Digging on Encounters
by , 09-08-2011 at 09:01 AM (2032 Views)
Another Wednesday behind us, meaning another session of D&D Encounters is in the books. This has been my first season to participate with the Encounters program, as well as my first to DM it. Like I mentioned in my opening blog post, it's been an awesome way for me to get over my RPG Hiatus and get my DM groove back.
Mind you, the turn out for the D&D game nights at our FLGS has yet to pull more than my table (although, thankfully, I do have a regular player who is on standby to DM should everyone manage to show up.) It's not that we don't have enough peeps on the roster to open more tables; just with real life obligations, many folks can only hop in and out every so often.
But I do think that's the charm of the Encounters game...the way folks can come and go and completely new players can hop in and get a taste of the action. Meanwhile, I have a few players who are vets of gaming but because of real life issues, this has become their main fix in their busy lives.
I've also been grooving the encounter design this season. So far, Lost Crown of Neverwinter has offered some interesting role-playing opportunities both outside and inside the combat encounter every week. The returning players do seem to be invested in the story, and newcomers seem to really groove hearing the re-caps every week.
A thought on the numbers...
One aspect that has been getting some mixed feedback, though, is the difficulty of the encounters. The characters are still level one at this point, and so far have dealt with hordes of spellplagued monsters, including a white dragon, a drunken bar brawl and a gang of thugs. I'm honestly not trying to kill the players, but I am using tactics with the NPC's and letting the dice fall where they may (I don't hide my rolls, everyone sees the crits and damage rolls.)
The players have yet to fail, but I have started acquiring a hefty dying count at the table. These are not easy encounters, even though they haven't been anything too fancy or elaborately complicated yet. And last night it was pointed out by the number crunchers how stacked against the players the fights were.
For instance (and I hope I'm not violating some WoTC trust issues sharing this....we'll say potential spoiler alert): Some of the spellplagued monsters the players fought last night had a nasty gang-up combo. They had a grappling attack that, if successful, held the players at a DC 12 to break out....but also dealt a straight 10 points of fire damage. Their slam attack initially dealt d12+6 damage...but against a held opponent it did d12+12! That means, at the minimum, someone subjected to this gang bang is taking a minimum of 23 points of damage (enough to kill a couple of the premade characters, and maim just about any level 1 character well past the bloodied state and hanging by a thread.)
My 2 cents?
Despite dropping 3 players into a dying state last night, they won the encounter. It required some hefty tactical game play, a bit of table talk between the players discussing what their powers can do and how they can help each other (especially with everyone being bloodied to assist the Paladin's Vengeful Strike) and some careful resource management with the healing potions, second winds and the cleric's heals.
One 4E vet and 3 newcomers who at least had some D&D experience managed to pull together and stomp the field. But I think had it been a full party of newcomers, they would have been toast. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing....far from it. I'm a firm believer in risk and reward, and personally I'm glad as hell WoTC didn't make this a candy-striped nerf fight. It had the players sweating, and it felt awesome when they ganged up on the last monster and beat the snot out of it.
I think so far they have managed to provide challenging encounters that aren't going to punish a new player completely in terms of not knowing some of cliches of the dungeon crawl game, yet forces them out of the comfort zones of trying to be a solo badass and really depends on the group's ability to pull together as a team. It seems any of the complaints we've had about the difficulty of the opponents have been purely on a 1v1 scale....and despite how jacked the encounter is, the players have yet to wipe or face a final death.
Loving the Game.
For me, it's been a nice weekly diversion and a great excuse to meet up with friends and make new ones at the local game shop. Actually DM'ing the Encounters has felt like a good exercise to flex my gaming muscles and giving me ideas for adventures and campaigns. It's also helped me introduce the local gaming scene to one of my favorite editions of the game I love, that really never took off around here.
Nothing like seeing the curious stares from the smug d20 elitists looking at us when my players high-five for crits and slay the dragon. Yes, we're still playing that game