D&D Encounters Field Reports - Season 2 Review (Spoilers)

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HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.
56269566 wrote:
Use this thread to discuss your experiences with D&D Encounters season 2 - Dark Sun

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 and the original thread for Undermountain here.



I am resurrecting the idea of a thread where we can discuss lessons learned. (as originally done by Mudbunny for Season 1 Undermountain)

The purpose is to share perspectives on what worked and what did not work for Season 2. Possible topics:
  • What aspects were most and least enjoyed?

  • Ordering and reporting process

  • Length of the season / Number of chapters

  • Kit contents / receiving kits by chapter

  • Format/layout of the adventure

  • Suitability of the materials to the audience (both player and DM). For example, how suitable it was to new DMs and new players, to 3E players, to returning 1 and 2E players, etc.

  • Role-playing level, including story/setting/tone/NPCs/pregen-PC hooks

  • Challenge level

  • Types of encounters

  • Ability of the program to encourage store sales

  • Rewards and ease of tracking/awarding rewards

  • These forums and both official and unofficial community support aspects

  • Official D&D web site integration

  • Twitter feeds on Wednesdays


(Note: I am no one official and the official folk should feel free to change any of this thread as needed for their purposes)

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).

I hated not getting a good understanding of the overall plot to start.  It really hurt my abilities to have the elemental spirit have anything useful to say.  Sure, split out the encounters, but give me the overall framework/plot outline so I can improvise more at the start of the season.

Too long.

Encounter 1 was crazy, otherwise of rational difficulty.  If the pregenerated characters weren't such glass cannons, it might have been acceptable, but the silt runners need some "needledrake swarm" treatment.

The format was fine, and the level of detail was fine, except that I'd like to have gotten the total overview at the start.

"Nice assumptions. Completely wrong assumptions, but by jove if being incorrect stopped people from making idiotic statements, we wouldn't have modern internet subculture." Kerrus
Practical gameplay runs by neither RAW or RAI, but rather "A Compromise Between The Gist Of The Rule As I Recall Getting The Impression Of It That One Time I Read It And What Jerry Says He Remembers, Whatever, We'll Look It Up Later If Any Of Us Still Give A Damn." Erachima

I know it has been said before, but in a program meant for one encounter per session do NOT spread the information over three scattered pages.  It's inconvenient to the DM.  There should be an upfront description of the story arc - a couple of paragraphs would do to cover 4-5 sessions, and then for each encounter it should have a section on what happens leading up to the encounter (with suggestions for role-play, skill challenge descriptions, etc.) then the encounter itself.  The current approach causes DMs to miss key stuff or start the game flipping around in the book trying to find all the relevant stuff to read.

I am hoping for some more ideas. Come on peeps!

Here are some of my opinions:
  • I like best the overall concept of short play once each week. I like least about this season the incorrect challenge and information level for the target audience.

  • I think receiving kits by chapter works fine. I would like to see the kits arrive a little earlier, more like two weeks in advance.

  • I think an ideal size is two chapters of four sessions each. 8 weeks is something to which more gamers can commit and still stay connected story-wise. 10 weeks is ok as well. More than 12 starts to really cater to a minority. It can be extended, but requires more chapters and each chapter feeling like it is ok on its own. For example, an adventure could be about clearing a moat-house in chapter 1. It ends with a link to a different foe. In chapter 2 you explore the dungeon of that mastermind, but it is basically self-encompassing. You still want rich story, but you segregate it a bit so players are ok if they do just one chapter.

  • Kit contents are a mixed bag. I really like the module, map poster, and mini tokens. I think the info for organizers is adequate. I would like to see more rewards (especially for judges), more explanatory background stuff for new players/judges.

  • I would like to see pregen PCs available digitally across all levels of expected play and for errata to be done digitally. Players really want this, as do organizers. WotC underestimates the importance of good pregens. They don't have to be optimal, but they should be reasonable, fun, and free of any glitches (at least via digital updated version). Pregen PCs should have RP hooks and for those hooks to relate to the adventure. (Example: having something related to Phye/Barcan's noble family/parents would have been interesting).

  • Each encounter should have information for a new DM. Scaling should be stated clearly and there should be tips on reducing or increasing difficulty and aspects of the encounter that may need adjudication. (Example: "If the encounter proves too difficult, place foes in their own blasts - they are chaotic creatures and not above harming each other.") Introductory information should be more robust and provide more RP. NPCs should not just be disposable 1/encounter. 

  • The challenge level should generally be below average. Tips for increasing challenge can be provided. The first sessions should be easier (the first fight in season 2 is arguably the toughest in all three chapters!) so players get to know their PCs. Encounters should state if they are supposed to be challenging or not and give tips for this. (Ex: "This is meant to be a challenging encounter. DMs may wish to allow PCs to regain a surge prior to this combat if they are out of surges. The encounter will ideally be a difficult but surmountable combat. Reduce or increase minions as needed to help create this outcome.")

  • I liked the variety in encounter design. I think Encounters should showcase terrain, magical terrain features, monster themes, combinations of monster roles, and other cool design to show the diversity of 4E.

  • The program could use something to enable store sales. I'm not sure what. Maybe just a flier encouraging players to support their store and listing upcoming products? Maybe a coupon program where WotC provides a discount for a certain (even overstock) product each month?

  • We need more rewards. We ran out of 10-point cards and won't have enough 60-point cards for players. Judges should get cards. We also could use more judge rewards, such as minis or cool unique things. For example, a single tile sheet that is 3D would be a really cool reward for DMs and would help sell the 3-D tiles WotC sells.

  • A reward tracking sheet would make life easier. In fact, one tracking use of all resources (daily power, magic item dailies, gaining magic items, surges, HPs, action points) is useful (we created some on these boards). 

  • These forums are very useful. Continued author and admin support is desired.

  • The Official Web site does a great job of promoting, especially through the adds for each week's session. The web site should be up to date and have a clear link to these forums.

  • I am on the fence about Twitter. I am curious how much players like it. My personal complaint is that the effects seem artificial instead of story-based.

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).

Alphastream really hit it out of the park with his after action report. Im not one to just say "What he said" but in this case "What he said!"

At the venue I play at everyone seemed to have a good time but many of the things Alpha being implemented would greatly improve that at our venue and others.

The one issue Im going to add more weight to is the lay out of the module. Please change the layout to have all encounter information in one section instead of scattered thru two or even three places in the booklet. Its really hard on new DMs and not so easy on more experienced ones.
I'm second from the left in the picture.


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One thing that would be nice to have in the module, especially for new DMs, is the monster knowledge checks for the various monsters.
This forum has been great to provide it in a nice story based cards but it would be great if it was included in the adventure.
I know it is too late for a lot of Season 3, but some of my suggestions to improve things could still make it into Season 3, Chapter 2.

Likes:
  • Encounters format - I really, really like this format, and it has brought in a lot of new players.

  • Poster Maps - mandatory, really.  One of the times I needed a third table, it worked out well that the extra DM had the tiles used to make the map.  Using recent tiles is a big help.

  • Player Tracking Sheets - We printed the Athas Primer on one side, and the Chapter tracking sheet on the reverse. 

  • Pregens - I really liked that the pregens had some characteristics and relationships built in.  Also I am a big fan of the character sheet, and the fact that it is on dry-erase sheet.


Dislikes:
  • Chapter splits - It really makes life harder having the story spread out over more than one booklet.  I wish there was a good way to fix this, but I have read Chris Tulach's reasons for breaking it up, and I don't have a good counter.

  • Sneak Preview - I loved the idea, and it was really cool being able to see Dark Sun before it came out, but there were too many things left with a question mark.  Inherent Bonuses confused people, themes were hard for some people to understand, DMs had no good built-in monster description, weapon proficency for a lot of Athas weapons were unclear.

  • Reward Cards - Way, way too few of them.  It is easy enough to get 10 points that I ran out of those in no time.  I had a collection of extra adventures and pregens to give out after Season 1 as a consolation prize to the players who got the points for the master card, but after I ran out of all of the cards.  I don't have that luxury this time, so people will be going home empty-handed (aside from the good time playing, and some Dark Sun pregens).


Improvements:
  • Pregens - errors, some really blatant, and not sending out updated cards for when the characters level up.  If we have to deal with three packages, at least send us new character cards - and fix them!

  • Tokens - Look at your Monster Vault.  Now look at your generic tokens.  Now look back at the Monster Vault.  Again, leverage the chapter splits - send out tokens that match what is used in a given chapter!  It saves the questions of "what do those look like?" and looks a LOT better.  I'm on a horse.

  • Recaps - At the start of each new Chapter, there should be a generic "Previously, on D&D Encounters" blurb that could fit perfectly on the Character Tracking sheet, filling players in on what happened in the earlier chapters.

  • Monster knowledge - not a big problem where I was running it, but I always want the Easy/Medium/Hard Knowledge DC checks handy with the monster stat blocks.

  • Dry-Erase - It might be way too expensive, but some D&D Encounters branded dry-erase pens would probably be VERY well received.

  • DM rewards - the status cards are nice, but there was not really enough of them in a package.

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
Just, specifically on Twitter buffs (as our group called them), as someone who was on both sides of the DM's screen:

While, given the initial challenge of this season, the players were quite pleased to see these bonuses come up, I found them annoying to track and too long lasting. When I DMed, I limited to one Twitter effect at a time. I agree that they seemed artificial too. I'm not sure how to improve them though ... maybe make them shorter in effect, and not so global, ie, not affecting everyone? Dunno.
When I DMed, I limited to one Twitter effect at a time.

Mayhap I misunderstood the intent of the Twitter updates, but I thought that the only one usable during a session was the most recently posted one.  (And boy howdy, didn't that +5 fire damage per hit come in handy last session!)  The idea that the four or five tweets might be cumulative never occurred to me.

The wording was inconsistent. A lot of Twitter buffs were "for this session", implying that they'd stack with subsequent twitter comments.