D&D Encounters: Search for the Diamond Staff (Week 2)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 27, 2013

search-for-the-diamond-staff-coverLast week’s encounter ended when the party defeated a band of Orcs who were attacking the village of Hap in the Dalelands. As the party took a quick breather to patch their wounds and assess the situation they heard the faint sounds of combat coming from Imani’s tower. Clearly there were still Orcs about and the party’s job wasn’t completed.

We had a decent turn out at Harry T North in Toronto this week. We had 13 players and three DMs so we ran three tables, all using the D&D Next rules. My table had five players all together: three from last week, one regular who happened to be absent last week ,and one brand new player who hadn’t played since 3e. The party consisted of a Dwarf Cleric, Human Rogue, Human Cleric, Elf Ranger, and Human Wizard.

Just as the party was about to head for Imani’s tower, two new adventurers arrived on the scene – a Rogue Bounty Hunter and a Ranger. They’d been tracking these Orcs and were looking for their chief. He had a sizable bounty on his head and they were here to collect it. They quickly checked the bodies in the immediate area and didn’t find the chief.

They agreed to work with the party to drive the Orcs from Hap but were not willing to share the bounty if the chief was captured or killed. The party had other interests and didn’t protest. So the group of five took off towards the sounds of battle.

The tower and adjacent cottage were located in a small clearing. Near the tower door the PCs spotted five badly burned Orc bodies. The Wizard speculated that they’d set off a trap when they tried to rush the main entrance. The party decided to head around back and see if they could find an entrance through the cottage. Their hope was to gain the element of surprise on whatever was fighting in the tower.

The Rogue took point and upon reaching the cottage door searched for traps (and found none). He then picked the lock and quietly looked inside. A young Human was cowering in the bedroom but didn’t notice the PCs. The Rogue got his attention and signaled for him to come outside, which he did. The PCs recognized Drindol, Imani’s scribe.

The scribe explained that the Orcs burst into the laboratory and attacked Imani. Drindol wasn’t sure if Imani was dead or alive but feared for his safety. Before he could say any more the PCs charged inside to Imani’s aid.

encounters-14-week-2

The Giant Skeleton mini that I used as a the Flesh Golem might not look that imposing, but that shadow sure is intimidating!

When the PCs opened the door from the cottage to the tower they spotted six Orcs fighting a huge humanoid creature with mottled skin (later discovered to be a Flesh Golem). The room was in disarray. Bookshelves were knocked over, tables smashed and lab equipment was destroyed and strewn across the floor.

Imani’s lifeless body lay crumpled at the foot of a bookshelf, blood seeping from a wound in his chest. A dead Orc with Dragon’s teeth mounted on his helmet lay dead beside Imani.

Without hesitation the PCs jumped into action. The Dwarven Cleric fired his cross bow at the closest Orc and the Ranger moved in and fired his bow at the same target. Three of the Orcs kept fighting the Golem while the other three engaged the party, two with axes and one with a bow.

The PCs were stuck in the doorway, trapped by the Orcs. The Human Cleric healed Imani and then moved out of the way. The Wizard used a levitate spell to rise above the melee and get a better vantage on the situation.

The Golem continued to focus its rage on the nearby Orcs punching them and pushing them away. When the rest of the Orcs realized the PCs were in the tower they carefully disengaged from the Golem and ran towards the PCs.

The Rogue and Dwarf Cleric both risked opportunity attacks (both hitting) in order to get deeper into the tower. The Cleric attacked and hit an Orc while the Rogue tried and failed to connect.

The Wizard shot Magic Missiles at the unsuspecting Orcs which only made them mad. Two focused fire and shot their bows at the flying target, hitting him twice. The Golem charged forward and swung wildly at the line of creatures (two Orcs and two PCs). Using a d4 to determine targets one of the Orc and one of the PCs were attacked, but both swings missed.

Now that the PCs realized the Golem would attack the nearest creature indiscriminately, they immediately changed tactics. The Ranger and Human Cleric both risked opportunity attacks to get father away from it. The Rogue stood his ground and kept attacking wounded Orcs, but missed.

The Dwarf Cleric managed to finally drop an Orc, and so did the Wizard. However, when the Orcs reached 0 hit points they entered a blood frenzy and stayed on their feet for one last swing. Fortunately they both missed on their turn.

By this time Imani regained consciousness (he would have earlier, but I forgot to add him to the initiative). He was groggy at first, looking around and trying to take in the situation. He then snapped to full alert, “Wait a moment… where’s the Crystal Staff?” Not seeing it in the tower he bolted for the door, leaving the Orcs and PCs to face the Golem alone.

Over the next few rounds the heroes managed to take down the Orcs one by one. The Wizard continued to shoot enemies from the air, hitting almost every round. The Orc archers eventually gave up shooting the Wizard, focusing instead on the melee combatants. When the final Orc fell the players breathed a sign of relief… until the Golem attacked them.

The Rogue, who was really hurt, disengaged from the Golem and ran outside to find Imani. The Wizard was trying to use his magic to sense the staff’s location. He seemed oblivious to the ongoing combat inside the tower, focusing intently on the staff. The Rogue managed to get his attention and explained that the Orcs inside were dead and that the Golem was still attacking. With a sharp whistle from Imani the Golem stopped in his tracks.

Imani and the Rogue went back inside where Drindol was relived to see his master alive and well. Upon hearing Drindol and Imani talking, a Halfling female crawled out from under the bed in the cottage. This was another one of Imani’s servants.

“Those Orcs stole the Diamond Staff!” cried Drindol. “They grabbed whatever they could from the shelves and tables, but as soon as the leader saw the staff, he seemed to recognize it. Another Orc tapped the staff with some kind of wand, and its protective wards fell, He grabbed the staff and the Orcs bolted.”

“The Diamond Staff is priceless,” said Imani. “Anyone interested in elven knowledge or secrets or arcane magic would want to gain entry to the vaults of Uvaeren. I don’t understand how the Orcs could have seized it in this way. Many sinister forces are at work here. The Orcs must be found, and the staff reclaimed.”

The PCs agreed to track the Orcs and try to recover the staff. The Dwarven Cleric and the Wizard, both of whom were part of the assault on the Vault of the Dracolich, felt obligated to retrieve the staff given what they endured to get it in the first place.

The Rogue and Ranger realized the Orc they sought was the one with the Dragon’s tooth on his helmet. Their quest completed they jumped at the chance to earn more gold by sticking with this party.

When the PCs searched the fallen Orcs they recovered a modest amount of gold coins. The Human Cleric was the first to realize that the coins were recently minted. On one side was a castle and a lightning bolt, and on the other a skull. These were the signs of the Zhentarim. The castle was Darkhold, a fortress west of Cormyr. They also found a healing potion on the Orc chief’s body.

With night upon them the party took off into the woods to track the Orcs and recover the staff. They easily found foot prints in the mud. At the forest’s edge they found discarded books and a smashed jug of wine. A few steps further they found a dead Orc, his chest crushed. Beyond that the trail disappeared.

The Wizard created magical light to show the way. He was able to control the light’s focus and intensity which allowed the PCs to see where they were going without announcing their presence to everything for miles around.

The keen-eyed Rogue managed to find signs of the Orcs passage, such as broken branches. He also noted the presence and absence of key forest sounds the let the party know they were on the right track. When the PCs reached an open, rocky area it was time for the Ranger to take over. He didn’t waste time explaining his process he just kept the PCs on the right path.

A few miles from Hap the PCs located a dark cave mouth near a ravine. The area was marked by many tracks and there were discarded bones and refuse nearby. A trace of smoke escaped from the cave vanishing into the misty sky above. This was clearly where the Orcs brought the staff.

Thoughts

This was another very straight forward encounter. Using the D&D Next rules made for a very quick fight. After only two weeks I ready miss the extra conditions that were a staple of 4e. Simply hitting and doing damage and that’s it really seems boring. On the plus side the fast combat doesn’t seem to be eating away at the party members’ hit points as badly so they can certainly do more without resting that 4e PCs can.

The players seemed to enjoy the brief role-paying encounter with Imani and his staff after the fight. However, the skill challenge didn’t convert from 4e to D&D Next very smoothly. The players felt that the need to make checks and describe all the little details was unnecessary.

I was hoping that the Golem would be an interesting boss monster, but he was kind of lame. He punched twice for marginal damage (less than he Orcs’ axes) and had lots of hit points. He didn’t have any special abilities or cool one-off attacks. Maybe I’m still too engrained in the 4e mindset.

Had my group not been pressed for time last week, I would have combined weeks 1 and 2 into a single session. I know that I can always add more stuff to the encounters to extend them, but that seems like it will only serve to drain the PCs’ resources in encounters that don’t really matter.

After two week’s I’m enjoying the adventure but not thrilled with the D&D Next conversion. I think using the new rules in an adventure designed for a previous edition is not giving us a true look at its strengths. We’ve got six week’s to go, hopefully some of the upcoming encounters will wow me a bit more than the two we’ve played so far.

How did your group do against the Golem? Did the PCs even fight the Golem or did they realize that they could avoid it and focus on the Orcs? Has anyone lost a PC yet? How are people’s resources holding up? Does anyone think their character or their party will have serious problems with next week’s encounter?

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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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John M. June 27, 2013 at 10:09 am

Last night was a fairly quick night for us. We still had our cleric (me), a gnome wizard, human paladin, and human fighter doing OK after last week’s encounter. We had not expended much.

As we approached the tower the cleric and fighter approached the front door while the wizard and paladin went around the side to the attached shack. with some checks they got into the shack and spoke with Drindol who was hiding when they came in. The wizard made an advantage attack on the orc by the shack door in the tower and hit, then moved to the side for the paladin to get his shot in. He dropped the orc in his first attack clearing the way into the tower on the shack side.

The fighter at the tower door blasted in to engage an orc near the door, while the cleric made for Imani. A quick dexterity check and he was bounding over the table for Imani who lay at the back of the tower by a bookcase. While the other continued to engage orcs, he used spare the dying on Imani, grabbed him and proceeded to make for the shack doorway. A couple rounds later some more orcs were down but no out only to stand back up the following rounds. Caught a few of the PCs by surprise and the wizard took a couple nasty hits. Once all the orcs were down most of the PCs were in a position that the golem did not see them behind book cases and the golem ran out the door toward the forest. The PCs did not know Imani was controlling the golem at that point. Our wizard (who happens to e a younger player) decided he would follow behind and unleash a couple spells as they ran. Guess what that got him? Almost DEAD!!!

He took another couple hits and was almost gone when the paladin made a strength check, snatched him up and headed back to the tower with the golem in pursuit. He tried to get away but it didn’t work. By the time the PCs realized Imani was controlling him the golem was dead and the fight was over.

After speaking to Imani, a short rest and a couple of heals in the group we proceeded towards the cave where we ended for the night.

Overall I don’t think the encounter was very hard and 3 PCs were all that were needed to fight. The cleric only made 2 ranged attacks the entire battle, and they were just for good measure to do something on his turn. The wizard has expended most of his spells already but I think I need to look at his sheet. He doesn’t seem to have things in order and I a not sure he knows how many of what he gets or can prepare. The cleric is OK with only a couple gone. Most healing has been through potions so far. I think these encounters should be a bit more difficult, and the lack of a long rest at this point makes me wonder when it will come. I know the wizard would like to prepare some more spells. I have a feeling this next encounter will be mostly melee.

John

2 Alphastream June 27, 2013 at 11:29 am

I played last week in Cleveland, OH, and this week in Portland, OR. Both weeks were 4E and fairly easy combats. Unlike previous seasons, this one I am not DMing and I did not playtest it. It has given me an appreciation for how different DMs and players handle the program. In both cases I’ve seen very little RP/story but clear signs that the program brings in casual/new players and does a good job of increasing their interest in and exposure to D&D.

This week we dispatched the orcs pretty quickly. We had 3 defenders, so we took turns marking the big guy. The golem missed almost every attack it took, which really decreased the excitement. It was hard to properly assess the encounter because of that. But, we did have fun. None of us thought to help the downed Imani (perhaps assuming he was just decoration until the encounter ended?).

So far this season reminds me of the last one Richard Baker wrote. Straightforward, and seems to be holding its surprises for later. Personally, I would like the encounters to be a bit more open or to contain events that keep the interest high and provide a story angle. There is a bit too much of A) intro based on previous hook, B) fight, C) clue leading to the next encounter.

3 Joe June 27, 2013 at 11:39 am

We had 4 tables at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA, all running 4e. Due to certain friends/families wanting to play together, though, the numbers were a bit skewed, so I had only 4 at my table while there were 6 at others. As it was a smaller group with no defenders or controllers (barbarian, sorcerer, warlord, & bard), I cut down on the deadliness by removing the death frenzy power from the orcs and dropping the added damage on the golem (so it did 2d10 instead of 2d10+whatever). I added a push effect to the golem’s slam attack to keep the battlefield from getting stagnant. Still, the party got pretty bloodied-up, mainly because they in no way tried to work with the orcs, and in fact initially arranged themselves (not on purpose, but still) in such a way that they were between the orcs and the golem.

The “when the golem takes damage, it attacks a random target” thing was probably the most fun, because once folks figured that out, they tried to maneuver orcs to be possible targets as well.

Still, it was a pretty straightforward fight, with no real status effects or anything. I tried to run the skill challenge completely open-ended, letting them know that they could use any skill they could justify to me… but everyone had to use different skills. This got folks really thinking (I yell at my allies to scare them into moving faster! I lie to my friends and tell them I know where we’re going. Etc). I added some extra out-of-game drama by letting them know it was a 6 success before 3 failures challenge, then having a light-colored d6 & a black d6 that I used to track the challenge. They got down to 5 and 2 before finally succeeding.

Overall, a pretty quick & no-nonsense fight. Not too much overly exciting, but not really boring either. Maybe it would have been different if they’d tried to work with the orcs, but that option never occurred to my players.

4 Cent June 27, 2013 at 12:46 pm

*Played using the Next play test rules*

Another week, another tepid fight. Going into our third season of playing with the Next rules, and this has been by far the slowest start to a season yet.

There’s not much to say about this week specifically, except that our golem went berserk and perhaps took an extra round to put down as a result. Otherwise I feel that with some tweaking, this week and last week could have been wrapped into a single, more satisfying, combat session.

What I’ve really enjoyed about using Next in this Encounters format over the past two seasons is the way it streamlines and speeds up combat. Which in turn has made room for more role playing time each session. As opposed to using 4e in Encounters which I feel makes combat laboriously long and many times overrode RP opportunities. (This is a critique of 4e in the Encounters format, and not 4e for home campaigns.)

Having said that, I hope next week sees a return to more role play opportunities, and offers us NPC’s with more interesting combat mechanics.

5 Shawn June 27, 2013 at 1:09 pm

DMed using D&D Next rules. Ran with a table of 6 players.

After last week’s battle, the PCs moved to Imani’s tower to see what was happening there. I toyed with the idea of placing some of the orcs outside the tower, to turn the session into 2 smaller combats, since that is supposed to be what D&D Next does better than 4e. Instead, I made a bigger deal of the burned orc bodies outside the door, placing a trap on the door. I specifically mentioned runes carved into the door. The rogue ignored that and just ran up the steps and threw the doors open, taking fire damage.

Last session I mentioned two unconscious and bleeding townsfolk at the start of the battle, who the PCs ignored. This time I mentioned Imani was bleeding, and the cleric healed him in the first round. I changed up the combat by making the golem impervious to physical attacks. Instead, I placed magical foci on each of the tables and each of the bookcases (six in total). The golem could only be deactivated by breaking/depowering these foci, but the tables/bookcases were protected by magical wards. The two wizards had to deal with that, while the other dealt with the orcs and golem, specifically trying to keep the golem away from the wizards. I think the combat played better than way.

They captured and questioned one of the orcs, who was intimidated into revealing where their lair was, and mentioning the humans in black armor who they were working with.

This season, in addition to the last couple, which we’ve played with Next rules, has really showed me two things: pacing is terribly important to games, and different rules sets create a self-selecting audience. The people who have experienced AD&D (and 2e) remain focused on the game before initiative is rolled and after the last monster falls. They want exploration and interaction to matter more than just being fodder for table jokes. Those who started with 3e and 4e want most of the action to take place during combat. These, or course, are just based on my observations of personal experience. Everyone’s will be different.

Next session, though, I am definitely going to heavily revise the encounter. It might contain 3 or 4 combats, in addition to the exploration and interaction. We’ll see how that pace works for the players, for the story, for the game, and for the interaction of all three of those elements.

6 Michael June 27, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Fun night. We had a party of four playing 4E, one drow seeker, a draconian fire wizard, a water genasi swordmage and myself as a gnome psion. We learned from my gnome’s hamster that orcs were attacking Imani’s tower, so we all rushed over. Our DM let my gnome and the wizard cast a ritual each. He used familiar mount on his dragonling to make a small dragon and I created an illusion of an orcish archer. When we reached the tower we decided to go in through multiple directions simultaneously. The wizard flew over and used his dragon to bust in the back door of the cottage. My gnome projected a psionic fragment through the front window of the cottage. The swordmage rode his horse straight through the front door (He had to duck a little) and the seeker followed him.

In the cottage we found a Halfling woman and Drindl, locked away from the tower. In the tower a flesh golem was mopping the floor with some orcs. We also saw Imani on the ground badly wounded. The swordmage used a daily power to mark half of the orcs and then started teleporting around stabbing people and blasting them with elemental powers. His horse ran and hid in the corner. My gnome saw that he couldn’t reach Imani with his fragment so he rushed into the tower and used his wild talents to teleport a healing potion to Imani and tip it into his mouth, but opening himself up for attack. His hamster was a bit of a coward and ran and hid under some rocks. On his turn the seeker vaulted over a table filled with flasks and vials and ran to help Imani.

Meanwhile, one of the orcs had broken through the door to the cottage and knocked Drindl to the ground. The wizard blasted him backwards with a magic missle and then used presdigitation to make it look like his hands were burning and tried to interrogate the orc. About all we got was that the orcs took the staff of Chymolla “ away” The seeker continued to shoot up the orcs and since we were all doing long range attacks the flesh golem kept whaling away on the orcs.

Next turn my gnome had his illusion of an orc pretend to blow a horn and used ghost sound to make it sound like the retreat signal from the last battle. I had a bluff roll of two so the orcs just looked confused and asked what the orc was doing here since they thought that he was dead. At this point my gnome remembered all of the flasks that the seeker had had to leap over on the table and since all of the PC’s were near doors thought it was a great idea to set them on fire and see what happened, figuring that it would release some sort of toxic smoke that would fill the room and kill the orcs while the rest of the party escaped. This provoked a huge collective NO! from the rest of the party, which being a gnome he ignored. The wizard had his turn next so he was able to use prestidigitation to put it out before it caused any damage.

Then the hamster who had been hiding squealed in fright because another set of orcs and wolves had ridden up. The wizard blasted them with fire, and the seeker ran to attack them getting his first kill of the evening. When the orc died, he announced that he had captured the soul with his helm of seven deaths. This shocked everyone, and we had a lot of comments like ” are you sure you’re not evil” On the other hand we could see how capturing souls would be really useful when fighting a dracolich. We finished off the rest of the orcs and wolves and Imani dismissed the flesh golem.

Then, the aftermath. Imani and Drindl described how the staff was stolen, and we all immediately thought that it must have been an inside job. We intimidated, bluffed and psychically interrogated Drindl, but he wouldn’t break. Finally Imani insisted that he trusted Drindl and would not put up with any more. He was going back to town and we would search for the staff. We were very concerned since not everyone would know that he lost the staff and he could still be attacked. We advised him to hire some more bodyguards without Drindl’s help. Our DM ran a skill challenge to track the staff and we found the trail that led to the cave.

Overall, it was much more fun than last time. We had a variety of tactical battle opportunities and some role playing. I am looking forward to the next session.

7 Vobekhan June 29, 2013 at 5:07 am

Another great session as the players and myself settle into the playtest rules, I was impressed at our newest member (Vipin) having created his own character for this week (having played a pregen last time) especially as this was only his second ever session of D&D.

The addition of the Encounters battlemats has helped “visualise” the combats somewhat but with the focus being more on the the players interactions rather than tactical positioning.

The skill challenge (never my favourite part of 4e) didnt really make an appearance as we RP’d rather than calling for a number of skill rolls, if the players ideas/plans were described I took that as their skill check and that worked well for us.
Vobekhan´s last blog post ..D&D Encounters Season 14 – Search for the Diamond Staff – Session 2

8 JYANTA July 1, 2013 at 10:45 am

OK I ran 2 games of this session. 1st was with the DnDNext rules and the 2nd was with 4e. Here is what I figured out.

DnDNext:
1. Golem was worthless. It had hit points but could not hit or damage anyone. Even against the Orcs it really did nothing. The party just let it run around and chased after the Orcs. (in my party 5 of the 8 members have AC 19+)
2. I made the adventure a lot more exciting. I created 3 Orc teams (1 Orc Leader and 3 Orcs). I made it so that the people just made it to the tower when they got the staff. This forced the party to break up some and focus on catching the fleeing Orcs with the staff and control the battle in the tower.
3. The Next rules so far have made the sessions too easy. I have had to increase the amount of enemies a lot and even added more encounters just to make them spend some resources. The first session with the Orcs in the town they took no damage and killed everything in 3 turns.
4. The Skill challenge was worthless in Next. I just had them roll but since they were tracking the Orcs anyways it just not needed. Now this week I will see if they want to take a rest (1hr now) before entering the caves or not and use that to determine if they surprise the enemy.

4e:
1. Coming back to 4e after running Next I made it WAY too difficult. The Golem was so powerful that the frontline Half-Orc Defender was koed 3 times by the Golem in 3 turns. In one turn the Golem did 68 damage to to Half-Orc (thanks to Crits and his damage free attack).
2. I ran the adventure more to what it was in the book (but had 3 orcs in reserve incase I needed it for the party of 6 people). All the Orcs were down in the 1st round and that left the Golem to pound them. They were not doing much damage to him and 1/2 the party wanted to RP (save the wizard and his helpers) and not attack the Golem. So I had them use diplomacy/bluff to get them to stop the Golem which they did.
3. The fight took a LONG time vs. Next but was very interesting. I do miss all the effects as it really made the battlefield a lot more interesting.
4. Skill Challenge not needed. This was worthless at the end of the session. Just some rolls and really they were not even paying attention. After the fight I think that it was not needed. They should of added it before the next session.

So after DMing both I do like the streamlined Next combat but like others miss all the effects from 4e. I also think the monsters in Next are WAY underpowered for the level they should be at. If I did not include the 3 Orc leaders (that used the Battle Cry) they would of been not very threatening to the group. I feel the Golem was a wasted opportunity in this session for Next. Everyone was afraid of it till it hit one time and did no damage. Then everyone just ignored this giant in the room. Not very useful. Still both groups did do a lot of RP with the NPCs and each other which was nice to see.

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