D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen (Week 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 24, 2012

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.

Character Creation

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.

The Combat

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…”

Afterthoughts

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

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 tedluck May 24, 2012 at 11:14 am

We always tend to enforce the source books for encounters rule. It is limiting, and I’ve had people tell me they wish they could make characters from the PHB. Still, most of our players are new to DnD or at least new to 4th edition and only play during Encounters. As a noob DM (Only for the last year or so, and only 4th Essentials) it’s also nice not to have people playing a lot of races and classes I’m unfamiliar with.

My table had 4 people playing various Kobolds, one drow, and one dwarf, so 6 total, and we had a full second table this week too. Awesome. An interesting but fun mix. I saw some people doing a bit of fun RP as small reptilian creatures, that normally don’t RP their characters that much.

Ghessla was not worried about serving Kobolds as long as they had coin, and the rest of the encounter played out as expected. I did read the module as saying the Dwarves and Old Dogsbreath were patrons of the inn. What I still don’t understand is, patrons or not, why were they back in the common room in the middle of the night with lanterns? Maybe they heard noises and went to investigate, but got there before the party? Oh well.

The most fun moment of the night for me was when one of the kobolds (a hexblade) tried to intimidate a Drow Scout into backing down. He rolled well, but she wasn’t about to be intimidated by a Kobold and just sneered at him. Of course he then proceeds to roll a natural 20 and do just enough damage to kill her in one hit (she had previously been hit by another player). The rest of the drow started to take the kobolds a bit more seriously after that.

2 ramanan May 24, 2012 at 11:27 am

I was in the Dueling Grounds group. Our group looks to have fared *much* better than the Drow group you write about. I suspect the fact we noticed the Underdark trap door right away and had people positioned around it for most of the combat helped keep the battle manageable. I generated a character a few minutes before showing up to play, and didn’t realize svirfneblin’s move was so slowly. I spent the entire combat chasing after bad guys who my teammates ended up slaying. I’d never been to an Encounters session and despite not actually doing much of anything I thought it was quite fun.
ramanan´s last blog post ..Chrome is Now the Most-Used Browser.

3 ramanan May 24, 2012 at 11:30 am

I’d add: our table weren’t particularly interested in chatting with the other people in the bar, despite a little prodding form our DM. So we were missing a lot of the backstory the Drow group got to hear. I’m also not sure how noob friendly the initial set up is. What’s the Underdark? What are Drow? I vaguely remember a lot of this stuff from playing D&D before, but is a regularly Encounters player supposed to know.
ramanan´s last blog post ..Chrome is Now the Most-Used Browser.

4 Joe Lastowski May 24, 2012 at 11:37 am

We had lots of folks turn out for the new season last night at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA… so we ran 4 tables of 4-5 instead of 3 tables of 6-7. As a result I had a table of 4: goblin bow ranger, drow thief, half-elf warpriest, & dragonborn warlord (which I allowed because it was a new player and didn’t want to spend time making her switch to an essentials class, and also because I like the tactical options warlords bring).

Interaction in the bar was very limited… though I tried to make every NPC as interesting as possible (even giving each an actor who “played” them in the game… Woody Harrelson for the drunk, Lady Eboshi [princess mononoke] for the knight, Jesse & James [team rocket] for the dwarf siblings, and Sigourney Weaver for the innkeeper). The only NPC they were really interested in was the innkeeper, going straight for the “you can bribe her to get to the Underdark” rumor. They justified the bribe by renting the “most luxurious” rooms on the third floor.

The fight was everything a fight should be, and really highlighted the Drow aspects that needed highlighting. With only 4 players, I removed one of the archers from play, as well as a minion. While the scouts kept the party tied up by the stairs, the minions began binding & dragging off the other patrons, which forced the party to shift tactics to save the others. They had already seen many drow swarming throughout the town outside, and knew that if the prisoners made it out the doors, they’d be effectively gone. This added a great dramatic tension.

Damage-wise I probably could have killed the PCs without trying too hard, so I tried to spread the Scout’s double-attack across 2 PCs, and had the archer target an uninjured character with his takedown shot (which took her, our rogue, from 24 to 4 HP in one hit). Throwing that kind of damage around in the first fight of the season made players more aware of the dangers the drow posed, and I actually had a PC used the total defense action as a result of that wariness (first time in my DMing career). The priest was an escaped thrall, so he got all righteously indignant at the slavery attempts, calling on the sun to smite the minions dragging away the patrons. In the end they secured the doors to the inn and were hatching a plan for what to do next when they started to hear Elminster’s voice (voiced by Deckard Kain the Elder from the Diablo franchise).

Our store gave out the Ruby Medallion of Lathander items as a reward to anyone who came to the character generation session last week (we didn’t have anyone with the PAX code), so those were also used to great effect (though that daily power is a resource they’ll likely want much more than once a day… too bad for them).

5 Al May 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm

All drow group how cliché and I wonder how many other tables will follow suit? For the love of “Meepo” people how about creating all kobold or goblin groups, a damn sight more fun than drow.

6 JSollars May 24, 2012 at 3:49 pm

We are currently one week ahead as we skipped session 0, mainly because July 4th is on a Wednesday and our FLGS is closed on that day. We’ll have to skip that week and be back on schedule with everyone else after that.

I decided to not strictly enforce the character creation rules either, though many still used the new Dungeoneer’s book for races or themes anyway.

My group cosists of almost all small-size charaters (yes, this was done on purpose), and they have dubbed themselves”The Anklebiters”.

Pixie Bard (Skald)(Deep Delver)
Pixie Sorcerer
Svirfneblin Invoker (Underdark Outcast)
Svirfneblin Knight
Goblin Rogue (Thief)
Goblin Knight (Trapsmith)
Dwarf Warpriest (aka The Big Guy)

Only 1 of my players seemed interested in learning about the history of Shadowdale or local current events concerning the Lady of the town. The others seemed more interested in entertaining the patrons with song and dance (the bard) or challenging the dwarf siblings to a drinking contest (our dwarf and the svirfneblin knight). So our RP portion of the evening was more of the entertaining variety than the exposition type, though the 1 player did pick up some useful info for session 2.

The combat went reasonably well. I didn’t scale up for 7 players so they pretty much had little trouble. A couple PC’s were bloodied, mostly by the Scouts with their ongoing poison damage, but with 2 Leaders in the group there was enough healing to go around.

My only complaint is that we all use and enjoy the Fortune Cards and the Reknown rewards and WOTC still has not released any session trackers for this season. We have been using some fan generated one that I got off the Encounters forum on their website.

7 Yagokoro May 24, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Last night was definitely an interesting way to mark my first experience as a DM. We had a packed house, plenty of new players, and a few regulars who didn’t show up, so all the table arrangements that I thought we had were tossed out. I ended up with two of my buddies, one of the vets from another table, and three experienced new people. The party makeup was pretty interesting.
- Kobold Hunter
- Drow Mage
- Drow Hexblade
- Goblin Hexblade
- Goblin Thief
- Human Paladin (Brandis Pre-Gen)

I wager that if I had the people I thought I was gonna get, the fight could have gone very badly, as my buddies and the regulars I would have ended up with aren’t tactically savvy and tend to forget to make full use of their powers even if someone points it out. Not the case tonight, as three of the other four are very good on both counts and the fourth is at least above average.

The fight went very badly for the patrons, as neither of the two who had initiative decided to go for the minions threatening the townsfolk, so Dogsbreath and one of the dwarves went down unopposed. The reinforcements had everyone’s attention on the second round, so the other dwarf went down as well. Attention was then focused on the scouts and remaining archer, while the last two minions were forgotten about until they decided to take the dwarves hostage. The goblin hexblade made an epic Bluff check to try and convince minions that he was surrendering, which got immediately ruined when the mage opened fire, triggering the readied actions. We were the only table that failed to save all the patrons.

The fight itself was definitely not a slam dunk for the party. The hunter ended up dropped by ongoing damage and spent the last two rounds of the fight failing his saves. The thief ended up at 1 HP and the goblin hexblade got bloodied up up a bit. The paladin’s player as well as the goblin hexblade’s are considering bringing a leader for next time, but I’m less worried about healing in combat as I am with the reserve of surges. Thankfully, I’ve read the encounter recaps here enough to know that it is a legitimate concern, and I already have contingencies in place just in case.

All in all, so far I’m loving the DM gig even more than I thought I would, but it’s mostly because it’s the first day and I had a pretty awesome table. I’m hoping the trend will hold for the whole season.

8 Sunyaku May 25, 2012 at 1:16 am

A group of veterans at our FLGS decided to play “schulbs”. The rule was to play somewhat comically unoptimized characters so that the DM would never have to scale up a session. After racial bonus, no stat can be higher than 16, AND you still have to have an 8 in something.

The group fared surprising well, considering that several of us have less than 20 total hit points. I guess experience really can make a big difference.
Sunyaku´s last blog post ..Developing My 1st Board Game

9 The Unlucky Paladin May 25, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Yeah, we did screw up on that first encounter… We’ll TRY! to do better for the sake of the second rogue. Oh, you forgot to mention the fact that one of the rogues signaled to the other that he wanted to try and steal the Pendant of Ashaba from the tower. We will still try to go through with this… If you allow it though I doubt you will.

10 Pedro Rodrigues May 27, 2012 at 9:17 am

We played in a group of 5 (Eladrin mage, 1 human knight, 1 human bargarian, 1 eladrin warpriest – a pregen – and 1 kobold rogue – me).

The kobold and the barbarian were old adventure partners, while the others were new arrivals; since we didnt have any money and all had reasons to go into the Underdark (the eladrins, the kobold and the barbarian all have a grudge towards drows, the knight was there for the money and was hired for muscle), we all joined up.

Since there was little coin between us, we decided to stay in the tavern afterhours, talking; the kobold heard noise coming from the cellar where the innkeeper had gone just minutes before and went to investigate; that was quite fortunate, as he managed to see the drows coming and warn the others who took positions: thks to the humans auras, a lot of the drows were cut down while trying to come up through the cellar stairs, and those that managed to slip by were wasted by the rogue, the warpriest and the mage, although some of them were blessed with a couple of crit hits that made some damage in the barbarian and warpriest.

Since i was playing a kobold, i used some of these soundbites that were quite popular and hilarious.

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