D&D Encounters: War of Everlasting Darkness (Week 3)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 15, 2012

Last week’s session ended when the heroes escaped the confines of the Kingdom of Many-Arrows and headed towards Mithral Hall to inform the Dwarves that rogue Orc war-bands had defied King Obould Many-Arrows and joined forces with the treacherous Drow to bring chaos to the surface world. As the Darkening continues to spread across the realms, the heroes find themselves deep inside hostile Orc territory as they seek safe harbour in the Dwarven kingdom.

We had a good turnout this week with two DMs and 10 players. We continue to shuffle the groups so this week I had a Drow Assassin, Revenant (Pixie) Vampire, Shade Ranger (Hunter), Revenant [Gith] Bard, and Human Swordmage.

Scene 1 – Arrival at Mithral Hall

When the heroes arrived at Mithral Hall they realized that it was under siege from the Orcs. Orcs had the entrances to Mithral Hall and the entrances to many large cave mouths guarded. On the mountainside near the PCs, Orcs had set up tents and cook fires. About 500 feet away guards surround an enormous wooden horn atop a plateau. When the horn was blown, the attacking Orcs troops adjust their positions around the entrances to Mithral Hall.

The way this adventure is set up, there will be opportunities for the party to split up that won’t lead to immanent death. This was one of those situations and the players decided to do it. The Assassin and Swordmage decided to try and Bluff their way past an Orc patrol and get into the caverns of Mithral Hall through a guarded side entrance. The rest of the PCs decided to use the horn to create confusion and get the Orc army running around like idiots.

Act 1 – Side Door

The Assassin walked right up to the Orc patrol, and being Drow she asserted her authority over the Orcs bluffing that she was part of the Drow contingent commanding these Orcs. The Orc lieutenant, the only female of the bunch, snapped to attention and despite a decent Insight check took the Drow’s words as truth. The Assassin convinced the lieutenant to take three of her grunts and return to the main command tent for a special assignment. When she left, the Assassin then convinced the remaining Orc that he was tasked with his own special mission to track down some Dwarves who managed to get out of a nearby tunnel in the other direction. When everyone was gone the Assassin signaled to the Swordmage that the coast was clear and the two entered the cavern unmolested and unseen.

Act 2 – Using the Horn

Meanwhile the Ranger, Druid and Vampire climbed the peak where the horn was located. They spotted four Orc guards and one Drow. During a surprise round the heroes managed to take down two Orcs and badly wound the Drow. The Vampire and Bard tag-teamed the Drow and knocked him out before he even got to make an attack. Unfortunately the Ranger missed the other Orcs with his normal action and action point allowing them to get close enough to the horn to blow it. Blowing the note of compromise was the last action they took before they too were killed.

As reinforcements sprinted towards the horn, the heroes decided that there was nothing to be gained from sticking around. Cutting their losses they grabbed the unconscious Drow and fled back to where the Assassin and Swordmage were last seen. When they got there the Orcs had returned and were on high alert. Realizing that carrying a prisoner into combat was a bad idea they left the Drow bound in the forest and rushed the Orcs.

The combat didn’t last long, but did provide more of a challenge than the encounter at the horn. I let the players running the Assassin and Swordmage (who by this time had been out of the game for about 15 minutes) run the Orcs. It’s always fun to see players fighting players. The Orc lieutenant managed to score two good hits on the Vampire, bloodying him, before she was killed. The Bard and Ranger made short work of the Orc minions.

Act 3 – Hall of Heroes

The stragglers followed the tunnels for miles beneath Mithral Hall before they were reunited with their allies in the Hall of Heroes. The tunnel was lined with statues of 10 Dwarves on each side with three statues facing the party at the far end. Each of the three was identified by a bronze name plate. A small socket was set in each statue’s base beside the name plate. On the floor in front of the three statues were three stone weapons (axe, hammer, and pick) and three precious stones (ruby, sapphire and emerald).

When the heroes approached the three statues the central statue spoke to them. “Who are you to invade resting place of the honoured dead?” it asked. Despite their honest replies of good intentions the statue continued, “Fancy words do not a friend make. If you are indeed here to help and honour Mithral Hall, you know what to do with these. See that each item takers its proper place.”

Clues to help solve this puzzle were carved into five bronze plates at the base of the statues. The party put their heads together and figured out which weapon and gemstone went with each statue. When the items were placed correctly the middle statue again spoke, “Go forward and do honour to the dwarves who hold this place of strength.”

Act 4 – A Demented Drow

As the PCs moved into an area of the undercity that showed more recent signs of travel they were beset upon but a rampaging Orc. The Orc managed to score a couple of deadly blows against the PCs but they took him down easily. As they were about to pat each other on the back for such an easy victory an invisible Drow tried to garrote the Ranger, but missed. All five PCs ganged up on the Drow hurting him badly. He activated his Cloud of Darkness and then garroted the Assassin. However, the Assassin easily escaped the stranglehold by teleporting away as soon as the darkness was dropped.

The PCs decided to capture, rather than kill this Drow. When they questioned him they discovered that he was a member of House Xorlarrin. He rambled on about the spreading darkness and how his father, Tsabrask, would become the Spider Queen’s regent when the war is over. Before he could reveal anything else spider spewed forth from his eyes and mouth, engulfing him, and devoured the flesh from his bones causing him an agonizing death.

Scene 2 – Royal Meeting

The PCs eventually found their way to the inhabited areas of Mithral Hall where guards escorted them to the King. Once in King Connerad Battlehammer’s presence the PCs shared the tale of all that had happened to this point. The King seemed disappointed to learn that King Obould was not the aggressor in this recent attack as the Dwarves were looking forward to fighting the army of the Many-Arrow’s king. Now they’d have to settle for the killing Drow and the renegade Orc forces.

Scene 3 – Mysterious Message

When the audience with the king ended a Dwarven messenger presented the PCs with a letter from their eccentric friend. No one had any idea who it could be from so they opened it and read the letter. It was from a Dwarf named Axelcrantz. Based on the letter’s contents Axelcrantz didn’t seem to perceive time as liner. Perhaps he was a prophet, a diviner, or simply crazy. He wrote of things still to come and that the PCs should meet him in Citadel Adbar. As an afterthought he wrote that the PCs should pick some moondrop blooms when they pass through the Glimmerwood as they might be needed in the future.

It would seem that the PCs will be headed for Citadel Adbar for the next leg of this adventure.

Thoughts

This was another great encounter. There were plenty of options presented for getting into Mithral Hall that the players could choose from depending on their strengths. Creative players could also work outside of the normal framework if they wanted to.

Combat against the Orcs could be handled as quick, map-less fights that focused on role-playing or they could be played out as longer battles that used the map and relied more on tactics. If combat was necessary the fighting was balanced and posed significant threat to keep PCs on their toes.

Once inside Mithral Hall the PCs faced different challenges depending on which route they took. Those taking a secret passage had to deal with more traditional pit traps and an extended skill challenge, while those who got in a side door had to solve the puzzle as my group did. The skill challenge was very open ended and DMs were encouraged to let just about any reasonable approach work with a successful skill check. The puzzle was pretty straight forward but if players were stuck, the DM had hints he could provide with a decent check.

This was a week when splitting the party could yield great results and it sounded like a lot of parties and my FLGS took this approach. It’s good to see people break from the “don’t split the party” mentality and do what seems fun. The players are also getting more comfortable avoiding head on combat and using their other skills and powers to avoid unnecessary fights, much like they would at a home game. After only three weeks I think this season’s experimentation with style is yielding fantastic results. The players really seem to be enjoying it.

Tip of the week: Since PCs level up at the end of every session you have the chance to retrain each week. If there’s a skill you find has been needed each week that you’re not good at, retrain it. If there’s a feat (maybe a combat feat) that you’re not using that much or isn’t making any noticeable difference, take something else (like skill training). Worse case scenario you retrain and realize you don’t like the change so you change back next week. Retraining can be exceptionally useful so don’t overlook it when you level up.

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.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe Lastowski November 15, 2012 at 10:29 am

This was a good week for us. We had 4 tables of 5 at my FLGS, and everyone was excited to be going to Mithral Hall. Many folks had only read the earlier Drizz’t books, though, and were a bit upset to find many of their favorite characters dead or departed… but it was still a cool backdrop.

My table had a pixie vampire, half-elf fire sorcerer, dragonborn slayer, elven avenger, and svirfneblin warpriest. The vampire & avenger snuck up and killed the guards at the command tent, stealing the battle plans. Then the sorceress lit the command tent on fire, which caused the guards at the horn to run over and try to put the fire out. The party used the horn to redirect troop movements, which freed up the area where a hidden door would be likely to be found (a very high Dungeoneering check told them this). The Avenger had a passive perception of 23, so he had no difficulty spotting the entrance (and the traps), and soon the party was past the swallower pit and in the maze. A few skill checks quickly got the party through the maze with no difficulties, and then they were on to the fight.

I had beefed-up the two enemies in the assassin fight, giving the orc 100 HP and the assassin 50. This didn’t make it a hugely long fight, but the hallways and the assassin’s ability to use grabbed creatures as shields stretched it out enough that folks felt like they had a good enough chance to beat stuff up. With the assassin, if an attack fell in that +5 bonus range that the assassin got hiding behind a grabbed foe, I had the damage apply to the grabbed foe, which also made folks think much more tactically.

When all was said & done, the interaction with the King was pretty quick, and then the letter was delivered. I had slightly rewritten the letter, because Axelcrantz sounds like he was written as a time lord, so I added in a few minor references to Doctor Who in the letter (which the Whovians at my table loved), and I intend to have him “played” by Matt Smith when they meet Axelcrantz next week.

We’re also giving level-appropriate gold to players each week, so that they can buy a couple lower-level magic items as they go along. They know that any plussed items will overlap with inherent bonuses, not stack with them. But most folks are buying things like bracers of mighty striking and other boosting slot items.

2 Ameron (Derek Myers) November 15, 2012 at 11:22 am

@Joe Lastowski
I’m on the fence about handing out additional treasure or level-appropriate gold. Normally the players want magic weapons, implements, armor and neck items, but with inherent bonuses that’s no longer necessary. Not getting the extra +1d6 on a crit is something that a few players have complained about.

I like the idea of rewarding gold and encouraging the players to find other non-traditional items to fill the character’s slots. I guess the real challenge for the DM is to ensure that giving out such items won’t make the combat encounters, which are not usually that difficult anyway, seem unnecessary or unchallenging. If giving out the items will mean more work for the DM because he has to constantly beef up encounters I’m inclined to leave things as printed and not have treasure. Then again from the player POV I realize that not finding any treasure at all does suck.

Tough call.

3 Shawn November 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Derek has it right. As much as players want magic, giving out (or allowing the purchase of) extra magic is just going to make the combats easier. If players already think this is too easy, then it becomes an internal arms race between the DM bumping up combat strength, then giving out magic, then bumping up combat strength more to compensate. That doesn’t mean you cannot or shouldn’t allow it–just be aware of it.

What I have done instead is give out odd and interesting but non-magical treasure. A set of loaded dice or marked playing cards? A dwarven helm made by a master craftsmen that dwarves will practically worship? A statuette that looks like it is platinum and worth a fortune but really just worth a few copper? An ivory top that is said to give clues to the future?

They won’t scratch that particular itch that some players have to just get magical stuff, but they might be interesting for players to use to add to the story and roleplaying.

4 Ameron (Derek Myers) November 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm

@Shawn
I really like your approach. Some of the most entertaining sessions I’ve ever played have revolved around creative and unexpected use of magic items you wouldn’t normally use in combat. The Horn of Fog from 3.5e comes to mind (and now I’m giggling as I write this comment). Giving the PCs treasure that’s not the typical fare usually satisfies the “I need treasure” mentality while stimulating the desire to use it in some meaningful way.

5 Joe Lastowski November 15, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Maybe I’ll print up a list of non-plussed magic items that the players might be likely to be interested in, so that they have a way to direct their newfound gold. The majority of them don’t have their own DDI accounts anyway, so the only magic items they know about are the ones I tell them about or that they read in the occasional book. This sort of “directed” shopping might work well for them.

Most of the power-gamers were really turned off by the rumors of no magic items in this season, and haven’t been coming, so my table is non-crunchy enough that even if someone ends up buying a plussed item (probably for the property or daily power), I’m not worried it’ll throw combat into too much of a tizzy. When I rewrite this season’s combats, I usually balance them to be moderately challenging for a standard party with full magic items anyway, and then I drop HP on monsters if combat is taking too long or going horribly wrong.

6 Don Cee November 16, 2012 at 11:28 am

Great write up as usual! Thanks for sharing.

Have you seen any sign ups for the next season of Encounters on WPN?
I do not see it available on the Event Reporter either.

Thanks!

7 Ameron (Derek Myers) November 16, 2012 at 2:54 pm

@Don Cee
I don’t do the reporting at my FLGS so unfortunately I don’t know. I’ll check with the coordinator when I’m there this weekend and if I hear anything I’ll let you know. You can also post this on the D&D Encounters Forums. That group usually has a really good idea of what’s going on in the gaming community.

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