For Session 5 of March of the Phantom Brigade at Total Escape Games, we once again had enough players to run two tables. The adventurers at my table were Atreyu (human rogue), Brandis (human paladin), Halitin (dragonborn paladin), Jarren (human wizard), and Norward Reithar (half-elf druid).
This past Wednesday’s session marked the beginning of the second chapter of MotPB. Winter has come to the Nentir Vale. Months have passed since the settlers and heroes arrived at the ruins of Castle Inverness. The busy settlers have built homes and workplaces, established farms in the surrounding countryside, and started to construct a road north toward Hammerfast. Trade with the village of Harkenwold to the south is growing. Looming above the newly established settlement, the mysterious Ghost Tower continues to frustrate every attempt to enter it.
Our heroes have spent the last several months fending off the occasional monster attack, patrolling to protect the town against Mugsy and his goblin gang from Harken Forest, and escorting supply caravans between Inverness and Hammerfast. On this particular night, they are dining in the village’s tavern. Faldyra joins them and during their meal, the party overhears a conversation between several foresters at a nearby table. The foresters are talking about some animal corpses they have been finding lately. The animals bear no visible sign of injury— but they all have signs of an odd disease. The dead creatures all have weird crystalline growths that have broken through the skin.
Death Comes to Inverness
As the heroes share concerned looks at what they have heard from the foresters’ table, Brother Splintershield rushes into the tavern. He approaches Faldyra and our heroes and says, “I think you’d better come have a look at this. Some of the scouts are back, and it looks bad.”
When they arrive at the town gate, the heroes see that two rows of bodies have been laid out on the ground. The six human bodies appear to be unmarked except for numerous red crystalline lesions. Malgram tells Faldyra and our heroes that these foresters were part of a larger group out downing trees for construction projects in the village. The tough half-orc says, “I’ve never seen anything like this. We were hoping one of you might be able to tell us what happened to them.”
As the adventurers inspect the bodies, one of the “corpses” opens its eyes and grabs Jarren’s arm. The man croaks out a few words in a raspy, weak voice: “… the demon in the forest… drank the water… a plague… others may yet live.” With that, the logger collapses, at last dead.
Malgram quickly organizes several search parties to head out and look for any surviving foresters. Aldus Splintershield insists that he will join one of the search parties, so Malgram turns him over to our heroes. The half-orc pulls the adventurers aside and urges them to stay close to the cleric and bring him back alive, whether they find the loggers or not.
The Missing Foresters
As our heroes fall in alongside him, Brother Splintershield heads east, where several ponds are fed by springs. Even in the depths of a winter night, the Harken Forest is alive with sounds. The full moon shines down, producing long, ominous shadows across the snowy ground.
As they near a small clearing in the woods, Brandis notices that the nocturnal animals have gone silent and warns the party that danger might be near. (Brandis gained a +1 to all his defenses for the upcoming encounter.)
Norward identifies the tracks of the foresters in the snow and begins to navigate the party into a good location for battle. (The wizard gained a +1 bonus to his attack rolls for the encounter.)
As Brandis and Norward help prepare the group for battle, Jarren spots signs of strange crystalline growth on nearby trees and warns the party that the loggers are near. (For his excellent perception, Jarren started the fight with 5 temporary hit points.)
As our heroes enter the clearing, they see six figures dressed in tattered clothes. The adventurers notice unmistakable signs that the loggers are infected by the same sickness as the ones who were lain out in Inverness. Unlike their dead companions, these foresters seem to be feverish, maddened, and aggressive.
Fortunately for the heroes, the plagued foresters are not in their right minds and lack any tactical ability. Two of the loggers lurch toward Jarren, however, and their vicious axe attacks quickly reduce the wizard to one hit point. With the help of some healing from Brother Splintershield, the embattled mage manages to stay in the fight and hits the foresters with blasts of ice (Freezing Burst) and fire (Burning Hands).
Brandis wastes no time in activating his Defender Aura. Because of the aura, enemies keep attacking the stalwart paladin, ignoring his less-armored friends.
In this encounter, Atreyu continues to use Tactical Trick with devastating effectiveness. Circling around the chaotic fight, the nimble rogue uses his short bow to strike down loggers locked in melee combat with his companions.
Norward, skillfully wielding the magic of the natural world, opens the battle with a whip-crack of sonic power that lashes up from the ground (Thunderwave) and hits three loggers. The half-elf follows this up by assuming the form of a primeval bear, a monstrous creature of great strength and savagery (Form of the Primeval Bear).
Three foes closing in on Halitin are hit when the dragonborn opens his mouth with a roar, letting the deadly power of his draconic kin blast forth to engulf his foes (Dragon Breath).
The maddened foresters continue to attack the heroes until they are all cut down. As silence once again settles over the clearing, Splintershield begins circling the area with an odd look in his eyes. He claims that the source of the mysterious disease must be nearby, because he can sense a “wrongness” to the area. He believes the party can quickly find the source of the plague, and then he’ll perform a cleansing ritual to eliminate it tonight.
With a last look at the trampled, bloody snow in the clearing and the still forms of the loggers scattered about in the moonlight, the party heads deeper into the forest, hoping to find the source of the deadly sickness plaguing Inverness.