D&D Encounters: Against the Cult of Chaos – Preview

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 25, 2013

against-the-cult-of-chaos-coverAfter a short break in January the D&D Encounters public-play program returns with season 12, Against the Cult of Chaos on February 6.

This season the format returns to the familiar one encounter each week. All character begin at level 1 and by the time they’ve completed the adventure they will reach level 3. Characters get a short rest at the end of each week and an extended rest at set times throughout the adventure. It’s a regular 4e adventure, there aren’t any strange modifications to the rules. However, Wizards of the Coast is offering the opportunity to convert this 4e adventure into a D&D Next play test.

During the week 0 character creation session, everyone involved with D&D Encounters at your FLGS (players and DMs) should discus whether they want to return to regular 4e rules this season or if they’d prefer to try out the new D&D Next rules. Groups that decide to play test need to sign the NDA. It is possible to run some tables as 4e and some as D&D Next but once you pick one or the other you’re expected to stick with it for the season.

DMs running D&D Next can download the materials from the D&D Next website. Although the packet isn’t available yet, it seems that the D&D Next Encounters package will include character creation guidelines, character sheets, pre-generated characters, and a conversion kit for the DM. DMs will still need a copy of the 4e adventure to run the session (for the maps if nothing else). I do not believe for a second that the download will be a full reprinting of the adventure using the D&D Next rules. More likely the conversion kit will provide revised stat blocks for monsters and revised numbers for skill checks.

Character Creation

For the very first time ever players can create characters using any source materials that are 4e legal. Warforged, Thri-Kreen, Genasi, Runepriest, Batttlerager Fighter, and Ardent are all legal choices this season. I’ll be honest, I’ve let the players run pretty much whatever they wanted every season so this really won’t change anything at my table. They do encourage new or less experienced players to limit their class and race choices to those presented in the D&D Essentials materials, but anything goes.

This is the first time in many seasons that Wizards did not provide special character sheets. I guess now that all race and class options are on the table they expect most of us will use Character Builder. Although the character sheets looked great, no one at my FLGS used them so I have no problem with Wizards saving a few bucks and cutting this promo item.

The same six standard pre-gens are provided (again) for anyone who doesn’t have the time or inkling to create their own PC. Just because you’re using a pre-gen doesn’t mean you should limit your choices to only six PCs. All of the characters Wizard has ever provided for D&D Encounters are available for download in the Dungeon’s Master Pre-Generated Character Library.

The Adventure

This adventure draws heavy inspiration from three D&D classic adventures: Keep on the Borderlands, The Village of Hommlet, and Against the Cult of the Reptile God. This will be abundantly apparent as soon as you see the maps (which I’ve provided below).

keep-on-the-borderlands-cover

Although it does use 4e mechanics it is not as a run-of-the-mill adventure. The folks at Wizards realized that players don’t like to be railroaded and over the past few seasons have presented us with more options and less linear stories. This season is the best yet when it comes to the players driving the story.

Everyone will play the same session during week 1. This establishes what’s happening and gives the PCs a chance to get the lay of the land and meet the important NPCs. However, after that anything goes until week 8. There are three quests/problems/mini-adventures set before the heroes. in each, they face a different boss villain. The PCs can tackle the quests in any order they see fit depending on how the role-playing drives them.

There is no advantage or hindrance to completing these tasks in any particular order. Each mini-quest is two encounters and will take two sessions to complete. Once the heroes choose a path they must complete both encounters before taking on the next one. This may create some challenges if players at your FLGS don’t always play at the same table with the same party.

As the PCs complete each objective they learn new information about what’s really going on and find resources that will ultimately help them defeat the greater evil. The final session in week 8 is the same for everyone no matter what order you completed the sessions that came before it.

Maps

atcoc-map-villageThis time around there are two double-sided poster maps, the new norm for an 8-week adventure. They look great, as always. In the adventure there is a map of the village provided for the DM. I’ve scanned it and posted it here (click to enlarge). I encourage DMs to print a copy for their table. It will make exploring the town a lot easier and a lot less abstract. Let the players write notes on the map including what each building is and which NPCs they meet and interact with at each location.

Be sure to check out our D&D Encounters Map Gallery.

encounters-13-map-1 encounters-13-map-2
encounters-13-map-3 encounters-13-map-4

Classic Maps

As mentioned above some of these maps draw heavily from previously published materials. I’ve provided a gallery of classic maps from the original Village of Hommlet. I think the 4e conversion was a definite improvement. Some players and DMs may recognize the Moat House poster map as it was provided previously in The Village of Hommlet conversion a few years ago.

atcoc-classic-map-village atcoc-classic-map-moat-house
atcoc-classic-map-dungeon atcoc-classic-map-temple

Going Digital

atcoc-adThe last page of the adventure contains an interesting advertisement which I’ve posted here. As announced earlier this week Wizards of the Coast is going to be offering most if not all of their back-catalogue in digital format at RPGDrvieThrough (visit D&D Classics). This will make those out of print and hard to find classics available to nostalgic older players (like me) as well as introduce them to a whole new generations of gamers.

Free Stuff

It’s worth noting that this is the first season in a long time that Wizards didn’t include any bonus free stuff for the players or the DMs. For the past few seasons we’ve received Fortune Card rewards, Initiative Tracking cards and even character sheets. It was always a nice gesture but I’d prefer that Wizards save money by not giving us relatively useless baubles. Instead I’d like to see more substantial rewards like 4e conversions of D&D classic adventure (like The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan for DMing Lost Crown of Neverwinter).

Instructions

against-the-cult-of-chaos-instructions-1 against-the-cult-of-chaos-instructions-4
against-the-cult-of-chaos-instructions-2 against-the-cult-of-chaos-instructions-3

Poster

against-the-cult-of-chaos-poster-front
against-the-cult-of-chaos-poster-back

The Adventure Begins

D&D Encounters: Against the Cult of Chaos (season 12) begins on February 6 and runs through April 3. Make sure you visit your FLGS for week 0 and let the DM kow if you want to play 4e or D&D Next this season.

Be sure to visit Dungeon’s Master every Thursday for our ongoing weekly coverage of D&D Encounters. Also be sure to listen to Recounting Encounter, the weekly podcast in which Alton (from 20ft Radius) and I provide our post-game report. Recounting Encounters is now available in iTunes!

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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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe Lastowski January 25, 2013 at 11:24 am

Very excited for this. I don’t know that anyone in my FLGS will care about doing the NEXT version, though.

2 Vobeskhan January 25, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Great preview once again, many thanks.

Really looking forward to getting my pack through, my players are chomping at the bit now that the start date is almost upon us.

We have already decided to continue running under 4e rather than Next but I’ll probably still look at the conversion stuff for my own information.

3 AlHazred January 25, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Every single player at my store’s previous seasons wants to go Next. Going to be an interesting run.

4 Pedro Rodrigues January 26, 2013 at 7:09 am

Anyone having problems receiving this outside the US?

We only got 1 package, when normally we have 2.

We intended to have a mix of 4th and Next tables, not sure now if the problem isnt resolved, possibly going for Next.

5 Joe January 26, 2013 at 11:08 am

Pedro, I remember reading that Wizards was going to start packaging all their organized play stuff together, so that Encounters would be grouped together with Magic event stuff in the same packet. Not sure if this is the reason your typical packet grouping changed. I don’t think my store has received the materials yet, though, so I can’t compare it to what we got.

The NEXT version of this adventure is slated to just be an online conversion of the printed 4e version, though.

6 B.J. January 26, 2013 at 10:47 pm

I got my materials on Thursday. Everything looks great, but I’m a little concerned about our Encounters program. The shop where we play is now charging $5 a person, whereas it has been free-to-play for the previous seasons. A second D&D game started up last November at the shop and several of the players migrated over to that during the Encounters month-long break. All but two have said they are going to stick with that game. I’m trying to recruit hard, but thus far the two holdouts are the only ones signed up. I’m going to be majorly bummed if we can’t continue Encounters.

7 cro January 27, 2013 at 10:03 am

If players choose to use D&D Next, will you be able to record the podcast ? Is the NDA prevent that ?

8 dude January 27, 2013 at 1:30 pm

it funny how WOTC thinks they shouldn’t reward DM’s or Players. a DM has to spend a lot of time preparing for the game, and has to deal with a ton of crap. and usually for an adventure they will not play anymore, because they are sick to death of it. so they can sell it on ebay for money…plus not giving perks for players, come on. is it that hard to give DM exclusive stuff…new DM screens, initiative tracker boards, dice, dnd pens or pencils, binders, discount on books for helping to spread their word and help sell their products. just a rant!!! their are still people playing 4th edition WOTC and now you have already abandoned it, but it still has life. its like you tossed kittens on the side of the road for someone else to worry about. maybe that’s why pathfinder is outselling you!!!!!

9 AlHazred January 28, 2013 at 2:50 pm

@dude: Your reward for running is a copy of the module. The reward for players is a good time had by all (hopefully). The reward for the store is more sales (hopefully). If that’s not good enough, then I don’t know what to say.

10 Shawn January 28, 2013 at 8:24 pm

If people didn’t see this yet, the D&D Next adaptation for Against the Cult of Chaos can be found in the new Playtest Packet that released today.

11 B.J. January 28, 2013 at 9:29 pm

That’s cool. Also, all three first edition adventures that this season is based on are available on the new D&D Classic download page.

12 jason magolan January 29, 2013 at 9:55 am

hello, I m in mi(usa) and my store organizer up n quit so I stepped up but wasn’t able to sign up in time so wotc isn’t giving us a copy…..
is there any humanly possible way for you to scan me a copy so I can run it for my store. I can recreate the maps with tiles and just drawing if needed.
I have been following you podcasts and posts for awhile…keep up the good work.

13 Feetz January 29, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Thanks for the map scan. Printed and ready to go.

14 Martin Tideswell January 30, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Guys. Help. My group has been running the DnD Next playtests. I’ve just received the latest playtest packet with conversion notes for Against The Cult of Chaos. But there’s no actual adventure. We don’t play Encounters. There is no store within 50 miles of us running them. Where can I, as DM, get the adventure in order to run it with the conversion rules?

15 Ameron (Derek Myers) January 31, 2013 at 9:05 am

@jason magolan and Martin Tideswell

In order to play the DnD Next version of Against the Cult of Chaos you MUST have the actual paper 4e adventure. The materials Wizards provided for download are for conversion; it’s not a complete reprinting of the adventure.

This means that if you don’t participate in D&D Encounters the packet is practically useless to you. I realize that some people don’t participate because it isn’t run anywhere that’s convenience for them, and I feel for you. Unfortunately that’s the way Wizards has chosen to run things this time around. I’ve had a lot of requests to scan the adventure and either post it or email it to people. As much as I want to help, this is a line I’m not willing to cross – sorry.

If you have an FLGS near you that’s running D&D Encounters I’d suggest starting there. Try going out Wednesday nights to play. If that doesn’t work for you, talk to the store owner or current DMs and see if they’ll lend or sell you the adventure when they’re done with it. I know my FLGS gets 4 copies of the adventure and generally only runs 2 tables.

Alternatively you can follow the weekly posts we run here at Dungeon’s Master and piece together what you need. We record all of our sessions so you can listen to what we do and create a version of the adventure from that. Again, not ideal, but it will allow you to try and use the play-test materials you’ve got. After all, we’ve already posted the maps so that should be a big help at the outset.

16 Joe Lastowski January 31, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Just got my copy of the 4e packet yesterday. Nobody at my store has cared much for NEXT, so I think we’ll all be running it 4e.

It’s interesting that they’re taking the setting away from established D&D gods. Now there are two good divine philosophies: the “Old Ways” and “The Lawbringer”, and presumably whatever deity you worship will need to fall under one of those two (the conflict between those two philosophies plays into the larger story). Not sure how we’ll split that up at our store depending on the warpriest domains & god selections (is it an Old Ways Death who is part of a cosmic cycle that you worship, or a new totalitarian Lawful Death, who demands that everyone has their time to go? Erathis is probably Law, and Melora is probably Old Ways, but what about Ioun? Is she a goddes of Book Knowledge, or Home Remedy Knowledge?). It’ll be interesting to see which camp the players feel their gods reside in.

I’m curious how other DMs are planning on handling rests. Because of the modular nature of the three sub-quests in-between the first & last session, there are no set times in the module that say when folks get an extended rest. In previous seasons, we’d do extended rests at the end of chapters, when folks were levelling-up… but with the “a character levels up after he plays 3 sessions, even if they’re not consecutive” variation on levelling, there won’t necessarily be those set breaks.

I think it’d overpower things if I allowed extended rests every session… at least in 4e (maybe not in NEXT, where things are day-based instead of encounter-based). But hypothetically they could go back to the town to sleep after each session, except if they end up captured or something. Any thoughts?

17 AlHazred January 31, 2013 at 3:18 pm

@Joe Lastowski: I’m pretty sure they intentionally didn’t include the regular deities in the module. If a PC is already dedicated to one of the gods represented, there is far less actual roleplay involved — “I don’t have to think about the issues, whatever Erathis says, goes!”

That said, on the official messageboards, Mr. Merwin suggested that the Lawbringer and the Old Faith could be overarching religions encompassing the faiths available to players. So, maybe a cleric following “Pelor” or “Kord” is actually a priest of the Old Faith, and one who selects “Erathis” or “Moradin” options is actually a priest of the Lawbringer.

@Ameron (Derek Myers): Thanks for the map! Printed to poster size so the PCs will be able to write on it – should go better than Duponde and Neverwinter, which never had readable, large-format maps that I could print for disposable versions?

18 Joe Lastowski January 31, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Also, it’s a little annoying that while p.2 mentions how to handle allocating the treasure and items that players will gain throughout the season (and which books will contain information on those items), the only treasure actually mentioned in any of the adventures are the 3 new named items necessary for the final fight.

I think we’ll be using one of the random charts from a previous season to handle giving out magic items each week. I love the D&D Encounters programs, but there always seem to be these little disconnects between somebody that writes one part and someone who writes another, so that the final product comes out looking slightly flawed. Oh well, we’ll make due.

19 Joe Lastowski January 31, 2013 at 9:34 pm

@AlHazred, thanks for that. Could you put up a link to the Wizards forum about this Encounters season? I can never find the new forums on organized play events on that site, and their search function never gives me what I’m looking for.

20 Sunyaku January 31, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Contrary to other FLGS, seems like no one at our FLGS wants to play this with the DnD Next rules. Our LFR community is growing, and people seem to want characters they can more easily port over to that environment when Encounters is done.

21 B.J. February 1, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Our group is still doing 4e. The store owner asked me if I would feel comfortable running it as Next and I said that I would not. He nodded and said, “4th edition it is!”

22 AlHazred February 1, 2013 at 10:59 pm

@Joe Lastowski: Here’s a link to the D&D Next conversion forums.

23 Ameron (Derek Myers) February 4, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Here’s the link to the D&D Encounters Season 12 Forum.

24 Ameron (Derek Myers) February 5, 2013 at 12:56 pm

There seems to be some discussion on Twitter about the “Free Stuff” section of this article. I want to be clear that I’m not saying “gimme, gimme, gimme!” I do not expect any compensation for running the adventure. Playing D&D should be its own reward (and is for me). I’m ecstatic every season that I get to keep the adventure and the maps, so I’m good. What I meant in the Free Stuff section is that if Wizards of the Coast is going to go to the trouble of providing rewards or some other compensation that I think their time, money and energy would be better spent giving us something more substantive, like an adventure conversion (which they’ve done I the past). I found that the fortune cards, initiatives cards and other free stuff they’ve provided in previous seasons was nice but in my case kind of useless. That’s just my 2 cents.

For more on this topic, see D&D Encounters: DM Compensation

25 Alphastream February 5, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Free Stuff is an argument worth having. It has been a very big issue historically for the RPGA, where people will put in substantial volunteer efforts to recruit players, train DMs, DM tables, educate stores, etc. In the past there have been programs which recognized the level of involvement by a DM (and sometimes for players) and rewarded them. This has included specially painted minis, adventures, reward cards, spell templates, thank you letters, special membership levels, calendars, game aids such as tokens, and more. When rewards are removed or vastly changed in a negative fashion it has drawn people away from the game. Conversely, new rewards have brought people in. It can be easy to label that as shallow or wrong, but I don’t agree with that. Rewards double as a way for participants to feel loved by the company. Removal of the ‘love’ or changes to only ‘love certain demographics’ really can turn participants away (as it did from LG/LFR to the organized play run by other companies).

Wizards also has the “big corporation” stigma. Rewards help fight that, turning it around to the “company with the pockets to take care of you.”

I’m all for gamers saying, “look, the only reward I need is to run a fun game. I should thank you for providing me with a place to play and a free adventure.” I agree with that. At the same time, I can’t deny the historical benefit of a strong rewards program. I believe it is in everyone’s interest for Wizards to maintain a strong rewards program where participating often, bringing in new players, and creating a strong store program comes with rewards.

26 Alphastream February 5, 2013 at 3:23 pm

@jason magolan: If there is ever an issue with not receiving a packet, your store should contact their WPN rep. Other stores cannot and should not share their packets or make copies of them. Instead, use the system to have your store maintain a good relationship with their WPN Rep and get a copy of the adventure. If one is available, they will send it. Of course, if your store doesn’t want to participate or can’t be organized enough to run a good program, it won’t happen.

27 Shawn February 6, 2013 at 9:36 am

I have some experience in marketing, so I want to come at this from a little different perspective. First of all, this is a very complicated issue, where some people might focus an entire MBA dissertation on just this topic. Rewards programs and user-loyalty incentives can be a great thing. There are right ways to do it, and wrong ways to do it. If you do it wrong, the rewards end up hurting your program/product in the long run. D&D is an odd paradigm in this sense, and Encounters even moreso, because D&D is a product where people can buy “stuff” for it, but it takes organization on the part of the purchasers to get the most out of their purchases: that is, purchasers need to get together as players and DMs to make the product work as intended. In this sense, Wizards of the Coast creates a reward called D&D Encounters, and gives it away for free as a loss leader, in order to help those who buy its products organize in a way that best uses those purchased products. Still, since D&D is a game that requires a DM, now it becomes necessary to create further rewards to let people use the original rewards. That is a tough system to make work before people who count the beans step in and question it.

So here is Wizards giving away free stuff and entice people to play (or DM) stuff that they are already giving away for free. And if they stop giving away the extra free stuff to entice people to use the original free stuff, they get a backlash. Now it is true that DMing takes effort. For some that effort is part of the fun of the game, and for other that effort is something that detracts from the fun of the game. I agree it would be nice if the DMs get a reward. Many people believe that a copy of the adventure, the maps, and the tokens are sufficient reward. Others don’t, but in the end it is a matter of personal preference. As D&D Next progresses and the OP folks at Wizards plan their strategies for programs and marketing efforts going forward, I believe they will learn from these experiences and come up with rewards that are both enticing and reasonable given the business model.

28 AlHazred February 7, 2013 at 8:00 am

I don’t want to sidetrack the preview commentary (Ameron, maybe that’s another blog post?), but as far as Rewards go, in the 2000s the RPGA supported their games with rewards for those who logged a lot of games. On the one hand, it was nice to get a giant d20 with runes on the faces, or a battlemat, or spell templates; but on the other hand, it required a lot of session tracking by DMs who might be doing it between slots at a convention. At the New Jersey cons I went to, we literally had coordinators whose only job was to log twenty-something or thirty-something tables every slot of the Con, tracking gold and experience earned, plot points hit, etc. — it’s a lot of work, and it takes up DMing time that could be better used running games.

The current Rewards program, in contrast, is very mild. You log DCI numbers, and that’s that. Done in five minutes. It just doesn’t feel like I’m earning much more than the module itself and the cool maps.

I guess it depends a lot on how much the Encounters and Lair Assault programs are bringing in in added sales to the stores. If it’s a good amount, then there should be Rewards based on that. Since sales of 4E have (anecdotally) stagnated, then just the module seems to be enough to me.

29 Greg Bilsland February 7, 2013 at 11:25 am

With regards to rewards—I can’t go into details as to why this season has fewer rewards than some previous seasons. However, I will say that there’s some exciting stuff that’s on it’s way, and we’ll be ramping up the rewards throughout this year.

Greg Bilsland
D&D Producer
@gregbilsland

30 dude February 9, 2013 at 10:56 pm

i haven’t bin back to this page in awhile and didn’t realize its such a big topic that someone from Wotc is responding.
i still stand by my original thinking that yes it is nice to be a reward for the DM running and encounter and helping to sell, teach, spread the word and keep dungeons and dragons going and helping new people to get involved.
it is nice to Receive a black and white adventure with 2 map’s. but this adventure is not the old simple read out the book, straight line path. if you wont to make it enjoyable and last until April then you as a DM have to put in extra work were the company didn’t really seem to give a crap and provided a small short little adventure that we the DM has to drag out for them. more material and rewards are not to much to ask for.

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