D&D Encounters Field Reports (Week 6)

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Use this thread to discuss your experiences with week 6 of D&D Encounters Season 4 - March of the Phantom Brigade.

For more reports and reviews of Encounters check out these blogs (and please suggest more):
Dungeon's Master
Glitterdust
Perpetual Geek Machine
Wielding a Bohemian Ear Spoon
Sartredes


Please realize that both players and DMs read these threads, so do not put spoilers in your posts. If your post goes into enough details, then you absolutely must use spoilers. Enclose the spoilery bit in [*sblock=spoiler stuff][*/sblock]  (just remove the *) spoiler block tags so that players who haven't played yet don't have the surprise ruined for them. 

[*sblock=spoilerey stuff]

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will produce

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once you remove the *.

 
DMing again at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA.  We had three tables.

At mine:

half-elf cleric
half-elf druid
tiefling warlock
half-orc fighter

This week seriously hit them hard:
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The phantoms rolled very well on initiative.  This meant that they not only got several additional attacks on an already wounded Aldus, but that the minions were able to block the players from easy access to aid Splintershield.

Second round Splintershield was killed outright by the phantoms.  The party cleaned up the minions relatively quickly, but they also took two crits early in the combat.  The warlock really shined in this combat because he could do force damage.  He was able to take down one of them fairly quickly, but the other two had to be whittled down by the other players acting together.  The phantoms missed a lot, but their damage dice were very harsh, and I rolled several ghetto crits in addition to the nat 20s I rolled early in the combat.

This wasn't really an unbalanced encounter as much as just some really bad luck (for them) on the dice.  I wasn't hitting them often, but when I did it always seemed to either be a crit or me rolling max damage on the dice.

Their luck turned after the first few rounds and they took the remaining phantoms down pretty quickly, helped by a crit on the warlock's force damage attack (he also had a magic rod from a prior encounter, so the crit was even more effective).

I have trouble imagining a scenario where Aldus survived the attack... I know he died at at least two of the three tables at Modern Myths (one hadn't finished yet when I left).  Anyway, due to the high damage of the creatures, the players are in a bit of trouble for the rest of the chapter... they're very short on healing resources... not everyone, but the druid and the fighter in particular.  The fighter has taken over 80 points of damage in the last two combats and is down to only 2 surges.

We did have one frustration: the battle map for this encounter isn't sized to 1" squares.  I wish I'd noticed before the game, but I didn't.  We had some positioning issues this game because of that minor issue.  The map still worked, but flanking sometimes got messed up because no one was sure just what square they were in.  Because of the map issue, and the fact they were getting totally beaten on, I gave the characters the benefit of the doubt whenever there was a question.  Not that it mattered much, their dice just weren't cooperating.

Even with 3 regular players missing, we fielded 2 tables tonight. Mine had a Dwarf Warpriest (earth domain), a Elf hunter, Human Mage, Dragonborn Slayer and a Dragonborn Hexblade.

OMG

Aldus died in the first round at both tables. I also killed my first PC in 4th Ed tonight as the Dwarf Warpriest kept getting caught in the blast of Sweeping Rebuke when the Armigers were attacking other PCs. He'll be coming back down 4 healing surges. His inability to heal made the fight much tougher for the rest of the party (He was saving the healing words for after PCs were bloodied and he was the first bloodied and knocked out). Heal checks were used to revive dying allies but area attacks kept hitting (as did Charging Rebuke?). I was worried I was heading for a TPK but the Hexblade and the mage turned it around when the Hunter isolated one of the Armigers out of combat for 3 rounds while they focus fired the others down. The Hexblade got a moment of greatness for pulling the others out of the fire. Minions were cleared with dragonborn breath, and area attacks (including Armor of Winter's Grasp). All in all a very tense, exciting session.
The Silver Scales Adventuring Co. had a pretty solid night.  We had: Dragonborn Sacrifice Cavalier, Eladrin Knight, Human Storm Cleric,  Drow Bow Hunter, and Eladrin Star-Pact Hexblade.  

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We managed to keep Aldus alive.  Not by much, mind you, but the Cleric and Paladin were able to keep him standing.  

The Hexblade (all radiant and force all the time!) had a pretty good time of it, the Cavalier was just murder on these guys, and the Hunter did a great job of tactical control.  We managed to accidentally avoid a minion-purge, so we didn't see the horrible buffs trigger.  Which is good, given the amount of pain the non-minions brought to the table.

The second table at my timeslot didn't fare so well.  They lacked a leader and a reliable means of dishing out radiant or force damage.  They *did* manage to kill all the minions in the first round of combat.  With predictable results.  TPK.

Spirits and interest are still high.  We're really enjoying this season.  Aside from our two late tables, there were at least three tables running earlier in the day.
Two tables, four players each at Warp One in Edmonton. My table:


  • Eladrin Knight, Quarterstaff (me)

  • Half-Orc Scout, Axes

  • Halfling Hunter, Crossbow

  • Dwarf Warpriest, Storm


 This session went a little long (almost 2 hours), but no complaints at all as there was some great buildup...

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... as we explored the forest, discovered the remains of the loggers' camp and the bear cave, examined the remains of the bears and the tainted pool. Our DM did a great job of letting us use our skills to track and explore instead of just jumping us to the source.  This really helped build the tension (especially as we explored the cave) so by the time we found the corpse of the... thing... everyone was on edge. Even having discovered the source of the infection (for lack of a better word), we still spent a few minutes setting up Splintershield for his ritual as the DM let us decide what our characters would be doing.

Knight and Warpriest set up beside Spintershield to assist him with the cleansing ritual, while Hunter and Scout took up positions around us to keep an eye out for trouble. Unfortunately, trouble came from below, as Aldus was skewered by a ghostly spear and a small "Brigade" of "Phantoms" rose out of the ground.

Our ever-impetuous Scout had a massive initiative roll, so he was out of the gate with a big charge against the soldier that attacked Splintershield, knocking him prone and bloody. Hunter dropped her Stalker's Mist, centered on our severely wounded friend (this was the key move of the whole fight, and the only reason we were able to keep him alive). Warpriest hit him with a Cure Light Wounds on the next turn (as A.S. had already used his sole Healing Surge in the last encounter) to give him some hit points back. We roleplayed this as a very enthusiastic, evangelical preacher-style "you are HEALED!!", also knocking him prone (for some extra defence against the upcoming ranged attacks). The crossbow attacks all tried to focus on Aldus, but being prone, heavily obscured, and behind allies (i.e., -9 to attacks) only one managed to hit with a crit.

Knight used his quarterstaff (with reach) and the Hammer Hands stance to attack the prone soldier on the far side of Splintershield, pushing the enemy one square away and to a square adjacent to another spear-wielder. A Fortune Card was played that gave AS some temps, and Fey Step dropped Knight right in the middle of all three soldiers, aura on, bulls-eye painted on his chest. This was the second major move that helped keep Splintershield alive, as the three big melee threats all focused on the Knight (along with a couple ambitious minions) while the Hunter's obscuring mist kept the ranged attacks from hitting Aldus.

The next few rounds went well for us; Hunter sniped at the crossbow-wielding minions, Warpriest used his Smite Undead to further push one soldier away from our still-bleeding patron (still keeping the enemy in Knight's aura), Scout came to help pile up bodies around the defender, while Knight was a punching bag for the enemies NOT attacking Splintershield. Everyone did their job, and did it well.

DM finally realized that he wasn't going to be able to get free of the Knight's aura before we finished his bad guys off, so he just said "screw it" and provoked from both Knight and Scout (that hurt). Of course, since Knight doesn't have that cool Fighter ability to stop provoking movement, the (now severely wounded but still fighting) soldier charged right up to Spintershield after taking the hits. All strategy fell apart at that point and we scrambled to kill off whatever enemy was closest to Aldus before they finished him.

Amazingly enough, Brother Splintershield managed to survive the encounter, however (despite meager assistance from Warpriest and Knight) he was too exhausted to maintain the ritual protecting the Keep (this annoyed me a bit, I'll talk about it below). So, battered, bruised, and tired, the party headed back towards the keep, eyes open for trouble from our old friend Vladistone.


Well, I had been hoping for more challenge, and this encounter certainly brought it for us! Having the goal of protecting a (very vulnerable) ally makes for an exciting and dramatic battle (even if the same trick has been used in almost every fight this season). I think my favourite part about these encounters has been how they seem to be set up to allow every member of a party to really shine. We were fortunate enough to have one of every role at our table, and each one worked exactly as we had hoped, doing exactly what they were designed to do.

One note in particular: I freakin' LOVE my Eladrin Knight! As someone who likes playing "melee meatheads" I was very disappointed to see how boring the Essentials Knight was. Same reason I didn't play 3rd edition, I want cool moves, and the 4e Fighter had a ton! However, this Eladrin Knight, with Quarterstaff, is fun, dynamic, effective, and feels like more than just a pylon with a stick.

I do have to say the end of the session left a bit of a foul taste:
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We fought so hard to keep Brother Splintershield alive so he could maintain the ritual protecting the outpost, were successful in doing so, and he just ends up being "too tired" to maintain it anyway? I haven't read the module, but was there any way to be successful in this, or did the ritual have to fail for the sake of the story? I'm totally ok with that being the case, but I'm just not crazy about using a big motivating factor for our success being an auto-fail, regardless of how we do. Felt a little disappointing, especially after how excited we were for keeping him alive. I would have rather he just been killed (or K.O.'d) outright by the initial attack, then the rush could have been to win the fight and get back to the camp at Inverness before bad things arrive.


Fortune cards; three of us had decks, only two really got any use. I used one almost every turn, but only because I've built a deck that is useful to my character in most situations. I know that's the goal, but it doesn't seem to be catching on much with the rest of the players.
Yes, this chapter has been a little weak compared to the first.  Actually, my players weren't too upset when Aldus died for the following reasons:

1) Aldus taunting Salazar didn't strike them as a very Good thing to do, especially seeing as Aldus worships a Lawful Good deity.  It also felt out of character, since they were introduced to Aldus as a young, idealistic and enthusiastic Dwarven priest.  The taunting seemed petty, and they knew right then that it was going to cause trouble down the road.

2) Aldus insisting on going out into the woods to investigate the plague.  When you first meet Aldus, he's using a staff just to walk, thanks to his bad leg.  The idea that now he's tromping through the woods like a man...er, dwarf on a mission with a mace seemed like a plot hole.  He'd never been presented as a combatant before, and the party agreed with Malgram wholeheartedly.  I was forced to tell them that short of hitting Aldus in the back of the head with a stout piece of tree, he was going, and they felt forced to play babysitter, jumping on the Plot Train.

3) After taking damage in the first encounter, the party wanted to drag Aldus back to Inverness, but of course, Brother Splintershield was insistent on finding the source of the plague.

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The 'crit by plot' was pretty lame too.  The enemies just appear, Final Fantasy-style, putting the group in the middle of an encounter and making it impossible to do much to protect Aldus. 

The reach of the Armigers and their Sweep attack didn't help much- the Defender stood right in front of Aldus, and both he and the dwarf got hit by the close blast 2 for his trouble.  I apologized to the player- I hate it when game mechanics conspire to make it impossible for a Defender to actually defend.

And of course, even if Aldus lives, the shield goes down for plot reasons.  I guess saving Aldus gives you a little more healing, but keeping him alive is almost impossible since he has no healing surges left.  I hate the rules that NPC's generally only have one surge- it really destroys the verisimilitude of the game.  In my group of six, five of the PC's went below 1 hit point at least once (and twice for the Knight), but were healed so they could rejoin the fight.

Aldus goes down and that's all folks.

There were some upsides to this battle though- it felt like the end of Empire Strikes Back (arguably the strongest Star Wars movie).  Aldus is dead and Inverness is burning.  The PC's are down surges, and the Warpriest has used both his Daily Attack and his Cure Light Wounds.  And there's two more fights to go.  It really impressed on them that 'sh-- just done got real'.
"You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies." -The Doctor, Remembrance of the Daleks
At my table, I had:

- human warpriest
- half-elf sentinel
- elf thief
- human thief
- human thief
- tiefling cavalier

Very striker-heavy, and a controller would've been nice in this particular battle, but they did well.

The map scale was a real pain.

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The cavalier was a thorn in my DM side with all his marking, as he's supposed to be, forcing me to use the armigers' sweeping bardiche attack a lot to include both him and Splintershield. That was fine, though, because I love that attack! Even when they kept killing their own minion allies with it! The player of the cavalier was very surprised to find out that was at-will.

Amazingly, the players managed to keep Splintershield alive. I had him down to 4 hp at one point. Besides the cavalier taking a hit for him, it really came down to the sentinel's seed of healing. She had told me she was preparing it at the end of last session, and used it for 18 points of healing without costing Splintershield a surge! It was awesome.

I had 6 at my table in Fort Wayne, IN.

spoiler


During the search for the source of the red crystals, the group found the pool of water and the remains of the loggers camp. One of the players found the tin cup in the camp and used it to gather one of the bigger crystals from a tree. He then put the crystal on a tree, a blanket, and his sword to see what would happen to them. He then filled up the cup with water with the crystal in it. Nothing happened. He then stuck his finger into the water. Nothing happened. He then took the crystal out of the cup with his fingers. He asked "Do I feel different? Do i feel hotter? Do I feel infected?"

I was stunned

I told him that he didnt feel anything. Dissapointed, he wrapped the crystal in a cloth and put it in his backpack.

The rest of the encounter went as usual. They got ambushed by the phantoms and were able to take them out, but were unable to save splintershield.

So I now have a player infected by the plague. Has this happened to anyone else? How are you handling it?

We had a table of 6.

Me->Half-elf warpriest (20 con bay-bee)
Dragonborn cavalier (surge value = bloodied value)
Tielfing hexblade
tiefling evoker wizard (week 6 and hasn't used an encounter power...)
and two newbies the DM made characters for.  But since he doesn't have any essenitals books, they're playing a phb fighter and phb archer ranger.

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After what happened the last time Splintershield performed a cleansing ritual, I had the party form a defensive perimeter around him.  The ghosts only partially won initiative.  Two defenders dealing extra damage from the mark-ignoring monsters helped take them down before Splintershield got a chance to die.  Then, on the way back to Inverness, Splintershield fell ill with the disease and died.
 

    I am now running double sessions ever other week. This has worked very well for people who can't show up each week. I had a table of seven. The other table had three. Cards are basicly a null issue at the game now.

    The party consisted of:
Elven Druid Summer Aspect.
Drow Thunder Warpriest.
Human Sun Warpriest.
Half-Orc Knight Fighter.
Tiefling Infernal Pact Warlock.
Human Rogue.
Drow Hunter.

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   People had roleplayed A LOT at the be start of this game in Session 5, so I removed the "Search for the body". I knew that it would not appeal to this group of players. After encountering the lost foresters, I had them find the Demon Body rather easiely. The Tiefling "Beer Baron" of Inverness was in a panic that his beer had been contaminated with Demon Plague. The fact that everyone in the party had been drinking it before they left made things a bit tense.
    Aldus worked on the ritual to cleanse the water. The Druid and  Sun Priest aided him. The others stood watch in a ring around the area. The Knight refusing to leave Aldus' side.
    The ghosts hid beneath the ice ready to phase through and strike. I knew that the party was determined to keep Aldus alive. They had three clerics - well, one druid - but that is a LOT of healing. So, I had one of the knights have a special dagger that was designed to break the ward.
    The ghost almost took them perfectly by surprise, but the Sun Priests Light Spell on the Knight's shield revealed the attack at the last minute. While they only saw a few of the ghost. It was great to see their faces when they "realized" that a small army of ghost knights was under their very feet - well, they THOUGHT that it was a small army .
     The fight was tense, but they played it well. A pair of perfect Turn Undeads kept the Knights busy and immobilized at the bottom of the river. Aldus took a beating, but with many Healing Words, a Knight Defender Aura and some literal bucket brigade "Dwarf Tossing" they kept Aldus alive. However, the Dagger did it's work. The Ward was Down.
     The PCs tryed to Negotiate with the Undead. Since their goal is to get the people out of Inverness not kill them, they did state that intent. As many of the PCs owned land and businesses in Inverness now, leaving was NOT an option  in their minds. With the ward down, the last knight made a dire speech "It too late, your town is lost. Take your people and go!" The group rushed back to Inverness. The game ended with fires burning in the distance.
     As Aldus was alive. I had the magic item, be a claw from the demon, that was a nasty magic dagger for the Drow Warpriest.
    As to the disease. I had the disease be stopped by the ward. That was why the foresters that came back to the town collapsed when they crossed the gate. I knew that the party had enough to deal with so, I had the disease be preventable due to the some brigade of Clerics and the druid in the party. Note: I didn't tell them this right off - I let them sweat bullets first .
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    I must note, the encounter maps where annoying tiny! The party didn't start each fight all bunched up together in Prussian Military Formation each fight. Fortunately, I had some Icewind Dale Terrain Tiles, so I was able to spread things out.

Our Encounters at the store location has fallen apart. Couldn't keep critical mass ,actually we started strong at 5-6 for the first few weeks and then it dropped down to 3 -4. After week 5 the DM changed then cancelled for week 6 and after that we were down to 2 players. So I will miss the rest of the season. If anyone has a copy of the module I wouldn't mind reading it over to see what I am going to miss.
James Playing D&D since the Red Box of '83.
Have I missed some rules updates?
Pertaining to the enemies in this and later encounters:
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I have seen several posts about this week's encounter with the insubstantial enemies, and the battle being won or lost depending on the PCs having Force attacks. Either there has been some rules update I have missed that says Force now ignores insubstantial, a bunch of Players & DM's don't know how Force damage reacts with Insubstantial, or the creatures statblocks *actually say*: Force damage ignores insubstantial on this creature...(I don't have the adventure in front of me, and can't remember seeing that offhand)
From p32 in the module, by way of example:

Insubstantial
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The justiciar takes only half damage from any damage source, except force damage

So it's in the statblock but there's been no all-encompassing rules change, I guess? That's odd.
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It seems to be a particular property of the phantom brigade.  All their stat blocks contain the section:

Insubstantial
The "Phantom brigade something" takes only half damage from any damage source, except  force damage.

Once the group's wizard dropped Wizard's Fury in the Salazar battle the bad guys didn't last very long.

spoilery stuff


It seems to be a particular property of the phantom brigade.  All their stat blocks contain the section:

Insubstantial
The "Phantom brigade something" takes only half damage from any damage source, except  force damage.

Once the group's wizard dropped Wizard's Fury in the Salazar battle the bad guys didn't last very long.




Unfortunately that power is not found in an Essentials book so the vast majority of people playing Encounters would not have access to it.