D&D Encounters: Search for the Diamond Staff (Week 4)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 11, 2013

search-for-the-diamond-staff-coverThis 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.

encounters-14-4b-mapThe 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.

Thoughts

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?

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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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Vobekhan July 11, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Minimal combat, lots of roleplaying and a big helping of exploration on the side – this session served up a tasty combo that satisfied our groups gaming hunger just fine.

Many thanks for the map on the WotC forums, it made the whole session fun as the party were able to”see” the manor better as they explored it.

2 Justin Yanta July 11, 2013 at 1:25 pm

At the table I was DMing they were also able to complete the task without a fight. We took 2 hours but it was because they were moving very slow though the house (Checking everything because they were not sure what they might miss). Also like you I created a map that included the whole house. I was able to use my dungeon tiles and just recreate the whole map. The whole table was covered in dungeon tiles and they explored all of it. DnDNext worked very well at talking through the encounter without fighting. Everyone enjoyed the adventure and with some great rolls they got Barcero to pay them 10000 gp for the recovery of the staff (not that he will really pay them but it was a good deal for the group).

Now the table next to us that was also playing with DnDNext rules flubbed their roles and got into a fight. They also were completely wiped out. The Death Cloud made 2 character fail every save and they ran, ran, ran away from the manor. The last 2 people left were just smacked around and finally gave up to Barcero. He decided not to kill them but leave and go search for Phoedele. It was still a fun night for all. (We all decided that the first table got to Barcero and got the information then left. The other group then made it to Barcero and he was wanting nothing more of this and beat them up. We did that because a lot of people will be missing next week and we are joining the tables together).

3 Mike July 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I am sorry to hear about your storm. I hope that any damage is minor. We had a busy night with three full tables playing 4E. Several brand new people. One of the other groups did complete the mission without fighting. Not only that, but they convinced Phoedele to pay them handsomely to track down the staff for him. As a mercenary there’s nothing so enjoyable as getting paid twice for the same job.. http://www.schlockmercenary.com/2007-07-17
Our group had a more complicated session. I’m not sure I even remember all of the gambits and tricks tried. My apologies to those players whose tricks I forgot. We had two new players, a changeling bard and a revenant/changeling hybrid/warlock/something. Still had our drow seeker and genasi swordmage from last time and my gnome psion. We determined that Phoedele’s destination was Sandersal manor and after a rest at the cave rode hard to get there before he left. The bard’s excellent streetwise check let us know that it was an old ruined manor that all sorts of illicit groups used for meetings and that the least visible way to approach would be by the stables in the back. The seeker did a nature check that we would have to dismount at about 50 feet to avoid detection, which we did. At that point we saw a light from the stables. The seeker and swordmage wanted to just burn the stable down and collect the diamond staff from the ashes. We decided to keep that as Plan B. Plan A was the Seeker would sneak around the back and peek in the back window with my psychic fragment to report back. Then, the changeling bard would try to duplicate the warmage (Bill) from the last encounter. The revenant changeling would duplicate the corpse of my gnome and “Bill” would drag the “corpse” in hoping for a reward and try to figure out what happened.
As with all good plans this one fell through with first contact with the enemy. The residents of the stable detected the presence of my psychic fragment and three zombies walked outside. T he swordmage assumed the plan had failed and rode in on his horse, swinging a flaming sword and marking all of the zombies. Since there were still zombies and a human inside my gnome psionically lifted one of the 350 lb. courtyard stones and wedged the door shut, locking half the enemies inside and psionically set the stable on fire. Unfortunately, the zombies made their strength check and burst through anway, but with the horse jamming up the doorstep, only one more could actually make it out of the stable.
The seeker started shooting and the changelings moved to attack. After his attack the revenant fell prone and played dead so that the zombies would ignore him. The bard used Blunder so that no one would directly see him attacking, just in case we needed to try our original ruse later. The gnome used betrayal to have the zombies attack each other and the swordmage started teleporting on and off his horse to use his Aegis attack. He also lifted the stone to the roof over the doorway and tried to balance it precariously so it would drop on the next person to walk through the door. A one on the dexterity check, ironically ensured that it was lodged firmly in place. He then set fire to the edge of the roof, hoping to make it less stable, which didn’t help much. (Someday setting everything on fire will be the right thing to do [sigh])
After two rounds of this, the zombies had only wounded the seeker and swordmage, but they had almost killed the seeker’s dog and the swordmage’s horse. This put them both into a cold vicious fury only relieved by the need to use their last remaining healing potions on their animals. At this point, Barcero started talking through a zombie and asking what was going on and why we were attacking. The swordmage replied angrily that they had tried to kill his horse. Barcero disagreed on the timing of events and demanded to know why we were here at all. The swordmage explained that we were seeking a sacred glass staff from his homeland in the Moonshaes of purely religious and no financial or magical significance. Barcero didn’t buy it and told us that if we were looking for the staff of Chymolla it wasn’t here. The swordmage insisted on searching the stable to be sure, and Barcero insisted that we back off to the far end of the courtyard first. This was a stalemate until Barcero commanded one of his zombies to hold an axe to the prone horse’s throat. Normally this would not be much of a threat but the swordmage had a name and backstory for his horse and felt that she really suited his fiery temper so he asked everyone to back off.
My gnome telepathically conferenced everyone and we quickly came up with a plan. The seeker and the swordmage were the only ones visible and clearly enemies so they would back off. The revenant would disguise himself as a zombie and try to mingle with the enemies to prevent treachery. The bard disguised as Bill would run in and claim that he had been kidnapped by the swordmage and just now escaped and try to learn what else he could. At the first sign of treachery my gnome would force one of the marked zombies to attack the zombie pinning the horse down and allow the swordmage to teleport in close. This plan went fairly smoothly. “Bill” found out a little more information including that the diamond staff really was not here and when it looked like they had detected the ruse we all rejoined battle with tight coordination.
It was only at this point that, Barcero even stepped out of the stable. The seeker climbed to the roof and tried to push the stone onto him, but a fumbled strength check just made him burn his fingers. We were all cutting through the zombies to reach him when he drank a potion and disappeared! Then, the zombies teleported halfway across the courtyard. The gnome tried a burst attack on where he had been in case he was invisible, but that came up with nothing. We finished slaughtering the zombies and as the last one lay dying, we heard Barcero’s voice from its mouth telling us that we had made a powerful enemy. The swordmage was furious at the dog-stabbing, horse-killing thug and replied that it was Barcero who had made a terrible enemy and that he would track Barcero down to the ends of the earth. On searching the stable we found a map to Mistledale and the Vault of Uvareen which we figured should be our next goal.
Our battles were much more coordinated this time and it showed. Only two party member (and two animals) even were wounded, although one was bloodied. Coordination on diplomacy and bluffing could use a little work (to say the least). Also everyone had some sort of combat trick that was not just hacking and slashing which made the battle much more exciting. Finally, if you really want to piss off a player try to kill off his animal companion. I think the swordmage now thinks of Barcero as his archenemy, and it would be a toss-up between killing him and completing the main quest.

4 Mike July 11, 2013 at 3:09 pm

I forgot to give my review of the episode. Simply put, it was the best since I started (halfway through Cult of Chaos). My main complaint in Storm over Neverwinter was feeling railroaded. Here, even though all of the groups have to end up in approximately the same situation, there were many ways to get there. Fight, talk, fight and talk, ally with Barcero, kill him, make him your archenemy etc. And having a huge area to explore really helped. My group didn’t actually explore it, but just knowing it was there, made deciding not to explore it a real decision.

5 Dan July 11, 2013 at 6:37 pm

This week, we had 2 tables of Next. At mine, we had 2 half-orc barbarians, a human paladin, a human monk, a human druid, and an elf ranger.
Considering the number of new players who didn’t understand their new class features, I was explaining what they did, while the few who figured it out on their own started exploring on their own. This led to us getting very spread out in the manor, and 2 characters fell into spike pits.
Our DM knew that the session would be a short one, so he decided to beef it up a bit. while I (the monk) wanted to search the perimeter of the manor, since it was obviously booby trapped, the rest of the party was inside, exploring. So, when the druid, in dire-cat form, walked alone into the room with 2 trolls, it was difficult for the rest of the party to join and assist right away, but after about 2 rounds, we were there.
2 characters (the druid and one barbarian) were badly injured in the fight, but we defeated the trolls (and burned the bodies).
The monk decided to check the room the trolls came from for any loot, and found a chest containing a silver necklace, which he appraised as a silversmith to be worth 60 gp, and a health potion, which he promptly pocketed.
When the monk resumed his perimeter search, the rest of the party joined him. At the stables, the ranger opened the door and walked in before noticing Barcero, 2 Shadar-Kai, and 2 Dread Zombies. He Bluffed that we were sent by Phoedele to tell them that she would not be able to join them, because she was set upon by others who wanted the staff.
Barcero believed us, but he thought that Phoedele staged the attack so she could open the vault herself. He then offered to pay us double what he was paying her to retrieve the staff and give it to him, and that he would be in touch.
The monk and ranger wanted to search the rest of the manor, so all but the paladin followed. there was nothing in the kitchen worthy of note, but there was some noise coming from the adjoining dining room. while the monk tried to sneak to the door to peek in, the ranger walked past him through the door, and was encountered by an otyugh.
Considering the fact that the party was almost all there, the Otyugh was defeated in next to no time, with only the injured barbarian taking damage.

All-in-all, I like the fact that we had the ability to explore the area, and had a way to progress in the adventure with a non-combat encounter.
I just disliked the way my party approached the exploration, especially when the DM showed that there were hazards and traps inside.

6 Blair July 11, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Hiya. I’m the Druid from Dan’s group as seen from above. I’m pretty new to D&D, but so far I’m enjoying the campaign so much! I enjoyed this session a bit more than the rest because it wasn’t just “dialogue, battle, see you next week.” there was more room for possible outcomes and experimentation. Since our party does have newbies (including me), I don’t think every option we chose to do was a wise one, but it all worked out in the end! The fact that our ranger was able to bluff his way out of Barcero’s rage was amazing. So amazing, that he ended up thrusting his way (and the way of the entire party – 1 paladin) into battle with an Otyugh.
I would like to add though that I should have been a bit more cautious during this session, since 2 of my party members fell into holes, and I just walked into a room with two gigantic trolls. :3 Since I’m still learning, and this is my first time ever playing D&D, I’m going to use the “I’m New so don’t mind me and my silly actions” card.
I do enjoy reading about other people’s encounters here and how their parties reacted to this session. It was a good one, and I enjoyed it!

7 Dave July 11, 2013 at 10:43 pm

I was the genasi swordmage who jumped the gun on the attack that Mike described above. It was particularly interesting, because last season I played a bard with a huge bluff skill who was always trying to talk his way around things or defeat enemies without directly fighting them, but there was really no choice. This season I played a more combat oriented character and accidentally messed up our groups plans to trick Barcero by attacking too soon. However, despite going right to combat it was still much better last time because the fact that I could mess it up meant that my decisions actually mattered and I’ll have to consider them more carefully in the future.

Also, it was actually Mike who made the back story for my horse, but it worked really well. When Barcero threatened to kill my horse I was thinking, “crap, I can’t let this guy back me down and walk all over me, but I can’t let him kill Asmodea either.” In any case, while we failed to kill Barcero this time, I’m hoping that if we keep going after the diamond staff we’ll run into him again and I can take care of the unfinished business between us.

8 blackwarder July 12, 2013 at 3:19 am

Did you guys used Next Exploration rules?

9 Bisonic July 12, 2013 at 11:02 am

I run a 4e group with about 7 players and this week was interesting. I failed to do prep so I messed up the exploration part . The players did more roleplaying than normal but started the fight by teleporting Bracelo into the group which meant that they cornered themselves in a tight spot. It was a rough fight for them and their teamwork could be better but after most of their dailies were used they finally figured out the Protectors were the problem. After that they cleared the field until Bracero was alone and surrendered. He offered to paythem for the staff and they took him up on it.
The group can’t decide if they are mercenaries or heroes and there are too few to split into two tables. I like the adventure, but had to change the treasure table into things that the party might actually use. 4e is making exploration tricky with out a map but we make it work.

-K

10 Joe July 17, 2013 at 8:35 am

Alas, I had to miss this week (family stuff), but I polled the other 3 DMs at our store, and it looks like a wide variety of experiences. All 3 tables ran 4E.

At Table 1, the party seduced Barcero very quickly (within 20 minutes), so to fill time the DM set up a “fight to test your worthiness” that was, effectively the same combat encounter that would have happened if they’d just attacked, though they ended with Barcero as an ally who valued their skills.

At Table 2, a more daring group had their Changeling pretend to be Phoedele, but when “she” didn’t have the staff, things quickly devolved into a rather brutal combat. 3 out of the 4 players at that table hit points in the fight where they were either within 2 points of hitting negative-bloodied HP and/or had failed 2 death saves before getting any healing (even with a powered-down Barcero. They still finished within the 2 hour time, but most were out of surges, so that extended rest will be muchly appreciated.

Table 3 decided to try and lure out the bad guys, putting a screaming scarecrow outside the door. When a single zombie set it off, Barcero went on the offensive, using his ranged attack while the others kept PCs away from him. This lead to an almost TPK, and it took that table until 10:30 (3.5 hours total) to finally get to Barcero & whiddle him down. Then the party was upset afterwards when they got an extended rest, because they’d saved some dailies for fear of having nothing in the next fight.

Not having been there, I can’t say much for what could have been done differently, but it sounds like things were either very smooth, or super difficult. We’ll see how tonight’s session goes, with me back behind the screen.

11 ShadowTiger July 18, 2013 at 2:21 am

My group has had a couple non-combat sessions, mostly with D&D Next. I think its great that we can get into the roleplay, luckily we don’t have anyone at our table that is combat focused.

Our group went right into combat. Our Half-Orc rogue snuck up on them in the building they were using as headquarters. He decided to set the building on fire using some oil he brought with him. Bracero blasted open the wall and send out his minions to see what the hell was going on.

I cast a web spell right outside the building to slow their assault so we could take them out one by one as they came out.

At first it seemed like we had them trapped but they managed to escape the webs and our party was rolling really bad… I think we rolled 8 2’s on attacks over a span of 2 turns.

Several party members went down, one person was cowering in fear. In the end, the paladin managed to smite the Bracero and end the battle, causing his undead minions to stop fighting and the last minion to surrender.

We could have stopped fighting and talked to him, but the Paladin and our Lifebringer Cleric refused to negotiate with a necromancer. I, also a necromancer, decided to let him die so I could steal his spellbook and learn some of his spells.

I look forward to next week… these battles are really tough and I really have to maximize my spells to keep my meat shields… ahem.. party members alive.

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