This week we began season 11 of D&D Encounters. This is the third and final part of the Rise of the Underdark campaign arc. It also marks a significant change in the D&D Encounters program as it allows the PCs to level up after every week bringing them from level 1 to level 8. It’s still a 4e adventure but it does incorporate some aspects that are being play-tested in D&D Next. I for one am anticipating great things this season.
We had eight players and two DMs for this first session but we think that the weather and Halloween kept some players. We’ll see if more people show up next week. At my table I had a Half-Orc Barbarian, Drow Assassin, Pixie Vampire and Revenant (Githzerai) Bard. I know that Gith are technically not allowed but the player explained his concept and back-story which I thought was pretty cool so I’m going to allow it. After two seasons of enforcing character class and race restrictions I’ve decided to open the floodgates again.
One of the big changes this season is that each week’s session is a mini-adventure rather than just one encounter. This allows for more dynamic story-telling and gives the players more choices (and less railroading). I like to think of each encounter within a session as a scene since most of them don’t really meet the criteria for a 4e encounter. That being said each adventure has multiple scenes, but your group may not get to all of them depending on what choices they made along the way (as we saw this week).
Scene 1 – The Whistling Stag Inn
The adventure begins in Quaervarr, a village on the southwest edge of the Glimmerwood in the Forgotten Realms. As is tradition in almost all D&D adventures this one begins with a meeting in a tavern.
The players decided that they didn’t know each other before the adventure and that they met for the first time in The Whistling Stag. Each of them arrived alone and sat at the bar. By midday all four barstools were taken and the PCs realized that the rest of the patrons just assumed that these strangers were together.
Many of the locals in the tavern were abuzz about a recent ghost sighting. Apparently this ghost first appeared a week ago and every night since has walked through the town. The PCs were somewhat disinterested so I had the Mayor show up and engage them. He explained that although the ghost hadn’t yet hurt anyone the people were fearful. If the PCs could investigate he’d be grateful and would cover their room costs while they’re in town. They eventually accepted.
The PCs mingled with the locals gaining some information about the ghost sightings.
- A young Human named Hurst tried to mask his fear of the ghost and undead in general by teasing and insulting the Revenant and Vampire. The PCs learned that Hurst and Drana, a half-elf with hair like Rogue of the X-men, were the first people to spot the ghost. After the Highharvesttide celebration five nights ago they saw the phantom – a tall, thin Human male in armor – walking northeast trough the village.
- A gawky teen named Grainge (whom I voiced like the nerdy teen from the Simpsons) saw the ghost enter the village by stepping through the southeast palisade.
- A very strong and somewhat manish Half-elf female named Faella tried to hide her fear of the ghost behind a mask of strength. She took a shining to the party’s dim-witted Half-orc.
- An older, silver-haired Human named Rennick, clearly a retired adventurer, answered any other questions the PCs had about the village or the ghost sightings.
Scene 2 – Investigating the Phantom: A Secret Conference
At this point the adventure provides the DM with three likely scenarios the PCs might take. They could head directly to the ruins which they would only know about if they talked to Forestarm the Druid (which my group did not do). They could try and find out where the ghost was going by following it. Or they could try to find out where the ghost came from by heading to the southeast.
The PCs didn’t make any effort to talk to anyone else in the town and wanted to get down to business. The decided to wait for the ghost to appear and then followed him. When he appeared they tried to engage him in dialogue but he ignored them. Nothing they did could affect the ghost. He didn’t stop, slow down or acknowledge their presence. They followed him into the dense forest northwest of Quaervarr.
The party made a point of trying to move quietly and not leave a noticeable trail. They eventually heard gruff voices raised in anger from a point just ahead of them. The ghost veered away from the voices but the Assassin decided to move up quietly and investigate.
Two Orcs were talking to a Drow. The Assassin overheard enough of the conversation to realize that these two Orcs, each from different tribes, were in some kind of alliance with the Drow and that they were supposed to take the village of Winter Edge after the Darkening. The Drow slipped away and the Orcs continued to argue for a few minutes. When they turned to leave the Assassin used a ranged power to shove one and implicate the other. It worked and the two Orcs began to wrestle.
The rest of the party was too far back to hear words clearly but they knew the sounds of fighting and the Barbarian charged up to engage. When she arrived she recognized the symbols of the Ripped Gut Orcs and the Red Fang Orcs. The player decided that she was once part of the Ripped Gut tribe and joined her brethren in combat easily cleaving the Red Fang Orc in two with her mighty axe.
The grateful Orc gave the Barbarian the spoils of the kill, 55 gp in the Red Fang’s pouch. He also recounted what the Assassin already overheard about the plans. The Vampire and Bard stayed hidden, but the Drow Assassin stepped out and pretended to be with the Drow who just left. The Orc sold out the Barbarian, emphasizing her Half-orc lineage, claiming she broke the truce and pointed to the gold as proof of her kill. The Assassin told the Orc to flee while she’d take care of the traitor.
Scene 3 – Ruins of Methegrist
The party easily caught up to the ghost, following it to a clearing and some ruins. Four people were searching the ruins and seemed startled at the sight of the ghost. The ghost passed through a trapdoor and sunk into the ground. The NPCs spotted the party and took a defensive stance. The leader, a Dwarf, called out to the party informing them that he and his party were here first and claim salvage rights on all loot in the ruins.
Surprisingly the party had no issue with this claim. They explained that they were only here to investigate the ghost and were not interested in material gains. (This is the first time I’ve ever heard a party say anything like this and mean it.) The two groups agree to work together and explore the underground dungeon.
The PCs took point and systematically went from room to room. When they realized there were no monsters in the rooms they just went on to the next room without any real investigation. This let the NPCs find all the treasures.
I decided to recreate the map using dungeon tiles. This was a lot easier than covering the sections of the poster map the PCs weren’t supposed to see. I didn’t actually have anyone place minis, I merely used the tiles to help them visualize the layout.
The Mirror Pool was interesting and allowed the players to flesh out their PCs a little bit by coming up with some impromptu background. Some of the PCs felt guilt or remorse while others were unmoved, so both of the pools effects were discovered.
When the PCs entered the room where the knight was praying they did realize that the Font of Light was clearly something magical. They filled the glass vial with the holy water and acquired the Tears of Helm treasure. They continued to try and interact with the ghost knight but were unsuccessful. This actually bothered the players a lot that no matter what they did and no matter how good their Religion or Diplomacy checks they couldn’t interact with the ghost.
When the PCs finally tried to enter the last room with the brass-plated doors they realized that something evil was amiss. With an Arcana check they discovered the connection between the doors and the braziers emitting unholy fire. Using the holy water from the prayer room they extinguished the fires and then had no trouble opening the final doors.
Once inside they were taunted by the Imp. The players correctly guessed the first riddle (I allowed them to use monster knowledge checks to get the right answer). The second riddle was tougher. They seemed to decipher all the components but couldn’t place them in the correct order. Eventually the Imp attacked them. However, the combat only lasted two rounds as they made short work of it.
With the Imp destroyed they extinguished the final brazier and the ghost knight was finally at peace and disappeared. Once the phantom was gone the earth shook and the floor beneath the symbol and the ceiling above it cracked open revealing only darkness. When the PCs got back outside a dark filament shot up from the crack, as if a huge spider were spinning a web caught up in the wind. The darkness engulfed the moon and stars. The Darkening was upon them.
I really liked the way this week’s mini-adventure was set up and the way it played out. It was long (over 2 hours) but it was worth it. The players really got into the role-playing and didn’t seem disappointed that there was only minimal combat this week.
I felt that the dungeon exploration took a lot longer than necessary (about half of our total playing time) and I blame 4e mind-set for that. The players are used to only having one or two larger rooms with monsters and traps. Having to systematically go through each of the six rooms took forever. It certainly was an old school feel but these players were not expecting it. They didn’t believe that there would be a room with nothing in it (i.e., no monsters) and that slowed things down. Now they know better.
During the role-playing in the village the players had difficulty thinking outside of the box (or in this case outside of the tavern). I kept trying to get them to tell me what they expected to see or what they wanted to do and it was like pulling teeth. They’re so used to every detail being spoon fed to them that they forgot how rewarding it can be to help shape the story. It was like they were afraid of doing the wrong thing so they didn’t really do anything. I think this will change as we progress.
Both of the small combat encounters we had were done without a map or minis. The players actually had no trouble with this change. The really got into it and had fun describing the fighting. Since the Orcs were minions that combat only lasted one round. The Imp had 40 hit points but the three strikers easily mowed through those in two rounds. Next week the combat is likely to be more traditional and longer so we’ll be back to normal 4e but this week’s introduction to theater-of-the-mind combat was a great success and showcased how quick combat can be.
How did this week go at your FLGS? Were your numbers down because of Halloween and Hurricane Sandy? What were the players’ reactions to the new format? How long did it take to complete the session?
Recounting Encounters Podcast
Each week I record a podcast with Marc Talbot (Alton) from 20ft Radius in which we recount that week’s experiences with D&D Encounters. We share the highlights from our respective FLGS and we talk about what worked, what didn’t and what we might have done differently.
Actual Play Podcasts
We continue to record our D&D Encounters sessions and make them available to you for download every week. These recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at times it may be difficult to hear everyone. Some language may be inappropriate for all ages, although we try to keep it as family-friendly as possible.
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.