D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen (Week 11)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 2, 2012

Last week’s session ended after the PCs successfully navigated the maze of caverns inside the gates of Zadzifeirryn and found the Torture Theater. After a short rest the PCs moved quietly in the directions of the screams and cheers.

The passage ahead opened into a huge chamber, its lower level a cavernous pit heaped with corpses. Erie red light filled the area cast from glowing fonts full of blood. Two Drow Torturers stood on a platform above the PCs, the walls of the chamber around them lined with stone steps filled with Drow spectators.

A Torturer swung a heavy blade beheading a human captive; the crowd roared with delight. The Drow kicked the lifeless body into the pit and pointed towards a group of chained human captives, “Time for a new victim!”

The two Rogues in the party tried to sneak up to the edge where two Humans were chained. Rogue #2 made an amazing Stealth check, Rogue #1 rolled a 1. One of the Torturers spotted the party and challenged their presence, “Who are you and what are you doing with those bodies?” she demanded. The four Drow PCs, still dressed in House Jaelre uniforms, tried to Bluff their way out of the escalating mess.

“We wanted to have the best seats in the house,” said the Druid. “We didn’t want to pay to get in,” said one of the Rogues. The Torturer paused briefly to consider the plausibility of this explanation but quickly realized that something was amiss. She placed her hand in the adjacent blood font and began chanting as she started a summoning ritual.

This week we (eventually) had enough people to run two tables of five at my FLGS this week. However, because a few players were late we lost one of our regular Drow PCs to another table. For the first couple rounds of combat we had only four Drow PCs, but as things moved from bad to worse another player arrived and a Dragonborn joined team heroes. The party ended up as follows.

  • Drow Rogue #1
  • Drow Rogue #2
  • Drow Druid
  • Drow Cleric
  • Dragonborn Fighter

When combat began one Torturers spent her full turn summoning a Maw Demon (which acted next in the initiative coincidentally enough). The other Torturer moved adjacent to a blood font and watched to see how things unfolded. The Maw Demon engaged the party, attacking and killing the nearest opponent, the last remaining Goblin companion that the party picked up in the Demonspur during week 8. The Drow spectators, here for a show, simply watched with amusement waiting to see how things would unfold.

Rogue #2 moved up to the Torturer nearest the party and attacked her. He then used Thievery to unlock one of the Human captives. However, the Human was in bad shape and as the PC looked like all the other Drow this prisoner had seen in the previous couple of days he didn’t immediately realize he was being rescued, even though the Rogue told him to run. The rest of the party attacked the Demon landing a few solid blows.

The Torturer attacked and hit Rogue #2 with Ensnaring Lash. The other Torturer decided it was time to summon her Demon so she began casting. The Maw Demon engaged Rogue #1 but missed. The Drows in the stands cheered on the Torturers but did not interfere.

At this point the Dragonborn Fighter arrived and joined the party (much to their relief). He attacked the Demon, hitting and marking him. Rogue #2 managed to escape from the Ensnaring Lash but the damage he took at the beginning of his turn bloodied him. Realizing that none of his allies were coming to his aid, he dropped his Globe of Darkness and then moved back towards the rest of the party. The Cleric healed the wounded Rogue while the Druid and Rogue #1 continued attacking the Demon.

The closest Torturer lashed and ensnared the Fighter while the second Torturer completed her summoning and moved towards the other Human captives where she began conducting another ritual. The near Maw Demon attacked the Fighter (but missed) while the fresh Maw Demon charged the Druid (and missed).

The heroes decided for some reason to leave the initial Demon for the Fighter while they all shifted to the new Demon. They managed to hit regularly but they kept rolling almost minimum damage, especially the Rogues who were rolling multiple damage dice.

The first Torturer realized that the heroes were likely to defeat the Demons soon enough so she called out to the audience, “Rewards to anyone who kills one of the intruders.” This got them motivated. Meanwhile the second Torturer completed her ritual which transformed two of the Human captive into mini Maw Demons. Basically the Humans were possessed, and now transformed they moved slowly towards the party.

Both Demons were bloodied in the same round, but neither was close to defeat. Three of the spectators moved adjacent to the nearest blood font and fired their crossbows at the Fighter. All three hit. The Druid went to work targeting the archers, bloodying all three with one attack.

Each round a few more of the spectators reluctantly entered the fight, shooting their crossbows from a safe distance. They initially all targeted the Fighter but realized after a few rounds that once a PC was poisoned they should target someone new. By the third round of crossbow fire all five PCs had ongoing poison damage. Meanwhile the Druid got into a groove hitting and killing at least one or two archers each round.

The PCs never let the Humans that were transformed into Demons get close enough to attack. They attacked them from range, knocking them unconscious rather than killing them in the hope that the possession wasn’t permanent.

Although the Demons looked menacing, they had really low defenses (the Rogues were hitting on anything but a 1 or 2) and their attacks couldn’t hit anything for many consecutive rounds. The heroes finally killed both Demons in the same round, only the Fighter taking a hit from either of them.

The Tortures stayed next to the blood fonts and used their Ensnaring Lash (melee 2) to grasp the closest PC. The Druid, the Fighter and Rogue #2 were all unconscious at some point later in the fight. Rogue #1 was down to 1 hit point but spent a round using Second Wind, a healing potion and his Globe of Darkness to keep himself alive.

Towards the end of the fight one of the archers adjacent to the blood font rolled a 19 and scored a crit. When this happened the font extracted a toll causing him 5 necrotic damage for the boon of critting on 19-20.

By this point the party was completely locked down and had no chance of getting near the blood fonts to reap this benefit (which was too bad). With most of the arches down, both Maw Demons destroyed and both transformed Humans unconscious it was a race to zero hit points. The party was badly wounded and the Torturers were takeing damage in equal increments.

Rogue #2 dropped unconscious late in the fight but rolled a much-needed 20 on his first death save, bringing him back into the fight and turning the tide. After the first Torturer fell it was all over but the clean up. Everyone took pot shots at the last Torturer and she fell quickly.

With combat over the party tended to the captured Humans. The prisoners were weak from the beating and torture they suffered during the past two days. However, seeing the heroes battle the Drow and defeat them gave the Humans hope. They felt that if armed they cold find their way out of Zadzifeirryn and back to Shadowdale. They told the PCs that the main slave pens were through the passage to the north and that Khara Sulwood was imprisoned there. The party took a short rest before venturing on to the slave pens.

The party expended a lot of resources during this combat. They did find 120 gp each among the dead Drow, two magic items and half of the Pendant of Ashaba so the cost seemed worth it in the end.

Anyone who played this encounter likely realized after reading this account I made some changes to the monsters. During the past few combat encounters the monsters fell fast thanks to the combined forces of two Rogues. It made combat fast and boring. In order to present a greater threat I decided to double the Maw Demon’s hit points from 42 to 84. However, because the Demons were beefed up I decided that they could only be summoned once. As written, the Torturers could continue summoning new fresh Maw Demons each time one fell. I also made the Drow spectators into two-hit minions. I knew this wouldn’t really change things too drastically since there was a controller with multiple burst powers in the party. Making them two-hit minions allowed them to benefit from the blood font and illustrate that anyone who did score a crit while next to it would take some damage (another detail I added).

Finally I had the Torturers transform some of the captives into Demons (minions). I gave the PCs a few rounds to try to free the Humans but after Rogue #2 realized the rest of the party was more focused on fighting first they all but forgot about the Human prisoners. I was trying to impress the important of freeing the slaves and emphasize their vulnerability to the party but they didn’t really seem to care. Had they ventured towards the captives they might have realized the blood fonts allowed them to crit more often and those minimum damage rolls could have been maxed.

I had the monsters attack in waves so as not to overwhelm the PCs. I didn’t want to keep them pinned near the entrance but they chose to take that stance anyway. The Cleric, who isn’t designed to be an offensive PC, hid out of range and healed the wounded PCs from safety for most of the battle. In retrospect I should have had one of the Torturers order a handful of spectators to go around the long way and flank them. This would have given the PCs strong motivation to move up.

Overall this was a good encounter and a fun fight. After a couple of less-than-stellar sessions we needed a good one and this certainly lived up to expectations. How did your party fare? Did anyone managed to get close enough to a blood font to benefit from the increased crit range? Did you find the Torturers’ ability to re-summon the Demons too powerful? Did anyone suffer a TPK this week? Did any other DMs modify the encounter or the monsters?

Reward Summary Sheets

The summary sheets detail the XP, gp and magic items found during each encounter. The Chapter 3 summary sheet includes the XP and loot up to week 12. 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.


Each week I join Alton from 20ft Radius as we discuss the week’s encounter. We summarize our experiences and provide our thoughts on what worked, what didn’t, and what we’d do differently.

We continue to record our D&D Encounters sessions and make them available to you for download every week. These recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at times it may be difficult to hear everyone.

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1 Joe Lastowski August 2, 2012 at 10:21 am

We ran 3 tables of 6 at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA. My table had 2 rogues, 2 clerics, a ranger, and a wizard. Because of the description that the torturers were not above using others as shields to avoid dying while a demon was summoned, I gave them an immed. interrupt power:

SHIELD OF FLESH: When hit by an attack against AC or Reflex, the torturer can grab an adjacent minion (human or drow) to either add +2 to that defense or take half the damage of the attack.

This made the party much more careful and hesitant, because they didn’t necessarily want all the humans to die. It also allowed me to spread the field out a bit.

For the beginning of the fight, the party stayed in the pits, and one demon jumped down to engage them while the drow audience members took crossbow pot-shots from above. The other demon kept getting hit by proning/slowing/sleep attacks, so it was largely not a problem for most of the fight. It wasn’t until the wizard let loose with Burning Hands that he was able to take out all the drow minion (who were conveniently clustered near the edge), which opened up the rest of the field and let the party go to town on the two drow torturers, each of whom was “castled” behind a couple humans. Through clever coaxing and positioning, the party was able to get the drow to end their turns not-adjacent to the humans, which allowed them to unleash on the drow without fear of collateral damage. Once one of the torturers fell, triggering the “demon disappears as it eats her soul” effect, the party got the hint about what was going on, and focused fire on the the other torturer, leaving the other demon in the pit.

I had a lot of fun with this fight, mainly because there were a number of ways it could have been run. I do wish that the torturers and/or the demons had been given some kind of ranged attack, but I suppose a demon made of mouths isn’t likely to be able to throw anything (maybe a spit of some sort?). The party did okay with it, not getting too injured (mainly because my dice were horrific to me… eight rolls of 1 or 2, seven rolls of 3-5). They did spend a couple action points, but those’ll recharge with this being a milestone encounter for some of them.

Due to various absences throughout the season, most of my table is just getting to lvl 3 right now, so I’m letting them level-up Diablo-style, where there’s a flash of light and everything is recharged at their new level for the next fight, because Encounters is not conducive to that whole “wait until an extended rest” mechanic.

2 Eamon August 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm

For a party full of healers (3 of 5!) we creamed this one. We successfully snuck up on the scene and freed all the humans during combat (hooray for Twinkle Toes!), while our sole controller destroyed the entire crowd with a pair of Ensnaring (Grasping?) something-or-other powers. If you targeted the Drow torturers, as we did, the rest was a piece of cake. No one critted next to the fonts, though, which is interesting.

3 The Gimper August 3, 2012 at 12:11 am

My party breezed through this encounter with hardly a scratch. I found the way it was set up to be very problematic tactically for the monsters. Yet another encounter that required a major rewrite. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have the time for that.

4 Yagokoro August 3, 2012 at 3:55 am

Oh, this encounter …

My party was -really- bad at sneaking around last week. Between rolling up plenty of patrols, making plenty of noise, and uninspired distraction attempts, they ended up with an alert level of -20-. FOXHOUND they most certainly are not.

Just to offer some bits of fairness, I allowed them to make a cautious approach and set up far enough away from the normal staging area so that the waves of reinforcements wouldn’t just lock everybody up. They almost didn’t even do that, but I ruled that since nobody was actively contradicting it in their assumptions of whatever I had planned for them, they were doing it. I had to bite my knuckle when one of the party members suggested putting the mage and the hunter up on the other side of the pit to use as a sniping position, right were one of the reinforcement waves was going to arrive … and more so when they realized going prone meant they had better defenses against ranged attacks …

End of first round, reinforcements arrive and act. People get skewered with bolts and rapiers. The new guy playing the Valenae pregen used Fey Step to get up into the main combat area, but since nobody could actively support him, he ended up getting eaten by the maw demons and scourged by the torturers. Our random sixth filling in for a missing party member (Drow Druid from week two) finally managed to get up near the end of the time limit, but by then it was clear the party wasn’t going to claim victory. This led the hunter to use Rapid Shot in a way that was going to hit the druid, just because it was the only other way it could hit the two maw demons and because he didn’t care at that point. Luckily for the druid, I called it, because the next attack on him was a critical that would have outright killed him.

In short, another encounter ended with the party being totally locked down by something they didn’t quite know how to deal with, and most of the bad guys sitting pretty (none of the non-minions were bloodied, one of the maw demons didn’t take a single hit). Worse still, the mage had no desire to get down into the fray and use Beguiling Strands, which probably would have simplified the minion problem very handily, though he did render one of the deployment points unusable thanks to Fountain of Flame (countered by just not using it again).

In a sense, I’m looking forward to the straight-forwardness of the next two encounters. They should be a lot more fun for all involved. The party because there are less surprises and more straight paths to beatdown, and me because I get to unleash some nasty offense.

5 dude August 3, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Well my players did not fair as well. they had bad tactics and did not work together and 4 died they blew threw their healing early on. I gave them many chance but they still failed. they didn’t kill the minion drow and went after the torturers and the demons gave them a lot of hits.
only one hero finished alive and he was rewarded with 2 magic items the other players were not happy with that.
Maybe they will learn team work. and not be cowboys…

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