D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen – Preview

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 4, 2012

The Drow are coming. On May 16 Rise of the Underdark gets into full swing as the Drow take over D&D Encounters season 9 when Web of the Spider Queen begins. This season of D&D Encounters is tied closely to Wizards’ latest product offering Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook which will be available on May 15 (coincidentally the day before the slot 0 character creation week). Below is a high-level overview of what you can expect during the coming season of D&D Encounters. It relatively spoiler-free.

The Adventure

This season runs 14 weeks. Week 0 is for character creation, chapter 1 covers weeks 1-5, chapter 2 covers weeks 6-9, and chapter 3 covers weeks 10-13. I think that it’s a mistake to have any chapter contain more than four encounters, especially the first chapter. We often see a lot of new players at the beginning of a season and they don’t understand that their character needs to survive multiple encounters before they can rest and replenish their healing surges. The result is characters that are out of surges by the third week. This puts their character at greater risk of dying. When it happens (and it does) the new players have a poor gaming experience and the party suffers because they’re down a man or two or three. What usually ends up happening is the DM needs to bestow surgeless healing upon the PCs who are wounded. It’s the only way to keep everyone happy.

Aside from chapter 1 being too long the rest of the adventure looks solid. The basic story is that the PCs are in Shadowdale looking for adventure when they are implored to help stop a Drow thief who has escaped into the caverns before the Old Skull Inn. From there they realize that there’s more to this plot then a simple robbery and they are in a unique position to thwart a much bigger plot that’s afoot.

At the beginning of each encounter we get a quick recap of what’s happened in the adventure so far. This was a great addition that started last season and I’m happy to see they’ve continued this time around. Each encounter has notes for the DM on how to reward characters who have themes tied into the new Dungeon Survival Handbook, similar to the way it worked in Lost Crown of Neverwinter. These aren’t crazy unbalanced bonuses but rather a way to reward people who use the new options during character creation. More on the new themes below.

Early in this adventure the PCs encounter one of the big bosses. He’s there to advance the story and is not intended to participate in the battle that week. However, there are notes for what to do if the PCs get the jump on him and manage to defeat him. I can already sense the skepticism of players who were burned during Beyond the Crystal Cave when they had to fight the Hag only to find out they couldn’t defeat her. The difference here is that the PCs can actually kill this villain and the DM has notes on how to adjust things later in the adventure. However, I will caution ambitious players that the boss is no pushover so it might be better to let him go and face him later when you’re whole party is tougher.

One encounter that stands out for me is week 6. There is no combat at all. It’s a really excellent puzzle/skill challenge. It makes the players think and it gives them a chance to really get into their characters. The puzzles are tough but not impossible. Depending on what kind of skills you’re good at, you may be able to figure out hints on how to overcome your part of the puzzle. I expect this will be the encounter people talk about the most after season 9 is all said and done.

Character Creation

As has become the norm we were provided with really nice looking character sheets that mirror the cover of the adventure. For brand new players who show up during week 0 to make character this is a great way to make a first impression. A lot of my regulars actually prefer to use these character sheets over character builder. It certainly makes it easy to find the character for this season when you’ve got a folder full of loose characters.

As far as character creation itself is concerned players are encouraged to use the new options presented in The Dungeon Survival Handbook. According to what’s printed in the adventure this new book will include Kobold and Svirfneblin as new racial options as well as a slew of new themes. Here’s a quick teaser of what each of the new themes is all about.

Pre-Generated Characters

I know a lot of people will ask if I don’t cover this here so here goes: no new pre-gens were provided (which should come as no surprise). We got the same six stock characters we’ve had since season 4. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot of groups with Belgos since he’s the only Drow pre-gen. For downloadable copies of every pre-gen Wizards has provided to date, as well as a wide selection of fan-made characters, visit the Dungeon’s Master Pre-Generated Character Library.

Treasure Cards

In my opinion this is what will get people talking. Players who participated in the first Drow adventure during PAX East can give their FLGS a code they were given (I assume at the con) for a special Treasure Card. Organizers are instructed to give out these cards to people with codes first and then either distribute to worthy players or use them as future rewards. Regardless of how these are distributed I think the card itself will generate significant buzz.

Although players can still earn Fortune Cards (see below) these are the real jewel of the season. These cards will give low-lever characters a defensive bonus but it also gives them a means to counteract the Drow’s racial Cloud of Darkness.

I hope this is an indication of things to come. I like the idea that we can earn new magic items for public-play. I have no idea if this item is exclusive to the card or if it will be in The Dungeon Survival Handbook (and eventually the online compendium). Exclusivity would certainly be a nice touch and it would be a great way to get more players to come out and see what public-play is all about.

It’s interesting to note that the items is called “Ruby Medallion of Lathander” since Lathander is now called Amaunator in the Forgotten Realms. Is this foreshadowing more changes to the FR pantheon or is this just an ancient relic?

Front

Back

Amazing Maps

If you’re like me one of the reasons you DM D&D Encounters is for the fantastic maps. I’ve got maps that depict the desert (Fury of the Wastewalker), the snow (March of the Phantom Brigade), forests (Beyond the Crystal Cave), sewers (Lost Crown of Neverwinter) and dungeons (The Elder Elemental Eye). This season gives us plenty of great underground caverns to add to our collection. As usual Wizards has done a great job in producing top-notch maps. I can’t wait to use them for D&D Encounters and my home games.

Initiative Tracker

There’s not really much more I can say about the Initiative Tracker cards that I haven’t said before. They look great and they’re convenient to use. If you’ve got Initiative Trackers from multiple seasons mixing and matching them will certainly make it easier to distinguish the heroes from the monsters.

Fortune Cards

Although we don’t use Fortune Cards in my games they are obviously popular since Wizards keeps producing new sets along with every season of D&D Encounters. This season players can earn up to three special promo Fortune Cards exclusive to D&D Encounters.

When a player earns 20 Renown Points, they earn the Bloodcurdling Scream (promo 6) Fortune Card.

When a player earns 40 Renown Points, they earn the Insane Defiance (promo 7) Fortune Card.

When a player earns 60 Renown Points, they earn the Cunning Misdirection (promo 8.) Fortune Card.

Instructions

Poster

Every season Wizards provides the FLGS with a poster to advertise the current season of D&D Encounters. I think this season’s poster will catch the eye of many curious gamers.

The Adventure Begins

Web of the Spider Queen is the first of three season of D&D Encounters that will feature the PCs battling the Drow in the Forgotten Realms. As the introduction to the masses this adventure shouldn’t disappoint. There’s plenty of action, adventure and intrigue. The Drow are a crafty and deadly race and the heroes will have their work cut out for them. Season 9 begins on Wednesday, May 16.

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.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Al May 4, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Note to DMs running this with DDI accounts Dungeon #201 features an article on Old Skull Inn. Great to add more background to place.

2 Joe Lastowski May 4, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Super excited about the new season. I just finished reading Into the Unknown (my FLGS got copies they could sell before the general retail sale date), and it’s full of really fun stuff. Totally worth the money.

As a quick primer, the things from the new book that’ll be handy for Encounters include:
NEW RACES… Goblins, Kobolds, & Svirfneblin, each with several racial feats & optional powers.
NEW THEMES… mentioned above, with great ways to make a theme help create a backstory. Also, they’re very fun themes overall.
NEW ITEMS… various dungeoneering items, like helmets that hold your light source, or alchemical tinctures that’ll eat through stone.
NEW POWERS… actually, most of these won’t matter to Encounters characters, at least not at 1st level. There is (finally) support for some of the “lost” classes like rune priests & seekers, though.
METHODS OF SURVIVAL… more than just the “skill check solves everything” approach, this book is full of stuff about ways to make sure you clear a room, find hidden traps/treasures, survive various hazards, etc.

No new classes or builds, which was actually a welcome relief. I was frustrated enough with the Elementalist Sorcerer’s average 30 pts of damage last season, so it’ll be nice to get back to basics this season.

Also, the artwork is FANTASTIC, and much of the book feels like the old AD&D and 2nd ed stuff I loved when I first started playing. There’s also tons of DM advice on how to run different dungeon & Underdark encounters, so I’d totally recommend reading this before running the next (2) D&D Encounters season(s).

3 The Gimper May 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Ameron,

I’m going to be running this at my FLGS, and I like to use minis rather than the tokens. So, I’m trying to find out exactly what monsters the party will face this season (Drow obviously, but what else?) so I can make sure I’ve got what I need.

Unfortunately, my FLGS hasn’t received the adventure materials yet. Typically they don’t arrive until a couple of days before the 0 session.

Is there any way you can email me with a list of the monsters?

4 Lindevi May 4, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Any insight you can give to those of us who are wanting to play Drow in this season, to tie your last post on playing Drow together with this one on facing them? WotC seems to be anticipating some level of Drow PC’s given their reference to them in the Bloodsworn theme, but I’d like to ensure I maintain some level of plausibility if I go for, say, a Blackguard. For instance, will an evil drow with a score to settle with another city be okay, or need they be good? Are Lolth-worshipping Drow totally off limits, in order for the adventure to work?
Lindevi´s last blog post ..Bonus Aspects from Japanese Proverbs

5 Joe Lastowski May 5, 2012 at 1:15 am

Lindevi, I’m going to guess that they’ll limit classes to the Essentials books, which would remove Blackguard from the options. There’re plenty of themes that’d work for a Drow though… an Outcast could have left a Drow city after his house was defeated, or because she wasn’t down with the whole Spider Queen thing. An escaped Thrall might have formerly been a slave to aboleths or illithids, and no longer fit in with any society (even though he’s biologically Drow). And the Underdark Envoy is a smart-talking merchant/politician that even uses a Drow as the example in the book. So yes, plenty of options for Drow PCs.

6 Kiel Chenier May 5, 2012 at 5:15 am

For those looking to get their Drow on, we’ve got some new Drow pre-gens up made specifically for the new season of Encounters. They’ve been written up using a new display format for ease of use for new or younger players, but are hopefully dynamic enough to still garner attention. At the very least, all the art is original.

http://dungeonsdonuts.blogspot.ca/2012/04/web-of-spider-queen-pre-generated.html
Kiel Chenier´s last blog post ..Web of the Spider Queen Pre-generated Characters!

7 Ameron (Derek Myers) May 5, 2012 at 7:03 pm

@The Gimper
Check your email, I sent you the monster list.

8 The Gimper May 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm

@Ameron

Thanks!

9 David Argall May 6, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Drow are hated by everybody, especially other drow. So if you have a drow PC, you can use just about any excuse for why you are opposed to the villains of this adventure.
Now there is a widespread rule that you are not allowed evil PCs. In particular LFR does not allow evil PCs and Encounters PC are supposed to graduate into LFR. The DMs are not likely to check too closely and so if you are not too evil, you should have few problems. But strictly speaking you had best be neutral.

10 The Gimper May 6, 2012 at 10:48 pm

“Drow are hated by everybody”

And strictly speaking, since the Drow are the major bad guys in the next three seasons, any PC Drow should also experience negative reactions from just about every NPC (or other PCs for that matter) he or she encounters. Trust will have to be earned, and it won’t come easy.

11 Sunyaku May 6, 2012 at 10:57 pm

I know it’s silly, but I’m kind of excited about Treasure Cards. I really appreciated it when Encounters DMs pre-printed the contents of the treasure tables to hand out to people. Sometimes the items the adventure refers to are not the easiest to find.

And an aside– our party would have wasted the hag the first time we fought her if she hadn’t run away!
Sunyaku´s last blog post ..Review: 15th Anime Central Convention

12 jason May 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm

in the closing of the encounter, does it say anything bout continuing in the next 2 seasons? im running this season, just curious, we lose ppl cuz thier tired of 1-3 every season.., you can email me if you dont want to spoil anything for anyone.

13 Ameron (Derek Myers) May 9, 2012 at 9:05 pm

@jason
Wizards has always said that D&D Encounters is a program designed to introduce new players to the game. As such every season will begin again at level 1. However, I’ve heard rumours that the three upcoming Drow-based adventures might present options for players to continue running the same character throughout.

You can always just choose to run the next adventure as level 4-6 and beef up the monsters. We did that a few seasons back. It worked just fine and it made a lot of players very happy to get a chance to run a character for six levels rather than the usual three.

14 The Gimper May 10, 2012 at 1:14 am

@Ameron
I’m planning to do just that. However, I noticed that the module doesn’t give the XP reward for the final encounter. I tallied up the XP for each of the monsters, and I think it’s enough to kick the party into 4th level assuming that they earn the maximum XP possible for all the other encounters.

Have you looked closely at the last encounter, and do you have any thoughts on that?

- Rico

15 Jason May 10, 2012 at 1:34 am

I noticed. There wasnt any xp either, i got my copy today… Maybe its intentional? Who knows but glad im not the only one. It usually gives u enough xp to lv to 4 at the very end

16 Marcus10kill May 10, 2012 at 8:48 am

I’m looking forward to running the current D&D Encounters session. Many of the local players are interested in the Drow theme and are encouraged that WotC will be using it in the consecutive D&D Encounters sessions. There has also been keen interest in The Dungeon Survival Handbook with its underdark themed character classes. A couple of the players have played most of the D&D races and want to try something different.

On a side note I’ve never been into Harry T North I’ve been into Harry T’s but never the store you run encounters in. I’m taking a week long vacation this summer when Fan Expo hit’s town so I’ll have to make a point on checking out the store.

17 Pedro Rodrigues May 10, 2012 at 11:40 am

Considering that there are substantial references to this new season in the last one, namely the last chapter which seems a little out of place and anti-climatic, tips for running lv 4+ chars could have been added.

18 jason May 11, 2012 at 11:42 am

apparently wotc messed up and they didnt catch it, i called em and they said thanks for bringing this to our attention……

19 D20 May 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm

@Ameron
What are your feelings on the power level of the Ruby Medallion of Lathander in comparison to the threats faced throughout the season? Close to 90% of our Encounters group attended PAX, so the vast majority of the characters in the game will have the item.
I haven’t received that materials yet, but the prominence of the item in the parties we’ll be challenging has me nervous.
You may email me off thread with any info or feedback if you find that more appropriate.

20 Mike June 8, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Joe L. How did you run into level 1 elementalists averaging 30 points DPR?

As that would top the optimization board builds, I’d like to see it. :)

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