Simultaneous skill / combat encounter: Burning grove

In the second part of my online party’s recent session (part 1 is here), they attempted to help a dragonborn sorcerer remove the magical fire from a dryad’s grove.  This was mainly a skill challenge, with some combat thrown in.
I decided to use lots of color when drawing the map in MapTool, and I’m happy with how it turned out.  My only minor regret is that I used a lot of objects rather than just drawing on the map (the trees and flames are objects, for instance) and that meant a long load time for my players (about 3 minutes for some of them).  Lesson learned: Don’t overload MapTool with too many objects (unless you don’t mind some loading time for the party, which might not be a big deal).  Also, given the way the encounter played out, I would want to move the dryad and her children from the far left side of the map to a spot that’s a bit closer to the center.

When the encounter began, the sorcerer went to the altar in the middle of the grove to begin the ritual.  The players gathered around him, and those with Arcana training attempted to assist.  After a couple of minutes the ritual started to have an effect.  The burning grass died down, and the dryad screamed and started running toward the lake in the lower right corner.  A couple of players went over to assist her and her children, but most stayed near the altar.

Shortly after that, catastrophe struck.  A rift opened near the far left side of the map, separating the children from their now-running mother.  The four big trees surrounding the altar came to life, with vines attacking the players and force barriers going between each pair of trees.  And then the ground directly beneath the altar collapsed, casting the sorcerer down into a cave below.

It was clear to the players that the first priority was rescuing the children – the sorcerer seemed to be unconscious but alive at the bottom of the cave below.  The characters outside the force barriers started to use skills to get to the children and calm them down while those inside started working on the trees.  I was curious to see what they would try, and they ended up using skill checks to try to disable the magic of the angry trees.  Nature and Arcana eventually worked (hard DCs), and a crit on the third tree disabled both it and the fourth one.

Now the whole party was trying to help the children, and they did all right (barely).  Since we were in initiative order, it was a little awkward having the children so far out to the left, since players used their turns double running just to get partway over to them, and then had to do lots of running to get back to the lake.  It was awkward, but I hand-waved some of the distance in the end.

Two of the characters felt like there wasn’t much they could do to help the children, so they started working on rescuing the fallen sorcerer.  One set up pitons and a rope in the ground (good dungeoneering check) and then tied the rope to herself while the other held the rope and lowered her down.  She made it okay, tied the rope to the sorcerer and then moved into hiding (she’s a tiefling warlock who recently multiclassed to rogue).  Unfortunately, as the other character began pulling the sorcerer up, some fungus creatures came out of the darkness and cut the rope.

My favorite part: This is where we ended the session.  I love ending on a cliffhanger. The dryad children have been rescued (though the mother died in the effort), but now the warlock is alone in the lower cave with just the unconscious sorcerer for company and some fungus creatures coming out of the darkness.  I’ve already changed this next encounter up from the published version, and I’m excited to try it out next week!

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