Worst encounter of the adventure. Yeah, I said it. I felt that this week’s encounter was poorly designed and completely unnecessary. I always try to find the positive side of things when I share these weekly field reports, and there were a few bright spots this week, but overall I did not like this encounter and really felt it was the low point of the adventure. Read on and find out why.
Last session the heroes defeated Drow slavers, and fought some Goblins, a Bugbear, and a Giant Spider in the stalactite fortress called the Demonspur. They continued across the rope bridge and headed towards the gates of Zadzifeirryn. This week’s encounter began when the party arrived at the gates. Two portcullises blocked a walkway passing between the massive walls of Zadzifeirryn. Close to the gate a winch was bolted into the rock and an Ogre was chained to the wall beside it.
Our all-Drow party was considerably smaller this week as summer holidays have greatly impacted our numbers. Just a few weeks ago we were ready to break into three groups but this week we just had enough to run two tables of four. The party at my table consisted of:
- Drow Rogue #1
- Drow Rogue #2
- Drow Druid
- Drow Cleric
With the noticeable absence of the party’s defender over the previous few sessions the two Rogues have developed a devastating 1-2 attack that has proved incredibly deadly and remarkably effective. If either PC hits (with combat advantage) they do in the neighbourhood of 20+ damage. When they both attack the same foe and both hit it’s minus one bad guy, usually before he can even attack. It worked really well last week so they saw no reason to change things up this week.
As the party observed the gates from a safe distance they saw the Ogre throw some rocks only to be scolded by another Ogre clearly on the other side of the gates. The encounter allows for the PCs to interact with the Ogres with the hope of getting them to open the gates before the Drow guards realize there were intruders.
I liked this. I wish we’d have more structured skill challenges mixed into the usual fighting. The author provided detailed write-ups for the Ogres that allowed the DM to get a good feel for their personalities and how they might react to questions.
The Ogre outside, Dung, was described as the unhappy one. He was fairly easy to win over and with 2 successes he’d open the first gate. The Ogre inside, Worthless, the contented one, required a little bit more convincing so 4 successes were required to get him to open the second gate. During a normal skill challenge the heroes need to earn the requisite number of successes (in this case 6) before 3 failures. However, in this instance a single failure results in the Ogres calling for the Drow guards and combat to begin. Although this does make sense, it’s not what most players expect when working through a skill challenge.
This is where the train started to come of the rails for me. If the PCs succeed at the skill challenge they manage to get past the gates. Yet now they still have to fight the Drow guards. As none of the Drow are placed on the map for the DM does this mean that they weren’t on the map at the beginning of the encounter? Did they leave the Ogres alone to guard the gates? The description of the walls described arrow slits, yet there are only three shown on the map, two of which face the shooting gallery between the portcullises. Were the Drow Archers in those rooms but not paying attention? Did they not think to look out and see what was going on when the Ogres started talking to the PCs or once the Ogres opened the gates?
Let’s say that the Drow were there and that they were oblivious. So now the heroes are passed the gates. There’s not a lot of map left. So when the combat begins everyone is jammed packed into the relatively small corridors. The rooms where the archers are likely to be are not accessible from any of the other areas of the map. So as long as the PCs stay away from the arrow slits are the Archers essentially out of combat?
Let’s go back to the Ogres for a second. If the party convinced one or both to open the gates does this mean that the Ogres are now friendly? Will the Ogres refrain from fighting the PCs? If that’s the case it only leaves three Drow opponents (assuming the archers are also out of it) to face a party of five? No contest.
One complication that we had with my group was that they were all Drow. Now I’ll admit that this is likely not the norm, but I’ve got to think that there were at least a few other FLGS that had a table of all Drow PCs. The adventure clearly states that the Ogres will only let Drow through the gate. My PCs assumed this was the case (based on a History check of Drow culture and an Insight check on the Ogre’s reaction to their presence) so they simply said “Open the gates” and the Ogres did. I had the second Ogre ask for a password and the PC replied with “Open the gate and I won’t cut off your arm” followed by an Intimidate check. This was the kind of treatment an Ogre slave would expect so he opened the second gate.
I placed two of the Drow Templars just on the edge of the map and when they saw the PCs they realized something was up and combat began. Some of the PCs used their standard actions early in the combat to convince the Ogre not to fight them. The checks were really high so at first I had to Ogre remain neutral. But it didn’t make sense to me that the Ogre would just sit by when his “masters” shouted for him to fight. I had the Drow Spellspinner approach from the behind the Ogre, whisper threatening words in his ear, and from that point on the Ogre became an active combatant despite some great Diplomacy and Bluff checks from the heroes to keep him passive.
In order to actually use the Drow Archers I told my players to imagine steps connecting the passages beyond the gates with the lookout rooms right at the edge of the map over the blackened areas. This was the only way I could think of to get the Archers back into the fight once the PCs moved past the arrow slits.
Even with these modifications, the heroes made short work of the six Drow I threw at them. The Rogues killed the two Templars in two rounds, the first before he could even attack. The Ogre only fought until bloodied and then he surrendered. His Grand Slam encounter power demolished the Cleric bringing her from near full hit points to unconsciousness with one blow (4d10+4 will do that). But Rogue#1 managed to bring her back to consciousness with a potion before the fight ended.
Overall I did not like this encounter. It didn’t seem to serve any useful purpose and felt like filler. For the climax and conclusion of the chapter it really failed. Last week’s encounter at the Demonspur was a lot more interesting, had a lot more potential and would have made for a much more interesting climax to the chapter.
The second chapter as a whole was much less interesting and much less exciting than the first chapter. Despite the TPKs or near-TPKs many groups had in chapter 1, the players always seemed to have fun. During this chapter the players seemed to just be going through the motions. I think chapter 1 should have been four encounters and chapter 2 should have been five encounters. That might have made things more interesting and certainly more exciting. Overall I am enjoying the adventure and have high hopes for the final chapter.
What did you think of this week’s encounter? Did your party manage to get through the gates successfully? If so how did the combat with the Drow play out? How many DMs made alterations to the map including adding more arrow slits or an entrance to the archer rooms? What are your thoughts on chapter 2 compared to chapter 1, better or worse?
Reward Summary Sheets
The summary sheets detail the XP, gp and magic items found during each encounter. Chapter 2 Reward Summary has been updated to include treasure through week 9. New this week is the Chapter 3 summary sheet detailing the XP and loot from week 10. 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.
Listen to our podcast as Alton and I rehash our experiences from this week’s encounter. You can now subscribe to Alton’s RSS feed to download the podcast to your portable device. Check out the Week 9 Podcast at 20ft Radius and let us know what you think.
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 9) – Podcasts