D&D Encounters: War of Everlasting Darkness (Week 2)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 8, 2012

Last week the adventure began when the PCs arrived in the logging community of Quaervarr on the edge of the Glimmerwood. The recent appearance of a wandering phantom had the locals worried and the PCs were encouraged to investigate. The heroes discovered the ruins of Methergrist, a long-abandoned Temple to Helm that lay in ruins. The PCs battled an Imp in the dungeon beneath the rubble eventually defeating it and banishing the wandering ghost. Their victory coincided with the emergence of The Darkening, dark filaments that shot up from a hole in the earth to spin a web of blackness across the sky blocking the starlight at night and masking the sun during the day.

Over the past few seasons at my FLGS the players have divided into two parties and then stuck to those parties throughout the entire season. This season we’re trying something a little bit different. Each week we’re randomly assigning players to one of the two tables. This lets the players and DMs meet and play with new people every week. Since each week is a complete mini-adventure and the PCs get to level up and take an extended rest between sessions this approach shouldn’t have a detrimental impact on anyone.

This week we had eight players again; the same number as last week. Two of our regulars were absent but two other familiar faces joined us again. My table included a Human Fighter (Slayer), Revenant (Pixie) Vampire, Shade Ranger (Hunter), and Shade Warlock (Binder).

The biggest negative criticism that I got from players after last week’s session was the lack of meaningful combat. They liked the quick, map-less battle and the fight against the Imp, but they didn’t feel that either battle really challenged the party or posed any real danger. Looking at what this week had to offer I didn’t see anything that addressed this concern so I decided to make a big change (keep reading).

Scene 1 – Attack on Winter Edge

This week’s adventure began days after last week’s session. During last week’s encounter the PCs might have happened upon a Drow ordering two Orcs of traditionally feuding tribes to lead their clans against the village of Winter Edge. If not they learned this information from an NPC when they returned to Quaervarr. The PCs should now be on their way to Winter Edge to warn the townsfolk about the pending attack.

The players at my table didn’t see a good reason that they should travel to Winter Edge. They wanted some stronger motivation for getting involved than doing the right thing for its own sake. Normally when I’m faced with this dilemma I look to the PCs’ alignment. Unfortunately all four PCs were unaligned so I railroaded them into going to Winter Edge. I said the Orcs were hot on their heels and that despite their high Stealth scores and powers to possibly avoid detection (like invisibility), if they stopped they’d eventually they’d have to face off against the savages. That worked. Sort of.

When the PCs arrived at Winter Edge an old woman with a gnarled staff accused them of bringing The Darkening. “What is this foul magic, and what is your part in it?” she asked. Since they didn’t really want to come here in the first place they decided not to warn the old bat or the townsfolk about the Orcs. The PCs tried to convince the villagers that they were powerful spell-casters and that the town was cursed by The Darkening. If the PCs didn’t get payment Winter Edge would never see the sun again. Of course they flubbed the Bluff rolls big time.

With the train coming off the track in a hurry I had Goody Winn see right through their deception and give the PCs one last chance to redeem themselves and tell her the truth. They didn’t. So in the distance the villagers heard an Orc war-horn. The PCs realized they were busted so they explained that they had nothing to do with The Darkening and that Orcs were coming to destroy the village.

Goody decreed that the PCs would help the village by slowing down the Orcs and providing cover while the villagers escaped. The PCs weren’t wild about taking orders but I made it sound like Goody was quite powerful and might have the ability to charm them into compliance if they didn’t agree.

Goody then called for Rhupp, a local teenager who was clearly Half-Orc. She told him to journey to the Kingdom of Many-Arrows, seek an audience with the King, and find out why the Orcs were attacking. Since Rhupp was young and inexperienced Goody encouraged the PCs to accompany him after the villagers fled to safety.

The combat with the Orcs was supposed to be quick (2 rounds) and did not require a map. However, this was where I decided to significantly change things. Knowing that the players craved combat I made this into a full-scale battle. Rhupp stood by their side bolstering their numbers to five. I gave the party the option to ambushing the Orcs in the forest or wait in the village; they opted for the village. I gave them a few minutes to position themselves and then the first Orcs appeared.

I used 4 Savages (minions) and 1 Orc Reaver (pg#28). I further tweaked the monsters by making the Savages two-hit minions. At the beginning of every round I added 1 or 2 more minions depending on how many fell the previous round. I only brought 6 minis for the Orc Savages so I never had more than 6 on the map at any one time. At the top of the fourth round I added another Orc Reaver. By adding two level 5 Skirmishers and so many more minions this was not a fair fight, but it wasn’t supposed to be. I wanted to give the players a chance to try out their new PCs in a fight that truly challenged them.

They actually did a pretty good job of fending off the Orcs, but by the sixth round minions were getting past them and chasing the villagers. By the time the PCs finally dropped the first Reaver the Vampire and Fighter were both near 0 hit points. When I added 5 more Orcs on the edge of the map the heroes finally fled. In the end they killed 8 two-hit minions and 2 Reavers without suffering any fatalities themselves.

Scene 2 – Trek to Dark Arrow Keep

The journey to the Kingdom of Many-Arrows was over 100 miles and took the PCs 7 days. Along the way Rhupp explained that his mother was a member of the Many-Arrows tribe. The villagers found her alone and near death in the woods. The revived her and she eventually took a Human husband. Rhupp is only Half-Orc but he’s still of Many-Arrows. He believed that he could get an audience with King Obould.

When the PCs finally made it to the Spine of the World Mountains dozens of Orcs surrounded the party. Rhupp called out an introduction and made his intentions known, as is the Orc custom. Without warning over a dozen Orc archers shot Rhupp. An Orc commander called out to his men (but none of the PCs spoke Giant). Insight checks revealed that the Orcs who shot likely did so without orders.

The Vampire and Fighter rushed to Rhupp’s side. The Fighter used Heal to stabilize him and the Vampire administered the Tears of Helm potion they acquired in last week’s session. Rhupp would live but remained unconscious. The commander ordered the PCs to lay down their weapons and surrender. The Ranger refused and was promptly beaten into unconsciousness by 8 strong Orcs.

Scene 3 – King Obould

The PCs were led to a room full of Orcs where King Obould Many-Arrows questioned his new prisoners. This was a chance for some good role-playing but the players at my table were not really interested; they just wanted to fight Orcs. They did ask why the Orcs of Red Fang and Ripped Gut raided Winter Edge but the King’s response was aloof. The Warlock did make a successful Insight and realized that King Obould was not pleased with the raids but had to placate the masses. The PCs tried to get a private audience with the King but were unsuccessful.

Other Orc chieftains joined in the stunted discussion. Chief of the Death Horn tribe supported following the Drow who promised The Darkening and delivered. Chief of the Green Moss tribe tried to reason with the crowd reminding them that peace has made them prosperous. Meanwhile the PCs just stood there. They were not interested in having this conversation.

Rhupp regained consciousness and interjected on behalf of the PCs. He shamed the Orcs by calling out their cowardly tactics of firing on him, an unarmed man. He then sang the praises of the PCs who defended Winter Edge when they had no reason to do so. This seemed to curry some favour with King Obould.

Finally a Shaman of Gruumsh from the Crooked Path tribe demanded that the PCs demonstrate their abilities. The Drow have proven that they can do what they claim; now the PCs must prove likewise. The heroes must choose a champion to fight in The Pit. If the champion wins then it’s a sign that Gruumsh does not want the Orcs to join the Drow. If the champion loses then it’s a sign that the Orcs should join the Drow. This was something the players were up for. The Vampire quickly volunteered to be the champion.

I again decided to make the fight a little bit more challenging than printed. I doubled the Drake’s hit points from 48 to 96. Given the Vampire’s potential for output I didn’t think this would be too much and it wasn’t.

The PCs tried to distract the Shaman and the Ranger managed to mimic the clicks and whistles the Shaman was using to command his pet. Success confused the Drake for a round. The others tried to taunt the Shaman but were unsuccessful. Meanwhile the Vampire went to work on the Drake destroying him with every hit. The Drake only managed to get a single hit in during the first four rounds but it was a crit.

The Warlock tussled with another spectator and the two ended up in The Pit to duke it out. The two sparred for two rounds before the Warlock knocked the Orc unconscious in the same round that the vampire knocked the Drake unconscious. The PCs were victorious.

Scene 4 – Escaping Dark Arrow Keep

After a celebratory feast the PCs were shown to a lavish room. Soon after one of King Obould’s servants came to help the PCs escape. Some of the King’s enemies intended to kill the PCs while they slept to undermine the King. The servant told them to flee to nearby Mithral Hall where they can explain to the Dwarves the recent events. The PCs were going to try to Bluff their way past the guards but they realized none of them spoke Giant. Plan B was to sneak through the refuse chute. With some successful Stealth checks they escaped without notice and were off to Mithral Hall.

Thoughts

This was another solid week, despite some of the challenges I had with my group when it came to the role-playing. The adventure is really shaping up and the players seem to be enjoying it. The feedback I’m getting is that they feel a real sense of satisfaction and accomplishment each week, more than they’ve felt in previous seasons. They like that the new format is more than just show up, fight monsters, go home.

The sessions are still running longer than usual. This week it took us a little over two hours to complete the session. Fortunately I knew we had time so I didn’t rush. If we were on the clock I think we could have finished in about 90 minutes, especially if I’d just run the Orc attack as intended.

No one has any issues with the fact that they can’t take short or extended rests during the session despite days passing in-game. Of course the combat encounters have been pretty tames so far so feelings may change in the upcoming weeks.

We’re two weeks into the new format, how’s it going over at your FLGS? Any strong resistance to the new format and rules tweaks? Did any other DMs beef up the Orc encounter this week? How are players reacting to leveling up each week?

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.


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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe Lastowski November 8, 2012 at 10:19 am

Every DM at my FLGS tweaked the combat encounters, though we each did so in different ways. One added more orcs, another added more drakes. Last night we had some snow, so numbers were down, but still managed one table of 6, one table of 5, and 4 at my table. My table had a fire elem sorcerer, pixie vampire, shifter seeker, & elven avenger… so 3 strikers & a controller (thank goodness they had the Tears of Helm to act as a healing potion).

After some long discussions over the past week on the Wizards boards (a dark & scary place), I happened across a user (Clansmansix) who had come up with a great new monster condition for this season: Starving, that started monsters at 1 HP above bloodied. This allowed PCs to get in a few solid hits, but not get bogged down round after round so that the night could be paced to include the pages & pages of necessary content.

I took the orc minions in the monster builder, then removed their “minion” status, which would have given them 62 HP. Making them “starving”, they started off at 32 HP, and were bloodied after taking a point of damage. As hoped, this kept the first combat down to 3 rounds. The “starving” status also drove home the idea that as the Darkening caused plants to die, it was having a larger effect on the environment.

I altered the “Champion Challenge” a lot, making it a group challenge instead of a single player challenge. My party, I knew, was mostly strikers, so I knew that mechanically they’d have very little to do “subtly manipulating the fight”. So instead they had to fight the Eye of Gruumsh’s pets… a cockatrice and a two reskinned “rock drakes” (I thought it made sense to have creatures that could live with a cockatrice, so I did a little bit of tweaking to a rage drake and lowered Reflex, increseased Fort/AC, and gave them resist 2 to fire/cold/lightning. However, I decided that they didn’t have eyes and reacted via tremorsense, so a monster knowledge check said they could “blind” them with thunder damage). I also altered the petrification rules to be a bit more forgiving, but didn’t have to go that far, as everyone made their initial saves against the immortalization before things got worse. The idea was to have a dynamic combat, with lots of interesting threats and tactic options, that still wouldn’t take a full hour (our table was the first to reach this fight, and we started it at 8:30… 1.5 hrs in. The other two tables didn’t even start this fight until closer to 9).

Hard number crunching & DM planning ahead of time paid off, though, and the party was victorious, while still feeling threatened. A couple players had read the Drizz’t books, and were therefore excited to meet King Obould, and appreciated his difficult position and the risks he took to keep his tribe out of the fray. Also, everyone is super excited about trying to break through the orcish seige to get to Mithral Hall next session.

This season so far has been fantastic conceptually. There’s a great overarching story to keep folks interested, and the individual week goals are each fun and exciting. It’d be nice if the writers had continued to focus on 4th ed from a number-crunch standpoint, so that folks wouldn’t feel as cheated in combat as they do in the NEXT playtests… but we’ve got lots of competent DMs at our store, and there are many more online, so we (the collective 4e DMs of the world) can make up for the mechanical failings. Searching the Wizards boards, we’ve even found play-trackers and item cards for the various named magic items each week. So while I feel like this falls a little short as a stand-alone product, it has enough in it to become a successful season of play for new and experienced players, with proper DM tweaking.

One last note: At our store we’ve decided each week to give out level-appropriate gold to the characters, so that they have some tangible reward for all the supposed “other adventures” they go on in-between sessions to justify levelling-up.

2 Roland November 8, 2012 at 11:28 am

The lack of desire of many players to not roleplay is disheartening.

3 Joe November 8, 2012 at 11:58 am

At our store, at least, it’s not a lack of desire to roleplay… but they want to experience more of the combat “pillar” in the 3-pillar system (RP, exploration, combat). At my table, they were still happy to calm down the mayor & villagers, organize the villagers’ exodus, reassure the girl with the strange poppet, parlay with the orc patrol, negotiate with the orc king, and make choices to alleviate the difficult position the king was in. However, if they’d done all that and only had a melee with a couple minions and then watched a single character fight a low-level critter, they would have felt cheated for spending so much time making characters with combat powers (which is what the 4e character creation/levelling process highlights).

There are lots of DMs out there who believe we can do it all at our tables, and I’ve seen (and run) games of 4e where roleplaying was immensely important and rewarding. For something like Encounters, though, which is aimed at bringing new players into the D&D fold, telling them to choose all sorts of combat powers, then hardly use them… well, it just feels counter-productive. Basic roleplaying theory says that you start with learning the basics of a system, then move on to more in-character roleplaying as you become comfortable acting as a character of that world and using whatever mechanics that world imposes. Sure, a seasoned roleplayer can jump into a game of Baron Munchausen at the drop of a hat, or start manipulating NPCs with nothing more than words without ever rolling a die… but if Encounters is aimed at newer players, we can’t expect that sort of experienced roleplaying right off the bat. Many of our new players have experience with video games, where they kill monsters, so that should be a starting point that’s supported as they move towards more intense roleplaying experiences.

Many of the experienced players who have stuck with Encounters have done so because in the middle of the week, it’s nice to have a chance to sit down and kill some stuff. Requiring longer, more intense RP and completely removing any meaningful combat is a poor choice for these players, too.

4 LordOcampo November 8, 2012 at 2:22 pm

The story looks wonderful and they are indeed taking the players to famous locations! Curious enough, I while ago someone at the WotC forums complained of the lack of attention to the Many-Arrows orcs.

5 Roland Volz November 8, 2012 at 3:48 pm

I ended up cobbling together Sessions 1 and 2 this week due to Hurricane Sandy’s store closure last week. The group was also smaller than usual due to the snowstorm, but I still managed a table of 5: a dragonborn slayer, half-elf cleric, human paladin, satyr sentinel druid, and a githzerai monk (yeah, I threw in all previous pregens from the previous appropriate seasons, and the gith was in the season 1 pregens back in the day).

Because of the need to combine, I ended up narrating more than usual, I eliminated a couple of easy combats (I didn’t bother really running the fight against the two orcs who were meeting with the drow, and the orc savages were evaded instead of fought). The players (two of them new to D&D) still loved it. I hope to get them more into describing their actions assuming they show up next week.

6 Sunyaku November 8, 2012 at 10:04 pm

For once, our FLGS is a week ahead of your blog (often we’re a week behind) and I must say people are satisfied with the adventure, but they don’t feel “threatened” because the combats are so easy. In third week, I was able to batter them a bit over several small combats that added up to a more significant threat. Otherwise, sessions are always running long. I think one of the other DMs said it best, “There is almost enough content in each of these chapters to run a 4 hour LFR mod.

7 Paik the Kenku Monk November 8, 2012 at 11:31 pm

As DM, at the end of the night, it was nice to see that people liked the extra role-playing. I too tweeked the encounters & monsters to fit my group. I combined the stirges and the orcs into one group. My group was going after the ghost but saw the drow/orc talk and attacked them. I added some more orcs and the group disturbed the strirge nest in the fight so they came out too. The encounter ended with meeting the crone and due to time and a big group (8) they make a bad choice and she put them to sleep…end session.

Next week will be interesting…

8 B.J. November 8, 2012 at 11:49 pm

“The lack of desire of many players to not roleplay is disheartening.”

Amen! I have a lot of younger players, but it’s still a little disheartening when I’m trying my best to get them to engage King Obould and they just stare blankly back at me. I would have an orc say something bellicose to try and prod the characters into roleplaying and… nothing. At one point, one of the players asked “Can we do something besides talking because we’re not good at it.”

9 Vobeskhan November 9, 2012 at 8:19 am

I ran this in two session as usual.

Our first session the players really get the RP side of play and truly got into interacting with the villagers and later, the orc king. The brief combat with the scouts at the village lasted a couple of rounds and our berserker actually took some solid hits (thats what happens when you get flanked by a pair of orc savages lol) before the party were victorious. The scene with the orc king went well and the “challenge” fight worked well with the rest of the party using their skills to help out without being caught (the beserker interfering with the shamens whistling while the druid and mage used hidden casting to assist the cavalier) Fleeing the assassination threat the opted to head straight to the rubbish chute and avoided patrols on the way. The players enjoyed the session and all participated in the game throughout.

The second group was a different story. We have a bit of a divide in this group as one of the older players really gets the RP aspect while another seems to delight in being as awkward as possible (unfortunately this encourages his younger brother to also follow suit). This week saw his pixie skald ignore the villagers plight in favour of plundering the now abandoned village pub. After the skirmish with the scouts he bemoaned the lack of short rest even though the party were taking “a couple of days” to travel to Dark Arrow Keep (this is despite being told at session 0 that this season had no rests and a different narrative approach). When it came to the archers shooting Rhuup the cavalier took the hit, dropping him to unconsciousness so the party administered the tears of helm (their only healing since the skald used his encounter power in the skirmish earlier). While the hexblade and cavalier tried to interact with the King, the pixie and his brother (a drow revenant executioner) were more interested in antagonising the orcs. The hexblade took on the challenge while the others placed huge bets with the surrounding orcs. During the fight the cavalier tried to take a flagon of ale from an orc, resulting in him being knocked into the arena with a pair of surly drunken orcs. Once the party were victorious they went to claim their winnings to be told sorry due to the cavaliers interference all bets were off. During the Kings feast the pixie and cavalier decided to have a fist fight (for “entertainment”) before retiring to the alloted chambers. They chose to escape via the chute also but the cavalier chose to grab pixie and throw him down first.

The contrast between the groups is evident, as most of the early group have played previous editions and are happy to RP, while the later group having played mainly 4e miss the “battle-a-week” format that Encounters had fallen into the trap of becoming.

Personally I like the style of this season and despite the disruptions of certain individuals am happy to continue running both sessions, though I think I’ll make the later sessions more combat intensive if necessary to keep them “on track”.

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