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