We had a great turnout this past Wednesday night for the fourth session of March of the Phantom Brigade. Nine players showed up at Total Escape Games, ready to take part in the latest installment of the popular D&D Encounters program. With such a large group, we put Plan B into action. We split up the party and one of the players (Erik W.) quickly put on his DM hat and ran a second game with four of the guys. It just so happened that the four players at my table all adventured with human characters: Atreyu (rogue), Darvon (warpriest), Jarren (wizard), and Sebastian Nilrem (wizard).
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After a short rest to recuperate from the battle against the Play-Doh ochre jellies, the heroes accompanied the caravan as it slowly approached the ruins of Castle Inverness. As darkness fell on the third day of their journey, the settlers and wagons passed through the main gate, into the safety of the castle walls. Despite the trials they had faced along the way, the settlers were in good spirits, glad to have finally reached their destination. As torches were lit, everyone pitched in and began unloading supplies.
It wasn’t long before the sound of a scream stopped everyone in their tracks. The heroes saw settlers scrambling away from the circle of jumbled stones that marked the base of the central tower. The air around the stones wavered and then, before their eyes, a ghostly apparition of a magnificent tower grew up from the base. In a matter of seconds, the massive central tower of Castle Inverness had come to rest in its original spot. The entire caravan stood bewildered at the sight of the sudden appearance of the tower. As the heroes studied the tower, they noticed that no exits or entrances were visible. Jarren— apparently deciding that rashness is the better part of valor— let fly with Magic Missile, but the glowing blue bolt of magical energy that hurtled from his finger exploded harmlessly against the side of the tower.
As Jarren lowered his hand, Brother Splintershield sprang into action. The dwarf sent his acolytes off in multiple directions, shouting that he wanted the cleansing ritual to begin immediately. Splintershield took up a position just inside the front gate and then, once he saw that his acolytes were in place around the ruins, he commenced the ritual to cleanse and protect the site of the town from evil. For a few moments, all that could be heard was the chanting of the cleric and his acolytes, the nervous whispers of the settlers, and the haunting wind whipping across the castle.
The ritual was interrupted a few minutes into the process when Brother Splintershield let out a cry of alarm. Marching up the path toward the main gate of the castle were several rotting corpses and a small number of animated skeletons. Hardly missing a beat, the stout-hearted dwarf resumed the ritual. The heroes noticed that more undead creatures were climbing the hillsides around the perimeter, heading for the acolytes and seemingly intent on disrupting the ritual. As Malgram and his scouts quickly took up positions around the ruins, the half-orc ordered the heroes to protect Splintershield from the monsters approaching the front gate.
Sebastian started off the battle by hurling a hailstone (Freezing Blast) at one of the Grasping Zombies shambling up the path. He rolled a nat 20 and the zombie exploded in a burst of rotting flesh and icy shards. (Zombie Weakness: A critical hit automatically reduces the zombie to 0 hit points.)
Darvon, perhaps emboldened by the wizard’s success, recklessly charged out through the main gate and made straight for one of the skeletons. The undead creature, however, used its longsword to parry the warpriest’s attack.
The monsters coming up the path swarmed Darvon, hitting him hard. In mere moments, the embattled human was reduced to 1 hit point. (On his next turn, Darvon wisely used his Second Wind, and then also spent one of his Healing Words on himself.)
Atreyu used Tactical Trick to gain combat advantage against one of the zombies pressing Darvon, but the shifty rogue’s ranged attack missed.
Jarren, wasting no time in whipping out his daily attack power, attacked three of the monsters with Fountain of Flame. The wizard did 27 points of damage to the zombie next to Darvon and also destroyed two of the skeletons in the fiery pillar that spun like a top, dousing the undead creatures with searing heat.
Over the course of the battle, more skeletons kept appearing every other round, pulling themselves out of the earth near the main gate. The creatures, obviously disturbed by the start of the cleansing ritual, mindlessly tried to get past the heroes so they could attack the ritual casters. It was touch and go for a while, but the heroes managed to hold off the monsters for the time it took Splintershield to complete the ritual and ward the area against undead. Once the ritual was completed, bright light burst from the ruins, a wave of thunderous noise rolled across the hillside, and the remaining skeletons crumbled immediately. The Ghost Tower, however, remained visible and intact.
Brother Splintershield and Malgram both thanked the four brave adventurers for their efforts in repelling the undead. Splintershield remained puzzled by the appearance (and persistence) of the Ghost Tower. He said that if the structure was an imminent danger, though, the cleansing ritual would’ve either failed to complete or driven the tower away.
The conversation about the mysterious tower was interrupted by a cry from one of the scouts stationed at the front gate. When the group arrived at the gate, they were greeted with a strange sight. From out of the darkness, a lone figure could be seen marching up the path toward the ruins of Castle Inverness. The image resolved into an armed warrior bearing armor of ancient design and carrying a shield with heraldry. What was most disconcerting about the warrior, however, was that he was partially translucent—clearly a ghost of some kind.
The ghostly soldier strode up the path, stopping just outside the gateway. The spirit looked back and forth across the ground, as though examining a barrier that no one else could see. He looked up and called out in a raspy, otherworldly voice that echoed across the ruins.
“Who dares bar the path of Salazar Vladistone? What right have you to keep me from my sacred grounds? Send forth the one responsible for this disrespect so that I might slay him and break this spell.”
When Aldus Splintershield stepped forward (though still to a place within the area protected by the cleansing ritual), Vladistone attempted to convince the dwarf to either face him in single combat or remove the ritual and leave the castle’s ruins. Since the protective ward seemed to be strong enough to repel the ghostly figure, the cleric rejected Salazar’s repeated demands.
During the course of the ‘conversation’ with Vladistone, the heroes learned that he was the leader of the Silver Company— a group of adventurers who plundered and sealed the Ghost Tower some sixty years ago. When the adventurers mentioned the grave marker bearing the name “Oldivya Vladistone,” Salazar’s ghost confirmed that she was his wife, but ordered them not to desecrate her name with their unworthy tongues.
After making it clear that Splintershield’s rejection of his demands would not change the ultimate outcome, Salazar turned to depart… but not before offering a cryptic warning.
“You have denied but a single tortured spirit this night. We shall see how well you fare against the Phantom Brigade.”