D&D Encounters: Storm Over Neverwinter (Week 2)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 25, 2013

storm-over-neverwinter-coverLast week’s session ended when the PCs arrived at Lady Nidris’s home and discovered that her son had disappeared. This week they searched for the lost boy.

We had a great turn out at my FLGS with 19 players and three DMs. I ran a table of six that consisted of a Deva Wizard (Necromancer), Tiefling Warlock (Hexblade), Wilden Cleric, Drow Sorcerer, Halfling Rogue, and Shade Wizard (pre-gen).

Before we got into this week’s adventure I reminded the players that they wouldn’t get an extended rest until after week 4. That meant that they had to complete three more encounters with whatever resources they had left.

The session began with the party looking for clues and trying to figure out what happened to Zan (Lady Nidris’s missing son). They spent a lot of time focusing on the muddy foot prints and determined that the reddish colour indicated it most likely came from the Blacklake district.

The party found the serving staff holed up in the master’s study. They were scared but a phenomenal Diplomacy check calmed them down and got them to explain what had happened. A group of Ashmadai burst into the house searching for Zan. Some of the men had flaming chains, while others channeled power through fiery brands. They all took orders from a man in a dark cloak who spoke with a deep voice.

Believing that they had all the info they required, half the party took off for the docks while the other half remained behind to continue looking for clues.

The butler asked what happened to the house guards and the PCs told him they’d been killed. The butler ran to the fallen guards and realized the PCs were wrong; the guards were wounded but alive. The PCs decided that they should probably help the fallen guards. Two Heal checks later (one amazing and one mediocre), the Cleric managed to revive Talzu (much to the butler’s relief) and he repeated the same story the PCs just heard. The other guard, a firesoul Genasi, was stabilized but they couldn’t revive him. He’d had a large scorch mark on his chest, unusual for a creature with fire resistance, but the PCs paid this detail no mind.

After reviving the guard, the remaining PCs left for the docks and eventually met up with the rest of the party.

Fortune smiled upon the party as they noticed signs of flickering light beneath the docks. Given the raging storm and seedy location this was unusual and likely the spot they were looking for. They tried to approach quietly but failed their Stealth checks horribly. The PCs had trouble making out details in the rain and darkness, but did notice at least two figures, likely guards, move through a curtain of water falling from the dock above.

They cautiously approached but couldn’t really make out details through the waterfall. The Cleric moved through the water, found himself surrounded, and then moved back out taking a couple of opportunity attacks for his trouble. The two Wizards fired blindly through the water and hit three of the Zealots.

The Sorcerer and Hexblade charged through the water to engage the enemies. Unfortunately the Zealots were tougher than they expected and scored some good hits. The Necromancer used a burst which hit two Zealots, but created a zone that also hurt his allies. The next round the Zealots moved out of the zone, used their Hellfire Chains to grab the Cleric and Sorcerer, and pulled them both into the danger zone. To add insult to injury, both Zealots then used their branding irons on the PCs. The Sorcerer fell unconscious; the Cleric was badly bloodied.

The two Wizards remained outside and fired Magic Missiles at any villain they could see. The Zealots realized what was happening and moved away from the entrance as soon as they could.

With all the PCs nicely bunched together one of the Warlocks, who until then had not acted, ran into the middle of the party taking a nasty opportunity attack from the Hexblade for his trouble. Once in position he used his Concussive Inferno close burst 2 to target everyone. This pushed the Cleric, Hexblade and Sorcerer further into the sewer hideout and the Two Wizards and Rogue further away, effectively splitting the party.

The Rogue and Wizards focused fire on the Warlock and easily took him down before he got another turn. Meanwhile one of the Zealots used his Hellfire chain to grab the Cleric, pull him closer and then brand him. Unfortunately the Cleric was killed dead-dead on a crit.

With the Sorcerer unconscious and the Cleric dead things went downhill fast. The PCs had a lot of trouble dropping the bad guys and took a lot of punishment as the fight played out. The Rogue only managed to get combat advantage once during the 12 rounds of combat, essentially reducing his effectiveness. The Sorcerer was eventually revived with a healing potion but was again dropped a round or two later.

During a round when none of PCs were engaging two of the wounded and slowed Zealots, I had the two villains make Heal checks on each other to trigger their second wind and allow them each to regain some hit points. The players didn’t like that tactic, but all’s fair in D&D.

By the time the PCs managed to defeat all the Zealots they were really hurt. They’d all used their action points, a couple PCs used daily powers, and all of them had used their second wind. There was still one Warlock remaining and he was holding Zan captive. The PCs were reluctant to attack the Warlock for fear of hitting the child, but eventually the Necromancer entered the hideout and took a shot. He missed the man but hit the boy.

The Warlock fought back but the heroes did not. They waited for the Wizards to use Magic Missile to ensure accuracy. This gave the Warlock time and an opportunity to run around them and get outside. The PCs were even kind enough to move away from the entrance so he didn’t take a single opportunity attack. The next round they gave chase and all took shots. They figured a wounded boy was better than a missing boy. The Rogue managed to score a very close hit that dropped the Warlock.

The heroes tended to the boy and their wounded allies. Zan babbled on that he must “obey the man in the devil face” and said “blood and burn, bone and black.” After a Heal check and a Diplomacy check Zan seemed to snap out of it and regained his senses. He had no memory of what happened, but now bore the mark of Asmodeus on his arm.

When the Warlock was interrogated he actually knew very little useful information. He spoke of his leader as a man in a dark robe knows as “The Tormentor,” his face hidden behind a devil mask.

In the hideout the PCs found jewels and coins (100gp each) as well as two Healing Potions, Delver’s Armor +2, Gloves of Agility, and an Amulet of Health +2.

The heroes brought Zan home to his mother. Lady Nidris was so relieved and thankful that she rewarded each member of the party with another 250 gp. She told the PCs that in their absence she contacted Lord Neverember and he has posted a 10,000 gp reward for the capture of the one responsible for Zan’s kidnapping.

Thoughts

This week’s adventure seemed a bit like a filler encounter. It did move the story forward, but as you’ll see in the weeks to come it wasn’t absolutely necessary. It was almost as if it was only there to force the PCs to expend resources – which they certainly did.

After this week’s mess some PCs have one or no healing surges left. Most of the party’s best daily powers were already used which will make weeks 3 and 4 that much tougher. What this week’s debacle really demonstrated to my group was the importance of strong tactics and communication. The party was lacking a defender, yet they still sent one guy in alone as if he were a defender. They needed to find a way to play to their strengths. This should make the upcoming encounters challenging to say the least.

The monsters seemed balanced this week. Their defenses were decent but not crazy high. Their output was also balanced for a level 3 party. One thing my party did really well this week was make saving throws. They never failed a single save against the ongoing fire. The only saves they did fail were death saves.

How did your party fare this week? Did anyone else suffer any PCs deaths? Did other DMs fell this was a filler encounter? How many groups fought inside the tunnel and how many managed to draw the monsters outside to fight in the rain?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cent April 25, 2013 at 12:04 pm

*Our group played using the Next play-test rules*

This week definitely felt like “filler”.

Aside from a couple of heals, and vague information about the assault and kidnapping, none of the NPC’s had much to provide us in terms of information which made for a bland RPG session. I could almost feel the jerk-and-pull of the railroad story-telling as our party was taken from Lady Nidris’ keep to our final destination under the docks. There was little doubt where we were supposed to go, and what we were supposed to be doing.

The fight itself was at least somewhat interesting, with the melee and spell-caster baddies offering some fun mechanics that worked well within the tight confines of the battlefield. It was a challenge, but our group had a slew unusually good rolls last night. Making the skirmish a little less challenging than it might have otherwise have been.

All in all, this week was a bit of a letdown on the RPG front after last weeks solid intro. Though both weeks have had some enjoyable tactical, combat elements. I am glad to hear that things pick up in the coming weeks, and with 2 more sessions before a rest, this could turn out to be a rather difficult season of Encounters.

2 Ocampo April 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Newcomers must haven been shocked when things began going sour for the party.

3 Wendy McLaren April 25, 2013 at 5:50 pm

As Ocampo said, my newcomers were quite shocked over the difficulty of the fight. I have several players brand-new to D&D, although most of them are experienced in other games. The combat dragged on far longer than was fun and I ended up making one of the warlocks flee, just to get things ended.

It was highly railroaded and did nothing to advance the storyline. If the only point was to use up resources, I can think up far more fun ways to do it. So far, I’m pretty disappointed in this Season. I agreed to DM because of how much I enjoyed the first trip to Neverwinter. And the senseless act of violence that happens next session isn’t helping matters any.

4 Joe Lastowski April 25, 2013 at 6:13 pm

We ran it 4e at my FLGS. The initial setup was a little forced, but folks were willing to go with it (not as bad as some of the railroads they’ve been forced down in previous sessions, so they’re used to it). We had 4 at my table: 3 strikers & a controller druid, and two other tables of 4 & 5.

The enemies, while they had decent damage expressions, were dealing fire damage, which meant that the hexblade tiefling (who had maxed his fire resistance to 10) took the defender/frontline roll. The wall of water kept most of the inside folks from doing much in the first couple rounds, so the party was able to slowly work their way into the hideout, killing one or two at a time, without getting ganged-up on. The map layout also favored the PCs, who used the middle as a choke point once they got inside.

By the time there was 1 warlock left, the fight had dragged on a bit, so I had her (I was using female tiefling cleric minis for the warlocks) grab the kid & hold him hostage (I dropped out of combat at that point). We had a full round & a half of the party trying to negotiate with her, while the elf avenger used his spellscar power to teleport prone into the water (beneath the surface) to try to crawl/swim over & sneak up on her. Eventually one of the players remembered that The Tormentor had told the folks outside to keep the child alive, so they called the warlock’s bluff & she ended up agreeing to go quietly as a prisoner.

Resource-wise, the party have all used their action points, though those’ll recharge next week. They’ve used about half of their healing surges, but I think only one or two dailies have been used so far. They’re in decent shape for 2 more weeks, so long as they keep playing smart.

I was a little shocked to read that the treasure included 3 magic items, but I suppose with the quickened levelling, you’ve got to match the math of rising levels. Unfortunately, two of the items were generic +2 magic weapons/implements, and nobody in the party wanted to lose their cool other-powered +1 items just to get the numerical bonus of a +2 item, so they held on to them to sell later (which I’ll let them do when they get their extended rest after session 4).

5 Spykes April 26, 2013 at 1:40 am

Reposted from the Encounters forums:

I disagree slightly with those that say this week’s content was “filler”. I thought that is was good stuff and I ran it so that when The Tormentor senses the PC’s approach on the safe house and they get the mental static, they also get a mental image of the Tormentor standing over Zan, with his black robes and devil mask and turning to them as if interrupted, before giving his orders and teleporting away. In this manner, the PC’s all get to see their foe.

I thought combat for this session was very challenging, but tuned well. I ran a simulation of the encounter with 6 PC’s with the combat taking place mostly outside. When we actually played it out, we had four PC’s (Wizard, Fighter and Warlock pregens and a Cleric). For the actual session I posted 2 minions as guards outside to act as alarms for the mental event. When the PC’s moved inside, having caught a glimpse of Zan, the combat took place mostly inside and at the mouth of the cave. This was much more interesting as far as terrain and LOS. By the end of a great combat sequence, all the PC’s were in a bloodied state and three of the four were at less than ten HP. Had it not been for the Dwarf’s damage mitigation, he would have gone down. They did survive though, and did well enough on the skill challenge to save Zan. Although when one of the zealots went down while using Zan as a human shield, the PC’s had to jump in the sewage to fetch him. (failed endurance check = retching. There was retching).

The Cleric currently sits at zero healing surges remaining while the Wizard clings to one. The fighter sits comfortably with seven and the Warlock has 4. To help this situation, I gave them a ritual, Comrades’ Succor, in their spoils so they can distribute those healing surges a bit if they like. I also suggested that if they don’t have their eye on a particular feat for Lvl 4, they might take a look at Durable.

All in all, the players get a look at the villain, an awesome skill challenge with role play opportunities (which I raised all of the DC13’s to 16 btw), and an excellent combat sequence with way fun monster powers. Plus they get to see the Tormenter’s handiwork up close as Zan is overcome by the effects. I’d say they learned quite a bit from this session. If they were able to interrogate a cultist, they find out a little bit about the cult cells, which is a good clue for later.

I admit that it was easy to play this session pretty straight, but there were opportunities to liven it up. Knowing what’s coming next week, I would be ready to insert some material to spice it up as well. I am drawing on a sub-quest teaser I presented in week one to add some fun before the Belly of the Beast encounter gets going.

6 Vobekhan April 26, 2013 at 8:14 am

We didnt feel this session was a filler either, whereas reading ahead next session seems unnecessary to the story line and just a resource drainer from an already hard nights adventuring for the heroes. The only upside I can see would be the milestone it will let them achieve.

The mental image of the cloaked figure worked for us as I actually branded some of our heroes in the initial encounter which is causing them to have some sort of link with the victims and their Tormentor.

Unfortunately the heroes didnt take any prisoners for questioning this week and so have come across this name for their foe as yet.

7 Fletch April 26, 2013 at 12:26 pm

This was my first encounters session (as a player) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did feel the investigation aspect was useless being we all felt we had to go to the docks immediately. We went though, healed the guard to find out about the lightening damage and spoke to the kitchen staff. That was a waste of time bc I was trying to convince the party to go to the socks immediately. Other than out fighter and Palawan who ran into the cave alone and got their butt handed to them quickly and went unconscious quickly the rest of the party faired well. My pixie wizard strolled in after them and after 2 round of beguiling strands knocked most of them into the sewer. And after horrible save attempts, 4 of the enemies were washed away. My little guy made quick work of them. Good combat, lackluster role playing bug enjoyable. Looking forward to next week.

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