“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.
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.
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