D&D Encounters: Council of Spiders (Week 5)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on September 27, 2012

Last week the PCs managed to get inside the Council of Spiders hideout where they search for the captured Hoshtar Xorlarrin. Every Drow that stood in PCs’ way last week was killed. During their short rest the PCs looted the bodies and took anything of value they could find in the upper floor of the hideout. They paused just long enough to complete their secret objective before heading downstairs.

Once they reached the hideout’s lower level they came face-to-face with a rapier-wielding Drow Assassin. “And so it begins,” he said. “Thank you, dear friends, for starting what I’m sure will be a perfectly lovely war.”

This week I ran a table of four: Drow Rogue (f), Drow Rogue/Blackguard (f), Drow Druid (m), Drow Cleric Priestess(f). All four are affiliated with Bregan D’aerthe. This party began the adventure at level 4, and they are all level 5 now.

The PCs were initially confused by the Assassin’s statement. He explained that they would be held accountable for the unprovoked attack and slaying of numerous noble Drow Wizards who were merely gathering peacefully to discus how they could help Lolth create the Demon Weave. As known Brigand D’aerthe agents, it’s clear that the PCs were obviously working for some other greater power (with deep pockets). This information should be enough to launch numerous Drow Houses into action. Every House that lost a Wizard here today would seek revenge driving Menzoberranzan into civil war.

Caring little for the Drow’s words and speculation of the broader implication of their actions they demanded to know where Hoshtar was. The Assassin said that Hoshtar was his guest and that he’d be happy to let the PCs see him if they were willing to be accompanied by the Assassin’s men. He then whistled for his allies.

The PCs didn’t hesitate – they sprung into action. The Blackguard charged the Assassin but rolled a natural 1 and missed. The Druid attacked and hit the Assassin before dropping a zone of difficult terrain at the doorway in anticipation of reinforcements. Sure enough two Drow Hex Knights entered through the doors. One engaged the Rogue, the other risked an opportunity attack (which missed) and charged the Rogue. Both Knights connected.

(I assumed that the Hex Knights were Drow. Not sure why since it clearly stated that they were Dark Creepers. I ran this encounter twice and didn’t realize my mistake until after I completed both tables.)

The Assassin threw up his Globe of Darkness and left the crowded room heading deeper into the hallway from which the Knights just appeared. Two Dark Creepers joined the fight as they charged through the Globe of Darkness and into the melee. The Blackguard took opportunity attacks on both and missed twice. One managed to hit the Rogue but the other missed.

The Rogue attacked the closest Hex Knight scoring a solid hit. The Cleric missed. The Blackguard attacked the adjacent Hex Knight, hit and then shifted away. The Druid used his Wind Wall to target all four combatants in the room, hitting everyone and scoring a crit on one of the Hex Knights.

The wounded Hex Knight attacked the Blackguard, hitting and then withdrawing. The Blackguard took an opportunity attack but missed. The Dark Creepers tried stabbing the nearby Rogue and Druid but missed. One pulled back, drawing an opportunity attack (that missed) while the other stayed put.

The Hex Knight in the melee mix attacked the Rogue and hit before also trying to withdraw (and also avoided any repercussion from his opportunity attack). However, the difficult terrain zone prohibited him from getting any farther than the doorway.

The Druid managed to hit the nearest Dark Creeper and drop him prone. As the Druid then tried to follow the fleeing Hex Knight the Rogue played a Treachery Card to trip him, keeping him in place. The Rogue then used the combat advantage to destroy the prone Dark Creeper. When the Dark Creeper died he exploded, blinding the adjacent Rogue.

The area around the door was now crowded with the Blackguard, a Hex Knight and a Dark Creeper. The Rogue attacked her nearest foe and again missed. In frustration she popped her Globe of Darkness to better his defenses.

The combat then started moving into the hallway. The Hex Knight that withdrew the round before double moved to get around the corner and out of sight. The remaining Dark Creeper also double moved to get farther into the hallway, around the corner and into the library with the Assassin. The remaining Hex Knight, badly wounded, held his ground while his allies fled. It took a full round for the party to finally drop him and when they did it was the Rogue who again was blinded, this time from the Knight. (This should have clued me in that the Knights weren’t Drow. I mean, really, Drow that explode?)

With a second for a quick breather and no immediate threat the Blackguard and Druid used their innate ability to levitate and their daily powers to keep it active. It was unclear how high the ceilings were in the lower level so I ruled it was 20 feet as in the upper level.

The Rogue moved deeper into the hallway searching for the Hex Knight. The Knight shot her with a crossbow and then ran to the library. With the Druid and Blackguard floating and out of melee reach, the Cleric was all alone. The remaining Dark Creeper took advantage of this, moved in and attacked her. She took a lot of damage but her levitating allies used ranged attacks to help her.

The Rogue followed the Hex Knight to the doors of the library and scored a solid hit. The Knight summoned his Globe of Darkness, attacked the Rogue and then ran around him towards the Cleric. The Knight also called out to the Assassin that the Rogue was gravely wounded and that he should finish him off. The Assassin rejoined the fight nearly killing the Rogue.

The levitating PCs remained in the air trying desperately to kill the Dark Creeper and Hex Knight. The Cleric managed to get close enough to the Rogue to heal her before she got back into the thick of things. The Knight and Assassin flanked the Rogue and scored big damage. Fortunately she had a few temporary hit points so she managed to stay up.

The Druid dropped a burst on the Rogue, Knight and Assassin hitting the Knight and the Rogue. The next round the Cleric managed to drop the Knight from range avoiding the blinding effect. The Blackguard also managed to drop the Dark Creeper from range similarly avoiding the blinding effect.

With only the Assassin remaining it was a race to zero hit points. The Druid scored a crit (his third of the night), but the Cleric used a Treachery Card to turn it into a regular hit. This also gave the Cleric an auto-crit on her next attack so she unloaded on the Assassin with a daily power. The Assassin gave as good as he got, but in the end the PCs took him down without any of them getting killed.

After the PCs defeated the Dark Creepers and all the Drow attackers they rushed to see if Hoshtar was still alive. He was bound, gagged, and heavily wounded. Hoshtar was alive but unconscious. The PCs had a brief discussion to decide if they would revive Hoshtar or let him die. If he died they could spin any lie they chose about what they saw here. In the end they decided to save him.

When he regained consciousness they explained what happened and placed significant emphasis on the fact that so many of the Council of Spiders agents seem to be part of House Melarn. Hoshtar was skeptical but couldn’t refute the symbols on the fallen Drow (which of course, the PCs planted at the behest of Ro’kolor).

When asked of his involvement, Hoshtar explained that he was asked by one of his lesser cousins to meet with the Council of Spiders. Although Hoshtar came to the meeting willingly, as soon as he arrived the Council captured and tortured him. They wanted him to join them and be a champion for their cause. As tempting as the idea of males in power seemed to Hoshtar, he knew that if he were to make these demands publicly he’d be as good as dead. So, for now at least, he is still opposed to the Council of Spiders and their radical approach to change.

As the PCs accompanied Hoshtar back to the designated meeting place he asked them if they should reveal the involvement of House Melarn to Ash’ala. The PCs agreed that this information should be kept secret for now. After all, information is power.

As written this encounter is not great. The PCs get stuck in the initial starting area and have no incentive to press onward. If they do manage to get to the library, they find the Assassin holding a knife to Hoshtar’s throat. There is almost no chance that the PCs can save the doomed Wizard.

Although I planned to tweak the encounter, my hand was forced when I got to my FLGS and realized I brought the wrong map. I had to modify last week’s map for the week 5 encounter. It was still full of corridors, but the library was long and skinny, rather than a big square. As it turned out the PCs spent the majority of the combat chasing the bad guys around the corridors. None of them entered the library until after the combat ended.

I was very impressed when they came up with the plan to a) keep Hoshtar alive, and b) get him to witness and support their claim that House Melarn was involved. I’m sure that will make next week’s role-playing encounter a lot more interesting.

Did the DM at your table make any changes to the encounter or did you spend most of the combat trapped at the bottom of the stairs? Did you spend any time talking to the Assassin or did you do what my group did and just attack after a couple of rudimentary questions? Assuming the Assassin made it to the library, how much of the combat actually took place there?

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1 Auiva September 27, 2012 at 1:36 pm

My PCs didn’t even get as far as asking questions. They asked who he was and whom he served. I gave roughly the answer in the book- his name and that his employers were no friends of Lolth. This was enough for the one of the two Melarn zealots I have playing in my group to try and attack him (this has been a recurring theme in my group- we have two people playing very zealous followers of Lolth who tend to slaughter anything even SLIGHTLY outside their interpretation of Lolth’s will. And so they rarely get any information as to what is going on). I had actually figured this would happen sooner rather than later, so I had a readied action for my assassin to sneer and dash off towards the library before anyone could do anything. The doors swung closed behind him, and behind the scenes all the enemies arranged themselves for a fight.

This week I had two people replacing some of my absent players, bringing the party to:
3 warpriests (Two Melarn and one Xorlarrin)
1 mage (Xorlarrin)
1 scout (Melarn)
1 knight (Bregan D’aerthe)

The PC who had run forward to attack the assassin opened the door to discover a single creeper located at the top left corner of the map, placed at perfect distance for charging- which our knight proceeded to do (I have a couple players who love charging). However, what the PCs were unable to see until the knight ran into his charge position, one of the hex knights was placed at the other end of the top hallway, with a readied action to attack the first person who ended up in that square.

The rest of the evening was spent primarily in the top left corner with the PCs unable to get past in the narrow hallways, constantly being slowed by hex blade attacks, and having bad luck when they took opportunity attacks to try and get by enemies (I crit on one of them, for example). One of the PCs had tied the closed doors of the middle hallway, so the PCs skipped that hallway altogether. The knight’s defender aura, usually a bane of my creatures, proved highly ineffective due to dark step as the enemies would run in a small circle and end up next to the PCs, granting them CA. The lackeys held a tactic of always having someone to back them up from further away (or finally bursting through the doors and attacking the tired PCs from behind), and this proved to create a very strong holding pattern that lasted most of the evening.

Two people went down over the course of the fight, and many people were bloodied for much of the encounter, but with three healers in the party, it was hard to keep anyone more permanently down. The battle, then, was a rather jammed-up stalemate for much of the evening, and the PCs only got to the assassin in the last few minutes of the session. With no lackeys left to back up his threats, the assassin used Hoshtar to gain safety and escape (I would have played some of my lackeys and the assassin differently had time permitted, but I didn’t have time to make threats of murdering the PCs. That would have involved further battling). The zealous Melarn wanted to attack the assassin, consequences be damned, but the two temporary people at my table were Xorlarrin and fervently wanted to keep Hoshtar alive. Ultimately a more moderate Melarn ended up physically grabbing her zealous companion (in an amusing grab roll vs escape roll) and dragging him off to a corner to prevent him from doing anything. The assassin dropped Hoshtar and made his escape. Considering how I think next week will be going with discussion at my table, I don’t think this is the last we’ll be seeing of him.

In general, my PCs learned very little plotwise because they didn’t ask, or were tied up in combat. I plan next week to have them converse with Hoshtar as they return back to the main part of the city before they begin the roleplaying section. This section may be very hard for them only because they are missing many of the political details because a few of their members are playing characters who are very blind to anything besides one very specific point of view. I’m very, very interested to see how next week plays out.

2 Joe Lastowski September 28, 2012 at 12:31 am

It was a very slow fight for the folks at my table. After the initial Assassin taunting, the party had no interest in talking with him. He had best initiative, so he went through the door & closed it behind him. The party (a wizard, 2 controller archers, a paladin, & a cleric) decided to wait a full round or two before opening the door, and instead spent time reading the documents on the table in the opening room. I told them they were various magical & alchemical interaction notes, and told the wizard (the only one trained in arcana) that she could potentially use that information in situations involving those alchemical interactions in the future (not foreshadowing the library or anything).

The party eventually opened the door to the first hallway, where the two hex knights were there with readied actions. Since this week was a party of no strikers, it took some time to take the hex knights out. To try and motivate the party, I had Hoshtar’s (who I call “Mr. Giles” at my table, to try and make his name easier to remember and to make the character in general more memorable) screams echo through the hallway as he was casually tortured by the assassin. It didn’t help much, despite the fact that both the wizard & cleric were from House Xorlarrin.

Once the Hex Knights were down, I had the Creepers hiding one per hallway, and also decided that due to angles, you couldn’t see the top of the stairs unless you were on the stairs. The fight had dragged on quite a bit at this point, so I introduced a mechanic wherein knocking someone on the stairs prone caused him to fall down the stairs, doing a d6 damage (and moving him closer to the party). That took the creepers out fairly quickly (and made up for the fact that there was nobody doing striker-level damage).

Finally the party made their way to the library. The wizard cut off the “Surrender or he dies” monologue with a Magic Missile, so Mr. Giles/Hoshtar was killed, and the fight with the assassin ensued. As the table got disturbed & effects started to happen, I allowed the wizard (who had studied the interaction notes) to put a +/-1 to the d6 effects roll. That allowed most rolls to be the “5 poison to the whole room” effect, which only hurt the assassin, since the party all had the Lolth neck items that gave them each resist 5 poison.

When it was all said & done, there was no Hoshtar left to question, and they’d gotten nothing from the assassin, so I allowed for one of the books in the library to have some notes about what would have been revealed if the party had bothered to talk to anyone.

I agree that it wasn’t a greatly written encounter from an exposition standpoint, but from a strict combat perspective it wasn’t bad. Next week should be fun, though I’m worried that I’ll have to do a lot of leading, given that there hasn’t been much motivation among players to seek out (or care about) any of the plot stuff this season.

3 Sunyaku September 28, 2012 at 12:31 am

I’m not even sure I can recall all of the incredibly silly awesomeness that occurred last night. By the end of the session the DM had awarded a Moment of Greatness to each player.

Mechanically, our Wizard dropped almost all the enemies except the Assassin (who had run away) unconscious with sleep. The party then began our coup de grace rave, with disco lights flashing, groovy tunes playing, and it was awesome. My Warforged Sorcerer/Bard/Monk “Discobot” was the life of the party.

4 Joe Lastowski September 28, 2012 at 12:45 am

I’m curious whether anyone had any slave players in their groups, and how the fact that the fight was in complete darkness affected things with this combat. Did the drow allow their slaves to have light? (it also made me recall fondly€ the old 2nd-ed infravision and not being able to read text on pages in darkness with heat-based vision).

5 Rogue #1 September 28, 2012 at 9:29 pm

… Exploding Drow… I the suicide bombers of Toril. I like this idea, I might have to steal this idea.

6 Terry September 29, 2012 at 3:30 pm

the group i was in concisted of 2 drow warpriests, 2 drow wizards, a drow warlock and a kobold thief. the fight was tough. in the end it was a warpriest that took out the assassin, but the kobold thief then backstabed the warpriest killing her outright (she only had 2 hp left before the backstab). the kobold then jumped up and yelled “FREEDOM” then commenced to loot both the enemy and the allies bodies and escaped the underdark, vowing never to return alive. the player plans on coming back with a different character next week. even with the party dieing, I think he played the kobold correctly.

7 Joe Lastowski September 29, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Terry, that does sound like an appropriate bit of kobold roleplaying, though it highlights exactly why the idea of an all-drow, backstab-promoting season made me wary. Was this kobold player a new player? I worry that since Encounters is intended as a gateway to D&D at large, this season is just teaching players to play characters who are selfish jerks, or at the least so motivated by personal story that they ignore the group.

8 Michael Clarke October 2, 2012 at 2:47 am

We had only two Drow (one classic warlock, one Avenger), and the rest slaves. One of the slaves had a sunrod and a hand available, so no issue with lack of light. My Avenger had the pleaseure of moving invisibly past the two hexknights in the first hallway, to then leap at the escaping assassin on the staircase (Wings of Light). Despite rolling a natural 1 on the attack, I still did enough damage to finish him off. So, like other groups, we didn’t even get to the library/lab until the fight was over. And, due to the heroic efforts of our slaves, not a single Drow was harmed in the combat. Good meatshields!

9 David Argall October 4, 2012 at 5:18 pm

My character is coming out against slavery.
Not of course for any concern about the slaves. But he had a deep gnome slave when attacked by deep gnomes, with a TPK pretty much the result. [The slave didn’t actually switch sides, but he didn’t do his duty either.]
This time, the party had a half-orc slave who, instead of hesitating to attack, was entirely too eager. Faced with “Stop or the mage dies”, he charged, and the wizard we were trying to rescue died.
So the PC has pretty much decided that slaves are a handicap and will get in his way.

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