D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen (Week 4)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 14, 2012

After the heroes defeated the Drow Totemist, her Archer companions and the Skeletons from last week they took a hard-earned short rest to tend to their wounds and catch their breath. Without warning a flash of light filled the room and two figures appeared from out of nowhere.

The PCs recognized one of them as Khara Sulwood (whom they’d met at the Old Skull Inn a few hours earlier). The other figure, a male Elf, turned to Khara and upon seeing her discomfort after materializing said smugly, “Never teleported before?”

Khara took a deep breath before replying “No. Elminster could have at least warned us he was going to do that.” She looked around and upon recognizing the PCs said, “Wait. I recognize you. You were at the inn. Are you the other one following Elminster’s call?”

Turnout at my FLGS continues to be decent. We had 13 players and two DMs. I got the table of six this week as our badly wounded party stayed consistent. Here’s how my party broke down, including the number of healing surges they had at the beginning of the encounter. Keep in mind that I gave all of them 1 bonus healing surge last encounter.

  • Drow Fighter [7/14]
  • Drow Rogue #1 [1/7]
  • Drow Druid [6/9]
  • Drow Cleric [2/9]
  • Drow Wizard (Bladesinger) [1/8]
  • Drow Rogue #2 [0/6]

Considering how badly some of these heroes have fared through the first three encounters, I decided to be kind and run the encounter as written this week. Normally I’d add another monster to account for the sixth PC but I decided to take pity on the group and give them a break this week.

Khara introduced the party to her friend and bodyguard, Tharinel. She went on to explain that the two of them were fighting Drow along side Elminster in the streets of Shadowdale when the old mage realized the Drow’s true motive for the attack and sent the heroes to the Tower to find the Pendant of Ashaba. As the battle in the streets neared an end Elminster shouted to Khara “Help the others. They’ll need you underground. I can finish this.” Before she realized what he intended Khara and Tharinel were teleported here.

The heroes filled Khara in on what had happened since they parted ways at the Old Skill Inn last night. They told her that the Drow had the Pendant and had fled with it. Khara emphatically said that they must pursue as quickly as possible. The PCs asked Khara if she had anything that could assist them (like healing magic). “Elminster gave me these potions of liquid courage to give each of you.” For the second week in a row I decided to throw the party a bone. Consuming the potions provided each PC with 10 temporary hit points but did not require that they expend a healing surge. What can I say? I felt bad for the party and didn’t want to see any of them get killed before the end of the chapter.

As the party rushed through the passages Khara explained that they’d eventually descend stairs and come to a room with two sections. On one side was a corridor that ended at a set of giant iron doors. Normally these are locked and protected by magical wards. However, since the Drow made it through the wards have obviously been bypassed. On the other side of the room was a corridor that led to a lever. Usually the doors won’t open unless the lever was pulled.

When the heroes reached the bottom of the steps they saw the room Khara described as well as Drow and Goblins between them and the doors. The heroes decided to focus on the opponents guarding the door and move out of the Drow Archers’ line of fire.

The Druid began combat by dropping a zone of difficult terrain between the Drow and the heroes. This turned out to be one of the most important and best tactical decisions of the encounter. The Druid then ran the other way towards the lever but took cover in one of the alcoves.

The rest of the party rushed the two Drow Scouts and two Lolthbound Goblins. The Fighter ran into melee and locked down three of the monsters. The Drow directed the Goblins to move and provide flanking bonuses even though doing so resulted in opportunity attacks from the defender. Unfortunately for the Drow even with +2 for combat advantage they each could only connect with one of their two attacks. The Fighter had ample hit points to absorb the hits.

The Archers took pot shorts at the party before they could all move off the stairs and actually hit Rogue #2 and Khara. After that the heroes just moved out of their line of fire. The Druid managed to get up to the lever but was unable to budge it at all. The Bladesinger came in to help drawing the Archer’s fire and taking a hit for his trouble.

The melee in the opposite corridor saw Rogue #1 get into an advantageous position where he could flank with the Fighter and scored a huge hit which a Goblin jumped into, saving the Drow from taking it. Tharinel and the Fighter managed to flank the Goblin and with two hits brought him to within an inch of his life.

One of the Drow used his Cloud of Darkness to avoid opportunity attacks as he moved away from the Fighter and attacked Rogue #1 scoring two big hits. The other Drow bit into the Fighter with one hit. The Cleric managed to get in a couple of Astral Seals by this point allowing the PCs to recover hit points without expending healing surges. She also used Healing Word to keep the defender conscious and defending.

Rogue #2 who had been attacked from range decided that he could be more useful against the Archers than the melee combatants. When he moved to the other side of the room the Archers fired at him – both hit, bloodying him. The Goblin then tried to attack Rogue #2 but the Bladesinger took the hit for him keeping him alive. The Druid summoned a Wolf to aid his companions and it scored a hit on the Goblin killing it. The next round the heroes managed to pull the lever and the gates opened noisily. The Archers fired at the PCs but missed. The Bladesinger and Rogue #2 got up on the platform where they destroyed the Archers before either could score a hit with their rapiers.

The Fighter kept the Drow and the Goblins from getting too far and the heroes managed to drop them within a few rounds by focusing fire. My DM dice got frigid as I didn’t roll higher than a 6 for the last 20 minutes of the fight. The PCs took no prisoners and easily destroyed the Drow once the Goblins were killed. Although both Drow would have fled if they could the defender’s aura kept them in place. The one time a Drow tried to get away the aura and the difficult terrain made it impossible.

Following the fight the PCs searched the bodies and found 50 gp each along with a magic item which went to the Fighter. They squeezed through the door and discovered that the stonework in the passage on the other side was not as finished or ornate as that on the other side. Tharinel crouched down and said “Look at these footprints. They’re new, with dust still in the air. Someone on this side of the gate just ran ahead. The Drow know were here.”

This was the first encounter in four weeks in which none of the PCs fell unconscious. They really started to realize that they might not survive the chapter if they didn’t play smarter. This week their tactics improved considerably. They worked much better together and those PCs who could afford to take a few hits made sure to draw fire whenever possible.

In retrospect I probably could have scaled up the encounter by adding another Drow Scout, but not doing so helped the PCs get their easiest victory since we started (not that it was a cake walk by any means) which gave the players some confidence. Of course having an all-Drow party completely negated the Goblin’s Lolthbound Shriek blast 5 power since it didn’t affect Drow at all. Had the party been composed of other races I’m sure things would have gone very differently in favour of team monsters. In fact the other table I DMed had no Drow or Goblins and only three PCs survived (and even that was only after I had two of the monsters guard the lever and not engage in the melee).

I had mixed feelings about the NPCs. On the plus side I liked that it gave the DM a way to share some new information with the PCs. During combat it gave the Drow opponents two new fresh targets to attack, drawing fire away from the PCs. The NPCs were also quite capable in battle and added some additional firepower on the side of team heroes. On the negative side I didn’t like that the NPCs were part of the combat at all. With a large party combat always takes longer. Throwing two more combatants into the mix only extended the fight. Having players run the NPCs was better than having the DM do it, but I doubt every table had players who were either interested in playing two characters or had the experience to do so successfully.

Although there is one more encounter in this chapter, PCs who have played all four weeks so far now have enough XP to level up. Normally PCs can only level up during an extended rest, but D&D Encounters is different and allows for mid-stream advancement. Pumping the PCs up to level 2 for the final encounter of the chapter will help a lot. It will give them all +1 to their attacks and defenses. Their maximum number of hit points will increase as will their healing surge value. They’ll also get a new feat. I strongly encourage Toughness or Durability for PCs who are have a particularly difficult time this season. All the PCs will have an action point for the final fight since completing this week’s encounter was another milestone. Next week’s encounter will be difficult but the heroes should have a fighting chance now that they’re level 2.

Note: Although D&D Encounters suggests that the DM allow PCs to level up between encounters 4 and 5 the final decision is up to the DM. Keep this in mind if your DM does not allow you to automatically level up just because you have 1,000 XP.

Was week 4 better or worse than week 3 for your party? Were non-Drow parties destroyed by the Goblin’s blast attack? Did anyone have a TPK this week? Has anyone suffered the indignity of more than one TPK so far this season? How many DMs are not allowing their PCs to level up for the final fight?

UPDATE: This season Alton from 20ft Radius is doing a short podcast summarizing each weeks encounter. This week he invited me to join him as we discussed our experiences as well as the general highs and lows of week 4. Listen to the Week 4 Podcast and be sure to check out the rest of Alton’s blog, 20ft Radius.

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 4) – Podcasts

Visit the Dungeon’s Master D&D Encounters Archive for all of our ongoing weekly coverage as well as other great D&D Encounters articles and resources.

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1 Joe June 14, 2012 at 10:13 am

Fight went well at all 4 tables this week at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA. My table had 3 goblins, a drow, and a dragonborn at it (plus the human & elf NPCs). What this meant numerically, though, was that half the party (all the goblin PCs) got bonuses against the Lolthbound goblins, and the LB Goblins’ “Lolthbound Scream” power, which was a pretty nasty blast 5 thunder power, was mostly ineffective, as it could not target goblins or drow in the blast. It also meant that the goblin PCs who took the Ankle Biter feat finally faced some foes who weren’t bigger than they were.

The added NPCs served basically as meat shields at my table. They both got better initiatives than the rest of the party, so the folks running them had them charge in and tie-up the enemies while everyone else took their time shooting from afar and setting themselves up tactically. My table was also pretty low on healing surges, so having these two fresh targets was very handy from a PC-resources standpoint.

The hardest tactical part for my players was rolling high enough to hit the Lolthbound goblins. With their “+2 to attacks & defenses while within 5 of a drow ally” trait, they had ACs of 21, which nobody seemed to be able to hit. I altered the trait to say “while adjacent to a drow ally”, which made things a little more manageable (because they just had to move a drow 1 square to negate the bonus). The rest of it was a pretty straightforward fight. We did have a bit of a pause trying to figure out if Bitey, the wolf companion of our goblin druid, counted as a goblin vs. the Lolthbound Scream power (we decided no, because he’s a wolf by nature), but to counter that I did let Bitey get the +2 bonus that goblins got to attacks vs. the lolthbound goblins (because he was nurtured by a goblin, gaining the goblin’s thoughts and hatred of the LB Goblins).

I also had a really fun off-book tactical moment in the fight. The player running Khara wanted to cut a hard corner of the central wall, where there were all the alcoves. The part of the wall she was cutting was super thin, and she wanted to try to force her way through it… so I told her to make a Bull Rush attempt. We had ourselves a Kool-Aid Man “Oh Yeah” moment as Khara burst through the wall, taking minimum damage but looking awesome. Everyone at the table thought that was awesome. I love when a tactical setup allows for player creativity like that.

Due to some various real-life hiccups over the past couple of weeks among my players, only one of them had been there for all 4 sessions, so only she had enough XP last night to level-up. That’ll make the coming fight in session 5 interesting, to say the least. She’s our warlord, though, so hopefully having a tactical healer who’s a bit beefier than the end-of-their-rope 1st level folks will work out okay. We’ll see.

Now I’ve got to go prep for that higher heroic tier (lvl 8-10) adventure they sent out for this Saturday’s Free RPG Day. And also create some pregens (though maybe I can steal characters I built for Spider Killer).

2 B.J. June 14, 2012 at 11:23 am

Session 4 ended up being much better for the PCs at our table. I DM’d a table again this week. Representing the PCs this week were an Eladrin Wizard, a human Warlord, a Minotaur Slayer, and a human Warpriest.

While three out of four players were bloodied at our table, the fight went very well for them due to poor rolling on my part as the DM. That was sort of a relief after the merciless slaughter of last week. The PCs accidentally, but correctly, assumed the goblin were the real beefy threat and took them out in a couple of rounds.

The two companions were fairly worthless to the players in this encounter. Khara only landed two attacks, while Tharniel actually missed every single time! The highest roll from him was a 5! However, their uselessness was more than made up for by the high PC rolls. I believe only two attacks the entire encounter actually missed. The PCs has five critical hits, two of which were on Daily’s.

The other table at the shop was pretty much the Bizarro version of our table. The companion character were the only two characters managing to land hits, let alone damaging hits. Several of their players rolled minimum damage when they actually could hit. Their DM apparently caught my hot dice from last week because he creamed them. Out of five players, two were down by the end. They managed to survive and complete the encounter, but it wasn’t much easier for them this week.

I do worry about everyone going into next week’s battle. Healing surges are becoming rare commodities, with a few PCs at both tables down to one surge left. The four battles of this season were rough on the PCs, especially the brutal third session. In that manner, it reminds me a lot of the Fey Wild season where our group took crazy amounts of damage and were always scratching around for healing. It appears that the PCs will be taxed to their limit next week.

3 ramanan June 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Our party (which you can hear in the Dueling Grounds recording) basically avoided a TPK through DM kindness more than anything else. We clumped together early in the combat and were victims to the crazy-goblin breath weapon. We also didn’t have any full on healers, just a bard, which made recovering very hard. The combat felt pretty difficult, because of the high ACs on the goblins, and the amount of damage the various monsters could put out. The monsters did a better job getting into advantageous positions than we did.

I think one problem I know I had was that I wasn’t very familiar with what the paladin I rolled could and couldn’t do. 4th Edition is so tactical, if you don’t have a good sense of what your powers are and how they can be used in the game (and how they can aid your allies) you’re going to have a rough time of things. With pick up games like Encounters, I think it’s hard to build a balanced party and figure out who should be doing what when. I woke up this morning realizing I could have re-rolled one of my failed attacks because that was a theme power that I had, I just forgot about it during the actual game.

4 John Scheibeler June 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Runnong D&D Encounters in Omaha, Nebraska.

This was a horrid encounter. I had a party that included no Underdark races (except for two dwarves) — no drow, no goblins. Three of my players were complete neophytes. But this really didn’t matter, because thanks to a +6 Initiative Modifier, all the Drow Scouts and Lolthtouched Goblins got to go first. And the goblins all ran forward, dropped their Close Burst 5 attack on the poor party that was still grouped up in the starting zone, and well, 6d10 damage pretty much was a TPK before the players even got to act.

Whoever wrote this needs to be SHOT.

In the end I had Elminster intervene, heal the entire party and we went from there.

5 Rick Hansen June 14, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Pardon my ignorance, fellas, but I need a little clarification. How is it that the milestone gives players another action point? So they will get one next week AND the following week after their extended rest?

6 Rick Hansen June 14, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Nevermind. I feel like an idiot for forgetting about milestones. Total brainfart.

7 Greg S. June 15, 2012 at 10:10 am

I really enjoyed the first 3 encounters but this one I did not. Having the 2 extra NPCs that the DM ran really slowed it down for us players. We only had 3 players at the session, and one of the PCs went down after 1 round, so it was pretty much a DM rolling-fest which left the other players and me kinda bored. Even though the total combat lasted 1 1/2 hours, it felt much longer. I couldn’t imagine how long it would have lasted if our 2 other players showed up and the DM used the entire retinue of bad guys.

8 Ameron (Derek Myers) June 15, 2012 at 10:35 am

@Greg S.
The adventure said to have the players run the NPCs. I’m actually surprised at how many DMs chose to run the NPCs themselves rather than hand them off. Unless you had really inexperienced players it just seemed like more work to me, and as you pointed out no one wants to see me fight monsters with NPCs. At our table the NPCs were passed around as the real PCs were killed one by one.

9 Greg S. June 15, 2012 at 12:39 pm

The DM kept the NPCs to himself, even though for nearly 3/4 of the encounter one player did nothing because he was at negative HPs. I also offered to run another PC since there were only 3 of us players there. I play a kobold slayer so he’s pretty straight forward and I’ve got 30 years experience with D&D and I usually DM anyways, so running a second (or even third) PC wouldn’t have been an issue. The other players have around 15 years experience each, so that wouldn’t have been an issue for them either. I guess our DM missed the part in the encounter to pawn off the 2 NPCs when he read it.

10 Greg S. June 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I just realized that this is your website. I like your recap of the encounters since my DM sometimes skips over some of the information that I would like to know (or I miss it due to the volume of the gaming store). I also load the podcasts of game play onto my ipod to listen on how different groups tackle each encounter. This season of encounters has been my first time with 4e and I have been enjoying this edition as much as 3.5e. Now I need to convince my grognard players to play 4e sometime. Thanks to you for your website.

11 Non-NPC June 15, 2012 at 4:10 pm

I just discovered this site and enjoy reading the recaps. Our group finished last season and decided to continue as a group, while our DM moved on to other things. Some of us wanted to use our characters from the last season, and some wanted to roll new characters, and the original plan was to switch to LFR. But our DM was excited by the story for this season’s Encounters, so we agreed to run it as level 4, and boost everything up accordingly.

This hasn’t been for the best, though. Either we haven’t found our synergy with each other’s new characters, or the level boost to the NPCs have been too much of a challenge.

This week, we were down to 3 players, so were happy to get the added help from the 2 NPCs. We started well with some tactical planning, but 2 of went down eventually. The DM allowed a late-comer player to join mid-combat, but he went down after one hit. He did get some damage on one of the goblins, though. Our remaining character and NPCs managed to finish off the battle, though, so we survived. After the short rest, we are going into the next session without a single healing surge between us, nor any healers. He even allowed us to use some of the surges

This is about par for how it has been for the other sessions as well, so this season hasn’t been very enjoyable, at least combat-wise. Hopefully, leveling up will give us enough to survive the next session and get into better shape.

12 B.J. June 15, 2012 at 4:41 pm

I had a table of newbies, so I ran the two companions. Am I a terrible DM?

13 Ameron (Derek Myers) June 15, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Totally acceptable for a table with less experienced gamers.

14 Bigtowel June 15, 2012 at 10:12 pm

I have to agree with John. The combo of high initiative and that close blast attack was brutal. After one scream dropped all of the PCs to bloodied in the opening salvo I couldn’t bear to use the other two screams.

15 Sunyaku June 16, 2012 at 1:23 am

Our DM ignored the exclusion of goblins/spiders/drow on the Goblin Shriek power… but made it enemies only. And added an extra goblin. I honestly don’t know how we didn’t TPK. Even with good initiatives, we never even had a chance to consider pulling the lever and running.

It was especially brutal, considering our table of veterans are playing “schlubs” (no stat over 16, AFTER racial bonus).

16 David Argall June 17, 2012 at 1:44 am

MARVELS OF MARVAL – 4. Unguarding the Door

Our new troops told us the battle upstairs was being repulsed, which is why they are here, but is still going on, which is why the big mage is not. Or so they say. My experience with drow commanders suggests all of us are deemed expendable, if not actively preferred dead. However the surface dwellers among us seem less concerned about that. I hope they are not being naive.
We were able to get the jump on the next set of guards. Not that this helped us that much. We were soon in a confusing melee, which did not go well for us at first. Khara the human knight rushed off a side passage [She claimed later she had spotted a switch that had to be important since it was so heavily guarded.] She was cut down, tho she did hold out for some time. And others trying to help her also suffered. Tharinel the elf scout also got dropped by being too brave and getting in the front.
But we started getting in our licks too. Ravenmores the half elf rogue hit and then dropped one of the goblin guards And Zoren the Gifted, a duergar cleric, finished off another. [He then suffered a crisis of conscious about the moral acceptability of killing and was out of much of the rest of the fight. A weakness a number of the more peaceful of we clerics suffer once. But he had hardly recovered before he went and killed the last of the enemy and put himself back to wondering if this was allowable Twice in one fight. That may be a record. I doubt he will be a pacifist cleric for long.] Compared to the last fight I was pretty useless this time, but I did save Tharinel and did some damage to the enemy.
Trantritt the White, our drow paladin, did a worthy job of holding down our front line. Zahl the human monk and Yo the tiefling wizard were useful allies of his. Valandril the drow hexblade cut up the enemy archers pretty well.
We had to do a good amount of healing. And Khara had been right about the switch in a way. We did need to use it to go on. But it was something that could have waited until after the fight. Anyway, we looted and moved on, knowing that the enemy knows we are coming.


Before we could get moving again, the big mage of this town teleported us some assistance. Good to know we have such help, but that means there is something strong enough to at least keep him busy, which means something strong enough to squash us like ants. However it did give us a party of 8 heroes for now. So we marched on, and found that more is not always better.
The problem was not so much numbers, but Khara, the human knight teleported in to help us, ended up splitting our party. The enemy had unwisely split themselves and we could have easily dealt with each part, but even as we were attacking one half, she took off to attack the other half and others, myself included, followed her.
This would not have been so bad, but the sole goblin that held us back was a most skilled defender [ooc-I could not roll above a 5 for several rounds.] and it took a very long time to get past him and then to take out the archers. With him holding up Khara, Valentine the eladrin cleric, Tharinel the elf scout, and I, Motley the deep gnome fighter, Kresch the kobold, Rergrer the goblin hexblade, and Nemartes the warlord had their hands full. An annoyance was that the drow had put the good armor on their goblin allies instead of themselves, a rare generosity on the part of drow, which was explained by their also putting the goblins in front where they could be attacked.
But eventually we defeated the archers and could head back to help the other half of the party. So we were victorious and could continue, which meant we discovered the tracks of a drow who had been hidden while he watched the fight. The others in the party wondered why he had not helped his fellow drow, but drow hate drow and allowing the others to die probably was a joy to him. But now he will be warning others that we are coming.

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