During the last session the PCs fought Chitines (spider-creatures) in the Elvin ruins of Uvaeren. After defeating the monsters the heroes discovered a doorway. Heaps of fresh earth and discarded picks and shovels indicated it was cleared recently. This must be where Phoedele and the Zhentarim soldier went; underground into the lost Vault of Song.
The heroes were in no shape to continue so they returned to the old plaza with the statues and the pillars. They felt that they’d be safe resting there since the Chitines clearly didn’t come near the ancient residual Elvin magic. After a long rest the party leveled up (to level 6) and proceeded down the stairs.
This week at Silver Snail in Toronto we ran one table of 4e and one table of D&D Next. The 4e table was once again packed (eight players) while I had six players at my D&D Next table. The party consisted of Elf Ranger, Elf Wizard #1, Elf Wizard #2, Human Wizard, Halfling Rogue (re-skinned as a Bard), and Half-Elf Paladin.
The Zhents had a huge head start on the party. It didn’t really make sense for the party to stop and rest when they did, but mechanically speaking it was necessary. To account for this I tweaked the encounter a bit.
When the PCs reached the bottom of the long marble stairway they stood in front of a huge set of intricate double doors. Although the doors were open, the area in front of the door showed signs of recent wear. With a few decent Search checks the party realized that the Zhents spent the night in front of the door. A Knowledge (Arcane Lore) check indicated that until recently the doors were magically sealed. It seemed that merely possessing the Diamond Staff wasn’t sufficient to open the doors. Phoedele still needed to perform a ritual of opening; the “key” must have served as the focus.
As the party proceeded into the vault the Ranger determined that the Zhents likely passed this way less than an hour ago. Beyond the door was a large hall. Seven silver plaques covered in ancient Elvin script adorned the walls. In the centre of the chamber a magical pool was set upside down in the ceiling with a small fountain that shot water downward. As the water neared the floor it “fell up” into the pool. Instead of splashing sounds the falling water made a soft chiming sound. Two passages led out of the hall.
The first room the party explored contained six alcoves along the walls. Each was framed with an archway covered with intricate images of foliage. In the centre of the room was a pedestal set with six hand-sized crystals. Five were blackened, as if burned from the inside. The sixth flickered with a dull grey glow.
Curiosity got the better of the Paladin and he touched the glowing crystal. One of the empty alcoves filled with the image of a shadowed forest. Broken Elvin ruins of yellow stone littered the ground. The image lasted only for a few seconds and then faded.
A Knowledge (Arcane Lore) revealed that this was once a teleportation chamber that allowed the ancient Elves to travel vast distances by stepping through the gates. Elf Wizard #1 tied infusing the crystal with arcane energy to recharge it and make the portal functional for more than a few seconds. He realized it would take at least an hour to get a strong enough charge to allow the whole party to pass through so he decided to leave it and the party moved on.
Going back through the hall they went in the other direction. A golden disk at the apex of the chamber’s ceiling filled this room with light. The disk was carved with a stylized image of the sun with a benevolent face at its centre. Around the room were a dozen ancient wooden desks. Small bins of smooth white metal lined the walls. These object all looked really old and fragile. The PCs spent some time looking around but realized that the desks were ready to crumble and that any contents contained within the bins was rotted or destroyed.
The next room was an octagonal shaped chamber. The tall 35-fot ceiling was set with glimmering points of light like a starry night sky. On the opposite side of the room was another doorway sealed by a slab of white marble. Near the door where the PCs entered was a small fountain in the form of a beautiful female Elf pouring water from a silver pitcher. The water glowed softly. A silver chalice rested on the lip of the fountain.
In the centre of the room was a sculpture depicting five life-sized female Elves. The statues stood in a ring, each facing outward and holding a basin in her outstretched hands. Each was different and distinct.
- A young girl dressed in a garment of leaves.
- A stern woman with a tiara and staff.
- A young dancer wearing a cloak of swan feathers.
- An older matron dressed in veils of mourning.
- An armored warrior with a sorrowful expression.
The arms of each Elf and the basins they held seemed to be connected by a flexible joint and looked as if they might be capable of movement.
The party quickly assumed (correctly) that the way to get through the door was to put the water in the basins. They decided that the order must have something to do with the age of the women depicted in the statues so they tried youngest to oldest.
As they filled the first basin the weight of the water caused the statue’s arms to sink slightly. A subtle click came from the stone doorway. The continued filling the other basins, each Elf’s arms lowering and the door clicking each time. When all five basins were filled one more click echoed from the door. Then all the basins slowly tipped over, spilling the water onto the floor. The arms rose back into their original positions.
Clearly youngest to oldest was wrong so they tried oldest to youngest. That didn’t work either. Frustrated they started trying all possible combinations. The Human Wizard finally decided to look around the room again and noticed that five of the stars on the ceiling were brighter than the others. He made an Intelligence check and realized the five starts were actually the planets Chandros, Garden, Glyth, H’Catha, and Karpri.
Another Intelligence check helped the PCs draw a correlation between the planets’ names and the representations of the five Elf maidens. They filled the basins in order from the planet highest in the sky. As they filled the basin of the dancer in swan feathers (Karpri) the planet/star on the ceiling began to glow slightly brighter. They continued adding water in order of the planets. Each planet/star on the ceiling glowed brighter as they added water until all five basins were filled and all five planet/star were glowing.
The great marble slab slid open revealing another passageway. The party quickly proceeded before the statues dumped their water and the door closed behind them.
The chamber was skirted by a raised ledge and held several large pillars carved in the shape of dragons. The ceiling showed another depiction of the glowing starry sky. In the floor ahead was a pit 20 feet across. Above the pit a huge grey crystal hung suspended by a massive chain affixed to the ceiling. At the other end of the room was a door at the top of a steep flight of steps.
As written, this encounter is supposed to have three of the pillars come to life and attack the PCs. Following some excellent advice I got on the D&D Encounters forums I decided to instead have the party face one gargantuan dragon (because, how often do you get to whip out that baby and use it in public play?).
Mechanically I ran the single Dragon just like three separate monsters. It had the combined hit points of all three dragons (51 x 3 = 153). It had all the same stats including attack scores, damage output, defenses, and ability scores as the small dragons. I gave it three full turns in the initiative (just like three monsters would normally have). For simplicity I designated each of the three turns as Claw, Bite, and Tail. When the party managed to inflict 51 points of damage, the Dragon would lose one of its three attacks (mimicking one of the three monsters dying).
With a little change to the initial descriptive text I had the Dragon statue present when they arrived in the room. It took a couple of rounds before the party advanced far enough into the room to activate the guardian. The PCs did manage to make an Intelligence check and realize this was a construct and not a real Dragon so it was unlikely to have a breath weapon.
The ensuing fight was awesome. The Dragon mini (if you can call such a large figure “mini”) provided a sense of awe and danger. The heroes tried to spread out to force the Dragon to keep moving. The Paladin managed to get on the Dragon’s back and spent most of the encounter locked in place stabbing it between the shoulder blades and talking a lot of tail slaps for his troubles.
At the top of round four the doors at the far end of the room opened and four Zhentarim soldiers armed with crossbows joined the fight. With three Wizards in the party they made great use of larger spells like Fireball. When the PCs realized that the Dragon would lose attacks as it got more injured they continued to focus all their efforts on it and practically ignored the soldiers.
When the Dragon finally fell, the soldiers (who were all at around half hit points) fled at top speed. Three got away; the PCs managed to kill one.
Defeating the Dragon was certainly a triumphant feat for the party but it came with heavy cost. The Human Wizard was knocked unconscious by the Dragon’s attacks in its last round of life. The Paladin fell in the pit twice and took some mean slaps from the Dragon’s tail brining him down to single digit hit points. With no healer in the party and only a couple of healing points the party will be going into next week’s finale with much less than full hit pints. However, the three Wizards did a great job conserving their magic so they’ll have plenty of spells to throw at Phoedele.
When I ran this encounter with my first group I felt the puzzle was a disaster. The players weren’t getting it. They were so use to 4e they expected to use skills to make broad checks that would reveal the answers. Despite my encouragement to be creative and ask specific questions about specific details they were not catching on.
The example I gave them was that a general search check would be harder than a search check to go through the drawers of the desk. If they were specific I’d make the DC considerably easier. They failed to ask about anything specific about the statues, the fountain, or the ceiling. To fix this problem I created cards for my second group.
By printing the cards and arranging them on the table the players really felt immersed in the encounter. They asked very specific questions and got a lot of the clues. They eventually made the connection and solved the puzzle. It’s amazing how helpful visual aids can be.
Using just one Dragon was a stroke of genius (credit to Spykes on the Wizards forums). The original set-up called for three medium dragons. Since I don’t have three medium Dragon minis I would have had to substitute some other mini that I have three of. The players wouldn’t have even remembered they were really fighting Dragons. By using the gargantuan Dragon the players knew this was a big fight and it would be tough.
The gargantuan mini really brought a great energy level to the session. Afterwards I explained to the group how it was supposed to play out and they all agreed that the one Dragon was way better.
What was your experience like this week? Did your group get the puzzle or did they struggle? Did players enjoy it or find it too difficult? How did the fight go? Did anyone else follow Spykes’ advice and use one dragon instead of three?
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.
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