Salazar Vladistone and the Phantom Brigade burned the village of Inverness to the ground. Two months later Vladistone and his Ghost army have returned and are now attacking Hammerfast. The third and final chapter of March of the Phantom Brigade begans by throwing the PCs right into the thick of things.
After fleeing Inverness, the PCs, Malgram, Faldyra and the rest of the survivors managed to make it all the way back to Hammerfast where they were welcomed and provided with food and shelter. In order to help repay the townsfolk’s kindness, the PCs were asked to join the city guard as reserve members. The grateful PCs couldn’t refuse. It sounded like a fair trade. After all, who would be dumb enough to attack a walled city full of battle-ready dwarves? Salazar Vladistone, apparently.
This week the party consisted of six members. Belgos (the Dragonborn variant), Jarren and Valenae represented the pre-gens. Belgos and Valenae were both level 2, Jarren remained level 1. The rest of the party was made up of a Human charm Wizard and a Human Slayer Fighter (both level 2) and a brand new addition to the party, a level 1 Dwarf Rune Priest.
The encounter began with the Ghost marching towards Hammerfast. The PCs were called up before the encounter began and were already stationed on the wall with the other city guards. Vladistone halted the army, stepped forward and addressed the city.
“Hammerfast. Your walls spawned the corruption that fouled the grave of my love. Send out your Lady of Gold. Let the High Master pay the price for this transgression.”
While one of the sergeants posted on the wall exchanged insults with Vladistone, a messenger arrived with an urgent note for the PCs. Apparently Faldyra discovered something of vital importance while researching a way to combat the Phantom Brigade. She needed to see the PCs immediately. The PC’s commanding officer told them to go. If they could help find a way to defeat the approaching army, he could manage with a few less guards.
Before they could leave the wall, Vladistone erupted with anger. Hammerfast’s refusal to produce the Lady of Gold pushed him over the edge. “You refuse me foolishly. Now you will pay the price. I command all the Ghosts of the Nentir Vale… all of them.”
From within the city of Hammerfast, a city filled with Ghost, screams began erupting. The normally harmless Ghosts started attacking the townsfolk. The PCs needed to get to the library with all haste. If a way to defeat Vladistone was within their grasp they needed it now.
As the party approached the library they were beset upon by Ghosts, two Dwarves and two Orcs. A quick Religion check made it clear that talking was not an option and that killing the Ghosts wouldn’t destroy them forever, just temporarily. So the party engaged the enemy. At first the PCs managed to hold their own. They did some reasonable damage. Unfortunately they all focused on different enemies, spreading the damage equally among all of the opponents. And then the Ghosts hit back.
Using good tactics (as the adventure indicated they would) the Ghosts began by attacking the PCs who looked the softest, namely Belgos and Jarren. The other two Ghosts attacked the closest opponents, the Rune Priest and the Slayer.
The PCs took a beating early. The Ghost Dwarves both used their punishing charge and hit. That attack dealt 3d6+4 damage on a successful hit and half on a miss. Both Dwarves scored a solid hit (one a crit). The Orcs attacked with Battle Axes doing 2d10+3 on a successful hit. And they hit…a lot.
By the third round five of the six PCs were bloodied, some much worse than others. That was when another Ghost Dwarf entered the combat. Fortunately the PCs had the good sense to keep focusing on those Ghosts that were already bloodied before taking on the fresh Dwarf.
The PCs managed to immobilize one of the Orcs early in the combat. The Orc failed his save and remained outside of the melee for four rounds. Having no ranged attacks he resorted to shouting insults. While he was immobilized Jarren hit him with a few Magic Missiles and Belgos unloaded his quiver of arrows into the Orc. When the Orc finally managed to make his save he was really low on hit points. He only got to attack once before being killed the next round.
And then the tied turned in the favour of the PCs. They managed to drop three opponents in the same round. With only one Ghost Dwarf and one Ghost Orc remaining the party looked like they were going to sail on to an easy victory. Until another Ghost Orc joined in the fighting.
He came up from behind the party and attacked the charm Wizard. Until then the Wizard was pretty much unscathed so he could take a few hits. As luck would have it the Orc’s damage with his 2d10+3 attack came up 7, 9 and 8 over the next three rounds.
The only PCs to actually fall unconscious was Belgos. The first time he dropped he managed to roll an 18 on his death save. The +2 from Valenae brought him back into the fight on his own. The next time he dropped he was left for dead. By then there was only one Ghost Orc still fighting so the PCs figured they’d kill it before helping their ally.
In the end all of the PCs took a lot of damage. Everyone used their second wind during the fight, something I haven’t seen happen in any D&D game for a long time. The Ghosts hit so hard, and I rolled three crits, that a lot of the PCs used up at least half of their healing surges or more by the time they healed up. This will prove problematic moving forward as there are four more encounters to go.
The other table at our FLGS was running with six level 2 PCs and they suffered a TPK. This encounter was tough. The other DM watched the last few rounds of our fight and pointed out an important detail that I overlooked. When these Ghosts were hit for force damage they lost their insubstantiality for one round. I totally missed that in their description. Since none of the Ghosts the PCs fought previously had this property I didn’t realize these were any different.
What this means is that the party would have defeated the Ghosts more easily and more quickly. It also means that some of the Ghosts would have been killed earlier in the fight and would not have dished out the damage that they did in the later rounds. As a corrective measure I gave everyone back one healing surge. The more I think about it the more likely think I’ll award back a couple of surges to the PCs hit hardest (like Belgos) before the next encounter.
Considering that no one at my table was above level 2, this fight was really tough. When I heard that the other table had a TPK I began to think that the same thing was about to happen at my table. And then the PCs managed to turn the tide. Although half of the guys at my table are relatively inexperienced, they handled their characters rather well. The lack of a defender was a noticeable problem, but the extra strikers, the Magic Missiles and two leaders more than made up for it.
How did things fare at your table this week? Did you suffer a TPK or the death of any other PCs? Is anyone running level 3 characters yet? For those tables still running with level 1 PCs are the DMs making any adjustments to the encounters to account for characters with lower hit points and lower defenses? Do you think we should tone down the encounters a little bit for weaker parties or should they be challenged?
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 9 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.