D&D Encounters: March of the Phantom Brigade (Week 4)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 3, 2011

After scouting the ruins of Castle Inverness during the previous encounter, the party returned to the caravan and reported that everything was all clear. Brother Splintershield directed the caravan to proceed to the ruins and once there everyone began unloading the wagons and getting settled in. Splintershield and his acolytes began preparations for their cleansing ritual, a blessing to keep the ruins of the castle safe and free of any evil encroachment.

This week the party consisted of Belgos (the Dragonborn), Jarren, Keira, Valenae, a Battlemind and another Rogue. Because of a scheduling conflict, I couldn’t DM this week so we actually completed two encounters last week. Regrettably we were forced to end the second one (the week 4 encounter) rather abruptly as we ran out of time. The result was a somewhat rushed ending, but the build up was very exciting as you’ll find out.

Voices cried out in alarm. At the base of the tower, in the centre of the ruins, a fully formed ghostly tower began rising from the ground. It wavered for a few seconds and then materialized in the exact spot the original tower once stood. Somehow the tower of Castle Inverness was once again as good as new.

The settlers, the priests and the adventurers were all weary and suspicious of this strange happening. Some people hid while others drew weapons, ready for possible attackers to burst forth from the tower. One of the acolytes bravely (or foolishly) stepped towards the tower and examined it. He circled the structure and touched the very solid walls. He announced that the tower was solid now and that there didn’t appear to be any obvious way inside.

Unsure how to interpret this event, Splintershield urged his Clerics to begin the cleansing ritual immediately, just in case this is an omen of bad things on the horizon.

As the holy men began their ritual strange groans and cries that can only have originated from the darkest depths of death’s domain emanated from all around the castle walls. The undead arose and began approaching the castle from all sides.

As the undead got closer, Splintershield cried out that the ritual was almost complete and he needed but another minute to finish it. The undead could not be allowed to enter the ruins and the Clerics could not be disturbed while they complete the ritual.

Malgram and his Rangers climbed the walls and began taking shots at the undead. The heroes, being closest to the front gates, were asked to keep anything unfriendly from passing through. The ritual must be completed.

Those nearest the gates spotted two zombies and four skeletons approaching. The Battlemind immediately ran forth to engage them in melee. Keira threw a dagger and destroyed one of the closest skeletons. They didn’t seem very tough, but the heroes could see more of them approaching. The undead had numbers on their side.

Jarren climbed on top of the wall and began attacking the undead with his ranged attacks. He split his attacks between the skeletons and the zombies.

A skeleton managed to get through the gates, but Belgos attacked him with his sword. Belgos (now a Dragonborn don’t forget) used his breath weapon to take out another nearby skeleton. After securing the gate, he too climbed on top of the wall for a better vantage point.

Valenae waded into the fray and used a divine power. It destroys one of the zombies, dealing radiant damage and providing her with an aura of radiant energy that damaged any enemy creature that ends its turn adjacent to her. Beware undead minions!

The zombie reanimated and attacks Valenae, hitting her. However, by ending its turn adjacent to her it was destroyed by her radiant aura. The other zombies attack the Battlemind.

The party retaliated destroying another zombie and eliminating the last of the skeletons. However, more skeletons approached the battle. Two of the skeletons had ranged attacks and attack Belgos and Jarren on top of the walls. One of the skeletons avoided the melee and managed to get through the gates.

Belgos tried shooting the rogue skeleton but missed. His only other option was to put himself in the skeleton’s path, blocking him. He jumped off of the wall, falling badly, and taking a little bit of damage. The skeleton was still animate, but now the Ranger was in an adjacent square which would hopefully stop the skeleton from getting any further into the ruins.

A third zombie joined the battle and grabed hold of the Battlemind. The Battlemind was unable to free himself on his turn. Keira, Valenae and the Rogue try to destroy it, but they either couldn’t hit the zombie or couldn’t do enough damage to destroy it. With the Battlemind in his grasp, the zombie took a huge bite out of him consuming half of his hit points.

The Battlemind, fearing another devastating bite, attacked the zombie and scoreed exactly enough damage to drop it to 0 hit points. However, more skeletons continued approaching the gates keeping everyone busy.

The heroes continue to be overrun with undead. No more zombies seem to be approaching but the waves of skeletons keep coming. It would take a miracle to defeat the superior number of skeletons.

A brilliant light infused with radiant power washed over the castle ruins as the Clerics completed the cleansing ritual. All of the undead in the wave were immediately destroyed forever. Everyone, including the heroes, cheered as the undead are defeated.

The victory is short lived as a lone ghost approached the ruins. He reached the edge of the cleansing ritual’s boundaries and couldn’t come any closer. He identified himself as Salazar Vladistone and he demanded answers. Brother Splintershield confidently approached the ghost, careful to stay within the protected zone.

The ghost demanded that the zone be dismissed. He has a right to enter the ruins and would not accept this restriction. Splintershield arrogantly taunted the ghost and demanded he leave this place for it was now under his protection.

The heroes tried to intervene and learn more about what was really going on. The ghost reveals that his wife is buried in the cemetery and it is he who tended to the graveyard all of these years since their deaths. His own resting place is many days away, yet he journeys back and forth as often as he can. He demanded that he be allowed into the graveyard to be near his wife’s remains. Despite his pleading, Splintershield refused.

“You have denied but a single tortured spirit this night. We shall see how you fare against the Phantom Brigade.” he said as he faded from sight.

So ends chapter one of D&D Encounters: March of the Phantom Brigade. When chapter two begins next week, months have passed and the town is flourishing. We’ll see how the events from chapter one shape the next chapter.

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 4 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 Alphastream March 3, 2011 at 11:09 am

I am curious how everyone enjoyed this week. The design is one that, were I the author, would have me both excited and nervous. That many minions is tricky to run and could fall flat… or be really cool due to the classic “Night of the Living Dead” feel.

2 Al March 3, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Alpha one word “Beguiling Strands”, I had a new player at my table this week for a total of 7 and he brought his own wizard. All I needed to hear from him was that the character was an Enchanter to know I was going to have to seriously ramp up the numbers of both zombies and skeletons. He was pretty much knocking off the skeletons as I was dropping them on the map and pushing the zombies often enough for me to realize not to bother with trying to grab any PCs. Although there were 4 zombies left on the board when Splintershield’s ritual went off, I had used 8 zombies and over 25 skeletons total this encounter. I’m glad that I did because by the end of turn 6 the PCs were a little concerned about how many more may pop out in subsequent rounds has I was increasing the number appearing each round to give that “Night of the Living Dead” feel.

But that spell alone severely limits the use of minions now in my opinion.

3 Alton March 3, 2011 at 9:43 pm

This week was frustrating for me. The encounter was perfect but who knew that my players would crit 4 of the 5 zombies I threw at them. Hmmm.

4 Sunyaku March 4, 2011 at 12:30 am

Everyone enjoyed the encounter this week. My table, unfortunately, had 7 players, so even adding skeletons and zombies every round, the enemies didn’t pose a serious threat. Oh well. Everyone still enjoyed Salazar Vladistone, but the Drow Ranger at my table was so mean to the ghost! She kept insulting his dead wife. I felt bad for Vlad! I’ve already decided that after Aldus Splintershield, the Drow is Vlad’s next target.

5 Lahrs March 4, 2011 at 10:16 am

We finished up the third session and completed the fourth Wednesday. The oozes in session three and the exploring took up longer than expected, but everything worked out in the end. We mixed up the groups from last season to this season, so I have a more inexperienced table this time, but they are working well together, and are really utilizing their skills to try new things. It is great.

With the appearance of the Ghost Tower, our Hex-blade, Luther, decided to try to get in, but to no avail. Splintershield, in a bit of panic and with the full support of everyone involved, began his ritual. Expecting danger, Luther and our ranger, Bless, climbed the walls for a visual and combat advantage (not the +2, but in general combat tactics). With two ranged attackers already having a high position, and with our two paladins aided by our druids bear defense aura plugging up the gate, there was virtually no threat possible to Splintershield with the module as written. I made a few adjustments, and in wave two, a few skeletons appeared outside of the gate as well as climbed up through the dirt on the inside, close to Splintershield. This left the druid himself the sole person actually defending Splintershield, but with some cover fire from our ranged attackers as needed, Splintershield was never in any real danger. In round six, because I am mean and happened to have the minis for it, 24 skeletons and four more zombies appeared inside the gate. This was definite an OMG moment with panic and heroics from the group as they all fell back and surrounded Splintershield. Fortunately, at the end of the round, Splintershield’s ritual was complete, obliterating the rest of the threat. Still, despite a cinematic ending, the battle was very easy due to the ability to funnel the enemies, none of which had ranged attacks. I am not upset with how the group handled the encounter, in fact, they had excellent tactics and that should never be punished, but if I had to redo it, I would probably add a few ranged skeletal minions to combine with the melee only skeletons.

Last week, after the group went through the magical archway, they went back to Malgram and convinced him to send an apprentice mage, this was highly beneficial to RP aspects as well as the battle against the oozes, but I am happy he went with Malgram in this attack. A well placed beguiling strand would have made this battle a joke, and in fact this was exactly what happened at the other table, their mage wiped the floor with the basic attack. Part of the point of the controller is the AoE blasts, but they do render minions ineffective, and when most of the battle is made up on minions, well, that spells trouble.

Even without the mage though at our table, I was a bit disappointed with the ease of this battle, and I had added an additional zombie and skeletons to the battle. The RP was excellent, and more than made up for the easy battle. When Vladistone arrived, my group spent a good 15 – 20 minutes RPing with him, getting good info and hopefully setting up some personal interest in future encounters with him.

Anyone else notice we have an Aldus Splintershield and a Salazar Vladistone… couldn’t help think of Harry Potter when I saw those names.

6 Halfie (Bogey) March 6, 2011 at 11:22 pm

(AT table 2 of Toronto D&D Encounters)

This weeks encounter was awesome! Al did a great job DMing at our table as we (the players) were terrified as too how ‘dead’ this horde really was. At first we were blowing through the zombie/skeleton ranks, with 3 strikers (2 slayers, and one “Bogey” [barbarian]), one awesome wizard, equally awesome paladin and cleric, and one great drow ranger (big party did merit Al’s onslaught) we were picking off the horde and gaining considerable ground. But once we reached the map borders, we realized the true extent of the horde’s power, sheer numbers and dead..ness.

From then on, every round there were 5 skeletons put on the board who used their ability to shift on attack to flank the weakest of us and 3 or 4 zombies whose ability to stay alive despite having 0 hp kicked in. At one point, there was a zombie who survived like 6 attacks by rolling high, we called him the “zombie commander” cause no matter what we did, he just wouldn’t go down (despite an encounter and 5 at will powers including arrow volleys, melee attacks and a magic missile.) It seemed that no matter what we did, they just kept coming and a sweating practically observant Splintershield only served to frustrate Bogey who responded (minor action) with “Do something, you pansy!”

Once the horde swarmed us and took subsequently took massive damage, we realized that backing up was the best option despite taking consequential opportunity attacks. Our cleric decided to save his daily and his turn undead, this turned in our favor because once we finally backed up with aid of our clever ‘drow’ ranger and awesome wizard, we were able to form a wall along side our cleric. Our cleric was then able to use his daily to heal us all and apply a weakened debuff on all the dead stuff. That being said our tank, our paladin and my friend (but not Bogey’s) decided that he would be more useful behind our ranks. Wymryk’s (i think that’s how you spell it) head was up in the clouds after this point – probably to avoid having nightmares of all the evil dead – as he later decided to stay outside the safety of Castle Inverness when the ritual was completed.

We soundly defeated these undead horde with our wall tactic and were easily dealing with the remaining undead (Bogey was lucky with dodging 6 or 7 attacks in a row) when suddenly Splintershield exhaled broke concentration. At first Bogey didn’t know what to expect, admittedly I thought Splintershield had failed but then all of the undead had collapsed when the evil forces that animated them had been expelled.

Some of us decided to check out the ghost tower. While some of us decided to check out the gates. Bogey decided to go back to the graves he so wanted to dig up last week and started to dig with his hands in some delusional fervor (Even I don’t fully understand the intricate and elaborate phyche that is Bogeys’). Wymryk despite being the only one outside scared of what the others faced inside, stood just a few paces from Splintershield when he saw a ghostly rider in the distance. The group returned and Wymryk the only one who had privilege to see Salazar Vladistone’s arrival, alerted everyone to his scary arrival. Al did a great job of keeping us creeped out, tense and expecting very very spooky things to happen if we weren’t cautious and Bogey often broke that caution tape.

Salazar Vladistone told us to basically bugger off from the area but instead of Splintershield doing the talking, everyone else decided to convince Vladistone – in their own rights – that they had invested too much already and did not want to leave. Everyone rolled horribly and despite some great attempts Vladistone just couldn’t be convinced nor share any empathy with any others…except for our paladin (wymryk). Now at this point we feared for Wymryks safety, every-time Vladistone demanded someone be held accountable and each time we deflected the question (with Splintershield sweating and assisting in the survival tactic), Vladistone seemed to get more angry. However, with a high bonus to diplomacy, our Paladin was able to garner some sympathy from his patron with Vladistone, who recognized the Paladin’s “courage.” Despite attempting to reach a consensus, none could be had, and Vladistone demanded to see his wife’s grave before settling on the matter of land ownership.

At this point, Belgoes seemed to realize that Bogey was STILL digging up a particular grave (Vladistone’s wife) and was nudging him hard in the side to get the crazy barbarian to stop. After a good minute or so, Bogey finally couldn’t take the annoying factors around him, the nudging or the disturbance outside. Storming away from the grave and to the Castle gate, Bogey yelled out “What’s keeping you guys?!” ignorantly using his hands in gesture, hands covered in the soil of Vladistone’s wife’s grave. Noticing the figure before him and finally making the conclusion that this creature infront of him was a ghost, Bogey stood shell-shocked. Bogey is afraid of ghosts.

But Vladistone didn’t seem to notice and Splintershield finally manned up, using the Castle now purity as a barrier and claiming Vladistone couldn’t hurt him, Vladistone cursed us and said he would return with the Phantom Brigade.

Now this was great. The build-up and the encounter and the stand alone RP moments made this night the best I’ve ever had of encounters. Our party was great, Rp came naturally to the whole group and we all had our parts. We spaced out the encounter real nicely and the night really felt fulfilled. A great end to a chapter and hopefully the next ones will be even better.

Vladistone had mentioned some relic inside the tower. After several minutes of milking him of information we learned that of its dangers. I won’t spoil it for anyone else despite the tardiness of this post but this seemed like a definite plot foreshadowing.

At the nights end, Al told us that we would return next week with several months past in the next encounter and that we would have to really bring our reasons for coming to Castle Inverness into play. He said think about roles, where do you see your character working, doing. Oh and we got to level (for those who came every week), so Bogey is gonna get to return lvl 2 with several months in between. I’ve got a role, job and stats to back them up for next week. I can’t wait. ^^

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