D&D Encounters Field Reports - Season Review

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HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.
Mudbunny SVCL for DDI Before you post, think of the Monkeysphere
Use this thread to discuss your experiences with D&D Encounters. 

To make life easier, for this thread, and this thread only, there is no need to put spoilers. However, I expect people using this thread to only bring up specific points if they are discussing it.

Also, please discuss your feelings and thoughts towards D&D Encounters and realize that other people may have had a different experience than you. Your experience does not mean that someone else's contracting experience is wrong, nor does someone else's contrasting experience mean that yours has been invalidated.

See also the thread here.
Mudbunny SVCL for DDI Before you post, think of the Monkeysphere
We're only a few sessions away, but there are a few things that I've already taken from running Encounters:

1. I love the idea of this much more than RPGA. It was easier to get a community of players out for an hour or so each week than trying to run a 4-6 hour module. We had wives and girlfriends showing up to try it out, kids, and grandparents. It was a pretty decent success in my town.

2. I might ask that for future seasons, WotC make the pregens available as .ddi downloads. The cards were a bit unusable, and had some errors that weren't readily apparent. Having them on the character builder would allow them to be printed off, as well. Many of us went ahead and built them, anyway.

2a. A secondary point to the above, I use a netbook when running combats (using the 4e combat manager freeware) and had to build many of the monsters from scratch. A possible download of the monsters for import into the monster tool would have also been greatly appreciated (could be accessable only for DMs on the WPN site downloads, to keep it secret).

3. For future modules, there was a lack of interesting terrain in many of the encounters. The first one was awesome, and really drew in the players. The second encounter, though, was really lacking. Not all were bad, and the twitter updates helped, but some more interesting terrain would be nice, along with more interesting rooms. Many were just open space with monsters in it. Hallways, bridges, and some separating traps would have been exciting (not necessarily hard ones, mind you, just some more exciting features).


I will say that it's been an absolute blast each week, and I'm looking foreward to season 2. More to come after the final session.
I find the Encounters program to be an excellent gateway drug.  I have seen at least a half dozen new players coming in after viewing the "Robot Chicken" you tube vidoes, and finding that they can just sit for an hour and give it a whirl is much less intimidating than a 4 hour LFR game.

I like poster maps, but these are freaking huge.  First night someone spilled soda on the map I was using, thankfully it wasn't terribly damaged and it's made it through the season so far.  Just a few more to go.  Any change for slightly smaller and more manageable maps in future seasons would be good.

Something other than pogs with "Monster 1" would be cool, but if it's a production thing then I guess that's what we get.  The pogs that came with the adventure for Weekend in the Realms last time around were good, they had pictures on them.  I'd love to see minis come back but again, if there are issues with production then that shouldn't be the limit.  I have a ton of minis and usually have what I need on hand.

Limiting retailers to Weds only is a bit of a problem.  It limits my ability to offer more tables of this to run because of competition from other things going on in the store.  If we could set our own schedule it would be much better, but I understand the desire to set this up similar to FNM.
 
Having access to Erik Scott DiBie while running this has been very helpful, particularly when I had trouble figuring out the intent of something.  Tip of the hat to his vested interest in the program, and good job staying on top of things.

Lastly, PDF versions ahead of time is a lot better than sitting down with zero prep time to start running an adventure (which is what happened to many of us), and have PDFs or CB files for the pregens so that we can level them up easily (although  I think Dark Sun will address this).  What Dark Sun won't address is if a player leaves with a character card but never comes back!

Thanks for this excellent program, this is far superior to the Delve Night program.
 
Thanks to all the players and DMs who've been participating on these boards as well. I find it really helpful to compare notes and occasionally offer fixes for my own design eccentricities.

I hope this sort of thing continues in Season 2.

Cheers
I hope this sort of thing continues in Season 2.


this has probably already been asked before, but are you the author for season 2 as well?
I hope this sort of thing continues in Season 2.


this has probably already been asked before, but are you the author for season 2 as well?

I am not.

I haven't the foggiest who wrote Season 2 or what happens--though running a table is definitely an option in season 2, I'm thinking I might like to play. We'll see.

Cheers

I hope the author of season 2 is as helpful (on these forums) as you are, Erik. Sharing your intents, suggestions and "designer notes" (which, sadly, few games include these days) have significantly improved my presentation and player experiences with this adventure. Thank you!  Laughing
As a player, I had some truly mixed emotions about Encounters. First off, I really enjoyed getting to sit down and play (as a player, rather than as a DM), and the shorter timespan made it much easier to fit into a weekly schedule.

The drop-in/drop-out player format had the upside of not needing to worry if 'everyone in the group' could make it on a specific day/time - the bane of most gaming sessions. The downside was that the other players were truly a mixed bag - some were fun to play with, and some....eh, not so fun (to be fair - the 'not so fun' ones may have felt the same way about me).

The encounters were brutally hard. We only had fewer than 5 players one week, and we usually had 6. There was typically a good mix (at least one leader/healer type, always at least one striker, and usually either a controller OR a tank, although rarely both types at the same session) of classes and roles. Part of the difficulties came from encounters/monsters that virtually required a specific type of damage dealer to survive - whether a burst/area attack to hit a swarm, or a class dealing psychic damage - since the alternative was to have the entire party dealing 1/2 damage the entire fight. To be fair, one of the reasons our combats were brutal was that on any of these type monsters/encounters, we had either zero or one character who could deliver the key damage type.

(My perception) The encounters were built to defeat the party of adventurers, not for the adventurers to have fun.  1st level characters facing opponents who are designed to coup de grace?
Multiple instances where the terrain was artificially designed to handicap the players and benefit the monsters (encounters 1 & 9 were notable exceptions to this, and I don't think it is any coincidence that our party had an easier time in those fights since we were utilizing bridges, chasms, etc as a stabilizing force in the battle).  Rooms where once you walk in, the force field slams behind you, and you are trapped in an (effectively) featureless square room that is built with dimensions allowing the monster to stand anywhere in the room and hit a character standing in any other square.

Finally, the 'steamroller' method of plot advancement - while perhaps viewed as neccessary to keep groups nation/world-wide on the same schedule was a real downer. Knowing that creative solutions to the environment and situation were pre-doomed to failure is frustrating, and being force-fed from door 1 to room 1 to door 2 (the key for which was in room 1) to Room 2, and door 3 (which needed you to complete Room 2) to Door 3 was by far the worst part of Encounters.

All-in-all, I found the Encounters experience to be fun, but not overwhelmingly so. I'd play in it again, but wouldn't cancel out of something else to do it.

My thanks to Wizards for putting Encounters out into the environment, the Lincoln Hobby Town for sponsoring the space to play, and the 3 guys (Joel Teply, and I'm afraid I don't know the other two) who gave their evenings to DM every week. And to the other players who helped make it a fun season!

Kharybdis, Hobgoblin Bard
I think a lot of the problems with the first season of DDE will be fixed with the pregens in Season 2. Things like party mix, monsters with weaknesses that can't be hit by the party, etc. will be gone. I originally wanted to be able to make my own character for Season 2, but I can see the benefits of using pregens, at least for this new setting.

Now that I thnk about it, if the main point of DDE is to introduce new players to the game, then pregens are really the way to go. Someone who's never played D&D (or at least not 4th ed.) would be overwhelmed by creating a new character at first. Pregens allow players to see how the mechanics work, and then they can break out and try their own stuff. Having both pregens and player-made, like in season 1, is nice, though. Maybe there could be some kind of "recruitment" for tables so that things like "PCs who deal radiant damage" or something are covered.

A better mechanic for PCs dropping in and out would be good, too. At first, the Undermountain thing made sense, at least to me: we're in a huge area where adventurers are wandering around and can (theoretically) wander into and out of groups at will. At least until the ceiling collapsed and we were stuck with a small group of PCs (that randomly changed anyway). Then the whole drop in/drop out thing broke from a game standpoint. We went along with it, anyway, but still. Granted, this is covered with pregens, but playing "my" character is more fun, IMHO.

I think I'm talking myself in circles now, so ... yeah. This is a great program, and I hope that it keeps growing. Oh, and being able to schedule it at a non-store public location *coughlibrarycough* would be good. Thanks.
My review is positive,

Tons of fun, everyone having a great time. Love it, and will continue on to season two.. The switch to pregens makes a lot of sense to us.

making a table w/ 6 characters, and letting anyone sit down at it, allows people to switch in and out each week with minimum disruption,


as for season 1..

Encounter design - My party has some complaints about the consistant use of aura damage over the last 5 sessions, from the swarms, spellplagued eladrin, beholder etc...  Small rooms and auras w/ lvl 1 healer and lvl 1 hp's.  Anyway, when fighting the beholder my party was crying "enough already with the aura's"

As a DM I thought the encouter design was top-knotch. enough variety and interesting abilities to give me something to work with for dynamic combats. There hasnt been any stand still slug matches. probably due to all the aura's .. so i can see thier benefit.

Overall - Players have been excited. Combats have been tense and close every week. Theres always someone making death saves .. I wouldnt run a long term campaign at this level of difficulty, but i think it works for a once a week single fight.

My players are both excited and terrified every time they sit at the table.  especially after sessions 7 and 8, where we actually had some fatalities.
I try to add some kinda scary 3d prop to each map to make em wonder beofre the encounter starts too, i built a portal out of an o-ring and some red electrical tape.. used a small globe lamp for the eladrins orb.. Builds tension quite effectively.

Anyway, lot of people having a lot of fun, and we all can't wait for dark sun season 2



I have to say that this has been a positive experience for me. I am serving as DM for a group at a public store. I invite members of the Meetup.com group for a weekly game night anyhow, so I started coming early and running two unique campaigns each week.

This story is interesting, I can note a few strange things that I'd like to not see in the future. However, there are also some things I hope to see again and again.

The use of subtle clues to discover the identity of the apprentice added lots of enticing tidbits, but players didn't realize that calling out her name during that battle against the specter would be of any benefit. If a series of clues are included in the future, among those clues there ought to be a clear indication with how to use the information once all the clues are gathered and combined.

Because the attendance for some players was not 100%, PCs came and went. As the setting presumed that the group was trapped, the same team should have remained intact each session. Also, how could a dead character be replaced??? However, on the week in which the wards had been disabled and Fayne walked through the portal, it was very convenient to introduce three new characters that walked through the portal beside her as reinforcements. In the future, there are two solutions that I see with this. One is to have a set team and each member of that team is present in the adventure during all weeks of an Encounters season. If a player is missing, someone else can play that PC (or the DM can run a few actions from that PC). If a player wants to create their own, it should happen at the beginning of the season and should take the slot of a published character, yet still be subject to the same rule that it is present at interacting even in limited ways. A second solution might be to place the adventure in a setting where the coming and going of PCs from the team might make more sense.

I was also pleased that the list of treasure was published and referenced for each encounter. It was special to see a set of items published for use in this adventure. It is exciting to think that subsequent seasons will introduce items, monsters, and possibly boons which can later be used in other settings.

The use of renown points was a positive thing. I chose not to tell the players would could earn a renown point; i didn't want them actively seeking renown points by inappropriate actions. A player seeking the 50 damage during a session, or desparate for the 15 points of damage might make foolish choices that will become a detriment to the party. I also would not like to see renown points given to players that choose a specific book (PHB3) to create a character, particularly if they find out after the initial character creation has concluded. I do support the renown point for choosing to use the Character Builder.

some of the battles are occurring in confined spaces. I would like to see slightly larger areas for encounters. This is particularly important if there are six players and I feel the need to include one additional monster. The area becomes very confining. While discussing monsters. I would prefer to not see monsters using an Aura; I typically forget the aura. It would change the entire encounter if I'd remember in some cases.

In another thought regarding monsters, in particular the beholder. It had a burst attack upon death. Unfortunately, I rolled a natural 1 on that death attack. There was a feeling of... for lack of a better expression... "meh," from the players about the beholder at that point because it had done somewhat limited damage and even the death burst was ineffective. I don't suppose there is much that can be done about that sort of problem, but that's my comment.

The skills challenge sections can run much faster than an encounter. I would love to see more skill use as well as skill challenges during future seasons. One reason I feel skill use to be a good candidate for this change is because before and after combat the players wanted to interact more with the environment. They wanted to know more of what things looked like; they wanted to find more things that would bring in more immersion. Also, because the combats do not take a great deal of time, many are willing to stay later with interest in knowing more of what is on the map. In fact, the maps could be printed individually rather than all on one single poster. That would help to reduce their need to just see what is in the next room; i happen to know that there is an encounter in the next room ("you can't go in there yet")...

I'm very excited about Dark Sun. It is a favorite of mine among campaign settings. I look forward to the Dark Sun Encounters Season with great anticipation. I suspect that it will be fantastic and that there will be many tips integrated from season 1.

I am very pleased by the D&D Encounters program. It is a fairly open environment which introduces players to 4e in a friendly way. I've even found a player that was staunchly against 4e who could find no other games in the region and has been very pleased to play 4e with us. It is changing his attitude abotu the game.
I've had lots of fun with encounters as a player.  The DM for our group has been great, and has a good balance in the difficulty of the creatures.  The only week that didn't seem the best was the one that was nothing but a skill challenge.  The DM did wonderful and I enjoyed the session, but I left feeling bad for the guy who was just starting that weak with a new two-handed fighter.  The skill challenge encounter, unless ran by an awesome DM will be pretty disappointing for new people.  And skill challenges rely very heavily on the DM and the players to make them stand out.

For next season, I was a little leery on nothing but prebuilt's but I've come to looking forward to it now.  No more worrying about what characters/roles will be there, as well as worrying about how others will look at my character.  Myself I usually only do average builds on my character, or I sometimes try to optimize something outside of the class's normal scope to make them unique.  With only 2 levels, I wanted a unique character, others might see as with only 2 levels they need to stretch everything to total optimization.  This way now, for first session I can show up with nothing but my dice, and be ready to play whatever the group is lacking.  After that, I'm sure I can trade with someone else, if I want to try something different.

Or, if I can be sure that I can make (at least a full chapter) regularly, I might even offer to DM a table if my location is in need of it.

Always a GM, never a player (not really but sometimes feels like it).

Hex Grid UserPopcorn InitiativeAndroid UserD&DMapTools

DungeonScape

I've greatly enjoyed Encounters. The guys I play with are all new, so it's fantastic to play with old-timers. We've had a lot of fun, and ur group just really sorta clicked. I plan to DM Season 2.




My only complaint?



Why isn't Season Three Eberron? Seriously? We'll end up fighting Tiamat again if the CC keeps going this way.
Shaman: "Why doesn't the squirrel shoot the wizard?" DM: "Because the last squirrel who tried to shoot the wizard missed, then was pulled out of his tree and incinerated." Wizard: "He has a point."
Do we know what season three is going to be?
No, but the terms of the Creature Competition mean that one of four characters will be linked to it somehow: Alassra Silverhand (FR-specific), Artemis Entreri (FR-specific), The Raven Queen (PoL-specific), and Tiamat (generic).

Only Tiamat could reasonably be linked to an adventure in the Eberron setting. The upshot of this is that Eberron has a different spin on what she represents (a bound demon lord/Rajah rather than a deity), so it won't have to feel like a Scales of War retread.
D&D Encounters has been a huge success in our area. It has served as a very different but still effective means to bring new players into D&D (as compared to Living Forgotten Realms). It does not replace or displace LFR in any way... most LFR players avoid D&D Encounters because of the short duration and ease of play.

I have the following comments/suggestions:

  • More kits. There should be enough kits to support both the initial ordering and then expanding demand.

  • Sanctioning should provide downloadable pdfs of the adventure suitable for DMs. One drawback of DDE was that the store could not give DMs the adventure. We had several backup DMs, but not enough adventure modules for all DMs. A simple non-pretty pdf version would help DMs prep without taking anything away from the store.

  • Maps. It is great to have full-color versions of the encounter. Ideally they would be separate mini-posters for each encounter, so that they can be stored flat (instead of folded) and brought out one encounter at a time. Not a big deal, though.

  • Challenge level. The challenge level for an intro game was too high. DDE should have an easier challenge level, or else make the desired outcome ("pull punches") made clear within the adventure. There are far too many tales of TPKs, killer DMs, frustrated players, etc.

  • The intent of each encounter should be clear. For just about every encounter there were threads here about how to interpret how the encounter should play out. This was often about challenge level, but also about clarifying monster tactics, terrain, and the purpose of various powers/features. Having Erik participate was invaluable, but ideally the encounters are clearer about the intent. Examples: if terrain includes a deep pit, it should be clear whether monsters will try to get the PCs to fall into it. If a monster has a coup-de-grace power, it should be clear when the monsters will use this.

  • Better background info. Undermountain started with some knowledge checks, but it could have done more to describe this part of the Realms. This will be especially important with DS, since Athas is so very different a world. What is a Templar? What is a kank? What made DDE awesome in my book was that it wasn't just a delve. This was a classic part of a world and had a strong story. To that end, there should be more info on the story. Consider handouts on lore, handouts recapping a session, and knowledge blocks that can be given to players throughout the adventure.

  • If the pregens should level, provide the new versions. While instructions for leveling are ok, it is far better to provide the cards with the new version. Also, ideally there are ddi files and full character sheets the players can download via the D&D Web site. Having more downloadable stuff is cool. Bring the players online for downloadable PC sheets, table tents, etc.

  • There should be clear ways that the game promotes book and DDI sales. For example, a coupon for the PH or Essentials, or for a trial month of DDI really helps a new player take the plunge and explore the game. A coupon for a discount on one of the PH series of minis would be great and is useful for DDE play. Also, making the coupons work only at this store will please the stores.

  • Also, Encounters should be a gateway to RPGA/WPN play. Provide handouts on how to get involved with LFR, how to find the big cons or area cons, etc. A new player that tries out Dark Sun should still want to check out LFR. There are a lot of misconceptions about the RPGA. Give these players a reason to find out the good things it offers. It is far too easy for a player to come to DDE and never know how to get to the forums, to the D&D web site, to the LFR site, to sanctioning an adventure, to creating a group for LFR, etc. Let's better facilitate organized play beyond that DDE experience!

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

It does not replace or displace LFR in any way... most LFR players avoid D&D Encounters because of the short duration and ease of play.



That hasn't been our experience locally. DDE has totally cannibalized LFR. We used to run about 4 LFR modules a month, usually with 2-3 tables at each. Since Encounters Season 1 has started, we've had exactly zero LFR games (previously scheduled LFR was cancelled). It scratches the D&D itch for many players, competes for game store space, and more importantly it ties up the very same DMs that run LFR.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing in terms of growing the game and reinvigorating the brand, but the impact DDE has on LFR shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.
To add to alphastream's experience, locally (Boston) I'm not seeing DDE have a big impact on the LFR crowd, in fact many of the LFR crowd that came the first few weeks have stopped playing DDE. That's not to say that there aren't LFR players playing DDE, there -are-, but they have not stopped playing LFR. And most of the DDE players aren't LFR players.

I can't speak to -why- the LFR crowd is not more into the DDE games, other than perhaps the particular night (Wed) or length of the games might not be holding their interest. I've had a few comments from people that never came that they thought it was too short an event to invest time in given other constraints/tradeoffs.
It does not replace or displace LFR in any way... most LFR players avoid D&D Encounters because of the short duration and ease of play.



That hasn't been our experience locally. DDE has totally cannibalized LFR. We used to run about 4 LFR modules a month, usually with 2-3 tables at each. Since Encounters Season 1 has started, we've had exactly zero LFR games (previously scheduled LFR was cancelled). It scratches the D&D itch for many players, competes for game store space, and more importantly it ties up the very same DMs that run LFR.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing in terms of growing the game and reinvigorating the brand, but the impact DDE has on LFR shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.


Could this be confined to in-store LFR play? Because LFR is 4.5 or so hours long (often running longer with proper RP), it is probably played mostly in peoples' homes. I would not be surprised that a store running LFR might convert to DDE. Personally, I seldom play in stores because I like taking my time. But, I DM DDE (in a store of course) as an addition to my normal LFR play/judging.

If I look at our area, the LFR play is untouched. The DDE play is completely different. It would be nice to bridge the two. I know of one store where the LFR players were considering running two DDE sessions at a time (every other week) so that the sessions would run longer and be worth the drive. They (all pros that worked on their PCs very carefully) are taking 30-45 min per session as compared to our new tables taking 1.5-2.5 hours. DDE ends up being too short for them.

Things in our area that might bridge the divide for LFR players:
  • Allow DDE sessions to be run every other week, two sessions at a time

  • Better scaling and expansion information, such as how to make it extremely challenging or how to have an additional encounter (even for no XP)


Things that might bridge the gap for DDE players:
  • Information handouts so they know about the campaign, how to join LFR, how to sanction, LFR forums, etc.

  • In-game RP tie-ins to ongoing LFR plots

  • Plot points that allow for beginning of the two LFR Quest cards, plus copies of those cards for all players

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

Yes, good point about the reduction in LFR only being public play. LFR listed in the local Meetup group, visible in the Wizard's game locator, or at either of the local game stores has dropped to zero. I really can't assess the impact to home games. I suppose what I'm seeing is that my local games stores aren't willing to support two organized play programs for D&D. They were fine with LFR and the occasional Game Day, but with another weekly D&D program -- especially a game store exclusive one designed to bring in new players (and thus new customers) -- they picked DDE. I can't say I blame them.

Good suggestions for bridging between the two programs.
We have dropped to 0 LFR play here as well.  But thats not the fault of D&D Encounters its the fault of LFR itself.  We have the Wednesday Encounters going on as well as an every other Sunday 2 sessions in one day Encounters group as well.  We have 1 home campaign on Mondays being run by one of our players, but 0 LFR.

Which is sad really.  We were pretty gungho out of the gates even playing the pre modules before 4th was even in the stores.  But our group just lost interest in LFR after the first year maybe 15 months of playing it. Perhaps it will change in time.

But we love the D&D Encounters stuff.
With three weeks to go, I feel that Encounters has been a huge success at The Whiz in Westborough, Mass.  We started out with an in-store sign up that had 4 people registered the Monday before it began, and last week we had 13 players, with potentially one more coming tomorrow.  Far and away the biggest problem I have had is with the high turnout and me the only DM in the store.  i'm very happy that one of the players was a huge Dark Sun fan, and is willing to take a table for Season Two.

As far as I know, there is very little LFR in the Worcester area, at least publicly.  I know that a lot of the people showing up to play Encounters week after week are interested in continuing to play their characters, so I aim to get some public LFR play after this Season ends.

It has been a lot of fun to run this, I love the ease of running a single-encounter, especially with maps ready to be laid out on the table.  The challenge level is great; I've run one TPK, but most fights have been challenging but winnable.  Even the TPK was just a bad mix of natural 20s on my part and lots of misses by the whole player party.  Having access to Eric has been fantastic, it makes clarification easy when needed, and insight into how things should work is always helpful.  I do wish I had read Downshadow before running this, it would have been great to have more of a feel for Fayne before I started.

I know it is too late for Season Two changes, but some tips I would suggest for Season Three:
  • Non-generic token sheets.  I understand why we don't get minis to use for this, but instead of a sheet full of "Monster [1-4]" in four different colors, we should get tokens with a picture of the monster that it should be.  With packages coming out for each Chapter in Season Two, if we got token sheets per Chapter it should be possible to get the enemies needed on one or two token sheets.

  • In-line description for each Encounter.  It makes it a little easy to miss things when you have the pre-combat part of each week's meeting on one page, then the actual combat information a few pages later.

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
Copied over from another thread:

While there are still a few sessions left, and perhaps this isn't the best forum for this...  Some constructive criticism on the first season...

Let me first state that I really like the module as a module.  That being said I think it was a bad selection to be D&D Encounters.

At least in my mind, and I certainly could be wrong...  D&D Encounters should be a system that is designed to be easily portable from week to week with whomever shows up, and ideally a great way to rope new people into the hobby.

The problems I have had with this complex module as Encounters is that much of it gets lost.  Perhaps my experience is atypical, but from week to week I play mostly completely different groups of people.  I have had tables of four and tables of 6+ with widely divergent compositions.  The story line is thus completely lost as people weave in and out of the narrative.

Because the composition and player attendance is volatile, stuff like a new person showing up for a Skill Challenge, or the deadly Solo encounter being a group of 4 Strikers can be particularly problematic ("What?  That's it?" in the former case and "OMG TPK!" in the latter case.)

From my experiences with Encounters, I think that going forward with Season 2 they take one of two potential options to correct this:

1)  Do NOT have such a heavily connected narrative as the plot of the Undermountain story.  Encounters would be better served as a series of loosely interwoven encounters such that they make more sense to people jumping in and out of the narrative.

2)  Saturate the module with a lot more "Box Text" to frame each encounter.  There needs to be a "What has gone before" at the start and a "Recap" at the end.  Again, MAYBE I'm the oddball here and everyone else has a stable group playing week-in week-out, but at the venue I am at (where I have played virtually all sessions) if you were to poll D&DE participants things like "Who is Feyn?" "What are we doing in this dungeon?" or "What are we trying to accomplish?" you would be met with a lot of puzzled looks and scratched heads.  The complex storyline is lost.

OK, that hopefully constructive criticism aside, one other thing is that while a certain level of "railroad-y-ness" is inevitable for this format I (and others sometimes even the table DM) have been confused by some Encounters in the set-up phase.

There is a map, and clearly each room is for an Encounter.  But the Introductory Box text for each encounter seems to presume that the group enters the room and wanders it quite thoroughly.  the introductory text describes parts of the room that are down corridors and around corridors that you can not possibly see from the doorway/entry point or even from the starting squares that the PCs begin the encounter in.

Maybe part of that can be attributed to the DM, but when the previous encounter is in Room #2, and the current encounter is in Room #3 and the Box Text starts before you can even reach the door to #3, and describes #3 in great detail (around corners and such as stated) and then stops (for Initiative Rolls) assuming the PCs are in a particular spot in the room...  I would have just liked to see a little more ability for the PCs to explore on their own even if there is only the one room open to them.

Again, I suspect the fact that this is a complex module with a plot and storyline are part of what requires this treatment, and I wonder if a different adventure format wouldn't have been better suited to Encounters.  I would love to play this module with a steady group at our own pace (not limited to the 1 encounter, per week,  in an hour constraint), but think something that was simpler would have worked better for the format.


 


Nicholas




Mudbunny SVCL for DDI Before you post, think of the Monkeysphere
The problems I have had with this complex module as Encounters is that much of it gets lost.  Perhaps my experience is atypical, but from week to week I play mostly completely different groups of people.  I have had tables of four and tables of 6+ with widely divergent compositions.  The story line is thus completely lost as people weave in and out of the narrative.


I understand, but at some point you have to pick your poison. Do you want strong RP and story? If so, those players that can't stick with it will lose out. The other approach is to just have a series of delves... which is what the old program was like and failed to succeed. Ultimately, a strong story encourages you to play more and to come to each session. The idea is, in fact, that it is painful for a player to miss a session. In our area we generally see the same players every week, with maybe one change per table. The person that missed out, even me as a DM, generally is very sad to have missed the session. That is a sign of success in my book, not failure.

Now, it may be that in your area people just are not willing to do weekly gaming. In that case, there is no reason why you can't do more to shape each encounter as a discrete entity. Here are two possible ways of handling things in that case:
  1. Before each session, spend 5 minutes reviewing the story that happened in the previous two encounters. I actually do this every game, even with my regular table that was there. It helps to frame where the PCs should be mentally. Early on, when a lot of people were changing in and out, I would spend the 5 minutes summarizing the whole story, starting from the beginning. At the beginning of each chapter I have spent 2 minutes summarizing the previous chapter(s). A recap helps RP a lot.

  2. If that is not enough, you could think of a way to recast the story. Maybe the employer, Fayne, has located a ritual that opened a series of portals into Undermountain, all unexplored. Each week is a different portal. Along the way, clues are needed. She sends in teams each week, not necessarily the same teams, and shares any previous clues with the group. This gives you a mechanic for why the teams change, gives you a reason to share the info, and gives you a way to simulate the dynamic in your store. Ultimately, you can still recap the story (such as info on the apprentice) in a way that works.

But, overall, I would hate to see less story. To me, that is a huge part of what makes this program work.

2)  Saturate the module with a lot more "Box Text" to frame each encounter.  There needs to be a "What has gone before" at the start and a "Recap" at the end.  Again, MAYBE I'm the oddball here and everyone else has a stable group playing week-in week-out, but at the venue I am at (where I have played virtually all sessions) if you were to poll D&DE participants things like "Who is Feyn?" "What are we doing in this dungeon?" or "What are we trying to accomplish?" you would be met with a lot of puzzled looks and scratched heads.  The complex storyline is lost.


I have noticed that the way Undermountain is written, a DM has to go back to the overview section for the session, start with that boxed text or setup, then page forward to the encounter and read that boxed text. If you skip the first you lose a lot of flavor. I personally dislike the Dungeon magazine format where you place the combat encounter in a separate section from the narrative of the dungeon "level"... it just confuses the DM.


More boxed text and summary info is good, but ultimately I think this is a DM's job. To the point that DDE should encourage new DMs, then it is good to cover all the bases, but it still ends up being something the DM should do - boxed text is always going to be the DM's job to arbitrate, refine, and make work for the players.

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I have noticed that the way Undermountain is written, a DM has to go back to the overview section for the session, start with that boxed text or setup, then page forward to the encounter and read that boxed text. If you skip the first you lose a lot of flavor. I personally dislike the Dungeon magazine format where you place the combat encounter in a separate section from the narrative of the dungeon "level"... it just confuses the DM.


More boxed text and summary info is good, but ultimately I think this is a DM's job. To the point that DDE should encourage new DMs, then it is good to cover all the bases, but it still ends up being something the DM should do - boxed text is always going to be the DM's job to arbitrate, refine, and make work for the players.




Fair enough, it may well be that the problems I saw were exacerbated by logistical issues, such as the module not being readily available to DMs for proper prep, etc.  But it also does seem to me that this is a more complex storyline than an LFR Module (in my somewhat limited experience).

So, while I could agree that keeping good compelling story is the way to go, maybe making it a bit more digestible in chunks would help.  Like make the Chapter endings be more than when you take the extended rests.  I dunno, just thinking out loud.

It may also be that going to all Pregens in Season 2 will actually help in this regard, since you could theoretically tailor some of the story elements specifically to the PCs.
Good thoughts, Bollaert, agreed.

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

A little note from behind the screen:

I didn't write the Undermountain series the way I did because I thought it was the best organization. I wrote it that way because that was just how other adventures were being written, and I'll be the first to admit that it would be more effective in another format.

I recommend for future Encounters seasons that all you need for every session be printed on 2-4 pages. The room description, all the boxed text, all the monsters, everything. A brief page-long summary of the campaign is helpful for page 1, but after that, I think combining all the info for a given session into one place is the way to go.

Cheers

While there are still a few sessions left, and perhaps this isn't the best forum for this...  Some constructive criticism on the first season...

Let me first state that I really like the module as a module.  That being said I think it was a bad selection to be D&D Encounters.

At least in my mind, and I certainly could be wrong...  D&D Encounters should be a system that is designed to be easily portable from week to week with whomever shows up, and ideally a great way to rope new people into the hobby.



Keep in mind that this is the first time that a series of events like this have taken place or has been designed. Splitting an adventure designed for 3 weeks of play (at about 5 hours a week) into 12(??) sessions of about 1 hour each is as new to WotC and the module writers as it is for the people playing it.


2)  Saturate the module with a lot more "Box Text" to frame each encounter.  There needs to be a "What has gone before" at the start and a "Recap" at the end.  Again, MAYBE I'm the oddball here and everyone else has a stable group playing week-in week-out, but at the venue I am at (where I have played virtually all sessions) if you were to poll D&DE participants things like "Who is Feyn?" "What are we doing in this dungeon?" or "What are we trying to accomplish?" you would be met with a lot of puzzled looks and scratched heads.  The complex storyline is lost.


I think that this may be the best option. Ideallym the DM should be doing it anyways as they would normally do at the beginning of each week. However, WotC should perhaps include short bullet points of what the players should retain from the week before.


Thanks for your suggestions and criticism!!
Mudbunny SVCL for DDI Before you post, think of the Monkeysphere
Hi, everyone-

We've been running 4e in our store literally since the week or release, with an biweekly custom campaign, LFR, and the various Game Days and Free RPG Day events.


With all of that under our belt, we've been pretty pleased thus far with Encounters. WotC has gotten it mostly right, creating a great experience that is fun enough for veterans while being accessible for new players, especially younger players.


The 90-120 minute session format is perfect for generating enthusiasm for regular play, and we hope that part of Encounters never changes.


A few notes and requests, not necessarily in order urgency, but as they occur; I normally try to avoid to much of the 'me too' stuff, but feel that a few of these are important enough to warrant reiteration/reinforcement...


-We are fine with the Wednesday night scheduling, and greatly appreciate the requirement that Encounters be run the same night everywhere.


-Making the adventure available for download and the PC files available through Character Builder would certainly be convenient, but we also understand the desire to maintain some modicum of control over free distribution of the materials, so whatever balance can be struck there is fine.


-Another request to please make 2nd and 3rd level versions of PCs available as pre-prints, or at least DLs. I'd ask that you also simply do away with tracking xp next time, but you've beaten me to that. Nice!


-The maps were fine, and so were the token sets. We never used the Init tracker sheet, and the coasters were cute but not really of interest to anyone but Realms geeks. The banner was AWESOME. A large poster for front window display ala Game Days in addition to the Renown tracker poster would be really nice, please!


-PLEASE make sure you include specific Renown Rewards for players who step in to DM. Making sure that these life-savers don't get 'penalized' for stepping behind the screen should be a priority in Season 2! Maybe a small stack of special DM rewards of some kind?


-Problems with specific single Encounters are going to happen, and every group will swing differently due to luck, but whatever you can do to make the Encounters as CLEAR and CONCICSE as possible will be a huge help, especially if you can move away from the 'published campaign' format and towards a presentation that includes ALL the needed info for any given session in one contiguous series of pages (so that no flipping around the books is needed).


-Please consider being even more specific with regard to Magic Item placement for Season 2. Maybe a list of 6 items, one for each pregen, whenever the opportunity presents itself. Open-ended item choices made for an odd mix this Season, including groups where several characters have the same 'unique' Apprentice items as group composition changes week-to-week.


-Finally, my pie-in-the-sky idea: produce a box set of minis ala 'PHB Heroes' that has figs for the DSE pregens and offer it for sale through the channel. Stores (or play groups) that want them could purchase, those who are happy with minis they already own or the tokens could use them. This strikes me as a nice compromise between the prohibitive expense of providing free minis and the difficulty the tokens have in immersing the players in their PCs.


We're a relatively small store in a small market, so 2-3 tables is a really nice turnout for us, it's more the consistency and enthusiasm generated thus far by the program that has made it a real winner for us. My single regret is that as the store owner and 'lead DM', I've only gotten to actually PLAY just once!


We're very much looking forward to Dark Sun, kudos to WotC for a great start to what I hope will be a long-running program that really helps retailers create communities in their stores.



Thanks!
Jim Crocker, Managing Partner Modern Myths, LLC Northampton, MA www.modern-myths.com
Only complaint was the skill challenge day. That sucked.
Shaman: "Why doesn't the squirrel shoot the wizard?" DM: "Because the last squirrel who tried to shoot the wizard missed, then was pulled out of his tree and incinerated." Wizard: "He has a point."
In our season the number of people that we have show up (to DM and Play) varies between 7 and 21. Because of this we had some people that were playing, had to then DM.  The player, who became the new DM, wanted to the 50 renown points for the Adventurer Reward. But because he became a part time DM he wasn't able to get it.

WOTC People — is there a way so that the part time DM's can still get renown points even if they DM, because most DMs I know would rather play, and DM'ing is a pretty selfless act.

—Guncici
Only complaint was the skill challenge day. That sucked.



Funny, our groups loved skill challenge week.  Us DM's got together and made a map to hand out, and went for pure adventuring cheese.  The store was filled with laughter and took almost two hours to complete.  We didn't run an optional combat since everyone was having fun, anyway.

I will say that the format of the skill challenge was hard to read, so I typed the whole thing out in a spreadsheet for the DM's and moved everything into a much more simple format.  In fact, I forgot that the PC's offered 10% of their gold earnings to the "thieve's guild leader" in downshadow for assistance... I'll have to remind them of that in week 12.  heh.
Only complaint was the skill challenge day. That sucked.



Personally, I would like to see more of a mix of Skill Challenges combined with Combat.  I agree that a day without combat is unsatisfying, but exclusive combat can lack the flavor of role playing.  A combination of both (occasionaly) sounds like fun.
From the season 10 thread, I think there really needs to be a special communication in one of the kits to ensure stores understand that the DMs should have job #1 be "fun". There seem to be a surprising number of judges that fudge things to make encounters very hard or that are uncomfortable with toning an encounter down so that it is survivable. I think there may need to be examples given to show how, for example, a DM that saw his table use up many resources in one week might then reduce the threat in the next week's encounter.

One way to do this is to provide DMs with the scaling rules from the DMG, but for the whole encounter. Reducing or increasing the monsters by one level (+1 or -1 to attacks and defenses, +/- HPs by role (usually 8)) is a really easy way to reduce or increase difficulty and could be a nice de facto rule for DMs. Another tip or scaling method could be increasing the rate of recharge (make a tough power that recharges on 4-6 only recharge on 5-6) or have a too-strong at-will gain a 4-6 recharge. Finally, another very easy tip is to reduce the damage by one die. If a creature normally does 2d10+4 and that seems too brutal, bring it down to 2d8+4.

In other words, I think DMs need both a clear instruction as to the priority of "fun" vs. "challenge" and also need to be given the tools with which to do that.

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

There seem to be a surprising number of judges that fudge things to make encounters very hard or that are uncomfortable with toning an encounter down so that it is survivable.
.....

In other words, I think DMs need both a clear instruction as to the priority of "fun" vs. "challenge" and also need to be given the tools with which to do that.



I just wanted to take a second and address these points.

First of all Alphastream1, I've read many of your posts in these forums, And I've found your comments insightful, constructive and positive. So I speak to you with respect when i reply. If something I say sounds like an attack, it isn't, its just me not expressing myself clearly

But i would like to state that myself and quite a few players do not find "fun" and "challenge" to be mutually exclusive goals.  

The DM's job is to make the game fun at the table. And as both a player and a DM, I would most definitely feel cheated if I am presented with a fair and balanced encounter, and the DM fudged a die roll, or weakened the opponents to let me win.  I do not need my hand held. And i would prefer the story of my characters life decided by my actions, and not by a DM's.

But this isn't the "adversarial" player vs DM games you sometimes read about. In fact, The players trust the Dm not to put them in no win encounters (at least without a way out). And the DM challenges them fairly, and gives the players the respect of letting them win or lose based on how they play, individually, and as a team.  (bolded for emphasis, as this is the main point of the entire post)

Anyway, from a previous post you made, i believe you agree with me that the difficulty level of encounters is a bit high for an introductory level game.

I am not sure what DMs or posts you might of been referring to when you said some were intentionally making things harder. But i am most definitely in the second group you mentioned. I don't fudge for my players. I let the dice fall where they may. I play my vicious killers as vicious killers, my dumb brutes as dumb brutes, and my wolves as pack hunters.

But please note, I do not need to instructed or given the tools to throw the encounter for the players.  I respect my players far too much to cheat and give them an advantage. My players are keenly aware when they die that they died fairly. They trust that my crits are natural 20's. And the AC 8 i just called is not because the rogue is wearing a low cut top.

And most of all. They know when they win, the won because they were AWESOME! They won because THEY won. not because I let them win. They won because i threw every rule in the book at them, and they came out on top.

Those are the stories that we tell at coffee the next day. Those are the stories that live on for years after the games.

Now I grant our play style isn't for everyone. Ive had a person join our game who eventually left because he wanted a more "guided" experience. A Game that was about him, where he always won and came out on top easily, because he was supposed to be a hero. I could not provide that world for him.

An invitation to my world comes with full disclosure. It will be a hard bloody place where you will fight to survive. What you get, you will need to take. What you have, others will want. Where you go, they will be waiting. But If your Brave and Bold and Clever enough, you will become a Legend.

Anyway, thanks for listening. I felt i should present my point of view on the "not fudge the encounters" debate




You talk about you and your players and your games. But these aren't your games. And for the grand majority of people, these aren't the DM's players. And even moreso, these may not even be the players' DM. This is supposed to introduce new players to D&D. A bad way to do that is write encounters that are exceedingly challenging for balanced parties of experienced players who know each other's styles and tactics. The groups for these games change practically weekly and include players who have never even played the game before. You can't guarantee the number of players or much less guarantee the roles! I have been playing since the very first week and only ONCE - just starting two weeks ago when a guy died - have we had a Defender. In groups of 6  that changed weekly! A group of 5-7 people where 5 people have rolled Strikers, the other two probably rolled leaders.

Instead of coming up with a grand list of reasons why fun and challenging don't have to be mutually exclusive, walk into a mall, grab the first 6 people you see, determine their class roles by roll of a d20 split between the 4 class-roles. Now run one of these adventures for them as written. THAT is D&D Encounters, not your weekly scheduled game you have been playing for months with people who remember when there were no squares and Gygax ran dungeons designed to kill the player every 5 seconds.
ya, Cartigan,

 As I said. I think the difficulty level of the encounters adventures is too high for introductory players.

My point was

1- the answer is NOT "dm's should let the party win"
2- The encounters should be better balanced to begin with.
3- We are not the bad guys for playing the encounters as they were presented.


Addendum - Ya, i got off topic a bit. But i tend to go off on a rant when it gets implied that the way to make DnD fun is for DM's to let players win. Or that its the DM's responsibility to make sure that the party walks away from every fight.
Cruel, not everyone plays like you do, but I daresay that as a player I tend to agree more with what  you're saying than not. However, I think it is best for folks to communicate about what they want out of the game and out of DMing. And if everyone agrees on that style of game, then let the chips fall where they may. But the point of D&D -is- to have fun and different people do it differently so while your rant is understandable, it isn't the only point of view.




But the point of D&D -is- to have fun and different people do it differently so while your rant is understandable, it isn't the only point of view.



I couldn't agree with you more. There are many ways to have fun with this game.

I really am not trying to start any great debate or anything, I firmly believe that a forum has rarely changed anyones mind about anything in the history of the internet. Its just a place for people to argue.    

Really, all my intention was to add my voice as an opposing opinion to the "fudging die rolls" camp. And to give some perspective towards the motivation of those who play the encounters "as written". 

I think the encounters have become increasingly more dangerous, And my players quite honestly were expecting something a little more balanced from an "official source". And please note, thanks to frequenting these forums. I have yet to be caught by a typo. 


on the other side
I also can not thank Ericsdb and Mudbunny for the time and effort they have put into these forums and making sure encounters runs as smoothly as it has.. That kind of participation shows a labour of love that goes way beyond what we normally see these days... kudo's to both of you.


 I felt i should present my point of view on the "not fudge the encounters" debate





I totally agree with this post.  As a DM, and even more so as a player.  The reason I stopped playing LFR was because it just felt absurdly non-challenging, every time, and I felt like I wasn't getting the kind of exciting adventure that I wanted.

When I DM, whether for organized play or private games, I roll in front of the players and the dice fall where they may.  I like to make every encounter feel thrilling and dangerous, and for the players to feel like they really overcame a legitimate challenge when they win.

That being said, of course I get that the game needs to be toned down for new players.  I wouldn't throw highly difficult and complex challenges at new people, as that wouldn't be fair.  But at the same time, I don't think it's "fair" to deliberately water down the play experience to the point of giving away automatic wins.  I, like Cruel said, would feel cheated by that.