On March 17, 2010, Wizards of the Coast begin this little experiment called D&D Encounters with the very first Wednesday night encounter. Over two years later the program is still going strong and yesterday marked the beginning of season 9. In Web of the Spider Queen the PCs will be facing off against Lloth’s forces as the Drow invade Shadowdale. This is all part of the ongoing Rise of the Underdark campaign that will be dominating the Wizards’ product offerings throughout 2012.
As we’ve done from the outset of D&D Encounters we will continue providing weekly recaps every Thursday. This is our way to provide an ongoing synopsis of the story as well as share the highs and lows of our specific campaign. We will also continue recording the sessions and sharing the podcasts on a weekly basis. So get ready to fight some Drow as the Web of the Spider Queen beings.
Around season 4 of D&D Encounters we had a lot of trouble getting player to come out to the FLGS and continue coming back. Not wanting to turn away anyone we were very lax when it came to character creation. My feeling was that I’d let you play whatever race/class combo you wanted if it would keep you playing. So for over a year we’ve seen a lot of strange characters. But now that we’ve got a steady group, many of whom are actually very experienced players, we decided to tighten the reigns of character creation this season.
According to the direction in the adventure character race, class, themes and backgrounds could only be from Heroes of the Fallen Lands, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, and Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Guide. So the races allowed were: Dragonborn, Drow, Dwarf, Eladrin, Elf, Goblin, Half-Elf, Halfling, Half-Orc, Human, Kobold, Svirfneblin, and Tiefling; and the classes allowed were: Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Warlock and Wizard.
Some of the players were genuinely angry that I decided to actually enforce the rules (especially when they learned that they couldn’t take the background Born Under a Bad Sign). In the end I decided to let them play any variation of the eight allowable classes which opened up a lot of possibilities and made them a lot more agreeable. The result was an all-Drow party that looked like this:
- Drow Cleric
- Drow Druid
- Drow Fighter
- Drow Rogue
- Drow Rogue
- Drow Wizard (Bladesinger)
When I learned that they intended to all play Drow (an idea I fully supported) I reminded the group that they could not be evil. The adventure assumes that the party is good and that they will help the downtrodden for no other reason than because it’s the right thing to do. They could be unaligned but they had to have good tendencies. I further reinforced that as non-evil PCs I would not allow or support any backstabbing (figuratively or literally) among the PCs. After all, they’re supposed to be friends.
The majority of the players at my FLGS have a habit of playing recklessly because they know that there is no penalty for dying. They know that if their PC is killed they’ll get to come back next week with a brand new character and start fresh. (I realize they’re supposed to lose surges but it doesn’t stop or discourage them). It’s actually better if they get killed after a few sessions than struggle with a wounded PC. Frankly I was getting sick of the power gaming so I introduced a house rule for this season. All monsters will get +1 to all defenses and attack for every PC that died in the previous week’s encounter. This should hopefully encourage the players to create balanced PC and play smart. Otherwise if one guy plays stupid and dies needlessly everyone pays the price. My desire is to promote teamwork and let the players police each other. We’ll see how things go.
Setting the Stage
The adventure began with six Drow adventurers arriving in Shadowdale at dusk. This party heard of the recent troubles the Drow were causing in Shadowdale and decided to join any resistance or militia that was going to get to fight more Drow. Realizing that their appearance might startle the locals or worse still drive them to action, the PCs decided to send one member ahead to announce their arrival and prepare the locals. They elected the charismatic Rogue. He used his disguise kit to mask his true heritage and went on alone into the Old Skill Inn.
His arrival didn’t startle the locals, likely because they didn’t immediately see through his disguise (he rolled amazing). Ghessla Silvermane, the owner and proprietor of the inn welcomed the traveler, invited him to sit, and took his dinner order. A few minutes later when his food arrived he explained to Ghessla that he was travelling with a party of adventurers and that they’d be arriving soon. He explained that they were all Drow, but he assured her they meant no one in Shadowdale any harm.
She didn’t seem phased by the revelation but thanked him for the warning. He then stood up and made the same announcement to the rest for the patrons. Most seemed indifferent, but a couple of drunken Dwarves raised their mugs to toast their arrival. With that the rest of the party, all of who were hiding just outside the inn, entered the common room and joined their friend.
When Ghessla returned to take their orders they took the opportunity to pump her for some information. They explained that they were her to help defend Shadowdale against another Drow incursion and if that didn’t happen they’d be happy to brave the underdark to find and kill them. After a little bit of Diplomatic tap-dancing Ghessla explained that she could grant them access to the underdark (despite local rules against such things) through a passage in her basement but it would cost the PCs 100 gp. They decided to take rooms and lodging for the night and would head out first thing in the morning.
While the party supped on Shadowdale surprise the Druid (the only one to pass on the local special and instead choose the Cormanthor mushrooms) noticed an old man sitting alone at the bar keeping a vigilant eye on the door. He decided to befriend this old-timer and went to sit next to him. As he approached, the Druid began to detect a foul odor which he realized was emanating from the old man. The man watched the Drow approach but said nothing. The Druid ordered the man another drink which changed his mood considerably. He became friendly and affectionate, hugging the Druid and thanking him for his generosity.
The Druid’s new friend revealed that he’s lived in Shadowdale all his life but he’s flat broke. Ghessla feeds him every day but he fears that her generosity will end soon. He also revealed that he’s seen Drow scouts in Shadowdale after dark, but no one believes him.
Meanwhile the Rogues sat with a young Human woman. She made a pretense of leaving until they offered to buy her a few drinks. She introduced herself as Khara Sulwood and after a few drinks revealed that she was one of Elminster’s apprentices. The Rogues both believed that she was embellishing the extent of her relationship with the old sage.
More drinks kept the information train rolling and Khara eventually revealed that although she thinks well of Lady Ulphor (the current ruler of Shadowdale) she disagrees with her decision to place the Pendant of Ashaba in her room atop the tower rather than wear it at all times. Khara’s great-grandfather, Doust Sulwood a former lord of Shadowdale, told her that when the lord does not wear the Pendant it weakens the wards that protect Shadowdale. Khara blames Meadra, Ulphor’s advisor for coming up with the idea.
As the night progressed the PCs eventually retired to their rooms and bid their new friends good night. The Rogues made a quick parameter check of the inn following up on the old man’s warning of Drow scouts but found nothing.
Soon after heading to their rooms the PCs heard sounds of combat and screaming coming from downstairs. When the rushed down to investigate they saw Drow warriors attacking the patrons of the Old Inn. Ghessla shouted, “You can’t do this! Elminster will stop you! Shadowdale will force you back underground!” as a Drow struck her unconscious. The old man tried to fend off the Drow with a dinner knife, displaying unexpected bravado and courage. The sounds of combat could be heard outside as it became clear that Shadowdale was under attack.
As the DM I find it useful to gauge the party’s strengths during the first combat. I suspected that this party was capable of handling more than what was presented in the adventure but I decided not to make any adjustments aside from those needed to challenge a party of six.
Initially there was 1 Drow Scout (armed with a long sword and short sword), 4 Drow Stalkers (minions) and 1 Drow Archer. The party acted in the chaotic fashion you’d expect from Drow, although it was completely unintentional. You’d have thought it was their first time playing D&D. They were all over the place and no one was working together.
One of the Stalkers had his rapier poised under the throat of an innocent bystander and demanded that the PCs throw down their weapons. The Bladesinger blasted him without any hesitation. The scene became even more chaotic as Clouds of Darkness began popping up; some from the enemies, other from the PCs.
In the second round four more Drow joined the combat from the hatchway in the floor behind the bar. The Bladesinger managed to kill two minions as they provoked opportunity attacks while a Scout and Archer managed to get by.
More Drow meant more Clouds of Darkness, which made the battle map exceptionally crowded and difficult to remember who’s was whose and when it was going to disappear.
The Rogues being at the top of the initiative acted first and moved farther into the room than their allies. This made them the easiest and most obvious targets. One Rogue took multiple hits before the Fighter managed to come in and provide some much-needed defense by marking opponents.
The Cleric did her best to try to heal as necessary but powers like Astral Seal were wasted as allies with full hit points attacked those hit by the power. As the fight seemed to be reaching its climax four of the PCs and four of the Drow were all trapped in a corner of the room near the staircase. With multiple Clouds of Darkness active no one could see one another making it harder to kill the enemies. During the confusion two more minion Stalkers came up from the basement adding unexpected flanking bonuses when the darkness dropped.
The party finally managed to kill all the Drow that were threatening the Old Skull Inn and the people within but it was costly. One Rogue ended up using 4 healing surges as did the Cleric. Meanwhile the Fighter and Bladesinger were unscathed not taking a single hit. If this party is going to survive they need to get some better tactics and work as a team.
When the fighting ended Ghessla awoke. Apparently she was just pretending to be unconscious. A quick search of the dead Drow netted the PCs 60 gp each. After they managed to catch their breath and take a 5-minute rest the Bladesinger heard a voice in his mind. “This is Elminster…”
As a huge fan of everything Drow I liked the way the adventure began. It was unfortunately that the party fared so poorly in the combat, but at least no one died. I realized that the Drow’s racial powers may be tough to track during the season so I’m going to work on something that will help me distinguish the friendly Drow Darkness from the enemy Drow Darkness. I tried using different colours this week but it was still very messy.
To try to keep things simple I said that Cloud of Darkness and Darkfire cancelled each other out. So if a PC was lit from the Darkfire he could negate it by activating his Darkness and vice versa. Only a couple of PCs tried it but it seemed to speed thing up and it didn’t make either power feel broken.
One part of the story that didn’t really make sense to me was why the same NPCs from earlier that night were in the Old Skull Inn so late. Clearly they weren’t all guests at the inn. I decided that the attack happened right after the PCs went to bed to try to make this seem at least somewhat plausible.
With four more encounters to come we’ll see if this party suffers any deaths before their first extended rest at the end of Chapter 1.
How did the adventure begin for your group? Was the battle with the Drow too difficult or too easy? How are healing surges holding up for your group?
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: Web of the Spider Queen (Week 1) – Podcasts