Mistvale D&D Campaign: Technical Difficulties!

Define irony. Not long ago, I wrote an article about my first 4e adventure, sharing insights into my design process. So what happens when I get a chance to run it for my friends? Four dead PC’s, only avoiding a TPK by pure chance!

So what went wrong?

The party had progressed into the final stages of the adventure, which consisted of three encounters. The first encounter had the party face a pair of animated ice statues, with a small gang of artillery minions spawning behind them.

Ice Guardian Statue, Level 2 Soldier

HP 41
AC 16, Fortitude 16, Reflex 10, Will 9

Chilling Aura: Aura 1, enemies who start within the aura are slowed and cannot shift until the end of their next turn.

Stone Body: the Ice Guardian resists 5 points of damage from any attack with a single damage type. Attacks that inflict multiple damage types overcome this resistance.

Slam: melee basic attack, At-Will. +8 vs. AC, 1D8+5 cold damage, and the target is knocked prone.

Ice Burst; immediate reaction. When reduced to 0 hit points or less, the Ice Guardian explodes. Close burst 2, +6 vs. Reflex, 1d4+5 cold damage, and the area within the burst becomes difficult terrain until the end of the encounter.

Winter Shadow, Level 2 Artillery (Minion)

HP 1
AC 14, Fortitude 14, Reflex 14, Will 10

Phasing: the Winter Shadow can move through objects, blocking terrain, or enemies, but cannot end it’s turn within a blocked space. Whenever it moves through an object or enemy, it inflicts 1d6 cold damage to it. The Winter Shadow provokes opportunity attacks as normal.

Spectral Body: the Winter Shadow resists 5 points of damage from any attack. This ability does not allow the Winter Shadow to resist fire or radiant damage.

Icy Touch; melee basic attack, At-Will. +9 vs. Reflex, 1 cold damage, target slowed until the beginning of the Winter Shadow’s next turn.

Frozen Orb; ranged basic attack, At-Will. Ranged 10 attack, +7 vs. Reflex, 3 cold damage, target pushed 1d4 squares away and slowed until the beginning of the Winter Shadow’s next turn.

The encounter took place in a room mostly filled with difficult terrain, save for a large, frozen fountain. Movement on the ice was possible, but at the end of each turn on the ice, an Acrobatics check (DC 10) was required to avoid falling prone. Also, if you moved during your turn, and ended your turn on the ice, you were automatically slid 1 square further in the direction you last moved.

I wanted this encounter to more of a tactical challenge, but I made a few mistakes. First, overuse of the slow and prone conditions, as well as difficult terrain made movement nearly impossible, especially when the enemies could push the player characters around!

Second, the resistance values were too high for a low-level party of adventurers. There really isn’t much excuse for resistance on a minion anyways, and I’ve already discussed how I feel that resistance simply adds ‘fake difficulty’ to an encounter. I was planning on not using resistance to damage very often in the future as a result of this, but I should have started sooner.

For example, the party Mage couldn’t even kill minions with their Beguiling Strands! Not good! I can’t pinpoint exactly what went wrong with this encounter- there were some bad die rolls on the player’s parts, and they had difficulties with focus fire. Most of the players used their action points to try and eliminate the enemies faster.

Minions are meant to be killed in one hit. A minion that doesn’t die in one hit is harder to kill than a standard minion, and I should have used less of them. Limiting mobility isn’t the same as denying someone their turn, but it’s still obnoxious.

Still, this encounter didn’t end badly, as the party was able to heal up. The Warpriest was barely fazed, since he’d used a Daily item power to resist the cold damage. Unfortunately, the next encounter featured four Ice Guardians, and an Ice Commander.

Ice Commander, Level 2 Soldier (Elite/Leader)

HP 82
AC 17, Fort 17, Ref 9, Will 9

Chilling Aura (see above)

Icy Spear; melee basic attack, At-Will. Reach 3, +8 vs. AC, 1d10+5 cold damage, target slid to any square adjacent to the Commander.

Icy Gambit; Encounter, recharge 6. Close burst 3 (all enemies within burst), +7 vs. Reflex, 1d10+5 cold damage. Effect: slide all allies and enemies within burst 1 square. At the end of this movement, each ally within the burst can make a melee basic attack against an enemy within range.

Ice Burst: as above, but Close burst 3, +7 vs. Reflex, and 1d8+5 damage.

There was no difficult terrain in this encounter, but the auras of the ice statues still hurt. The commander was a large ice statue armed with a greatspear, which is why I gave it so much reach. Unfortunately, this reach allowed it to attack the party Defender on the first turn from 3 squares away, and slide him behind it, into a flanking position. From there, the Defender was on his own for the rest of the encounter, being attacked by multiple enemies, and unable to protect the party.

Icy Gambit wasn’t much help either; though it had a low chance of recharging, the Commander was able to use it three times during the encounter, granting bonus attacks to the other statues, while ensuring the party members were caught in the Chilling Auras. This locked down the party, and isolated the party members from one another.

Though the Mage used his Phantom Chasm power to lock down some of the enemies, and daze effects were employed, the Defender was still subject to repeated attacks, and quickly fell unconscious. In the end, the party was unable to focus fire their enemies down, due to positioning and fear of retributive damage from exploding ice statues!

The Leader used one of his Healing Words on himself early in the encounter, when he likely should have used his Second Wind. The other players didn’t think to use their own Second Winds (and, really, there were some lackluster surge values anyways), and before long, everyone was on the ground, unconscious.

I’d known this would be a rough encounter, but what I failed to take into account was the fact that the party would be unable to use effective tactics against these enemies. They couldn’t even retreat if they wanted to! Add to this the fact that the party burned some resources in the first encounter that they shouldn’t have, and you get a recipe for disaster.

Some of the problems with the first encounter carried over, such as excessively limiting movement and too much damage reduction, with only two characters being able to inflict effective damage over the course of the encounter. Also, I am running for some new players, and they likely weren’t ready for a rough encounter.

The Ice Commander was a neat design, but I feel it had too much ability to influence the battlefield compared to 1st-level characters. My decision to improve all the enemies to level 2 played a minor role as well. The party had performed very well against level 1 enemies, so I thought I’d slightly tweak the challenge rating, and give them more experience. Oops.

Still, nobody seemed overly upset, and everyone wants to come in with new characters and try again, so it wasn’t a total failure. So it’s back to the drawing board for me!

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Posted by Lynceus

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