D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen (Week 3)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 7, 2012

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

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1 Joe Lastowski June 7, 2012 at 10:37 am

We hit a string of awful PC initiative/attack rolls at my table last night, which drew the fight out for a while, but the other three tables at my FLGS (Modern Myths in Northampton, MA) had varied results, so I don’t think it was the fault of the encounter.

I actually got to use tactics with the drow this time, which was cool to see. The totemist dropped her spider-zone at the hallway between the first & second room, and the skeleton minions added to the slow-ups, which allowed her to back down to the second room, where the archers gathered to shoot at the PCs over the ever-increasing numbers of skeletons. The tactics felt smart and appropriate to the PCs, though, so nobody was cheesed-out by some impossible setup… they just saw it as a crappy situation that was made worse by their poor die rolls.

Fortunately, we had 3 leaders in the party, so there was plenty of healing to go around… though our strikers may not have enough healing surges to make it to the end of this 5-encounter chapter… several folks were down to 1 surge by the end of the night. I may need to include one of the mechanics mentioned in Ameron’s recent “8 Ways to Keep Wounded PCs in the Game” article to pass a few more surges out.

Our hexblade made great use of his pact boon teleportation power to get beyond the bottleneck to tie-up the archers & totemist, which allowed other PCs to break-through and eventually defeat the foes.

My only real critique of the encounter was the forced magic item at the end. While the Sentinel Druids from Essentials can technically use totems, they have no implement-related powers, so that item was really a waste of a magic item. Realizing this, I decided to instead say that one of the coffins that didn’t open with a skeleton contained the remains of a former lord of Shadowdale who was a sun priest, and put a magic holy symbol in there instead.

But a lot of it came down to die rolls. One table at my FLGS took the totemist down before she had a chance to move due to favorable initiative rolls & tactics. At another table, all the enemies were charging forward, which kept the fight to a standard melee length. I like when enemies have tactical options that don’t necessarily require use of their powers, though… it shows the PCs that they need to pay attention to what’s around them, and to what may be used to help/hinder them in combat.

2 B.J. June 7, 2012 at 12:22 pm

This was the first night I DM’d Encounters at our FLGS! I was nervous and excited. It was exactly a year ago during the first week of June that I started playing D&D. Our group has grown so large that we needed to split. We had five PCs at each of our tables. PCs at my table included a Paladin, a Cleric, a Psion, a Wizard, and a Slayer.

It was a rough night for both tables. Overall, I had three players fall unconscious, but all were up and barely alive by the end. I believe all but one of our PCs were bloodied. The other table had similar results. This was a tough encounter! I rolled very, very well as a DM. I rolled four critical hits (three in a row!) and routinely rolled 17s, 18s, and 19s. I literally could do no wrong. Where are those kind of die rolls when I’m playing in the game?

Both myself and the other DM did exactly as described above. We used the spider area effect on the hallway, which created a nice tactical bottleneck that the PCs were largely unwilling to tackle. They tried to snipe from the top of the steps so they wouldn’t have to enter and end their turn within the zone. This was met with very little success. It also took them three rounds to figure out they could stop the spread of the cloud and stop the skeletons from appearing. They ascertained this early on, but simply refused to act on it. It took a couple of “oh crap, we’re going to die” moments for them to take the threat seriously.

The slayer tried to tackle the bottleneck problem head-on, but was the only one willing to descend the stairs. He was quickly wiped out. The Paladin then attempted the same thing and was also wiped out. Eventually the other three players got in gear and finally managed to take down the archers and totemists, but not before taking heavy damage. I believe we ended the night with all but one player being under 10 hit points, with three of the PCs having five or less!

I’m not sure if this encounter was unbalanced, but it was definitely tough. Admittedly, I was rolling like a possessed God. I ended up fudging some of the numbers at the end to curb some of the brutality of my own rolls as DM, which was tough to do because I like rolling out in the open rather than doing so behind a DM screen. It was merciless! I found myself praying to not roll well, which never happened to me as a PC. Despite the bloodletting of Biblical proportions, everyone seemed to have a good time. The victory felt all the more sweeter because they had come so close to brushing with defeat.

3 Stan June 7, 2012 at 1:31 pm

My party consisted of a Drow Cavalier, a Human Hunter, Kobold and Svirfneblin Druids, and the Human Mage and Eladrin Warpriest pregens. I was playing the Cavalier, and was having a good time sniping skeletons with my aura. Outside of the occasional magic missile, the mage’s dice were cold (missing 4 of 5 targets in a burning hands at one point), but her freezing bursts were hitting just when they needed to.

The hunter softened up the totemist, which allowed me to run past some skeletons and wade through spiders, bring up a cloud of darkness in front of the stairs, slay the totemist and later a skeleton with a righteous radiance. Right after that, the DM decided to spring up tons more skeletons at once, but the lack of sight prevented anything in the other room from wanting to coming up and engage. That made the archers focus on firing at me blindly, and it bought a good deal of time for the party. We handled the other skeletons in our room, then the warpriest and I charged the archers and skeletons on the other side of the stairs to seal the deal.

The abundance of healing, range, damage resist from the warpriest, and defense boosts from the druid’s pets helped out immensely. Out of all of us, only 4 or 5 surges were used, and I used 2.

4 Pedro Rodrigues June 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm

With only a ranged attacker (my kobold), we decided to let them come to us, while dealing with the first wave of undead.

Unfortunately, the fighter was caught by the immobilization attack and thus took quite a beating before being able to retreat.

After forcing the drows to move up, the fight was much easier, but we are pretty much all out of healing surges (except for the kobold, which has only spent 1, due to trying to take point at the beginning and again failing miserably on a stealth role, which brought the first round of archers attacks on him – the “yep, kobold is gonna die” soundbite i ran at that moment was quite funny).

The rest of the chapter is gonna be hard.

5 Paik the Kenku Monk June 9, 2012 at 8:23 am

I love reading these posts. I am 2 weeks behind with this encounter. I am DM and enjoy reading about the tactics used and not. It helps me help my PCs and myself. Character class choice is major and i try to emphasized that but no one wants to play a healer. Its just smash and slash for most PCs. I love when some one is cocky with “I’ve got the best character EVER” and gets immobilized or trapped and surrounded by enemies. Its fun to fix that part of the party.

Great job as usual!

6 Yagokoro June 9, 2012 at 10:38 am

Ah, this encounter. Even when I intimated to my party that I had good tactics planned out, nobody really took me seriously. They paid pretty hard for that decision.

Last week in the tower, I demonstrated for the party what happens when you go charging out into the open without a good read on the opposition or a good sense of support. A druid caught the attention of the templars to the south and spent most of the fight down as a result, then later a hexblade charged into the central area and got eaten by a double informant ambush, and ended up spending the rest of the fight down.

This time, I got to combine that with demonstrating why you shouldn’t feel secure solely for being in the back.

The main melee of the party (Goblin Thief and Human Paladin) headed directly for the totemist and bloodied her well on their turns. The ranged people (Drow Mage, Kobold Hunter, Drow Hexblade who doesn’t brave the frontlines, Goblin Thief leaning towards range, and Belgos the Drow Ranger) plinked at her for the most part, maybe because I ruled that the minions were currently prone and would be taking penalties. They didn’t do much either way. Then all the enemies got to act, and the party got surprised by the skeletons that weren’t in plain view. End result had the melee thief and paladin bloodied, prone, flanked, and stuck in the spider swarm with the paladin taking ongoing damage on top of everything, mage bloodied, everyone but Belgos hit, and the party divided up.

All coherent tactics on the part of the party were pretty much gone at that point, and I held all of the momentum. I knew it wouldn’t last, because eventually the minions would run out, but the archers got to last quite a while because they weren’t being focused on and because I used terrain and smart movement to null-and-void my people’s fondness for area attacks. I originally planned to have a fourth archer around, but everyone was struggling so much with what was there that I didn’t have the heart to spring that. Even without the totemist causing trouble (she was dropped handily early in the second round), the skeletons combined with the archers eventually bloodied the entire party, dropping half of them and coming within one HP of outright killing the paladin.

I probably could have TPKed, as I was rolling insanely well and the party wasn’t for the most part. For nearly two rounds I rolled nothing less than 20 to hit and near-maxed every damage roll, and then I said “Screw it, they’re just gonna get frustrated if I keep rolling like this,” and started fudging my numbers down. The party was completely spent and they hadn’t even gotten to the one archer who was staging on the lower level (or any of the skeletons there), so I just retreated the archer, pretended the skeletons didn’t exist, and wrote it down in my internal books as a loss. This is the second time this has happened.

I’m definitely curious to see how the next two encounters will end up playing out. Being on the other side, I can definitely see why my DM last season was encouraging me to step up and be the leader in more than just class role. I’d like to think that if someone was actually thinking of the whole field and analyzing my tactics rather than getting surprised by them, the encounters would be going a lot smoother.

7 David Argall June 11, 2012 at 4:22 am

LIGHT FROM THE BLACK – 3. A Quick Ladylike Discussion

Our expedition into the cellars almost came to a quick end. We followed the trail thru the dust and suddenly there was no dust, and no trail. Hunting around, our suspicions fell on the most splendid tomb, but we could find no way to open it [which was even more suspicious, but still left us at a dead end]. Kregen the goblin thief tried to drill it open. But then Valanie the eladrin Cleric noted a small bowl, which suggested some liquid went in there. A little water later, the tomb opened to reveal stairs down and we were on our way.
We were soon confronted by a drow lady who seemed confident she could stop us. Perhaps she could have at least made it difficult, but she took this “give me your best shot” attitude, and we did. Kregen and I did most of the damage, tho Motley the deep gnome fighter got in a lick too, and the way was clear again.
Some archers appeared to try to stop us, but with little luck. Our most serious problem was Kregen and I arguing over who should support and who should be the main attacker. In the meantime, Valanie and Rengren the goblin hexblade were harassed a bit by some undead, but that mostly kept them out of mischief. After a bit, we could rest and I could try to explain to the others that while there is frequent wisdom in the saying “the only good drow is a dead drow” [present company excepted of course], we did need to know what was going on and so needed to spare some of the enemy. My argument might have gone over better if the one I did manage to take captive had known anything.
In any case, we now have a trail again, and so off we go.

8 Alton (Marc Talbot) June 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Holy crap! This week was the DM’s turn to get owned. The totem wielder had 13 rounds to act, and rolled 9 1’s in those 13 rounds. the archers fared much better seriously injuring one of the characters.

the totemer lost her head to the assassin.

9 David Argall June 15, 2012 at 2:23 am

MARVELS OF MARVAL – 3. The Basement

With the tower secured, but the chief reason for wanting to secure it missing, a party of us rushed into the basement to see if that was where it had gone. It was a large basement, full of crypts and the tracks of the drow were easy enough to follow, until they were not.
Literally. This one room was free of the dust that had constituted the tracks and so they were not in this dustless room. No easy way to tell if this was some ancient magic or recent attempt to lose us, but it seemed clear this is where the drow went, even if it gave us little clue of where they went next.
It took us some time to find and then to figure out the secret door in one crypt, but eventually we were on our way again. And now we met serious opposition, perhaps the most serious to date, and possibly enough to have killed us. Instead, it was easily dealt with.
Some undead were enough to distract us while the death trap was set up, and then we found we would have to cross a zone that constantly damages us, while the drow on the far side would prevent us from getting out of the zone. It was daunting, and potentially deadly, but I had the counter, a Moment of Glory that negated the zone, and much of their damage as well.
The result was pretty much a slaughter as their most powerful weapon was now nothing, while ours were still potent. We were the easy winners.
Once we had looted and rest, we were shocked by the arrival of some support, by way of teleport. Hopefully I will be able to cast such powerful spells some darkness.

10 Non-NPC June 16, 2012 at 11:01 am

Reading backwards through your encounter recaps is interesting. It seems like my fellow players are also having the same difficulties. We were allowed some interesting creativity so it kept the fight from getting too out of hand. Basically, a superb arcana roll allowed the mage to slow the tide of the mist, so fewer skeletons were joining the fight. However, we knew that we would need to eliminate the female in order to win. Getting to her was difficult and a couple of us went down. Eventually we managed to defeat everyone, but we were in bad shape. The majority of the party were down to few healing surges, and next week’s session wiped those out. This is one tough season, and the players will probably have to use more creativity vs combat powers to survive.

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