This week things began with a little bit of role-playing as the party had their first skill challenge in many weeks. The success or failure of the skill challenge had real implications on the forthcoming combat encounter. As this was the fifth and final encounter of chapter 2, the PCs were in rough shape and knew that a major climax was going to happen before the night was up. They would not be disappointed.
This week I had seven at my table. The party consisted of Jarren 1, Jarren 2, a Shardmind Bard, a Shadar-kai Vampire, a Drow Ranger, an Elven Ranger and a Goliath Warden. For the second week in a row I had a lot of younger gamers at my table. It made for a much longer and slower night, but the game was still a lot of fun.
During last week’s encounter this party did not manage to capture or kill the Dark One Shadow Bolter. He managed to escape while the PCs fought the Twig Blights. This week they spent time trying to track down the elusive archer, but had no luck. He was simply gone.
The heroes returned to the town square where they met up with Captain Grimbold. He told them that most of the town’s folk had huddled in three defensible locations to ride out the night: The Chapel of Peace, the Lady’s Manor and the Armory. His men had the Chapel and Lady’s Manor pretty much secured but they could really use help securing at the Armory. The only soldiers there were relatively inexperienced. The PCs agreed and headed to the Armory.
When they arrive the people within were scared. The events of the past two days and nights had crushed their spirits and hope. These are normal, regular, people who had never used weapons. They just wanted things to return to normal, but few believed that would actually happen. It was up to the heroes to bring hope back to these terrified folk.
The Bard made a rousing speech (Diplomacy) and reassured the people that things would be alright. His confidence was infectious and many were relived. Jarren 1 decided that a big lie (Bluff) was called for. He spun a yarn about a religious prophecy (Religion) that told of events similar to these. In this prophesy seven heroes made the difference and emerged victorious. He showed the people the holy symbol that Brother Zelan gave him and explained that the prophecy specifically said that the heroes would brandish this symbol which he held. Things would be alright.
The Vampire and the Drow Ranger entertained the younger kids with a slapstick performance (Athletics). Jarren 2 recalled other well known stories (History) about small forces defeating overwhelming numbers, giving the people hope. The Elf Ranger took special care to make sure that everyone was in good physical health (Heal), providing first aid and food to those who might need it.
Each of the heroes also had to call upon their own inner reserves to keep their own spirits up (Endurance). Five of them made it, two did not. But those who did were able to help the one who were still feeling the crushing despair of being in the Shadowfell.
With these acts of kindness, the party was able to easily instill hope back in these people. The seven soldiers who were stationed at the armory found the courage to join the party in patrolling the immediate vicinity.
For the next couple of hours the PCs carefully patrolled the few blocks surrounding the Armory. As the PCs were finishing a patrol circuit and returning to the Armory they heard the sounds of battle. With dawn less then an hour away the Armory was under attack.
Skeletons were trying to get inside the Armory. Two other skeletons engulfed in fire and hurling fireballs attacked the Armory from the apex of the nearby bridges. The Drow Ranger and the Vampire rushed the closest skeletons, easily hitting and knocking them down. But these minions weren’t as fragile as the PCs expected. With a successful hit the minions was knocked prone and bloodied, but not killed. It took a second hit to destroy these skeletons. Two soldiers stayed out of melee and fired at the skeletons with their crossbows, missing horribly.
Two skeletons came around the Armory and using bows shot Jarren 1 and killed one of the soldiers. Jarren 1 (now an Eladrin) used his Fey Step to teleport on the roof of the Armory. From there he lowered a rope allowing the others to climb up more easily. Jarren 2, the Bard, and the four remaining soldiers all climbed on to the roof before pulling the rope up behind them.
The Warden followed the Vampire and Ranger, avoiding the minion Skeletons and charged the Blazing Skeleton on the bridge. Fortunately the Warden had a power that provided resist 5 to all damage so the creature’s fiery aura didn’t hurt him. The two exchanged blows for a few rounds. The Warden shrugged off most damage, including the ongoing fire as well as the fiery aura.
Two skeleton archers on the far side of the canal took aim at the soldiers on the roof, eventually killing two. The other Blazing Skeleton also targeted the PCs on the roof, hitting the Bard and Jarren 2 in two successive rounds, igniting both on fire. Neither made their save for a few rounds.
At the top of the third round, with the four melee skeletons defeated, six more entered the combat. This kept the Vampire and both Rangers pretty busy. Meanwhile on the roof, two Shadow Stalkers appeared and attacked the PCs who thought they were safe. The necrotic hugs incapacitated Jarren 1 and the Bard. The PCs on the ground had no idea that their friends on the roof were in real danger.
By this point most PCs were bloodied (except the Warden). The PCs had between zero and two healing surges so they needed to destroy these enemies fast. The addition of the Bard to the party was a literal life saver as he was able to heal Jarren 2 and the Elf Ranger when both were down to their last couple of hit points. The guys on the ground decided that the Blazing Skeletons were a more serious threat than the minions so they ignored the minions and focused their attacks on the Blazing Skeletons. They even provoked opportunity attacks in order to get there faster.
The battle on the roof was getting ugly fast. One of the Shadows couldn’t hold his hug as Jarren 1 kept saving and ejecting him from his body. The other one held the Bard tightly reducing his hit points in leaps and bounds every round. The mobile Shadow took out one of the soldier leaving only one left in the battle. He would survive until the end.
Jarren 1 realized that the Shadows were bad news so he climbed off the roof and helped the ground fight. Two Arc Lightning attacks later two more minions were down. The Rangers both used Twin Strike to destroy the remaining minions. It was Jarren 1, grasping the holy symbol that killed the final Blazing Skeleton with a Magic Missile.
The PCs on the roof couldn’t hit the Shadows, but neither could the Shadows hit them. Jarren 2 and the Bard both jumped off the roof into the wagon below. The Bard could not make a save. The other shadow tried attacking Jarren 1 but was finally destroyed by the combined force of the party. The other Shadow was eventually expelled from the Bard after three of the PCs made successful Heal checks granting the Bard additional saves.
The final shadow was no match for the seven PCs focusing fire. The heroes were bloodied and out of healing surges, but the battle was over and they’d won. Six of the seven soldier died during the fight. During the entire fight only one soldier actually hit with an attack. The PCs searched the skeletal remains and realized that all of the undead wore garments similar to those worn by monks.
The sun broke over the horizon and the town of Duponde returned from the Shadowfell to the normal world. However, this transition was sluggish and not as quick as the one the day before. Another night or two and Evard’s curse would keep Duponde in the Shadowfell forever.
The PCs did remarkably well. Some were playing new PCs so they had daily powers, actions points and healing surges that they wouldn’t have had if they’d played all of the previous four encounters of the chapter. Add to the mix seven level 4 PCs and I knew that I had to beef things up. Even though they rocked the skill challenge I still had the reinforcement arrive on the third round.
As described above I made the minions two-hit minions. When a Skeleton was hit they were bloodied and knocked prone. This forced a minion who survived until his next turn to use his move action to stand. It also made finishing him off easier for melee combatants as they’d have combat advantage attacking the prone opponent. I asked the players what they thought of my enhanced minions and they all really enjoyed fighting them.
I gave the Blazing Skeleton an encounter power that was a burst 1 within 10 that didn’t inflict damage right away but caused 5 ongoing fire damage (save ends) on a hit. This encouraged the PCs and soldiers not to bunch up. I also added a second Shadow Stalker. This proved to be just the right balance.
The encounter took two and a half hours. This was due in part to the younger players not paying attention, the two-hit minions and a lot of poor rolling in the second hour by the players and the DM. I felt that this was a very exciting conclusion to the chapter and the players agreed.
So ends chapter 2 of Dark Legacy of Evard. When we pick things up next week the PCs will learn more about why the Skeletons were all dressed in monk’s robes and priestly garments. With only one chapter remaining you know that a showdown with Nathaire is inevitable. Will the PCs break Evard’s curse or with the entire town of Duponde remain in the Shadowfell forever?
How did people find chapter 2? Do you think having that fifth encounter was too much or do you think pushing the players into one more combat was just what D&D Encounters needed? Did anyone let the party take an extended rest before the end of the chapter? What have people enjoyed most about this season of D&D Encounters so far? Do you think that it’s as good as last season, better or about the same?
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