Gather Around, I've a Tale to Tell!
So, welcome to the first edition of 'Gather Around, I've a Tale to Tell!', the account of my 4E D&D experiences on both sides of the DM screen. Within this post, and the others to follow, will be reports of my efforts to entertain my players and my attempts to survive my DM's own works. These reports will come from several settings, some of them homebrew and some of them Eberronian in nature.
Readers of the Expedtionary Dispatches feature from Dragon Magazine might recall the Dispatch from Janus Gull, which appeared in Dragon #367. Having not run a session in some time, and yet having made time for a Halloween edition, I found Janus Gull to be the perfect idea for my purposes.
Set in Eberron's Eldeen Reaches, Janus Gull is a small fishing village that was ripped from Eberron a hundred years before the current day by a massive elemental storm. But every year, on the same night it vanished, it reappears at sundown. Ghosts dart through the surrounding area, those who enter the village are never seen again, and by sunrise on the next day the village has vanished once more.
I'll pause in my tale to say this: I find the Expeditonary Dispatches feature to be extremely useful. The Dispatches are generally ideas and hooks, without going into the mechanical detail of the foes or the story's progression. This allows the DM to tailor them to a party of any level, and to arrange the progression of the adventure however he or she wishes. For my group, it was a Level 10 affair.
Finding out what was going on in Janus Gull, however, was a one-shot (with the potential for the characters reappearing in future one-shots). Not only were the characters new, but so was one of the players. So I decided to use a prologue battle to get the party used to itself and to ease in the new player. The Janus Gull Dispatch mentions the nearby town of Cree as the possible starting point for the adventure, and Sypheros (the month in which Janus Gull returns) is the equivalent of fall, so I decided that I would have the group begin in medea res during a mission they'd been hired for by the Wardens of the Wood: defend the town of Cree from the Children of Winter. The party consisted of a half-orc rogue, human shielding cleric, drow chaos sorceress, human great weapon fighter, and dhampyr ranger/druid.
I think, in the end, that I've got a perfect group of recurring villians if/when this particular party returns to the action. The first encounter, rated 'easy' by any standard, was a landslide victory for the party. A horde of mostly minions, homebrew Children cultists and upgraded Giant Ants. But the second and final fight was a rough one. One Child of Winter Doomspeaker, two Winter Witches, and three Winter Sentinels (all from the Eberron Campaign Guide) played merry hell with the party. The witches were the worst, their ability to immobilize as an at-will with Worms of the Earth severely hampering the ability of the party to engage effectively, essentially forcing the group to fight the attackers one-on-one. The Doomspeaker had an unlucky series of rolls and failed to be as effective as planned, but the Witches also recharged 'Rot Tide' consistently, allowing them to slow the party and inflict ongoing damage near constantly. While the Doomspeaker went down fast, the rest of the fight turned into an ugly brawl: once Sentinels and Witches starting dropping, it went quickly, but it took some time for that to happen and the party was sore and sorry by the end.
To put it simply, the party was still mumbling about '#&^$ing witches' up to five hours later. Simply mentioning the Children of Winter in a future session will likely send the party into a mad rampage.
Still, the Wardens of the Wood arrived to relieve the party, and they spent the next couple of days as the heroes of Cree. But soon they began to notice the mood of the townsfolk darkening, and the leader of the Warden company informed them of Janus Gull. After nearly a hundred years of dissapearances and odd goings-on, or the past two years the Wardens had dispatched teams to investigate. Neither team had returned. And now, for the cost of 2,000 Galifars each and the rights to an inn in the town of Redleaf, it would be up to the party to find out what was going on . . .