D&D Encounters: Storm Over Neverwinter (Week 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 18, 2013

storm-over-neverwinter-coverThis season we return to Neverwinter. The adventure takes place after the events from D&D Encounters season 6, Lost Crown of Neverwinter. Knowledge of Neverwinter, the Forgotten realms or even the previous season is not required, but it would give players and DMs some insight about the people and places they’re likely to encounter this season.

The Neverwinter Campaign Sourcebook will be an invaluable asset this season. It would be helpful if at least one person at your gaming table had one (preferably the DM). It’s a solid sourcebook and is well worth the price. I strongly encourage DMs to pick it up for themselves if they haven’t already.

D&D Next

Each FLGS will have the option of running this season’s adventure using 4e rules or D&D Next rules. Those interested in trying D&D Next need to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA). The DM will also need to download the conversion kit from the Wizards of the Coast website. The 4e adventure is still required. You cannot run this without the adventure provided in the DM kits (for the maps if nothing else).

We’ve decided to continue running with the 4e rules this season at the two FLGS where I play. The weekly recaps will only comment on the adventure as written (4e) and not reference any of the D&D Next conversions materials. However, we will be discussing it on our Recounting Encounter podcasts each week so if you’re playing D&D Next you should listen.

Characters

When the adventure begins the party is level 3. However, if anyone has brought back their character from season 6 they begin at level 4. Wizard kindly provided six level 3 pre-gens (which we have added to our Pre-Generated Character Library). Level 3 PCs begin the adventure with a level 4 level 3 and level 2 magic item as well as 520 gp to spend as they see fit. Level 4 returning characters should have a level 5, level 4,and level 3 magic item and 680 gp to spend freely. If returning characters already have magic items they can swap them out or reduce the number of new items they begin with.

Last season the adventure was non-linear so different tables were possibly playing different encounters week to week. This essentially meant that once a party was formed it didn’t change all season. This season we’re back to a traditional linear story. So I’m encouraging the participants at my FLGS to change tables frequently. To facilitate this we decided to put everyone’s name in a hat at the beginning of the night and the DMs drew them one by one. We plan to continue doing this throughout the season. The objective is to ensure that all players get to play with each other at least once and that everyone gets a chance to play under all of the DMs.

The group I played with consisted of a Human Wizard (Witch), Half-Orc Barbarian (Berserker), Halfling Rogue, and Kalashtar Paladin. I played a Goliath Monk. The Paladin was the only returning character at our table, although two others played season 6 with different characters and I ran it. So there was some familiarity with the setting and the previous season’s events.

Background

Neverwinter was devastated by the eruption of Mount Hotenow over 20 years ago and is still rebuilding. Lord Dagult Neverember has declared himself the Lord Protector of Neverwinter and is using his influence and considerable resources to bring Neverwinter back to its former glory. This stabilizing presence has brought merchants and residence back to Neverwinter. However, much of the city remains untamed with danger lurking just around corner.

Over the past few months the Ashmadai, a powerful devil cult, has become more active in Neverwinter. The symbol of their god, Asmodeus, has been seen painted in blood or burned onto buildings. The cult is also rumoured to be responsible for a rash of kidnapping happening throughout the city. People disappear for a few days and then return. They bare physical and emotional scars from their ordeal but have no memory of their experiences. All were left with the mark of Asmodeus branded onto their skin.

As the adventure begins a terrible storm approaches Neverwinter. It could have the fury to destroy the city once again, reversing the work done so far to help the troubled city.

The Adventure Begins

Our tale begins in a tavern (yeah, I groaned too when I read it) called the Moonstone Mask. The PCs have apparently been in Neverwinter for a little while and have rooms paid up through the next month. The scene begins when the heroes enter the tavern to escape the rain that’s pelting down outside.

There are a few patrons in the tavern when the PCs arrive. The heroes had an opportunity to interact with some or all of them.

  • Lady Sala Nidris: A Human merchant from Calishite who now resides in Neverwinter. Her elegant dress and graceful demeanor reveal her wealth and education. When the heroes arrive she is engaged in a conversation with a man in a cloak. The cloaked figure leaves right after the PCs arrive. It’s clear that he’s unhappy. If pressed for details she reveals that the man was Elden Vargas, a Cormyrean merchant. The two are business rivals and had a disagreement.
  • Swordcaptain Muln Horan: A familiar face for those who played the previous Neverwinter season. This Dwarven warrior was an advisor to General Sabine. Horan commands a half-dozen Mintarn soldier. He’s currently three sheets to the wind and reeks of Dwarven ale.
  • Sedge: A Male Halfling with boundary issues. He’s always underfoot and in everyone’s business. Most find his curious nature annoying and intrusive, but he means well.
  • Myrin: A Human Wizard with blue hair and dark skin. She’s friendly enough but her ever-present bodyguard, a male Human Paladin with a greataxe, doesn’t make it easy for anyone to get close enough to her to ask her questions or get to know her better.
  • Liset Chaldar: The Innkeeper and owner of the Moonstone Mask, she is a middle-aged Half-Elf. She greats everyone with a smile and is clearly good at her job. Her positive attitude seems genuine, especially towards people in power.
  • Theron: This old Elf is the cook. He believes that anyone eating here should be grateful that he’s sharing the secret recipes of his people with them and that they’re undeserving of food so exquisite. He manages the four wait staff.

Our party split up. The Monk and Rogue had a brief exchange with Lady and spoke with Lady Nidris. She told them more about her confrontation with Vargas. She also made it clear that she had a husband and son and was not looking for companionship. She did, however, let the PCs know that she was looking for bodyguards to escort her home this evening. With the storm and recent reports of kidnappings she felt that she should take suitable precautions.

The Wizard and Paladin had a few drinks with Swordcaptain Horan. He needed little prompting to tell them his life story including details about his job, his boss, and his secret crush. By the time he repeated the story for the fifth time the PCs decided it was time to wander the tavern bit. Along one wall they noticed a sellboard, a place where people post job offers and want ads. In addition to the usual notices were numerous sketches of missing citizens with rewards for their return.

The Barbarian made a B-line for the bar where Theron proceeded to ply her with the drinks. When she requested something strong Theron didn’t hesitate to produce Dwarven whisky at 10 gp per shot. A few shots latter the Barbarian was singing 99 bottles of beer on the wall. It was clear she couldn’t count to 99.

The Rogue gathered up the party and explained that they had a job offer to escort Lady Nidris home. The group was not wild about going back out in the rain but the money was too good to pass on. As the PCs were about to accept Lady Nidris’s offer they noticed four men in matching cloaks enter the tavern and skulk around the perimeter. Something about them was not right.

Before the PCs could act the cloaked men drew clubs branded with a symbol of three triangles that resembled a winged devil. One man shouted “For Asmodeus!” and clubbed the nearest patron. The room erupted in violence as people scattered in all directions. The cloaked men moved directly towards the PCs.

The PCs were still grouped together so the Thugs easily surrounded them, each attacking a different hero. Suddenly a scream caught the heroes’ attention. Lady Nidris was being accosted by another man whom none of the PCs saw enter the tavern. He managed to get a garrote around her neck and was forcefully dragging her out the back door.

The Paladin risked an opportunity attack to go to her aid. The rest of the party started to fight back against the Thugs. Unfortunately all the heroes attacked different opponents rather than focus fire. During round 2, they Thugs all used their Crippling Strike (3d6+10, ½ damage on a miss) and hit two PCs, bloodying them. Again all the PCs attacked different opponents so none of the Thugs were bloodied yet.

The Paladin continued to fight the Garrotter alone. The villain managed to pull Lady Nidris out the door and into the streets separating himself and the Paladin from the fight inside.

Inside things were not going well for the heroes so they changed things up and finally focused fire. They managed to drop one Thug and push another before knocking him prone. The breathing room let the Rogue get the combat advantage she desperately needed and she too dropped another Thug.

It was another three rounds before the battle inside was under control. By then the Paladin had chassed the Garrotter down the street and away from the tavern. Fortunately he managed to hit him a few times despite the fact that the Garrotter was trying to use Lady Nidris as a shield. By the time the heroes caught up to the fleeing Garrotter the Paladin managed to drop him.

Everyone returned to the tavern before the heroes finally escorted the shaken Lady Nidris home. It took the PCs about an hour to get to her home in the Blacklake district. When they arrived they immediately saw the bodies of two dead guards lying on the front porch. The front door was smashed open and the mark of Asmodeus was scrawled on it in blood. Lady Nidris rushed inside and called out for her son. When there was no reply she began crying out “My son!” over and over again.

Thoughts

Finally! We finally have a season of encounters that doesn’t begin at level 1. It’s about time. The long-term players loved it. However, it was a bit of an eye opener for some people. With powered up PCs comes powered up monsters. After all, there needs to be balance.

I always make a point of visiting the D&D Encounters forums a few times a week. The regular contributors often leave insightful tips that make the game better. This week a few DMs suggested tweaking the monsters a bit after they’d tried a play test of the week 1 encounter. I’m glad they shared their wisdom.

The Thugs’ defenses were between 14-16, the Garrotter’s were between 15-18. We found that a level 3 or level 4 striker will likely have an attack bonus around +10, some even higher. Throw in combat advantage and a charge and they’ll hit on as little as a 2 on a d20. That’s not fun for anyone. Likewise the hit points seemed really low. The Thugs had 56 each, the Garrotter 42. Our Half-Orc Barbarian could easily inflict 35-45 damage with an encounter power. On a crit it would be closer to 60. The conclusion (supported by the comments on the forums) was that the hp and defenses were too low, especially if your party had multiple strikers. At my table I suggested the DM increase all defenses by +2 and multiply the monsters’ maximum hp by 1.5. This made things a lot more interesting.

There was nothing wrong with the monsters’ attack scores and damage. It was high, but not out of line for level 4 monsters fighting level 3 and 4 PCs. If a bunch of the Thugs focused fire on one PC it could have been deadly. To me this emphasized the need for good tactics. The party needed to work together and everyone needed to do their job. It took us a round or two but eventually we found our groove. After that, things were a lot easier. The party was challenged by these changes but not overly so.

It occurred to me that the hardest part of this season will be managing resources. With the PC’s only extended rest coming between weeks 4-5, PCs will need to get through four combat encounters without expending all of their healing surges. A Rogue with a low Constitution might only have 6 surges. That’s 1-2 each week. Any more and they’ll be screwed for the last encounter. A party of five shouldn’t use more than 1-2 daily powers each fight if they can help it. Only half the party should use actions points each week if possible. Going beyond these general guidelines will make weeks 3 and 4 a lot tougher. My character already used 3 of his 8 healing surges. I’ll be employing different tactics next week, that’s for sure.

What did you think of this week’s introduction? How many players brought back their Lost Crown of Neverwinter PCs? How did the fight go at your table? Did you adjust any of the monsters’ stats? Did any PCs fall unconscious or die? How much time was devoted to role-playing vs. combat?

Recounting Encounters Podcast

Recounting Encounters is a weekly podcast I record with fellow Toronto DM, Craig Sutherland, and 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.

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.


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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 panzerleader April 18, 2013 at 9:20 am

Hi quick question, were the level 3 characters on the cool cards they have been using up until now? That would be worth getting if it is the case. Especially if they were levelled up versions of season 6, which I am doubting based on the decription.
panzerleader´s last blog post ..Game Night April 12th – Playtesting D&D 5 Zero Level Rules for a new campaign.

2 Ameron (Derek Myers) April 18, 2013 at 9:27 am

@panzerleader
The pre-gens were built using character builder. PDFs and CB files were provided. No cool cards this time, but the inclusion of the CB files mean we can level them up easily so there’s that.

3 Cent April 18, 2013 at 10:13 am

*Our group played using the D&D Next Playtest Rules.*

We had a good turnout, with about 20 players showing up last night.

I felt this was a very strong start to the season. The Inn is a classic staging ground for D&D and it was great to see that it was fleshed out with a variety of distinct and well conceived NPC’s to interact with.

Our session was more than two-thirds role-playing, with our party of 5 taking the opportunity to hit up NPC’s for the latest rumors and information regarding events in and around Neverwinter.

Once the fighting began our wizard laid down some solid crowd control, and our party enjoyed a tactical advantage throughout the fight. The mechanics of the garroters, when combined with the thugs, could have caused us a lot of grief had the thugs not been tied down. With our smallish party it’s not hard to imagine how this fight could gone from challenging to rather difficult for us.

I had a great time last night. Players at our table seemed to be enjoying themselves. Role-playing opportunities were abundant. The fight was challenging, but didn’t consume the bulk of the session. The time really flew by. Very much looking forward to next week!

4 Weezoh April 18, 2013 at 10:59 am

We had to expand to a second Next table last night so our flgs is running 2 next tables and 1 4th table at this point. The lack of resting is going to make it a tough slog for the characters I think. I made sure to warn them about this last night so that no one would be surprised when they couldn’t prepare new spells. Since as far as I can tell we’re spending 4 adventures covering only a few hours game-time it makes sense.

I thought the balance of HP / AC / Attack was better so far with the conversion document than season 12 which was made from an older playtest pack where the npcs were made of wet tissue paper.

I admit I don’t like the linear structure but I can understand the appeal since Encounters games are all about casual.

5 themisfitjoe April 18, 2013 at 11:16 am

I was late to the event (had a playoff hockey game), so i got there right at the start of combat, so the DM brought me in from the staircase. I heard screams as I came down the stairs. It sounded like a woman was being accosted, and I can’t stand for that! I rushed down the stairs to charge over to one of the rogues. As I finished my charge I saw the lady being dragged away from the bar in the rain, I wasted no time to use the warlord’s lamb to the slaughter (after using an action point) to keep the fiend from getting far at all. I got punished a little for it, and later Gar got behind me and used his garrote on me, but I managed to kill him with martial doom.

It was a fun little bar fight, and this time my party didn’t set the bar on fire!

6 Joe Lastowski April 18, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Our store ran every table as 4e (3 tables of 4-6). My table had a very unbalanced party: 3 strikers & a controller. Nobody returned with a Lost Crown character, so everyone was at level 3.

The only tweaking I had to do for the monsters for this party was to limit their damage a bit (I made the thugs do 2d6 + 5 instead of 2d6 +7, and the fire add-on only did an additional 1d6 on a hit, nothing on a miss). Given the lack of healers, I also had Lady Nidris (who had previously been shown to be a merchant with potions) open up her potion belt around round 4 while being grabbed, so that PCs next to her could spend a minor action to grab a potion of healing (spend a surge to get 10 HP). That helped. I had her give each PC a potion of healing as treasure, too, in case we end up without a healer next week, too.

In the end I had the garroter run off into the night, but it was a pretty good dry-run fight for folks with new level 3 characters. People got excited by the variety of powers they had available to them, and they felt challenged by the enemies.

We made our own tracking sheets for this season, with all 8 adventures laid out with the appropriate level listed on each line, and the single extended rest clearly listed in the middle. Hopefully that’ll help to keep folks aware of resource management.

7 Ameron (Derek Myers) April 18, 2013 at 1:07 pm

We had a great turn out for week 1.

At the first FLGS we had 2 DMs and 11 players this week. No newbies this week. The intro and role-playing took about 45 minutes and the combat took about 45 minutes.

At the second FLGS we had 3 DMs and 20 players. We had 5 brand new players. I DMed a table of 6. The intro and role-playing took about 90 minutes and the combat took about an hour.

8 Robert April 19, 2013 at 3:03 am

My first time DMing or playing at for that matter, in an Encounters season. My FLGS is heavy into PF and 4e had fallen off the map. All it needed was someone to step up and DM though, because we quickly filled a table. We had a great first session. Mostly pregens, but one players rolled up a Cleric and I think they’ll be glad before it’s all said and done. I was a little clunky in DMing my first 4e combat, making a few mistakes that would have made the battle a little tougher for them, but it wasn’t easy for them either. They had to use several healing surges. I think I could have bumped the Thug stats a bit. I messed up and overlooked the half damage for a miss on Crippling Strike, and I didn’t handle the recharge correctly either. Regardless, it was a challenging fight and everyone had a great time.

9 Joe Lastowski April 19, 2013 at 8:32 am

Does anyone else use actors or characters from other media to help define NPCs? I find it gives my table a better grip of who’s who, especially in scenarios where there are lots of NPCs, all played by me. It also gives me a base on how to act, and gives my limited acting skills a boost, since players can add their own perceptions of the actor on top of my accents & voices to get a better sense of things. For this session I used the following:
Lady Nidris, master merchant: Cher
Elden Vargas, angrily leaving: Chris Eccleston
Captain Horan, the lovelorn soldier: Jackie Chan
Sedge, the flirting halfling bard: Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias
Myrin, the blue-haired young wizard: Raven Symone
Kalen, Myrin’s bodyguard: Michael Dorn (Worf from ST:TNG)
Liset, innkeeper: Robin Scherbatsky from HIMYM
Theron, cook: Lafayette from True Blood
The waitresses: waitstaff from True Blood
Garrotter: Eddie Izzard (in his Mystery Men persona)
Thugs: the Disco Boys from Mystery Men, but with burning cult symbols

I try to pick actors & characters from across the spectrum, so that players of many ages will have some chance of knowing at least some of the actors.

10 Vobekhan April 19, 2013 at 10:02 am

Had the usual 2 groups back to back this evening and for a change no running over time between.

My halfling bard’s “mood-music” caused equal amounts of annoyance and amusement so I’m happy with that. Other than him and Lady Nidris, the other NPC’s were just brief dressing and most of my players pretty much ignored them – except the elven hunter in the late group who happily sat next to Myrin and Kalen while Myrin gibbered like a little kid excited to be in the big city until Kalen downed his drink with a scowl at the the hunter and said “One drink you said, we’re done. Time to go” before bustling the pair out of the door.

I didnt find the bad guys defenses to be an issue (as raised on one of these forums) especially once the garotter had a victim in hand. Combined with a well timed use of the Brimstone Cloud made him really quite resiliant.
Vobekhan´s last blog post ..D&D Encounters Season 13 – Storm over Neverwinter – Session 1

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