In the streets of Shadowdale Drow warriors still fought the locals. The party just finished securing the Old Skull Inn and searching the bodies of the fallen Drow. The Bladesinger then felt a magical energy flash through his body and a voice speak to him alone. “This is Elminster, and I’m somewhat busy with these Drow. They no doubt want the Pendant of Ashaba. Go retrieve it from the Twisted Tower.”
This week we ran two tables at my FLGS. My table had seven players while the other had six. I’m usually reluctant to run tables with more than six players because the encounter tends to take a lot longer, but our extra player was the friend of a regular visiting from out of town so I was ok with it. The party consisted of the following PCs.
- Drow Fighter
- Drow Paladin
- Drow Rogue #1
- Drow Rogue #2
- Drow Druid
- Drow Wizard (Bladesinger)
- Drow Cleric
In order to encourage good role-playing and teamwork I let the table know that I decided to award magical treasure a little bit differently than they were used to. Rather than roll randomly for an item and the have the party fight and argue over it I would choose an outstanding player for the night and they could choose any one item of the list that was suitable for their character. If more than one player had a good night I’d have all eligible players roll off. This was my subtle way of letting the players know that if they couldn’t behave they wouldn’t get magic items. I wish I’d have thought of this idea years ago because everyone relay brought their A-game this week.
The heroes decided to heed Elminster’s call to go to the tower and retrieve the pendant. Ghessla was able to provide some information about the tower including details of the surrounding terrain and general layout. The party then planned their approach.
I’ve found that as a DM this is the kind of exercise that players will really get into. The easy way to run this encounter is to just whip out the map, place the minis on the edge and ask the PCs who’s going where. But knowing that some of the PCs were designed for Stealth I let them come up with a plan to use those abilities. After about 20 minutes of real-time discussion they decided to split the party. The two quietest PCs (Rogue #2 and the Bladesinger) would go ahead to scout the parameter of the tower, peeking into windows and doors as opportunities presented themselves. The rest of the group would wait about 100 ft from the front entrance. When they saw the signal they would charge the front door while the sneaky guys entered through a rear window.
The Bladesinger and the Rogue #2 managed to approach quietly. They looked into the windows and noticed a human woman crouching near the tomb in the centre of the room. The Bladesinger use Whispering Wind to send her a message alerting her to the heroes’ presence. He told her to remain calm because help had arrived.
A quick side note, we’ve had some disagreement about how the Wizard cantrip Ghost Sound works. Specifically we’re trying to determine if a Wizard can use it to send quiet messages to his allies across the room. My feeling is that the cantrip can produce sounds but not clearly enough to be understood as language. For that kind of communication the Wizard needs to use the more powerful Whispering Wind. What I didn’t realize during play was that Whispering Wind is an encounter power so the Bladesinger should have only been able to use it once. Now I know.
The Bladesinger and Rogue slipped around to the rear entrance where the doors were open. The Rogue looked inside by didn’t see or hear anything so they moved back to the rear windows. The Rogue picked the locks and opened two windows. The Bladesinger again used Whispering Wind to let the woman know they were coming inside. At the last second he realized he should tell her that her rescuers were Drow and not to be alarmed. He then signaled the party and the encounter began.
I let the party know that the PCs outside would need to spend a full round to get up to the doors. Basically it would let the two sneaky PCs get a full round of actions before their friends would join the initiative. The Bladesinger moved inside while Rogue #2 (who was down to only 3 healing surges) remained outside ready to attack with ranged weapons.
Unfortunately the Bladesinger was beset upon by two previously invisible Drow. It’s was almost as if they knew he was about to enter and were waiting for him. A crit and a hit that dealt nearly the maximum damage dropped the Bladesinger before he could even react. The Rogue heard the battle but couldn’t see anything from his vantage point.
As the rest of the party approached the front doors the Druid summoned an Air Spirit who blew the doors wide open. The woman screamed as she saw five Drow running towards her.
The Paladin was first to act. She heard the sounds of the Bladesinger’s demise and rushed forward to engage the Drow Informants. The Druid moved in and seeing a Drow Templar approaching from an adjacent room attacked him. The Cleric moved adjacent to the woman to see that she was aright and then used Sacred Flame to attack the Templar. This was when the woman revealed that she was not as innocent as the party believed.
She took an opportunity attack on the Cleric and hit, bloodying her. Then it was the woman’s turn and she attacked the Cleric again, but missed. The Fighter and Rogue #1 moved in and working together engaged the woman now that they realized she was an enemy.
The resulting combat was broken into two groups. The Bladesinger, Paladin, and Rogue #2 fought the three Informants near the back of the tower while the Fighter, Rogue #1, Cleric and Druid fought the woman and three Templars near the front door. The combat at the front door went very well. The Fighter caught most of the opponents in his defender aura drawing attacks away from the Cleric and Rogue. They knocked the woman unconscious quickly which revealed she was a Doppleganger in disguise. Meanwhile Rogue #1 hit almost every round doing over 20 damage with every hit. With this battle firmly in hand the Druid moved to help his allies who did not fare as well.
The battle at the back of the tower was a disaster for the heroes. The Informants went invisible again and then all ganged up on the Paladin dropping her. Rogue #2 had no choice but to enter the house and try to revive his allies. Unfortunately his Heal check was 0 and his dice were ice cold. Using an action point he did manage to revive the Paladin who then tried to revive the Bladesinger. It took 7 rounds before the Bladesinger was back in action. For four of those rounds the Rogue tried and failed to revive him leaving the Paladin and Druid to handle the invisible Drow attackers.
Although this was a party with seven Drow heroes none of them thought to use their Darkfire to light up the invisible attackers. The result was a guessing game of attacks with -5. Needless to say they didn’t hit very often. It took the Bladesinger’s blast attack (which didn’t come in to play until round 8 of the combat) to deal the first damage to any of the Informants. After that the Druid’s bursts helped finally kill two of them.
With the invisible attackers gone things finally started to fall into place. With seven heroes it didn’t take long for the final few Drow to be killed. With the immediate threats dealt with the party searched the tower. The pendant was gone and there were signs that the Drow had taken it.
In order to scale this enough for seven PCs I was planning to add one more Templar (level 2) and one more Informant (level 1). However, with the near death of a PC in the first round I decided to only add the one Informant. It still took everything they party had to emerge victorious. It was their own attempt to do the right thing that actually screwed them. When the Bladesinger messaged the woman, who he believed to be hiding in fear, she secretly signaled her Drow allies of the imminent attack. This negated any surprise the PCs might have gained and let the Drow get into position.
The group certainly had better combat tactics this week but their dice betrayed them while my DM dice were red hot. I rolled 4 crits including one with the very first attack. And even when I didn’t crit my d4s were magical. When the Informants dealt 4d4+6 I rolled three 4s every time which meant they were dealing between 19-22 damage every time. Even though they only attacked every other turn they still decimated half the party. I honestly thought it was going to be a TPK for the first half hour of the combat.
At the end of the night I felt that all the players did very well so I let them all roll to see who got the magical item. The Bladesinger ended up with the highest roll and got to choose his magical item. Considering he was unconscious for most of the fight I was very impressed that he didn’t complain or get angry for being sidelined for so long. Seeing him get the magic item was good karma from where I was sitting.
This season I’m running one session and playing in another. When I played this adventure it went very differently. Although followed a similar plan and sent the two sneaky PCs to go in the back the combat was a cakewalk. The two sneaks were both strikers and took out an Informant and Templar themselves in the first two rounds. The rest of the part locked the Doppleganger and Templars down in the front foyer and just shot them from outside. It really goes to show how a parties with different classes and roles can play the same encounter but handle things very differently.
How did your session go this week? Did your group get ambushed by the Drow or were they able to see through the stealth and deception? How many groups tried diplomacy rather than combat? Did anyone suffer a TPK? With three more encounters to go in this chapter is anyone out of healing surges yet?
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 2) – Podcasts