D&D Encounters: War of Everlasting Darkness (Week 7)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 13, 2012

After last week’s stellar encounter there was regrettably nowhere to go but down. What was even more unfortunate was that this week’s encounter had problems all on its own, and having it follow such a strong outing in week 6 made it seem all that much more troubled. But I guess every week can’t be gold as we learned in week 7.

This season has provided the PCs with plenty of freedom to make their own choices. There was very little railroading compared to previous seasons of D&D Encounters. This week the train made its ugly return and all the PCs were forced to take a ride. In a season that’s been so good on so many levels this week they really lowered the bar.

This week at my FLGS we were right in that awkward attendance zone of nine players – too many for one table but not quite enough for two. The second DM decided to leave early and take the night off so I ran a table of seven. Not ideal, but I knew I could make it work. The party rounded out like this: Revenant [Gith] Bard, Eladrin Cleric (Valenae pre-gen), Shade Warlock (Binder), Human Swordmage, Drow Assassin, Pixie Vampire, Shade Ranger (Hunter).

Act 1 – Trouble in Blingdenstone

Scene 1 – A Message from Axelcrantz

This session began with lots and lots of narration. The first two pages were almost all read aloud text. Some descriptive text is obviously needed to set the stage but it basically described what the PCs were doing without giving them any input to make decisions. It began with a recap of the months following the battle in Nesmé. Then the PCs received a magical message from Axelcrantz that they must come to find him in Silverymoon.

Once there he told the PCs that trade between the Svirfneblin town of Blingdenstone and the Duergar city of Gracklstugh had stopped and they must get it flowing again. He also told them to go to a master bladesmith named Gemen in Gracklstugh. They should provide him with the components they’d already collected along with a bag of gold dust Axelcrantz handed them now. This smith would create a weapon that could help the PCs defeat Lolth and stop The Darkening. So off they went again, this time to Blingdenstone to find the Deep Gnome Ginnertow, former Harbormaster.

Look at that; a whole scene where the PCs just sat there and listened. No role-playing, no decision making, just railroading.

Scene 2 – The Harbormaster

When the PCs finally ended up in Blingdenstone they went where Axelcrantz sent them and sought the person Axelcrantz sent them to find. Without any checks required she spills her guts and explains what’s going on. This could have been an average role-playing scene but it worked better as an information dump and the players just wanted to keep the railroad moving so they could get to their final destination (which this clearly wasn’t).

Ginnertow explained that the harbor instantly froze over, destroying boats and killing Gnomes. The town guards sent to investigate never returned. The adventurers sent to investigate never returned. As long as the harbor was frozen trade with Gracklstugh would not happen. Everybody off, the train has reached the station. And look another scene with practically no role-playing required.

Scene 3 – Frozen Harbor

The docks were still completely frozen over when the PCs arrived to investigate. Despite Arcana checks and Nature checks the PCs were unable to discern what happened. Finally the Warlock decided to venture onto the ice, and that’s where the first two Ice Devils appeared. The monsters both managed to hit the Warlock, bloodying him and trapping him on the ice. The rest of the party jumped into action and targeted the Devils.

This encounter was supposed to be fairly quick. However, knowing that my players like combat and want more than is usually provided, I decided to beef up this fight. I left the monsters stats exactly as printed but I added three more. So the party of seven level 7 PCs ended up fighting five Ice Demons (level 5 controllers). I brought the Devils out in waves, the third and fourth coming out in round three (by which time the first two were bloodied). I didn’t bring the fifth Devil out until at least one of the first two was killed. This provided a constant threat and kept the fight interesting.

I really liked the additional details and terrain effects that this combat encounter offered. Any PC who didn’t move on his turn took 10 cold damage. This made immobilizing effects particularly deadly. Any PC moving on the ice needed to make an Acrobatics check when they finished their movement to see if they remained on their feet or slipped on the ice. This was only supposed to affect PCs who ran or charged, but I extended it to everyone. I did make the DC lower if the PCs just moved at normal speed or shifted.

Finally the Devils were able to use the ice to teleport 10 squares as long as they started and finished on an ice square. As this was not a regular power I did not provide this with any monster knowledge checks. However once PCs saw the Devils using this power I did let them know that it was not something they believed they should be able to do. This prompted Arcana checks which revealed that a high enough check could suppress this power in an adjacent Devil with a minor action.

I was really surprised that the PCs remained bunched together during this combat once they realized the Devils had a blast 3 at-will ability. It let me target multiple PCs with almost every attack. By the end some of the PCs had taken a lot of damage and had burned at least one or two healing surges just to stay on their feet.

About the only problem I had with this combat encounter was the map. Although the maps provided with the adventure this season look fantastic they have not really matched the description of what’s described in each scene. I realize that by providing more generalized maps it gives the DM freedom when running encounters, and in some cases it really worked well (I can think of two encounters this season where combat could have taken place in the forest or in the town).

This time around the encounter took place at the docks. The only underdark map provided with water has a sizable lake but a very narrow passage along the shore. I really had to emphasize to my players that they needed to imagine docks on the edge of the water and not just rocks. In order to try and make the scene more believable I added two boat tiles that came with a previous Lair Assault.

Act 2 – The Darklake

With the dock free of ice the PCs were ready to continue their journey to Gracklstugh. The harbormaster explained that there were goods packed and ready to go to the Duergar city but the Svirfneblin didn’t want to risk sending them without an armed escort. The PCs agreed since they were going there anyway. Now they just had to decide if they would travel by sea via the underground lake or by carriage through the natural caverns.

The party felt that since they’d put in so much work into freeing up the docks that they should travel by boat. Unfortunately there were no ships in the harbour that were seaworthy – except one: Pretty Lilly. The ship was captained by an old and somewhat senile old Gnome named Daft Tooger. The locals clearly didn’t hold this captain in high regard but the PCs realized if it was him or no one they’d have to trust him.

During the six days it took the PCs to travel by sea they could engage Tooger in conversation. My players weren’t interested so I just let the railroad continue onward and provided them with the ramblings of the daft captain. He explained that he wasn’t always this way. He’d wandered the underdark and found something unusual in Spellcaves of Eryndlyn – a darkness shooting out of a pit and into the sky. When he touched it he saw strange things that he can’t unsee; spiders and glowing black webs and hideous things. He cautioned the PC not to touch the blackness.

Interlude

On day three the PCs were supposed to be attacked by a Dragon Turtle. It was supposed to capsize the boat and the PCs would lose healing surges if they couldn’t swim to saftey. There was no combat in the traditional sense, but the PCs could talk to the intelligent creature. If they failed to convince it that they posed it no danger, the monster would use its breath weapon to blast them for 4d12+16 damage. The reason for the attack was that the Dragon Turtle’s eggs were recently taken. If not for some helpful Drow who returned the eggs the Dragon Turtle would have lost its offspring. This didn’t seem to add any value to the adventure or the story so I skipped it altogether.

Act 3 – The Long Road

If the PCs weren’t interested in travelling by boat they could head to Gracklstugh on foot through the tunnels. This route was full of Drow patrols and the PCs needed to make skill checks to avoid them. If they failed their checks they lost healing surges. Again this didn’t seem to add anything meaningful to the session so had my group gone this way I’d have either skipped the checks or beefed up the encounter to make it a full-on fight with Drow.

Act 4 – Arrival in Gracklstugh

Finally the PCs arrived in Gracklstugh. They could check out the city, talk to the locals and ask around but my players were not interested. They just wanted to complete their task and move on. They made no effort to be covert or subtle, simply asking where they could find the bladesmith Gemen they were here to see. As soon as they got the information they needed they set out to find the smith.

Act 5 – The Bladesmith

Scene 1 – Attack of the Derro

When the PCs arrived at Gemen’s tent he had no idea who they were. When they explained he looked around nervously at his Derro workers. He explained that he was working on such a weapon but the little buggers kept trying to sabotage him. He offers to try again if the PCs helped him. As soon as they agreed, the Derro acted.

Using their psychic abilities the Derro all linked minds and immobilized the PCs. They gave the heroes a chance to free themselves from the mind prison if they solved their riddle. The players had 30 seasons of real-time to answer each of the six questions the Derro put forth. This deadline got all of the players really interested and working together. They missed the second question and all took 10 psychic damage for their mistake, but after that they got all the others.

When the link was broken the Derro attacked the PCs. I ran this small encounter without a map. The PCs each attacked the closet Derro and killed four of the seven before they even got to act. Only two of the Derro connected before the rest of the party decimated them. As the final Derro died he provided a cryptic warning that the new-woven Weave of magic is anchored in the Drow city that died, which the PCs understood to be Eryndlyn.

Scene 2 – Finishing the Blade

With no further external obstacles in their path the PCs were now free to assist Gemen. He needed them to make five skill checks as they assisted him: Arcana, Athletics, Endurance, Nature, and Religion. As the PCs made these checks they were scored based on their level of success. The total points they earned for these checks determined if Gemen’s Blade would be a +3, +2, +1, or masterwork weapon. My party scored more than the necessary 5 points to get a +3 weapon.

Armed with the newly forged sword and the other five items of light the PCs were ready to face off in the final confrontation against Lolth as she tries to complete the Demon Weave and make The Darkening permanent.

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.

Also be sure to check out our special episode of Recounting Encounters in which we interviewed one of this season’s authors Shawn Merwin.

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.

Looking for instant updates? Subscribe to the Dungeon’s Master feed!


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe Lastowski December 13, 2012 at 9:59 am

This week we ran head-first into one problem that this entire season has suffered from: timing. Our FLGS was having a big staff meeting at 9 in the space we use for Encounters, so we absolutely had to keep things to 2 hours. This was an interesting challenge, but one I thought I was up for. I had 4 at my table this week: 3 strikers and a controller-who-thought-he-was-a-striker (pyromancer mage).

In trying to keep things to 2 hours, I ended up just sort of doing a best-of-what-I’d-read session that had the flavor of the written adventure, but didn’t specifically use lots of what was written. We started right at 7:00, but things went downhill from there.

The first trouble was that my PCs refused to be railroaded (of course, on the one week when I really needed them to be brief and on-task). There was no listed way in the adventure for the PCs to get to the Underdark, so I told them that Axelcrantz had directed them to a portal in a nearby temple (the Lady’s Hand Monastery on the map, south of Silverymoon). Of course, they wanted to stop by Silverymoon to see if they could help. I tried to explain that there was nothing they could do, that their best bet was to stop Lolth’s plan so that her forces would lose strength… but they were a group of striker-minded folks, too, so they wanted to go where the battles were. Once I got them away from there, they wanted to interview people in the monastery with the portal. Eventually I got them down to Bingdenstone… at 7:45.

In the deep gnomish city, the party wanted to talk to everyone. Even when I went overboard and gave townsfolk names like Jon Doe and Guy Unimportant, they didn’t believe that all these NPCs would have nothing to say. Eventually I had Axelcrantz show up and force-feed them plot, and then the Harbormaster (who every other NPC had mentioned) magically appeared to give them their choice: water or long way. They chose the water path… at 8:15.

The ice devil battle took a little while, since one of the players was brand new, and still trying to understand the level 7 character he’d been given, but they finally defeated the devils. Looking at the clock (it was now 8:50), I had large eggs pop up to the surface as the ice melted, and let a quick nature check show that they looked like they’d been kept underwater in ice, which was now melting since the devils were defeated. The dragon turtle mom showed up immediately, asking for her eggs back (which the PCs gave her without fuss), and she thanked them, said she’d been tricked by the drow to think the gnomes had the eggs, and in thanks gave the PCs a ride to the opposite shore.

Everyone in Gracklstugh was happy that the trade routes were open, so they immediately rushed the PCs to Gemen, who said he’d make a masterful weapon to help them defeat the spiderqueen. As it was now 8:59, I ditched the Derro attack, and told them that “the Spider Queen’s energy” seemed to be weakening the master smith, and they needed to help him. I let them each make one skill check from the list of 5 possible checks (not caring if they repeated or didn’t do one), and they still got over 5 points, so the session ended with them getting a +3 blade, and Gemen saying that he felt Lolth’s energy coming from the direction of an old Drow city that was destroyed in the Spellplague. End scene… at 9:03.

The other 2 tables weren’t done until 9:10 or so, but they had similarly rushed experiences (though their PCs weren’t as interested in Silverymoon, which gave them more time for some of the other printed stuff).

2 Michael Clarke December 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm

I felt this was another poor week for this season.

Firstly, we completed the final encounter from the previous week. I fully expected a TPK, but since we were up to 7 players, they had no real troubles.

Next, we took the guided tour of Silvermoon and Blingdenstone. How did we get there? Who cares! A wizard did it!

The party had a bit of fun at Ginnertow’s expense, but this had absolutely nothing to do with the mod, just the players having fun.

Next, the party of 7 easily chewed through 3 ice devils. Even without being aware of it, only a single companion and a single PC took a single hit of 10 damage from the environment. Nobody fell over, nobody got immob’d, nobody slid, pushed or pulled on ice. All the time I spent reading the environmental rules essentially went to waste.

It is a long-standing tradition of community gaming that any boat stepped on in a game sinks, and any festival is crashed – heaven forbid you should ever get involved in a party on a boat! So of course, the group took the long road, and all made their skill checks to avoid the Drow.

Arriving in Gracklstugh, they asked for the smith, and went and asked him to make the sword. He told them about his apprentices, and the group went inside to face them.

Ironically, this simple encounter turned out to be the most dangerous. Thanks to a couple of party members being very silly, the first four questions were mis-answered, the fifth was correct, and the last question was mis-answered, resulting in 4 out of 7 PCs being unconscious when the derros attacked. Like others, I eschewed a map, and simply had each derro attack an active PC one at a time. The derros went first, and in the ensuring attacks, knocked out another PC, and took one of the last to single digits. One of the two standing players used an AoE attack, and manged to miss 3 of the derros. So, he action pointed…and missed 2 of the remainders…and then the last PC stepped up, and One-Two punched the last pair of derros, narrowly avoiding yet another round of their attacks.

The forge was heated, the party argued a little over who should do what, and the +3 Macguffin was built (as opposed to the +1 and normal Macguffins that have been handed out all season).

Overall, I was very disappointed with this week, and the entire season (Nesme had some redeeming qualities). The party were along for the ride, and so not very invested, which I suspect lead to the silly answers in the question and answer session.

Here’s hoping that the Festive Season break gives Encounters a chance to revive.

3 Joe Lastowski December 14, 2012 at 1:19 am

@Michael, have you seen the info on the next season yet? It doesn’t start till Feb, but they’ll be (supposedly) doing side-by-side 4e AND Next versions of it. I’m cautiously hopeful, but expecting disappointment on some front.
http://www.wizards.com/DnD/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4news/20121226#83480
Joe Lastowski´s last blog post ..Session 22: May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor…

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: