D&D Encounters: Search for the Diamond Staff (Week 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 20, 2013

search-for-the-diamond-staff-coverThis week we began season 14 of D&D Encounters: Search of the Diamond Staff. The adventure takes place in the Dalelands of the Forgotten Realms. The adventure begins shortly after the events that occurred during the D&D Game Day: Vault of the Dracolich. There was no requirement to play the Game Day adventure first, but anyone who did came into this season of Encounters with a bit more knowledge of the back story, a little bit more XP and possibly even a magical item.

During the Game Day adventure multiple adventuring parties made a coordinated attack on the lair of an undead Dragon in an attempt to recover the Diamond Staff of Chomylla. Thanks to the valiant efforts of the adventurers on Game Day, the Wizard Imani now has the Diamond Staff in his possession and that’s where things pick up in week 1.

We decided at the end of the previous season to try using the D&D Next rules this time around. This decision was made in part to allow people to continue on with the PCs they planned to play at Game Day. Most of the players who normally participate in D&D Encounters at Harry T North in Toronto were at the Game Day so that made for a very smooth transition into week 1.

This week we had 12 players and two DMs. The party at my table consisted of the following characters: Half-Orc Ranger, Half-Orc Paladin, Human Cleric, Human Wizard, Elf Wizard, Dwarf Cleric.

The adventure began with the PCs answering a summons from Imani. Once all the heroes introduced themselves and exchanged pleasantries, Imani addressed them and provided details on what they were being hired to do.

“I intend to mount an expedition to the ruins of Uvaeren, on the boarders of Mistledale. The ancient libraries and vaults of that long-lost Elvin realm are still hidden within the forest, protected by spells of warding and have prevented entry to this day. But I have recently come into possession of a secret key.”

“Your task is to escort me to the ruins, protect me from bandits and monsters, help me defeat or bypass any old traps that may still remain, and guard me while I open the Vault of Song and study its secrets.”

The job seemed pretty straight forward and paid well so the heroes accepted his terms. He suggested the equip themselves and get ready for a long journey that would likely take a month or more. Imani agreed to let the PCs charge any mundane equipment they needed (within reason) to his account.

The Paladin and two Clerics decided to visit Lathander’s Open Hand, a barn converted to a small shrine. The lone priestess, Sister Tressa, welcomed them with open arms. They explained their quest and asked if she could help them or provide any tools that might make their task easier.

Since two of the PCs (the Dwarf Cleric and the Paladin) worshipped Amaunator (Lathander by another name) Tressa was glad to help. She felt confident that the party would succeed and triumph in the face of danger since two of Amaunator’s brave soldiers were part of the expedition. She showed them her stash of five healing potions and offered to sell them to the PCs. The Dwarf Cleric, rich with Game Day money, purchased them all with the intent of distributing one to each of the other PCs.

Sister Tressa suggested that if the PCs wanted to spend the night in the shrine they could but they’d have to sleep on the floor since the structure was so small. It was clear that she was just be polite so the two Clerics declined and said they’d stay at the inn. The Paladin felt strongly that he should sleep on sacred ground and decided to stay.

The Ranger decided to visit Delmuth’s Barrel, the town’s general store. The Dwarven proprietor Delmuth and two Human teenagers he adopted were happy to help the adventurer resupply for his journey. Despite the fact that the boys lost their parents to an Orc raid a few years earlier, they treated the Half-Orc with kindness and respect, especially when he let slip that he was part of the force that stormed the Dracolich’s lair.

The two Wizards went straight to the Millery Inn. Berndon, a tall, big-bellied Human welcomed them and waited on them personally. The inn was a very simple structure but it was clear Berndon did his best to keep it clean and functional. Berndon asked if either of the PCs took part in the recent attack on the Dragon’s lair. The Human Wizard grimly explained that he was and that his brother had given his life for the mission to succeed. A nearby patron lowered his head in respect. After that the Wizards kept to themselves while they waited for their companions to arrive.

Eventually the entre party regrouped at the inn, with the exception of the Paladin who was still at the shrine. The Cleric passed out the healing potions and the group got to know each other better over a meal.

As dinner finished up and more of the locals arrived at the inn to enjoy a few pints, the sound of a bell was heard running nearby. The locals recognized it as a warning bell. A young Human in a leather apron burst into the room. “Orcs!” he shouted. “Orc and wolves are attacking!”

A few minutes earlier, while performing the evening prayer at the shrine, Sister Tressa and Paladin were interrupted when a local farmer burst in and made a similar declaration that Orcs were attacking. Tressa told the Paladin to pull on a nearby rope to sound the bell and warn the town. After a few good tugs he headed towards the sounds of smashing and barking.

Back at the inn the PCs took a moment to try and calm everyone down. They took charge and headed out to face the Orcs. As the party approached from the south they could see the Paladin approach from the west.

Orc warriors wearing leather gauntlets studded with broken teeth were moving from house to house, destroying property, looting, and trying to burn down every structure. Accompanying the Orcs were wolves in iron collars. Several villagers were dead in the streets as the Orcs advanced.

The Paladin engaged the closest group of Orcs by himself rather than wait for his companions to catch up and help him. With his first strike he destroyed the closest wolf. This in turn drew the attention of two Orcs and another wolf who moved closer, surrounded the Paladin and attacked him.

The rest of the party attacked using ranged weapons and spells while staying grouped together. Two Orcs and a wolf took the long way around a building in an attempt to flank the PCs. The closest Orc ran towards the party but was shot down before he could get close enough to engage in melee. Three other Orcs stayed back and shot at the Clerics and Wizards with their bows.

The Paladin took a lot of damage over three rounds of melee and had a difficult time hitting after his spectacular beginning. One of the Wizards and one of the Clerics helped the Paladin by attacking the Orcs surrounding him with their spells. This softened them up enough that when the Paladin finally did hit he was able to drop the wolf and then the other two Orcs. However, he came dangerously close to falling unconscious and wouldn’t have survived if the nearby Cleric hadn’t healed him during the fight.

The Orcs with bows shot at the party and moved a bit closer every round. The party fired back hitting but not dropping any. Fortunately the PCs managed to kill two of the three before the Orcs sneaking around the cottage flanked the party. The flanking Orcs and their wolf engaged the Ranger and Cleric in melee. Fortunately the Ranger hit hard and often, dropping the Orcs he faced quickly.

With the Orcs falling quickly the remaining archer took off. The wolf that accompanied the sneaky Orcs was surrounded and was unable to flee. It continued to fight the PCs and they continued to fight it. The Paladin tried to command the wolf, since it was obviously somewhat trained, but even though he shouted commands at it in Orcish the wolf fought to the death.

As the combat came to an end the PCs head the sounds of ring steel and faint shouting coming from the direction of Imani’s tower. It seemed that the Orcs they faced were not the only ones attacking the village of Hap. The PCs quickly consumed healing potions and cast a few healing spells before heading towards the sounds of combat.

Thoughts

I must admit that for an opening session this one was kind of weak. There were a few places in town the PCs could visit but there seemed like very limited role-playing opportunities since the NPCs weren’t really detailed and the PCs really didn’t have much to ask of them. After all, the heroes were planning to leave in the morning so who cares about these locals and their problems.

The players who participated in the Game Day had no complaints but the other players agreed that it was a pretty short and lack-luster encounter. The combat was necessary so that the party could get a feel for who could do what, but it was very straight forward for an advanced level 4 party. We were using the D&D Next rules which made the combat seem that much faster.

One thing I did like was the fact that this is just part of a fight that still happening. The PCs didn’t have time to stop and rest, they had to just push on if they had any hope of stopping the Orcs.

Had I been running this as 4e I likely would have allowed a short rest, but since a short rest in Next takes 1 hour it was absolutely out of the question. Some of the players who had not yet played D&D Next and didn’t take the time to read the play test materials were not happy to lean this after the fight, which is why they needed to use healing potions and magic.

The party quickly learned the value of ranged combat in D&D Next and missed the charge mechanic from 4e that they were used to. The absence of powers that do stuff other than damage made the fighting run smoothly and quickly. Our combat lasted six or seven rounds and probably only took about 20 minutes.

After one week of D&D Next the overwhelming feeling was that it was a good start and showed considerable promise. It will take us a while to unlearn some of our 4e habits but that’s what happens whenever you jump into a new edition of D&D. Of the 12 players present only two seemed to really want to abandon D&D Next and return to 4e for the rest of the season.

How did week 1 play out at your FLGS? Did you find the opening session a bit light? How many groups are using D&D Next this season? How many decided to try D&D Next because they got a taste of it during D&D Game Day?

Additional Resources

Wizard has provided two great Dalelands maps for this season.

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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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe June 20, 2013 at 10:42 am

We ran 4e at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA. We also had a surprising number of players… 3 tables of 7 & 1 table of 6, with 7 brand new players. Luckily there was an extra employee working at the store who we grabbed to run the 4th table.

My table had a good mix of character roles, and I threw in an extra “getting to know one another” tidbit at the beginning. As they went around to tell us their name, their character’s name, and what they were, I also asked each player to tell me something about their character that wasn’t listed on the character sheet. This lead to everything from a tiefling fire sorcerer with an epic parent death backstory to a dragonborn paladin who was a cheesecake connoisseur. Great fun & actual player connection. I recommend it for any new group getting together.

Going around town was a little glossed over when they realized they could put anything on Imani’s “tab” without spending their own money, which negated any need to haggle over prices or whatnot. I still threw in enough characterization on the NPCs to make the few places they did go relatively memorable (Tressa the cleric was played by Jewel Staite, the sunniest actress I know, for instance).

Reading the fight beforehand, I saw that things would go very quickly if the PCs realized how many minions were present, so I changed things up a bit. First, I used a different orc mini for each of the orc minions, which confused the longtime games, since usually minions are all the same mini. Then, I mucked with the stats a bit to make the orcs “2-hit minions”. The first hit, no matter the damage, would bloody the orc, then the 2nd would kill it. This gave us an extra round of combat and allowed for players with controller effects to not feel like they were wasted on minions.

I should also mention that I LOVE the extra standard upon dying mechanic for orcs in 4e. I hated it when playing the dinosaur Lair Assault vs higher level full orcs, but against minions with set lower damage, it was enough to add chaos without terrifying the PCs.

The wolves were also pretty cool with their shift 4 effect on their bites (hit or miss), which made them very dynamic on the battlefield, and I kept having them rush in to attack and then shift away. The archers kept using their burst power each round, which worked fine until the PCs were no longer tied down by the minions & wolves.

Overall, everyone enjoyed the fight. They certainly needed the short rest afterward (not sure how that would have worked if we were using NEXT rules), and folks really felt like they had a chance to try out their characters and get a feel for them. I also like the ongoing nature of the fight into next week’s session. Players feel much less railroaded when there’s constant action.

We went just over 4 rounds at my table, but combat took about an hour & 15, which was relatively short given 7 players w/ new characters and 4e combat pacing. Other tables had similar timing.

2 Cent June 20, 2013 at 3:11 pm

*Played using the Next play-test rule-set*

Another outstanding turnout last night. Unfortunately this was the first night, since I started playing Encounters, that we had to turn away players.

I also felt this intro was a little too generic. Those who didn’t participate in the Dragolich encounter this past weekend ran through the motions until the action started. With the returning players getting some nice loot and XP while other players waited at the tables for the game to start.

On the other hand, it was well paced to help ease in players who are just now starting out with Next. Allowing new players ample time to consult the play-test packet for any questions they might have had.

Our store is in its third season of playing Next and this newest iteration brought some pretty significant mechanics changes. The biggest changes being: A short rest is now 1 hour, up from 5 minutes. Heal spells are no longer “swift” and require a full action to complete (no more attacking then healing in the same round).

Finally, ‘spare the dying’, is now a touch spell forcing healers to get right up into the action if they want to save a PC. ‘Spare the dying’ mechanic in particular is going to have a major effect on combat progression I suspect.

The combat itself was a bit bland last night, and over with relatively quickly at our table. Though with as many orcs and wolves as were on the board, it could have gone bad in a hurry with some bad dice rolling.

All in all, I’m looking forward to this season and I expect that things will pick up in the weeks ahead.

3 John M. June 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Our night was a bit more involved than yours down here in South Carolina. We only have 4 players attending at our FLGS and this was my first time in attendance there after recently picking up the game after a 21 year hiatus. We got started a bit later than expected as a couple of us were not there on week 0 and we went over our characters to make sure we had everything nailed down OK. We started our night with a Human Paladin, Dwarf Cleric (me), Gnome wizard and a Dwarf Fighter. I’ll agree that the initial parts of this seemed a bit lackluster. Not much to see or do while awaiting the morning hour ride out.

However, while you battle only lasted a short time, ours was about 1.5 hours due to only having 4 PCs. I think next week I’ll talk to our DM and ask if I can play a second character. All of our group is new to Next and I thin the other 3 never played before the last Encounters module. I was looking up a lot of stuff during the first hour just to get familiar with how things worked spell wise. Most of that battle was spent learning the ropes and getting familiar with our characters.

We started out all at the tavern when the bell went off, and broke out and engaged from there. Our encounter was actually 2 separate places consisting of 5 orcs and 2 wolves at one location and another 8 wolves at another. Not sure if it was written that way but that how it played out for us. Our dice were cold for a while and we had some issues hitting. Once they warmed up a bit things went faster.

Most everyone was hitting OK but I got smashed up a bit and got down to 1HP. I’ve never played a cleric before and I have to remember I’m not playing a fighter. I got right in the melee and that was a bad idea. Most of my misses were by 1 or 2 so I just need to give my dice some lovin. I also need to look at what I choose for my prepared spells a bit closer. I’ll have to wait for the first long rest though.

Overall I think it went well but we need to get healed up before we head toward the tower. With only 4 players things got a bit squirrely but adding another PC might help things out a bit. We need a bit more range attacking so a ranger would be a nice addition. We’ll see how next week goes. I think it will be fine. I prefer fighters but this is my chance to learn a class that I have no experience with. Luckily I showed up with 5 rolled characters so I was able to pick whatever we were lacking in the group. Now I’m looking forward to next week.

4 ShadowTiger June 20, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Having played D&D next for a while now, I feel like this adventure is going to be a little boring because of how “on rails” it is… now that we are being guided by an NPC. I hope we get separated once we reach the dungeon.

The combat looks like it will be interesting… now that they are using monsters with special abilities. I hope this continues and isn’t just limited to orcs.

We had 7 party members and while we took a few hits overall it wasn’t very threatening. Between a cleric, a druid, a paladin, and a ranger… we should have plenty of magical healing to go around.

One problem I noticed as a wizard is that against a bunch of weaker enemies, single target spells are mostly wasted. I hope this changes in the future, because its kind of boring/OP to just cast AOE damage spells all the time.

5 Vobekhan June 21, 2013 at 7:43 am

We are using the Next playtest rules this season, following on from Games Day.

Despite a few hiccups it went well, though I definitely would prefer orcs to have their savage demise from 4e over the relentless trait they have been landed with in Next. With monsters being dropped in 1 or 2 hits one of our 4e regulars commented on them being “minionesque” so I’m going to increase enemies hp within their Hit Dice range rather than use the given hp.

6 Shawn June 21, 2013 at 8:35 am

After taking last season off, I am DMing using D&D Next rules. Six of the seven players who showed up also played at the Game Day, so they were already familiar with the story and had met Amani. I gave each of them a little background information on the Dalelands, the issues between Cormyr/Sembia/Netheril, the history of Cormanthor, and the role of the Zhentarim in the Moonsea region.

They got their plot hook from Amani, and they went off to visit the various shops. For the first time in a long time at my table the adults outnumbered the kids, and they were incredibly focused. They really roleplayed well, digging for information about what they might face on their journey, so I leaked a lot of information that wasn’t in the adventure for their efforts.

When the attack started, I broke the monsters up into waves, and I added a couple of extra orcs and an ogre. My dice were cold, and they got away with barely a scratch. I did not give them a short rest since they still have most of their resources, although the young man playing the wizard was blowing his prepared spells rather quickly, so I took a moment to explain to him that he will need a long rest before getting those back.

For players used to the “fiddliness” that sometimes crops up in 4e combats, Next can sometimes be a bit flat. If you run small combat after small combat after small combat, this tends to even out in Next. With Encounters, where there is just 1 fight, the DM sometimes has to make tweaks to keep each encounter “special.”

For the next session, I plan to do something different with the large berserky thing [intentionally vague for spoilers]. It is already a potentially hilarious encounter because of the situation, but adding a couple more wrinkles could make it run very interestingly with Next rules.

7 Spykes June 21, 2013 at 2:35 pm

We had a great opening to the season at Game HQ in Oklahoma City. We ran two tables of five players each and only 2 players used pre-gens. Everyone else had players from Game Day or brought a new player ready to go. For my table, after a brief background opening, I let the players that participated in the Game Day event summarize that session for the new players. I filled in a few gaps.

Explaining that Immani was studying the staff and making plans for the upcoming trek, I basically gave them a free day to explore the small town. I heard on the podcast by the Dungeon’s Master guys that this was a little slow going for their group as people didn’t seem interested in roleplaying in a town that they were soon leaving for the “real quest”. Understandable. Our table seemed to embrace the time to take advantage of some of their character backstories which made for some nice roleplay at Delmuth’s Barrel. I took some liberties with the Dwarf’s personality and it turned into some great fun.

After their meeting with Immani, they were excited about securing all of the supplies they needed and decided a cart was among the items required to carry the vast amounts of gold with which they would be returning. This also provided great opportunities for roleplay fun.

When the orcs attacked, the s**t got real pretty quick as I described the scene. As they came out from the Inn, the orcs had dragged a villager from the far house out into the street and slit his throat before they could prevent it. This seemed to get them pretty upset.

The party was made up of a Barbarian, Paladin, Ranger, Wizard and Rogue. The Barbarian and Paladin moved in to engage in melee while the Wizard and Ranger stayed back to attack from range. The rogue went around the near hut to engage the orc and wolf attempting to flank.

The rogue was very creative in his attacks attempting to do things like use a vial of sand, which he indeed did have on his equipment list, to throw in their eyes, or douse them with oil, and the most ballzy move, to plant a vial of alchemists’s fire on the person of the orc he was fighting. He was incredibly descriptive in his explaination of what he wanted to attempt and how he would go about it, so I allowed it, requiring a successful pick pocket with disadvantage. He succeeded! His intention was to then try to break the vial the orc was carrying with his subsequent attacks after disengaing. This seemed outlandishly difficult. He was throwing daggers at the vial in an effort to break it. My ruling was to give the vial it’s own AC of 19, so he could conceivably still hit the orc without hitting the vial. It took a couple rounds, but he did eventually score a hit and the orc and wolf both caught fire from the oil. It sent the table cheering.

On the main battle front, the babarian was hitting and killing everything it attacked, having gone into a Rage. The Paladin was positioned in the middle of the battlefield and took the brunt of the attacks. towards the end of the battle, he fell unconscious. The Ranger was quick to come to his aid though. Before he fell, the Pally did get off a great AoE Channel Divinity that hit three orcs for some nice damage.

The Wizard went invisible and tried to get to the archers, passing a wolf who has a bonus to detect. The wolf rolled a 1 on his attempt though, so the wizard was able to get off a nicely positioned Thunderwave on the archers. One archer tried to escape but the Ranger wasn’t having any of that.

I thought the battle was perfectly tuned for 5 players and offered a great challenge with plenty of opportunity for strategy.

This battle, mainly because of the crazy things attempted, such as the Ranger trying to tame a wolf in combat… yes he failed miserably, went a little longer than normal 5e battles. However, I think if it was 4e, we wouldn’t have finished. This new combat encourages players to be creative in the actions they attempt. However, they need to be prodded to think in this manner. I had a pretty good group, but players that are just plodding along in 4e mode might need the DM to ask for more information from them. 4e allowed the power they chose to describe the action. 5e allows the player to do that and they may need a little push in that direction during this transition period.

As a DM, I’m having to retrain myself to react differently to something that in 4e would have brought combat to a halt. Now it can be handled easily and quickly and provide for some very unique scenes. It requires some player thought, which also needs to be encouraged, along with a willingnes from the DM to go along with what you may think it crazy at first. Set your DC and let them try. Even if they fail, it’s gonna be fun!

At first glance, this opening scene looked like it was going to be pretty boring. But for our table, some very imaginative player actions and a simple ability check sytem to allow them to easily try whatever they could dream up resulted in a great session.

8 Guest June 22, 2013 at 10:10 am

On Wednesday, I brought a Thri-Kreen Rogue… Apparently that’s not allowed, because the Thri-Kreen that exist in the Sharr or north of the Toadsquat Mountains only exist in the Dark Sun campaign and never appeared in Forgotten Realms (despite Forgotten Relams and the generic campaigns having them first).

Granted, two of those homes tool significant damage from the spellplague, but that doesn’t mean Thri-Kreen were officially eliminated, considering that they attempted to build colonies outside of those homes.

I think I’ll switch groups… I don’t like being told that I’m allowed to use a source and not allowed to use a source at the same time.

9 Ameron (Derek Myers) June 22, 2013 at 12:11 pm

@John M.
So you faced 5 orcs and 10 wolves buy then end of week 1? This is a lot more monsters than listed in the 4e or D&D Next versions of the adventure. Your party likely expended a lot more resources than they would have if it was played as written. Hopefully your DM will take this into consideration if the party runs into trouble in upcoming weeks. Good luck!

@Guest
It’s unfortunate that your DM disallowed the Thri-Kreen. In the text of the adventure it basically says players can play whatever character they want regardless of class and race. But ultimately it’s up to the DM to make the call. I’d rather have a player be happy and run an unusual character (possibly even a race that’s technically not allowed) than force them to play a more traditional character an not have fun. I’d suggest talking privately with the DM and see if he’ll reconsider.

10 John M. June 24, 2013 at 9:10 am

Derek,

I think he ran with some additional stuff to fill the allotted time. I didn’t waste much. I was melee most of the time and our wizard from last week will not be there this week. I hope to have the DM allow a temporary wizard to join the party. I am already preparing a rationale to have one join as part of what we are doing. No one has expended any healing potions or such and HP wise we are sitting pretty good. I think we’ll be OK. Besides we only ran 4 party members so I am going to ask to bring a Ranger into the mix as well as a companion to the wizard to up our party size to 5 total PCs.

John

11 Joe Lastowski June 24, 2013 at 9:41 am

@Guest, whenever I write up documentation for a session 0 character gen session, I include any race that’s gotten feat support, including Thri-kreen. Some of the monster manual races like Orc or Bugbear make a little less sense, but I’d love to have folks playing thri-kreen at my table. Anything exotic just enables more roleplaying. And come on… is a mantis person any less exotic than a pixie or a being infused with elemental power (genasi)?

Thri-kreen are super fun to play, especially with the additional feat support they got in Dragon 411. They make great rangers, rogues, fighters, clerics, and many other classes… and it does really interesting things to party dynamic. It’s unfortunate that your DM was so hard-lined about that. Maybe another table/venue will let you explore that fun & different option.

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