D&D Encounters Field Reports (Week 3)

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Use this thread to discuss your experiences with week 3 of D&D Encounters.

Please realise that both players and DMs read these threads, so do not put spoilers in your posts. If your post goes into enough details, then you absolutely must use spoilers. Enclose the spoilery bit in [*sblock=spoiler stuff][*/sblock]  (just remove the *) spoiler block tags so that players who haven't played yet don't have the surprise ruined for them.

[*sblock=spoilerey stuff]

blahblahblah

[*/sblock]

will produce

spoilerey stuff


blahblahblah


once you remove the *.
Mudbunny SVCL for DDI Before you post, think of the Monkeysphere
As our lead mentioned under one of the other threads, our D&D Encounters at Guardian Games in Portland, OR continues to be a big success. We are running some 6-7 tables now, which exceeds our expectations. Further growth is possible, as we are seeing a mix of players with some missing certain weeks. Word of mouth is still getting out there and reaching new players... my table had two new players, two that had played one session, and one that had played all three. Two of the guys that played the first session have now volunteered to DM, which is fantastic for us and the hobby. Players continue to be happy and this is a big success for the store and for play in the area.

in the non-spoiler category, I can say that I greatly enjoyed running this in that it was a change from previous sessions with lower challenge and a good opportunity for DMs to get creative. Our group of DMs has a Google group where we toss around ideas and talk through each upcoming week's encounter. This translates to well-prepped DMs that have a better feel for the game.

I again used table tents to give PCs some imagery around the NPCs they met and the foes they faced.

[sblock=Herein lie spoilers, only the DMs should venture forth!]
As I posted here, I created a file capturing several ideas for this session. In reading the skill challenge it occurred to me that this is really two scenes. There is Downshadow (Diplo/Intim) and there is exploring the Undermountain (Dung). Each scene has prep skills and then the exploring has a secondary set of skills. Thus, I wrote myself a cheat sheet that separated this.

For Downshadow, I created a few NPCs and created table tents for them. I chose to have Streetwise lead the PCs to a rough open tavern where twin half-elf waitresses work. They point the PCs towards two possible sources of information. One is a half-orc with a minotaur bodyguard. He has a reputation as an information broker and generally plays like a shady dealer. The other is a dragonborn, new to the area but reportedly a seasoned adventurer and coming off as noble. (Amongst DMs we discussed that any failures and losses of healing surges could be attributed to ridicule. "They create a nickname for you and it hurts your feelings - lose a healing surge!"  )

For the exploration, I basically riffed a series of encounters and provided skill challenges for each.

I presented both paths as options. The players were sort of confused... later we found half the table though it was clear they would go to Downshadow and half to explore, but we had fun regardless. Thinking we had clarity, I took the table's intention as exploring, so I had them using the map and heading towards an area that had the fewest rumors. First dungeoneering check... fail! They find some markings they think might indicate a new passage (false) and come upon the room of thrones and zombies, which I described as having intricate carvings in the floor, tall thrones on stone bases, and otherwise being long and empty. The rotting bodies did not move and could not be identified. The party finally ventures forth, and at that time the intricate floor begins to pull away to a massive pit far below. The zombies begin to animate and to summon power. The PCs chose to run, with one staying behind to distract them. Success on Endurance, and on we go.

They then reached a room with ice cages. The whole place was frosted and slippery. I described many classic horrors, and as they passed one cage it opened, a frost-covered displacer beast emerging. The party chose to run, so I made this a group endurance check. More than half succeeded, so they passed (only one failed, so I described the other PCs taking turns pulling him, helping him up, etc.). They then used arcana and gained their first success as they detected magical residue in one direction.

To add variety, I had them come up empty and thus head to Downshadow to get more information. There they spoke with the dragonborn, won his trust, and heard some rumors attributed to the lone survivor. The reported comments the survivor made mentioned something called "the maw", a doorway carved to look like a mouth of stalactites and stalagmites. The dragonborn directed the PCs to this area, helping further confine the options on the map. They asked for more help, and gained a second success, fine-tuning this further.

They returned to exploring and they succeeded at Dungeoneering. I had them find a rucksack that seemed to be from the original group. For the last situation I used the portal. I had one of them spot a tiny pinprick of light. As they studied it, it grew slowly. One of them used arcana and identified it as a strange portal. They took defensive positions and it finally expanded, depositing a horrid beast with huge long teeth. They chose to have one PC endure it's initial attack while the others sought higher ground and drove it off with ranged attacks. Success!

I then asked if they wanted a bonus combat. They did, so I ran the skeleton combat. Our DMs had noted that this is not supposed to be challenging - 300XP makes this an easy combat. So, I tried to make it interesting and fun but really easy. The skeleton option seemed destined to provide that, with lots of minions and only one potential threat (but without any horrid damage options). Not knowing which PCs I would get from previous sessions, I did not want the fight to eat up surges, dailies, etc.

The encounter played well. The party seemed to have fun choosing a way to approach the skeletons. Some went for the easy bridge, others jumped. The monk raced forth, doing battle with the non-minion. On the fly, I adjusted to give all ranged monsters an immediate reaction... when adjacent to or in a square that had the arcane sigils, they could teleport to any other sigil. But, the PC could continue their movement. This just made things a bit more interesting without making things harder. The teleport happened a few times and seemed enjoyable. Combat lasted just two rounds and yet seemed appropriate given the previous encounters.

We then reached the doorway. I ran it as written, but when a roll was between 10 and 15 I would describe what they found, letting them decide whether to act on it. It led to some fun tension. "You think the word of power Kaz-a-re may help open the door... but you aren't sure... do you say it?" (Eventually the player did, but it took a bit :-)

They succeeded and then we stopped at the cliffhanger ending. One of the new players has bought four books and eagerly anticipates the next session. Good stuff!

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Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

Teos pretty much summed up Tuesday's Session 3 for Guardian Games. We did have a little drop off this week and we did not fill all of our tables (it was 5, 5, and 6). We were prepared to add a 4th table if demand required it.

Wednesday is probably going to be 5 players again (we can only squeeze one table in on Wed. due to a massive Warhammer Minis group that plays every week and we eagerly await the store expansion that will net us 7-12 new tables).

Monday group started this week (that are a session behind us) and we had 2 tables (5 and 4 respectively) and we are looking for another DM to help carry the load that day.

Because we have so many new DMs (they have been DMing home games and do have experience) we are going to use our last kit to start a DMs zero-slot where I run the DMs through 2 encounters so they can see how it runs and we as a group can critique and tweak our upcoming sessions.

As Teos said, our DDE PDX DMs group is becoming an awesome resource. We are sharing information and files amougnst ourselves. It also serves as an archive that new DMs that join us later can tap to catch up to us old fogies.

I have invited another stores DMs to the list but they haven't joined up yet.

Word of mouth and drop ins have helped our play numbers. However, we have also done a very aggressive advertising campaign on our local Portland RPGA mail list (I own it), the local D&D Meetup Group for Portland, Added a gamer classified ad at RPG Game Find, and promoted it during LFR sessions and when I am in the game store itself.

It also help that the store staff and owner are directing folks to the gameday. The owner was at our yearly big gaming convention this last weekend, GameStorm, with the D&D Encounters Banner and talking it up to a bunch of folks who don't frequent her store.

We have done a lot of work to make this event successful and it has revitalized our DM pool and brought a ton of new players to the table. More importantly, it puts us, the D&D organizers, on more equal footing with the MtG, Pokemon, and Warhammer folk when we ask for time and space to play at our store.

Thanks,

Bryan Blumklotz
Guardians of the Gameday Organizer
www.warhorn.org/guardiansofthegameday
Teos pretty much summed up Tuesday's Session 3 for Guardian Games.
[...]
Wednesday is probably going to be 5 players again
[...]
Monday group started this week (that are a session behind us)

I'm a little perplexed, because my understanding was that D&DE is a "Wednesday only, no exceptions" sort of thing.  I know the local store where we hold most of our LFR games was interested in running it another night, but was told firmly and unequivocally that it was not allowed (and so isn't running it at all).

Have I misunderstood the rules, or is this simply one of those "Eh, WOTC is never actually going to enforce any of the rules, so it doesn't matter what they say" sort of things?
Teos pretty much summed up Tuesday's Session 3 for Guardian Games.
[...]
Wednesday is probably going to be 5 players again
[...]
Monday group started this week (that are a session behind us)

I'm a little perplexed, because my understanding was that D&DE is a "Wednesday only, no exceptions" sort of thing.  I know the local store where we hold most of our LFR games was interested in running it another night, but was told firmly and unequivocally that it was not allowed (and so isn't running it at all).

Have I misunderstood the rules, or is this simply one of those "Eh, WOTC is never actually going to enforce any of the rules, so it doesn't matter what they say" sort of things?



Yes I thought this was the case as well.. thats why my store wont run it. If a WotC person would be willing to let us know if this is acceptable I would LOVE to know... then mabye I could convince my store to run it... I want to try encounters but the wed only sucks Wed is midweek and hard for a lot of people.
Teos pretty much summed up Tuesday's Session 3 for Guardian Games.
[...]
Wednesday is probably going to be 5 players again
[...]
Monday group started this week (that are a session behind us)

I'm a little perplexed, because my understanding was that D&DE is a "Wednesday only, no exceptions" sort of thing.  I know the local store where we hold most of our LFR games was interested in running it another night, but was told firmly and unequivocally that it was not allowed (and so isn't running it at all).

Have I misunderstood the rules, or is this simply one of those "Eh, WOTC is never actually going to enforce any of the rules, so it doesn't matter what they say" sort of things?



Yes I thought this was the case as well.. thats why my store wont run it. If a WotC person would be willing to let us know if this is acceptable I would LOVE to know... then mabye I could convince my store to run it... I want to try encounters but the wed only sucks Wed is midweek and hard for a lot of people.



We still have to report all of it on Wednesday (and we at WotC's request managed to squeeze on table in on Wednesday for walk in traffic) but we let them know that we could not run the program successfully on just Wednesday. There just isn't room on the schedule and in-store gamespace is limited in Portland, OR.

I was never told not to talk about our schedule by the WotC reps that came down to our store to scope us out before D&D Encounters began and they know what we are doing. It has been mentioned in our previous reports that we were running on Tuesday (unfortunately we don't usually get the Tweet stuff that the Wednesday groups get) and the link to the warhorn.org site shows our schedule pretty explicitly.

Look, there is nothing preventing you from running DDE on another day. Reporting is reporting and if WotC wants to kill a program here in Portland, they are welcome to tell me to stop doing what I am doing.

My Two Coppers,

Bryan Blumklotz
Guardians of the Gameday Orgainzer
www.warhorn.org/guardiansofthegameday



We should keep the thread on topic. Running on Wednesdays is the best, because the Twitter feed does provide some fun (especially for younger and more connected players). It is also easier for a store to successfully attract for Wednesdays due to the WotC advertising. This particular store is just already filled to the gills with Wednesday activities.

I look forward to hearing the reports on how it went for other 1-3 sessions.

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

A new set of challenges awaited the adventuring groups at Hobby Town in Lincoln, NE.  Two tables of fully returning groups, and one table (mine) with a slightly different line-up from the previous weeks. My group had a wizard replacing the ranger who was out for the week, along with the returning rogue, paladin and bard.

Combat expertise still eludes the bard who can't seem to roll double-digits for anything other than a Diplomacy or History check. Credit the wizard for forcing a healing potion down the unconscious bard's throat after a pair of savage attacks left him bleeding his life out on the floor.  The paladin whipped out some impressive damage, and the rogue exercised some of his craft skills to make life safer for everyone.

Fun times, and thanks to Joel for DM'ing again, and allowing a great deal of improvisation and role-playing.

-Kharybdis, Hobgoblin bard

At Legends Comics in Towson, MD we ran 2 sessions tonight; last week's didn't happen due to lack of players, so we went ahead and ran both of them in one day. No problem, particularly since one was a skill challenge. 

[sblock=skill challenge stuff]Said skill challenge worked pretty well. I fed the players a description of Downshadow and asked them what they wanted to do to find the hidden chambers. They were interested in being social, so that's what I did. They were not a street savvy party, alas -- but one of our new players suggested that he might know something of the history of the place. Excellent. I rolled with a History check and let that stand in for Streetwise.

They wanted to find out who the crime lord was who was in charge of the area. I ad libbed Big Nose, and they went off to find him. His sanctum sanctorum was guarded by a bunch of half-orcs, and after some posturing and uncertainty I hinted about skills and they elected to Intimidate their way through. They used the heads of the thugs from the second encounter as a prop, so I tossed them a +2 to the skill check. Piece of cake. I was also pretty liberal about assists.

Big Nose turned out to be a gnome with a little button nose. I played him like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. Cheap humor, but appreciated. They negotiated their way to a successful bargain. Since he managed to soak them for 20 gold, I gave them a success without a skill check -- it seemed a fair trade. From there, getting to the chamber was pretty easy, and the second skill challenge was a piece of cake. The hardest thing was keeping the wizard from running away with it, but he took my requests for other people to roll in good grace. I finished it up by requiring an Endurance check from someone who wasn't him, since he was busy activating runes, and that worked out well.

Lots of fun. I felt like it might have been tough for a novice DM, but it gave me plenty of guidance to work with.[/spoiler] 

We'll be playing again in two weeks -- we know a couple of people can't make it on alternate Wednesdays, and this way we're guaranteed a table with more than two PCs. 

Ran Week 3 of DDE at Double Midnight Comics in Manchester, NH.  Everyone had an absolute blast this week.

Had 7 players again.  Not enough to split into two tables, but we managed just fine.  I'd certainly rather do 7 together than do two tables of 3!

For the dungeon crawl skill challenge I took an ambitious approach.  I created Fayne's map and gave a copy to each player.  Then I let the party decide which route they would take to try and get to the Hidden Chambers.  The map had two major potential routes and lots of questionable side paths and "shortcuts".

Then I had a document with a description of each area and skills which could be applied to get through it.  I didn't like the simple skill challenge used as a dungeon crawl so I tweaked the format in this way:

After describing the challenge and clueing the party in on potentially useful skills I asked for two characters to take the lead in this area and make the major skill challenge rolls (two of them).  Then if both rolls succeeded the whole party passes through no problem.  If only one made the roll and one failed - I would allow a third character to step in using a different skill in a creative way and thus still earn a success.  If this rolled failed, it would be a failure for the area.  If both failed the primary rolls then the entire area would be considered a failure as well.  This would be one of the three failures for the overall challenge.

This allowed more characters to get involved and overall this really simulated a dungeon crawl well and the rolls felt meaningful.  Everyone got engaged and seemed to enjoy the variety of encounters.  We actually had so much fun with this skill challenge and moving along the map we spent nearly all our time doing this.

I had a wonderful extra encounter planned, against some orcs, as a break between the first and second challenges but there just wasn't time to run it so we decided to move past that encounter (assuming they won) and to the Hidden Chamber.  Then we played out the skill challenge and the party managed to open the door using a variety of skills as intended.  This one was run by the book.

The party was disappointed that they missed the extra encounter I planned, so we decided we may jump back to it (as a sort of flashback encounter) to open things next week before we continue on.  I'm happy to oblige if that's the collective decision next week.

Overall - everyone had a blast. I threw all kinds of crazy things at them as part of the dungeon crawl and they made nearly all their rolls.

Some of the tweets were timely too!  At one point a character had just rolled a 1 on a skill challenge roll just as the tweet came in that said one character could re-roll a 1.  oh, and they are still looking around for the Tarrasque....!
I'm just going to spoilery this because I want to talk about the 'encounter' itself.  Short non-spoiler reaction - today was 0 fun.

spoilerey stuff


Our group hates skill challenges.  In LFR, we basically preffer it if the DM lists the skills we need to roll and we roll them to get it out of the way, otherwise we are floundering trying to figure out what we need to roll and the skill challenge takes an hour and no one has any fun.

Porting this playstyle to encounters means that today's encounter took all of 30 minutes to complete at the two tables at our FLGS.  We spent the rest of the hour and a half playing card games (the new "Are you the traitor?" game is quite fun and I highly reccomend it)

Oh - and I was highly annoyed that the skill challenges didn't offer a higher variety of skills for successes and that certain ones could only be used once.  I sat out of the first skill challenge, but popped a Religion check during the second one, but couldn't use it again after that.  So, I travelled all the way across town to roll one d20.  Yay!  I'm playing a Human Hybrid Druid/Monk with Acrobatics, Athletics, Heal and Religion trained.  Acrobatics was secondary in the 2nd challenge, but the Ranger rolled it and it was a one-use only skill.  Sucky.  (Though to be fair I did that to myself, I took Heal to get the extra Renoun for getting someone back on their feet.)

I feel bad for the guy who this was his first session of 4e in about a year and was looking to get back into it.  Honestly if this had been my first Encounters experience I would not be back (I missed the 2nd session, played the 1st).

It sucks when you have to rely on one or two people to get the final roll.  We had 6 successes (I think?  We needed 1 more) in the last challenge with no failures, and the only things left were Arcana and Theivery, and our Warlock and our (pure) Monk couldn't roll above 5, so we wound up failing.  I would have loved to see another player take the reigns after they each failed one roll on a different skill but no other skill was acceptable for a success at that point.

I see that other DMs did extra stuff with their encounters to make them entertaining, but our DMs just aren't that creative (and honestly, most of the time when DMs try to do that stuff, it just drags it out and makes it even more of a chore).  If an encounter is WRITTEN to be done a certain way, that's usually the way we do it.  If the text says "This is a skill challenge and you have these skills" then that's pretty much all we do is roll the dice.  So, if you intend a skill challenge to seriously take 1-2 hours, you need to put 1-2 hours of writing into it.

All in all - I don't want to go all the way across town to do a skill challenge where I *might* get to make 1 d20 roll (and don't tell me to try to roll something untrained - that's nearly guarenteed failture every time a DM makes me roll dice when I don't have anything else)

(PS - you can tell I'm annoyed when a 30 minute encounter makes me write 7 paragraps.  I spent longer complainin about the encounter than I did actually playing it!)
I'm just going to spoilery this because I want to talk about the 'encounter' itself.  Short non-spoiler reaction - today was 0 fun.

spoilerey stuff


Our group hates skill challenges.  In LFR, we basically preffer it if the DM lists the skills we need to roll and we roll them to get it out of the way, otherwise we are floundering trying to figure out what we need to roll and the skill challenge takes an hour and no one has any fun.

Porting this playstyle to encounters means that today's encounter took all of 30 minutes to complete at the two tables at our FLGS.  We spent the rest of the hour and a half playing card games (the new "Are you the traitor?" game is quite fun and I highly reccomend it)

Oh - and I was highly annoyed that the skill challenges didn't offer a higher variety of skills for successes and that certain ones could only be used once.  I sat out of the first skill challenge, but popped a Religion check during the second one, but couldn't use it again after that.  So, I travelled all the way across town to roll one d20.  Yay!  I'm playing a Human Hybrid Druid/Monk with Acrobatics, Athletics, Heal and Religion trained.  Acrobatics was secondary in the 2nd challenge, but the Ranger rolled it and it was a one-use only skill.  Sucky.  (Though to be fair I did that to myself, I took Heal to get the extra Renoun for getting someone back on their feet.)

I feel bad for the guy who this was his first session of 4e in about a year and was looking to get back into it.  Honestly if this had been my first Encounters experience I would not be back (I missed the 2nd session, played the 1st).

It sucks when you have to rely on one or two people to get the final roll.  We had 6 successes (I think?  We needed 1 more) in the last challenge with no failures, and the only things left were Arcana and Theivery, and our Warlock and our (pure) Monk couldn't roll above 5, so we wound up failing.  I would have loved to see another player take the reigns after they each failed one roll on a different skill but no other skill was acceptable for a success at that point.

I see that other DMs did extra stuff with their encounters to make them entertaining, but our DMs just aren't that creative (and honestly, most of the time when DMs try to do that stuff, it just drags it out and makes it even more of a chore).  If an encounter is WRITTEN to be done a certain way, that's usually the way we do it.  If the text says "This is a skill challenge and you have these skills" then that's pretty much all we do is roll the dice.  So, if you intend a skill challenge to seriously take 1-2 hours, you need to put 1-2 hours of writing into it.

All in all - I don't want to go all the way across town to do a skill challenge where I *might* get to make 1 d20 roll (and don't tell me to try to roll something untrained - that's nearly guarenteed failture every time a DM makes me roll dice when I don't have anything else)

(PS - you can tell I'm annoyed when a 30 minute encounter makes me write 7 paragraps.  I spent longer complainin about the encounter than I did actually playing it!)



Show

First, you start off by stating that your group (and I assume you as well) hates skill challenges. So, did you give this one a chance? Then, you admit that your DMs "ported" this to your usual play style and thus didn't -really- follow the SC the way it was written. And then you blame the encounter as written?

You also state that you rolled a single d20. Did you attempt to assist folks in their checks? Did anyone ask for help during the SC? You didn't even attempt any other checks? And I take it that they didn't run the optional combat? It was low XP but you could have at least run another couple rounds of combat to satisfy your d20 fix.

I think that much of your dislike in this encounter had little do with the encounter as written and more with the people playing it. That's just my view from what you put in your post.

For my part, I ran the encounter twice tonight, as we had an incredible increase in response, due in the most part to PAX East. We had a total of 4 tables at our store, a total of 21 players, up from two tables and 9 players last week. We had several new players, one who'd never played D&D before and all told, I think everything went very well.

I tried to run the skill challenges as roleplaying encounters, and as far as I recall, I never used the term skill challenge. I tried to describe the scenery, the dungeons, tunnels, the locals, etc. I had the first group run into a pair of drow in the Downshadow, an old school pair of drow, one female who did all the talking and a male who attended her. She made a point of stating that she couldn't believe she "was helping an eladrin but ..." but the Eladrin rolled really high on her Diplomacy and was female (in a group of men). I had the other group run into a goblin who was convinced (by a really high mentally made intimidate check by the Psion) that his "god" was angry with him and needed to help the party find their way. The parties made their way through mazes of old tunnels, through sewers, by sensing air currents, by sniffing for tracks (shifter!) and by escaping large sinister beasts by running and by stealth.

I tried to make sure everyone contributed, I modified some of the skill challenge, fudged a few intimidate and diplomacy checks for streetwise, and tried to get them into the story of turning a half scrap of map into a pathway to the next part of the adventure. The only thing I wish I'd done but didn't was make a visual of the doorway at the end. Oh well. Next time.

Did everyone have fun? They seemed to. I'm not saying it was perfect ... there were some points where players were stuck, but that happens sometimes. But I do think everyone got into their characters.

Till next week.

Show
I think this skill challenge was a great opportunity to practice DMing skill challenges and really work on improvising details. I think this week's encounter was one of the best-written skill challenges I've ever read.

The first think that I was surprised by was the difficulty. Every one of our three tables failed at least one of the two challenges. My table had two athletics-based characters, and they really struggled to find things to do.

This skill challenge is a great opportunity to ham it up, which is really hard. I used Grimlock from WATE1-2, and stole the curtain trap from ADAP1-4 in order to add some interesting details. My biggest critique is that the skill descriptions are all very generic, but the best stories come from very precise detail. Although I understand a lot of the critique of the skill challenge system, I think it just requires the DM to work a lot harder to construct the world around the PCs.

Also, the skill challenge format made DMing tough. Consider the first skill in the list (Diplomacy) had to be unlocked by another skill (Streetwise) that could be learned is useful from a third skill (Insight). I'd much prefer the challenges written in a format:

Action the character wishes to take
Skill (DC), Skill 2 (DC), or Skill 3 (DC)
Description for the attempt and the result.

I know the author doesn't have a lot of control over this though.

Also, I totally missed the treasure section. Missed as in my group is packing up and I'm inventing things like, "you find a not in your pocket from Grimlock saying not to come back along with a purse filled with 96gp." There is, I realized, three places you need to look for treasure: the loot table, the encounter summary and the actual encounter. I assumed when prepping that everything would be in the encounter description. This probably could have been a little better organized.


Overall, this was my favorite encounter so far, and had much more nuance and RP than I expected.
It might have been my group. It might have been my DM. This session was not entertaining. To be fair, one of my players was an 8 year old playing a goliath barbarian who wanted nothing more than to smash things. We also had a goliath fighter that wanted nothing more than, well ... to smash things. Even the seasoned gamers at the table had a tough time focusing on the game due to what felt like a lack of content.

The Session


So, there was a town of some sort? Somebody rolled a 1 on a streetwise check, so apparently we didn't learn enough to actually meet an NPC.

Then there was a monster. Somebody rolled to identify that we shouldn't fight it. Then somebody rolled perception to find a hiding place. Then somebody rolled stealth to hide us in it.

... So far, I haven't done anything and neither has either goliath. We're bored.

Then we trigger a fight! Everybody gets one round of slaughtering things that don't put up much of a fight. *yawn* Even the goliaths aren't happy because everything they hit dies instantly and the two controllers casually make everything "go away" without any fuss. The "boss" dies quickly as well. Goliaths are still bored.

Then there's some big door. We all roll a bunch of dice. Nobody really knows what's going on. We either succeed, or something else rolls some OTHER dice. In the end, we succeed anyway. Was there a possibility of failure here? Was there a "penalty" for not doing well? If not ... why'd we bother?

At some point we found a single magic item. We blankly rolled dice to see who got the blank item that was found ... no where in particular and doesn't have shape or form yet.

There was no role playing beyond "I support your perception check", because there was nobody to interact with. There was no feeling of danger or threat. There was just a few die rolls that didn't feel like they meant anything. Everybody already knows that no matter what we do, we'll end up on level 4 next week anyway. It's not like failing a skill roll is actually going to prevent us from continuing. It's a metagame mentality, but given the nature of Encounters, it's very difficult to break away from.

my feelings about this encounter were mixed.

spoiler stuff
we got through it (failed first half, success second half) but we lost so many surges from failed checks most of the party died from the environment basically.

not sure if the DMs made the right call but they had us take surge value dam when we were out of surges, they based on pg 76 of DMG, i looked in the dmg after and saw pg 159 (starvation, thirst environment stuff) as a possible (less harsh) alternative.

(btw i tried posting parts of this in the Q&A forums but it seems to have eaten my post)

oh and the next table over did better then us but they lost more surges overall

overall i'd say score
week1  5/10  (bridge and melee attacker hurt)
week2  8/10 (good battle overall)
week3  3/10 (too harsh a skill challenge losing so many surges)
Huh. I might have to talk with my DM. Either we rolled really well and just breezed through everything, or she's being going easy on us by not dishing out penalties for failures. Then again, in session 2, our "boss" didn't even have a stinger! I think I'm getting a watered down version or something! This wouldn't amuse me.

Five new people showed up this time, and they all came to our table, so we wound up with eight. Other table had six, no idea how they went.


I'm iffy on skill challenges, but I probably just don't have the right DMs. All the DMs I've played under run them as nearly fluffless readings of a list of skills, tonight was no exception, and other than streetwise I didn't have any really applicable skills other than intimidate which seems to have been a bad idea for the party to use at all since for a reason I am still uncertain of, someone else who rolled it doing poorly resulted in me losing a healing surge, the first of two lost during the skill challenge. Which made getting a 29 on it infinitely less awesome. Apparently my Drow Ardent is not scary enough. Fair enough, he's Chaotic Good and a 'priest' of Corellon Larethian, not the most frightening of things, but still, durrr. The rest of the party rolled for the dungeon-delving part of the challenge while I read forums on my phone, someone failed a dungeoneering check and we all lost another surge. And then we fought some Kobolds that we mopped the floor with, and then we dealt with the door thing, where we quickly ran out of applicable skill checks since despite having eight people in the group nobody is trained in either religion or thievery. I jokingly suggested trying to intimidate the door since Kerazt is apparently a scary mofo, but alas, this was not allowed.


It's a good thing the Kobolds got thrown in there, though, since otherwise tonight would have really sucked. Too many people to really even try to RP things. We're also really at the point of needing to start a third table. The table of six was missing two people from last week, so if all sixteen potential people showed up, that would be enough for three tables of five, minus a player to DM..


Derp.

It's spelled Corellon Larethian, not Correlon, Correllon, Correlllon, Corellion, Correlian or any other way of getting it wrong. I'm a total grognard and I still play 4E.
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I think this skill challenge was a great opportunity to practice DMing skill challenges and really work on improvising details. I think this week's encounter was one of the best-written skill challenges I've ever read.

The first think that I was surprised by was the difficulty. Every one of our three tables failed at least one of the two challenges. My table had two athletics-based characters, and they really struggled to find things to do.

This skill challenge is a great opportunity to ham it up, which is really hard. I used Grimlock from WATE1-2, and stole the curtain trap from ADAP1-4 in order to add some interesting details. My biggest critique is that the skill descriptions are all very generic, but the best stories come from very precise detail. Although I understand a lot of the critique of the skill challenge system, I think it just requires the DM to work a lot harder to construct the world around the PCs.

Also, the skill challenge format made DMing tough. Consider the first skill in the list (Diplomacy) had to be unlocked by another skill (Streetwise) that could be learned is useful from a third skill (Insight). I'd much prefer the challenges written in a format:

Action the character wishes to take
Skill (DC), Skill 2 (DC), or Skill 3 (DC)
Description for the attempt and the result.

I know the author doesn't have a lot of control over this though.

Also, I totally missed the treasure section. Missed as in my group is packing up and I'm inventing things like, "you find a not in your pocket from Grimlock saying not to come back along with a purse filled with 96gp." There is, I realized, three places you need to look for treasure: the loot table, the encounter summary and the actual encounter. I assumed when prepping that everything would be in the encounter description. This probably could have been a little better organized.


Overall, this was my favorite encounter so far, and had much more nuance and RP than I expected.


DDE isn't run for the benefit of the DM's. I don't care how much fun running a skill challenge might be, or whether it makes for good practice in DM'ing; if the players aren't having fun, then the encounter was a total failure. And it looks to me that a significant portion of the player base did not have fun with this skill challenge. Bad experiences for new players mean they don't stay players for long.

Maybe next season we can at least keep the DC's to normal levels. A complexity, what, 3.5?, skill challenge with a DC of 13 has only a 10-16% chance of success, assuming skill bonuses of +7 or +8. You lower that to DC 10 (the normal DC for level one skill challenges), that rises to 43-66% with the same skill bonuses. Even with that change, though,  every party would have only about a 55% chance of succeeding in any particular skill challenge. Heck, let's just cut out all the extraneous rolling and turn the skill challenges into a single saving throw: the odds are about the same, and it sure as hell takes a lot less time. Or we could flip a coin! Heads, the party wins; tails, the party loses! So fun!

I know this is not on topic, but skill challenges are broken. The current system punishes players directly for failing skill rolls. You don't take damage for missing an attack roll, so why should you lose healing surges for failing a check during a skill challenge? That's just stupid. DDE is about action, anyways, so let's leave the frustrating "roll dice until you fail" skill challenges out of DDE altogether from now on.

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/7.jpg)

I jokingly suggested trying to intimidate the door since Kerazt is apparently a scary mofo, but alas, this was not allowed.



Everytime, I read an account where something was "not allowed", the DM in me cringes.  One of my players tried Intimidate during the skill challenge to open the door and my reponse was "Go ahead and roll."  Then I described how the attempt had no visible effect on the door, BUT since his result was something like a 26, the rest of the party felt motivated to redouble their efforts.  This gave everyone a good laugh, and everyone else did actually pick up their sheets looking for skills they missed. (it worked in real life - hehe)

Then when the same character came back and wanted to try Acrobatics (a valid option but they PC wasn't really describing how to use it), I thought of the nice Intimidate roll against the door and decided that the character would have stumbled on the correct use of this skill.  Then I described how the character taunted the door until it lashed out with a defensive blast which the PC could roll to dodge giving others a chance to force the door as it regained it's energy (as described in the module).

So instead of "not allowed", Intimidate gave everyone a laugh and helped a character stumble into the proper use of another skill.

Bottom line - DMs need to think on their feet!

NOTE:  I've been DMing for 25 years (yup - that long), and we all start with not much in the way of experience. So I am NOT meaning to criticze other DMs who are struggling with parts of this adventure (I've struggled with pieces of it too!)  I replied to this to honestly try and help folks who need to be reminded to think about things in a different way and ALWAYS let the player make the roll - then if it is an impressive one make it mean something - even if it doesn't help acheive the immediate goal.

I jokingly suggested trying to intimidate the door since Kerazt is apparently a scary mofo, but alas, this was not allowed.



Everytime, I read an account where something was "not allowed", the DM in me cringes.  One of my players tried Intimidate during the skill challenge to open the door and my reponse was "Go ahead and roll."  Then I described how the attempt had no visible effect on the door, BUT since his result was something like a 26, the rest of the party felt motivated to redouble their efforts.  This gave everyone a good laugh, and everyone else did actually pick up their sheets looking for skills they missed. (it worked in real life - hehe)

Then when the same character came back and wanted to try Acrobatics (a valid option but they PC wasn't really describing how to use it), I thought of the nice Intimidate roll against the door and decided that the character would have stumbled on the correct use of this skill.  Then I described how the character taunted the door until it lashed out with a defensive blast which the PC could roll to dodge giving others a chance to force the door as it regained it's energy (as described in the module).

So instead of "not allowed", Intimidate gave everyone a laugh and helped a character stumble into the proper use of another skill.

Bottom line - DMs need to think on their feet!

NOTE:  I've been DMing for 25 years (yup - that long), and we all start with not much in the way of experience. So I am NOT meaning to criticze other DMs who are struggling with parts of this adventure (I've struggled with pieces of it too!)  I replied to this to honestly try and help folks who need to be reminded to think about things in a different way and ALWAYS let the player make the roll - then if it is an impressive one make it mean something - even if it doesn't help acheive the immediate goal.


I like the cut of your jib, sir. The RPGA could do with a few more DM's like yourself.

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/7.jpg)

This is the first report from our group in the UK - we are playing at Eclectic games in Reading.

We have only 1 table with 2 younger players and 3 others. It is great to see the kids coming along and really getting into it !

Our DM has found the right balance in challenging us without going out of his way to kill the PCs - encounter 2 could have easily resulted in several PC deaths or even a TPK. For new players, a near death experience is a much better way to learn about the game Smile

Last night was "sweetened" by some free snacks and treats (courtesy of a sponsor) - this went down well with all of the players.

Finally, as the skill challenge was short the DM rounded off with a nice 300 XP combat.
DDE isn't run for the benefit of the DM's. I don't care how much fun running a skill challenge might be, or whether it makes for good practice in DM'ing; if the players aren't having fun, then the encounter was a total failure. And it looks to me that a significant portion of the player base did not have fun with this skill challenge. Bad experiences for new players mean they don't stay players for long.



I know that you're probably not meaning this in the way I'm going to reply to it but I feel it must be said.

First off, let's assume that there are parts of the game (D&D or DDE) that are not fun for the DMs. If they encounter such things enough times, then the game will become unfun for them and they will either 1) stop being DMs or 2) they will be cynical, cranky, or just plain "meh" when running these parts of the game. The results of these will be 1) no one gets to play or 2) people will stop having fun during the games, which may also result in no on gets to play if folks don't come back.

To say that the game not being fun for the DM doesn't matter is, at the very least, short-sighted, and at the very worst, just plain -wrong-.

Second, let's examine DDE. I think DDE is actually the best thing since sliced bread for introducing new DMs to the craft. It has one encounter per week which makes it incredibly easy to run and prepare. It is first level -everything- and thus there is very little that the DM needs to remember (nothing stuns so far, very little power creep, no wierd combos of 3 feats and a Daily, etc) and very little complexity for the DM to master. And it is, frankly, short. None of the combats take very long (so far), everything can be done in less than 2 hours and really, that keeps the interest and energy level high. Nothing helps DMs get more interested than having a lot of excited players helping their excitement level stay high.

I've got two new (or relatively new GMs) helping me out on Wednesdays and both seem to be having fun (though I only just "recruited", ie drafted, one of them last night). If it wasn't fun for them, I daresay I might lose them soon or have to work on shoring up their interest. I thought in particular they had fun with Encounter 3.

That does -not- negate your point about players having fun. Far from it. These are not mutually exclusive goals. But let's be careful about the DMs. We -need- DMs, we need more DMs and we need DMS who -want- be DMs. Anything that makes it bad to be a DM, in any way, is going to be a net negative for the hobby. Period.

End Rant. *jumps off soapbox*
While skill challenges aren't usually as much fun as a rousing brawl, they do make for a nice change of pace. Our DM ran it much more as a role-playing session, rather than a black & white skill check, and our group was well-rounded enough that everyone got a chance to play a vital role.

In my opinion, part of the responsibility for having fun in a session like this also relies on the players.  Given a situation where

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we encountered the Downshadow denizens, and one of the types we were supposed to get information from was RP-colored out as an old man mixing up some sort of ointment/mixture. Our Alchemy-trained bard jumped in with trying to make an Alchemy-based skill check to figure out what the geezer was concocting and obtain his help by offering suggestions on how to improve the ointment. Almost certainly not the 'standard' path for that part of the skill challenge, but allowed for a great storyline, use of (the Alchemy training) an ability/skill that almost certainly won't have a place in Undermountain, and transitioned neatly into the next portion of the challenge. But it took both the DM being creative and flexible, and a player willing to dive into the story, rather than just mechanically rolling dice.



Kharybdis, Hobgoblin bard
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I think this skill challenge was a great opportunity to practice DMing skill challenges and really work on improvising details. I think this week's encounter was one of the best-written skill challenges I've ever read.

The first think that I was surprised by was the difficulty. Every one of our three tables failed at least one of the two challenges. My table had two athletics-based characters, and they really struggled to find things to do.

This skill challenge is a great opportunity to ham it up, which is really hard. I used Grimlock from WATE1-2, and stole the curtain trap from ADAP1-4 in order to add some interesting details. My biggest critique is that the skill descriptions are all very generic, but the best stories come from very precise detail. Although I understand a lot of the critique of the skill challenge system, I think it just requires the DM to work a lot harder to construct the world around the PCs.

Also, the skill challenge format made DMing tough. Consider the first skill in the list (Diplomacy) had to be unlocked by another skill (Streetwise) that could be learned is useful from a third skill (Insight). I'd much prefer the challenges written in a format:

Action the character wishes to take
Skill (DC), Skill 2 (DC), or Skill 3 (DC)
Description for the attempt and the result.

I know the author doesn't have a lot of control over this though.

Also, I totally missed the treasure section. Missed as in my group is packing up and I'm inventing things like, "you find a not in your pocket from Grimlock saying not to come back along with a purse filled with 96gp." There is, I realized, three places you need to look for treasure: the loot table, the encounter summary and the actual encounter. I assumed when prepping that everything would be in the encounter description. This probably could have been a little better organized.


Overall, this was my favorite encounter so far, and had much more nuance and RP than I expected.


DDE isn't run for the benefit of the DM's. I don't care how much fun running a skill challenge might be, or whether it makes for good practice in DM'ing; if the players aren't having fun, then the encounter was a total failure. And it looks to me that a significant portion of the player base did not have fun with this skill challenge. Bad experiences for new players mean they don't stay players for long.



Uh...forgive me. I meant to say

I think this skill challenge was a great opportunity to practice DMing skill challenges and really work on improvising details. I think this week's encounter was one of the best-written skill challenges I've ever read. I really got into it, which got my table into it, which made it more memorable and enjoyable for the players than most skill challenges I've DM'd for LFR.

Sheesh.
As a player who has attended all three sessions, I thought the skill challenge was a nice change of pace.  Sessions I and II were 75% combat and 25% roleplaying.  Session III was 50% skill challenge and 50% roleplaying.  Our DM did a good job engaging all the players at the table.  I enjoyed it, and I can't wait to jump into Undermountain.
So this is what went down last night at Dragon's Lair in Austin, TX for DDE 1-3:

spoilers

We only had had 1 DM show, so it was just 1 table with 7 PCs. Not ideal but it worked.

Party consisted of:

Human Orb Wizard (me)
Human Stonefist Monk
Warforged Warden (unsure of build)
Warforged Battlerager Fighter*
Brawler Fighter (unsure of race)
Goliath Rageblood Barbarian
Cleric (unsure of race or build, didn't bring char sheet, used pre-gen card for stats but said it was a diff race or something)*
*=1st DDE session

So right away you can see the problem with the class selection: with 4 primary melee characters and an incomplete cleric, that really only left the monk and I with any re-usable skills for these challenges. Despite that, we still got through the 1st batch with only 1 failure and in LESS THAN 10 MINUTES!!

We then went into the "random encounter" combat, which based on the pre-game chatter, was what I think the DM was really interested in. He placed us back on the same map from last session, the boring featureless 9x13 cave. Inside we found a Howling Hag, a level 7 controller (300 xp). I believe he purposefully picked this enemy for its AoE powers in a small room. Its opening salvo of a close blast 5, 3d6+4 dmg attack bloodied 4/7 of the party, critting on the WF Fighter (22 dmg of 30 HP). On top of that, the hag has an aura 5 that auto damages for 1d6 anyone ENDING their turn in the zone. I kept her locked down with Winged Horde for 2 rounds while the melee surrounded her and beat her to death. Uneventful 3 round combat. We all rolled poorly on attacks; the poor barbarian only hit with a single at-will the whole fight.

Afterward, we did the 2nd skill challenge in another 5 minutes. The DM made no effort to hide the mechanics of the challenge, openly telling us which skills we *must* use. He just read us the read-aloud text with no improvisation, and I was the only player who said stuff like, "I'm going to make an Arcana check to determine what these magic runes are for and how I can manipulate them." Everyone else was like, "Endurance. [roll] I got a 17."

Case in point: End of the session, determining renown, everyone was stumped when it came to rewarding Moment of Glory because nothing happened!! After a minute of silence, I ended up saying, "Well, I did keep the Hag sorta locked down from OAs with back-to-back Winged Hordes..." And everyone quickly agreed and awarded it to me so we could move on.

I also didn't care for how the DM handled loot. Instead of rolling for items, he was like, "So the Warden is the only one who uses longswords, right?" Everyone answered yes, as the other fighters were all axe or hammer wielders. "Then you find a +1 Sunblade Longsword which she gets."Really? She gets a level 4 item with NO rolling?

I appreciated the extra combat encounter and corresponding extra loot and XP, but the execution was awkward.


I really wanted to DM, My group broke up last year, and due to time getting a 6-8 hour game together has been difficult.  

(total tangent)

I'd contacted 2 of the stores in my area and offered to DM the week before start, but they would have none of it.   I showed up at one to play and they were turning away people because their DM didn't show up, and since they'd already turned away people they didn't want me to dm either.  So I went to the other store next week which was starting a week late, I had fun playing but I was playing a wizard and was disappointed at the lack of minions in the battle*, and was surprised at how difficult the battle was, most of the party was bloodied from ranged attacks before our initiatives came up.   Anyway I got a call from the original store that another store in their chain had had 11 people and only one DM and if I was interested, so I got to go run a game at that store

(/end tangent)

My first thought when I saw I was going to be running a skill challenge was "what the **** are they thinking?!?!?" My experience with skill challenges to date has been very negative, being the boring series of rolls that has little to no impact on anything.  

However I was directed to read this thread:

community.wizards.com/dungeonsanddragons... 
(not putting spoiler code here as there's no way anyone else would have run it the same, but if you are really concerned and you haven't played encounter 3 yet, don't read further)

I've been DMing for over 30 years, but these skill challenge things are new to me, and this put it in a lot different light.  I made a map, and I followed the skill challenge more as "guidelines" allowing the pcs to do whatever they want and ask them to roll the appropriate skills for whatever they are trying to do.  

I set up the situation by saying "Your goal is to get to the hidden wards, not fight things along the way, in fact Fayne told you that fighting things here WILL result in your quick and painful death."

All in all I think they went through around 100 various checks through the night which took about 2 hours.  History to get hints about the rooms they were in, Acrobatics/Athletics to climb/flip over some thrones without touching some rotting corpses which were sure to come to life and kill them all if touched.  Streetwise, Diplomacy, Bluff in Downshadow, Arcana/Dungeoneering in the twisty little passages that went everywhere.

I feel a bit guilty as I killed one of the pcs off who wandered off on his own, it was my "Evil DM" moment of the night.  One of the 6 listed encounters of the night was a chimera that comes out of a randomly appearing portal... (yes that's actually in the module, just not fleshed out) I just happened to roll a 1 on my d6 I'd been checking all night as for the chimera just as he failed a dungeoneering check and got lost. A Chimera is a lv 15 monster... vs. lv 1 character.... I let him roll his stealth, got 1 lower than the passive perception of the chimera.  Initiative, the Chimera won.  The chimera breathed on him, hit his reflex (by around 14),  Rolled 13 points of damage, with 10 ongoing... he had exactly 23 hp, so he fell at the beginning of his round, didn't roll a 20 on his death save and was et next round.


On the other hand he did leave the party in an already described dangerous underground mad wizard's dungeon, and it served to illustrate 2 points.  Rule #1 of D&D: Never split off from the party. Also, point 2 "You are in a dangerous underground mad wizard's dungeon".  


5 of the 6 players there were late teens to early twenties.  There was one player who was closer to my age (40) who was just shaking his head and covering his eyes most of the game at the antics of the other players (throwing rocks at each other, throwing each other down pits, and whatnot), I don't think he was enjoying himself, although the youts weren't bothering me *much*.  He was also playing a ranger which didn't have many skills appropriate to the underground settings.  I tried to draw him out a few times, but was only able to see him engaged for a few seconds.

(minor spoilers on 2nd skill challenge)

spoilerey stuff
 He was trying to help in the 2nd skill challenge, but I couldn't for the life of me see how Nature could help.  Unfortunately I'd missed the perception check skill until late in the challenge when he was asking about it.  I also had to suggest thievery after the pcs were drawing a blank after getting 5 of the 6 locks


I had also tried to get the other DM to trade some of the players around before the game started as all his were older and I thought a balance of newbie to veterans and ages would have worked better but either he or the players didn't want to switch tables.

Most of the young players had never played 4e and were pleasantly surprised by how it went.  I'd asked everyone afterwards if they liked the skill challenge and everyone except the older player were positive about it.  One of them was under the mistaken impression that you couldn't use encounter powers unless you were in combat, and was happy that was wrong and used a power to give +2 to his skill check during the first roll for him of the night.

And most importantly - I had fun!

Oh and on the *'d note up there... 

Pretty big spoiler, really, don't read this if not a DM:

spoilerey stuff


I glanced through the rest of the module after getting it.  I found that only about half the encounters had minions at all, and of several that did some didn't have a full compliment of 4 and that there were none with more than 4.  That nearly invalidates the need for a controller, and will be making controllers feel pretty useless for most of the module.

 

Very disappointing.

Note that you need to take out the * from the sblock code for it to work - mudbunny
I jokingly suggested trying to intimidate the door since Kerazt is apparently a scary mofo, but alas, this was not allowed.



Everytime, I read an account where something was "not allowed", the DM in me cringes.  One of my players tried Intimidate during the skill challenge to open the door and my reponse was "Go ahead and roll."  Then I described how the attempt had no visible effect on the door, BUT since his result was something like a 26, the rest of the party felt motivated to redouble their efforts.  This gave everyone a good laugh, and everyone else did actually pick up their sheets looking for skills they missed. (it worked in real life - hehe)



Maybe the flexibility SCs require is something that could be emphasized more strongly in future presentations of the rules.

One of my players physically attacked the door, which, rather like your case, attracted the attention of the guarding energies. This cooled down the red-hot lock mechanism, erasing the failed thievery check, and allowing that player to re-roll the thievery skill. He was going to try the thievery anyway, and the attack just naturally seemed a good reason to allow it.

That sort of thing should be standard operating proceedure in SC, but I think new DMs needed to shown this, if they are approaching the challenges as strict and mechanical.

As someone who regularly plays a controller, I am baffled by the notion that I am reading in this thread.  If you feel that controllers are less effective because they are not facing minions, then you have yet to see effective controllers in action and don’t fully understand what a controller brings to the table. 

Out of several people I've seen playing controllers, wizards specifically, I've only seen one played remotely effectively; he was considerably more effective against minions with his several area powers.  Why even have one at all if you aren't facing them?  A striker would be better at taking down standard and up monsters.   

If you are talking about hindering powers, several strikers - especially the warlock have just as good hindering powers that do considerably more damage as well.  As well leaders generally have better hindering powers and get to heal to boot.

I had another "revolving table" with 1 player who has been in all sessions, 2 players who were in 2, and 3 players new to DDE.

I think it went okay, with players getting the idea of the SC. I had a map with miscellaneous chambers that the players could choose which to head towards. Some were the suggested areas in the module, others I made up (I marked one part of the map "Mouse Maze". I have no idea what the Mouse Maze is. I'd like to go and find out myself...)

The Dungeoneering rolls were all easily made. From Downshadow, the players picked up an eager young halfling adventure who knew something of the dungeon, but they didn't really need the +2 he gave to the first two checks. I'd like to find a way to keep this NPC involved in future sessions.

The SC actually ran long and I could have tightened up the sense of danger to increase the pace. I had goblins waiting at the chamber door, and as I was getting out the map, a player commented "This looks promising," so I think everybody was glad to get through the dungeon crawl after an hour or so of it.

The door challenge was a bit rushed, since we were running late. The party was running low on usable skill after a few failures. I think this second challenge might have worked better as part of 1-4.

So any interesting change of pace, but challenging for players and DMs not used to a free form SC. I wouldn't have chosen this encounter to introduce DDE to new participants, though circumstances did work that way. 
I'll add a few details from the games I ran ...

*by the way, folks that want to use spoiler tags, the tag is "spoiler" not "sblock" inside the [ ]s*

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Some examples of skills rolled and how I interpretted them for the players.

Intimidate - This one is straightforward in many cases but when a Shardmind Psion uses telepathy to "shout" into a goblin's mind, it becomes a whole different animal. I described the goblin as thinking his god was talking to him.

Insight - at the door, trying to figure a way in. The module actually describes a use of this as being able to set up a resonance that affects the wards. However, the player had described wanting to go "up to the door and examine the flickering flames in the depressions to see if there was a pattern to how they were 'opened'" and decided that the character saw the magical flames flicker each time the other PCs moved around the room. Ultimately he would say "hey, go back and do -that- again." until they get it to disable a ward.

Athletics - Not actually listed. One of the PCs, a Barbarian wanted to pick up one of the statues and see if that did anything. The howls of "Nooooooo!" from the rest of the party were incredibly funny. I decided that this would trigger an Endurance check as he mangled one of the defensive wards -and- caused it to misfire, thus releasing another one of the locks.

Intimidate (by the bad guys) - One of the groups decided that they didn't like taking the hint when facing something nasty and ebil in the corridors ahead of them. Feeling that they needed a hint more, I decided to make an intimidate check against all of their Wills + 10 as a group check. This rattled two of the party and made the others realize "um, time to go". This wasn't a success or failure in the mod, but it set up the suggestion that perhaps they wanted to run away which resulted in an Endurance check which did count.

Nature - I felt that this should have been in the mod, but wasn't, I let them attempt to track the various things moving in the Downshadow and guess based on whether it was humanoid or not, whether they ought to be going in that direction. I also let them use this a couple of times to determine what kind of challenge they were facing (when deciding to take up an Endurance or Stealth check). Not counting for a success but helpful in subtly suggesting uses of other skills.

Stealth - Group check, I allowed folks to assist using other skills because it was not a real sneaky party, so the dwarf in the back succeeded on his assist but had a failure on the primary Stealth to get past a great sleeping beast, (he was the only one and he rolled a 2 I think). We decided he was bringing up the rear and accidentally shouted his last assistance (Dungeoneering, "Don't step on that outcropping!") and while the group succeeded, he got a nice little chunk taken out of him for his trouble when the beast woke up.

Good times.
Both spoiler and sblock work. I wrote sblock because that is what worked on the previous forum software.
Mudbunny SVCL for DDI Before you post, think of the Monkeysphere

Thanks for all the field reports, guys. They are very enlightening. 


To be honest, I expected the skill challenge thing to be a mixed bag. Some DMs would like running it, some wouldn’t. Skill challenges are considerably more amorphous than tactical encounters, and really more an art than a science. I’m glad those who had a good time, had a good time. And for those for whom skill challenges aren’t your thing, or this one just kind of sucked for you, take heart in the knowledge that


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there aren’t any more total-encounter SCs in the adventure.

A couple of other points: 


I feel a bit guilty as I killed one of the pcs off who wandered off on his own, it was my "Evil DM" moment of the night.  One of the 6 listed encounters of the night was a chimera that comes out of a randomly appearing portal... (yes that's actually in the module, just not fleshed out)

Actually, it technically says "chimeric", in this case meaning a monster fused from multiple creatures (like a product of Halaster’s magical experiments, for instance). Basically, you could put in any weird-looking monster you wanted, not necessarily an actual chimera as statted out in the MM. But there's no reason it *couldn't* be a chimera, and I personally like what you did with it. (Sympathies to the poor PC who got eaten!)


Oh and on the *'d note up there... 
Pretty big spoiler, really, don't read this if not a DM:
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I glanced through the rest of the module after getting it.  I found that only about half the encounters had minions at all, and of several that did some didn't have a full compliment of 4 and that there were none with more than 4.  That nearly invalidates the need for a controller, and will be making controllers feel pretty useless for most of the module.
 
Very disappointing.

I'm sorry that's disappointing, but minion control is only one *part* of what controllers do. They also have some serious lock-down/hampering abilities that really come in handy to stop enemies from pulling off their cool attacks and whatnot. For instance, dazing or knocking prone or otherwise hampering those darn halberd guards made a lot of difference in 1-2. The controllers at my table (at DDE and at my personal games) have always been extremely important to party success--*particularly* wizards, though my shadar-kai invoker does some really good stuff (I don't even remember the last time we fought minions).

Cheers

Oh, and here’s my report:


I had six players, two of whom had been in the party the previous week:


Githzerai hybrid swordmage/avenger (killed earlier, this was his evil twin)


Human hybrid fighter/ranger with a spiked chain (one of the survivors from earlier)


Dwarf swarm druid (a little bit nuts and with a thing for frogs)


Warforged battlemind (similar to a character who’d been in earlier sessions)


Dragonborn warlord (new-ish player)


Goliath warden (brand new player)


Now, looking at that distribution, you might be able to point out a couple of flaws in balance, particularly going into a skill challenge that has a variety of social elements. Specifically, no one has training in diplomacy, and the highest charisma in the party is like a 14 (the warlord). Secondly, Mr. Hybrid SW/AV isn’t trained in Arcana, and has a +4 (the highest in the party). Third, upon getting the choice of looking for info in Downshadow or trying to find their own way, they decide to go the social route! Yays!


So basically, I got to ply my DM improvisation and just go for it. The Players were extremely creative with what they wanted to do, and they were always checking for historical notes and insights about rooms, people, legends, etc. The whole thing played out over about an hour and a half.


Anyway, I put them into a couple of Undermountain rooms before and after they went to Downshadow:


1)    The Lanceboard room: where knowledge of history identified specific moves and strategies they could do, until finally they just triggered a free-for-all of the pieces and ran through in the distraction (history, insight, then initiative check to get across the board before the pieces could kill them)


2)      Grim Statue: the swordmage/avenger kept dodging all the lightning bolts while everyone else ran—oh, and the chain-fighter took one to chest and shrugged it off (endurance and acrobatics checks)


3)      Hall of Sleeping Kings: they were too scared to go in there, figuring they’d better take their chances with the Grim Statue.


Somehow they pulled off enough social checks to get through Downshadow without killing anyone (though SW/AV came close) or being killed themselves. They did bribe one of the natives with a sunrod, which got them a substantial bonus. Also, since everyone had a high passive perception, they kept from being pick-pocketed (DC 15).


Actually getting the sealed chambers open was neat—the dwarf and SW/AV pulled off sufficient Arcana checks, and there was lots of puzzle-solving trial and error. (My intention here was to put in a puzzle, something that D&D has moved away from recently. Also, I see how the wording here was confusing, and I hope people winged it well enough!)


Overall, even completely poorly equipped for the skill challenge, they still got through it without even a single failure, and all had a good time. So I call that a win, at least at my table.


Important suggestion for session 4:

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DO NOT let the characters start wherever they were standing in the room for the skill challenge. Start them in the marked PC start area. The explanation could easily be that the energy of the room basically pushed them back to the door. Also, do not let them move in during the SC with the imp--make it an automatic failure (i.e., the imp gets pissed) if they make the attempt.


Cheers
After reading a few of these, I realize my DM was pretty awesome.

[sblock Session 3]
First we did a bit more searching through the Session 2 area, finding some gnome or halfling or other small humanoid bones in one of the pools.  For no real reason one of the fighters decided to take them.

Taking the tunnel out, we go a little ways and see a sign pointing towards Downshadow, it was worn beyond readability, but someone had painted on it the name and an arrow...  But then someone else and crossed that out, and written "Kep Ot"... Keep out we assumed.

Reaching Downshadow, as we try to find someone to talk to, one of the denizens tries picking a fight with our Dragonborn Paladin.  A rather brutal Intimidation roll (with a 2 minute speech before the roll), and a display of the halfling bones, quickly convinced that person to go elsewhere.  But we find the "mayor" of the town.. Which is a glowing orb on top of a trash heap, but the orb informs us that he's actually a Tiefling.  A bit of confusing banter, and trying to show him differently, and finally we get down to what we're here for.  And we get some details of how to reach the portal.

Travelling the tunnels, we reach a room where there is a headless/handless statue, and scorch marks about the room.  Luckily we had been informed if we stayed away from the statue we'd be fine.  And so we skirt the edges of the room with no incident.

A ways further we reach a room with frozen cells.  Towards the back we see a troll munching away in a half melted cage.  We try to sneak by (come on! 7 people at the table, and the highest roll is a 9!), but are stopped by the troll.  Luckily he is distracted enough by the halfling bones (see above), that we run as he munches on those.

Lastly before reaching the final room, there is a room of a giant chess board.  But this is not being played like a game.  The pieces are just moving whenever they feel like, and crashing into one another.  The broken ones reassemble themselves every so often, and continue about their business.  So a quick sprint, or acrobatic dodging through the room, and we've made it to the portal.

The portal itself is sealed, and looks to need 6 triggers to kick it open.  Some Arcana, some Dungeoneering, a bit of Religion...  I think someone did try to intimidate the door as well, to which the door was not impressed.  Either way after some fiddling, it pops open, and the statues about the room begin to growl...

To be continued...

[/sblock]

Always a GM, never a player (not really but sometimes feels like it).

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Wait, Downshadow? Is that like a town? That would explain why our DM allowed us to use Streetwise for the skill challenge. I even asked in game how we were using Streetwise to navigate through a cave, but I got no explanation. :P
I realize it isn't just players of D&D Encounters that are new to the game. Many of the DMs are also new, or new to 4E.

To that end, I've taken a stab at a guide to Skill Challenges. I would encourage everyone to contribute tips they have.

There is really no reason that an SC should be boring. It should, arguably, be some of the most imaginative and fun parts of the adventure. At the least, it should be an integral part to a fun adventure.

While it can be easy to criticize the rules (in part because we now have rules for these types of encounters), it is best to try to make them really fun. This is especially true since our main goal is to sell new players and DMs on the game we love (and thereby see it prosper).

My hats off to Erik. You will surely see lots of criticism - there is no way to write and adventure and not get it. On the other hand, it is way cool that so many people are clearly having a great time because of your work!

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Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

My hats off to Erik. You will surely see lots of criticism - there is no way to write and adventure and not get it. On the other hand, it is way cool that so many people are clearly having a great time because of your work!

Thank you, Alphastream, and well done on the guide to Skill Challenges. They're a lot tougher and more open-ended than our very, very articulate combat system. I hope people find the best way to make them work for their groups!

I welcome all feedback, positive and negative alike. I apologize in advance for not making things more clear. If I understood perfectly what needed to be said to get across exactly what I was going for, I would totally do it, but there are thousands of DMs with thousands of different playing styles, so I really just did my best and trusted you guys to take care of the rest of it (which is pretty much all any designer can do).

From this thread, it looks like a lot of you did just that, and for that, I applaud you!

Cheers
Well, I felt like last night's Encounters were not that great, but I put the blame fully on me.  I have read over the Skill Challenge a few times, I had a bunch of good (or at least I thought so) ideas for how to paint both Downshadow and Undermountain, and I've had a lot of really good success with Skill Challenges in the past, but I just couldn't pull it together last night.  Reading the other people posting here makes me feel a little bit better - I don't think it was terrible, and certainly not as bad as some stories, but I know I could have done better.

I had my two groups running back to back, so I started with the group that wiped the week before.
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They decided, with a bunch of high charisma characters, to ask around Downshadow first.  Sadly, the first two rolls were a 1 and a 2, starting them with two failures.  The hit one more failure in the first part, so they lost a surge from a bad intimidate roll and one more for taking too long (getting into a minor scuffle to get ahead of some other group out to find the place).  They totally aced the door - so fast that they were done in about 25 minutes.  I felt awful about it, so I had them do a ret-con fight in the first part of the Skill Challenge, where they stumbled upon the three haldberdiers (one of whom was the Doppleganger that lived) and a Scorpion.  This time they did a lot better, and I let their new characters get the gold that last week would have given them, plus the gold that the bandits looted from their bodies.  Hopefully this doesn't tip the XP/Gold balance so badly that they will be gods in LFR, but I think it will be fine.


The next group was initially missing a player, but three new people came in, so instead of 4 players, it had 6!
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This party had basically no people skills, so they ventured off into Undermountain on their own.  They were better about playing along with the Skill Challenge, but I had a series of brain farts, and wound up just repeating what I had ad-libbed or read for the first group.  They breezed through the Skill Challenge, both parts, without a failure.  I gave them a retcon fight as well, 2 goblins with guard drakes and some minion skeletons (thankfully no body asked why the undead were hanging out with goblins, cause I didn't know!).  The fight was pretty easy for them, but it took enough time that I didn't feel like anyone's time was wasted, and they got XP, so I think they were happy.


So, yeah, hopefully my lackluster DMing this week didn't scare anyone off, I'll have to get people's opinions on how much fun they had last week when we meet for session 4.
What makes me sad - no more compiled magazines: http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/27580349/Dungeon_and_Dragon_Magazine_PDFs&post_num=24#495423645
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