I think the combination of the recent time change (it’s staying light later—yeah!) and warm spring weather (it was in the mid-seventies here in the Denver metro area) resulted in a smaller-than-usual group of gamers showing up at Total Escape Games for Session 6 of March of the Phantom Brigade. One of the players who made it for the session was the eleven-year-old boy who plays Jarren, and he was accompanied by his grandma. Grandma asked if she could sit at the table and watch (which was totally cool, of course), so she sat there knitting throughout our game (which was kind of funny, of course).
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After their battle with the missing loggers, Brother Splintershield led our heroes deeper into the forest to search for the source of the mysterious plague and perform a cleansing ritual to eliminate it. Falling in alongside the determined cleric were Atreyu (human thief), Givner (human scout), Iados (tiefling wizard), Jarren (human wizard), and Sebastian (human wizard).
To prepare for the session, I drew a map of the forest to give to the party. I marked the six locations which they needed to investigate in order to discover the source of the plague.
Starting off in an unaffected section of the Harken Forest, the heroes confirmed that the area held nothing out of the ordinary. Then the party came upon an area where many trees had been knocked down and splintered. In the center of the destruction was a crater where they found several crystal formations similar to those left by the mysterious sickness. Iados recognized that something large and heavy had been dragged away from the crater. Sebastian told the party that some planar warping hovered around the edge of the crater. He said that such phenomena suggested that something was forcefully pushed into the world from another plane, creating the crater when it happened.
Continuing to explore the woods, the group came across a cave in a hillside. As they approached the cave, a horrible stench of decay assaulted them. Inside the cave, they discovered a pair of black bears that had clearly been dead for several days. Both animals bore the now-familiar crystal-filled lesions on their bodies. Iados noticed that the bears died from wounds inflicted by each other—as though they were driven to tear into each other with their claws.
The heroes next followed an ice-covered stream to a large pool of water. Such a pond should have been frozen solid, but that one was only partially frozen. Faint wisps of steam rose from the water’s surface and large gaps in the ice showed black water underneath. The edges of the breaks festered with red crystals. Searching nearby, Givner found the remains of the loggers’ camp. The party also discovered signs of animal passage in the area. They concluded that the infected loggers and diseased animals must have contracted the plague after drinking the water from the pond.
Leaving the pond and exploring upstream, our heroes entered a stretch of forest where the trees showed signs of infection. The trees had developed the same crystal lesions, each of which was filled with gold flecks. The worst of them appeared as though their growth had been shaped in strange, chaotic ways. Jarren could discern no obvious pattern concerning which trees were infected and which remained untouched. He suggested the lack of uniformity was evidence the plague wasn’t airborne, but instead was spread by contact between infected hosts.
Following the frozen stream through the ravaged trees, the adventurers eventually discovered the source of the plague. The corpse of a large, monstrous creature lay rotting alongside the stream. The body was nearly overgrown with red crystals. The creature was generating an intense, supernatural heat— it had melted the surface of the stream and was causing infected water to flow beneath the ice downstream to the pond.
Brother Splintershield approached the corpse and said, ”It’s some manner of demon, but I’ve never seen its like. This sickness must be some kind of Abyssal plague-- a foul malignancy brought here from beyond our plane. I think I can cleanse it with a ritual.”
The Death of Aldus Splintershield
Splintershield and the rest of the heroes were about to discover that the outbreak of the plague was part of a trap set by the scorned ghost, Salazar Vladistone. The spirit wanted to kill Splintershield to break the ritual that barred him from Inverness and his wife’s grave. Vladistone had enlisted the spectral soldiers from the Phantom Brigade to help him kill Splintershield. After coming across the corpse of the plague demon, Vladistone decided to use it to lay a trap for the dwarf cleric.
Just as Splintershield completed the cleansing ritual, a pulse of vile energy staggered the party. When our heroes recovered, they saw a ghostly spear jutting up from the ground, piercing Brother Splintershield’s chest. Slowly, a phantom soldier rose from the snow-covered soil. Gripping its weapon purposefully as it ascended, the ghost forced the spear through the stricken cleric with a sickening noise.
As several more spectral soldiers rose from the ground nearby, Jarren groaned and said, “Malgram is going to kill us.”
The heroes moved quickly to save Brother Splintershield, but the Phantom Brigade Armigers and Squires had already surrounded the cleric. The spectral soldiers ignored the others and concentrated on their primary mission: the death of Splintershield. After striking Splintershield down, one of the armigers said, “Vladistone has his vengeance. The cleric is slain and his shield has fallen. Let us finish these fools and join the others at the Ghost Tower.”
Caught up in a fight for their lives, it was several rounds before any of the heroes could get close enough to Splintershield to ascertain the cleric’s condition. When Jarren confirmed through a heal check that the cleric had truly been slain by the Phantom Brigade soldiers, the adventurers saw a flash in the sky coming from the direction of Inverness. They knew that the flash indicated the protective ward over the town had collapsed. At the same instant, the remaining spectral soldiers began to fade away and dissolve into a fine mist that disappeared back into the ground.
Beating a hasty retreat back to the village, the heroes made their way through the forest with no difficulty. At the end of the hour or so it took them to arrive within sight of Inverness, however, they realized they were too late. In the distance, the night sky glowed with flames as the village of Inverness burned.