Post session 6 reactions, Erik I would appreciate a comment from you.

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As some of you may know Dungeons Masters have been doing weekly recaps of Encounters since the begining and this weeks is now out:

I'm hoping that Erik would like to address the critism in this week's report.
As some of you may know Dungeons Masters have been doing weekly recaps of Encounters since the begining and this weeks is now out:

I'm hoping that Erik would like to address the critism in this week's report.

  I have a problem with the write up at Dungeonsmaster. 
Dungeonsmaster wrote,
"The PCs are in the middle of a political power struggle and are forced to take sides. They’re given the illusion of choice but in the end they have to choose Lord Neverember’s side. Since most of the PCs just arrived in Neverwinter they have no history, personal politics or allegiances. There’s no good reason to force them to be on one side or the other."

  All of our characters were created using the Essential books and used the themes from NeverinterCS.  Which is recommend for this Season of encounters.  We all had  connections to the city.  Most of the party learned the politics quickly within the first tendays being in the city. I played the D&D Game day adventure, so my character was already there for a whole month!  Some of us chose a side when they accept the amethyst badge.  “He is the Lost Heir!  He wears the Crown!”  Others threw in with the Lord, since he paid well and convinced us he is good for the city.  I’m sure someone could make the choice of staying neutral.  But it didn’t occur at our table.

Dungeonsmaster wrote,
"The other huge problem with this week’s encounter was the requirement that the PCs had to go to the House of a Thousand Faces. The mission the heroes accepted from Lord Neverember was to find the Lost Heir or find solid, reliable information to support or discredit his claim on Neverwinter’s throne....After the combat [at the Wall] Seldra the Half-elf explained that these bandits were working for the Dead Rats. Again, this is nice information to have, but not relevant unless the Lost Heir is also a Dead Rat."

   In Chapter 2 my character learned the Sons of Alagondar(The Rebels) have thrown their support behind the Lost Heir.  Lord Neverember hired us to discover the Lost Heirs identity, legitimacy to the throne, and extent of influence in the city.  We learned at the Wall, the bandits were hired by the Dead Rats who may be in league with the Sons.  My group thinks the Heir has either taken over or heavily influences the Sons.
As noted above this information came from the Lords spy, Seldra.  So far, all signs point to Blacklake District.  Thanks to Seldra, it is narrowed down to the tavern.  Railroading?  It’s an Encounters session with a limited amount of time to play.  There is going to be some railroading.

I think a DM should refresh their memory with the story before starting a session.  It is a week until the next one so they may forget something important.  Also they may need to read the Encounters creation guidelines which are using the Essentials books & Neverinter CS .  This would elminate any confusion about why the players are adventuring in the city. 

Remember, no matter where ever you go, there you are. --Shaundakul

Just to poke the ranting beehive...

Monday night, hmm?
Keeping the flow of the story going can be a problem, we majorly needed to review what the heck we were even trying to do before we dived in this week.   Some of us mis-remembered that we were going to clean out a hide-out of the bandits from two weeks ago, and were expecting to go in guns figuratively blazing.  Asside from that, we didn't have any problems with the encounter this week. 

If anything, this season seems less rail-roady than most - and a good deal of on-the-rails stuff is called for in Encounters, really, so I don't see how it's a valid criticism in the first place.  Yes, the adventure that casual players can walk in or out of on a weekly basis has rails - that's a good thing, you can't 'sandbox' an hour or two a week with a possible different group of players every week, it's just not going to work.



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I am writing this comment because I was asked to, and I appreciate the feedback.

First of all, I'm really sorry you had a bad experience. That happens, from time to time--there's just no way any product can be perfectly designed for every person.

Also, while I take you at your word that having 9 PCs didn't make it crappy, I also know that that can be a burden to a DM, consciously or unconsciously. You have to try and engage each of them, many of whom you probably don't know, and the story is going to suffer for it. I'm sorry you had to deal with all that.

Please note that I am not interested in defending myself or convincing you of anything. I'm just going to try and explain my intentions in the season.

Re: Political Intrigue and Picking a Side: In the story, there's a civil war brewing in Neverwinter, and if world history/Star Wars/Marvel Comics have taught us nothing, it's that you kinda have to pick a side or one will be picked FOR you.

I strongly disagree with your logic that the heroes have to pick Neverember's side. I purposefully wrote the adventure to allow them free choice in this (see railroading, below). They have plenty of opportunity throughout the adventure to work against him, foil his agents, and disrupt his plans. And in the end, while they are technically saving him from some real danger, they're really saving ALL of Neverwinter from that danger. Your PCs should have every opportunity to turn their accomplishment away from Neverember ("Look what he allowed to happen to your city!" or just "Look what we pulled off!").

I purposefully set it up so that Neverember attempts to buy the heroes with his substantial wealth. Whether they take the reward or not is up to them and their own ethics. If they really don't want to serve him, they'll decline the reward. If they don't want to serve him but are greedy or manipulative, they'll take the reward. Then of course they CAN choose to serve him.

As for going after the Dead Rats, well the Rats are just villains regardless. Destroying them can either be serving Neverwinter or serving the Lost Heir, as they pose a danger to both sides. Finding the Rats is also a way to find the rebels. Also, exposing the Dead Rats as a menace and saving the Heir from their sudden but inevitable betrayal is a good way to ingratiate the PCs with the Heir.

@Dead Rats: Why are the PCs seeking the Dead Rats? Let me provide a brief summary of the baseline story. I say "baseline" because it might well vary at your table.

The Lost Heir showed up and sparked a civil uprising. A tenday later, the heroes see that tensions are rising in the city but haven't been able to find the Lost Heir or anyone who can direct them. They are hired by Lord Neverember to investigate. The Lost Heir has apparently taken over control of the rebel faction, the Sons of Alagondar. He suggests they start looking for leads at the Wall, which has seen divided loyalties among its soldiers. They thwart a bandit attack there, and the bandits claim to have been hired byt he Lost Heir to test the Wall's defenses. They can't give more info than that. Seldra shows up and points them toward the House of a Thousand Faces, where they can find a contact between the rebels (the Sons of Alagondar) and the nasty Dead Rats gang. The heroes head to Blacklake, where they encounter Charl, a belligerent halfling, who can't tell them where to find the Lost Heir but CAN tell them where to find the Dead Rats' lair.

The PCs are just following a string of leads that I laid out for them in the adventure. The Dead Rats are their only/best lead to find a way to contact the rebels: maybe they plan to talk it out of the Rats, maybe beat it out of them, maybe they think they'll find the Lost Heir at the Dead Rats' lair. Regardless, it's the only lead I have offered in the adventure.

@Railroading: A certain amount of railroading is just necessary to run a consistent campaign that's being played by multiple people, especially when it's being played by THOUSANDS of people, and supposed to be kept in a short time frame (1-2 hours a session).

That said, you as the DM have the prerogative to take your campaign in different directions. Don't like the House of a Thousand Faces? Don't go there. Writing the adventure, I just set it up as their best lead and most logical step--that doesn't mean it has to be that way.

I confess I'm not sure why this rubbed you the wrong way. You're a DM, so you know the nature of published adventures, and you have the creativity to take it any direction you want. You're also a longtime participant in the Encounters program, and you know that a certain amount of railroading is necessary. What changed?

@Fight with Charl: It says very distinctly in the writeup that Charl is a braggart who's spoiling for a fight. He's a cocky saber-rattler who takes an instant dislike to the heroes. So I disagree with the analysis that there's no reason for the fight to happen.

At the same time, there are also specific rules talking about how to get out of the fight without fighting. And there is absolutely no reason you cannot roleplay your way through an encounter without swords drawn.

@"Hidden" info: When I ran the session, I used basically all of the info presented. The heroes found out about the Harper tie, the business with Cymril, Charl's divided loyalties, etc., etc. And there wasn't even a harper agent in the party! It was all a matter of RP. But if it hadn't happened, I wouldn't have forced it.

Again, this is just the nature of a published adventure--it tells you a lot of stuff, not all of which is actually going to come up.

@In general: I'm sorry your session went poorly. It sounds like you had a shaky set-up without a summary to place the PCs in the session, and you were putting together a lot of different viewpoints and trying hard not to marginalize any of the players. (Also trying to sandbox 9 players is tough--there's only so much room, and it's hard to connect with unknown players.) Also, the RP just did not go well, and you were really struggling for ways to hook the players. That's not a fun gaming experience, and I do not envy you.

What I could have done, as the writer, to make this easier? Give you more ideas about how to hook the players? Explain more about Charl and what he's up to? Give more analysis of where the PCs are and try and navigate the shaky alliances going on here?

The biggest problem is that there are dozens of different combinations of alliances and intrigues that could be going on at this point in the campaign. The heroes could be on Neverember's side, the Lost Heir's side, or their own side, or any combination. They have Neverember badges, Lost Heir badges, and could be revealing any combination. They could have any combination of motivations about what they're doing in the city.

I really feel like this is the least railroading I could do in this situation. I present what I think is a logical progression through several factions and locations, which don't force the PCs to pursue one loyalty or another. They're doing the same sort of things, but their reasons for doing them might vary wildly.

Good comments and advice all around.  I find Encounters also to be 'railroady' but this season is the least 'raily' of them all so far.  Even better, due to the plot layout, it is easy to hook the players into making the choices themselves, or fool them into doing it at the very least.  Like the old DM's addage is "Use the Illusion of Freedom/Free will to get things done". 

My advice, if you can't get the PC's 'on path' by some method that makes them happy, then alter things to make them happy while still being 'on target'.  Don't like the House of a Thousand Faces?  Great, don't use it.  Have them ambushed by Chard and his gang as they investigate the Lost Heir.  "Oye Mates, rile'd up a nest o'Rats eh?  You've all gone an bit off more than ya ken chew wid all yore questions n'medling!".  You get the plot across, the combat, and you make the NPC slip that he knows stuff the PC's want to know.  So you can deviate from the plot, without deviating from the plot!
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