Session 13 Notes (DM Only)

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Hey Crystal Cavers,

The last session of this adventure starts with the fight against Soryth, and the rest of the session is about wrapping up the season. I imagine people will be of two minds about this one: those who've invested in the campaign and come every week will stick around after the fight to wrap things up, role-playing through the conclusion of the story. Those who have dropped in once or twice won't have that sort of investment and may possibly just leave when the fight's over. That's fine; expect it. 

I don't have many words of guidance about the last session. My design was somewhat different from the original UK1 module, and the version you hold in your hands is somewhat different from mine. So should it be with your game: you've run the adventure thus far, and it's up to you to conclude it in the way that best works for your group. If that means adapting what's here, I encourage you to do so.

On that topic, I want to share a few things I've learned over the past few months supporting this forum, and through practical experience and reflection. They will be obvious to many of you, but hey, I'm a slow learner. 

I used to think that a printed adventure module was supposed to deliver an experience to me. I figured that if the module was doing its job, and if I played it correctly, I would experience in full the adventure as intended. If I didn't have a great experience, it was due to something lacking in the module. This is why I always create my own adventures.

Several years ago, in an attempt to master the D&D 3.5 rules "as intended," I took a break from homebrewing to have my group roll up new characters while I ran a module. The game we played was The Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde, by David Noonan. It was a dungeon crawl with a map that showed the surrounding area and descriptions of what was going on in each area. Sort of a proto-Nentir Vale. The idea was that you'd play Slaughtergarde, but in between the different sections of dungeon, you'd have your own adventures in the surrounding area. 

Our dungeon crawls during Slaughtergarde were exactly that. Rooms containing monsters, and a few things to tinker with. I was running it all by the book. However... there came a point where the next dungeon was higher level than the characters and they needed some XP to meet the challenges. So I went back to what I'm comfortable (and most enjoy) doing: creating character and setting specific adventures that have a deeper connection to the story. Those sessions were unforgettable. There was a gnoll siege, espionage missions behind enemy lines, ogres launching "ochre jelly" bombs in clay jars over the walls and into the town. It was tense, it was exciting, and the players were fully engaged. Once that arc was finished, they had enough XP to continue and we went back to methodically moving from room to room hacking monsters, waiting for the module to deliver the experience to us.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago at D&D XP. Monte Cook was running a playtest of D&D Next, and the adventure was Keep on the Borderlands. Except, in Monte's version, we were after a lost caravan; we were dealing with hostages; we were asked to negotiate a peace between the kobolds and the orcs that were eating them. None of that was in the module. Monte put it there to enhance the experience, and the experience we had was different from the ones at every other table running the same module. Because the DM tweaked it for his audience. 

Looking back on Slaughtergarde, I missed an opportunity in those dungeons, where I could've tailored them to my group the way I did the non-dungeon parts of the adventure. I could've made the monsters want different things, had them behave in different ways, connected them specifically to the characters' stories. 

As you've been going through the Beyond the Crystal Cave encounters season, I've been reading your posts. I've seen a lot of surprising variety in the way you've been running it, the kind I don't often see in the organized play games in which I've played. I've seen stories of warlocks making pacts with the fey characters in the adventure, and stories of the different and very cool ways you've dealt with the NPCs and puzzles. I've read posts where people have decided that the adventure should work differently at a certain point and so they've taken the session in a new direction. And that is awesome

Encounters is a pretty tough format because it's scripted by necessity. It's not a delve, where the players show up every week and fight an unrelated series of encounters. Nor does it offer the freedom of a regular module or campaign. Yet, within this restricted format you've found some pretty clever ways to make it your own, and that's been really neat to read. So thanks for sharing them.

When Steve Winter asked me to support the forums for this adventure, I'll admit I was a little reluctant, but I'm happy I was here to read about all the inventive things you've done with it. In my home games, I'm happiest when the characters try something I never expected, and that goes for this adventure too. Thanks for stopping by and posting your experiences and thoughts. I wish you luck in the next season of D&D Encounters!

As for me:
After playing the Keep on the Borderlands at D&D XP, I picked up a stack of classic AD&D modules that I plan to run for my home group when the D&D Next playtesting starts. One of the modules I purchased was UK1: Beyond the Crystal Cave. I'm going to run this module at some point, empowered by the mantra, "a module is a template." The experience we create is our own, its success or failure is up to us. Perhaps we'll stick close to the original text as the PCs stroll through Porpherio's Garden encountering the fey. Or perhaps there will be a witch named Xacsoryth with her half-devil brood, making trouble in the garden. Whatever we decide to do with it will depend on us.

A module is a a template.
A template is a springboard, rather than a shackle. 

Be bold. Do awesome things. And let the PCs get away with murder.
This was my first season DMing Encounters so I was nervous.  Your notes were very useful.  My players and I enjoyed the varied exploration, role play, and combat opportunities.  Thanks for all of your support and input Steve. 

@feetz_grande on Twitter

I would also like to thank you -- I have run encounters since season 1 - I have one table of players who have played together since season 3 - starting with season 4, I allowed them to level up their characters  - this seasons story line as been the best for role-playing and they have had a blast, our sessions go from 2-3 hrs due to time spent role playing, your notes went a long way to helping making the NPC's interesting and easier to remember.  Other tables have pick up on the role playing and new players are having a much easier time learning to play as a character and not just as player with a stat sheet. It been great to listen on the varied experiences and hear the excitement in their voices as they describe their sessions.
Oh, my PC's will be getting away with murder, all right. MUAHAHAHA! I have an unseelie agent pixie (dark fey lackey) who got a note the last time he summoned his weapon, that basically said "protect soryth, backstab your party. -the boss"

I also have a sidhe lord elven witch who wants to overthrow the archfey and be the new leader of the fey courts (court of stars?). she'll basically be taking soryths place should she fall, and holding the island hostage if the green lord and summer queen dont listen to her demands.

Yay unexpected pc dynamics 
81259321 wrote:
My new rule for people who are obtuse is to just assume they're purposefully trolling. It makes me less sad for humanity that way.
I'm glad the notes and comments could provide a little insight now and then. Feetz, it sounds like things went really well for you--I hope you were able to overcome those first-time jitters pretty quickly. Darkraven, I imagine that if the same PCs had already been together through a couple seasons of adventures, by this point they knew each other well and (I imagine) all the role-play sessions in this season were an opportunity to expand on that ground you'd established, yes? Playing into further Encounters seasons with already established characters must give the players a more grounded sense of purpose; will you be continuing with them into the next season? With the wishes they receive at the end, I'd think that would be appealing. 


Oh, my PC's will be getting away with murder, all right. MUAHAHAHA! I have an unseelie agent pixie (dark fey lackey) who got a note the last time he summoned his weapon, that basically said "protect soryth, backstab your party. -the boss"

I also have a sidhe lord elven witch who wants to overthrow the archfey and be the new leader of the fey courts (court of stars?). she'll basically be taking soryths place should she fall, and holding the island hostage if the green lord and summer queen dont listen to her demands.

Yay unexpected pc dynamics 



That makes me laugh out loud. 
Just for you, I'll copy & paste a snippet from my original draft and the accompanying note to development:

Show


Xacsoryth continues:


     “The task is done,” Xacsoryth says. “The little wench wept for her lover, but wed Cambion to spare her sweet tongue being torn from her throat. How fickle a maiden’s heart… There are better things worth dying for, I think.” She runs her fingers through her long lustrous hair. “In the end we all make our choices. Even you.


     “There is no longer cause for conflict between us. I have what I desire. Serve me and I shall let you live. Serve me and I shall grant your fondest wishes. With the power of this island we shall overthrow the archfey and punish all that have wronged us! You have only to bow before me.”  [S1] 


The witch has no intention of letting the characters live so long as they have free will, and she and her allies begin the fight with combat advantage against anyone foolish enough to bow to her. When the characters are finished speaking with Xacsoryth, go to the Xacsoryth combat encounter.



 [S1]In a non-Encounters format, she might actually make good on this if someone actually took her side. Then it would be Xacsoryth granting wishes at the end. 



(( You and I were thinking (evilly) along the same lines. Wink))




An additional design note for this season that's somewhat off the topic of my post above: 

One of the challenges with the combat encounters for this season was that in the assignment, Chris Perkins wanted a season that was based on the original UK1: Beyond the Crystal Cave, in which the characters didn't need to fight anything to get through the adventure. He chose me for the project because of the way I'd written the outer Gardmore encounters for Madness at Gardmore Abbey, where there are multiple ways to handle most of the encounters, and usually a noncombat option.

The hard part was that in D&D Encounters, there absolutely must be a fight in every session, because in an encounter without a fight you're shutting out a huge part of the D&D audience. So I said, "Let me see if I've got this right: I'm to adapt an adventure where you could completely avoid combat into an adventure where you must always have combat, and I've been chosen to do this because I wrote part of an adventure where you could also avoid combat?" 

Chris's answer was that there should be more opportunities to role-play, interact with puzzles, and give the PCs choices as to what they wanted to do. And yet... whatever choices they make, those choices must always bring them to the next week's encounter. The other challenge, Chris said, is that there are hardly any fey creatures below level 5. Yet, rather than alter the stat blocks, he encouraged me to try to find ways to use such creatures without de-leveling them. 

As you may imagine, pushing the format in this way takes up a lot more space than a standard Encounters session is allowed, and there's a lot that had to go. The design process is art and experiment. You try things, see what happens. Some things don't make it by necessity of the format. In development, additional choices and branching paths had to be cut, there were story changes, and--even though the 4e experience budget typically works out alright when you include a slightly higher level creature amongst lower level PCs--this was a much bigger problem with controller-y fey creatures; they were pretty tough on melee fighters, who could seldom resist them.

It may be a case of too little too late, but I turned in a bestiary article for DDI last Monday which covers brownies, grigs, pixies, and sylphs. (This was mentioned by WotC at a D&D XP seminar, so I can pass on that info here). They're all under level 5 at present, and should shore the gap in the lower levels of play with the fey, especially for those who long to squish happy pixies, crush merry grigs mercilessly underfoot, or bite the head off a brownie Ozzy-style. This will likely be my last work with the fey in 4e, so it's fitting I should send it off in the final week of Beyond the Crystal Cave--look for it later this year!

That makes me laugh out loud. 
Just for you, I'll copy & paste a snippet from my original draft and the accompanying note to development:
Show


Xacsoryth continues:


     “The task is done,” Xacsoryth says. “The little wench wept for her lover, but wed Cambion to spare her sweet tongue being torn from her throat. How fickle a maiden’s heart… There are better things worth dying for, I think.” She runs her fingers through her long lustrous hair. “In the end we all make our choices. Even you.


     “There is no longer cause for conflict between us. I have what I desire. Serve me and I shall let you live. Serve me and I shall grant your fondest wishes. With the power of this island we shall overthrow the archfey and punish all that have wronged us! You have only to bow before me.”  [S1] 


The witch has no intention of letting the characters live so long as they have free will, and she and her allies begin the fight with combat advantage against anyone foolish enough to bow to her. When the characters are finished speaking with Xacsoryth, go to the Xacsoryth combat encounter.



 [S1]In a non-Encounters format, she might actually make good on this if someone actually took her side. Then it would be Xacsoryth granting wishes at the end. 



(( You and I were thinking (evilly) along the same lines. ))
 
I am glad i could be a source of humor, and glad to see a kindred spirit. I like the spoilerd portion you provided, and i might use it, but how would i adapt it to the final story they actually released? Carewyn didnt marry Kalbon in this version they gave us for encounters. In this one, she died first and Porperio captured her soul before it could move on to the shadowfell. He then built a tomb for her and himself, and in his final days entered the tomb with her, so their spirits could slumber together forever, and thus sustained the island garden.
So Soryth and Kalbon have (had) fragments of their souls, with the other bits in juliana and orlando. Last week my party finished off Kalbon (not before i slew the party barbarian) with the Sidhe lord witch landing the killing blow, but the thief did hit him hard a few times with his shadow-weapon.
How would you suggest adapting your original snipped of Soryth dialogue from the final encounter? Would i be stretching things too much to say the backstabbing pixie thief might have taken Kalbons place?



81259321 wrote:
My new rule for people who are obtuse is to just assume they're purposefully trolling. It makes me less sad for humanity that way.

I'm glad the notes and comments could provide a little insight now and then. Feetz, it sounds like things went really well for you--I hope you were able to overcome those first-time jitters pretty quickly. Darkraven, I imagine that if the same PCs had already been together through a couple seasons of adventures, by this point they knew each other well and (I imagine) all the role-play sessions in this season were an opportunity to expand on that ground you'd established, yes? Playing into further Encounters seasons with already established characters must give the players a more grounded sense of purpose; will you be continuing with them into the next season? With the wishes they receive at the end, I'd think that would be appealing. 


Yes, most of the characters will be between 7-9 level for the next season, it been a challenge, but really rewarding watching the group work to complete the adventure. (the barbarians from session 11 are on a quest to regain their honor.) (Kalbon was defeated trapping the columns in separater room for a round allowing them concentrate on defeating Kalbon) they are now ready to face Soryth with just a bit of dread.
How would you suggest adapting your original snipped of Soryth dialogue from the final encounter? Would i be stretching things too much to say the backstabbing pixie thief might have taken Kalbons place?



That storyline is from an early draft so I don't know that it can be adapted here. If I were you, I'd just change it to suit your needs. Wink

I suppose that since we're at the end of this season I can do a little "Design & Development" style column on the story behind the story, as part of our wrap-up, for those who are interested in the way these things come about, long before the module appears in your hands.

This was one of the central ideas I had for the design: In the old UK1 module, all the creatures in the garden believe Orlando and Juliana to be the reincarnated spirits of Porpherio and Caerwyn. There's no particular reason they believe this; maybe it has something to do with the "strength of their love" or something. They'll all fight pretty viciously to defend Orlando and Juliana from any kind of harm, including (and especially) the adventurers, should the party decide to act violently toward just about anything. 

So in the story I set down for the Encounters season, Orlando and Juliana ARE Porpherio and Caerwyn reborn. I can't recall if I touched on this previously, but here's how it worked: 

Show

- Caerwyn's the daughter of the Green Lord and Porpherio's the adopted son of the Summer Queen. The reason for this choice was because UK1 had a GOD in the garden, the Green Man. His 4e analog is the Green Lord Oran. Oran is 4e's take on Oberon, and Tiandra is 4e's take on Titania, the on-again/off-again archfey of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Since UK1 riffs on Romeo & Juliet, and since this Encounters season is set in the Feywild, it makes sense that these 2 characters have a role in the adventure.
- When Caerwyn and Porpherio are married, Oran bestows the island upon them. At its heart is a magical wishing fountain, because the archfey want their children to be eternally happy. They create the Palace of Spires around it and bar all archfey from entering. The condition for mastery over the fountain is "So long as Caerwyn's husband loves her."
- Time passes, things are awesome.
- The witch Xacsoryth and her son Cambion shipwreck on the isle. Xacsoryth convinces Porpherio she can be of use to him as a prophet and servant. Cambion, meanwhile, makes a nuisance of himself and lusts after Caerwyn.
- Xacsoryth tricks Porpherio into believing Caerwyn is unfaithful to him (with Cambion), shows him a vision of the future where Cambion & Caerwyn are to be married. Porpherio falls out of love with her.
- This causes him to lose power over the fountain.
- Xacsoryth begins to take over the island.
- Caerwyn poisons herself in despair.
- Xacsoryth frames him for the murder.
- Oran and Tiandra show up on the isle. Oran wants Porpherio dead; Tiandra wants him found. They fight.
- After hiding out for 8 days, Porpherio sneaks into the Palace of Spires near Caerwyn's tomb. He knows he doesn't have control over the fountain anymore, but he wishes he had it all to do over again. He kills himself with his dagger.
- He doesn't know it, but the fountain grants his wish, carrying his soul down the stream, through the Crystal Cave, and into the world... where he is reborn as Orlando. Caerwyn is reborn as Juliana.
- They meet again, fall in love again. They run away from their feuding families, and end up taking shelter in the Crystal Cave.
- When they come through, Xacsoryth sweeps up Juliana. If the witch can marry Cambion to Juliana (Caerwyn reincarnated), the fiend will be the master of the island and the fountain (his lust equates to love), and share the power with his mother. Because the wishing fountain works so long as Caerwyn's husband loves her. 
 
Ah, but wait. How did Orlando & Juliana have all this time to grow up and meet each other? Wouldn't that take a lot of time? Yes. Here's how:

- 10 years pass in the world for every 1 day on the Feywild island. The slow waterfall coming through the Crystal Cave is evidence of this (side note: the oracle in the cave that answers questions & grants small gifts is just the faintest residual magic from the stream that begins at the wish-granting Fountain All Heal at its source). Meaning...
- In island time, Caerwyn died 10 days ago. Porpherio died 2 days ago. This happened in the palace of Spires where the archfey cannot reach or see, so they're quarreling amongst themselves trying to learn the truth. 
- In world time, it's been 100 years. Because the archfey are feuding, the world around Crystalbrook has been wasted. Snow in summer, scorching heat in winter, dead crops, etc. When resources dry up, the Sildaine elves and the humans of Crystalbrook start to struggle for survival. It starts a blood war. But then Juliana (who's 100 years old, since Caerwyn died 10 days ago on the island) and Orlando (who's 20 years old, since Porpherio died 2 days ago on the island), meet, fall in love, defy their families, and head off together. 
- By the time the characters return to the world, 20 years have passed for their 2 days on the island. Already, they can see the results of their work: the land has healed itself, the Crystalbrook folk and the Sildaine are friends, etc.

The whole story was about echoes. Orlando & Juliana were the echoes of Porpherio & Caerwyn. Orlando's mother Tamora was an echo of Tiandra. Juliana's father was an echo of Oran. The Cave of Echoes wasn't just a place, but literally a clue as to everything that was going on. There was another thread about the "Black Eagle Tribe," which gave clues throughout the adventure. In the Cave of Echoes, the characters find a skeleton with a black eagle totem emblazoned on the armor; it's hundreds of years old, and History checks reveal that it's one of the original tribes that settled in the area. Hamish and Argus wear the same armor. They were part of the same tribe, and their party wandered through the Crystal Cave many years ago; they were Porpherio's servants before Xacsoryth charmed them. Their chief was slain by Cambion, and it's his dried blood that obscures the sun in the steward's room in session 12. 

As Juliana and Orlando are echoes of Juliet and Romeo, all the other characters were echoes of similar Shakespeare characters (Juliana's cousin was Basalt, son of Cat-Lord; basalt is an igneous rock, and Basalt was the echo of Juliet's cousin, "the fiery Tybalt"). Lots of stuff like that.


I realize that's pretty detailed. It's the kind of thing you do in a campaign, or a larger module, rather than an Encounters format. Sure, I covered it in the adventure background and had revealed it in pieces throughout the season, but when players are only showing up for one or two sessions and then missing a few, these things can get lost pretty easily and I think that's why we couldn't keep it. Nevertheless, I tried to push the format as far as I could. When you come right down to it, I hoped to reach new players out there who were interested in the aspects of D&D that I don't often see so much in organized play; I wanted to make an adventure where investment was rewarded, where each session required something of you--be it a character choice or an interaction with the scenario. I pushed that pretty hard because I wanted those folks to see the other side of D&D beyond the classic orc-whacking we all know so well. And from what I've read of your adventures it sounds like a lot of that came through. 

Since I've delved into this topic, I'll leave you with some of the "happily ever after" from that draft. I don't know that it's useful in any practical way with your game, so think of it as an alternate ending on the dvd of this season. Laughing

Show


If a character touches a sarcophagus, it becomes transparent, revealing the perfectly preserved bodies of Porpherio and Caerwyn—exact likenesses of Orlando and Juliana—within.


If the characters look into the water, read:


Deep within the fountain’s magical depths, phantom images move, playing out a scene from the past. You recognize the image of Porpherio sitting upright in his sarcophagus in this very tomb, the still body of Caerwyn in her sarcophagus beside him. A jeweled dagger is embedded in Porpherio’s breast[S1] , and tiny drops of his blood run down his arms and drip into the fountain. Yet despite the mortal wound swiftly draining his life, the warlock speaks clearly and without impediment—as if the pain of the knife is inconsequential compared to the agony within his soul.


     “My jealousy and pride are the cause of this,” Porpherio says. “The fountain no longer heeds my wishes… But if I had one true wish, I’d wish we had it all to live over again. To meet you again for the first time, to love you again without the scars of past injuries we had done one another… That would be my wish. No power—for power has profited us nothing. I merely wish we could have been, and lived, and loved.  Now my spirit is going; I can no more[S2] ...” 


     As Porpherio slowly collapses into his sarcophagus, the image follows the path of his blood as it mingles with the fountain’s waters, flowing eventually into the lake, into the enchanted stream that weaves about the island, into a sea cave on its western side, and from there into the natural world beyond the Crystal Cave, where time passes swiftly by.


If the characters don’t look into the fountain, Juliana simply describes what she saw. When she recovers from her trance, she is overjoyed to see the characters, and in awe of the archfey (especially Oran, who in many ways reminds her of her father, Illyrian).


If Orlando is alive, read:


At the entrance to the tomb stands Orlando. Flushed, sweating, and ragged from his force’s assault on the maze and palace, he is a poor picture beside his likeness of Porpherio. Juliana and Orlando walk slowly toward one another until they meet in a passionate embrace at the feet of each sarcophagus.


     “Is it a dream?” Juliana says.


     Orlando’s eyes take in the dais and fountain, resting at last upon the stone sarcophagi where the bodies of Porpherio and Caerwyn are now visible beneath, like ideal reflections of themselves lying serene in their eternal sleep.


     “Perhaps,” Orlando says. “But if we dream, then let us sleep.”


If Orlando is dead, read: 


When Juliana sees Orlando’s body, her eyes brim with tears. Tiandra places Orlando’s body next to the fountain and Juliana kneels beside him. She parts his hair and kisses him gently upon the forehead.


     “I’m sorry I was angry with you when we came here,” Juliana said. “I chose to wallow in my own pity when I should have followed you, and fought for you as you have fought for me.[S3] ”


     As she pulls away, wiping back her tears, Orlando’s eyes flutter open.


     “I have had a dream,” he says through a yawn, “past the wit of man to say what dream it was[S4] … I was being chased around the house by a cat… And you were there,” he says, nodding to you and your companions. “Why are you looking at me like that?”





 [S1]Shakespeare: from Romeo and Juliet; except the mirror image. In R&J, Romeo dies by poison, then Juliet by dagger.






 [S2]Shakespeare: from Antony and Cleopatra; Marc Antony.






 [S3]She means in the Water Palace where he died, if that’s not clear. To a large extent, fought his family for her.






 [S4]Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Bottom 







What's cool and kind of strange about the whole season is that if you pick up a copy of UK1: Beyond the Crystal Cave, the encounters and locations should look very, very familiar to you. The whole storyline with Soryth/Xacsoryth won't be there, but you'll find pretty much everything else in the exactly same place. This was another goal of mine--to respect the source material so as to give anyone who plays the adventure now a very similar experience to someone who played it 30 years ago. I'm keen to run the original AD&D module in the upcoming D&D Next playtests, but even that story will be different--hopefully informed by what kinds of characters the players bring to the table (a la jacobrh's devious PCs).
I'm running session 13 tonight and I hope it goes well. I'm a little worried since my party managed to take down Kalbon quite easily last session, and I dislike anticlimactic climaxes.

I'm wondering if I need to increase the encounter because I'll have 6 players instead of 5.

Caoimhe Ora Snow

Game Designer, The Queen's Cavaliers

5e D&D Stuff: Birthright Conversion

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