D&D Encounters: Against the Cult of Chaos (Week 8.)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 4, 2013

against-the-cult-of-chaos-coverThis week was the grand finale of D&D Encounters season 12. The PCs would face of against the forces off evil in an attempt to seal the rip in the Chaos Mote and ensure Miska remained imprisoned. The PCs would either be successful or die trying.

We ran a party of six this week. The members included a Drow Cleric, Half-Orc Barbarian, Elf Fighter (Slayer), Ryltar the Drow Fighter (Slayer) pre-gen, Pixie Wizard (Witch), and Tiefling Ardent/Battle Mind (hybrid). In their possession were all three chaos artifacts: the Chaos Blade, Death Circlet, and Scroll of Final Words. With these three items the PCs felt that they had the means to ensure the forces of good would prevail.

Last week the PCs defeated Lareth the Beautiful and his minions. This week we began with the PCs returning to Hommel Lane from the Moat House. In the centre of town a crowd had gathered around the statue of Haffron Hommel. It seemed that the statue was now smiling. As the PCs approached the statue it spoke. “It feels incredible to be whole again, even if I cannot move!” it said.

The locals were startled and a little bit scared. The Castellan stepped up and calmed everyone down. He looked at the adventurers and said, “I trust that someone can tell me what’s going on?”

The PCs realized that this man was clearly an authority figure so they provided a brief overview of what had happened thus far since they’d arrived in Hommel Lane. I had the players make Diplomacy checks, but it wasn’t really necessary. The Castellan offered to rid the PCs of such evil artifacts for a handsome sum, but they refused explaining that they needed them to defeat the forces of chaos.

The Haffron statue again spoke. It explained that if the followers of the Old Faith and the Lawbringer could work together he could provide a way for the PCs to get into the Chaos temple. The PCs were asked to pick a side and help with the prayers. Religion, Arcana and Bluff checks let the heroes do their part in the ritual. Chants and songs filled the air, at first both sides seemed to be doing completely different things but eventually, with the help from the PCs, they managed to find a harmony that granted success. The statues of Haffron Hommel animated and stepped off the platform.

The Hommel Golem gave a rousing speech to the locals about duty and heroism, pointing to the PCs as examples of bravery. This whipped the crowd into a patriotic frenzy. While the PCs and the Hommel Golem headed towards the danger of the Caves of Chaos, the inspired locals would get the town ready to withstand an attack from the forces of chaos.

For an hour the party travelled in silence as the Hommel Golem never slowed or spoke. When they finally approached the valley Hommel stopped. He explained that he would enter the valley alone and draw as many of the monsters towards him. While he did this the PCs could sneak into the farthest cavern where the temple was located. He again reminded them that they needed to use the three artifacts to destroy the chaos mote. That was their primary objective and must be accomplished no matter the cost.

The Hommel Golem moved into the valley and was immediately swarmed by Goblins, Kobolds, Hobgoblins and Orcs. The PCs used the distraction to get moving. The Cleric and Wizard used Stealth to move from shadow to shadow and get to the entrance unseen. The others decided to just sprint as fast as they could. The Elf Slayer decided at the last second to try and be stealthy but was unsuccessful and drew enemy fire. Otherwise everyone made it to the entrance unscathed if not a bit winded from the running.

When the PCs entered the cavern it soon became smooth worked stone before opening into a room. Within they saw the Chaos Mote, a huge silver sphere with a dark crack in it. Around the sphere three Acolytes in cultist robes were chanting. At the far end of the room was an oversized throne and sitting atop it was a Chaos Priestess chanting and altering the ritual underway. Between the throne and Chaos Mote were three altars.

The Priestess stoped chanting when she spotted the PCs. “The sacrifices and items of power have arrived, as the Wolf-Spider told us they would. Slay the intruders, so that we can meet our destiny.” With that, the Acolytes moved in to attack.

The two Slayers acted first, both charging the same Acolyte and bloodying him before he could react. The Priestess charged the Elf Slayer hitting and sliding her next to the Chaos Mote. The Barbarian wasted no time changing the Priestess but missed.

From within the Chaos mote a skeleton emerged. It was wearing plate armor. In one hand it held a shield with a Griffon emblazoned upon it, and in the other it wielded a curved blade. These were the physical remains of Haffron Hommel and they were attacking the heroes. It attacked the Barbarian and scored a hit for max damage. It then teleported back inside the Chaos Mote, barely visible through the dark crack.

The Acolytes all attacked different targets. One attacked the Barbarian with an Abyssal Chain. It hit and entangled the PC allowing the Acolyte to pull him closer. Once adjacent the Acolyte hit the Barbarian with his Mace. Both attacks hit and the combined damage knocked him unconscious. The other two Acolytes each attacked a Slayer but both missed.

The Cleric moved close enough to revive the Barbarian with a Healing word and then fired her hand crossbow at the Priestess. The Witch moved up and used Beguiling Strands to target two Acolytes, the Priestess and the Skeleton but only hit the Acolytes. The Ardent engaged the Priestess, marking her but missing with his attack.

The two Slayers both charged the same Acolyte but both missed. The Priestess shifted away from the Ardent and used Word of Diminution on the Cleric, scoring substantial damage and turning her into a small bunny (with vulnerable 5 to all damage). Before the Cleric realized what was happening the nearby door opened and four Zombies charged her. The first three all hit for 8 damage plus the 5 vulnerable. This brought her well below 0 hit points. The final Zombie charged the Ardent and hit. Things were not looking good for team heroes.

The Cleric would fail her first death save on her turn and then be revived by the Ardent. Unfortunately she was hit by another Zombie again before her next turn and was down. She would remain unconscious for five more rounds failing another death save and teetering on the verge of permanent death.

Four more Zombies emerged from behind the curtain near the throne on the next round. The Barbarian faced the brunt of their attacks and was only hit once. He then continued attacking the Priestess but he only managed to hit every other round. Two Acolytes continued pressing the two Slayers. The Slayers managed to drop the Drow before the Elf in turn dropped an Acolyte. The third Acolyte engaged the Barbarian in an attempt to draw him away from the Priestess.

The Witch, Ardent, and Barbarian tried to pull back to get to the fallen Cleric and regroup, but the Priestess managed to get in between them all and with her Mind-Scrambling Chant (close burst 1) managed to drop the Witch and Barbarian. The Acolyte pulled the unconscious Barbarian out of the fight and into the back area behind the curtain.

The Skeleton kept charging out of the Chaos Mote and attacking the nearest opponent, usually the Ardent or Witch. As it engaged the party they heard it speak in Hommel’s voice. It apologized for attacking them and begged them to destroy the Chaos Mote.

The Elf Slayer risked and opportunity attack (and was missed) in order to rush the nearest altar and try to disrupt the magic with the Chaos Blade. A successful Wisdom check was all it took and the Altar powered down. When it did three of the remaining Zombies fell permanently.

The Ardent managed to get the Witch back on her feet so she could use Beguiling Strands to destroy more minions and push as many enemies away as she could. The next round the Witch ran over to the fallen Cleric where she retrieved the Scroll of Final Words.

The Priestess called out to her Acolyte who had left the battle with the Barbarian in tow and he came back into the fight. That round the Barbarian rolled a 20 on his death save and woke up. He spent a round healing as best he could before coming back. Since he had the Death Circlet on, he ran to the nearest altar and used his Constitution to power down the second altar. This destroyed all the remaining Zombies and brought the two Acolytes to their bloodied value.

At this point the PCs saw the Ghost of Haffron Hommel appear in the room. “That’s my skeleton. I have unfinished business with it,” he called out. He entered the body and took control of his mortal form. Suddenly the Skeletal Hommel was on the side of the heroes.

With the tide turning the PCs started to take control. They revived the fallen Cleric and with the Skeleton Hommel’s help they took out the remaining Acolytes. The Priestess kept fighting but she realized the end was near. She managed to drop the Barbarian again but by then it was too late. The Witch moved to the final altar with the Scroll in hand and made a Wisdom check to destroy it.

The Chaos Mote rippled, gave off showers of sparks, and began to shrink. With a pop, the mote imploded and the remains of Haffron Hommel turn to dust, his laughter echoing in the chamber. The Priestess flew into a killing frenzy but it was over. The five conscious PCs attacked her and killed her without mercy. They revived their fallen comrade, looted the Temple and then headed out.

In the valley below they saw all the monsters fighting each other. They were no longer acting in unity, ancient racial feuds back to normal. In the midst of the battle stood the statue of Haffron Hommel, once again a regular statue. None of the evil creatures could get within 10 feet of it. It was as if the statue had consecrated the land around it and shone as a beacon of hope in the valley of the Caves of Chaos.

When the PCs arrived back in Hommel Lane they were received as heroes. The town was overjoyed with the news that they were successful. For days to follow there were feasts and parties. The Lord of Hommel lane bestowed the title of Knight of Hommel Lane upon the PCs and asks that they consider staying in Hommel Lane permanently.

The Drow Cleric and Slayer left after a few days of celebration. They returned to the Underdark, never to return to Hommel Lane. The Half-Orc Barbarian spent a week or two getting his fill of alcohol and food before moving on to the next adventure. The Elf Slayer spent some time with Gran-Gran who tried to convince her to remain in Hommel Lane where she would have her pick of eligible suitors. However, she decided to leave with the Barbarian in search of adventure. No one remembers seeing the Tiefling Ardent leave. He vanished without word to anyone. The Pixie Witch was the only PCs to remain in Hommel Lane. She was nominated as Mayor and won the election in a landslide. In the years to come she would prove to be a spectacular mayor launching numerous initiatives to bring Hommel Lane prosperity and profit.

So ends D&D Encounters season 12 Against the Cult of Chaos.

Thoughts

This was a fitting and satisfying conclusion to the adventure. After so much freedom and flexibility it was nice to have a very straight forward encounter. Sensing that the battle might be over quickly I encountered the player to role-play the situation at the beginning with the Castellan and the Hommel Golem. I had them make some skill checks but they had no real bearing on the outcome of the story.

Since I had a party of six, and three of them were really powerful strikers, I added one Acolyte to the combat. Unfortunately the monsters hit really, really hard. By the end of round two all the PCs were bloodied and one was making death saves. I had to tweak things on the fly to avoid a TPK. I held back the second quartet of Zombies for a couple of rounds which helped. Each time the PCs destroyed an altar I had it affect the monsters. First it destroyed some Zombies, and then it brought the Acolytes to their bloodied value. I was planning to have the Hommel Skeleton join the PCs after they destroyed all three altars but they really needed help before that so I had it happen after just two. I also had one of the Acolytes drag the unconscious PC out of the fight. I hopped the fear of what might be happening to him would push someone to pursue, but no one did. Had the PC not rolled a 20 on his death save things would have ended badly for team heroes.

I felt that at the end I needed to give the players a sense of closure. I asked each of them what they think their character would do and the results are as I wrote them above. The players from the other nearby tables complained that their DM didn’t do that. It’s adding these little touches that I think really ensure the players leave the season with a positive impression and great memories of the adventure.

Next week we’ll have our report card in which we look at the season as a whole. For now let’s just focus on this week’s finale. How did your final encounter go? Did you suffer a TPK? How many other DMs had to make adjustments like I did to avoid killing everyone?

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. This season we welcome another gamer to our podcast, Craig Sutherland, one of the other DMs that runs and plays with me in Toronto. Find all episodes of Recounting Encounters on iTunes.

Also be sure to check out our special episode of Recounting Encounters in which we interviewed one of this season’s authors Shawn Merwin.

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.


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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cent April 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm

*We played this season using the Next playtest rules.*

Our party found the encounter somewhat challenging, but not overly difficult. Members went down, but with a cleric in the group death never seems like a genuine risk.

Story wise, I didn’t find this to be as satisfying a conclusion as I might have liked. That was true of this entire season of encounters, and some of that may be because the previous season was so well done from a design and story perspective. This season just felt a little too generic.

Hommel coming to life was a surprise and a welcome addition after weeks of generic townsfolk and bland villains. It’s a shame that the most interesting character of the season was only introduced at the very end.

All in all, not a bad session, but not the way I would have finished out a several week arc.

2 Lilatomic April 4, 2013 at 6:22 pm

*We used the 4th ed. rules*
My party didn’t have a defender, but had two strikers (4essentials slayer and barbarian), two controllers (4essentials ranger and 4essentials wizard), and one leader (4essentials cleric).
I let my players stock up on healing potions (1 each) before, because, while a dying character adds tension, a dead character just sucks (worst case scenario, I can just buff the monsters a bit).
The players won the initiative, and charged the acolytes. The first was bloodied before they even got to move. The cleric managed to persuade our group to focus fire, and they rapidly dropped the acolytes.
Things continued similarly to your encounter. Despite metagaming that a bunch of minions would jump out from the door, they left the wizard alone. He ended up surrounded, but managed to not die, despite the zombies doing very well on the saves.
My party killed everyone and deactivated the altars before even trying to attack her. I basically called the fight then, because there was no point waiting for the 140 point long surround and drown.
Moments of greatness include the cleric reviving three party members in the same turn (Healing Word, administering a potion, and throwing a potion into someone’s mouth); and me rolling (I kid you not) 8 criticals (most of which were either attacks by the minions or their onDeath power).

3 Joe Lastowski April 4, 2013 at 6:44 pm

We ran it with 4e at our FLGS.

It was a tough fight for my table of 6, made tougher when two players had to suddenly leave after the 2nd round (one got sick, and the other was his ride). I tweaked things a little, not using Haffron’s skeleton as an enemy. The party still got hit pretty hard, and we had two players go down twice (darned glass cannon strikers). They also spent most of their time attacking the enemies, not really dealing with the altars until most of the zombies and the priestess were dead. In the end the party was victorious, and enjoyed that they were named Knights of Hommel Lane.

Overall, I felt like this fight would have been better if the evil priestess had been at all mentioned in previous sessions. She felt very much like a monster of the week, instead of a big foe the players had been building up to defeat (most of the party thought they’d be fighting Miska, or an avatar of Miska). I tried to liven things up by having Miska’s power turn the priestess into his “angel of death” (mainly because I had a really cool Asura figure with flaming wings that I wanted to use). It was really just a palette-swap with no stat changes, but it made folks at least feel like they were fighting a direct extension of Miska’s power. I also had a totally meaningless large d20 that I started on 1 and kept advancing every round, to give the out-of-game impression that maybe Miska would escape if they weren’t quick enough.

All-in-all, a decent end to a kind of piece-mail season. Everyone is very excited about Storm Over Neverwinter, though, esp since they can go back to 4e mythology & settings.

4 Vobeskhan April 5, 2013 at 9:39 am

Two great session to see out this season.

Overall a fun season to play and well written (thanks Shawn and James once again) my only gripe would be the tenuous link between the two cults operating within the same area. I would have thought the more powerful of the two would have either taken over or simply destroyed the lesser one, but perhaps if played in a campaign environment that could form the basis of a plot twist, unfortunately it didnt seem to fit “neatly” within the confines of such a short encounters season.

I know the next season is also only 8 weeks (plus a week 0) and sincerely hope this trend will stop soon as it feels rushed and too short a period to do justice to these great storylines (unfortunately not everyone has the opportunity to carry these on into full-fledged campaigns).

5 Peter B. April 5, 2013 at 11:32 am

We had only 4E at our FLGS this season, and I was the organizer, which, by tradition at our FLGS, means I was playing and watching what the DMs were doing.

For the final week, we had three tables running, although with small numbers on each table (4, 5, and 5), and none of them were terribly balanced. I think I was playing on the most balanced table, and that’s only because we had both a healer and a defender; the other two tables only had one or the other. To mitigate these problems, I asked my DMs to remove one group of zombies. Even with the reduced number of Team Bad Guys on the table, none of our tables had it easy.

Table 1 was the biggest disappointment. It had our newest DM on it, and I believe he was the reason that table had such a hard time. They were well into the combat portion of the encounter when, apparently, he decided that things were going poorly for Team Hero, and he introduced a DM-PC to ‘save them’. They defeated the encounter, but three of the four players on that table complained to me after the DM had left for the night about his antics, which, combined with what I saw when I was playing on his table and the reports from other players after they played on his table, tolled the end. I, and the other organizers at my FLGS, will not be asking him to return to DMing. Ever.

Table 2 ran the longest, which makes sense seeing as how they didn’t have a healer and had to be extremely careful about their resources, but they also had the most fun, from what I gathered from the end of session talks I have with the players. They spent the most time in Hommel Lane, interacting with the NPCs there before heeding Haffron’s advice and dealing with the Chaos Cult, and while every one of the PCs was bloodied and hurt, they succeeded in destroying the alters and defeating the Priestess and her minions after a long and well fought battle. They returned to Hommel Lane and did much like Ameron’s group, deciding what they did and where they went after being knighted.

Table 3 is where I played on this, the final night of Against the Chaos Cult, and we had the most balanced group. And for this balance, the DM’s dice thought it was the most opportune time to roll 20’s. Then again, everyone’s dice did. The first round of combat was exactly how Team Heroes expected. Melee strikers rushing in, doing a hefty amount of damage, the defender getting right in an Acolyte’s face, and little me, playing a goblin Ardent, standing right behind the defender with my pike abusing it’s reach property to continually grant my defender temp HP. And then the Acolyte’s started using their Chains. Our defender was pulled out of position as an Acolyte rolled well on both the attack and damage rolls of their Chain/Mace combo attack, and he was bloodied like it was nothing. Following up this amazing combo was a double crit on me. Our DM is the kind (like me when I am behind the screen) to have a player look over the screen at the dice when he rolls a critical, so we all know it was legit. Ouchies. Defender bloodied, and leader super bloodied, and the second round of combat wasn’t even finished yet. Well, as combat continued basically everybody went down, except our bouncy scout, but everyone also scored critical rolls when it counted most, like our goal focused monk who rolled one while downed to jump back up and then use the third item to break the Chaos Mote. We finished with everyone hemorrhaging everywhere, but victorious.

All in all, it was a fun season, and we had, count it, SIX new players show up and stick around for the majority of the season. Our prospects for next season are looking bright, with a different new DM being brought on by next season’s organizer to train up, and a dedicated Next DM, along with a lot of interest from at least a table’s worth of folks.

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