This week we kicked off the start of D&D Encounters season 18 at Hairy T North in Toronto. Dead in Thay is the sequel to Scourge of the Sword coast and picks things up a few weeks after the events from last season finish. The PCs are at the Floshin Estate. Sir Isteval, Sir Darfin Floshin, and Jekk are all there too and they’re ready to strike back at the Red Wizards of Thay.
A renegade Red Wizard named Mennek who opposes the Thayan lich lord Szass Tam has agreed to help the PCs strike a powerful blow against him. Szass Tam plans to use the portal beneath Bloodgate Keep to move his army of undead troops across the realms and ravage the Sword Coast. The heroes were gathered together so that they could make a preemptive strike and close the Bloodgate permanently.
The first encounter of this adventure is designed to be run as the Launch Weekend event. Unfortunately we were unable to run it on the weekend so we ran it as the first session of the season for our regular group. Despite a lot of regular players being away for this first session, we still had 17 players divided between three tables, all of which are using D&D Next rules this season. I acted at the coordinator and DM. At my table we had the following PCs: Half-Orc Paladin, Half-Orc Cleric, Dwarf Fighter, Elf Ranger, Elf Mage, Human Bard.
The Mission Briefing
Sir Isteval addressed the group. In order to close the Bloodgate the heroes need to acquire four elemental keys that help power it. By dividing into separate teams the PCs must simultaneously venture into these elemental nodes, recover the key, and get out as quickly as possible.
When the PCs have the keys in their possession they can then be transported to the Bloodgate Nexus where the Bloodgate itself is located. Once there they must save the human sacrifices whose blood is being siphoned from their bodies to power the Bloodgate. This should weaken the energy of the Bloodgate enough so that the PCs can destroy it.
The heroes divided into three parties while the notable NPCs formed a fourth group. Each party in turn entered the teleportation circle and Mennek whisked them off to one of the elementals nodes. My party found themselves headed to the Earth Node.
The Earth Node
The Earth Node was nothing more than a series of tunnels filled with shifting soil and dust. Dust in the air lightly obscured the node. The party had no sense of direction so they proceeded cautiously down one of the many winding passages.
The Paladin’s keen eyes noticed at the last second that the ground was shifting beneath the party’s feet as they moved ahead. She alerted the party allowing most PCs to back off, but the Paladin and Fighter in the front were too slow. As the sand shifted beneath their feet the soft earth that made up the walls began to shift and loose, rocks from above fell on them. They managed to shrug off the damage and continue forward. Now that they knew to look for these hazards they were able to avoid them or set them off from a safe distance.
After triggering another rockslide five strange creatures that looked like rocky hedgehogs burrowed up from the floor and surrounded the party. It was clear that these creatures had hostile intent so the party attacked first.
The Fighter, Paladin and Ranger each targeted a different Earth Grue and all three heroes realized that their non-magical weapons were not doing as much damage as they’d hoped. The Bard and Cleric buffed the party adding to their attack and damage rolls while the Mage fired Magic Missiles.
The Earth Grues managed to score two back-to-back crits on the Mage but the rest couldn’t penetrate the heroes’ defenses. It didn’t take long for the party to defeat the pesky Earth Grues and move onward.
The passage expanded into a large open area. In the centre of the open chamber was a huge boulder that glowed with golden light. The violet crystal key could be seen on top of it.
Before the PCs could proceed two lumbering Earth Elementals began slowly moving between them and the boulder. The Bard suggested using stealth to get the key and flee. The party agreed. First the Ranger cast Hunter’s Veil which added +10 to Stealth checks. Then the Bard cast Invisibility on himself and went left. The Mage cast Invisibility on the Fighter and he went right.
The four visible PCs attacked the Elementals to draw their attention. For four rounds they valiantly attacked the powerful Earth Elementals chipping away at their abundant hit points.
The invisible PCs made great Stealth checks and got to the boulder undetected. It took the Bard two tries to climb to the top but he eventually got there. The Fighter made the climb check on the fist try. Once on top of the boulder the PCs had to make Con checks to avoid being propelled off the boulder as it pulsed with magical energy. They both made it.
The crystal key was embedded in the boulder so they had to pry it loose. The Bard managed to do it on the first try. But when he did it triggered a reaction in the Earth Node. The pocket dimension began to shake and crumble. The whole party ran as fast as they could back to their starting pint where they were teleported away before sustaining any damage from the collapsing Node.
The Bloodgate Nexus
The PCs appeared in a huge oblong room. Around the room were eight red stone altars atop broad staircases. Next to each altar was a Red Wizard Apprentice. On top of each altar was an unconscious human ready to be sacrificed. On the floor thin channels filled with blood flowed from the altar to an enormous archway of black stone in the center – the Bloodgate. The arc was 50 feet tall and glowed blood-red.
Standing within the arch was a Red Wizard lich, one of Szass Tam’s allies, with a glowing staff. He addressed the Red Wizard Apprentices and called out, “Slay them all!”
The heroes remembered that their objective included stopping anyone from being sacrificed so they split up and attacked the Red Wizard Apprentices. As the first round began a fourth party made up of the notable NPCs (Jekk, Hadarr, Shalendra, Kelson, and Mennek) teleported in with the final key. Each group took responsibility for two altars.
My party made short work of the Red Wizard Apprentices. The Mage cast Hold Person on one in the first round and stopped him cold. The other was attacked by the Ranger and Paladin. The Fighter decided to shoot at the Lich but quickly learned that his non-magical crossbow bolts were pretty much useless.
Two Wraiths hiding in the darkness dropped from the ceiling and attacked the party. The badly wounded Mage was hit with the Energy Drain attack but luckily didn’t die from it. The Fighter, Bard, and Mage worked together to take out the two Wraiths pretty easily. Two crits from team heroes helped a lot.
The Ranger from my party and another archer from one of the other parties worked together to shoot down a Red Wizard Apprentice that had not yet been engaged. The other archer rolled a crit and my Ranger rolled max damage.
The other parties faced a pair of Drakenbeasts but they took care of them rather quickly. Two full fledged Red Wizards joined the battle fringing Magic Missiles from across the room. Just as my party was about to go toe-to-toe with these spellcasters Mennek the NPC Red Wizard who was helping the heroes broke away from the battle and rushed toward the Bloodgate. “Baazka, the way is open! Now help me escape,” he called out.
Flame ripples in the Bloodgate, and the ghostly form of a huge winged fiend appeared. The fiend’s form solidified slowly and the PCs spotted a broken blade jutting from his chest. Mennek ran forward into the gate and disappeared.
Shalendra Floshin shouted out at the fiend “Baazka!” and charged toward the gate. Baazka looked at Shalendra and then flames from the gate engulfed her. Kelson, her brother, tried to protect her and was also engulfed before they both disappeared.
The fiend spoke “Now, for those who care to listen, I have a bargain for you. Pull the blade from my chest, and I will shatter the Bloodgate for you.”
Three characters stepped forward without hesitation: a Mage, a Monk, and the Fighter from my party. The Mage rolled the highest initiative so he got to try first. He grasped the sword and pulled. His Strength check might normally have failed but a Bless spell still active on him gave him the boost he needed. The blade was removed with the first pull.
With the blade removed the wound began to close as Baazka stood and roared triumphantly. The Bloodgate shuddered and cracked as Baazka stepped forth. “You shall be legendary. The gate falters and I am free, our bargain sealed. I give you one more opportunity at a pact. As I set to slaying these Thayans, stay out of my way. Do so, and you die last.”
Baazka attacked Tarul Var, the Red Wizard Lich, pushing him away from the Bloodgate. A pulse of energy exploded outward from the Bloodgate, knocking down everyone in the room. The chamber shuddered.
A minute later the Bloodgate pulsed again and every PC heard and felt horrible shrieks in their mind. Everyone present felt themselves losing consciousness. “The nexus is collapsing in a cascade, but we can control it! Hold on!” An unseen force teleported the PCs out of the Bloodgate Nexus and then everything went black.
This session felt epic. It was a great introduction to what I’m hoping will be an awesome adventure. The cooperative mechanics of this season and this session in particular really added to the sense that this was too big for any one party to handle.
Where I felt this broke down a bit was when all the groups came back together in the Bloodgate. We had three groups crowd around one large battle map and everyone was doing their part in their area of the map. The challenge was getting everyone close enough to the map that the players could understand what was going on and feel like they were part of it.
Each DM ran things at a pace they felt comfortable with. I managed to get five or six rounds done in the same amount of time that another DM got through one or two rounds. So while my group really got a sense of urgency the other groups were a bit bogged down by mechanics. But everyone still seemed to really be having a good time with the whole thing so that’s what’s most important.
I was a bit surprised that we had three PCs agree to remove the sword from Baazka’s chest. These were experienced players so you’d think they’d know better than to do what a Devil asks. What amazed me even more was that none of the other players made any attempt to stop them or talk them down. We’ll see how this decision affects things for the party in the weeks to come.
Overall I felt this was a good session and everyone who played said they enjoyed themselves. A few players were expecting to jump right into the Doomvault dungeon this week and were actually a bit disappointed that they didn’t get there in week 1. I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to come back next week.
How did the first session (the Launch Weekend) go at your FLGS? How many tables did you run? How did you groups handle Baazka’s request for aid?
- Pre-generated characters: Visit our D&D Next Pre-Generated Character Library where you can download the level 6 pre-gens that came with this season’s adventure.
- Players Map: Download a map of the Doomvault, this season’s super dungeon, from the Wizards of the Coast website.
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