Over the past seven sessions we got used to weekly self-contained mini-adventures with a few small pockets of combat. This week we returned to the old format with one massive battle – and what a battle it was! The heroes found themselves in the right place at the right time to stop Lolth from completing her Demon Weave and usurping the mantle of goddess of magic. If she succeeded the Darkening would likely become permanent and there would be nothing to stop the Underdark denizens from claiming the surface as their own. This was the culmination of the Rise of the Underdark.
This week we had 2 DMs and 9 players at my FLGS for the grand finale. I ended up with the smaller table. We had an Eladrin Cleric (Valenae pre-gen), Shade Warlock (Binder), Half-Orc Barbarian, and Revenant (Pixie) Vampire.
This week’s encounter was tough, intentionally so. Even though it was a lot of combat it was more than just monsters on one side of the map, heroes on the other, and the two sides pounding on each other until they ran out of hit points. There was so much more going on. It was a fantastic conclusion to a very story-heavy season of D&D Encounters.
This encounter used a full side of one of the poster maps. There were plenty of terrain features and lots of stuff to interact with. In most cases the special features required some kind of check to determine what it was and how to make use of it. This was not something most players were used to, so as the DM I gave them a bit of a pep talk before we started. I suggested that if they saw something on the map they should assume it was there with good reason and served some kind of purpose. I made it clear that some of these things could help them while some would hurt them, so there was value in investigating.
As the party approached the main chamber they came face-to-face with a giant magical mouth in the floor.
- Teleporting Maw – The Maw’s placement made it impossible to get past it without being attacked. If hit PCs suffered 10 force/fire damage and were teleported into one of the Coldfire Globes (more on them below). Since the Globes are definitely hazardous I ruled that PCs got a save when they were teleported. If they made it they appeared on their feet in a square adjacent to the Globe (their choice), if they failed they were in the Globe and suffered the ill effects. The only good thing about the Maw was that it was stationery so once the PCs passed it they could avoid it the rest of the battle if they wanted to.
The Vampire won initiative and was first to encounter the Maw. He was hit and teleported right down to the heart of the map. He made his save but things quickly went down hill from there.
Since none of the other PCs could see where the Vampire went they all proceeded cautiously. The Maw attacked and missed everyone else. As they rounded the corner they saw dead bodies on the ground and an artifact encased in crystal.
- Corpses – The bodies on the map were difficult terrain and were not just for show. They represent the fallen heroes who came before the PCs to stop Lolth and failed (not a good omen). As if dying wasn’t bad enough, these corpses were corrupted by the energy of the Demon Weave. Entering a corpse-filled square resulted in one of three possible outcomes depending on how you rolled. On 1-5 you were slowed until the start of your next turn, 6-16 nothing special happened, or 17-20 you gain +4 to speed until the end of your next turn.
- Crystals / Corrupted Artifacts – At key points in the cavern six corrupted magic artifacts acted as focal points for Lolth’s Demon Weave. The PCs could cleanse the corruption of each artifact by channeling the magic in the items of light they acquired in the previous sessions. Each item could only be used in this way once. The number of corrupted artifacts was supposed to be equal to the number of PCs in the encounter. The party was supposed to have a number of light items equal to the number of artifacts. Once an artifact was cleansed the PCs could use it to heal themselves or an ally (assuming they made the necessary checks). Lolth’s avatar could not be killed until all of the artifacts were cleansed and she couldn’t be wounded beyond her bloodied value until only two artifacts remained corrupted.
A Drow Stalker was hiding near the crystal and managed to get one attack in on the party before they killed him. It didn’t take long for them to investigate the artifact, cleanse it, and figure out its healing properties.
By now the party could see the rest of the chamber including the immense pillar of dark arcane energy spewing froth from the Abyss and causing The Darkening.
- Demon Weave Source – This giant pillar of darkness was important to the story and surely looked menacing, but in game terms it wasn’t really that bad during the immediate combat. Creatures could not willingly enter the Weave, but if they were forced into it they took 10 damage. This link to the Abyss and the source of the Darkening was really just for show at this point.
Two tiers below, the heroes in the centre of the chamber saw the Vampire being attacked by two Drow. One was a Xorlarrin Wizard; the other was Lolth’s Avatar. It was not going well for the Vampire. He was bloodied and near death. He’d just been pushed into one of the Coldfire Globe.
- Coldfire Globes – These were bad news. Entering a globe caused 10 cold/fire/lightning damage and gave a creature 10 vulnerable for the rest of the session.
The Barbarian and Cleric, both being melee characters, climbed down the ledges as fast as they could. They encountered another Drow Stalker who had emerged from a side passage but dispatched him easily. By the time they got down to the main chamber the Vampire was unconscious.
- Ledges – This detail seemed a bit unnecessary to me. With a Dungeoneering check a PC could cause the edge of the ledge to crumble away. The falling creature got no save to avoid falling. I guess the advantage here was that most PCs could roll the Dungeoneering DC with ease, causing an opponent to fall 20 ft (and take 2d10 damage) more easily than they could hit a creature.
While the melee combatants moved to engage the two Drow, the Warlock moved into the side chamber to attempt to cleanse the corrupted Artifact. After doing this without any difficulty, he decided to leave without investigating the Maelstrom. I had to straight out tell the players to investigate this because he assumed it was it was obviously bad and he didn’t think it was worth wasting an action to find out more.
- Maelstrom – Most players saw the giant ball of fire and avoided it. In truth it was very beneficial and caused them no harm at all. With a successful check the PC realized if he entered the Maelstrom he could recharge an encounter power for one ally. Everyone could do this once. It was too bad that it was so far removed from the main chamber because once melee PCs got down to the bottom level they were very unlikely to climb back up to gain this boon.
The Cleric managed to get the Vampire back on his feet but it didn’t last long. The Barbarian tried to take on Lolth’s Avatar but soon realized that it was going to be a real challenge.
- Danifae, Lolth’s Avatar – This was one tough opponent. She was a level 9 solo controller leader. Her defenses were not too bad all 22-23, but she had 400 hit points. She could make two attacks every round doing 2d8+9 with her best and could slide 3 as an effect (so hit or miss). Her encounter power which recharged when she was bloodied was close burst 3 and did 3d10+9 damage (half on a miss). She also had a reaction power that let her attack close burst 20 once per round whenever she was attacked for 2d8+8 damage. Oh and did I mention her aura? If you ended your turn within the aura 2 you took 10 damage and she could slide you 3 squares. On top of all that she had 2 action points and saved with a +5 bonus. This was truly the embodiment of a goddess.
The Vampire, realizing he was going to die because he had no healing surges remaining and was taking an obscene amount of damage with his vulnerable 10, decided to die heroically. He used his last turn to bring the item of light to a corrupted artifact and cleans it. The next round Lolth’s Avatar utterly destroyed him. Fortunately he was given a second chance to help as Mystra interceded. With a convincing argument the Vampire’s spirit was allowed to remain on the battlefield to help his comrades.
- Mystra’s Presence – If the party was doing poorly the DM could wave his magic wand and have Mystra assist the PCs. The first way Mystra could help was that she could end all conditions on all PCs, allow everyone to spend a healing surge, and regain the use of one expended encounter power. The second way Mystra could help was when a PC died. The goddess gave the PC a chance to explain why they should be allowed to keep fighting. If she like the answer the PCs spirit could aid an ally by providing a +2 bonus to an attack, save or skill check each round.
The remaining PCs had only one more artifact to cleanse but they were badly wounded. The Cleric who was now also suffering from the vulnerable 10 saw the figure of Mystra in the nearby mote.
- Reflecting Motes (a.k.a. the Gateways) – This was by far the special feature that could help the PCs the most. In each Mote the PCs could see the form of a beautiful woman beckoning them. If they entered the Mote, Mystra blessed them. If they had vulnerable 10 from the Globes she dismissed it. She granted the PC an immediate save and if they succeeded they gained resist 5 to all damage until the end of the encounter. She then teleported the PC to a square containing one of the corrupted artifacts. As an added bonus if Lolth’s avatar was pushed into a Mote she gained vulnerable 5 for the rest of the encounter.
The Cleric was teleported to the remaining corrupted artifact but needed the item in the Barbarian’s hands. The Barbarian risked opportunity attacks to get to the Cleric. As she ran over the Dragon bones something strange happened.
- Dragon Corpse – This was a neat idea that I felt really demonstrated some creativity by the designers. The Gold Dragon bones were difficult terrain, and once per round when someone passes through the bones a burst of blue fire erupted dealing 15 fire to any create in or adjacent to the bones. Additionally the fist time the bones were disrupted the Gold Dragon’s spirit appeared. PCs could try to communicate with it and if successful the ghost attack Lolth’s avatar inflicting 10 damage every round until the combat ended. Nice little bonus for team heroes if they’re successful.
The PCs managed to convince the Dragon to aid them and from then on it was all team heroes. They cleansed the final Artifact and pounded on Lolth’s Avatar. The Warlock meanwhile decided it was his mission to take down the wounded Xorlarrin Wizard. Unfortunately the Wizard was connected to his goddess and could not be wounded beyond his bloodied value until she died.
Between the ranged attacks from the Warlock, the melee attacks from the Barbarian (who now had resist 5 all from Mystra’s Motes), and the Dragon’s constant attacks (enhanced because Lolth’s Avatar had acquired vulnerability herself) it didn’t take more than another couple of rounds to drop her to 0 hit points.
When the PCs finally destroyed Lolth’s Avatar she reached out to the Xorlarrin Wizard and absorbed his life essence so that she could continue living. This destroyed the Wizard and healed the Avatar. However, the few hit points it granted her were inconsequential as the PCs destroyed her before she could take any more actions.
When the PCs defeated Lolth’s Avatar for the second time her lower body transformed into a spider. As the massive form of Lolth began to approach the PCs again the Demon Weave changes from dark to light as Lolth’s power weakened. From the glowing Weave the voice of Mystra called out. “Only one shall be called the goddess of magic. It shall not be you, wretched Spider Queen. Never you.” The light engulfed Lolth’s avatar and destroyed her before her form utterly disappeared.
With Lolth defeated and the Demon Weave a thing of the past the world began returning to normal. The Darkening dissipated and the forces of evil lead by the Drow began to falter. The champions of the surface world rallied and pushed back the Orcs, Trolls, and Drow attackers.
Mystra, the goddess of magic, long believed dead had returned to the Realms. However, it will be some time before her power was fully restored.
The Realms are a safer and better place because of the efforts of the PCs. They made a significant difference in the war that changed the fate of the world.
Two of the terrain features that the PCs didn’t investigate or find themselves near at any point during the battle was the Green Blob and the Pit.
- Green Blob – I’m betting most parties never got anywhere near this little Easter egg. It’s another one that is helpful if the PCs took the time to investigate. The blob is the arcane remnants of a Drow Wizard that was killed. A PC can try to wield this raw energy to deal an extra 2d10 force damage on their next attack.
- The Pit – This was a blessing in disguise. It was 30 ft deep so PCs untrained in Acrobatics were likely to suffer 3d10 falling damage. Once at the bottom they were immobilized in the tangle of bodies that were pushed in there before them. The good news was that one of the corpses was grasping a Healing Potion so the guy in the pit could heal up (a little bit) before he climbed out. The bottom of the pit was also far enough away that it was beyond the Avatar’s aura, so that was another bonus.
Today I’m only commenting on the week 8 session. Next week I’ll have my full season report card.
This was a thrilling conclusion to a fantastic season of D&D Encounters. The stakes were high and the players knew it. Everyone expected the final battle to be tough but I don’t think most players realized just how tough it was going to be. That being said we saw quite a few PCs die this week, but everyone seemed to have a lot of fun.
This was the first time this season where most PCs used all of their daily and encounter power before the session was over. In many cases some PCs were down to at-wills with more than half the fight still to go. Parties with all four roles represented certainly had an easier time of things than parties without. A good rounding in the skills department also helped this week.
Some people were thrown by the amount of other stuff going on during the fight but I kept reminding them that this is one of the great parts of 4e encounters; it should be more than just hack and slash. By adding puzzles, traps and boons to the encounter it made things more exciting. PCs that explored and didn’t feel the need to attack every single round were usually rewarded for making the sacrifice.
All in all I have a blast running and playing this session. This is the 4e D&D that I know and love. This is the kind of encounter we have on a regular basis in my home games. I think more players (especially new players) need to see more mega encounters like this one to truly appreciate just how fun 4e D&D is to play.
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.
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.
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