After a three week break we finally returned to Icewind Dale to pick up where we left off before Christmas. When we last played the party overwhelmed Hammerstone, knocking him unconscious despite his guards’ best effort to overtake the heroes. But before the PCs could revel in their victory Zombies entered the Halls of Black Ice and attacked indiscriminately. The PCs grabbed the unconscious Hammerstone and fled down an unknown passage, deeper into the Dwarven mines.
This week at Harry T North in Toronto we were back in business. My table had all five players for the first time since the launch weekend. The other three DMs all had full or near-full attendance at their tables too. My party, which is running 4e and is currently level 4, consisted of a Dragonborn Cavalier, Tiefling Paladin, Revenant (Eladrin) Assassin, Halfling Rogue and Gnoll Barbarian. I’ve been using Hengar as an NPC to round out the party during the past few weeks, so technically he was still around but I didn’t use him this week.
After running blindly through the Dwarven mines and leaving any pursuing Zombies far behind, the party finally stopped and took a short rest. During their rest they decided to remove Hammerstone’s Black Ice armor. Dressed only in his small clothes, Hammerstone was tied up to prevent his escape once he awoke.
The armor was not easily transported once removed but the party felt it was too valuable to leave behind. The Assassin decided to claim the helmet, gauntlets and boots, and left the remaining pieces on the ground. The Cavalier took Hammerstone’s Black Ice maul, but decided not to use it for now. Instead he stowed it safely in his backpack.
Accompanying the party was one of Hammerstone’s followers, a Dwarf named Tobin. Tobin was a craftsman, not a warrior. Although he was unfamiliar with this area of the mines, he felt that his innate Dwarven affinity for being underground and sensing directions would help the party find their way out. They party agreed to let Tobin stay with them for now and he agreed to act as guide.
The party wandered through the mines for a couple of hours with no sign that they were getting closer to an exit. For a brief second the Assassin thought he heard the faint sound of metal tapping on metal. However, none of the other PCs heard anything. Convinced that he heard something, the Assassin insisted the party head towards the source of the sounds.
Eventually the party reached a tunnel lined with cart tracks. Following them led to a central chamber that Tobin called the Nexus. Scattered around the Nexus was a wealth of mining gear including picks, shovels, hammers and chisels, carts, and rations.
It was evident that a battle recently took place here. Dropped weapons and spatters of dried blood were on the floor. However, there were no bodies anywhere.
The Barbarian dropped Hammerstone on the floor, gripped his weapon in both hands and cautiously moved into the chamber. The glow from the Cavalier’s Sunsword lit the room and the light shone down the numerous mineshafts branching out from the Nexus. The PCs spotted Dwarven Zombies shambling towards them from two.
As the combat began the party heard the sounds of eerie laughter echoing from all the surrounding mineshafts. The Barbarian, Assassin, and Rogue all teamed up on the closest Zombie and dropped him in one round. However, when the Zombie’s turn rolled around in the initiative it stood back up and attacked the PCs again.
The Paladin and Cavalier moved to engage the Zombies coming from another mineshaft. These Zombies fell with one hit, but they too arose when their turn in the initiative came around. These Zombie minions seemed easy to knock down but they wouldn’t stay dead.
Fortunately for the PCs the Zombies were not having much luck. (I roll 8 or less a dozen times with my attack rolls including four 1s). When the Zombies finally did manage to score a hit they did a lot of damage and grabbed their enemies. Rather than try to escape, the PCs instead just attacked and killed the Zombies.
After the two non-minion Zombies were destroyed the first time, the Barbarian decided to see what other threats may be lurking about. He left the Assassin and Rogue to take out the reanimated Zombies knowing that they’d become minions. Moving away from the congestion to get a better view down the other mineshafts the Barbarian rolled a Perception check. He didn’t spot any other combatants, but he did notice Hammerstone trying to sneak away.
Unbeknownst to the party, Hammerstone had awoken before they’d reached the Nexus but pretended to still be unconscious. When the fighting started he rolled a Strength check to break the rope bonds. I rolled a 19, which combined with his great Dwarven strength easily broke the ropes. He’d spent a few rounds slowly crawling away as to not draw attention to himself. However, now that a PC was actively looking in his direction his ruse was discovered.
Hammerstone stood up and ran down the nearest mineshaft. The Barbarian wasted no time charging Hammerstone and hitting him hard. The Assassin moved to attack Hammerstone and allowed a nearby Zombie to take an opportunity attack as he did (which missed, of course). Tobin couldn’t stand to see Hammerstone fight the PCs without armor or weapon so he handed friend and leader his only weapon, a meager pick.
The Assassin was so outraged at this betrayal he attacked Tobin and knocked him out. The Barbarian had no trouble hitting Hammerstone and knocking him unconscious before he could retaliate or flee. From down the mineshaft where Hammerstone was heading the Barbarian noticed an undead creature in spellcaster’s robes.
Without waiting, the Barbarian used his action point to charge the new opponent but missed. The Necromancer used his Horrific Visage to send waves of psychic energy at the Barbarian forcing him to flee at top speed on his next turn. Before any other PCs could get deep enough into the mineshaft to engage him, the Necromancer disappeared, but his laughter continued to reverberate throughout the Nexus.
Aftermath in the Nexus
It only took a few more rounds for the party to dispatch the remaining Zombie minions. Once they were sure the undead would not rise again they started searching the area. The Barbarian started by righting the overturned carts and putting them back on the tracks.
Hiding beneath one of the carts was a terrified Dwarven miner. He screamed and shouted when the PCs discovered him. After all, the three closest PCs were a Gnoll, Tiefling, and Dragonborn – all scary looking races. The Cavalier used soothing words and a great Diplomacy check to calm the Dwarf down and get him talking.
His name was Paldrinor (Pal) Granitehelm and he was part of a mining expedition from Battlehammer Hold. A few days earlier his crew was attacked by Zombies and an undead spellcaster. As each Dwarf was killed the Necromancer used his magic to animate them and have them join his army. Pal managed to hide and waited for them to leave. He’s been here since then too terrified to leave. Fortunately there were some rations and water among the mining supplies but they’re almost gone now.
Meanwhile the Assassin was doing his beast to scare the now conscious Tobin. The PC accused the NPC of betraying them. He demanded Tobin’s obedience and assistance leading them out of here.
Pal spoke up and told the Assassin from across the room that he could lead them back to Battlehammer Hold. He suggested they leave immediately. The Assassin, now holding a knife to Tobin’s throat, gave him one last chance to admit his betrayal and swear loyalty to the party. Tobin refused and the Assassin slit his throat.
The Cavalier was the only PC close enough to sense the Assassin’s pending action but couldn’t beat his initiative and watched is horror and disbelief as their companion murdered an unarmed man for no good reason.
The good aligned Assassin had been teetering on the edge of his alignment since the adventure began, often acting in ways that were questionable if not out right evil. This act was a step too far. The magic contained in the pieces of Hammerstone’s Black Ice armor in the Assassin’s backpack activated with the murder of an innocent man. The Assassin was transformed into a Black Ice Zombie, much like the Dwarven miners they’d encounter over the past two sessions.
Because the Assassin was already a Revenant his transformation into a Zombie was not immediately evident. I allowed each PC to make a Perception check to notice the change, but none made it (the best roll was a 9).
I told the player running the Assassin that he immediately felt the party members were his enemies. They were out to get him and wanted the armor in his backpack. He also felt a bringing desire to acquire the Black Ice maul in the Cavalier’s possession and was convinced that the Cavalier didn’t want him to have it. I gave the Assassin a surprise round and then had everyone roll initiative.
During the surprise round the Assassin used a ranged power to badly wound the Cavalier, leaving him with only 3 hit points. The party had yet to receive the benefits of a short rest and most were still bloodied. The Cavalier almost won initiative for he first time ever, but the Assassin beat him. The Assassin teleported next to the Cavalier and attacked him. In an amazing stroke of luck for team heroes, the Assassin rolled a 1. The Cavalier managed to use a healing power and then unloaded on the Zombie PC with a powerful radiant attack. The Barbarian and Paladin both missed on their attacks. If the Rogue missed too, the Assassin might escape, or kill a PC. But the Rogue did hit and scored enough damage to drop the Assassin.
The player running the Assassin asked if he got a “get back up” roll like the other Zombies. This seemed fair. He needed a 15 or better. He rolled an 8 so he stayed dead.
It was a hollow victory since the PCs was dead, but it did eliminate the pending threat. The PCs took their short rest to heal. During that time the Necromancer’s laughter still echoed through the Nexus from time to time. Pal told the PCs that most of the Zombies and the Necromancer had headed towards the Temple and he pointed down a mineshaft indicating the direction.
The heroes spent a long time debating whether or not they should go to the Temple to confront the Necromancer right now. In the end they realized that if they did so Pal would not accompany them. Without him they feared they’d never escape the mines. In the end they decided to let Pal show them the way to Battlehammer Hold.
As they moved away from the Nexus the Necromancer taunted them. He called them cowards. He embellished his victory over them, clamming ultimate power over the mines. Among his boasts was mention that he held power over the towns on Lac Dinneshire. This concerned the PCs since they knew Hammerstone sent crates of Back Ice goods to nearby Easthaven.
When the PCs arrived at the guard station they were not greeted warmly. After all this rag-tag group carried three limp bodies over their shoulders: the Assassin, Tobin, and the unconscious Hammerstone. Pal tried to vouch for them but was unsuccessful. The guards escorted the PCs to a holding cell while they sent for an interrogator and more guards.
Eventually a Cleric arrived. She explained that she was going to perform a ritual that would allow her to detect lies told in this room. The party did not object. Once the ritual was completed she asked them a series of questions and they explained what had happened so far.
She was very concerned about how the party was treating Hammerstone, including why he was unconscious, naked and bound. They explained as best hey could and the interrogator said she’d confirm their story with Hammerstone once he awoke.
Eventually the PCs brought up their relationship with Hilda Silverstream. Upon mentioned her name the guards sent for her. When she arrived she vouched for the PCs. She explained that they would have to leave their gear and weapons here if they wanted to get into the Dwarven community. She explicitly told them that if they had any items of Black Ice they must remove them and leave them here.
Soon after the party met Stokely Silverstream, the clan leader. Again they explained what had happened so far during their adventures. Stokely thanked them for their efforts to stop the Necromancer. He’d lost a lot of his people recently to the spellcaster and was planning to abandon the mines and head to Easthaven where he hoped to find temporary refuge for his clan. He indented to gather additional forces and return with greater numbers to purge any undead creatures from his mines.
The PCs didn’t want to wait. They wanted to return to the Temple where they hoped to face and defeat the villain immediately. Stokely gave them permission but strongly urged them to wait. If they fell he’d have to fight them when he returned as they’d surely be transformed into Zombies just as their friend had been. That convinced them to wait.
The party rested overnight in the Dwarven Hold and in the morning left with them for Easthaven.
With only five weeks remaining my biggest concern is how to get the PCs from where they are (the beginning of Act 2) to the conclusion (the end of Act 3). The only way I can think to do this is to a) cut out entire sections of the adventure, or b) railroading them into certain actions that will lead them where they need to be. I’m not wild about either option, but we’ll see how things play out.
This week I decided to kill a PC. It wasn’t something I planned or intended to do, but as the adventure played out it seemed like the right choice based on circumstance. In the past when we’ve had a TPK or a hero had died valiantly in the throws of combat I’d allowed the player to bring that PC back the next week (look, he had a twin brother who was the same class!). I will not be doing that this time. I told the player that he needed to create a new PC from the ground up. This PC didn’t fit in with the party and the way the player chose to play him was erratic and disruptive. I’m all for interesting or quirky PCs but in this case the PC wasn’t working.
How is your campaign progressing? I spoke with some DMs from another FLGS where I used to play and they’ve decided to forego next season and just keep running this one until the party finishes. Has anyone else considered working outside of the timelines Wizards provided for this season in order to get it done? Regarding my PC kill, has anyone had a similar experience where they’ve had to kill a PC?
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.
Note: New episodes of Recounting Encounters will be available in our D&D Encounters Archive and on iTunes on Wednesdays moving forward. Now DMs can listen before they play.
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.