D&D Encounters: Beyond the Crystal Cave (Week 6)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 29, 2011

During last week’s encounter the PCs had to decide if they were going to seek aid from Ragnar or Uma. Both groups I played with ended up helping Uma’s followers and lured the bears into Ragnar’s camp. This week the PCs were rewarded for their actions. If they helped Ragnar’s people wrangle the unicorns then they met with Ragnar; if they baited the bears they met with Uma. Both of my groups met with Uma.

Uma welcomed the PCs into her grove. She gave the heroes a chance to tell their tale, explain who they were, why they were here and how she could be of service. After the PCs said their piece Uma answered their questions and provided them with additional details of what was happening on Porpherio’s Island.

Uma explained that the Hag Soryth is an uninvited guest who came to the island in an attempt to take control if it from Porpherio. When her attempt to do so failed she snatched Juliana and returned to the Palace of Spires, a tiny plane connected to the island through a magical maze. Soryth will likely try the ritual again when she gets a hold of Orlando.

Orlando was last seen following a Nymph into the forest. Uma asked the PCs to find the Nymph and bring Orlando back to the Dryad’s grove. Uma believes that she can undo the foul magic that the Hag caused when the ritual was disrupted. However, both Ragnar and Soryth also seek Orlando so the heroes must hurry.

Ragnar knows that Soryth needs both Orlando and Juliana to complete the ritual for control of the island; his solution is simple – kill Orlando and the Hag cannot complete the ritual. He’s already dispatched his cousin, a Verbeeg named Basil, to complete the task.

The PCs agreed to find Orlando, protect him from harm, and bring him back to Uma so that she could work her magic to return him to normal. She thanked the PCs and provided them with the last known location of the Nymph. The heroes bid her good day and headed into the forest.

Shortly after they left Uma the forest descended into a narrow hollow. There was a clearing with trees that looked odd and strangely humanoid. In the roots of one of these trees they spotted a sword, its jeweled hilt gleaming in the sun’s light. Being PCs they couldn’t resist this obvious greed trap.

Take One – Harry T North

Having missed a couple of sessions because of the holidays we ran a few back-to-back sessions in one shot to get caught up. We had a party of five for three sessions in a row which made for a quick pace and excellent consistency. The party consisted of a Dryad Warlord, Elf Ranger/Monk Hybrid, Satyr Warlock (Hexblade) [Unseelie Agent], Pixie Bard (Master Skald) [Unseelie Agent] and Satyr Paladin (Cavalier).

The party made their Perception checks and realized something was amiss, denying their attackers a surprise round. Despite the realization that there was danger, the party still plowed ahead greedily seeking the shiny bauble. The Paladin managed to get his hands on the weapon before any of the fighting started and was happy to learn it was magical. (I didn’t reveal its properties; just that it had a +1 enchantment.)

Suddenly the party was beset upon from all sides. The two Bloodthorn Vine soldiers were unable to grab anyone initially, but once they did it was practically impossible for the PCs to escape (they rolled terrible escape checks). The result was a lot of automatic damage as the Bloodthorn Vines crushed them.

During the second round the Vine Horror moved closer to the melee. The PCs clearly saw him coming but made no effort to engage him. The next round he easily got in the middle of the battle and used his Vicious Vines (close burst 3) hitting four of the five PCs. Although I scored two crits on the attack, it didn’t cause any immediate damage.

However the ongoing 10 and the restrained really caused the Paladin a lot of grief. He failed to save seven times in a row. If not for his high initial hit points, a potion of healing, a daily power that allowed him to heal, his second wind and the party’s leader, he would have been dead-dead three times over. To make matters worse, he had no ranged attacks and was unable to join the melee, a mere two squares away. He couldn’t have been more useless if he was dead. Kudos to the player for taking it in stride and not loosing his cool; sometimes the dice just have it in for you.

The Barkburr Trees posed little difficulty. The Ranger/Monk rocked the monster knowledge check at the outset and knew that he had the option to suppress the attacks for one round at a time or for the entire encounter with good Nature checks. His Nature score was +12 so he couldn’t fail the DC 13 to suppress the attacks. As a minor action every round he shut down the tree and then fired into the melee. He eventually decided to just deactivate the tree’s attack powers as the combat wound down.

Wit the exception of the Paladin the party took minimal damage and had little difficulty with this encounter. After the combat was completed they searched the area and found two jewels and a suit of Gloaming Armor +1. The Paladin kept the +1 Sword which he learned was a Luckblade. Unfortunately it didn’t bring him much luck when he needed it most.

Take Two – Dueling Grounds

Unfortunately the numbers were dismal this week, likely because most people are off for the holidays. We only had five people by game time. As the other DM was already set up when I arrived I decided to play this week. This was my first time as a player since Keep on the Borderlands.

The party consisted of a Human Assassin, Satyr Bard (Master Skald) [Fey Beast Tamer], and Goliath Berserker. I wanted to play a character with ranged attacks (since I knew that there was a good chance I’d become slow or immobilized during the fight) so I went with Belgos the Drow Ranger (Hunter). After we began three additional players showed up. The party gained an Eladrin Wizard (Witch), Eladrin Sun Elf Warlock (Hexblade) [Fey Beast Tamer] and Drow Assassin. As you can probably imagine, having only one leader with a party this size lead to tremendous grief and hardship.

Most of the PCs made their Perception checks and realized that creatures were hiding in the nearby foliage. However, the promise of treasure lured some PCs in like moths to a flame. The Bard and Drow Assassin both advanced towards the sword but were attacked by the Barkburr Tree for their trouble. Three Bloodthorn Vine soldiers then emerged and attacked the party.

Most of the PCs did a fairly good job focusing fire and we managed to drop the first one by the second round. However, that’s when the Vine Horror arrived on the scene and used his Vicious Vines (close burst 3) hitting five PCs and one beast companion.

The poor Bard who was struck by the Barkburr tree in the very first round failed three consecutive saves and became petrified. He did manage to grab the sword before succumbing to the petrifaction but never got a chance to use it. Fortunately for the player he had a fey beast companion that he could run for the rest of the encounter.

With the leader out of the fight it got really ugly really fast. The Drow Assassin managed to grab the magic sword but fell unconscious the next round. The Hexblade then moved in to try and claim the weapon. He too managed to grab it for only a single round before falling unconscious. The Bard’s beast companion, an Owlbear, took the sword but before he could escape with it he was also hit and fell unconscious. Clearly the Luckblade was actually an “Unluck blade.” Everyone who touched it met with a terrible fate.

The Berserker was the next to fall unconscious with the Witch going down the next round. My Ranger managed to make it next to the Barkburr Tree early in the combat, but my +9 Nature wasn’t enough to suppress the tree’s attacks with any consistency. I was eventually hit and became petrified. However, in the final round before I turned to wood, I managed to draw sap from the tree and smear it on the Bard’s forehead, freeing him. When he awoke everyone else from the party was unconscious or petrified except for the Human Assassin who was himself only one failed save away from becoming a tree.

In the end the Drow Assassin failed three death saves and died. The Warlock failed two death saves and blew trough 5 healing surges by the time the combat was done. The Witch also expended 5 healing surges. Had I continued playing Belgos, he’d be down 4 healing surges after one encounter.

This encounter was almost a TPK, but it was a lot of fun. Despite half the table being unconscious early on, there was a great deal of laughter and humour. Sometimes when bad things happen the only thing you can do is laugh at the misfortune.

Afterthoughts

I found that this encounter, although fun to play and certainly an interesting setup, seemed unnecessary. The items were clearly a greed trap which the party paid for and then some. I don’t like chapters that are five encounters during D&D Encounters. Most players are inexperienced and don’t build characters that are capable of surviving four encounters let alone five. This was an excellent example of the kind of misfortune and bad tactics that just suck up resources and really don’t advance the plot. The information Uma provided at the beginning could have been added to the start of the next encounter. I realize that this particular encounter was a throwback to the original module, but it seemed really unnecessary.

How did your party do this week? Did you have PCs in your party with excellent Nature scores allowing you to turn off the trees or did you suffer horribly like our second group? Did you think this encounter was necessary or did you think it felt tacked on like I did?

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 6) – Podcasts

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Trevor D December 29, 2011 at 12:32 pm

We had our Hamadryad Druid at the far tree working on disabling it and while her back was to the rest of us two of our dwarves (one a dwarf ranger wielding two axes and a hatred for trees) hacked down the other tree. Luckily it didn’t fall on anyone and we haven’t yet suffered the tongue lashing from the druid. Overall, the dice were kind… this time.

2 Sentack December 29, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I also got a chance to play in this encounter this week instead of running it and if it wasn’t for some good rolling at our table, I can see that this encounter can be really hard. The huge bursting restraining, ongoing damaging creature is a bit much when you already have a ongoing damage slowing creature that needs to be shut down.

That being said, I like the combination of combat and skill-challenge mixed in with the combat. That’s something I haven’t seen used too much in published modules and it’s a nice change in pace. Makes the combats a lot more interesting and reminded me that I really need to include those elements into my own game at points.

As for the encounter itself, it’s interesting but it doesn’t seem like it had a strong plot connection unless I’m missing something. You get these with normal modules as well, so it’s forgivable but this encounter was a tad harder then I think it should have been. Still, cool fight, if things go your away. Sounds like both groups you saw really struggled with this one which might have been the more normal outcome.

3 SmashHansen December 29, 2011 at 12:46 pm

You called this a “greed trap”, implying that the point was to lure the players with treasure and punish them for their greed. Question: what would’ve happened in this encounter should the party ignore the shiny things and just stay put?

4 B.J. December 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm

My group is playing a week ahead, but this was actually a tough encounter for us for two reasons. First, we had a small group, with only three PCs. With just a few days before Christmas, I imagine several of our players were on the road. Second, our rolls were absolutely terrible to start off with! They got better down the road, but we were put into a bad position early on by pretty much two rounds of fruitless fighting.

I’m still highly skeptical about this season. The Tempest/Romeo & Juliet fusion just isn’t working for me personally. I think I may be in the minority with that assessment in our FLGS group.

5 Johnny Fry December 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I really like encounters like this. They show how dangerous the feywild is. I deservedly got punished badly for not thinking about looking for traps when grabbing that sword. In the back of my mind I knew it was a bad idea, but two of the kids at our table love stealing items so that noone else can get them so I wanted to beat them at that game. The fact that we were totally worn down in our second encounter has me worried about the last 3 encounters but on the flipside I get another action point and I have yet to use my dailies.

6 Kenneth McNay December 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I ran a table through, but they didn’t bother to make perception checks–even after a bit of prompting. By starting in the surprise area and suffering a surprise round, they were not doing well. I did let the barkburrs go a bit easier on them after a few rounds. The warpriest got to work hard on handing out saving throws and healing. I even allowed the (currently) NPC cleric to toss in one healing word.

When talking through the initial description, the (primarily) archer ranger rushed forward to grab the sparkling sword without hesitation.

I also eased up by targeting fey tamer pets rather than PCs.

7 Tabi December 29, 2011 at 10:13 pm

My group is also running a week ahead, but this battle sticks out to me. We all failed our perception checks, and despite the fighter’s inclination to search for traps and investigate further, the Ranger jumped in with both feet, snatched up the sword, and nearly paid with his life.

We had 2 unconscious out of four by the end. I felt like the encounter reinforced the danger of the feywild, but the ‘bait’ of the sword seemed almost to cheapen it for me. I would have preferred to just be ambushed by some scary fey beast myself.

8 David Argall December 30, 2011 at 4:15 am

THE ESSENTIALS- 1. Failed Ambush

I, the Essential One, a genasi wizard, bagan my adventures in the Feywilds. Knowing that a certain human was crucial to prevent a great evil, I joined a party of adventurers trying to find him. Our quest was delayed by some hostile plants, no doubt inspired by the evil one behind this.
Fortunately, we spotted the danger and had little problem with them. Tia, another wizard had a very useful spell that kept one at bay until we could deal with its companion. Since the other plant was an immobile tree, we could deal with them one at a time and suffered little pain. Our defender held each in place and we destroyed them. They might have been dangerous if we had not been alert. But now we found some valuables and can continue with our mission.

SEASONING OF GREENBOW – 6. Ambush

Having persuaded the unicorns to go along with us, we got to see this archfey, who made us uncomfortable about helping him. Granted, his idea of killing an innocent to stop a great evil may be acceptable as a last resort, but he wants to use it a lot sooner than that.
He did explain what was going on anyway. We are in a magic garden in the feywild and this hag is trying to seize control, and does not care how many are hurt in the process. She has been causing trouble in our home because she needed some components for a powerful ritual, and it seems the couple we are trying to find would do as these ritual components. They were to be combined some way with the souls of the previous rulers of this large garden and allow her to take over. [Or so I guess. Neither I nor the archfey we talked to have any skill in magic.]
The two archfey arrived to break up the ritual, and succeeded at that. However, they were only partly successful. [Our speaker blamed the other archfey for the failure, and likely she blames him.] Now they can do very little to stop the hag from trying the ritual again.
Unfortunately one way they can prevent the ritual is to kill the lad we are here to save. We tried to persuade him this was not a good idea, and he agreed to consider alternatives, and told us where we might be able to find our boy. So off we rushed to find him. Indeed, we rushed a little too fast. There was a lot of discussion later on who should be blamed for not spotting the danger. [I was not the only one who had to confess to seeing something odd but not mentioning it until too late.], So we found ourselves in an ambush.
At first, we didn’t worry much when several vines attacked, but then some trees joined in, as did another dangerous plant. Things became quite serious quite fast.
I was able to escape the ambush and then get to work with my archery. Once I did, I soon decided we would win the battle [With just about every shot I killed something,] except I might be the only survivor.The others were all badly bloodied, or within an ace of dying. Zartan the eladrin mage bravely used his most powerful spell, thus leaving himself in range of the enemy [Possibly he could not have escaped anyway.] and was quickly down. Petunia the pixie wizard lost her pet displacer beast and was badly hurt herself. Violet the pixie bard got in a telling blow, but was also hit by one and finished the fight on the ground, a bare minimum from death. Tam Lin the pixie bezerker also suffered badly. And when the battle was finally over, we found that Zartan had been turned into a tree. We debated long and hard trying to discover a way to revive him, and finally Bin the changling psion realized the sap of the attackers would work. So we suffered no deaths, barely.
We did find some useful loot, but it will not be easy to rescue our man if we must face threats like this.
VICTORIES OF VORDAL – 6. Ambushed

Recovering from our “victory’ over the satyrs, we were taken to see the lady archfey, who of course said everything was the fault of her partner. [No doubt the other fey would tell us it was all her fault.] However, she also gave us a story that may explain what is going on here. A third fey whom we had already met was trying to take over the place and was using our people to do so. [Some sort of magic ritual which the two archfey had disrupted.] They had broken up her first attempt, but were unable to do more and so wanted our help. She said that we could find our prince, likely in an addled state, in the company of a nymph and set us on their trail. So off we went.
That proved a very difficult trail so far. Seeing a clearly valuable magic sword, we were lured into an ambush.The tree the sword was in was hostile and there were several nasty plants as well. It was quite a mess.
Fortunately Orla the elf thief and Kross the drow rogue managed to take out one of the vines, and Cyrus the elf scout, Quarion the eladrin mage, & I cut that tree up. However, Abraxn the dragonborn paladin found another hostile tree as well as a vine and was in trouble. Cyrus went to his aid, only to get in worse trouble himself. We had our hands full with two other vines and Quarion was down at one point. But with Abraxn able to help us, we disposed of them., only to find Cyrus had been turned into a tree of sorts. Using missiles, we had no problem eliminating the last hostile tree, but we could not think of how to rescue Cyrus.
Happily Quarion was able to think of a way to rescue him, and so we all survived, tho once again seriously hurt. The fey insist this area is some sort of garden, but so far our visit has been no walk in the park. Still, we did find a valuable weapon as well as some jewlery.

[ooc-As can be seen from these games, the difference between spotting the ambush and not is massive. 2 runnings with them seeing the plants were pretty easy while two runnings not spotting {Both DMs decided that half the party spotting the enemy was not good enough.} were only a bad roll or two from a TPK.]

9 Eamon January 3, 2012 at 2:47 pm

That’s interesting: our DM didn’t mention the sword at all, but Uma said we’d need mistletoe and oak leaves to navigate the maze, and so we engaged the trees.

10 The Unlucky Paladin January 30, 2012 at 4:30 am

Maybe if my character hadn’t been drinking so much in the week priors game I wouldn’t have been so useless. Not my fault they gave me the option to stay and drink.

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