D&D Encounters: Storm Over Neverwinter – Report Card

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 13, 2013

storm-over-neverwinter-coverWe have once again reached the end of another great season of D&D Encounters. That means it’s time to step back and look at the entire season as a whole and pass judgment. We’ve weighed the good and the bad in order to come up with a final grade for Storm Over Neverwinter. Read over our feedback and let us know if you agree or disagree with our assessment. Be sure to add your feedback to the comments section below.

The Good

In general this season had a lot of very good things going for it. Probably the biggest thing in the plus column was the return of veteran D&D Encounters author Erik Scott de Bie. Erik wrote Halaster’s Lost Apprentice (season 1) and Lost Crown of Neverwinter (season 6). He came into this season with a proven track record for writing great adventures and we were not disappointed when we dove into season 13. Let’s look at the best of the good.

Set in Neverwinter

This was the second time a D&D Encounters adventure was set in Neverwinter. In fact this adventure could be played as a sequel to season 6. The city has grown and healed since the last time the PCs were here but there’s still plenty of adventure and intrigue. Many of the encounters were set in well established locales within the city including the Midnight’s Mask, Beached Leviathan, and Helm’s Hold. Any DM with access to the Neverwinter Camping Sourcebook (NCS) could use the details in that book to flesh out each session. To make this easier, page references were provided within the adventure. It was also nice to see some of the familial NPCs from the Lost Crown of Neverwinter make appearances. As an aside, the NCS is one of the best 4e products out there (in my opinion). The fact that it’s pretty much edition neutral makes it useful for the foreseeable future regardless of which edition you’re using at your table.

The storm

Throughout the adventure a storm raged through Neverwinter. It was both a physical and metaphorical storm. It had an ominous presence throughout the adventure and as the story wound down between chapters so too did the storm. When the PCs got closer to the adventure’s climax the storm got more and more fierce. I liked that in the final encounter the PC had to literally face the storm head on in order to save Helm’s Hold and Neverwinter. The raging weather really helped DMs set the appropriate mood and tone for the season. However, it would have been nice to see a bit more detail provided for rookie DMs on how to use this more effectively. The experienced DMs I spoke with all had a lot of fun describing the storm. I would also like to have seen more of the storm’s effect have a direct impact on the combat when appropriate.

Starting at level 3

For the very first time in 13 seasons we didn’t have to begin play at level 1. I cannot even begin to explain how happy this made me feel. Many of our regular players only play D&D at Encounters and they were itching for higher level play. Even if the season had completely sucked, this alone would have kept people coming back. But there were some down sides to this, which we’ll focus on in the bad section below.

Treasure was insignificant

When PCs begin an adventure with no magic items they all want some. As soon as an item is found, any item, the whole table fights over it. But when you bring in PCs with at least three magic items right from the beginning, they already have stuff and are less enthralled by treasure. When magic items were found at my tables the players didn’t really care. They were more concerned about the game than the tangible baubles their characters found along the way. Perhaps this was a carryover from behaviour established last season when there were no random items, just the three items of power needed to resolve the quest. Whatever the reason, it made the season better for my groups.

Epic ending

By the time the heroes reach the final session they were level 6 and the combat’s difficulty reflected their advanced level. The combat took place on the roof of Helm’s Hold in the eye of a hurricane. The PCs faced two powerful spell casters and one pesky Dragon. This was an epic confrontation. The environmental effects added plenty of unexpected options for PCs to move and attack. Whether the PCs won or lost, this was for many one of the best combat encounters they’d ever played at D&D Encounters. It was interesting, unpredictable, exciting, and could very well have gone either way. Attention Wizard of the Coast: more encounters like this please.

The Bad

Despite the strengths of the points on the Good list there were some bad things about this season of D&D Encounters. Many of the things on my Bad list are pretty minor nit-picks, but a few are legitimate issues that I feel should be discussed.

Too difficult

Let me qualify this, the adventure was too difficult for D&D Encounters. For a home game this adventure was just right. But when people are only playing one encounter a week it’s a lot more difficult for them to budget their resources and accept consequences of poor judgment. What ended up happening was people used up everything by the end of week 3 and had nothing in the tank for week 4. The result was the DM fudging things to give them a fighting chance and make the session fun for everyone. Again, in a home game I’d tell my group to suck it up, but at home this would have played out over the course of one night and resource management would have been top of mind. For organized play I think the chapters should only run a maximum of three weeks before the party gets an extended rest. It’s not how you’d run a normal game, but I think this concession is necessary to keep it fun.

Complicated monsters

This goes hand-in-hand with the point above. Because the PCs were higher level the monsters had to be higher level as well to pose a significant challenge. This is not usually a problem, but if you’ve got rookie DMs running things, tougher monsters means more in the stat blocks. Throw in a recharge power, an aura, some traits, and some triggered actions and you’ve got a lot to remember. I realize that this is how 4e D&D works, and that this is what you get when you begin play above level 1, but it’s still a problem.

What level are you?

I really liked that players could use their PC from season 6 in this adventure. I didn’t like that some PCs began at level 3 (new PCs) and others at level 4 (returning PCs). To make things more complicated PCs leveled at different times depending on what level they started at. For this kind of game just make all PC the same level and have everyone level at the same time. It just makes things easier all around.

Slow beginning

Chapter 1 started slow, really slow. Sure there was combat every week, but the players had a tough time getting into the adventure and finding a motivation to be heroes. They felt that they were being railroaded, especially in weeks 2-4. I kept telling my players that things would really pick up in chapter 2 and they certainly did, but getting there was like pulling teeth for some. Looking back on the adventure afterwards the players realized what was going on, but at the time many were just frustrated and confused.

Avoiding combat all together

When I’m running a home game and the PCs bypass a combat encounter I reward them and move on. With the way D&D Encounters is set up, this does not work the same way. Sure it’s great if the players come up with an idea to bypass combat, but it means that after 20 minutes they’re done for the week. This is likely why so very few encounters can be bypassed. However, in this adventure there were a couple of cases where there was a really good chance PCs could avoid the fight all together. I applaud any players who figured that out, but dreaded this happenstance at my tables. If a scenario allows PCs to get past the combat, at least offer a suggested way to fill the time without just draining resources.

The map

The maps looked great. However, it was clear that the person who wrote the text and the person who drew the maps didn’t do so together or at the same time. The map of Helm’s Hold was beautiful and I’ve already used it in my home campaign, but it needed more details – like doors. The adventure for week 5 gets the PCs into Helm’s Hold but it assumes they don’t get into the main room until week 6. Without doors, any party that comes in the back way or avoids combat all together (situations that both happened at my FLGS) will see what’s going on with the Tormentor before they finish the week 5 session.

The Verdict

Overall I liked this adventure. I’ll admit that I was skeptical about how it would play out during the first few weeks, but once we got into chapter 2 and I could see how the pieces were falling into place I really warmed up to it. There were a lot of little details in the adventure that created loose threads, and I was very pleased to see that many were intentionally left unresolved. It’s a good way to remind players that they can form their own gaming groups at home and pickup from here with these characters and go where the adventure takes them.

I think this adventure suffered from following Against the Cult of Chaos which was such an amazing and different adventure for D&D Encounters. The bar was set pretty high last season and for many there was no where to go but down. That being said I think this season still ended up being a lot of fun for everyone.

Final grade: 8 on a d10

What were your thoughts on D&D Encounters: Storm Over Neverwinter? What would you add to my good and bad lists? Do you disagree with any of my observations or positions? How would you rank this season compared to the Lost Crown of Neverwinter?

Recounting Encounters

Later today at Dungeon’s Master we’ll share our follow-up interview with Storm Over Neverwinter author Erik Scott de Bie. We chat with Erik and discus the season as a whole; including what worked, and what didn’t. Erik also shares a number of Easter Eggs he buried within the adventure that you might have missed. Be sure to check it out.

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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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peter B June 13, 2013 at 11:42 am

I had way more fun running this season of Encounters then I had before (except for maybe the NPCs I got to have in War of Eternal Darkness). The challenges were great, the resource monitoring made my PCs THINK instead of just dropping all the heavy artillery at the beginning of a combat, and all the tie ins from season 6 worked so well for my groups because we were able to slip in some aspects from that season, such as one of the PCs returning as a cultist of Asmodeus (obviously a NPC that we fought), who our players captured alive because of a huge reward on her head.

Over all, I think the only real problem this season had is exactly what you complained about. The railroading at the end of Chapter 1. Woohoo, great for us! It’s story time! My groups and I have a little inside joke when it’s time for everyone to jump onto the plot train, and it came out so many times during session 3 and 4, I lost track.

I’ve also read ahead on the upcoming season, Search for the Diamond Staff, and I’ve got to say, it has a lot of feeling like this season. I can not wait!

2 Vobekhan June 13, 2013 at 1:36 pm

I agree with all the points raised above. Even though we hadnt played the previous Neverwinter season our players were excited purely because we enjoy the Forgotten Realms.

I think each of my players missed at least 2 seperate sessions throughout the season at some point and so the the sessions in each chapter which felt like fillers didnt make a huge difference, what it did mean was that most of our pc’s were only 5th level (and a couple still 4th) going in to the final encounter.

It was nice to see my players react sympathetically to Vargas when he explained why he’d done it though when he failed to show any remorse they knew he had to be stopped.

Overall a great season and story line – definitely worthy of an 8/10.

3 Joe June 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I LOVED the green dragon. Such a fun monster to run. I plan to use him again in my home game.

(We ran all tables 4e at our store, BTW)

Our store got a little bored with the cultists EVERY WEEK in the beginning. Also, I think the subtleties of the politics going on with the Ashmadai were completely lost on the players. All they knew was that there were more cultists to fight. But the last 3 fights were all dynamic enough to make up for the perpetual cultists of the first half of the season.

I agree on the difficulty for an Encounters setting. I frequently found myself dropping the extra damage on enemy attacks (2d6 damage instead of 2d6+5, for example).

However, this was also partially mitigated by the fact that folks were leveling-up during short rests, gaining HP & powers. I get that Encounters is a condensed format, but I would have rather seen a 2 level spread with advancement during the 1 extended rest (after 4 sessions) than the 4 level spread with advancement every 2 levels. Not to mention the excessive paper usage printing out character sheets. Not as bad as the 8-level, advance-every-level nonsense we saw in War of Everlasting Darkness, but it still felt like more leveling work than was necessary.

But overall, I did really enjoy this season, as did my players. Neverwinter is a fully fleshed-out setting that people enjoyed playing in. My only minor quibble on the location was that the first week featured a fight on a magically floating mote of earth… and it was held on just another bar map. A scene like that is BEGGING for a dramatic bridge fight with fall-off potential… but it just didn’t happen. Oh well, hardly a major flaw… just me wanting a little more. And we did get plenty of dramatic falls in the finale, so I guess that made up for it.

4 Cent June 13, 2013 at 2:19 pm

*Our group played using the Next play-test rule-set.*

We had another full house last week. In the year that I’ve been playing Encounters, the number of people showing up each week has increased each season. Such that our store now has to implement a sign-up policy to keep the numbers under control.

Likes:

Great story. The central NPC’s had a strong POV and felt largely complete. Though I do wish Chartilifax had more back-story than was given. The final fight did present something of a moral conundrum for some of our players who did not wish to go heavy after Vargas after learning about his tragic tale.

Resource management. We got to experience higher level play, and along with that were given the responsibility of managing our resources thoughtfully. By the last session most in the party were out of their big ammo and had to think very tactically to survive. Quite a bit of fun.

The maps this season offered alot of opportunity for tactical play. Lots of interesting terrain, and of course the final battle had that outstanding ‘ride the wind’ mechanic’.

Dislikes:

Some weeks were just too much filler. For example, the penultimate session did nothing to advance the narrative and was basically put in place to force players to artificially blow through their resources before the final fight. Alternately, players could have worked around the elementals and called it a night after 20 minutes of play. Though the elementals were interesting from a mechanics perspective.

Final Thoughts:

This season saw the return of player railroading, but I found the story to be tighter than last seasons. I hope one of these days Encounters can nail both.

I’d like to see some kind of a playable epilogue introduced. Just a quick session that allows the players to explore the immediate region and experience the after effects of their efforts.

This was our second Encounters campaign played using the Next rule-set. Everyone is getting more comfortable and seems to be really enjoying it.

5 Merric Blackman June 17, 2013 at 10:24 pm

Hated it. With a passion. After the glory that was Against the Cult of Chaos, this felt half-baked, and the D&D Next conversion – particularly of the final encounter – just made things worse.

There seemed to be a lot of intrigues going on that the players just couldn’t find out about, and they couldn’t investigate in any case. Any investigation attempts were dead-ended pretty quickly, so the party gave up trying. Session 5 allowed the players to bypass the combat and go directly to Session 6; the simple addition of some doors on the map would have fixed this.

The final encounter looked fine in 4E, but in Next it had the enemy using big, nasty Area of Effect spells turn after turn. My party rolled poorly for initiative, and would have been wiped out before they acted if I hadn’t delayed the Dragon’s attack.

All in all, not a positive experience.

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