It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had a chance to play or DM D&D Encounters. Games have proceeded at the two FLGS where I’m playing this season, but neither of my tables ran for the past two weeks. Sometimes real life just gets in the way of fantasy role-playing and you have to accept it.
When last we left the heroes they’d made a daring escape from the Drow outpost, Velkynvelve. The party’s Orc Fighter expected to die and wanted his sacrifice to be meaningful. He fought as many Drow as he could, engaging the two priestesses and numerous guards. In the end he remained behind, battling any Drow pursuers as he tried to give the rest of the party and the accompanying NPC prisoners a chance at escape.
This week at Face to Face Games in Toronto we ran five tables. We had 22 players and five DMs. My group of four consisted of the following members: Half-Orc Barbarian, Dragonborn Fighter, Elf Wizard, and Human Rogue. The Dragonborn Fighter was a replacement character for the player who lost his Orc Fighter in the last session.
Run Forrest Run
Before we got back into the adventure I had to make a few tweaks. Although I didn’t run a table during the past two weeks, two of my regular players did play. They joined another group who was also missing some PCs. Rather than rehash the bulk of Episode 2, I decided to summarize and fast forward through some parts. This did mean that a couple of players will miss out on the part of the adventure that has the party trekking aimlessly through the foreboding Underdark in search of safe passage, food, water, and shelter. But knowing we’ll be doing a lot of that throughout the adventure I didn’t feel it was a huge issue.
Before we skipped anything I wanted to get the new PC into the party as soon as possible. So we picked things up about an hour after the PCs fled from the Drow outpost. All of the NPCs except Ront and Sarith managed to escape with the party. When they fled they took weapons and armor, but no food or water. The party briefly talked about options. They felt that putting more distance between them and the Drow was the top priority so they didn’t bother foraging or concealing their tracks; they simply kept running.
After a few hours in which they wandered down a few dead end paths, they finally felt exhaustion catching up to them. They decided to stop and rest. A few PCs and NPCs worked together to forage and they managed to find just enough food and water to sustain everyone for one day. Many of the PCs and NPCs were still hurt from the combat during the escape so they needed a long rest badly. The group set a watch schedule and went to sleep.
The Mysterious Stranger
During the night while Elf Wizard and Derendil were on watch they herd something shuffling slowly down a nearby passage. They believed that the creature might wander past their camp but they didn’t want to take that risk. The quietly moved out and tried to get the drop on their unseen opponent. They eventually saw a tall figure carrying a bundle on its shoulder, shambling down the passage. The Wizard drew his hand crossbow, sneaked up behind the creature and quietly told it to stop or he’d fire the bolt into the monster’s head. The beast stopped.
When he turned around the Wizard saw it was a large Dragonborn. He looked like he’d seen a lot of recent combat and like he’d been awake for days. Over his shoulder was the limp body of a Halfling. The Dragonborn was relived to see his attacker was a surface Elf and not a Drow. He explained he’d been part of a adventuring party that had gotten lost while exploring the Underdark. His party was attacked by Drow slavers and only he and his Halfling companion managed to escape. Unfortunately the little guy succumbed to his wounds and died a few days ago. As a follower of Kelemvor, the Dragonborn refused to leave his friend’s body for the carrion to consume. He wanted to perform last rites and give his friend a proper farewell.
The Wizard and Derendil felt the Dragonborn could be trusted despite his size and armament. They awoke the rest of the group and they all did their introductions. The new ally offered the group what little food he had left, but it was enough to provide sustenance for everyone for one more day. That won him points. With the newest party member now part of the group we fast forwarded a few days.
We’re Being Followed
I explained that during the next few days the party faced natural obstacles and a few random encounter with monsters. Some they could talk their way past, others they would have been forced to fight. They were also likely able to flee from some as well. This was when I had the players who’d participated over the past two weeks share their stories of what happened to them at the other table.
One detail that I wanted to make very clear to the group was that they got the sense that they were being followed. In some cases they’d hear sounds echoing from chambers or caverns they’d just passed through. I described one instance where they’d talked their way past some friendly creatures only to hear the sounds of combat emanating from the passage behind them an hour or two later. Some players guessed that it might be Drow, others were worried it might be something even more dangerous or deadly.
The characters decided it was more important to know what was following them than it was to keep running. They felt information was pivotal and they wanted to know. The NPCs urged caution and forward movement, but the PCs decided to set an ambush. This was not what I was expecting as the DM so I had to improvise.
I drew a chamber wide enough for an ambush and the PCs decided that it was an appropriate spot to potentially engage their pursuers. They spent about 20 minutes of real time planning what they wanted to do, who was going to do what, and how they’d accomplish everything. They came up with some great ideas and even managed to lay a couple of traps. The four PCs, Jimjar and Derendil were the only ones to participate in the ambush. The rest of the party continued onward. They said they’d stop in about an hour and wait for the PCs.
Once the stage was set the PCs waited patiently. Eventually they spotted a Drow Scout. They waited for him to get to their designated spot and sprung their trap. The Drow was overwhelmed and easily killed. However, he was not alone. Three more Drow Scouts were not far behind and they quickly engaged the PCs. The Drow fired their hand crossbows coated with sleep poison but the party rocked their saving throws and no one hit by the bolts fell asleep.
The combat was fast despite me doubling the Drow Scouts’ hit points to make the encounter more challenging. The party had done such a good job in their preparation that the Drow Scouts didn’t really stand a chance. The combat only lasted a few rounds. The party decided to just knock out the other three Drow rather than kill them. When the fight ended they stripped the Drow of all their equipment and then bound them.
Jimjar was terrified when he realized their pursuers were Drow. He said that if these were advanced scouts then a larger and more powerful Drow army wasn’t likely far behind. He took off, running to catch the rest of the NPCs who had not participated in the combat. The PCs got the hint and followed suit. Before they left, their newest ally, the Dragonborn Fighter, said a prayer to Kelemvor and killed the Drow in the name of his god.
When the party managed to finally regroup they described what happened. Everyone agreed that they needed to move quickly. Fortunately after another hour of running Shuushar began to recognize landmarks. He told the group that they were nearing Darklake. Once they reached that he could lead them to Sloobludop, his village. Once there he could help the PCs get the supplies they needed to begin their journey back to the surface. Sure enough it wasn’t long before they came upon Darklake.
To be continued.
As printed, Episode 2 (chapter 2) is a transitional chapter that the DM will continue to return to many times during the campaign. This chapter gives all kinds of great information about travel through the Underdark. It includes many tables for random encounters. It’s incredibly detailed and fascinating to read. There are so many possible choices that I would strongly encourage DMs to pre-roll their random encounters ahead of time. Otherwise if you do it at the gaming table it may overwhelm you.
I didn’t feel we really got as much accomplished in this session as I would have liked, but I wanted the party to get some time to interact with the new PC and the remaining NPCs before we moved the story ahead too much. The NPCs can help and hinder the party’s progress so they really need to know which NPCs may be useful so they can make informed decisions. So far the party feels it’s best to keep everyone together, but fate will likely cull the herd as we proceed.
Even though we missed two session at my table, we’re still on pace with the other groups at my FLGS. Most DMs wanted to spend at least two full sessions traversing the Underdark. For new players who aren’t familiar with Forgotten Realms lore or Drow, this proved to be a valuable learning experience for them. I strongly recommend that players and DMs alike pick up the R.A. Salvatore novel Exile (book 2 in the Legend of Drizzt series) if they want to get additional inspiration for what encounters in the Underdark can be like. It’s a great book full of vivid imagery.
Next week the PCs will hit the first significant point of interest in the adventure. We’ll see how they interact with Underdark denizens in their native environment. Perhaps some of the NPCs will prove helpful; or maybe the NPCs will cause unexpected problems. We’ll see soon enough.
For those groups who have played a session or two of Underdark travel how did you enjoy it? What kind of encounters have you had in the Underdark so far?
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.
Actual Play Podcasts
- Each week we record our D&D Encounters session and make it 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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