D&D Encounters: Beyond the Crystal Cave (Week 7)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 5, 2012

Last week the party met with Uma in hope of enlisting her aid in the search for Orlando and Juliana. Uma informed the party that they were not the only ones looking for Orlando. Ragnar sent his cousin (a Verbeeg named Basil) to kill the boy, a permanent way of keep the Hag Soryth from gaining control of the island. Although Uma also sought Orlando, she believed her magic capable of freeing Propherio from Orlando and likewise keeping the Hag from her ultimate prize.

Uma told the heroes that they could find Orlando if they found the Nymph he followed into the forest, and the heroes ventured into the forest to find him. As the they moved through the forests they had a nearly fatal encounter with Barkburrs, Bloodthorn Vines and a nasty Vine Horror. After taking a short rest they continued with their search.

They eventually emerged from the thick foliage and into a clearing where they spotted a lone tree atop a small hill. From behind the tree a Nymph emerged and greeted them. “Peace. I would share words with you,” she said.

The PCs learned that the Nymph’s name was Rosaline and that she was indeed the one Orlando was following. She intentionally lured the boy away from Soryth to protect him. She took him to her friend, a Treant named Oakstaff. When asked about Juliana she had few new details to add. However, she did tell the party that Soryth could not advance her plans without Orlando. So as long as Orlando was kept safe, Juliana would also be safe.

She bade them to visit with Oakstaff and fulfill their destiny as key participants in the events to come. As the heroes said goodbye, Rosaline gave them two vials of Horse’s Breath, a consumable that would grant the user’s mount or vehicle an extra move action. She quietly pulled aside the party’s Hamadryad and gave her an additional vial, whispering in her ear, “This is a gift between sisters.”

Finding Oakstaff was easy enough. He called out to the heroes as they approached. The heroes explained who they were and that they were looking for Orlando. Oakstaff uprooted and lead them to a secluded grotto where they could speak more freely.

He told the PCs that he brought Orlando to the Water Palace out on the lake as that’s where Porpherio’s real secrets dwell. He also added that the island is warded against evil and that neither the Hag, nor her allies could reach Orlando.

When the PCs explained that they wanted to bring Orlando back to Uma so that she could free Porpherio’s essence from the boy, Oakstaff agreed to help. He told the PCs how to reach the Water Palace and agreed to go and speak with Uma and Ragnar in an attempt to make them see reason and fight their real enemy, Soryth.

Before the PCs and Oakstaff parted ways, the Treant gave each hero a vial of Rider’s Water. This consumable, when poured on a tiny Fey or tiny natural creature would transform it into a large creature with the mount keyword. Once again the Hamadryad was given an extra vial, “A present for a dear cousin.”

When the PCs reached the lake they detected a faint aura of protective magic emanating from the water. This was likely party of the ward against evil Oakstaff spoke of. Tethered to the dock was a small skiff, just big enough to hold 6 PCs. After the PCs got in the boat and started towards the far bank a thunderous voice boomed, “This island’s mine, fools! Soryth and I have already won!”

Behind the PCs a blue Pixie hovered on the shore. The voice originated from a shadowy image of a fanged man with large horns above him. The face spoke to the Pixie, “Kalbon, master of this isle, commands you into battle, slave. Summon your winds and crush these intruders, then bring me Orlando.” As the face faded away the Pixie’s only response was “Yes.” Water spouts erupted near him and moved towards the PCs.

Take One – Harry T North

This week we again ran with a very manageable five players. 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 Pixie Bard decided to fly across the water, while the Warlord, Monk and Hexblade got in the boat. The Paladin had other plans. He managed to get two otters to come over and play with him. Rather than use the Rider’s Water on one of them he decided to use them as living water skis.

The Pixie Bard decided to help just to see how things would play out. Using his Speak with Beasts he told the otters that it was a game and that they had to carry the Paladin across without dropping him into the water. An exceptionally high Nature check (in place of Diplomacy) had them convinced to help.

The Paladin then used his rope to create reins for the otters and held on for dear life as they swam him across. He then made three remarkable Acrobatic checks to stay erect and actually managed to make it almost all the way across before an attacked knocked him off.

When the fighting began the party actually did pretty well, at first. Everyone focused fire on one Waterspout destroying it before it got to attack. Unfortunately the remaining three used Spinning Spout to hit multiple PCs and practically destroy the boat.

As the villainous Pixie Ariel tried to get across the lake he encountered the water skiing Paladin and attacked him. The two went toe to toe on the riverbank for a few rounds before the Paladin eventually bloodied Ariel. With a successful Insight check, the Paladin realized that Ariel was no longer under Kalbon’s control so he stopped fighting.

The rest of the party took heavy damage while fighting in the water, but they continued focusing fire and eventually destroyed the waterspouts. The airborne Pixie Bard made a huge difference. His mobility allowed him to move where he was needed most, healing and making checks to keep the party alive. He also suffered no penalties during combat since he wasn’t underwater and that also made a huge difference.

In the end this party wasn’t too bad. They did pretty well last week and this week, but they are definitely low on surges and have grave concerns about finishing the chapter given their current resources.

Take Two – Dueling Grounds

For the second week in a row we were only a few rolls away from a TPK. We had only seven players this week, one being the back-up DM who opted to join when we didn’t get enough people to run the second table. The party consisted of a Human Assassin, Bullywug Assassin, Shade Assassin, Goliath Berserker, Eladrin Wizard (Witch), Eladrin Cleric (Valenae pre-gen) and Drow Warlock (Beliel pre-gen from D&D Encounters season 1).

As we’ve seen again and again with this group, no one wants to play a leader. One Cleric for a party of seven isn’t enough. PCs were falling left and right and then most of the players berated the guy playing the Cleric when he didn’t heal them. I smiled inwardly when he not only didn’t heal the players who gave him a hard time but outright abandoned them during combat to avoid taking damage himself. Karma dude, Karma.

Since we had seven PCs I added a Waterspout bringing the total to five. Five PCs and a beast companion were loaded in the boat and mid-way across when the first attacks hit. The Bullywug Assassin and the Shade Assassin remained behind on the dock. The Shade immediately stated swimming closer to the party knowing he could teleport if he got within range. The Bullywug decided to stay on shore. (I still don’t understand why he didn’t get in the water!)

The three Waterspouts managed to attack multiple PCs and the boat during the first round. The Berserker’s defender’s aura allowed him to make three opportunity attacks, but since they were insubstantial they took little damage.

By the end of the first round the beast companion was destroyed and four of the PCs were well below their bloodied value. Hits from three Waterspouts dealing 2d6+3 each decimated the majority of the party. The heroes tried to get back in the boat so that they could attack more effectively but that just made them easier targets for the fourth Waterspout to hit them all again.

The Witch tried using Ghost Sound to mimic Kalbon’s voice and command one of the Waterspouts to cease its hostilities. I had the player make an Arcana check and he rolled a 20. I deemed this a success and the Waterspout disappeared. But even this act of mercy by the DM did little to turn the tide of the slaughter.

I had Ariel remain out of combat for three rounds as he moved around the battle and tried to get onto the island. When he realized that he couldn’t, he attacked the PCs. I had to have him focus his blast attack on the two PCs who took minimal damage during the first couple of rounds or I’d have easily killed the four very bloodied PCs.

Once they heroes finally managed to take out most of the Waterspouts they started attacking Ariel the Pixie. The Berserker used a daily attack and did enough damage with one strike to bloody Ariel. After that the Warlock made an Insight check and realized that Kalbon’s slave was now free of the compulsion and stopped fighting.

It only took one more round of focused fire to destroy the remaining Waterspouts, but the toll on the party was huge. In the end five of the seven PCs ended up using four or more healing surges. Add that to the ones they spent last week and most of the party is at less than their maximum hit points and down to zero surges. With two encounters remaining this party will not survive. I’m going to have to award bonus healing surges or the game will end next week.

Afterthoughts

This week splitting the party actually saved them. Had the PCs all been grouped together they would have been easier targets for the Waterspouts and Ariel. By having a couple of them not use the boat, individual Waterspouts engaged the outliers one-on-one saving those in the boat from an even worse fate.

This was an ugly battle. Compounded on top of last week’s debacle and I had a lot of players saying a lot of bad words. None of the players at either of my tables believe they’ll live through the rest of this chapter. They took such heavy damage during the last two encounters that they don’t have the resources they need to continue. If this was a home game they would simply take the extended rest now. If Orlando was captured or killed while they rested that would just be too bad for him. No point in a full party dying in an attempt to save one man.

I think the real issue is the incredible damage output from the monsters. Last week it was the Vine Horror’s 2d8+4 and this week it was the Waterspouts 2d6+3 against up to four targets. Since most PCs have about 30 hit points max, two hits like these are enough to take them out of the battle. If more than one monster gangs up on a single PC then it’s lights out.

On the plus side I really liked the encounter over (and in) the water. It added a mechanic to the battle that most players had never before experienced. The flying PCs had a clear advantage, but in this case it didn’t bother me at all. As the PCs managed to wash up on the beach, the ranged attackers went to work helping those still in the water. It really emphasized the importance of having a ranged weapon. Even an attack of +0 with a bow is better than not having an attack at all. So for all you melee-types get yourself a crossbow or a heavy thrown weapon.

How did the river crossing go at your table? What was the ratio of living to dead PCs by the end? How many PCs are out of healing surges? How do DMs plan to address PCs with zero healing surges considering there are still two more encounters to go before the extended rest?

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 7) – Podcasts

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Wally January 5, 2012 at 11:34 am

I am ahead of you by one week. And lets just say if your party does not get its act together and learn how to fight they will more than likely be rocked in the next encounter. Encounters is about playing together and being cooperative. Part of cooperation is someone playing the leader. If someone isn’t willing to do this and people do not want to second wind or play smart I feel 0 sympathy for TPKs.

2 David January 5, 2012 at 2:21 pm

We had 2 PCs and 2 pets on the raft, 1 PC on a giant otter, 1 PC swimming, and 1 PC (me) flying. We didn’t get a chance to not kill Ariel, because the berserker critted on him when he was one away from bloodied, killing him outright. On top of that, 2 of the PCs are completely out of surges after this week.
Also, my table and another table at my FLGS independently wondered what would happen if we used the Rider’s Water on a pixie PC. I’m thinking of doing that at the beginning of the next chapter, as the effects last until the next extended rest.

3 Kenneth McNay January 5, 2012 at 2:50 pm

last week’s encounter did not feel as though it fit the course of action for the players. This week, they at least felt as though the opposition came after they knew which direction they were headed and seemed directly connected to the end goal of finding Orlando.

two recognized the otters as potential mounts using the gifts from Oakstaff.

The interaction with the summer nymph and with the treant Oakstaff were difficult for players to grasp quickly as tools for gaining information. They are pretty dead set on facing the hag and less aware of the importance of Orlando; they are following the guidance, but seem confused.

One PC offered a moonstone from an earlier reward to Rosaline as a gift. She asked if he was offering it freely without expectation of a gift in return. He said, ‘I’m just giving this to you; because, you are very pretty and deserve pretty things.’ So, I decided she believed he was giving his heart to her as her champion and pawn. I’ll use it again later in the story.

Another PC requested Oakstaff enchant his bow or his arrows. Oakstaff inquired if he would swear fealty to Oakstaff to which he responded, ‘yes, I swear my fealty to you, Oakstaff.’ I told him that before next week he should make (from his current ranger) a Seeker, hybrid Seeker/Ranger, or multiclass Seeker, as well as tack on the title, “Warlock of Oakstaff,” to his name.

Later when facing the wind mage pixie Ariel, I had Ariel call the first PC as Rosaline’s chattel and the second as Warlock of Oakstaff. I explained that he could see in their very aura that they had recently made eldritch pacts with powerful fey creatures.

4 ck January 5, 2012 at 4:41 pm

@Kenneth McNay that sounds like some awesome dm’ing.

My party has the minimum amount of people so I felt the need to scale it back a bit. Instead of throwing all the waterspouts at them at once, I had one at a time appear. When one died another took it’s place. They were still pretty challenging for the players but they didn’t feel overwhelmed.

Our paladin swimming [in plate armor] next to the otters wanted to know if the otter’s were friendly enough to use Rider’s Water on them. I had him make an insight check.

Did anybody rule that Rider’s water can be used on Pixies? Did anybody rule the insects trapped in amber were tiny natural beasts?

5 Sunyaku January 5, 2012 at 7:18 pm

On the topic of “no one wants to play a leader”. We haven’t had that problem at our store. There are a few druids and bards running about. I chose a more unusual path… a Hybrid Fighter Druid… and since the new Druid build is a controller, that makes my character a very unusual Defender/Leader/Controller.

Our shop won’t allow monster races in Encounters, so I’m playing a Wild Elf wearing bullywug hide armor. Equipped with a spear (unseelie), swamp dog (wolf), the long jumper feat, and the ability to shift 7 once per encounter through difficult terrain, the character more or less feels like a Bully to me.

6 B.J. January 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Enjoyed this encounter last week. It was actually a nice challenge despite my fighter being stuck in the water for half the encounter, I ended up being fairly effective.

The next encounter is kind of crazy, fun, and short. I don’t want to say too much, but one of our characters was killed (as in “dead-dead”) in one single hit. Lesson learned: Level 2 Pixie witches should not rush into battle ahead of the rest of their group.

7 Giondi January 11, 2012 at 5:07 pm

I had an Executioner/Gloom Pact Warlock hybrid who used the water on his bat familiar. I don’t think that’s technically allowed, but it was funny so I let it happen. He flew directly toward Ariel and garroted him, which silences the target and I ruled that while silenced, he couldn’t cast (again, not strictly covered by the rules, but in my mind, silence is always an affliction that stops casting unless the cast ability states otherwise).

We also had a barbarian, a bard, a hexblade, a wizard, a warlord, and a fighter. Ariel started first (I critted his initiative) and used Tempest, which scattered the party. That kept them from getting hit four times each with the spouts’ Spinning Spout, and the elementals stayed in melee range so it wasn’t too hard on my party.

8 David Argall January 13, 2012 at 11:26 pm

VICTORIES OF VORDAL – 7. Rough Waters

Finally we reached the nymph we were looking for, and she was the right one as well. However these fey are scatterbrained type with a tendency to dodge their duties, and so she had shifted the burden of keeping the lad safe to another fey, who we then had to visit to find out where the prince was. This one was a large treant who wasted much of our time telling us stories of his past victories, but eventually he did tell us where and gave us a bit of help, which help makes me deem fey clever fools.
The help was in the form of making small creatures our temporary mounts, which would have been quite useful if they had just been a little clearer in telling us that. As it was, we only realized how useful they would be after that utility was gone. These fey must have some tremendous abilities to know these things, but they lack the wisdom to make that knowledge actually useful.
Anyway, we found ourselves at a lake with a small castle in the center, and a raft to get there. But as we started to row our way there, we were attacked by this pixie mage and his summoned water spouts.
We now found our raft was a trap, as our foes had powers to sweep us off it and into the water. Fortunately the pixie attacked first and while he caused us much dismay, we were able to concentrate on him and Kross the drow rogue, Cyrus the elf scout and Ragar the barbarian were able to cut him down.
[Since we had seen him ordered by one of the enemy fey, and could tell he was dominated, we decided to spare him, and in fact went to much trouble to save him when he fell into the water and started to drown.]
Unfortunately the water spouts had already received their orders and gave us much trouble as they hit us hard and threw us into the water. I was dumped twice, and Quarion the eladrin mage & Kross were nearly killed and drowned. Fortunately Ragar was very effective with his sword and managed to drop nearly all of the enemy. The Only other one to finish one was Cyrus, who took out the one who was attacking me..
Once the battle was over, we awakened the pixie who confirmed our suspicions. He had been charmed by one of the enemy fey and was on his way to capture our lad when he happened on us. Clearly this refuge is no longer safe for our boy. So now we must find him and bring him to the archfey to find how to protect him.

SEASONING OF GREENBOW – 7. Lakeside

Having faced a dire threat, we now faced a minor one, tho we may have been lucky or wise.
Our path led us to a quite attractive dryad, one perhaps worthy of the description our lass gave of the one who had lured our lad away as the most beautiful she had ever seen. Our satyr was, of course, almost entirely out of control. But eventually he calmed down enough for the lady to confirm she could guide us on the way to our goal, and give us a little help.
Her guiding was only to a treant, who talked more than anything else. However, he could tell us where our lad was, and was also able to give us some puzzling help. That puzzle was solved when we reached the lake in our way and found some otters playing. We realized quickly that we could recruit them as our mounts to ride over the lake.
However there was also a reasonably usable raft and so most of us decided to use that instead. This is when some of the enemy appeared, in particular a pixie mage that summoned several water spouts. A bombastic fellow, he gave a speech first, and so we were ready by the time he tried to attack.
Violet the pixie bard had a neat little trick that allow her and Huna the thief to flank the pixie and badly hurt it. He managed to attack back hard enough to make concentrating on taking him out seem wise and I and Bin [mostly, I slipped on the wet deck of the raft.] finished him, taking care not to kill him since he was clearly enchanted.
As we had hoped, the water spouts vanished with him no longer there to control them, tho they stayed just long enough to make us quite happy to see them go. We likely could have handled them anyway, but we were in no mood for another rough fight. Tam Lin and Petunia agreed on this since they took damage as it was.
Our pixie prisoner was grateful and claimed to be free of the enchantment on him, which the rest of the party believed. [I can’t say I didn’t, but I was not so sure I wanted to risk taking him to the lad’s hideout. Fortunately he was willing to leave us with advice and some small treasure.
So now we continue, aided? by a couple of magic giant otters [who seem much more interested in fun than in any mission.] The magic palace that is our goal is in easy sight.

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