D&D Encounters: Dead in Thay (Week 10)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 16, 2014

dead-in-thay-coverThis week we tried something a bit different and a bit off-script as we approached the end of the adventure. The idea was sound but the execution was not as smooth as we’d hoped. It made for a memorable adventure but not for the reasons we’d expected.

At Hairy T North this week we ran four tables. We had three players who were at D&D Encounters for their second time and one players new to D&D and public play. At the beginning of the night the tables were pretty evenly divided up. Table 1 (DM Craig) had six players, table 2 (DM Hillel) had four players, table 3 (DM Tim) had six players, and table 4 (DM Derek) had six players.

Normally I list off which characters are in my party. I’m going to wait and do it later because the tables merged and the parties reformed about 10 minutes into the session. What is important to note is that we have a disproportionate number of Mages at our FLGS giving the parties access to a lot of Fireballs.

An Experiment

For the past two sessions the party at my table has been focusing all of their efforts on disrupting the black gates. They began by backtracking through rooms they’d already cleared. The thought was that if these rooms were still empty they could disrupt the gates without much resistance. For the most part they were correct. They did face a few random encounters on their journey, but nothing significant.

Last week they felt they wanted more of a challenge so they decided to head into areas of the dungeon that none of the groups had previously explored. They found a challenge alright and expended a lot of resources getting out alive. But in the end they still managed to disrupt more black gates. Given their success this put the overall black gate count exactly where it needed to be for the adventure to stay on track given our timelines.

This week I decided to try something a bit different, an experiment of sorts. I wanted to lure the party into an area that I controlled – an area where the monsters were expecting the PC and be prepared to fight them.

The party’s Monk received a message through the telepathic circlet from Syranna. She said that the Red Wizards knew that the PCs were disrupting the black gates and they were now actively trying to undo the damage. Rather than do this one gate at a time the Red Wizards still alive in the Doomvault were performing a ritual that would allow them to reset all the gates simultaneously. The PCs needed to stop this from happening or all was lost.

Syranna told the PCs that the Red Wizards were back in the Master’s Domain. They deactivated the black gate in the Condition Court (area #29). The desecration already in place in that area was acting as a focus for their ritual. The heroes wasted no time heading for the closest black gate, disrupted it, and then teleported to the Undying Laboratory (area #31) which was the closest black gate to where they were headed.

The players decided that this was too important to screw up so they used their telepathic circlet to inform the other parties and recruit allies. Two of the other tables decided to join the cause, agreeing that this was indeed something that must not fail. I can’t fault the players for their approach, however, this was not something I expected to happen and suddenly we had 16 players around one table.

Masters’ Domain

Hall of Necromancy

Undying Laboratory (#31)

With so many bodies huddled around one table and one battle-map it was mass chaos. The players with the loudest voices tried to order the rest of the group around. The newer players and the ones with quite voices were stifled.

From where the PCs had gathered there were two clear ways into the Conditioning Court. My hope was that at the very minimum they’d split up into two groups and go in both directions, and it sounded like that was going to be the case. But after 15 minutes of discussion and inactivity some of the less patient players decided it would be more fun to just rush forward and attack the first monster they saw.

Wizards’ Court (#32)

iron-golemFive PCs decided to advance as quietly as possible using stealth and invisibility to mask their approach. As these sneaky PCs moved up they saw a massive Iron Golem standing motionless atop a stepped pyramid. Before the scouts could report back to the rest of the party three PCs rushed past them and attacked the Iron Golem. Had leveler heads prevailed they’d have realized that the Iron Golem only animated if attacked. Oh well.

While the PCs in the room advanced a few paces at a time, they attacked the Iron Golem from a distance. The three invisible PCs held their actions until the end of the first round to see how things played out. They were glad they did when a Vrock emerged from one of the smaller rooms and joined the melee.

Before the invisible PCs could act, a Wraith appeared from within the wall. It closed the doors separating the PCs fighting the Iron Golem and Vrock from the other eight waiting in the Undying Laboratory. The Wraith said a magic word and sealed the door. The invisible PCs decided not to take opportunity attacks and let the Wraith step back through the wall and disappear. Realizing that there was no backing down from this fight, they engaged and became visible.

The party left in this room consisted of two Mages, two Monks, two Rogues, a Paladin, and a Cleric.

The fighting continued and the Vrock fell quickly. The two sneaky Rogues managed to get farther into the room where they were out of the Iron Golem’s reach. Unfortunately four Cockatrices that had been cloaked in invisibility appeared as they attacked. None of the monsters hit, so none of the PCs needed to save against the potential petrifaction from the monster’s beaks. The next round the Cockatrices were killed before they got a second attack.

The Iron Golem proved to be more difficult since some of the PCs didn’t have magic weapons and were only inflicting half damage. Once they realized this, the Rogues backed off and let those with spells and magically enhanced Monk hands do all the attacking. The Iron Golem was defeated without inflicting too much damage.

With the monsters in this room defeated the PCs quickly healed using their potions and spells before racing into the Conditioning Court.

Hall of Obedience

Conditioning Court (#29)

masters-domainWhen the party stepped through the white portal and into the next room they saw a horrific sight before them. In the room were six pillars. Near each pillar was a Zombie. Each Zombie was attached to a pillar, connected by its own intestines wrapped around the post. These Zombies were smoking and smoldering as if on fire.

Some of the PCs had been in this room before so they knew the black gate the Red Wizards were attempting to use to reset the portals was in the far corner though a secret passageway. However, the PCs decided to attack the monsters first.

The Zombies were near the bottom of the initiative so six of the PCs got to attack before any of the monsters went. Despite the appearance of fire already burning the Zombies, the two Mages both decided to use fireballs to blast four of them. By the time the Zombies got to act two had fallen. However, as Zombies they were able to rise again and continue fighting.

The party tried to keep together near the door while they used ranged attacks to battle the undead creatures. The Monks moved up to engage the closest Zombies in melee. Even though the party was able to drop five of the Zombies, four of them arose again and kept fighting.

At the north end of the room was another passage and in the doorway was another Iron Golem. It was effectively blocking the other party from entering this room. Some of my PCs shifted their attacks from the Zombies to the Iron Golem to help get their allies into this fight. The Iron Golem fell before all the Zombies did, but with 16 PCs attacking, the Zombies stood no chance.

Finally, someone who’d been in this room before pointed out where the black gate was located. The fleet footed Monks ran over but the door was magically sealed. One of the Mages used Knock to unbar it. Free of obstacles two Mages entered and unleashed fireballs into the room where four Red Wizards were conducting the ritual. Two actually survived the first attack, but there was no way they were getting out alive.

Two other Red Wizards emerged from side chambers to try and draw the PCs away from the ongoing ritual, but there were simply too many heroes and these Red Wizard were destroyed in one round. The Dread Warrior who joined the fight when the new Red Wizards did fell victim to the Cleric’s Turn Undead ability and was completely removed from the combat.

Victory!

By this point we were nearing 2.5 hours in real time and it was clear that the heroes were going to be successful. We narrated the remained of the encounter since each round was likely to take another 10 minutes if we played it out. Once the Red Wizards were stopped the Mage in the party were able to reactivate the black gate and disrupt it again.

The other table that did not join the battle royal this week successfully disrupted three more black gates brining our total up to 20. When the black gate in the Master’s Domain came online again the Mage immediately realized that they’d disrupted enough gates that they could now enter the Phylactery Vault. However, they also realized they needed to head back to the Temples of Extraction to do it.

At the end of this session the PCs got to level up to level 8. With the endgame in sight the PCs realized there wouldn’t be another chance to take a rest before the finale so they all decided to use the Seclusion Vault to rest. Everyone will be heading into the grand finale with full resources, spells, and hit points. The monsters won’t stand a chance.

Thoughts

I should know by now that no matter how well you plan as a DM the players will inevitably do something unexpected. I had no idea they’d bring in as much help as they did once I laid out this week’s mission. I expected (and even encouraged) them to get one volunteer from each of the other table to help. Someone who could deal a lot of damage and could take a hit or two since our original party had three Rogues and three Mages, all of whom were quite squishy. I tried to remind them that the other groups needed to keep disrupting the black gates, but they all felt this was more important so we ended up with the mess we got.

I felt bad for the newer players. We’ve really tied to keep the tables under six players each this season to keep things moving and to ensure that everyone has a chance t participate and shine. This week that did not happen. The newer players got swallowed up and were forced to take a back seat. I tried to get them involved but it was so long between turns it was difficult to stay immersed. I explained afterwards that this was not typical so I hope they come back next week.

I was also a bit disappointed at my experienced players. They knew that a massive party this size would make play very difficult. Even though in-character they might want to help, I was expecting that out-of-character they’d decide to do something else. They did not. And to make things worse it was the experienced players who instigated the combat because they were bored and wanted to make something happen. Not a great showing from some of our better players this week.

Next week we move into the finale. The way it’s presented in the adventure it says it should only take one session but we wanted to break it out over two week. We’ve had finales run long in the past and it sucks if you have to end it because of time constraints and deny the players a well-earned conclusion. The DMs have conferred and we believe that as written our group has so much firepower that they’ll walk all over the final encounter. So we’ve got a few adjustments we’re going to throw in if things start to look too lopsided in favour of the PCs. We’ll see how things go next week.

Have you had many occasions this season where multiple tables have come together? Did you make it work successfully or was it a disaster like ours was this week? How many black gates has your group disrupted? Is anyone else going to begin the finale next week and plan it out over two sessions?

Additional Resources

Recounting Encounters Podcast

Listen to Derek Myers, Craig Sutherland, and Marc Talbot (from 20ft Radius) recount our weekly experience at D&D Encounters. We share the highlights from our respective tables 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: New episodes of Recounting Encounters will be available in our D&D Encounters Archive and on iTunes on Wednesdays moving forward. Now DMs can listen before they play.

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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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brian Criswell July 16, 2014 at 9:51 am

Looks like a TPK.

2 Ameron (Derek Myers) July 16, 2014 at 11:32 am

@Brian Criswell
When I was preparing this week’s post I mistakenly put the publishing date to July 16 instead of July 17. Oh well. Since I had the write up ready I figured I might as well post it a day early since the page was published anyway. Enjoy.

3 Brian Criswell July 16, 2014 at 11:50 am

@Ameron
Yeah, I figured it was a publishing oops that opened with a blank page until you had a chance to fix it.

So you guys play on Mondays at your store? As you move into Adventurer’s League, which adventures/expeditions/campaigns do you think you will go with? Our store dropped encounters because mine was the last table to keep going, and we stopped with LotCS.

Right now we are playing a 5e adaptation of Age of Worms as is another table. We have kept our tables at the Wednesday night Encounters time slot so that we can still try to welcome new players and get them funneled to a table playing D&D or Fallout. However, our table has 6 players who are their every week, and another one is coming back from deployment in September. At this point, I am thinking it may make sense to move to a home game and restart OP at the store. Now that we can run something other than the one adventure and, more importantly, follow our own pacing, I think it might get more traction. What do you think?

4 Ameron (Derek Myers) July 16, 2014 at 2:22 pm

@Brian Criswell
There certainly seems to be a lot of interest in 5e and D&D Encounters at our FLGS so I’m sure we’ll keep doing that. The challenge at this point is that we still don’t have all the information about how D&D Encounters might be changing. Will there be new materials every season or is it one adventure that you run over and over again.

We also don’t have full details on the other public play options yet, so for now we’re just planning to keep on doing what we’re doing. If D&D Expeditions ends up being similar to the way LFR used to be we may try to organize these on weekends since they’ll require a longer time slot to complete. But we’ll see.

5 Joe July 17, 2014 at 9:38 am

We’re doing 13 weeks in our store for this season, so we’ve got 3 adventures left after last night. We are splitting the last fight into 2 sessions, though: 1 to get through the Polyhedral Gate (which may or may not be influenced by my recent reading of the latest Dresden Files book), and 2 to fight in the Phylactery Vault against Szass Tam himself (I figure as the last fight before 5E officially launches, we could skew towards epic). We’re running my 4E conversion at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA, so they’ll be level 9 by the last 2 fights.

This week, though, everyone was level 8. We had a sudden influx of players at our store, and ended up running 2 tables of 7 last night. In the pared-down, more railroaded version that we’re running, our party went to the Far Realm Cysts last night.

We started out with a random encounter, which I’ve reduced to a roll of 2d6 (1 for the type of damage everyone takes a bit of, 1 for the minor treasure) to represent the many fights that the 4E combat timing won’t allow us to take in a 2 hr Encounters block. Then they walked into a room that immediately turned into a version of Rainbow Road from Mario Kart. With star fields appearing all around them, the party also found that their perceptions didn’t match the directions their bodies were moving. Basically this was an excuse for a skill challenge to get across the room as the far realm messed with their heads.

Next they headed into a room with floating stone orbs, each about the size of a horse. Something “shifted” in the back of everyone’s heads, and suddenly the stone broke away and the party was in the midst of 20-30 screaming beholders (!!!). Soon a much larger “mother” beholder came down to calm her children, and after some tense attempts at negotiation, the party learned that something called a “Mind Eater” in a nearby room was driving the beholder’s children mad. The party agreed to kill the mind eater in exchange for the key to the next area, which the Beholder, Thaxalia, had hidden away.

The party went through a twisty hallway to another room that suddenly appeared to be made of solid water. Not ice, but though they could feel the stone they stood on, every other sense told them they were surrounded by sea water (to the point where if they fell prone, they’d suffer psychic “drowning” damage). Swimming out of the ceiling was what looked like a giant tentacled fish, which the party’s sorcerer recognized as an Aboleth. The Aboleth was a bit too giddy as it told the party (in a little girl’s voice in their heads) how excited it was that Szass Tam had sent her things with arms and legs to play with, and a combat ensued. Joining the aboleth were the psychic screams (minions) of the beholder children, which had the disturbing tendency of looking like the most beloved friends/relatives/selves of whomever killed them.

The aboleth also had a nasty aura that made characters attack their nearest ally (with a basic attack) if they ended their turn in the aura (they had an option to instead take psychic damage, which most opted for).

When it was all said & done, the party saw that they were in a normal cavern with just a few crude drawings of waves on the walls, and they had no idea how they could have ever thought it was something else.

The party returned to the beholder, got the key, and quickly left the room full of floating death orbs, contacting Syranna via their psychic orb and learning that the next area was the Temples of Extraction. They also learned that Syranna had almost recharged the portal back to the hub (so the players realized they’d likely get an extended rest after next session).

In all, a fun session. The aboleth wasn’t nearly as challenging as I’d initially imagined, probably because we had 7 players in an encounter designed for 5, and 4 at our table were strikers. Oh well, live & learn.

6 The Management July 18, 2014 at 1:35 am

@Derek Meyers
I know the session didn’t go the way you’d hoped, but based upon what you wrote–it sounds awesome! You and your partners have done a superb job of running this season. Your players have had a lot of ups and downs but you’ve done great work to keep them engaged and enthusiastic. Now they get to mop the floor with the bad guys. That’s hugely satisfying to players. Hats off to you!

7 Vobekhan July 18, 2014 at 1:50 pm

very low turnout this week, in part I think to our skill-monkey getting nerfed on his mis-read casting abilities. Still I didnt want to send people that had made the effort home without a game and we played on. I let them take advantage of the Seclusion crypt again during the session too.

Looking to our finale next week I think its going to be a case of win or die.

8 Daniel July 21, 2014 at 11:58 am

@Ameron

It was a fun session to play; albeit a bit crazy with all the people around one table.

A trick that I’ve seen employed in situations like this — when the DM thinks that a fight will be a cakewalk, but will take too long (or be boring) to go through the mechanics of it. The DM just describes the battle and outcome cinematically, and then arbitrarily tells the player to expend some resources and take some damage to represent wounds that the enemy inflicted.

So, in this case, it could have been described as flinging the doors open, spells and arrows flying from both sides, and the melees charging in. Add some grand cinematic descriptions of the fight in general terms, and your done. In this case that might be 1-2 spell slots expended from each caster, and Nd6 damage each from spells and attacks from the baddies (some may have missed or been saved against, but the details and damage for each spell/attack are unimportant); each player rolls the amount of damage they took to speed up the process.

Don’t know if that’d work with the crowd at the store game,but it’s worked fine with home games I’ve been in. Requires a certain level of player maturity…

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