had asked a great deal about the Crystal Cave and the land of the Fey recently but until she disappeared he didn’t see it as suspicious. He just assumed she was interested in Fey lore which he always encouraged her to study.

The PCs showed him the note and he was able to confirm it was Juliana’s writing. The reference to the Crystal Cave left little doubt in his mind that she’d gone there looking for a crossing into the Fey Wild. Lord Carric offered to provide the PCs with a map to the cave to speed up their search. However, when he looked for the map he realized it was missing. Juliana must have taken it.

Growing even more concerned for Juliana’s safety, Lord Carric begged the PCs to find his daughter. She is unaware of the real dangers present in the Fey Wild knowing only the happy tales from children’s stories. If she’s gone to the Crystal Cave and crossed over into the Fey Wild then she’s going to need help. The PCs agreed and Lord Carric offered one of the locals from the Sildaine Forest a healing potion to take with his thanks.

Afterthoughts

I ran this adventure twice this week and both groups took over two hours to complete it. Since it was the beginning of a new adventure the players were willing to sit through more of the talking parts then they usually would. The combat was extremely grueling at the table with seven players. Add to that new characters built using classes and races no one’s played before and it was a very slow session. I think that will change as familiarity sets in.

Despite the longer than usual session everyone seemed interested in knowing what happens next. Many players purchased the Heroes of the Fey Wild book already and a few more said they likely would in the coming weeks. This is a product offering that really seems to have people excited and as such there is increased excitement for this season of D&D Encounters.

What were things like during the first week at your FLGS? How was your turnout? Did you get a lot of new players? How many of the players used some elements from the Heroes of the Fey Wild when creating characters?

We continue to record our D&D Encoutners sessions and make them available to you for download every week. This season I’m going to try to record the games at both FLGS where I play so that you can hear how two very different groups handled the same encounter. These recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at times it may be difficult to hear everyone.

D&D Encounters: Beyond the Crystal Cave (Week 1) – Podcasts

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gilvan Blight November 24, 2011 at 11:19 am

I liked the new format with the roleplay-combat-roleplay. Only problem was that as soon as the combat was done everyone started packing up, and the DM had a real hard time getting everyone to continue to focus on the game. The extra time was also a problem as most people expect a 1 hour session and make plans based on that.

I found the Essentials Fighter (Knight) boring as heck and thought the whole Romeo and Juliet thing was a bit much and very lame but still managed to have a good time.

2 Dominic November 24, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Why are your players allowed to use non-HOTFL/HOTFK builds, like hybrids and seekers? WotC states only Essentials builds, with options from the Essentials books and Heroes of the Feywild, are allowed.

3 Ameron (Derek Myers) November 24, 2011 at 2:15 pm

@Gilvan Blight
Looking ahead in the adventure I see that there is more of the roleplay-combat-roleplay format, so players will hopefully get used to it. I think the extra-long session this time was necessary to set everything up. I don’t see too many of the other encounters taking this long.

The adventure may sound like Romeo & Juliet now, but just wait until the heroes find the lovers, then things will really get interesting and break away from the story you think you know. (Although if you’re read The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream it might not be that much of a surprise).

@Dominic
As long as the characters were built using the most up-to-date rules, I’m not particular about what book they’re from. I realize that Wizards wants you to use the new books, but given how we’re struggling to get players to come out at all I’m not going to restrict their choices. Folks come out once a week to have fun, and I want them to use whatever character they think they’ll most enjoy playing. For new players I strongly recommend they use the essentials builds because they are a lot easier to use if you’re new to D&D.

4 Gilvan Blight November 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Our FLGS waves the Essentials only rule as well. They started that last season. I have to admit that the rule is a good one if you have new DMs. There’s a lot less to have to learn and judge with Essentials only. Last season this was a problem. This season they have a much more experienced DM though so I think it should run fine. I personally went Essentials because I wasn’t sure what they were doing this season.

5 anarkeith November 24, 2011 at 4:58 pm

I was a little put off as DM at the quantity of material to convey in this session. Fortunately, everyone had the time to play it out. The materials seem inspiring to DMs and players alike, and I’m looking forward to rp’ing some great NPCs.

I’ve resolved this season to focus on playing with the backgrounds of the pcs, something I didn’t do well in Neverwinter. The tension between the regions, and simplified factions should make this fun.

6 David Argall November 24, 2011 at 6:08 pm

SEASONING OF GREENBOW – 1.Hired

I had done well as a ranger and attracted favorable notice from the great and powerful, but this was by the standard of the novice and if great things are expected of me, they are expected “someday”, and so I was surprised when I was picked out for a special mission. Looking closely at the mission and my companions, I suspect we are being set up as fallguys.
I, Greenbow the elven archer ranger, and Zorin the tiefling warlock, Dewdrop Skullsmasher the pixie barbarian, and Taragin the Silent, a Satyr thief are all plain spoken types who do not believe if soft lies instead of hard truths when we speak. Marty the half-elf sentenial druid may enable us to get by, but we are not the sort to assign to a mission that may need considerable diplomacy.
Human-fey relations are seldom excellent. All the flaws of dwarves, and none of the grace to stay away from the forests in their mountains, Ad of late the humans have been misbehaving more than usual. In fact, they have attacked us several times, and have the gall to accuse us of attacking them.
Now they have gone too far and kidnapped our princess, possibly by a romantic entanglement, tho I feel the princess would not lower herself to both with a mere human [but women can be weird].
I do not know what his lordship was thinking, or if he was, when he appointed such a unqualified crew to deal with the matter. And his selection of an entirely fey group also makes me wonder. Was he just not thinking? Or thought there were more important matters and we were all he could get? Or were there darker motives? Were we being set up to fail so the humans could attack and seize our land? [Or try to?]
But it has never been my way to back away from a challenge, and so I accepted the job, and the rewards. Now I must earn them. We must find the missing children and restore them to their parents as well as prove who is at fault in the current fuss.
Right away we were presented with some evidence the situation was not as direct as I thought.. Visiting a human town on our way, we found it under attack by strange fey. We might have been uncertain about what to do, but they quite unwisely made the matter simple by quite unwisely attacking us too.
As said most of us are poor diplomats, but we are very efficient fighters. We rolled right over them, not taking the least wound in the process. [ooc-the sort of thing that happens when you have a striker heavy party and the DM has cold dice.] Marty, who travels with a pack of animals, was quite effective, as was Dewdrop. But in any case, the battle was over almost before it started.
Talking with the prisoners, we were told that they were part of a larger band, all fey, I think they are just for show, hired by the humans to “prove” it was we fey doing the attacking, but it has shaken the faith of the others that the humans are guilty and they are talking about some 3rd party as a possibility.
In any event, we were to investigate the “kidnapping”of this human prince and so talked with his mother who presented us with some flimsy evidence that he had been romancing our princess and had run off with her. Not very convincing, but we needed to check with the father of our princess, who presented us with more evidence that the two had not only run off, but that the Princess had been quite actively involved in it. This can’t be true, but now we must follow the trail and see if we can rescue both of them from whatever is going on.

VICTORIES OF VORDAL- 1. Accepting the Challenge

We dwarves often live among humans, who are so inept at so many tasks a dwarf is skilled at. It can be a soft and rewarding life. Often it is too soft and city dwarves are frequently tempted to adopt the weak standards that humans accept, where the barely adequate is excellent. To combat this, warpriests like I are sent out to whip these slackers back in line and keep them worthy of the true standards of dwarves. Sadly, only novice priests like myself are available for this important task. Still, we do our best to fight against the rot. I like to think my posting at this town was at least somewhat successful.
However, my ministering to wayward dwarves has been interrupted. The local elves and other fey have been showing their devious nature and staging attacks on the town. And they have even tried to accuse us of attacking them. And now they have gotten completely out of hand, kidnapping the son of the ruling lady of the town.
We took our complaints to the greater lord and he astonished me by appointing me to a comission to look into the matter. I would like to think my talents have been recognized, but I think he simply appointed those of us who were not human as a soft-hearted way to achieve balance. [There is little other reason for his appointing Willow, a female dryad witch, to our number, as she does little but insist the fey are innocent of their crimes.]
Anyway, armed with our new authority, we returned to our town, which we found under the largest fey attack so far. Fortunately we arrived at just the right time to turn the tide of battle. I must admit I earned chief honors in leading the others to victory administering heavy damage to the foe and saving the life of Merrall, a female halfling thief who became the center of enemy attacks after her own attacks caused much damage. However, Abra, a male dragonborn paladin, and Hanna, a male dragonborn skald, were also quite useful. Even Willow pitched in and killed attackers.
She was not so useful after the fight, insisting these attackers were not local fey, and indeed had been attacking other fey as well. We eventually gave up trying to disabuse her of this fantasy and went to see her ladyship.She was able to provide us with a letter from this elven seductress that had been used to lure the rather flighty lad into this trap.
So we went out to visit the elves, who denied their guilt, and tried to insist this had all been the girl’s idea, that they must have gone to a dangerous cave and we should follow them into what is surely a trap. However, this is the only lead we have and we are tasked with finding and rescuing this young fools and so we must hope we can overcome the dangers.

7 Kiel Chenier November 24, 2011 at 9:51 pm

@David Argall

Cool Story Bro. Next time though, just post a link to a blog.

@Everyone

I’m not especially convinced by the Roleplay/combat/roleplay set-up this season (SPOILERS: It’s gonna happen a lot). I mean, I’m definitely all for more roleplaying and character interaction, but the set-up is kind of jarring.

It got a mixed reaction with my table. While they appreciated the added story, they kept wondering when things would be done for the night. So far, combat in D&D Encounters has always had a climactic feel to it, capping off the night. Now that it’s more “in the middle”, it leaves a lot of players just wanting things to hurry up and end.

I think this new set-up might merit a blog-post about encouraging roleplaying in players who’re either inexperienced/uninterested in it. I’ve certainly got a few ideas.

8 DiscerningDM November 24, 2011 at 10:22 pm

I think Roleplay-Combat-Roleplay is a good ideal, but requires canny timing by the DM and sharp adventure writing to end with a bang and get people coming back for more.

This adventure is great, but contrast with last season where a dragon shows up at the end of the very first game!

Luckily, my table is pretty new this season. We’ll see how they react with less preconceptions about what D&D is.

9 Brian November 24, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Looking forward to your post on flying PCs next week.

10 Crys B November 25, 2011 at 9:09 am

As we kinda expected this past Encounter we had a small table (missing a couple of players due to the holiday), however we’re projecting to pick up two or three new ppl next week which required one of us veterans to DM a second table. Even before we headed to the first NPC, there was all ready party bickering and animosity (which I totally encouraged being Unseelie) and the players are separated by factions, with me in the middle (brilliant idea from the DM).

Everyone who is playing at our location atm have been waiting for something akin to Feywild to break out of the WotC vault. We’ve been way too restricted with the kill, kill, kill aspects the last few seasons have entailed. This allows us for more roleplay (which makes up half the great time that D&D is).

We adjusted our start time for the new college classes in January (which is easier to do at the beginning of a season as opposed to the middle), to start half hour later, and it seemed the antsy ppl watching the clock were that much more frantic. Once we get used to the time change and to our new characters I have no doubt we’ll be so caught up playing and conversing we won’t even notice the time. At least, I’m hoping.

11 B.J. November 27, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I’m not terribly excited about the theme or storyline just yet, but I have high hopes that it will give us enough curve balls to move out of the trite Shakespearean territory.

I am concerned about hearing that the roleplay-combat-roleplay scenario becomes more and more common. I personally love this format, but there are a couple of young players with our group who have no interest in the roleplaying sections. They literally turn their brains off and start goofing around with each other. The other players are perpetually having to update these players while at the same time focus on what the DM is saying over their own discussions. What can be done about this? I’m not the DM/GM, so I feel out of place saying anything about it, but if there’s going to be more roleplaying this season than in the last season, those issues will only multiply.

12 Lahrs November 28, 2011 at 10:09 am

I am back in the DM driver seat for this season and I am doing my best to making this the most memorable season.

I had to ask a few people to play certain races (fey or non-fey) so I could get an even split between the two. I assigned all the non-fey to the Crystalbrook background and the fey to the other. I have one person playing the third. I then assigned the fey group to one side of the table and the non-fey to the other. And finally, I gave each of them the questionnaire from the book on each of their histories.

This is the first time I have taken some control away from the players, but everyone has been on board. I think (hope) my group trusts me as a DM, which is why they are willing to go along with handing some control over to me.

I am not looking for outright PvP (though it could happen), but I have definitely hinted at that if one side has to choose between healing their own person or the other side, their backgrounds should play a key role in that decision. During the session, there was quite a bit on tension between the two groups and for the first time in Encounters, I believe the RP went above and beyond expectations. There was still one or two people in the non-RP shell, but I think they will come around, and if not, that is okay. Nobody is forced to RP, though the group as a whole was willing to go with it.

The best part was when the spell caster was of the fey group was debating whether to lay down a non-party friendly burst that was going to hit one member of the non-fey group, the non-fey group was almost begging for it to happen because it played up the rivalry. She ended up doing a different attack, but I liked seeing that both sides were willing to go along with the tension.

This is going to be a good season.

13 Matt November 30, 2011 at 9:06 am

Regarding flying PC’s I will be anxious to read your post on it, but I believe it explicitly states that the maximum altitude a pixie can attain is 5 feet or one square. Given that, how does a pixie fly to the top of a vertical wall that’s more than 5 feet high? If they can only fly 5 feet off the ground that limits a lot of the potential abuse that players are likely to try… but then raises the question of falling… does a pixie take falling damage if it falls into a 30 foot pit or does it fall 25 feet and then start flying with no damage?

14 Gilvan Blight November 30, 2011 at 10:07 am

The Pixie has an Encounter power that lets it Fly regularly. That’s how the pixie in my group got up the wall.

The rules for a falling flying creature:

Falling while Flying: If a creature falls while it is flying, it descends the full distance of the fall but is likely to take less damage than a creature that can’t fly. Subtract the creature’s fly speed (in feet) from the distance of the fall, then figure out falling damage. If the difference is 0 or less, the creature lands without taking damage from the fall. For example, if a red dragon falls when it is 40 feet in the air, subtract its fly speed of 8 (8 squares = 40 feet) from its altitude. The difference is 0, so the dragon lands safely and is not prone.
If a creature is flying when it starts a high-altitude fall, it has one chance to halt the fall by making a DC 30 Athletics check as an immediate reaction, with a bonus to the check equal to the creature’s fly speed. On a success, the creature falls 100 feet and then stops falling. On a failure, the creature falls as normal.

15 Eamon December 1, 2011 at 12:11 am

Weird. Our DM ruled that one couldn’t escape the nets via teleportation, completely ruining the whole point of having a blink dog companion. It was especially painful since we only had three PCs at our table– I died, my dog died, and only the bard made it out with more than two surges left. It was brutal.

16 Lahrs December 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I allowed my PC’s to teleport out of the net, it wasn’t a magical net. What was the reason to not allow teleportation?

17 Gilvan Blight December 1, 2011 at 12:29 pm

There’s no reason you can’t telelport out according to the rules. Restrained does prevent movement and most forms of forced movement (push, pull and slide) but does nothing for Teleport.

I have to admit it was a frustrating encounter due to the nets. Besides spending 3 turns being useless (I was playing a Knight), it just bottlenecked the entier encounter into the doorway. Not the type of dynamic moving fight that you should see in 4e.

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