Last week the party met with Uma in hope of enlisting her aid in the search for Orlando and Juliana. Uma informed the party that they were not the only ones looking for Orlando. Ragnar sent his cousin (a Verbeeg named Basil) to kill the boy, a permanent way of keep the Hag Soryth from gaining control of the island. Although Uma also sought Orlando, she believed her magic capable of freeing Propherio from Orlando and likewise keeping the Hag from her ultimate prize.
Uma told the heroes that they could find Orlando if they found the Nymph he followed into the forest, and the heroes ventured into the forest to find him. As the they moved through the forests they had a nearly fatal encounter with Barkburrs, Bloodthorn Vines and a nasty Vine Horror. After taking a short rest they continued with their search.
They eventually emerged from the thick foliage and into a clearing where they spotted a lone tree atop a small hill. From behind the tree a Nymph emerged and greeted them. “Peace. I would share words with you,” she said.
The PCs learned that the Nymph’s name was Rosaline and that she was indeed the one Orlando was following. She intentionally lured the boy away from Soryth to protect him. She took him to her friend, a Treant named Oakstaff. When asked about Juliana she had few new details to add. However, she did tell the party that Soryth could not advance her plans without Orlando. So as long as Orlando was kept safe, Juliana would also be safe.
She bade them to visit with Oakstaff and fulfill their destiny as key participants in the events to come. As the heroes said goodbye, Rosaline gave them two vials of Horse’s Breath, a consumable that would grant the user’s mount or vehicle an extra move action. She quietly pulled aside the party’s Hamadryad and gave her an additional vial, whispering in her ear, “This is a gift between sisters.”
Finding Oakstaff was easy enough. He called out to the heroes as they approached. The heroes explained who they were and that they were looking for Orlando. Oakstaff uprooted and lead them to a secluded grotto where they could speak more freely.
He told the PCs that he brought Orlando to the Water Palace out on the lake as that’s where Porpherio’s real secrets dwell. He also added that the island is warded against evil and that neither the Hag, nor her allies could reach Orlando.
When the PCs explained that they wanted to bring Orlando back to Uma so that she could free Porpherio’s essence from the boy, Oakstaff agreed to help. He told the PCs how to reach the Water Palace and agreed to go and speak with Uma and Ragnar in an attempt to make them see reason and fight their real enemy, Soryth.
Before the PCs and Oakstaff parted ways, the Treant gave each hero a vial of Rider’s Water. This consumable, when poured on a tiny Fey or tiny natural creature would transform it into a large creature with the mount keyword. Once again the Hamadryad was given an extra vial, “A present for a dear cousin.”
When the PCs reached the lake they detected a faint aura of protective magic emanating from the water. This was likely party of the ward against evil Oakstaff spoke of. Tethered to the dock was a small skiff, just big enough to hold 6 PCs. After the PCs got in the boat and started towards the far bank a thunderous voice boomed, “This island’s mine, fools! Soryth and I have already won!”
Behind the PCs a blue Pixie hovered on the shore. The voice originated from a shadowy image of a fanged man with large horns above him. The face spoke to the Pixie, “Kalbon, master of this isle, commands you into battle, slave. Summon your winds and crush these intruders, then bring me Orlando.” As the face faded away the Pixie’s only response was “Yes.” Water spouts erupted near him and moved towards the PCs.
Take One – Harry T North
This week we again ran with a very manageable five players. The party consisted of a Dryad Warlord, Elf Ranger/Monk Hybrid, Satyr Warlock (Hexblade) [Unseelie Agent], Pixie Bard (Master Skald) [Unseelie Agent] and Satyr Paladin (Cavalier).
The Pixie Bard decided to fly across the water, while the Warlord, Monk and Hexblade got in the boat. The Paladin had other plans. He managed to get two otters to come over and play with him. Rather than use the Rider’s Water on one of them he decided to use them as living water skis.
The Pixie Bard decided to help just to see how things would play out. Using his Speak with Beasts he told the otters that it was a game and that they had to carry the Paladin across without dropping him into the water. An exceptionally high Nature check (in place of Diplomacy) had them convinced to help.
The Paladin then used his rope to create reins for the otters and held on for dear life as they swam him across. He then made three remarkable Acrobatic checks to stay erect and actually managed to make it almost all the way across before an attacked knocked him off.
When the fighting began the party actually did pretty well, at first. Everyone focused fire on one Waterspout destroying it before it got to attack. Unfortunately the remaining three used Spinning Spout to hit multiple PCs and practically destroy the boat.
As the villainous Pixie Ariel tried to get across the lake he encountered the water skiing Paladin and attacked him. The two went toe to toe on the riverbank for a few rounds before the Paladin eventually bloodied Ariel. With a successful Insight check, the Paladin realized that Ariel was no longer under Kalbon’s control so he stopped fighting.
The rest of the party took heavy damage while fighting in the water, but they continued focusing fire and eventually destroyed the waterspouts. The airborne Pixie Bard made a huge difference. His mobility allowed him to move where he was needed most, healing and making checks to keep the party alive. He also suffered no penalties during combat since he wasn’t underwater and that also made a huge difference.
In the end this party wasn’t too bad. They did pretty well last week and this week, but they are definitely low on surges and have grave concerns about finishing the chapter given their current resources.
Take Two – Dueling Grounds
For the second week in a row we were only a few rolls away from a TPK. We had only seven players this week, one being the back-up DM who opted to join when we didn’t get enough people to run the second table. The party consisted of a Human Assassin, Bullywug Assassin, Shade Assassin, Goliath Berserker, Eladrin Wizard (Witch), Eladrin Cleric (Valenae pre-gen) and Drow Warlock (Beliel pre-gen from D&D Encounters season 1).
As we’ve seen again and again with this group, no one wants to play a leader. One Cleric for a party of seven isn’t enough. PCs were falling left and right and then most of the players berated the guy playing the Cleric when he didn’t heal them. I smiled inwardly when he not only didn’t heal the players who gave him a hard time but outright abandoned them during combat to avoid taking damage himself. Karma dude, Karma.
Since we had seven PCs I added a Waterspout bringing the total to five. Five PCs and a beast companion were loaded in the boat and mid-way across when the first attacks hit. The Bullywug Assassin and the Shade Assassin remained behind on the dock. The Shade immediately stated swimming closer to the party knowing he could teleport if he got within range. The Bullywug decided to stay on shore. (I still don’t understand why he didn’t get in the water!)
The three Waterspouts managed to attack multiple PCs and the boat during the first round. The Berserker’s defender’s aura allowed him to make three opportunity attacks, but since they were insubstantial they took little damage.
By the end of the first round the beast companion was destroyed and four of the PCs were well below their bloodied value. Hits from three Waterspouts dealing 2d6+3 each decimated the majority of the party. The heroes tried to get back in the boat so that they could attack more effectively but that just made them easier targets for the fourth Waterspout to hit them all again.
The Witch tried using Ghost Sound to mimic Kalbon’s voice and command one of the Waterspouts to cease its hostilities. I had the player make an Arcana check and he rolled a 20. I deemed this a success and the Waterspout disappeared. But even this act of mercy by the DM did little to turn the tide of the slaughter.
I had Ariel remain out of combat for three rounds as he moved around the battle and tried to get onto the island. When he realized that he couldn’t, he attacked the PCs. I had to have him focus his blast attack on the two PCs who took minimal damage during the first couple of rounds or I’d have easily killed the four very bloodied PCs.
Once they heroes finally managed to take out most of the Waterspouts they started attacking Ariel the Pixie. The Berserker used a daily attack and did enough damage with one strike to bloody Ariel. After that the Warlock made an Insight check and realized that Kalbon’s slave was now free of the compulsion and stopped fighting.
It only took one more round of focused fire to destroy the remaining Waterspouts, but the toll on the party was huge. In the end five of the seven PCs ended up using four or more healing surges. Add that to the ones they spent last week and most of the party is at less than their maximum hit points and down to zero surges. With two encounters remaining this party will not survive. I’m going to have to award bonus healing surges or the game will end next week.
This week splitting the party actually saved them. Had the PCs all been grouped together they would have been easier targets for the Waterspouts and Ariel. By having a couple of them not use the boat, individual Waterspouts engaged the outliers one-on-one saving those in the boat from an even worse fate.
This was an ugly battle. Compounded on top of last week’s debacle and I had a lot of players saying a lot of bad words. None of the players at either of my tables believe they’ll live through the rest of this chapter. They took such heavy damage during the last two encounters that they don’t have the resources they need to continue. If this was a home game they would simply take the extended rest now. If Orlando was captured or killed while they rested that would just be too bad for him. No point in a full party dying in an attempt to save one man.
I think the real issue is the incredible damage output from the monsters. Last week it was the Vine Horror’s 2d8+4 and this week it was the Waterspouts 2d6+3 against up to four targets. Since most PCs have about 30 hit points max, two hits like these are enough to take them out of the battle. If more than one monster gangs up on a single PC then it’s lights out.
On the plus side I really liked the encounter over (and in) the water. It added a mechanic to the battle that most players had never before experienced. The flying PCs had a clear advantage, but in this case it didn’t bother me at all. As the PCs managed to wash up on the beach, the ranged attackers went to work helping those still in the water. It really emphasized the importance of having a ranged weapon. Even an attack of +0 with a bow is better than not having an attack at all. So for all you melee-types get yourself a crossbow or a heavy thrown weapon.
How did the river crossing go at your table? What was the ratio of living to dead PCs by the end? How many PCs are out of healing surges? How do DMs plan to address PCs with zero healing surges considering there are still two more encounters to go before the extended rest?
We continue to record our D&D Encoutners sessions and make them available to you for download every week. This season I’m going to try to record the games at both FLGS where I play so that you can hear how two very different groups handled the same encounter. These recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at times it may be difficult to hear everyone.
D&D Encounters: Beyond the Crystal Cave (Week 7) – Podcasts
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.