Trying to Figure Out Session 13

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I'm trying to understand how Elminster's Fire is supposed to work in this encounter. The read aloud text says, "A thunderclap shakes the tower as a veil of silver mist falls around the sepulcher. Above the mist, a roiling ball of crimson fire appears."

The text for the DMs says, "The tactical encounter is set up to make the reforging easy. The pendant can be heated in the crimson fire, etc."

So apparently, the PCs are expected to climb up on the sepulcher, which is difficult terrain, and it's going to be very difficult for the PCs to maneuver around the driders since they have threating reach. In fact, I can easily see this entire encounter taking place with the party remaining in the stairwell, which is going to obviate all monsters except Valan.

In Features of the Area, it states that the "mist surrounds the sepulcher...[a]dventurers and their allies can enter the mist. The drow and other enemies caannot enter the mist, even by forced movement."

So, does the mist just occupy the four squares of the sepulcher, or, does the mist fill the squares around the sepulcher? If the later, the driders (who cannot enter the mist under any circumstances) start in the mist. Do they get pushed up one square? If so, that's going to force Valan also to move up one square to the very top of the stairs - again leaving no room for the party to maneuver.


This is just bad design. Hopefully, some of you can offer suggestions for altering this encounter.
- Rico
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This is the last encounter of the season, so it's going to be tough. In fact, the reason for Elminster's fire boon is so that the party will be "upleveled" enough to face tough creatures with threatening reach.

While it's possible the PCs will stay in the stairwell, they won't be able to reforge the pendant if they do so, nor will they get Elminster's boon if they do (dangle power before your players and watch them dance!) The PCs could easily fight the bad guys, then reforge the pendant, as well-- the two things don't need to happen simultaneously, though it is more dramatic that way.

Tactically, starting in the starter box, a defender can lock down the driders which the rest of the PCs can skirt around to the sepulcher. It's not ideal, but it can work.
 
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This is the last encounter of the season, so it's going to be tough. In fact, the reason for Elminster's fire boon is so that the party will be "upleveled" enough to face tough creatures with threatening reach.

While it's possible the PCs will stay in the stairwell, they won't be able to reforge the pendant if they do so, nor will they get Elminster's boon if they do (dangle power before your players and watch them dance!) The PCs could easily fight the bad guys, then reforge the pendant, as well-- the two things don't need to happen simultaneously, though it is more dramatic that way.

Tactically, starting in the starter box, a defender can lock down the driders which the rest of the PCs can skirt around to the sepulcher. It's not ideal, but it can work.
 



I don't have a defender in my party, and my party tends to prefer ranged attacks. So they might be very happy to stay put. I'm thinking that I need to completely change the starting positions for everyone. I'm just finding it very frustrating because out of 11 combat encounters this season, at least 6 of them don't work tactically as written. I think it's great when the heroes win in heroic fashion, but I want them to at least be challenged. I'm not giving them another cake walk.
- Rico
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In my opinion, the mist is also in the surrounding squares, so yes, the driders would be half inside the mist. However I would just have them not be able to reenter the mist once they leave it. Also, if you think your party would like to just stay on the stairs, the way I (and other DMs) take care of that is by having the stairs only grant partial cover vs ranged. So instead of having a wall between the start area and the spellspinners, make that only partial cover. The spellspinners then can still cast their spells without being too much in the open. At least 2 of them have easy access to the start area which they can then blast with Lightning Web (close blast 5).


If the encounters have all been cakewalks, really, you should be trying to make it harder somehow...

Also, this should really be marked DM only.
Wizard's first rule: People are stupid.

If the encounters have all been cakewalks, really, you should be trying to make it harder somehow... 


Gee. Thanks. I never thought of that.
Also, this should really be marked DM only.


No offense, but if someone who is playing through this season, not DMing, sees a thread titled Trying to Figure Out Session 13, who then, knowing full well that he hasn't played session 13 yet clicks on the link for that thread, then, seeing several posts all with the "Spoiler" tag on them decides to click on them and read them anyway, that person has no one but himself to blame, and he would read the thread even if it was marked DM Only.
- Rico
You're the one having trouble making things difficult for a party you've supposedly been DM'ing since session 1. Take the advice or leave it. It's no skin off my back.
Wizard's first rule: People are stupid.
You're the one having trouble making things difficult for a party you've supposedly been DM'ing since session 1. Take the advice or leave it. It's no skin off my back.

Actually, I appreciated your other advice. It was that comment that I found less than helpful (and a little condescending frankly).

As to whether I've DM'd all season, why would I lie (as your response implies) about that?

I never said all the encounters have been cakewalks. Some of them have been (sometimes because the players rolled really well and I didn't, sometimes because the encounters didn't work well as they were written/set-up -- unfortunately, you only really discover that until after you've run it). Some have been reasonably challenging. In one session I had a TPK. Many of the encounters have been hard for several of the DMs (not just me) to figure out. The maps have had features that are hard to reconcile to the description of the areas, etc.

As I said, your other advice I appreciated, but that last comment I found insulting. And admitedly my response was snarky. So I apologize.
- Rico
As I said, your other advice I appreciated, but that last comment I found insulting. And admitedly my response was snarky. So I apologize.



Sorry about that. I just find it hard to believe that the encounters have been easy. I know I'm struggling with not TPK'ing every time (the first time I DM'ed this season was the Elite Guards encounter...didn't mess around with the encounter enough and everyone went down). Sure I can blame the players for not playing smart, but I feel a lot of that responsibility lies on the DM as well.

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One last thing about session 13, those driders should be more of a threat than expected. Both Servant's Rebuke and Threatening Reach means these guys get opportunity attacks even against ranged characters that don't attack them. Combo that with Valan's Mind Venom to slide people around, and you increase the difficulty of the encounter by a lot. Finally, if the spellspinners are levitating, I'd say that the stairs don't offer any concealment at all. Basically give your party every incentive to try to get out of that killing zone and investigate Elminster's Fire.
Wizard's first rule: People are stupid.
 
As I said, your other advice I appreciated, but that last comment I found insulting. And admitedly my response was snarky. So I apologize.



Sorry about that. I just find it hard to believe that the encounters have been easy. I know I'm struggling with not TPK'ing every time (the first time I DM'ed this season was the Elite Guards encounter...didn't mess around with the encounter enough and everyone went down). Sure I can blame the players for not playing smart, but I feel a lot of that responsibility lies on the DM as well.

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One last thing about session 13, those driders should be more of a threat than expected. Both Servant's Rebuke and Threatening Reach means these guys get opportunity attacks even against ranged characters that don't attack them. Combo that with Valan's Mind Venom to slide people around, and you increase the difficulty of the encounter by a lot. Finally, if the spellspinners are levitating, I'd say that the stairs don't offer any concealment at all. Basically give your party every incentive to try to get out of that killing zone and investigate Elminster's Fire.


Well, I usually try to run the encounters with the tactics and starting positions the author presents for the enemies. I figure that he had a reason for doing it that way. Unfortunately, it's not always easy once you start the encounter to totally change that without the players thinking (quite correctly) that you're being arbitrary.
   
I agree with you on the DM's responsibility. I actually try hard not to have a TPK. I know some DMs actually do the opposite, but I don't think it's fun for the players especially in Encounters.

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Great point on the levitation. I'll defintely use that if they try to stay put. Thanks!

- Rico
GMs can run any session however it suits them...

1. My impression is that the mist is only over the sepulchre - not next to it and that the sepulchre is maybe a foot off the ground with ornate carvings, which makes it not that difficult to step onto, but difficult terrain for combat purposes.

2. Like Dardor, I generally have to be careful not to make the encounter too difficult.  I'm having the wall next to the stairwell grant cover so that the PCs have a safety zone.

3. The real issue that struck me when I first read the encounter a few months ago is:

Why would the PCs bother to reforge the pendant in the heat of battle?

The PCs have a reason to step into the sepulchre to receive Elminster's boon, but the encounter does not mention what happens if they reforge the pendant.  I'm hoping for suggestions.  I think the PCs should get a lesser benefit if they reforge the pendant, and Khara is not able to wield it.  If the PCs saved Khara, reforge the pendant, and give it to
Khara, I would think a descendant of a Lord of Shadowdale would have a natural magic attunement to the Pendant of Ashaba and an ability to grant a greater boon in combat.
3. The real issue that struck me when I first read the encounter a few months ago is:

Why would the PCs bother to reforge the pendant in the heat of battle?

The PCs have a reason to step into the sepulchre to receive Elminster's boon, but the encounter does not mention what happens if they reforge the pendant.  I'm hoping for suggestions.  I think the PCs should get a lesser benefit if they reforge the pendant, and Khara is not able to wield it.  If the PCs saved Khara, reforge the pendant, and give it to Khara, I would think a descendant of a Lord of Shadowdale would have a natural magic attunement to the Pendant of Ashaba and an ability to grant a greater boon in combat.



It really depends on how the encounter is going. If it's going badly, I might have a reforged pendant in the hands of Khara mean that all of the enemies get a -2 penalty to attack rolls and defenses. Otherwise if it's going well for the party, it'll just give Khara an aura 1 where enemies within the aura grant combat advantage.

If Khara goes down I'm not sure if I should have the pendant grant any benefit. 
Wizard's first rule: People are stupid.
3. The real issue that struck me when I first read the encounter a few months ago is:

Why would the PCs bother to reforge the pendant in the heat of battle?

The PCs have a reason to step into the sepulchre to receive Elminster's boon, but the encounter does not mention what happens if they reforge the pendant.  I'm hoping for suggestions.  I think the PCs should get a lesser benefit if they reforge the pendant, and Khara is not able to wield it.  If the PCs saved Khara, reforge the pendant, and give it to Khara, I would think a descendant of a Lord of Shadowdale would have a natural magic attunement to the Pendant of Ashaba and an ability to grant a greater boon in combat.



It really depends on how the encounter is going. If it's going badly, I might have a reforged pendant in the hands of Khara mean that all of the enemies get a -2 penalty to attack rolls and defenses. Otherwise if it's going well for the party, it'll just give Khara an aura 1 where enemies within the aura grant combat advantage.

If Khara goes down I'm not sure if I should have the pendant grant any benefit. 


Mechanicswise, I would definitely do something like this (especially, like you said, if it's going badly for the party).

Storywise I would have part of the information Khara gives them about reforging the pendant be that it will hamper the drow's efforts, which should be a big enough hint to the party that reforging the pendant is something they want to do.
- Rico
I'm going to attempt to answer a lot of previosly unanswered plot questions in this combat. Why is the pendant important? Who is Valan and why is he concerned with the surface world? How is it that a male drow has become a prominent quarterback for Lolth? Dialogue during combat between Sulwood and Jaelre will answer these questions, as the defensive line shifts with Sulwood as she moves to reforge the pendant. If the pendant gets activated, the previously vague wards are going to tear the remaining drow apart in a rather gory spectacle.
This season's going out with a bang, despite what little is actually written!
I'm going to attempt to answer a lot of previosly unanswered plot questions in this combat. Why is the pendant important? Who is Valan and why is he concerned with the surface world? How is it that a male drow has become a prominent quarterback for Lolth? Dialogue during combat between Sulwood and Jaelre will answer these questions, as the defensive line shifts with Sulwood as she moves to reforge the pendant. If the pendant gets activated, the previously vague wards are going to tear the remaining drow apart in a rather gory spectacle. This season's going out with a bang, despite what little is actually written!



I would recommend reading Council of Spiders if you're going to do this. It offers additional info on what Valan is actually doing and why you never actually fight him.
Wizard's first rule: People are stupid.
Unfortunately, I dont have access to next season's info. I dont think it will mattef, as any inconsistencies can be viewed as lies.
I'd also caution against the pitfall of "conversation between two NPCs" (Sulwood and Jaelre).

It's awkward at best, and you should really let the players steer the tactical combat as well as the role-playing.

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For example, at my DM runthrough on Monday night, there was no defensive line covering Sulwood to reforge the pendant. Instead, the party scattered, using forced movement to drag driders and drow out of Khara's way, and using our own mobility to get out of the stairs. She had a clear shot to reforge the pendant, but if I'd been expected to block for Khara instead of pulling a distraction move, she'd have had a hard time just getting past the driders (who can effectively blockade the party in the stairwell). By the end of the encounter, Khara was running around on her own, while the rest of the party had drawn the enemies to ourselves, rather than run up to block.

As far as giving your big reveal, you can give Valan a kind of "before I kill you, Mr. Bond" moment if you like. Let the PCs ask questions as a free action on their turn, to put some banter and Q&A into the hands of the players, more than the NPCs. And don't be surprised if some of your players' reactions are "don't care, kill it." Sometimes, the PCs really just don't care who the enemy is, as long as there's blood on their blades.
My memory tells me that there was errata to Session 13 which described the XP, GP, and treasure -- which the encounter itself seems to have omitted. For the life of me, I can't find the confounded thing.

Any help out there? Preferably in the next 90 minutes?

Thank you.

signed, Desperate Organizer
Yep! From here:

The Rewards section is missing from page 57 of Web of the Spider Queen. It should read:


Reward 
At the end of the session, each character gains 400 XP for defeating Valan Jaelre and his evil allies. If they reforge the Pendant of Ashaba, they gain an additional 100 XP each.


Thank you very much for your continued support of D&D Encounters, and remember – the Rise of the Underdark has only just begun!


 
Yep! From here:

The Rewards section is missing from page 57 of Web of the Spider Queen. It should read:


Reward 
At the end of the session, each character gains 400 XP for defeating Valan Jaelre and his evil allies. If they reforge the Pendant of Ashaba, they gain an additional 100 XP each.



Thank you, that's exactly what I needed.