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?
Recounting Encounters Podcast
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