Thoughts on session 9 (actually 2-4) (Spoilers - DMs only)

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Ok, this time I really mean the encounter 2-4.

With Gen Con approaching I sent my notes to our DM's list out early. I welcome other thoughts on the challenge level, fun changes, terrain and minis, etc.

Thoughts on the challenge and ideas:

This encounter is a lot like ones from the first chapter: deadly!

The 2 brutes have a basic attack that does 2d10 damage and heal the critter if the PC is bloodied. If the PC is bloodied, the brute can also attack with a minor to knock them prone. And, if at any point an adjacent PC becomes bloodied, the brute gets a free (not even immediate reaction!) attack against the PC. Ouch!

The controllers have a melee attack and slow. They have a 2d6 and push and prone in a blast 5!!! (enemies only) that they can use once and then again when bloodied. They have an encounter close burst 3 that does big 2d8 and dazes, with half damage and daze on a miss. Then they add a minor action rechargeable teleport they can use to swap PCs and another Hejkin (they can use this first to get more PCs in a burst!). Ouch.

Then we have one soldier that has a reasonable attack and mark. He adds a 2d6 rechargeable enemies only close burst 2 that pulls. Then if a marked PC moves away from it or attacks another creature, they can deal 10 damage to them. Fairly ouch.

But, the really brutal ouch is that these guys have huge synergies. Examples:
- Soldier attacks and marks a PC it is fighting
- Controller uses minor to swap that PC into its burst and away from soldier, then bursts on that PC and others.
- PC goes, and if they attack a different target or moves away from the soldier, takes 10 damage.

- Soldier does burst, pulls rear-rank PCs near it and some brutes
- controllers each do bursts, bloodying lots of PCs (and pushing further for positioning if desired)
- Their bloodying triggers an attack from each just-bloodied PC from each Raver! (2 bloodied PCs adjacent to 2 Raver brutes = 4 attacks of 2d10+4 dmg! Wow!)
- The Ravers knock them prone with a minor to keep them pinned for future AoE damage, then attack them more
- TPK is not enjoyed by the players one bit...

To add to the positioning craziness, the hejkin all ignore difficult terrain and can burrow, so it is very easy for them to abuse soft ranged PCs.

So, some ideas:
- Make sure to remember that the Ravers' minor to knock prone is only on a bloodied creature
- You don't have to use the forced movement super-effectively
- Drop one Hejkin Chanter controller and only add it back in if needed. Don't do any additional scaling for a party of 6 and for a party of four remove 1 controller (for 0, bringing one in via burrow only if needed).
- Encourage PCs to use knowledge checks so they know what the critters can do with a DC 20.
- If you used the theme of elemental imbalance or necrotic taint in the previous encounter, consider furthering that in this battle. The sconces that can be lit can have a beneficial effect on the PCs, such as granting 5 temp HPs when lit to every PC.
- Let the PCs spot the healing fruits that are in the alcove jars. Minor to pick up, minor to use.
- You could give the PCs a surprise round as the Hejkin are distracted as they loot the area
- Consider something else fun, like a necrotic taint on the pillars that can be removed with arcana. When they do, they all get a free action point they can use above and beyond any other action point uses.
- Hejkin absolutely hate surface dwellers. However, if PCs want to use intimidate, they might try to get them to flee or at least consider backing down with some gold and survival days.

In general, just try to be reasonable. The bursts/brute damage/triggered stuff can really TPK a table. There is no need for a TPK in this encounter, which is really more of a wandering monster encounter and should not be such a hugely challenging fight. Story-wise, it is cooler for the previous and the next encounters to be harder fights. Ideally some resources are used and the fight is challenging but not ridiculous. The PCs need to have a few resources in their pocket at the end so they have some chance at beating the next fight (which should be thrilling).

Treasure: Important!
The treasure includes 6 survival days. If you award them, the PCs will not face any chance at Sun Sickness in the next chapter and this sort of invalidates the whole point of tracking survival days. Therefore, do not award any survival days if you want them to be an issue at the start of the next chapter.

Instead, take a look at the number of survival days they have. If they have more than 1 per PC, have the torches run out at the beginning of the encounter (before combat). They must spend one or more survival days to create new torches. The goal should be that they have something like 4 survival days at the end of the chapter so that Sun Sickness is at least a possibility.

If the PCs have tons of survival days, removing the necrotic taint might use some survival days up.

Green Age
For green age fun, consider having the four central columns be covered in ancient withered bone-dry vines. If they remove necrotic taint (as above) or do some other cool thing you add then these might become verdant once more, filling the area with long-forgotten scent of long extinct flowers (and having the positive temp HP or Action Point effect). Perhaps, also, the walls would now show some ancient writing. The PCs find they are sacred chants used by worshipers of elemental spirits.

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More thoughts on Encounter 2-4

Alphastream1 is correct: the hejkin absolutely hate surface dwellers. But this presents an excellent opportunity for roleplaying, particularly using Intimidate (which a few characters are trained in, especially Jarvix). Like the Chapter 1 encounter with the goblins, this presents another opportunity to end with limited violence. The hejkin are more aggressive than the goblins, but that aggression can be redirected, perhaps at the Wastewalker's minions. If the PCs can convince the hejkin that a) they are tough and not easy victims and b) that the Wastewalker's cohort has something they might want, the hejkin might break off the combat early to pursue other interests.

If PCs are crafty (especially with light sources) before the encounter, reward them with a surprise round. If they get the early upper hand on the hejkin, this should trigger a dialogue to potentially save the PCs some resources for the final encounter... which is a tough one.
Thanks, that is good advice. I do like those possibilities. However, you also want to not cut the play experience short. Do you have ideas for preventing it being too short if they go that angle?

We ran a test run and it actually played very well.

One thing to avoid:

Is to have the party end up in the hallway. This hurt the test table's fun by limiting how they could interact with the terrain and any features we added.

On difficulty:

The test run did see some real chances at lethality (two PCs unconscious, one was almost killed) and the AoE is really tough. However, the creatures are fairly low on defenses. So, I think it may not be as bad as I feared and it just needs DM love and care-taking to make sure it comes out right. If DMs implement modifications, do so with an eye towards flexibility (for example, being able to add a foe later or suggesting the RP angle and then having some of the creatures leave with negotiation).

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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 thoughts on some options for 2-4

In Season two the players have had the chance to experience the potential to be surprised. It comes to my mind that Encounters is about teaching Dnd as well as introducing the new product line with this in mind here is what I'm planning to let them learn about being the surprisers.

 The Hejkin have just returned from a succsesfull hunting trip as described in the encounter. A large monitor like lizard in tow. One Hejkin lights one of the sconces (providing dim light around that area) for cooking the meat, while a loud argument breaks out between two other Hejkin about who gets the "hunters cut" of the lizard. The dim light and the loud arguing (and hints from me if needed)
should prompt the characters to attempt suprise. If the players are successful in the Stealth Dungeoneering check to open the gate quitely enough they should get a surprise round on the Hejkin. 

Im going to run the Hejkin straight up (with potential to fudge rolls as needed) regardless of surprise successs or failure. The Hejkin are hard hitters but low defenses, HP and Attack values should keep them from ripping apart a smart party lucky dice rolls excluded (and DMs can take care of a string of lucky, or unlucky dice rolls to make the encounter interesting).
I'm second from the left in the picture.

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