As I wrote the Encounters adventure and am currently DMing sessions where possible, I thought I might swing by and see if I could answer any clarifying questions, offer advice, etc., whatever you guys need. I will note that I am neither a RPGA expert nor am I a WotC employee, so nothing I say should be taken as official. It's all just my perspective.
A couple notes from my Encounter 1 session:
1) I like the "bridge of death" metaphor--it certainly turned out to be that. The dwarf did exactly what he was supposed to do, and held off any melee combatants from getting across without a serious fight. Apologies to all players for the shield bash ability--that certainly does a LOT of damage.
2) Did anyone else have PCs run two squares across the bridge, then jump? That was how a couple of my PCs made it, particularly the hybrid avenger/swordmage, who pretty much trounced the bandits by his lonesome. Didn't work out so well for the ranger, who had been lit on fire by the tiefling and failed the jump check, thus landing in the water (though I let her auto-save out of the ongoing 5 fire damage).
3) Once the dwarf went down, it was pretty much over. The party streamed across and mopped the floor with the ranged combatants.
Having run Encounter 2, I can offer a couple insights. I did kill 2 of 6 PCs and left another 2 unconscious at the end of the encounter, so this is going to be a tough one:
2) Remember the scorpion only has two claws to grab people. It does have a stinger, though!
3) Try to keep the players from identifying the doppelganger sneak as much as possible--which means, until he gets hit by an attack. Use the same mini/indicator you're using for the other minions. Odds are, the PCs will just ignore him until all the big hitters are busy with the guards/scorpion, and the doppelganger can then go and mop up the squishies.
4) Before the actual battle, lots of roleplaying in the Yawning Portal is definitely a plus, if your group is into the RP. If you like playing with Fayne as much as I like writing about her, then use her to your heart's content. She will show up again later in the Encounters series (in session 9), and her reappearance will be more effective if the PCs like her.
Also, a couple questions (and there are spoilers here, so DMs only should read):
A) Sorry if I didn't make it clear, but Fayne's doing that *intentionally* to coerce the party of PCs into helping her. She is supposed to be way over the top in her negotiations, to make the PCs feel like they are getting a really good deal (and the warm/fuzzy of doing the right thing, rescuing the damsel in distress, all that jazz). As you can see in the encounter, the thugs have all the coin she paid them to pretend to beat her up.
(As a side note, she acts very much this way in my novel, Downshadow, where she is a character.)
Q) XP is balanced?
A) My esteemed project coordinator Chris Tulach took very good care of this. Participating in the encounters, along with getting the quest XP, should put the characters to 2nd level in about session 8-9, which is exactly where they should be.
Q) Really? A solo with AC 24 and bloodied at 84 hp? REALLY?
A) For those who don't run a lot of solos, rest assured, that may seem really dire, but I don't think it will prove so. If they have to do 84 damage to it, that's like doing 16-17 damage each to five creatures, and the solo is NOT going to be launching five attacks every round. And is everyone going to be attacking AC? I hope not, because if so, your party is badly balanced. If even half your party hits each round, you're probably going to bloody it in like 2-4 rounds, and then the encounter changes directions a bit. (As solo encounters usually do.)
Also, don't count out the immobility aspect. Solos are generally most effective when they can move around and avoid flanks and such, but if the party just gangs up on them (as with this one), they're pretty much toast. Sure, it'll be tough, but I think your PCs will surprise you.
Q) Why is Xeres such a badass?
A) Well, he's the climactic big bad, so you tell me!
Any other questions, feedback, thoughts, rants, criticism, whatever--I'd like to hear it!
Erik Scott de Bie
EDIT: Good call re: sblock!