D&D Encounters: March of the Phantom Brigade (Week 10)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 14, 2011

“Salazar Vladistone is a hero.” At least he was during his lifetime, according to Faldyra. After last week’s battle against the ghosts of Hammerfast, this week’s encounter began with a quick breather in the library. The PCs found Faldyra pouring through old dusty tomes in the library’s basement archives. She’d discovered information about the leader of the Phantom Brigade as well as a possible way to defeat him once and for all.

This week at our FLGS we were running with a skeleton crew. My table had only three players, but one of the veterans was willing and able to run both Belgos and Valenae. The other two players were running Jarren and a new addition to the party, a Dragonborn Fighter. The other table at our FLGS had five players, all of them still sore from the TPK they suffered last week and looking to get back into the game.

Faldyra told the PCs the story of Vladistone’s life. Apparently he was a hero, the leader of a famous adventuring company called the Silver Company. His wife, Oldivya, a Cleric in life was a member of the same adventuring party before she met an early death during the group’s exploration of the original Castle Inverness. After her death, Vladistone became cold and distant. However, the Silver Company continued adventuring, taking on the most dangerous missions and helping to shape the development of the civilized lands in these parts. Vladistone became more reckless always volunteering for the most dangerous assignments. It was like he wanted to die in order to be reunited with his wife.

Eventually Vladistone met his match. The Silver Company took a mission that was deemed too dangerous for anyone else. A band of Durger Dwarves infiltrated a shrine dedicated to the Dwarven god Moradin. Vladistone himself led the Silver Company into the shrine in order to defeat the Durger threat. Unfortunately that was his last adventure. He died keeping the Durger busy long enough for the rest of his party to escape.

The Durger threat was never defeated, but a series of earthquakes blocked the doors to the shrine, keeping the Durger from advancing beyond the sealed doors. Faldyra believed that Vladistone’s remains are still somewhere inside the shrine.

In addition to learning more of Vladistone’s history she also discovered what she believed was the reason for all of the recent turmoil, including the reason Vladistone cannot communicate with his wife.

When the Silver Company first explored Castle Inverness they removed a powerful artefact called the Arrow of Time. If the Arrow could be found and returned to its original location within the tower she believed that things would return to normal.

However, there was another possibility. The Arrow itself could be used to right a wrong. If it was used to kill a creature, the magic of the arrow would travel through time and destroy that creature forever, making it as if the creature never existed. So if it was a single creature that killed Vladistone all those years ago in the shrine, killing it with the arrow could change history. Vladistone wouldn’t die and he might find redemption in his later years of life. This would stop him from ever becoming a ghost and reverse all of the hardship the Phantom Brigade has recently unleashed.

The PCs discussed options and felt that finding the Arrow of Time needed to be their top priority. Faldyra arranged to get them safely out of the city and provided them with directions to the shrine. They made it out safely enough, with only a few ghost scouts noticing the party.

Unfortunately a group of ghostly riders eventually pursued them. The ghosts stayed out of weapon range, never catching up, even when the party slowed to rest. It seemed that they were not interested in catch the PCs, just following them.

The heroes eventually reached the shrine. When they dismounted three ghostly horsemen approach slowly, and clearly without hostile intent. The leader was Vladistone himself. “Were I you, I would proceed no farther. Inside you will find more than you bargained for. Trust me I know.”

The PCs tried to enlist Vladistone’s aid, inviting him to join them in their exploration. They even said they’d find his remains and provide a proper burial. He still refused. He warned them three times not to enter before giving up and retuning back towards Hammerfast.

The doors to the shrine were still covered with rubble for the earthquakes. The Fighter tried to force the doors open but realized that they swung outward. He got to work clearing the rubble. While he laboured, Jarren and Valenae studied the inscription on the door. Jarren was sure it was an arcane glyph designed to open with the correct command. However, until more of the door was visible they were unable to decipher the script.

After the Fighter cleared the debris completely they again tried to learn the opening command. Together Jarren, Valenae and Belgos combined their knowledge of Arcane, Religion and Thievery to figure out the command word. The PCs set themselves up and spoke the word of opening – success, the doors opened.

Belgos crept up and stepped inside the dark room. Aside from a Dwarven statue and the rubble of another, he couldn’t immediately see anything amiss. He spotted another set of doors so he tried the word of opening. Unfortunately it didn’t open the new door; rather it began closing the door he just entered through. The Fighter dashed inside before the doors closed. Jarren quickly fired a Light spell inside just as the doors slammed closed.

With the room alight, the PCs saw three undead creatures emerge from hidden alcoves along the walls and attack them. Valenae and Jarren stood outside listening, but couldn’t hear through the doors. They tried the opening word again and sure enough the doors opened. As soon as the door began opening, the PCs outside saw their friends in the thick of battle.

Valenae used her Fey Step to get inside and help as fast as she could. Jarren stood back and used Magic Missile and Arc Lighting to try and soften up the melee combatants. Belgos took the first opportunity to get out of melee and started firing his bow from the relatively safety of the steps.

The two Ghouls engaged Valenae and the Fighter. The Zombie started by engaging the Fighter but then charged Belgos. Belgos kept moving further back from the melee but the Zombie kept charging him in pursuit.

After a few rounds of melee (and after everyone in the party failed their Perception check) another undead creature arose from the rubble of the statue. Upon reaching his fully erect height he shouted out and his entire body was set ablaze. He then threw a fire ball at Jarren.

The Fighter kept marking the Ghouls in order to keep them off of Valenae. The problem was that they kept hitting him (such is the plight of the defender). At first Valenae used Healing Word to restore some of the Fighters rapidly depleting hit pints, but eventually the Fighter fell unconscious. However on his very next turn he rolled a 19 on his death save, which became a 21 after applying the +2 from the adjacent Valenae so the Fighter was back in the fight.

He kept fighting for another round but again he was knocked unconscious. And again on his turn he rolled a 19 and brought himself back into the fight.

Meanwhile Belgos and the Zombie kept trading blows. With only 1 hit point left, Belgos finally destroyed the zombie, sliding it 3 squares to add insult to injury. And it was a good thing because I rolled a 19 on the Zombie’s turn which meant that he arose as a minion. He charged Belgos, but rolled a 1 (my first of the night). Belgos was fortunate enough to hit on his turn killing the Zombie a second time.

The rest of the party focused on the most injured Ghoul first and killed it. The Blazing Skeleton was unable to hit very often with his ranged attack, but he was able to pin a few of the PCs into his aura forcing them to take a little bit of fire damage.

Jarren targeted the Blazing Skeleton and the remaining Ghoul with Arc Lightning. He kept hitting the Blazing Skeleton and missing the Ghoul. The same round that he dropped the Blazing Skeleton he rolled a crit on the Ghoul bringing it within a few hit points of death. This was the only crit we saw all night on an attack roll (from the players). I on the other hand scored two crits in the first two rounds decimating the Fighter and Valenae early on.

Belgos finally managed to get back into the fight by entering the shrine. It was his shot that managed to kill the final ghoul.

By the time the combat was finished the Fighter was again down to only a few hit points, Belgos was at 1, Jarren was at 5 and Valenae was barely above bloodied. This was another tough fight for the PCs, but no one died. After just two encounters most of the PCs are down to their last couple of healing surges. With three encounters remaining, things may yet get a lot worse.

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 10 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 Acheron April 14, 2011 at 10:01 am

Nice encounter, ouch the fact that the other table had a TPK…. those are hard to get over with… Looking foward to the next post!

2 Captain Spud April 14, 2011 at 10:24 am

How does Encounters handle character death?

3 Wally April 14, 2011 at 12:59 pm

If a character dies if I remember correctly from the handout they may return at -4 healing surges.

4 Rabbit is wise April 14, 2011 at 5:49 pm

We focused fire and killed the blazing skeletons in the first two rounds. (our sessions often go differently than the writeups here). That didnt stop 2 players from taking a combined 55 ongoing fire damage from just one attack each over the next 5 rounds. Neither could make a saving throw. So our wizard went down, from ongoing fire damage. It made us all laugh.

5 j0nny_5 April 14, 2011 at 7:16 pm

My group was down a player and of those remaining, most are new, so I removed one of the ghouls and increased the HP of the other ghoul a little. It went down in the beginning of the third round, then a crit was scored on a zombie. Now, it’s four on two. Fourth round, zombie triggers an AoO and explodes from another crit. The Blazing Skeleton was untouched at this point, but now all alone. Him too I gave some extra HP, just so he could survive for one last attack, he knew he was doomed. Two crits + two zombies = Quick fight.

6 Ameron April 14, 2011 at 8:16 pm

@Captain Spud
According to the text in the adventure, there are two ways to handle character death.

  1. The player can bring the same character back at the beginning of the next session with four fewer healing surges. If a character dies and has fewer than four healing surges remaining, that character looses all of his remaining healing surges and can return next session but has hit points equal to his bloodied value.
  2. The player can start a new level-appropriate character, bringing in a new character with an amount of XP equal to the character he previously played in the session. However, the new character does not keep any treasure or items from the previous character.

No other penalty exists for death except for the potential loss of Renown Points for surviving eight or more session without dying.

@Rabbit is wise
I felt throwing all of the monsters at the PCs in the first round could have been disastrous so I kept the Blazing Skeleton hidden for the few round (giving all the PCs a free active Perception check to notice the additional foe as they entered the shrine). This gave them ample opportunity to work together and destroy one of the other opponents before the big guy came in. Unfortunately they did what they always do and everyone faced off agains a different opponent.

With only four characters at my table I too had to tweak the encounter. I removed one of the Zombies since they were level 4 and the Ghouls were level 3. The 4-on-4 combat was pretty evenly matched. It easily could have gone either way. Had any of the PCs actually scored a crit on the Zombie things would have been very different. Fortunately the PCs emerged victorious.

7 Paladyn April 15, 2011 at 4:35 am

As Ameron knows, I run D&D Encounters, organising them on my own. For now went through first encounter of second episode of “Fury of the Wastewalker”, so basically it is sixth encounter in row. From what I see, almost every fight is balancing on the edge. There were no situation, where PCs easily defeated enemies. I have a party of four to six players, some of them very experienced, some of them grasping the rules and every time combat is harsh.

From what I see in your sessions, I begin to wonder if difficulty level isn’t set too high.

Best regards!

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