This week’s session marked the beginning of chapter two. The PCs defended Hap against an Orc attack only to realize that the attack was a distraction while the Orcs stole the Diamond Staff. The PCs chased the thieves to their cavernous lair where they battled Orcs and Zhentarim agents. Regrettably the heroes were too late and a Zhent commander named Phoedele had already left with the staff.
The PCs discovered Phoedele’s destination was Sandersal Manor in Battledale. After a brief night’s stay back in Hap the PCs resupplied and followed the Zhent commander as they continued their search for the Diamond Staff.
This week Toronto was hit with a terrible storm and record-setting levels of rain which lead to flooding throughout the city. Most of the city and surrounding area lost power during the storm including Harry T North, one of the two locations where I play D&D Encounters each week. No power = no game. So this week’s recap will follow the party from my other FLGS, Silver Snail.
The good news is that we’re using the D&D Next playtest rules at both locations. Our numbers at Silver Snail have leveled off somewhat. We run three tables most weeks: two 4e and one D&D Next. This week we had nine players for 4e and six for D&D Next. The PCs at my D&D Next table included a Human Wizard, Elf Wizard, Human Fighter, Elf Ranger, Halfling Rogue (re-skinned as a Bard), and a Human Cleric.
Even on horseback, the journey to Battledale took the PCs most of the day. They approached Sandersal Manor just before dusk. During the day they’d spotted signs of other travelers having passed along the same paths heading in the same direction as the party. The Ranger was positive that these tracks must belong to Phoedele and her entourage. About an hour before the PCs reached Sandersal Manor they lost sign of Phoedele’s party. They weren’t concerned since they knew where she was heading.
The adventure provides a good description of the manor including many of the rooms within the house. However, a map of the manor itself was not provided. DMs can rely on theatre of the mind to convey the scene or they can draw their own version of the manor. I opted for draw my own map. I posted my initial draft in the D&D Encounters forums on the Wizards site and after reading a few choice suggestions I made a few alterations before actually using the map.
When the PCs reached Sandersal Manor I handed them the map posted here and let them proceed and explore as they deemed appropriate. The party decided to tie up their horses a little way back from the manor so as not to announce their approach with hoof beats. When they reached the house they decided to stick together more or less and scout the perimeter.
The Rogue went ahead of the party and sneaked along the dining room wall until he came to a large hole/crack in the wall. He looked inside and saw nothing so he waved the rest of the part ahead. They all entered the house through the opening.
The dining room was in bad shape. The furniture was destroyed or rotting. As the party fanned out they noticed some foot tracks in the dust and dirt indicating that someone passed through here recently. The Ranger, Fighter and Elf Wizard proceeded through the door and into a small mud room. The Rogue, Paladin and Human Wizard checked out the study.
The study showed signs of destruction by fire. Clearly the front of the manor was devastated by fire some time ago, destroying the second story of the home and most of the furnishings in this once lavish room. The Paladin decided to check out the kitchen while the Rogue and Wizard went through the main hall on their way to the library.
En route to the kitchen the Paladin noticed a lot of fresh foot tracks in the soot. Many people walked through here recently. In the kitchen the only things he found that survived the fire was cast-iron cookware. He decided to take a frying pan. You never know when a good cast-iron frying pan may be useful.
In the library the Wizard nearly broke down in tears at the sight of so many destroyed books and tomes. It was obvious that despite the damage someone (likely many someones) had thoroughly searched the room hoping to find something that was still valuable or hidden. They likely found nothing. Fire consumed everything.
The adjacent tower was leaning dangerously to one side. The Wizard (failed his check) decided that it was structurally unsound and could collapse with the slightest misstep. The Rogue noted the danger but his Halfling impulses and greed forced him to proceed. After all, if it was that dangerous others likely avoided this area and treasure may still be found somewhere within.
A few Dexterity checks later and the Rogue made his way to the second floor of the tower. His instinct was correct as the room was untouched by the fire. It also looked like it had not been looted so he did the honours. He easily found an iron coffer which contained a silver necklace (worth 60 gp) and a Healing Potion. He quickly returned to the library where he showed his treasure to the Wizard.
Back in the mudroom, the Elf Wizard tried to open a solid door into an adjacent room, but the door was stuck. The Ranger got bored and decided to scout the courtyard. The Fighter easily opened the stuck door but it made a lot of noise. At the same time the Ranger flubbed his sneak check. The combined noises alerted the occupants of the nearby carriage house.
A portly middle-aged Human wearing a Sembian waistcoat and vest emerged and upon seeing the Ranger called out to her. “You’re not Phoedele. Who are you and what are you doing here?” he asked.
Hearing the question the Fighter strolled out into the courtyard to address the man. He introduced himself and the Ranger and asked that the stranger do the same.
“Perhaps introductions are in order. I am Barcero, a gentleman of Sembia. These are my bodyguards,” he said as two shadowy figures emerged at his side. “I’m afraid these are dangerous times and a man of my station must take precautions when travelling abroad. I’m meeting my dear friend Phoedele here, but it seems she was delayed. Might I ask what brings you to Sandersal Manor?
The Fighter explained that the PCs were mercenaries hired by Phoedele to retrieve Barcero and bring him to her. She felt this location was too dangerous to meet and wanted to keep the staff safe. As proof of their relationship to Phoedele the Fighter produced the letter from Barcero to Phoedele that they took from the Zhent Wizard last week. The subsequent bluff check was a 20 after modifiers. Barcero was buying the lie.
He was a bit confused since Phoedele chose this location herself. Changing it so abruptly made Barcero suspicious, but of Phoedele and not the PCs. At this time the Paladin who was listening from the corridor near the kitchen decided to get the Rogue and Wizard who were in the library. He rolled really poorly on his sneak check, tripping and dropping the frying pan.
The noise alerted Barcero. He sent one of his Shadar-Kai bodyguards to see what caused the noise and sent the other around to the front of the house to see if anyone else was about. The Paladin stood up and came out, apologizing for sneaking around. Barcero was not impressed.
The Shadar-Kai heading around the outside heard the Rogue telling the Wizard about what he found in the tower. The bodyguard teleported inside the library. “We have your friends. Come with me and they’ll live,” he demanded. The PCs agreed without question. The Shadar-Kai realized that these two PCs were pushovers so he demanded the treasures. He said that his group was here first so anything found in the house was theirs. The Rogue handed over the necklace and potion. The Shadar-Kai smiled and pocketed the treasures for himself.
While the Shadar-Kai rounded up the rest of the PCs Barcero had called his other bodyguard, a Dread Protector Zombie to his side. Once everyone was gathered in the courtyard, Barcero pressed them for details about who they were since they bore no signs or insignia of the Zhentarim. They explained that they weren’t affiliated with any group; they worked for coins, plain and simple.
Barcero demanded to see the Zhent coins that Phoedele paid them. They had about 100 gp in Zhent coins they’d taken from the Orcs. This set Barcero off. He felt that such a paltry amount demonstrated Phoedele’s intent to betray him. She hired these fools for a handful of throwaway coins to distract and mislead Barcero while she kept the staff for herself and ventured on towards the real treasure. After all if Phoedele genuinely wanted these mercenaries to complete their task she would have paid them better. Her low ball payment demonstrated that she didn’t care if the PCs succeeded or not, as long as they slowed Barcero down.
The PCs used Bluff and Perform to sell their disappointment and disgust at being used and for agreeing to take on this job for such little payment. Barcero told his men to gather their belonging and get their horses ready; they were leaving for Mistledale immediately. The PCs explained that they’d been on the road all day and needed to rest. They’d follow in the morning and extract their own revenge on Phoedele for her despicable treatment of them.
This was the first D&D Encounters session I’d ever played or ran that didn’t have any combat. Although many encounters had previously been set up with a non-combat option, it always unraveled into combat in the past.
This week, after an hour of role-playing when the PC finally came face-to-face with Barcero, one of the players said “I guess we’d better get ready for combat.” I explained to the table that they didn’t have to fight if they didn’t want to. The adventure provided ample alternatives to combat if they wanted to talk their way through things.
I explained that if they wanted to fight the monsters, because it made sense in the context of the story or just because that’s what the players wanted to do, I’d accommodate their request. My concern was that I didn’t want any player to leave feeling cheated because they didn’t get to kill anything this week. Everyone at the table agreed to see where the role-playing led and if combat happened it happened. Fortunately it didn’t.
The entire session took about 90 minutes. A lot of checks were made along the way so everyone got to roll dice. None of the PCs expended any powers or took damage, which everyone agreed was a good thing.
I believe that the D&D Next mechanics really encouraged the non-combat option. Thus far the fighting has been quick and kind of boring, which I think some of the other players have picked up on. When presented with other choices they seemed eager to take them and try something different. This, in my option, is one of the huge advantages D&D Next has going for it.
This was my favourite session of the adventure so far despite the lack of action. All of the players had their chance to play to their own strengths and it really felt like the party was working together. No one even seemed bummed at another red hearing as they continued their search for the staff.
How did things play out at your table this week? Did anyone else have a no combat week? For those who fought I understand the monsters were really tough (especially in D&D Next). Did anyone suffer a TPK or PC death this week?
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.
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