D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen (Week 5)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 21, 2012

“The Drow know we’re coming,” Tharinel said coldly as last weeks session ended. The heroes fought a very difficult battle against Drow warriors and their Lolthbound Goblin slaves. When the encounter ended the heroes were the only ones left standing and the Spider Gates had been thrown open. Now they must venture onward despite the heavy toll they’ve paid fighting the Drow so far.

This week one of the regulars at my table was absent, which actually worked out nicely as a player we hadn’t seen since last season arrive ready to play. This is how our party shaped up with current healing surges noted.

  • Drow Fighter [6/14]
  • Drow Rogue #1 [0/6]
  • Drow Druid [5/9]
  • Drow Cleric [2/9]
  • Drow Rogue #2 [3/9]
  • Kobold Druid (Sentinel) [9/9]

The all-Drow party now had a non-Drow. The Kobold had darkvision which meant he didn’t need light; however, his animal companion was not as fortunate. The player explained this by saying he led his drake around in total darkness on a leash and when combat began he’d ignite a sunrod. In any case the addition of another healer made a huge difference as did the level-up. The Cleric took the Pacifist Healing feat which made her healing a lot more potent. Rogue #2 took Durability bringing his current surge total up to 3 and his maximum up to 9.

Although the two NPCs that joined the party last week were still with the PCs at the beginning of this week’s encounter (unless they died at your table), it came as no surprise to anyone that they were not to be part of the combat this week. In a deus ex machina moment Elminster teleported them away just as the fighting began. Since the NPCs needed light and none of the PCs at my table did, I had Elminster whisk them away as soon as Tharinel examined the footprints in the dust and make his declaration. This allowed the party to proceed without light and try to gain an advantage through stealth.

The Drow PCs made pretty decent Stealth checks but the new Kobold and his noisy Drake failed miserably. The result was that the PCs didn’t manage to get the surprise they hoped for. The descended the staircase and found a series of worked passages. One way there was a lot of rubble and the other lead to a sarcophagus. They decided to try to remain quiet and check out the sarcophagus.

The room contained the remains of numerous Drow, each identified by a marker indicating their name and date of death. The sarcophagus was caked with dust and showed no signs of tampering in hundreds of years. The PCs found no valuables so they moved on.

They discovered a small chamber with supplies and equipment, mostly dried foodstuffs, water and sundry items needed for underground exploring. Again, nothing of value so they continued onward.

As they entered a larger corridor they spotted a large portcullis blocking the passage. Suddenly the heroes heard the sounds of footsteps as Drow warriors surrounded them. A male Drow in ornate robes stepped into view behind the portcullis. Around his neck was a symbol that looked like a sunburst set with downward-pointing daggers. The Drow PCs recognized it as the House Jaelre symbol and surmised (correctly) that this was Valan himself.

“You’ve come so close and fought off many of our warriors. It’s a shame that you are so unpredictable, or you would make excellent slaves in the service of House Jaelre,” said Valan.

The Drow Stalkers won initiative. Two shot their crossbows and two engaged the party in melee (with one of the melee Stalkers using his Cloud of Darkness). Rogue #2 went next, gained combat advantage, and opened the fight with a crit for team heroes scoring over 20 damage. Although this was a minion the players assumed that it was not. The Fighter who was adjacent to the Drow in the darkness attacked, hit, and also managed to do over 20 points of damage. Again, I didn’t say it was a minion and they players assumed it was a normal, non-minion Drow.

This assumption by the players made things a lot more interesting. For the rest of the combat I left the two minions in the rear and had them fire crossbows at the heroes. They were uncannily accurate and each round the PCs took 1d4 damage and ongoing 4 poison damage (save ends). Because the players didn’t realize these were minions (although the minimal damage should have been a really big hint), they made no effort to take them out.

Meanwhile the Drow Scouts went to work on the PCs. They were nimble, getting to shift after each successful hit. This meant that almost every round they got combat advantage and on top of the weapon damage (which was considerable at 1d8+6 and 1d6+5) the PCs suffered the indignity of 3 ongoing poison damage (save ends).

My dice were red hot rolling two 20s on the first attack against Rogue #2 dropping him unconscious. The next attack against the Druid I rolled a 19 and 20. I think I rolled eight crits throughout the battle, five of which were on the Druid. Since he had remained relatively unscathed since the adventure began he could take the punishment. When I didn’t crit I rolled a lot of 19s. Meanwhile the PCs were rolling like crap. The only one who was rolling well was the Druid who seemed to have a weighted d20 that could only roll 15.

Valan went last in the initiative and on his turn unleashed his Webbed Miasma (burst 2 within 10). It got everyone but the Cleric. I rolled the minimum damage but the difficult terrain proved particularly troublesome for the PCs.

As the PCs scrambled to try to kill some of the Drow more heroes fell. Fortunately the increased healing from the Cleric and the added healing of the newest PC meant that the unconscious PCs were back in action quickly. However, with many of them down to their final healing surges things went downhill fast.

Both Rogues were unconscious and making death saves early on in the encounter. The Druid kept getting knocked out but the leaders kept reviving him. Valan used his Mind Venom on the Druid four times in one round (thanks to an action point) to pull him right up to the portcullis. The Sentinel Druid came in to help and the two heroes took shots at Valan dealing a considerable amount of damage.

One of the Drow Scouts dropped the Cleric while another moved closer to the portcullis. He was eventually killed but as he was within 5 squares of Valan a Bone Spider burst from the dead Drow’s remains the next round. The PC easily defeated it but it made them extremely cautions of the other Drow bodies. Valan then used his Cloud of Darkness and vanished to safety.

By the end of the battle four of the six PCs had fallen unconscious and were making death saves. The Druid who had the second hottest dice at the table, actually called his natural 20 to regain consciousness after both leaders were unable to provide magic to revive him. The rest of the unconscious PCs were revived after the combat.

The heroes searched the bodies and found 40 gp each and a magic item. They discovered a series of secret passage ways that explained how the Drow managed to ambush them earlier. They had no trouble raising the portcullis but by then Valan was long gone.

With the encounter completed the PCs managed to find a secure are where they could take an extended rest. So ends Chapter 1.

I didn’t think my table was going to get through the chapter. I’ll admit that I threw them a few bones along the way, but the fact than no one died at my table was simply amazing. None of the other tables at either FLGS where I play could make that proclamation.

I was flabbergasted to read the following passage in this week’s encounter:

“At the start of round 2, if the characters are doing well, you can choose to have another four Drow Stalkers and one Drow Scout arrive by way of the entrances the other Drow came through.”

Considering how badly the PCs were beaten throughout this chapter I couldn’t believe any DM would think it appropriate to add to the party’s hardship by adding five more opponents.

The only possible reason I can think that this instruction was provided was because the PCs leveled up. I guess because there was an expectation that they’d have a new feat, +1 to attacks and defenses, more maximum hit points, an action point and possible a few daily powers held in reserve that it could be anti-climatic if the fight ended in just a few rounds. This was certainly not the case at my FLGS. I ran the encounter as printed and it was incredibly tough. Adding even one more monster could have pushed it to a TPK; five more would have guaranteed it.

Looking forward I think the heroes will have a slightly easier time in Chapter 2. For starters there are only four encounters. The first encounter of the chapter (week 6) is a skill challenge. There is no combat but there are dangers. Assuming the PCs do well and manage to complete it unscathed they’ll still be at full resources when they face the remaining three encounters of Chapter 2.

Reward Summary

Although we don’t really keep track of XP (everyone just levels at the end of the encounter) and although there are usually no opportunities to spend coins found during the adventure, I’m still asked every week how much the party has accumulated so far. I decided to create summary sheets that detail the XP, gp and magic items found during each encounter.

On Wednesdays I’ll post an updated Reward Summary in our D&D Encoutners Archive that will include the details for that week’s session. This way DMs can print the updated summaries for their players before each session and be ready to hand them out that night at their FLGS. If you have any feedback on these sheets please let me know and I will refine them.

Podcasts

For the past few seasons I’ve been recording each week’s session and provided it for download as an actual-play podcast. We’ll continue doing this but now we’re offering another slightly different D&D Encounters podcast. I’ve partnered up with Alton from 20ft Radius and joined his weekly D&D Encounters review. Each week we’ll provide a summary of the encounter and then discus our experiences. This podcast will be short (around 20 minutes) and is our way of adding additional editorial, advice and excitement following each week’s session. Listen to the Week 5 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 5) – 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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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ramanan June 21, 2012 at 10:23 am

It’s always strange reading how big a swing there is with these encounters. Our table had a pretty easy time with things. We noticed the secret passageways and shot a crossbow into one to see what was up. So we got a surprise round on the Drow, and fought most of the battle in those two narrow passageways. The big wizard didn’t end up doing much in the fight whatsoever. I don’t know if our DM was going easy on us or not. (It was a nice change of pace, not dying at an Encounters game. Hah.)

2 Paik June 21, 2012 at 10:38 am

Love the chart. Great idea! You should share with WOTC. Makes life sssooo much easier. Kudos. You really go the extra mile!

3 Joe Lastowski June 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm

At Modern Myths in Northampton, MA, all three of our tables this week were hit pretty hard by the drow. At my table, everyone had horrible initiative, so Valan, the scouts, and the minions all went before any of the PCs. Valan’s web only hit two of our PCs, but the slowing effect made shifting impossible for our party once the scouts & minions closed in. The couple of hexblades in our party were able to teleport out of the webbing when a minion died next to them, and they started assaulting Valan.

Valan took little notice of the attackers, though, using that wicked “Venom Puppet” power to make our poison-suffering warlord attack our archer goblin, the making one of the hexblades believe there was poison in his brain with his ongoing psychic power. He skedaddled after that, and all of his buddies stayed out of a radius 5 of him, so his other cool power did not get activated (though it did at other tables in our store).

I didn’t want to be cruel, and the party was already struggling, so I only had one scout and one more minion show up later. Our drow thief dropped, and our goblin archer would have been taken down by two attacks from scouts, but after the first one he played that scream Fortune Card (the one you get for 20 renown pts) to push the other one away, negating that attack (and surviving with 1 HP left).

With Valan gone, the entire party was able to focus on taking the melee fighters out, and our thief (once she was revived) managed a crit on an uninjured scout, using a +1 short bow of speed, with backstab & sneak attack (as well as, I believe, some extra damage from one of her ally’s powers), dropping him to 0 HP in one hit (and earning moment of greatness for the night).

The party was certainly ready for the extended rest they were able to arrange at the end of the fight, and are eager for the next challenge ahead of them.

4 B.J. June 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm

We didn’t have enough players for two tables this week, so that mean I got to actually play this session rather than DM. Our group actually did okay even with the added monsters. It seemed like there would be a TPK this week, especially after the first round. All but on player was bloodied by the end of the first round (I myself was down to 4 HP). We had eight players, so our DM had a total of 14 enemies on the table to scale for that many PCs.

At that point, I must humbly admit that I saved the day. My Shadar-Kai Bladesinger killed five enemies (three minions and two of the stronger Drow) in one hit with Burning Hands. I rolled max damage and had a +5 bonus to damage already. I then used an action point to kill one other tougher creature. From then on, it was smooth sailing. Between two Warpriests and a Paladin healing up the party, I think we only had one bloodied character by the final bell. The other players also turned up the heat with their rolls.

On the surface, it looked like this would be the most brutal Encounter, and for one round it didn’t disappoint in that arena. It actually ended up being the easiest Encounter thus far for all of our players. Despite having eight players and fourteen enemies, our dice were so hot that we were finished in less than an hour and a half.

5 Non-NPC June 21, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Our table has lost 3 of our 6 players, including our healer. I’ll probably take over that role next time we change characters. We were also had 1 healing surge each from our level-up. We are all level 5 now and are playing this season using some of last season’s characters. The DM was nice to us and let us keep the NPCs for this combat and didn’t throw in the extra drow even though we had a strong start.
We had discovered a secret door and managed some trickery to slow down anyone coming through the door. This worked well as it kept a couple of drow away for a couple of rounds. During combat, we stayed on the far end, trying to stay out of sight of the mage, though not completely. The mage managed to take control of khara and got her to attack our hunter, at the same time getting her stuck in the door with the passage as the delayed drow showed up. We had the other drow taken care off on the other end (lower left, north of the tomb) so our berserker managed to get to our ranger and help out. It wasn’t all easy, though as Khara went down, and Therenil used how turn to revive her. The rest of us were down in heath, and could probably only survive 1 more hit each. My dice were cold for my own character, but were pretty hot for Therenil’s rolls, so we managed to survive until the end. Part of our gold went to the NPCs and we found some ebon armor which none of us could us, so we gave it to Khara. Maybe a mistake if she is going to disappear, but it made sense RP wise. All in all it was much more enjoyable than the previous sessions and we can breath a little easier after our long rest. thanks to our DM who went easy on us!

6 Sentack June 21, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Just a reminder. The module says that at the beginning of each Chapter, the players can purchase items and equipment with the money they’ve earned. I joke that a mystical trader with all manner of ‘common’ goods comes up to the adventures and offers them anything they should need before suddenly disappearing just as quickly as he appeared.

Yeah it’s silly but there’s no other way to spend the cash they earn. What can they do with the cash? Mostly get Healing Potions or the occasional +1 Magic Item but usually that option is only available after week 8 when they have the cash to do so.

7 Adirassi June 21, 2012 at 4:28 pm

@Sentack,

Don’t forget the ever changing name of said merchant and his mystical dungeon-scanning, adventurer-finding machine.

8 David Argall June 22, 2012 at 12:14 am

LIGHT FROM THE BLACK – 5. Ambush

Unwisely we rushed after the fleeing drow, who of course had a substantial lead on us and knew the way as well. So it was only justice that we fell into an ambush. [I blame myself for not warning them to be more careful, but there are several in our party who have a quite justified hatred of the drow, and so they might not have listened to me anyway. And it is possible our stupidity saved our lives.]
In any case, we suddenly had drow coming at us from all directions, with nowhere to turn. It did not help that two of those who had teleported in now teleported away. [We can hope that they were recalled by the big mage, but I do not rule out their having stepped on a trap.] Clouds of drow darkness hampered our vision [and seemed to hamper theirs as well, one of the few flaws of a party heavy with drow]. We focused our fire on the leader, but what would have killed any of his followers didn’t even seriously hurt him.
In short order most of us were down or seriously hurting. What hurt particularly was Valenae the eladrin warpriest going down. That cut us off from nearly all our healing. We were in such bad shape that this enemy drow leader decided we were not worth his time and left us to his minions, the first break we had caught.
However by that time, Kreeck the Trapster, the Kobold rogue, and Jarren the human wizard had joined Valenae on the ground, and Remgren the goblin warlock and I were both badly hurt. Tho we had killed some of the foe, the mage seemed correct in deeming us doomed. I & Remgren were looking for ways to escape.
But now the drow focused on Motley the deep gnome knight, who proved quite hard to hurt. And he could hurt. Drow after drow fell to his blows. Most of them were clearly raw recruits, but even getting rid of them greatly changed the odds.
In the meantime, Remgren and I were taking advantage of a powerful magic spell Jarren had managed to put up that scared most of the drow from trying to attack us. And we could do some serious attacking even if we were on our last legs. Suddenly the attackers were all gone and we had “won”.
Checking our fallen friends, we found them too badly hurt to move. So our only option was to stop and make camp. There is a good chance that enemy mage will not expect a report from his underlings for quite some time and so we will have time to recover. But our wounded may not recover, and if we don’t get some help, that will likely mean we will have to retreat.

[In the game I DM’d the players had a much easier time since I made it much easier to discover the secret door, and to get a position out of the range of the mage’s better spells. And then I made the mistake of using the ambushers’ cloud of darknesses, which blocked line of sight.] So party had a fairly easy victory, tho they never touched the mage.

9 Eamon June 22, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Yeah, we didn’t have too much trouble with this one. Three healers, two fighters, and one controller translates to a long fight but one without much fear of failing. Plus, both our fighters picked up the Blindfighting Warrior feat going into the encounter, finally giving us a counter to the inevitable Clouds of Darkness. Not sure if this was how it was written, but after RPing into a split party, my Svirfneblin Warpriest ended up in the aura of our Druid’s bear in the corridor with the secret passage along with three of the four minions. The confined spaces proved to be a big problem for the baddies, as after throwing out a Grab Grass card and activating my Lesser Aspect of Wrath the Stalkers and their Scout escort got trapped and ended up biting it in two rounds while I took only a negligible amount of damage.

Meanwhile, the controller scared off Valan pretty quickly with some sort of magic net dealie and a ranged barrage, while the fighters and the other two healers took off and went toe-to-toe with the other two Scouts in the room with the sarcophagus. The DM did the Bone Spider thing even though Valan was long gone by then, but even so by the time my tiny gnome feet made it down the hallway to join the rest of the party everything was dead.

10 Yagokoro June 24, 2012 at 1:23 pm

At my FLGS, my table was the only one that had been getting completely hammered through the chapter. My table is mostly newer players and “vets” who have been doing terrible at tactics and character building, while the best players (and three former DMs) made up the nuclei of the other two tables. Even with almost every player missing at least one session, we’ve had a TPK and three people out of surges, while each other table had maybe one person in that predicament. The “vets” have been blaming their misfortunes on lack of roles (we have no leader, and at the TPK there was no defender either) or accusing me of playing too hard (I’ll partially concede to that, since last season the DM went -very- easy on them, but they’ve talked about liking challenge and I’ve told them straight up that they needed to bring their A-games because my job was basically to kick their butts as hard as I can without actually winning).

So, since I TPKed them last week, I threw them a few bones this time around, and planned to have Valan leave them almost completely alone if he wasn’t disturbed. However, they attacked him despite the warning, so no mercy was in effect, and I almost scored a few more kills. I also teased the reinforcements, but immediately retreated them, just to mess with my party’s minds. The looks were priceless. Thankfully, the defender, who is the only person in the party with a solid grasp of group tactics, saved a few dying allies, The party actually -was- doing well enough to merit the reinforcements, but morale was already low and people were already muttering that I was gonna score my second TPK in a row, so I backed off with the knowledge that I have more time and weapons at my disposal in future encounters. I can think of a couple of the later encounters that my party will struggle mightily with.

Next week is the one I’ve been looking forward to, ever since I saw what it was in the preview here. I’ve been planning how I’m gonna run that one pretty much since I got the module in my hands.

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