Lolth’s avatar has come to Menzoberranzan, declaring the god’s intent to spin a Demon Weave and gain control of arcane magic. The drow rush to aid her by retrieving ancient artifacts and channeling their power to Lolth. But in Menzoberranzan, the City of Intrigue, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. The Council of Spiders demands representation for wizards on the Ruling Council of the drow theocracy. Tension rises between priestesses and wizards in a drow battle of the sexes. Will the tension erupt into civil war? Which side will you choose?
"Council of Spiders" is a Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game adventure designed for the summer 2012 season of the D&D Encounters official play program. In this season, participants are encouraged to play drow characters as they vie for supremacy in the Underdark.
The adventure comes with three full-color battle maps, eight ready-to-play encounters, and information on the D&D Encounters program. This adventure product incorporates lore from Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue.
"Council of Spiders" (2012), by James Wyatt and Logan Bonner, is the adventure for Season 10 of D&D Encounters. It was released for play in Summer 2012.
Continuing the Encounters. Structurally, "Council of Spiders" continued the Encounters program as it had run for the last few years. The "Council" book contained the adventure for Season 10 of the weekly Encounters organized play program. Each week's play consisted of just one encounter, meant to run 1-2 hours. The encounters were in turn organized into chapters. Characters got a short rest after each encounter and an extended rest after each chapter.
However, "Council of Spiders" also varied a lot from all previous Encounters seasons in its style of gameplay. To start with, the players are encouraged to play evil drow (or else the slaves of the drow). This focus on dark elves resulted in the first new pregenerated characters since Season 4's "March of the Phantom Brigade" (2011). Yet while these "new" pregens were drow, they were actually just variants of the older pregens; most of the characters are essentially the same, with the exception of the cleric, who had previously been a sun worshipper.
The players in "Council of Spiders" can serve one of three houses: House Xorlarrin, House Melarn, or Bregan D’aerthe. This led to another big change in the Encounters: different houses received different goals at the start of each chapter, which can cause players to be at odds with each other—especially since these individual goals are presented as the most important thing in the adventure. The result felt as much like Paranoia (1984) as D&D, which was a nice change of pace.
As with Season 9's "Web of the Spider Queen" (2012), "Council of Spiders" contains Underdark delving. It lasted just 8 weeks (plus a week of character creation), making it the shortest Encounters season ever; this shorter season size would continue through Season 14's "Quest for the Crystal Staff" (2013).
"Council of Spiders" ran from August 22, 2012, through October 17, 2012.
About the Encounter Format. As with other recent Encounters seasons, "Council of Spiders" sessions tended to focus on roleplaying followed by combat. However, Week 6 once more provided a unique non-combat encounter: This session instead focused entirely on roleplaying, as players used a variant skill challenge system to influence the leaders of the drow. This could result in the players being totally split up for their last two sessions of play.
Of the special Week 6 events run during the final three seasons of the original Encounters run, this one got the most mixed response: Some players found it too vague or too quick. However, it was generally another strong attempt to innovate the Encounters format.
Love It or Hate It? Overall, the season got some mixed reviews, mainly due to the fact that it wasn't seen as very appealing to new players, where appealing to new players was the theoretical goal of Encounters. Old-time players of D&D, on the other hand, had wanted to play drow since the release of R.A. Salvatore's The Crystal Shard (1988). However, this wasn't going to be the case for newcomers, who might be put-off by the need to play evil characters or by the complex political scheming of the adventure.
These complaints all have some validity. However, in the last two seasons of the original Encounters, Wizards seemed more concerned with creating a great send-off for D&D 4e than with bringing in new players to a game that they'd already canceled.
About the Product Tie-In(s). As in previous seasons, players of "Council of Spiders" were required to create Essentials characters. Beyond that, the adventure was mainly tied in to the Rise of the Underdark multimedia crossover. In this Forgotten Realms event, drow were invading the surface, as Lolth tried to become the new goddess of magic in the Realms. In some ways, this was a continuation of the previous season's "Web of the Spider Queen," which had also linked to "Rise of the Underdark"; in fact, a villain from that adventure shows up here as well.
"Council of Spiders" was supported by the last few major Rise of the Underdark releases. That support began with "The Dawn of Night," a preliminary adventure that was run at Gen Con Indy 2012, from August 16-19, then repeated at PAX Prime 2012, from August 31 to September 2. Players who played in "The Dawn of Night" could get a "Ruby Medallion of Lolth" Treasure Card for use in "Council of Spiders." The "Dawn of Night" adventure has since been reprinted in Dungeon #218 (September 2013).
A few days after Gen Con Indy, on August 21, the two final Rise of the Underdark RPG releases appeared, both of which were intended for play with "Council of Spiders." The first was Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue (2012), which detailed the Underdark drow city of Menzoberranzan and provided many of the rules for drow characters that "Council of Spiders" was based on. The second was Fortune Cards: Drow Treachery (2012). These Fortune Cards weren't just a new set of cards; they really changed the way the game worked because cards that helped a player often caused problems for his teammates. The Drow Treachery cards also supported drow "Worth," a new mechanic introduced by Menzoberranzan. As usual, three new Fortune Cards were available as awards: Hands Off!, Overextended, and I See What You Did.
All together, the tight quartet of "The Dawn of Night," Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue, Fortune Cards: Drow Treachery, and "Council of Spiders" worked well together, just like the excellent product tie-ins of Season 2's "Dark Sun: Fury of the Wastewalker" (2010) and Season 9's "Web of the Spider Queen."
Sadly, Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue and Fortune Cards: Drow Treachery were also the final releases for D&D 4e, although a few generic Dungeon Tiles followed.
About the Homage. "Council of Spiders" wasn't a specific homage to any old school adventure. However, it was reminescent the first drow city ever—from D3: "Vault of the Drow" (1978)—and it also recalled some elements of the closely linked Q1: "Queen of the Demonweb Pits" (1989), including its horrific yochlol.
Expanding the Forgotten Realms. "Council of Spiders" is set far below the Realms, in the Underdark that was first described in AD&D 2e books like the original Menzoberranzan supplement (1992) and Drizzt Do'Urden's Guide to the Underdark (1999). Menzoberranzan is the home base of this adventure, but the various encounters largely occur in nearby outposts, ruins, and even beneath the streets. These encounters all add new details to the general area of Menzoberranzan.
Future History. The Rise of the Underdark concludes in "War of Everlasting Darkness" (2012), the epic finale to the original Encounters run.
About the Creators. Bonner was on an Underdark tear at the time, having recently coauthored Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook (2012) and "Web of the Spider Queen." Both he and Wyatt were long-time contributers to D&D 4e.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.