D&D Encounters: Dead in Thay (Week 12)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 31, 2014

dead-in-thay-coverThis is it; the grand finale! Four parties entered the Phylactery Vault with the goal of destroying any and all phylacteries they might find within. As each group entered one of the three sepulchers on their respective levels of this pyramidal area and destroyed the evils found inside, a Demi-Lich appeared to stop them from doing any further damage. The final fight was about to begin and some PCs would surely give their lives in the ensuing battle.

This week at Hairy T North in Toronto we ran four tables. A few of our regular players were absent and we thought we might have to condense back to three tables; however, five brand new players showed up and we were good to go. Table 1 (DM Craig) had seven players, table 2 (DM Hillel) had five players, table 3 (DM Tim) had six players, and table 4 (DM Derek) had six players.

My group had three returning PCs from last week’s session and three of the brand new players. The party ended up with a Human Fighter, Dwarf Fighter, Human Cleric, Half-Elf Bard, Half-Orc Barbarian, and Elf Ranger. For the first time in 12 sessions I didn’t have a Mage at my table.

The Phylactery Vault

The Demi-Lich, a mere skull with giant red rubies for eyes and eight giant diamonds for teeth, hovered about 15ft above the pool in the middle of the room and surveyed the situation. The Bard and Cleric were still inside the sepulcher where the phylacteries had been destroyed. The Human Fighter stood in the doorway. The other Fighter, the Barbarian, and Ranger were all in front of a different speulcher trying to figure out how to get inside.

The Human Fighter acted as a Human shield blocking the Demi-Lich’s line of sight to the two spellcasters still inside the sepulchre. The Bard cast a light spell on the Fighter in an attempt to make him a litteral beacon for trouble. The fast acting Ranger shot an arrow at the floating skull hoping to force it to look away. The hit did no damage but caused the Demi-Lich to falter a bit.

When the Demi-Lich stopped spinning he tried to capture the glowing Fighter’s soul. The Fighter got advantage on the save since the skull was still dizzy. He made the save but still took some necrotic damage.

The Barbarian and Dwarf Fighter smashed open the sepulchre’s doors. When this happened a pair of four-armed Gargoyles stepped out of the doors and attacked them. The Gargoyles got a few superficial hits in on the PCs but by the end of the next round the two melee hitters and the Ranger easily destroyed both Gargoyles.

Meanwhile the Human Fighter had a flash of brilliance. He speculated (correctly) that if the skull couldn’t see the PCs it might not be able to suck out their souls. He reached into his backpack, drew out his bedroll, and tried to use it as a net and engulf the floating skull. He was successful.

This allowed the Cleric and Bard to run to the other open sepulchre and start deactivating the phylacteries inside. For the next two rounds the Human Fighter held the blanket tightly around the skull keeping it imprisoned. However, the Demi-Lich was desperately trying to tear through the flimsy cloth prison. The Barbarian quickly emptied his backpack. Before he could get the wrapped skull inside, the Demi-Lich broke free.

Angered by his imprisonment the Demi-Lich tried to capture the soul of the nearest PC, the Barbarian standing there with an empty backpack. The Barbarian did not make his save and cried out as his soul was being torn from his body. The Ranger and Cleric attacked the skull with ranged attacks but couldn’t break the effect. The next round the Barbarian failed his save again and his body fell while his soul was captured by the Demi-Lich. At the end of the following round the Barbarian’s body disintegrated into dust.

The heroes continued attacking the Demi-Lich but most of their attacks were not hitting or when they did were not doing very much damage. Inside the sepulcher the Bard was having better luck. He was able to channel positive Arcane energy through his song and after three consecutive rounds destroyed the phylacteries inside. This did not go unnoticed by the Demi-Lich.

The floating skull stayed well out of reach of the melee combatants and tried to capture the Cleric’s soul. The wise Cleric had no difficulty making the save. The next round the Demi-Lich tried the Human Fighter again. The Fighter failed his first save but made his second so he only took damage and didn’t lose his soul.

The Ranger and Dwarf Fighter moved towards the third and final sepulchre and managed to get the door open by finding a hidden latch. Again a pair of four-armed Gargoyles stepped forth blocking their way into the sepulchre. The PCs fought well and with help from the Cleric and Human Fighter they defeated the Gargoyles in short order only taking a few hits along the way.

The Bard sprinted from his cover inside one sepulchre into the third and final one. The Dwarf Fighter stepped inside with him and closed the doors. This reset the Gargoyle trap. The rest of the party realized that if they could also get inside the sepulchre they might be safe from the soul sucking Demi-Lich. Without thinking they opened the doors. The Gargoyles reappeared.

Despite having cover from the Gargoyle and the other PCs, the Bard was within line of sight to the Demi-Lich. The Bard had already started his Arcane channelling. The Demi-Lich knew the end was near so he started sucking the Bard’s soul. The Bard made his first Arcana check but failed his first save. On the next round he made his second Arcana check but failed his second save. The singing stopped and his body fell.

By this point the rest of the PCs had destroyed one Gargoyle and flung the other out of the way so they could all get inside. The Human Fighter remained outside trying to draw fire from the Demi-Lich and Gargoyle. A successful perception check allowed the Fighter to see the tiny forms of the Barbarian and the Bard imprisoned in the Demi-Lich’s diamond teeth. The Fighter pulled out a javelin and with a called shot (at disadvantage) aimed for the tooth with the Brad inside. He hit! The tooth shattered. The Bard’s soul immediately returned to his body inside the sepulchre.

The Gargoyle moved to the doors and opened them so the Demi-Lich could see the PCs again. This time the Dwarf Fighter was the target of the soul suck. He failed his first save but made his second. The Human Fighter moved towards the doors and closed them. He used his body to prevent the Gargoyle from opening the doors again. Inside the Bard began his channeling again.

The Demi-Lich targeted the Human Fighter, the only PC he could see, and tried to capture his soul. The Human Fighter failed his first save but held the doors closed. Inside the Bard made two successful checks. The Fighter failed his second save and his soul was captured, his body falling limp. The Gargoyle flung open the doors just as the Bard made his third and final Arcana check. The phylacteries were destroyed!

The PCs from an adjacent level arrived on the scene. They easily destroyed the remaining Gargoyle. A Cleric and Mage stayed to help the dwindling party while the rest of their group went off to help another party who was still battling two Gargoyles and a Demi-Lich.

The new Cleric tried hitting the Demi-Lich with Sacred Flame three times unsuccessfully before deciding that something more powerful was needed. She used her most powerful healing magic to injure the necrotic undead Demi-Lich. The Demi-Lich failed his save and took a lot of damage, enough that he was clearly nearing his demise.

The Bard had one healing spell remaining and decided to try a similar tactic. However, the Bard’s healing magic required him to touch the recipient. The party’s Cleric gave him and alley-oop to help him jump high enough to reach the floating skull. He flew through the air in what seemed like a slow motion basketball player going in for a slam dunk. As the Bard’s hand came into contact with the sull the Demi-Lich rolled a save and failed. The skull took enough damage that it exploded. The scene was like a glass backboard shattering as pieces of skull and gems fell to the ground below.

The PCs (and players) cheered at their victory! They’d destroyed all of the phylacteries in each of the three sepulchers and they’d even destroyed the Demi-Lich sent to stop them. Within seconds of this heroic scene playing out the other tables destroyed the Demi-Lich they were facing. The mission was a success! The PCs all ran for the nearest black gate to leave the now crumbling Phylactery Vault. They emerged in the Gatehouse.

The Red Wizard Syranna was there to greet them. She thanked them for their spectacular deeds and good to her word returned them back to the Swords Coast where they’d first started this adventure. The PCs were greeted by Sir Isteval who congratulated them on a job well done. With the events in Daggerford and Thay quashed you’d think the PCs could get some rest, but a new threat looms as the PCs learn of the Tyranny of Dragons.


The final encounter was amazing. We had three new players and as bad as I felt that I killed one early on in the battle, the player running the Bard was clearly the star of the show for our table. All the players had a great time. It isn’t often that they face such a realistic possibility of PC death in D&D. This finale was truly grand.

The DMs at our FLGS decided to modify the Demi-Lich a little bit to make him less powerful. First off we made the soul stealing save two-tiered. The first save did necrotic damage and the second save trapped the soul. If a PC did a called shot on a tooth they cold free a soul and it would return to the body. However, this had to be done before the end of the trapped PC’s next turn. This allowed players two chances to effectively avoid certain death.

I really didn’t expect the party to have such difficulty defeating the Demi-Lich and actually had more monsters ready to show up and fight them. In the end the Demi-Lich had such powerful resistance and immunities, not to mention an AC of 20 so it was a pretty significant challenge in the end.

I’m not going to comment on the season as a whole at this point. For that we’ll be running our Report Card article next week. We’ve also got a special episode of Recounting Encounters where we go over everything we liked and disliked about this season. It’s over 90 minutes so there are few details that don’t get covered.

Meanwhile, my biggest complaint about this session was that the aftermath really seemed to fall flat. This was the end of a two-part adventure and the end of the Sundering. I expected more than just “You teleport home, good luck with that.”

How did the season end for your table and for the groups at your FLGS? Did anyone suffer a TPK? How many other DMs tweaked the Demi-Lich to make things a bit more attainable for their PCs? What did you think about the ending?

Recounting Encounters Podcast

Listen to Derek Myers, Craig Sutherland, and Marc Talbot (from 20ft Radius) recount our weekly experience at D&D Encounters. We share the highlights from our respective tables 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.

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1 Joe July 31, 2014 at 11:31 am

Sounds like an epic last session. Player deaths happen (I just had my PC die in our last 4E LFR last Sunday, and I didn’t mind, because it felt right that an enemy as powerful as we were facing ought to kill at least one player).

Anyhow, at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA, we’ve still got one session left after last night’s. We’re using my 4E conversion of this season, and last night they thought they would fight the lich Kazit Gul to get through the Polyhedral Gate into the Phylactery Vault.

Instead, it turned out Kazit Gul actually worshipped Tiamat (trying to set the stage for next season), so his essence was pulled into the gate, which had 4 colors, one per side (black, blue, white, & green), with a deeper Red color in the middle. A PC happened to touch the blue side before too many checks could be made, which teleported them all to a weird inter-dimensional plane with the loud roar of a blue dragon in front of them. Then, it got warm, and they heard ANOTHER roar as a red dragon landed behind them (The gate’s mechanic basically let them choose which color dragon would join the Red in the fight, based on which side of the giant floating d4 they touched). The fight was on!


Both dragons were level 10 (vs the level 9 PCs), though I dropped them to Elites (instead of Solos) to make them a little more reasonable. I still used size Huge minis, to add to the epic feel, but stat-wise they should have been Large. Have I mentioned how much I love the 4E monster builder? The ability to scale monsters up and down is invaluable. By the way, it is still findable on the new D&D site… it’s archived under Products>tabletop>digital>4E LEgacy.

The party focused on the Blue first, making him prone, dazed, weakened, marked, and immobilized (like they do) in the first round. The Red had a low initiative (rolled a 3), so he was less of an obvious threat until after everyone else had acted in the round. Still, the party managed to stay un-clustered in ways that made the dragon breath attacks less effective, and took the Blue (who couldn’t hit to save his life) down before the Red had even taken 50 pts of damage (out of his 300 total HP). Then it was a bit of a slog trying to hack away at the Red, though there were plenty of cool table-cheering moments (like when the blinded Red missed everyone with his multi-claw attack, or when the paladin of Bahamut landed the killing blow against this servant of Tiamat.

In the end, the bodies of the red & blue formed a fire & lightning gate leading to the Phylactery Vault, where our party will go head-to-head with Szass Tam himself next week.

As I put these last 2 fights together, I tried to focus on making them as epic as possible, since this is our last 4E outing before we make the switch to 5E with the release in a couple weeks (our FLGS gets the PHB on 8/8!). For Szass Tam next week, I took a lot of the stuff from the Demi-lich as presented in the for-sale version of the adventure, then modified it for 4E (again, with the monster builder). We’ll see if he ends up being as deadly as the demi-lich was at your table… though I did remove the instant-kill effects, since those were never really a part of 4E.

Guess I’ll post my final session results here as well next week. Can’t wait to read your season recap.

2 Dan July 31, 2014 at 12:44 pm

My FLGS had some strained sessions toward the end.
We only had 2 parties all season, with DMs who struggled to cooperate. When the other table came up with some insane way to destroy the vault without going into the final battle, it caused a lot of dissatisfaction and confusion from our table. We wound up ruling that the other party had not done that in our game, but instead had dissappeared. When we made it to the final session, we met up with the NPC group, with whom we had lost contact at the beginning, but they were in no condition to assist us. It was up to our party to finish everything ourselves. However, each had a magic weapon they were able to lend us. I sold some of my accumulated potions of healing (at 100gp each), and traded one for a growth potion.
The growth potion would increase me several categories, so I made sure to save it for any liches who may show up. We quickly took out the gargoyle guardians of the first phylactary, and destroyed it. At this point, a “demi-lich” appeared. It tried to suck out my soul, but i succeeded my save (i hot exactly the dc). Our dwarf fighter used one of his superiority dice to fling it away from the pool, and the cleric/barbarian/fighter charged on his horse. I (monk/rogue/barbarian/war cleric) began to run toward the foe, jumping from the horsebound combatant to a side-plane of the pyramid. From there i ran up the wall of one of the sepulchers on that plane, while drinking my potion of growth (when my size increased my damage went from d6 to d12). Then, I cast a swift spell (divine favor) and began to rage. The I let loose on the skull. 3 attacks, 3 ki points, and a divine prayer and I did roughly 110 HP (between d12 punches, d8 radiant, Dex mod, rage damage, sneak attack, bard song, and a crit). One more shot from the archer fighter, and it should have been dead. Instead, the DM decided that was waaaay too quick, and brokebthe crystal teeth as a healing reaction, putting it back into decent range to survive. It failed to steal my soul 2 more times before it finally died. With it dead, the rest of the phylacteries were basically unprotected (the gargoyles were no match for us).
All-in-all, the physics of the room were very fun, as was the “demi-lich” (I put this in quotes because it is laughable compared to demi liches from previous editions).
Once again have we easily found exploitably broken mechanics in the play test, namely multiclassing. The fact that the lich should have been dead first round was certainly testament to that (I believe I even missed twice in my first volley). Granted, team prep and coordination helped a lot too. I think if we had had to deal with all 4 planes it would have been more entertaining (though we definitely would have died).

3 Joe August 7, 2014 at 10:58 am

Just ran week 13 last night, and it was EPIC. I decided to rewrite the final battle to be against Szass Tam himself, since the rest of the season kept teasing about how big & bad he was. I statted him out as a level 12 solo who had powers that created skeletal mage minions, and it worked pretty well.

I also threw in a “grab a phylactery” mechanic, where folks could draw from a deck of cards to grab a random phylactery, then get a random bonus off a chart I’d prepared. Of course, this also bound the phylactery to them, meaning that they’d have to track down & destroy the lich it belonged to before they could shatter the phylactery, eternally destroying the lich. But that was the end-of-Diablo-style reason I gave for why these level 9 4E characters weren’t around to participate in next season, which is the same world & timeline, but with 1st level PCs in 5E. Narratively it worked out well.

Even with his 450 HP, Szass Tam only lasted 4 rounds or so. Our fire elementalist critted for almost 70 pts of damage, and the 2-blade ranger had a crit/hit for a combined 60 damage. With damage output like that, plus a cleric and paladin doing radiant damage (to which he was vulnerable), the outcome wasn’t that uncertain (in my mind, anyway). Of course, I had him hitting HARD, tossing chain lightnings and meteor swarms like nobody’s business, so the players certainly felt at-risk.

In the end, though, there was lots of cheering when he finally went down. A very fitting end to a long dungeon crawl.

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