D&D Encounters: Council of Spiders (Week 2)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on September 6, 2012

As the party proceeded through the old mine shaft rocks fell from the ceiling behind them sealing the passage. Svirfneblin rushed our of side passages ready to attack the party – it was an ambush! “The Goblin’s warning was true!” shouted one of the Deep Gnomes. “They’ll give us no mercy, so show none to them!”

This week we jump right into the action. No talking, not role-playing, just straight-up fighting. And it was going to be a tough fight. We had nine players and two DMs this week at my FLGS. I ran the table of four. These are the same PCs from last season and I’m modifying the adventure to make it suitable for level 4-6. The PCs are all Drow and those in attendance were playing the Rogue (#2), Druid, Cleric (Priestess) and Wizard (Bladesinger). All of these PCs have the Bregan D’aerthe Spy theme.

To scale the Svirfneblin I increased all their defenses and attack scores by 2, gave them all 10 extra hit points (except the minions), increased their damage by one dice size (d6 became d8, d8 became d10, etc.) and added 2 more do the fixed damage. So the Protectors went from +7 vs. AC, 1d8+6 damage to +9 vs. AC, 1d10+8 damage.

One advantage of continuing on with the same characters is that I have a better understanding of what they can do. This is also true for their tactics. One thing they often do (and I certainly don’t blame them) is stay near the entrance and fire at their opponents from range. Unless they have a really good reason to move up, they usually don’t. After last week’s lack-luster encounter where they stayed at the cave entrance I knew I needed a way to get them motivate to move deeper into the cavern. And I think I came up with a pretty creative way to do it (read on).

When the combat started the heroes could see the two Svirfneblin Protectors and two Miners (minions). The Druid used a ranged burst which targeted the minions and one of the Protectors. It easily killed one minion and wounded the Protector. The Rogue used ranged attacks to target the Protector but missed. The Bladesinger and Cleric also used ranged powers to target the Svirfneblin they could see.

The Svirfneblin delayed their actions waiting for the PCs to advance, unfortunately they didn’t… for three full rounds. I replaced the starting position of the Ambusher and a Slinger. After two rounds the Slinger tried to hit the PCs with his Ricochet shot but missed. This was the story of the night. My new GenCon Drow dice were not rolling well at all. The damage dice rolled amazing but the d20 wasn’t doing its job.

Once the Druid had a couple of zones in effect and had his air spirit in the most advantageous position, the Rogue and Bladesinger finally moved up into melee. Two more Miners had readied actions and charged. The damage was minimal and the minions were killed before they could attack again.

Once bloodied, the Slinger fled down the stairs while the two Protectors held the line. By the sixth round the party had spread their damage equally between the two Protectors, bloodying both. All the remaining Svirfneblin (two Slingers, the Ambusher, and two Miners) had fled to the safety of the lower area. Unbeknownst to the PCs one of the Miners used heal to trigger the wounded Slinger’s second wind.

As the party continued fighting the Svirfneblin further down the passage called out to their allies. Unfortunately none of the PCs understood deep speech so they didn’t know what information was being exchanged. Suddenly the tunnel began to tremble. The Protectors tried moving away from the party to flee but the Druid’s zone made the area difficult terrain and they couldn’t move without provoking opportunity attacks. Reluctantly they stayed and fought.

The heroes assumed (incorrectly) that there was a small army of miners approaching their positing and that was the cause of the trembling. With none of the PCs trained in Dungeoneering they didn’t know any better so I made no effort to correct this false assumption. At the top of the next round the Svirfneblin cried out in Elvin “Run! Run! Run!” but the Protectors were unable to move. The heroes managed to drop them both by the end of that round.

At the top of the next round the PCs realized that the trembling was the mine collapsing all around them. Apparently the Svirfneblin had the whole shaft set to collapse and their initial call to their allies was a warning to pull back.

As the tunnel collapsed around the heroes I had all of them make Acrobatics check as they ran for safety. Each square to the safe zone (which began at the top of the stairs) was now difficult terrain. Each square they moved through made the DC harder. So those closer to the safe zone had easier checks than those still standing at the entrance way. Everyone needed to take double moves and run through the falling debris. The Cleric was so far back she needed to use an action point to get a third move action.

The Rogue (the only one trained in Acrobatics) and the Bladesinger (who was only a few squares from the safe area) made their checks. Each lost one healing surge for their effort. The Druid and Cleric both failed their checks (in large part because they had to cover so much ground to get out of danger) that they each lost 1d4 healing surges (I rolled two 4s).

To add insult to injury (literally) the Svirfneblin all had readied actions and attacked the Drow as soon as they came rushing down the stairs. The Ambusher managed to get the Druid in a Garrote Strangle (despite penalties for his Globe of Darkness) and after failing to free himself on his next turn the Druid was unconscious and badly wounded. The Slingers managed to hit with their Ricochet shots (also through Globes of Darkness) knocking the Rogue unconscious and blooding the Bladesinger.

What was until this point an easy fight for the PCs was now looking grim. The Cleric managed to revive the Rogue with magic and then used a potion to revive the Druid. She also used Heal to trigger the Druid’s second wind which brought him from unconsciousness to almost his bloodied value.

The Bladesinger engaged one of the Slingers but as this Svirfneblin had no damage yet he easily took the hit. The Ambusher went back for the Druid seeing him awake again and easily got him in the Garrote Strangle again. The Bladesinger and Rogue both came to their ally’s aid and together dropped the Ambusher who until then had taken no damage.

At this point I had the two Slingers flee the scene. They could have fought to the death, and if they had they probably had a good chance of defeating the heroes, but I thought it was better to just end it there. The Drow let the Svirfneblin go and took a short rest they badly needed. I didn’t have the PCs find or interact with the Goblin; I’m saving that for the beginning of next week when the PCs are back to full health.

I felt that adding the tunnel collapse was a good way to force the PCs to move deeper into the mine. It seemed silly to me that the Svirfneblin would rush the PCs. I gave the PCs clues and cues that something was happening but they opted to continue fighting rather than ask any follow-up questions or investigate. They had two rounds in which they could have moved up but no one did. Charging them with 1d4 healing surges may seem excessive, but they could afford it. Last week they took minimal damage and those who suffered the most this week (the Cleric and Druid) both have plenty of healing surges to spare.

How did the Svirfneblin ambush play out at your FLGS? This was designed to be a challenging encounter even for level 1 PCs. Did you table find it particularly difficult?

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 OnlineDM September 6, 2012 at 10:12 am

The svirfneblin won at my table. Those slingers were just brutal, and they couldn’t miss my PCs all evening.

http://onlinedungeonmaster.com/2012/09/06/my-first-near-tpk-dd-encounters-council-of-spiders-week-2/

2 Joe Lastowski September 6, 2012 at 10:18 am

I ran it with six level 1 PCs at my table, and it was still quite a difficult fight. To get the PCs further onto the map, I actually moved their start area to the middle section, and didn’t have the ambusher show up until later… BEHIND them (he was invisible and the only PC with a decent Perception was busy scouting up ahead).

Tactically, the Svirfneblin worked great for me. The surprise round ripped the PCs up pretty good. There was only one tank in the party (a paladin), so the bounce shots of the slingers doing 2d6+4 each time had half the party bloodied before they could even act. To make things worse, I always roll in front of my PCs, and the bounce shots recharged almost every time. The protectors effectively locked the PCs down while the slingers kept beaning rocks off multiple people’s heads, and the party took turns either spending second winds or picking off minions.

Eventually somebody dropped his darkness cloud, which blinded lots of PCs and enemies, but allowed the wizard & hexblade to blast without penalty. Beguiling Strands once again proved to be an awesome spell, pushing enemies into a more clustered clump, where they were easier to deal with.

By the time the fight was done, the cleric was out of healing, almost everyone had second-winded, and the majority of the party was in the single digits on hit points. But everyone felt accomplished when it was done. I heard table-wide cheers going up from the other two tables in our store whenever they finally took out a slinger, and the players at my table even found ways to avoid backstabbing to work as a team to survive.

All in all, great encounter.

3 Ameron (Derek Myers) September 6, 2012 at 10:37 am

I played this encounter twice, once as described above and again with a level 1 party. I used the collapsing tunnel again but this time the PCs made their Dungeoneering checks and knew to get moving. Only a couple of PCs failed their Acrobatics checks and I only dinged them 1 surge each.

For the level 1 party I had the Slingers shoot in the surprise round and then high-tail it out of there on their first turn. The Slingers only seemed to hit once every three rounds but when they did they hit hard.

I had the Ambusher wait on the stairs so he didn’t get into the fight for 4 or 5 rounds. When he finally jumped in he used the garrote once then switched to his dagger. He scored two hits (2d4+4 each) dropping the female Priestess and the female Paladin. He immediately started calling his dagger “Drow Slayer” which didn’t go over well with the PCs.

At one point there were 4 PCs making death saves with the other 2 badly wounded. It was on the verge of a TPK until the PCs making death saves rolled two 20s in the same round. Unfortunately 2 PCs failed three death saves (both males so it wasn’t a total loss).

It was a great week. Even the players who’s PCs died said they had a lot of fun.

4 dude September 6, 2012 at 10:56 am

my party thinks drow means attack each other and not the monsters. so they all died in a TPK. the were to busy arguing over rules and with each other to even think of killing the enemy. many next time they will live. Teamwork does help….

5 Paik the Kenku Monk September 6, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I think we had too many people (8) and the DM didnt upgrade the monsters or add anymore since slaughtered them easily. The Drow Treachery fortune cards were great fun and a big hit. We had 4 drow and 5 other races. It was good fun for the people that had them.

Next week I will be taking over a 2nd table and split our large group. Should be interesting. Stay tuned.

Congrats on publishing! I look forward to reading them.

6 Eamon September 6, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Man, we got jacked up this week. Our party was almost entirely melee strikers, so the Svirfneblin charged right up to us in the surprise round and completely locked us up in that initial chokepoint up until the very end. I was the only one able to shift out and immediately got garrotted and dropped to -2 HP for my efforts. When the dust finally settled: two dead, one unconscious, the rest seriously bloodied and three surges left between us. Brutal.

7 Yagokoro September 6, 2012 at 6:46 pm

This fight was an interesting one in a couple of ways, but mostly I was pleased to see my party make some wonderful strides. There’s a semi-odd tradition going that every season since I started playing, the party’s best tactical thinker ends up DMing the following season. First our buddy steps up for Elder Elemental Eye, then I replace him for Web of the Spider Queen, then we extend to four tables and the paladin I’ve gushed about moves to DM another table for this season, and the second-best tactical thinker moves with her. What I end up left with are rookies and vets who are decent but more than a few points shy of excellent despite climbing the ladder in recent weeks.

There’s been some party shuffling, as some regulars are sitting out the season and we’ve gotten a heavy influx of new blood. The makeup at the table that might persist throughout the remaining six weeks is this (all drow)

– Mage (Xorlarrin)
– Warpriest (Xorlarrin)
– Slayer (Bregan D’aerthe)
– Scout (Bregan D’aerthe)
– Knight (Bregan D’aerthe)
– Slayer (Melarn)

It actually works out nice, as the warpriest and both slayers are rookies, the scout is doing well for this being his second season and missing quite a bit of his first, and the mage and knight are the veteran presence.

Either way, as I’ve mentioned here, I’ve been downgrading the encounters because my party had such trouble with them last season, and I wanted them to finish quickly so that there could be emphasis on the story. So far it’s worked nicely, as they cleaned up last week with virtually no problems. I knew this one would be problematic, especially because it gave me more tactical flexibility, and I was right: I probably would have scored some kills if I didn’t unintentionally nerf the slinger’s damage down to match the melee damage, since my dice were quite good.

The mage rendered the minion problem moot with Magic Missile, and in retro what I should have done was retreat and hide them, then have them pop out and charge, but I kinda figured that might have overkilled a bit so I didn’t. I had already taken one out of the fight, and I retreated the fourth just because. The protectors did their job of holding the attention of the PCs, as nobody was trying to break through. The knight, however, got horribly chewed up by my two-man game with the slingers (one would shoot then retreat, then the other would advance and shoot). We discovered why around the second time I knocked him down, when I was hitting on 16 and I thought “Wait a minute, how is that possible?” Turns out he unintentionally eschewed plate armor and a heavy shield for hide armor and a light shield. Whoops! Because he was the only legal target for the slingers’ first shots, he took quite a bit of damage.

The ambusher was almost rendered null by the scout, who got a couple of garrote attacks on him but ended up getting ORKO’d with a two-weapon attack with power strike, all with good damage rolls. The protector ended up taking him out.

There were two amazing strides taken by the party, both of which pleased me and my fellow player-turned-conspirator when we compared after-action reports. First, they were actually using First Aid checks to trigger second winds of the downed party members (albeit after the warpriest had used up his Healing Word in the first two rounds), and second, they actually recognized my two-man game with the slingers and tried to stop it (albeit after the slingers were the last hostiles on the board). The mage hit one with Phantom Cage, so that it would take damage if it moved. Noble attempt, but I gladly traded five damage for the chance to hide and get someone in to do more, which ended up knocking out the mage and bloodying one of the slayers. Finally they got up close and finished them, but again, I was imminently pleased that they recognized my strategy and took steps to stop me.

All in all, I feel I’m on a good balance with the downgrading of the fights. My guys are gaining victories and were quite happy to win last night, rather than getting all the way up to the time limit with still many things left to defeat. I know a part of it is because a lot of them are not great at combat spec (e.g. the knight with the gimped AC, and the warpriest appears to have the same problem since he was more focused on being random than being 100% viable), and because despite several seasons of play the two most experienced people at the table still labor over rudimentary tasks and make rookie mistakes more than most of the rookies do. Still, everybody’s getting there :)

8 Billy C September 8, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I may be somewhat biased in this opinion, but losing 4 healing surges just because of some trap we didn’t even have the relevant skills to see coming, is kind of unfair. Because of that, I think I went from full surges to one left in a single encounter. What if I had taken damage the previous week, would you have ruled my character flat out killed from the trap?

9 Ameron (Derek Myers) September 10, 2012 at 11:18 am

@Billy C
When I’m the DM I always try to challenge the players. If players don’t feel challenged then I don’t think I’m doing my job. If the party is full of strikers I’ll often pump up the monsters’ defenses making them harder to hit or just give them more hit points. If there are multiple controllers in a party I’ll likely use more minions and have them come out in waves. The adventure as written is a guideline; it’s certainly not set in stone. It’s up to the DM to make adjustments as necessary to ensure that everyone is challenged.

In the case of your party specifically I need to come up with imaginative ways to draw them into combat since they’ve learned that firing at the enemies from a safe distance is something that gives the PCs a huge advantage. I think the trap was balanced (although challenging) as there were plenty of ways to overcome it.

PCs trained in Dungeoneering got a really easy check to realize what was happening (unfortunately no one trained that skill). PCs trained in Acrobatics had a good chance to get to safety and only take minimum damage in the process. I also did give the PCs two full rounds after pointing out that something was happening to move deeper into the cavern before “something” was going to happen. Some PCs might have taken damage from opportunity attacks along the way, but that was the risk. Those who failed the Acrobatics check lost 1d4 healing surges. Unfortunately for your PC I rolled a 4. However, I knew that most of the PCs were only down 1 or 2 surges (including you) since the party did so well the first week. Going into the third and final encounter of the chapter the PCs will again be challenged because now most of you are down to your final few surges.

Good, balanced adventures should see all PCs pushed to their limits before taking an extended rest. In my home game I’d just add another encounter before the extended rest if the party walked all over the first two encounters. Unfortunately with D&D Encounters you can only run the number of encounters in front of you. All I can do is make the encounters harder or easier depending on how the party is doing week to week.

10 Michael Clarke September 10, 2012 at 9:01 pm

We once again had enough people for two tables this week, and split into the same groups. The group I was in had a warlord to push someone forward, and a bunch of melee-based characters. The warlord prevented us from being bottled up, and Initiative was kind to us, so our slave Paladin charged into the first group, giving us even more scope for moving out. The DM told us afterwards that his slingers weren’t recharging very often. This, combined with judicious use of Cloud of Darkness meant that, although I went down early on, the rest of the group managed to fair much better, and chew through the Protectors.

We often play through 2 encounters, and this night was no exception – our DM gave us an Extended rest before encounter 3 (seeing no reason why we wouldn’t have on, with more than a day of travel!), and so we chewed through the third encounter with ease. However, by the time we finished, I believe the other group were still going on the first encounter…not sure how that ended.

11 David Argall September 12, 2012 at 7:39 pm

WHISPERS OF THE SILENT ONE – 2. The Ambush

There is a deep gnome who I intend to make live a long time. And since I am a drow, that means she would be wise to cut her throat now.
Normally a deep gnome could not earn the honor of a drow’s hate. They are mere vermin, to be used or eliminated at whim. Even tho she caused the death of several other drow, and almost my own, that would merely enough to merit death, preferably painful to be sure, but that would be in a way an honor. No, what earns the hate is that she killed us by being foolishly indecisive when taking a side was required. I can at least hope she is already suffering for her cowardice.
The situation started with an ambush by deep gnomes, a somewhat unusual event, but nothing rare, or really that looked troublesome at first. They mishandled the ambush and soon several of them were down [I can hope dead, but I had just gotten thru telling my fool companions that dead enemies can’t tell us anything and we were on a mission where information might be vital. So I fear that many of the enemy survived.] and I had used my Darkness to split the enemy in half, allowing us to concentrate on one half. I was already wondering how to question the prisoners afterwards.
But their missiles went thru the darkness with amazing accuracy. It was almost like they could see right thru it. I would have been greatly horrified, but some of their other tactics showed that it was merely amazing luck. Even so, it meant they were almost as effective divided as united, and they outnumbered us.
This is when our slave, Shamil, a deep gnome druid, decided to try to be on both sides. Pure betrayal was acceptable behavior, but not knowing which side to join? This requires scorn. I can take some comfort that the enemy nearly killed her as she tried to stay neutral [Fool to think that they would welcome a stranger, one in drow colors to boot.], but I spent much of the rest of the fight deciding how would be the best way to torture her later.
Even so, victory was almost in our grasp. At the end of the battle, there was just one slinger vs two of us. However we were both badly wounded and once again the slinger proved amazingly accurate…
Rather to my surprise, I woke, very badly wounded, to find my companions dead and some of the deep gnomes, including the slave, gone. Perhaps fearing there were more drow, they fled [as well they should. They are not going to survive this insult to drow unless they flee fast and far. Even the drow that was probably behind this ambush would agree they may not be allowed to survive. There will be hunting parties sent out to hunt them down and slaughter all who might have been involved. Except for the slave, who will suffer a much more lingering fate…]
For the moment, I must return to my masters to report this disaster, and to join the next party that was to have been formed to follow us. With luck, they are already on their way and not much time will be lost.

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