D&D Encounters: Council of Spiders (Week 6)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on October 4, 2012

With Menzoberranzan potentially looking at a civil war, the PCs found themselves in a unique position to possibly influence key members of House Melarn, House Xorlarrin and Brigand D’aerthe before they decide how to react to the coming conflict.

Over the past two sessions the PCs infiltrated the Council of Spiders’ hideout in order to rescue Hoshtar Xorlarrin who had been kidnapped. The PCs killed everyone they faced, rescued Hoshtar and successfully planted false evidence to implicate House Melarn’s involvement with the Council of Spiders – a detail they made sure to point out to Hoshtar before they left.

Accompanied by the still badly wounded Hoshtar, the party headed to their predetermined meeting place to deliver Hoshtar and share what they learned over the previous two sessions with Ash’ala Melarn and Ro’kolor of Brigand D’aerthe.

This week I had four players at my table: Drow Rogue (f), Drow Rogue/Blackguard (f), Drow Druid (m), Drow Cleric Priestess (f). All four are affiliated with Bregan D’aerthe.

When the party arrived at Ro’kolor’s house, the Priestess Ash’ala asked for a full report. The PCs gave an accurate account, not mentioning that they found evidence of anything from house Melarn (which they, of course planted themselves). When asked directly which houses were involved, the Cleric simply stated that those in the hideout were lowly wizards of no notable houses.

The three leaders discuss what they’ve heard and after taking a few minutes to digest the information it was clear that each of the three faction leaders had their own agenda.

  • Ash’ala seemed to agree with the defiant priestesses – the Way of Lolth cannot be overturned. She agrees with the social order that places females on top. The Council of Spiders must be stopped.
  • Hoshtar believes that the Council of Spiders has a valid point. If Lolth becomes the goddess of arcane magic, then Wizards who represent Lolth’s Demon Weave should have representation on the city’s ruling council.
  • Ro’kolor is initially on the fence stating only that war is good for mercenaries, although not so good for noble houses, specifically House Baenre.

Ash’ala asks the PCs for their opinions. “How do you think our houses should respond to these events?”

The Blackguard took a moment to converse secretly with Ro’kolor. She asked Ro’kolor how he wanted the PCs to handle the fabricated evidence implicating House Melarn as key players in the Council of Spiders. Ro’kolor simply advised that there is much to be gained by knowing this information and using it at a later time.

He cautioned the PCs that making any declaration of House Melarn’s involvement in front of Ash’ala could be dangerous. Even if they convince her here and now of Melarn’s participation, if it’s later discovered that the evidence was planted House Melarn will hold the PCs responsible and seek vengeance. Despite this warning, Ro’kolor said that he’d back whatever play the PCs decide on.

Since Ash’ala asked for their opinion and ideas and not his, Ro’kolor will remain silent for now. He doesn’t want to be seen as coaching the PCs.

The Blackguard decided to speak first. She produced one of the pieces that Ro’kolor gave them to plant, a bracelet that was clearly crafted for a Wizard of House Melarn. “Allow me to present you with some of the treasure we found during our rescue,” she said as she handed Ash’ala the bracelet. “These were found on numerous Wizards.”

Passive Insights were high enough to catch the flash of recognition from Ash’ala; she clearly knew what this was. However, her astonishment was quickly replaced with anger. “I asked you which houses were involved. You said none of consequence? This clearly belongs to a noble house!”

The Cleric made a Bluff check (aided by the female Blackguard) and implied that she answered truthfully and that it was the Druid, her male associate (her lesser), that looted the bodies. Until now she’d not seen any of the treasure and until now could not have made the connection.

Ash’ala took the item and examined it for authenticity before returning it to the party. “I suggest that you sell this item as soon as this meeting is concluded.” She even recommends a fence that would pay handsomely for this kind of item. “If that item is found on you, you could be executed. It’s only to be worn by a Wizard from a noble house.”

Although Ash’ala did not speak the words, the PCs realized that Ash’ala recognized the piece and understood the implication of her House being connected to the Council of Spiders. If the PCs sell the items this evidence will be gone and her house spared some potential embarrassment.

Sensing a moment of weakness from Ash’ala, the Druid suggested an idea to Hoshtar which he gladly vocalized. “Perhaps the Council of Spiders could be used as a tool for Lolth? I could steer them in the right direction if they had better leadership. If I was to join them I could ensure that their efforts coincide with the Way of Lolth.” The Druid and Rogue thought this was a great idea; the Cleric and Blackguard did not.

The PCs realized that in order for Hoshtar’s plan to be accepted by Ash’ala it could not be seen to contradict the Way of Lolth. The Blackguard reminded everyone that Lolth wants the Demons Weave to be created. If the Council of Spiders is working towards that end then why not work with them. If Hoshtar were on the Council of Spiders he could keep them on this path while keeping House Melarn informed of any deviation from the Way of Lolth.

Ash’ala agreed that the creation of the Demon Weave was a priority, but she did not agree with any talk of males being added to the city council or elevation in their status once the Demon Weave was created. Any talk of such change was against the Way of Lolth. “The Demon Weave will be created, but the Council of Spiders is not needed for that to happen.”

The Blackguard suggested placating the men by letting them have their dream of equality, knowing full-well that the women won’t ever see them or treat them as equals.

Hoshtar was enraged by this suggestion. Fearing reprisal from Ash’ala he quickly acknowledged that males are lesser, however, if the will of Lolth is to give males elevated status once the Demon Weave is completed he fully expects that her loyal priestesses (including those of House Melarn) will follow the goddess’s edict. The Blackguard tried to calm Hoshtar down explaining change takes time, and that he must to be patient.

The PCs decided to try approach his problem the Drow way and lie to Hoshtar and Ash’ala. However, the PCs quickly realized that the two would talk about whatever decision was reached and the duplicity would instantly be discovered. They needed to convince Ash’ala of a good reason to keep the Council of Spiders going.

The Druid and Rogue distract Hoshtar while the Cleric and Blackguard talked to Ash’ala. The Cleric explained that pretending to support Hoshtar and his involvement in the Council of Spider was good for Ash’ala. She can use him (since he’s just a male) and when the time’s right assess the situation and either support the males for real (if that is Lolth’s will) or pull the rug out from under them and use the information Hoshtar provides her to destroy the Council of Spiders and crush the upstart males. This is was win-win scenario. Strong Diplomacy and Bluff checks from the Cleric and Blackguard, combined with Bluff and Stealth checks on Hoshtar brought everyone together.

Now that they seemed to be on the same page Ash’ala, Hoshtar and Ro’kolor all return to their respective houses to inform them of what’s transpired and what they plan to do next.

This week’s encounter was different and difficult. I really like the attempt at a session driven by the role-playing; however, I felt that the mechanics were a little bit too loose for my liking. I read and reread the encounter and was still really confused. It didn’t make sense to me that the PCs, as lowly as they were with their relatively pathetic Worth scores, would have any success in swaying the minds of their NPC handlers. I also had a hard time seeing a way for all three groups to agree on a single course of action, or a way that all three groups could successfully break away from this meeting when some might be clearly opposed to each other.

I was fortunate that my group had a couple of talkers, but it was still a very fast encounter. The players that are outgoing and alpha-personalities dominated the role-playing despite playing characters that were not necessarily good at Bluff or Diplomacy. Meanwhile the PC with the highest Charisma-based skills was a relatively reserved player who barley said a word and preferred to roll skill checks.

Although I tried to include everyone in the role-playing it was clear that some were very into it while others were not. I suspect that this was typical with most groups and one or two dominant players likely controlled the encounter. I hope that DMs did their best to ensure everyone felt included and felt like they got to have their say. Regrettably, I’m sure this was not the case across the board.

Since the success/fail mechanic was so arbitrary I opted to just let the dialogue drive the overall success or failure of the interaction. Since all the PCs were Brigand D’aerthe I didn’t think they needed to convince Ro’kolor of anything. He was going to back them regardless of their position. Afterwards I wondered how much more difficult and complicated the encounter would have been for groups with all three factions represented. Did the PCs need to convince the other PCs or just their leader?

The entire encounter was complete in about 30 minutes for my group. There was no combat and minimal dice rolling. I really thought that they were going to kill either Ash’ala or Hoshtar once they realized how opposed these two were, and despite my attempt to push them into action they held their ground and decided to talk their way through the conflict.

How did this encounter work at your table? Did the PCs stick to words or did they resort to blades? Which decision did the party end up supporting in the end? Did all players participate or did a few alphas dominate the encounter? How did your DM try to get everyone involved? How long did the encounter take your group to complete?

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1 Liack October 4, 2012 at 9:36 am

Just noticed: the male drow looks WAY too happy! 😛

2 Sean_Mc October 4, 2012 at 10:45 am

At my FLGS, this was my first time playing this season (work stuff). There are usually 10 or so players, so two DMs are standing by. This week, there were only 6 players – two representing the Xorlarrin wizard house, three loyal to D’aerthe, and my male drow battlemind as the only representative of Melarn. One of the DMs took the Xorlarrin group to one table, and the other DM took the D’aerthe crew to another table. I was asked to change my character to one loyal to D’aerthe for the week to make it easier on the DM.

At my table, the DM read the box text, and told us that Ro’kolor took us aside and gave us several choices. The group decided to appear to side with the wizards, but be ready to jump ship to Ash’ala’s side if things got tough. The DM then told us that was it, and we all get 450XP.

Total time: 7 minutes. It took me longer to drive there.

Then one of the DMs took a random bunch of baddies from the season, and ran a non-canon encounter for the six of us.

3 Joe October 4, 2012 at 11:32 am

Our numbers were way down for this season. Folks are just not at all excited by anything going on in this Drow plot. We were down to 2 tables of 5 this week (from the 4 tables of 5-6 we’ve had at previous weeks/seasons), and I don’t think it was due to folks pre-gaming for the presidential debate.

I had 5 at my table: 2 Melarn males, 2 Bregan Males, & 1 Xorlarrin female (including two brand new players, one of whom had no idea what the Drow were). None of my players this week were outspoken talkers, and nobody has bothered or cared about any of the political background, so it took a lot of intro material to lay everything out for the PCs for this challenge (esp with the newbies… who required all the bigger background stuff, too).

When it was all said & done, I could see folks’ heads were spinning, so I grabbed a marker & blank paper and started writing down main points. I had a separate page for each “faction”… the rebel priestesses, the Council of Spiders, & the assassins. Then I did a separate page for each of the 3 house contacts (Ashala, Rokolor, & Baragh… since Hoshtar was killed). I tried to put the main factor for each person on their sheet… Ashala’s faith, Rokolor’s greed/self-interest, & Baragh’s arrogance/confidence. Folks were still pretty lost, so I decided to list the 6 possible options mentioned at the end of the encounter write-up, and suggested the party decide amongst themselves which course to take. This also took a lot of prompting & group-discussion-leader tactics on my part, but eventually the party decided to support the old Way of Lolth, try to eliminate the Council of Spiders, and not support (but not openly oppose) the Demon Weave plot.

With Ashala, they convinced her that perhaps the Yochlol going around talking about the Demon Weave wasn’t really speaking for Lolth. After all, the Way of Lolth was handed down to the Drow by Lolth herself (according to their legends), so why wasn’t she telling them directly about this change? The handmaiden must be a rogue element or perhaps a bunch of wizards (the Council) casting an illusion to look like this yochlol. Their heresy knows no bounds. That brought her on board.

With Rokolor, they appealed to his desire for stability. Better the devil you know, they said. If Lolth became more powerful, there was no telling how that would change the world, and the resulting chaos would make profits almost impossible to maintain. Sure, it’s not great for men in Drow society right now, but it’s better than the alternative. He agreed with their logic.

Baragh was the final hurdle. As a wizard, they had no idea how they’d convince him to go against other wizards. After lots of false starts, eventually I asked them to make insight checks and history checks, and I revealed to them that as a wizard, he enjoyed a bit of freedom right now, since arcane magic was not something Lolth had control over. They appealed to his desire to keep the power & freedom he had, and also told him that he might gain more power & standing by defeating these rogue wizards in the Council. That finally brought him on board.

When all was said & done, everyone agreed that they hated the session. One of our new players said he probably wouldn’t be back, and the other just left without saying anything. The other DM at my store this week was so upset with the session that he created an assassin attack in the middle of the negotiations, so that his players would have some way to avoid all the menial debate.

In all, I have to agree that it’s the worst Encounters session I’ve ever experienced (as a player or DM). Not sure if I’ll need to rewrite any of the two remaining sessions to make them better/less-boring, but at the very lease I’ll try to minimize the forced question/roleplay in session 8. We’ll see… but something has to be done to redeem this season. Hopefully I’ll have enough players come back next week to give it a try.

4 Alphastream October 4, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I’m really curious to hear what could be done so that it would be an interesting political piece, be heavy on RP, but still be manageable and fun. If every combat were ‘just a fight’ that would likely get boring. And with the drow theme some machinations seem called for. But, clearly this was confusing for many DMs, even experienced ones. And clearly a good portion of the Encounters crowd just wants to come into a store after work and kill some monsters in a fun way. In your minds, how can future sessions best create a ‘not just about the fight’ encounter?

5 Auiva October 4, 2012 at 1:16 pm

This session actually pretty fun. Last wee the PCs saved Hoshtar in exchange for letting the assassin get away. This week they walked him back, and asked him some questions to understand his motives. After they dropped him off to rest, they returned to their respective leaders (Ash’ala and Ro’kolor, we have no Xorlarrin) to report. Rokolor was rather pleased with his two PCs, while Ash’ala on the other hand was quite unhappy with hers. Reports had already filtered back that other wizards had come back to the Council of Spiders building and found dead wizards, and signs of Melarn’s hand in their deaths (due to the Bregan D’aerthe completing their goal). According to the Lolth’s code, a house attacked by two or more houses can then attack them in return in retribution. Ash’ala pointed out that since Melarn and Bregan D’aerthe had teamed up, and now there was evidence against Melarn, Melarn was in a bad position and could be in serious trouble with some of the other houses. Everyone got a short rest, then met with the three leaders to begin their conversations about what the next course of action should be.

The conversation had been written to make checks, and the make arguments for and against, trying to convince the leaders. I decided to go the more open discussion route, allowing checks if they became truly necessary. This worked out pretty well, as the PCs successfully made a history check to discover that the assassin was connected to the Jaezred Chaulssin (or, as we now call them, the Jazz Hands), and the Jaezred Chaulssin’s hopes to bring down drow society. This discovery helped unify many of their opinions, I think, and most of the conversation was trying to figure out how to convince Hoshtar that it was worth calming his house and trying to convince them it was still worth working together, and that the Demon Weave was still first priority, as was hunting down the assassins. The PCs offered advisory positions to the Ruling Council to some of the wizards as a compromise. Mainly, it seemed, the PCs wanted to reveal the assassins to the drow society and clear their potentially stained names (in the case of Melarn) and calm society and dealing with politics later. It’s not a bad move for my particular party, and I think transitions very well into the third chapter. There are still questions, and the drow society is still at risk of exploding if the PCs don’t walk the very narrow line they’ve set themselves of trying to balance the priestesses vs. wizards, but I have confidence my PCs will come up with some really good ideas and make it work.

However, this whole discussion only took 30-40 minutes, which left us the rest of the evening. I had figured this might happen based on the skill challenge week from last season, so the story continued. Once the three leaders left, the PCs heard a voice from above them, hidden, scorning them for making the decision they did. Leaping down, another assassin appeared. He scoffed that his compatriot had not properly killed them and that they must be taken care of now. With a little help from his new compatriots.

Cue the various slaves my PCs have collected throughout the season suddenly rebelling, complete with using their chains as weapons, an improvised metal-broom-as-magic-staff, and two with encounter charm powers that made the PCs feel the hate the slaves felt towards drow and all start attack each other. It was a brutal fight, and many PCs went down throughout (maaaay have two-shotted the Knight with the broom-wielder on a single turn). The PCs endured my incredibly hot damage dice (sorry about that, guys!), but kept getting back up and kept on murdering, and were able to escape the ambush. It was a fun fight, and I think we’ll all have a lot of fun with next week now that the PCs know that the assassins are a real threat, and see the PCs actions as a threat to themselves. I know I’m looking forward to it!

6 Matthew October 4, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Our group had a 3 way tie on what to do. The wizard was to go to war and burn all that stood in the goddess way. The palidin suggested that all that would work on the demon weave directly and indirctly needed to be screened.(trying to stall) Also suggested a secret police that would take care of theis third party. The 2 mercs just wanted the highest pay. The conclusion was they can work on demon weave but males can not have a claim to power unless the goddess declairs it.

7 Joe Lastowski October 4, 2012 at 7:34 pm

@Alphastream, the biggest thing (at least at our store) is the whole idea that this season the PCs are not playing heroes, they’re playing bad guys. No matter what they do, they’ll be promoting somebody’s evil agenda. That has turned a lot of people off, and as such they don’t care about any of the politics. If they wanted a backstabbing evil game, they’d play Vampire or some other specific skullduggery-type game. But they’re playing D&D, and the most iconic D&D thing (to use some Next terminology) is the idea of playing a hero.

Last season, the heroes enjoyed fighting against the slaving drow, because that’s what heroes do (also because a few had backgrounds as former slaves). This season, they have to treat some of their friends at the table as slaves, and are supposed to have no problem with it. They are working for 3 evil houses, who are seeking to promote the agenda of an evil goddess, while trying to figure out how that evil society might change if the evil goddess gets more power. The players aren’t heroes, they’re evil pawns in a world of evil. As a result, any attempt to make them excited about continuing the works of evil agenda has failed.

In previous seasons, politicking has worked. The Feywild “choose your faction” section worked great, with players actually caring about which fey group they aligned with. When they were in Neverwinter, the politics (though a little forced-down-their-throats) also worked, with folks understanding the different factions and taking off-the-cuff actions to help or hinder the ones they liked/disliked (nobody liked Neverember, for instance, so the PCs would always tell passersby that their heroics were not at all connected to him whenever a crowd would gather).

The point is, to make politics work, your players have to care about the factions and the outcomes. Whether they despise one group, or love another, or feel somehow beholden to another, or are paying back a favor that some nice members of another group did, or are helping an underdog group fight against an oppressor… as long as they have some emotional connection to the group, they’ll happily sit down and debate their way through a session to help that group succeed. Nobody cares about the Drow houses, or in what way the Spider Queen will become more awesome, which is why last night’s session was a failure.

8 Alphastream October 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Thanks, Joe. That’s good feedback. I recall with the Neverwinter season that it seemed to work for a while but then seemed to wear off in some stores and eventually cause some confusion. I also recall that the adventure forced things, making players feel as if their choice had not mattered. Many lessons there!

9 Guest October 4, 2012 at 10:09 pm

My group finished faster than normal, well ahead of the other table. As such, the DM did a quick combat encounter, with the assassins hiding in darkness and attacking after the house leaders left.

10 Sunyaku October 5, 2012 at 1:06 am

We had a great time parodying the political debates a bit with this session. We made sexist arguments against Drow males, as they are clearly not as intelligent or capable as females, and Lolth, in her infinite wisdom, bestowed the symbol of divinity, breasts, on females alone. Lolth has decreed that males must never breach the glass ceiling of the Divine.

Then Hoshtar threatened that demon weave production would cease, and we said the “Corporate interests of Menzoberranzan will subdue this Labor Party of Spiders! Do what you’re told, servant of Lolth!” And then we killed Hoshtar and some of his followers to set an example for the rest. This was a super short session, and there was no political debate at all, really. We had an instant, unanimous agreement to prolong this aspect of Drow culture.

11 Kbeezy October 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm


Our store has about 20 – 30 players show up on average for each Encounter. This season has posed some very difficult challenges for our DM Team, especially the last encounter.

However, we decided to not split our players into small groups as normal and instead play this session as a huge Conclave. Each faction was well represented and while it was true that many ‘extroverted players’ spoke more than others; it felt like almost everyone had a chance to speak at least once.

Not only were the players attempting to convince the Faction Leaders on a specific course of action, but each other as well.

Our group had mild consensus around the idea of destroying both the Defiant Priestesses and the Council of Spiders, however to work tirelessly to support Lolth’s edict to Spin the Demon Weave so as to allow all Drow to assault the surface and rule the above ground world once again.

We did not use dice once.

However, we *did* do a secret ballot at the end of the whole thing so that all players, regardless of their vocal participation in the conclave, could have their voices heard.

Team DM will reveal the results of that vote at the beginning of next week’s encounter.

The encounter itself lasted about an hour and a half. It was really fun. I played Hoshtar and he was definitely convinced by advocates from both Melarn and Xorlarrin to go along with the group’s consensus.

I like this season a lot. However, it is very difficult to run as it is so detailed and kinda demands a player ‘be up on’ the Lore or Menzoberranzan and the ‘meta-plot’ WotC is throwing down.

12 Michael Clarke October 8, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Virutally none of our players for the entire season were interested in the drow connection. Out of 8 players (about 6 of which are Encounters regulars), 4 were playing Drow. The rest were slaves, and not interested in the politics at all. Some of them were quitre frankly condfused by the myriad factions and names.

Having said all that, I enjoyed it immensely, even without knowing much about previous Menzobarrenzan plots (last Menzo-related thing I read was the second ed boxed set).

13 Peter October 9, 2012 at 2:47 am

I’ve been running Encounters since season 1. This encounter, as written, was a mess. I ended up downloading Brian B’s handouts and they helped make it into a much better encounter. They really helped make it clear what everyones goals are. I had two new players in my group this week but the handouts brought them up to speed.

We begaun with the male Bregan Daerthe Warlock truthfully reporting on how the female Xorlarrin Wizard had murdered Holshtar (of her own house!)and eaten his eyeballs last week. Thanks to some clever lies (and great Bluff checks) she fooled the leaders into disbelieving this story.

Then the players began to convince the NPC’s what to do. However most of them were trying to convince the NPC’s to do different things, and most of their efforts went to wooing partially convinced NPC’s back to their starting positions. At one point Ash’ala had one (of three) successes convincing her to four different positions. An hour and a half later, and after much effort, they had managed to convince each leader that their starting positions were correct. I suppose it will make running the next two weeks easier but what a waste.

Along the way the CE male Bregan D’Aerthe Thief managed to impress Priestess Ash’ala of House Melarn and then began to seduce her. He then convinced her that the eyeball eating Xorlarrin Wizard was a threat. She activated her aura giving him +2 damage for his attack on the PC Wizard and then declared that it was her will, as a Priestess of Lolth that the rest of the PC’s stay out of the fight [-4 worth to anyone else who stepped in]. A few rounds later, and with an action point from them, both the Thief had killed the Wizard, scooped out her eyeballs, and gave them to the priestess, who put them in their drinks, olive-in-the-martini-style. By this time the Thief was down to 1 hit point and he left with the Priestess, who offered to “heal” him.

Two and a half hours, and my having to ring responses out of the players who were just there to kill things, for what should have been a quick session. One of my players has been running the Drow pre-gen, Belgos, for the last six seasons. I thought an all drow party might draw him into roleplaying his character more but I’ve had little luck.

The Wizards player wanted to bring his character back from the dead at the usual 4 Healing Surge cost for encounters and was saddened when I pointed out that she’d probably get murdered again and with no eyeballs she’d be blind anyway.

I _hate_ running PVP!

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