D&D Encounters: War of Everlasting Darkness – Preview

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on October 12, 2012

On October 24 D&D Encounters begins its eleventh season. This promises to be very different than any previous season of the program. For starters it’s the first time PCs will advance beyond level 3. It will also bend some of the existing 4e mechanics and borrow elements from the D&D Next play testing underway right now. I’ve read over the materials and I have to say that I’m really excited. This is still 4e D&D and still D&D Encounters, but there is so much more happening this season.

This is the third and final installment of the Drow-themed Rise of the Underdark story-arc. By the end of the adventure the PCs will either crush the Drow uprising or be enslaved by the dark elves. It’s up to you to fight The War of Everlasting Darkness and defend the surface world.

Below I’ll provide a detailed preview of what you can expect this season. This will remain spoiler-free and will just give you the foundation of what you need to know to play. Hopefully it will entice more players to come out and try D&D Encounters or get veterans of the program to return and try this new format.

It’s stated right at the beginning of the adventure that the elements of D&D Next they’re really trying to incorporate into this season of D&D encounter are finding a balance among the three significant elements of the D&D experience: exploration, interaction, and combat (the “three pillars”); and making combat take less real-world time, to allow more exploration and interactions in a game session. In order to do this there are some tweaks to the 4e rules and mechanics that DMs and players need to be made aware of before they play this season.

The most significant change this season is that each week’s session is a mini-adventure in itself. During each session players will have multiple “encounters,” admittedly some of them will be short and quick. There are no short rests or extended rests during a play session even though the story may see the players spend hours or days between events of that week’s session. This means that you can only spend healing surges when powers allow you to do so. Likewise all encounter powers are usable only once each week. They flat out state that they’re not making any effort to explain this change in game, just accept it as a test of the modified mechanics.

At the end of each week’s mini-adventure the PC advance to the next level. So the eight-week season will see the PC rise from level 1 to level 8. When the PCs level up they get all the normal benefits that come with an extended rest.

There is no random magical treasure awarded this season. Instead players should use the inherent bonus system for their characters described in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting and the DMG2. PCs will get a static +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls at level 2 and level 7. They get a +1 to all defenses at level 4. There are magical treasures awarded but they are specifically named and each has a specific purpose that will become more evident as the adventure progresses.

The overall adventure takes place over the course of two years of game time. Each week’s mini-adventure covers a relatively short time frame (usually a week of in game time at most). Between sessions months will pass which helps explain how and why the PCs level up so often. It also helps explain how the PCs can be in such a wide variety of locations from week to week.

Many of the sessions have more than one combat encounter. However, when this is the case one of the encounters is usually against minions or just one opponent. In these cases they recommend not using a map and just describing combat. This will speed things up and allow you to cover more each week.

The scenarios are often dynamic and not as rigid or scripted and we’ve seen in previous adventures. Multiple options are presented in order to account for the flexibility and often unpredictability of players’ actions. In some cases they can fight, flee or talk. With more going on each session avoiding combat won’t kill the week’s session. The advice is to let the story and role-playing guide the game and for the DM to just go with it if the players go in an unexpected direction. Having fun is a more important objective than railroading the party.

The session that stood out most for me was week 6. In this session the PCs have to help defend a town from the pending attack of a monster army. They have nine days in game to fortify the town and get things ready. Each of the town’s defenses (catapults, riders, town watch, etc.) has a battle value. As the PCs do things to prepare the town’s defenses these scores increases or decrease. When the attack finally happens the overall outcome is determined by the final battle value. The PCs being the heroes of the story have a fantastic confrontation with the monsters which has a huge bearing on the town’s final battle value, so the fate of things truly is in the hands of the PCs.

These changes to the traditional weekly adventure have me really excited. I’ll admit that after 10 season of the same old thing, the repetition became a bit stale. It seems that Wizards realized this and has taken huge strides to shake things up. Giving the PCs a chance to play higher level characters should entice a wider audience of players, including those who might have stopped coming out because they didn’t want to keep playing the really low levels every season.

I’m predicting that this season will be the best yet and will recharge the Wizards public-play program. I think it will remind people that just because D&D Next is on the horizon there are still a lot of great reasons to keep playing 4e.

Character Creation

For the past few seasons Wizards has provided great paper character sheets for the players. This is one season where it might actually be a good idea to use them and create character without using Character Builder.

This season the characters can use any of the D&D Essentials books or any of the Player’s Options books to make characters. This will open up a lot of races and classes that have not been legal over the past few seasons. With the characters leveling up every week DMs should strongly encourage players to play classes that follow the Essentials builds. They’re easier to play and much easier to level up. For newer players or those without access to Character Builder simplicity is important.

Remember that leveling up is a part of D&D so DMs should help new players learn how to do this and not just take on the responsibility of doing it for all the characters. Having the paper sheets at the table might make this exercise a lot easier. Ideally leveling up should be done between sessions, but for the first couple of weeks you may end up spending the first 30 minutes of every session helping the group level up characters.

Although no new pre-gens were provided this season, if you need characters you can find every one Wizards has ever provided along with some fan-made ones in the Dungeon’s Master Pre-Generated Character Library.

Amazing Maps

As we’ve come to expect, Wizards of the Coast has once again provided six fantastic full colour poster maps. The big difference is that this season some of the maps may never be used. As the sessions are quite fluid some weeks the players will have the option of where to have things happen. If they’re in the town, use the town map; if they’re in the wilderness, use the wilderness map. In some cases you won’t even need a map. I’m really curious to hear how different groups handle similar encounters when they choose to use different maps.

Be sure to check out our D&D Encounters Map Gallery.

Rise of the Underdark Card Box

This season the player reward is not Fortune Cards (and there was much rejoicing!). Instead the reward is a great-looking card box emblazoned with the Rise of the Underdark logo. There may not be enough of these for every player so the instructions recommend awarding them to players with good attendance.

Initiative Tracker

There’s not really much more I can say about the Initiative Tracker cards that I haven’t said before. They look great and they’re convenient to use. If you’ve got Initiative Trackers from multiple seasons mixing and matching them will certainly make it easier to distinguish the heroes from the monsters.

Instructions

Poster

This season’s poster shows the cover of the adventure on one side (as always) and has an excellent Rise of the Underdark Drow-themed poster on the other side. I’ve got to hand it to the Wizards’ advertising department, they always do a great job with these posters. I was a bit surprised that they didn’t include a renown tracker for FLGS to hang in their shop. I suppose they found few stores actually posted the results? Who knows.

I’ve included a close up of the Drow poster. I thought the Drider in the background deserved some attention. Looks great!

D&D T-shirt Advertisement

Included in the DMs kit were ads for D&D T-shirts. I guess we’ll see these coming to our FLGS soon. No prices are listed. You now have all the information I have. They certainly look cool. I especially like the giant ampersand from the old D&D logo made up of dice. I think that’s the one I want most.

The Adventure Begins

D&D Encounters: War of Everlasting Darkness (season 11) begins on October 24 and runs through December 19. Gather you friends, create a party, and do your part to fight in the War of Everlasting Darkness.

Be sure to visit Dungeon’s Master every Thursday for our ongoing weekly coverage of D&D Encounters. Also be sure to listen to Recounting Encounter, the weekly podcast in which Alton (from 20ft Radius) and I provide our post-game report. Recounting Encounters is now available in iTunes!

Visit the Dungeon’s Master D&D Encounters Archive for all of our ongoing weekly coverage as well as other great D&D Encounters articles and resources.


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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Vobeskhan October 12, 2012 at 10:30 am

Excellent preview as always.

These are great for our group in particular as we dont usually get our packs until the first night of the season.

Your comments have also answered several of the questions my players have raised over this coming season, so now I can put their minds at rest (hopefully) and look forward to another great season of D&D.
Vobeskhan´s last blog post ..Council of Spiders – DnD Encounters Season 10 – Sessions 4-6

2 froth October 12, 2012 at 10:37 am

If you don’t want those maps, I will take them off your hands for ya! :)
froth´s last blog post ..Dragon 416 is Compiled! Plus Froth Does Strahd!

3 Ocampo October 12, 2012 at 11:06 am

The battle value mechanic was used in “Reavers of Harkenwold”, the great adventure included in the Essentials Dungeon Master’s Kit, and it was awesome. My players really felt the outcome of the Battle of Albridge had been their doing and they had been taking a part on crafting it since the adventure began. Good to see it used again.

I’m really looking forward to this Encounters season.

4 Joe Lastowski October 12, 2012 at 11:36 am

That battle mechanic thing will allow a great recreation of the classic film Seven Samurai, which is awesome.

I’m really excited about these changes. I hope and pray that Wizards will support all these great initial ideas with a follow-through we haven’t necessarily seen in previous seasons. Maybe, because it’s heading in a Nextish direction, they’ll pay more attention. At least I hope so.

Still a little worried about changes in battle economy with daily powers & healing surges recharging every week, but maybe they’ve built that math into their encounter calculations this season.

Can’t wait to get my copy of the adventure.

5 Don Cee October 12, 2012 at 11:48 am

I always look forward to your preview! I have been running Encounters for all 10 seasons, and I know that the new changes should excite my players as much as I am excited right now!

Fortune cards pretty much took a cliff dive during the Feywild Encounters season, as that set of cards seemed to be very limited to actually being useful during the game.

I am looking forward to reading the information on the battle value mechanic. The thought of our heroes fighting a massive army of monsters sounds AWESOME.

Keep up the great work, I read your articles every week!
Don Cee´s last blog post ..D&D Encounters – Season 11: War of Everlasting Darkness @ Game Keep

6 funkaoshi October 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm

This all sounds pretty great. I enjoy playing the Encounters games, but they do feel so repetitive after a while. It’ll be nice to have a change of pace, and showcase more of what D&D is about.
funkaoshi´s last blog post ..More Thoughts on D&D Encounters

7 Alphastream October 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Excellent review – you really rock these!

I like the concepts here and will be very eager to see how they are written and how they are received. Are the sessions longer, or still 60-90 minutes long?

One issue will be how players deal with changing levels. For walk-ins, that means a sudden “actually, you have to be level 6 this week” and dealing with some analysis paralysis from new/casual players. Ideally there would be pregens for each week. Perhaps Dungeons Master wants to create higher level versions of the usual pregens? I’m sure it would be helpful to programs everywhere. We could perhaps all divide them up as well. I could certainly make Belgos at all the levels very quickly since I know Hunters well… we could crowd-fill this, I bet.
Alphastream´s last blog post ..Classic Adventures – Converting Saltmarsh to DnD Next

8 Ameron (Derek Myers) October 12, 2012 at 3:58 pm

@Alphastream
Thanks, I certainly try to provide enough detail to be useful without revealing too much. I also try to get the preview up well enough in advance to be relevant. I appreciate the re-Tweet by the way.

As for pre-gens at all levels, there has been some discussion of doing this on the forums. I like the idea of each DM taking 1 of the stock characters and making that PC available at all levels. We can divide the work and then consolidate the results. I’ll look over the pre-gens this weekend and see which one I think I can have the most fun leveling up. Great idea.

9 David Argall October 12, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Migod, this sounds like a complete disaster.

Maybe it will be fun in and of itself, but it won’t be D&D. And it won’t recruit players. Those who like it will be disappointed when they play normal games, and those who would like normal games will not like this and won’t be playing again.

It seems like they are switching the purpose of Encounters to playtesting, which means the PC of this adventure is going to be a dead-end. It will not be usable in LFR or anywhere else without changes that make the whole thing a waste.
We have several rule changes, none of which seem desirable. We gain a level every week? Sounds nice at first glance, but what you get easily you don’t value. Encounter powers are going to be daily powers? Yuk. That is grossly unbalancing for starters, and a very bad idea in its own right. No treasure? Less combat?? D&D has always been “kill the monsters and take their stuff”.
What is there here for a D&D player to like?

10 Don Cee October 14, 2012 at 11:43 am

Was there a player tracker in the kit?
Don Cee´s last blog post ..D&D Encounters – Season 11: War of Everlasting Darkness @ Roll the Dice Games

11 Ameron (Derek Myers) October 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm

@Don Cee
I didn’t get one in my kit. Since PCs level after every week I don’t think there’s really any need for them. In fact there is no mention of Renown in the adventure anywhere so I guess we’re not tracking that anymore either.

12 Vobeskhan October 14, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Has anyone else noticed that the dungeon complex in map 1 is a modified version of the one from the Red Box?

Are any of the others reprints?

Not that thats a bad thing, I think it makes sense to recycle your maps and just shows how you can do so in creative ways.
Vobeskhan´s last blog post ..Council of Spiders – DnD Encounters Season 10 – Sessions 4-6

13 Ocampo October 14, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Yup, I had noticed that, they just changed the position for the rooms with the curtains.

So the Evermoors and the Spine of the World… easy to tie with any ongoing Neverwinter campaign.

14 Alton October 14, 2012 at 9:57 pm

@ Vobeskhan
I noticed one of the maps reprinted from P1: Trollhaunt Warrens. I agree with you, recycling maps is beneficial to them, and there are so much out there, why recreate a whole lot of them.

I think this season is going to be interesting. Much to talk about.
Alton´s last blog post ..Recounting Encounters Season 1: Council of Spiders, Episode 7: Into the Shadows

15 Alton October 14, 2012 at 10:05 pm

@Ameron, @ Alphastream

I’d be game to help you all out with the pregens. Tell me what you are all doing and I will take one myself and level it.

And to answer your question Alphastream, the encounters are slated to be 90 minutes to 2 hours.
Alton´s last blog post ..Recounting Encounters Season 1: Council of Spiders, Episode 7: Into the Shadows

16 Sunyaku October 14, 2012 at 10:37 pm

@David Argall I think you jumped on the “conclusions mat” a few too many times there. For the purposes of story, it appears the time component of the game has been modified, and the encounter/daily power mechanics simply reflect this time adjustment… if the standard rules were used, the combats would all be too easy, like the “5 minute adventure day”.

As far as each “PC” being a “dead end”, I’m not even sure what you mean… but you seem pretty upset about it. There are rules for converting encounters characters to 4th ed Living Forgotten Realms, and there will be lots of rules for moving a character from any edition over to DnD Next so… I’m not sure what the issue is here. Characters are more than just their stat sheets and mechanics from a given edition. Characters are people, my friend. ;-)
Sunyaku´s last blog post ..Player Down, Player Down!

17 Alphastream October 15, 2012 at 1:38 am

@Artal,
Interesting! 90 min to 2 hours is a new change, right? I’m very curious how the longer format will play out. I generally like that much better as a target play time, but I wonder if that is too long for casual players.
Alphastream´s last blog post ..Classic Adventures – Converting Saltmarsh to DnD Next

18 Vobeskhan October 15, 2012 at 7:31 am

The timing is still the same as suggested for (at least) the last few seasons as far as I know. We usually run back to back sessions on the same evening and have a 2 hour slot for each group. The only time this has been an issue is in the Council of Spiders season (but this is probably down to the players wanting to play at higher level so combats taking a little longer).

As to the comment above that “What is there here for a D&D player to like?” Well, there’s exploration, interacting with NPC’s, combat and adventure. With each session being its own mini-adventure I think its even better for new players to see what D&D is about each week, especially if they cant mak every session. (Just my 2 pennies worth).
Vobeskhan´s last blog post ..Council of Spiders – DnD Encounters Season 10 – Sessions 4-6

19 Al October 15, 2012 at 10:59 am

Hey Derek,
sounds interesting I will try to adjust my work schedule to come out Wednesdays. How is the the turnout at “Dueling Ground” lately?

No one seemed to have mentioned (or caught) this from Chris Tulach’s article on next seasons encounters on WotC main site. “This final season of D&D Encounters will be epic…”, so it appears at least for the short term this will be it until Next. I’m guessing there is no mention of this in the DM material you have?

20 Vobeskhan October 15, 2012 at 11:09 am

@Al

In his twitter feed he corrected himself, he meant the final season in the Rise of the Underdark series, Encounters will continue.
Vobeskhan´s last blog post ..Council of Spiders – DnD Encounters Season 10 – Sessions 7

21 Ameron (Derek Myers) October 15, 2012 at 11:37 am

@Al
War of Everlasting Darkness will not be the final season for D&D Encounters, just the final part of the Rise of the Underdark adventure arc. Here’s the Twitter exchange I had with Chris Tulach yesterday.

From Ameron @ameron_dm
@christulach in your article from Friday it states “This final season of #dnd encounters…” do you mean final drow themed or final ever?

From Chris Tulach @christulach
@ameron_dm No. Final season of Rise of the Underdark.

As for DG, the attendance has been hit and miss. Some weeks 12-16 people others only 6. It’s nice when we do get some consistency.

22 Feetz October 16, 2012 at 3:54 pm

We’ve started creating leveled up versions of the standard pregens over on the WOTC forums.

http://community.wizards.com/dungeonsanddragons/go/thread/view/91301/29440315/Pre-Gen_Resources

So far we have Keira and Valenae. We’re focusing on powers and feats that are straight forward and or provide static bonuses for ease of play. Anyone who wants to help out is welcome to.

We’re only doing levels 1, 3, 5, 7. This will help cut down on cost for printing. Being behind on even level weeks won’t be a big deal. If someone wants to keep up then they should create their own character.

23 David Argall October 18, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Sunyaku -”I think you jumped on the “conclusions mat” a few too many times there.”

I wish I had been. Now that I have had a chance to read the adventure, I am even more horrified. The comic relief is being made the headliner. Maybe some of the chapters could be used in a more normal campaign just for variety, but I am not sure that any will rank as great stuff, and much looks to be the sort of material we threw out decades ago.

“For the purposes of story, it appears the time component of the game has been modified, and the encounter/daily power mechanics simply reflect this time adjustment…”

Nonsense. The time components do not need to be modified for any story purpose. Possibly they wanted to finish the whole thing before Christmas and didn’t want to cut more, but this is a calendar difference, not anything to do with the story.
Nor is there any need to change encounter/daily powers for these reasons. Particularly not by making encounter powers dailies. This is simply to playtest somebody’s bright idea.

“if the standard rules were used, the combats would all be too easy, like the “5 minute adventure day”.”

If you want tougher encounters, you give the monster +1 to all defenses and attacks & a die or two extra hp. Much easier to do in a balanced way. As it is, a great many of the “combats” are just walkovers, not intended to make for an exciting battle. I have not looked that closely yet, but there may not be a decent battle in the entire adventure.

“As far as each “PC” being a “dead end”, I’m not even sure what you mean… There are rules for converting encounters characters to 4th ed Living Forgotten Realms,”

For the most part, it is simply allowed and there are no rules against it. Encounters 11 PCs just will not be able to do this. The adjustments may not be too major, but right now there are no rules that make it possible, and short of rules that will not be much different from just creating a PC of that level, it is not easy to create such rules.

“and there will be lots of rules for moving a character from any edition over to DnD Next”

Delusion. “Converting” to 5e will be about the same as creating a new PC from scratch. In many cases, 4e in particular, it will be more work. A lot of powers/classes/items simply won’t exist or will be quite different.

So Encounters 11 will not recruit new players. It may please the veteran who likes a change of pace, but the newbie will either not like it or will not like actual D&D play. What it is is playtesting of a number of ideas, most of which have been found to be bad a long time ago.

24 Alphastream October 18, 2012 at 8:06 pm

I can see your points, David, but is it really so drastically different? In many of the 4E home campaigns in which I’ve played, a single session has been a day. I played in a 4E campaign where it was a rarity. Yeah, that changes the dynamic, but it isn’t that big a deal (especially with Essentials PCs, which we didn’t have in the home campaign).

Encounters does need variety. People ask for it just about every time a session is ‘normal’. Whenever it isn’t normal, people often complain about that aspect. Welcome to the Internet. Yes, I know that there are things to learned from complaints (there truly are!), but I don’t think this season is a failure for having these changes.
Alphastream´s last blog post ..Classic Adventures – Converting Saltmarsh to DnD Next

25 Alphastream October 18, 2012 at 8:38 pm

To add to that a bit… I think that a lot of the challenge in writing these new aspects of a season is in adhering to the core principles of Encounters, which is that a DM should be able to run this with no more than a quick read-through. It is hard to do that while introducing new mechanics.
Alphastream´s last blog post ..Classic Adventures – Converting Saltmarsh to DnD Next

26 Shawn October 19, 2012 at 9:22 am

@Alphastream That is the one worry I have about the season: DM prep time. I know that good DMs who want the players to have fun can make this season enjoyable, even though it is different than previous seasons. I know that players–both new and experienced–can enjoy the season as the epic story that it is meant to be. We tried to write it in a way that made it at easy as possible to follow the story with as little prep as possible, given the scope of the content. DMs who just read a session ahead should be fine. DMs who have to run it “cold” might struggle, and I am always interested in hearing ways to make it easier for them.

I will be running this season at a new game store for a mix of players: those who have played Encounters before, those who have played 4e but not encounters, those who have played D&D but not 4e, and those who have never played D&D. I am looking forward to the experience.

27 Alphastream October 19, 2012 at 6:06 pm

@Shawn That should be pretty fun for you. I’m hoping to convince one of the Cleveland stores to let me run the season. I really want to see how this one plays, and I’m glad to hear you were part of the writing team!

Over on the Encounters forums we’ve made good progress. We have 4 of the 6 pregens done. This should help DMs run the season more easily, since they can hand out pregens instead of having to watch players level up a 1st level pregen!
Alphastream´s last blog post ..Classic Adventures – Converting Saltmarsh to DnD Next

28 Kiel Chenier October 22, 2012 at 8:20 pm

I’d actually be pretty keen on giving this a try, but as a player rather than a DM. I like that grid-based combat will be de-emphasized, or at the very least not made mandatory. A nice change of pace.

Is the 24th set to just build characters, or does the adventure just begin?

Also, what are the plans for the 31st? Business as usual, or a night off for Halloween?
Kiel Chenier´s last blog post ..D&D as a card game

29 Don Cee October 22, 2012 at 8:30 pm

At the Game Keep, we are jumping right into Session 1 this week, as we are taking Halloween off. Then right back to Session 2 the week after and we will be back on schedule with the sessions.

30 pgnblade October 23, 2012 at 9:14 pm

I’ll be DMing this season for Encounters and honestly I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been a DM for many years, but this is my first time running a Encounters game. I can see that this season poses its own challenges and maybe some of it represents returns to schools of thought that have perviously been “thrown aside” but I disagree that it means that these sessions are unworkable.
I personally have never felt that encounters was properly representative of D&D as a rule. (My credentials reach back to the original publications of AD&D.) I don’t think, if run well, that this will somehow inhibit a player from pursuing D&D further. If anything this is a more balanced written encounters than many of recent mind. It’s not about hack and slash and get the gold.
Yes, random magic is eliminated. But, the magic items the party may find are very adaptable to the purposes of the players. It does take a little thinking outside the box.
I’d caution everyone to guard their own disappointments, and worst comes to worst find things in it to adjust in ways that may be more pleasing to us. Players will sense our dissatisfaction and in turn have a poor time. I do wish I had a bit more time to perhaps play test parts of the module… But I have a good community around me, so I’m fairly sure we can muddle through it.

31 Steve Townshend October 24, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Looking up the dates for this Encounters season, Google took me here!

Glad you enjoyed session 6, Ameron. It was my favorite session to write.

I’m interested to see how this season goes. Shawn and I were pushing for a classic AD&D style approach, and all that implies (I recall some crazy random “roll a d20 and see what happens!” stuff in one of the path choices in session 5, reminiscent of oldskool gaming).

Er, thanks for listing the dates. Now The Townshend has the information it requires and may depart the internet in peace.

32 Tivaan October 25, 2012 at 9:31 am

I love your map sections but I wish you had done the Encounter Maps in your library the same way you did the Lair Assault Maps, I use a VTT and the Lair Assault map library is just plain awesome.

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