D&D Encounters: War of Everlasting Darkness (Week 4)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 22, 2012

After fighting their way into Mithral Hall, ancestral home of the Dwarven clan Battlehammer, and meeting with King Connerad Battlehammer himself, the heroes received a strange letter from Axelcrantz. In the letter, Axelcrantz (a Dwarf that none of the PCs had ever met before) wrote of things that had happened and things to come. He claimed that the he would meet the heroes when they arrived at Citadel Adbar at some time in the future. Curious about whom this Dwarf may be and what he may have to say, the PCs headed to the Citadel to rendezvous with him.

This week we had two DMs and only four players. The second DM decided to head home and take the week off and I ran the only table at my FLGS. About 10 minutes into our session one more player arrived bringing us up to five players. As we’re in Canada and don’t have Thanksgiving this weekend there was really no reasonable explanation for the sharp decline. Hopefully next week we’ll be back up to two tables.

The party eventually rounded out as follows: Drow Assassin, Pixie Vampire, Half-Orc Barbarian, Shade Warlock (Binder) and our last minute arrival was the Revenant [Gith] Bard. Four of the five were my regular players from the previous two sessions. As we’ve been switching up the tables this season it was nice to be back to the familiar for a week.

Act 1 – Citadel Adbar

This week’s adventure began when the PCs arrived at Citadel Adbar after months of travel (the distance from Mithral Hall is over 350 miles as the crow flies). Although the Darkening had reached this far, the Orc armies had not.

The PCs requested admittance into Citadel Adbar but the guard captain, a Dwarf named Thanar, refused them. He explained politely that King Harbromm instructed the door remain closed to everyone. When the PCs explained who they were, where they’d been, and why they were here Thanar softened a bit and agreed to send for Axelcrantz. When Axelcrantz arrived he immediately vouched for the PCs.

Thanar suggested Axelcrantz go outside to talk to his friends. Once together, Axelcrantz treated the PCs like old friends even though they’d just met. He told them of the Matharic the Drow and the Wand of Tir’Lien. Matharic and his Drow soldiers occupied an outpost beneath Citadel Adbar a century earlier and were eventually killed by a Dwarven army. However, Matharic’s ghost still haunts the outpost and the wand was likely still somewhere nearby. He stressed to the PCs that they needed to find the wand.

I played Axelcrantz as an all-seeing stoner (high on the mushrooms found in the Burning Grove on pg. 36). He was kind and loving with erratic mood swings. He went from happy to sad at the drop of a hat. It got a lot of laughs and really got the other players involved in the role-playing. (I strongly encourage you to listen to the first 20 minutes of the actual play podcast to hear me ham it up).

With a bit more coaxing from the PCs Thanar agreed to escort the PCs to the King. When they arrived in the throne room the king was not impressed. He seemed more angry with Thanar for opening the gates against orders than anything else.

The PCs once again explained who they were, what they’d been up to over the previous few sessions and how they could help the Dwarves. They offered to rid the King of the troublesome ghost haunting his outpost. He agreed to let them perform this service as payment for taking the wand from his kingdom. They agreed.

This was another fun role-playing encounter. This was the third king the PCs had met this season so they were getting good at impressing royalty. However, mentioning that they’d recently been in front of King Obould Many-Arrows didn’t win them any points with King Harbromm, nor did having a Half-Orc or Drow in the party (although the Drow had enough sense to hide her true heritage).

Act 2 – Duergar Camp

The outpost was currently inhabited by Duergar. King Harbromm instructed the PCs to get rid of them by any means necessary. When they arrived at the outpost they tried talking to the Duergar. The Dark Dwarves explained that they’d be happy to leave but they were cursed. If they tried to leave they’d be killed by the ghost. They pointed to the bones on the bridge as evidence of the last Duergar to try and leave.

The PCs talked their way inside and agreed to exterminate the ghost. The Duergar explained that the ghost seemed to only attack individuals who were dumb enough to venture off alone, so the party immediately split up.

The Barbarian and Bard explored the kitchen and found a magic cauldron that made soup. The Vampire and Warlock went up to the commander’s quarters where they found books and a locked desk. The Assassin checked out the barracks but missed the hidden gem and ring.

The Bard wandered away from the Barbarian busy eating soup in the kitchen and examined the carper in another chamber. The carpet (a Mimic in disguise) attacked him. The surprise round and the subsequent 20 on initiative had the Mimic acting twice before the Bard could respond. With only a few hit points left the Bard tried to flee. This was when the Duergar decided to get involved.

One of the Duergar attacked the Bard but missed, two attacked the Assassin all alone in the barracks and the final one and the commander readied crossbows on the staircase while they awaited the PCs on the upper levels.

The PCs took a real pounding. This was the first week that they were truly challenged in combat. The Bard should have been unconscious but I forgot to add the +2d6 sneak dice on the first attack. I also didn’t make use of the Mimic’s Shapeshifting after it was exposed. Had I done so, its resist 10 in object form would have made it a lot harder to defeat (not that the PCs had an easy go of it).

The Duergar minions did a lot of damage before the PCs realized they were just minions and took them out. The PC captured the Duergar commander. He refused to give them any useful information nor would he beg for freedom or a quick death. They killed him in cold blood (something I did not approve of as the DM).

With no other dangers the PCs finally managed to open the desk in the commander’s quarters where they found the enchanted paper with the blue key. When pressed against the blue lock painted on the floor beneath the carpet they managed to open a hatch to the caverns below.

Act 3 – Haunted Cavern

Among the remains of many Drow and Dwarven skeletons the PCs spotted the Wand of Tir’Lien. Nearby was the ghost of Matharic. The PCs tried to reason with him, but his mind was clearly broken. He wasted no time with parley and attacked the party.

Many of the PCs were still battered and bruised from the fight with the Mimic and Duergar so they tried to use tactics that kept them away from the ghost. The Barbarian was the only one not really hurt so she continued to engage Matharic in melee. As none of the party had attacks that dealt radiant or force damage the fight took a long time.

Despite the Barbarian falling victim to Matharic’s Touch of Chaos and almost killing the Vampire, the party eventually destroyed the ghost and claimed the Wand of Tir’Lien. They returned to report to the king and meet up with Axelcrantz before taking a much needed and hard earned rest.

Thoughts

After three weeks of complaining that the combat encounters weren’t tough enough the party finally got what they wanted – a tough fight. I warned them at the top that this week had combat and that it was tough but they didn’t listen. They grossly underestimated the difficulty of the first combat. I reminded them afterwards that not every encounter in D&D needs to be completely balanced.

They were even more surprised when they had a second combat encounter after the first really tough one. Again, I told them that this season they need to expect more. When they were facing Matharic’s ghost only one PC still had an action point and only one had a daily power. It was a good lesson in resource management.

This was in fact a very tough week. The combat with the Mimic could easily kill a PC if the party split up and didn’t work together. Hopefully most players realize by now that there are many ways to handle problems, and that fighting isn’t the only solution. Talking their way past the Duergar was certainly easier than fighting them. Unfortunately they also needed to keep an eye on the sneaky buggers as they eventually turned on them.

I felt that the combat encounter with Matharic was flat. There was no guidance in the adventure on how to run him. There was no description for the terrain features so the map held few surprises. Any party that was badly wounded in the first fight was going to have trouble defeating the incorporeal undead.

This was a very long session. We really had a lot of fun with the initial role-playing with the guards, Axelcrantz, and the King. When the PCs came upon the underground outpost they had a good role-playing exchange with the Duergar as well. I think we were about 90 minutes into the session before the Mimic attacked the first PC. Because the monsters had so many hit points (Mimic 71 hp, level 8 lurker; Matharic’s ghost 73 hp, level 6 controller) the combat took forever.

The players felt cheated that they couldn’t take a short rest after the fight with the Mimic and the Duergar. This is not the first week they’ve had more than one fight, but it was the first week in which the first combat really hurt them. I felt their whining was uncalled for and out of place and told them as much. Some players understood but a couple were genuinely angry. Since no one died in the end I think all was forgiven.

How did your table do this week? Did anyone fall to the Mimic or the ghost? Were there any TPKs? What is the general attitude so far this season? Are players taking advantage of the increased role-playing opportunities or do they just want more combat? How many players felt this week’s combat was too tough?

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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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe Lastowski November 22, 2012 at 11:59 am

All 3 tables at our FLGS went very long… at least an extra hour at each table. Thankfully nobody had any pressing time concerns this week (owing largely to the holiday tomorrow… players who had to travel just didn’t show this week). While my table of 4 did okay surviving the multiple combats, it just took a good long while to get through them all.

The discussion with the Dwarven guard was frustrating, because the PCs pretty much just said “We got a note saying to come here, so let us in.” They couldn’t understand why the guard wouldn’t let them in, especially once Axelcrantz turned up. Things were also complicated by PCs who couldn’t decide whether to kill all the monsters they were presented with or leave some alive in the underdark when they ceased to be threats. I kept trying to present “ways out” so that the party could escape combat (and the time commitment that required) to move forward, but some of my players had a lot of difficulty not fighting when enemies appeared.

The Wand of Tir’Lien presented an interesting challenge, too, because it said it could be a +2 implement for ANY character that used implements (rod, staff, wand, tome, orb, holy symbol, ki focus, dagger, or any other weapon for classes that use weapons as implements), so there was a lot of debate over who should take it. The players have felt so starved for treasure this season that they all wanted a chance to get the item. After lots of debating, our pixie vampire finally took it as a ki focus.

2 Ocampo November 22, 2012 at 1:20 pm

I’m going to run this adventure for my level 6 PCs. How would you suggest I adjust monster levels from the first session onwards?

3 Ameron (Derek Myers) November 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm

@Ocampo

Great question. I’d try to keep things as simple as possible for you as the DM. Last season our group played the same characters from the season before so they began at level 4. I had to adjust everything by +3 levels every week. For the most part I just added 3 to all the monster’s defenses and attack scores. I upped the damage by 1 dice (d6 became d8) and added 3. I usually added between 10-20 hit points to the monsters unless they were minions. It wasn’t always perfect but it was easy. Sometimes I’d adjust on the fly if things were too tough or too easy, but I’d say 9/10 times it was pretty good.

So getting back to your question, I’d use this template as a guide. For every level difference between your party and the encounter I’d make the following adjustments:

  • +5 to 8 hit points
  • +1 to defenses
  • +1 to attack scores
  • +1 to damage
  • 1-3 levels difference increase damage dice by one size (d6 to d8)
  • 4-5 levels difference double damage dice listed (1d6 to 2d6)

Of course if you have a DDI account and a lot of time you can either recreate the monsters in the builder and level them up, or you can try to find similar monsters in the compendium that are more level appropriate (I’d do the latter).

Good luck!

4 Ocampo November 22, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Thank you so much. I do have a DDI account and had thought of using its tool, but I had doubts about the level gap with PCs. So if you adjusted by +3 levels then it gives me the guide I need to keep gameplay balance.

5 Joe Lastowski November 22, 2012 at 7:27 pm

I love the DDI tools, esp the monster builder. But do be wary of jumping critters up or down levels, and don’t let the system do all the work. Look at things like damage output and make sure they still make sense. Also, a lot of additional effects won’t scale with level (so if you have a lvl 15 monster that hits and does 3d6+5 damage and ongoing 10 damage, when you scale it down to level 5, it might only do 2d6+5 damage, but it’ll still do the full 10 ongoing). Boosting levels is a little less problematic than decreasing them, but do still keep an eye out for whether the numbers make sense.

…or just use Ameron’s handy guide and forget letting the monster builder do the work.

6 Ocampo November 22, 2012 at 7:51 pm

I’ve noticed that, also that damage output can become outrageous for some monsters when scaled up. I’ve been wanting to use Ameron’s guide and most likely shall do so.

7 Roland November 22, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Personally, as a player in this season, I’m LOVING having no short rests. It really makes you much more aware of your limitations and adds a ton of tension and reliance on everyone to work together effectively. I think it’s a a much needed step in the right direction for the game.

8 Cent November 23, 2012 at 3:33 pm

This is now my third Encounters campaign, and is easily my favorite.

This week we had two tables, with 5 and 6 players at each. At my table this session we had a Skald, a Warlord, 3 Wizards, and a Cavalier.

I identify with your feelings on the flow of this most recent session. The first 2/3 was easily the strongest part of the story this week. We had several great role-playing moments such getting the dwarf king to give all party members a potion of healing in return for our assistance (some amazing Diplomacy checks!), and managing to fight only the Mimic, convincing the Duergar to help us fight it, and then leave the area without any violence between our party and theirs. Everyone at our table was having a great time.

Unfortunately the fight in the cavern was a real let-down. The ghost didn’t seem to have much to tell us, so role-playing it was a dud. Without any real heavy damage dealers in our party the fight turned into a slog. The worst part though is that there was never any sense of danger. It very much felt like we were just whittling away at the baddies while slowly making our way towards a forgone conclusion.

On the whole, this was still a very solid session in a very good Encounters season. Looking forward to next week.

9 B.J. November 25, 2012 at 5:54 pm

I really enjoyed this season thus far from a DM’s perspective. The players seem to be having fun and we’re getting a lot done. This season has actually started to make me think about how I run my usual D&D campaign. I like the fact that there is lots to do outside of just straight-up combat. My only problem is that the sessions do take a bit longer to run. I have school-age players who have some fairly rigid curfews for play. Every session thus far has brushed up against said curfew limit and I’ve had a couple of cranky parents.

10 Dude November 27, 2012 at 11:52 am

It was our biggest night yet with 2 tables of 6 each. We had many new players the most unusual portion was the use of our cavaliers mount. The bridge was done in full charge with war horns. Then the use of the mount and diversion to snatch the wand very quickly.

11 Steve Townshend November 27, 2012 at 11:57 am

My favorite line: “The Duergar explained that the ghost seemed to only attack individuals who were dumb enough to venture off alone, so the party immediately split up.”

Design note: There was an idea that the wand was created to do good, but its creation was an act of evil (killing a unicorn for its horn), and a curse of unlife befalls those who abuse its powers. The problem was that this originally followed a session where some characters _might_ become infected with lycanthropy in the old-school AD&D sense. So in theory a PC might be dealing with two curses–too much to deal with. I scrapped the curse on the wand, which may have taken away from Matharic’s story and some interesting stuff with the wand. Later, the original session 4 (featuring werewolves) had to be omitted due to some larger decisions re: the schedule of the season. It was the most tangential of the sessions, so very little was lost by its omission–but for me, it was the problem of the possible lycanthropy that caused me to strike out some of the more interesting possibilities with Matharic and the wand.
Steve Townshend´s last blog post ..D&D Encounters: War of Everlasting Darkness

12 Vobeskhan November 27, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Highlight from my two sessions this week has to be when the half-orc beserker lifted the rug only to have it lunge at him – classic.

My later group failed to retrieve the wand and also lost the Tears of Helm in the process, should be interesting to see how that affects future sessions (advice appreciated as always).

Really enjoyed the podcast featuring Shawn Merwin too, thanks guys.
Vobeskhan´s last blog post ..D&D Encounters Season 11 – War of Everlasting Darkness – session 4

13 Shawn November 28, 2012 at 7:11 am

Vobeskhan, that is an excellent question. The party definitely needs most, and quite possibly all, of the “items of light” by the end of the season. You are definitely going to want to find a way for them to come into possession of them all. Axelcrantz can certainly assist in that.

14 Vobeskhan November 28, 2012 at 11:16 am

Having read the notes for week 5, I think I’ve come up with something, wont post it here, will wait till the after session write-up.
Vobeskhan´s last blog post ..D&D Encounters Season 11 – War of Everlasting Darkness – session 4

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