D&D Encounters: Dead in Thay (Week 9)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 10, 2014

dead-in-thay-coverThe heroes are still running around the Doomvault dungeon wreaking havoc and killing Red Wizards, but now the PCs know they need to disrupt the black gates if they want to reach the Phylactery Vault and stop the Lich-lord, Szass Tam. Last week my party teleported from gate to gate disrupting them as they went. This week they planned to continue with this plan, but faced tougher obstacles on their journey.

At Hairy T North in Toronto we continue to see new players every week. The release of the D&D Starter Set for 5e and the release of the D&D Basic Rules on the Wizards of the Coast website have peaked the curiosity of many players. We expect to see an influx of new players who want to try the new edition, and this week we got three.

We ran four tables again this week: table 1 (DM Craig) had six players including one of the new players, table 2 (DM Hillel) had five players, table 3 (DM Tim) had six players, and table 4 (DM Derek) had five players including two of the new folks. My group had a Human Cleric/Mage, Gnome Mage, Human Monk, and the two new players used the Elf Mage and Halfling Rogue pre-gens.

What’s the Plan?

far-realm-cystsWe left the PCs in the Garbage Transfer (#41) in the Far Realm Cysts. The room was filled with Skeletons, but as long as the PCs didn’t attack them, the Skeletons left them alone. The only ways into this room were through the one door or through the black gate. If the door was barred from the inside the only possible threats they’d face were from someone with a properly attuned glyph key to this black gate. Feeling safe and secure they decided to use this room as a staging area from which they’d launch their next mission to disrupt black gates.

The group wanted more of a challenge than they had during the previous session. They wanted to go somewhere that none of the parties had been yet; someplace where they’d face a real challenge. They decided to head to the Ooze Grottos.

Ooze Grottos

Culling Pens

Battle Pool (#70)

ooze-grottosWhen they arrived in area #70 they noticed a very large black pool. The liquid in the pool looked like water being buffeted by high winds, yet the room was not windy. Before leaving the security of the alcove where the black gate was nestled, the party’s new Mage got to work disrupting it with help from the Cleric/Mage. The Monk and Gnome Mage peeked around the corner and spotted a Red Wizard and two Apprentices tending to the pool. They also heard the sounds of combat coming from a nearby chamber.

The Red Wizards noticed activity near the black gate and the Apprentices moved towards the PCs. The party took the offensive and moved in. The Elf Mage and Gnome Mage both hit the nearest Apprentice, badly wounding him. The Monk ran up to the Apprentice, picked him up, and threw him in the black pool. Without stopping, the Monk continued onward to drop kick the other Apprentice.

When the first Apprentice hit the water the black liquid formed arm-like appendages that quickly engulfed the body and pulled it under. He was never seen from again. The party realized they should stay clear of the pool.

The Red Wizard wasn’t going to hold back now that it was five against two; he cast Fireball at the four PCs still grouped together. The two Mages failed their saves, while the Cleric/Mage and Rogue both succeeded. The Red Wizard didn’t stick around to admire his handiwork, instead turning and running towards area #71.

The Elf Mage moved closer and attacked the remaining Apprentice. The Rogue got up close and personal and dropped the Apprentice. The Monk chased the Red Wizard who fled. He caught up to him but couldn’t attack.

The sounds of combat were a lot louder in this area. They seemed to be coming from area #72 which is where the Red Wizard was heading. The Red Wizard called out for assistance, announcing that intruders were in the Culling Pens. In the next room the Monk could see four Thayan Warriors battling a Gelatinous Cube. Watching from a safe distance were a Red Wizard and two Dread Warriors. Upon hearing the call for help the two Dread Warriors came to investigate. The Red Wizard the Monk was pursuing teleported safely away leaving the undead to handle this mess. The Monk turned and ran.

Back in area #70 a Black Ooze emerged from the pool and skulked its way towards the party. From the pool itself giant arms lashed out at the PCs hitting the Elf Mage and barely missing the Cleric/Mage. The Mages all fired Rays of Frost at the Ooze wounding it, but more importantly slowing its movement. As the Monk came rushing around the corner his path was blocked by the Ooze. He jumped over it avoiding a clumsy opportunity attack.

The Monk told the party that two Dread Warriors were coming and suggested emphatically that everyone should get back to the black gate and get out of here. The other PCs started moving back. The Gnome Mage decided to use an illusion to make it look like the Ooze from the black pool was blocking the Dread Warrior’s path. The undead failed their saves and stopped. However, they were not without ranged attacks.

The party was grouped together near the black gate but they’d still not left the room. The Dread Warrior cast Fireball and caught all five PCs. The two Mages again failed their saves and both were knocked unconscious. The rest of the PCs, also badly wounded except for the nimble Rogue, pulled their unconscious allies into the black gate and teleported back to area #41.

We Need a Rest!

Once back to a relatively safe spot the PCs realized they needed a rest badly. They expended their healing magic to revive their unconscious allies. All they had left were a couple of Healing Potions. The Cleric/Mage had the spell Rope Trick which creates an extra-dimensional space that the PCs can enter and hide inside. The party decided to cast the spell, get inside, and hope that no one interrupted their rest.

An hour passed without incident (despite my rolling for a random encounter every 10 minutes). They healed up and then tried to determine where to go next. They used the telepathic circlet to find an area that was already cleared by another group. Specifically they wanted to go to go to area #85 in the Predator Pools. Another party had been there and the PC who responded told my party that the area was already cleared of all dangers. It was safe to go there. With that endorsement the PCs got into the black gate and teleported away.

Predator Pools

Blood Pools

Prisoner Cavern (#85)

predator-poolsThe first thing the PCs noticed when they arrived were the monsters. A Dread Warrior and eight Skeleton guards stood at attention around the room. The undead all turned to look at the PCs. The fast thinking Cleric/Mage who was still wearing a Red Wizard robe tried talking to the intelligent Dread Warrior.

He told Dread Warrior that some renegade prisoners were messing with the black gates and this group was a repair crew here to examine and fix any damage that might have been done. Despite a good Deception roll, the Dread Warrior has specific instruction on how to handle anyone who doesn’t conform to the expected behaviour. He ordered the Skeletons to attack the intruders.

The Gnome Wizard and Cleric/Mage worked on disrupting the black gate while the rest of the PCs fought the Skeletons. After one round the PCs had taken superficial damage and dropped two Skeletons. When the Mages disrupting the black gate made the requisite Arcane check they realized that this gate was already disrupted (something the PC wearing the other telepathic circlet did not tell them).

The fight with the Skeletons continued for another round until the Dread Warrior decided to cast a spell and finish things – he cast Cloudkill. The Mages again failed their saves and fell unconscious, while the Monk and Cleric/Mage took half damage and the Rogue avoided all damage by rolling a natural 20. The Skeletons were immune to poison so this didn’t even slow them down.

Things looked grim again for the party so they pulled their wounded comrades back into the black gate and teleported back to area #41 before anyone else fell to the poisonous gas.

We Need Another Rest!

After administering the last of the Healing Potions the party realized they were in really bad shape. The desperately needed another rest. What was worse, the damage they’d just taken was all for nothing since the gate was already disrupted. Many harsh words and threats of bodily harm were sent through the telepathic circlet.

The Gnome Mage told the party about the Pool of Recovery in the Forests of Slaughter. By drinking the water the party could heal again. To get there they’d have to teleport to another black gate that they could disrupt along the way. The group liked this idea. As a precautionary measure the Cleric/Mage cast Aura of Invisibility on the party. Hopefully this would help keep them safe until they got to the pool.

Forests of Slaughter

Forest of Recovery

Hook Horror Nest (#49)

Note: The first time PCs arrived here in week 2 the DM accidentally switched the description of area #46 with area #49. We’ve left it this way for consistency. Area #49 is actually the Cavern Gate.

forest-of-slaughterThe invisible party arrived in the forest and immediately got to work disrupting the black gate, something they’ve become really adept at doing. With that task done they moved ahead as quietly as possible.

The Gnome Mage was the only PC who’d been here before so he pointed out dangers and helped the party avoid them. The group moved through area #49 and area #50 without incident.

Pool of Recovery (#51)

When the PCs spotted the pool of recovery they all drank deeply, letting the radiant magic heal them and provide the benefits of a short rest. The two Mages were now out of hit dice. The Monk and Cleric/Mage had only a few each remaining. Whatever the party faced next they had to avoid taking too much damage.

The group studied their map and decided that the next best place to go was the black gate in area #48. The Gorgons were defeated so there shouldn’t be anything too dangerous in that area now. We’ll find out next week.


As powerful as Mages are when they reach higher levels and gain access to better spells, they are still the softest class in the game. They generally have the fewest hit points and the lowers defense scores. When three of five PCs in the party are Mages it makes it really easy for the DM to wipe out the party with one or two good area of effect spells. My goal was not to decimate the party or pick on the Mages, but that was what ended up happening.

I’m a bit concerned that my party, with its current roster, will continue to face this kind of punishment moving forward. I’m guessing that they’ll all need to visit the Vault of Seclusion before the end of next week’s session. Hopefully better tactics and perhaps a new member or two will change things.

This week I finally remembered to have the Dread Warriors cast spells. The results were ugly as you read about above. Had these attacks come when the party was a level or two lower I think it would have been a TPK.

We learned this week the value and importance of communicating with other tables and providing accurate information. The player at the other group who was wearing the telepathic circlet was present during the game when that party was in the Blood Pools areas and when they disrupted the black gate. However, that player wasn’t paying attention during those games. Had the tables been doing a better job of keeping all groups informed of their progress week by week this information would already have been known and they wouldn’t have gone to the Blood Pools at all.

With only three weeks to go the PCs at my FLGS have disrupted 12 black gates. This puts them on track to hit their magic number in time to get to the finale on time. How are things progressing at your FLGS? How many black gates have your groups disrupted? Have you had any TPKs yet?

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.

Looks like we’ve got some technical difficulties with the actual play podcast. I’ll investigate this evening, so please be patient.

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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1 Joe July 10, 2014 at 10:28 am

I continue to be in awe of the ability to manage multiple tables in the same dungeon. We’ve opted for a style more in line with the old Encounters, where each group is in the same situation, but they’re parallel universes. Also, we’re running it 4E, but the story is quite similar.

This week we took the party to the Predator Pools. The party first came across some mage wights who were torturing some sort of elemental water creature trapped in an enchanted glass tank, heating the glass to boil the elemental. While the party argued down the hallway about the best way to sneak up & attack the wights, the wights heard them and came down the hallway to attack them. The “fight” was handled off the grid with hand-waving, so the party took a little damage but was victorious (4E combat is way too long to run multiple fights each week).

The elemental thing was actually a Water Weird that “communicated” by making the water mollecules in the party’s bodies vibrate in pleasant or unpleasant ways (I had a lot of fun describing this). For helping it escape the tank (which was enchanted to suppress the Water Weird’s magical powers), the creature gave them an Endless Canteen (lvl 9 common) before Gating itself back to the elemental plane of water.

Moving on, the party walked down a large corridor, noticing glowing barnacles on the walls & ceilings. “But barnacles only grow under water” thought one character with training in Nature. This lead to a brief freak-out as they realized that it might just be low tide right now, and that there really weren’t any air pockets or places they could go if the water was to suddenly return. While they tried to come to grips with this, I threw another random encounter at them… this time just straight wights, which caused 1d4 of the characters to lose a healing surge before they defeated them (but earned them some gold).

Coming out of the bottom of the tunnel, they found themselves in a MASSIVE caver, easily big enough for two full-grown dragons to have a fight, mid-air, inside. In the middle of the cavern was a lizard bigger than many cities, though the party did not recognize what it was. It was bigger than a dragon, but its face was flat, and its back and sides had no scales, but oozing, pussy flesh that hundreds of rats, seagulls, and other scavengers were consuming. The creature opened an eye the size of a wagon wheel to look at the party, and they got the sense that it was waiting for them to approach.

This creature spoke by mentally controlling some of the scavengers to squawk and squeak in sounds that, together, mimicked human speech (for if he were to use his own voice outside of water, the cavern around them would collapse and mountains would tremble). This was Sargasso, a dragon turtle that was once known as the “Tide of the South Seas”. As a highlight to how massive this creature was, the party came to realize that the title was likely literal: his in-and-out breaths likely created the tides.

Szass Tam had tricked Sargasso into being trapped with rumors of an alliance against “the five-headed queen”, whose power was once again on the rise (setting the players up for next season). Szass Tam also had a “snake-woman” ally who had been conducting experiments in this zone, torturing different sea creatures in different tanks with her mental powers. When she couldn’t break Sargasso’s mental defenses, she found other ways to torture him, and the party realized that his shell had been slowly removed, piece-by-piece. (SIDE NOTE: I absolutely do not recommend looking up pictures of turtles without shells on the internet. I did that while writing this part of the 4E conversion, and it’s just AWFUL).

Sargasso warned the party that he did not have much time left, but that they needed to kill this snake woman (a Spirit Naga) quickly, before she could use her mental powers to force too many of his friends to aide her. “I wonder who the dragon turtle’s friends are…” pondered one PC, not realizing how ominous his words would become.

Soon after, the party found the naga and a suit of walking heavy armor (a Helmed Horror) in a massive tunnel that looked like a sluiceway. The tunnel was 40 ft wide (8 squares) and, though it was barred by 2 massive doors at one end, seemed to go on indefinitely in the other direction. The party’s two stealthy folks snuck in to get a round of surprise attacking in, but while they hit the naga, they only seemed to make her angry. She glared at the party, then at the doors. The rest of the party, closer to the doors, heard a sound like tree trunks being slammed against a mountainside. The helmed horror went to the wall to pull a lever, opening the doors, and a primordial roar not heard by any creature still living echoed through the tunnel as tons of water washed everyone further down the tunnel.

As the combat started, I had the one deva member of the party realize that he remembered that roar… it was a word that even the gods paid heed to: KRAKEN. Basically I set the tunnel up with 3 of the 8×8 dungeon tiles, with the Kraken itself being a mobile “wall” with tentacles (as separate creatures) in front of it. At the start of each round, I rolled a d6, and the kraken moved that many squares forward, doing decent damage to any PCs caught in it path. I then took tiles that the kraken had moved past and put them at the other end of the tunnel, effectively giving me an infinite game board to use.

The party realized after some unfortunate grappling with the tentacles that the kraken was not something they’d have much luck with, so they focused fire on the Naga, hoping that if they killed her, they’d break her mind-control on the kraken. This worked for the most part, though the Helmed Horror (which was actually armored with dragon turtle shell) punished them pretty hard for not paying attention to it in their planning, making elemental greatsword attacks against every character in his range.

Fortunately, the party had lots of status effects to deal out, so the prone, blind, defender aura-ed naga was not able to use her shifty abilities or ranged magic much. When they’d killed the naga and the helmed horror, the kraken stopped its rampage, and with the last of his life-magic, the dragon turtle was able to send most of his friends back home as he died, teleporting the Kraken back to the deepest of oceans.

Next week the party will be headed to the Far Realm Cysts, where I plan to have lots of fun playing with their minds as alien mentalities press on their psyches.

2 Vobekhan July 11, 2014 at 2:30 pm

We were back down to a single table again this week, two players off on their honeymoon (damn poor excuse), and two others have started new jobs.

During the session it was realised that our multi class skill monkey was using spells he shouldnt – this was down to a confusion over when a mage got access to 3rd level spells. So as to keep the session flowing I let it go but gave the his targets advantage on saves – hopefully the after session chat will help him sort his pc out for next time.

Also during the session the main bad guy was immolated while carrying flammable treasures, so I decided to have them save v destruction – I gave scrolls a DC of 15, bottles a DC of 10 and metal items a DC of 5 – the result was they lost out on a pair of scrolls.

We’ve agreed to keep using the playtest rules to the end of the season before swapping to the newly released Basic rules and beyond.

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