D&D Encounters: Against the Cult of Chaos (Week 2)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 21, 2013

against-the-cult-of-chaos-coverBeginning this week every party participating in this season’s adventure will have the option of following one of three adventure paths. So there is a strong likelihood that the path my group took this week will not match the path your group took this week. It’s going to be tough to describe what happened without giving away some spoilers. Please be mindful of this as you continue reading.

Players who don’t want to know what’s still to come may want to delay reading this recap until they’ve had an opportunity to complete this part of the adventure. DMs who have not yet run this adventure path can hopefully learn from my ups and downs to make their DMing experience better when the time comes.

This week we had a great turn out as our numbers continued to grow. We had three tables with five players each. We haven’t seen this kind of turnout since the Dark Sun adventure back in season 2. My table had five players: two new players (one brand new last week, one brand new this week) along with three seasoned veterans (one a DM at another FLGS). The party consisted of an Elf Slayer, Pixie Wizard (Witch), Drow Wizard, Tiefling Ardent/Battle Mind (hybrid), and Fargrim the Dwarf Fighter (Slayer) pre-gen.

We picked things up in Hommel Lane. At the end of last week’s session the PCs decided to get a room at the Golden Grain Inn with the intention of pursuing the bandits the following morning. When the PCs gathered in the common room the next morning they noticed one Dwarf from the night before was still drinking. He asked the party if he could tag along with them since all of his drinking buddies were on the floor passed out and weren’t any fun. They party agreed to let him come with them.

This new Dwarf friend had spent enough time in and around Hommel Lane that he knew the way to the Moat House and was able to guide the party. After trekking four hours through light forest, the party emerged from the tree line and spotted the Moat House in the distance. They watched the fort for about half an hour and saw no signs guards, patrols or anyone coming or going. They proceeded with caution, weapons sheathed.

Anticipating that they’d find the bandits inside the Moat House they decided they’d try to talk to them rather than just attack. Realizing that they’d need some kind of explanation for who they were and why they were here they kicked around some ideas.

With a successful History check a couple of the PCs realized that no one actually owns the Moat House so even if the bandits were using it, they didn’t necessarily have any real claim on the property. The Dwarf threw out the idea of posing as a descendent of the original owner and asserting his right of ownership. He’d allow the bandits to stay there if they paid a tax, and he’d wave the tax if the bandits engaged the party in conversation rather than hostilities.

This plan was eventually dismissed in favour of one that the bandits might actually believe. The PCs would claim that they’d stirred up trouble in Hommel Lane and were chased out. They would claim that the authorities were after them and that the party needed a place to rest and possibly mount a counter attack.

As the PCs approached the Moat House they noticed the torrid state of the fort including the destroyed second story, the damaged front doors, the rickety drawbridge and the two sizable holes in the walls. Poor Perception checks didn’t reveal any guards or other signs of immediate danger. There was a brief discussion about one of the Wizards trying to sneak in through a hole in the wall, but that was dismissed in favour or party unity and strength in numbers.

When the PCs entered the courtyard a voice called out to them. “You’re not welcome here. Leave now or be killed.” The fast-talking Ardent rolled a couple of stellar Bluff checks and managed to engage the bandit leader in dialogue and hold off any attack. The leader agreed to let the PCs stay in the Moat House to discus their shared problem of the Hommel Lane authorities, but as a gesture of good will she insisted the PCs all drop their weapons. When they did she called out to the archers “FIRE!”

The eight archers got a surprise attack and fired upon the five PCs. Then we rolled for initiative. The archers rolled a natural 20 and went at the top of the order. Eight more shots flew at the five PCs. Of the 16 arrows fired, 14 hit. Before the PCs even got to act they were all bloodied. And to add insult to injury they all had to spend a minor action to pick up their weapons on their turn.

It looked like it as going to be a disastrous TPK, but smart tactics made a huge difference. The Drow Wizard popped his Cloud of Darkness which saved the PCs during the next arrow volley. The Witch ran up to one of the arrow slits and cast Beguiling Strands through the arrow slit to take out two archers. She then fell prone making her harder to hit by the remaining archers. The Elf Slayer charged the nearest arrow slit and managed to hit and drop an archer.

From the guard room near the front of the Moat House the PCs heard a voice call out, “Mr. Ribbit, come on, boy. Help your master.” Seconds later they saw a frog the size of a man emerge from the shallow pond and slowly start approaching the courtyard.

The bandit leader appeared from the darkness and deftly threw her dagger at the Ardent scoring a hit. With only a few hit points remaining, the Ardent moved into the Cloud of Darkness and healed himself. The Wizard fired Magic Missiles at the leader preferring a guaranteed hit over the chance of missing with a more substantial attack.

Before the Dwarf Slayer acted I turned to him and in a very serious tone said “You know what I think you should do this turn? I think you should roll a 20 on this attack roll.” The player, also being completely serious turned to me and said, “OK, I will.” He charged the bandit leader and rolled a natural 20. Max damage plus Power Strike (also maxed) dropped her. After the cheering died down and the high-5s were done I explained action points to this new player. He chose to use his action point to charge the only other archer in his range, scoring another hit and dropping another bandit.

Unfortunately this display of heroics brought the wrath of the Dwarven bandit upon the Slayer. One hit dropped the hero as he only had about 5 hit points left. The Elf Slayer charged in to avenger her fallen comrade and scored a hit. However, the bandit was still very healthy and on his next turn he dropped the Elf as well.

Meanwhile the rest of the party took out the remaining archers. The Ardent went toe-to-toe with the giant frog killing him with minimal difficulty. The Dwarf who called out for the frog was devastated when his pet was killed and he charged the Ardent. With the three conscious PCs still facing off against two Dwarven bandits they had no chance to get to their fallen allies. Both unconscious PCs failed their first two death saves. They finally managed to drop one Dwarf Bandit and get to the wounded PCs but the Dwarf Slayer failed his third death save before he could be stabilized. They just managed to stabilize the Elf, although the Wizard had to endure an opportunity attack to get to her in time.

With the final Dwarf Bandit still swinging the Wizard decided for the first time all night to not use Magic Missile and try another power that could inflict more damage. What the player didn’t realize was that a Magic Missile would have killed the bandit. If he missed the attack roll the Dwarf Bandit could possibly kill another PC. Fortunately the Wizard hit and did enough damage to drop the final combatant.

The PCs declared at the beginning of the battle that they were not going to kill any of the bandits. They believed that if they captured them and returned them to Hommel Lane they might get some kind of reward. Once they had them all securely tied up they decided to search the rest of the Moat House before reviving any of them.

In the leader’s room was a locked chest. Rather than pick the lock they looked for a key on the leader, which they found. However, they made no effort to look for traps and unfortunately set one off when they tried to open the chest.

One of the rooms was barred and written on the outside was “Sick Room. Keep door locked.” The PCs decided to heed the warning. In another area the PCs found boxes and crates filled with supplies, the spoils of the bandits’ raiding. Some boxes had Wyndell’s symbol on them.

A staircase leading down was blocked by a stone door, clearly added recently. Upon the door were magical sigils which the two Wizards understood required a password or phrase to bypass.

When the bandits were revived the leader tried to bargain for her life. She agreed to be cooperative if the PCs agreed not to execute her. She agreed to stand trial in Hommel Lane for her crimes. The PCs were bitter about the whole drop your weapons ploy from earlier and were not inclined to show mercy. She sweetened the deal by telling them about her accomplices in Hommel Lane. They finally agreed.

When asked about he sick room she explained that the mad men inside were cursed. They were the subjects of the cultists residing beneath the Moat House. She had no idea what the pass phrase might be and she doesn’t want to know. The cult leader, Lareth the Beautiful, is clearly an evil and vile man. She doesn’t like dealing with him and will be glad to be gone from here. The PCs returned to Hommel Lane, accompanied by prisoners carrying Wyndell’s goods.

Thoughts

Despite a PC’s death the group really had a fun time with this encounter. The combat proved difficult but that was really due in large part to my hot DM dice. Had the initiatives been different or few archer attacks not hit, things might have gone very differently. I know another table at my FLGS that ran this encounter had a TPK.

In retrospect I’d recommend that any DM running this encounter make the archers go last in the initiative. I’d also consider reducing the archers attack scores (which are +11 vs. AC) by 2 or more. This seemed really high to me.

Although the adventure doesn’t really give a talking option I felt it made for a more interesting approach to the confrontation. The fact that no one in my party was great at Diplomacy or Bluff pretty much ensured there would be combat, but a more glib party may be able to turn the tide before blood is shed.

I actually removed one giant frog from the combat. DMs should remember that you can make changes on the fly if the party is having trouble or if they’re just walking all over the monsters. Of course if the party doesn’t visit the Moat House until they’re level 2 or 3 they’ll likely have an easier time and you’ll want to throw both frogs at them.

One final thought is that DMs should encourage creative thinking and unusual tactics. My group considered splitting up but the “Never split the party” mantra seemed to trump that call. Remember that this adventure draws heavily from old-school adventures and in some circumstances splitting up may actually be beneficial so don’t dismiss it out of hand.

Which path did you follow? For those who went to the Moat House how did things go? Any one else have a PC die? Any other TPKs?

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. This season we welcome another gamer to our podcast, Craig Sutherland, one of the other DMs that runs and plays with me in Toronto. Find all episodes of Recounting Encounters on iTunes.

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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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ~Rob H. February 21, 2013 at 10:47 am

Thanks for the Advice that you provide here and other places. I have enjoyed your website over the last year or two. It is very interesting as a player to see how others deal with the Encounter. And now that I am DM’ing the Encounters for the first time, it is even more helpful!

Here is a very quick run down of my game. (I’ll add more details later, I am working right now but on a quick break.)

Half of my table decided to kill the Frogs before they went anywhere near the keep. The Frogs croaked and then they croaked for their last time. LOL.

Then had 1 PC go thru the “backdoor” & 1 PC go thru the “side door”. Both set off the traps & alert them even more. Had another PC climb on top of the keep, over the forbidden room. Had the last 3 walk thru the front door.

Then “Chaos” ensued.

About half the party was blooded but they killed everyone except for the leader. She hid in her room for the fight then begged for her life when it was all said and done.

Thank you for your help,

~Rob H.

2 Joe Lastowski February 21, 2013 at 11:23 am

Our group explored the Caves this week (following “The Straight Path” option in the book), so I’ll wait till we’ve done this one before commenting on how it ran (and wait till you post the “Explore the Caves” adventure for your group before commenting on that).

Good tips for this adventure, though. My table is headed to the Moat House next week, so I’ll offer our experiences once that happens.

3 Vobeskhan February 21, 2013 at 11:38 am

Another great write up guys.

Looks like a lot of tables chose the Moat House this week, both my groups did too.

I’ll put a link to our full write up once its done, but in brief, our early group almost TPK’d but managed to pull off a miraculous win while the late group also found it hard going but eventually were victorious.

Both groups had to cut short due to time (the only downside of running two tables back to back) and so next session will start with the last bit of exploring the ground floors.

In hindsight the archers to hit bonus was viscious but the highlight of the night for me was when our goliath battlemind crit’d the halfling leader only for her to use second chance and he re-rolled a miss, turning a possible 31 pts of damage into a palfrey 8!

4 Weezoh February 21, 2013 at 11:49 am

Our group, running Next, did the caves part 1 this week and a great time was had. I was hoping they’d pick the moathouse first. Actually looking at the stats as converted to next, I was going to add the second frog back in (it is removed from next and the numbers of bandits are cut down) because it seems like the encounter is going to be pretty easy even for 4-5 PCs and now i’m at 7. I did bring the conversion notes up to date with the current playtest packet in some respects because it seems like they’re not using the most current ruleset (like enda’s dagger only doing 1d4 damage)

5 Vobeskhan February 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm
6 Joe Lastowski February 28, 2013 at 1:40 pm

We ran the Moat House in week 3, with the party having taken an extended rest after the Caves of Chaos the week before.

This encounter reminded me a lot of the 2nd ed adventure “Dragon Mountain”, because it took minions and made them a huge threat (much as Dragon Mt. did with kobolds). I’m happy any time players see that tactics can allow even “chump” enemies to be a threat, because it also makes them think more tactically about how they take on the foes that are greater than they are.

My table decided to assault the fort at night, but only our Drow wizard could see, so many other folks ended up either carrying torches or staying close to those who had them (6 players total, and 3 had torches). The players had to deal with the idea of needing a hand free to hold a torch, which was new for many of them, and also of the idea of only being able to see what was 5 squares away from them. Nobody seemed to realize initially that they’d all be targets of light in the darkness. Oh, those silly PCs…

Though they could see that there were large creatures in the water, nobody dared attack, because they didn’t have enough light to see exactly what was underneath the water’s surface (it could be a crocodile, or a tentacle, or the loch ness monster!). Instead, all but one of the party went up to the main gates and went inside… directly into the archers’ kill zone. The party was easy to see with their big target torches, and the archers had superior cover against the PCs, so the only archer killed early on was hit by a lucky natural 20 thrown dagger.

The timing of this adventure was also great, with the dwarf coming out of the room to engage the casters at the rear of the party, and a frog wandering in after the noise to try and get some food (I actually used a monitor lizard mini instead of a frog, because it just looked a little more menacing). And folks kept having trouble with longer-range attacks, because they just couldn’t see far enough. The darkness also gave the bandit leader huge advantage in hiding, so she was able to take advantage of her extra damage vs. foes who grant her CA quite a bit.

The party’s Seeker alone decided to sneak around to the broken down party of the fort, and of course walked right through without checking for traps. Fortunately he had gloves that let him resist the fire damage, but the noise made the bandit leader lock the room’s door as she left, taking him out for two rounds while he tried to pick the lock or break down the door (both of which kept failing spectacularly, to the amusement of all).

I only used one frog, since the other foes were keeping everyone pretty well occupied, but we still had a character drop down below 0 HP for a bit. Afterward, they killed everyone but the bandit leader, who laid out the steps they should take to try and coax the password (and fake cultist robes) from the corrupt shopkeep in town.

So next week the party plans to begin by pretending to be cult recruits and heading off to the Moat House Dungeon. Exciting stuff.

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