I want to start this of by stating again how great all the Winter Holiday Encounter submissions were! We had a lot of fun and a hard time whittling everything down to only three winners. Battling gishes, gricks, drunken knights, misers, demons, undead, gingerbread men, horrible fey, and all the other evils made our holiday that much brighter. Thanks again to everyone who took the time to submit their encounter!
We ended up using a party of four 15th level characters for our encounter run throughs. The party was solid and had a bit of synergy, but we didn't focus on any specific exploits or go out of our way to make the characters ridiculous combat monkeys. During creation we used the inherent bonus system so we wouldn't have to worry about magic items. We also thought it was fitting to stick with a holiday theme when making them.
First off we have the leader of the party, a human bear shaman named Jake Skullworthy with his spirit dog Uno. Jake took the Great Bear Shaman paragon path, armor proficiency up to Scale along with light shield proficiency, mark of healing, and some feats that worked with his healing spirit and spirit companion. Jake's at-wills were Wrath of Winter, Spirit's Shield, and Protecting Strike. He ended up with pretty decent defenses, a sturdy build, and a lot of utility to help out the party through himself and Uno.
Next up we have Sully, the warformed battlerager fighter with the dreadnaught paragon path. Her feats were built around the mordenkrad, raising defenses a bit, and improving initiative with things like Weapon expertise (hammer), hammer rhythm, danger sense, and mark of warding. She's a very survivable character who hits consistently.
For our controller we had Sir Uggie Buggie, a dwarven swarm druid with the whirling samara paragon path. This character also focused on being able to soak up the damage, with feats like bolstered swarm and dwarven durability, and some mobility/avoidance with agile form, and hide armor expertise. His at wills were swarming locusts, savage rend, and chill wind. Uggie Buggie also had quick wild shape and like most druids, popped in an out of forms as needed throughout the encounters. The swarmÂ damage mitigation plus the temp hit points, dwarven resilience, and other damage mitigation made this character another tough one to take down.
Last but not least, our striker - The Burgomaster. He was a half-elf vestige pact warlock with the hexer paragon path. The Burgomaster had taken twofold pact to get access to the infernal pact, twofold curse for that extra curse goodness, vestige versatility to get access to that second vestige and vistani heritage to get the vestige of vistan. His at-will were eldritch blast, eyes of the vestige, and hellish rebuke. While he didn't take any feats that upped his toughness or survivability, The Burgomaster was still a fairly tough cookie to crack and had a good chunk of options on the battlefield.
Now that we've covered the party, lets get to the real meat of the experience - the winners and our trek through their adventures. Here they are in no particular order.
How the Gish Stole Crunchmas by davethegame
All the adventures fell into a few different categories, and the category that How the Gish Stole Crunchmas was pulled from can best be summarized as Short and Sweet. This was a great dose of holiday theme in a small encounter with lots of flavor. As a DM, it was great to read through the box text in my best Seussian style voice and watch the players crack into smiles or outright laughter. We all really appreciated how the feel permeated the entire adventure, like when I elaborated that a halfling child would probably cry if they stepped on the difficult terrain made up of presents.
The encounter itself was incredibly easy to set up and run. I read through the write up a few times, drew up the map and then started in with the text. The players were really into the holiday feel and vowed to show the Gish the true meaning of Crunchmas. I had the gish taunting them from the middle of the ice until Sully marched out and promptly failed her acrobatics check, falling prone on the slipper ice. The Gish teleported out and blasted away with his forcebolt, dropping Sully into the freezing water. We were off to a good start.
Sully's athletics was much better than her acrobatics and she had no problems pulling herself out of the mess. Max moved in after that and the rest of the party tried to avoid the ice ponds while using them against the owlbear. They all decided to avoid the tree and because of that, never really got their hands on the skiff. By the second round, the party had found their grove and while they weren't able to pin down the Gish regularly (though Sir Uggie Buggie was trying his best), the Burgomaster and Sully were pounding Max.
The high point of the combat for me came after Max had used his Frost Wall to immobilize both Sully and Uggie Buggie. The Gish teleported close to them on his next turn, and I had him use his Storm of Stars on both of them and the frozen ice pond squares beneath them. I missed Sully somehow but crit the Burgomaster and destroyed the ice beneath them, dropping them into the water again. My triumph was short lived as Sully pulled herself out and Uggie Buggie just teleported free on his next turn, but it was worth it.
In the end, the sturdy party of winter adventurers defeated the gish and his cohorts after blowing through most of their resources. They loved the bit about his heart growing two sizes and the fact that I had the tree shamble over to see to him as he writhed in pain. The party opted to help everyone out (they had even decided to knock max unconscious when they downed him earlier) and accompanied the Gish back to Huvil where he carved the roast beast, and gave them their gifts.
It took us about two hours for the entire run through and we loved every minute of it. In retrospect, I would have liked for the tree or Max to have had a power that pushed or pulled on a recharge perhaps, but that would just be more icing. Congratulations to Dave on a very flavorful and entertaining holiday encounter!
Isle of the Forlorn by dick_deck
This adventure reminded me of an RPGA or published adventure right off the bat, and after reading I was wondering if I could fit it or something very like it into my home campaign. Definitely appreciated the hooks. The read-aloud text was great and I actually watched a bit of the claymation special that the encounter is based on just so I could get the tune right. If you don't recognize the theme right away and want some help, check out this video.
I had the party encounter Hismay and Radloph to find out about their lost brother, Ukonelius and the beast on the Isle of Forlorn. At this point, Chuck who was playing Uggity Buggity had a pretty good idea of the theme and was grinning from ear to ear. Once they entered the cave I hit them with the chorus of sickly voices and the King's call to Bumbly. Bumbly was incredibly fun to play - I had him running after the PCs dumbly and bashing them when able. Uggity Buggity taunted him and got him to chase him around, distracting him while the party tried to ping him down. I also really appreciated all the phrases that Ukonelius called out throughout the fight - the whole table actually called out in unison "Bumbly bounces!" the first time he launched out of a pit.
The first round was mostly chaotic, with Bumbly running after the party and the icicles falling. Those icicles were devastating - I had Uggity Buggity and Jake bloodied the 3rd round in mostly due to icicles and some beatings from Bumbly. The disfigured constructs were a minor nuisance, but the players were entertained and mildly creeped out when I would cry out as the constructs attacked them with "Finally, Someone to Hold" and "Please don't let go!" I could actually see them struggling to attack these things that just wanted to be loved. But attack them they did.
The 5th round in, The Burgomaster used his bonus from the vestige of vistan to push Bumbly into the water and the party kept him there for the next three rounds until he was out of the fight. The King fully engaged them along with the never-ending minions. Jake went down a couple rounds later, but the rest of the party had enough staying power to keep going, and the king fell to a lightning drake blast.
With the King down the party saved Ukonelius and I read through the conclusion. I hit them with the creepy and moral ambiguous ending and they loved it.
This encounter took us over three hours, with the first two-thirds focused on Bumbly chasing them around while the constructs tried to hold the party in place and the second half dominated by the fight with the king. Isle of the Forlorn definitely has a strong holiday theme, but it could easily fall into a campaign as a one-off night for the party because of all the reflavoring. Thanks much to dick_deck for letting us bounce Bumbly around!
Don't Touch That! A Winter Solstice Tale by ChattyDM
ChattyDM's encounter definitely fell into the more complicated category. As we sat down play, this was the only one I was really worried about screwing up. With all the traps and the enemy abilities to push or throw creatures into them, I wanted to make sure I didn't miss a trigger, an opportunity, or an initiative count. I spent a bit longer going over the adventure, and studied the map a bit before we sat down to play this one. In the end, everything went incredibly smoothly and I worried a whole lot for nothing.
The encounter started with the PCs coming through the front doors and seeing this crazy amalgamation of machinery! Oh, and here's where I should point out that the party has no rogue or anyone trained to disable devices. Kris Crimson waggles his finger at them, telling them they've been bad and that they shouldn't touch anything. Sully moved and charged him, doing a bit of damage, though she wasn't too happy when Kris hit her with his Evil Squint. She was even less happy when Kris came up next in the initiative order and hit her with Wither's Glare before crying "Dance my Puppets!" and pushing her into the nearby furnace. After that, Uggity Buggity moved up onto the conveyer belt, trying to get in range of Kris, and promptly fell prone. Oh, and look, it's the conveyer belt turn!
Things were moving like a well-oiled machine, literally! The party was having a hard time pushing past the first two lanes of conveyer belts with the Reintaur and Kris keeping them bay, constantly pushing them onto the belts when possible. But that changed when Kris decided to push a very aggressive Sully into the nearby crusher. For the rest of the game, sully spent her time being thrown around by manakin's, breaking loose from wrapping, and beating manakins off the second control panel. Oh yeah, you better believe I had Kris shouting out commands for a couple of the manakins that were manning the second control panel - throwing the conveyer belt back and forth when necessary and setting off an extra furnace blast or timely crusher. Uggie Buggie and Jake made quick work of the manakin's when they weren't spending their time getting out of furnaces and crushers.
The group destroyed the first control panel that Kris was manning on the sixth or seventh round and he moves to the second, freeing the manakins to terrorize sully in the backfield. Sully had had enough though and popped her reign of steel to keep them at bay while she unwrapped herself (for the third time I think). Jake was doing a great job of keeping everybody going, but at this point all the second winds had beenÂ used and a couple people were bloodied again. Uggity Buggity and the Burgomaster just couldn't keep out of the furnaces and crushers. But The Burgomaster would have the last laugh - he had hit Kris with a double hellish rebuke thanks to an action point just before the conveyers took him into the furnace. That one ended up hurting the fiendish fey more than the warlock. That and the fact that The Burgomaster had dropped a feast of souls around the last control panel made it a bit hard on Kris from there on out.
The encounter was timed pretty well so that when the manakins ran out, Kris was on his last legs. The party moved in and I believe it was a Reign of Steel that actually finished off the construct maker. The Reintaur, mostly unscathed at this point, threw the doors open and fled before the adventures could do much more. Scully cursed at all the red ribbons she had thrown off and the heroes celebrated.
Not only was the trap line of doom fun for me as the DM, the players loved it as well. Their were smiling groans and laughter when they were pushed onto the belt, or when Kris maniacly laughed as he turned them around to send a character back into a trap they had just come out of. Manipulating the NPCs around the trap initiatives was key to making sure everything went off smoothly. That coupled with the fact that he players had very little teleporting or flying ability made the trap line ridiculously fun.
While it had a bunch of moving parts, the encounter was fairly easy to run by the second round. This one took us almost 4 hours, and if you decided to drop this into a bigger adventure, I would suggest on it being the only encounter before the party's next extended rest - they're going to take a beating. Congratulations and thanks to ChattyDM for putting my holiday party through the grinder!
Well there you have it. If you have the time, I highly suggest running through these and the other submissions with a group of friends. Not only was it a blast, it gave me so many more ideas for themed one-off encounters to throw out there when we want to play D&D but can't count on the more regular games for some reason. I want to thank everybody again for all the work they put into these, and congratulate the three winners - you'll be seeing your Player's Handbook Holiday Bundles soon! I expect to see you all back here for the next encounter contest!