D&D Encounters: Dead in Thay (Week 8.)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 3, 2014

dead-in-thay-coverAt the end of the last session things got a bit out of hand for one party at our FLGS. They were in heated combat with a Lich and called for help through the telepath circlets. Two PCs from my table ran to the nearest black gate and teleported to assist. They eventually defeated the Lich but the parties were in disarray.

This week at Hairy Tarantula North in Toronto we had so many players we had to add another table. We ended up running four tables for 23 players. For the past couple of weeks we’d been running three very large tables so the DMs got together and decided that we would break off and form a new party this week. That meant my Barbarian disappeared into the ether while I took on the mantle of DM again.

Table 1 (DM: Craig) had six players, table 2 (DM: Hillel) had six players, table 3 (DM: Tim) had six players, and table 4 (DM: Derek) had five players. My table had an Elf Druid and Gnome Mage (no longer undead) from table 3, an Elf Cleric/Mage from table 2, and two brand new players who ran the Elf Mage and Human Monk pre-gens. The rest of the tables shuffled players to ensure a suitable balance among the groups and we were off and running.

Disrupting the Black Gates

In order to reach the climatic conclusion of this adventure the PCs need to find the Phylactery Vault. They realized it’s not on the map of the Doomvault but they haven’t yet discovered where it is or how to get there. They do have a lot of the pieces they need to solve this puzzle. As I had two new players in my party I felt this was a good opportunity to try and fill in the gaps and have the other players share what they’d learned.

The parties have not done a very good job this season of keeping the other groups informed when they pick up some interesting pieces of lore or information. By having the players who have been here all season bring the new players up to speed they eventually started to get a better sense of what their next step should be.

By now everyone knows that there are black gates throughout the dungeon and that they can be used to teleport from one gate to another within the Doomvault as long as the key is attuned to that destination gate. Since our parties all have a master key that’s attuned to all black gates they can go wherever they please, creating tremendous opportunities.

What the PCs were finally able to figure out this week is that they can manipulate the teleportation magic of the black gates to allow them to teleport into the Phylactery Vault. However, as they don’t have a glyph key attuned to the Phylactery Vault they have to manipulate the gates and try something a bit risky.

The Mages in the party (3 of them now) were easily able to figure out that if they performed a ritual they could warp the magic of the black gates. This would allow them to teleport into the Phylactery Vault without a properly attuned glyph key. There are about 40 black gates in the Doomvault. They figured they need to manipulate at least half of the gates for this plan to work. So far only three black gates have been disrupted. With only a few weeks left in the season they realized that they have a new priority – disrupting the black gates.

Masters’ Domain

Dread Legion Outpost

Cavern Guard Post (#33)

draed-warriorNow that my table knew they wanted to disrupt some black gates they had to decide where to go to do that. They decided to go back where it all began, the Cavern Guard Post. This is the room where table 2 started the adventure. They faced a lot of resistance but slaughtered all comers as the ventured through the Masters’ Domain. The assumption was that the room would still be empty. And an empty room meant an easy room.

So the party stepped into the black gate where they ended last week’s session and reappeared in area 33. Unfortunately for them it was not empty. Where they had originally encountered Gnoll and Orc guards there were now Gnoll and Orc Zombies. Zombies on their own might not have posed a very significant threat but right next to the portal was a Dread Warrior.

The Cleric/Mage wasted no time and immediately cast a Fireball hitting eight of ten zombies and the Dread Warrior. Two Zombies stayed down, but the rest just stood back up and kept coming. The Druid realized that the Dread Warrior was the most dangerous combatant and cast Heat Metal on his armor causing just as much damage as the fireball. More importantly it imposed disadvantage on the Dread Warriors attacks and stopped a crit in the first round.

The rest of the party bashed at the Zombies but the undead wouldn’t stay down. What at first looked like a relatively simple fight turned deadly really fast. The Elf Mage took a couple of big hits and decided to turn invisible and exit combat. The Monk and Druid slowly worked their way through the Zombies but hit after hit the undead wouldn’t fall. The Gnome Mage kept hiding behind the other melee combatants in a poor attempt to avoid taking damage.

After at least a dozen rounds the Zombies died for good and the Dread Warrior was defeated. The party spent a few minutes healing. With no other immediate danger the Mages worked together to easily disrupt this black gate (this was 4th Black Gate disrupted at our FLGS: BG4).

The party decided that the best place to head next was the Far Realms Cysts since that area was almost completely cleared of all monsters. Everyone piled back into the black gate and the party teleported to area 38.

Far Realm Cysts

Warren of Eyes

Sinkhole Cavern (#38)

grickWhen the PCs stepped out of the black gate they were in a little alcove and couldn’t see the rest of the room. The invisible Mage looked around the corner and saw four Gricks slithering around the room. It seemed as if the monsters were not completely aware that the party had arrived on the scene.

The Monk suggested the Mages disrupt the black gate quickly and quietly and try to avoid combat all together. However, if combat was necessary he suggested the PCs most suited to melee combat stand in front and create a choke point to limit the number of monsters that could reach the party at once.

The party seemed to like this plan but proceeded to talk about alternative ideas for about 5 minutes of real time. I asked them to all make Stealth checks while the Gricks made Perception checks. The party made some poor checks and the monsters made great checks including a natural 20. It was time for combat.

The invisible Mage began working on disrupting the black gate while the other PCs fought the Gricks. The combat wasn’t terribly difficult but a few PCs did take a few licks including the Monk and Druid. To make things worse, the Mage failed his Arcane check to disrupt the black gates and was flung back with magical force.

A coordinated effort brought things back to order. The Monk engaged the Gricks in melee while the Druid and Gnome Mage used ranged spells. The Cleric/Mage and Elf Mage worked together to disrupt the black gate (BG5). As the Cleric/Mage was the one making the primary check and the one with the glyph key he had control over where the party was going next. As the Monk broke free of the Gricks and dove into the black gate the party teleported away.

I handed the player running the Cleric/Mage a map and said he had 10 seconds to point to a location where the party would emerge. He was not allowed to ask for opinions; he had to make a fast decision. He wisely chose area 44.

Caverns of Chaos

Chaos Lair (#44)

grellWhen the party arrived in this star-shaped stepped room it was completely dark. The Druid cast Dancing Lights around the room to illuminate the darkness. The Gnome Mage had been with the party from table 3 when they originally explored this room so he warned them to look for flying monsters. A natural 20 on the Druid’s Perception check spotted a Grell floating near the ceiling.

The Elf Mage who was still invisible got to work trying to disrupt this black gate. Unfortunately the rest of the party couldn’t resist attacking the Grell even though it was clearly not threatening them. Once it took a hit from a Ray of Frost it immediately flew towards the party and attacked.

Again the invisible Mage was unable to disrupt the black gate on the first try and got blasted. This time the Monk and Gnome Mage were adjacent to the black gate when it erupted so they too took damage. No one offered to help the Mage so he tried the gate again while everyone else fought the Grell. Again he failed and again the same PCs took more damage.

Meanwhile the Grell managed to lash onto the Monk but the Monk was able to resist the poison of the Grell’s tentacles. The Grell kept biting the Monk and the Druid, but it was eventually killed just as the black gate was successfully disrupted (BG6).

Looking at the map the party decided that the next best gate to head to was the one in area 41. They wanted to teleport right in but the Gnome Mage told them there were 20 or more Skeletons in there and that they might attack anything that teleports in. If they were to enter using the door while wearing their Red Wizard robes they might be able to pass through unmolested. The group wasn’t wild about walking through other rooms to get there but in the end they agreed and they hoofed it.

As they passed by area 43 and through area 42 they didn’t see any other monsters or creatures.

Prison of Filth

Garbage Transfer (#41)

skeletonThey opened the door to the Garbage transfer and the Gnome Mage, the Cleric/Mage, and the invisible Elf Mage all stepped inside. Nearby Skeletons approached them with arms extended. The Gnome Mage handed them bits of broken metal from damage weapons they’d acquired earlier. The Skeletons took the bits and pieces and wandered away. The three PCs slowly walked towards the black gate at the far end of the room.

The Monk and Druid got bored waiting and they too entered. The Skeletons paid them no mind as long as the PC didn’t attack. They searched through the rubble and debris for anything valuable but found nothing. The Gnome Mage, a tinkerer himself, also searched. This left the Cleric/Mage and Elf Mage to disrupt the black gate which they did on the first try (BG7).

With this success the two arcane characters realized that the black gates had been manipulated enough that if a powerful Red Wizard used the black gates to teleport they might notice something was amiss. IF they realized the PCs were responsible it could put the dungeon’s denizens on a more heightened start of alert.

When we pick things up next week we’ll see where this group plans to go next.

Thoughts

So after my diatribe last week about how the DM forgot to have the Dread Warrior use spells against the party, I did the same thing this week. I reduced the Dread Warrior to an undead, sword swinging commander of an undead legion. The encounter was a lot of fun, but it would have been very different if I’d been on my game.

Looking back, I think the Dread Warrior spellcaster would have destroyed the party if I’d used him properly. The PCs in my party did not have very high maximum hit points since most of them use a d6 as their hit dice and have below average Constitution scores. Also we had two brand new players and the last thing you want to do is kill the party during the first encounter of the first session. That doesn’t make D&D seem very inviting or fun.

Despite my misstep the group seemed to have a lot of fun this week. The new players asked a lot of good questions that I was able to answer in a way that reinforced some important details to the other players. Once they finally realized that they had to disrupt the black gates it was a race to see how many they could do in one night. They didn’t expect resistance or monsters from the rooms that they’d already cleared out so that was fun to play through.

As a side note, one of the other party’s at out FLGS (Craig’s group at table 1) suffered a TPK this week. They took a lot of damage when Red Wizards pelted them with large area spells that hit everyone. As they fled into another room to regroup more Red Wizards unloaded with Fireballs and killed all six PCs. Let this be a good example in the importance of rolling well during initiative.

Additional Resources

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.

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.


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe July 3, 2014 at 9:36 am

Wow… 23 players! Sounds like you all had a pretty hectic, but awesome time.

We had only one table of 7 at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA last night, including two brand new players who’d never played any RPG before. I think a combination of holiday travel & some pretty nasty storms contributed to our low overall turn-out, but we still had fun with the players present. We ran my 4e conversion of this season.

This week the party headed to the ooze grottoes, which were full of all sorts of gross situations involving slime, oozes, sphinter-like doorways that sucked you in, and other unpleasantness. After uncovering some books (and making skill checks to remove them from ooze without damaging them), the party took a short while to read through them and gain insights on Szass Tam’s divine aspirations, the Oozemaster’s theories on fuzing consciousness with oozes, and (in a tribute to Wil Wheaton’s character from the Penny Arcade D&D podcasts) a book entitled “Aofel’s Folly: Elves & Acid Pits”… which was a treatise on dungeon design, and how one might place acid pits to better capture heroes like the famously acid-killed Eladrin Avenger.

By the timet he party finally got to the Oozemaster’s lair, they were both grossed out by oozes and eager to get out of this area where the walls and floor seemed to squishily note their presence. The combat room setup for the Oozemaster was tough, though. There were two pillars that had difficult terrain auras (Aura 3) that also did 5 acid damage to non-oozes. They blocked the path between the party and the Oozemaster, though his Grey Ooze companion had no trouble attacking players and giving them penalties (save ends) to their armor and attacks as its caustic essence damaged their gear.

But there was an easier way to go… an enclosed hallway that looked like it bypassed the pillars’ auras, but had the strange one-way doors they’d encountered earlier in this zone. One player finally took the bait and went that way… walking through the door almost directly into a GELATINOUS CUBE! The cube blocked the entire way forward, though another door was visible on the opposite side of it. Not wanting to try and fight this big monster alone, that player decided to voluntarily get engulfed by the cube, then make escape attempts to get out the other side. This was what I’d expected PCs to do when I designed the encounter, though I didn’t expect it to take 3 separate escape attempts (taking 11 acid with each round he was stuck in there) before he’d be successful. Escaping the Gelatinous Cube (which had a Vulnerability to doors… it couldn’t open them), that same player, still cut off from the rest of the group, walked down the rest of the seemingly safe hallway… onto an acid pit (hey, I gave them clues). Fortunately for his low-on-HP character, he did not suffer Aofel’s fate, and made his save to fall prone at the pit’s edge. Meanwhile, the rest of the party finished off the Oozemaster after traversing the painful pillar area, so everything was defeated when our hallway-goer finally got out the other side. The party let the Gelatinous Cube remain trapped in its place, and recovered their treasure, including the teleportation key to the next zone: The Predator Pools.

I had a lot of fun with slimey imagery this week. It was a good lesson in the storytelling aspect of DMing. If you can make something sound unpleasant enough, the players will react without having to impose mechanical penalties on them. Also, the Oozemaster (which was an Elite mish-mash of other oozy things I’d found in the character builder) had a power that allowed him to partially flow into a bloodied enemy next to him, controlling their limbs and making them make a basic attack against an ally. While he was not successful in the use of this power, the idea really grossed-out some players, making them even more aware of the monstrosity this once-wizard had turned himself into. Good times.

2 Crossems July 3, 2014 at 10:39 am

From League City, Texas (South Houston)

We continue to see our players grow, and this week ran two tables of 6 players each.

One chose to learn what more they could from the Abyssal Prisons, as the creatures there seem more than willing to side with their ambitions.

The other chose to re-enter the Master’s Domain. This was mostly to get some payback after last week, which almost resulted in a full party TPK, when they came up against 33 wizards in the Wizard’s Court, in an area that enforced disadvantage against all physical attacks. Although they killed the apprentices in that room, most of the Red Wizards fled to the Conditioning Court. We picked up this weeks games, moments after last weeks near TPK, with only a short rest.

The Conditioning Court proved to be even tougher however, and soon they were facing 18 Thayan Warriors, and 2 more Red Wizards (along with 3 that fled from the Wizard’s Court) all prepared and waiting. I staggered the introduction of the Thayan Warriors into combat, as they charged out of their chambers, so the party slowly went from “We can handle this” to “RUN!!”

Eventually all but two were incapacitated, with only half of the Warriors and Wizards remaining. Those two fled as fast as they could to find help. Pleas for help through their telepathy circlet, only responded with “You did what? Your on your own!”

So, after the captured party members were tortured, by using the Zone of Seclusion, allowing the red wizards to spend a ‘LONG’ time getting information, They revealed a lot about what they were trying to do. In addition, the bard, after being stuck once with a dagger, gave in completely, converted to becoming a Red Wizard, and even spent a few months being force taught how to speak Thayan. They each emerged 40 to 90 years older, after their torture, and then found themselves chained to the Conditioning Columns. One fact that was revealed was their use of the Telepathy Circlets.

The other party, then heard a soft woman’s voice through their circlet, asking, “Who is this?” To which they replied, “Who, is this?!”. The woman’s voice then spoke something in Thayan, and the two players with their circlets, quickly removed them.

As a result, the Dungeon is on super High Alert. War is breaking out, as Issem’s aid was also revealed. And things are about to get super heated for next week. The four who were captured, are now NPC’s in the doom vault, aiding the Red Wizards, and those players are all carefully thinking what will they bring to the game next week.

Even considering the near TPK, loss of 4 players to the Red Wizards, and knowing all that was revealed, everyone had a blast…A good sign is when the players stick around for an hour after the game, taking about what they did, what they could have done different, and laughing about the entire situation.

More fun in League City!

PS…after a near personal life threatening issue, I’ve not updated our blog, but will catch up with that this week.

3 Brian Criswell July 3, 2014 at 11:12 am

I did not listen to the play broadcast tl;dl :), but your description of the zombies in recounting encounters might not have been “correct,” but that could just be what I heard in the podcast. Plus I don’t have the Dead in Thay book, but in the last playtest packet, zombies had a DC of 5 + damage taken to see whether they stay up. It sounded in the podcast like you set the DC at the damage taken. Sorry if I misunderstood something.

Also, to help the players realize that the zombies are staying up rather than have a huge bag of hit points, I narrate that they go down and then get back up when they make their save.

4 Ameron (Derek Myers) July 3, 2014 at 12:20 pm

@Brian Criswell
You’re right, the Zombie DC is 5 + damage. The problem for the players was that the Zombies had 1 hit point and they were only doing around 5 damage each time so my DC was only 10.

In retrospect I think I could have been clearer to let them know that it was a “stay on your feet” effect and not just a giant bank of hit points. Good feedback.

5 Ameron (Derek Myers) July 3, 2014 at 12:23 pm

@Joe
Good narrative will often result in more realistic decisions in-character. If it looks scary or dangerous the players may have their PCs flee. But in reality it might only be a 1 hit point minion. These situations are often the most memorable despite the enemy being a push-over. Good job!

6 Vobekhan July 3, 2014 at 4:21 pm

I actually played rather than DM this week, and had a real blast. Knowing that I’d be back behind the screen next time I had no fear in unloading high level spells into the enemies but tried to be more of a roleplayer than combatant.

On the zombie issue – I usually have them stagger then rise back up with a wicked grin on whatevers left of their faces.

7 Jaaahn July 3, 2014 at 11:49 pm

Hey there! on what days do you guys go to Hairy T North for DnD? I’m new to playing DnD and been wanting to try it out for a while.

8 Ameron (Derek Myers) July 4, 2014 at 8:23 am

@Jaaahn
I’ll email you the details and bring you up to speed on our campaign.

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