I’ve volunteered to run D&D Encounters for the Dark Legacy of Evard season that began today. I’ve only played one session of Encounters before, but the store owner, Jeff, was trying to recruit enough DMs so that we could run four tables per night and still be able to have DMs alternate weeks (so, eight DMs total). One encounter a week shouldn’t be too hard to prepare, so I gave it a go.
I got the adventure last Friday and gave the first chapter a read-through. The Encounters adventure comes with poster maps and tokens, but if you’ve been following my blog, you know that I love to run games using my projector setup and MapTool. So, I began creating maps in MapTool and programming up the monsters.
For tonight’s session, we had six players, which meant that we were only going to run one table. I was the first DM there, so I was fortunate to be able to run my game. Four of the players were Encounters veterans, but two were not.
The first of these newcomers was my wife, Barbara! We’ve played D&D together many times over the past year and a half that I’ve been involved with the game, but this is the first time she’s participated in public play. Huzzah!
The second newcomer was David, a complete newcomer to D&D4e. He had played a little bit of D&D 3.0 years ago, but he was really coming to the game fresh. Excellent!
The story – SPOILERS AHEAD
Tonight’s session started off with the party introducing themselves to one another. They were on a weeks-long journey to take some messages from the leader of Fallcrest to far-off Sarthel. Some of the players decided that they were actual couriers while others were either guards or hangers-on. One was a Revenant who, it was decided, had been found by the party near the side of the road a few days prior with no memory of his previous life.
It was a quiet evening in the Old Owl Inn in the town of Duponde, and the adventurers were resting and waiting a few days for the bridges over the Nentir River to be repaired so that they could continue on toward Sarthel. They spent some time chatting with other travelers and locals about the spooky weather and hearing rumors about the ghost of the shadow wizard Evard whose grave is in Duponde. The innkeeper and a visiting scholar told them some of the tales, and the group eventually went to bed.
In the middle of the night, everyone woke up to a strange feeling of being pulled in odd directions, the temperature dropped, and lights began functioning poorly. A scream came from downstairs in the common room. The adventurers geared up and went down to investigate
They arrived to find the old bartender knocked out behind the bar while a quartet of gargoyles, animated incarnations of the statues that adorned the front of the inn, flew around the room wreaking havoc. Battle ensued.
The Shade Executioner in the group snuck up behind one of the statues and grabbed it with his garrotte, nearly killing it outright. Our Half-Orc Knight waded into combat to challenge a pair of monsters. The Revenant Hexblade found himself on the wrong end of a gargoyle attack and was knocked to the ground and dazed – and bloodied. He fought back from the ground with his single action on his turn. Our Drow Hunter finished off the gargoyle that had been garrotted.
At the end of the round, a pair of shadow creatures emerged from the darkness and attacked. One of them melded into the shadow of the Knight, dealing him some necrotic damage, while the other melded with the prone Revenant, taking his hit points into negative territory, but not dropping him to unconsciousness yet (Revenants get to keep fighting until they fail a death saving throw).
These shadow creatures turned out to be pretty tough – hard to hit when they were melded with characters, and insubstantial unless hit with radiant damage (which no one in the party could deal). The gargoyles started dropping, but one of them ignored the Knight’s mark to go after the prone Revenant (who, remember, was at negative hit points, but still fighting) – and killed him outright. Negative bloodied value, dead-dead. (This is only the second time I’ve killed a PC as a dungeon master.)
Truly scared now, the remaining five party members did what they could to finish the fight quickly. Our Drow Hunter provoked an opportunity attack from a shadow (a hit – the first against him – bloodied the Hunter) and succeeded in dazing the monster. That shadow was soon finished off, but its partner came after the Drow and knocked him unconscious. The Knight had been brought back from unconsciousness by the Half-Elf Sentinel already, and then fell yet again to the shadows before the Sentinel eventually stabilized him.
Ultimately, our Shade Binder dealt the killing blow to the last shadow monster, and the survivors could catch their breath.
This was a brutal encounter. We lost one PC, although had it been anything other than a Revenant who kept fighting while at negative hit points, we might not have actually lost anyone. Two other PCs ended the fight unconscious, and one was bloodied. The Shade Binder somehow escaped the fight unscathed (my wife’s character, but I swear I didn’t go easy on her – she just stayed out of the way). The Drow Hunter (David, the first-time player) spent four healing surges at the end of the fight and now has a grand total of two remaining for the next three encounters. The Knight took a total of over 60 damage during the fight (hey, achievement!). Brutal, brutal, brutal.
In talking to the players who had played D&D Encounters before, it sounded like the only similarly tough first session was Dark Sun (which I had read about, and I understand that Dark Sun was supposed to be vicious). This felt like a pretty random battle, but man, was it tough. I guess the Shadowfell is meant to be an unhospitable place.
All that said, I think that this party’s particular makeup was not well suited to this encounter. We had multiple controllers, but there were no minions. We had only one defender, and he took a ton of punishment. We had only one leader, and extra healing would have been really helpful (rest in peace, Revenant). And of course, we had no divine characters, so no one could deal radiant damage. A cleric would have rocked against those shadow creatures, but the party had to slog it out the hard way, dealing with the insubstantiality of the shadows.
All that said, the players legitimately seemed to have a good time, and the newcomer said that he plans to come back next week, bringing a friend. I had fun running the encounter, and I’m looking forward to the next one. I already have set up the first three encounters in MapTool, and I hope to get all 13 in there over the next few weeks. The adventure looks like a lot of fun, and I could definitely see running it again for a home campaign.