After taking a pretty severe beating from the Drow last week, the party took a short rest to lick their wounds. Once they were healed up they quickly searched the Twisted Tower for any signs of the Pendent of Ashaba. All evidence suggested that the Drow came, stole the item, and then left through the cellar door with it. The PCs immediately began their pursuit.
Our numbers at my FLGS continue to hold steady at 14; two DMs with six players are each table. My group was back down to the original six. The party was badly wounded after last week’s ugliness and most were dangerously low on healing surges. Here’s the party breakdown along with their current number of healing surges.
- Drow Wizard (Bladesinger) [3/8]
- Drow Rogue #1 [4/7 ]
- Drow Fighter [12/14]
- Drow Druid [6/9]
- Drow Rogue #2 [4/6]
- Drow Cleric [4/9]
The PCs made their way through the cellar. This area of the basement wasn’t used often so they had no trouble following the Drow footprints left in the dust. The corridor ended at a large room. The chamber was a crypt and the stone coffins within held the remains of the lords of Shadowdale. The room was unusually devoid of dust but the Drow’s tracks indicated that they clearly entered the room. There were no other exists.
The heroes made a quick search of the room. The Druid used his magic to detect for poison but found none. The Rogues searched the walls for secret passages but found none. Four different PCs searched Ashaba’s tomb looking for any signs of secret passages but all four rolled 1s and failed their checks. The Druid finally made the necessary Perception check to uncover the presence of the passage below the tomb.
The Bladesinger tried using History to remember some details about the occupants of the room. He recalled that Ashaba the first lord of Shadowdale was an elemental Wizard but could not recall any other details. After a few other unsuccessful Arcana checks they party finally realized that if they placed a significant quantity of the correct element (air, earth, fire, water) in the concave section of the tomb it would reveal the passage. They tried air and fire before finally gaining success with water.
When water was added the passage was supposed to open. However, the PCs were really badly hurt so I decided to throw them a bone. (See Staying Alive: 8 Ways to Keep Wounded PCs in the Game). I allowed the Wizard to make an Arcana check and the Cleric to make a Religion check. Their successes revealed magical writing on the tomb that was activated by the water: “In times of need, touch the tomb to replenish body and soul.” They realized that anyone who touched the tomb would regain a healing surge so naturally everyone touched the tomb. With the gift of life bestowed upon the wounded PCs they slid the tomb aside and proceeded down the hidden staircase.
As the party was all Drow they had no need for external light sources, however some of them have Stealth scores in the negatives so the bad guys heard them coming. When they reached the Crypt level they saw a female Drow on the nearby stairs. When she spotted them she called out to her unseen companions. “Intruders have passed the weaklings upstairs. Provide supporting fire. I will show them the wrath of our honored dead!” She then pulled the opal from her necklaces and dropped it. The gem shattered releasing a white mist that expanded to cover the floor of the room and trickle down the stairs.
In order to scale the encounter I added one more Drow Archer (level 1) and increased the Totemist’s maximum hit points from 46 to 60. I only used 10 Skeleton minions instead of the 12 listed. I had four arise in the second round and then two more in each of the following rounds until all 10 had animated. I made them two-hit minions meaning that no matter how much damage was inflicted they had to be hit twice before they fell. (See Two-Hit Minions). However, since they had Radiant vulnerability I had them fall permanently from any radiant attack. Once the party caught on they let the Cleric take out most of the Skeletons so the two-hit variation made little difference.
The two Rogues had the highest initiatives and acted first. Rogue #1 delayed to see what the Totemist did before acting. Rogue #2 attacked her and hit. The Totemist went next. She enacted a Spider Swarm zone at the top of the stairs, fired her Venom Ray at the Fighter (but missed) and then took off down the stairs.
The height of the ceiling and the slope of the larger staircase made it impossible for any of the PCs to see where the Totemist went. The Druid moved closer and into the zone, spotted two Drow Archers and then moved back to a safe distance. The Archers advanced into the bottom of the zone where they could see the PCs and fired at them, one hit and one missed.
The Bladesinger decided to get into the thick of it. He moved through the zone and past the archers. When he arrived at the bottom landing he saw the Totemist as well as a third Archer.
Back on the top level the heroes with ranged attacks made them as best thy could against the Archers but most missed. In the second round Skeletons began arising from the coffins on the upper level. Assuming that the Archers would not advance up the stairs, the PCs spent a couple of rounds dealing with the Skeletons.
Meanwhile the Bladesinger took the brunt of the attacks from the three Archers and the Totemist. If not for the Cleric he would have fallen in round two instead of round three. The party moved to the very edge of the Spider Swarm and tried to attack the opponents they could see but they weren’t having a lot of luck.
Rogue #1 risked the zone to help the fallen Bladesinger but he fell one round later. The Totemist rushed into melee with the party and moved the zone. This forced them to either pull back or take damage. Most just took the damage. Despite the Fighter’s defender aura the Totemist decided to move back and risk more opportunity attacks (which missed). When she was out of sight one of her Archer allies used Heal to trigger her second wind.
The Fighter realized that he needed to push on if he was to save his fallen allies. He had the most surges remaining and the highest AC. If anyone was going to turn the tide it was him. He pushed forward forcing the Archers back. Two rounds later he too was unconscious but it gave the rest of the party time to move past the zone and revive the unconscious Bladesinger.
Fortune favoured the PCs now as my DM attack dice cooled off and I was missing more than I was hitting. A couple more Skeletons appeared on the middle level but the Cleric made short work of them with Sacred Flame and buffed the wounded allies with temp hit points which they needed badly.
Once they managed to drop the Totemist the Archers started pulling back and heading lower in the crypt. The heroes pressed on and finally dropped three Archers within two rounds. Although some of the PCs were very badly wounded, those that were healthy posed a big enough threat that the final Archer decided to flee. He provoked an opportunity attack from the Cleric (which missed) as he ran past and made it down to the lowest level of the map.
Fearing pursuit, the Drow called out “Awaken honored dead and let the defilers taste your wrath.” As this was almost exactly what the Totemist said at the beginning of the encounter to animate the Skeletons the heroes were unsure if this was a bluff or not. They made Insight checks but failed miserably. They decided not to call the Archer’s bluff and let him go. No additional Skeleton’s animated. The encounter ended and the Totemist’s Spider Swarm finally dispersed and stopped wounding the unconscious Fighter.
This turned out to be another brutal battle for my table. Three PCs were unconscious as some point in the fight which certainly dragged things out. Even with my bonus healing surge I gave each PC, the Wizard and both Rogues were down to 1, 1 and 0 surges respectively when the encounter ended. With two more encounters to go they’ll be hard pressed to survive. Creative tactics will be their only saving grace. The Fighter and Druid have 7 and 6 healing surges remaining (respectively) so it will be up to them to take the bulk of the hits in the coming encounters.
When I had the opportunity to play this encounter we had just as tough a time as the table I DMed. Our party had a Cleric, Avenger, Vampire, and two Wizards and we got crushed. The problem wasn’t healing surges (as we all had plenty) it was a lack of ranged attacks and the absence of a defender. The Drow Archers and Totemist waited for us on the two lower levels and we got slaughtered as we approached. TPK in just over an hour.
How many other tables are facing the kind of thumping that my guys are taking? Are my DM dice unusually accurate and my damage dice too lethal or are other DMs seeing the Drow mow through their heroes like I am? How many tables are seeing good tactics make a difference for the PCs? If anyone’s playing with a striker-heavy party, how are you making out this season?
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 3) – Podcasts