Saturday, March 26, 2011

march of the phantom brigade, session 7: the burning of inverness

After the death of Brother Splintershield during an ambush in the Harken Wood by spectral soldiers from the Phantom Brigade, the heroes made their way back toward Inverness. When they came within sight of the village, their worst fears were confirmed when they saw that the settlement was in flames. From their vantage point on the edge of the forest, the adventurers could see settlers fighting the fires and battling ghostly soldiers. Wanting to rush to the aid of the stricken villagers, our heroes were checked by the sight of dozens of Phantom Brigade soldiers patrolling the fields between the woods and Inverness.

Skill Challenge: Sneaking Into Inverness

The party noticed that the patrols of spectral warriors were alert and moving with military precision, but they had a wide area to cover. Our heroes were almost certain it would be possible to make their way to the road leading up the hill to Inverness without being detected.

Atreyu (human rogue) and Bodan (halfling thief) managed to sneak silently and swiftly across the fields and made it to the road without alerting the Phantom Brigade soldiers. Fargrim (dwarf fighter) and Gork (half-orc barbarian) dashed across the open ground quickly while there was a break between patrols. Jarren (human wizard) used his knowledge of ghosts to predict and counteract the actions of the swarming soldiers. Calder (human paladin) was both skillful and lucky as he made it to the road safely while the ghostly soldiers were distracted. Emerging from the Harken Wood, Melek (tiefling mage) scoped out the lie of the land and used good cover to make his way across the fields while successfully avoiding detection.

The party managed to reach the road leading up the hill to Inverness without failing even one of their skill checks. Because they avoided detection, they surprised the Phantom Brigade soldiers in the subsequent encounter.

Refugees on the Road

Just as they were about to enter Inverness, our heroes ran into Malgram. The bloodied half-orc captain of the town guard was leading a group of frightened settlers toward safety. Leaning heavily on his spear, Malgram listened to the adventurers’ account of all that had happened since they left Inverness to search for the missing foresters. The weary half-orc was saddened to hear of Brother Splintershield’s death. Malgram then told our heroes about the Phantom Brigade’s assault on the town after the shield protecting Inverness from harm had fallen. He said the spectral warriors were led by the same ghost that had threatened Splintershield, Salazar Vladistone.

Malgram said he was going to get his group of refugeees headed south toward safety in Harkenwold. He asked the heroes to make their way into Inverness and rescue Faldyra and any villagers they came across. He wished them good luck and then added: “Fight well. We will meet again— either in Harkenwold or in the realm of the Raven Queen.”

Fighting Phantoms

After parting from Malgram and entering Inverness, the heroes came upon a group of Phantom Brigade soldiers moving from building to building and methodically driving people out of their homes, killing any who resisted.

Because of their success in the skill challenge, the party got the drop on their adversaries and the combat encounter began with a surprise round. Most of the adventurers used the surprise round to move out from the start area, which was sandwiched between two burning buildings. (Any creature that ended its turn in a square adjacent to a building took 5 fire damage from the roaring flames.)

Note: The map you see in the accompanying photos obviously isn’t the ‘official’ map that was provided for use with this session. I decided to draw up my own map for the encounter because I had become so frustrated with the size of the battle maps provided by WotC. The map for Session 5 was so small that it left no room at all for any tactical maneuvering. And the map for Session 6 had actually been reduced in size so that the battle grid’s squares measured less than 1-inch. Deciding that enough was enough, I drew a map for this week’s encounter that reflected the environment depicted on the ‘official’ map while giving the PCs and monsters more room to maneuver.
Darting around the field of battle, Bodan used his allies as convenient distractions in order to gain combat advantage (Tactical Trick), and then he would strike at the most vulnerable point in his enemy’s defenses (Backstab). Unfortunately, the agile rogue suffered from some cold dice and it was quite a while before he actually managed to do any damage to an enemy.

Calder looked impressive in his newly painted suit of armor (Good job, Drew!) as he boldly confronted nearby enemies, searing them with 8 points of radiant damage if they ignored his challenges (Divine Challenge). As a well-armored Defender, Calder drew more than his fair share of attention from the ghostly soldiers and ended up very bloodied. He managed to stay in the fight, however, and even provided some much needed healing to his companions. Near the end of the encounter, he used a timely application of Lay on Hands to heal an unconscious and dying Fargrim.

While Bodan had some cold dice, Fargrim’s were far far worse. The poor dwarf couldn’t hit anything to save his life. He tried switching to another d20 (because we all know that it isn’t really chance that determines a die roll), but it didn’t help. Shoot, he even tried switching miniatures! Despite all of that, I think he only managed one hit before he was cut down on the last turn of the encounter.

Gork also had a tough time landing a hit during the encounter. The barbarian and a Phantom Brigade Squire spent quite a few rounds ineffectually flailing at one another. It just goes to show that you can use sound tactics and your strategy can be flawless, but if the d20 doesn’t cooperate, it can all be for naught. I must say, it was refreshing to see Gork’s player show up with an old-fashioned handwritten character sheet.

Atreyu darted around, doing massive amounts of damage when he hit a spectral soldier with his shortbow. During Encounters sessions, I’m continually amazed at how much punishment a well-handled rogue character can dish out to a party’s enemies. And I’m not sure Atreyu was hit once during this fight, so well played, Robert.

Melek proved he was truly a master of the mystics arts by hitting the party’s enemies with varied and extremely effective magical forces. He punished a couple of Phantom Brigade soldiers with an illusory cage of razor-sharp blades that they saw closing in around them (Phantom Cage). The wizard’s most cunning move, however, was calling up a complex illusion of Salazar Vladistone that spoke to the Phantom Brigade soldiers, commanding them to retreat immediately (Spectral Image). Unfortunately, due to some lucky Insight rolls, only one ghostly soldier fell for Melek’s clever trick.

And then there was Jarren. Jarren was so anxious to use his new Expeditious Retreat spell that he whipped it out on the first turn of the encounter and shifted himself clear across the battlefield, well away from his allies. The ghostly soldiers of the Phantom Brigade took advantage of the wizard’s isolation and pounded him mercilessly. A bloodied Jarren, with his back up against a burning building, managed to extricate himself from a sticky situation with an extremely crafty sequence of actions. He shifted away from the roaring flames, then used his second wind to regain hit points and buff his defenses. He then spent an action point to target a ghostly soldier two squares away with Charmed of Misplaced Wrath. When it hit, Jarren had the soldier attack— and eliminate —the Squire which was adjacent to him. Despite that nifty escape, Jarren continued to draw enemies like flies to honey and he was eventually battered down to 2 hit points. That’s when the Armiger crit’d the grievously wounded wizard and killt him dead-dead. And thus did Jarren have the distinction of becoming the very first character to die during one of my games.

When the surviving members of the party finally managed to dispatch the last of the ghostly soldiers facing them, the villagers hiding nearby had a clear exit to the gates. Even as the villagers fled to safety, though, our heroes prepared to head deeper into the blazing settlement and search for Faldyra.

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