D&D Encounters: Storm Over Neverwinter (Week 4)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 9, 2013

storm-over-neverwinter-coverThis week’s encounter was the culmination of events during a stormy night in Neverwinter. The previous three sessions had the PCs running around the streets of Neverwinter during the worst storm in the city’s history. They battled Ashmadai Cultists, stopped a kidnapping, and last week battled literal devils at the Beached Leviathan tavern.

When we left the heroes at the end of the last session they heard the sounds of horns blasting throughout the city. The City Watch were signaling a call to arms as something big was happening in Neverwinter.

The PCs overheard a messenger tell nearby soldiers that the town was erupting into madness. People clearly not of their right mind were fighting and looting. Throw in some more Cultists to stir the pot and things were getting crazy in the streets.

This week we had a great turnout at Silver Snail in Toronto. We had three DMs and 20 players. Unfortunately there isn’t room to set up a fourth table or we could have easily split off and formed another group. Seeing the field already incredibly crowded a couple of the regulars who had other commitments opted to pass on the game leaving three tables of 6.

My table had a Wilden Cleric, Halfling Wizard, Human Warlock Hexblade [Harper theme], Drow Wizard, Deva Wizard, and Halfling Rogue [Dead Rat Deserter theme]. With three controllers I knew the combat this week was going to be challenging. I had no idea just how much so until we were in the thick of it.

As Neverwinter’s law enforcement officers scrambled to maintain order, the PCs were approached by a young, street-tough girl. She explained that she and her friends had seen the heroes in action and liked their style (especially the Rogue Dead Rat). She told the PCs that there was another group of people who were one step ahead of the PCs. They’d been at the docks and tavern just ahead of the party. Now they were off to kill someone – someone important. For only 50 gp she’d share this information with the PCs.

The Deva and Drow Wizards countered with an offer of 2 gp which was dismissed out of hand. The Rogue stepped in to conduct negotiations and managed to haggle the girl down to 25 gp. The girl described members of the Ashmadai cult and that she’d heard them say they planned to take out the merchant at his house. Some of her gang were following the others and she could lead the PCs to them if they hurried and left right now. They agreed and took off.

With the streets erupting in chaos the heroes found themselves torn between helping the locals and following the girl. They made a brief stop when they spotted some opportunists looting a shop. The Cleric used Diplomacy and the Deva Wizard Intimidate to convince them to back down.

A few blocks later the party was almost trampled by a runaway carriage, but the Cleric using Nature managed to get the horse under control while everyone else jumped or rolled to safety.

Crowds of combatants, some lucid, some not, blocked the party’s progress a few blocks later. The Halfling transformed into a rat and scurried through the masses. The Halfling Wizard crawled between legs. The Cleric and Drow Wizard climbed to a nearby rooftop and managed to get around the problem. The Hexblade and Deva Wizard used a combination of Intimidate and Diplomacy to work their way through the crowd.

By the time the PCs almost closed the gap between them and their quarry, they spotted one of the girl’s allies lying wounded in the street. She’d been burned by an Ashmadai Cultist. The Cleric rocked a Heal check to soothe her wounds and the Rogue said some kind words to bolster her courage making a stellar Diplomacy check. The wounded child pointed down the street explaining that the bad men had just gone around the corner.

The Rogue and two of the Wizard’s familiars snuck up to look around the next bend. They saw the Ashmadai Cultists smash their way into a nearby home. From within they heard the occupant cry out. “I am Elden Vargas, and this is my home. I offer you trespassers one chance to leave peaceably.” The Cultists laughed. “The Ashmadai punish those who stand against them. You made the wrong enemies, old man.”

The Wizards looking and listening to the situation through their familiars relayed this to the party and the rest of the PCs rushed the house.

The Hexblade, Halfling Wizard and Drow Wizard all moved towards the front door and attacked the nearest Cultist. “Ambush!” one of the Ashmadai called out. “Kill them!” cried another, believing the party to be Vargas’s reinforcement.

With three Wizards in the party the close quarters and target-rich environment allowed them to target a lot of the bad guys early in the combat. However, none of them managed to inflict a lot of damage. The controllers created multiple, overlapping zones (which was a nightmare to keep track of) that really slowed down combat.

I indicated to the players that there were numerous windows and a back door to Vargas’s home, but only the Cleric, unable to get in the crowded front door, decided to use the rear entrance.

In the first round I had Vargas make a mad dash upstairs. Over the next few rounds I sent three Cultists and the Devil up after him. The PCs made no effort to move upstairs until they’d dealt with all the monsters on the lower level.

The Rogue was unable to get combat advantage so he couldn’t use his sneak dice at all. The Cleric was the big striker for a couple of rounds blasting three enemies and rolling the maximum damage. An action point later and he dropped a Cultist. Unfortunately he was left alone by the rest of the party (still waiting at the front door) so he took three attacks. The Cultists dropped him to -10 hit points.

After many rounds of drawn out combat, the heroes finally managed to drop all but one enemy on the lower level. The last Cultist was down to 8 hit points. He was adjacent to the Rogue and the unconscious Cleric. He said to the Rogue, let me pass unmolested so I can flee. If you do I won’t kill your helpless ally. The Rogue took a second to consider the offer but made the opportunity attack. He rolled a 1. The Cultist attacked the Cleric as promised and rolled a 19. For the second time this season the Cleric was dead-dead. This time it wasn’t my fault, the Rogue shouldered the blame.

One of the Wizards fired a Magic Missile at the Cultist killing him. With no enemies on the ground floor the Deva Wizard decided that instead of rushing upstairs to help Vargas (who had been screaming for help for about 10 rounds) he decided to check for magic. Normally this takes a minute but I allowed it. He rolled really high. I told him he detected magic in the square where the toilet was. He interpreted this as a hidden monster or trap. So for the next two rounds the party used more resources to attack the hidden foe, despite one of them using a power that revealed the location of all hidden enemies that didn’t detect anyone.

Giving up, they finally went upstairs where the Devil and three Cultist were giving Vargas a sever beating. The Hexblade stopped at the top of the stairs blocking the path for the rest of the party. The Drow Wizard, realizing he couldn’t even get line of sight for a Magic Missile, went back to investigate the magic detected in the bathroom. He rolled a really high Arcana check which revealed that the toilet had a powerful enchantment on it to eliminate foul odors. The table got a good laugh at the idea that the Wizard’s sh!t didn’t stink and that they’d wasted so much time trying to figure out the source of magic detected.

Meanwhile upstairs the Rogue managed to shift in and attack the Cultists. The Hexblade teleported farther into the room with the first kill opening up the way for the rest of the party.

By this point we were over 2 hours into the session. Given the party’s lack of output it could have dragged on for another half hour or more. I let everyone take one final attack, using any remaining daily powers and then I called the fight. The PCs decided that they would have killed all the Cultists and the Devil so they had no opportunity to question anyone.

Vargas thanked the PC for their help. When they asked why he was targeted by the cult he explained he was once a War Wizard in Cormyr. He suspected that the Ashmadai wanted to take him out before he could interfere with their plans.

He offered the PCs a reward for their aid in the form of 300 gp each as well as four magic items (we rolled two neck items, armor and a weapon). Recognizing the Heroes of Neverwinter in the party he asked for their aid. His wife was subjected to a powerful curse and her sanity was broken. She’s in Helm’s Hold, a mental hospital, but Vargas hasn’t been allowed to see her lately. He asked the PCs to use their influence to get him in. They agreed.

Vargas asked the PCs to meet him at Helm’s Hold the following day, but for now he was badly wounded and needed the help of a Cleric. He parted ways with the heroes while they gathered their fallen comrade and returned to the Moonstone Mask inn to rest and level up.

Thoughts

The best part of this week’s session was the role-playing that the beginning. The mini scenarios were fun and my group got right into it. In retrospect I should have created a few more and spent more time on this. The combat was really slow, mainly because the party lacked good strikers.

I tried to pull some of the PCs to the second level by clearly having the monsters go up the stairs during the fight, but no one took the bait. The overlapping zones were kind of crazy, but that’s what happens when people play controllers.

This week’s encounter seemed a lot like last week’s encounter in that it was closed quarters, two levels, and lots of monsters. The players liked that there were so many enemies to attack, but the absences of minions just made things last forever.

Overall I found this whole chapter seemed like a huge railroad where the PCs didn’t really have many choices and the things they did didn’t seem to have any bearing on what came next. After a few stellar seasons of D&D Encounters that tried new things, this season seems to have fallen back to the regular formula of show up, sit down, kill monsters, go home.

I like that PCs are higher levels but everyone (monsters and PCs) have a lot more hit points which makes the fights take a lot longer. I think I might reduce hit points and increase the monster damage output. This will see the monsters drop faster but they will still force the PCs to expend resources to avoid hits or heal quickly after getting hit.

Despite my criticisms of the first chapter I think the second chapter will more than make up for any shortcomings. I’ve been reading ahead and players should really like where the adventure goes next.

How did things go this week at your FLGS? What do the players think of how the story is progressing? What are your thoughts on chapter one as a whole?

Ask the Author

Next week we’ll be interviewing Erik Scott de Bie, the author of this season’s adventure. If there’s anything you’d like us to ask him, let us know in the comments below. You can also send me an email (Ameron at dungeonmaster dot com) or a Tweet (@ameron_dm).

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.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe May 9, 2013 at 11:23 am

We had a good turnout at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA. We ran 3 tables of 5+, all 4E. I had 6 at the table I ran.

The preliminary tasks were all fun enough. Some were clearly better for particular players, but we had enough variety that everyone got to try one or two things with those tasks.

The actual fight was a bear. It was 8:30 (we play 7-9) when round 2 started. Our one tiefling did his best to put himself in the way of the fire damage, but there were many bottlenecks. Nobody touched upstairs, which always frustrates me when a fight doesn’t utilize an entire map. I had the 4 thugs & vizier in the main house facing off against Vargas. The PCs came in behind the thugs, but those that didn’t go in immediately were met by the branded zealots, who snuck around either side of the home.

I ended up dropping HP mid fight and having Vargas (who was never hit) do more damage to enemies that hadn’t been hit yet just to make sure folks got out by 10:00. In addition to tougher enemies, the fact that folks had almost no surges, very few dailies, and only 1 or 2 action points left made their damage output decrease and their fear of damage without healing potential greater. When the fight was done, everyone was super ready for that extended rest.

To make the RP more fun, I had Vargas played by Chris Eccleston, Darla played by the girl “Newt” from Aliens, and the vizier devil played by Jar Jar Binks. I found star wars minis on clearance online, and we all agreed that JarJar was the devil, so it worked. It also frustrated players whenever they’d fail to hit him and he’d reply with “Yousa missed me!” or some other Gungan nonsense. I’ve found that humor like that can sometimes make a long, slogging fight more bearable.

The party had no problems making friends with Vargas afterward, and are eager to help him get into Helms Hold after their much-needed rest.

2 themisfitjoe May 9, 2013 at 12:20 pm

I wish I had some of your group, we had a Bugbear Slayer named Admen (charging fool), a wizard, and me, Piff the Dragonborn Warlord. Regretfully about 2/3 of the group had to work last night, or because we are right next to UCF, many people had gone home for the summer. We even had to have a guest DM, because he had work… Luckily the guest DM let 2 of us play characters we had created as alternates during week zero, so that added a warforged knight named Zelik and a some paladin subtype…

We did well on the mini events, the main scene was just a pile of bodies half the time. Everyone passed the easy stealth check… even the bugbear… it was funny… so Zelik started things off rather brashley because he’s a construct so I charged him in there after the black cloaked bad guy. Needless to say as a result, he was surrounded, and EVERYONE took a swing at him… only 1 attack hit (AC 23)… but those damn zealots or cultists had that half damage crap so he went from 50 to -2 and… dropped… but that’s okay, because the Wizard made everyone fall down… so 8 bodies at the front of the building…

It was a long brutal fight, I think I expended almost every daily and encounter and weapon dailies and encounters trying to defeat them…

Our bugbear was the first one up the stairs, he charged and made the demon go poof, and then the task of trying to convince the mage we were good guys. Piff ended up having to call up to him from downstairs and made the Diplomacy check to convince him “we really are good peoplz”

It was a great night, I really liked this encounter, especially since we made it harder with a lvl 5, 3 lvl 4s and a lvl 3 PCs. I was just mad we got really bad loot… 2 potions of healing, a potion of invisibility, a floating lantern, and a +2 striker ammunition… didn’t help any of the main PCs…. but I do like my floating lantern… now that i have it…

3 Randy May 9, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Hey the Rogue here from Silver Snail. Good game this Wednesday and yeah those zones really slowed the game down, there was no way I was going to put my characters into the middle of those thing as they attacked all creatures and had multiple effects. When the zones finally went away then we could move in better but our cleric decided to go off on his own basically splitting the party. He did good damage but they did better damage to him and put him down. Now as for my character getting him killed that was role playing and it was a decision I would probably make the same again. Reason being my character is not going to trust the word of a murdering psychopathic cultist. My character didn’t trust the cultist to not kill the cleric anyway even if he didn’t swing and the only chance the cleric had was if he took a swing. Still the blame can be placed my character and me but we can take it.

4 Big Rich May 18, 2013 at 8:21 am

We had a low turn-out here in DuBois, PA at Sackers Collectibles. most people are turning their noses up at the fact that they have to pay $10 to participate in the season. I enjoyed the role-playing at the beginning but the combat seemed to be drawn out and unnecessary. Elden Vargas ended up killing most of the enemies and it seemed like it would have been better to be a shorter, desperate combat instead of an extended one.

5 Xopher June 3, 2013 at 9:21 pm

I was a player for this season of Encounters. My group has been plagued by poor attendance. On our best weeks we have had 3 players, and during week 2 and week 5 we’ve had only 2. This season I played a dual wielding bugbear fighter. The combat for this week went fine for my group, however the highlight for me was the skill checks. During the sequence of the run away horse I have seen where many players used a nature check to calm the animal. Being a bugbear I had a different approach. Taking some influence from the Mongo scene in Blazzing Saddles I decided to roll for athletics and punch the horse square in it’s tracks. 1 high roll later and the horse was seeing stars and no longer a threat. I have been enjoying this season, and am looking forward to the conclusion this week.

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