D&D Encounters: Beyond the Crystal Cave (Week 9)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 19, 2012

Last week the PCs found Orlando (fused with Propherio) and defeated the Verbeeg Basal who was trying to kill him. After the contest of champions in which the PCs emerged victorious, Basal rewarded the party with a magical item and then agreed to accompany them and Orlando back to Uma.

The return trip back to Uma’s grove took a couple of hours and by the time they got there, night was upon them. When they reached their destination they saw Uma with her Nymphs and Pixies on the eastern bank and Ragnar with his Satyrs and Wilden on the western bank with the Treant, Sir Oakstaff, straddling the stream between he two groups.

Uma and Ragnar shouted insults and blame at each other with Oakstaff trying to mediate a resolution. As they noticed the PCs approach with Orlando and Basal the bickering stopped. Uma bade Orland come to her so that she could protect him and mend his wounded mind. Ragnar meanwhile demanded that the PCs bring Orlando to him. Oakstaff once again called for peace.

The PCs were in the spotlight now and had to explain what had transpired during the previous couple of encounters. They explained that they had defeated Basal in combat and that Orlando’s fate was up to them. Since they were acting on Uma’s direction they felt that it was only right to see that he was delivered safely to her.

Orlando, until this point still confused and skittish, had a moment of clarity. Porpherio’s personality took control and he spoke with authority. He explained that the part of his spirit merged with Orlando and the small part merged with the fiend Kalbon would return to Propherio and Caerwyn’s tomb if the physical hosts were killed. So killing Orlando would not have stopped the Hag Soryth from completing her ritual. And killing Soryth (partly merged with Caerwyn) and Kalbon (partly merged with Propherio) will actually free the imprisoned parts of the lover’s spirits.

Uma and Ragnar realized their folly and made up. They agreed to work together, along with the PCs to stop Soryth from doing any more damage. However, since the native Fey creatures were barred from entering the Palace of Spires the Archfey lords asked the PCs if they would use the four plant keys they acquired to breach the Hag’s fortress and stop her. The PCs agreed without hesitation.

As a thank you for finding and returning Orlando, Uma and Ragnar each present the PCs with a magical item to assist them on their quest. Ragnar also demands that Basal present the PCs with another of his own magical treasures for sparing his life. Each PC was also given a Potion of Healing.

Uma revealed that if they had something of Soryth’s in their possession Uma could enchant it to protect the PCs from the Hag’s most potent spells. The PCs produced Soryth’s Bloodstone that Juliana ripped from the Hags neck during their struggle in the Leprechaun’s grove. Uma, Ragnar and Oakstaff worked together to enchant the item and presented it to the PCs. They were told to keep it with them and that those who oppose the Hag would be protected.

The PCs were exhausted by this point and needed an extended rest. They set camp and got ready to sleep. However, before any of them could get any meaningful sleep some PCs heard trouble approaching and aroused the others from their bedrolls. When Soryth’s Bloodstone was enchanted the Hag felt a backlash of positive energy and realized that someone would be coming for her so she sent her agents to recover the Bloodstone. The party was beset upon by Xivorts.

Take One – Harry T North

This week we held steady at five players. The party consisted of a Wilden Monk [Unseelie Agent], Human Seeker [Unseelie Agent], Hamadryad Warlord, Elf Ranger/Monk Hybrid, and Pixie Bard (Master Skald) [Unseelie Agent]. This group has been very consistent thought the adventure and by now they all know what the other PCs are capable of doing. During the previous few encounters they’ve really began working well together and saw a lot of synergies as they played off of each other’s abilities.

The two Xivorts rolling the logs didn’t last very long. Since the party was alerted to their attack the PCs managed to scatter before the logs could target multiple PCs. The first log rolled over one PC but missed, The second managed to hit the one PC in its path. Without the logs to provide cover the strikers made short work of the exposed Slashers.

The Net Caster only managed to get the Bard in the net keeping him from the action for multiple rounds while he struggled with the net. Out of game we felt that the Pixie should have been able to just fly out of the net but we stuck to the D&D mechanics and made the PC continue trying to save successfully.

With the PCs taking cover and working together the Xivorts realized that a brash frontal assault probably wouldn’t work. They took to the forest’s edge and tried to gain concealment from the PCs whenever possible. The combat took a long time as the PCs and Xivorts played Cat and Mouse with each other, sneaking in and out of the forest and shooting anything that moved. In the end the PCs managed to take out all the Xivorts without any casualties, although most of the PCs were at death’s door following the fifth encounter of the chapter.

Take Two – Dueling Grounds

Our numbers continue to fluctuate between 7 and 12 people. Some weeks we don’t quite have enough to make two tables, while others we’re fine to split into two groups. This week we had 8 people so we went with one massive table. I opted to play having already DMed the encounter once. This party was very striker-heavy so output wasn’t really a problem. The challenge was healing and healing surges. As mentioned before some of the players are quite young and don’t track healing surges properly. When they do run out of surges they just make a new character for the next session. So we had some PCs with more than enough surges (the younger players) and some PCs with only 1 or 0 surges (the older players). I decided to play a Paladin so that I could use Lay on Hands to heal the guys playing correctly if the need arose.

The party consisted of a Human Assassin, Goliath Berserker, Human Wizard (Arcanist), Eladrin Sun Elf Warlock (Hexblade) [Fey Beast Tamer], Bullywug Assassin [Fey Beast Tamer], and Drow Assassin [Fey Beast Tamer]. I was playing Alvenor, the Human Paladin pre-gen from D&D Encounters: Halaster’s Lost Apprentice.

Failed Perceptions checks to detect the sneaking Xivorts meant that half the party got crushed under the logs. Fortunately the DM only hit one out of three PCs with the first log and two out of four with the second. The real challenge was the Net Casters. Since PCs couldn’t try to escape until the end of their turn with a save the Paladin and Berserker, both lacking ranged attacks, were almost removed from the fight. Fortunately smart tactics let the Paladin grant the Berserker an extra save and then I made my save on the first try.

Even though the DM added a couple of extra Xivorts the combat only took three and a half rounds. Of course with seven PCs and three beast companions each round took about 20 minutes of real-time. The party had a tremendous amount of firepower at their disposal, including an abundance of daily powers and the sheer volume that accompanies 10 attackers on team heroes. For the first time this chapter the PCs managed to give as good as they got.

Afterthoughts

I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again: Chapters in the D&D Encounters adventures should not exceed four encounters. Many of the players are inexperienced and parties don’t always work well together because players don’t know one and other. Many parties lack a leader and healing surges are not always used to their maximum effect. The result is PCs who cannot survive five encounters without an extended rest.

That being said I have to admit that the combat part of this week’s encounter really seemed unnecessary. The role-playing and story progression that happened at the beginning was good but could have easily been tacked on to the end of last week’s fight. The ambush in the night was almost like punishment to most of the PCs. Had I not taken pity on the PCs and given them some free healing surges before the encounter started there would have been some character deaths if not a TPK.

This chapter as a whole was tough on a lot of players as their PCs really took a pounding. The monsters they faced hit hard and hit often. The only encounter that didn’t overwhelm them was the fight against the solo monster, Basal. It’s this kind of unrelenting punishment that gives new players the wrong sense of what D&D is all about. They certainly got a lot of opportunity to role-play which I think was the chapter’s big saving grace, but every week they just got their butts handed to them. It really crushed their spirit both in and out of game.

Now that chapter two is completed what are your thoughts? Are players dropping out of D&D Encounters because their PCs keep getting killed? Do you find that you have to keep handing out free healing surges in order for the PCs to have any kind of chance at survival? Is the vast array of NPCs baffling your players or are they following the story without too much difficulty? Are people still as enamored with the Feywild after nine weeks or is the honeymoon over?

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 9) – Podcasts

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Frank January 19, 2012 at 10:30 am

I’ve used the Encounters program to get my kids (ages 14 & 11) involved in D&D. They loved the Neverwinter season, and, at the beginning of this season, were very excited about the Feywild, both of them playing the new Witch class. But the complexity of the story and the unrelenting difficult combats have soured them. Most weeks they say they don’t want to go. They’ve asked me when the next season will start. They still want to play; they just don’t want to play the Crystal Cave any more.

2 Tabi January 19, 2012 at 3:28 pm

As a decently knew player, even an adult player, the complexity of the story sometimes gets me lost. I have extensive notes about things we need, information we’ve gained, and who’s who in a notebook I take with me and my DM has even asked me a few times to help remember names and sort out details when new players join us. The honeymoon of the feywild is for sure gone, and while I’ve had a blast and really had a chance to develop my character, I am looking forward to next season.

3 B.J. January 19, 2012 at 10:47 pm

I’ll echo the dour sentiment for this adventure. I haven’t been a fan of it from the very beginning, but it’s really wearing thin on me now. The story is expansive and dense. I have no problem with that on the surface, but there has to be depth to the story, which I think is lost on this setting. Everything about this session is steeped in cliche and worn out tropes borrowed from fiction. I am the responsible note keeper four our group and even I get my head spun around on some of the plot points and intermingling characters. We’ve had someone die or get knocked unconscious nearly every game. This season could have used more balance.

4 David Argall January 20, 2012 at 3:20 am

VICTORIES OF VORDAL – 9. Night fight

We were a tired party when we brought our lad back to the lady fey, and arrived to find a peace conference taking play. Crazy fae don’t understand the need to work together like dwarves do. That meant we had to listen to several hours [or at least it seemed that long] of silly talk before they would admit they had both made mistakes and should now work together…
Which meant shoving most of the work off on us. They did have an excuse, or at least claimed they did. The witch had, in some magic way, banned them from the most important part of the island, but we could enter that area, and so had to do the work of beating her on her home turf. They did give us some help, and promised a major reward if we did succeed, but we still got the bad end of the stick. Well, dwarves are tough and we will do our best. [Mind you. Few of my companions are dwarves, but I can at least hope they measure up anyway.
The local fey didn’t. They led us to a camp site that just begged for us to be ambushed in the night, and the enemy just couldn’t resist that. [You ask me, one of those treacherous fey was a spy that set us up. But we have no way to figure out who.] So we go woken in the night by a scream that we were under attack. And for a little while, it looked serious. G-Kat, our genasi swordmage, got hurt while Regar the human barbarian got hit by a net, and was to spend much of the battle hampered by it. Kross the drow rogue was also knocked to the ground by some bolos. And Quillion the eladrin mage and I were too busy waking up to do much at first. [I wasn’t at all pleased by Quillion’s rushing away from the fight, but his excuse that his spells have a long range was not completely without merit.
But once we got organized, the fight quickly turned our way. While G-Kat was badly hurt, none of the rest of us were, and we were able to cut down the leading attackers and then mount our counter-attack. Regar finally got free of the net and charged up to show what a barbarian could do, which was pretty lethal. With Kross and I helping him, it was not long before most of the enemy was dead, and the rest fleeing for their lives.
We moved camp to a safer position, but the enemy did not return. So we rested and recovered, and can now take on our opponents at our full strength [and at their full strength.]

SEASONING OF GREENBOW – 9. Target practice

We headed back to the big boy with the human lad in tow and found him in confab by the lady archfey. They eventually realized that they had to get along to get along so we could figure out just what to do at this witch. Unfortunately for us, that seems to be a suicide mission, with us the lucky fellows. But they have a point. They can’t do anything because of the bans, which don’t apply to us. So there really isn’t an alternative, and just maybe we can take her out. Kinda a desperate gamble, but we don’t have much choice. [We can’t even run away. The witch put some sort of curse on us that means we can’t leave the island. So we need to kill her before she kills us.
We were tuckered out and headed off to what the local fey said was a good campsite. Seems they forgot to consider attacks in the night and we could have been hurt bad. But we elves have sharp vision and we were able to spot the attackers before they got too close.
The resulting battle was pretty easy. Despite my getting hit by a net, and spending most of the fight unable to move, I and Petunia managed to combine to down several of the foes. The satyr hid, to my immediate disgust, but it turned out he was about to sneak up on the enemy and disrupt thir plan of rolling logs onto us. Would have owed him an apology if I had said anything.
Tam Lin took enough damage to go down, but he hurt some of them too, allowing Orla to finish off that net thrower that was irritating me. Tia also got some damage in and Cyrus was the one who got the enemy caster. In the fuss, I didn’t have time to see what Violet and Bin did, but the attackers also lost several novices.
Anyway, we won fairly easily, and were soon grumbling about having forgotten to capture any of them alive. They might have had some useful information for us. But the thing we most needed was a good night’s sleep, and that we got.

[OOC - Maybe I'm just not that much of a roleplayer, but I have had no problem with the story this time. It seems not that different from the Shadowdark one really. The party flails around meeting threats, discovers what is going on, and then goes on the offensive to deal with it.]

5 Yagokoro January 20, 2012 at 5:26 am

Call me crazy, but I’ve actually been enjoying this. Part of it is because the core of the party is the longtime friends that got me involved, so every game there’s plenty of awesome hilarity going on, and part of it is because unlike last season, I’ve been able to make every encounter thus far.

The fact that the story is steeped in cliche isn’t lost on anybody in the party, but while one dismissed the whole thing as a bad ripoff of Romeo and Juliet and one has been upset because he can’t effortlessly apply all the related tropes and genre conventions to solve every problem that shows up, I’ve actually found it kinda interesting once I started really paying attention. Once I started getting all the notes straight and figuring out what was what, I found out that it’s doing the story a bit of injustice to dismiss it as full of cliche. Of course, the viewpoint is also influenced by the fact that I’ve seen that just using cliches and genre conventions will lead to failure.

Yeah, the combat is really heavy, and I think this was the first encounter we’ve had where nobody went down, though I believe that’s also partially because the DM was going a bit easy on us since we had three guys down to two surges and less-than-full HP, one guy with no surges and less-than-full HP, and me with no surges and one HP (which I had to survive the last encounter with). But I’ve also been enjoying it immensely except for the times when we got stuck with someone who would get more and more upset if we were losing or rolling poorly. Many years ago I played on a tactical message board RPG, and combat wasn’t nearly as fun after a while because the GMs had a pretty strong aversion to making things too difficult, so even the powerful boss-level encounters involving all of the strongest players in the game turned out to be only a few notches above a slam dunk at best.

So to sum up, I’ve definitely been enjoying things, though I don’t blame anybody who isn’t since half of my enjoyment isn’t directly related to the game.

6 darkl26139 January 20, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Let me start by saying I am disappointed at the heavy focus on combat. D&D always had combat but it was only part of the adventure. Story has always been key to me. The constant forced battles are wearing on me and I have been a fan for over 20 years. I was disappointed that siding with any of the parties had no consequence. There is no reason the DM shouldn’t have options when doing this. Different benefits depending on what happens and who you side with. It was clear that Orlando was meant to live last session which took the whole challenge out of the fight. This week it would have been cool if siding with Uma gave you the protection, siding with the Ragnar gave a different bonus (maybe a helper?), and Oakstaff something else. Encounters doesn’t reward you for roleplaying only for showing up. I don’t think it will be enough to hook new players for the long term and is turning long time players off. D&D can do better and should.

7 Sentack January 23, 2012 at 11:15 am

Now I’ve actually have had a great time with this season of D&D Encounters. There’s a good amount of real story this time with clear goals for the players has provided a good narrative that seems to work well with the people our store at least. Dark126139 might be disappointed with the lack of ‘options’ but this session is actually been a lot better than others, and you could copy/paste his argument into one about stock modules and it would fit. This is a stock storyline; you ride the rails with everyone else because the focus of the program is to provide a common social experience as well as introduce players to D&D, as well as make it easy for new DM’s to play along. Yeah they could do better but this has been one of the best in many sessions. For now, it works and for most at my table, they seem pleased.

One thing I wanted to comment about is on the younger players bring in new characters every week. This happens every week at our store as well and it’s been something the older players have commented to me about. It’s not invalid to game play but it does make things difficult for everyone else at the table when the striker from last session becomes a hybrid defender/controller this session. It just seems that the younger players don’t have a strong attachment yet to character and more so cool abilities and powers.

8 chris m January 25, 2012 at 1:03 pm

I think that they have seriously screwed up the balance in this game. Too many deaths, and there have been at least two tpks in our games. The game feels forced instead of running at a pace that the PLAYERS are comfortable with. I used to play 2nd ed and if we got weak and tired….we rested. We decided when to rest not the adventure. Rewrites might be happening for two reasons 1. who can get attached to a character who dies the first time you come out…2. if you have a mage and have had to use 4 surges to bring her back from the dead you might have none left and low hp. If you think…”oh well I’m gonna die anyway” then you end up giving up on your character. The encounters need to be difficult enough that players get some challenge but they shouldn’t all be murder the pcs at all costs. If your players had a tough time with bad luck in die rolls etc either you need as a dm to tone down the monsters OR let them rest when THEY want to. I don’t like being a dm when I have to railroad my characters and have them take lodging in a place where I KNOW they are going to get ambushed. ( I wasn’t fond of the detect for a giant either 20 perception? none of the party I was with had high perceptiion so we got flatfooted) then our dm brought out orlando and he got killed. Oh and to DM’s who have superior tactical abilities and a desire to kill (save it for Lair assaults). What these encounters are doing goes against everything written in DM’s guides since 2nd ed.

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