D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen (Week 6)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 28, 2012

Chapter 2 began with the party refreshed and recovered from the perils that they faced through the first five encounters. If they had not already level up, everyone should have been level 2 for this chapter. Having completed their extended rest they were once again back on Valan’s trail in an attempt to recover the Pendent of Ashaba.

This week’s encounter was very different than most players expected. There was no combat; it was a series of puzzles and skill challenges. The last time this happened was way back in D&D Encounters season 1. I’m sure some players hated it while others reveled in the opportunity to actually role-play their character for a change.

The no combat, all skill challenge encounter had the added benefit of being short. At the two FLGS where I play all tables finished in under an hour with most taking about 45 minutes. I’m sure the short encounter was designed this way intentionally to allow DMs in the U.S. to either play two encounters this week and get ahead, or play two encounters two weeks from now catch up since stores (in the U.S) will be closed on Independence Day.

Our numbers continued to swell and were up to 14 players and 2 DMs at my FLGS. This meant two tables of 7. Here’s how my table shaped up.

  • Drow Fighter
  • Drow Rogue #1
  • Drow Wizard (Bladesinger)
  • Drow Cleric
  • Drow Druid
  • Drow Rogue #2
  • Kobold Druid (Sentinel)

Our sessions are getting longer and longer with the extra players. We’re thinking that it might be time to recruit a new DM and break into three tables. This would mean two tables of 4 and one table of 5. I actually prefer smaller groups but it could pose problems if we start seeing absences throughout the summer. I think we’ll go one more session with the big tables and then make the call.

After wandering the caverns for a while the PCs eventually came to a dead end. In front of them was a huge face carved into the wall – the face was a strange mix of dragon and demon. Magical fire sprung to life illuminating its eyes, and in its mouth was a shimmering wall. Magical runes inscribed in the floor spell out the following message in a language the PCs understood: “Enter and pass the tests in the name of the Queen of Spiders.”

Unfortunately this was just dungeon dressing. There was nothing to be gained from investigation and no other way past the mouth (which really annoyed my players). When the PCs eventually enter the mouth they are teleported into individual rooms.

The dimensions of each room were identical: 10ft x 20ft x 15ft tall. On one of the shorter sides was a door, but the PCs were unable to gain the leverage needed to open it from their side. The rooms were dark but in each was a magical inscription. Above each door was a grate through which the PCs could hear one another. I didn’t like this detail so I removed it. I felt that the PCs needed to face each challenge alone especially since there were only four challenges for eight rooms.

In order to give all players an equal challenge any time two players had the same challenge, I asked one to leave the table while the first players had a go of it. I asked all the players to remain silent while each PC faced their challenge. After all, the other PCs couldn’t help (based on how I choose to run it). At first they remained silent but by the third or fourth test they were getting restless and started offering suggestions despite my request not to.

Test of Shadows

“The path to the Spider Queen is in darkness.”

Black and white tiles covered the floor of this room. In opposite corners were red tiles. The PCs needed to first step on a red tile and then cross the room, stepping only on black tiles, before stepping on the other red tile. The key was to do it in complete darkness.

PCs could use Dungeoneering or Arcana to help them memorize the pattern while the room was lit and then cross in darkness. Along the way they needed to make Athletics or Acrobatics checks to keep from stepping on the wrong tiles. Any misstep resulted in 1d6+3 lightning damage. As all the PCs in my party were Drow this challenge was a cakewalk.

One ingenious solution that came up at my FLGS had a PC secure his rope along the floor mapping out a safe route along the black tiles. It was a great idea that the DM ruled as an automatic success. I’m always amazed at player ingenuity.

Test of Deceit

“Look Lloth in the eyes and provide the answers She demands. She shall see the truth in your words and reward you accordingly. 1) Why do you come to this realm? 2) What is the great purpose of your life? 3) What talent serves you best?

In the room was a statue of Lloth with red and violet gems for eyes. The key here was to realize Lloth is the goddess of lies and didn’t want honest answers. PCs needed to lie convincingly and the more outrageous the lie the higher the Bluff DC. Answering truthfully resulted in a blast from the red gem eye for 1d6+3 fire damage. Failing to lie convincingly resulted in a blast from the violet eye for 1d4+2 necrotic damage.

Once the PCs realized that honesty was not the best policy they had little trouble overcoming this challenge. I mistakenly read the name of the challenge to one of the players so he immediately realized his PC should lie. My mistake blew the challenge for him. Ooops.

Test of Spiders

“Lure your prey onto the web, then impale them on your fangs. Three shall feed your ambition.”

Dusty ropes were strewn across the ceiling like a giant spider web. The ropes were coated with a sticky dust. Undead rats ran along alcoves near the ceiling. In the centre of the room were three large spikes crusted with dried blood and rat bones strewn around the bases.

The PCs needed to coax the rats onto the webs and then once the rats were coated with the dust grab them (or kill them) and impale three on each of the spikes. Doing so without the dust resulted in a ray shooting the PCs for 1d6+3 fire damage.

This was my least favourite of the challenge. I found it was really awkward and the players didn’t really understand what to do. The intent seemed to be that they would bait the rats onto the webs and then kill them. Anyone with rations had no real difficulty. One of the PCs stuck with this challenge had only a weapon and armor listed on his character sheet so I ruled that he had no food on him. (Honestly, who builds a character and doesn’t purchase an adventurer’s kit?)

Test of Demons

“Lloth shall one day lead the armies of the Abyss before her, its generals attired with their proper tools of war.”

In the room was a stature of a Balor (although it was not named, the PCs needed to make a monster knowledge check). On one wall was a rack of weapons: battleaxe, longsword, flail, mace, spear, and whip. Four gems were embedded into another wall: yellow with a lightning bolt, blue with a snowflake (cold), green with a dripping blade (poison), and red with fire.

The PCs needed to place the correct weapons (longsword and whip) into the demon’s hands. They then needed to press the correct gems (yellow and red) to activate the correct charge on the weapon. Failure to equip the right weapon resulted in that weapon attacking the PC for 1d8+2 damage on a hit. Failure to press the correct gem or doing so before both weapons were in the demon’s hands resulted in a ray of that energy type striking the PC for 1d4+2 damage.

It was difficult for the players to separate their out-of-game knowledge from their character’s in-game knowledge. One player knew immediately that it was a Balor and knew the correct weapons to use, even though we could argue that his PC did not know.

The PCs could make a knowledge check to know the correct weapons and energy type, but I thought that made things way too easy. I revealed the correct weapons on a success but not the energy type.

Freedom!

When the PCs all completed their tests they appeared in a hallway. The ceiling above was carved to look like Lloth while the doors were her eight legs. PCs could help trapped allies still struggling by opening their door. This required a Thievery or Athletics check DC 25. Failure meant 2d6+4 lightning damage. My group needed to free the Druid’s animal companion and fortunately made the check. At the other end of the hallway were cages. This is where any PC who failed three checks during their challenge would have ended up. The bars could be opened with a Thievery or Athletics check but there was no penalty for failing.

The encounter ended with the heroes reaching a cavern of the true Underdark. The cavern they overlooked was aglow with phosphorescent fungus. The adventure has a Drow priestess calling out to the PCs to surrender but this didn’t seem like a tactically sound plan to me so I left it out. I ended with the PCs at the top of the 10ft ledge. Next week they can figure out how to descend and then we’ll get to the Drow and the call for surrender.

I really liked this week’s session. Only a couple of PCs took damage and even that was negligible. It was a far cry from the near TPKs they’ve had in the previous few weeks. Some players liked the session more than others, but that’s to be expected. It really served as a good reminder to some players that power-gaming for combat isn’t always a good idea. There’s more to D&D than hack and slash and more encounters like this one will emphasize that for newer players. Wizards please include more skill change weeks moving forward.

What did you think of this week’s no combat skill challenge encounter? Did your players love it, hate it, or fall somewhere in the middle? Would you like to see more encounters like this? What kind of wacky or ingenious things happened during your challenges?

Summary Sheet

Last week I introduced a summary sheet for DMs to print and hand out to the players after each session. My intent was to get this week’s sheet posted Wednesday morning, but I ran into some technical difficulties. The Chapter 2 Reward Summary is now up to date and I’ve included the details up to and including the week 7 encounter.

Podcasts

This week we’ve got two actual-play pod casts (as usual) and Alton from 20ft Radius and I have recorded another weekly review in which we discuss what we liked and didn’t like about this week’s encounter. This one’s a bit longer but I think we had a lot of great experiences at our tables and really wanted to share some of those highlights. Please visit 20ft Radius and listen to the Week 6 Podcast. Be sure to comment and let Alton know what you think of his podcast and his site.

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 6) – 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.

Looking for instant updates? Subscribe to the Dungeon’s Master feed!


FREE ROAMING FOR INTERNATIONAL CALLS!
Check out the best international Sim Cards and save up to 80% on your phone calls, go to roaming free sims and travelsim!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dinare June 28, 2012 at 10:08 am

Aww, I wish I could’ve made it. This whole getting sick thing is stupid.

This sound like exactly my kind of encounter.

2 ramanan June 28, 2012 at 11:41 am

I thought it was a lot of fun. A nice change of pace from the constant brawling that is D&D Encounters. The actual challenges seemed a bit hit or miss. I participated in the one with the Balor statue. There didn’t seem to be much to it beyond rolling to see if you remember what a Balor was. Maybe i’m not creative enough, but i’m not sure there is a solution that doesn’t involve winning at dice rolling. The best challenge was the dark room with the tiles.

3 Joe Lastowski June 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm

At Modern Myths in Northampton, I had a table of 6, including one absolute newbie and three veterans from previous seasons who had been away for a few months. The other two tables this week also ran with 6 or 7. The no-combat encounter was freaking people out at the beginning. Almost no one was there for season 1 (not even me), so nobody had any precedent for something like this. When I told folks they wouldn’t need minis, and that we didn’t even really need the tactical map… the confusion and fear on people’s faces was interesting, to say the least.

The problem I ran into prepping this session was that there were only 4 challenges, but 8 rooms. If you had a table with more than 4 players, there were going to be repeats of the challenges, which would have taken a lot of the fun & challenge out of it (once you see your buddy choose a fire whip & a lightning sword, it’s really hard not to meta-game the exact same answer when your character faces the challenge). Since the challenges were the source of the fun this week, I decided to create 4 additional challenges, so that there were 8 completely different options. The challenge was coming up with 4 more challenges that were themed after Lolth, somewhat challenging, and yet not too hard. Here’s what I used…

TEST OF VICIOUSNESS: “Weakness is devoured by Strength”. The character finds herself teleported into a warm pod, surrounded by naked other creatures that feel like brothers and sisters. They are all unarmed, but suddenly start grabbing and crushing one another trying to find a way out. This was meant to simulate the birth of a thousand spiderlings, where they must kill one another on the way out to survive. Our drow rogue soon figured out that she’d take crushing damage if she didn’t start slaughtering these semi-helpless innocents, which gave her a lot of roleplaying internal turmoil… but she survived and breathed the fresh air as she was teleported to freedom.

TEST OF CAPRICIOUSNESS: “Pawns overestimate their value”. The character finds himself in a room with an animated map in front of him (basically a look like Civilization, or Warcraft, or any other god-like view of a battlefield). One one side were a squad of skirmishers, a squad of archers, and a command unit with a cleric praying to any god who’d listen. On the other side was a horde of monsters (orcs, demons, etc), who had already started engaging the skirmishers in melee. The only way to “win” was to order the archers to fire full-strength into the melee, killing both skirmishers & monsters. If the command group was overwhelmed, the player took damage and the map reset. History checks after the fact revealed that each of these battles had actually happened in the distant past, though the fact that Lolth had any impact on it was not known. This test demonstrated Lolth’s willingness to sacrifice anyone to attain her goals.

TEST OF POISON: “What doesn’t kill you may still weaken you horribly.” The character is teleported to a 20-ft-wide hallway with large circular platforms. In the center of each platform was a version of the well-known tentacle rods that Lolth’s priestesses use, with fanged poisonous tentacles lashing out. Each platform had a small circle on the near side. It was clear that the player could stand in the “starting circle” on each platform and do something to interact with the tentacles… Acrobatics to dodge around them, Bluff to trick them, Arcana to control the magics animating them, Athletics to jump over tentacles, etc. Three platforms = three skill checks, but it was clear that you couldn’t use the same skill twice, since the tentacles seemed to learn. Failure brought poison damage and pushing back to the starting circle of that platform.

TEST OF TRICKERY: “Fools rush to certain death.” This test involved choosing a combat with one of several hugely overpowered monsters, all of which were illusions. Psychic damage would have hurt players who did not see through the illusions… but none of my players chose this room, so I didn’t need to figure out all the specifics.

In the end, most players did okay. There was some decent damage dealt by the demon room, since the character in that room had a +1 in both Arcana & History, and had no backstory reason to know anything about demons. Everyone else eventually succeeded in their rooms, though some took a bit of damage along the way. The Deceit room and my Trickery room did not get chosen, but everyone seemed to enjoy the other rooms.

I asked players what they felt about this non-combat encounter, and everyone (at my table and others) was very happy with it.

We’ll see how many players we can manage to get for next week’s 4th of July Wednesday session.

4 Sven June 28, 2012 at 1:26 pm

This session was boring and over in 50 minutes. My PC with a bluff of +2 lost 25-30 HP on a stupid skill challenge that accomplished nothing and furthered nothing except burning through more of my healing surges.

Can’t wait to get back to the action next week.

5 Rogue #1 June 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm

my character totally knew! I don’t know what you mean!

6 Guest June 28, 2012 at 6:23 pm

@Sven: You should have had a 83% of succeding. If you were messing up and making unbelievable lies, then you guarantee that you are going to get nailed.

Besides, you could try calling for help from the other characters. If they get close enough to your ceiling grate, they can easily remind you about certain aspects of the mission (e.g. tell you that we are down to slay Valen, or some other plausible lie). This gives another +2 bonus to bluff via the Aid Another action, thus improving chance of success to 95%.

It’s all about not messing up.

7 Yagokoro June 29, 2012 at 7:37 am

This is the one I’ve been looking forward to the most this season for two reasons: I like skill challenges, and this one gave me an opportunity to subtly structure it based on what I knew about my players. By the latter, I mean what I know about their habits and approaches to solving things in addition to their skills.

I chose to run it probably differently than intended. I picked four of my players to attempt each one of the tests, one at a time. One person would take a test, then get one action before I moved on to the next one. The next one would take a test, then both players who have completed their tests would get one action before moving on, and so forth. If all four succeeded, I ruled that they were able to communicate their successes to the others (since the grates allowed some communication) and they would automatically win. If not, the other two players would take one of the failed tests until all four tests were passed. I’ll sum up my experiences on the tests themselves and how my players approached them.

TEST OF DECEIT – This was easy to assign. Everybody at my table, save one, are either accomplished BS artists or have the capability of doing so. I figured they would have passed the test entirely on accident, especially the two who would rather goof around than be serious at any point. The one who wasn’t a good BSer, though, had good knowledge of lore and of the drow in particular (he almost always played drow) and I figured, given how much he liked to flaunt it, he’d use it. He also has a poor attention span and gets fidgety and anxious when the damage piles up (both for party and self), so I had him lead off.

He didn’t even try to use his lore. He immediately blurted out the truth to all three answers, got zapped for the first, then refused to change his tune on the other two even after I gave him a chance to. I was very disappointed. It could have been a chance for him to show off a little, which he tends to do at inappropriate times, and he just gave up within minutes. Worse still, the number five player almost passed it by accident just like I figured, and probably would have if she hadn’t started making ludicrous lies, and then attempted one that I pretty much ruled as the truth due to her actions in combat up to that point, but by then …

TEST OF DEMONS – I actually thought this would have been the easiest one, especially because the hint is very explicit and everyone in party could have gotten it. I assigned this to my buddy, who hates skill challenges but I figured he’d get the idea and be able to figure it out, and had him go second because this way he wouldn’t miss his turn to do anything important (he tends to get lost in Facebook or other things when it’s not his turn for more than about five minutes or so).

Once again, I was wrong. He -did- have the right idea in putting weapons in hands, but he was making assumptions that were ludicrously off base. He guessed battleaxes and maces were proper weapons for demons, and discounted the whip because he’d never heard of a demon using a whip,. He guessed three wrong weapons in a row, and down he went. Later on he tried to force open a chamber door from the outside despite ominously hinting that he shouldn’t (and adding that even the ones in the party with the best Athletics would probably fail at it) and knocked himself unconscious in the attempt. I lost all sympathy for his plight at that point.

The number six player was clever, picked up on my buddy’s mistakes, and figured things out handily. He was also the only one of two who thought to actually inspect their surroundings, and thus got the hint.

TEST OF SHADOW – I intentionally gave this one to a drow with poor Acrobatics, though it was because the other player was a human with awesome Acrobatics. but also much more capacity for solving the other test, which in my opinion was the hardest. This was an easy slam dunk to figure out for the drow, enough that it made me think I should have given it to my buddy (but his Acrobatics was just as bad and he would have had a higher DC due to lacking darkvision as well). This was just bad dice luck for the drow, as he flubbed the first attempt horribly, then failed his final check by one on the second attempt, then rolled a 1 on the third attempt. He was a bit pissed that I gave him the test, but he apologized and mellowed out when I explained I gave it to him because a) everyone else either would have aced it easily or whizzed it horribly, and b) I had him go third because he was enthusiastic about the chance to roleplay. Sadly, he did pretty much none of that beyond his usual antics, which make me wonder why he’s so enthusiastic about roleplaying and his -amazing- backstory when the only role I’ve seen him play with this character is basically being himself: antagonizing the player he doesn’t like, flirting with the player he does, and making bad puns and jokes.

TEST OF SPIDERS – This one I gave to the defender I’ve been gushing about, the one that has the best combination of tactical excellence, good sense, and thinking outside the box without being ludicrous for its own sake. She demonstrated it by considering her actions and making no assumptions. Since I didn’t rule that the players couldn’t talk to each other, she bounced a lot off of the drow that failed the Shadow test (she’s the one he’s been flirting with), and that’s likely how she was able to pass with no problems whatsoever.

This was the test I considered the hardest of the four, at least for our table. Shadow was easy to figure out, it just required luck. Demons had a very explicit hint. Deceit would have been fine as long as you knew that you had to lie and lie well, which everyone at the table (except the guy who failed it) was very good at. This one required thought, and there was nothing to outright indicate that you needed dust on the rats before you spiked them, short of failing.

While I’m not as worried about the party running out of surges this time, I still worry since three of the test failures were almost knocked unconscious, and the fourth was still beaten pretty hard. I really thought my people would do better than they did. I know I kinda bash on them a lot, but I really do think they’re all good enough that, even if they can’t knock my stuff out of the park, they can at least make good contact and hit for extra bases. I guess we’ll see just how good they are next week, especially considering that the only non-strikers in the party are likely not coming due to the holiday.

8 B.J. June 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I loved this week’s encounter. Our numbers were down again this week due to vacations and such. That meant that I didn’t get to DM, but I did get to play. Since I knew the encounter, I kept my mouth shut about any of the hints. I got placed into the room of lies. I used this as an excuse to come up with the most elaborate b.s. (blowing sunshine) that I could. My Shadar-Kai Bladesinger answered in the following manner…

1) Why do you come to this realm?
I said that I came to this realm seeking a wife who could cook me a good meal. Shadar-Kai women have very dull taste buds and lack any real skill at preparing tasty meals. My stomach cried for something more hardy, which in turn would make me more capable of producing offspring.

2) What is the great purpose of your life?
The great purpose of my life was to write an opera/interpretive dance about two star-crossed lovers: a kobold princess stuck in a tower and a wererat halfling with a lisp and peg leg. The opera/interpretative dance would last approximately nine hours.

3) What talent serves you best?
I make beautiful quilts that possess a magical quality imbuing them with the ability to seduce elderly women of all races. My charm, whit, and wisdom enhance my talents in the seduction process.

I don’t think I rolled lower than a 17 on any bluff check, which is amazing since my character has only a 1 in bluff!

A couple of players at the table got frustrated and gave up. This was not really their kind of session. I imagine anyone into “roll playing” as opposed to “role playing” would have easily been frustrated by this.

I thought it was a nice break from the unrelenting onslaught the characters had faced in recent weeks. It’s always nice to do something besides just hacking your way through a dungeon.

9 David Argall June 29, 2012 at 9:54 pm

MARVALS OF MARVEL – 6. Trials of the Dark

Resuming our hunt for the stolen artifact, we reached a strange stone mouth, which warned us of a trial ahead. We entered carefully, and each ended up in a small room which had a test in order to get out. Since it was a test designed for drow, Belgos the drow ranger and I had no problem. [His test was to tell three convincing lies, a baby feat for any drow.], but my companions of inferior races had their problems.
Medlask the dragonborn knight had to follow a trail in the dark, again a task almost no drow could fail, but lacking drow eyes, he had to work a little. Ravenmoral the half elf rogue had the most trouble because she had learned little of history or religion and so did not know which weapons she was to give to a demon statue. She almost passed the test anyway, and in one way was the most successful of us all. Her room had several magic gems she was able to acquire and share with us. However, she did suffer from her errors and ended up in a cell Medlask and Belgos had to get her out of.
Even if he didn’t do it right, Zoren the Gifted, the drugar cleric, was in some ways the one who earned greatest respect. He and I were in similar rooms, and while I of course realized that one was supposed to lure victims onto a net to trap them [which made my test merely a bother for me], he missed the hint about luring them and got hurt some. However, then he figured out a way to game the test [by rubbing the victims of his spells with dust, thereby making it seem they had been lured onto the dusty web] and thereby fooled the test into letting him out. Even tho his idea was not best, such trickery has to gain drow respect.
So after a short rest, we continued on, richer if not wiser.

10 Just Some Guy July 4, 2012 at 1:01 pm

This was AWFUL. First season playing encounters and first time playing 4th Edition, last played 2nd Edition around 10 years ago. To the guy saying this was “role” playing and not “roll” playing, so wrong, this was nothing but “roll” playing. I went through 4 healing surges do to this encounter. We are a week behind but I don’t read ahead to ruin my fun, and if I had read about this one first, I would not have even showed up, this encounter made missing it be the way to win it. No real reward for surviving, but those who skipped it, show up fresh and right as rain next week.
My drow got the Test of Shadows and figured it out easily enough, but only had a 10% chance of making it across the room safely. There is no “Role” playing there, my character figured out the challenge, but this was not enough since it was “Roll” playing and got hit for 24 damage with falling damage added in from the fall into the locked cell. However, our cages were trapped and took another 12 damage from the trap trying to unlock while making a 20 on my thievery check. We had 5 players, 3 went unconscious and I came very close and would have if I had not used my second wind. Total waste of time and totally took any “Role” playing out of this for me, and there is normally only very little of that each week. Completely tainted my view of encounters and I am unsure if I will ever go again after just starting this season and not missing one yet.

11 Matthew July 4, 2012 at 5:55 pm

My DM obviously skipped this, apparently. We went right to the room with the 10 ft ledge and had a fight last week. Kind of wish we had done it just to have the experience, but it’s cool :)

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: