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.
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.
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).
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.
This 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.
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.
The 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.
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).
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.