D&D Encounters: Legacy of the Crystal Shard – Launch Weekend

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 21, 2013

legacy-of-the-crystal-shard-launch-weekend-coverThis week we began D&D Encounters season 16. The Legacy of the Crystal Shard is the second of five adventures that ties in to The Sundering, an ongoing tale that will reshape the Forgotten Realms and whose conclusion will coincide with the official launch of D&D Next (or whatever Wizards will be calling it by this time next year).

Much like Murder in Baldur’s Gate, this season’s adventure began with a launch weekend adventure. And much like last season’s introduction the launch weekend was really just an expanded and more detailed version of the events printed in the actual adventure. Knowing this, we decided not to run launch weekend on the weekend, but instead used it as our opening night adventure during week 0.

It seems a bit silly to me that Wizards scheduled the launch weekend adventure to run before the character creation session for the second season in a row. Fortunately we finished season 15 a week early and held a character creations session last week.

Look at all the Players!

We had an excellent turn out this week at Harry T North in Toronto. Since we started running D&D Next we’ve seen our numbers continue to climb each season and even each week. Expecting a swelling for this season we had four DMs ready to go this week – and it was a good thing as we had 25 players.

Based on feedback from our regulars we decided to run both 4e and D&D Next tables this season. The 4e table (which I’m running) and one of the D&D Next tables decided to let the players start with characters at level 3 or 4 (which we’re calling the advanced tables). Some of the players at the D&D Next advanced table continued running the same PCs they’d used for Murder in Baldur’s Gate. All of my 4e players created new PCs.

Of the 25 players, five were brand new to our FLGS. Two decided to just use pre-gens while the other three, all of who had played D&D Next before, made characters on the fly.

The party at my 4e table ended up with the following composition: Tiefling Paladin (PHB1 build), Dragonborn Cavalier (Essentials build), Halfling Rogue, Gnoll Barbarian, and Eladrin Assassin. The party didn’t feel that the absence of a leader would be a problem since there were two Paladins who both had some healing powers.

Getting Started

The adventure takes place in the Icewind Dale, but the PCs don’t start there. They are part of a caravan heading to Bryn Shander before the first major snow storms hit the Spine of the World. Unfortunately the weather is not cooperative and the caravan experiences unseasonably fierce snow and wind on their final week of their journey.

I encouraged the players to give their new heroes back-stories and to share them with the other players; after all these PCs were in travelling shoulder to shoulder and camping in very close quarters for almost a month before we started the game. I explained that even though the players didn’t know each other’s characters yet, the PCs themselves would know something about each other by now.

For those players struggling with a motivation or reason for their PC to be on this trip I offered the six suggested hooks listed in the adventure. Three players had already come up with a history, while the other two hadn’t given it much thought yet. We’ll flesh out those details as the season progresses. After the brief round table we got back to the adventure at hand.

Arrival in Icewind Dale

After a month on the road, Bryn Shander was finally within reach. The caravan master announced that if everyone pushed themselves to the limit they should be in Bryn Shander by nightfall. As the party progressed through the frozen tundra the wind picked up and it began snowing.

The Barbarian and Assassin had both been to Ten Towns before so they knew of the possibility of predators about in the snow. With a warning to the party the scouts were on the lookout for trouble but couldn’t see anything through the snow.

crag-catAs the caravan rounded the base of a hill the caravan was ambushed by two Crag Cats. The saber tooth tigers attacked the first and last horse in the caravan, scaring the beasts and causing them to flail wildly and knock over their respective wagons. The party leaped into action.

The Assassin, Rogue and Paladin were all near the front of the train so they worked together to attack the Cat. Two solid hits from the strikers badly wounded the beast bloodying it. Unfortunately the Cat managed to dig its teeth into the Assassin, holding him firmly in place. Not to be outdone, the Assassin teleported free and left the Cat to the Rogue and Paladin who had no trouble killing it before it could do more harm.

At the rear of the caravan the other Cat managed to grab hold of an unsuspecting guard and pull him away from the group. The Barbarian charged the Cat in an attempt to rescue the guard but missed. The Cavalier was briefly pinned beneath the overturned cart but managed to get to his feat and follow the Barbarian. Three caravan guards drew crossbows and chased after their friend.

The Barbarian bloodied the Cat with one massive hit forcing it to drop mortally wounded guard. The Cavalier managed to get into melee, locking down the Cat. The Barbarian hit again and all three crossbowmen hit as well. One more solid pounding from the Barbarian eventually brought down the second Crag Cat.

The caravan leader didn’t want to get caught in the worsening weather and told the group to leave the overturned carts. The merchants with goods on those carts objected but the caravan master was adamant and wouldn’t change his mind.

The Assassin and Caviler carried the wounded guard to one of the upright wagons and along with the rest of the guards left for Bryn Shander. The Barbarian, Rogue and Paladin stayed behind to help the merchants. They managed to get the damaged wagons upright and assisted with minor repairs. After collecting the goods scattered about in the snow they were on their way. The stragglers managed to catch the main wagons after about 10-15 minutes.

Yetis at the Gate

1. Holding them Back

When the wagons arrived at the gates of Bryn Shander the weather had become a blizzard. Visibility was greatly reduced and the wind made it difficult for the PCs to hear one another beyond a few feet. As the first wagon passed through the open gate, cries from the wagons at the back carried on the wind: Yetis were attacking. Before anyone could respond, four young Yetis managed to rush past the wagons and get inside the town’s walls.

With the wagons blocking the gates it was impossible to close them. The Assassin and Caviler, both on the lead wagon, jumped off and engaged the nearest Yetis. The other PCs riding on the last of the four wagons jumped off and ran towards the gates to help.

The Cavalier, Barbarian, and a town Guard teamed up on one Yeti. The Assassin and a town Guard teamed up on another. The Yetis the party didn’t engage toppled over the first wagon, blocking the entrance to ensure the gate remained open. From the back wagons the PCs could see more Yetis approaching and cried out in alarm.

The Barbarian disengaged from his adversary, turned the wagon upright, and then pushed it out of the way. With the first wagon clear the PCs engaged the monsters again. When the Paladin got into melee the next round he attacked an unengaged Yeti and gave everyone nearby temporary hit points.

The first two Yetis fell from multiple, concentrated blows. Another was down to only a few hit points but managed to break free and cause havoc on the town. The remaining town guards pursued leaving the PCs along to defend the gate.

2. To the Walls

Good tactics by the defenders kept the Yetis locked down, but poor attack rolls from everyone after the first round saw the combat drag on much to the party’s detriment. Four more yetis reached the gate; two rushing though to engage in melee combat while two others climbed the walls to get at the guards atop the towers.

The Caviler ran up the stairs to the top of the tower to help the lone Guard face the attacking Yeti. When the Yeti reached the top of the other tower the Guard fled, leaving it all alone. The monster threw rocks down on the PCs below as they fought his brothers.

The drivers of the second and third wagons managed to get them through the gates while the party was fighting, but the driver on the final wagon couldn’t get his cart moving forward. The Paladin locked down a Yeti who was about to engage the lone wagon while the Rogue ran to the wagon and managed to get it moving.

3. Closing the Gates

yetiAs the last wagon got safely inside, the PCs saw two more young Yetis and a very large adult Yeti approaching. They had to close the gates or things were going to get much worse. The adult Yeti got to the gate and stood firmly in place preventing the gates from closing. The Barbarian and Paladin engaged him but were unable to land a blow. The Yeti released a Fearsome Howling, pushing the PCs back and allowing the young Yetis to run inside and engage the Barbarian and Paladin.

On the tower the Caviler was holing his own against the young Yeti, but the one on the other tower saw what was happening and ran across the bridge to aid his brother. The Caviler called out for help and the Rogue ran up the stairs to help him.

It took a few rounds, but some well placed hits from the Rogue’s dagger killed the first Yeti. Together the two PCs were no match for the remaining young Yeti and they easily defeated it taking only superficial wounds for their troubles.

Near the gates the Assassin dispatched another young Yeti. In a desperate attempt to get the gates closed he tried to bull rush the adult Yeti but failed. He called out to a nearby Guard to make the same attempt. The Guard, bolstered by the words and heroic actions he was witnessing tried and succeeded. He managed to push the big Yeti back. The Barbarian closed one gate while the Paladin rushed out to lock down the adult Yeti.

The Assassin and Guard managed to pull back while the Paladin took a devastating hit from the adult Yeti. The defender then pulled back, taking another hit in the process, but managed to get inside the gates. The rest of the party had readied their action to close the gates once he was past. The Barbarian managed to hold the gates firmly in place while the rest of the PCs gathered the braces for the door.

The adult Yeti continued pounding at the gates for a few more minutes before giving up and retreating into the snow. The few young Yetis still inside the walls were rounded up and killed by the town Guards. The town of Bryn Shander was safe for now thanks to the heroic efforts of these PCs.

Thoughts

I really enjoyed this first session. I liked it a lot more than the launch weekend for Murder in Baldur’s Gate. My players felt that way too and said as much. One of the players who had played this launch weekend at another FLGS on the weekend using D&D Next said that doing it with 4e was a lot more fun. The way the scenario played out the tactical aspects worked a lot better for 4e, in his opinion.

Even though we were using 4e we finished as the same time as the other tables, so in this case D&D Next didn’t necessarily mean combat was that much faster. We’ll see if that holds true moving forward.

In order to better challenge my group I had to adjust the monsters a little bit. Since the PCs were level 3 and the encounters were designed for a level 1 party I made the following changes:

  • +2 to all of the monsters’ defenses
  • +10-15 more hit points to each monsters
  • increase the damage by one dice size (2d6 became 2d8, 1d8 became 1d10, etc).

This worked really well, especially for a group with three strikers. The monsters didn’t live for very long even with the increased hit points, but during the few rounds they were on the board they hit hard. Fortunately the two defenders really did their jobs well and protected the softer strikers.

It was a welcome change to have the PCs fight actual monsters and not just NPCs. Again, the people who played last season (three of my five) said the same thing. Looking ahead to this season I’m glad that there will be opportunities for the PCs to take on more monsters. Of course there will be plenty of changes for role-playing and intrigue if that’s what the groups decides they want.

One last thing I touched on in my preview article that I want to bring up again is the schedule. Legacy of the Crystal Shard runs from Wednesday, November 20 – Wednesday, February 12. That includes this week’s session 0 (which we used for the launch weekend). It also includes December 25 (Christmas Day) and January 1 (New Year’s Day), two days I’m guessing most FLGS will be closed. Make sure your group is aware of this and that DMs plan accordingly.

Did you participate in the launch weekend adventure? What were your thoughts as an introduction to this season of D&D Encounters? How did your party fare? What edition did you play D&D Next, 4e, or 3.5e? What edition will you be using this season for D&D Encounters? Is anyone else playing an advanced group that’s starting above level 1? Is anyone using their Murder in Baldur’s Gate character?

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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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe November 21, 2013 at 12:53 pm

At Modern Myths in Northampton, MA, we ran the opening weekend stuff this past weekend: 2 slots on Saturday, 1 on Sunday. We had very low numbers, though… 0 tables for the 1PM Sat, 1 table 4e for the 5PM Sat, and 1 table of 4e for Sunday.

Since that was done over the weekend, yesterday we ran a new adventure. Folks who were present for the opening weekend had their “caravan guard” character history, but others came up with their own reasons. My table had several good ones, including running from the law (an assassin trying hard not to be one), running from assassins (someone with the Masked Lord theme), running from the law (a Seeker who works as an assassin), running from a cult (one of those infernal themes), and investigating imbalances in Nature (a druid).

As it’s written, there are 3 distinct plot ideas around 3 distinct “Big Bads” that players can follow, and depending on which ones they go after, other plots move forward at different rates, and all of this is also spread across all 10 towns in the region, with players having free reign to go where ever. That’s a little crazy for a store-based organized play setting, though, where we have between 2 and 3 tables each week, with players frequently switching tables. We needed a bit more consistency, so we’re running a modified version I wrote for 4e play that railroads the players a bit more but still deals with all 3 foes, and gives a bit more consistency for the players who bounce around table-to-table.

Our session began (as so many do) in a tavern in Bryn Shander, where the party befriended one another due to sitting at the same table in the crowded tavern. They met the crazy cleric Davrin Fain (played by Matthew Lillard) and, while politely declining his offer to “let the cold into their hearts”, spent plenty of time mocking him after he’d left. The party wasn’t so chatty with other patrons (despite the hints I gave them about interesting folks), so they missed out on learning about the 3 other plot hooks (Slim’s failed protection racket, the soldiers’ feelings about barbarians causing monster attacks, and Helda’s dwarven worries about black ice items). That was okay, though, because PLOT showed up to drive the players.

In this case, PLOT was a little eladrin girl who collapsed in a hypothermic mess after clearly walking too far in the snow. When they revived her, she told them that her parents told her to run from their wagon out on the road while they talked to some hairy monkey men, but she thought the monkey men might be bad. The players quickly realized that this was more yeti trouble, so the left the girl in the care of the tavern keeper and rushed off to try and save her parents.

The fight with the yetis was fun, esp since it also included a wyrmling white dragon that was sort of a hunting companion of the yetis (I had a whole backstory written up about how they found the egg and raised it as their own child… but nobody bothered caring about the monsters’ history). The dragon was only level 1, but it created an interesting tactical issue, because players didn’t know who to focus on: the huge, hulking ape things… or the frakkin’ DRAGON. They did okay in the fight, and got to the parents and their wagon just as the father was breathing his last (the mom was already dead). He told them to tell his daughter “to be strong, and that we love her” before dying, all dramatic and stuff.

Then, suddenly, the winds picked up and a squall of a blizzard descended on the party. Since they had to walk over an hour to get there in decent weather, there was no way they were getting back to town, so they took shelter in the eladrin’s covered wagon. And that’s where they’ll start next week, finding ways to pass the hours of time spent cramped inside while the blizzard rages outside.

2 Joe November 21, 2013 at 1:06 pm

We’re also using level 1 characters, though we gave the players the option of being folks who left Baldur’s Gate as a result of the whole murder magic thing going on there.
Joe´s last blog post ..MythSpoken Gaming Special: Monsterhearts Character Generation

3 Berling's Beard November 21, 2013 at 2:19 pm

@20sided in Brooklyn we had 5 DMs and 25 players (which is currently our cap) and we all used Next rules. All players are level 1.

Interestingly, due to the tight scheduling, we used half the last session of Murder at Baldur’s Gate to wrap up that adventure and then immediately went into character creation for Legacy of the Crystal Shard. On D&D Game Day (last Sunday) we ran the module as WotC provided, however yesterday we picked up right where we left off from Game Day.

We also began our session as one big group, we did a large group RP to bring new players up to speed AND figure out where our group as a whole were going; then we broke off into smaller tables to bring our individual parties to the end of our session; finding Slim & the warehouse fire.

We’ll pick it up right there next week.
Berling’s Beard´s last blog post ..Dungeons & Dragons Encounters Recap: Legacy of the Crystal Shard

4 Vobekhan November 21, 2013 at 5:22 pm

We ran two tables of Next for the Launch Event on Saturday, though had a lower turn out than originally planned. Yesterdays session was cancelled as I had been unwell for a few days and our fellow DM (Liam) was tied up with work commitments. So we’ll be picking things up next week.
Vobekhan´s last blog post ..D&DEnc 16 – Legacy of the Crystal Shard – Launch Event

5 dan November 21, 2013 at 5:31 pm

We have not received the adventure books yet, so we ran the launch weekend adventure again this session, which worked well since we had several players who had missed the launch event.
This is my first time as DM for a encounters, so my setups for the encounters take a little longer. This week, we had 2 tables of next. The usual DM for our table of 4e is on vacation, so his players joined the next tables. My table had an elf mage, an elf paladin, a warforged fighter, a barbarian, a dwarf fighter, and a half-orc fighter.
We used the basic hook of caravan guards, and the characters placed themselves around the caravan before the combat began. Rather than the one saber-tooth in the booklet, I had 2. The party was mostly mounted, so I had them make checks to control their mounts, and one was thrown off. When the cats reached half health, I had them flee, but the mounted party members caught up to them as they fled, and killed them. Our warforged stabilized the fallen guard and gathered up the scattered goods while the cats were being pursued, and the caravan began to move off, their leader stating that getting to Bryn Shander was a higher priority than pursuing the cats, and told the warforged as much. The party spent 15 minutes getting the cart moving again, and helped the caravan move in.
At this point, I had the young yetis leap down from other points on the walls and attack the waiting townsfolk. One of the mounted players was outside of the gates, and had to leave her horse at the entrance and dismount to get by the caravan. The party had the maximum number of guards available from their actions, and took out the yetis quickly. The hardest part of the transition from this to the fight on the walls was that the players and most of the guards had to spend their entire turns getting up the stairs. 3 players tried climbing the tower walls; the dwarf fell halfway up and was knocked to exactly 0 hp, and the barbarian was struck by a rock thrown by a yeti and survived a similar fall. The hal-orc made it partway up and stayed. At this point the yetis were being killed left and right, and neither of the ones who tried to grapple the mage (who had -1 strength) could get ahod,and both died shortly after. One yeti got pushed over the edge, and the half-orc grappled another and tipped back over the edge of the tower with it. He tried to land on it, but failed, and they both fell to their death. Around this time, we ran out of time, so those of us here on Saturday informed the others of what had happened. I think the biggest time drain was the pursuit of the saber-tooths, which took way too long.

6 Mike November 22, 2013 at 1:25 pm

We played with Joe’s modified adventure at Modern Myths, Westchester. Everyone started at level one in 4E. This season it looked like everyone put a lot of thought into the background of our characters, which was great. Our previous brutal hack/slash werewolf assassin is now playing a shardmind bard named “Guitar Hero” (ha!)who is looking to explore human society and is looking forward to being our diplomatic spokesman. It’s nice to see him expanding his role. Our previous min/maxed pixie warlock is now playing a blackguard in service to winter/moon goddess Sehanine. Apparently he was a respected assassin in the summer fey court, but a few “incidents” have caused him to take a “tour” of the farthest place on Toril, Icewind Dale. Mistress Hot D-mn is another pixie who is his companion. Our rabbit guy is now playing as a minotaur, who was originally an eladrin. He was a former fey noble who insulted and turned away a wizened old woman who turned out to be a powerful sorceress who cursed him into the form of a minotaur which he would stay unless he learned compassion by his 120th birthday. He still thinks of himself as an elite fey noble despite his monstrous form. All of his servants wer also cursed but found they returned to normal after leaving his service. He has one faithful butler, who is his animal companion. I am continuing with the elderly druid follower of Auril from last season. However, since she hesitated to sacrifice herself at the end of the last season and allowed Bhaal to be resurrected, she has now lost the favor of Auril and been reduced to a level 1 druid from a level 3 druid/warlock. She is on a pilgrimage to the heart of Auril’s realm to find a purpose or redemption. Two of her animal companions left her after her failure, but her giant bear has been loyal.

The party all traveled north on the same caravan so they were aware of each other. The two pixies knew each other and the shardmind and druid had mutual friends so they knew each other. The adventure started in an inn in Bryn Shander. The shardmind started a performance, which was met with much aprreciation despite his inability to actually sing. The minotaur stomped down from his room awakend by the “horrible racket” and rudely requested elven songs or silence. We were interrupted by Davrin Fain vividly described with piercing blue eyes and an arrogant bearing. The shardmind broke off his performance to pretend to drink and pump the bartender for information. He found out that Fain was a priest of Auril and that the locals respected and sacrificed to the Winter Maiden, but didn’t actually like her or her followers. The pixies also drifted in and started chatting with the locals finding out about the black ice items. Everyone perked up hearing about that especially the shardmind. Then my druid came in and things started to get ugly :).

She was immediately attracted to Davrin Fain and asked him his advice on spirituality and pilgramages. They talked for a few moments and she made a remark about the “nonbelievers” In the rest of the room. The pixie blackguard felt that this was insulting to Sehanine, implying she wasn’t a true winter goddess, and hurled his wine goblet straight at her staining her blouse. She demanded that Fain make the blackguard apologize, but he took a look at the furious pixie and backed out of the inn.She muttered “Some priest” under her breath, which he heard. So the druid demanded an apology directly. The blackguard stated that nobility didn’t apologize to peasants. The minotaur rushed over to defend his fellow feywild noble and advise him that he shouldn’t anger wizened old ladies carrying broomsticks or terrible things could happen. That didn’t phase him in the lest so the druid started cursing him to never get a good night’s sleep. Finally the shardmind bard broke it up and distracted everyone with another song

Tensions were simmering when a small half frozen eladrin girl stumbled into the room. The minotaur rushed to her side and called for blankets, food and water. For once, his heal check actually succeeded. The girl revived enough to tell us that her parents and her were stopped by “hairy monkeys” and they told her to run away. The minotaur was shaking with rage that someone had attacked a fellow eladrin, and called for volunteers to help rescue the girls parents. (while implying that he wouldn’t bother if it had been non-eladrin instead of REAL people. He’s going to have a long way to go to break that curse.) The pixies and shardmind volunteered and my druid agreed, on the condition that the minotaur would later make the blackguard apologize to her.

As we ran back to where the girls said her parents would be, the wind and snow whipped even higher. At last we found them, sprawled bloody on the ground with a fire elemental standing guard against three yetis and a frost dragon wyrmling. The battle was fierce and quick. The blackguard took on the dragon by himself, while the rest of us fought the yetis. As fractious as we were in the inn, we were able to fight together smoothly as a team. A big improvement from the first half of Baldur’s Gate combat wise. Combat was a little slower than usual as we were all getting used to our powers. The yeti’s howl and the dragon’s breath were fun and added a little unpredictability to the session. A very satisfying combat. We did not find out any of the history of the wyrmling, but we did find out that he had a name and he did escape so I am expecting to see him again.

Reaction:

It was an enjoyable adventure, let us get the lay of the land and have an enjoyable combat session. However, we had at least as much conflict within the party as outside the party. All of us made characters with detailed backgrounds and strongly felt personal values. Values, which just happen to conflict. So far we are sharply divided by race, social class, religion and taste. Fortunately our group has played together before and I think we are mature enough to leave it at friendly insults rather than actual fighting. Hopefully the coming conflict will push us together and make us realize that we need to depend on each other to survive in the wastelands of the North. I am also curious what is going on with the followers of the Frostmaiden. I had originally thought my character would naturally ally with them, but after Fain’s pathetic display today I am no longer sure. Sehanine’s followers may be arrogant and rude, but they are certainly not cowards

7 evermore November 27, 2013 at 9:39 am

we reverted back to 4th, to few interested in next here in the uk
good session but i’m unprepared for tonight
i’ll have about 1 hour prep time left last session on a cliff hanger fight

we ran lauch weekend and on week 0 we ran a repirse of the battle of the gate and then a bit of talk with the baribairan and shop keeper
evermore´s last blog post ..Legacy of the crystal shard week 1

8 David Argall December 19, 2013 at 1:09 am

Since we were weeks behind on the previous adventure, we were not bothered too much by getting the adventure weeks late. [Indeed, the DM was taking off the plastic as we set down to play. Fortunately the opening adventure kept us busy and the DM will have a week to study things. [Which may be 2-3 weeks when Christmas and New Years get in the way. And he may need even more time. Railroading rightly gets a lot of criticism, but it can be very useful too, especially for the less skilled DM]

We had no big problem with the cat attack, collecting hide and teeth, but more problem with the aftermath. We had 3 of the 5 PC stay to help with the damaged wagon and so got a split party. The DM ruled that the party would remain split until deep into the yeti attack, which left us with our big damage people doing a skill check on skills they really didn’t have, while our skill monkeys had to take on the fight. However, they dealt out some serious damage until the cavalry [rest of the party] arrived. But the town had lost quite a few guards, and our mage was down when we did [and quickly had our vampire dropped as he learned that vampires are rather delicate strikers and not so good against solo brutes.] However, once we got to hitting, our striker heavy party finished off the foes. So now we will be getting to the actual adventure [if the Holidays don't get in the way too much].

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