D&D Encounters: Beyond the Crystal Cave (Week 4)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 15, 2011

The heroes finished last week’s encounter by passing through the waterfall and emerging in a room with a couch, a wooden table and a fresco of an enchanted forest. They followed the only passage towards the sounds of crashing waves and weeping.

This week I managed to run the encounter twice. The beginning of the encounter was pretty much the same for both groups as it was a huge information dump designed to set the stage for the rest of the adventure. I’ll provide specifics about how the two groups handled things differently later in the article. For now let’s get right to the story.

As the heroes continued through the passage it seemed to transform from support beams to actual trees. The change happened so gradually that the PCs didn’t immediately realize they were no longer in the cave, but in a forest. They found themselves in a wide circle of toadstools. They worn path they followed along side the same stream continued towards the sounds of the weeping. Behind them they could hear the crashing of waves.

The toadstools were identified by the PCs as a fairy ring commonly found at Fey crossings. They had clearly traveled beyond the crystal cave and into the Feywild. Accepting their predicament they followed the path towards the weeping. On the ground they noticed small tracks likely belonging to Xivorts. Other, newer tracks were made by people wearing human-sized shoes.

The PCs followed the path towards the sounds of a woman weeping. When the reached a clearing they saw the weeping elf maiden sitting in a patch of clovers – it was Juliana, only her hair was now black and not the usual brown. Leprechauns danced around her, trying to cheer her up by singing, joking and performing all the while calling her Caerwyn.

When Juliana saw the heroes approach she stopped crying and asked the if they could help her. She asked them “Where are we?” They heroes explained that they had followed her into the Feywild and were her to rescue her and Orlando. She seemed confused but recalled a male companion. She called him Porpherio and said that they travelled through a cave before ending up here and falling asleep. When they woke he left Juliana alone and ran after a beautiful woman.

With the Leprechauns continuing to call Juliana Caerwyn the heroes asked about the names. She said she was Caerwyn. And she said she was Juliana. Likewise the man she called Porpherio was also called Orlando. The duplicity seemed to awaken realization in Juliana that something was clearly wrong.

The Leprechauns were able to provide some additional details in the form of cryptic rhymes (witch most of the players did not understand at all). However Arcana and History checks let the intelligent PCs translate for the dimmer PCs.

They are currently on an island in the Feywild called Porpherio’s Garden. Porpherio is Caerwyn’s husband. Together they once ruled this garden. They slept for a very long time before awakening, however something is wrong. Caerwyn’s mind is part of Juliana’s and Porpherio’s is part of Orlando’s.

An evil Hag named Soryth attempted to perform a ritual that would wrestle control of the island from the slumbering Porpherio. A Dryad named Uma, an agent of Porpherio’s mother Tiandra, learned of the plan and informed a giant named Ragnar loyal to Oran, Caerwyn’s father. Ragnar and Uma attacked Soryth and interrupted the ritual. This is most likely how things came to be as they are now.

Caerwyn’s father Oran, the Green Lord, is one of the most powerful archfey alive. Porpherio’s mother Tiandra, the Summer Queen, is also of the archfey an equally as powerful as Oran. The two have a tempestuous romance punctuated by bitter feuds.

At that moment Soryth stepped into the clearing, a top the rocky outcropping. The Leprechauns scattered and attempted to hide in the forest. Angered that the ritual’s magic failed, she called out to Caerwyn (Juliana) and vowed to recapture her and complete the spell.

Soryth warned the PCs not to get involved and when they took hostile actions she called for her dark little soldiers. Moments later Xivorts emerged from the forest. Soryth then cursed the PCs to remain on the island and then charmed a Leprechaun not fast enough to find cover, commanding him to do her bidding. The heroes sprang into action and attacked Soryth.

Take 1 – Harry T North

This party had six players and consisted of a Human Seeker [Unseelie Agent], Pixie Rogue (Thief) [Fey Beast Tamer], Wilden Monk [Sidhe Lord], Hamadryad Paladin (Cavalier), Elf Monk/Ranger Hybrid, and a Pixie Bard (Master Skald) [Unseelie Agent].

This group managed to get all the information through role-playing before the combat began. When the fighting started three PCs attacked and scored hits on Soryth. Unfortunately it did little to stop her. She used her Visions of Desire (area burst 2 within 10) and managed to target five of the six PCs. Since the attack dealt damage on a hit or miss, I managed to bloody almost everyone in the fist round. Soryth then grabbed Juliana and used Dream Step to disappear with her captive.

With the Hag gone the party focused on the five Xivorts and the charmed Leprechaun. They focused fire and took the Xivorts down with little trouble. The Leprechaun didn’t want to hurt the party so he went invisible on the first round and then used False Presence in the second round, forcing one of the PCs to attack an illusionary figure and take psychic damage in the process. However, the Paladin used an interrupt to take the hit – the only one she took all combat.

While the party took out the last of the Xivorts in round four, the Monk tried using Diplomacy to talk the Leprechaun into surrendering. It didn’t work. The next round the party attacked the Leprechaun and bloodied him. Attempts to get him to surrender were much easier after that, ending the combat quickly and with minimal bloodshed to the heroes or the Leprechaun.

This was one of the most coordinated efforts this group has had fighting multiple foes. They worked together and focus fire. They realized that they didn’t have to kill the charmed Leprechaun and tried talking to him, a tactic that eventually worked. The combat part of the encounter lasted between 20-30 minutes. Considering how badly beat up this party was after the second week, this was a quick victory that they desperately needed.

Take 2 – Dueling Grounds

This party had six players and consisted of an Eladrin Sun Elf Warlock (Hexblade) [Fey Beast Tamer], Satyr Rogue (Thief) [Fey Beast Tamer], Belgos the Drow Ranger, Jarren the Human Wizard (Mage), Eladrin Wizard (Witch), Human Assassin.

Knowing how easy the last group had things, and seeing six PCs and two beast companions on the map, I decided to add one more Xivort to the mix. After all, this group had plenty of resources remaining and could take a few hits. Unfortunately no one was playing a leader (something I didn’t realize until well into the combat). The absence of a healer really gave team monsters a huge advantage which they exploited.

This group didn’t get much information before the fighting. They were restless and were ready to kill the Leprechauns believing that they were responsible for Juliana’s strange condition. When Soryth appeared they realized their error.

Much like the other party, they unloaded on Soryth in the first round. She managed to get four PCs and one beast companion in the burst, bloodying and immobilizing all four PCs and killing the companion (hot damage dice tonight). Jarren was one of the four PCs hit and he was knocked unconscious. Before Soryth attacked, Jarren managed to climb a tree. When he was hit by Soryth he got to make a save against the forced movement but failed. He fell 20 feet and took 18 points of falling damage. He remained unconscious for the rest of the encounter.

The Xivorts targeted the bloodied, immobilized PCs and managed to knock the Witch unconscious on the second round. She never regained consciousness.

Belgos couldn’t save successfully and remained immobilized. The pesky Leprechaun used his False Presence power on Belgos and he ended up taking ongoing 10 psychic damage. He managed to remain conscious for only one more round before the ongoing damage knocked him unconscious and eventually killed him. He failed to save against the ongoing damage three times. He did save against being immobilized but by then he was unconscious.

The Hexblade used Fey Step to move out of the Xivorts line of sight but he too failed his save against immobilization again and again. The Xivorts eventually found him and ganged up on him after the other PCs were down. He fell quickly and just couldn’t make his saves.

The Rogue and Assassin managed to go the entire combat unscathed. The Xivorts pretty much left them alone and focused on the wounded PCs. When these were the only two left standing the Xivorts couldn’t connect. The last men standing flanked for combat advantage and eventually destroyed all the Xivorts.

The Leprechaun focused his attention on the remaining animal companion and eventually killed it (he was scared of the ferocious Displacer Beast). The heroes didn’t try to use Diplomacy on the Leprechaun until he had only a few remaining hit points. He eventually surrendered.

When the combat was over the Leprechauns came out of hiding and helped the PCs with their wounds. The heroes were asked to entertain them as payment after which the Leprechauns gave them all the information they missed at the beginning.

Where the previous group worked well together, this group did not. They all acted independently, and the entire group suffered for it. No one was willing to give up a standard action to help fallen comrades. This was one of the worst combat encounters I’ve ever run. Players were angry that they were killed or knocked unconscious and felt cheated that they didn’t really get to play. I felt bad, but in most cases their problems came down to bad rolls and poor teamwork.

Afterthoughts

I couldn’t believe how differently the two groups handled the combat. It really goes to show how players can make all the difference.

My only real complaint about the way this encounter was set up was that they PCs had no chance of defeating Soryth. Those players who used their daily powers on her in the first round were angry when she disappeared. I liked that she hit them once and then vanished but it seemed like a cheat. I think her actions should have been part of the narrative, including the attack, that way the heroes could focus on the Xivorts.

With the Chapter 1 completed I have to say that I am enjoying the adventure so far. The players really seem interested by the Fey setting and I’m looking forward to more encounters in the actual Feywild.

How did your group make out this week? Was your experience more like my first or second group? Any TPKs? What are your thoughts on Chapter 1 now that it’s completed?

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 4) – Podcasts

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Amradorn December 15, 2011 at 10:06 am

One thing that has come up for us is that there is no real way for the party to visit a merchant and buy gear between chapters that fits within the story.

I have a feeling some poor merchant and his wagon of goods are going to find himself suddenly waking up in the Feywild. Could add an interesting complication if we have to protect him for the rest of the adventure.

2 Kenneth McNay December 15, 2011 at 10:19 am

I get what you mean about including the attack by Soryth in the narration, but I felt that would be far too much railroad. Some of the more experienced players saw that she was not a viable target, but would have enjoyed using the daily power they had reserved all along for just such a blast–even if it did nothing but mark them as a serious threat. However, with the extended rest after the fight, the use of a daily would have been restored for next week.

Also, I was glad to see that Soryth stayed to offer a chance for PCs to briefly interact. During the last season, I chose to allow the Lost Heir to remain on a map for one round; the Hunter of the group immediately capitalized by immobilizing the LH. By forcibly inviting the BBEG to remain on the battlefield, I had the LH throw a powerful Fireball (as in Wizard’s lvl 5 spell) at the group and more tactically orchestrating the other monsters on the scene. The group was devastated during that encounter by losing focus of the immediate targets in favor of a large, high-value target. They killed the LH and I made the dragon much more potent as a result; also, I didn’t allow them to slay the dragon, instead weaving it into an epilogue of the group breaking apart and all comign under its harassment for months afterward. Also, without the answers LH could have given, they had nothing to report to Neverember. Ultimately, an exciting battle turned the entire remaining adventure against them, and success of the overall quest was snatched from them for thei own foolish greed.

I watched during this session with Soryth to see if the group would learn from that experience to focus on immediate threats and prepare to grow strong enough, and aware enough, to face the true threat later in the story. This time, they made the wise choice by rallying against the close targets and accepting a dire fate for Julianna if they were not more careful about the future.

They also needed to be wise since the group was Spear Monk, Storm Sorc, Star Hex, Bow Ranger, and Protector Druid. I ran my formerly PC Cleric as an NPC to ensure they at least had healing available. During other weeks, there has been a defender among the group.

3 Eric Paquette December 15, 2011 at 10:36 am

My session last more like your first group. None of my players attacked Soyth before she left. I was surprised when I didn’t hear any complaints when Julianna disappeared.
My group did learn of Soryth’s abilities as the skald who ask got an amazing roll.

4 Wally December 15, 2011 at 10:42 am

I ran this once and the second with a rewind. The first time Soryth hit and pretty much eitheir took out all the pcs and the xivors played cleanup. So I rewound, took my tpk, and did it again without Soryth attacking. As far as I am concerned if they are not new players and do not want to work together then they deserve to get bashed in the head. Its a collaberative game and if you do not want to work for the group then its okay to have them lose. If they are upset about not getting to do anything I would simply ask them what could of been done differently? People should not feel entitled to always win, this is not free ribbon for participation. You have to work as a group or fail seperately :)
Wally´s last blog post ..Practice

5 Kenneth McNay December 15, 2011 at 10:43 am

On another topic, I didn’t love chapter 1 entirely. It needed to present lots of information as a set-up and foundation upon which the players could make informed decisions, but inconsistent attendance caused some problems there. Some players came around with no clue what had preceded their current situation.

The movement from Count Varis to Lady Tamora to Lord Carric was all very quick; this left little chance to make a connection with Crystalbrook or Sildaine. I would have preferred a slightly different opening:
The two leaders have been summoned from Crystalbrook and Sildaine forest with all appropriate evidence and information to the palacial estate of Count Varis in Sybar. Some (PC) individuals have escorted their respective ruler to the city and are aware of only ‘their side’ of the disagreement. Count Varis has a group of (PC) trusted individuals from Sybar also.

The party is formed by Count Varis’ personal selection. He avoids accepting Sildaine or Crystalbrookers with too much of a chip on their shoulder (should be emphasized during week 0 that much bad blood exists, but not everyone is involved in that fueding); CV will only appoint those who can stand back objectively and work as a team (maybe I’ve just got too many racists at the table or simply cliched misanthropes among the PCs). He is also inclined to include his Sybarans among the appointees.

Week 1: the PCs selected are given audience with Count Varis, Lady Tamora, and Lord Carric all in Sybar’s palacial court. Lady Tamora presents her side; Lord Carric presents his side; PCs may ask questions. Count Varis establishes conditions of success by delegating responsibility for finding the children; later discussions can include the acts of violence and taxation.

The group then moves into a skill challenge in which they may take full advantage of the maps and superstitions provided by Lady Tamora or Lord Carric as well as a grand Sybaran library to seek for historical tales of the crystal cave and possibly learn of Porpherio’s Garden.

When leaving the city of Sybar, one of two encounters may occur. (1) angered cast-offs from both Crystalbrook and Sildaine engage these appointees and each other while the party travels toward the cave. (2) xivorts from beyond the fey passage attack these possible intruders.

Week 2:
The party arrives at the cave and may begin to explore as outlined.

Week 3:
The party has begun exploring and delves deeper as outlined.

Week 4:
The party crosses into the garden in the feywild and must make heads or tails of their first encounter with Julianna/Caerwyn and Soryth as outlined.

I guess the main difference I see is a chance to ignore a visit to Crystalbrook or Sildaine and better establish their specific assignment of the case. It would also give more firm orders that they are to operate as a team and weed out the misanthropic character behaviors (“If that is how your character behaves and believes, he/she was not selected for this task; make a new character or change the attitudes and behavior of this character”).

6 Sndwurks (David Buresh) December 15, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I think there are two lessons to really take away from this. One? Always alpha-striking the big boss doesn’t work in every situation. Two? While Defenders are optional in D&D? Leaders are not. Otherwise, once you’re down… better roll that 20+ on your Death Saving throw, or have a friend grant you a second wind with their standard action. The action efficiency of that, however, is terrible, compared to a leader.

Especially in a season that includes the Skald, who is the single most action efficient healer in the game.

7 Johnny Fry December 15, 2011 at 7:33 pm

I was the rogue in the Dueling Grounds group. I wanted to heal people but Wisdom was my dump stat and I had -1 to healing, meaning i’d have to roll a natural 16 to stabilize another player. I was too far from Belgos to get to him before the start of his turn where he was going to take the damage that would kill him to even attempt to revive him. I felt like my effort was best placed in trying to get combat over as quickly as possible before anyone reached 3 failed death saving throws. If I had been aware that someone had healing potions on them, I probably would have played that a little differently.

That being said, as much as I loved playing a rogue (and probably even more now that I’ve figured out the rules for my companion pet!), I decided to have a backup bard ready to play instead in case we don’t have a leader next week.

In regards to Alpha-Striking a boss, I always like taking out as many of the lesser monsters as possible first to try and diminish how many attacks the enemies get per turn.
Johnny Fry´s last blog post ..An Apple A Day

8 David Argall December 16, 2011 at 1:39 am

VICTORIES OF VORDAL – 4. A kidnapping

Finding a cave and evidence that the alleged couple had traveled that way, we entered the cave, which was decorated with a forest design. This design became more and more real as we continued, when suddenly it really was a forest. When we recovered from the shock, we heard a woman crying and decided to find out what was happening.
We found an elven woman who was the missing girl, but was not. Or so the crazy elves in the party insisted. Conversation with the woman was equally confusing, as was conversation with these strange gnomes [leprachans?] who were more interested in dancing and games than in answering our questions.
We finally got a story, which might be complete nonsense since it came from these fey, who are insane even by the standards of fey. For what it was worth, some powerful fey had invaded the place and was doing some sort of magic when other fey got in the way. The result was a mess, and our boy and girl were in the area and got messed up too.
As we were debating what this meant, if anything, and what to do next, a strange fey woman appeared, apparently the invader, She demanded our[?] girl and we refused to release her. She got upset by that and attacked, and she had some helpers too.
We learned right away that she was tough. She whomped most of us with a spell that froze most of us in position [Cyrus, the elf ranger, stayed immobile for almost the entire fight.] and started dragging our lass off. Then her helpers, more of those little blue guys started attacking us. That kept most of us busy, but a couple managed to start after her. The bravest of those, and the most battered for the same reason was Abraxus the dragonborn paladin, who went down two-three times, but kept fighting. Orla the elf rogue did some of the work keeping him on his feet.
In the meantime, Kross the drow ranger, Merill the halfling thief, and I took care of the small stuff. I did fairly well dropping 2 of the blue pests and healing Merill. Then we rushed to help against this fey woman. It was enough to make her decide to leave, unfortunately with our quarry, and so we ended up losing the battle even if we held the field.
The strange gnomes were more friendly now, and offered us shelter and advice. They still could not be serious, but they were helpful, telling us what we had to do next and where we might be able to find this fey woman and our couple. So we rest and recover and prepare to continue.
.

SEASONING OF GREENBOW – 4. Success and failure

On the far side of the waterfall was a nice little room, and a cave, with tracks that told us the couple had gone that way. So we entered the cave and continued to follow. The magic of the area was clear and was made even more evident when the wall decorations of a forest became a real forest, and we found ourselves in a fairy ring and in the feywild. A bit of a shock, but the crying of a woman and tracks of the couple suggested we were on the right track, and so we continued.
We found the woman in a clearing, with a band of leprachans trying to entertain her.She was our missing girl, but something was wrong. She was also the wrong girl. We tried questioning her and the leprachans, with limited success. The little ones of course insisted on entertainment before answering our questions, which they did in confusing manner. However, eventually we got the story straight. A powerful, and evil, fey had invaded this large garden and was trying to take it over. Doing so involved a ritual, which was disrupted by attacks from other fey. But our couple was present and were affected by the mishap.
As we debated how to continue, this evil fay, an ugly hag, arrived and attempted to capture our woman. We protested of course and battle quickly followed. To our dismay, the leprachans sided with the hag [reluctantly they say, and probably honestly].
The battle was rather one-sided, and we were on the wrong side of it. Violet the pixie bard, Taragdin the satyr thief, and Tam Lin Pairsnips the pixie barbarian tried charging the hag, only to discover she had a very powerful spell waiting. The battle had barely started and most of us were down.
Fortunately Petunia Petals the pixie wizard and I had decided to deal with the pixies first and they were mostly taken out of the fight. [We were careful not to kill them.] And when we turn to deal with the hag, she decided we were not worth the bother, taking our maid and vanishing, presumably to try that ritual again.
Once the hag was gone, the leprachans decided to surrender and so nobody on either side died. They also provided shelter and advice, which was to seek out one of the greater fey who were fighting the hag, and apparently, each other.Once we have rested, we will take that advice.

[ooc-Both DMs decided to vary the monsters from the text.]

9 Rolland December 20, 2011 at 7:49 am

Nice one… This is really what I am needing, needed a long break from playing Skyrim. Nice read, I am also playing the new D&d on Facebook.
Rolland´s last blog post ..Brainwave Entrainment Using Binaural Beats

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