Posing as mercenaries hired by Phoedele to ensure her transaction with Barcero wasn’t disturbed, the party avoided a combat encounter last week and convinced the Sembian Wizard that they were duped. When Barcero realized Phoedele wasn’t coming (and had sent the PCs as a distraction) he and his entourage headed to Mistledale hoping to intercept the Zhentarim agent before she could use the Diamond Staff to gain entrance to the Vault of Song.
Still weary from their hard ride to Sandersal Manor, the PCs decided to rest and stay the night at Barcero’s camp before riding on to Mistledale to persuade Phoedele themselves. They did strike a bargain with Barcero before he left. They asked if he would give them the same terms and payment for delivery of the “package” he was offering Phoedele. He agreed and then rode off into the night.
We’re still a week behind at Harry T North, but the group at Silver Snail (whose adventures we followed last week) is on track so we focus on them again this week. As we’ve seen in past years, the attendance for D&D Encounters during the summer fluctuates a lot. This week there were only six players for 4e (down from 15 during week 1). We had five players at the D&D Next table which I ran. The party consisted of the following members: Elf Ranger, Human Fighter, Human Wizard, Halfling Rogue (re-skinned as a Bard), and Half-Elf Cleric.
The next morning the PCs decided to head directly to Peldan’s Helm in Mistledale rather than return to Hap and speak to Imani. The journey took them almost two days of travel and they arrived a few hours before nightfall. Peldan’s Helm is a small community defended by palisades that surround the settlement.
The PCs had no trouble gaining entrance to the town and the guard at the gate directed them to the Firehand Inn, the only one in town. Once there the PCs got rooms for the night and a decent meal. They tried to press their serving girl for information but she was skittish and awkward. It turned out she was new at her job and didn’t want to gossip or speak of others behind their backs.
Some of the nearby patrons piped up when they heard the PCs offer gold for information. They confirmed that a crew of Zhent soldiers came through Peldan’s Helm the day before. They were well equipped and clearly experienced. They stopped in town briefly to gather some fresh provisions (their money’s as good as anyone else’s) and then they headed north. Further interaction revealed that there are Elvin ruins in the forests north of Peldan’s Helm.
While tending to the party’s horses, the Cleric and Ranger befriended a couple of teenaged stable boys. They too saw the Zhents pass through town and head north. The boys commented that the north woods are haunted and with any luck the Zhents would fall victim to the monsters and ghosts. Unfortunately these two PCs were unable to get any solid details about the monsters out of these boys.
The Fighter decided to visit the Constable and explain why the party was in town. He explained that these Zhent agents were responsible orchestrating an Orc raid on Hap and had stolen some valuable property from the townsfolk. The PCs were going to recover the lost items and see that the Zhents were punished.
The Constable said that the Zhents headed north into the forest. If the PCs were planning to pursue the Zhents he suggested they meet with Iandra Greenhood, a Ranger who lived on the outskirts of town. She woke at dawn so that would be the best time to meet her. He explained that she was somewhat reclusive and that if there were Elves in the party they should go alone.
The PCs regrouped at the Firehand Inn and decided to call it a night. When they woke up the next morning they found a note from Barcero slipped under their door. Apparently Barcero, and his undead Zombie guards and Shadar-kai mercenaries were on the outskirts of Peldan’s Helm but knew better than to try and approach the village. During the night the Shadar-kai scouted the town and finding no signs of Phoedele or her troops Barcero and his band headed north in pursuit.
The Elf Ranger and Half-Elf Cleric went to visit the local Ranger while the rest of the party had breakfast. Iandra’s animal companions alerted her to the PC’s approach and she welcomed them to her humble home offering them Elvin coffee, something they hadn’t had in a long time. Iandra was a gracious host and was glad to have Elves in her home. She was friendly and polite.
When asked about the Zhents she relayed the same information the party had already gathered. When asked about the haunted woods she explained that a band of Chitines lived among the ruins. They were dangerous spider-like beings that spun webs and laid devious traps.
Finally the Ranger decided to be more direct in his questioning. He asked her about the Vault of Song. She didn’t know of it specifically but knew of many Elvin ruins in the north forest. Many of those sites were marked with Elvin writings and could be the place they sought. Sounds of crystal chimes are often heard near one area in particular. If there was magic locked in one of these places she wasn’t concerned about the Zhents gaining anything since they’d need a key to unlock the secrets. The PCs told Iandra that the Zhents had the key they’d stolen from Hap.
Iandra got very serious and concerned. She suggested that the PCs gather their friends and get ready to leave immediately. She’d meet them at the north gate in an hour. She could lead the party through the woods cutting hours off their journey.
The other three PCs were enjoying their breakfast when two of the stable boys (obviously hung-over) came into the Firehand Inn. The PCs offered them coffee and the Wizard suggested the take a swig of his own home brew that was guaranteed to help with their symptoms. Only one boy was brave enough to try it.
The heroes pressed the boys for any details they could remember about the Zhents. When they specifically asked about the staff one of the boys recalled that the female leader had her bedroll rolled up lengthwise, which they thought was funny and impractical. It’s possible she could have had a longbow or a staff encased within it.
When the Elves returned they explained the situation and told the party to get ready to leave. The trip with Iandra was uneventful. There’s no way they would have made it this far this fast without her help. She got them back on the main path and explained that when they returned they could simply follow it back to Peldan’s Helm. The party realized that they’d likely passed Barcero and his group thanks to Iandra’s shortcut.
After travelling on the road for another hour or two the PCs eventually reach a small trapper’s cabin. A group of Humans in gray robes were pacing around and it was apparent that they’d just searched the building. Three of the PCs (who participated in the Game Day adventure) recognized the cloaks as those of the Cult of Dragons loyal to Dretchroyaster the Dracolich. The cultists didn’t notice the PCs so the heroes quickly tried to come up with a plan.
Option 1: They could let them go without altercation. After all, there was no need to actually fight them. The party could wait 30 minutes and then follow them. The only problem was that if the cultists realized they were being followed they might attack the party.
Option 2: They could fight them here and now. The Halfling Bard who spoke Draconic and knew of the cult would approach and distract them. He’d claim to be sympathetic to their cause and offer to help them. Meanwhile the other PCs would surround the clearing and ambush the unsuspecting cultists.
It looked like option 2 was the way to go and the PCs were about to move into place when the player running the Ranger, a quiet guy who barely speaks during game play, came up with another option.
Option 3: They could convince the cultists that Barcero had the Diamond Staff. This would eliminate the need for the party to potentially fight either the cultists or Barcero’s group in the coming sessions.
Like Silent Bob in Kevin Smith’s movies, the Ranger spoke only when he had something really important to say. The party loved this idea and immediately put it into action.
The PCs casually proceeded on the road towards the cabin. When the cultists saw them they formed a defensive stance and the leader demanded that the party stop and identify themselves. They explained that they were just passing through on their way to Shadowdale. They had no quarrel with these men and didn’t want trouble.
The cult leader explained that he and his men were searching for an important object. They believe a group of travelers heading in this direction had it and might have hidden it. The PCs casually said that they’d passed a group on the road behind them earlier. They were lead by a Wizard with a large crystal staff. The cultist pressed for more details which the PCs happily provided (since they’d already seen the staff). The PCs explained that the Wizard must be powerful since he had three Zombie guards and two Shadar-kai mercenaries in his employ.
Convinced of the PCs’ tale, the cult leader paid the heroes for this information and then gathered his men and headed back down the path. Wasting no time the PCs continued north towards their true goal.
For the second week in a row the PCs decided that there wasn’t any need for combat. With a few carefully placed lies and some fast-talking they managed to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. The whole session took about 90 minutes. As with last week’s adventure I asked the players if they were disappointed that there was no combat and again they were all happy with the way things worked out. I promised them that next week they’d get to fight.
This group was a lot more open to role-playing the town encounter than the group I had in the first week back in Hap. It was evident that there was something to learn from the people of Peldan’s Helm and that spurred on the role-playing. The toughest part as getting the players to ask specific questions. Things like “Tell me anything relevant” and “Has anything unusual happened” won’t yield useful results. When they finally asked about the Vault of Song and the Diamond Staff they got useful answers.
I was glad that the PCs didn’t have to fight the cultists because on paper they looked really tough. I’m sure this party would have done ok, but given the cult leader’s magic spell selection I imagined it could have gone very poorly for team heroes. I’m beginning to see more signs that Wizards in D&D Next are clearly the most powerful class, especially as they advance in level. I guess that’s one more thing from previous editions that’s creeping back into the game.
Did anyone else avoid combat this week? For those who fought, did you suffer any losses? Has anyone had a PC die yet this season (in D&D Next or 4e)?
Wizard has provided two great Dalelands maps for this season.
Recounting Encounters Podcast
Recounting Encounters is a weekly podcast I record with fellow Toronto DM, Craig Sutherland, and 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.
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.