This 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.
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.
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)
Five 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)
When 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.
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.
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?
- Pre-generated characters: Visit our D&D Next Pre-Generated Character Library where you can download the official level 6, level 7, and level 8 pre-gens.
- Players Map: Download a map of the Doomvault, this season’s super dungeon, from the Wizards of the Coast website.
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.