D&D Encounters: Search for the Diamond Staff (Week 3)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 4, 2013

search-for-the-diamond-staff-coverAt the end of last week’s session the party followed the thieving Orcs that stole the Diamond Staff a few miles north of Hap. From the party’s vantage point they could see the entrance to a cave, half blocked by gnarled tree roots and moss. This was definitely where the Orcs went.

Should they wait for the Orcs to come out or should they follow them inside? After a quick discussion to decide whether or not resting was necessary, the PCs decided that the need for speed outweighed any counter argument to wait and rest. Fortunately none of the PCs were too banged up from the previous two encounters so they were confident they could handle the Orcs.

Due to the holidays (July 1 in Canada and July 4 in the U.S.A.), a lot of our regular gamers were on vacation this week. At Harry T North in Toronto we ended up with three DMs and six players. One of the DM volunteered to just run everyone as one massive party. Fortunately we’re using the D&D Next rules this season, so running such a large group didn’t seem as imposing or cumbersome as it would with 4e.

The party ended up with the following cast of characters: Human Monk, Halfling Rogue, Dwarf Fighter, Human Rogue, Elf Cleric, Human Wizard, Human Monk, and Half-Elf Ranger (my character). It turned out to be a very impressive mix.

The Ranger and Human Rogue scouted the area and found tracks in the soft mud indicating that many people and creatures (likely horses) travelled in this area recently. The Rogue heard the sounds of horses coming from within the cave, but no sounds of Orcs. The Halfling Rogue and both Monks crept forward quietly and the sneaky party members explored the cave entrance.

To one side of the irregularly shaped cavern there were sacks and barrels all branded with the black castle and lightning bolt. The same symbol the PCs identified last week as that of the Zhentarim. Three horses were stabled to one side. Two passages lead deeper into the caverns.

The rest of the party caught up and explored. The horses were clearly not being cared for so the Ranger and Cleric tended to their immediate needed. The Ranger also unbuckled the riding harnesses. This provided the horses with some relief and would be a rude surprise if someone tried to ride off in a hurry.

With time ticking ever onward, the party decided to divide and conquer. The Ranger, Monk, Wizard and Cleric decided to explore the dark tunnel (team dark). The Fighter, Monk and two Rogues went the other way towards the faint hint of light (team light).

Team dark navigated quietly while the Wizard used magical light to show them the way. As they pressed forward they began to notice a musty smell. The cavern floor and walls were covered with various moss and fungus, some with knee-high puff ball stalks. The Monk spotted an Orc hiding on the ground ahead. He threw a dagger and the Ranger fired an arrow. Both hit the Orc. He didn’t cry out or flinch.

The Monk crept up to retrieve his dagger and search the body. As he jostled the Orc some of the puff balls exploded releasing a cloud of spores. The Monk reacted violently to the air born attack. He grabbed his dagger and just ran on ahead to avoid inhaling any more of the poisonous haze.

Seeing the Monk’s actions and noticing the harmful plants, the other three PCs easily navigated their way through the passage without incident. No one bothered to search the Orc’s body for fear of setting off more spores.

Team light wound their way though the caverns eventually emerging in a rank smelling cavern that the Orcs were using as their sleeping area. Among the furs and hides the Orcs were using as beds, the heroes found satchels, scarps of armor and broken weapons – nothing valuable. The party did make note that this area looked like it housed more Orcs than the current gear would indicate. Likely some of the Orcs already left.

As team light proceeded deeper into the cavern they reached a dry cavern decorated by sheets of flowstone. Torches set in the walls scattered light throughout the large cavern. The Fighter heard voices bickering in common up ahead. He wasted no time and charged around the corner to engage the speakers in combat. The rest of team light followed.

When they rounded the bend they saw three Orcs and three Humans arguing. One of the Humans was dressed in a hooded robe and seemed to be the leader. The biggest Orc was yelling at him.

“You said the old Human’s tower would be easy to take! But war chief Frazzk is dead! We lost warriors to bring your witch her treasure. Now pay us!”

“Ah, but our bargain was with Frazzk,” the robed Human replied. “We owe you no more than you have already been paid. If you do not care for how much we pay, you are free to find another employer.”

“It seems to me that with Frazzk’s death, we should negotiate with you in the future,” said one of the other Humans. “We’re happy to offer you the same terms we offered him for your next job.”

“Korzzku is chief now. Chief Korzzku! So be it, Human.”

As the new Orc chief took the reigns of leadership, team light came into view. The Fighter and Human Rogue attacked the closest Orc Savage in melee while the Monk and Halfling Rogue attacked one of the Human Soldiers with ranged weapons.

Team dark heard the sounds of combat coming from the passage ahead of them and they quickly hussled into the open chamber where they witnessed team light engage the enemies.

Everyone from team dark circled around to the north near the ledges, effectively pinning the enemies between themselves and team light who came in from the south. The Wizard cast a Web spell which managed to encompass all six opponents and two of the PCs. The Fighter was the only one not to get tangled in the sticky threads. The Zhent Wizard fired Magic Missiles at the party’s Wizard in retaliation.

The Orc Chief and one Orc Savage freed themselves, as did one of the Zhent Soldier. Team light was beset upon by the newly freed enemies. Team dark engaged the Zhent Soldier near the edge of the web in melee. He took a few good hits but didn’t falter. He managed to score some big hits on the Monk nearly dropping him.

In the web the Human Rogue hacked away at the nearest Orc while the Halfling Rogue, attacking with disadvantage, rolled two natural 20s to easily take out one of the Orc Savages. The Monk and Fighter continued to chip away at the Zhent Soldier with ranged and melee attacks respectively.

The Cleric was unable to get into melee combat due to the webs so she cast Spiritual Weapon and had it attack the Zhent Soldier. After a coupe of rounds the Monk on team dark decided to disengage from melee, light a torch and set the Webs ablaze. The ensuing fire killed the badly wounded Zhent Soldier, freeing his corpse from the webs.

The Zhent Wizard unsuccessfully tried to free himself from the webs for about four rounds before finally succeeding. The Orcs stuck in the webs freed themselves quickly and kept attacking team light, focusing mainly on the Fighter but missing more than they hit. The Orc Chief was the most deadly, swinging his axe twice each round. He nearly had the Human Rogue (still trapped in the webs) down, but eventually the party dropped him with some focused fire and another natural 20 from the Halfling Rogue.

Team dark realized they couldn’t get through the webs so they went around the long way to help team light and potentially block the most likely path of retreat. With all eight PCs on one side they easily dropped the remaining Orc and Zhent Soldier.

The Zhent Wizard risked multiple opportunity attacks (and didn’t get hit once) to run past the party. Even with the Wizard’s magically enhanced speed he was no match for superior numbers. The PCs caught up and surrounded him. He realized surrender was his only option so he gave up.

The party searched him and found gold and a letter. The letter revealed the Wizard’s true purpose and affiliations. The Wizard confirmed the Diamond Staff and was long gone when interrogated. With promises of profit and more gold for everyone, the PCs convinced the Zhent Wizard to spill his guts and join them in their attempt to recover the missing Staff.

While some PCs were talking to the captive, the Rogues and Monks searched the Orcs’ sleeping area where they found a locked chest. A quick search for traps and lock picking and it opened easily. Inside was gold as well as a magical Rapier +1 and a Cloak of Evlenkind.

The PCs decided to return to Hap to rest in the safety of friends and turn over their captive to Imani. In the morning they would get everything they needed to mount an expedition to continue their search for the Diamond Staff.


This encounter offered a bit of exploration, which was nice. I really liked that no map was provided for the initial areas, freeing the DM to describe the cavernous layout as they deemed appropriate. Some players had a hard time with this, but they eventually caught on.

As I mentioned last week, I’m finding D&D Next combat really boring. It’s fast, which is good, but repetitive. Sure different characters use different weapons or spells, but for the most part it’s just roll to attack, hit, roll for damage, and move on. This is true of all editions of D&D, but I really miss the additional effects from 4e.

Seeing the Wizard and Cleric use new spells was exciting (Web and Spiritual Weapon respectively). Of course, we had to stop the game to look up exactly what the spells did and how to adjudicate any fallout, but that’s typical of any new game. I think that as more people play D&D Next we’re going to get a lot more spell casters simply because they’re more interesting than the stabby melee characters.

Getting back to the adventure, the Zhent agents provided a nice change this week. They didn’t really seem special, but they weren’t Orcs which was good. I’m happy to be done with Orcs after three weeks of fighting them. They served as good low-level fodder, but it’s time to challenge the party with something different. Personally I’m hoping for something more exotic and iconic to D&D. Something non-humanoid would be ideal.

After the fighting was done and the Zhent Wizard explained that the Diamond Staff was already miles away the party really felt cheated. The adventure essentially spoon fed them the Orcs lair encounter with no real means to see it as unnecessary.

I liked the fast pacing of the first chapter, but so far I’m not thrilled with this season of D&D Encounters. I don’t know what I was expecting, but so far the encounters have been very straight forward and somewhat boring. I’m not sure if this is because of the adventure or the D&D Next conversion. I really hope that things pick up in chapter 2. Looking ahead I believe chapter 3 will be very exciting, but my fear is that we lose some regulars before then.

How did this week’s encounter go for your group? Did anyone wait outside the caverns for the Zhents to come out rather than rush into the caverns? For those running D&D Next did your party rest between weeks 1 and 2 or weeks 2 and 3? For those running 4e what were the party’s resources like when they started this week’s session? Was anyone out of healing surges? What does everyone else think of the adventure so far? Am I the only one finding it really linear and boring?

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.

Note: We spend the first part of this week’s podcast talking about the upcoming changes to D&D Encounters. The weekly review begins at 21:03.

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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1 Emanuele Galletto July 4, 2013 at 11:28 am

(WARNING: wall of text, I have to admit)
I always enjoy reading your reports from D&D Encounters sessions. Although it is impossible for me to participate in the event (living far away in Old Europe), I can always learn from the situations that come up during play (and public play in particular). Also, it’s the only way for me to know the plot of these adventures (at least, the only LEGAL way).
I noticed your dislike of D&D Next’s combat, and it’s no big surprise as you used to run 4th Edition. As a D&D 3.5/Pathfinder player and DM, I have to admit the system feels way different from 4E’s “special” moves, abilities and tactics. The AEDU powers all offered something cool to do along the simple “roll to hit -> deal damage -> you miss? well, see you later next round” formula. A warlord hitting meant an ally getting a bonus, a fighter hitting meant an enemy getting pushed, and so on. Obviously, this is not the case of all the other D&D editions (or derivate systems, like Pathfinder). Unless your weapon has some properties (blazing, axiomatic, adamantine, masterwork, or something like that), you’re pretty much stuck with the Core Rulebook version until 7th level or so. At lower levels a weapon with magic properties is so ridiculously expensive that it takes the entire gp budget of an adventure. And honestly, defeating an entire drow village (perfectly viable for a 4th level party in D&D 3.5) and getting one weapon as the whole treasure… that’s bad. Plus, you spend more time with the PCs arguing on who should have/wear/drink the magic item than playing the actual adventure.
There are a couple ways to solve the “boredom” problem when playing:
1) Encourage your players to describe their actions. This is not something 4E forced you to do: the cards already had the description of the power and the power MECHANICALLY did something more than damage. In Next, it’s the player’s job to make an action look like something more than a die hitting the table. If your players find cool ways to describe their attacks, the battle feels less static.
2) As a DM, describe the consequences of any hit or miss and add details. I usually (but I don’t know if you’re allowed to do this in public play) “make something happen” after a critical hit or something like that. Once, a player laying on the ground attacked an orc with a shortsword. Critical hit. He didn’t kill the orc (actually, he rolled pretty bad on the damage too, as crit damage isn’t maxed in 3.5), but I had the orc fall prone because I supposed the character would have targeted the legs from his position. The player felt great about that, because now his allies were hitting more frequently. Again, this can make things interesting and is not explicitly dictated by the rules but, as I see it, Next is born as a loose system to avoid 4E’s “strict” adventure and story development and adding “special effects” on the fly seems in line with that kind of philosophy.
3) Heavily improve the monsters’ tactics. The “roles” for monsters were introduced in 4E as guidelines for encounter building; in Next, as far as I’ve seen, that’s not so evident anymore. You can determine the roles quite easily by looking at the stats, and introducing that kind of synergy between the monsters can make them come “alive”.
These are just some quick suggestions I came up on the fly thinking about my years of playing 3.0, 3.5 and Pathfinder (and a bit of Next too). Hope someone finds them useful. Thanks again for providing us with these reports and podcasts!

2 Joe Lastowski July 4, 2013 at 11:59 am

We ran 4 tables of 5 or 6 at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA. All tables ran 4e.

My table wasted no time waiting around outside the cave. We had some sneakier folks and some heavily clunky folks, so the sneaky team went forward to investigate the first room of the cave. After they found the horses & no sign of immediate threat, they went back to bring the others forward. 3 of my 5 players went to check out the dark passage while the other 2 waited to guard the path to the firelit room. The 3 darkers all tried to do healing checks on the orc’s body (in that way that when one PC mentions it, everyone else thinks it’s a good idea to roll it as well), so I had the spore trap attack all 3 of them. Only one was hit, so I had her be the one who flipped the body to find the magic item beneath the orc.

SIDEBAR: The treasure table for this season is awful. With PCs starting at lvl 4, everyone has a decent +1 version in their weap/imp, armor, & neck slots, so giving other +1 items isn’t really that enticing. Because of that, I went to the compendium, pulled up only Common items (so none are the gamebreakingly rare ones you can find in Character Builder) from levels 6-10, and started giving out +2 items whenever they found one. Folks have really enjoyed that more, because not only do they now can opt to trade a better numerical value and a different ability for their current ability w/ lower numerical bonus. So far they’ve always taken the +2 item.

The party failed to be stealthy coming around the lighted end once they were all together, so the orcs & Zhentarim attacked. Players were shocked at first to see non-minion orcs, but they were even more shocked when I had the Zhentarim use ruthless tactics to isolate & neutralize players. I figured, since the Zhents worship Bane, who commanded all the gods in the Dawn War as a master general, his followers should use more advanced tactics than charging orcs. As a result, the party got much closer to death with this session than they had so far, and they really had to pay much closer attention to work around the Zhent’s tactics.

Fortunately, the eladrin assassin was able to teleport past the choke point line to the wizard, and a combination of a warlord & paladin held the front line while the fire sorcerer did some real damage.

My party hasn’t minded the railroading. A good chase game can be fun, and there’s been enough variety of foes that they haven’t minded going after the macguffin/diamond staff. We’ll see if this holds out for the rest of the season, but so far, so good.

3 Cent July 5, 2013 at 10:05 am

*We played using the Next play-test rules*

We had another solid turnout. Three tables with no less than 5 players each. Pretty good considering it’s a holiday week here.

After two weeks of mowing through orcs for most of the session, it was nice to get a chance to do a little exploring. Our table spent a good deal of time plotting and planning the best way to enter and then explore the cave. We hatched some crazy schemes, but ultimately settled on a fairly direct approach.

We didn’t choose the stealthiest approach to exploring, and the orcs and Zhent were already waiting for us when we entered their area of the cave. The fight was challenging, particularly when the Zhent wizard released stinking cloud within the tight confines of the cave. No party member died, however the players were in need of some serious healing by the end.

All in all, this week felt a little less railroaded than the previous two weeks. The combat was more diversified, if not necessarily memorable. Though having the time to RP more provided some entertaining moments.

As a player, I feel very passive at this moment in the season. As it is, this season feels sluggish and without knowing more about this staff, the motivation to chase it down has been lacking. Hopefully the second act picks up the pace in terms of story telling and combat.

4 Vobekhan July 5, 2013 at 11:45 am

Despite the very linear story so far our group has had fun with it and this weeks session in particular held some excellent roleplaying moments which definitely made a huge difference to the way the combats turned out.

Using Next this season I thought we would be spending half the session scouring our notes for rules but to be honest it has flowed really well (think we only had to check a couple of spells this week), my players only complaint at present being the lack of tactical combat bonuses (which I agree would be useful, for the monsters too, as well as my personal peeve that only those with the feat can perform a “charge”). This session also saw both players and opponents using the disengage action, as well as one of them choosing not to use it, risking to opportunity attacks in the process.
With the flexibility of the playtest rules at present I have allowed players to try several unusual actions, calling for relevant ability checks if necessary, if it adds to the overall sense of the story and the fun of the game sessions.

5 Michael July 5, 2013 at 2:31 pm

We had a good turnout with three tables all playing 4E. Our group had a dwarven barbarian, an elven rogue (new player), a drow seeker and me as a gnomish psionicist. Our genasi swordmage showed up just long enough to be called away for a work emergency. As a gnome, I felt obliged to come up with an engineering solution to the cave problem. The inital plan was
1) Collect orcish underwear
2) …
3) Use the staff of Chymolla to unlock the elven library –> Profit!!
That needed a little modification. The second plan was to have the rogue search out and block any outlets of smoke from the cave, the dwarf would use his skill and two unseen servants to create a barrier at the front of the cave, with an opening small enough for one creature to crawl through. The ranger would gather up posion ives and noxious plants. I would send a psychic fragment in, disguised with an illusion of a wolf and teleport the plants in and set them on fire along with any orcish underwear found. This would create noxious smoke driving the orcs out. They would have to crawl under the barrier and we could pick them off easily.
Surprisingly everyone agreed to that plan. Everyone completed their tasks admirably, but instead of leaving the caves, the orcs went further back into the caves to talk with some humans about the smoke. The DM was trying to signal that I could not produce enough smoke to drive them out, but I misinterpreted that as that I just needed to psionically set more things on fire, which I did. Meanwhile, the other party members had crept down the tunnel and we were spotted by the orcs. They smashed my wolf/psychic fragment. The dwarf was a good tactical thinker and suggested we retreat to a choke point for the battle. Unfortunately, we were slightly discoordinated and retreated to three different points, which gave the enemy an advantage at the start. My gnome rushed in from the mouth of the tunnel, blasted several orcs and then drew all of their fire and was killed by a poison blast. Fortunately, by that time the rest of the party was organized into fighting form. The dwarf charged and bloodied the wizard. The rogue started picking off orcs, and the seeker heroically slew an orc that was about to coup d’grace my gnome, healed him and cast darkness over him to protect him. When my gnome died the DM generously allowed me to play the swordmage’s character (with his player’s permission) so I would have something to do and he could level up too. Eventually we took out the mage and since time was runing short, the other two humans surrendered and since there is apparrently no word in dwarvish for “the orcs surrender” we slaughtered the rest of the orcs. We interrogated the humans and found that another party had left with the Diamond Staff 4 hours before, and we would now have to tak a long rest.
Overall, it was a fun night. I was happily surprised that everyone wanted to try an unusual plan even if it didn’t work. Clearly, I have to pay more attention to exactly what the DM is saying and we have to coordinate our fighting tactics a little closer. I was particularly happy that the dwarf felt the need to call my character crazy in three different ways before he agreed to the plan and the seeker teased my gnome about his obsession with underwear throughout the game. Good times.
The one dissapointment was the writing at the end. I feel that if heroic adventurers track an artifact through three different battles and find out that they are only behind by 4 hours, the only option would be to resume the chase, not head back to town to rest.

6 Dan July 9, 2013 at 1:39 am

I played at Gatehouse Games in Altoona, PA.
We had a decent turnout, considering the holiday, and had 2 tables playing Next.
My party was made up of a rogue, a half-orc wizard, a half-orc barbarian, an elf ranger, a human druid, and a human monk (me).
We started by scouting the area of the cave for other entrances, finding none. we did find smoke holes, through which we heard 6 distinct voices arguing over the payment. we discussed trying to trick the orcs and humans to fight one another, but there was no line of sight for the illusion to be cast. we also considered calling down to the orcs that we would pay them to join us, but decided a disembodied voice would not be convincing. we finally settled on an ambush.
Our rogue set a pair of bear traps at the entrance, along with a tripwire, and the rest of us took positions around the entrance. The rogue went into the cave alone to find a way to lure the enemies outside. He decided to lead the horses to one of the tunnels, cover them in oil, and light them on fire, which caused them to run down the tunnel in a flaming panic. He then hightailed it out of there, jumping over his traps, and running into the trees. an orc and a soldier were caught in the bear traps, and the rest stopped behind them.
Then began combat. The wizard cast a Flaming Sphere between the bear-trapped enemies and the enemies behind them. the druid (in great cat form) and the monk held their actions, while the other PCs used ranged attacks, and the barbarian lobbed a rotting head at the enemies to further demoralize them the trapped orc died from the flaming sphere, and the soldier broke free, and was immediately set upon by the monk and druid, causing him to die. the remaining enemies behind the sphere began to retreat, and attacked the PCs at range, missing all but the monk.
The wizard dropped the sphere, only to raise it again behind the foes to cut off retreat. the PCs rushed in to engage in melee, while the foes took damage from the sphere behind them. the druid took some minor damage from the mage’s spell, but otherwise the foes fell easily.
All-in-all, I’m enjoying Next. I like the fact that the combat is more open-ended than 4th, though i miss the ability to add other effects of the powers in 4. However, I feel like adding something along the lines of called shots would allow for Next to make up for the removal of added effects, while maintaining the open-ended feel.

7 Michael July 10, 2013 at 10:44 am

Wow. Setting the horses on fire to drive them out. I did not think of that. Very creative. Also a little disturbing.

8 The Other Mike/guest DM July 10, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Wow…setting horses on fire…VERY HEROIC. Mike–don’t get any ideas.

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