Interlude: Session 6 - It's A Mess (DMs, Coordinators, Spoilers)

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Hello All,

FIRST: THIS THREAD CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS! IF YOU ARE A PLAYER AND NOT A DM OR COORDINATOR. THERE WILL BE NO SPOILER TAGS HERE... SO, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Here are my guides and fixes for session 6:

DM How To One Sheet - (work in progress)


  • 9/30 - Session 6 PC Background Handout v2 - PDF, DOCX

  • 10/1 - Session 6 DM Quick Sheet v2 - PDF, DOCX

  • 9/29 - Session 6 Objective Trackers - PDF, PUB

  • Session 6 Obstacle Cheat Sheets - (work in progress)

  • 10/3 - Leader statblocks with House/Faction Info - PDF, PUB

  • 10/2 - Session 6 Combat Encounter - PDF, PUB













*******************************************************************************************


I have been reading ahead finally and when I hit the Interlude: Session 6, it came across as a big mess to me.

The PCs are supposed to argue what stance their faction should take but I foresee some issues with that.

1) The faction info given in the adventure is incomplete. Unless the DMs and Players have access and have read the relevant sections of Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue (M:CoI), they will not understand their factions various competing agendas and how to argue for or against one or the other.

2) Also, The Way of Lolth is not really given to the PCs (see M:CoI, page 21). Again without this crucial bit how can you argue for or against this obstacle?

3) The information that is given in this part of the adventure is not very clear on how you move one leader from their starting position to a different one, or why your PC would know to do it at all.

All in all this is going to be not very fun to run as it stands. Lots of info that you need are spread out between various sections of the adventure and a book that players/DMs may or may not have.

So, what to do about it? I am starting a conversation now so we have a couple of weeks to brainstorm some ideas how to handle this so that our players are not board to death because they are lost as to what they are supposed to be doing during this session.

Thanks,

Bryan Blumklotz


You're right. This one is going to be very difficult to run. As far as the background information, I know one of my players has the Menzoberranzan book. I don't know if any of the others do (I know for sure at least one doesn't as money is an issue for him). I think what I'm going to do is photcopy the House/Faction information for the three main factions in this campaign (plus House Baenre since the Bregan D'aerthe faction is representing them) and distribute it ahead of time and tell my players that it's very important that they are familiar with this information for session 6.

Beyond that, I think the hardest part about this session will be tracking the results. Since it's possible for the players to argue opposite positions, we have to track each player's success/failure separately as it will impact the success/failure of the other players. We have two first-time DMs running tables at my store this season, and I fear this is going to be a nightmare for them. We're going to need some sort of chart/spreadsheet to keep track of the results.
- Rico
So I have been reading the next 3 sessions trying to make sense of session 6, which has been difficult.

Here is what I have figured out.

Setbacks only occur in the following situations:

A) Failure during an Obstacle.
B) Success by one PC on a contested Leader (i.e., more than one PC attempting to influence that leader with different objectives). All other PCs attempting to influence the Leader towards a different objective suffer a setback.

If you just fail at moving your objective forward, there is no setback.

I have created some Objective Trackers for each leader. All players attempting to influence that specific leader start in the center black circle. You can only influence one leader at a time.

I am going to write up a more concise set of rules for this challenge along with some background to hand out to the players so they can argue one position or another with some knowledge.

Note, I have cleaned up the objectives to match the House Goals in Session 7. The inconsistent use of terms leads to confusion. This is doubly so in Session 8.

Session 6 Objective Trackers: PDF, PUB - See First Post For All Files

Enjoy,

Bryan Blumklotz
I will be running this Session and find numerous problems:


  • Why would the Houses depend on input from these very low level drow, slaves, and mercenaries for direction on House policy?  This makes no sense at all. 

  • Why should the PC's care about altering their House policy?  They are low in the ranks and just follow orders.

  • What possible reason is there for the party to agree on proposed positions for each House?

  • My players are mainly young & new to the game ... they follow the intricacies of the plot very little and are anxious to get on to the next fight.  I expect that they will get little fun from this argument/discussion.

  • If a fight breaks out (as mentioned under 'What if Things Go Wrong') why would thePC's not fight each other?  They are evil and have different objectives, so very little party unity, and the three drow leaders don't agree ... I'd be very surprised if they didn't fight each other.

  • No one (including me) owns M:CoI, and most of the players (kids) have pretty much ignored the background info when presented.  It's going to be almost impossible for them to participate effectively in the argument/discussion.

  • Why should the three houses that have directed the PC's so far continue to do so if they end up with different goals in the coming war?


Reading ahead:  the goal doesn't matter very much if they agree, but if they disagree it allows PC's to kill each other (session 8 intro 2nd paragraph) ... resulting in a possible "need to adjust the start of the encounter slightly" ... "perhaps trailing the other characters by a minute or two" !!  A minute or two is 10 to 20 rounds in combat, apparently just a slight adjustment.  This is broken.


My fix:  drop all of Session 6's content entirely, drop the idea of differing goals, keep the party together (if not unified, at least not pursuing contrary objectives during a war) in Sessions 7 & 8 ... and substitute a fight for Session 6.  And don't volunteer to judge next Season unless I get the booklet early enough to read entirely.


I could use suggestions on a combat alternative to Session 6.




I will be running this Session and find numerous problems:


  • Why would the Houses depend on input from these very low level drow, slaves, and mercenaries for direction on House policy?  This makes no sense at all. 

  • Why should the PC's care about altering their House policy?  They are low in the ranks and just follow orders.

  • What possible reason is there for the party to agree on proposed positions for each House?

  • My players are mainly young & new to the game ... they follow the intricacies of the plot very little and are anxious to get on to the next fight.  I expect that they will get little fun from this argument/discussion.

  • If a fight breaks out (as mentioned under 'What if Things Go Wrong') why would thePC's not fight each other?  They are evil and have different objectives, so very little party unity, and the three drow leaders don't agree ... I'd be very surprised if they didn't fight each other.

  • No one (including me) owns M:CoI, and most of the players (kids) have pretty much ignored the background info when presented.  It's going to be almost impossible for them to participate effectively in the argument/discussion.

  • Why should the three houses that have directed the PC's so far continue to do so if they end up with different goals in the coming war?


Reading ahead:  the goal doesn't matter very much if they agree, but if they disagree it allows PC's to kill each other (session 8 intro 2nd paragraph) ... resulting in a possible "need to adjust the start of the encounter slightly" ... "perhaps trailing the other characters by a minute or two" !!  A minute or two is 10 to 20 rounds in combat, apparently just a slight adjustment.  This is broken.


My fix:  drop all of Session 6's content entirely, drop the idea of differing goals, keep the party together (if not unified, at least not pursuing contrary objectives during a war) in Sessions 7 & 8 ... and substitute a fight for Session 6.  And don't volunteer to judge next Season unless I get the booklet early enough to read entirely.


I could use suggestions on a combat alternative to Session 6.



The section I highlighted in red is the reason this makes no sense to you. Your table is playing this adventure like a normal season in encounters (and that is fine) but you are working against the adventure which makes this season is hard for you.


So, you need to pull stats from the previous sessions (the adventure already suggested using the dark ones and the hexblades for an ambush). I would also use the suggested stats for the leaders (pointed out in the adventure). You have a blank map of the meeting site which you can build your encounter.


I will be posting up some player and DM aids to run the encounter as written (with fixes that make it work smoother in the following sessions).


3 of the four tables we are running are deep into the role playing, backstabby world of the drow and the one table that isn't is like yours, it is full of younger players who just want something to fight and kill.


Good luck,


Bryan Blumklotz


Perithoth/Bryan:

Thanks for your comments/suggestions.  I had intended to use the suggested Dark Creeper ambush after the 3 leaders leave, but was looking for other interesting ideas.

By the way. your 'Objective Trackers' are elegant play aids for those who want to run this Session as written.  Very nice!

Not entirely sure how owning (& reading) M:CoI could resolve all my problems with this session.  Can you explain what you mean by 'working against the adventure" so that I can attempt not doing so?

Thanks again.
Not entirely sure how owning (& reading) M:CoI could resolve all my problems with this session.  Can you explain what you mean by 'working against the adventure" so that I can attempt not doing so?

Thanks again.



It allowed me to present info to the players through our DDE website I set up for our store (it contains selected background info, character creation info beyond the basics of the "DDE norom", etc.) It helped me understand how to play an evil drow while not devolving the table into a slaughter.

As to what I mean by "working against the adventure," I am talking about your PCs trying to treat this as a normal dungeon crawl. That works in Ch 1, and the first two sessions of Ch. 2 where you get missions and go execute them. However, the final 3 sessions are more about arguing for a mission and then executing it. If your players don't really know and/or care about that, then you as DM have to work harder to make the adventure work for you (create a combat encounter for session 6, assign missions to the players for the next two sessions.

What your players then miss out on is the intrigue and jockying that goes on at other tables. I am not saying this is wrong or that your group is doing it wrong, it just puts more of a burden on you.

Thanks,

Bryan Blumklotz

Bump.

I am going to consolidate my fixes for session 6 in the first post.

I am adding a player hand out to help them understand what the Way of Lolth and  the Demon Web are as well as give them the 3 bullet point synopsis of what they have learned about the Dissident Priestess, The Council of Spiders, and the unknown group trying to start a war in the city.

I will be working on a DM guide on how to use the tracker posted up, also put up the zObstacled Cheat Sheets.

I have statsblocks for the three leaders built in the Adventure Tools, I just need to add some info to the sheets before I publish them.

Bryan Blumklotz
Ok,

I made a slight adjustment to the Player Handout, making it clear what their objectives for the session are. I also changed it to a three column to make the information a little better organized.

See Session 6 PC Background Handout v2 in both PDF and DOCX formats.

Bryan
I will be posting up the DM Guide to this encounter tonight. If you have some time I would like some feedback because I am so close to this document that I will probably miss some grammar, logic holes, and things I just didn't think of.

I have also added space holders for Leader Statblocks (with house/faction background info) and a combat encounter for those who don't like talky-talky encounters.

The statblocks are done. I just need to type up the info and the encounter setup.

My priorities are:

  1. DM Cheet Sheet

  2. Statblocks for Leaders

  3. Combat Encounter

The first will be done as promised. The second will probably be done by tonight. The third is contingent on time. I will be making it for my wife's table specifically (they just want something to break), but I don't know if I will get it completed in time to post it. If I do, it will go up. No promises.

Thanks,

Bryan Blumklotz
We're running this tonight in our prep game group. I'll post a writeup of how it goes, tomorrow, so folks can steal ideas as needed.
Mortaine,

My cleaned up rules for DMs (based upon what is in the module) is up. Please let me know if any of this helps, makes the session go better, etc. I would love to hear if anything doesn't make sense or could be worded different.

I couldn't shrink it down to 2 pages and have it readable (8 point is just too much strain).

Good luck with your session tonight, I look forward to your post.

Bryan Blumklotz
Bryan,

One correction. On the DM's quick sheet you have:

Objective:

Appeal to Hoshtar/Baragh’s Faith



And then you have:



Milestones:

Each time the characters appeal to
Hoshtar/Baragh's pride (and back it up with a successful check, if you think it's necessary), they achieve one of the following milestones, in this order.





Pride is correct. Faith is incorrect.


- Rico
TheGimper,

Thanks! Yep, I am too close to it to see even gross errors. I have posted up the fix to the error you found (see v2 in the first post).

Bryan
Our DM didn't use Bryan's excellent worksheets-- he ran the encounter "cold," but he's a very good, experienced DM.

It went really well. I didn't read the encounter in advance, so I went in the way a player would-- kind of ignorant, and not really sure which way to argue.

Frequent reminders and "recaps" of who the major players are and what they want were VERY important. DMs should be reminded to have patience about this. As a player who had technical problems in the beginning, it bothered me that I didn't know what goal or argument I was supposed to be supporting. Any shop will have this problem when any PC shows up late to the event (which happens a lot for us). Player handouts with simplified goals might help.

When PCs are at odds about their particular goals (pvp-esque), this encounter will be more challenging, but not impossible. I think one way to mitigate any inter-party conflict and keep it from delving into bloodshed is to use the Worth mechanic to give PCs a *reason* to listen to each other-- and then as a DM, if they start threatening physical harm (as opposed to political or social harm), you could say "you're being disrespectful to your betters-- minus 2 Worth" to bring them into line.

Several times during the session, the DM sat back and provided a quick snapshot of where each NPC was in terms of how they had been swayed.

We discussed splitting the DMs so that each DM at the shop would take on one NPC, and the PCs would go around to each table to make their cases to the NPCs. We decided that, at our local store, this wouldn't work, since we have 14 Bregan D'aerth PCs and 6 PCs from other houses. That kind of imbalance means there would be no chance for the Melarn and Xorlarnn PCs to have any chance at swaying the NPCs. Instead, balancing the tables the way we normally do will result in tables with different outcomes, but it'll reduce the in-store chaos and make it so the non-Bregan D'aerth PCs have a chance to be heard.

In a store with 3 DMs and a more balanced party makeup, I believe it would be a lot easier to have each DM take one role, and have the players move around the store. If doing that, we proposed handing out tokens for "you have swayed this NPC in this direction" and a certain number of tokens for your "side" of the argument would mean you had locked in that NPC. Note, however, that if you do something like this, it is imperative that players understand precisely what goal they might want to espouse.

This encounter felt very open-ended. We could have continued all night long. In the end, we convinced the NPCs towards a very moderate stance. I'm personally hoping the results of that are inevitably destabilizing. We are drow, after all.... 

I had intended to use the suggested Dark Creeper ambush after the 3 leaders leave, but was looking for other interesting ideas.




This "encounter" needs work if it's going to fly at my table. Out of the five to six returning players I have each week, there's only one who really gets into role-play and has any prior knowledge on drow society. There are two ten year olds who have no grasp of the ongoing story or what's at stake. Nor do they really care. The others either play in an ongoing campaign outside of Encounters (which gets all of their serious focus) or are just casual players so they don't role-play much. In other words, all participants play encounters for a quick fix. So running the encounter as is will probably take all of 15 minutes with my group. I suspect I'll get input from one player, maybe two, and the rest will just follow the leader.

If a fight breaks out amoung the houses, that will be the fight of the night. The table has already been attacking each other every other week, so it could very well happen again.

If they all agree, then as the module suggests, Jaezred assassins will send in a hit squad.

None of the players at my table have the Menzo. book, but I do, and after reading the section on the Jaezred Chaulssin came up with this group of attackers.

For five level 2 PCs — 750 XP (standard encounter)
• Myrissa, Shadar-Kai Warlock, level 2 elite skirmisher: Dungeon Magazine 157 (pg. 51)
• Shadowhunter Bat (Myrissa's pet), level 3 lurker: Monster Manual (pg. 27)
• Two Drow Assassins, level 2 lurkers: Demonweb DDM stat card (PDF download - follow link)
   http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/mi/20080410a
• Four Drow Stalkers, level 1 minions: Web of the Spider Queen Encounters season

For six level 2 PCs — 900 XP (standard encounter)
• Same as above, but add six more minions, or another shadowhunter bat or reduce the XP by 25 and add another   assassin.

That's how I'm gonna roll.


Welp, here is how I roll... I have posted up my Session 6 combat encounter in the first post of the thread (see Session 6 Combat Encounter in PDF and PUB format).

Some notes on my encounter:



  • Shadow Bolter is straight from the Adventure Builder.

  • Shadow Dake is my own creation. Its based upon the Guard Drake chassis, with a few flourishes of my own.


    • Snapping maw is a means for it to be a credible front line threat while being only level 2. It also gives it a reason to keep moving to get more than one attack per round.

    • Kill shake is a gift to my wife, she loves it when our pug Boris kill shakes his toys and it seemed like an evil thing to do, shake up one PC about every three rounds dazing them and preventing them from using their healing surges until they save.


  • Leeching Shadows of Moil are a riff on what I consider one of the best minions ever in D&D Encounters, the Leeching Shadow from Season 5: Dark Legacy of Evard.
    My main changes were to make them undead (hence the reference to the city of Moil) and the ongoing damage is now cold. I also am adding Resist 5 cold and 5 necrotic.


I wanted this encounter to highlight a few things:


1) That someone want's them all dead. Now its personal.


2) Make an interesting environment to fight in, the ice (acrobatics) and rift (cold), the braziers (fire), extra damage for being a true follower of Lolth, etc.


3) I wanted to show how fickle your alliances are by having the leaders leave the party in a lurch.


4) I wanted something that can be modified up and down depending on the strength of the party and if the leaders stick around to fight.


5) I wanted this fight to have some undead so the clerics could use their undead killing abilities.


Thanks,


Bryan Blumklotz

this session is one giant turd sandwich - why am i not surprised?  when woc starts slaughtering all of the sacred cows which make Drow cool, i got to ask myself why i am still playing this lame game
I am a little surprised by the statement that WotC is, "...slaughtering all the sacred [spiders] which make Drow cool," I got to ask what drow are you speaking of? I conjure fond memories of playing and running D3 Vault of the Drow and this adventure is full of the back stabbing, matriarchal dominance, is a giant den of scum and villainy, just like I remember.

Sure, I am not playing one of the good guys trying to play one house against the other but this adventure feels like drow to me.

I am sorry its not your cup of tea. I hope the rest of the adventure is more to your liking.

Meanwhile, I have some statblocks to finish.

Bryan Blumklotz
And now we have leader statblocks...

I was planning to make a standard version and an elite version but if you want elite just take the standard block and bump the defenses by one, double the hp, and give them an action point and +2 to saves.

I would only use the elites if you are not using the combat encounter I created. They would make a challenge for any parties that turn on one or more of the leaders during the war council.

Thanks,

Bryan
And now we have leader statblocks...


Thanks for these. I applaud you for all the extra work you've done with the DM/player sheets. Even if I don't use everything, your hard work deserves to be recognized ... even if it's just from some faceless DM on a community forum.

As I was pulling out miniatures for tonight I tweaked my encounter. If a fight does breakout among the houses I've added two minions to each house leader. 

Ash'ala will have two small spiders (using bone spider stat block)
Baragh will have two junior drow wizards 
Ro'kolor will have two drow stalkers (using Shadowdale stalkers from WotSQ)

When the fight breaks out I've considered having the assassination squad portal in and take advantage of the in-fighting.  
Perithoth, why are you not writing next season of Encounters? You have probably saved more tables at more stores this season than any incentive WotC's able to offer people to come in and throw dice.

58286228 wrote:
As a DM, I find it easier to just punish the players no matter what they pick, as I assume they will pick stuff that is broken. I mean, fight after fight they kill all the monsters without getting killed themselves! What sort of a game is this, anyway?

 

An insightful observation about the nature of 4e, and why it hasn't succeeded as well as other editions. (from the DDN General Discussions, 2014-05-07)

Rundell wrote:

   

Emerikol wrote:

       

Foxface wrote:

        4e was the "modern" D&D, right?  The one that had design notes that drew from more modern games, and generally appealed to those who preferred the design priorities of modern games.  I'm only speculating, but I'd hazard a guess that those same 4e players are the ones running the wide gamut of other games at Origins.

       
        D&D 4e players are pretty much by definition the players who didn't mind, and often embraced, D&D being "different".  That willingness to embrace the different might also mean they are less attached to 4e itself, and are willing to go elsewhere.

    This is a brilliant insight.  I was thinking along those lines myself.  

 

    There are so many tiny indie games that if you added them all together they would definitely rival Pathfinder.   If there were a dominant game for those people it would do better but there is no dominant game.  Until 4e, the indie people were ignored by the makers of D&D.

 

Yep. 4E was embraced by the 'system matters' crowd who love analyzing and innovating systems. That crowd had turned its back on D&D as a clunky anachronism. But with 4E, their design values were embraced and validated. 4E was D&D for system-wonks. And with support for 4E pulled, the system-wonks have moved on to other systems. The tropes and traditions of D&D never had much appeal for them anyway. Now there are other systems to learn and study. It's like boardgamegeeks - always a new system on the horizon. Why play an ancient games that's seven years old?

 

Of course, not all people who play and enjoy 4E fit that mould. I'm running a 4E campaign right now, and my long-time D&D players are enjoying it fine. But with the system-wonks decamping, the 4E players-base lost the wind in its sails.

I second Rood.Inverse's comments.  Perithoth has done some great work on fixing/making playable a badly broken session, and provided several ways to make it playable.

My table is much like SnakeHeadFish's: mainly very young players with little patience for 'plot' ... they just want to fight, even if it's pvp.  I had worked up a combat alternative using dark creepers and levitating wizards, but now plan to use Perithoth's version instead.

But ... it shouldn't be up to the DM to do all this work and come up with fixes.  If WotC wants Encounters to be viable, it needs to provide better material to work with, and it needs to bear in mind the highly varied people who will come, play, and expect to be entertained ... ranging from total newbies to long-time players. 

I have judged all 10 seasons and found Encounters to be excellent for finding new players, many of whom move on into our 4 hour weekly sessions.  This season is different, with evil alignment encouraged, pvp combat encouraged, extreme restriction of race and class (be a drow or be a slave ... !!), evil Fortune cards, a new mechanic "worth" that adds more tracking but little else ... it has made me decide not to DM Encounters in the future (until I see great improvement).
snakeheadfish33 and Rood.Inverse,

Thank you so much for the feedback. Too often a great many who have put together support documents on these forums do it in a vacuum and it is nice just to hear that what we have done has merit and helps others. It makes doing it worth while (I am guilty of of not speaking up in past seasons) .

As to the question why am I not writing a season? I am studying for the CPA exam right now and frankly the time it takes write something like this and the deadlines it would require me to meet are just not doable.

Well lets back that up a second, also I am not a known entity to WotC (meaning I haven't written something for WotC or someone else delivered in a testable state and on time), thus I haven't been asked.

Also, let me say that its one thing to take something that someone else wrote and tinker with it until it shines a little brighter and clearer, its another universe to sit down with a blank canvas and make the whole thing up. I have some technical writing in my background (from anthropology courses and working in the tech field) which makes breaking down how something works 2nd nature to me. That same perfectionist, polisher mode gets in the way of just cranking it out so its done.

I also greatly benefit from having a completed version of Menzoberranzan; City of Intrigue instead of the version I saw during its playtest (they are very different).

Unfortunately, I was unable to playtest this season of encounters (as I have others) because my group just couldn't meet in time to do it.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the effort and work the authors James Wyatt and Logan Bonner, without it I would not have able to produce the stuff I have. I have had a lot of fun playing this adventure and it has sparked some of the best role playing I have seen at the encounters table in the 10 seasons I have been involved in it. Aside from some of the material I have done for Session 6 most of what I have done couldn't be done as part of the kit.

So, again thank you for the praise and look forward to hearing how tonight went.


Bryan Blumklotz
thanks for those sheets!  very helpful for this encounter.  I must say i am none too pleased with this story though
Stir,

While, I don't agree that the restrictions for one season is a deal breaker and I think letting folks play evil for a season is ok, I do agree that writing a session and telling a DM just make up a combat if you need it doesn't jibe with the realities and goals of the D&D Encounters program.

A lot of DMs come to the store half an hour or an hour before playtime and read the adventure. That is not enough time to figure out a brand new mechanic for a "sort of like a skill challenge" (which is really not like a skill challenge at all), let alone make up a viable encounter on the fly.

I have talked with a friend that is deeply involved in Organized Play on this topic for awhile now and both he and I get the impression that the folks at WotC have a completely different understanding of what D&D Encounters does and is on the ground (the stuff that we DMs and Coordinators see every Wednesday).

It would be ideal if they would direct some of the marketing survey might our direction to see what people think of D&D Encounters and how its being used (alas, it is all being put into D&D Next).

I hope that eventually you come back, the hobby is poorer for losing folks like you that have invested nearly 2 years of labor. Thank you for what you have done.

Bryan Blumklotz
thanks for those sheets!  very helpful for this encounter.  I must say i am none too pleased with this story though



Its not everyone's cup of tea.

We have had this happen several times in encountes history. We saw a hudge drop off during Beyond the Crystal Caves because the story elements were so heavy it was hard to track from session to session. Steve Townsend basically found the limits of story and role play you could pack into the D&D Encounters format. I think it would work great at a home table where you could spend the time needed to really understand the story.

This also happend during season 2 Dark Sun. Some folks really dug it and others either stayed way or dropped out. It spawned several home games at my store. But our attendence dropped over the season.

The great thing about encounters is we have 3 more sessions and then we have something completely different to play.

Good luck tongiht,

Bryan Blumklotz


But ... it shouldn't be up to the DM to do all this work and come up with fixes.  If WotC wants Encounters to be viable, it needs to provide better material to work with, and it needs to bear in mind the highly varied people who will come, play, and expect to be entertained ... ranging from total newbies to long-time players. 

I have judged all 10 seasons and found Encounters to be excellent for finding new players, many of whom move on into our 4 hour weekly sessions.  This season is different, with evil alignment encouraged, pvp combat encouraged, extreme restriction of race and class (be a drow or be a slave ... !!), evil Fortune cards, a new mechanic "worth" that adds more tracking but little else ... it has made me decide not to DM Encounters in the future (until I see great improvement).



If WotC wants to make Encounters viable, it needs to be a bit more newbie-friendly.

Don't get me wrong. I ~enjoy~ Encounters. And I've ~enjoyed~ most of the seasons of play offered. (Being a Blackgruard during Evard was ... it was a mistake, and I'll leave it at that.) But even the veteran players who sit at my table every week, and have for the last several seasons (Serpents and onward) have been talking about how un-friendly these encounters are in scaling the math.

I know I've lost one person from my table this season because he just got beat to hell and back one encounter, and the drow theme where everyone is backstabbing (polite word) to each other... Just look at the number of people who have reported multiple-wipes across the last 2-3 seasons.

While beating people up might be okay for veteran players who can roll with those punches... New players need to be Big Damn Heroes, and they're often treated like Big Damn Nobodies. This session in particular, someone else mentioned just WHY would these powerful drow listen to a word you say, let alone ASK you for that word?

I ~like~ it, and I've found Encounters engaging from both sides of the screen. But it is NOT viable, recently, to keep new guys at the table. (Seriously, looking at these forums, I'm beginning to think Call of Cthulhu has a lower body count. Laughing )

58286228 wrote:
As a DM, I find it easier to just punish the players no matter what they pick, as I assume they will pick stuff that is broken. I mean, fight after fight they kill all the monsters without getting killed themselves! What sort of a game is this, anyway?

 

An insightful observation about the nature of 4e, and why it hasn't succeeded as well as other editions. (from the DDN General Discussions, 2014-05-07)

Rundell wrote:

   

Emerikol wrote:

       

Foxface wrote:

        4e was the "modern" D&D, right?  The one that had design notes that drew from more modern games, and generally appealed to those who preferred the design priorities of modern games.  I'm only speculating, but I'd hazard a guess that those same 4e players are the ones running the wide gamut of other games at Origins.

       
        D&D 4e players are pretty much by definition the players who didn't mind, and often embraced, D&D being "different".  That willingness to embrace the different might also mean they are less attached to 4e itself, and are willing to go elsewhere.

    This is a brilliant insight.  I was thinking along those lines myself.  

 

    There are so many tiny indie games that if you added them all together they would definitely rival Pathfinder.   If there were a dominant game for those people it would do better but there is no dominant game.  Until 4e, the indie people were ignored by the makers of D&D.

 

Yep. 4E was embraced by the 'system matters' crowd who love analyzing and innovating systems. That crowd had turned its back on D&D as a clunky anachronism. But with 4E, their design values were embraced and validated. 4E was D&D for system-wonks. And with support for 4E pulled, the system-wonks have moved on to other systems. The tropes and traditions of D&D never had much appeal for them anyway. Now there are other systems to learn and study. It's like boardgamegeeks - always a new system on the horizon. Why play an ancient games that's seven years old?

 

Of course, not all people who play and enjoy 4E fit that mould. I'm running a 4E campaign right now, and my long-time D&D players are enjoying it fine. But with the system-wonks decamping, the 4E players-base lost the wind in its sails.

 it has made me decide not to DM Encounters in the future (until I see great improvement).



There's only one more season, another short one. Stick it out, eh? 
If WotC wants Encounters to be viable, it needs to provide better material to work with, and it needs to bear in mind the highly varied people who will come, play, and expect to be entertained ... ranging from total newbies to long-time players. 

I have judged all 10 seasons and found Encounters to be excellent for finding new players, many of whom move on into our 4 hour weekly sessions.  This season is different, with evil alignment encouraged, pvp combat encouraged, extreme restriction of race and class (be a drow or be a slave ... !!), evil Fortune cards, a new mechanic "worth" that adds more tracking but little else ... it has made me decide not to DM Encounters in the future (until I see great improvement).


Hi Stir! Thanks for doing so much for the program!

I playtest at times (as can be seen from my playtester badge) and while I totally understand what you mean, it is worth considering how hard it is for WotC to keep things interesting. I think they need to try some "wacky" things from time to time to keep things fresh, because otherwise the level 1-3 would get really tiring. I think in general the drow seasons have done a good job of avoiding monotony while creating in thousands of players a very solid feel for what drow are like. I suspect a decade from now there will be a really good sense of the underdark, drow politics, and other aspects due to these seasons.

I do completely agree that the program needs to remain easy to run and needs to speak to new and experienced gamers. That's a tough task when trying to make things interesting and story-rich. As DMs and players become more experienced they often want to see something different... and something different is usually a bit harder to run. Not always, and I agree with you that it needs to be confined. I think authors could do a better job of reducing the number of NPCs to avoid confusion, keeping to discrete choices that have an immediate effect versus ones that pay off many sessions later, and ensuring that anything complicated gets a very clear handout. Ideally, anything really complex is instead simplified.

I also know feedback is important. Just as with D&D Next Playtests, threads like this can help WotC understand how gamers across many different gaming stores are reacting to changes. Seldom is it a single picture, so seeing more feedback from more players helps give better insight into the effects different program changes cause.

I hope you will stay with the program. And, if not, I hope you will groom a replacement and keep running an RPG in a home campaign! The hobby lives and dies by its contributors and Encounters judges should be really proud of the work they do!

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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).

There's only one more season, another short one. Stick it out, eh? 



Where did you hear there was only one season left? I know the next season is only 9 weeks (including the character creation week) but I haven't seen anything stating that DDE is ending after it.

Bryan Blumklotz

Where did you hear there was only one season left? I know the next season is only 9 weeks (including the character creation week) but I haven't seen anything stating that DDE is ending after it.



Heard the same in a forum comment a while ago, but I also recall someone mentioning it in one of the GenCon vids in conjunction with the Sundering of the Realms epic thats coming. So I think the program will continue in some form or another.

"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!

Follow me on Twitter @Vobeskhan or check out my blog http://vobeskhan.wordpress.com/

Interesting. I guess with all the "culminating in a 3-season Encounters arc!!!!" stuff I read earlier, plus the hype over D&D Next and the die-off of 4e, I got the impression that the next season would be the last.

Not that they won't try some other organized play option, but that Encounters as it currently goes would not be the form it takes.

For me, Season 11 will be the last season. I'm burned out and I have little/no interest in organizing for D&D Next. I'm going to take some time off after the next season, then maybe start up a Savage Worlds Deadlands game or something.
     Well, I'm certainly worried that 11 will be the last encounters season.  5e is coming out and while they may not discourage 4e play, it seems unlikely they want to recruit for it.  So it seems unlikely there will be too many more Encounters seasons.  Given the slow rate they are working on 5e, I would think there is time for 3-4 more seasons, but if they were listening to me, 5e would [besides being quite different] be 1 year away instead of 2.  So while I would deem it a mistake to stop with 11, I don't see it as a mistake they definitely won't make.
Perithoth !!

Thanks for all the hard work you put into the cheat sheets. They were a great help and allowed me to run a smooth encounter. I had a combat set up, but yours was better and the all the clerics happy!!
Darkraven3,

Your welcome! Glad the clerics liked it.

One of our judges couldn't make it and I wound up running the table I had much the same reaction from the players. A couple that are DMs want copies of the Leeching Shadow of Moil so they can inflict them on their players.

Bryan "Perithoth" Blumklotz
I think it is safe to say that Season 11 will not be the last season. And many thanks to Bryan for sharing all his great content with everyone!

This thread has been interesting with the talk of balancing ease of DMing with getting a story that is interesting enough to keep the players invested. For everyone DMing or playing, that leads to some questions.

--What is the right balance between ease-of-play and complexity of story?

--D&D has always been a game where the DM either makes up his/her own stuff (or heavily alters published stuff) to meet the needs and wants of the gaming group. With that in mind, what can Wizards do to provide content that allows the individual DM to make the experience easier to adapt for the players at the table?

--As Alphastream noted, we have seen experiments with different types of Encounters seasons, usually based on feedback that DMs and players are looking for something different. What is the threshold for "different" before the content turns into something that is "too different" and is not what people want to play or DM?

Thanks!

I can't speak for all stores but here is my experience running encounters at Guardian Games for 8 seasons (my wife has been running the last 2).

DMs:
We have been blessed with a deep bench of experienced DMs. When we get someone who has not DMed 4e or D&D at all before, we have a lot of resources for them to help them along.

Whith that said, some of our DMs prep before the session but some will read the mod one hour to a half an hour beforehand. That means super complicated plots or something that references multiple pages to prepare is less than ideal.

We also have the occasional DM/real life conflict and while we usually have a back-up DM in the bull-pen we had two DMs unable to show up last night and so we were short one table. Fortunately only 3 tables showed up but if it hadn't we would have recruited from the players and that person would have to jump in cold.

My wife and I have not had to train up a DM in a few seasons but D&D Encounters is an idea environment to do so. The levels are manageable for a new DM and the variables are controlled.

PLAYERS:
Our players range in experience from never played a role-playing game in their life to started on OD&D in the 70's (My wife and I are one up from that starting with AD&D in the late 70s). Generally we have a mix of of experienced 4e players with new players (folks that never played an RPG or have played previous editions).

We also have a wide range of ages from age 9 to folks in their 50s-60s. In the summer we see an influx of kids (usually a tables worth) and once school starts most of them are gone until the next year. My wife's table is an exception she has 3 young ones still coming each week.

Even more so than the DMs, D&D Encounters (DDE) is usually the first impression players gets of 4e D&D. We are the entry point for a lot of players in my area. The most successful seasons are pretty straight forward. They might have an interesting hook, use a new player resource, etc. but the story has to be memorable and simple or folks that come every week cannot follow along.

This brings us to another issue, DDE super casual play. Folks show up for a couple of weeks but they may have a vacation or their job prevents them from show up one week. Complex plots or adventures that rely on lots of memory are hard to do. If you introduce something very subtly in session 1 and then expect to have a payoff in session 7, it usually falls flat. This is because you will have players that joined in half-way in the season or missed the first session or just can remember back that far. Don't get me wrong, most of our players are there week to week but I had to remind them in a player handout for session 6 about plot points that were given out in the adventure background during character creation and not heard from since.

For example, the whole prophet Danifae Yauntyrr and her mission to create the Demon weave should have been a part of almost every session leading up to last nights. The Code of Lolth should have been a handout for all players and sessions should have put the players in conflict with it too. That way when session 6 comes about the players understand what both positions are and what the stakes are. Otherwise, I have to give the players a summary sheet so they can understand what the hell is going on. As it was a lot of my players were bored and struggling because they just didn't know the stuff beforehand.

Generally speaking our tables range on the role-playing, from full on gonzo (max hobbs table) to kick in the door, kill things, take there stuff (my wife's table).

The play window at the store is generally 1 to 1.5 hours. We sometimes will go long if a combat is tricky or there is an excessive amount of RP going on. We try to start at 6 but because of traffic and work people usually filter in by 6:15 and we start by 6:30pm. An increase in play time is not really doable on the weekday, we have jobs and school to go to in the morning. We have to travel back home (some on public transportation, so the later it gets the more of a burden it is).

I just am tossing this out as I think of it. If I have more I will post up.

Thanks,

Bryan Blumklotz
Former DDE Coordinator @ Guardian Games
DM and Player for all 10 Seasons



Bryan's thoughts make me think on how well done the Dawn of Night special adventure was - it had a very clear premise, some aspects of intrigue that were controlled by the players (because each pregen had a goal), and then encounters to draw out the story. A player really into RP/intrigue/etc. could go a long way with that, as could a DM. On the other hand, players wanting a very simple approach could just play.

And I like what Bryan writes about later payoffs. I think nearly every "reveal" needs to be something established often, such as "Who is sending these giants to attack our town", such that you can play any number of sessions (even just 1) and know that this is the reveal you want to find.

Similarly, with choices I feel like they need to have a very short payoff time... probably within the same session or very close to it. Otherwise the DM/players can shift or attention span wavers and the payoff has no logical impact. If you have a choice of three levers to pull, it probably doesn't make sense to see the payoff 3 sessions later (unless it is a really big thing that comes up in each of the sessions).

I am curious to hear ideas on how to provide story complexity. What kind of a complex story do gamers want within the Encounters framework?

Also, how tolerant are you of "checking off a list" exploration? Let's say three sessions deal with traveling through the wilderness seeking clues to an ancient civilization... or maybe it's a merchant season and in three sessions you have chances to make progress exploring the market and identifying merchants to work with. Another might be a season set in a large city, where in various sessions you can explore more of it as part of legwork to deal with a larger threat. Can that work? How could it work? Or is this all just too much for the format? Example idea: What if there were a map with blank lines under each location, and the table fills out what they find, such that this becomes a reference for future sessions, regardless of who is at the table. Is that too complex/bad/etc.?

Another question I have is around the Oct 3 session. What could make that session really work, so you have rich political angles but it still works in the Encounters format?

Thanks!

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).

     Now our basic [official] idea of encounters is to draw in new players.  The newbie sees a game [or a flier], asks what is going on and gets drawn in.  So he has to be faced with something that is fairly basic.  We can change the scenery, but he has to be able to transfer his experience to other D&D tables.  Switching over to D100 might be a good idea for the game in general, but it can't be used in Encounters no matter how good an idea it is.  We have to be heavily generic.  The player will graduate from encounters and [hopefully] sit down at another game.  We don't want him saying "this is not the same game."
     So we are going to have to stay pretty vanilla.  We don't have to limit changes to the princess' hair color when we rescue her, but a whole world of stories that might be great as continuation or part of a larger set are just off limits for Encounters.
      One thing that would be really popular, and is quite needed, is something for our graduates.  A game for 4th -7th or so.  [Not the fast promotion I am scared the next season will feature, another full adventure set at the higher levels.]  This can't be done as a proper part of Encounters simply because we are after the new players even if most of us are steady customers.  But maybe some expansion with LFR can be arranged where they do the actual work of upgrading the adventure to higher levels or write up a sequel to some of the adventures or ...]
    Now there are a variety of settings we might use in the future [forest-elf, mountain-dwarf, sea & pirates...], but they have all got to be different shades of "red".  and something really different should be rejected out of hand.  [Maybe sent to LFR or to be developed into an entire campaign, but it does not belong in Encounters.]
One thing that would be really popular, and is quite needed, is something for our graduates.  A game for 4th -7th or so.  [Not the fast promotion I am scared the next season will feature, another full adventure set at the higher levels.]  This can't be done as a proper part of Encounters simply because we are after the new players even if most of us are steady customers.  But maybe some expansion with LFR can be arranged where they do the actual work of upgrading the adventure to higher levels or write up a sequel to some of the adventures or ...]



Seconded. LFR modules are built on teirs, which is good for play. But, having sat at a con, I can also see where the LFR model can be hurtful here - because it almost happened to me, if it weren't for some fancy player wrangling by one of the coordinators.

There's nothing like seeing the players divide up to tables for their mods because everyone (offhand example, I don't have the LFR EL ranges on-hand) brought their 7-10 and 1-3 characters and you're the outlier with a 5th level character, because one table is EL2 and the other table is EL8. I can see that happening at public play on Encounters nights, too.

. . .

One more thing I would REALLY, REALLY like to see for Encounters is more Game Day support again. If you're going to give out rewards for attending pre-Encounters sessions that set up the plot for the Encounters season... It'd be nice to see that event at stores to introduce the book, plot, and special rewards.

As it stands now, with how the awards are ~supposed~ to be distributed at a store, it does feel like "Couldn't afford GenCon? Sucks to be you, but the guy across the table? Yea, watch him enjoy that new toy all season." Especially when it's something that auto-nerfs half of the bad guys' abilities out the gate (last season's Lathander medallion).

Not only does this reward stores with players for events, it rewards players for showing up to get that extra bit of plot, like an extra two-weeks worth of plot you can cram into an afternoon. And that's a good jump on getting those more complex elements seeded throughout the actual season.

But in order to do that, you have to offer it to the stores.

58286228 wrote:
As a DM, I find it easier to just punish the players no matter what they pick, as I assume they will pick stuff that is broken. I mean, fight after fight they kill all the monsters without getting killed themselves! What sort of a game is this, anyway?

 

An insightful observation about the nature of 4e, and why it hasn't succeeded as well as other editions. (from the DDN General Discussions, 2014-05-07)

Rundell wrote:

   

Emerikol wrote:

       

Foxface wrote:

        4e was the "modern" D&D, right?  The one that had design notes that drew from more modern games, and generally appealed to those who preferred the design priorities of modern games.  I'm only speculating, but I'd hazard a guess that those same 4e players are the ones running the wide gamut of other games at Origins.

       
        D&D 4e players are pretty much by definition the players who didn't mind, and often embraced, D&D being "different".  That willingness to embrace the different might also mean they are less attached to 4e itself, and are willing to go elsewhere.

    This is a brilliant insight.  I was thinking along those lines myself.  

 

    There are so many tiny indie games that if you added them all together they would definitely rival Pathfinder.   If there were a dominant game for those people it would do better but there is no dominant game.  Until 4e, the indie people were ignored by the makers of D&D.

 

Yep. 4E was embraced by the 'system matters' crowd who love analyzing and innovating systems. That crowd had turned its back on D&D as a clunky anachronism. But with 4E, their design values were embraced and validated. 4E was D&D for system-wonks. And with support for 4E pulled, the system-wonks have moved on to other systems. The tropes and traditions of D&D never had much appeal for them anyway. Now there are other systems to learn and study. It's like boardgamegeeks - always a new system on the horizon. Why play an ancient games that's seven years old?

 

Of course, not all people who play and enjoy 4E fit that mould. I'm running a 4E campaign right now, and my long-time D&D players are enjoying it fine. But with the system-wonks decamping, the 4E players-base lost the wind in its sails.