D&D Encounters: War of Everlasting Darkness (Week 6)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 6, 2012

Best. Session. Ever. Yeah, I said it. This was my favourite session of D&D Encounters that I’ve ever played. It had everything I want in a game including thrilling combat and lots of great role-playing.

After defeating the Drow spellcasters last week the PCs found battle plans outlining a Troll invasion of Nesmé. If Nesmé were to fall, it could spell disaster for nearby Silverymoon. So this week we picked things up with the heroes arriving at Nesmé. And not a moment too soon as Troll were attacking the town, two of which divert to intercept the PCs. Right off the bat the PC found themselves in a really tough combat.

This week we had ten players and two DMs. I had one brand new player at my table which is always a welcome addition. The party consisted of the following characters: Revenant [Gith] Bard, Half-Orc Barbarian, Pixie Vampire, Shade Warlock (Binder), and Eladrin Cleric (Valenae pre-gen).

Act 1 – Mission to Nesmé

Within five minutes of sitting down and starting the session the PCs were in combat. This was the first time this has happened this season and the players loved it. They quickly realized that the Trolls (level 9 brutes) were not going to be pushovers. The fight took about 45 minutes and the party expended considerable resources before finally destroying the Trolls.

One big change this season is that the encounters are not just one combat and done. And the players now realized this so when they defeated the Trolls they knew that there was more to come. In previous seasons as soon as the monsters were dead people would pack up and get ready to leave. It’s nice to see the change in the mentality of our players.

With the Trolls defeated the PCs entered Nesmé and realized that the town was in shambles. It had clearly seen better days. The people were not really capable of defending their town and needed help badly. The Town’s First Speaker (mayor) ushered the PCs into a more private setting and explained to them what’s going on (or more accurately what’s not going on) in Nesmé. He begged the PCs for help; he even offered them a magic holy symbol as compensation. The symbol – Corellon’s Gaze – was capable of fending off The Darkening like many other items the heroes possess. They have five now for those counting.

Act 2 – Assets

I really liked how this section was put together. The town had a Battle Value. As the PCs bolstered or repaired certain assets in town they could raise the town’s Battle Value. When the Trolls eventually attacked, the PCs would have to face some of the monsters themselves. Since the PCs couldn’t be everywhere, the Battle Value was a way for the DM to determine how the rest of the defenses were holding up during the attack.

The party could attempt to help the town as a group or split up. Each task required various skill checks and a certain number of days to complete. Some tasks could be tried over and over again, while others could only be attempted once. All the groups at the two FLGS where I play split up.

Scene 1 – Riders of Nesmé

The riders were suffering from a rift in leadership. The veteran leader was recently accused of treason by a younger officer. Half the horsemen sided with their commander while the other half believed the claim and sided with the upstart. The Vampire, Bard and Cleric needed to bring the two groups together for the betterment of Nesmé.

After discussing the situation with both sides, and getting two slightly different accounts of the events, they eventually supported the veteran. With a swaying speech about loyalty and consistency being the best weapons against an army of Trolls they got most of the riders back on side. The young upstart and a few of his most loyal followers left.

Scene 2 – Catapults

The Barbarian decided to take this on by herself. Despite no training in Thievery she’d spent enough time in warrior culture to know all about siege weapons and their workings. She rocked the Thievery check to figure out how to fix the catapults, and then with the help of the local trades people she used Athletics to do the heavy lifting. Three days later the catapults were back in working order.

Scene 3 – Sharpshooters

After smoothing things over with the riders the three PCs met with the archers. They didn’t like them. The archers were angry, aggressive, abusive, and all around jerks. The only thing that would win over the archers was if the PCs could make the sun break through The Darkening. Since it worked for Axelcrantz in the last session they decided to give it a try. The Cleric spent the day studying the wand before using Religion to activate its power and dispel The Darkening over Nesmé. The archers were not only impressed but now they could see any approaching targets.

Interlude – Reconnaissance

The Warlock, the only PC trained in Stealth, decided to do some recon of the Troll army by himself. He spent four lonely days observing the Troll army and learned all about them. The chief and his vanguard were powerful and well armored. It would take a seasoned fighting force to defeat them (like the riders of Nesmé). The Warriors that made up the bulk of the army would attack en mass where they believed the walls to be weakest and undefended (unless the newly repaired catapults were repositioned). Small sea-faring trolls planned to infiltrate the town by swimming up river and sneaking into the unguarded docks (unless a large enough force was there ready to ambush them). Finally there were Drow spellcasters who were planning to lob spells at Nesmé from a safe distance (which would be less safe now that the archers could see them).

Scene 4 – Town Watch

When the PCs regrouped and compared notes they realized that they had just enough time to whip the townsfolk into a fighting force. They divided up the tasks of recruiting new volunteers, providing training and maneuvers to the inexperienced, and providing leadership and discipline to the scared people of Nesmé. They were successful on all accounts.

Act 3 – Battle for Nesmé

By putting all the pieces together, using the repaired assets, deploying the troops where they would do the most good, and inspiring confidence through leadership, the PCs played a vital role in defending the town when the attack came on the ninth day.

Four Trolls managed to get over the wall near where the PCs were stationed so they took care of them. Having taking considerable damage in the initial fight, the PCs learned from their experience and changed their tactics. The Warlock was able to use his powers to slow and immobilized the Trolls, giving the party time to focus fire. The Bard managed to dominate a Troll and kept hold of him for three rounds. Character with ranged attacks used them as much as possible to avoid the Trolls massive reach and incredibly output.

This was a really challenging fight, especially because the PCs had almost no healing magic left when it began. PCs did fall during this battle, but they players worked together to revive the fallen as quickly as possible. No one died but it took everything in their arsenal to defeat the Trolls and save Nesmé. All action points and daily powers were expended before the battle was done.

With Nesmé safe the heroes were hailed as heroes and spent some time resting and recovering before moving on to the next leg of their adventure against the Drow and The Darkening.

Thoughts

This was a great session, but it was really long. My first group took 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete it. The second group took 2 hours and 45 minutes (and the DM scaled back the final fight). It was the combat the really made the clock run long. The Trolls were certainly tough but that was only a part of the problem. The players were not used to these characters. They’ve leveled up every week and they were not familiar with what they could do. Every time they used a new power they had to stop, read it, look it up in some cases, and then go. This doesn’t happen at home because you spend a lot of time learning and playing your PCs at their current level before you go up. Don’t get me wrong I like that we get to level every week but I think this week it made for extra challenges.

Had I realized how long the combat was going to take I would have done a few things differently as the DM. First I would have pre-rolled all the Troll damage rolls. Either that or just used average damage. I would also have reduced the Trolls max hit points from 120 to 90.

I did throw my PCs a bone when it came to the Troll’s regeneration. When a Troll was reduced to 0 hit points it was supposed to come back the next round with 15 hit points. First of all I just made him a minion that way anyone could knock him down with a hit. Secondly I said that when the minion Troll was knocked down he stayed down for 5 minutes before regenerating enough to regain consciousness. This let the PCs get fires started after the fight was over and burn the remains. If anyone had possessed fire powers or items I would not have been this generous.

Although I’ve been told the Battle Value mechanic isn’t new, this was the first time I’d seen it. I loved it. My only criticism was that it didn’t easily allow for PCs to jump into the longer 3-day tasks on the second or third day. This meant that some PCs couldn’t do anything while they waited for their allies to finish repairing the catapults. I’d have tried to find a way to make each takes day-by-day oriented. It might still take three days but the PCs doing the jobs could be more flexible as schedules freed up.

Despite my minor criticisms I still think this was one of the best sessions I’ve ever played in D&D Encounters. Let me know what you think. Did you think it was as good as I did? What were your high and low points? What did you change or what might you have changed now that you’ve played it once?

Recounting Encounters Podcast

Recounting Encounters is a weekly podcast I record 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. Find all episodes of Recounting Encounters on iTunes under 20ft Radius.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ocampo December 6, 2012 at 10:03 am

Beautiful. I’m certain my players are going to love it when I get my hands on it. Epic playing all over the place.

2 Joe Lastowski December 6, 2012 at 10:03 am

We had a great time with this session at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA, as well. We ran 3 tables of 5-6. My table had 4 strikers and a leader, but fortunately one of them was a fire sorcerer and another was a striker with a flaming longsword (we’ve been giving level-appropriate gold each week to make up for the lack of random magic items, so even though the enh bonus & inherent bonuses don’t stack, our slayer wanted the fire option the magic item gave him… plus the crit dice).

Knowing that this would be a huge fight, I made the first battle against 1 troll, and I dropped him down to 60 HP. The fight took just over a round, but still managed to shake the PCs up a bit (esp with the size differential between the troll mini and the mini the pixie was using).

The text said that the players knew the trolls would attack “within 10 days”, but didn’t give them more details. After their attempts on Day 1, when the whole party tried to figure out the mess with the Riders, took over an hour, I decided that the next mission, where two of them did recon of the Chieftain’s Tent, revealed that the attack would happen on Day 6.

Because the party split up, though, they were able to get most every asset worked on in some way at least once. By the time Day 6 hit, they had a battle value for the town of 26, which was more than they needed for the best result (though I didn’t tell them that).

The game had hit the 2 hour mark when we started the final battle, so I edited it a little. One troll (using the troll king mini with the huge axe) was at full HP. One troll (the bladerager troll mini with the freddy kreuger hands) had 80 HP. The other two (which I used the smaller-looking Pathfinder Troll minis for) were actually minions. For some reason, PCs are always surprised when a large-size enemy ends up being a minion.

The fight still took a half hour or so, and I added-in a death-attack on the King Troll… “Death Frenzy”: When dropped to 0 HP, the Troll makes a claw attack against every creature within melee range. The party was completely victorious, and really enjoyed the adventure.

Regarding healing and resources, I told them that they weren’t getting “restful” nights’ sleep, despite the fact that they were spending multiple days in town. Their encounter powers did recharge, though, so they were fine on healing resources.

When we left it was almost 9:45, and we were the first table to finish. Table 2 was in the middle of the last fight, and table 3 was just starting the attack. So yes, another LONG session for us, but a good one.

3 Steve Townshend December 6, 2012 at 11:08 am

Thanks for the write-up, Ameron. I’m very happy that your table had a good time.

This was my favorite session to write, and the last of the 4 sessions I did for War of Everlasting Darkness.

Battle Value was a new mechanic, or at least I was ignorant of any other use of it. I know because I tore my hair out over whether introducing new mechanics for one session was a good idea. In the end, I figured it was a light enough add-on that it probably wouldn’t confuse people.

The other challenge was that though I’d done a siege adventure for “Siege of Gardmore Abbey,” none of what I designed for it seemed translatable so I went about designing this siege from the ground up. Also, I’d be bored using the same design.

Anyway, I hope everybody had fun.
Steve Townshend´s last blog post ..Fallen Angels: Ecology of the Succubus

4 Joe Lastowski December 6, 2012 at 11:52 am

Steve, thanks so much for your work on this session (and the others). The battle value mechanic worked great, and the players instantly understood it at my table. I had index cards on the table with each asset listed, along with their current value, which I changed every time they did something. This also encouraged them to try and find other ways to bump up the values. For instance, our druid went out looking for phosphorescent fungus with a Nature check to help the sharpshooters see farther, while the slayer used his high History to explain bottlenecking between buildings (300 Spartan style) to the town watch at the last minute before the attack, and the fire sorcerer started setting fires in vulnerable areas to keep trolls away… each of which granted an additional misc +1 to the battle value. They still got their combat in, but also felt like they had participated in a much larger battle. It was awesome.
Joe Lastowski´s last blog post ..Session 22: May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor…

5 Ocampo December 6, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Steve:

The battle value mechanic was used in the “Reavers of Harkenwold” adventure in the Dungeon Master´s Kit, although it was named “Victory Points” and spanned several encounters and choices.

Is it true “Siege of Gardmore Abbey” will be made available in 2013?

6 Joe Lastowski December 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Battle Value was also used back in the 3.5 book “Heroes of Battle”, though it was also called “Victory Points” then. I liked this implementation of it better, though. Much simpler and easier for the types of players Encounters was designed for: newer players who want quick & easy access to the fun of D&D.

7 Steve Townshend December 6, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Thank you for the good words, Joe!

Ocampo, that is the rumor as I last heard it. Fingers crossed. :-)
Steve Townshend´s last blog post ..Fallen Angels: Ecology of the Succubus

8 Ocampo December 6, 2012 at 1:20 pm

We all know you write good stuff, Steve.

9 Sunyaku December 7, 2012 at 12:12 am

I added a couple scrawny troll minions with regen to the final fight because… awesome.
Sunyaku´s last blog post ..Games Inspire and Save Lives

10 Michael Clarke December 9, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Once again, we didn’t have quite as smooth a run as others seemed to have. The first combat took quite a while to finish off, and the party managed to use ALL of their healing AND fire powers in it. The action in town went relatively smoothly, with the players splitting up, and even having enough time to take a second crack at the catapults. I purposely did not even mention the Battle Value mechanic, since the players just didn’t need to know – all they needed to know was that they were fixing things. About the only problem with this phase was that the catapults totally relied on at least one PC being trained in Thievery. We lucked out with exactly one PC, but given the random nature of Encounters party makeups, Dungeoneering should have been usable as a Primary skill as well, and probably Athletics at a higher DC.

Where the wheels fell off for us was when the party decided to send two people on the Recon mission, and of the pair, one rolled really bad on the first stealth roll. They got one set of info, but then 2 out of 5 of the party had to try and repeat a fight that had been ultra-tough in the first place. So, one of the players sacrificed himself to allow the other to get away from the Trolls. The escapee later came back and retrieved the body, and some hand-waving saw the dead player resurrected in time for the final battle. Suffice to say, though, that no more recon was undertaken, even by the ultra-stealthy assassin.

In the end, we were so overtime that I resolved the siege, but left the final fight until the next week. I seriously expect this to turn into a TPK, unless the party is especially on their toes. Their resources are already depleted, thanks to the D&D4.5 mechanics, and they’re now being thrown into a fight with twice as many enemies…

11 Vobeskhan December 12, 2012 at 7:34 am

We once again had 2 session this week but for a change both were surprisingly similar. Both groups took considerable damage from the pair of trolls in the introduction to Nesme but they also came up with ways of making sure they did fire damage every round to ensure that the trolls didnt regenerate.

Once inside the town they set about bolstering the defenses, following tips from one of the DM’s forums I reduced the number of days to 5 to increase the sense of urgency. Both deciding that flaming catapults were an essential and restoring order to the fabled Riders of Nesme as a good idea (though each group had different success at this particular task). Wen it came to driving the darkness back to aid the sharpshooters the first group succeeded with use of the wand but the second having failed to retrieve it had to find other ways (using Garl’s poppet). Both groups also chose to aid in training the militia and improving their morale, again with success.

The main difference came with reconning the troll horde. The first group sent out their elven ranger who spent his five days gathering as much information as he could, appearing as nothing more than a shadow amongst the wilderness. The second group didnt devote as much time to this but did send out two seperate heroes to gather information, one succeeding but the other getting spotted and chased by ravenous trolls – rather than play out the fight I had already decided that any scouts that got caught would take two surges worth of damage between them, but as the player had chosen to go alone this immediately bloodied him. On his return to Nesme he was allowed tobe healed by the party using their healing powers but they were made aware that, as with all sessions this season, encounter powers would not be refreshed.

The troll hordes attacked and the heroes bolstered defences were put to the test. Both groups were called upon to tackle a break-through group of trolls that had entered the city. The first group electing to send their dwarven slayer into melee while the rest of them climbed onto roof tops and rained death from above. The second group fared better than expected as the dragonborn hexblade had saved his dailies and almost dropped a troll singlehanded in the first round. Again both groups had taken steps to ensure fire damage was inflicted every round but the fights were still took a toll before victory was theirs.

I did like the battle value mechanic and although not being a huge fan of skill challenges in general thought that this one really fit the situation and worked well to resolve a large scale conflict while still giving the players a felling that their contributions made a difference.

I was very happy that the second group had a succesful session, especially as with the last couple of sessions ending in failure and defeat it gave their confidence a bit of a boost. With only two sesssions of the season left to go, the fate of this corner of the realms truly rests in their hands.
Vobeskhan´s last blog post ..D&D Encounters Season 11 – War of Everlasting Darkness – session 6

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