D&D Encounters Field Reports (Week 14)

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Use this thread to discuss your experiences with week 14 (Encounter 3-4) of D&D Encounters Dark Sun. 


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]

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will produce

spoilerey stuff


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once you remove the *.

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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).

I ran this week in very similar fashion to the ideas I wrote about here (contains spoilers).

Life never ceases to amaze. We one fewer table and a few of the regulars did not come - perhaps due to being close to Labor Day, or PAX, or who knows. I did have two new players at my table. She had played D&D 2-3 times and was brand new to Encounters; he knew 4E well and had played just one other week of Encounters. I began by reviewing the plot thus far, which was actually useful to set the stage for next week's finale.

Show

I used the ideas for the intro I had planned, but extended it to actually make an informal skill challenge. I ran it very loose, just responding to their ideas on how to descend the Ringing Mountains. I had a bit about altitude sickness that went well with various checks to identify the "magical fog in their brains" and even brew a tea that alleviated the effects. I also had a huge flock of birds they spotted a way off. They chose to use perception and stealth but failed nature as they worked to evade the birds. Eventually they identified them as a swarm of Kestrekel known to grab travelers from the cliff face and throw them to their deaths so they can feast upon the remains. The party continued to stealth and use various skills to identify good paths and I described close calls and their eventual success.

At one point I attacked everyone with sun sickness (as everyone is out of survival days) and hit Phye. Oh, it was actually funny to have a new player choose Phye, since in the last session we left it that she had been eaten by halflings, explaining why the player had a new PC. I had them about to start descending the mountains when a naked Phye runs up and explains she just escaped the stew pot.

I described how they saw the haze below finally become three-dimensional canyons and eventually they were in the canyons. Finally they stepped onto sand and realized they had made it. Of course, anything good on Athas has to lead to something bad. They spotted that part of the sky was darker than the rest of the afternoon sky. Arcana confirmed the obsidian storm was approaching.

I also allowed them to spot various lesser Ssurans as they tried to move toward Tyr. Eventually they were found by some more capable foes and battle began.

However, Yuka wanted to negotiate. I allowed a little information to be exchanged before the ssurans' hatred finally led to initiative.

The fight was a good one in that I did not use up any extreme resources. I encouraged players to use their Action Points since they would be getting them back.

The players rolled ridiculously well. They also employed really sharp team tactics and one player rolled a 20 on init and the spirits blessed Jarvix with an extra standard action. Moment of greatness as he delivers some serious damage.

I made one on-the-fly alteration. I played the Dust Devil very conservatively. As a result, I still had all my capabilities and could decide how strong or weak to play it. So, I used the move power but added a slide 3 to it, thus sliding two PCs I hit into the Chokedust Cloud. This was good, because otherwise it would not have seen use. I recommend this, though I note that this came late in the battle and worked well because the PCs were in control. I then used my standard to do the burst. The result was a bit more teeth to what had been an easy fight.

It was overall a very fun session and it flowed well with the additions. The players are really excited about the conclusion.


One last bit. I am really proud of our judges. Two of them went to PAX for their first con ever and had an amazing time. Noah and Max did such a great job that they had multiple people comment on their energy, enthusiasm, and skills. These are two guys that just showed up to play Undermountain and thought it would be fun to help and judge. It speaks volumes to what this program can accomplish. A number of our players and judges are now running home campaigns, getting involved with blogging or organizing, and teaching the craft to others. Fantastic!

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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).

Had a great game at Double Midnight Comics in Manchester, NH.  A couple of new folks showed up (one brand new to D&D), and I ran a nice table of six including the new people.

The Characters:
Yuka
Barcan
Barbarian (player build)
Shaman (player build)
The new folks used:
Shikirr
and the infamous Ixylblat (Goblin Seeker)

Party seems to lack a presence in the Leader role, but the Shaman was dedicated to using his Spirit to grant Temp HP and bestow bonus attacks so this actually worked as a fair replacement.

Overall this was the best game this entire season in my opinion.

Details *Spoiler*

I did some things off the cuff, but influenced by ideas from this forum.

I definitely did not want to jump right into combat, so I first had them do a brief skill challenge to climb down to the desert sands.  I had all the players make Athletic checks, but told them they were welcome to use a secondary skill or even replace the Athletics roll if they could justify it.  The Shaman came up with the idea of using Nature to locate natural animal paths down the mountain.  I expected something creative from Barcan, but instead he simply started climbing.  This desert jaunt must have been good for him as he was nearly flawless (player rolled a 19).  Then I had everyone make Endurance checks as they were once more under the full pounding sun.  This really made them feel like they were back in the sand.

Then they were just a day or two away from Tyr, having escaped the Wastewalker.  They began to celebrate....until...

They saw a dark cloud off in the distance, but after watching it they realized it was not coming toward them.  They headed off toward the city.

Then they notice tracks as if multiple patrols had been passing by recently.  They realized they were likely being sought.

This sparked a lively party debate (very refreshing to have caused one of those during DDE!).  They decided to follow the most recent tracks and confront their enemies to find out what was going on.  They tracked a patrol, and then finally arrived at the encounter site.  The initial setup of the humanoids was actually decent for a patrol resting with lookouts up on high rocks.  I also used the flying scout idea by giving them a bird trained to call out any approaching creatures.

The party made excellent rolls on the approach though and the bird was obviously distracted, because they managed to get quite close.  Close enough for the Seeker to put an arrow through the aerial scout (I love when a new player's first roll is something like this).  Unfortunately the bird falling from the air did alert the lookouts.  The party charged in.

NOTE:  I used a much larger map, a desert battlemap with some tiles added to approximate the intended encounter set up.  I did this alot in Chapter 1 too, and found the ability for the fight to spill out into the desert a better setup.

I had moved the choking cloud trap to up very close to the main rock formation (deciding the enemies knew about it) and so this became a column of dust and a danger zone in the middle of the fight.  Ranged fire concentrated on the Brutes atop the rocks.  Shikirr mounted the rocks (climbing at full speed is fun) and took on the Brutes, pushing one off the rock and into the cloud which was a great moment.  The Soldiers were left alone at first.  I had one of them pull out a mysterious rod, break it, and had a sinister reptilian face appear watching the combat for a turn.  The Wastewalker was now aware of them again!

I had the Dust Devil appear out of the cloud trap in turn 3, because it seemed a nice effect, but the fight was fairly well under control by then.  One player tried to calm it as it emerged using Nature, which was innovative and was the first time in this entire season I actually cracked open a book during the game to check a rule.  Found out that this is mentioned in the PHB, but it only says this comes up during skill challenges.  I ruled the attempt would be a Standard action, similar to a combat Intimidate roll.  The Shaman did not "calm" the Devil at all (rolling a 1), so it proceeded to knock down 5 PCs instead...hehe...

But the fight was over and we were running out of "real" time so the Devil continued off into the desert.  Only a moderate amount of damage was actually done to the PCs, a lot was absorbed by temp HP, so a very successful fight.  They did question the last survivor, who gladly told them the Wastewalker now knew where they were again and that they would never reach Tyr.

The setup for the finale is done...
Our group has shrunk over the course of the season, going from three tables to two, to one. On a couple nights we've had just enough people that someone couldn't play, in which case a DM would bow out. Last night, after waiting an hour, we had four players, including our two regular DMs- one of which is me.

The group at the table consisted of:

Jarvix
Phye
Shikirr
Ranger (Castri-ish Ranger with a ranged attack emphasis, player made)

That gave them a full set of roles, but they were in bad shape. The course of the last few weeks left Phye at low hp and 0 surges, while the rest of the group was battered and bruised, save Shikirr, who'd 'fortunately' died the week before, having fallen to his death.

Spoilers
The encounter was scaled down: 1 Ferak, 2 Bozak, and one Dust Devil, plus the hazard.  The actual combat was very fast- the Dust Devil used its move power to toss Castri into the hazard, which knocked him prone, blinded him, and left him choking to death. Jarvix knocked the lone Ferak to bloodied in one double-augment blast, while Phye and Shikirr tried to keep the Bozaks from hemming in the group. Phye took enough damage with one swipe to go bloodied, which rearranged the battlefield a bit. It also gave cause for the group to assess their situation: bloodied, battered, and exhausted. 

Phye declared an intent to flee the battlefield; Jarvix was the first to go, followed quickly by Phye. This led to a great deal of protest and argument, as our other DM (playing Shikirr) had not allowed fleeing as an option, and Castri 2.0 wanted to fight to the bitter end. With half the group already off the table, Shikirr made a fighting withdrawal, declaring it was impossible to win with two people gone already. Castri, stumbling and blind, made it to the edge of the map before making a last stand against the draconians, injuring them with wild shots before deciding to try and scramble up a rock face despite being in melee with three opponents. This led to the removal of Castri's last four hp, and the end of the encounter.
 

Due to the current condition of the group, I declared that they'd get an extended rest prior to the last encounter, simply so that it would be less horribly one-sided and they'd have a fighting chance. There was some suggestion of simply running off the map at the first round of combat, since that was an option, but we'll see how it ends up. As it is, it appears the group will be very happy to move on to next season. There's many questions about how many players we'll have for that, if any. 
I think your idea to let them rest is a good one, Stormcaller. You can also go more "fantastic" and have the elemental spirits appear and grant them the equivalent to an extended rest, if the timing seems better that way. It can also work well to give them something and then take it away as needed.

Ideally, the last fight is pretty challenging but with a good chance for them to succeed. You could do something like have elemental sprits grant them two restored surges, 5 temp HPs, and regaining a daily power or daily item power. Now they have some resources. If things go too easily, you can have another monster on the board, have a monster heal as they tap into a hidden reserve (from their hatred, etc.), and so on. The key is to never make a change that makes an outcome a certainty - you don't want the players thinking you will make changes so success is pre-ordained. Instead, that the changes are valid in story and give them a chance. The best changes are ones they don't realize you made. For example, on the way to the final fight they see strange orange-flowered cacti. Nature checks show them to restore a healing surge and grant 5 temp HPs. There might be two per PC (temps don't stack, but they can regain two surges and have the 5 temps going in). Then during the battle, if needed, the spirits could appear and refresh a daily once per PC as the battle rages.

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).

Session #14 was another good one in Seattle.  Our group has had the same DM and same players (including one player swap) for every session.  It's been a wild ride!  Can't wait for next Wednesday.

adayinthelifeofanadventurer.blogspot.com...
My players are also pretty badly beaten up (I've had two full deaths in this chapter alone, and two other PCs are down to 0 surges), but I've given them another option to a knock down drag out with the Wastewalker.

Spoilers

I had the two elemental brothers from session 10 appear at the end of the fight and warn the PCs that the Wastewalker was approaching.  However, they also reported that the Wastewalker is a primordial champion of Athas' life force and has come to mistake the PCs for servants of the defiling Sorcerer-Kings (whom the Wastewalker battled in ages past).  The brothers emplored the PCs to avoid harming the ssuran if possible and to convince him of their innocence.

This sets up a skill challenge that will occur during the final combat.  The Wastewalker's ssuran allies will attack at the beginning of the combat while he holds the storm shards in reserve and taunts the PCs.  If they respond with diplomacy (or intimidate or bluff) or knowledge attempts, he will continue to hold from attacking personally as long as they roll successes.  8 successes means he calls off the attack and leaves the PCs in peace.  Each failure means he or the shards attack that round.  3 failures means he commits to the attack until one side is dead.  PCs get a bonus to their roll if they hold off an attack in the round they make a skill roll; they get a penalty if they attack the shards; they auto fail if they attack the Wastewalker.

I've had different players at my table every week, so whether or not they take advantage of this option really depends upon what combination shows up.  We'll see!

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