Session 8 – Questions, Prep and Problems

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Looking ahead to the final session I decided to run a bit of play testing. I used the week 8 map for my home campaign and I kept all of the terrain features and special conditions exactly as they’re printed. I’m very glad I did because it’s a very complicate map. After a fun 2-hour session I gained a lot of insight into what works, what doesn’t and what confused me. I’d like to share some of these learning with everyone and throw a few questions out there as well.

Here’s a direct link to the map.

  1. Where do the PCs start? Using the map I linked to above I assume PCs begin in the bottom left corner. This makes sense given the descriptive text, but it’s not crystal clear. If this is the correct starting point it seems unnecessarily punitive to the PCs given the maw obstacles that is directly in their path.

  2. There are a lot of effects going on with this map. Be sure to read and re-read what they all do before the session. Even with adequate prep I found that I slowed things down a lot having to keep going back to the text to discover what each thing did. Additionally many of the special features require checks. The skills needed are all different, the DCs are all different, and the actions required are all different. Crack out a highlighter or make a crib sheet, just do what you need to do to keep them all straight.

  3. Encourage creativity. There are a lot of things on the map; a lot of unusual things. Emphasize to the players that everything on the map is there for a good reason. Emphasize that they are not obligated to use their standard action to make an attack every round. Sometimes using your standard action for exploration can have a more significant impact on the overall battle than attacking. However, if your players are set in their ways consider letting them use their minor action to perform some of the checks at a higher difficulty.

  4. Who has which item? It’s exceptionally important to make sure that all 6 of the special items of light are accounted for in the party. I know that at our FLGS players are always switching tables. Some week’s we have 2 Tears of Helm and the next week we don’t have it at all. Regardless of who obtained which item throughout the adventure make sure that all 6 items are present. Even more importantly make sure that everyone knows who has each item. If one PC is the pack-mule and is carry all of them, make sure the party knows that. I’d recommend printing the item cards in the pre-gen resources thread of these forums and handing them out. By using the handouts it’s a lot clearer to everyone where each item is in the party.

These are my just my initial thoughts. If anything dawns on me I’ll post again. Until then I hope this serves as a good reminder for the DMs.

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Great tips as usual, many thanks.

One question I have is how would you handle the party if they hadnt retrieved all of the items during the season.

One of my groups failed to recover the wand and lost the tears of Helm in the process.

"Well that encounter was, 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

Well, you could either railroad it: "Oh, you mean this wand?" says Axelcrantz.

Or mix your tables around, if you have them, so that part of the party that did get all of the items is on each table, and it's just like "oh, adventurers. You so silly."

Or rewrite the ending. Lolth wins, because your PCs failed to get the maguffins. Or Lolth loses, but it's because the PCs came up with some other incredibly insane but entirely possible way to stop the Demon Weave. Their solution might have other consequences (which your shop may or may not continue to use in future seasons). Etc.

I personally love the last session of any Encounters season, because you pretty much get to jump off the railroad and do whatever your players want to try to do. 
Thanks Mortaine.

"Well that encounter was, 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

I ran this last night for my DMs. I gave them 2 "party minions" who were basically companion PCs-- one was a healer with 2 healing+1d6 actions and a MBA, the other was a modified fargrim. Each of the companion PCs could take 2 "hits" before dropping, and triggering a healing surge in them would restore one of those hits. Non-attack damage, like from auras and such, did not count as a "hit." I also gave the PCs 20 temp HP at the start of the fight.


After round 1, one PC was dead and the player spent the rest of the session cursing. He had one attack that didn't land. After that, he was proned, smacked repeatedly, and then thrown into the pit, where he died. Part of the problem was that he had moved first, but Danifae and the Xorlarrn mage both acted first, readies actions to "attack with this when something gets to the bottom level." The PC in question was teleported over to them, arriving with vulnerable 10 from the shockspheres. He took 109 hp in damage in the first round (I critted once), and that was all from at-wills and environment,

We pretty much universally agreed that the party failed, when they completed cleansing the 3 crystals, she was not even bloodied, and they were out of healing.

I never even used Danifae's retribution power in the fight. Though I suppose if the party just ignores Danifae and focuses on the crystals, they won't trigger that power too often.

The fight is unbalanced, and I would personally emphasize Mystra's words at the beginning-- their task here hinges on cleansing the crystals. Let the party know that they have time before reaching the lower level to prep and learn about the battlefield. I started with the map folded, so they didn't even see Danifae until one of them was teleported into the lower level.

And definitely give them time to discuss their plan of attack after Mystra speaks to them, but before they go into initiative.

I would also change Danifae's abilities when all the crystals are cleansed. For one, if your party doesn't have a controller, then Danifae's at-wills are going to keep sliding them away from the crystals and into some terrain feature that either knocks prone or causes damage. At one point, one of the PCs *crawled* to the crystal, just so he would still have his standard action for the cleanse.

I'd also consider locking Danifae down to keep her next to the Demon Weave source-- don't let her move more than 2 or 3 squares away from it. She still has total battlefield control in the lower level, but letting her move up and block the PCs from getting over to the mirror nodes is just brutal.

Having now read and run the final encounter-- it's not actually necessary for the party to have all 6 items. Just that they have one item per PC. Scaling the encounter means reducing the number of crystals they need to cleanse.

Finally, I looked at this encounter from the point of view of my controller mage, and think that DMs need to prepare for "well, can I use mage hand to cleanse the crystal? What if I'm standing inside a different crystal at the time?" 

You also need to decide if the maelstorm will restore all uses of a multi-use encounter power (like healing word) or just one use of it. Personally, I don't think the intent is to restore all uses, but for this fight-- let the PCs have the additional use. They need it.
Thanks for all the comments so far, and I apologize for not answering sooner. I think most of the questions that were asked have been answered at least as well as I could answer!

The importance of the "items of light" in the final session are tied to the cleansing of the tainted artifacts. If the party does not have at least 1 item per PC, then you can allow the crystals to be cleansed with items of light more than once, or simply allow an easy skill check to cleanse one.

The PCs should start in the passageway leading past the maw on the map. The maw is both a blessing and a curse, because it can teleport the PCs quickly to where they need to be. Of course, there are drawbacks as well. I personally will not have the PC take damage from both the maw and the globe. In fact, I am going to have the maw teleport a PC adjacent to a random crystal rather that into a globe.

Most importantly, as Mortaine points out, this battle can get deadly in a hurry. If you are running a table with players who are not looking for the highest level of challenge, tone things down a bit. Let the PCs who try unique things be rewarded with success. Allow Mystra to talk to the PCs, giving hints or directions about something that might help. The group I am running Encounters for are young kids who are still learning the rules, so I am going to be running a greatly altered version of this battle (in a couple weeks, as we are a week behind). The Spellcaves of Eryndlyn are supposed to be a place of wild magical effects, so use your imagination!

Be well!
Shawn, I just want to take a second to thank you for this season of Encounters.

Everlasting Darkness has taken a firm place in my most-favorite Encounters seasons. The new adventure design approach has completely liberated our sessions, and given our DMs a greater feeling of freedom and enjoyment in the game. As an organizer, I've rarely felt that my DMs needed the prep sessions, and although we played it last night to check the tactics and get a good sense of how the session might go, it was an exception. Most weeks, we've played the prep session just for fun and giggles.

While I don't know how this season would work as a home game (some of the Encounters seasons have worked better at home, some work better at Encounters), I think it's been a very enjoyable campaign, with a lot to reward role-play-oriented players.

So, thanks. You've done a good job with this one, and re-energized the Encounters program, at least for my local community. 
Thank you! As much as I would love to take more credit than I deserve, the driving forces behind this season were Steve Townshend and James Wyatt. As the design lead, James set forth what he wanted the season to encompass. Steve had written a previous season (which I thought was excellent). I added what I could, but those two gentlemen deserve most of the credit.
I've given it some thought, and I think, if a party doesn't have all of the Relics of Light, since it's the last session of the Season, and they've little chance of all surviving anyway, let one of the PCs sacrifice him/herself to cleanse one of the crystals.

It makes sense in the context of the scenario -- they've been the keepers of these items which carry a divine spark designed to cleanse and they've been adventuring with these items in their possession for months, much of it out of game. Who's to say they didn't absorb some of the magic or become attuned to the Relics' purpose? Plus, it's a fantastic way for someone who maybe hasn't rolled particularly well this scenario, and who feels they maybe didn't "optimize" their character*, to feel like they still contributed something vital to the success of the mission.

I plan to have the DMs run Axelcrantz as an NPC with both tables we'll run tonight, with two additional "Healing Surge + 1d6" restorations. His purpose will be to hang back and keep the PCs on their feet if the going gets rough, but not to do their job for them. We'll have to play it by ear.

* I encourage people to play characters they'll find fun, not necessarily optimized or designed to fit a party niche.

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TiaNadiezja wrote:
I love that idea. I am going to steal that, and I might even take it a step further. If a character sacrifices himself in this way, and the battle is not going well, he or she might cleanse all the artifacts. And might even do serious damage to Danifae as well.
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