D&D Encounters: War of Everlasting Darkness (Week 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 1, 2012

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.

Thoughts

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.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John November 1, 2012 at 11:26 am

We actually had no game this week due to Halloween but played the adventure the previous week. Our group is a transfer from our usual home group that just decided to give encounters a try, seeing as this is the first time i and the store i work for are actually hosting encounters.

Our group consists of 5. A Drow Skald, Pixie Binder, Deep Gnome Knight, Human Hunter and my-self the Dragonborn Elemental Hexblade. We actually started out with half the group knowing each other due to some background story and the other half knew each other. We all met at the tavern and all were intrigued enough with this ghost tale to want to investigate it further as we were all clearly the “Adventuring” types in the town. We went and spoke with the Druid and then headed off to the ruins. Along the way we encountered a Stirge and our Drow Skald was attacked and bloodied then i blasted the critter into oblivion.
We made our way to the ruins, encountered the explorer’s/tomb robber’s and a healthy role play encounter began. Our Drow eventually convinced the group that some bad mojo was going down and it was effecting the mind of the head dwarf of the tomb robbers. They as a group moved on and we went in the ruins to explore. This portion of the adventure was a little tedious but some of the extras were cool. The traps were quite deadly as our Skald tripped one and knocked unconcious, the pool that showed the regrets was a nice touch and finding the holy water to extinguish the flames was nice. We solved both the riddles so no other combats outside the stirge but that was just fine as we all had a blast.
We all really enjoyed the ending as it set the stage for some really cool and exciting stuff to come.

I hope we get some more players and DM’s down the road as it would be nice to have more groups playing but we will have 5 consitantly every week.

2 Joe Lastowski November 1, 2012 at 11:37 am

I’m really on the fence so far. There are things I LOVE about the new Encounters season, and other things I’m really not fond of. I’ll try to categorize them as I experienced them:

GOOD: Character Generation. Last week was the most exciting time I’ve ever had with players during a character gen session. People were ready for a change from the Drow stuff, and folks loved the idea of mixing and matching options from various books. Our FLGS opened up everything, allowing for any 4e choice from any source (though we discouraged “monster” races like bugbear & bladeling, since they’ve seen additional support since their release. Still, everyone was excited, and even some new folks showed up and had a ball creating characters. I even had the awesome experience of helping an 11-year-old create his first ever D&D character… a dragonborn fighter(slayer) named Belac (the inverse of the kid’s name: Caleb).

BAD: Pacing. Yesterday’s session was really long, and had no options listed for ways to speed things up. Our party spent the first 45 minutes in the bar trying to talk to every person there, and didn’t even see the ghost until an hour had passed. Then they spent a lot of time trying every idea possible to interact with the ghost, which took another half hour, then another 15 minutes parlaying with the orcs, which eventually devolved into combat. By the time they got to the ruins of Methergrist, there was almost no time left to do any actual dungeon-crawling. We basically skipped the whole “rivals” thing, because there was no time. I had them roll a couple skill checks and quickly narrated some traps they avoided (which really felt like narrative railroading), then quickly brought them to the end, where there were two rooms: one filled with a white light, and one that felt like it was full of corrupted energy. They went to the white light room first, where I force-narrated the process of getting the Tears of Helm, and by then it was 9:00, so I told them that they arrived at the next room in time to see the imp finish a ritual and turn into a spider which crawled down into the hole. Then the whole building started shaking, and after they escaped, the Darkening happened. As we left, the other two tables in our store were just getting to the ruins.

GOOD: Simple concepts. I like that the basic ideas are very clear-cut this season. The only point of confusion we had was when the orcs were overheard saying “It not here yet” and the party went for a while believing that the “it” was the ghost, and not the Darkening. But overall there isn’t too much in the way of double-crossing backstabs with difficult names. The plots are pretty straighforward (if extended).

BAD: Combat. The brief combat we had time for (with the orc minions) was not at all satisfying as a combat. I quickly debriefed with my players afterward, and they said that they felt cheated. “If I get all these cool options for my character, why didn’t they design fights where I can use them?” was one player’s response. Another said “Why did I even bother building a healer if none of the combat is serious enough to do any real damage?” (esp after they received the refilling potions of healing). Having read the whole season, I realize that there are bigger fights coming up, but even those have a lot of minions as the main threats, which in the end feels cheap to the players. That 11-year-old was so excited to do lots of damage with his dragonborn fighter, and after one breath of fire, the enemies were gone. Even if they’d fought the stirge, or the imp, or the other party, none of those were threats that would have lasted more than half a round.

GOOD: Items. While folks are a little confused about the process of treasure and items (see below), I do like the idea of giving out named items with special properties from the get-go. It made folks feel like their items were important, and that they could have an impact on things to come.

CONFUSION: Treasure/items. The “Treasure” section of the DM’s description of the season (p.2) looks like a cut-and-paste from previous seasons at first, talking about how to determine who gets non-consumable magic items that are awarded, and how to sell them if nobody wants them, and when to buy equipment. However, then there’s a paragraph that says folks are not getting random items, because they couldn’t keep pace with the level advancement, and they’re using flat bonuses instead. And that’s it.

Since we’re so rapidly advancing the characters in level, claiming they’ve done other adventures in-between, does that mean that week-to-week they should receive the level-appropriate gold for their characters? This week the most the players might have gotten was 100 GP each from the orcs, which isn’t enough to buy anything magical (besides a potion or two). Their next shot at treasure isn’t until week 4 (at level 4), when they might scrounge up a total of 575 GP by the end of the week (total, not per-character) worth of stuff from different locations if they make the right Perception checks, which would give them a total of around 200 each after 4 sessions (assuming a 5-6 character party). I feel like the players ought to have a chance to buy at least a level 1 magic item (360 GP) by the time they hit level 5. I think our store is probably going to give out level-appropriate gold each week to help the players feel like they’re gaining some benefit from all the adventures they’re supposedly engaging in during the in-between times.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Overall, I’m still hopeful for this season. True, I did have a player say “Wow, I really hate D&D Next” after last night’s session was over. And true, my wife (who only started playing last season) did say “I may not come as often if there’s going to be so little combat and everything else will be so squished together”. But still, I’m hopeful that we can pull this out. I may rewrite some of the upcoming adventures to have more combat, so players feel like their level-advancement actually has a purpose and they have a chance to use their cool new powers. And I’ll spend a lot more time looking at what “fat” can be cut from the overly long adventures to make sure folks who expect the session to take the advertised 1-2 hours will actually be able to keep to their schedules. But most of the players have played with me before, and they know I’ll do what I can to help us all have fun… so I’m sure it’ll all work out. And while this does espouse the D&DNext mantra of “the DM should do lots more work”, we’ll still work it so folks using these 4e characters can feel like they’re having the fun they hoped to have and enjoy the current D&D system without losing it all in attempts to railroad them into NEXT.

3 Vobeskhan November 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm

As usual we ran back to back sessions and both kept to their 2hour limits. Both groups interacted with npcs, chose different routes to the ruins, each had a minor combat encounter en route. We didnt use any maps until either group failed the second riddle and triggered the imps attack. Even though this was a very short combat for both groups they all said they had enjoyed the change in style, it feeling more like a full game of DnD rather than the fight-a-week that Encounters had become.

We had roleplaying, exploration, dungeon crawling and riddle/problem solving all in a 2 hour game. None of my players have taken part in the Next playtest so far but I’m pretty sure if they had they would have said this session felt very much like it, and in a good way.

I look forward to the rest of the season with an open mind and a handful of dice.

4 Sunyaku November 1, 2012 at 7:25 pm

So far the consensus at my FLGS seems to be that sessions run too long and combats vs minions with 4e characters are pretty uneventful. As a DM this season, I’ve been pulling out all the tactical/thematic stops I can think of to make the monsters more threatening.

5 Joe Lastowski November 1, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Hey, how is everyone managing the level-up-every-week thing? Many of our players are new(ish) and don’t have their own DDI accounts, so typically we’ve let them build characters on our accounts. In the past, that has meant printing the 5-6 page character sheet for each of them 3 times (once per level), which hasn’t been great, but was doable. Now we’ll need to do that 8 times (once per week), which will mean 40-50 pages per player, all of which will fall on the printers of either our FLGS or our home printers. Has anyone else put thought into how to deal with that?

Also, Sunyaku, the DMs at our store have talked about turning every minion into a regular monster to see if that ups the difficulty a little (though it means sacrificing some of the others stuff so folks will have time for “real” combat). Still, with our players complaining about “all fluff, and no crunch”, we’ve decided that something needs to be done. 4e is a combat-focused system, so we want to make sure that all players have a chance to experience their cool powers and actually use their combat tactics.

6 Ameron (Derek Myers) November 1, 2012 at 11:08 pm

@Joe Lastowski
For pre-gens see the D&D Encounters forums. All 6 of the usual suspects are available through the levels.
http://community.wizards.com/dungeonsanddragons/go/thread/view/91301/29440315/Pre-Gen_Resources

I’d recommend only printing up the even level PCs since that’s when the most significant changes happen. If cost is an issue I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask the players for a nominal fee, like $1 per character.

7 Billy C November 2, 2012 at 6:54 am

Joe, are the players incapable of pulling out a pen and adding one to all defenses, skill checks, etc? Even when you gain a new feat or ability, it isn’t rocket science to just write it into available blank space. That’s generally what I’ve been doing this past couple seasons. Use the builder to see what updates need to be made, and just write it in.

8 Roland Volz November 4, 2012 at 5:17 pm

We couldn’t do D&D Encounters session 1 because Hurricane Sandy knocked out the hobby store, not to mention most of the players had other things to worry about. I’m not quite sure how to handle that this week — I can’t combine sessions, because the Encounters sessions for this season are longer and more intricate. Not to mention, many of the players will not have leveled their characters to 2, so I’m going to have to bring 2nd level pregens.

Any suggestions? Maybe I can cobble together portions of session 1 and 2?

9 Rogue #1 November 5, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Rennick and Faella, those were the two people I mentioned last week Derek! Rennick was trying to make Faella feel better about the whole ghost problem and my character went up rocked a bluff check to make her think it was truly the sign of a curse thus causing Faella to run away screaming… Rennick didn’t like that too much. For the rest of the tavern part my character kept going on about a curse.

When the mayor came in he was talking to Hurst and Drana. My character went up to them and said it was a curse – which didn’t surprise anyone. The mayor let it slip that there was a ghost, a fact that he was trying to deny… At which point I jumped on it. I made the mayor announce to all those around that it was a ghost.

He proceeded to ask us for help. My character ask “what’s in it for ME?” The mayor asked what I wanted, to which I declared 10 virgins. The mayor said he couldn’t do that. The druid then took me to the side and said that she could try to make it happen that people travel this way with their families and stuff and maybe they could just go missing. My character instantly agreed upon hearing that. The druid then gave us directions to the ruins.

On our way to the ruins we got accosted by a big. Frankly we made easy work of it tho i did hardly any damage since I rolled fairly shitty. I blame the sun for my characters misfortune. Although I did take 7 damage 5 of which came from my temps so I only took 2 real damage.

After that, we came upon the dwarf, the elf, and two humans at the ruins. My character, tried to be all nice and friendly. I stepped out and said “Hail friend dwarf!” The dwarf turned towards me and went on about we shouldn’t be here, what were we doing here. I told him that we were here to help, that they could keep the treasure. The dwarf talked with his accomplices about it and they agreed.

After two amazing checks we found the entrance. Then, at the speed of plot the ghost appeared and went down into the entrance. Once down there we opened the door to the spiked floor trap. Stupid me didn’t try to see if anything was amiss and got hit for horrible damage causing me to become bloodied. After that, I sent my poor owl-bear in to hopefully find a path, but, the stupid thing ended up dying.

The fighter went through using her brains and jumped the first spot. The rest of the party went through the room with the statue. It was because of my religion check that we found out it was a statue to the God Helm. Before we completed the spike trap, we convinced the dwarf to go first trying to find out which spot in front of the door was safe. Thankfully, we closed the door prior to him finding out because he died which caused the elf to flee. Now, with the spike trap completed but, before we went into the next room I got the two humans to topple the statue, simple because.

Once in the room with the pool I we all looked inside. Mine was my characters childhood friend getting ripped apart by a demon. My character, at least now, found it entertaining and laughed. Due to the pool my character also saw themselves in their pixie form as opposed to a giant human with pixie wings as i’ve house ruled my characters look.

For the hellfire I kicked one over but nothing happened so we let it be. In the room with the ghost and the tears of helm, I took a vial of it then, because one of the players at the group had the idea “I wonder what happens if you pee in them!” I decided to do so, you think by now the senior people at these encounters would learn not to give me ideas. Regardless, now the water was murky in both pools.

When we got to the imp, we were dumb founded by the riddle and he attacked one of us but missed. The combat took awhile mostly since we were all rolling rather horrible, stupid cold dice. After that the party found the loot, the 100something gold, the two jewels, and the silver statue of helm. I personally wanted the statue but, alas it didn’t come to pass. Would have been more fun if I did seeing as how I completely disgraced Helm.

10 Roland November 6, 2012 at 10:26 am

I loved this first session. The dungeon crawl feel was great and the limitation on short rests are a rule I may have to implement in my own campaign. It helps balance out the overwhleming power that 4E characters have in my mind. If this is the direction that D&D is going for 5th edition they may have stopped me from moving over to Pathfinder! Down with easy mode!

11 Hayley November 11, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Just thought I’d share my blog posts about dd on here. I’m a new player and still getting to grips with playing, but I’m loving it! I also write novels and wanted this season to try and write about my encounters in that format. So the first chapter of my novel can be found on both my blogs. I really hope people enjoy reading them and comments would be great.

http://hailscrazyblog.blogspot.co.uk/

http://hayleyhardman.wordpress.com/

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