Last week the heroes managed to get through the gates of Zadzifeirryn. They ended last week’s session when they found a safe place to hide and took an extended rest. This week they awoke refreshed and leveled up.
This week’s encounter is another unusual one for D&D Encounters. It’s possible that this week could end up as just role-playing and skill checks, which is how it played out at my table. In order to keep my group interested I had to make a few changes on the fly but all in all things worked out ok. The encounter still took about 90 minutes (without any combat) and it certainly allowed for some interesting character development and NPC interactions.
The numbers at our FLGS continue dwindling as we were down to only seven this week, two DMs and five players. The other DM decided to take the week off and my table ran business as usual with our regular five.
- Drow Druid
- Drow Cleric
- Drow Rogue #1
- Drow Rogue #2
- Drow Wizard (Bladesinger)
D&D Encounter being what it is has a few public play house rules that are not typical of normal D&D adventures. One is the way they handle character death and another is in regards to purchasing equipment. At the beginning of each chapter of D&D Encounters the DM is supposed to let the PCs spend any gp they’ve acquired until this point in the adventure. There doesn’t have to be a shop or other structured, in-game locale where the PCs can spend the coins for them to make these purchases. New chapter means it’s time to spend (see Web of the Spider Queen, page 3, Treasure, “When to Gear Up”). I decided to work this into the narrative since I realized this was going to be an unusual encounter anyway.
During the adventure recap (which none of my group really needed anyway since they’ve all been present for every session) I reminded them of last week’s encounter at the gates. I explained that Zadzifeirryn was once a great Drow city but has been relatively empty for a long time. Only recently has its population started to grow again under Valan’s leadership. This explained why there were so few Drow guards at the gates and how the PCs could so easily find an abandoned structure to rest in.
Past the gates was a series of interconnected, crisscrossing, maze-like tunnels. This obviously was another measure of defense to protect the city proper. The heroes gauged that it could take upwards of an hour to successfully navigate the maze. When patrols or merchants entered through the gates they might find it necessary to rest before tackling the maze. This is how I justified the presence of a few structures inside the gate that showed signs of upkeep and recent use: a tavern, an inn, and a general store.
Learning from past successes, the PCs decided to all dress in the cloaks and insignias of the Drow guards and soldiers they defeated over the previous few encounters. As the PCs were all Drow they felt this should give them a passable disguise to any casual onlookers.
First stop was the general store. They found an old, half-blind Drow with a long white beard behind the counter. His facial hair indicated some Human blood in his lineage. He was direct but polite asking if the PCs were buying or selling. Both they replied.
The Druid decided to sell the Totem of Trailblazing +1 that he acquired during week 3. After some haggling and a few Diplomacy checks Scruffy (the merchant) agreed to give him 30% of cost in credit. The Druid then purchased a level 2 Staff +1 with his gains, gold and a small loan from another PC.
Rogue #2 wanted a magical dagger. Scruffy produced a Dagger +1. Rogue #2 realized that the style and workmanship of the dagger were clearly of “surface” origin. It was certainly magical, but not Drow craftsmanship. When he asked for something more suitable Scruffy told him that was in keeping with his other gear. It seemed that the “blind” merchant was aware that this party was not typical underworld Drow.
Everyone wanted healing potions which Scruffy gladly sold them for 55 gp each. As the party was getting ready to leave, Scruffy mentioned that he had a customer who was looking for the head of an Elf. If the head was fresh (not dead for more than a couple of hours) Scruffy would pay them a bounty. At first the party didn’t really pay this comment much mind, but Scruffy’s offer was top of mind later when they ran into an already injured Tharinel.
Next the PCs went into the tavern where two members of the Drow patrol, a seasoned female warrior and a younger male rookie were having a few drinks first thing in the morning. Since the party was disguised as officers the two Drow showed them fear and respect. The players ran it perfectly with just the right balance of Diplomacy and Intimidate. I provided them will all the information Tharinel would provide if they found him. This made finding the lost Elf less important to the story and gave the PCs less reason to keep him alive if they did.
With the information dump over they proceeded through the maze. The high passive Perceptions made finding the blood trail easy enough. They followed it to Tharinel who was entangled in a giant spider web. As the PCs were all Drow and used no lights Tharinel was terrified when they approached and tried to flee when they cut him down. Eventually they lit a torch and talked to him.
He was concerned for Khara’s safety but was terrified by the Torture Theater and refused to proceed deeper into Zadzifeirryn. Some of the PCs wanted to bring him back to the gates safely while others wanted to proceed. While they debated on next steps they heard a patrol approaching. The combined efforts of the Bladesinger’s Prestidigitation (Arcana check), the Druid’s Air Spirit (Nature check) and two Stealth checks from the Rogues sent the patrol running down a different passage while the PCs fled.
The debate over what to do with Tharinel continued. When it became clear that he was going to be a liability and cause the party more grief than he was worth Rogue #2 decided to back stab him. The damage more than killed him. Two PCs were keen to collect the reward, two were indifferent and the Bladesinger was in shock that Rogue #2 killed him. This lead to some great in-character debating and fighting that ended with the Bladesinger leaving the party.
The remaining four beheaded the corpse and collected their reward before heading onward. As they left the shop the Bladesinger met up with them again and they managed to convince him to stay with the group as it was most mutually beneficial for now. He vowed to kill the Rogue when it wouldn’t hurt the party (oh, how I love Drow politics).
The PCs came across another Drow patrol and this time decided to talk their way past them. The combination of their stolen uniforms, exceptional Bluff and Diplomacy checks, and the fact that they were all Drow, resulted in a successful confrontation without combat. A little further on thy heard another patrol coming but this time decided to just run away. Good Athletics, Endurance and Dungeoneering checks let the party get away cleanly.
Throughout the party’s travels they constantly got ambushed by giant spiders. The Druid used his Senses of the Wild to detect them which meant that only one spider ever managed to get the drop on the party at a time. By the end of their journey everyone was attacked two or three times, with most PCs only getting hit once (my dice were ice cold). Being Drow they only took 5 instead of 10 poison damage so the spiders ended up being more of an inconvenience than anything else.
Eventually they heard the sounds of cries and screams echoing from the passages ahead. This must be the Torture Theater. They decided to take a short rest, heal up and let the Cleric recharge before proceeding.
This encounter certainly had its challenges. For starters it seemed unnecessarily complicated. I liked the attempt to create a mechanic that stressed role-playing and skill checks over combat, but the arbitrary way the author decided to have the PCs expend resources was not balanced at all.
I’m a big fan of saying “This is what happened and two PCs need to expend a surge to represent the combat that would have occurred.” I do this all the time in my home games and it works really well. But having the PCs roll for the size of the patrol and the number of surges each PC expended seemed excessive and almost punitive. And speaking of punitive what’s with the all the spiders? Having them drop down every five minutes seemed a bit much. I decided that each swarm was one 5×5 square (as swarms usually are) so it would only catch one PC at a time. I didn’t bother tracking 5-minute intervals and just decided when it seemed right based on the role-playing.
My group was exceptionally fortunate to be all Drow this week. It let me add details that would not otherwise have worked for a party made up of the typical hodge-podge of PC races. When they encountered the Drow patrol there is no way they could have bluffed their way passed if they were not Drow.
D&D Encounters is supposed to be an introductory system designed to bring in new players and new DMs. An inexperienced DM who tried to just run this as printed was likely to be overwhelmed and likly to have a TPK on his hands. The encounter could work, but it really rested on the shoulders of each DM to tweak it accordingly.
The good news is that next week’s encounter is a pretty much a straight forward hack and slash affair. It has the potential to be one of the most memorable encounters of the adventure. I know I’ll be adding a few unique tweaks to the encounter to keep the relatively unscathed PCs on their toes.
Did your table run the combat encounter this week? Did your party help Tharinel or kill him? Did anyone suffer a TPK from all the spider poison damage? Is anyone out of surges after fending off all the Drow patrols? How many other DMs made significant changes to make it more appropriate for their group as I did? What did you do?
Looking Ahead to Season 10
I heard a rumour that the next season of D&D Encounters will give players the option to continue running the PC they used this season. That means some groups will begin at level 1 while other “advanced” groups may have the chance to begin at level 4. Can anyone substantiate this rumour or is it just wish fulfillment at this point? I think a lot of players who left D&D Encounter might return next season if they can start with more experienced characters. I’m looking for any facts to back this up.
Reward Summary Sheets
The summary sheets detail the XP, gp and magic items found during each encounter. The Chapter 3 summary sheet includes the XP and loot up to week 11. I encourage DMs to print copies of the summary sheets ahead of time so that they can hand them out to their players the following week.
Each week I join Alton from 20ft Radius as we discuss the week’s encounter. We summarize our experiences and provide our thoughts on what worked, what didn’t, and what we’d do differently.
We continue to record our D&D Encounters sessions and make them available to you for download every week. These recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at times it may be difficult to hear everyone.
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.