D&D Encounters: Beyond the Crystal Cave (Week 10)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 26, 2012

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.

Afterthoughts

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

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sentack January 26, 2012 at 10:18 am

I’ve been enjoying your afterthoughts on each session of the current season. I find that I agree with you on most parts. This week, for example, I have to agree that the Roses challenge lacked clues. I decided that Ragnar & Uma would warn the party that the Feywild is a place of subtlety and metaphor. This appeared to help as the players made a series of assumptions that lead to the color white, even if it had little to do with the scent itself playing a roll. (By the way, they did make the Nature check)

As for the combat, I’ll agree that it could be tough but the guys at our store seem to be a bigger mix of ‘min-maxers’ at times so bigger damage, more accuracy (Half the PC’s at the table had AC 17+) seemed acceptable. The players did fine, although one got pretty beat up at the end but that players rotates characters frequently so he’ll no doubt be just fine next session with a brand new character.

Character swapping is something that even other players have been talking about at our store. They feel that while the characters may lack a magic item (Although the Unseely Fey theme makes this almost moot), they often start almost every session with max healing surges and all daily powers. To counter this, I’m debating on instituting the following policy at the table.

If you show up the next week with a new character and it’s not the start of a new chapter. You automatically lose 2 healing surges PLUS one daily power. If you lack a daily power, you lose your action point.

You could also apply this to people who miss a week, adding “If you lack an action point, lose an extra healing surge”. as a way to reward players who show up and keep everyone slightly more balanced across the board on a given encounter.

2 Alton January 26, 2012 at 10:21 am

Its funny that you mention the last part of +8+9+11 to hit. I have found with this season of encounters that the earlier chapters were teaser encounters(my party had no trouble defeating them). Once Chapter 2 started, then all hell seemed to break loose, tactics became important, monsters hitting more often etc…

I think they did this purposely, to give new players a chance to settle in and understand rules etc. and then the big stuff would be thrown at them when they are more familiar at playing the game. This is what I think.

What do you think?

3 Wally January 26, 2012 at 10:50 am

I wiped out my party last week during this fight. It was because my pc’s honestly did not roll above a 10 for the entire fight. Its one of the few ways you can actually get a TPK in 4e without making an encounter lopsided

4 Kenneth McNay January 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm

since we used the Witch’s Augury that the author mentioned on the WotC forum, we had a small clue about the scent of the flowers. We were able to use that at least in part to our benefit.

5 Yagokoro January 26, 2012 at 8:30 pm

We were incredibly lucky and unlucky this week. The party this week had my Human Enchantment Mage and my buddies the Human Evocation Mage and Pixie Skald, our “random fifth” Drow Hexblade, and a newcomer in the form of a Tiefling Warlock. Sadly our Pixie Rogue was needed for backup DM duty again, cause I think we could have used her.

The first strokes of major luck came from the split paths. We had some good luck in our skill checks, but nothing we found was giving major clues. It was getting to the point where we were BSing while trying to find a way to break the deadlock. Finally, inspired by an episode of Family Matters, I just said “I got it. We go yellow. Red, we’re dead. White, we’re trite. Yellow, we’re mellow.” Then I thought it over and realized “Wait a minute, all of us are pretty trite.” So I revised my assessment. “Red, we’re dead. Yellow, we’re Jell-o. White, we’re right.” From what I was told afterwards, I got it right.

Next came the choice of branches and the hole. Again we were deadlocked, though not as badly as before. A successful check revealed that the hole was made by some beast. This time inspired by Valkyria Chronicles, I hypothesized that since animals have a natural instinct to find the most efficient path, the hole would be good. Later I learned that a couple of the party members were lamenting that they didn’t remember Labyrinth, because the wall of thorny branches was an illusion. Looking above, though it looks like either way it would have been a pain. Me and the other mage were the only ones to pass our skill checks and avoid losing two surges as opposed to one.

The unluck came during the fight. Everyone seemed to have cold dice except for me and the Skald. Thankfully there was tactically sound movement, otherwise things would have been very bad indeed. The Hexblade ended up going one-on-one with one of the Tricksters and either had trouble hitting or doing damage, and the Warlock didn’t land a single hit. If the DM had had good dice, we would have been pasted, but thankfully it only seemed to land one of every three attacks, and most of those were Peek-a-Boo Tricks that ended up getting derailed when I showed up and used Beguiling Strands to shove them away and into the hazards.

As it was, the few poor tactical decisions we made could have cost us dearly. If it weren’t for Shield, I likely would have gone down in the first round. My fellow Mage ate a Face Rip that brought him down from barely above bloodied to barely above negative-bloodied. The Skald very nearly died because he got surrounded behind enemy lines and we couldn’t get to him. I had to Mage Hand him back to us after the interference was cleared, where the Warlock could use a healing potion on him. This was good, because if not, he would have failed his third death save in a row.

All in all, it was a pretty rough fight that makes me look forward to the next three to come, even if I worry a bit about me being the only one with a decent amount of resources left.

6 B.J. January 26, 2012 at 9:40 pm

This was a rough-ish fight for our group. I was nearly wiped out, but managed to muddle along for well over half the encounter with one hit point. It was pretty awesome!

However this encounter and the one for next week (we’re playing a week ahead) further prove that somehow, someway this Encounters season is way off balance. We nearly had a TPK. The only reason I was killed is because… well, I’ll talk about that next week. I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise.

7 David Argall January 27, 2012 at 3:36 am

SEASONING OF GREENBOW – 10. The Amazing Maze

We at least started the day well rested, and moved to deal with the maze. Finding a choice of three paths, we selected the one that seemed least dangerous. Possibly, it was also the least beneficial, but we choose not to risk it. However, it led us to a roadblock, and to the discovery the maze was alive and trying to block us. However, Bolivar, a dragonborn paladin, discovered the way to dodge its attempts to block us and so we reached the center of the maze with not much damage.
There we discovered a sundial where we could use our keys. However, we had barely started to do so when two magical thieves stole two of the keys and ran off. We chased them, only to run into several of their companions, who had set up a trap for us.
Taringold the satyr thief rushed into it, and got seriously hurt, as did I. Indeed, none of the party escaped damage. Our foes were small, but able to hit hard.
However, Marc the half-elf warpriest was able to keep us on our feet, and Bolivar kept them from attacking us too much. So Orla the elf thief, Taringold and I managed to damage them when they held still long enough to attack us. So the eventual victory was ours.
We collected our stolen keys and headed back to the sundial. Keeping a close watch, we inserted the keys again and this time to effect. Whether good or bad, we shall see, but we have clearly left the maze and may be at the palace we aim for.

VICTORIES OF VORDAL – 10. Straightening out the maze

Waking, we found we had recovered from our previous difficult day, and so were ready to start another. The first problem was a confusing maze. We faced a choice of three ways to go, and likely did not choose the best way. In any case, we were drugged and bewildered. Then we found ourselves facing a choice of ways to continue, both of which were bad. We agonized for some time without finding a solution, and eventually just plowed thru, quite painfully.
But now we had reached the center, and found where the keys were to be inserted, in a sundial. However, as we did so, some more of the forces of the witch used a magic trick to steal two of them and we had to chase them to get them back.
It seemed that actually we were lured into chasing them since they led us to several of their pals and we were soon in trouble. They were tricky little goblins who would teleport all over the place. They also had other tricks, like luring Rogar the human barbarian into a trap. [That trap did not turn out so well for them as Rogar used a powerful blow to kill the one who tried to lure him.]
While the foe were tricky and could hit hard, they were not that hard to defeat. Quarion the eladrin wizard used some effective spells and Richard the human paladin was able to keep the enemy from attacking the wizard much. Kress, the drow rogue, put up a cloud of black that confused both sides. I managed to apply the finishing touch to a couple of foes. We had to run around more than in most of our fights, which was a problem for dwarf legs, but the victory was soon ours.
Collecting the stolen keys, and a little loot, we headed back to the sundial, and placed the keys in the proper locations, following which the maze spun into a blur which lasted until we found ourselves in a garden, which will no doubt feature additional threats.

8 PHIL January 30, 2012 at 5:52 pm

I have been playing for the last eight of the ten encounters. I will also admit to not having played much since 1st ed. came out. I have also followed this blog/journal for all of the episodes. I also understand this is a national campaign module targeted at based what I have seen teenagers based on the amount of combat scenes.

In general our group has faired well to better than most, based on the results posted here. This I will attribute to the fact that we have had at least 5+ solid experienced RPG players every week. Our table has been at a low of 5 and as high as 11.

Our core player group run a Hamadryad Witch (Sidhe), Eladrin Witch, Drow Witch (Sidhe), an Eladrin Cleric until last session when they switched to a Dragonborn Cavalier/Skald and an Eladrin Wizard (Evocation). For this last session we also had an Eladrin Skald, two Eladrin rangers, and an Eladrin Rogue.

We made one wrong turn on the rose paths. It seemed half the party got hurt (healing surge loss) crossing through the broken vines and thorns.

We reached the sundial, and then had to chase down our “runaway keys” right into their trap. 8 Boggles were waiting for us. Between their speed and the restrictive terrain we ended up being in a vicious little fight. Our battle lasted about five turns, but was pretty bloody for more than one player. Our Cavalier/Skald and our Eladrin witch had prepared a nasty attack the prior week. The witch had successfully cast Grim Shadows into the Spidersilk bag the prior week. This week our Cavalier Skald was able to get close enough to a pair of the boggles to open the bag. The results were not quite as anticipated. The close blast 3 turned into a burst one centered on the Cavalier/Skald. Hits were scored on both boggles and the Cavalier. Our other Skald was luckily missed in the attack.

Our Eladrin Witch was able to perform at least two Beast Switch attacks on two different Boggles and chose to shift them into the maze walls for additional thorn damage. It was fun watching two witches Witch Bolt a boggle to bits. We had at least 4 party members earn their 15+ damage attack for the chapter in this fight.

Our Party’s biggest handicap was the restrictive terrain of the maze limiting our movement and line of sight. Otherwise I would believe that this fight would have ended at least 2 turns earlier.

I have looked at this session several times and have had a question on what purpose this whole encounter served other than just another combat? Nowhere in our session or stated here was said anything about Soreth or Kalabon saying we expect trouble to try and enter the Palace so go and stop these strangers.

That means this might be a random encounter, but given the location I find it hard to rationalize. This is the gateway between the Palace and the Feywild Island. To have a random group of 8 Boggles occupying her front door without her approval makes no sense. The script on crossing the pond to the white palace specifically told us that Kalabon was behind that attack. Nobody in their right mind will let that powerful/sized group sit on their doorstep without being aligned to them. Who says they won’t attack her?

This powerful a group sitting here at the doorstep only did one thing as pointed out by more than one that that was to suck out a lot of healing surges from the party and maybe a few daily’s as well. With 3 more episodes left and no more extended rests in between, this will be only serve to leave the party in bad shape (already hinted that things get tougher from here) before the final encounter. I know my character ended this encounter with only 14 hp (29 max) with only 4 surges left and I was down to just 1 hp part way through this fight. This means I will have to expend two more surges just to get up to 28 hp leaving me just two surges for the last 3 fights.

I do understand combat and taking damage so this is not a complaint on me being hit. This is more of like I said earlier, what was this encounter for? What was it’s purpose? Why would anybody allow this group to park on their Gateway/Bridge/Doorstep?

For a GM, how would Basil, Soryth or Kalabon fair against this group? If the answer is anything more than they would be a “minor annoyance” then it does not make sense for them to have been there at all.

Boggles for reference have high 30’s for HP and are considered level 4 monsters. Except for the sight stealers, they are only level 3 monsters. This means their party size was roughly equal to ours, they were higher level, and had higher hit points than all but a but one of our party members.

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