I don’t know what it is about the week 2 encounter but for the second season in a row it’s been exceptionally difficult and nearly resulted in TPKs across the board. Last season the PCs faced a White Dragon in week 2, this time around it was two elite monsters that hit hard. This was easily one of the toughest encounters I’ve ever run for D&D Encounters. It didn’t result in a TPK at my tables but it easily could have. Instead we have more than half the PCs down to two or fewer healing surges.
As I’ve mentioned before I run two different D&D Encounters sessions most weeks at two different FLGS in my community. In some cases the adventures play out pretty much the same way. In cases where they don’t I’m going to try and summarize the highlights of each to show how different the same encounter can be with different groups. I’ll also explain any change I might have made after running it once before.
Take One – Harry T North
The first FLGS where I play has been running one table of late, usually with a huge party of adventurers. This week we began with six players but added a seventh just as we were abut to begin combat. The party consisted of a Human Seeker [Unseelie Agent], Pixie Rogue (Thief) [Fey Beast Tamer], Wilden Monk [Sidhe Lord], Hamadryad Paladin (Cavalier), Elf Monk/Ranger Hybrid, Pixie Bard (Master Skald) [Unseelie Agent] and Eladrin Bard.
The encounter began with the party departing the Sildaine Forest and heading towards the Crystal Cave. They followed the map Lord Carric provided and had little difficulty finding the cave mouth. When they got to the entrance they noticed an abundance of lush, thriving plants. Those with training in Nature easily identified plants not indigenous to this environment and others not normally is season as thriving the closer they got to the cave. Clearly some Fey magic must be at work here.
The party entered the cave cautiously and soon found themselves in a large cavern. Their every move and whisper was amplified and echoed around the cavern. The party realized that the sounds didn’t behave like they’d expect for a room this size and shape. Magic was at play here as well.
The party was beset upon by an Echo Spirit, an undead creature that used the very echoes of the chamber to amplify its attacks. During the combat all creatures gained vulnerability Thunder 2. This provided to be insult to injury.
Before attacking the PCs, the Echo Spirit summoned Spirit Echo minions and had them appear in squares with more than one PC adjacent so the damaging auras could have maximum effect. The PCs were bunched together at the cave mouth and the Echo Spirit then used its Echo Barrage (close blast 3) to target multiple PCs hitting all of them and dealing 2d6+2 (oh, and an extra 2 because it was a Thunder attack). It then slid the few PCs that weren’t already next to the Spirit Echoes into squares adjacent to the minions. Before the combat even began, half the party was bloodied and the beast companions were destroyed.
Not realizing that the Spirit Echoes were just minions the PCs focused on them first. I told them that the Echoes could be banished using Arcana, Nature or Religion. A standard check required a pretty reasonable check, but a minor action required something a lot higher. They all tried using minor actions first and when that failed they used their standard. All the minions were banished by the beginning of round two.
When the PCs finally engaged the Echo Spirit directly they were discouraged to learn its insubstantial feature meant it only took half damage. Since none of the PCs had radiant attacks they had no way to counter that defense making the combat take a long time.
Mid-way through the second round the Ochre Jelly emerged from the Southern passage and engaged the PCs. As usual the PCs, already in really bad shape, did the worst things possible – they stayed bunched up and split their attacks between the two monsters.
The Echo Spirit kept targeting and hitting multiple PCs every round with his Echo Barrage. I didn’t once use its Touch of Fear melee power because it was always a better tactical option to use the blast. When the Echo Spirit was bloodied its Psychic Reverberation reaction (close burst 10) knocked two PCs unconscious and seriously wounded everyone else. By this point all seven PCs were bloodied or worse.
Three of the PCs finally broke off from the group and attacked the Ochre Jelly from opposite sides of the cavern with ranged attacks. The Ochre Jelly randomly attacked the closest PCs and then kept on attacking until someone else dealt a lot more damage than the adjacent PC.
As the PCs defeated the Echo Spirit the Ochre Jelly reached its bloodied value the same round and split into two. The party realized their dire straights and focused fire (finally). They took down the two smaller Ochre Jellies without sustaining any more significant damage.
With the combat over the party searched the rest of the cave and found the skeletal remains of a long-dead barbarian from the Black Eagle tribe. From around his neck they discovered an Amulet of Life +1, some gp and a gem.
The only change I made to the encounter to compensate for seven PCs was to have the Echo Spirit summon four minions rather than three. Despite this almost negligible change, a party this size should not have experienced so much difficulty. I can only image how badly parties with only five PCs fared.
They continued down the passage and eventually discover the Oracle. Having spent almost 2 hours playing through the combat, this part of the role-playing was a real let down. The players were tired and just wanted to go home. They finally asked a few reasonable questions and got the information they needed before proceeding. In frustration one of the PCs asked “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood” to which the Oracle simply replied “42.”
Take Two – Dueling Grounds
When I ran the encounter the second time I made a few changes. Rather than do role-playing/combat/role-playing like we did last week I decided to handle all the role-playing up front.
When the PCs entered the chamber the Echo Spirit did not immediately engage them, although I did stress the oddities of the sounds. I placed the Oracle in the first cavern rather than further down and off the map. This let the PCs investigate the cave opening, the cavern and the Oracle at the beginning. They were curious about the Oracle and asked a lot of good questions that will help them later on. When they were finally finished with the Oracle, the Echo Spirit attack. Although the battle was still tough, rearranging the order of events made the encounter a lot better.
This party consisted of a Half-Orc Barbarian (Berserker) [Unseelie Agent], Hamadryad Druid [Fey Beast Tamer], Eladrin Sun Elf Warlock (Hexblade) and Belgos the Drow Ranger. Our FLGS ran three tables: two with five players each and one with only four players. I got the smaller table and agreed to absorb any newcomers; none showed up so we proceeded with four. Learning from the previous session and realizing that a party of four without a leader was doomed, I reduced the Echo Spirit’s hit points from 72 to 50 and the Ochre Jelly’s hit points from 102 to 70.
This party was lucky enough not to all be bunched up when the Echo Spirit first attacked and only three were caught in the blast, wounding one PC and destroying the Druid’s animal companion. Unfortunately the Druid and Barbarian remained in close proximity and the Echo Spirit blasted them a second time. I pointed out to the party that their characters would realize the blast’s area of effect and that the PCs might want to spread out. They took this advice and all moved to different areas of the map.
I didn’t bring the Ochre Jelly into the battle until round three and the PCs were smart enough to ignore it completely and focus on the Echo Spirit. They got a huge break when the Druid dazed the Echo Spirit. The next PC to hit it bloodied it but because it was dazed it couldn’t use its Psychic Reverberation reaction power. This was the turning point that eventually led the party to victory.
The Barbarian was the only PC to engage the Ochre Jelly while the other three focused fire using ranged attacks on the Echo Spirit. The poor Barbarian was a punching bag and spent half the battle unconscious. His allies kept force feeding him healing potions to revive him but he kept getting hit by the Ochre Jelly.
Eventually the PCs were victorious and since we’d done the part with the Oracle at the beginning all that was left was to search the dead-end passageway where they found the treasure on the skeleton.
The other two tables at this location ran the adventure as written. One table was ok with the role-playing/combat/role-playing, but the other was not. The table with a lot of our younger players broke down as soon as the fighting was over. By the time the combat ended two hours of real time had passed and the kids were not willing to sit around and role-play for another 15-30 minutes. The DM was forced to forego the Oracle all together.
Despite the difficulties that all the tables seemed to have with such powerful foes, everyone seemed to have a good time. I think that the Echo Spirit’s at-will blast 3 attack was WAY too powerful for a level 1 party. I suspect it was supposed to be a recharge power. Add the close burst 10 when bloodied reaction and this elite was capable of killing most parties on its own. Throwing in another elite that hit just as hard seemed excessive. The serious resource drain (healing surges and daily powers) should make the next two encounters interesting.
The players continue to be very excited and enthusiastic about this adventure and the Heroes of the Feywild options. I really dislike the Pixie race (because of the flying) and the Fey Beast Tamer theme (because of the additional combatant on the board) as the DM, but I can see why players like them.
How did your session go this week? Hands up if your group suffered a TPK. Did anyone else rearrange the order of events as I did in my second go around? How is your group handling the role-playing/combat/role-playing setup?
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 2) – Podcasts
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