D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen (Week 9)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 19, 2012

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.

Podcasts

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

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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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe Lastowski July 19, 2012 at 9:53 am

We also had smaller numbers this week due to vacations, illness, etc. I ran a table of 4 (warlord, slayer, wizard, cavalier), and we had lots of fun interacting with the ogres. I threw in a magical alarm if both gates were lifted without a Drow uttering a command word, so that covered the “how do the Drow find out” problem.

I was mostly worried about the superior cover of the arrow slits and the difficulty of getting anyone up there. I had the 2 archers appear one-to-a-side behind the arrow slits, then had everyone else on the ground. Dung was released and convinced (with exceptional coaxing from the party) into being a non-combatant. Worthless was less certain, until he was dominated by a PC with the Eyes of Charming item into attacking the drow wizard, after which point the drow treated him like an enemy, effectively forcing him to be an ally. I was okay with stacking the combat that way, though, as the discussions with the ogres had already taken more than an hour, so there wasn’t tons of time.

Most of the combat happened in the cramped quarters of the choke-point, but the PCs were not necessarily upset by this… they understood the tactics and that the drow fortress would have easy-to-defend outer walls.

When all was said and done, the two ogres were set free (Dung, in his boredom, had made a Mt. Rushmore-esque likeness of the busts of the PCs. “But wait, he doesn’t have stone-carving tools” “Oh, maybe that’s where his name came from…” Also, the fighter managed to climb up one wall, then, after killing that archer, do a leaping charge over the gap to the other side (earning moment of greatness).

All-in-all, it wasn’t the best laid-out encounter ever, but there was enough there to work with, I think.

2 Sentack July 19, 2012 at 10:02 am

Honestly I had to read through the encounter about 4 or 5 times before I got an impression of what was supposed to be happening. I think the author had a very clear idea in his mind of what was going on but they didn’t detail it well enough and the map gave a false impression of the layout of the area.

What the encounter appears to attempting to describe is that that the arrow slits are embedded into parapets. That means the walls around there there don’t extend all the way up to the ceiling. That means players with a decent Athletics skill can climb the walls (Which they state are 15 feet tall) into those rooms where the archers enter from and get at them there, or the archers could drop down from there and attack from behind if they wanted. They also don’t express exactly where the parapets start or end. So you have to guess given the look and feel of the map.

So yeah, a poor description and rather bizarre map made for an odd encounter. I didn’t think it was any more superfluous then half the other fights in D&D Encounters, but it wasn’t that epic for a end of chapter fight.

3 Yagokoro July 19, 2012 at 10:26 am

I had high-ish hopes for this encounter, just because of the skill challenge and the potential damage the ogres could have done, but the combination of a bit of confusion regarding the terrain features (the arrow slits thing, plus how adventurers could -get- to the terraces in the first place) kinda ended up lowering things a bit. I did get some major kudos (from all three tables, no less) for perfectly slipping in a Princess Bride reference, but that was pretty much the highlight of the night for our party.

We had a ton of new people show up, less space, and no fourth DM, so every table had seven people. For us, that added to the drag-out portion of events. It really highlighted the difference in experience between our side and the two other tables, because the other tables got through with no problems. Not so much us.

The skill challenge almost immediately went awry. The second check triggered a failure which called in the guards, which caused the majority of the party to abandon the skill challenge in favor of initiating combat. Probably my fault for pointing out that killing drow counted as a success, but mostly because two players complained about not having the requisite skills.

The whole fight pretty much degenerated into a standoff, where for two rounds I couldn’t land hits, but the party kept trying to shoot templars (and later the spellspinner) who had cover and not doing a great job of it, while the archer team on the eastern terrace (the only arrow slit facing the party) got to shoot more or less freely. When the spellspinner showed up, my dice were back in action, and the party, while working together much better than they ever have before, pretty much gave up tactical initiative and didn’t try to break the gates. By the time anyone thought to go try and deal firmly with the archers, time was already almost up and the party had only managed to kill one templar and bloody an archer and the spellspinner. Everyone else had taken no damage. For my part, I’d bloodied the party pretty well, but it was quite obvious that there was no way a resolution would be reached. Encounter ended with a TV Time Limit Draw.

This chapter as a whole has felt a bit disjointed and all over the place, though I think that’s mostly because people’s minds are wandering due to summer or other things. It’s also had complex (for Encounters, anyway) terrain to deal with, which flummoxed both myself and my players to varying degrees at times. It links together when you make an effort to connect the pieces, but if not then every encounter felt like a stand-alone with a different gimmick. Good if you like gimmicks, but otherwise your mileage might have significant variance.

4 Guest July 19, 2012 at 11:34 am

The first part of the skill challenge was entertaining. Used Kobold/Goblin flavored rations to trick Dung into thinking that surface kobolds/goblins taste much better then what he’s been fed in the underdark. Dung was happy with the ration (not occurring to him that humans don’t normally eat that stuff).

However, the skill challenge was botched because someone rolled a natural 4 on diplomacy, before applying his natural negative modifier (flubbed rolls are expected, but don’t maximize the odds). In this skill challenge, you needed a +6 modifier just to keep the overall odds of winning said challenge above 50%, and that’s not counting the battle prowess (which is useful for those without the skill.)

The DM made ~5 rolls above 17, including 3 critical hits. Because of that, he swapped his die rolling program for physical dice.

It was also another episode of rules banter. I think it set a new record of ~20 minutes for one turn. Basically, someone wanted to try using First Aid on himself to grand a saving throw – a useless action since he has (or should have) a ranged attack and line-of-effect to one of the blocking spearmen – and was thinking that he could use Combat Medic to make it a minor action (it won’t and he should have red the feat first.)

I really need a new group.

5 funkaoshi July 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm

I definitely enjoyed the first chapter more than the second, despite the fact I lost two characters getting through it. It seemed more interesting and challenging on the whole. My warlock hadn’t even been hit till this weeks encounter. Our group has had no trouble with anything that’s come up in the last few weeks. (And I don’t think we’re playing any smarter than we were in the first chapter.) I’m hoping the last chapter picks up again.

6 Mik Calow July 19, 2012 at 1:59 pm

While I’m not the worlds biggest fan of skill challenges both my groups “breezed” this week with some excellent roleplaying rather than staged skill/dice roll-offs.

The first group freed both ogres then went in search of nearby drow and found them, gaining a surprise round and making short work of the fairly low powered guards.

The second group mnaged to bluff their way past as slavers and slaves, even commanding the ogres to close the gates behind them “to keep undesireables out”.

7 Stephanie July 24, 2012 at 12:58 pm

You think this week was bad? Wait till you read session 10….

8 Matthew July 25, 2012 at 9:05 am

We seemed to have fun. We had one drow in our party, a mage, so he played master and we slaves. We managed to bluff past the first ogre and get him to open the portcullis, but then pissed him off (can’t remember how) and had to fight him. We ended up dropping the portcullis on his head a la Luke Skywalker vs. the Rankor. For the drow archers, the DM ruled that our goblin and kobold rangers, being small, could fit through the arrow slits, so we climbed up and through and took one down. The other came down to the hallway.

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