At 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?
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.