The heroes have the Wand of Tir’Lien. They braved the caverns underneath Citadel Adbar, flushed the Duergar squatters from the abandoned Dwarven outpost, fought a Mimic, and then destroyed the mad Drow Matharic to ultimately acquire the wand. Now they have returned to the Citadel where they rest while the Dwarven seer Axelcrantz examines the wand and tries to determine how it can be used to battle the Drow and defeat The Darkening.
Most weeks I play D&D Encounters at two different FLGS. I decided a few seasons ago to only focus on one group in these blog posts, mainly because it kept things simpler. So for the past few seasons these posts have focused on the exploits of my first run-through each week. Today I’ve decided to change things up a bit and share the adventures of the other group. I found their approach showed a lot of creativity and a lot more willingness to think outside of the box.
At the second FLGS we had 15 people, the perfect number for three tables. I had four players at my table and they were running the following characters: Half-Orc Fighter [Brawler], Half-Orc Barbarian [Berserker], Dragonborn Fighter, and Drow Ranger [Hunter]. No leaders and no controllers – should make for an interesting session.
Act 1 – The Journey
Scene 1 – The Short Route
Axelcrantz summoned the heroes to his sanctuary and shared his latest vision with them. The PCs must journey to the Fell Fortress, a citadel hidden in the Fell Pass. The fortress was constructed centuries ago by a Drow Necromancer and is a gate to the Shadowfell. The Drow plan to use this gate to call forth an undead army. The heroes can use the Wand of Tir’Lien to close the gate and push back the darkness.
The Fell Pass is hundreds of miles from Citadel Adbar and will take the PCs months to reach. They have to decide if they want to go the short way through the mountains and Moonwood, all the while fighting the elements and struggling to find ample food and water, of if they’d rather go the long way where they are more likely to encounter agents of the Drow intent on stopping them.
The heroes talked about the pros and cons of each route and decided that they were more suited to face the dangers of the direct path. With their Ranger to guide them, and the two Half-Orcs ready to intercede should they run into any Orc patrols they felt confident that they could make it to the Fell Fortress in time to stop the Drow.
Scene 2 – Preparations
Before leaving the Citadel on their long and perilous journey the PCs decided to gather information and supplies. They spent a few days in Citadel Adbar looking for a scout or a guide who could lead them or provide them with a map of safe passage. They also realized they’d need suitable equipment to survive the harsh winter condition. Although this was not something that was in the adventure I certainly allowed it.
For the next 45 minutes the PCs engaged some of the local Dwarves in hopes of getting anything to make their trip easier. They eventually found an old retired Ranger who knew everything there was to know about the mountains. Following some keen negotiations the Dwarven Ranger eventually provide the PCs with a map of some caverns that would allow them to travel for two weeks through the mountain rather than on the side of it. He also recommended that the PCs visit specific suppliers who would outfit them with appropriate equipment at reasonable prices (despite the fact that two of the heroes were Orcs, and one was Drow).
Scene 3 – The 3 Trials: Weather, Mountain and Hunger
When the PCs were finally ready to head out I explained that they would face three perils during their long journey. The first was the harsh clod of winter, the second was the treacherous mountain paths, and the third was the absence of ample food or wildlife to hunt. From a mechanics perspective the party needed to make three group checks, one for each peril. These checks represented the months of struggle to overcome the perils and not just individual encounters or specific one-time obstacles. However, as the PCs came up with ideas for how to fend off or overcome ach peril they’d get +1 to their corresponding skill check.
I awarded the party bonuses right off the bat for the prep work they’d already done during the role-playing in Citadel Adbar. After another 20 or so minutes of brainstorming and role-playing they’d come up with a lot more suggestions. As part of the brainstorming each of the characters had at least one chance to be in the spotlight where they explained one scene in which they did something to help the party. Overall they accumulated +5 to each of the three checks.
For the check to fend off the cold the Ranger used Nature and the rest of the PCs used Endurance. The Nature check failed but the other three succeeded so the party was fine. For the check to stay on the mountain trails the Ranger used Dungeoneering and the others all used Athletics. Although Athletics wasn’t one of the listed skills I allowed it based on the role-playing. I did tell the players that it would be a slightly harder check because it wasn’t one of the listed skills and they were fine with that. The Brawler failed his check but the other three made it with flying colours. Another party success. Finally they had to find food. The Ranger again used Nature while the others used Endurance. Again Endurance was not a listed skill but the role-playing deemed it appropriate so I allowed it but made the DC higher. All four PCs made this check so they didn’t go hungry.
Scene 4 – Orc Patrol
By the time the PCs reached the Orc Patrol in King Obould’s territory they were so tired and hungry they stumbled right into an Orc encampment. The Orcs were defensive but not aggressive asking who the PCs were and what they were doing here. The Brawler was the champion from The Pit in week 2 and recognized these Orcs as part of the Crooked Path tribe. He explained who he was and why the PCs were here, along with a good dose of self-promotion from his previous victory in The Pit. The Orcs remembered this champion and remembered that he didn’t kill the Drake, a sign of great respect to the clan. They welcomed the PCs into their camp, shared a hot meal and promised to keep watch while they rested.
As we role-played the dinner scene the party asked about dangers and opposition they might face in these woods. The Orcs provided them with some intel, specifically where the Drow and rogue Orcs were currently staged. Using this information the party managed to reach Fell Pass unmolested.
Act 2 – The Fell Fortress
When the PCs arrived at the Fell Pass they felt the Shadowfell pulling on their life forces. The Barbarian and Fighter failed their Endurance checks and suffered -2 to their saving throws and initiative. When the party arrived at the Fell Fortress they spotted two Drow spellcasters in the midst of a ritual. The stonework of the nearby fortress was made to look like a giant gaping skull, the front gates forming the maw and the portcullis the fangs. So basically Castle Greyskull (come on, who didn’t make that connection?). There were also numerous shadowing wraiths flying in and out of the castle.
Normally with a party of four I’d curb back the encounter a bit but given the party’s huge offensive capabilities I didn’t. In fact I made it a bit tougher since the PCs had suffered no damage until this point. I left the two Drow exactly as printed (a level 8 artillery and a level 8 controller leader). There were supposed to be three Wraiths at the beginning and then 1d3 more each round. I decided to start with three, and add three the next round. Each round after that I’d bring the total number of Wraiths up to two if there were less than that many alive. I also made one really big change to how the Wraiths worked. Since they had phasing I imagined them as being insubstantial as well. Any time they took damage I’d give the Wraith a save. On a success they’d phase quickly enough to avoid damage (think the two ghost brothers in the second Matrix movie). If they failed the save they’d die like normal minions. On a crit they didn’t get a save.
The fight lasted almost an hour and was a lot of fun. The melee combatants were constantly struggling to avoid being slowed by the Wraiths and immobilized by the Drow casters. The ongoing damage really started piling up on the Barbarian, fortunately he had resist 3 ongoing damage which saved his life. The absences of a leader made things difficult but not impossible. The wand of Tir’Lien with its four heals made things manageable. I ruled that the wand required a minor action to trigger a heal (much like the Bard’s Scald aura).
At no time during the fight did any of the PCs think to activate the sunlight power on any of their three special magic items. I decided that had they done so no new Wraiths would have appeared after the initial six fell and the Wraths would have suffered a -2 on their phasing save.
When the Drow and the Wraiths were finally defeated Axelcrantz (who had been tagging along this whole time but not really contributing in any way) took the Wand of Tir’Lien and used it to close the gate to the Shadowfell and push back The Darkening from the Fell Pass. Searching the bodies of the Drow revealed a magical shield with the symbol of Amaunator etched onto its face. This was another item that could radiate sunlight. They also found battle plans indicating a Troll army was on its way to Nesmé. If Nesmé falls Silverymoon would surly be next. So the PCs headed to Nesmé to help fend off the Trolls.
I really liked that the PCs had two different paths that they could take to reach the Fell Pass. Given their composition and skills they could choose to take the route most suited to their strengths. The actual skill checks could have been done in about 5 minutes (which they were at some tables) or the DM and parties could have spent a lot of time role-playing it (like we did). This all came down to the people at the table and their preference.
The fight was tough, and if the party had taken damage before reaching the big climax it could have been a very challenging battle. Again, DMs needed to assess the party’s abilities and power level and adjust accordingly.
I found that the Wand of Tir’Lien gave the party a really big advantage in the healing department. The minimal description provided in the adventure doesn’t specific if activating the wand requires a minor action or if it’s a free action. I decided that it should work like the Bard’s Scald aura and be a minor action. Between the wand and the Tears of Helm the party has the means to trigger five healing surges each week. Even a party without a leader shouldn’t have any difficulties getting back on their feet. Personally I think the wand is way too powerful. I think one or two heals per day is plenty.
Recounting Encounters Podcast
Recounting Encounters is a weekly podcast I record with Marc Talbot (Alton) from 20ft Radius in which we recount that week’s experiences with D&D Encounters. We share the highlights from our respective FLGS and we talk about what worked, what didn’t and what we might have done differently. Find all episodes of Recounting Encounters on iTunes under 20ft Radius.
Actual Play Podcasts
We continue to record our D&D Encounters sessions and make them available to you for download every week. These recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at times it may be difficult to hear everyone. Some language may be inappropriate for all ages, although we try to keep it as family-friendly as possible.
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.