D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen (Week 13)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 16, 2012

After rescuing Khara Sulwood from the Drow Slave pits the heroes managed to find their way back to the catacombs beneath Shadowdale, both halves of the Pendant of Ashaba in their possession. As they passed through the cellar and began climbing the stairs to the Tower of Ashaba, Valan Jaelre blocked their path. Flanked by two massive Driders, Valan demanded the PCs return the Pendent and surrender. Needless to say they were having none of that.

This was the final week for season 9 of D&D Encounters. We finished with eight players and two DMs so we managed to run two tables for the finale. The party at my table was made up of four regulars who were all with the party from the very beginning (none of these players missed a single session). Accompanied by Khara Sulwood, the party that faced the final encounter consisted of the following PCs:

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

Before the PCs or Valan and his cronies could act, the Druid received a magical sending from Elminster. “Where have you been? Is the pendant reclaimed and its magic still intact? Shadowdale’s wards must be restored, and we are running out of time!” The Druid responded mentally that the party had the pendent but it was broken and that they had problems of their own right now.

Upon learning the fate of the PCs and the pendent Elminster sent aid. In the middle of the room a likeness of Elminster made of silvery smoke appeared on top of the tomb. “In time of need come I, Elminster. For the defense of Shadowdale, I bestow gifts for our brave defenders. Step inside the mists and take my spells as your own.” The apparition disappeared and then a booming thunderclap shook the tower and a veil of silver mist surrounded the tomb while a rolling ball of fire appeared above it.

Before any combat actually happened the DM was required to do a little information dump on the players. I actually provided this info before we started the session because doing it midstream seemed silly and would certainly break the excitement. During the journey at the end of last week’s encounter Khara told the PCs how to repair and reactivate the Pendant of Ashaba. First the pieces must be heated as Shadowdale was a place of fire and fury in days of old. Second it must be cooled in water as Ashaba was a water Wizard. Third it must be imbued with the power of the lords of Shadowdale, Khara believed her blood would satisfy this requirement as she is a descendent of a previous lord. The kicker to all of this is that the three steps must happen inside the Tower of Ashaba.

The Druid decided to enter the Tower with the pieces of the pendant in one hand and his canteen in the other. He planned to heat the pendent using his Firehawk power, and then dousing it with water from his canteen. Once these steps were completed he’d pass the Pendent off to Khara and she could add her blood. Good in theory. Unfortunately he went last in the initiative which complicated things.

The Driders acted first, but as the heroes were still at the bottom of the steps they moved back one square and used Darkfire on the first two PCs. Rogue #1 used a ranged attack on Valan and scored a solid hit. Valan then used his Webbed Miasma to target all the PCs, trapping them on the stairs and making the whole area difficult terrain. Three of the heroes were hit so they were slowed as well. Rogue #2 was slowed so he could only move one square closer to Valan before throwing dagger and hitting him for big damage.

Khara was not slowed so she ran up the stairs ending her movement adjacent to Valan and one of the Driders. Unfortunately she didn’t realize the Driders had threatening reach 2 so one got an opportunity attack on her and scored a crit (my first of five on the night). The good news was that she hit Valan and now had him and the Drider in her defender’s aura.

Although there were supposed to be four Drow Spellspinner (level 3 Artillery) I instead had only one. I added two Drow Scouts (level 2 Skirmishers). I felt this was suitable adjustment for a party with only four PCs and it actually gave the heroes a fighting chance since the Scouts were pretty much out of combat until the PCs made it up the stairs.

I had the Spellspinner begin close to the front door. He wanted to move up to get all of the PCs in his blast. However, in order to get to the best square he needed to pass through the mist. Rather than pass through the mist it blocked his movement as if it was a solid wall. He fell prone, unsure of what happened. Instead of attacking he just stood and considered what to do next round. (Despite this clear and obvious indication that the enemies couldn’t enter or attack through the mist, none of the PCs sought shelter within it).

The Druid managed to complete his actions and get the pendent two-thirds fixed. As his final action he threw the pendent to Khara who was exactly five squares away. The Cleric healed Khara and then hit Valan with Sacred Flame.

Now that Rogue #2 and Khara were closer to the top of the stairs the two Driders moved in and attacked. Khara took another big hit as did Rogue #2. But wait, the second Drider was actually in Khara’s aura so with the -2 the Drider actually missed. On top of that Khara got to make a free attack and she scored a crit (we had a lot of crits for this final fight). She threw on her Power Strike to really make it hurt.

Rogue #1 who was also not slowed had a power that let him shift his speed, so he managed to get out of the difficult terrain and not get attacked by the Driders. He attacked Valan but rolled a 1. Action point – another 1. Ouch! Gotta balance out all the 20s somehow.

This ended up being a really long fight so I’ll just hit the high points. The party managed to get Valan to within a few points of bloodied but then stopped attacking him and switch to the Driders (who were hitting consistently and doing a lot of damage). Valan moved back from the stairs and one of the Scouts used Heal to trigger Valan’s second wind and heal him.

By this point Khara had activated the Pendent of Ashaba, greatly weakening the Drow attackers. As Khara was the only one capable of getting close enough to battle Valan she moved up to engage him. The two went toe-to-toe but Khara had only a few hit points remaining and fell fast. Valan grabbed the Pendent and deactivate it with a successful Arcana check.

It took the PCs a while to finally kill the Driders and then both monsters fell in the same round. Rather than focus fire they spread the damage pretty equally between the two. During the battle with the Driders, Rogue #1 fell. He had no healing surges remaining by that point so he remained unconscious for four rounds (about a half hour of real-time).

Back in week 3 I gave each PC a healing potion that did not require a healing surge to activate (they’d been devastated and needed the gift badly). The Druid never used his so during this encounter he passed it to the Cleric who managed to revive Rogue #1 near the end of the fight. The Cleric also managed to revive Khara and then bolstered her with temporary hit points.

Khara and the Rogues managed to pass through Elminster’s mist, gaining the boons. They all took the slayer option which imbued their weapons with fire and dealt ongoing 5 fire on a hit. However, by the time they got past the Driders and into the mist there were only two Scouts and Valan left standing so these boons weren’t all that helpful, especially since they were all dealing the same ongoing effect to the same opponent.

After Valan deactivated the effects of the Pendent he decided to leave. After all, why stick around and fight the party if he had the treasure he sought. The PCs were badly wounded but managed to give chase. The Druid had an at-will attack that dropped a zone around Valan each round. Every time he attempted to leave the zone the Druid got to attack and if successful he knocked Valan prone. The Druid hit with every attack all night. Rogue #2 managed to keep up with Valan and finally brought him down while Khara and Rogue #1 kept the Scouts at bay.

When the party defeated Valan his face became warped and distorted. The illusion that concealed his true identity vanished, revealing a simulacrum made of crawling spiders. The creature might have possessed Valan’s magic, but the real Wizard was obviously elsewhere, safely out the party’s reach.

The remaining Drow Scouts withdrew from the combat and fled. The PCs were extremely wounded and weak so they let the Drow flee. Khara retrieved the Pendent of Ashaba from Valan’s remains.

Over the course of the day the PCs helped Khara, Elminster and the rest of the locals drive off any remaining Drow attackers. By nightfall Shadowdale was safe. A group gathered at the Old Skull Inn to celebrate the victory. Lady Ulphor thanked everyone who helped defend Shadowdale, giving Khara the majority of the credit (something the PCs didn’t like at all).

Khara moved to the centre of the room to present the Pendent of Ashaba to Lady Ulphor. However as Lady Ulphor saw the Pendent for the first time she gasped in astonishment. “That is not the Pendent of Ashaba.” The crowd fell silent. Khara didn’t know how to react; the heroes took great pleasure in her embarrassment. “Where is the Pendent of Asahba?” demanded Lady Ulphor.

Rogue #2 realized that he still possessed “Jewelry” from Lady Ulphor’s chamber that was taken off of a Drow raider way back in the encounter from week 2. “Could this be it?” he asked, holding up a pendent. “The Pendent of Ashaba” she cried with immense relief as the crowd cheered.

As the celebration went on into the night Khara spotted Tharinel, bandaged and bruised, sitting at the bar sipping an ale. She ran to his side and embraced him. The party was flabbergasted since they killed Tharinel by decapitation. The Elf gave them a sly wink and with a free hand used Drow sign language to indicate that they should talk. Since Tharinel wasn’t a Drow he should not have known the hand signs. Something was amiss.

Tharinel eventually meet with the party alone and revealed himself as one of Jarlaxle’s best undercover men. He was in Shadowdale impersonating Tharinel on an unrelated matter and had an important message from the Bregan D’aerthe leader himself. The PCs were needed urgently in Menzonberranzan and must return there immediately.

So ends chapter 3 and so ends the season 9 of D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen. The adventure will be continued next season in Council of Spiders.

Obviously I made a few changes at the end. However, these changes seemed appropriate and the players really enjoyed the twists. We’d already decided that since the party was already all Drow that they would continue using these characters into next season. They all have the Bregan D’aerthe Spy theme so having Jarlaxle call them back to Menzonberranzan seemed fitting.

As for this week’s encounter I think it was really tough, even with my modifications, and I won’t be surprised to hear that many groups lost some PCs or possibly all of them to a TPK. The tactical placement of the Driders was exceptionally deadly and I’m sure a lot of parties found themselves spending most of the encounter on the stairs.

The effects of the completed pendent were not spelled out in the adventure so I guess the DM could make the benefits and hindrances as powerful as necessary to keep things interesting and balanced. I chose to give the Drow -2 to all attacks.

Next week we’ll be running our season 9 report card where we look at the overall adventure and highlight what worked well and what failed miserably. Until then what did you think of this final encounter? Was it too tough or just right for a final climatic battle? What did you think of the final chapter as a whole? Better or worse than the earlier chapters?

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe Lastowski August 16, 2012 at 9:50 am

This was a tough fight. Each of our 3 tables of 6 ran late, and one of them ran a full hour longer. Just a difficult fight.

The Driders (with their threatening reach) and Valan’s web burst kept most of the party on the stairs for the majority of the fight, which made accessing the misty fire and Elminster’s blessing difficult for most of the party (except the two rogues… one of whom was a teleporting Eladrin, the other of whom had Tumble). The party had a string of horrid rolls (our elven ranger missed 5 times in a row, including an Elven Inaccuracy reroll and an action point), but fortunately so did the monsters (I had about 10 rolls no higher than 5).

Still, things stretched on for a long while, so I allowed for a few additions to help the party. For instance, when the Pendant of Ashaba was completed (which had no actual mechanical effect written in the adventure), I allowed it to make all Drow vulnerable to radiant damage, which allowed our 2 clerics to clear things out faster. Even still, the fight dragged on for quite a bit, but the party felt like it was a fair fight, and they eventually were victorious. A decent throw down fight to end the season.

2 Eamon August 16, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Man, this one took /forever/, and not for lack of trying. While our two strikers, two healers, and Khara attacked, my tiny Svirfneblin Warpriest had the sole mission of repairing the pendant by running to the tomb then out to the lake and back to Khara.

Easier said than done: the DM targeted me specifically, even choosing several times to take OAs for the chance to hit me with ranged attacks. My dice were ice cold: I had two rounds of 20 points ongoing damage despite the DM having mercy on me and letting me attack the ground to invoke Sun Burst/Brand of the Sun and try to shake off effects multiple times. The result: a whopping 90-something points of damage, burning through five surges and a Cure Light Wounds potion. In fact, I got to make exactly two attacks the entire night: one on my first turn and one in the very last round, ineffectually swinging at an obviously bloodied and weak Valan, who exacted a final and cruel punishment on my insolence, killing me with a horrible shriek.

Still, I got to do some nice RP at the start and end, with a funny little death scene at the end. This was the first Encounters session for one guy in our group, and his pre-gen dwarf single-handedly laid waste to the Spellspinners with some ridiculously hot dice, critting two or three times– he was so excited I have little doubt he’ll be back next season. In all, it was a pretty epic little battle to close out the season. Lots of fun!

3 Yagokoro August 16, 2012 at 5:34 pm

This turned out to be a pretty awesome and epic fight, and it was all thanks to my players. They banded together much more than they ever have, spent about twenty minutes before the session started discussing tactics, and all in all put forth an effort that really and truly made me both happy (because I love good tactics and good strategy) and frustrated (because I kept having to shoot through buffs, damage resists, and attack penalties).

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go well for the hero team.

First off, the enemy placement pretty much invalidated a lot of their strategy. They had the right idea that I was hoping they would use: have Khara bear the pendant and clear a path for her to do her thing. If everything was optimal, it would take only two rounds, an action point, and the weathering of some attacks. Unfortunately, the party had very little experience with path clearing and weren’t built to do so. I wanted to look at the mage’s character sheet at some point, because I vaguely recalled him having Beguiling Strands, which would have seriously helped with the objective of this fight. Freezing Burst even would have helped, since if he used it I would remind him of the ability to slide the targets one square on a hit. He did drop Blissful Ignorance at least, which made the driders lose their insane opportunity attack chances and got people out into the field. Unfortunately, the hunter didn’t succeed on a Clever Shot attempt, and the ones who didn’t get out into the open got locked up by a drider. Khara couldn’t get out or throw the pendant to another.

Luckily, for the most part Valan couldn’t completely wreck the party, because he got stuck in melee or because he couldn’t shoot through defenses. This was due to the dwarven warpriest, played by the least experienced person at the table, performing like a veteran with good placement of auras and buffs. She and the paladin, and the mage to a lesser extent, carried the party to its best performance yet, and it was a bit heartbreaking that the two problems, albeit minor ones, were enough to ultimately sink the party.

The first was that their strategy, whether it was due to the limits of the party’s powers, the sudden unraveling of most of it due to enemy placement, or the general inexperience with group tactics as a whole, ended up being applied just inefficiently enough to cause problems. They tried to clear a path not so much by moving things around (only the hunter seemed to be directly thinking in that regard), but by trying to kill the driders quickly. They also seemed to abandon that point when they realized the boons that Elminster’s Fire could grant, which almost blocked off Khara at a couple of points. It wasn’t a bad plan, and they did the best they could with what they were given, but it just wasn’t enough.

The second was that eventually the fight became a battle of attrition, which the party would have had a lot of trouble winning since the driders hit like trucks, everything else inflicts ongoing damage, and almost everything had good defenses. All the buffs and resists and attack penalties did a lot to keep the party in as close to fighting shape as possible, but they ran out of gas before Valan had even gotten fully warmed up, and the spellspinners blasted them with relative impunity.

It all ended with the party killing both driders and finally clearing the path for Khara to reforge and repower the pendant just in time for them to run out of steam and Valan and the spinners to fully open fire on them. Two went down from the assault, and another dropped due to ongoing damage. One nat-20’d a death save and got back up, only to drop again from ongoing damage he failed to save against, and Valan and the spinners finished everyone else off when my dice went insane.

TPK, but I technically ruled it as a draw since we were finished way, way late. Nobody finished on time, but the others were closer than we were.

I’m really looking forward to next season (which I will likely be DMing again), in part because my party is already planning out how they’re going to play and be balanced, which should go incredibly awesome. Neither of the parties I’d played in before this did that, we just did what we wanted and were good at making it work, so going in from the ground up with at least a thought-out and semi-coherent plan ought to be an extremely immense help.

4 Paik the Kenku Monk August 16, 2012 at 5:48 pm

My last week was great. I had 1 drider (since I had only 1 mini) and added a giant spider as well as more Drow Spellspinner (level 3 Artillery) 6. I did this since I had 8 at my table and 8 all season long. It was a tough fight and the PCs has cold dice while I had some excellent rolls at key times (love my green d20). The giant spider came out after all the Spellspinner went down. The look on their faces was priceless!

I liked this season very much. I am a drow nut too. Next season I am handing over the mod to another so I can play this time around. I am excited about that!

5 Rogue #1 August 16, 2012 at 8:08 pm

One small thing Derek, Rogue #1 used melee not ranged against Valan in the first round.. I dont have ranged weapons, Chris is the rogue that uses ranged.

6 Randy Marchese August 17, 2012 at 9:56 am

My table had it rough at dueling grounds. The party was out of surges and didn’t have all dailies. They fought hard but cold dice on their end make things difficult. The stack ongoing poison, necrotic and sometimes lightning damage and failed saves really hurt the party. They did get pretty far they got the boons, reforged the pendant, defeated both driders, 2 spellspinners, bloodied Valan and the 3rd spellspinner. Unfortunately despite all their efforts they all fell unconscious from the power attacks.

Being the finial battle, fighting so well and them being so close to victory I decided to throw the party a bone (does that make me a bad DM?). I had Elminster crimson sphere give each party member HP of their surge value and bring them up from prone before saying “Only in the darkest hour can the light truly shine.” They party then was able to come back and defeat Valan and the remaining Drow. After which in the epilogue I implemented that action into the RP as Elminster seemed diminished from such a powerful spell to save the party and save the town.

I liked DMing this season but I do have to admit the whole Drow thing is getting kinda old for me. Do you think I was too merciful to the party? If it were any other part of the season I would just call this encounter a TPK. I seem to keep going back to that night think of how I could have handled it differently. All I know is at the time I didn’t have the heart to end the season on such a sad note. Guess with time and experience I can become a better DM.

7 Kiel Chenier August 17, 2012 at 8:04 pm

@Randy

I think you made the right call. Encounters is very much a linear railroad adventure (in the best sense of the term). Players have expectations about what will happen, and generally expect to be victorious.

If it were a home game with a lot more flexibility, then a TPK might work, or perhaps other unexpected avenues of adventure.

8 Frank August 18, 2012 at 11:47 am

I don’t know if it was the summer, with vacations and beautiful weather keeping people away, or this Encounters season itself, but the past few weeks our numbers dwindled, to the point where both last week and this week I had to cancel our game, due to lack of participation! The final two weeks of the season, and the players just didn’t care. They were not invested in saving Khara or Shadowdale.

9 terry August 18, 2012 at 2:49 pm

this was a tough battle. the party was made up of
a kobold thief, a goblin thief, dragonborn paladin,
a half orc knight, a dwarf warpriest, a eladrin mage,
a drow hunter. and Khara.
we were in the stairs when we rolled init. I luckedly rolled a crit on init which was good because i did not like this fireball formation. i was in a position to move out of the stairs, not realizing I was going to take three OA’s (all three missed), and then scored a crit on Valan. the gobllin went next and stayed on the stairs (still had first strike) because he didn’t want to risk the OA’s and also scored a hard hit valan. valan then hit the stairs with web miasmia and hit 5 of the 7 in the stairs and used puppit something to have the paladin to hit Khara (she was carring half the pendit (tho other Knight had the other half). the hunter then fired a voly (his area burst 1 attack) with the -2 to attack he miss them all. it was not till the second round that Elmister’s apperation appeared (the first round the mage just answered that we had the pendit and were in the process of restoring it’s wards, but didn’t say anything about facing drow or needing help) which he did the second round. scince I was not in the stairs I was able to move around the battle field to gain combat advantage and was prety much taking fire from the spell spinners because valan and the driders were keeping everyone else in the stairs. (Fortune card Phantom Ally help when I got stuck a couple of time that I could not move, but still able to get CA) I hit valan every time. while the others were moving around in the stairs to help stread out damage from the driders and valav which was now behind the driders so the only damage he was taking was from me. I was able to make it to the seplicur and get the insubstantual boon which help me alot scince I was taking a lot of damage (and was simi aleviated with the 2 healing potions I was carrying and used) we were adventually able to take valvn out, the party was able to work it’s way out of the stairs after the driders fell and mop up the spell spinners. we did not get the pendit restored till after the fight.
in the end we lost the mage, the warpriest, and the paladin. Khara, the goblin and the knight were unconncise. I had 2 hp left and the hunter had 4 hp. the party burned through everyons second wind, both healing words, a cure light utility power and 5 potions of healing.

10 Randy Marchese August 19, 2012 at 2:28 am

@ Kiel

Thanks man
It’s funny when I think of that encounter I always have the music from the death of Gandalf in LOTR in my head.

11 Guest August 22, 2012 at 11:17 pm

My group did it 1 week late, because the two DMs were at Gencon.

One character started the encounter with no healing surges. He went down twice during that encounter, taking a total of around 75 damage. He was hit even after being stabalized, causing yet another risk of death.

The party did a focused attack on Valen, who was quickly overwhelmed before his second attack. Once he fell, the Driders were next.

Even though there were four spell slingers left, the DM decided to call the match victorious for the party, since it looked like the party was going to win regardless.

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