I had the pleasure of stepping back into the role of Dungeon Master for Week 3 of the current D&D Encounters season. When the start time for the game rolled around, only one player had showed up, but five more came in the next few minutes and away we went!
Tonight’s group consisted of:
- David (the brand-new 4e player from week 1) playing his drow hunter (the only character to have shown up in all three encounters so far)
- Dan with his half-orc knight
- Chris with his half-elf warpriest (his replacement character after I killed off his revenant in week 1)
- Chris’s daughter Allison with the pre-generated human mage Jaren,
- Two new Encounters players, starting with Nick and his pre-gen vampire Constanz (thanks to Wielding a Bohemian Ear Spoon for generating these!)
- And finishing with Nick’s friend Ofir and his Bohemian Ear Spoon pre-gen blackguard Klaxu
The party members who had played last week (the hunter, warpriest and mage) had defended the armory, so this week we continued that story with the town guard captain begging the group to search Duponde for shadow monsters and to protect the panicking citizens.
To the skill challenge!
This was the first skill challenge of this Encounters season, and I think it was the first time most of the players had been in one. I tend to be a “don’t tell the players they’re in a skill challenge” kind of DM; I prefer to lay out the situation and ask them how they want to deal with it, asking for skill checks as appropriate.
The group came up with some creative skill uses (History to see if they remembered any maps of the city to help them figure out what areas might be vulnerable to attack; Athletics plus darkvision to climb onto a roof to look for trouble, Heal to help out injured townspeople). Sometimes I let this give someone else a +2 to their next roll, and sometimes I let it count as a skill check of its own.
Ultimately, this group had one of the most efficient skill challenges I’ve seen, in that they racked up three failures in a hurry! I believe they had only two successes (out of six) when they hit their third failure. Even though the adventure didn’t specifically call for it in this particular skill challenge (it did for the other branch skill challenge for this session), I gave out cards from the Despair Deck from the Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond box set whenever characters failed a skill check. I described it as the PC heading down an alley, seeing a horrible shadow apparition that quickly faded, and being freaked out by it. One ended up Craven, one Jittery and one Delusional.
Once the battle started, with the monsters getting a surprise round and the PCs not getting an attack bonus thanks to the failed skill challenge, the Craven PC (the hunter) spent the first round climbing onto the roof of a building. I felt that was appropriately Craven behavior, so I handed him a bonus point token.
I only had the Dusk Beasts visibly act during the surprise round. One of them charged the warpriest, one moved close to the front of the party, and one started coming around behind them. In the second round, the two Leeching Shadows revealed themselves, and one glued itself to the blackguard and literally stayed on him for the entire encounter (that shadow was the last enemy to go, because the blackguard failed four saves in a row). When the Shadow Bolter popped out from around a building and shot the warpriest in the gut, the group started worrying about a potential TPK.
The second and third rounds got better, though. Even though both the knight and the blackguard ended up unconscious, the party started taking care of the bad guys. A shadow minion dropped, and the Dusk Beasts started getting bloodied and finally dying. Once one dropped, the others fell in short order. The warpriest was planning to revive the blackguard, but when the blackguard’s player said “Halleluja!” the warpriest’s player said, “I’m sorry, I’m a priest of death and I can’t support that kind of thing – I’ll save the knight instead.” He was kidding, but I promised him a bonus point if he would actually do that because of his character, so he did. I later awarded him renown points for a Moment of Greatness there.
The Shadow Bolter was planning to flee, but the revived knight stepped in, hit him and slowed him, dashing that plan. A gang-up on the bad guy ensued, and the warpriest dropped the monster with non-lethal damage.
Once the blackguard finally shook off his shadow and the party squashed it, they turned to questioning the Bolter. This was some fun impromptu role playing (for me at least). The party wanted to know how the shadow man got to Duponde, who he worked for, etc. He was confused, though, because from his perspective Duponde and its people had invaded his land and he was just defending himself against the horrid light-bearers.
I really am enjoying DMing this season of Encounters. It’s a fun adventure so far, and I’ve got a fun group of players at the table. I’ll live with the every other week role I’m given (Andy, it’s only fair to let you run some of these – you’re an awesome DM!), but I can definitely see myself wanting to run this adventure for another group in the future in a home campaign.