(DMs Only) I'm Really Struggling With Session 9

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I'm having a lot of trouble seeing how this session is going to work as written.

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First of all, the portcullis is locked. 

Second, there's no way to unlock or open it from the side that the adventurers are on (it would be stupid if there were) other than simply trying to lift it. However, that requires a strength check, and the module specifically states that doing so alerts the wear rats.

Third, I don't care stealthy you are, raising a portcullis is noisy. It's going to alert the wererats. So, unless the adventurers can convince the wererats to open the portcullis and let them in, they're going to be stuck on the other side trying to lift it.

Fourth, the tactics for the wererats says that they "keep their distance from the characters, throwing daggers through the portcullis until the characters reach the lair. Then they engage in melee. The wererats each have 6 daggers, so they can do a fair amount of damage to the party while the party is supposedly trying to get the portcullis open. But why would the adventurers even try to get in the lair to fight the rats when they can hit them with area and ranged attacks? Kill them all first, they you can spend as much time as you need to get the portcullis open, and you don't have to worry about the noise.

Fifth, I'm not sure which way the flood current is supposed to take them, but if it flows into and through the lair from the side the adventurers start in, when the wererat pulls the lever and floods the chamber, if the portcullis is not up, the party is going to drown.

Sixth, the character theme tie-in for the pack outcast says that he spots two silvered short swords among the wererats' loot. I assume that these are intended to be used in this encounter since the adventurers don't fight any more wererats after this. The problem is, their loot can't be seen unless/until the party gets beyond the portcullis, and that takes us back to the problems above. Also, is it only the pack outcast that can spot them? If there is no pack outcast in the party, the party doesn't find them?


So, I think this encounter needs to be completely rewritten, and honestly, I'm not up to the task. Help please.
- Rico
You could have the Portcullis up, and when the rats spot the party they activate the emergency shut lever, and it shuts after round 1 or 2 with a bang. With the rats hanging back and hurling daggers it would cause the party to make a tactical choice.

You could have the Portcullis break open from the onrushing water.

I dunno about the silver weapons, I agree they are kind of far away, but its flavor.

You could RP the rats as confused why there are PCs in their sewers, and mistake them for Sons of Algondor right away. In fact you could have them start with that question, and if the PCs say yes, or they're with the heir the rats could crank open the gate (only to have it slam shut at the end of round 1 or 2)
You could have the Portcullis up, and when the rats spot the party they activate the emergency shut lever, and it shuts after round 1 or 2 with a bang. With the rats hanging back and hurling daggers it would cause the party to make a tactical choice.



The portcullis starting in the up position would work. Thanks.

You could RP the rats as confused why there are PCs in their sewers, and mistake them for Sons of Algondor right away. In fact you could have them start with that question, and if the PCs say yes, or they're with the heir the rats could crank open the gate (only to have it slam shut at the end of round 1 or 2)



Yeah, I was figuring something like this (or the party saying that Charl sent them) if the players try to bluff.

- Rico

Good questions, though I think you're overthinking it a little.

@Portcullis: There are two ways to open the portcullis, listed in the module: Strength or Thievery. Strength obviously makes noise, so that alerts the wererats. Thievery, on the other hand, does NOT make noise. It's a well-oiled portcullis (one the wererats use often), so it's not outside the realm of possibility that it won't make noise if opened slowly and carefully (as a Thievery check would do). (I think you're applying too much real world expectation to what's written? i.e. you visualize a portcullis being squeaky, but this one isn't necessarily.) Also, there are no mechanics about closing the portcullis, so that doesn't happen during the battle.

@RP the rats: Yep, the intention there (though it doesn't say it specifically) is that the PCs can convince the wererats to open the portcullis. It would make sense for a fight to break out at that point.

@Ranged powers: Aside from the fact that most parties are not built for ranged combat, the PCs are not in an easy spot to hit the wererats with ranged powers. The rats can take cover behind the walls, drop prone, etc. They're also outside the range of sneak attacks and ranged 5 powers. The wererats can also close to attack by changing into tiny rats, swimming between the bars of the portcullis, popping up to attack, then changing back and fleeing through the water. Being stuck in an area of hit and run is not good for the PCs. Opening the portcullis is the logical choice.

If, on the other hand, the PCs run from the wererats (back toward the previous encounter), have the rats pursue them, using hit-and-run tactics. You can also have reinforcements show up--dire rats, crocodiles, or even more wererats--to pressure the PCs into taking out the leader sooner rather than later.

@Sewer flooding: When I originally designed this encounter, I seem to think it was less "enclosed"--there were more empty corridors where adventurers could easily be washed. Also, I believe I had indeed put a pipe in the wererats' lair, which was where the water is supposed to come from. Even if you rule that the water comes from the pipe near Encounter #8, it's still reasonable that it picks them up, then breaks through a wall deeper in the sewer and sweeps them that way. It should take them *away* from the portcullis, so whether it's open or closed is not relevant. (Though you can certainly rule otherwise and have them desperately trying to open the portcullis so as not to drown.)

The full map of the PCs' path through the sewers is outside the scope of the adventure, and it's not like you're carefully drawing a map while you're being pushed along in a flood of sewer water.

@Treasure: Odds are, the PCs will indeed be in the lair, so they should be able to grab these and use them during the combat. Anyone playing a thief will probably benefit most from them, but a fighter should have no trouble picking up a short sword, and there are a few other classes that benefit from light blades (swordmages, non-essentials warlocks, sorcerers, etc).

Also, the treasure is swept along with the PCs in the great torrent, so award it to them at the end of the session regardless of whether they actually collected it during the battle or not. I believe I had originally put a note in to that effect, but if so, it looks like editing found it redundant.

I hope that helps!

Cheers

I have a question or two about this encounter.

The PCs were directed towards the Rats, ultimately, with the assumption that the Rats would take them out of the picture, but a diplomatic option is given in the encounter. The DCs for the Diplomacy and Intimidate rolls aren't very high, so it's quite likely that the PCs could keep the Dead Rats talking.

If that's the case, that the PCs decide to talk it out, and they keep the Dead Rats talking through skill rolls, what information are they likely to give the PCs?

Also, the diplomatic route would seem to negate the reason for the Rats to pull the lever and set the PCs being washed down the tunnels, so what would you suggest in this case? 

 
I think I've found the answer to my first question, in the preamble for Encounter 10, but if you have any more advice on that, I'd welcome it.

I think I've formulated an idea about the second question. If the lead Dead Rat in the encounter is content to talk to the PCs (as long as they continue to succeed on their Diplomacy or Intimidate rolls), one (or more) of the others may not like him talking to the PCs, and run over to trigger the rushing waters at an appropriate time.  
My intention is to have it turn into a battle anyway, but that the PCs might have been able to use diplomacy to get through the gate and into the encounter. The rats are extremely distrusting, and they can only be placated so long before they decide that killing the intruders is a better bet than letting them talk pretty. It could be a trick, after all! (And probably is.) Also, the intruders are carrying treasure and shiny equipment that the rats would love to have.

If, on the other hand, you want the rats to share some information, feel free to drop some tidbits about the situation at hand. The Rats only want to use the Rebels and the Lost Heir to destroy Neverember, who has been a barrier to most of their activities. They bear them no great love or loyalty. This alone might get the PCs to fight them.

They do know of a secret path through the sewers to the rebels' lair, through which they can guide the PCs--for an exorbitant price--like 100 gp a head. PCs are almost never willing to part with a lot of gold to further their aims, so if/when they balk, the Rats attack. If the PCs accept the offer, the Rats might lead them into a trap and kill them anyway, because, by the gods, they just admitted they had more than 100 gp a head to spare!

Anyway, the encounter will probably go best if there's a battle, but if you want them to talk their way through it, have the Rats guide them to Session 10, and augment/change for the alternative strategy.

Cheers
Thanks for the reply, Erik.

My personal preference is for them to fight. It's been their preference (in some of the encounters) to talk things out, though. They may go in to the rats' nest with blades flashing, hammers smashing and spells slinging, but I would give it equal chance that they may try to talk it out.

I'll see how things go tonight, but I'll definitely bring notes along based on your advice. Perhaps the Rats lead them to the Kraken, hoping to pick up any loot they can get once the beast has taken care of them. ;)
Erik,

I like the way you think!
- Rico
Thanks for the reply, Erik.

My personal preference is for them to fight. It's been their preference (in some of the encounters) to talk things out, though. They may go in to the rats' nest with blades flashing, hammers smashing and spells slinging, but I would give it equal chance that they may try to talk it out.

Good DMs try to be prepared for any eventuality, and you, sir, sound like a good DM.

I'll see how things go tonight, but I'll definitely bring notes along based on your advice. Perhaps the Rats lead them to the Kraken, hoping to pick up any loot they can get once the beast has taken care of them. ;)

Attaboy. :D

And by that I mean the
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kraken!!!




Cheers


They do know of a secret path through the sewers to the rebels' lair, through which they can guide the PCs--for an exorbitant price--like 100 gp a head. PCs are almost never willing to part with a lot of gold to further their aims, so if/when they balk, the Rats attack. If the PCs accept the offer, the Rats might lead them into a trap and kill them anyway, because, by the gods, they just admitted they had more than 100 gp a head to spare!



This is the path my players chose to follow. They tried to talk to the rats and told them they were just looking to meet up with the Sons of Alogandar. When asked how they found their way to the Dead Rats lair in the sewers, the players readily admitted that Charl told them how to get in through the boat house. They were surprisingly willing to part with the 100 gp each. I think this is an artifact of gold not really being an important element in Encounters. There really isn't much use for gold when playing Encounters. There are not very many opportunities to purchase anything, and since the players start over each season with new 1st level characters, there's no real benefit to earning a lot of gold for your character.
- Rico
Good DMs try to be prepared for any eventuality, and you, sir, sound like a good DM.



Thanks for that compliment, Erik. I appreciate it. I do try my best to make sure the game is enjoyable for everyone, but I mostly just see myself as adequate.

As for what happened, my players opted to just fight this time. They stealthed fairly poorly, but managed to open the portcullis quietly and then combat began. They made fairly short work of the wererats, as two of the players totally powergamed their characters... so one is a thief in wolf-form, constantly using tactical trick and charging and rolling 5 dice for damage, and the other is a cleric with a mordencrad, so doing 2 dice damage standard, and rolling up to 6 dice on some attacks, I believe.

The leader, Nix, was the one that pulled the lever, and sent everyone rushing down the sewers in a torent of slimey water. I even laid out the map for the next encounter and tossed their minis randomly into the Start Area, which I took a picture of. So, that's where they'll start next time. The ones that landed in a square that was over the hole or crevase had to make a d20 save, which they failed... so they'll fall 10 feet into the water and have to climb out... but all the better for attracting their next opponent. hehehe. ;)
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