D&D Encounters: Council of Spiders – Preview

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 10, 2012

On August 22 the players become the villains. That’s right, this season the PCs get a chance to become members of Drow society along with all the plotting and scheming that accompanies it. The PCs don’t necessarily have to play evil characters but they will want to watch their backs as everyone could be out to get them, even the other PCs.

Season 10 of D&D Encoutners: Council of Spiders continues the world-shaping Rise of the Underdark story arc and is closely tied to the latest product offering from Wizards of the Coast, Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue. Below is a high-level overview of what you can expect during the coming season of D&D Encounters. It relatively spoiler-free.

The Adventure

This season runs only 9 weeks. Week 0 is for character creation, chapter 1 covers weeks 1-3, chapter 2 covers weeks 4-6, and chapter 3 covers weeks 7-8. I really, really like that the chapters are short. Completing each chapter will provide PCs with enough XP to level, so that should give players an indication of how difficult each week’s session will be.

This adventure is only peripherally connected to last season’s Web of the Spider Queen. The players are expected to create new heroes based on very specific and tight guidelines (more on that below in Character Creation). There was a lot of speculation that this adventure might present options for more advanced levels of play than 1-3. I regret to inform you that this season is exactly like every one that came before it and is intended for new players starting from scratch. However, I don’t see experienced DMs having much trouble pumping up the encounters to make it suitable for a tougher party (I know that’s what I’m planning to do).

At the outset the PCs know the following details. Lolth is trying to create the Demon Weave (similar to Mystra’s Weave that was destroyed in the Spellplague) and grab dominance over arcane power. The arcane casters, predominantly male, are all for this as they see it as a way to give males more power and prominence in Drow society. The Priestesses fear it for exactly the same reason. A third group, a secret society of Drow, want Lolth to fail and be destroyed, freeing Drow from the Spider Goddess once and for all. Everyone else is waiting in the wings to see how things play out and then decide who to support (as is the Drow way).

Before the first session the PCs need to decide which of three Drow Houses they want to be aligned with or working for. Although there will be a common goal that defines the overall adventure, each House has their own agenda and the PCs will have to decide how to react to certain situations depending one which House they belong to. Acting in your House’s best interest will earn the PCs Worth points (more on that below in Fortune Cards & Worth).

Session 6 will really be the deciding encounter of this adventure. This encounter is all role-playing and skill checks, there is no structured combat. During this session the PCs will have to decide where their loyalties lay before proceeding to the final chapter. The decisions the PCs make during week 6 and the results of their actions during the role-playing will have a direct impact on how things play out for the final chapter.

Although this is a short adventure I think it will prove to be a lot of fun. With the players given the opportunity to play evil PCs and allowed (even encouraged) to actively waylay others in the party with different goals than their own, this is going to be one fun season.

I would caution rookie DMs looking to take the reins for this season. Just because the adventure is short doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to run. There is a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes and it’s important that the DM keep track of it all. Although a lot of DMs only read the adventure one week at a time (I know I’m guilty of this) I strongly encourage you to read the entire thing all the way through before beginning the first session. The actions the PCs take each week will have repercussions on subsequent sessions so be prepared to adjust on the fly.

Character Creation

This season everyone is strongly encouraged to play Drow characters. The adventure assumes that the PCs are aligned/affiliated with one of three Drow factions in the city of Menzoberranzan. Anyone not playing a Drow is assumed to be a Drow slave and is limited to one of these six other races – Dwarf, Goblin, Half-Orc, Human, Kobold and Svirfneblin.

Once again Wizards provided sharp-looking character sheets for anyone who wants to make a character old school using pencil and paper. These are great if you have people showing up for slot 0 to make characters. However, since most of the regulars use character builder to create their characters this is basically just flare that goes unused at my FLGS.

Pre-Generated Characters

For the first time in six season we finally have new pre-gens. Given the nature of this season’s adventure it only made sense that Wizards would provide Drow pre-gens. So over the next eight weeks we’ll get to know six new Drow: Belgos (Ranger Hunter), Chali (Rogue Thief), Drisdhaun (Wizard Evocation Mage), Ryltar (Fighter Slayer), Syndrina (Paladin Cavalier), Zarra (Cleric War Priest). We’ve scanned and posted copies of all six D&D Encounters: Council of Spiders – Pre-Generated Characters. They are also available in the Dungeon’s Master Pre-Generated Character Library along with all of the other pre-gens that Wizard has provided to date.

Treasure Cards

I was surprised at how little fanfare these cards generated last season. The idea was that anyone who played the first Drow adventure during PAX East would receive a code that they could give to their FLGS to redeem a free item card. I suppose so few people actually did this to make any real impact.

This season the prerequisite adventure is called “The Dawn of Night.” I’m not sure where one would play this adventure (GenCon maybe?) but if you do your PC gets this treasure to being the season. It offers resist 5 poison which will certainly be useful when facing Drow opponents.

Front

Back

Amazing Maps

Every season we showcase the fantastic maps Wizards provides with the new adventure. I find that the maps more than anything else are the real treasures for the DMs. I use and reuse the D&D Encoutners maps almost every week in my home games. This season we get maps made using the recently released Urban Underdark terrain tiles. It’s a healthy mix of dungeon and caverns.

Initiative Tracker

There’s not really much more I can say about the Initiative Tracker cards that I haven’t said before. They look great and they’re convenient to use. If you’ve got Initiative Trackers from multiple seasons mixing and matching them will certainly make it easier to distinguish the heroes from the monsters.

Fortune Cards & Worth

The new Treachery Fortune Cards will really spice things up this season. They’re designed to basically wreak havoc on your allies. Using them will certainly cause a stir at your gaming table as it really goes against the whole teamwork thing. I see the cards as a way to play your character as a self-centered jerk and shrug off any responsibility you might have for acting that way. “It wasn’t me, it was the card.” For advanced players who really want to get into playing Drow PCs these cards will add a new and unexpected element to the game you think you know. However, I don’t think that newer players will like these cards at all.

A new mechanic that is tied into the Treachery Fortune Cards is Worth. This is a way to assign a score to your characters station and importance in Drow society. Each PC will begin with a Worth score based on modifiers provided in the adventure. As you complete goals and play Treachery cards your Worth will change. The idea is that you will do what’s best for your PC to increase his Worth, even when those actions don’t necessarily align with the party’s greater goals. I see tremendous potential, but I fear that for newer players this will not give them a true reflection of what D&D is all about. I can already see new players getting screwed over by someone else hungering for Worth, and when that happens the new players will decided that they don’t like D&D and won’t come back.

This season players can earn up to three special promo Treachery Fortune Cards exclusive to D&D Encounters.

When a player earns 20 Renown Points, they earn the Hands Off! (promo 2) Fortune Card.

When a player earns 40 Renown Points, they earn the Overextended (promo 3) Fortune Card.

When a player earns 60 Renown Points, they earn the I See What You Did (promo 1) Fortune Card.

Instructions

Poster

Every season Wizards provides the FLGS with a poster to advertise the current season of D&D Encounters.

Renown Tracker

Download the Renown Tracker (PDF) for Council of Spiders.

The Adventure Begins

Council of Spiders is the second of three adventures featuring the Drow of the Forgotten Realms. This season clearly seems to focus on the Drow way of life, the self-centered, egocentric and deceitful elements of their society. It’s a short adventure (the shortest yet for D&D Encounters) so if this experiment doesn’t work as well as expected we won’t have to tough it out for very long. Season 10 begins on Wednesday, August 22.

Be sure to visit Dungeon’s Master every Thursday for our ongoing weekly coverage of D&D Encounters. Also be sure to listen to the weekly podcast in which Alton (from 20ft Radius) and I provide our post-game report.

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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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rogue #1 August 10, 2012 at 12:57 pm

I like this Init tracker and the one from last session. I also have a feeling I’ll like the next sessions one as well… If it is drow as well. I already “acquired” a set from last sessions (the one we are currently playing.)

2 Joe Lastowski August 10, 2012 at 1:05 pm

This really upsets me. I’ve never been a fan of “Evil PC” campaigns, but it seems like this is a horrible idea for a program designed to introduce new players to D&D. At worst, they see how unheroic it is to be a backstabbing, betraying, PC-killing villain and decide to never come back. At best, we’ve taught a whole bunch of new players that D&D is about being a jerk.

I’ve had enough trouble at my tables over the past few seasons making sure PCs had a conscience and actually played HEROES (the civilian body count in Neverwinter reached ridiculous proportions, and a PC death squad almost murdered all the plague victims in the Elemental season without bothering to talk about cures)… and now that’s where they’re pushing people to go?

How many pvp TPKs will we need to experience before players just don’t show up anymore? Oh well, at least it’s a short season.

3 Rick Hansen August 10, 2012 at 11:41 pm

When it says on the character sheet that “Non-Drow characters may only choose the Menzoberrazan Outsider or Underdark Slave theme”, how rigid is that? Can they only pick from this list or use other themes no on this sheet? I have at least one player who has already rolled a PC and picked a theme, so I’ll need to tell him something.

4 B.J. August 11, 2012 at 12:46 pm

I kind of like the idea that there are a limited number of choices. It allows for a more specific roleplaying experience. I know folks like a lot of openness, but this could be very fun. I know a few players will grumble in our group, but they will get over it.

5 Shawn August 11, 2012 at 2:24 pm

“The Dawn of Night” is being run at GenCon in Indianapolis and then again at PAX Prime in Seattle. Not sure if it is running elsewhere.

6 LordOcampo August 11, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Awesome. And I guess the secret faction is the one that caused so much trouble in the “Wars of the Spider Queen” novels.

7 Sunyaku August 13, 2012 at 12:14 am

Hrmm… a lot of the veterans at my FLGS seem to be getting pretty tired of the Encounters format… but unfortunately I don’t think these new cards will help the situation.
Sunyaku´s last blog post ..Games Inspire and Save Lives

8 LordOcampo August 13, 2012 at 10:40 am

Veterans grow tired of lvl 1 characters.

9 Ameron (Derek Myers) August 13, 2012 at 11:56 am

Every season I hear a lot of people talking about how they wish D&D Encounters would allow for characters above level 1. As much as I sympathize and identify with those people looking to play higher level characters, we have to remember that the program is not supposed to be a substitute for a regular campaign. It’s intended to draw in new players and provide a good intro to D&D, so any expectations that Wizards offer an encounters season that begins above level 1 seems misplaced.

Now if I worked at Wizards I’d provide an addendum, even just a couple of photocopied sheets, with each DM kit providing guidelines for DMs who want to run the adventure with higher level characters. It wouldn’t take long to put together and it would make a lot of us very, very happy.

10 Rick Hansen August 13, 2012 at 11:37 pm

The problem with our group is that we’ve grown tired of the Encounters format with it’s level 1 PCs and rigid campaigns, but we don’t want to give up the Wednesday night tradition and social gathering. Everyone knows that we could just start up a homebrew campaign, but that means that 1) we’d have to pick another night because the store is obligated to run Encounters on Wednesdays, and 2) we’d have to find somewhere else to do it because the store has other events on other nights. Season 10 will be my first time as DM of encounters and I am eager to bring some more flavor back to the game. Our players tend to do more horseplay, socialization and off-topic discussions than actual gameplay, so I am planning on enticing them back to the fun of the game (if I can). Honestly, we could use an intervention.

11 B.J. August 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Rick, is there just not enough space to have a normal D&D campaign or does your store only have a few participants so they want to keep it as Encounters? I know for a while, we only had one table of Encounters at our FLGS and another for a separate campaign for the veteran players. They also had Lair Assault, which also supporter high levels than 1st.

12 AstroTrain August 14, 2012 at 5:02 pm

I’m a part of Rick’s group, and the main problem is that half the group is too lazy to move out of the Encounters sessions and onto something else. I’m thinking that we’ll have to have a campaign on Skype because we really need to play a larger section of the game, not just levels 1-3 and in a predetermined campaign setting.

13 Rick Hansen August 16, 2012 at 8:45 am

B.J., Now that school is starting again, we’re going to be down to one table, and there is very limited space in the FLGS (if we had more people, we theoretically could have a separate campaign). These people have schedules which make it difficult to switch commitments from Wednesday Encounters to something on another night, and I already have a few of them involved in a D&D Next game twice monthly. I guess we would just like to see WotC mix it up little bit and throw players a few changes – maybe have one season normal Encounters and the next higher level – and then return back to normal for new players. We all understand that this is a program to bring in new players, but our FLGS has very few new players through the course of the year. If we don’t play Encounters (and play a traditional game instead), there will be no one else who participates in the program, and then the store will stop hosting Encounters altogether. I’m also unsure about playing Lair Assault; from what I understand, it’s strictly combat, which is what I’d like to get away from in our Encounters. If we can incorporate more role play, I think there’s a lot of opportunity for more fun.

14 Joe Lastowski August 16, 2012 at 10:16 am

Does anyone know where one might find a write-up for the “Underdark Slave” theme? I can find all the rest listed on the preprinted character sheet either in Into the Unknown or in the 3 theme articles in Dragon 413… but that one seems to be an oddball. Was it printed somewhere that I haven’t looked yet?

After reading through the whole thing, I’m slightly less apprehensive. I plan on running it more like White Wolf’s old Vampire: The Masquerade, with different factions and all. I’m still a bit nervous about giving PCs the command that they are supposed to play evil characters… but we’ll give it a shot and see where it goes.

I am really curious to see how folks handle the idea of having non-evil, non-drow players (which the adventure says will be slaves of the drow). Do they get Worth points? Can they engage in any of the roleplaying with various house NPCs? It feels like the idea of non-evil PCs was just sort of thrown in at the last minute, as it’s not at all supported in the story.

15 SmashHansen August 16, 2012 at 11:33 am

Joe, I’m guessing the theme will be laid out in Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue, which comes out next Tuesday. I’m interested to know if this is the case, however, or if it’s found somewhere else.

16 Kyle Long August 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm

While I’m glad that Encounters is finally giving players a shot at all of the backstabby goodness that is a Drow game, I’m disappointed at the low level of the game. While it’s true that underhanded wheelings and dealings happen at all tiers of Dark Elf society, they really great ones (particularly those from War of the Spider Queen, The Lady Penitent, or anything by RA Salvatore) have always happened between powerful nobles of the houses.

I think that this would have been an amazing opportunity to ease into high level play, and the perfect setting with which to do so.
Kyle Long´s last blog post ..Betrayal

17 B.J. August 18, 2012 at 8:44 pm

I got a copy of Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue today. If that book is any indication, Encounters is about to get UGLY! I’m seriously pumped for this season. The ability to screw over and mess with your fellow players looks scary fun.

18 Mike August 19, 2012 at 12:07 am

Ya, the table I’m going to be running discussed it, and all of them have zero interest in being forced to play a Drow, in playing evil characters, and in the coming season of Encounters at all. I wish I had an alternative 8-week-long 1-hour-per-week thing to run, but I’m just good at reading what’s in front of me.

The next two months are going to suck on Wednesdays.

19 Mik Calow August 19, 2012 at 8:21 am

My Encounters players we’re hoping to carry their pc’s over into a continuing story arc (which we expected with 3 linked series of encounters), but as our packs still havent actually arrived, we’ll have to wait (and hope) that things arrive this week and sort out what we want to do during the session 0. :(
Mik Calow´s last blog post ..Web of the Spider Queen- D&D Encounters – session 12

20 Shawn August 20, 2012 at 11:58 am

If the players really aren’t interested in the upcoming season, and you are looking for something to run that is similar to Encounters, I suggested looking to pick up the Dungeon Delve hardcover book. The book contains 1 delve for each level, and each delve contains 3 encounters that link together into a mini-adventure. You could run the first three delves for 9 weeks, and then be ready for the Season 11, which I am personally very excited about. If you have a subscription to Dungeon Magazine, there is even a continuation of the first delve to make it a longer adventure (http://www.wizards.com/dnd/article.aspx?x=dnd/duad/20100504). I am biased though. ;-)

21 Pgnblade August 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Good call, Shawn. The delve book is really fun, and with a little bit of effort it could be made into an encounters campaign. Good luck Mike.

22 Shawn August 22, 2012 at 1:10 pm

I want to add, however, that I urge people to continue playing D&D Encounters if possible. Even if this season–or any season really–isn’t exactly perfect for you or your group, make adjustments so that it does fit your group. DMs should have fun and give the players a good time, and if that means changing things up, go for it!

23 LordOcampo August 22, 2012 at 1:25 pm

I, for one, am tying this up with my current Neverwinter campaign, and my players will have to play as drow as a sort of “meanwhile, at Menzoberranzan…” intermezzo.

24 Dracoprimus August 25, 2012 at 5:27 am

regarding higher level Encounters. I know Encounters is really meant to provide a good introduction to DnD, but, I think this is one thing that Wizards has actually succeeded more than expected. Where I play/DM Encounters, almost all the players are ‘veterans’, participating in at least the last 3-4 seasons, most far more than that. It really provides a good framework for a regular social event that most of us really enjoy. For most of us, it’s the recreational highlight of the week. So, I think it’s well within reason to contemplate higher level material to play with.

25 Chris M October 9, 2012 at 7:06 pm

I have a problem with a Store Representative looking for a piece of advice. I told my players that this encounter season they would be either Drow or one of the races mentioned in the Council of Spiders book. They did what I requested and created their Drow, and seem to have been having fun with it, even those who normally hate playing drow. Then I had to stop DMing and my son had to take over, and when a new player came in saying he was demanding to play his 4th lvl ELF, in this encounter my son politely told him, that the race couldn’t be used for this encounter season, and the level definitely not. Player then went over DM’s head to Store rep, who overruled the DM and said, no worries go ahead and use the elf. But no lvl 4. The guy is going to be disguised as a drow. He also told the DM no one would be allowed to check to see if he was in fact a Drow at all. So what should we do? Tell the store to stick their program? Is there an alternative to those who would basically give players whatever makes them happy at the expense of another player? Help.

26 Ocampo October 9, 2012 at 10:17 pm

While it is adviced to give players what they want, the Encounters rules and the frame of the setting are given to encourage more than single dice-rolling: they are meant to encourage role-playing, particularly with this season.

Checks SHOULD be allowed. Otherwise it will be metagame and it certainly sour the game experience for all other players at the table.

27 Ameron (Derek Myers) October 10, 2012 at 8:42 am

@Chris M
I’ve posted your question on the D&D Encounters forum to get a few other opinions. Here’s the link:
http://community.wizards.com/dungeonsanddragons/go/thread/view/91301/29423913/Problems_with_a_store_owner_who_overrules_the_DM

Personally I’d talk to the store owner alone, out of earshot of everyone else, and try to find out why they made the decisions they did. I’d try to explain the impact of him overruling you as the DM. Next I’d talk to the new player and explain that although he’s in disguise the suspicious Drow would catch any slip up in his disguise. Depending on the role-playing I’d allow other players to roll to see through the disguise. Remember that Elves don’t have darkvision. As soon as they see him fumbling around in the dark they’d know something was up. We also allow Drow PCs to communicate in the Drow sign language. It’s extremely complex and takes years to learn. It’s unlikely this Elf would know it. Again, another big red flag that he’s not who he seems to be.

With only two weeks left it might not be worth making a stink over it if you think the owner is going to be a jerk if you say anything. However, not saying anything this time leaves no deterrent to this possibly happening again. Not to mention the players will likely be miffed that this new guy is getting special treatment.

28 Ocampo October 10, 2012 at 10:30 am

Yet, that is a very bad precedent and he SHOULD talk to the owner so it won’t happen again.

29 Chris M October 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm

I believe that he did it to not create friction. He likes to bend rules a lot. He has done so before much to the detriment of the Encounters and Lair Assaults. (He had dinosaurs opening doors). Very frustrating to work with him. He once tried to make two DMs share a book so he’d have more prizes to give out for renown. Not his own books mind you, the ones the volunteers get. We had to “discuss” the situation with him to get him to see clearly on that matter. I was DM’ing for him, but due to being unable to afford busfare, I had to stop, my son took over and I think he was trying to take advantage of HIM because he wasn’t me. I’ve had a talk to him now, and am waiting to see what happens tonight. I told my son worst case….he could have something special happen to this elf related to NEXT week.

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