Ask the Author (Halaster's Lost Apprentice)

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Hey all,

As I wrote the Encounters adventure and am currently DMing sessions where possible, I thought I might swing by and see if I could answer any clarifying questions, offer advice, etc., whatever you guys need. I will note that I am neither a RPGA expert nor am I a WotC employee, so nothing I say should be taken as official. It's all just my perspective.

A couple notes from my Encounter 1 session:

1) I like the "bridge of death" metaphor--it certainly turned out to be that. The dwarf did exactly what he was supposed to do, and held off any melee combatants from getting across without a serious fight. Apologies to all players for the shield bash ability--that certainly does a LOT of damage.

2) Did anyone else have PCs run two squares across the bridge, then jump? That was how a couple of my PCs made it, particularly the hybrid avenger/swordmage, who pretty much trounced the bandits by his lonesome. Didn't work out so well for the ranger, who had been lit on fire by the tiefling and failed the jump check, thus landing in the water (though I let her auto-save out of the ongoing 5 fire damage).

3) Once the dwarf went down, it was pretty much over. The party streamed across and mopped the floor with the ranged combatants.


Having run Encounter 2, I can offer a couple insights. I did kill 2 of 6 PCs and left another 2 unconscious at the end of the encounter, so this is going to be a tough one:

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1) The guards are the big threat in the encounter. They have high AC and high attack rolls. If the party doesn't have a controller or a really good defender to lock at least one of them down, the PCs are going to be in trouble. If the party looks like it's going to get hosed, don't be afraid to caution them against rushing in, or possibly pull your punches as necessary. Go for tension--not massacre.

2) Remember the scorpion only has two claws to grab people. It does have a stinger, though!

3) Try to keep the players from identifying the doppelganger sneak as much as possible--which means, until he gets hit by an attack. Use the same mini/indicator you're using for the other minions. Odds are, the PCs will just ignore him until all the big hitters are busy with the guards/scorpion, and the doppelganger can then go and mop up the squishies.

4) Before the actual battle, lots of roleplaying in the Yawning Portal is definitely a plus, if your group is into the RP. If you like playing with Fayne as much as I like writing about her, then use her to your heart's content. She will show up again later in the Encounters series (in session 9), and her reappearance will be more effective if the PCs like her.



Also, a couple questions (and there are spoilers here, so DMs only should read):

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Q) OMFG, srsly, why is Fayne such a ditz?

A) Sorry if I didn't make it clear, but Fayne's doing that *intentionally* to coerce the party of PCs into helping her. She is supposed to be way over the top in her negotiations, to make the PCs feel like they are getting a really good deal (and the warm/fuzzy of doing the right thing, rescuing the damsel in distress, all that jazz). As you can see in the encounter, the thugs have all the coin she paid them to pretend to beat her up.

(As a side note, she acts very much this way in my novel, Downshadow, where she is a character.)


Q) XP is balanced?

A) My esteemed project coordinator Chris Tulach took very good care of this. Participating in the encounters, along with getting the quest XP, should put the characters to 2nd level in about session 8-9, which is exactly where they should be.


Q) Really? A solo with AC 24 and bloodied at 84 hp? REALLY?

A) For those who don't run a lot of solos, rest assured, that may seem really dire, but I don't think it will prove so. If they have to do 84 damage to it, that's like doing 16-17 damage each to five creatures, and the solo is NOT going to be launching five attacks every round. And is everyone going to be attacking AC? I hope not, because if so, your party is badly balanced. If even half your party hits each round, you're probably going to bloody it in like 2-4 rounds, and then the encounter changes directions a bit. (As solo encounters usually do.)

Also, don't count out the immobility aspect. Solos are generally most effective when they can move around and avoid flanks and such, but if the party just gangs up on them (as with this one), they're pretty much toast. Sure, it'll be tough, but I think your PCs will surprise you.


Q) Why is Xeres such a badass?

A) Well, he's the climactic big bad, so you tell me!



Any other questions, feedback, thoughts, rants, criticism, whatever--I'd like to hear it!


Cheers,

Erik Scott de Bie

 


EDIT: Good call re: sblock!

Hi Erik,
Thanks for posting here!

I and my group am really enjoying the adventure so thank you for that.

The overall concept of Encounters is a great one, although some of us DMs are having a hard time finding exactly the right balance between running this as a published "event" - which is traditionally run pretty much as written  - and running this as a 12 week mini "campaign"  - which can and should be highly customized to DM style.

Because my play group in week 1 specifically requested lots of role-playing, I am in campaign mode although staying true to the story line and essential elements to retain the shared experience of this program.

What are your thoughts on this?  The adventure certainly has a lot of text inviting the DM to be creative, but many DMs are trying to find that fine line between enhance vs. re-write because we understand and appreciate the benefit of a party in Peoria experiencing the same challenge as one in Boston or LA.

Caution BTW - I think you should be a little bit more circumspect regarding the spoilers because I know some players will look at this.

James
Depending on how much experience your table of players have...

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a solo with 24 AC and 168 hitpoints isn't that big a deal.  Aid another is huge in these instances, so if they can't hit, you could perhaps hint to the table that they could perhaps distract him, offering the big hitter in your group an opening (flank + aid another = +4 on that attack roll).


I like to keep lurkers hidden till someone is bloodied if at all possible, striking when the opportunity presents itself.  If that means remaining out of the fight for a few rounds to not be exposed, well, then I would just ready an attack should anyone approach.  Hmm, can you ready a move action should someone come within 1 square of you?  Wouldn't that tick off a charging barbarian. 

I agree with Shaadow, use the sblock tag to hide stuff []
The overall concept of Encounters is a great one, although some of us DMs are having a hard time finding exactly the right balance between running this as a published "event" - which is traditionally run pretty much as written  - and running this as a 12 week mini "campaign"  - which can and should be highly customized to DM style.

Because my play group in week 1 specifically requested lots of role-playing, I am in campaign mode although staying true to the story line and essential elements to retain the shared experience of this program.

What are your thoughts on this?  The adventure certainly has a lot of text inviting the DM to be creative, but many DMs are trying to find that fine line between enhance vs. re-write because we understand and appreciate the benefit of a party in Peoria experiencing the same challenge as one in Boston or LA.

Good question, and that is certainly one of the unique elements of the Encounters series. I think it depends a lot on your situation--if you're going to be having the same people (more or less) every time, then you certainly have more opportunity for RP/story mode. I purposefully wrote it to allow a lot of flexibility on the DM's part, and also so that you could take the boxed set and run it at your own home table however you wanted. It's also a good thing to ask the players--some may want the consistency, some may not care one way or another.

Per rewriting/revision, you should feel free to do that, within the constraints of the adventure, as you think it aids your particular game. I rather think the fun element is more important than the canon/accuracy element. (Chris might have a different answer, but that's where I stand.) I would suggest that if you're going to depart from what's written, you clear it with the players first, then send them to this thread to check out how your build contrasts with what other people are doing? I for one think it would be great to hear about your innovations, but I wouldn't get the full experience unless I knew the baseline.

Aid another is huge in these instances, so if they can't hit, you could perhaps hint to the table that they could perhaps distract him, offering the big hitter in your group an opening (flank + aid another = +4 on that attack roll).

I did an unhide on your advice (dropping the specific situation from your post) so that people could see. This is a HUGE thing to do, and DMs should definitely encourage players to think about trying it out.

Cheers

Hi, and thanks for posting. I appreciate the work done in this adventure and in the others you have written!

The defense level in question has proved problematic in H1 play (levels 1-4) for LFR (Living Forgotten Realms). It isn't that it is impossible, but rather very swingy - it causes variation at tables. Some tables will really have problems, especially if they attack only the highest defense or if they feel their powers are too important (damage-wise, tactically, ego) to substitute for aid another. In general, aid another is seen by players, for good reasons, to be a bad choice. While it can help hit, the math is fairly debatable. It is also less than fun for players.

For the LFR adventure in question, lowering defenses by 2 and increasing the damage dealt has resulted in better runs for me. I will have to look at this particular case, but I might do that as well... maybe even as something that happens in round 3 if the first two rounds go poorly.

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> Q) Really? A solo with AC 24 and bloodied at 84 hp? REALLY?

  I keep seeing this claim (originally posted by someone who was ranting against the Encounters concept) but the only solo I can find in the adventure (2-3) has much lower AC, and the highest AC is 21 (in the final battle).

The Encounters concept is great, The Module is fun and we are enjoying things.

I have a few suggestions that would help DM's (at least they would help me even though I have many years of experience.

1. Since each Encounter is supposed to be a single weekly event having a small intro and exit plot to each week is helpful.

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Encounter two has a bit of an intro - The characters descend into downshadow - but the next things that happens is a fight then - nothing... no text to describe what the characters are doing until next week.  I understand things can be RP'ed but there isn't asuggested 'setup' of the next episode.


2. Encounters should have some continuity bewteen each event.

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Encounter 3 puts the characters INSIDE the room with the stairs (a 10 foot diameter staircase represented by a 15 foot diameter map symbol).

When encounter 3 ends the statues come to life and the creature talks... but when encounter 4 begins if the PC's negotiate the statues don't come to life until they try and go down the stairs... but they were already animated from encounter 3.

Encounter 4 begins with the PC's gathered in the entrance to the room with the stairs yet Encounter 3 had them inside the room opening the stairs.

Encounter 4 has the PC's finding treasure on the bodies outside the room that they would have searched in encounter 3.

This and a few other things are confusing.


3. Encounters should have a bit more tactical information about what the author was considering during design.  I certainly can and do interpret things but trying to understand why the author thinks the terrain is interesting or how the creatures will use the map is very helpful and adds to my imagination


Don't take the comments above as negative.  I am an experienced DM and adjust and add personal touches, but for a new DM trying to find their way or use examples there are a few things that would help them... and I could draw from as well!
Erik-O: For point 1, I plan to read the 'intro' paragraph to encounter 1-3 at the end of encounter 1-2. It will narratively close the 1-2 scene and set the 1-3 encounter's tone for the following week's game.
Erik,

Thanks for posting up.

Question for Session 1-2
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In the Features of the Area listing it says:
Illumination: The platform and all adjacent squares are illuminated by light filtering down from room Y1.
It doesn't say it, but is the assumption that illuminated squares are bright light and the the rest of the room is wreathed in dim light. This has obvious tactical implications as it effects those with out low-light vision or darkvision (targets have concealment).

I had the changeling hide (DC 19) Passive Perception to see unless you have low-light or darkvision.

Most parties that ran it popped a sun rod immediately.


Bryan Blumklotz
Guardians of the Gameday Organizer
www.warhorn.org/guardiansofthegameday

Erik,

Thanks for posting up.

Question for Session 1-2
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In the Features of the Area listing it says:
Illumination: The platform and all adjacent squares are illuminated by light filtering down from room Y1.
It doesn't say it, but is the assumption that illuminated squares are bright light and the the rest of the room is wreathed in dim light. This has obvious tactical implications as it effects those with out low-light vision or darkvision (targets have concealment).

I had the changeling hide (DC 19) Passive Perception to see unless you have low-light or darkvision.

Most parties that ran it popped a sun rod immediately.


Bryan Blumklotz
Guardians of the Gameday Organizer
www.warhorn.org/guardiansofthegameday


Sorry I didn't get to this question (or any of the above) before the session. I left this and a number of things open to DM interpretation, but I interpreted it as bright light on the platform and adjacent squares, dim illumination throughout the rest of the room.

Part of why I didn't waste space making it minutely clear is, as you say, the sun rod issue. I find that tends to invalidate most of your lighting issues in tactical encounters.
Erik,

Thanks for the reply.

I would still waste the little ink it would take to say, "the rest of the room is dim light". Just because not all judges clue into the fact unless you hit them over the head with it and more importantly, if you have a judge that litterally picks up the mod to read 1/2 hour before the event, its a detail that will likely escape them.

Another Question. Generic magic item treasure (example a Level Two Magic Item). What was the intent here? Should the DM just make it up on the fly? Have it prepared? Let the party decide?

Thanks,

Bryan Blumklotz
Guardians of the Gameday Organizer
www.warhorn.org/guardiansofthegameday

Man, the forums seem intent on messing up my reply. Bear with me!

I would still waste the little ink it would take to say, "the rest of the room is dim light".


Thanks for the feedback. I do my best to answer every potential question, but I can't possibly foresee everything that will come up (retrospect makes it clearer), and that's where DM judgment comes in. You should do what works for your game. I also believe I put in a note somewhere at the beginning that says that "Unless otherwise noted, illumination in Undermountain is XXXXX." Whether that made it through editing or not, I'm not certain, and I don't have a copy of the adventure on me at the moment.

Another Question. Generic magic item treasure (example a Level Two Magic Item). What was the intent here? Should the DM just make it up on the fly? Have it prepared? Let the party decide?


Again, you should do what works for your game, but how *I* would handle it . . . since magic items are so player-focused in 4e (they're in the PHB, sheesh!), I would tell the players to select a level 2 magic item that they want, and have it be that.

This is partly a design decision, so I don't fill up the dungeon with magic wands, broadswords, and tratnyrs, when no one in the party might actually use those items.

Cheers
I can't belive it took me to readthroughs to get the fact that the apprentice is named  Maerlyn (Merlin).

Ha! I love little things like that.


Not in Spoilers cause I don't know how to do that...
Not in Spoilers cause I don't know how to do that...

Put it in (sblock) and slash (/sblock), except using brackets [] instead of parens.

Cheers
Hey there Erik,

Awsome that you are doing this!

I actually started a thread on this question before I saw your thread, but do you have an basic thoughts on how to run session 3?   I guess I'll leave the question that general for now. 
Quizzit Nizzpin The Moraly Ambiguous Necromantic Gnome From the North Shores of Nethintir "Honestly people, all this worry about dying. I'll bring you back, I promise!" /em fishes around in his pack for a piece of black onyx
Question:

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In encounter 2-4, pg. 36, there is the following line:
"Unless the adventurers took steps to keep the slain adventures in H1 from rising , they recognize the hapless souls who perished before they arrived".

The only reference I see to bodies is in 1-4, under Shattered Wall, which says: "Bodies lie strewn about the opening"

Are these the same bodies? Or are there bodies elsewhere I am missing? I didn't see any flavor text to the effect that these bodies in 1-4 where the remains of the adventures that tried and failed, as related by Fayne in 1-1.

The Entry Hall on pg. 26 is H-2, but I am not seeing an H-1. Perhaps I am just dense?
I actually started a thread on this question before I saw your thread, but do you have an basic thoughts on how to run session 3?   I guess I'll leave the question that general for now. 



Thoughts on running encounter 3:
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Generally speaking, it's a dungeon crawl as a skill challenge. I left it intentionally very free-form so that you don't have to feel constrained by a single set of encounters/rooms. Every skill check is the adventurers dealing with one room or another. Put all your descriptive talents to bear in fleshing out the rooms, and don't worry about adhering to canon. Undermountain has limitless variety.

I did compile a list of suggested rooms for use during this encounter--not sure if it made the final cut. You can also draw on the FR Campaign Guide, the Expedition to Undermountain book (from 3.5), or any of the earlier FR Undermountain boxed sets. Basically, this is my gift (or curse) to DMs to let their imagination roll.

Do as much roleplaying as possible during this encounter--it should have the feel of a classic dungeon crawl, without being bogged down in tactical encounter after tactical encounter.


@Sester's question:
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In encounter 2-4, pg. 36, there is the following line:
There reference in 2-4 is indeed to the bodies in 1-4. The room where the heroes meet the imp is, I believe, H-1, but there could be a misprint. I confess it is confusing!

Basically, this is just a flavor reason for why there are suddenly zombies coming down the stairs.


Cheers

@Sester's question:
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In encounter 2-4, pg. 36, there is the following line:
There reference in 2-4 is indeed to the bodies in 1-4. The room where the heroes meet the imp is, I believe, H-1, but there could be a misprint. I confess it is confusing!



Related to your spoilered answer, I am still confused on the transition from 1-3 to 1-4.
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The end of 1-3 says that "The door vanishes in a burst of light ... a staircase spirals down where the door once lay.  The way lies open.  Light flares above the door...", but the map in 1-4 looks like the "PC Start Area" is where the door had been.  I'm confused!  Is the arcane symbol on the ground a stairway that spirals down?  It is described as the source of light in 1-4, and again as a stairway in session 5.

If this is correct, the bodies in 1-4 should be the previous adventurers, and the healing poition on their bodies will have to be shaken loose from the rock slide.  Also, people should mention that the opening of the door is what makes the rockslide possible, since it should be noticed during the skill challenge to open the door. 

Also, if the party should fail the skill challenge in session 3, should they not be able to negotiate with the Imp?  It doesn't make a lot of sense to have them blast their way in, and then convince the Imp that they are on its side, but I don't want to deny them the XP from a Skill Challenge success and remove XP from the next encounter.  Does a surprise round (or at least a dazed round) make up the encounter XP for the skill challenge?

What makes me sad - no more compiled magazines: http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/27580349/Dungeon_and_Dragon_Magazine_PDFs&post_num=24#495423645

@Sester's question:
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In encounter 2-4, pg. 36, there is the following line:
There reference in 2-4 is indeed to the bodies in 1-4. The room where the heroes meet the imp is, I believe, H-1, but there could be a misprint. I confess it is confusing!



Related to your spoilered answer, I am still confused on the transition from 1-3 to 1-4.
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The end of 1-3 says that "The door vanishes in a burst of light ... a staircase spirals down where the door once lay.  The way lies open.  Light flares above the door...", but the map in 1-4 looks like the "PC Start Area" is where the door had been.  I'm confused!  Is the arcane symbol on the ground a stairway that spirals down?  It is described as the source of light in 1-4, and again as a stairway in session 5.

If this is correct, the bodies in 1-4 should be the previous adventurers, and the healing poition on their bodies will have to be shaken loose from the rock slide.  Also, people should mention that the opening of the door is what makes the rockslide possible, since it should be noticed during the skill challenge to open the door. 

Also, if the party should fail the skill challenge in session 3, should they not be able to negotiate with the Imp?  It doesn't make a lot of sense to have them blast their way in, and then convince the Imp that they are on its side, but I don't want to deny them the XP from a Skill Challenge success and remove XP from the next encounter.  Does a surprise round (or at least a dazed round) make up the encounter XP for the skill challenge?



I'll do my best to unfold my intention here--I hope this clarifies the text. My caveat here is that I'm not looking at a copy of the actual adventure in front of me, so I'm just going from what I wrote:

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There's a door from the hallway into the guard chamber where the PCs meet the imp. The dead bodies lie littered outside that door, having been slain by Halaster's Wards.

The guard chamber (where the imp is) is itself connected to the inner chamber via a spiral staircase that is indeed covered over by a big stone slab with a glowing rune scribed across it. Coming near this trapdoor summons the imp.

When the encounter in session 4 is completed, then the runic slab (i.e. doorway) bursts open in dazzling light, revealing a clear path. The way I would do this is to lay a spiral staircase tile (like from the Arcane Towers set) on the runic slab when the encounter is complete. That way, the PCs are very clear where their characters are going. (Also note that this same sort of thing happens at the conclusion of session 8, but in that case, it's just a door that unlocks.)

Unfortunately, the ceiling also starts to collapse at this point, so the PCs have to head into the hidden chambers, or get crushed. Note: Make it very clear that the whole section of Undermountain is collapsing, and heading down the stairs if their only path to escape. If any PCs try NOT to go down the stairs anyway, you are within your rights to knock them unconscious with falling rubble and push them down the stairs. It doesn't matter a lot, as this is their first planned opportunity to take an extended rest. It's very railroady, but hey, at least the PCs aren't dead.

As for dealing with the imp, The imp is conjured by the PCs' arrival, so if they succeed/fail at the skill challenge in session 3, it doesn't matter--the imp still isn't there until they actually step into the room, and it spawns without any prior knowledge of them, whatever their previous actions. If they make a big explosion after the imp has appeared, then yeah, they might automatically fail the skill challenge, or at least suffer a penalty to their initial skill checks.

The skill challenge is mostly in place for if the PCs do NOT want to fight the imp and its guardians. You as the DM should exercise your judgment about whether to offer them that option. If they negotiate with the imp and then attack anyway, they should get a surprise round in the resulting combat, but deduct the skill challenge XP award from the XP they get for the tactical encounter. Basically, you should follow the guidelines at the beginning of the book for how much XP each PC should be getting in each encounter.


Cheers
Yo!

I posted this over in the good, bad, and ugly thread, and I thought I'd repost it here. I hear sometimes that the encounters are really hard or turn into TPKs, which drives players away. Yes, that will absolutely drive players away. You as the DM should *avoid* such circumstances:

Are the Encounters too hard?

It's a fine balancing act, to be sure, which relies a lot on the DM.

When I wrote the adventure, I set out to produce encounters that were challenging without being absolutely deadly or absolute cakewalks. I did this by:

1) I didn't put in creatures with gotcha abilities (except maybe
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the beholder
, but that's another session!).

2) I tried to make things tactically interesting, i.e.,
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the dwarf and the bridge of death, the halberd-wielding bruiser twins, the doppelganger among the minions, the imp who goes invisible amongst his guards, etc.


3) I put in guidelines for scaling the encounter down for weak parties, and up for tough parties.

A lot of this is also going to rely on the DMs and how they interpret the adventure. The goal here is to have fun, not to terrify players with your prowess at running creatures, or sacrifice that heroic feeling in favor of slavish devotion to what's written. You are allowed/encouraged to fudge rolls, decrease monsters' hit points, and reward cool ideas. What you should *not* do is try to murdalize the characters just because I've given you the tools to do it (and oh, I have). If your players are making it a cake-walk, DM the encounters smarter. If your players are having a hard time, then lighten up, DM--gosh!  

Here are some ideas for adjusting difficulty on the fly (I'm paraphrasing lots of the DMG here--you should look in there for more ideas, these are just what work best for me): 

- You're the one who decides the monsters' tactics. You decide things like whether monsters trigger defender abilities or actively try to avoid that, whether they ignore targets in the way and thus provoke attacks of opportunity, whether they focus damage, whether they exclusively go after the squishies. If your PCs are having trouble, no one's going to blame you for making the monsters a little stupider.

- Fudge rolls--duh. The guard doesn't *have* to hit with his halberd every single round. You can turn one of those hits into a miss--particularly one of the crits.

- Award circumstance bonuses for good role-playing, brave actions (like charging the big guy even when you're below 10 hit points), and sheer coolness.

- Just don't kill characters. Fudge your damage rolls. Never ever make a monster do a coup de grace. If characters die outright or fail three death saves, just rule that they're out of the combat and will respawn at the end without having *died.* This should eliminate their chance to get the "survive 8 encounters" award, but at least they don't feel as bad.

In a sense, the Encounters series seems to be exposing all the strengths and weaknesses that D&D has ever had. A lot of it depends on how well you work with the rest of your group and with your DM, and it isn't always easy to get everybody on the same page, whether you want hack/slash, RP, or where you fall on the scale. And a LOT of it depends on the DM.

Cheers
Erik, is Staff of the Apprentice written correctly? Specifically the 'melee' part? What should I do if there are no Arcane PCs and/or PCs who use staffs?


In a sense, the Encounters series seems to be exposing all the strengths and weaknesses that D&D has ever had. A lot of it depends on how well you work with the rest of your group and with your DM, and it isn't always easy to get everybody on the same page, whether you want hack/slash, RP, or where you fall on the scale. And a LOT of it depends on the DM.

Cheers



Very true! I think the RPGA is WotC's best method of retrieving customer data, of how we play ad how we respond to certain situations. I read recently that the U.S. government is planning to study MMOs to discover how people around the world react to dangerous situations. But I digress...

"Ah, the age-old conundrum. Defenders of a game are too blind to see it's broken, and critics are too idiotic to see that it isn't." - Brian McCormick

Heh! I don't think MMOs accurately represent how most people react to danger--there's a difference between when you're walking along with a giant sword and armor and magic, and when you're just a person. But then, there might be some basis for this--people's chemical reactions and whatnot. Not an MMO, but I know Thief: The Dark Project always scared the frak out of me. I could see some value to that!

As to the Staff of the Apprentice, WotC nerfed my original writeup of the item (which was akin to the invoker of wrath class feature), making its power something totally different. I think the recharge of an encounter power is still valuable, but if you're interested in expanding the usage of the staff, I would recommend dropping the word "melee" out of the description, and possibly the word "arcane" as well. (Since there are a lot of invokers who would love to get a hold of such a staff.)

Cheers
This was something that I was wondering about too - the only arcane class that's ever likely to make practical use of the power as written is an artificer, because the others either can't use staff implements or would get better mileage making ranged at-will attacks rather than flailing away with MBAs and hoping for a crit.

So I think I'll drop a word or two from the trigger as suggested.
A friend of mine actually has a STR-oriented wizard: specifically a stormsoul genasi wizard, who takes extreme advantage of the elemental empowerment(?) feat, which allows him to do his STR modifier on pretty much all his attack spells. So basically he's an exceptional controller who does striker damage (7th level, minimum 15 or so damage with an at-will). Add to that promise of storm with shock sphere and thunderwave, and he can REALLY dish out the pain.

Cheers
Within the context of this Encounters season, altering the wording of the staff is (IMO) fine. But I think that you should make it clear to any player that ends the season with it that if they intend to take their character into LFR they will have to use the staff as it is written in the adventure, as that will be the official source for the staff. (Assuming, of course, that Wizards don't errata it somewhere.)

Whilst I'm here, a question about this week's session...

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I know it's a minor thing, but can someone justify to me where the PC are meant to take an extended rest between encounters 4 and 5 please?

E4 ends with them heading down a narrow spiral staircase as the caves system collapses behind them. E5 starts in the room at the bottom of that staircase.

I initially thought that I could just say that they are in a safe place to rest there, but that room has three doors in it (one of which is open). And there's no way that a sensible group of people would just flake out in the entrance way without looking into the rooms, and kicking off Encounter 5.
Within the context of this Encounters season, altering the wording of the staff is (IMO) fine. But I think that you should make it clear to any player that ends the season with it that if they intend to take their character into LFR they will have to use the staff as it is written in the adventure, as that will be the official source for the staff. (Assuming, of course, that Wizards don't errata it somewhere.)

I agree. I trust LFR DMs will make sure their characters use the staff in the manner in which it was intended (or at least written in the rules). And who knows? There might be an errata. 

Whilst I'm here, a question about this week's session...

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I know it's a minor thing, but can someone justify to me where the PC are meant to take an extended rest between encounters 4 and 5 please?

E4 ends with them heading down a narrow spiral staircase as the caves system collapses behind them. E5 starts in the room at the bottom of that staircase.

I initially thought that I could just say that they are in a safe place to rest there, but that room has three doors in it (one of which is open). And there's no way that a sensible group of people would just flake out in the entrance way without looking into the rooms, and kicking off Encounter 5.

And here’s my response:

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The room/hallway at the base of the stairs has no creatures in it, and the party would have to walk quite a ways before they find the room where they fight the tactical encounter in session 5. None of the monsters in Session 5 are the investigative type, nor will they attack unless the PCs go in the room and disturb the stuff (to set off the encounter)--the rats stay in their nest, and the homonculus is set to guard something that is in the room. (I chose them specifically for that characteristic.) Just going close won't do it.

Perception checks and whatever else the PCs do should give them the impression that they would be perfectly fine to rest and regroup before they start exploring.

If the PCs really don't want to rest, that's fine, and you should feel free to reward them in some way for their totally impractical boldness.

Lastly, extended rests are only a mechanical necessity of the game--PCs have to take an extended rest every few encounters, just to keep their healing surge count up, if nothing else. I had to put in an opportunity for them to do that, and this was the only convenient way I could. If you're really big on keeping the story intact, you should feel free to declare your extended rest to be shorter than 8 hours (that's how I do extended rests).


Cheers

An idea for the Extended Rest
Instead of having the stairway end at the foyer, add either a protected landing, with closable/closed doors at end ide leading to/from stairsways, so they continue down, after the rest, into the foyer described; or put in a small room between the bottom of the stairway and the hallway, again with a closed door, possibly locked (easy DC, but sufficient to allow the players/PCs to justify the rest) leading into the hallway.


[rant]
My main question, really, is more mechanical than specifically DDE related: How do you convince a new DM that he has to read the module, and pay attention to what is written?

This past Saturday, at our regular LFR session, in completing SPEC1-1, the DM, who should be better at this by now, had a pair of monsters attach with, in their first three attacks, 3 range 10 area burst 3 attacks. Given that only one of the monsters has a single encounter power like that, and it was rapidly turning what should have been a mildly challenging encounter into a TPK, we objected.

Not to mention that, as usual, he was using an encounter power in an earlier encounter as a recharge power instead.

These days, as the "original" LFR DM for the store, I am mainly playing not to have fun, but to rein in this specific DM's excesses, I am returning to the burn-out that brought out several other players as DMs. Bef9ore this guy started grabbing all the weekend slots. Then again, I will admit, he sometimes seems easier to deal with as a cheating DM than as a cheating player.

Pardon my rant. [/rant]
That sounds like a DM problem, and the organizer/store owner needs to handle said DM--rein him in or tell him "thanks but no thanks."

Any player or DM who willingly abuses the rules is not serving the purpose of the game, and shouldn't be allowed to mess it up for everyone else. That gamer needs to go find another group where they're totally cool with that.

I appreciate the need for individuality, but the point of the game is to "make it fun," and if you can't put a damper on your wild antics in order to preserve that simple rule, you need to give up your seat.

Cheers

- Just don't kill characters. Fudge your damage rolls. Never ever make a monster do a coup de grace.
Cheers



Thoughts regarding this

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I completely agree . . . and yet you have an encounter with Fell Taints. Innocent Not trying to be an ass, but that does seem to run counter to the no "coup de grace" plan


And one more question about a future encounter. Just starting running the adventure because my local store is getting enough people turning up to run two tables and I tend to read materials from start to finish before DMing.

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The Myconid Guards, was changing Pacifying Spore to an At-Will a plan or a typo? I ask because that power as an At-Will has TPK written all over it


Thanks in advance
The Alphadork

- Just don't kill characters. Fudge your damage rolls. Never ever make a monster do a coup de grace.
Cheers



Thoughts regarding this

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I completely agree . . . and yet you have an encounter with Fell Taints. Innocent Not trying to be an ass, but that does seem to run counter to the no "coup de grace" plan

To be clear, my quote "just don't kill characters" was only a suggestion for when you feel that the combat is going against the PCs such that you are going to discourage them. What I was saying was, if you see that happening, shift to a strategy that doesn't kill characters.

My suggestion was never intended to advocate a universal DMing policy--though people seem to be intent on reading it that way!

And one more question about a future encounter. Just starting running the adventure because my local store is getting enough people turning up to run two tables and I tend to read materials from start to finish before DMing.

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The Myconid Guards, was changing Pacifying Spore to an At-Will a plan or a typo? I ask because that power as an At-Will has TPK written all over it


Thanks in advance
The Alphadork

I don't recall that particular issue, but seeing as I meant to copy them exactly from the MM2 (or is that Underdark where they appear?), you should probably go with whatever is actually in the sourcebook.

I will check my copy of the adventure when I get off work and get back to you on this.

Cheers
I've got a question for a future encounter.

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In 2-3, there are two creatures listed in the monster summary, the Plaguechanged Eladrin, and the Protective Orb.  However, I've been unable to find any information about this Protective Orb.  The encounter references it, suggesting it can be bloodied, and make attacks, but I can find no game stats for it.  I assume this was an omission.  Is there a way to find out what this Orb was supposed to do?
I've got a question for a future encounter.

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In 2-3, there are two creatures listed in the monster summary, the Plaguechanged Eladrin, and the Protective Orb.  However, I've been unable to find any information about this Protective Orb.  The encounter references it, suggesting it can be bloodied, and make attacks, but I can find no game stats for it.  I assume this was an omission.  Is there a way to find out what this Orb was supposed to do?

Sorry for the confusion! My answer:
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They're the same creature. The orb initially contains the Eladrin like a prison, and when the PCs bloody it, the orb splits open to release the eladrin, who is then able to move around.

The best analogy is to compare it to an action/RPG boss-fight where the boss changes form halfway through the fight.

Cheers
Treasure question for Encouner 2-1:

treasure spoilers

The treasure table only lists the Session 5 magic item and the Encounter 2-1 Ritual Book on the master list (pg.  3).

However, there is 10 gp worth of coin that the rats have gathered (oooo, shiny!) and the magic key that is worth 5 gp. That should come out to 3 gp per PC (based upon a 5 player table) for Encounter 2-1 (if there is 4 or 6 PC they should still get 3 gp).

Is this just an oversight?


Thanks,

Bryan Blumklotz
Guardians of the Gameday... Oh you  know who I am...
Treasure question for Encouner 2-1:

treasure spoilers

The treasure table only lists the Session 5 magic item and the Encounter 2-1 Ritual Book on the master list (pg.  3).

However, there is 10 gp worth of coin that the rats have gathered (oooo, shiny!) and the magic key that is worth 5 gp. That should come out to 3 gp per PC (based upon a 5 player table) for Encounter 2-1 (if there is 4 or 6 PC they should still get 3 gp).

Is this just an oversight?


I suppose it is. They probably didn't list it because it's fairly small. Feel free to award your PCs that there reward.

Cheers
My question isn't really about the structure of the encounter- more about the out-of-game organization.

One of my big issues with the way the adventure is written is trying to accommodate a DM who is reading the adventure for the first time, an hour before the start. It ended a bit unfortunately, as the said DM was coming in on session 3. He is actually more experienced as a 4e DM (runs one of our Monday night groups) than I am, but from what I heard from his players, he couldn't really role-playing-wise justify the skill checks required for the skill encounter.

After about half an hour his group broke for 5 mins so he could throw a combat together for them.

While I can appreciate room for the DM to wriggle, I can imagine someone fairly new to the game trying to run this and being lost. What do you think I can do to help combat this, keeping in mind that I'm a DM AND organizer, and my time is limited? I'd rather hear it from the man with the story in his head than an organizer or whatnot Laughing
I'm sorry your DM had a hard time with it. It sounds like he either doesn't like/understand skill challenges, or he was trying too hard to stick to the strict mechanics as written. (I don't want to seem down on your particular DM or anything--that's a really hard thing he tried to do, and I applaud him for that.)

Every adventure ever written is intuitive for some DMs and difficult for others, and the "pickup quotient" varies for everyone in much the same way. Particularly the skill challenge in 1-3 is tough for someone who's looked at the adventure for 30 minutes--skill challenges may seem to have fewer rules than combat, but they are no less complex (probably more so, depending on how you do them) and are more an art than a science.

I sympathize, I really do--my own DMing style is largely improvisational (I've been known to run entire adventures with 20-30 min of planning, or with no planning at all and entirely out of my head). But even I wouldn't want to try to stick slavishly to a skill challenge I'd only have 30 min to digest. I would do what I did when I ran this one--describe what was going on and let the players fill in the direction of the game. Remember--PCs can use other skills that don't contribute to the challenge but should help in some way. My game probably saw PCs use 30ish skill checks, only 12 of which were direct successes, but all of which contributed to the overall experience.

There is also really no sensical way to run a skill challenge exactly as written: they require a combination of planning and a lot of improvisation. If you come to an adventure expecting everything to be laid out for you, you're in for a rude awakening. It's like opening up a tactical encounter and expecting the monsters to have round-by-round tactics laid out in detail, with side-branching notes for PC reactions and monster counter-reactions, etc., etc., leaving no room for DM judgment and tactics on the fly. Situational DM judgment is a key assumption in any encounter, whether tactical or skill.

As for a solution, I really want to encourage people to let loose when things get tough. If what's written isn't working for you, improvise your own skill challenge with skills that *do* make sense to you. Insight doesn't make sense in context? Do Dungeoneering instead! Also, let your PCs dictate where you're going to go--no skill challenge can anticipate PC creativity. Let them use the skills they're actually trained in (though don't let them just win the challenge with repeatedly using the same skill). Overall, make it fun and run a genuine role-playing experience. 

Cheers


P.S. There is also a great thread wandering around here somewhere which contains tips on running a skill challenge. That may or may not be useful in your situation, but check it out!

Here we go: community.wizards.com/dungeonsanddragons...
Thanks for your quick reply. I probably worry a little too much, as I'm actually being paid as an employee to run and organize this whole thing on an already over-crowded night. Like I said thought I said but apparently didn't, it was probably my favourite night so far, because when DMing I can't follow a page to save my life! I've been very unsure of how much I'm "allowed" to depart from the written material, but your answers have been very reassuring. 

Now all I have to worry about is keeping my fellow DM from delightedly TPKing the party tomorrow (today, actually) and turning newbies off of the game Innocent 

As to the Staff of the Apprentice, WotC nerfed my original writeup of the item (which was akin to the invoker of wrath class feature), making its power something totally different. I think the recharge of an encounter power is still valuable, but if you're interested in expanding the usage of the staff, I would recommend dropping the word "melee" out of the description, and possibly the word "arcane" as well. (Since there are a lot of invokers who would love to get a hold of such a staff.)

Cheers



Hey Erik, I put this question in its own thread before I located this one, but I would definatley appreceat your input as well.

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No one at my table uses a staff for a weapon or implement.  I was considering not only droping the "Arcane" and "Melee" words, but also adding "Dynamic" to the name.  That way, it becomes a +1 weapon of the PC's choice.  LFR useage notwithstanding, do you think this would be too unbalancing?
Quizzit Nizzpin The Moraly Ambiguous Necromantic Gnome From the North Shores of Nethintir "Honestly people, all this worry about dying. I'll bring you back, I promise!" /em fishes around in his pack for a piece of black onyx
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No one at my table uses a staff for a weapon or implement.  I was considering not only droping the "Arcane" and "Melee" words, but also adding "Dynamic" to the name.  That way, it becomes a +1 weapon of the PC's choice.  LFR useage notwithstanding, do you think this would be too unbalancing?


First, obviously you need to do whatever works for your table.

Second, while I like the dynamic idea (and that's already a weapon enchantment out there), I would recommend you pick one particular item it shows up as. The players should be given some input there as well--if their controller is an orb user, or if people are big wand fans, make it that.

But the last thing you want is characters swapping the item and making it whatever they want during a combat. For instance, the wand wizard who attacks with it, then changes the wand of the apprentice into the sword of the apprentice as a minor action and as a minor/move action tosses it to the fighter, who then attacks, changes it into the holy symbol of the apprentice and tosses it to the cleric, and so forth and so on.

I further suggest that you keep it an implement and not a weapon, since otherwise you're going considerably far from the intended flavor. Sometimes people just find things that don't work for them--it's part of D&D.

Third, whatever you do in the game, remember that moving on from DDE, characters do not get to keep some cool houseruled item. It's just gonna be the staff of the apprentice.

Cheers
The item is what it is.  You are not always going to find items in a dungeon left behind that can be usable by your party members.   
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No one at my table uses a staff for a weapon or implement.  I was considering not only droping the "Arcane" and "Melee" words, but also adding "Dynamic" to the name.  That way, it becomes a +1 weapon of the PC's choice.  LFR useage notwithstanding, do you think this would be too unbalancing?


First, obviously you need to do whatever works for your table.

Second, while I like the dynamic idea (and that's already a weapon enchantment out there), I would recommend you pick one particular item it shows up as. The players should be given some input there as well--if their controller is an orb user, or if people are big wand fans, make it that.

But the last thing you want is characters swapping the item and making it whatever they want during a combat. For instance, the wand wizard who attacks with it, then changes the wand of the apprentice into the sword of the apprentice as a minor action and as a minor/move action tosses it to the fighter, who then attacks, changes it into the holy symbol of the apprentice and tosses it to the cleric, and so forth and so on.

I further suggest that you keep it an implement and not a weapon, since otherwise you're going considerably far from the intended flavor. Sometimes people just find things that don't work for them--it's part of D&D.

Third, whatever you do in the game, remember that moving on from DDE, characters do not get to keep some cool houseruled item. It's just gonna be the staff of the apprentice.

Cheers



Haha, I had totally forgotten the whole concept of the narrative of the adventure.  I suppose finding an Executioner's Axe in a wizard's laboratory would be a bit odd wouldn't it?  I suppose I blame that oversight on the fact my table is made up entierly of power gamers.

/turning gears   Hmmm, Ill have to think about it.  Thanks for the input Erik.  Loving the adventure by the way.

The item is what it is.  You are not always going to find items in a dungeon left behind that can be usable by your party members.   



While this is true, D&D is supposed to be fun.

Finding magic items is fun.
Finding useless magic items....not so much.

I had a DM who's BBEG's ALWAYS had magic items that were less powerful than what the party was using.  +1 weapon when we all had +2 weapons, ect.  It was lame, and a buzzkill after defeating the bad guy.
Quizzit Nizzpin The Moraly Ambiguous Necromantic Gnome From the North Shores of Nethintir "Honestly people, all this worry about dying. I'll bring you back, I promise!" /em fishes around in his pack for a piece of black onyx
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