Session 10 Field Report

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Field report for D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen (Week 10) now available at Dungeon's Master.com. Check out our D&D Encounters Archive for weekly write-ups, actual play podcasts and new pre-generated characters.


This week's encounter seemed overly complicated and unnecessarily punitive. I had to make some serious adjustments to make things more balanced. I dumped the combat all together and focused on strong role-playing and skill checks. It still took 90 minutes. No one took excessive damage (from the spiders) or lost too many surges (from the patrols).

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I rewrote the entire encounter because I felt it was poorly written.

I'm tagging this with a spoiler tag, because a) my players might be reading-- DON'T READ THIS!, and b) I will be referring to upcoming encounters.

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Some background: My table has the same players, week-to-week, and they're playing "hard mode," with some "morally dubious" characters. Or, in some cases, outright evil. For example: in the extended rest between chapters 1 and 2, one of the PCs burned Tharinel to death.  Which was fine-- I dislike DMPCs. At my table, "dead is dead," so when a PC or NPC dies, they are gone, out of the story. This campaign is something of a bloodbath.

Half the party is working with the drow. They have acquired specialized poisons that they will use against the rest of the party at the right moment.

There is exactly 1 character who is good-aligned (an avenger), and 1 character who is neutral. The rest are evil, no matter what their character sheets say.

One of them is actually in flashback mode. We don't know how it happens, but somewhere between now and 5th level, she turns from an elven princess bard into a male goblin warlock, with the infernal pact.

Behind the scenes, an infernal prince has been manipulating the bard and two NPC allies into helping him stop Lolth from rising to power. Elminster's voice? Actually a demon.

In session 7, the party bard convinced the goblins to work on their side, mainly because one of the goblins was an old friend of the bard's (a goblin warlock who was her "tie to the previous season"-- this warlock was the player's character last season). In session 8, the warlock saved the bard's life at an opportune moment and probably prevented a TPK. In session 9, the warlock was knocked down into the spider pit and nearly eaten.

So, they have a companion character with them who I hadn't decided what to do with.

Cue last night's adventure:

Taking an idea from one of the DM threads on the forum, I had the party encounter a drow merchant who sold them some gear, and then bargained with them for the heart of a goblin arcanist. After haggling a bit, the bard went out, called in her friend, and said "Okay?" The merchant nodded and told the goblin "oh, come into the back room-- your friends have paid for us to heal you up." Goblin disappears, the PCs hear a blood-curdling scream, then silence. They all look around at each other, realizing they've just traded a sentient ally for loot.

Oh, yeah. My DM heart is just singing. 

They finish their business and hole up in a nearby empty building. After their extended rest, they waken to the sound of kobolds fleeing, their stuff ransacked. I let them pick what the kobolds stole-- and then the PCs took chase.

I liked the idea of them being robbed and hunting/chasing the kobolds down. It's much more motivating than "go follow the blood trail to the maguffin." Originally, the goblin was going to be seen chasing after them, so the PCs would think he was in on it (he wasn't), but they killed him too soon. Alas.

They endure the first patrol, which I'd rewritten into a group of smaller kobolds, laying traps and other wise messing with them.  I had rewritten the Wandering Damage part of the encounter to have kobolds and traps as well as drow patrols, and each type of patrol option had a set of skills the PCs could use to avoid or reduce the amount of damage.

For the spiders, I had a table of options beyond hit point damage, so the PCs could be "slowed, save at the end of your next rest" or "weakened, save at the end of your next rest." They had the option, then, of taking a short rest (and triggering more patrols and spiders) and saving, or carrying the status effects into the tactical encounter. I also had each player roll their own to-hit, to speed things up, and they could all make one skill check, like acrobatics, nature, heal, or endurance, to reduce or avoid the hit.

Instead of Tharinel, the PCs came upon a now-retired PC (a blackguard from chapter 1-- retired because he was too evil to be playable) who was caught in the traps. He had a message for the bard ("your friend is full of betrayal") from his "conscience" (Elminster's voice). Instead of questioning him, they set him on fire.

Eventually, they came to the tactical encounter. I used the Skull Skull Stone trap, a Gravity Well, two kobold slingers on platforms with cover, and 8 kobold minions. I changed the Skull Stone to a slide 2, so whenever it hit, the kobolds would slide their enemy into the gravity well. Some brutal synergy, really, but this group is well built for 3-D combat, with lots of pushes and slides, and one PC who has a natural climb speed.

The PCs played around with these traps a bit, one of them trying to use the gravity well to teleport to the other side of the well (didn't work), and another one used the defender's challenge (the one where they swap places?) to switch places with the cat-girl who was hanging on the side of the wall and had just been hit with a glue sling. So, they switch places, and since he doesn't have a climb speed, he falls, fails his saving throw (to catch the platform), and lands on the ground. Taking damage, falling prone, and immobilized by the glue sling.

An immobilized barbarian who is out of melee range is ineffective you say? Not so. He picked up rocks (improvised ranged weapon) and threw them at the slinger, rolling high on his d4s and killing him in 2 shots (slinger was already close to bloodied). 

At the end, the party got a short rest and their gear back, and then they came to the torture chamber, and I finally read the box text and returned to the module as written.

I have introduced a new trait to the party, called "Friendslayer." The players do not know, but everyone except the two absent this week and those working for the drow now have this trait, for killing both the goblin warlock and the former party member. One already had it for killing Tharinel.

Those with the Friendslayer trait can use the pools of blood to summon demons to work for them in the next encounter, at a +4 to the arcana check to summon. As with the NPCs, if they drop to 0 hit points while the demon is present, they will disappear into the Abyss. The bard will be spit back out in goblin warlock form. Anyone else might be gone for good.

I just have to make sure to kill the bard after she calls a demon. I can't imagine it will be hard....

 
Thanks for reading, folks! 

Gods, I wish I had a DM like mortaine.  Instead I've got the biggest jerk of all the people that come to encounters where I play.  I'm the only one at the table that's made all the sessions (if I didn't enjoy playing with the other players at the table I would have skipped this one since my kids were out of town at the grandparents), so I had the only lvl3 character.  2 others were lvl2 and we had 2 new players last night that were lvl1.  You'd think the damage would be pulled back a little for lower level pc's.  Not one bit.  


What really pissed several of us off was when I (halfelf sentinel) used beast empathy knack and diplomacy to try and calm the spiders so they would stop biting the stuff out of us.  I rolled well and had a 29 after modifiers.  "if anything they are more agitated by you."  WTF!  I realize this is supposed to be an environmental hazard and drain us, but we had 2 bloodied characters after the second go.  I was the least hurt  by it with an 18 fortitude and 47 hp, but really... really?   Probably wouldn't have mattered what I rolled.  He was going to hit the party with every spider possible.


Of course this was after he said returning players who missed last session don't get benefits of the extended rest...  


Like I said, the only thing keeping me returning is the other players, they are a bunch of great people to play with.


TjD


Ouch. As written, chapter 3 is supposed to start with an extended rest, even if the party members were absent last session. Talk to the coordinator, or just tell your fellow players to stealthily benefit from the rest (but still take the surge damage from this session).

Spoiler-tagging in case some shops are still a week behind:

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As written, there is no mitigation for the patrols or the spiders. None. There are no skill checks to avoid any of it. Seriously-- it did not matter what you rolled. This session of the module is written with "roll a d20, take healing surges. Roll to hit, take damage." There is nothing in the module to prevent any of it-- all you can do is in the second half, you can take more time (trigger patrols and spiders) and try to reduce the alert level for the next encounter.

I hated that mechanic so much that, not only did I rewrite the encounter, I also posted in the DM Only thread so other DMs would be warned in advance.
 
I changed the encounter quite a bit, but tried to keep the general ideas.

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The PCs infiltrated the city, but had escaped a patrol at the gate so the city was on the look out for them. They ran into a few small patrols and were harrassed by some spider swarms. Eventually, they made their way to a group of holding cells after overhearing some guards talking about an elf (Tharinel).

Stairs lead down into the area, three groups pairs of doors each pair connected to a rusty lever. The first set opened, as Gas Spores spilled out into the hallway. The spores bumped and jostled filling the area, and tension built. Fortunately, the spores weren't hostile, so they bobbed around the area as the players explored the other doors.

The second set was opened as a player used a gas spore as a shield. One room was empty and the other had a pair of captured goblin traders. The PCs heard them talking and decided to gas the place, as they shoved in a spore and Magic Missle'd it. The spore exploded the goblins screamed and coughed, heading for the door. The poor goblins were attacked, diplomacized, and intimidated. Bruised, beaten, gassed and frozen, they agreed to follow the players.

The third lever was thrown opening one door, while the other remained jammed. The PCs rescued the elf and readied for the escape. The jammed door was being used a slave food storage and contained a strange metal contraption, conical with a dome with a crystal tipped wand near the top and a plunger and a scrying device possitioned near the middle covered in rusted chains. (I was probably channeling a bit too much Barrier Peaks at this point) Complex plans involving daleks, and herding goblins and gas spores through the city were discussed and eventually discarded.

More patrols and swarms were encountered. The escape went well. The PCs overheard a patrol complaining about missing out on the torture theatre shows while they they had to pull guard duty. The PCs, having not found Khara assumed the theatre was the next place to look so they head off in that direction.
I changed the encounter quite a bit, but tried to keep the general ideas.

Show
The PCs infiltrated the city, but had escaped a patrol at the gate so the city was on the look out for them. They ran into a few small patrols and were harrassed by some spider swarms. Eventually, they made their way to a group of holding cells after overhearing some guards talking about an elf (Tharinel).

Stairs lead down into the area, three groups pairs of doors each pair connected to a rusty lever. The first set opened, as Gas Spores spilled out into the hallway. The spores bumped and jostled filling the area, and tension built. Fortunately, the spores weren't hostile, so they bobbed around the area as the players explored the other doors.

The second set was opened as a player used a gas spore as a shield. One room was empty and the other had a pair of captured goblin traders. The PCs heard them talking and decided to gas the place, as they shoved in a spore and Magic Missle'd it. The spore exploded the goblins screamed and coughed, heading for the door. The poor goblins were attacked, diplomacized, and intimidated. Bruised, beaten, gassed and frozen, they agreed to follow the players.

The third lever was thrown opening one door, while the other remained jammed. The PCs rescued the elf and readied for the escape. The jammed door was being used a slave food storage and contained a strange metal contraption, conical with a dome with a crystal tipped wand near the top and a plunger and a scrying device possitioned near the middle covered in rusted chains. (I was probably channeling a bit too much Barrier Peaks at this point) Complex plans involving daleks, and herding goblins and gas spores through the city were discussed and eventually discarded.

More patrols and swarms were encountered. The escape went well. The PCs overheard a patrol complaining about missing out on the torture theatre shows while they they had to pull guard duty. The PCs, having not found Khara assumed the theatre was the next place to look so they head off in that direction.


Ooh. I like a lot of that. And it will definitely fit with my campaign as one of the archers in the last encounter escaped (it was going so well for the PCs that he just bolted). I can use that to explain why the drow are searching for them. Together with the stuff from Mortaine and  Cave2626, I think I can make this encounter work.
- Rico

After reading some of the suggestions in the DM thread on the community page I took a moment to discuss them with our other DM who was able to run our early session this week (allowing me to actually play YAY).


He ran it almost as written but allowed us to make group stealth checks in attempts to avoid patrols (worked once, failed once) and our party rescued the elf and defeated the nearby patrol.


When I ran it in the later session I also gave the party the chance to avoid patrols using stealth checks, or even to ambush them instead. They chose to avoid. They also came across a travelling duergar trader and purchased a pair of potions (one of Healing, the other capable of restoring d4 surges), when they finally came across the injured elf they administered the healing potion – however it proved to be a corrosive poison and the hapless fey gurgled green froth and expired.


As they attempted to hide from the patrol one of them got bit by a spider, I allowed him a save with half his stealth as a bonus to remain quiet, but a roll of 1 meant that he squealed like a little girl and the drow came to investigate. The party didnt struggle to deal with the scouts.


They then came across a fleeing kobold slave, after giving him a ration he told them of the slave pits nearby and they let him run away.


I dont know if its the good weather or just because here in the UK its the beginning of the holiday season, but our numbers have dwindled to the point that next week might be down to one combined session too.


"Well that encounter was easy....er, guys, why is the DM grinning?" (party members last words)

It's not a party till the screaming starts!

Follow me on Twitter @Vobeskhan or check out my blog http://vobeskhan.wordpress.com/

Sounds like a really good night of improvised role-playing, Vobeskhan!
Sounds like a really good night of improvised role-playing, Vobeskhan!



Thanks Mortaine - it was one of the best evenings we've had this season. Made all the better by reading the DM only thread before hand for some great tips.

Only down side is that our other DM's shifts mean that he's not available for the rest of the season so my kobold may be once again relegated to the back up folder.

Has anyone had any confirmation regarding the chance to continue characters through the next season? This is something my players are really interested in doing.

"Well that encounter was easy....er, guys, why is the DM grinning?" (party members last words)

It's not a party till the screaming starts!

Follow me on Twitter @Vobeskhan or check out my blog http://vobeskhan.wordpress.com/

Sounds like a really good night of improvised role-playing, Vobeskhan!



Thanks Mortaine - it was one of the best evenings we've had this season. Made all the better by reading the DM only thread before hand for some great tips.

Only down side is that our other DM's shifts mean that he's not available for the rest of the season so my kobold may be once again relegated to the back up folder.

Has anyone had any confirmation regarding the chance to continue characters through the next season? This is something my players are really interested in doing.


I haven't seen anything official, but either way, I'm planning to do it. In fact, since thise story arc is three seasons long, ideally, I'd like to take my players through 10th level.
- Rico
I haven't seen anything official, but either way, I'm planning to do it. In fact, since thise story arc is three seasons long, ideally, I'd like to take my players through 10th level.



Yeah, my players have asked if we can do something similar as for many of them Encounters is their only game so would like to advance characters past 3rd for a change.

The only thing I'm worried about is that the new Drow Treachery cards and release of the Menzoberanzan book could mean the associated Council of Spiders requires a drow party base.

"Well that encounter was easy....er, guys, why is the DM grinning?" (party members last words)

It's not a party till the screaming starts!

Follow me on Twitter @Vobeskhan or check out my blog http://vobeskhan.wordpress.com/

I haven't seen anything official, but either way, I'm planning to do it. In fact, since thise story arc is three seasons long, ideally, I'd like to take my players through 10th level.



Yeah, my players have asked if we can do something similar as for many of them Encounters is their only game so would like to advance characters past 3rd for a change.

The only thing I'm worried about is that the new Drow Treachery cards and release of the Menzoberanzan book could mean the associated Council of Spiders requires a drow party base.


I don't think they would require a drow party base. It will certainly be an option, but I can't see them limiting things that much.
- Rico
I read somewhere (forums? WPN site?) that parties that are not using the Treachery mechanic can use a different effect in place of those cards. So I don't think a drow party is required.
I read somewhere (forums? WPN site?) that parties that are not using the Treachery mechanic can use a different effect in place of those cards. So I don't think a drow party is required.



The only thing I've seen about the Treachery cards is this www.wizards.com/DnD/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4... which would seem to indicate that they are strictly for a Drow party (and in particular a campaign set in Menzoberanzen). But even if that is the case, I don't think they would require an all drow party for a season of Encounters.
- Rico
There it is:

Treachery Without Station

If you are not using the rules on station in drow society, you can still play Treachery cards. When any effect would grant you Worth, you instead gain a bonus to AC equal to the Worth value until the end of your next turn. Negative Worth reduces your AC in the same way. If an effect would reduce an ally's Worth, that ally instead takes a penalty to AC equal to the Worth value until the end of your next turn. (If a Treachery card's effect would increase or decrease your AC, use the greater of the card's effect or the Worth value to determine the modifier.)




So you can use the treachery cards without being drow. 
There it is:

Treachery Without Station

If you are not using the rules on station in drow society, you can still play Treachery cards. When any effect would grant you Worth, you instead gain a bonus to AC equal to the Worth value until the end of your next turn. Negative Worth reduces your AC in the same way. If an effect would reduce an ally's Worth, that ally instead takes a penalty to AC equal to the Worth value until the end of your next turn. (If a Treachery card's effect would increase or decrease your AC, use the greater of the card's effect or the Worth value to determine the modifier.)




So you can use the treachery cards without being drow. 


Not quite. The above has to do with "using the rules on station in drow society." Station is explained in the section above in the same article:


Station in Drow Society


Your station as a drow determines your place in the society of Menzoberranzan. In later excerpts, we'll delve into the concept of station in more depth (which also connects with Fortune Cards: Drow Treachery, below). But as a precursor, station is divided into two types: house rank and personal esteem.


House rank determines a house's station in relation to other houses within the city. While even the noblest drow cannot directly command drow of other houses, members of a lower-ranked house must give deference to members of a higher-ranked house or face the consequences of angering powerful rivals.


Personal esteem, represented by an individual's Worth score, determines a drow's station within her house. Each drow character starts with a Worth score of 0, modified by the circumstances of his or her birth. A drow can gain and lose Worth in a wide variety of ways. The Worth Modifiers table provides some criteria that raise and lower a drow's Worth during his or her lifetime. Your DM can rule that other events raise and lower your Worth as well.


A drow's Worth is affected only by publicly known events. If a drow slays enemies of her house but no one knows about it, then that character's Worth is not affected. Drow usually choose to spread rumors about their deeds rather than openly talking about them, since they prefer not to appear desperate to climb the social ladder.


The only exception to this is that gains and losses of worth due to the respect or disrespect of Lolth do not require public acknowledgement. Lolth and her yochlol handmaids spy on her followers constantly, and they spread word of their deeds and misdeeds to priestesses of Lolth.



So, station has to do specifically with playing a drow in a Menzoberranzan campaign setting. If you're playing a drow, but you're not using the station rules, you can still use the treachery cards with the different mechanic.
- Rico
So yeah, the cards can be used with non-Drow. However, I get the feeling that the next season is supposed to be done with all Drow to maximize backstabbery (yeah, could've just said treachery, but I like my term better). Or at least Evil-aligned characters. Either way, I hope we actually have some time to look at the materials before jumping in. My store is one week behind due to the Fourth of July and we're not going to have a session 0 for Council of Spiders.
Wizard's first rule: People are stupid.
So yeah, the cards can be used with non-Drow.


Maybe it's just me, but I don't see how it reads that way. I
- Rico
A little behind on my field reports, but I have to say that thanks to Mortaine's very genius ideas, this session proved to be the best yet for our group!

I used the Kobolds as the opener as suggested. They were found  by 3 slowly roused PCs to be taking some of their stuff. The PCs kicked their compatriots awake and began to give chase which led them into the Flycatcher Tangle. I used the spiders as written, and that proved to be punitive enough that after one combat encounter with a Drow Patrol, I utilized roleplaying opportunities to somewhat mitigate the potential losses of healing surges.

When the party encountered the Drow Patrol which they fought, it was a merchant and his bodyguards. As soon as they had slain them, the half-drow knight in my party decided to change into the merchant's garb. He then tied two of his friends up, and had the dragonborn members of the party take up the roles of bodyguards. The half-orc rogue used his ridiculously high stealth score to act as a point man.

After a roleplaying encounter during which a Drow Sergeant and his men confronted the party (the Sergeant was appalled that the drow merchant would allow his slaves to be so restless, and he and his men decided to beat the two tied up party members into submission = loss of healing surges), the PCs continued to track the Kobolds.

When they arrived at a location deep within the tangle, they noticed flickering firelight coming from the end of one of the tunnels. When they traveled that direction, a shadow which suddenly appeared upon the wall gave them pause: it was the shadow of an Illithid (Mind Flayer), with its tentacles hungrily flailing. Needless to say the party retreated back to plot their move. They honestly believed that the Illithid was part of the encounter (meanwhile, the Illithid was actually three Kobolds seated on the shoulders of the one beneath, with a flail and some clever arm movements).

An insight check revealed to the Rogue point man that there was something off about the movements of the creature's shadow (which they took to be an indication of even more heinous proportions, rather than deducing that maybe the shadow was a farce). Finally, the party's Cleric, a Kobold himself, decided to peek around the corner. There were laughs all around the table! The Kobolds took off toward a shallow (looking) pond in the back of the cavern in which they were situated and dived under. But not before the Cleric attempted a diplomacy check, succeeding with flying colors.

One of the Kobolds motioned to him, and told him "You come, we run, secret way," and then dove beneath the water (which when observed closely became ominously dark due to its depth). The PCs gave chase yet again, this time having to swim into what turned out to be an underwater passage into the area where Tharinel was laying, dying.

The PCs had a wonderfully roleplayed discussion about what to do with him, and tensions which had formed and been rising sessions before began to erupt between the Kobold Cleric, and the Half-Drow Knight. They even traded open handed blows, until the Cleric cast a light spell on the Knight's helm, effectively blinding him, and the rest of the party dragged them apart.

They healed Tharinel with divine magic, and provided him the necessary supplies to make his escape, and then decided he might be a traitor. So, at sword point, Tharinel is currenly being made to scout for the party, and thence they faced the final encounter with the Templars.

All in all, this was a great session, and I really did not expect it to be. A huge thanks to all of you who are posting here for getting my creative juices flowing! 
(meanwhile, the Illithid was actually three Kobolds seated on the shoulders of the one beneath, with a flail and some clever arm movements).



Brilliant. Oh, how I wish I had done that! Absolutely brilliant! This session will be the highlight of your campaign as being the "comic relief" session for your party! 
Thanks Mortaine! It truly was, they had a grand chuckle when they discovered the ruse, and I am pretty sure it spared the Kobolds, since the part was so enamored of their trickery that they chose not to attack them. All in all, great session for me!
 
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