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.