D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen – Report Card

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 23, 2012

Another season of D&D Encounters is over, and as are wanton to do we’re going to judge the season that was. We’ll look at what worked, what didn’t and what might have been done differently. If you DMed or played in any of this season’s encounters we want to know what you think too. Be sure to provide your comments below, whether you agree or disagree with our assessment.

The Good

Strong Introduction

Anyone who’s played D&D Encounters before knows that there will be some railroading. There has to be in order for the adventure to work. I found that the train wasn’t as forced this time around. The intro was good. The PCs had ample time to role-play and interact with the NPCs that would later have important roles in the story. It was a good way for the DM to provide information that the PCs wouldn’t likely have at the outset. The attack that came in the night was certainly predictable but the urgency of the situation was apparent to everyone.

Drow

If you like Drow than you probably loved this season of D&D Encounters. Every week there was some new Drow threat. The encounters might have been tough (ok, they were incredibly tough) but after a few weeks the players started to recognize the different Drow types and what they were capable of doing during combat. This let more advanced players come up with better tactics making subsequent encounters easier.

I know that some people found the lack of monster variety a negative, but I liked the consistency. Just because the monster is Drow doesn’t mean that it’s exactly the same as the Drow you faced last week. In my mind this adventure did a good job of showcasing how diverse Drow can be as monsters.

Skill Challenges

Both week 6 and week 10 relied heavily on role playing and skill challenges. In week 6 the PCs were trapped in cells and have to face the Tests of Lolth. In week 10 they had to avoid Drow patrols, spiders and natural hazards while they navigated the Flycatcher Tangle.

Depending on how much role-playing your group was willing to do, the week 6 escape might not have taken very long to complete (this was the main criticism from those who didn’t care for the encounter). I know at my table the encounter lasted well over an hour as the players really got into it. I think it’s important for everyone to remember that there’s more to D&D than just killing monsters. These combat-light or combat-absent weeks may not appeal to all players but they are important to include. Personally I prefer weeks with smaller skill challenges before the combat and then a scaled back combat encounter, possibly affected by the successes or failures of the skill challenge that preceded it.

Maps

As I’ve said in almost every D&D Encounters preview, the maps are spectacular. They usually have good variety and show off tiles from the most recent set on the market. The maps are interesting and have excellent potential for interesting combat. The locations are also generic enough that the DMs can easily reuse the maps in their home games. However, the placement of monsters on the map was not something that I’d include in the “Good” section (see below).

Plenty of Role-Playing Opportunities

Above and beyond the skill challenges there was still a lot of room to role-play in this season; more than we’ve seen in some of the previous season. In week 1 there were the patrons in the Old Skull Inn, in week 3 there was Khara and Therein, in week 5 there was Valan himself, in week 7 there were the elite Drow, in week 8 there were the Drow and Goblins in the Demonspur, in week 9 the Ogres at the Gates, in week 10 the Drow patrols, in Week 11 the Torturers, and in week 12 the Svirfneblin slaves. And of course the PCs could always try talking to the Drow in any of the encounters, which a lot of the players in my group chose to do. Now if your group chose to just hack-and-slash their way through than that’s their problem and not a failing of the adventure.

The Bad

Unnecessary NPCs

What’s with the NPCs becoming members of the party? If I wanted to play Khara Sulwood, I’d have played Khara Sulwood. Don’t force a party to take on a new NPC just because she’s pivotal to the story. There were numerous ways to still make Khara and Tharinel important characters in the adventure without forcing a party to take them on as temporary party members. In my mind the only reason they were thrust on the players was because the encounter was too difficult for them to handle alone. A better way to make things balance out would have been to remove monsters or just reduce the monsters’ levels.

Tactical Placement

So you have these excellent maps and then, based on the tactical placement of the monsters and the initial starting point of the PCs, the whole fight takes place in one little corner. You’ve got the whole map; us it! At least three of four of the encounters I ran only used a quarter of the map provided. The PCs were either locked down at the entrance by the monsters or they saw no tactical advantage to moving up.

The Hall of the Dead beneath the Tower from week 3 and the Demonspur from week 7 were probably my favourite maps. Both offered the PCs a lot of space to move around yet demanded strong tactics to gain any kind of advantage.

The Gates of Zadzifeirryn looked impressive but the description provided didn’t match what we saw on the map. After getting past the two Ogres it was exceptionally unclear where the PCs should go, where the Drow would engage them or how to get into the two guard rooms. The giant cavern from week 7 was too plain and boring given the importance of the meeting between the PCs and the elite guards. And the Slave Pens offered no reason for the PCs to go down into the lower area during combat.

The Pendant of Ashaba

Using a MacGuffin to drive the plot is a tried and true way to get a D&D party interested in taking on an adventure. I don’t think anyone actually cared what the particular MacGuffin was, but there was plenty of disappointment once it was found.

After Valan stole the pendent he broke it into two parts. He then entrusted half to one of the Torturers and left the other half in the body of the Web Golem. If the item was as powerful as described why would he a) break it apart and weaken its power, and b) give it up to two extremely lesser beings. I mean a Web Golem, really? The Golem was acting as nothing more than a guard. Why would this creature have half of the item? I get that the heroes need to recover the item but there were better ways to do it. Something as simple as a locked treasure chest somewhere in or near the slave pens would have made more sense.

What was the party’s motivation for returning the pendent? Obviously they’re supposed to do it because they’re the heroes and it’s the right thing to do, but the absence of any other treasure, reward or even XP for completing the mission seemed harsh. (I suspect there was supposed to be all of these things and they were inadvertently left out of the final printing.) Still, if this item is as powerful as described why would greedy adventurers travel all the way back to Shadowdale to return it without any promise of compensation?

The Ugly

The two big things I’d classify as ugly this season were 1) the extreme difficulty of the early encounters, and 2) the terrible construction of the later encounters.

Chapter 1 Was Too Hard

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Chapter 1 of any D&D Encounters season should never be longer than four encounters. The heroes are new, the heroes are soft, and in many cases the players are inexperienced. Expecting players to know the new characters and the tactics of the games well enough to budget their resources (especially healing surges) well enough to live through more than four combat encounters is lunacy. People play this game to have fun. No one has fun when every week is a TPK.

This season’s early encounters were especially difficult. I’ll admit that the Drow are supposed to be a more powerful enemy than your average band of wandering monsters, but there are still ways to make balanced encounters using Drow.

The difficulty of the first five encounters was: level 1, level 2, level 2, level 4, and level 3. This is not appropriate for a level 1 party, especially if there are new players in the group.

Chapter 3 Bad Intro

After a disastrous and confusing end to chapter 2, the beginning of chapter 3 was way more complicated than it needed to be. It seems that many DMs made significant changes to the text in order to make it work better and to curb back the lethality. I liked that the week 10 challenges could be handled without combat, but the traps and hazards were extremely deadly.

As written the PCs had no way to defend themselves from the spiders falling from the ceiling. If the DM’s dice got hot the PCs were screwed. It was simply a roll vs. Fort (which was likely a low defense for non-martial characters) and if it hit, you took damage.

Even though the heroes didn’t have to actually fight each patrol they came across the overly complicated mechanic for determined how many resources were expended didn’t really seem level-appropriate. Between the spiders and patrols a lot of parties suffered another TPK if their DM ran the encounter as written.

Final Thoughts

Despite my criticisms I will admit that I enjoyed the encounter. And more importantly so did my players. There was certainly room for improvement, but at its core this was a fun adventure. It was probably more difficult in many places than it needed to be, but experienced DMs could adjust things on the fly to balance things out. Despite some really tough encounter my groups had a lot of fun with this season and that, in my opinion, is the true measure of an adventure’s success or failure.

7 on a d10

Be sure to listen to our D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen – Season in Review Podcast at 20ft Radius.

Looking at Web of the Spider Queen as a whole, what are your thoughts? What else did you like or dislike about this past season of D&D Encounters? What would you have changed?

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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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kenneth McNay August 23, 2012 at 10:43 am

I also really liked the adventure. I liked the consistency of using drow. Now, in contrast, I liked the web golem fight (though as a protector of the pendant, I’m on your side). I used the web golem for blocking doorways and the grab worked perfect to send PCs hurtling into the farthest chambers.

When including Khara and Tharinel, I played up how beaten they were. Those two were nearly always exhausted, so the PCs needed to spend time encouraging them and offering advice of good tactics. When they met Tharinel in the Flycatcher Tangle, it was ultimately an intimidate check which forced him to keep fighting alongside instead of escaping; I warned players we was now their enemy due to their insistence of his continued compaionship. A player released him to escape during another session. When the team met Khara, she was already near death on the floor of the slave pens. She did live through the fight considering the PCs spent some resources to keep her around. Later, fighting Valan, she died before the PCs even thought of reforging the pendant. I made changes to the final read-aloud text to account for Khara’s death and Tharinel’s animosity.

The group was never cohsesive which led to strife. They also did not have a Leader-roled PC in the party which led for far more deadly combats–despite that I played softball knowing they lacked a healing source. After defeating Valan, the dwarf openly threatened the remaining drow and kobold PCs; they fled–one carried half the pendant with him. The team never worked together well enough to truly succeed. Those same players are coming into Council of Spiders with loads of baggage.

2 wrath September 4, 2012 at 8:00 pm

The Web Golem was pretty deadly. Both tables got TPK’d that encounter.

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