D&D Encounters: March of the Phantom Brigade (Week 7)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 24, 2011

Inverness was burning! After Brother Splintershield’s unfortunate death last week, the ritual that protected the town disappeared. As soon as that happened a coordinated attack immediately struck the town. The heroes could see signs of the blazing town, most notably the smoke clouds, off in the distance. If the heroes had any hope of helping their friends and saving the town from whatever plight it now faced they had to act quickly.

Unwilling to leave Splintershield’s body unburied, the PCs quickly made a crude sled with which they could easily bring his remains along with them. A few Nature checks later and they were off. After an hour of swift travel through the brush they arrived at the forest edge and got their first look at the devastation happening in the town.

Ghost soldiers were ransacking and bringing Inverness. Most buildings were ablaze already. Ghostly archers shot flaming arrows at all structures. It was clear that their purpose was destruction. Salazar Vladistone was true to his word. He returned with the Phantom Brigade and they were reclaiming Inverness as their own.

Our numbers grew again this week. We ran two full tables of six, with a couple of spectators. We extended the invitation for these observers to join the game but they were content to watch this week. Among those actually playing we had a couple of first-timers as well. It looks like we might actually have to start prepping for a third table.

The group at my table was made up of the following PCs: Belgos (the Dragonborn variant), two Jarrens, Valenae, a Battlemind and a Seeker. Valenae was the only leader at either table. Apparently the striker is the role to play this season as they outnumber the other classes 2:1 at our FLGS.

The heroes were shocked when they realized what was happening. The town was already lost. All of the hard work that the settlers put in over the past six months to build this thriving community was burning to the ground. By morning the only thing still standing would be the initial ruins and the mysterious tower.

From their vantage point the PCs could see villagers trying to escape the fire and the attacks from the ghostly soldiers. They had to do something to save their friends.

At first the PCs thought a distraction might be the best way to cover their approach into the town. With the ghosts patrolling the parameter busy investigating something trivial, the PCs could sneak in undetected. However, they soon realized that these ghosts worked with military precision of a trained unit. If any of them spotted something unusual they’d likely call for help, alerting the rest of the guards, before checking anything on their own.

With the distraction idea off the table they decided to just approach as quickly and quietly as possible. A coordinated effort to notice gaps in the patrol and find places to hide all six party members along the way saw the heroes get all the way to the walls of the city before being detected. Unfortunately when they were mere feet away from accomplishing their task unnoticed, one of the patrolling ghosts spotted them.

Once inside the village walls they encountered Malgram. He was leading a group of survivors to safety. Malgram told them what happened. He and his Rangers returned to the town when they were unable to find the foresters. As they arrived there was a blinding flash. Moments later the flaming arrows began pelting the town. Ghostly soldiers marched through the front gate, destroying everything as they passed.

Malgram and the Rangers fought the ghosts while the townsfolk fled to safety. These were the last of the survivors. The only person unaccounted for was Faldyra. He begged the PCs to find her and ensure her safety.

Malgram then realized that Brother Splintershild wasn’t with the party? They grimly retold the story of how Splintershild lost his life after cleansing the plague.

With more ghosts approaching, Malgram led the refugees to safety as they fled the town. The PCs made their way to Faldyra’s house. As they approach the building they were beset upon by phantom soldiers.

The Battlemind engaged the two most powerful looking ghosts, marking them both. A good idea when you’re a defender. However, he didn’t get the support he was expecting and took a lot of punishment early. The two Jarrens tried hitting multiple targets with Arc Lightning but kept missing.

Valenae and the Seeker tried moving around to the other side of Faldyra’s house, thinking they might gain an advantage and elude the ghosts. Unfortunately everyone forgot that the phantoms soldiers could move through solid objects. The ghosts charged right through the buildings to get into melee with the PCs.

One thing the party learned from their previous encounter with the ghosts was not to stay bunched up. This meant that the Armiger never got a chance to use his Furious Sweep that was so devastating last week.

One of the Jarren’s climbed on the roof of Faldyra’s house to avoid melee combat. Belgos followed on his turn. The two used their tactical advantage to it’s fullest as they reigned down missile attacks on the unsuspecting ghosts below.

The other Jarren was the only one to come to the Battlemind’s aid, but his efforts were in vein. The Battlemind was quickly dropped unconscious. Fortunately by then Valenae managed to get around the house. She used Healing Word on the Battlemind and then entered Faldyra’s house. Inside she found the unconscious Wizard. A Heal check later and Faldyra was revived.

The Armiger moved to the top of the roof to take care of the ranged attackers. He charged Jarren in an attempt to knock him off the roof. He hit, but Jarren managed to make his save to catch the ledge and didn’t fall. Jarren retaliated with Burning Hands. Belgos finished off the Armiger before the ghost had a chance to attack the prone Jarren.

On the ground the other Jarren and Faldyra used Magic Missile to take care of the minions and soften up the other Armiger and the Justiciar. The Seeker became the ghost’s new primary target taking coordinate attacks from them. Fortunately for him, the DMs dice got frigid and I couldn’t hit anything, even with a flanking bonus.

Once the minions were dealt with and the guys on the roof were safe from attackers the combat ended quickly. Focused fire brought down the Justiciar first and the Armiger on the following round.

Faldyra wasn’t supposed to be a part of this week’s encounter. She has an important role to play next week. My original idea was to lead the PCs to Faldyra’s house only to find it empty. This would keep things in line with the way the encounter was written. However, by about the third round it was clear they were in trouble. I decided to add Faldyra to the encounter. Her Magic Missile provided the extra fire power that the party seemed to be lacking. She took out three of the minions after joining the encounter letting the heroes focus on the more powerful adversaries.

When I read the combat part of this week’s encounter it seemed like just a boring random encounter. I was really concerned that my party lacked a strong motivation to do combat this week. In my mind the best way to overcome the fight was to avoid it all together. If this was a home game I’d be ok with that, but in this setting there is an expectation of combat every week. After spending an hour of real time getting to the town it seemed like a cheat to just make the combat a pointless random encounter. Actually adding Faldyra’s this week made for a greater motivation to engage the ghosts rather than flee.

Of course, this means I’ll have to tweak next week’s encounter a little bit but I’ve already got a good idea on how to take care of that.

One thing I’ve learned as a DM is to introduce monsters in waves. At the beginning of combat I had one Justiciar, one Armiger and four Squires (minions). For a party of six I intended to bring in one more Justiciar, one more Armiger and two more Squires. Realizing how badly the PCs were getting beat up in the first couple of rounds I decided not to add another Armiger and Justiciar. Since I’d already placed the second Armiger on the map, the second Justiciar never appeared. Had I not added the two extra minions, the heroes might not have required Faldyra’s assistance. Some nights the dice just don’t cooperate.

How did things go at your table this week? Have PCs died yet this chapter? How is attendance? Are your numbers up or down?

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 7 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.

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.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Neldar March 24, 2011 at 10:26 am

I’ve been running monsters for a 6 or 7 person table since the 3rd week–regardless of how many players I have.

The party tends to stomp them without problem. No deaths yet. That may change next week.

2 j0nny_5 March 24, 2011 at 11:02 am

My group made it through the skill challenge with only one failure. The surprise round took out most of the minions, and the bonus to attack rolls rendered the monster auras moot. I had the Armiger phase away for a round to spread out the damage, the players remembered his kind and ganged up on him. I had trees and stuff continue to get set aflame, hoping to spice up the environment, but it didn’t ever seem to be a problem. The refugees told the players they saw Faydara captured and taken to the graveyard.

3 Sokket March 24, 2011 at 11:11 am

I’ve been running Encounters at a local game stor in Fort Collins, CO for two seasons now and I very much enjoy it. This chapter has been especially fun, as I’ve been allowing role-playing aspects to affect the game. For example:

At the start of Encounter 5, the PC’s met Faldyra in the local tavern. After lamenting about her inability to enter the Ghost Tower, one of the PC’s mentioned that she might wish to try digging her way in. She immediately rushed out of the tower to find a shovel. Cue this week’s encounter, and the party discovering that Faldyra chose to start her tunnel in the graveyard due to the looser dirt. The party immediately realizes what implications this would have with Vladistone in the town

I do agree that this week’s encounter seemed rather forced/random. The story would have made more sense were the Phantom Brigade actively trying to prevent the party from reaching Vladistone. I met it in the middle with the group forming a line to prevent the party from reaching the tower. I also increased the difficulty of the fight by having the soldiers be unharmed by the burning buildings, while the party was not.

As for difficulty, I have had no PC deaths (though a few close calls). I regularly run a table of 6-7, which is larger than the table I ran near the end of last season. All told, I am enjoying this season much more than last season.

4 j0nny_5 March 24, 2011 at 2:07 pm

@socket_ Truly weird, I’m in Ft.Collins also. You must be at the Game Cafe, me at Gryphon. Well met. Glad to hear its going well there too.

5 Funkfugiyama March 24, 2011 at 9:17 pm

I’m really enjoying reading your posts about this seasons Encounters Ameron. The folks at Wizards have done a great job with the story. I wish I could get a Wednesday night off of work to play.

6 Alton March 24, 2011 at 9:45 pm

For one of the first difficult encounters this week, my players rolled extremely well and hardly used any resources. No deaths yet.
Alton´s last blog post ..March of the Phantom Brigade- Session 7

7 Randy Marchese March 25, 2011 at 2:54 am

At our table we had our work cut out for us. With 3 strikers, 2 controllers and a defender but no leader we had to rely on the limited healing abilities our defender had and our own second winds. We did horribly at the first part of getting inside undetected so no surprise round for us. But with our strikers we were able to drop the big phantoms and our controllers did a decent job with the minions. I hope we get our cleric Dave back next week because we really need a healer.

8 Sunyaku March 26, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Paladins save the day! Despite the best efforts of the Phantom Brigade, Aldus Splintershield lives! Paladins at my tables have fed him close to 60 damage worth of healing (spending their surges), temporary hit points, and taking blows for him. If Aldus is still alive when the party meets up with Salazar Vladistone, there will be no mercy… if Aldus drops unconscious, he’s getting coup de graced!
Sunyaku´s last blog post ..Why I Pre Ordered Heroes of Shadow

9 Ameron March 30, 2011 at 1:46 pm

@Neldar
We have a lot of new, inexperienced and younger players at my table. It’s a lot of fun, but I find I have to be very careful and often pull punches. From what I hear the DM running the “advanced” table is having fun clobbering his group.

@j0nny_5
My guys blew about half the rolls during the skill challenge so they didn’t gain any advantages during combat. They are learning from their mistakes, but again inexperience leads to silly mistakes and poor tactics. I want to ensure everyone has a good time so this week I had to curb back the monsters just a bit as to not overwhelm them too much.

@Sokket
I have to agree that this adventure is giving the players a lot more opportunity to role-play than the previous D&D Encounters seasons. I’m fortunate that my table is actually taking advantage of this.

@Funkfugiyama
Thanks for the kind words. I’ve continued doing these field reports every week because I know that a lot of people either can’t play as often as they’d like or that they just want to read about how some of the other groups fared. It’s also a good way for new players to get up to speed in a hurry. I know that when we get a new player we give them a very brief synopsis of what’s happening and then direct him to the blog to read the details before the next encounter. It’s worked really well.

@Alton
Sometime hot or cold dive make all the difference no matter how powerful the character of how difficult the monsters.

@Randy
A few encounters without a leader and suddenly the guys running strikers realize how important a good healer is to the party. Your group is pretty experienced so I think they’ll be able to survive another encounter without a Cleric. And if they don’t then the survivor can split the loot of those who died (since everyone at your table seems to be strongly motivated by acquisition of loot). :)

@Sunyaku
Some groups were ok to let Splintershield die (it was just his time, I suppose) while others made huge personal sacrifices to keep him alive. My compliments to your players if after two encounter they kept the Dwarven Cleric on his feet and in the fight. I’m curious as to just how far they’ll go to keep him alive during the final encounter. If he lives I’d give them a huge XP reward at the end of chapter 2.

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