D&D Encounters: March of the Phantom Brigade (Week 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 10, 2011

This week we began D&D Encounters season 4, March of the Phantom Brigade. At my FLGS we saw a swelling in our overall number as we had enough players to run two full tables of six this week. The last time we had enough players to run two tables was during chapter one of D&D Encounters Dar Sun. I think the idea of a 20-week commitment for season three scared a lot of players away. In any case we began this week with a full house.

My table had four brand new players, none of whom had ever played 4e D&D before. We ended up using five of the six pre-generated characters. The party consisted of Belgos the Drow Ranger, Brandis the Human Cavalier, Fargrim the Dwarf Slayer, Jarren the Human Wizard, Valenae the Eladrin Cleric and a Battlemind. As it turned out this was a perfect balance.

Here’s the adventure intro that Wizards provided.

The adventure begins with the heroes as part of a caravan of pilgrims setting out to found a town in the ruins of Castle Inverness. The heroes are 1st-level adventurers who have been hired to ensure that the caravan reaches Inverness safely. Here’s the opening read-aloud text:

You and your companions stand huddled in the chill of early morning, blowing clouds of mist with every breath. Dawn is just breaking, and the shadowed walls of Hammerfast loom above you. A caravan of settlers is preparing to depart, and you are among them.

Some months ago, a call went out from the temple of Moradin in Hammerfast seeking able-bodied settlers to establish a new town to the southwest. Desiring to settle in this new town, you answered the call and now stand in a field outside the town awaiting the caravan’s departure.

Just as the caravan was getting ready to leave Brother Splintershield, a Cleric of Moradin and the leader of this expedition, introduced himself to the group. He made a good first impression and certainly seemed eager and excited, as well as unusually loud even for a Dwarf.

A few hours outside of Hammerfast, the caravan me a band of Rangers led by Malgrim the Half-orc. Malgrim and his men were hired by Splintershield to act as guides and scouts.

The first day was uneventful and the caravan managed to cover a lot of ground. By the second day many of the travelers were less enthusiastic. After leaving the main road the journey slowed considerably and the trails became more rugged and uneven; clearly not idea for wagons.

From the head of the caravan the PCs heard an argument between Splintershield and Malgrim. When the PCs moved forward to find out what was going on they found themselves in the middle of the dispute. Malgrim’s scouts discovered that the trail ahead has been wiped out by recent storms and rushing streams. The caravan will need to ford the river in the next day or two.

Splintershield wants to keep near the foot of the mountainside but Malgrim disagrees. He believes that there are orcs living in that area of the mountains and doesn’t want to risk an encounter. Splinteshield and Malgrim seem to be at an impasse. With everyone looking on, they turn to the PCs and ask for their opinions.

Each of the PCs makes a case for why the caravan should follow Splintershield’s advice or Malgrim’s advice. In the end five of the PCs side with Malgrim, asking Splintershild to trust the Ranger’s judgment and let him do his job.

Splintershield eventually agrees. He makes it seem like he would have agreed to this decisions all along if he’d had all of the information in the first place. Now that he sees the big picture, thanks in part to the PCs, of course he’ll agree with Malgrim’s decisions. The caravan headed towards the forest to ford the river.

On the third day the caravan does indeed need to ford the river. The caravan is divided into two groups. Splintershield and Malgrim accompany the first set of wagons across without incident. The PCs are asked to accompany the second set of wagons.

As the horses are about to cross the river, Stirges swoop out of the sky looking for a few tasty morsels to latch on to and bleed dry. The horses and the regular folk panic. The heroes go into action.

Belgos and Jarren, the only two PCs with ranged attacks open fire on the approaching Stirges. Both hit and bloody the two closest opponents. Brandis, ever the defender, put himself between the approaching Stirges and the horses, making an excellent jump check to cross the river in the process.

One of the injured Stirges attacked Brandis but couldn’t penetrate his plate armor. The other latches onto the nearest horse. The Battlemind immediately rushed toward the horse and batted the Stirge off of it.

Two more Stirges approach from the other side of the group and try to latch themselves to one of the settlers and another horse. Fortunately the Stirges couldn’t grab hold. Valenae and Fargrim move toward the nearby Stirges, taking on one each.

One of the Stirges managed to latch itself onto Valenae. At the beginning of her turn she took 10 damage from the bloodsucker. She managed to bash it but didn’t kill it. Rather than suffer any more damage, she opted to use her Fey Step to escape from the grab, leaving the Stirge for Fargrim to destroy. Valenae and Fargrim worked together to kill the other one the next round.

Belgos and Jarren continued using ranged attacks. Belgos dropped one easily. Brandis likewise destroyed the Stirge nearest to him on his next turn.

The Battlemind continues to fight the Stirge closest to him. He marked it and kept it from attacking anyone else, but couldn’t connect with a killing blow.

In the distance two more Stirges approached engaging the caravan and attacking a horse and a settler. Brandis again put himself in harms way and drew attacks away from the horses and settlers. But again the Striges could not get though his incredible defenses.

Jarren destroyed the Stirge that the Battlemind was facing off against leaving the Battlemind free to rush in and help Brandis face the final two Stirges. The two melee combatants, with help from Belgos and Jarren, made short work of the reaming Stirges.

The heroes took stock of the situation and made sure that none of the settlers or horses were injured or killed during the fight. With no imminent danger nearby, the PCs helped the settlers get the horses safely across the river.

The first week begin with some setup and role-playing and ended with an exciting combat encounter. The entire encounter ran about two hours, but considering that most of the players at my table were new to 4e D&D combat I think we did ok. The other table with more experienced players only finished about 10 minutes before us.

Early in the evening the players asked me about the decks of Fortune Cards they were given when they arrived at the FLGS. I briefly explained what they were and how to use them. As a group we decided that for this week, because we had so many new players, we would not to use Fortune Cards. We collectively decided to wait until everyone was comfortable enough with 4e mechanics to add yet another new element.

As an added bonus this season we’re going to be recording our D&D Encounters experiences and making them available to you as downloadable podcasts courtesy of The Shattered Sea. Bear in mind that these recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at time it may be difficult to hear everyone.

What were everyone else’s impressions of March of the Phantom Brigade week 1? Did you have a lot of new players? Did you use Fortune Cards? How did experienced players find this new aspect of the game?

Visit the Dungeon’s Master D&D Encounters Archive for all of our ongoing weekly coverage as well as other great D&D Encounters articles and resources, including the pre-generated characters for the upcoming season 4 of D&D Encounters: March of the Phantom Brigade.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Blinkey February 10, 2011 at 10:34 am

From your description this season of encounters seems to have got off to a good start. Sounds like just the right amount of RP and set-up to get things going.

Out of curiosity (and because unfortunately i’ll not have the chance to play March of the Phantom Brigade) had the players sided with the alternative route would their first encounter have been different? I’ll be impressed if this is the case.

Cheers

Blinkey ;)

2 ruined February 10, 2011 at 10:51 am

My group chose the mountain foothill path instead. I’m interested to see how the two games will (temporarily) diverge, if at all.

3 Ameron February 10, 2011 at 11:14 am

@Blinkey
Week 2 has three possible combat encounters. The DM will roll to determine which of the three encounters plays out. The roll is modified based on which route the party choose in week 1. All three encounters are balanced and worth roughly the same XP, but each encounter will challenge the party in a different way.

This is one of the things that I really like about how this adventure is set up. There are multiple decisions the PCs will make that have actual consequences about what happens in subsequent encounters.

@ruined
I’m really hoping that next week we’ll get feedback from people who played the encounters not run at my table. If you choose the mountains then there’s a really good chance that your encounter will be different that mine for week 2.

4 Alton February 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm

@ Ameron
Awwww! You just ruined all the fun of introducing ‘The ROLL!!!’ of DOOM!

@ everyone.

The encounter went extremely well and my heroes were smart about how they went about things. I have a regular group, and this has to be the best session of roleplaying I have seen come out of their mouths. The only beef I had with them is once again, they split up and concentrated fire on their own Stirges instead of trying to concentrate on one foe.

This is going to be a good Season 4.
Alton´s last blog post ..Hashing Without Hitting

5 Sunyaku February 10, 2011 at 9:20 pm

This week was interesting… I stayed late at my FLGS to watch the carnage. We normally have six encounters tables each week, two at 4, 6:30, and 8:30pm. Five of those tables went through this encounter with relative ease, and thoroughly enjoyed the roleplaying and story elements.

My 8:30 table played well and managed to save the caravan without taking much damage. The other 8:30 table, however, had a TOTAL PARTY KILL!!! :D

They were so hyper-focused on saving the caravan that they moved some horses and then threw themselves in front of the stirge. Naturally, the stirge attack the closest targets… and with the stirge rolling well, two characters found themselves covered in stirge taking 20 ongoing damage a round! And let’s just say after a long, drawn out fight, it was downhill from there…
Sunyaku´s last blog post ..Public Play Improvements- March of the Phantom Brigade

6 Albert February 10, 2011 at 10:06 pm

This week at my local shop was filled to the brim with new players. We had like 5-6 tables all maxed out. For this session our table picked a Half-orc scout (my character named Orgg) a sentinel druid, a tifling mage, Elf Hunter Ranger, Half-Elf Hunter Ranger, the dwarf pre gen, a halfling rouge and one other but I forgot what it was already…-_-;

I was amused when the DM introduced Malgrim and as soon as I was about to do some role playing all of our seven players exploded with suggestions. Our Mage used suggestion and we took the mountain trail…>_>;

We still ended up at the river…somehow…and so we had the set up…horses, people and those blood sucking Striges…I went second after the elf hunter and was hoping for a great start…I got into my charging ram stance and charged at the Striges but…missed…*sigh*

Our mage had the Striges fight amongst themselves, our elves shot some arrows, the dwarf and I swung our weapons around, our druid had his wolf do all his dirty work…OH…and our rouge jumped onto one of the horses, cut off the harness connecting it to a wagon…and ran off…T_T

In the end none of the horses or the people died (though one of drivers was really angry). Those Striges never even hit me…but it was still a fun first week!

*No fortune cards were used in the two hours of this Encounter…

7 Feeroper February 11, 2011 at 1:26 am

This sounds great.

I have been unable to play any encounters seasons due to my work schedule, but that may finally be changing in the next couple of weeks. If it does, Im definetly heading down to Dueling Grounds to play, but I had a couple questions: Are you required to use one of the pre-gen characters? I dont care either way, just want to know in advance, as I thought that was the case for the earlier seasons, but I also thought I remebered them saying that a home built character was okay for this season. Maybe I am remembering it wrong.

Also, as Ive not played in Encounters before, is there any expectation that you commit a certain amount of time/sessions per season? Also, do i need to sign up for this on Warhorn? or just wander in on the day of?

Thanks!

8 Lahrs February 11, 2011 at 9:15 am

The snow has threatened to wreck havoc on our game for the last two months, and it finally did this past Wednesday. Our second DM arrived over an hour late, but since he failed to call, we just expected a no-show. He lives 45 minutes from the store and the weather outside was all sorts of frightful, so it would not have been a complete shock. Not knowing he would eventually arrive, and me being the only DM at the time, we made an uber group for our first session, and once he and his girlfriend finally arrived, they just joined in and played. So, I ran a group of 14 in our first session, which was a first for me as I have never run a group with that many people. I ended up throwing in 10 stirges, twice the recommended amount of monsters, but it didn’t matter, and our group prevailed with the last swing in the second round. At least everyone had a chance to go twice. With so many players and such a quick session, there really isn’t much point doing a detailed analysis of the battle, but the stirges were fun and I think everyone was excited that they were not fighting any more lizards.

The good news is everyone seems to have bought into the story. I offered everyone who role played a chance for a free action point at the end of the session, and when it came time to introduce the characters, I think the majority gave it their best shot to RP a character, even if RP is not their forte. Some RP was far and above others, but at the end of the session, I awarded the AP to everyone for at least attempting it. I have a feeling some of the people who did not RP well would like to continue, but are unsure how or need to work on overcoming their shyness. Being center stage in front of 14 others is difficult, especially for those who do not normally like the spotlight.

I was happy to see that Wizards did not make the party a group of mercenaries protecting the caravan, but a group of settlers who just happened to be heroes. This plays well into the storyline later, but was a welcome change now. It also allowed for some more RP, our druid was traveling with the party to ensure the settlement did not disrupt nature, a ranger belonged to the initial scout party, and a hexblade was leaving to get out from the prying eyes of the church of Mordin and so on providing a lot of good material for me to work with and add to the module.

Our group had a lot of class double-up as nearly everyone created a character using the Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms book, the only exception being two rogues. Last season, I was lax in forcing my players to use Essentials, but decided to go Essentials only this season, and the lack of class diversity shows. With no new Essentials class books on the immediate horizon, I now regret this limitation.

This season introduced the Fortune cards. I told my group we were not going to use them, but since we had a few members from the other table, I decided to let anyone with cards to play them. Unfortunately, the short game did not allow anyone to play the cards. I still see them as a problem rather than a fun addition and will try to come up with some way to add them in without slowing down the game. My next thought is to allow each person to bring in three cards, one from each category, and they can use any one in place of the renown card. Past renown cards are also allowed, though not in conjunction with the Fortune cards. Already, two of the players with more disposable income have a nice selection of powerful cards and I am worried balance will also be threatened if they are allowed to play them as normal, yet on the other hand I am penalizing people who are spending money on products while following the rules.

We are mixing up the tables this season, and a few of my favorite players are going to a different table, and I have to admit I am a bit bummed out by it. I was even more surprised to hear so many comments of being upset to leave my table and how excited my new players were to join my table. I am always nervous about DMing as even though I have done it for so long, I want to make sure everyone has a great time. It was a nice ego boost to hear all the comments and makes me want to put in even more effort next week.

I already rolled for next week’s encounter, and for those with the module, we will be running the first encounter and it looks good.

Feeroper, it is always up to the DM, but Encounters does not require you to use pre-gens. In fact, despite this season having the best pre-gens yet in my opinion, for the first time, nobody is using them. As a DM, I love having regulars, but Encounters was specifically designed to allow players to come and go as needed. As far as signing up, I can’t answer that question. I would like to say I wish I could make it up to Toronto and join in one of your games, I think it would be a lot of fun to meet everyone.

9 Gormal February 11, 2011 at 10:36 am

I was at Al’s Table and we went the mountain way as opposed to the route Ameron’s table took.

At our table, we faced the same foes. Our Table consisted of a Cleric(myself), a barbarian, Druid and a slayer that were pre-rolled and Belgos and Brandis the pre gens.

Our table consisted of players that had played the majority of the season 3 encounter together. On our first day our travel was uneventful.

On the second day our escorting rangers left the Caravan. Shortly after Malgrim and Brother Splintersheild were over heard at the front of the caravan arguing with each other as to the direction we should head towards. The mountains or the forest were the choices… The party of adventures rushed forward with the cleric leading the way.

The Cleric used his diplomacy to try and calm the two npc’s down. He was successful and put forward his opinion as a cleric that we should side with Malgrim. The other party members put forward the route they would take. This caused the other settlers to become restless and started to argue along with everyone. The Druid in the party started to egg the settlers on. He stated he wanted to chum up with Malgrim as he thought he might turn out to be a traitor later on. The settlers almost broke out in to a fighting. The cleric stepped in once again and asked everyone to calm down. The settlers were told that the party, Malgrim and Brother Splintersheild would make the decision.

Our party broke their votes down to Belgos, Brandis and the Barbarian sided with Brother Splintersheild and the druid and cleric sided with Malgrim. The slayer was undecided. The party put forward that they should follow Brother Splintersheild’s choice of staying closer to the mountains.

On the Third day the caravan came across a river. Malgrim took the first four wagons across, Followed by Brother Splintersheild taking four wagons across. The party was asked to take the last four wagons across.

Prior to the party and Caravan crossing the river we were attacked by stirges. The moved in an attacked the horses, as tasty treat. Our Barbarian attacked first hitting the first stirge to land on a horse. Next up was a fighter striker who also went after the stirge with a swing and a miss. The cleric was up next. He went in and hit the second stirge behind the barbarian and the fighter. He granted 4 temps to Brandis oh and he hit with a crit.

Next up were the two more of the stirges. One went after a horse and the other after the cleric. They both hit. The Brandis used his defensive shield and took the hit damage for the cleric, however, the cleric and horse started taking ongoing damage. The druid came in and hit two of the stirges after transforming into a cougar. Last up was Belgos who fired and missed the stirge attached to the second horse. Belgos missed.

Two more stirges flew in to attack. One attached it self to the third horse.

Next round and the first stirge switched its target and attached itself to the barbarian. The Barbarian and the fighter h went after that particular stirge. The barbarian hit and again the fighter missed. The stirge went bloodied. The cleric was up next and hit the stirge on him, put the temp hit points to the horse and used an action point with a wing and miss. However was also granted a healing surge. The cleric tried to shake the stirge but it was still sucking blood.

The druid went after the two stirges again hit the one on the cleric and it was knocked down. The second attack missed the one on the barbarian. The Palladian came in and landed a blow on what appeared to be the strongest stirge on the barbarian. It wasn’t sown but it took a big hit and was no longer on the barbarian.

Next up the ranger hit and pushed a stirge off the one horse. The Ranger used an action point and hit again taking the second stirge off the second horse.

Third round and things were looking better for the group. There were three bloodied stirges including the big one and one down. That meant only one at full strength. The barbarian and fight hit the big one well and took it out. That left one close to the party and two across the stream. The cleric was next up and missed. The druid moved across the stream and went after one of the stirges. He hit. Being a striker the last one went bloodied. However the stirges gained up on him. Luckily they both missed

The Paladin put up his aura and joined the druid hit one and took it down. The archer went after the other one and took it down.

The Barbarian and the fighter took out the last stirge and the party was victorious. Brother Splintersheild showed up finally He thanked the party. No Horses down and the party used very little healing surges.

Our group used a mixture of the new cards and the old rewards. I did not really get a sense that those using the new cards really got to use them. However it was a fun encounter lets see what happens next week.

10 Pierre February 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm

We had an awkward count of players and were down a DM, so we ended up doing 2 tables of 7! each. In addition most of us were tired of starting at level 1 so we jumped up to level 4, and the DMs scaled the encounters to match. In our case we fought level 7 swarms and level 10 stirges.

The combat was enjoyable (aside from the way too high HP swarms, but that was just DM error) and I liked how the river provided a natural barrier to form battle lines along. I was playing a Hunter so I mostly sat back and shot and tried to disrupt any latched stirges. Our peasants and horses didn’t do so well though considering we lost all but one horse, haha. Definitely wasn’t a high priority for us.

Looking forward to the rest of the campaign though, I like the general idea of accompanying settlers who are looking to found a new town.

11 Funkfugiyama February 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm

A bit late with this coment, but I finally got to play my first Encounters session and had a good time. I would love to go play again but the FLGS near me, that has Encounters, plays from 4 to 7 on Wednesdays, and with my work schedule there is no way to play during those hours. So I decided to take a personal day and enjoy some afternoon D&D.

At the story there were two tables: one with 6 players and one with 7 players.
Our party of 6, went the shorter route. When we got to the river a fighter in our party (don’t ask me which type) decided to chop down a tree in order to go across the river more easily. After about an hour of hangin’ around he chopped it down and we laid it across the river. Then in an act of total bravery or lunk-headedness, the lone Wizard went across the tree bridge first and got hit with 2 stirges!

We had a great party of players and in 2 rounds were able to keep the wizard alive, kill off all the stirges, save all the horses and folkies, and get the caravan across the river, AND do it in just over an hour. I was kind of hoping for a longer session after taking a day off to play, but I’ll take what I can get.

12 Lunkheaded Wizard February 17, 2011 at 1:33 am

At least I was able to use Infernal Wrath to good effect…

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