After battling the Xivorts during the night, the PCs managed to complete their extended rest and began this week’s adventure at 100%. Knowing that the Hag Soryth was expecting them, they hurried to storm her Palace of Spires where they planned to free Juliana and stop Kalabon and Soryth from completing their evil plans for Porpherio’s Isle.
The heroes entered the hedge maze and began to follow the path of least resistance. One of the Pixies tried to fly above the hedges to get a better vantage point of the maze, but as soon as he got above the foliage he felt dizzy and experienced vertigo. As soon as he landed his head cleared and he was fine to continue. Clearly the magic of the maze worked to keep flying creatures grounded.
Numerous paths opened to the right and left, but the party managed to continue on what they believed was the correct path with few delays or the need for backtracking. After about 15 minutes of navigating the maze the PCs found themselves at a crossroads. The path to the north was lined with yellow roses, the path to the east was lined with white roses and the path to the south was lined with red roses. The aroma from the flowers was overpowering and mildly disserting. The white and red roses gave off a heavy scent whereas the yellow roses gave off a sweet scent. In order to continue the PCs needed to choose one of these three paths.
Take One – Harry T North
This week we ran with four players. The party consisted of a Wilden Monk [Unseelie Agent], Elf Ranger/Monk Hybrid, and Pixie Bard (Master Skald) [Unseelie Agent], and an Eladrin Wizard (the pre-gen Berrian).
The PCs talked about their options and decided that the yellow roses that gave off the sweet scent was their best bet. None of the PCs made any effort to examine the roses more closely or ask any questions. They were focused and just wanted to get into the Palace as quickly as possible.
The sweet scent became more and more pungent as they travelled through the yellow roses. All of the PCs lost a healing surge but realized that there was still a long way to go. The Wilden lit a torch attempting to eliminate or at least mask the harmful aroma. When the PCs made their Endurance checks this helped and three of the four PCs were successful. Unfortunately the Ranger fell into a coughing fit and lost another surge. Until the end of the next encounter the yellow rose perfume overwhelmed his senses causing -2 to Perception checks and slowing him whenever he became bloodied. The other PCs were fine.
As the PCs moved beyond the rose passages they spotted a clearing ahead. The passage was blocked by rotted branches covered in sharp thorns and barbs. However to the right was a hole in the hedge that continued on through multiple hedges as if a creature forced their way through and left the opening in their wake. They knew enough not to split the party, especially since there were only four PCs so they needed to decide on how to proceed.
Eventually they decided to risk the hazardous thorns and rotted branches. The Monk easily navigated his way through using Acrobatics to weave and dodge his way around harmful areas. The Ranger used Perception to watch the Monk’s route and then tried to follow it. Despite his penalty to Perception he managed to follow the Monk’s route exactly and had no problem copying his nimble route using Acrobatics. The Pixie Bard decided to try and fly though the openings and avoid danger. Using Insight he realized that it merely looked more difficult to navigate than it actually was. The Wizard used Arcana to control the fey magic and successfully passed trough unscathed.
Once through the hazardous terrain and in the clearing the PCs spotted a sundial atop a stone pillar. Depressions at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 were shaped like shamrock, oak, mistletoe and rose. When they produced the keys from their packs they discovered that one of each plant had become silver and fit perfectly into the indentation of the sundial.
When the PCs placed the silver keys on the sundial the leaves glowed and began to hum in unison, much like the crystals in the crystal cave. Then two dark holes lined in purple light appeared in the air above the sundial. Suddenly two blue-grey clawed hands reached out of the holes and snatched the four keys. The PCs heard laughter behind them and when they turned they saw blue goblin-like monsters reaching their arms through a hole in space. When they yanked the arms free they were holding the silver keys. Laughing at the party they took off into the hedge maze. The PCs immediately followed.
Following the thieves proved to be an easy task for this party. The Wizard rolled a natural 20 on his pathetic Athletics check and found bursts of speed that kept him neck and neck with the Boggles. The Monk opted for a more consistent pace and a successful Endurance check let him keep up with the Boggles without difficulty. The Ranger was able to discern a pattern in the Boggles route with an Insight check and whenever he saw them deviate he warned the party so that they could avoid traps. The Bard noticed that the Boggles were deliberately taking a roundabout route to a specific location in the maze and with a Perception check he was able to cut off the Boggles before they could get there, forcing a confrontation when the PCs wanted.
Since the party rocked the skill checks they only had to face off against four Boggles. However, since there were only four PCs I dropped that down to three. The ensuing combat was a lot of fun and the PCs eventually defeated the three Boggles. However the Boggle Tricksters hit hard doing 2d6+5 with their basic melee attack. The Sight Stealer was only able to entangle and blind a PC once during the combat, but the Neck Bite for 4d6+8 initial damage followed by the Face Rip for 1d8+5 as an immediate reaction when he broke free was almost a death sentence for the poor Monk.
Even though they only faced three opponents, the four PCs burned through a lot of healing surges in just one fight. Add to that the surges lost during the skill challenge and I suspect some parties will be really hurting after this week. Be forewarned players it only gets tougher from here.
Take Two – Dueling Grounds
We ended up with twelve players at Dueling Grounds this week including one player who was playing D&D Encounters for the very first time. The party at my table was made up of a Human Wizard (Arcanist), Dwarf Paladin (Cavilier), Drow Assassin, Deva Bard, Revenant (Elf) Sorcerer and Fargrim the Dwarf Fighter (Slayer) (pre-gen). As usual, leaders were in short supply and we one had one at each table.
When this group got to the diverging paths lined with the different colour roses, four of the PCs tried to climb the hedges to get a better vantage point while the other two used Nature to examine the flowers. The PCs climbing got to the top of the hedge, but before they could gather any useful information they experienced vertigo and felt dizzy. The Wizard managed to climb down while the Assassin fell. Fortunately the Paladin caught him. Meanwhile the Sorcerer and Cleric examined the flowers but flubbed their Nature roles. However since the other four PCs were busy while the Nature checks happened they had no reason to doubt the word of their allies.
As the party discussed which path to take the Cleric decided to follow the path with the yellow roses. By the time the party realized he was choosing for them he was well on his way. They decided to just follow his lead. Everyone ended up losing one healing surge and both the Wizard and Sorcerer failed their Endurance checks so they lost a second healing surge.
The party eventually found the passage that was blocked with the dead branches and noticed the holes in the nearby hedges. They worried that whatever made the hole might still be nearby so the hastily moved through the dead branches. The Assassin used Acrobatics to nimbly make his way through unscathed. The Cleric tried to follow the Assassin’s lead but he has no Acrobatic abilities to speak of and was scratched terribly. The Paladin and Fighter both tried charging through using Athletics but both fell half way though, cutting themselves in the process. The Wizard use Arcana to try and manipulate the vines, and he was having some success until he lost his concentration and the plants engulfed him. The Sorcerer decided to use a teleport power, however his poor Insight check meant he appeared just short of his mark and had to force his way through some of the danger zone. In the end five of the six PCs lost another healing surge. The Sorcerer and Wizard were now down three surges each and they hadn’t even begun the first combat encounter. The Sorcerer with only six surges to begin with knew this was going to end badly for him.
The heroes found the sundial and placed the silver keys in the proper places to activate the magic. And again the Boggles stole the key and took off. The party finally made some decent rolls and managed to keep up with the Boggles. The two Dwarves failed and Athletics and Endurance check but the other four PCs all made their skill checks.
They ended up facing a three Chase Tricksters, a Blink Trickster, and two Sight Stealers (I added one since there were six players). Learning from my first run-through, I kept the maze covered until the PCs actually explored it. The players were more interested in seeing what was beneath the covered sections than using smart tactics. The result was that three PCs each went in different directions and the party ended up facing off against multiple foes simultaneously. With the Boggles ability to teleport I had the injured ones switch places with fresh ones as often as possible. The party made absolutely no effort to focus fire.
I scored hit after hit. The Blink Trickster just slaughtered the party with his two Dimensional Claw attacks every round. With the maze being so tight the party couldn’t reach him to retaliate. It didn’t take long before PCs started falling. Fortunately for the PCs the Sight Stealers never managed to use their Neck Bite attack (4d6+8). After three PC were unconscious one of the Sight Stealers who had yet to take any damage got bored with the lop sided fight and left. But it didn’t help.
A few rounds later five of the six PCs were unconscious and making death saves. The Cleric was the only one still conscious. The player asked me if he should use his daily power that would give everyone 5 hit points for free or if he should save it. Everyone screamed at him to use it, which he did. After that, knowing that death was in their future the PCs finally started working together. They all ganged up on one Boggle at a time and within two more rounds killed three. As they were mopping up the last of the Boggles the Blink Trickster, who until that point had only been hit once with a Magic Missile, left the fight.
All told, this session took two and a half hours, more than half of which was the fight. All the PCs are way down on healing surges. The Sorcerer and Wizard are both out and neither is at full hit points. Even the Fighter and Paladin who normally have plenty of surges blew through half of theirs this week. I don’t see this group making it all the way through the chapter.
Despite the difficulties of combat the group seemed to really have a good time with the overall session. They really got into the role-playing and explorations of the hedge maze. It was a fun night but the monsters hit way too hard and way too often. Some PCs only had ACs between 14-16. The Boggles had +8, +9 and +11 vs. AC which meant that some PCs were hit on almost any number.
The lesson some players needed to take away from this was that characters who are optimized for combat and have poor skill modifiers will pay for that deficiency from time to time, and tonight was one of those times.
I enjoyed this week’s encounter a lot. With a clear objective to this chapter the PCs seem to have renewed confidence and excitement as we near the end of the adventure. It was refreshing not to have to role-play a bunch of NPCs this week (especially since half the players no longer care about them anyway).
I was glad to see a more structured skill challenge with significant repercussions for failure. I didn’t like that fact that the PCs had to simply guess which rose path to take and that two out of three resulted in an automatic loss of a healing surge. I would have liked there to be some way for them to realize that one way was safer than the others. Even if they’d realized the white roses gave off no scent it wouldn’t have provided the knowledge that it was the safe route.
I liked the combat in the hedge maze, but realized too late that by showing the PCs the entire map at once it ruined the element of surprise that a maze should evoke. I was more devious the second time through and it made a huge difference as I described above.
In order to make the combat more interesting I decided to make all edges of the maze hard corners. I let PCs cut the corner but doing so resulted in 1d6 damage from the jagged thorns. This made tactical movement that much more important. It also made the Boggle’s Foot-Snare Trick a lot more insulting.
How did your group make out this week? Any TPKs? How many PCs are already out of healing surges? How are DMs going to manage parties that suffered heavy loses this week, knowing that there are three more encounters to come?
We continue to record our D&D Encounters 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 10) – Podcasts
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.