My first (near) TPK – D&D Encounters Council of Spiders Week 2

I’m not normally a killer DM, nor do I pull a lot of punches on my players. But in this week’s session of D&D Encounters: Council of Spiders, I essentially wiped out my party. The reason: The dice wanted them dead.

This week’s session was pretty straightforward. The party (all drow, and pretty much evil across the board) found themselves stuck in an ambush by svirfneblin defending their caves. A rockslide behind them made retreat tricky.

Svirfneblin Ambush Map – Gridded

Svirfneblin Ambush Map – No grid

There were two armored svirfneblin who were marking PCs, five minions with picks, one sneaky one with a garrote, and then two with slings. Oh, those slings.

The sneaky garrote-wielder had the potential to make life miserable for a PC, and she did get her wire around the neck of the hexblade in the party, but the hexblade promptly turned and critically hit her. She didn’t last long after that.

The defender svirfneblins (svirfnebli?) did a good job of marking PCs, but weren’t too scary. The minions weren’t much of a threat, either, having a hard time getting combat advantage to deal extra damage.

But those slingers… sheesh. The rest of the dark gnomes kept the party off the slingers, and those slingers just couldn’t miss. They each had a recharge power that basically let them make two sling attacks if the first one hit (bouncing the rock off the head of the first target and onto the second).

  • Round one: Both slingers hit with both of their ricochet shots, dealing an average of 11 damage per attack for a total of 44 damage.
  • Round two: Same as round one. The ricochet shots recharged for both slingers (ouch), and two PCs dropped. I believe the second shot for one slinger missed, but we’re still talking about something like 33 damage dealt by these two.
  • Round three: One ricochet shot recharged and hit once; the other didn’t, but the regular sling shot still hit.
  • Beyond that: I stopped checking for recharge rolls and just had the slingers make single attacks.

Our slayer was the first to die, falling unconscious in round two and then failing three death saves. The one warpriestess in the party did what she could to bring people back, spending most rounds doing nothing but heal checks and Healing Word (which she reflavored to Word of Ichor since she’s an evil drow), but it wasn’t enough. The ranged thief in the party was dishing out tons of damage, killing one of the svirfneblin defenders in the third round, at which point the other defender decided to risk the opportunity attacks to come after the thief in the back of the group and the slingers started targeting him as well. With the damage machine out of action, the party had little hope.

The PCs kept missing with their attacks while the dark gnomes kept hitting. Once our slayer was dead, I let his player roll the attacks for the svirfneblin, but his dice suddenly turned hot and the gnomes KEPT HITTING!

Eventually, the warpriestess used her Speak with Stone power, which I ruled let her find a small gap in the rock slide that could be wriggled through. Two of the drow made it through that hole before dying, but it was too late for the other four.

Four PCs died. Two escaped. The svirfneblin slingers took zero damage the entire fight. Wow.

So, let this be a lesson to you: Don’t mess with dark gnomes wielding rocks!

Hey, at least the good guys won.

-Michael the OnlineDM

Death of a PC after a year and a half

I’m not a killer DM, but I’ve offed a few PCs in my time. Off the top of my head, I can remember the following deaths:

  • In the first Living Forgotten Realms game I ran, a low-level striker rushed into a room full of bad guys and got chomped on by two Guard Drakes, taking him below his negative bloodied value.
  • In the first game I ever ran for my wife’s brother and his wife, my brother-in-law’s character died in the first combat. He got better.
  • One party in an LFR game let the bulk of the party become separated from their healer, resulting in a dead seeker
  • I destroyed a PC in memorable fashion when the foolish thief rode a beholder into a river of lava after hanging on a little too long for the ride.
  • I’m pretty sure I killed off another PC played by the same player whose PC I killed off with the guard drakes in the first example, but I don’t remember when that was.

Now, in my longest-running campaign, my Friday night War of the Burning Sky campaign via MapTool and Skype, I had never killed a PC through 15 levels of play. They had some very close calls, but the numbers always seemed to come up in their favor when the chips were down. The characters had reached 15th level with no PC deaths.

That all ended with our most recent game.


After the session last week with the Storm Titan and friends, the party was ready to burst into a mysterious laboratory. The lone healer in the party (a pacifist cleric optimized for massive healing) wasn’t around for the night’s game, so we pressed on with a party of four PCs.

The first fight was against a flying minotaur and some freaky creatures from vats of goo, and the party was definitely up to the challenge. They blew through the bad guy without much trouble.

The second fight of the night (which was the fourth fight of the adventuring day) started when the PCs opened the doors to a fancy two-story library/office room with a glass-domed ceiling and an opulent rug inside the door. Thorfin the fighter marched into the room and just barely jumped out of the way in time as the rug itself tried to reach up and grab him. With that attack having missed, an invisible flying monk tossed him across the room and into a wall, beginning the combat.

The party was at level 15, and the monk was a level 19 solo. I updated her stats to be more in line with modern solos, but since there were only four PCs instead of five, I lowered her hit points from 718 to 450.

This was one bad-ass monk, and the party had a hard time with her. They tried throwing out various controlling effects, but she had the ability to shake off a condition once per round, which made a big difference. It didn’t help that the adventurers’ dice turned ice cold on them for long stretches. If it weren’t for the fact that Hammer Rhythm let the fighter deal 5 damage even on a miss, things would have been far worse.

Vena, our elf seeker, found herself knocked unconscious by the monk’s lightning hands. Faebs, the human wizard/swordmage hybrid, managed to deactivate the man-eating rug and knock Vena off the suspended sculpture where she had fallen unconscious so she could let Vena spend her second wind. Shortly after getting back on her feet, Vena was knocked down once more. She failed a couple of death saving throws and then rolled a 19 – which, using a bonus point, turned into a 20 and let her spend a healing surge! Boy, were they missing their cleric.

When the monk darted out of the room, the party decided to close the doors of the library and barricade themselves inside. They created a hole in the glass-dome ceiling so they could climb out. The monk huffed and puffed and blew a hole in the door, by which time two of the PCs were on the roof with the other two on the rope on their way up.

The monk’s teleport power failed to recharge, so she couldn’t pop into the room that way.

The monk’s power to summon a magical fist inside the room to attack the climbing PCs failed to recharge.

But the monk’s “turn into lightning and zap a bunch of PCs” power DID recharge. Up the rope she went, zapping the climbers and ending on the roof.

Vena the seeker tried to take care of the frightening monk, but her dice betrayed her once more. She found herself stuck next to the monk when the monk’s bonus turn to make a free basic attack came up – and the lightning hand dropped Vena to the ground.

Whereupon Vena promptly failed her third death saving throw, in round 14 of the fight.

Things were looking grim for the party, when all of a sudden the player of our pacifist cleric showed up! His character was on the opposite side of the battlefield and spent the first round and a half rushing over to the fray – in time to resurrect Thorfin, who had fallen unconscious, but too late for Vena.

With the battle teetering on the brink, the cleric made the monk vulnerable to damage, and the wizard finished the monk off with a super-powered magic missile. The party got away from the lab (with the body of their fallen comrade) just in time to watch a magical storm destroy the building.

Thus ends the tale of fair Vena the elf seeker. Her character’s paragon path was Twilight Guardian, which to her meant that she respected the natural cycle of life, and therefore would not want to be resurrected (despite the cleric’s attempts to make it happen). We’ll work on a new character for Vena’s player; we may very well end up with the first Pixie PC I’ve seen in action!

RIP Vena.

One more PC bites the dust

I wonder if I’m starting to get a reputation as a killer DM. Tonight I ran a Living Forgotten Realms game at my friendly local game store, Enchanted Grounds, and I killed off a PC – only the fourth time I’ve done so in the approximately one year I’ve been running D&D games. Still, one PC every three months… that’s a pretty aggressive kill rate!

This time, though, I don’t really feel bad about it. I was running an adventure called AKAN 1-3 Property for Sale.


This adventure is, in a lot of ways, a pretty standard dungeon delve. The party is hired by a halfling to clear monsters out of a long-forgotten temple. They fight some drow atop a waterfall, then head down into a cave and fight some stirges and a Cavern Choker (plus one of the drow who escaped the first encounter). The adventure then has something I’ve never seen in another LFR adventure – an actual puzzle (basically a sudoku puzzle with colored gems). The puzzle ended up being a fun few minutes for the table, so I’m glad I didn’t skip it.

After the puzzle comes a trapped room – stepping on a pressure plate would cause the doors at either end to close and water to fill the chamber. The party figured out it was a trap, and when they set it off they all dashed for the far door – all but the party’s shaman, who decided to wait in the hallway they had come from. The trapped room takes 20 minutes to reset once it goes off, so the four PCs who had moved through the room decided to forge ahead and leave the shaman behind.

Given that decision, I didn’t feel bad if they blundered into a total party kill. After all, they were heading into a climactic battle designed for five PCs but with only three, none of whom could heal.

The battle itself was a nasty encounter with a drow priestess, two giant spiders… and a beholder (the first time I’ve gotten the opportunity to use one – cool!). The party focused fire on the beholder, bringing it down to the ground and dazing it right off the bat. It stayed dazed for two rounds and ended up bloodied in a hurry. The spiders started dealing serious damage, and the beholder invoked fear in both defenders, making them flee the chamber, leaving just a pair of PC archers (a ranger and a seeker) in the room with the bad guys.

Spiders attacked the ranger and seeker, bloodying both of them, and then the drow priestess unleashed her nasty surprise – she blew the beholder to smithereens, dealing a whole bunch of damage to both archers, dropping them unconscious. Healing potions started being poured by the defenders, but one of the archers was stranded on the far side of the room, out of reach of their aid.

I eventually let the shaman try to pick the lock on the trapped room door, which he did – and then held on for dear life as water came rushing out. He had some special shoes that let him surf to the far door, and spent a couple of rounds trying unsuccessfully to pick that lock.

Meanwhile, things were grim for the four PCs against the spiders and the drow. The seeker kept rolling death saves, slowly inching closer to oblivion. The others were up and down a lot, using healing potions and continuing to beat on the spiders.

At long last, the shaman burst into the room, just in time for the seeker to fail his final death save. The poor seeker was dead.

Now, it did take seven rounds of unconsciousness for death to claim him, so I don’t feel that he really caught any bad breaks. And the party did rush in to a room with one PC out of the action, so they knew what they were getting themselves into. Bringing the fresh shaman into the battle finally turned the tide, and the survivors prevailed, but it was too late for Oona the seeker – sorry, Steve.

Fortunately, LFR is pretty forgiving about death, so I didn’t feel too bad. Still, I let the dice fall where they may, and if death happens, it happens. If you’re a player in one of my games… consider yourself warned! Mwoo ha ha ha!

The Death of Zod

I was planning to write about more advanced MapTool macros that I’ve created for player characters today, but my plans changed after our in-person D&D game.  This is the first time our group has been able to get together in almost a month, and we decided to use the Memorial Day holiday as an opportunity to barbecue,  hang out and do some adventuring.  The food was great, if I do say so myself (I did the cooking).  Barbecue ribs with sauce from Sonny’s Barbecue (a chain that we know from Florida), plus burgers, grilled veggies, baked sweet potatoes – good times!

As for the gaming, the last time we played was when we fought the infamous down-leveled Troll Vinespeaker that nearly destroyed us.  Fortunately, we finished that guy off at the end of our last session.  Our group returned to the rebel camp that we were assisting, rested, and helped the rebels relocate their camp (since the bad guys now knew where the old one was).  My wizard, Zod, used a ritual for the first time ever to conjure Tenser’s Floating Disk in order to carry some of the wounded rebels.  The rest of the party carried supplies, helped navigate through the woods, and inspired the camp onward, with great success.  We then set off to a nearby cave that the rebels were hoping to dig into in order to create a secret tunnel into the city that they were rebelling against – but which had been discovered to contain a cave troll.  Fire supplies at the ready, we ventured into the cave.

The troll’s lair was interesting – it was a giant lake with a narrow path running around it.  The troll was tall enough to stand and walk in the lake, with the goal of grabbing adventurers, using them as weapons against one another, and dragging them underwater from time to time.  The water made our use of fire a little more difficult.  If the troll was under the water, for instance, Zod’s flaming sphere couldn’t hit him.  Still, with good tactics (and some crazy-awesome dice rolling from Barbara’s ranger, Violet), we finally defeated the cave troll and got some good loot.  Most of us had used up our daily powers and action points, but we still had plenty of healing surges left and we figured that the troll was probably the nastiest thing we would encounter, so we decided to explore a little further.  After all, if the rebels were going to be digging a tunnel in this cave, we should let them know what to expect up ahead.

A short while later, our party came to a small waterfall, behind which was an area that looked like still water.  We spotted an amulet in that area, but Zod’s Mage Hand wasn’t able to penetrate the surface.  Our warden recognized the “still water” as some type of slime creature, so I cast a fire burst at it, and the battle was on.

We were fighting a whole bunch of slimes – a big yellow one, two nasty green ones that liked to engulf us, four gray ones that sucked our Fortitude defenses down, and something like 15 slime minions that slid us two squares every time they hit us.  Bree’s defender was soon slid to the far side of the chamber and was unable to get back.  Zod tried to take out multiple monsters with Thunderwaves, but with mixed success.  Eventually we were surrounded and found ourselves in trouble.  We ended up with Kyle’s bard alive and the other three of us unconscious.  Barbara’s ranger made a miraculous natural 20 on her death save, which helped immensely.  The bard healed the warden, who was planning to come administer a potion to my wizard, Zod – when the yellow slide decided to attack Zod while he was unconscious.  That, friends, is called a Coup de Grace, and it’s an automatic critical hit – and a dead wizard.  Oops!  I didn’t feel that badly about it, honestly.  These things happen.

The rest of the party was able to escape the slime cave, and I headed to the computer to print out a character sheet for a Warlord I had rolled up a couple of weeks back (we needed more healing).  In a few minutes, though, the rest of the gang called me back into the room.  They had decided to call this an end point – not just for our session today, but for the campaign.  I was worried at first that somehow my letting Zod get killed caused the party to collapse, but it turned out that Barbara and Kyle were both rather unhappy with how they had built their characters from the start (Kyle because he was brand-new to Fourth Edition and really wanted a Monk, not a Bard, and Barbara because I had interfered too much when she was creating her character and it never really felt like HER character), Bree wanted to try her hand at DMing, and Nate was itching to play rather than DM.  So, we called it a campaign.  Bree will probably start us up again in three weeks with a pre-published adventure to get us going anew.

What lessons did I learn?  Well, first I learned that the death of a character is not catastrophic.  I’ll admit that I’m not great at role playing yet, so I probably wasn’t as attached to Zod as I could have been, but the thought of bringing in a brand-new character didn’t sound so bad to me, honestly.

Second, I think that character death is more acceptable when it feels fair.  The cave troll we fought was challenging (mostly because of the water) but fair.  The slimes were very numerous but fair.  Dying there didn’t seem like anything went horribly wrong – some bad luck, some tough monsters, maybe a questionable decision to push on without daily powers.  Had we ended up dying to the troll druid from our previous session, I would have been bitter, as I felt that monster was unintentionally overpowered.

Third, I’ll have to think about how I feel as a DM about the possibility of the campaign ending, perhaps abruptly.  While our DM, Nate, was happy for the chance to play instead of DM, he seemed to take the decision to end the campaign after this battle somewhat hard, as if it were his fault.  We were having fun with the campaign itself, but having two players with characters that they didn’t like all that much was a problem.  The notion of me rolling up a new character when Zod died basically got them thinking, “You know, a new character might be fun!” and things went from there.  It wasn’t Nate’s fault.  I think he worried that the encounters he put together were overpowered for our party, and maybe they were a little bit, but that’s because he used to work at Wizards of the Coast and was used to playing with people who ran super-optimized characters that would blow through any encounter equal to their level or even a little higher.  Did he make things too hard today?  No, I don’t think so.  Sometimes it’s right to flee, and we didn’t do that soon enough in the slime battle.  So it goes.

I had fun with my first real D&D campaign, and I’m glad that I’ll get the chance to hang out with this same group of friends to adventure together.  I find the idea of a new character, new DM and new campaign to be exciting, not depressing.  The only down side is that now I won’t get to play any D&D at all for several more weeks – but that’s mainly because I have some business travel coming up the weekend after next.  After that, game on!