Five hours. One Encounter. A near total party kill. Three characters only one strike away from death. One character dead.
The DM began the encounter by taunting us. “You’re the ninth party I’ve run this adventure for since GenCon started and so far none of them have survived past the first encounter.” He continued his challenge by saying “This is by far the most difficult encounter I have ever seen in any LFR adventure.”
That did it. The players were committed, hook, line and sinker. We were going to complete this encounter even if it killed us. And it almost did.
The events of that night beg the question, what makes an encounter legendary?
It’s not my habit to dissect specific adventures or encounters and provide a play-by-play. So you can rest easy knowing I’m not going to start now. Instead, I’m going to discuss the experience of playing through an encounter that I can only describe as legendary. This goes beyond the basics of the specific encounter we played, which was the high tier of LFR adventure SPEC2-2, P3 Tyranny’s Perilous Bastion. I issue fair warning to those who attempt the adventure that it is not to be taken lightly.
What sets this encounter apart from any other I’ve played in 4e D&D is that for the first time I honestly felt like my character might die. Until this point I’ve done a fairly good job of staying conscious and avoiding death with all of the characters I’ve played. Not so with this encounter. For the first time since the release of 4e I was sure I was going to die. Worse, I was sure my death wouldn’t be the only one by the end of the adventure. I expected the entire party to die. It wasn’t a question of if we would die, it was a question of when.
Several hours into the encounter the Cleric and Ranger had both fallen unconscious twice. Both regained consciousness by rolling natural 20s on their death saves. Later on, with only three of the six enemies remaining, every character was unconscious except for the Invoker. Most of us had failed two death saves already. Simply put, it wasn’t looking good.
By this point in the encounter every players was carefully watching every die roll. Why? Because every roll mattered. If we were going to have a chance at survival we needed to know what was happening. Everyone was in tune with the events of the table. Even people walking by started taking notice of our game.
With five players down, the Invoker moved away from the combat, hoping for a miracle. What happened next was a lucky streak unlike any I’ve ever seen before. Four players in a row rolled their death saves and the die turned up a 20. The Invoker, seeing what happened, drew the enemies from us and then the Cleric rolled his death save. No change. It could have been much worse because he already had two strikes. Fortunately, in my hand was a potion of vitality I hadn’t used yet and I was able to administer it to the Cleric.
With everyone awake now, the Fighter stepped up to do his job as a defender. This allowed the rest of the party to gather around the Cleric while he used his final healing power on all of us. The Fighter paid for our healing with his life. His sacrifice allowed the rest of the party to eventually defeat the encounter.
The encounter stands out in my mind for several reasons. First the intensity that everyone brought to the session. At first we were cocky, but as we soon realized this combat wasn’t going to be a walk in the park everyone brought their “A” game to the table. Ever die roll matter, everyone was in tune with what was occurring.
Ameron and I joined a group of four friends for this adventure. It always amazes me how a common hobby and an intense situation can forge friendships. To Jim, Brock, Steve and Chris from the Toledo area, thanks for a great session. We enjoyed playing with you four immensely and the session will live long in our memories. I should also point out that Steve and Chris are father and son. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I think it’s great that fathers and sons game together.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a word of thanks to our DM for the session - Skip Warren. He ran the encounter like a pro. He didn’t pull punches and ran it every bit as tough as it was intended to be run. At the same time he was fair and ensured that each of us enjoyed the session to the fullest. As a result I’m sure he enjoyed it as much as we did.
No doubt this write up doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how legendary the encounter was for those playing. Have you had an encounter that will last forever in your memory? What made it so memorable?