Session 3 Field Report

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Field report for D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen (Week 3) now available at Dungeon's Master.com. Check out our D&D Encounters Archive for weekly write-ups, actual play podcasts and new pre-generated characters.


One of the most difficult and brutal encounters we've had since Dark Sun. A huge resource drain and near TPK for the table I ran; TPK at the table where I played.

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The player who was absent last week returned this week to find his PC stripped and robbed of all worldly possessions.

Edit to add: we also had some trouble this session because of an ant infestation at my FLGS. This was problematic, as I'm a bit phobic, and the players were amused by my "ants crawling on my skin" freakouts. *sigh*

I had to do a little bit of "DM fiat" to get the story moving along-- basically, some of the PCs wanted to say "oh, my character didn't take *all* her stuff" when, in fact, they did.  Or "oh, my character doesn't have problems with women-- he loves women!" (side note: no. If you **** women, you have a problem with women.)

Anyway, I let them RP a bit amongst themselves to heighten the party in-fighting and confusion.

Then onward to the cellars, where they raided Lady Ulphor's wine cellar and stole a few bottles of "the good stuff" for themselves.

I will again repeat my disclaimer. This is a stable table of seasoned players who have played both Encounters and D&D before. We do not put newbies on this table. They are all playing some degree of evil or extremely mercenary PCs.
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They eventually came to the crypt and the secret door puzzle. This is actually a really good first-level puzzle. In my DM's game on Monday, our DM was very good about providing all the clues for us to solve it (we disliked having the arcana check give all the answers), and we solved it with our own brains and felt clever.

In my party.... well. I've told you all about my party before.

The blackguard (the guy who "has a problem with women") decided that any receptical is good enough, and dropped trou and, er, did unmentionable things to the "cup."

The party bickered a bit more. The barbarian borrowed a crowbar and started chiseling away at the crease in the floor where the tomb slides open.

They didn't open any of the Ashaba tombs-- I had a curse in place for them if they had, and I think it would have ended in a TPK. 

Then, the seeker said "Well, I want to examine it, with my nature knowledge." I nod. Okay. Start giving him some details, and say "You start to put your hand in it, and--" (I was about to tell him the indentation was damp, as a hint to use water).

"Wait! I'm not putting my hand in there after *he's* done that thing! I get out my waterskin-- no, wait. I use *his* waterskin-- and flush it out."

I nod, smiling secretly. This is excellent. It's not clever thinking, but utter disgust that solves the puzzle for them, and that's so appropriate to this evil party, I'm inordinately pleased.

He pours the water to clean the cup, and the tomb opens. The barbarian's confused, then cheers at his own ability to open the tomb faster than he expected (he's not too bright).

They go downstairs. They've made so much noise, the drow are ready for them. The drow get surprise on half the party. The setup for the encounter goes as written-- the skeletons rising from crypts, etc.

I'd bumped up this encounter a bit, because my PCs are overly optimized, and previous encounters haven't felt like much of a challenge. In this encounter, all the drow have resist 3 poison, and the white smoke does 2 poison to anyone in the zone (anyone breathing-- it doesn't affect the skeletons). The damage does not stack with ongoing poison, so when the totemist and archers hit with their poisons, it was less of a problem. Also, the guy with the gem of Lathander was immune (I'm setting him up to be murdered for that gem). All the enemies had +1 to defenses and +2 to hit-- nothing too severe, really, but the defense bonus saved them at least 3 hits.

I missed with darkfire, every time. I'd given the archers 3 bolts carrying of bloodsting poison, which does ongoing 5-- out of 9 shots, only 2 of them hit with the poisoned bolts (the PCs could have recovered the unused bolts after the encounter, but there were none left). 

I did not roll especially well. In the early part of the fight, I missed that blackguard with six natural 1's. Nasty.

However, having a lot of single-target PCs and a slew of minions meant the strikers were spending a lot of time clearing minions instead of focusing on big bosses.

The new bard didn't want to get her hands dirty. She kept considering running, and refused to run into the spider zones. As a result, she was unbloodied at the end of the encounter.

Of the remaining PCs, everyone had been bloodied at least once, and two PCs got renown for reviving a dying ally. Most were at <5 hp="" at="" the="" end="" of="" encounter="" blackguard="" spent="" 7="" healing="" surges="" br="">
Hey, if you're going to give striker sub-classes (barbarian and blackguard) the surges of its base defender class (fighter and paladin), then I'm going to do my best to drain those off.

The totemist's zones, however, were brutal. They recharged three times, laying down 4 almost-overlapping zones of 5 poison. Taking 7 hp each round was brutal on the PCs, especially when the totemist successfully hit with her venom and immobilized them.

Eventually, the new bard kept asking if she'd be able to escape, and I pointed out that the tomb above had closed, and she would need time to open it. Perhaps these guys could hold them off, but it seemed unlikely. Meta-game, I told the player that if she fled, it was likely going to be a TPK for the rest.

She started to flee.

The seeker tripped her, knocking her prone and ending her movement.

I swear, these people could teach the drow how to back-stab.

Anyway, the last skeletons formed as successful blockade at the lower stair, keeping a couple of PCs in the spider zone. This nearly did in the PCs as well.

Ultimately, I scaled up this encounter quite a bit, and I pulled only ONE punch. I let one hit on the defender (a warforged swordmage) not hit, mainly because it was an exact hit (i.e., if I'd been playing with the published stats, it would not have hit). It was a "pucker fight" as one of my friends puts it (a part of your body is puckering in fear, cause you don't know if you'll make it or not-- and then you do).

Oh, and when Khara and Thalinar teleported in, the blackguard immediately leaned over to her and whispered, "hey, baby..." In session 1, he attempted to "seduce" her, but she rebuffed his advances. In my table, things are not going to go well for either of these DMPCs. I will be surprised if Thalinar survives the extended rest between sessions 5 and 6, honestly-- I plan to portray him as a glory-stealing prat, just so the party can hate on someone besides themselves.

I look forward to them realizing that the NPCs do not have plot immunity in this game.
For the second week in a row, both tables at my FLGS TPKed. We had a Drow Hunter, an Eladrin Mage, a Half-orc Thief, a Drow Warpriest, and a Dragonborn Knight. The lack of lighting played a major role: the half-orc, the dragonborn, and the eladrin could not see most of the enemies until light spells were cast. The archers won initiative, but the skeletons and the totemist were going after everyone except the Knight.

One of the Drow archers began by almost dropping the Hunter with a successful hit with his 2d8 attack. The Mage figured out she could hold back the skeleton-raising mist with an Arcana check, but failed the minor action to do so, causing her to spend her standard action on doing just that, preventing her from attacking that round. The Hunter was able to hit two of the archers from range for light damage. The Thief sniped at the skeleton minions he could see but missed. The Warpriest tried to drop a Horde of Spiders on the Totemist, but missed for half damage.

Then it was the skeleton's turn. They spent a move each getting out of their tombs, then those within six squares of the starting point charged. That left three skeletons that shifted a square and shot their short bows. They weren't doing a ton of damage, but now there was a wall of skeletons preventing the PCs from moving forward. That meant that on the Totemist's turn, she moved up and dropped her Spider Swarm zone on the PCs, catching two in the zone.

Rather than focusin my fire on individual characters, I rolled randomly (d10, then d4, then d6) to determine who the Drow and skeletons would attack. The archers excelled at knocking characters prone, forcing the Hunter and Thief to stay pinned down. The Knight decided to go toe-to-toe with the totemist, which would have been effective had his dice not been cold. Pretty much all their dice were cold last night, so maybe that was the problem. I was not rolling particularly poorly or well, though at first level, it's not hard to hit the PCs. The Mage was able to keep the mist at bay with minor actions for the rest of the combat, but the Hunter had a lot of trouble, as he ran out of surges and went down. The Knight also went down, as he was meleeing the totemist from inside her zone and I'd managed to flank him with a skeleton.

At that point, the Warpriest was out of Healing Words and was doing standard action Heal checks trying to stabilize players adjacent but not in the poison zone. Soon it was just her and the Thief still standing, as the Mage could not withstand the barrage of minion arrows, and with the Mage down, more skeletons were going to spawn, though they would be unnecessary. The Warpriest managed to down the totemist thanks to a successful sneak attack by the Thief that had moved her from lightly damaged to severly injured, which eliminated the zone, but there were still three skeleton minions shooting from range, all three archers, and one skeleton in melee range. The skeletons dropped the Thief, and with only one target, the three archers pincushioned the Warpriest. I ceremoniously took three d20s and rolled them on the map to see what would happen. Lowest roll was an 11, which with their +8 to hit, meant all three hit. I didn't bother rolling the damage.

The first TPK was amusing, but at this point, I'm concerned. Does anyone have any suggestions? Should I fudge my rolls downward? I can't assist the players when they're rolling 2s and 3s. Should I avoid pinning them down in the future? I don't want to drive away players interested in 4e or D&D just because every time they show up, I kill them.

 Cast of players and their characters for early group:-



  • Bryce Palmer, playing Human Mage

  • Glenn Waters, playing Eladrin Thief

  • Daniel Creedy, playing Dragonborn Knight


Following the tracks of the drow through the dusty cellars the party come to a dead end in a chamber that has been kept immaculately clean. Investigating the sarcophagi placed in the walls of the room shows each has a name plate, date of birth and date of death. The most imppressive and oldest belonging to Lord Ashaba himself!


The heroes discovered that pouring water into the carved cup on the famous water-wizards sarcophagus caused it to swivel aside revealing a spiral staircase descending into older tunnels below. The heroes forge ahead and find a small force of drow still making its way through the tunnels. Their leader, a Totemist smashes a gem on the floor, releasing a chilling white mist that spreads over the floors and begins to seep into the various coffins arrayed within the walls.



As the Totemist immobilises the dragonborn knight with her venom ray and lets her spider swarm cover him, her archer allies drop the thief bloodied to the floor with accurate crossbow fire.



The skeletal drow summoned by the mist set about the downed knight, firing arrows and attack with sword-like bones as the mage and thief continue to attack from range.



As the mage and thief take down the last of the drow (both skeletal and normal) the knight breathes his last – succumbing to his wounds.


I had weakened this encounter due to low numbers (damned half-term) using only the Totemist, 2 archers and 6 skeletal minions. It still resulted in the knights death (I think the player’s going for the most deaths in one season record) but the remainder of the pc’s dealt with the threat rather easily from range (though very bad dice rolls on my part didnt help).


From next week I will be taking part in the early group as a player with Skrit my kobold scout, while Robert from the late group DM’s so the reports on the early session will now become Skrits journals.


 Cast of players and their characters for later group:-



  • Robert Cleale, playing Human Knight

  • Chris North, playing Dwarf Sentinal (playing Tom’s pc as Tom on holiday)

  • Daniel Creedy, playing Dwarf Knight (playing Chris’s usual pc as he didnt want to go home LOL)

  • Simon Hunter, playing Human Mage

  • Phill Norman, playing Elf Thief

  • John Gray, playing Drow Hexblade



 


The party discovered the secret stairs quicker than the early group as the mage poured water into the cup as soon as it was decribed. Descending the stairs they discover the doppelganger that fled last session informing the drow Totemist of their approach.



 


Though the heroes make quick work of the Totemist, the dwarf knight takes a suicide run deeper into the caverns, chased by the doppelganger and an archer.


 



 


Having dropped the hapless knight (who chose to remove its armour!) the doppelganger disappears deeper into the catacombs as the heroes forge ahead. (slightly blurred as I was laughing when I took it)



 


The heroes slowly whittle down the drow archers and the skeletal drow. But as they head towards their fallen dwarven comrade a nasty surprise awaits them.


 



 


With the arrival of a second Totemist blasting the human knight with venom ray the heroes resort to ranged attacks to finish the dark elves and their allies. But not quick enough to save the dwarf!


 


As each session ended there was a flash of light and a curtain of ash which revealed the arrival of a pair of figures, Khara Sulwood (the heroes met her in the Old Skull Inn in session 1, briefly) and her companion.

In an effort to make the minion skeletons a little more memorable I decided that rather be equipped with shortbow/sword they would fire arrows using ligaments/tendons on their thighs (really shooting from the hip) and attack in melee with sharpened arm bones rather than blades. When one of the players said "That's cool" I felt my change was justified.


"Well that encounter was easy....er, guys, why is the DM grinning?" (party members last words)

It's not a party till the screaming starts!

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In running this session, I was a bit worried about a TPK... so I warned the players they would need to coordinate. The totemist dropped the spider terrain on the first flight of stairs, giving the archers a chance to massacre anyone moving through this poisonous chokepoint.
Then, the players put their heads together anddid something brilliant. They killed all the skeletons on the first level and used the coffin lids as shields... and then as sleds to slide down the steps to avoid the terrain in what turned out to be some incredibly creative bull rush attacks!
It was still a hard fight, with one downed ally and, I fear, too many healing surges used. But the teamwork, rules stretching and raw creativity I was hoping for emerged gloriously! I'M quite proud of our group at this point.
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