D&D Encounters: Council of Spiders (Week 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 30, 2012

This week marked the beginning of season 10 of the D&D Encounters program. This is the second of three Drow-themed adventures. This adventure is set in and around the Drow city of Menzoberranzan. Players are strongly encouraged to platy Drow PCs this season. They can play a handful of other races, but anyone playing non-Drow is assumed to be a Drow slave. At my FLGS everyone played Drow to make things easier.

One of the biggest complaints from the D&D Encounters regulars is that every season they have to create new characters and start from level 1 again. To address this we decided to run this season as level 4-6 and let the players kept the same characters they used last season. As all the PCs were Drow and all had the Bregan D’aerthe Spy theme this worked out nicely. The other DM at my FLGS realized that we might still get new players so he decided to run things business as usual from level 1. As most of the PCs at his table last season were not playing Drow PCs, this made a lot of sense.

Many of our usual players were finishing their summer vacations before going back to school in September. This meant that we only had six players and two DMs for week 1. Four players were part of the leveled up group, two were not. The other DM agreed to run both the week 1 and 2 encounters the following week when hopefully more of our regulars would be present. I gave the players running the level 1 PCs the choice of pumping up their PCs to level 4 and playing with us or waiting to play next week. They decided to play with us. The first four PCs listed are part of my regular group; the other two are from the other table (which is why they are “unacceptable” classes – the other DM lets any class go at his table).

  • Drow Rogue #1 [female], aligned with Bregan D’aerthe
  • Drow Rogue #2 [female], aligned with Bregan D’aerthe
  • Drow Wizard (Bladsinger) [female], aligned with Bregan D’aerthe
  • Drow Druid [male], aligned with Bregan D’aerthe
  • Drow Monk [male], aligned with Bregan D’aerthe
  • Drow Artificer [male], aligned with House Xorlarrin

Background Information

Before the Spellplague the goddess Mystra controlled all arcane magic through Mystra’s Weave. When Mystra died the Weave unraveled. Lolth, the Queen of Spiders, is now trying to take control of arcane magic by creating the Demon Weave. This threatens to change the core beliefs of Drow society because it will elevate the Wizards (predominantly male) to positions of power, possibly equal to the Priestesses.

There are three likely outcomes if Lolth succeeds in creating the Demon Weave: 1) The Priestesses remain at the top of the power structure, 2) The Priestesses have to share the top spots with the Wizards, 3) Everything falls into chaos and Lolth could lose her hold over Drow society. As is the Drow way, everyone schemes and plots while they wait to see how things play out. Some Drow are getting more involved than others, pushing their own agenda in hopes of driving the outcome that will benefit them most.

Factions

At the beginning of play all PCs must choose one of three factions to align themselves with.

  • House Xorlarrin (Third House)

This house wields considerable arcane power. Members of this Wizard house wear masks and conceal their identity and gender and are seen by other Drow as paranoid. House Xorlarrin has dedicated their full support to creating the Demon Weave.

  • House Melarn (Seventh House)

This house is militant and has appointed themselves as Lolth’s inquisitors. They seek to root out any betrayal of the Way of Lolth. They are loyal to whatever Lolth decrees. Other houses see them as overzealous and self-righteous.

  • Bregan D’aerthe

This is a mercenary company that works outside the law. They are a federation of assassins and spies. They are only loyal is to themselves and the gold in their pockets.

Throughout the adventure each of these three factions will assign special and secret tasks to their members. The PCs can and should try to accomplish these goals without letting other PCs from other factions know what they’re doing or why they’re doing it.

Worth

This is a new mechanic introduced with this season of D&D Encounters. It’s a way to try and assign a numerical value to a Drow’s importance and political influence. Each PC begins with a Worth score. Depending on their actions they will earn or lose Worth throughout the course of the adventure.

When interacting with NPCs I let the PCs roll a Streetwise check or Insight check to try and determine the NPC’s approximate Worth score. Streetwise represented what the PC knew of this NPC and Insight was more a reading of the NPC’s confidence and arrogance that would come from have a high Worth. This gave the player some guideline on how the interaction might play out if they took or did not take certain actions. I still encouraged the players to play their PC how they saw fit, but throwing in Worth made things a lot more interesting (as we’ll discuss below).

The Adventure Begins

The PCs began in a cave just outside of Menzoberranzan. Representatives from each of the three factions are present to instruct the PCs. A defunct Drow House called House Shobalar used to have an outpost called Sezz’ia where they performed arcane research. House Tlabbar recently found the tunnel believed to lead to Sezz’ia and already sent a party to find it. Unfortunately the party has not returned. The PCs are charged with finding Sezz’ia and enacting a ritual to siphon off its arcane energy. If successful the power will instantly go to Lolth, helping her spin the Demon Weave. House Tlabbar’s intent for the arcane energy may not be what Lolth desires which is why the PCs are being sent to complete this quest. The benefits to the goddess outweigh any potential dangers to the PCs.

At this point each PC was given their secret objective. I encourage DMs to print these ahead of time moving forward to speed things up. At my table we had the one member of House Xorlarrin leave while I read the objective to the members of Bregan D’aerthe. I then let the Artificer read his objective while I covered the rest. These objectives are not likely to be resolved until the end of week 3 so I’m not going to spoil anything by revealing them here.

The heroes were initially guided through the maze of tunnels by their Bregan D’aerthe contact before he eventually sent them on their way. They heroes found the House Tlabbar campsite and rested overnight. The following day they came to a large cavern where an Ochre Jelly blocks their passage. Beyond the ooze the PCs could see Cave Fishers on the walls of the cavern.

Any PC trained in Dungeoneering or Nature realized that these creatures posed a significant threat. Killing these creatures wasn’t part of the party’s objective and if the PCs got in over their head they should consider withdrawing. Some of the PCs at my table had the requisite training so the party weighed this option as the battle progressed.

The combat part of this week’s encounter was actually really boring. The party, playing to their strengths, stayed in the cave mouth and attacked the Ochre Jelly with their ranged attacks. Only the Monk and Rogue#1 made any effort to engage in melee.

The Cave Fishers feared the ooze so they stayed back waiting for the PCs to enter the cave before engaging them. After three rounds of delaying they finally started to get bolder and move towards the PCs still grouped together at the cave entrance. However, by then the PCs had easily bloodied the Ochre Jelly causing it to split into two. The Druid and Artificer used burst powers to target multiple Cave Fishers, easily hitting and killing the minions in one round. The Artificer actually hit the female Bladesinger in his burst which did not go over well and affected the Artificer’s Worth.

The larger Cave Fisher Angler began the encounter hidden near the far end. It continued waiting for the PCs to enter the cavern before engaging. A few of the heroes finally moved in as they spotted unconscious Drow around the cave. The Cave Fisher Angler managed to get a couple of attacks off but was unable to score a hit.

Once the two smaller Ochre Jellies were destroyed everyone started targeting the only remaining monster. Realizing it was outmatched it fled just as it was about to become bloodied.

The heroes needed to decide quickly if they would pursue or not. The Druid seemed quite adamant about killing it but the rest of the party was reluctant. I went through the initiative and asked every player to answer with only yes or no, did they want to pursue? Everyone said no so the Druid relented. And it was a good thing. Had they pursued I would have stopped the encounter there and had next week’s encounter begin without a short rest.

The PCs instead tended to their wounds and examined the rest of the Drow bodies. Near the cave entrance the PCs found two dead male Drow warriors with House Tlabbar insignias. Another male Drow further into the cavern was clearly speared through the belly by a Cave Fisher and was likely suspended in the air for some time. He was still (barely) alive and on the brink of death. It was clear he wouldn’t survive.

On the far side of the cavern was a House Tlabbar Priestess. She was very badly burned by the Ochre Jelly’s acid. Her face was disfigured and eyes were obviously useless. She lived but was unconscious. As the PCs laid hands on her to try and revive her, a House Tlabbar male sprung forth from his nearby hiding spot demanding the PCs unhand his mistress.

After a tense debate, the PCs managed to calm him down. He identified himself as the warrior Thezz Tlabbar. Even the PC with the lowest Perception score realized that he showed no signs of battle. He was obviously a coward who fled rather than fought when his party was in danger. Thezz identified the Priestess as Myaral Tlabbar. Streetwise checks gave the party a good idea of her Worth so they immediately revived her.

Despite being in obvious pain, Myaral demanded respect and called for Thezz to help her stand. The Male PCs were unable to get a word out of Myaral, but the females managed to get her talking (after humbling themselves before her authority). She explained that Iyelle Tlabbar, a Priestess of her house, betrayed them. She took the components needed to complete the ritual and abandoned the party while they were engaged in combat. Myaral demanded the PCs stop Iyelle. With Thezz’s help, the two surviving members of House Tlabbar left for Menzoberranzan.

The PCs completed their short rest and then proceeded down the old abandoned mine shaft. After a short while rocks fell from the ceiling as the tunnel behind the PCs collapsed. Svirfneblin rushed the party. It was an ambush!

How many other groups are playing this season as levels 4-6? Is your group using the new Treachery Fortune Cards? We will as soon as my FLGS gets some in stock. Are your PCs embracing the Drow lifestyle in their role-playing? Is this working or causing problems (it might be hard to tell this early)? Did anyone have extreme difficulty with this encounter?

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pedro Rodrigues August 30, 2012 at 9:37 am

What changes did you made to run it for lvl 4 characters?

2 Joe Lastowski August 30, 2012 at 9:41 am

We had a DM call out sick last minute, so we ended up running 3 tables of 8, which was a little ridiculous to manage (but you do what you must, right?). The younger fisher spawn were taken out pretty quickly, and the party’s pushy mage tag-teamed with one of two hunter-rangers to keep the ochre jelly far away & immobilized. When the party finally engaged the jelly & the adult cave fisher (which had lots of trouble hitting anyone), they had the upper hand and weren’t too horribly inconvenienced by the jelly-splitting maneuver.

The fact that we had evil drow changed things a little bit from your standard heroic encounter. The sole priestess demanded prayers to Lolth if folks wanted Healing Words. The sole slave player (a svirfneblin rogue) kept getting sent in first and not getting healed, which made it a bit less fun for her. The treachery cards were awful, frequently making folks miss rolls and otherwise have less fun as their apparent successes were taken away by other players. I handled the whole house “secret quest” thing by printing out each house’s goal and handing them to the members of each house, since it’s kind of hard to have secret conversations at a table of 8 players. That part worked well enough, though.

And, on a personal note, I finally got my fiancee to come check things out, and this was her first game last night. She had fun as a pushy wizardess, though most of last night’s game (for her and for one other new player) was spent figuring out the system and learning what she could or couldn’t do. Still, the rest of the table came together to help, and folks heeded my “Your character can be evil, but don’t be a flaming jerk as a player” warning, so the worst backstabbing was via treachery cards, which I suppose weren’t that bad, in the end.

3 Ameron (Derek Myers) August 30, 2012 at 10:02 am

@Pedro Rodrigues
Here are the changes I made to the monsters to scale the encounter:

  • +2 to all defenses
  • +2 to all attacks
  • increased damage to the next size dice and added 2. So 1d8+3 became 1d10+5, 2d4+2 became 2d6+4, etc.
  • 10-15 additional hit points (for non-minions)
4 Mik Calow August 30, 2012 at 11:58 am

We played last night, I ran a drow warpriestess in the early session but before we started we were already 2 players down. One had missed his train home so couldnt attend and the other had decided the whole drow treachery thing wasnt for him. the party therefore consisted of me, a drow hunter and a dwarf fighter. We had also agreed to run 4th level and Robert our Dm had amended the monsters accordingly (though had to now make adjustments for only 3 pc’s). As I DM the late session we had already emailed individual players their house secret goals. The combat went quite well with the dwarf occupying the jelly while the hunter snipered the angler and I used fell-strike on the minions. the only “surprise” being when the angler dragged me off the higher path towards it and my spiderling took a quick munch on the dwarf to give me his surge as temporary hp, before smashing the cave lobster to bits. Encountering the Tlabbar drow (I havent received my copy of Menzoberranzan yet so didnt know the current pecking order of the drow houses) Thezz was a little haughty and so as a priestess of Lolth I backhanded him in the face, teaching him a little respect. After getting the information from them I bound their priestess’ wounds and we parted ways.

In the late session Robert and I swapped jobs, the party was also a man down as one of the players had been taken ill, leaving us with only 1 drow accompanied by a dragonborn warlock, vryloka blackguard, and short human sentinel (as not enoug people wanted to play drow and keep last seasons pc’s we let them). I had decided to try something I read in one of Chris Perkins’ articles, and as I had levelled the monsters up to relevant levels I denoted that the spawn minions would need 2 hits to kill (irrellevant of damage inflicted). The party handled the monsters relatively easily, though when the blackguard killed the angler (dropping the drow hunter to the floor in the process) he angered the drow who then used rapid shot and included the blackguard in the aoe (though missed his high AC). This caused some “fun” interaction between the two characters which could flare in later sessions, we’ll see.

As I still have the old “off-line” monster builder I used that to level up the monsters for this (and the next) session – the only awkward thing being allocating the elevated xp award (though it has been suggested to just level up when the original text says to and just not “give out” xp totals).

5 Ben August 30, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Hi, I’m curious as to why you guys don’t put your podcast up on itunes? It would make it much more convenient to access.

6 Ameron (Derek Myers) August 31, 2012 at 8:10 am

@Ben
We’re still new to the whole podcasting thing and don’t know how.

7 Ben August 31, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Ah i see. Well I would definitely recommend it, I listen to alot of podcasts on my phone but rarely have time to sit and listen to something in front of my computer.

I did a quick search and it seems like a very straight forward process to publish your podcasts to iTunes, there seems to be alot of documentation about it.

8 Rick Hansen September 1, 2012 at 12:25 am

This was my first time as a DM for Encounters, but things went very well. Like many groups, my guys whined and moaned about being forced to play drow, but when I read aloud some of the details from the new Menzoberranzan book during the Week 0 character building session, everyone seemed to really get into it. The roleplaying by our group was better than any during any campaign where I had been a player. I used handouts to provide descriptions of each house affiliation to the players and gave them in secret; same with the side conversations with the three faction representatives. We also had fun with the new worth mechanic. I built a little drow catapult and shot mini marshmallows at each player around the table when they earned worth (from behind the safety of my DM shield, of course). Once battle began, it was back to running things by the numbers and role playing stalled out, so I’m concerned about next week. Sadly, my inexperience caused the battle to be a cakewalk for the players, as I ran it as written but we had 7 players, so they totally overpowered the monsters. I plan to remedy this next week (when we will add two MORE players – yikes). My first night as DM was exhausting, but fun. I have some really good roleplayers in the group and I hope that we can keep them focused between the overall party mission and their individual house objectives.

9 Michael Clarke September 4, 2012 at 5:23 pm

For the first time in about 6 seasons, we had two tables for this one, although both were minimum size.

We were playing with a smaller group (4), of mostly melee-based characters, and we actually found that first combat quite tough. Our DM was also a first-timer, so perhaps he did some things differently to the suggested tactics.

We also had a couple of players who refused to play Drow, but the majority of players got into the spirit. In fact, reading the preview of the campaign on this site is what prompted me to organise a chance to play rather than DM. Looking forward to the intrigues :)

10 David Argall September 5, 2012 at 9:46 pm

DROONINGS OF DULLMYR – 1. Following our competition

Our mission was fairly typical for drow. Our paymasters were willing to kill each other, and my mission was to help them do so, as long as we got paid. But for the moment, there was a mission in common and I was to help them on it, at least until I found a good chance for profit from a backstab. But our base mission might make that unwise. We were to follow another party of drow and make sure their mission went the way our master wanted. Possibly that would not result in their deaths, but …
[A little complication was that one of the previous group may have been a traitor, in which case I was to spare him, not out of any feeling of mercy or justice, but because traitors can be made to talk, and quite profitably.]
Following the other party proved easy, almost easy enough to start worrying about an ambush, but it turned out they had suffered the “ambush”, a large number of monsters who had slaughtered the other party, and now was willing to do the same to us. Very rash of them.
The major opposition was this ocre jelly, which was quickly attacked by Glen’Atha-Koranazen, a male drow slayer, who found out there was another serious monster, a cave fisher that snagged him and slipped him up to the ceiling. Not really a good move by the fisher as Glen sliced him up badly [tho suffering a drop to the floor in the process] and I finished the fisher off. off. [Sinthra Melarn the warpriest, and of course our leader, healed Glen.
Malaggar the ranger was mostly taking out the small stuff, as was Corridio the thief, but they and Glen & I also cut the jelly in two, and then killed both halves. So the battle didn’t stretch us much.
Afterwards, we found the survivors of the previous party, all of whom were badly hurt. They explained the mystery of how such weak foes took them out by telling us there indeed had been a traitor in their ranks, who had been the most effective weapon of the enemy side. We got the needed information from them and then Sinthra killed out. Perhaps she had meant it as an act of foolish mercy to one who was unlikely to survive anyway, but of course, we then had to kill the other survivors too. No sense in letting word of our crimes get back instead of our report that we found them all dead.
Now we press on to follow this trail and carry it out the way our masters desire.

11 David Argall September 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Oh yes, People who don’t want to play drow? It is possibly my favorite race. That darkness is extremely powerful, and the race has fine rp potential as well.

12 David Argall September 12, 2012 at 3:42 am

WHISPERS OF THE SILENT ONE – 1. The Mission

Being selected to represent Bregan D’aerthe on a mission is a serious honor, and I have hints this is a major mission, at least by my standards. And such it seems to be. Bregan D’aerthe is dealing with two major Houses [one of them my kin]. Of course one or both could be traitors to their House, but it still suggests I am being greatly esteemed, or set up.
The Goddess Lolth is making a move to become the Goddess of Magic, a major step up for her, and we have the honor of gathering some of the power she needs [or be killed]. A previous expedition has failed? and we are to investigate [and of course succeed where they have failed].
Our trip is easy at first, but then we find what happened to the previous expedition. A number of cavern monsters have overwhelmed them, and now they wish to add us to their larder. Not a wise choice on their part, and we did wonder how they had managed to overcome the other party.
Of course, they were not without some threat. When Reltar charged up, he found himself jerked into the air by an unsuspected foe. He was to spend the rest of the fight trying to free himself. Only when we had disposed of the rest of the opposition were we able to help him. [A daring leap up the wall allowed me to stab the foe and my skill at tumbling avoided damage on the way down. Then Reltar finally managed a good swing and finished the creature.]
Examining the preceding party, we found some survivors, who told us there had been a traitor, a priestess, in their party, who had struck when they had been jumped by the creatures. Unable to watch their backs, they had been overwhelmed. But now Zarra Melarn, our war priest, decided to eliminate these members of another House. Not an act I really approved of, but she was the party leader and much of the rest of the party was from her house as well. I did not voice any objections. And there may have been some house disputes behind the killings [which we will report back as additional victims of the monsters of course.]
Now we continue and hopefully will finish this mission ourselves.

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