D&D Encounters: March of the Phantom Brigade (Week 2)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 17, 2011

Last week’s eventful river crossing gave the party a chance to work together for the first time. Overall they worked well as a team. No one died (except the stirges) and the only wounds the party received were inconsequential scrapes and bruises. The party’s success was noted by Malgram, the Ranger in charge of leading Brother Splintershield and the settlers to the ruins of Castle Inverness.

A few hours after the river crossing, Malgram and an as yet unknown female Elf approached the PCs. Malgram introduces the PCs to Faldyra. She is an historian who plans to chronicle the efforts of the settlers as they rebuild on the castle’s ruins. She’s also got a green thumb and wishes to collect various plants, herbs, and roots in the surrounding area.

Malgram asks the PCs if they will accompany Faldyra into the nearby forest and keep an eye on her while she gathers the various plants she seeks. He was impressed by the party’s combat abilities and is sure that they could handle any potential dangers that lurk in the woods (not that he believes there is anything to worry about).

Faldyra, already heading off on her own, waves to the party as she get farther away from the caravan. It’s pretty clear that she’s going whether she’s got chaperones of not. The party quickly catches up to her and agrees to watch out for her well-being.

This week my table had only four players – Belgos (changed from a Drow to a Dragonborn), Brandis, Jarren and a Battlemind. Although there was no healer among the heroes this week, they were confident that they could handle any potential threats on their own.

After venturing into the woods for about 15 minutes, Faldyra eventually found a suitable spot and began digging. While digging for herbs and collecting various plant life, she engages the PCs in casual banter. While digging she uncovers an old blade. Its pristine condition despite being buried indicates that it must have some magical enchantment.

Brandis, the only PC to use a blade of any kind, decided to keep the weapon for himself. Faldyra and Jarren determine that the weapon was a +1 Luck Blade – certainly a lucky find for Brandis.

At this point the week 2 encounter can go in one of three ways – depending upon which route the caravan choose to follow during last week’s encounter. Those who choose the route closer to the forest got either encounter one or two. Those who choose the route closer to the mountain got either encounter two or three. My table chose to go the forest route and ended up with encounter two. The other table at our FLGS chose the mountain route and ended up with encounter three.

A few minutes after discovering the magic blade all the wildlife in the immediate area fell silent. Four goblins sprung out from behind nearby trees demanding that the party hand over their treasure. The party showed great control by not laughing at the goblins. However, they realized that these little buggers meant business and posed a real threat so they immediately engaged them in combat.

Before any of the heroes could attack, a sniper hiding in a tree fired his bow at the Battlemind and scored a hit. The Battlemind shrugged off the marginal damage from the arrow and engaged the closest goblin in melee. Unfortunately, he missed. Then he remembered that he had an action point so he decided to attack again, this time hitting soundly and doing one off of maximum damage.

Belgos was next to act and fired his bow at the nearest goblin and missed. He then moved closer and used his breath weapon (remember, we changed him to Dragonborn). Unfortunately he missed with that attack as well.

And then the goblins went to work. Two moved to flank the Battlemind, both hitting. The combined 21 points of damage more than bloodied him. The pesky goblins are always moving and after hitting the Battlemind, one of them shifted behind Belgos providing a flank for another goblin. This new attacker also hit. The final goblin ran up to engage Brandis but couldn’t penetrate his plate armor.

After all of the goblins finished their attacks they had Belgos, the archer, surrounded. He was going to have a hard time using that bow on his next turn.

Brandis moved to flank with Belgos and scored a solid hit on one of the fresh goblins. Jarren used Arc Lightning to attack two goblins. He hit a fresh one and missed the wounded one.

A couple more goblin snipers emerged from the brambles and fired at Jarren and the Battlemind. Both missed.

The Battlemind, having marked two of the goblins, tried to focus on the one with the most wounds. Unfortunately he missed too. Belgos was in deep trouble. If he fired from his current location he’d take three opportunity attacks, likewise if he moved more than 1 square. However, with one goblin marked by Brandis and the other marked by the Battlemind, he could shift and then hope that those two marked enemies didn’t take their free attack.

He shifted and fired. His gamble paid off, neither goblin took their opportunity attack. Belgos connected with his bow for big damage. His Aspect of he Dancing Serpent allowed him to shift one more square getting him completely out of the danger zone.

Two of the goblins worked together to engage the heavily armored Brandis. Unfortunately they couldn’t hit him. Brandis hacked into the nearest goblin bringing him down to his final few hit points, but not killing him.

Another sniper (the fourth now) emerged from his hiding place in a tree and attacked Jarren. One of the other snipers also targeted Jarren. Two hits on the Mage.

Jarren, like the rest of the party, continued ignoring the archers and focused his attacks on the goblins with swords. He continued using Arc Lightning and like last time he hit one and missed the other. Again hitting the one with more hit points and missing the wounded one horribly.

The two other melee goblins moved to flank Jarren. Both attacked and hit him, bringing him down to 1 hit point.

The Battlemind and Belgos worked together to finally drop one of the goblins. Belgos used his action point to take out one of the archers. When it died from just one hit he knew that the archers had to be minions.

One of the archers targeted the wounded Battlemind, the other the wounded Jarren. Both hit. The Battlemind was down to his final 3 hit points. Jarren was just down, or so we thought. Brandis used his Righteous Shield immediate interrupt to take the damage and Jarren stayed on his feet a little bit longer.

Brandis managed to finally kill the wounded goblin on his turn, but that meant moving away from Jarren. The Battlemind managed to hit and kill another of the wounded goblins. This left one final goblin in the melee and he was at full health. The good news was that he was in Brandis’s Defender Aura.

The goblin saw the soft Jarren near death so he wanted to attack and kill him. If he shifted he’d take automatic damage from the Defender Aura. If he just moved he’d draw an opportunity attack which might not connect. He risked the move. And Brandis hit him bringing him from full to bloodied in one attack. The goblin, angered that his gamble didn’t pay off, attacked Jarren and scored maximum damage, dropping him below 0 hit points.

Jarren’s turn was next in the order so it was time for a death save. He rolled an 8. Strike one. With Jarren down, Faldyra finally joined the combat, using Magic Missile to take out one of the remaining two archers.

Belgos targeted one of the remaining archers and killed it. The Battlemind and Brandis managed to destroy the remaining melee goblin. Jarren rolled another death save. He rolled a 4, strike two. Faldyra fired another Magic Missile and took out the final archer.

With all of the goblins dead, the PCs immediately ran to help their dying ally. The Battlemind decided to assist Belgos. The assist was successful. Brandis tried to stabilize Jarren on his own and failed. Belgos rolled a Heal check and failed to stabilize Jarren. Fortunately this time he rolled a 14 on his death save and didn’t get any better or any worse.

Again Brandis tried to Heal Jarren on his own with no luck. Faldyra successfully assisted, but the Battlemind did not. Again Belgos tried to stabilize his dying ally. He needed an 11 or better. He rolled a 16. Success!

Just for fun we asked Jarren to make another death save. He rolled a 2. If the Heal check had failed Jarren would have been dead-dead in week 2. But fortunately things didn’t end so grimly. The PCs all survived.

Honestly, I was very impressed that they managed to get through the encounter without a healer. If my DM’s attack dice hadn’t rolled 2, 2, 4, and 1 for my four melee goblins in the third round I think the battle might have ended very differently.

I choose to split the goblin attackers into two groups of two. This way the goblins didn’t just overwhelm the PCs when they acted. It worked very well. I also kept the second group of archers hidden until the third round. The PCs didn’t really see them as a threat, but those minions hit with almost every single attack. If Jarren had used Magic Missile instead of Arc Lightning and had targeted the archers, things might have been a lot easier for the PCs.

This was easily one of the most exciting and entertaining encounters I’ve played since D&D Encounters began last year. The PCs really seemed to be in danger at times and no one assumed that things would just work out. They had to act smart and use solid tactics. Sure they could have done things differently but their chosen course of action worked in the end.

I’m looking forward to hearing how other table handed this and the other two encounters. Please share your experienced in the comments below.

As an added bonus this season we’re recording our D&D Encounters experiences and making them available to you as downloadable podcasts courtesy of The Shattered Sea. Listen to the Week 2 Encounter. Bear in mind that these recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at time it may be difficult to hear everyone.

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1 Jacob DeCourcey February 17, 2011 at 10:58 am

Our party (Belgos, Brandis, and Fargrim, missing our cleric) is taking the forest path, and we encountered sentient trees of some sort when the elf lady tried to harvest a seed pod. Stupidly, no one tried to discern what type of enemies we were facing, but we survived. At first, there was only one tree, and I, the ranger, held back and laid on most of the damage while the two others defended the elf. As we were finishing the first tree, another one near me woke up an shot out a seed pod to get me. Since the elf had her pod, we decided to book it. Naturally, all of trees woke up and started shooting out seed pods all over the place. I was nearest to the camp, so I tried setting a tree on fire and floored it. I didn’t realize, however, that the trees had reach, so I provoked 6 attacks of opportunity, and fell to -7 Hp. My buddies were a bit more cautious, and slowly shifted past the trees until they could drag me out of danger and leave. I must say, I’m not thrilled with my character, Belgos, and I’m switching to a home-made rogue for the rest of the season. Not to say that it was my character’s fault that I got KO’d, that was definitely my stupidity, but I’m not in love with the play style that Belgos seems to lean towards.

2 Neldar February 17, 2011 at 10:59 am

I showed up at the LGS on an errand and had to hack together the night’s encounter in 10 minutes from a smartphone camera and a blank battlemat because the store severely underestimated the interest level and isn’t have enough adventures. We had 4 tables of 6 and my table had all of the little kids and their father as well as two older teens.

I rolled the drake encounter, and it was a blast. Both of the youngest kids crit with their strikers resulting in one-hit kills. The party had a lot of danger from the spitting drakes but once the Druid got close he spotted the brands and tried to tame one–he dominated it for a turn and used it to drop another drake.

They ended up carrying back two wounded drakes to retrain on the trip.

3 Alton February 17, 2011 at 1:33 pm

My group ended up on the forest side, but since they are so keen on minis and had never fought drakes before (and I had the minis), so I decided to go with the drakes. The paladin kept getting pummelled and was almost dragged away twice by the creatures. Lots of fun.

I find this season entertaining and I like to read what others had done. The ability to roleplay this season make for different situations although they are the same encounter. An example of what I mean, is that above, Faldyra chatted with the PCs while digging. Mine chatted while walking. etc..

I love it so far.

4 Sunyaku February 17, 2011 at 10:38 pm

I ran a mega table of 8 for this encounter. We started off with the Goblins, which turned into an impromptu skills challenge– both Paladins gave away their holy symbols as they attempted to convert the goblins. One character gave away candles. Another made a successful stealth check to blend into the trees. A cleric offered healing, and a hunter successfully convinced the goblins to accept a “magic arrow”… that when they fired high into the air, would lead them to treasure. For each success in the challenges, the PCs gave up something to the goblins. Then we continued onward to find the herbs, and were eventually met with a pack of hungry drakes, which the party took down without too much difficulty… and in fact, they even captured one!

5 Lahrs February 17, 2011 at 11:54 pm

@Jacob DeCourcey – Although the vines have a reach of three, they do not have the threatening reach ability. This means that attacks of opportunity only occur if the players leave a space adjacent to a vine pod. You should not have been attacked six times.

First week, snow kept our second DM from being able to come, and this week, unfortunately his dad was hospitalized so he understandably did not show up. This meant I had everyone at my table again, as our second DM still had his materials with him. Our uber group of 12 made for a difficult to challenge session. I also ran into another problem which I so far had not encountered in Encounters.

Our group, having gone along the forest path last week, was approached by Malgram and introduced to Faldyra, who wanted some protection as she gathered a rare herb. No matter what Faldyra presented, one of our more role-play happy players was not convinced that she should be allowed to wander off, and blasted her for how selfish she was being. In the end, he convinced more than half of the party to stay behind while five of the players headed off into the woods. This presented a huge problem. As much as I encourage role playing, and this season encourages people to do so, Encounters is still railroaded to a single battle, and part of the group refused to join in.

Concentrating on the ones who went with Faldyra, who found a nice amulet of health while digging, they were attacked by some nasty creeper vines sprouting from the ground. With a high initiative roll from the vines, they quickly found out that ‘a safe distance’ wasn’t so safe at all as the vines had a 15 foot reach, and three members were quickly grabbed as well as lashed by the vine. Faldyra confused one of the pods, dropping a held elven warrior. I was hoping the group would catch on, but nobody did. I found it a bit problematic that the vine was listed as a plant and not a creature when our two druids rolled nature checks to gather information on what should have been a monster. Their biggest concern was that a giant head was beneath them and they were just fighting the arms. I had unintentionally and a bit haphazardly placed 10 vines surround the party, which helped create the allusion that something may be beneath them. Despite not getting all of the information he would have liked, one of our druids used common sense and used a fire attack on the plant, doing extra damage. Others followed suit, and with some successful perception and nature checks, were able to find sticks and underbrush to light on fire and use as flaming weapons. There were two rogues there, on top of the two Essentials druids, which meant two bears as well, and with rogues already doing serious damage as it is, adding fire, even though it is only a +5 to damage, brought the vines HP down quickly.

Normally, the encounter was designed for 4-6 vines, but with so many people, I had to do something to up the challenge, but in the end, clearly did not do enough. The dropped fighter ran off to gather the allies, but by the time they returned at the end of round three, one got the killing blow and three never had a turn.

Clearly, running so many people is a huge problem. If I had a heads up, I may have been better able to balance the battle, adding extra HP or even more monsters, but as it stood, the battle was over much too quickly, but would have ended even earlier if the entire party was there. Druid pets will also be a difference maker, as essentially there were 14 PCs available to fight. Hopefully next week we will be back to running multiple tables, but it still leaves the problem of PC’s/players not feeling compelled to fight based on RP. This almost happened last week as well, as I am having a hard time convincing some people that they are settlers, not mercenaries, and therefore should not base all decisions on reward. Due to a personal problem between two players at our normal second player, we had to do some player swapping, and the cohesion is definitely off. Makes you appreciate a solid group all that much more.

The quick battle also made the Fortune cards useless again, as there wasn’t enough time to play them. So after two weeks, I still do not have a clear idea on how well they will work in the group.

Despite some gripes, most of us did have fun. I think they enjoyed the battle with the creeper vine, as the tactics and style of fight was much different than they had been seeing with the lizard men last season and even the stirges to start off season four. Since PCs no longer auto-level after select chapter end, XP means a lot more than in last season, and Phantom Brigade does a great job of dividing available XP between RP and the fight. Some aspects next week will be a stray from the norm, which I think will be enjoyable for both player and DM and I am looking forward to running it.

6 Lahrs February 18, 2011 at 12:02 am

Meant the vine was listed as an object/trap and not a creature.

7 Albert February 18, 2011 at 2:23 am

This week was awful for my character but it was still fun! Sure was exciting that’s for sure…

My scout couldn’t hit for beans…that is after the whole hoard of goblins shot out at us…We had a maxed out table of eight so our table had tons of minis on it…A cavalier dragon born and a sentinels wolf were next to me…and even with the plus two to my defenses and always having combat advantage…I rolled nothing but 1-4s and at the end of the night I was coming down with a really mean flu…still have it mean…

I went from 32 hp down to 5 then back up to 28 then down to 2…

*No fortune cards were used in the encounter again…we brought decks but drew junk…I guess we need more cards but the store never got its shipment…

8 Jacob DeCourcey February 19, 2011 at 1:56 pm

@Lahrs – Well, turds. I wasted like 4 healing surges. We’re working with a new DM, so who knows what’s actually going on behind the screen. We are having fun, but our party is a bit slim, and the DM isn’t facilitating roleplaying at all, so I’ve been trying to, I guess, help him out, but it’s tough since I’m the only one. We’ll see how it turns out in the end. I might even DM next season.

9 Sunyaku February 21, 2011 at 7:31 pm

@Jacob Decourcey I have the “good fortune” to have a rules lawyer at my table who knows every last bit of errata… so although I consider myself a fairly newish DM, my players keep me in line. Study hard, and you too, can be “that guy”. 🙂

10 Jacob DeCourcey February 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm

@Sunyaku Believe me, I am “that guy” for 3.5e, but this season of encounters is my first foray into 4e. That being said, I have already picked out a few mistakes/misinterpretations already. Hopefully, I’m well on my way to being bilingual.

11 Wilderwild February 23, 2011 at 9:41 pm

I wish I could play in this season of Encounters. This campaign sounds great! I have one rules question concerning Ameron’s fight with the goblins. He says that at one point a character shifted and fired, hoping that two goblins would not use their opportunity attacks against him. I’m fairly new to the game, maybe it’s an easy question, but why would an enemy NOT use an opportunity attack? It’s FREE DAMAGE! Does that come from the DM wanting to go easy on the PCs? Maybe I’m not understanding everything about opportunity attacks.

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