Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dark Legacy of Evard, Session 3: The One with the War Cart

In Session #2 of D&D Encounters: Dark Legacy of Evard, the adventurers ventured forth from the Old Owl Inn and confirmed that Duponde was no longer in the natural world. The town had somehow been transported to the Shadowfell! They learned not only that Nathaire’s servant, Remy, had fled Duponde, but also that the local armory was infested with shadow monsters. The characters faced a choice: Follow Remy or clear out the armory so the militia members could arm themselves. At our game, the characters decided to clear out the armory.

Clearing out the armory was an excellent first step to helping the townspeople make it through the night, but dangerous shadow creatures were still roaming the streets. Worse yet, panic and despair had descended over Duponde. As the party set out from the armory, they could hear bedlam breaking loose in the darkened town. Someone needed to search for the creatures threatening the town, help people in need, and spread word to stay inside with doors barred and windows shuttered. It sounded like a job for our heroes!

Streets of Duponde

We once again ran two tables of four players at Total Escape Games. The guys at my table played Arturo (human warpriest), Eldan (elf necromancer), Nadarr (dragonborn paladin), and Silas (drow vampire).

The party breezed through the skill challenge that opened this session of DLoE. In making a sweep through the town, alerting the townspeople to danger and searching for the pack of beasts roaming the streets, the party succeeded at covering a lot of ground in a short span of time (Endurance group check). The characters calmed panicked Duponders and quickly gained reliable information on monster sightings (Diplomacy check). After that, they were able to use their knowledge of the Shadowfell to ascertain that the most dangerous threat remaining at large in the town was a small pack of dusk beasts, predatory shadow creatures that would hunt down and feast on the terrified, helpless citizens of Duponde (Arcana check). Having identified their enemies, the PCs were able to make educated guesses as to where the dusk beasts were likely to lurk (Arcana check) and to anticipate the movements of the pack through the streets and alleyways (Streetwise). For successfully completing the skill challenge, each character gained a +2 bonus to attack rolls during the upcoming encounter.

Streets of Shadow

As our heroes made their way toward the center of town, the gloom hanging over Duponde made the streets a hazy maze. Turning a corner, they spotted three creatures prowling from door to door. Made of solid shadows, they resembled predatory drakes. Each had a long barbed tail and two distinct heads, each one’s maw full of fangs. With menacing hisses, the beast-shadows turned to confront the characters.

Now, you need to know that at the end of the last session, Eldan’s player (a very imaginative, creative kid named Kyle) was busy ordering around the militia and using some of the equipment in the armory to build a “war cart” out of the wagon that was parked outside the armory. I had completely forgotten about that until, at the beginning of this Streets of Shadow encounter, Kyle asked if Eldan could take the war cart into battle. Mindful of what the Dungeon Master’s Guide says on pages 28-29 about the importance of ‘Saying Yes’ when a player comes up with something creative and unexpected, I told Kyle, “Sure, yes, definitely.” And so Eldan the Necromancer rode into the Streets of Shadow battle on his War Cart. Isn’t D&D great?!

Unfortunately for Eldan, riding a war cart into battle garnered him more than his fair share of attention from the shadow monsters. And, who would’ve guessed, but the lumbering ox pulling the cart proved to be a particularly vulnerable component of the contraption. So fairly quickly, the poor ox was cut down (someone call the ASPCA!) and Eldan was bloodied. Eldan abandoned the war cart at that point and retreated up some nearby stairs where he rather frantically tried to get into one of the houses. Unfortunately for Eldan (hmm, that’s a familiar refrain), the terrified folks inside the house thought he was a shadow monster trying to break in and eat them. So Eldan then spent several rounds trapped at the top of the enclosed stairway as a dusk beast snarled and growled at the bottom of the stairs. Isn’t D&D great?!

While Eldan was busy doing Eldan-stuff, the rest of the party was battling monsters. There were the three dusk beasts, of course, but then from out of some bushes and hedges, a leeching shadow abruptly emerged and flowed toward Nadarr. It hit the dragonborn with its Shadow Meld attack. (Hey, didn’t that happen to Nadarr in the last session too? Hee hee.) And then, sneakily waiting until the characters were busy with the dusk beasts and leeching shadow, a small cloaked humanoid with a crossbow began to snipe at them from some distance away. That shadow bolter was particularly effective during the encounter, hitting a PC almost every time he used his dastardly Black Bolt ranged attack.

They eventually prevailed, but this encounter proved to be a tough fight for our heroes. Nadarr found himself taking a dirt nap once, and then Silas actually found himself cut down twice. Everyone was pretty beat up by the end of the fight and wanting to know when they’d be able to take an extended rest. I had to tell them it wouldn’t be until after next week’s encounter. Sorry, guys.

After dispatching the last of the shadow creatures, the party made a quick check of the houses in the area and found that the townsfolk were unharmed. After thanking the characters for their help, the citizens hid behind locked doors again. No sooner had the last of the townspeople disappeared back into their houses than a pair of town guards found our heroes and informed them that Brother Zelan at the Chapel of Peace was asking for them.

What does Brother Zelan want with the characters? Tune in next week to find out!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tomb of Horrors Terrain Building

One of the players in my Thursday night Tomb of Horrors group has been building some of the terrain features from that classic adventure. This is some pretty cool stuff! I wish we could've had Andy do an entire set beforehand for us to use in our campaign. Sigh...

You can check out some video and pics at his blog...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dark Legacy of Evard, Session 2: The Fight at the Armory

I’m fairly certain that a pouring rainstorm here in the Denver area this past Wednesday evening was responsible for a slight drop off in attendance at the second session of D&D Encounters: Dark Legacy of Evard at Total Escape Games. We were still able to run two tables, though, with four players at each table. The players at my table ran an eclectic assortment of characters: Silas (drow vampire), Arturo (human warpriest), Nadarr (dragonborn paladin), and Eldan (elf necromancer).

Previously, in the adventure’s first session, the heroes— weary from travel— were forced to spend the night in Duponde because the city’s two bridges had been damaged by recent flooding in the Nentir River. At the Old Owl Inn, they met a few fellow travelers, including the wizard Nathaire, who told them the disturbing story of Evard. Later that night, the PCs were awakened when Duponde and its surroundings were suddenly shifted into the Shadowfell. Gargoyles adorning the inn came to life and attacked alongside two sinister Shadow Stalkers.

Witching Hour

The second session of DLoE began with the adventurers gathered in the Old Owl Inn’s common room. The night outside was supernaturally gloomy, cold, and menacing. Tilda, Harald, and the three dwarf stonemasons were pretty freaked out and ready to start barricading themselves inside the Old Owl until morning. There was still no sign of Nathaire or his halfling servant, Remy. Based on the clues that Eldan had found while searching Nathaire’s room at the end of the last session, our heroes decided not to remain in the Old Owl but to head out and investigate the town’s graveyard instead.

As the PCs left the inn, they immediately noticed that an eerie gloom had settle over Duponde. Light sources only illuminated half their normal radius (this applies for the rest of the adventure whenever the party is in the Shadowfell). There was also an oppressive sense of anxiety and dread pressing down upon the characters. As a pervasive chill seeped into their bones, everyone noticed that the town didn’t seem to be the same Duponde they’d entered hours ago. Streets didn’t seem to meet the same way anymore and buildings stood subtly distorted and menacing. The Old Owl Inn and its environs were definitely no longer in the natural world. Our heroes knew that areas of the mortal world can shift into the Shadowfell, the dread plane of shadow, because of the effect of powerful curses. Such an event is called a shadowfall.

As the party continued to explore the streets of Duponde, they caught frequent glimpses of threatening shadows that quickly slipped out of sight. They also heard strange sounds in the darkness— odd clatters, mysterious thumps, and muffled shouts of alarm. The PCs were understandably on edge when a dim light appeared in the gloom and several figures approached them. But then the lead figure raised his lantern high, and in its light the characters recognized Grimbold with a couple of armed townspeople. “Ah, the travelers,”
he said. “I’m glad to see you.” Grimbold asked what the party had seen and listened carefully to the account of the battle at the Old Owl and to the news of Nathaire’s disappearance. “Yes, I fear some dark curse has fallen over Duponde,” Grimbold replied.“But you look like you can handle some trouble. Can you help us? Monsters are roaming the streets, and people are terrified. Something is lurking in the armory, and our militia volunteers need to get in there to properly arm themselves. And, not ten minutes ago, I found poor Eddin, the guard at the north gate, bleeding at the side of the road. He told me that the halfling— the one who serves that young wizard who’s been poking around Evard’s Tomb— fled the town like he had a dozen demons on his heels. When Eddin tried to stop that little scoundrel, the halfling stabbed him. I think that halfling’s got something to do with this trouble, but we also need to get the armory open. The armory or the fugitive— which can you do for me?”

The Armory

The players decided to stay in town and deal with whatever was lurking in the armory. Following Grimbold’s directions, they moved through the darkened streets toward the armory. The gloom seemed to be alive; shadows flowed around the dim light sources. Finally, the party reached the edge of the river, where an aqueduct ran through the town. They could barely make out the silhouette of a large, two-story building in the shadows across the aqueduct. Two small arched bridges crossed the water. Silas, Arturo, and Nadarr started across the bridge to the south, but Eldan decided to head for the northern span.

As Silas came off the southern bridge, the cautious drow vampire could see that the door to the armory was ajar, and the body of one of Duponde’s town guards lay on the threshold. Drawing closer, Silas could see that the guard’s body was covered in dozens of small bites. Then the windows of the armory started to undulate as hundreds of spiders began to pour out of the building. Man, I was really hoping the players would choose to chase Remy… I hate spiders.

As Silas, Arturo, and Nadarr began to engage the two Spider Swarms that burst out of the armory, a hidden Leeching Shadow crept up behind the dragonborn paladin and attacked him. The shadow hit, dealing Nadarr 4 necrotic damage. It also shifted into the paladin’s space and melded with his shadow (save ends). While it was so melded, the shadow was removed from play, and the target granted combat advantage and took ongoing 4 necrotic damage. Yikes! As if that weren’t bad enough for poor Nadarr, a Deathjump Spider suddenly launched itself off the roof of the armory and used its Death from Above power to attack the dragonborn. Luckily for Nadarr, the huge spider’s attack missed.

Meanwhile, as Eldan was crossing the other bridge all by his lonesome, another leeching shadow emerged from the darkness and attacked him. That shadow also hit with its shadow meld attack, shifting into the elf’s space and dealing him 4 necrotic damage. It took Eldan a couple of turns to save against the shadow meld, but even while he was dragging around the leeching shadow, he didn’t allow it to slow him down very much. According to my notes, the necromancer ended up accounting for four of the party’s kills (including the vile deathjump spider).

Arturo spent most of the fight laying into the spider swarms with his mace and using Healing Word on Nadarr a couple of times. He also used Burden of Earth a few times, which surprised me since I didn’t remember anyone ever utilizing that particular power before… but it was actually quite an effective attack. (Burden of earth is a melee Cleric Attack 1. It targets one creature. Attack: Wisdom vs. AC. Hit: 1[w] + Wisdom modifier damage. Effect: The next time you or an ally attacks the target before the end of your next turn, that character gains a +1 power bonus to the attack roll.)

I’ve been glad to have a player with one of the new vampires because after picking up Player Options: Heroes of Shadow, I had been wondering how the vampire class would work in a game. I was especially intrigued to see that a vampire only gets two healing surges. Of course, that trait is meant to be offset by the vampire’s use of powers like Taste of Life and Blood Drinker. Two weeks into DLoE, Silas has been doing alright, so far. After he has a few more sessions of play under his belt, I’ll try to get some vampiric impressions from Silas’ player so you can have an evaluation straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

After the party defeated the spiders and shadows, a handful of Duponde’s militia began to arrive on the scene. The citizen-soldiers thanked the PCs for the help and then they began to arm themselves. The militia members reported that more monsters had been seen roaming the town, but Grimbold was leading some of the town guards on a sweep of the streets. They also said that Grimbold had sent a couple of guards after Remy, but unfortunately they didn’t catch him.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tomb of Horrors, Session 6: "Most Likely to Become a Lich"

Another blast of fire erupted from the shimmering elemental gate, hitting Zerbitt as he desperately fought to climb up the slanting corridor using the rope that Jack had thrown down from the doorway. The attack (+12 vs. Fortitude; for every 2 squares closer the target is to the elemental vent, the trap gains a +1 to the attack roll) hit the bloodied thief and knocked him down to 1 hit point (2d10 + 5 fire damage, and the target takes ongoing 5 fire damage and is dazed— save ends both). Realizing that he was gravely wounded and in danger of losing consciousness, Zerbitt used the last of his quickly ebbing strength to wrap the rope around his forearm. Just a moment later, when he took the ongoing 5 fire damage at the beginning of his turn, Zerbitt fell unconscious and was dying. Only his foresight in wrapping the rope around his arm kept the thief’s body from tumbling down the steeply sloping corridor and into the vast pit of flames and molten lava. But would Zerbitt’s companions, already safe beyond the doorway to the south, somehow be able to rescue him before the deadly planar vent claimed the Tomb of Horrors’ next victim?

Geez, Who’s the Clumsy Newb?

Our sixth session of Tomb of Horrors at our FLGS, Total Escape Games in Broomfield, Colorado, started with Jack (revenant human assassin), Marrak (dwarf warpriest), and Zerbitt (human thief) in the Ruined Laboratory where they had battled the vat oozes and found a golden skeleton key. At the end of the last session, they had just discovered a secret door behind the bookcase that stood against the chamber’s western wall. At the beginning of this session, they discovered they had a new companion! Laramie, an eladrin druid, suddenly popped into existence there in the Ruined Laboratory and joined the adventuring party. Welcome to the Tomb of Horrors, Laramie. (Insert evil chuckle here.)

Exploring the corridor beyond the secret doorway, our heroes came across a 10-foot deep pit that completely filled 30 feet of passageway. The pit’s floor was a mass of wide-set rusted iron spikes. Climbing down into the pit didn’t look all that hard (a DC 17 Athletics check) and walking through the wide-set spikes appeared as if it would be easy enough, but Zerbitt decided to bypass all of that and use Spider Climb to get to the other side. No one else in the party could do anything half as nifty so they’d actually have to negotiate the pit. Jack climbed down into the pit with no problem, carefully moved through the spikes, but then triggered the Pit Spike Barrage (the two easternmost squares of the pit were a magic trap) before she could exit the pit. The rusted iron spikes set across the floor suddenly launched upward in a deadly barrage (+13 vs. Reflex), hitting Jack (3d6 damage, and the target is stunned until the end of its next turn) but missing Zerbitt. Marrak made it across without incident, but Laramie proved to be a bit of a klutz. The druid tumbled down onto the spikes as he was trying to climb down into the pit and then he fell again on the other side while he was attempting to jump over the trapped squares and grab the lip of the floor above. The other three PCs kind of glanced at each other with a look that clearly said, “Geez, who exactly is this clumsy newb?!”

Past the pit, the hallway continued on for quite a long stretch before it dead ended at a blank stone wall. Everyone checked the dead end in every way possible, but they couldn’t detect that it was anything except a blank stone wall. They backtracked to the pit, checking the corridor as they went, but they failed to find the secret door that was hidden along the north wall of the hallway. Stymied by their failure to find anything of interest beyond the pit, they decided to head back over to the other side of the passageway. They all made it over the pit safely, but then Jack decided she wanted to check the walls down along the bottom of the pit. So she started to scramble back down but lost her balance and fell onto the spikes (2d10 damage and the target falls prone). Geez.

Anyway, once they were all back up and on their way, they decided to go all the way back to the Great Hall of Spheres and belatedly check out the statue of the four-armed gargoyle. But a funny thing happened when our heroes returned to the spot where the wall (the ring portal) in the Chapel of Evil had dropped down and let them access the corridor beyond— they now discovered that the huge block of stone had risen up again and blocked their way back into the chapel! Faster than you can say, “Oh no, we’re trapped in the Tomb of Horrors!” the players had d20s in their hands wanting to roll checks to see if there was any way to get the stone to drop down again, but I nipped that in the bud right quick by saying, “I’ll save you guys a lot of time and just tell you that you can roll checks ’til the cows come home and you won’t find any way past this block of stone.”

“Is it hot in here or is it just me?”

Pretty much the only unexplored area still available to the party at that point was whatever might be beyond the door at the end of the long corridor past the three pit traps (where they’d found the secret door at the bottom of the third pit trap which took them south into the Corridor of Fear). They had went up to that door before, but after hearing the sound of music and singing from the other side, they grew suspicious and decided not to check it out at that time. This time, though, with nowhere else left to go, they figured they’d have to bite the bullet and see what was on the other side of that mysterious door.

The door didn’t appear to be locked or trapped, but it still took Marrak a few minutes to strong-arm it open. As the dwarf shouldered the stubborn door open, the sounds of music and singing from the other side were replaced by cries of dismay. When the door finally popped wide open, our heroes could see another long passageway lay beyond, its floor a highly polished smoke-gray marble. Shouts of alarm and the sound of running feet accompanied the faint glow of torchlight receding down the passageway. Without a moment’s hesitation, Zerbitt and Laramie took off down the corridor at a sprint. Jack followed a second later, but wise and cautious Marrak held back.

When Zerbitt and Laramie reached a point thirty feet from the doorway (with Jack pelting along 10 feet behind them), the magically counterweighted passageway suddenly lurched to slope steeply downward from the door. At the far end of the hallway, a planar vent opened up to the Elemental Chaos. The vent manifested itself as a vast pit of flames and molten lava, ready to consume anything that fell into it. Needless to say, dear reader, it’s that type of moment that every Tomb of Horrors DM lives for.

The scene at the top of the post played out after Jack and Laramie had reached the safety of the doorway. The unconscious and dying Zerbitt was indeed saved when Marrak threw (literally) some healing his way (it’s always nice to have a cleric in the party). So in the end, the party managed to escape the Perilous Hallway without suffering a fatality… although I did feel a little better when I found out that both Jack and Zerbitt emerged from the encounter with zero healing surges remaining.

“We’re looking, we're looking, we're looking, we're looking…”

After that, the characters embarked upon a long and tedious and ultimately successful search for the secret door they’d missed their first time around down in the corridor past the Pit Spike Barrage trap. In the midst of searching literally every square they came across, they went back through the Ruined Laboratory and gave it another thorough going over. Overlooked before, some of Acererak’s old high school yearbooks were discovered tucked away on the bottom shelf of a bookcase. While paging through them, the adventurers saw that Acererak had been voted “Most Likely to Become a Lich.”

As their meticulous search took them back down into the corridor with the big ass pit trap, Laramie cemented his reputation as the klutzy newb by once again tumbling into the pit and impaling himself on the rusty spikes. After that, though, Jack finally (FINALLY!) discovered the secret door on the north wall of the passageway. The secret doorway led them into…

The Churning Chamber

There was actually some discussion among the players about whether to continue past the secret doorway since the PCs were in a pretty sorry state by that point (not having any healing surges left is a problem) and they knew they wouldn’t survive any kind of intense encounter. They wanted to know how much time had elapsed since their last extended rest and how much time would still have to pass before they could take another one. I told them they still had about twelve hours to go before they could take their second extended rest. I told them that if they didn’t think they’d survive whatever was on the other side of the door, they could always just sit around twiddling their thumbs or playing charades or something for twelve hours. The only thing they’d lose by doing that would be more time from their 48-hour time limit. After thinking it over, they decided they’d crack the door open just a teeny bit and peek in the room, and then assess the situation.

Well, just peeking in the room quickly turned into a full blown tussle with a couple of Green Slime Horrors. The slime horrors started off as unassuming tapestries hanging on the chamber’s east and west walls. When Jack decided to handle the tapestry on the western wall, she failed the resulting Dexterity check (DC 19), and it transformed into a monster. Jack somehow escaped the slime’s Engulf attack (+10 vs. Reflex), but Laramie’s wolf companion wasn’t so lucky (1d10 +4 acid damage, and the target is engulfed— save ends. While engulfed, the target takes ongoing 5 acid damage and is restrained.).

About that same time, a violent magical churning began to shake the entire chamber, sliding everyone around as if they were on some crazy carnival ride. Jack found herself slid across the chamber and over toward the tapestry on the eastern wall. Operating on the logic that both tapestries surely couldn’t be traps, she went right over to it to get a closer look at it. Whereupon the room churned crazily again and she was slid right into the tapestry. The slime hit her and engulfed her. The attack knocked her down to 4 hit points, so the ongoing 5 acid damage would’ve killed her at the beginning of her turn… but before that could happen, Marrak once again saved the day when he used Soothing Light and gave Jack an immediate saving throw with a +2 power bonus. And of course Jack saved, thereby managing to cheat death. (Insert sad DM sigh here.)

That was the closest call during our heroes’ encounter with the green slime horrors in the Churning Chamber, so they all survived to discover a secret door that had been hidden behind the tapestry on the room’s west wall. They sent Mr. Wolf Companion through the 5-foot diameter crawlspace beyond the door and it found that, after a short distance, the crawlspace opened up into a long corridor that ran eastward. The weary and battered adventurers had just started to cautiously explore the corridor, finding that it led to a four-way intersection where another long passageway ran north and south, when I said, “And I think that’s where we’ll end tonight.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dark Legacy of Evard, Session 1: We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto

We had a great turnout at Total Escape Games for the first session of Dark Legacy of Evard. We were once again able to run two full tables. Thanks to Erik W for DMing the second table. The players at my table ran Dannad (halfling rogue), Enzio III (human assassin), Eldan (elf mage), Nadarr (dragonborn paladin), Reed (halfling sentinel), and Silas (drow vampire).

The PCs began the adventure in the common room of the Old Owl Inn in Duponde. Duponde is a town of about 1,000 inhabitants on the banks of the Nentir Vale’s White River. Roads lead north, south, and west from the town. A pair of ancient bridges lead east, continuing the King’s Road, but they were heavily damaged in recent flooding. The Old Owl Inn stands near Duponde’s North Gate. The inn is operated by Tilda Grenfield.

The Old Owl

At the start of Session #1 of Dark Legacy of Evard, the characters— tired after a long day of marching in cold rain— were warming themselves by the inn’s hearth. They had been traveling the King’s Road for a week, heading south to the city of Sarthel with correspondence from Lord Markelhay, the Lord Warden of Fallcrest. When our heroes arrived in Duponde, they discovered that they’d have to wait a few days while stonemasons repair the bridges over the swollen White River.

Shortly after dark, the rain finally let up even as the wind rose outside. It rattled the windowpanes and moaned eerily in the chimney. The Old Owl’s common room began to empty as the locals finished their ale and made their way back to their homes. Soon, the only people remaining were a trio of dwarf stonemasons, a dark-haired young man in scholar’s robes and his halfling servant, a burly town guard in a brown cloak, the barkeep, and Tilda ( …and our erstwhile adventurers, of course).

When the guard had finished his mug of hot cider, he turned to Tilda and said, “Think I’d best be on my way.”

“Take care of yourself, Grimbold,” Tilda replied. “We’ll shut the tap early, I think. It’s no night for good folk to be out and about.”

“Aye?” one of the dwarves asked. “And why is that?”

“Because ghosts walk abroad on nights such as this friend,” the guard answered.

The young scholar looked up. “Could the ghost of Evard be among them?” he asked.

“Some say,” Grimbold replied. “But you might know more about that than I do.”

“Hush now, both of you!” scolded Tilda. “That’s a name better left unspoken.”

As Grimbold gathered up his cudgel and crossbow and prepared to head out on his rounds, Eldan got up from his place near hearth and approached Nathaire, the young scholar. Eldan chatted up Nathaire and Remy (the halfling servant), finding out that the scholar was in Duponde finishing years of research on a powerful wizard named Evard, whose specialty was shadow magic. Nathaire believes that Evard’s tomb is located in Duponde. About fifty years ago, a wizard named Vontarin lived in Duponde. Evard was a bitter rival of Vontarin’s and came to town to destroy him. The two wizards fought with black magic one night and left the old monastery in ruins with their spells. Vontarin was never seen again after that night, but the frairs found Evard dead in the wreckage and buried him in the town graveyard.

Shadows Gather

After the PCs and the other people lodging at the inn go to bed, they sleep soundly for several hours but then in the middle of the night, a powerful sensation roused them. It felt like they were being wrenched in multiple directions. For several disorienting moments, the world around them seemed stretched and distorted, but then the feeling passed. Looking around their rooms, nothing seemed to be missing, but the furnishings were subtly out of place, the walls seemed slightly askew, and the air was cold. Candles and lamps were strangely dim, and shadows pressed in from all sides.

Our heroes quickly dressed and armed themselves, then gathered in the upstairs hallway. After a successful Arcana check allowed them to realize that the inn and its surroundings had passed into the Shadowfell (a phenomenon known as shadowfall), everyone jumped as a scream of terror erupted from the inn’s common room downstairs, followed by cackles and the breaking of crockery. The Old Owl was under attack!

Rushing down the stairs, the adventurers found Harald, the barkeep, lying motionless on the floor at the bottom of the stairway. No one else was there, but small winged creatures fluttered around the room. Startled, the characters realized that the creatures were the carved gargoyles that adorned the inn’s doorway.

While the fight with the Animated Gargoyles and the Shadow Stalkers was engaging and gave the players a taste of what they can expect in the weeks to come, I realized— right in the middle of the battle— that for the first time in my experience with D&D Encounters (both as a player and now as a DM), I’m more excited about the unfolding story than I am about the weekly combats. I think the Shadowfell-infused story arc for Dark Legacy of Evard will keep the players on the edges of their seats for all thirteen weeks.

So after handily defeating the monsters, the party managed to rouse Harald, who fortunately was none the worse for wear. A quick check of the inn revealed that Tilda and the dwarves were fine, but Nathaire and Remy were nowhere to be found. Eldan decided to do a bit of snooping in the missing scholar’s room and he found pages and pages of the research Nathaire had done on Evard over the years. He also discovered a torn piece of scroll with part of a ritual that looked as if it had something to do with capturing another person’s shadow-magic. Hmm…

And thus ended our first session of Dark Legacy of Evard.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tomb of Horrors, Session 5: Another One Bites the Dust

With his companions stunned by the bloodied vat ooze’s Foul Spew attack, Zerbitt leapt into action. The daring thief quickly lit the torch which he had prudently removed from his pack the round before. Then— scattering clay pots, urns, bones, and random skulls in every direction— Zerbitt rolled over the workbench (“Dukes of Hazzard-style”according to Zerbitt’s player, Andy) that was between him and the yellow ooze. After using his legendary catlike reflexes and agility to nimbly land on his feet, the thief launched himself into a charge against the sludgy predator. Hoping his stunned allies were watching, Zerbitt wielded the fiery torch like a rapier and, with a dramatic flourish, plunged it into the formless creature. A split-second later Zerbitt realized that, while some varieties of ooze are indeed quite vulnerable to fire, this particular one was not. Vulnerable to fire, that is. “Well, stink,” the thief thought. “But still, I bet rolling over that table with the torch and charging this yellow blob of goop looked pretty darn impressive.”

I knew this past week’s session of Tomb of Horrors would be a bit of a challenge to run since 1) there’d only be 3 players and 2) they would start off in the midst of an ongoing encounter where 5 of them had been getting the tar beat out of them. I would’ve felt pretty rotten handing them a TPK (even if they totally deserved it) under those circumstances, so I cut short the getting-the-tar-beat-out-of-them encounter and then I adjusted the next encounter (in the Ruined Laboratory) by removing one monster and modifying the remaining monsters’ stats. Nice of me, huh? It’s not often you find mercy in the Tomb of Horrors, but I thought that— just this one time, mind you— it might be best to cut them some slack. So with that disclaimer…

“I Want to Sit on the Couch!”

At the end of Session #4, the surviving members of the party (Elric was dead-dead) were getting smacked around but good by the false lich. Correctly surmising that a TPK was in the offing unless they retreated, our heroes had wisely decided to scramble out of the crypt as fast as possible and skeedaddle. I mentioned in the write up for the last session that the party missed finding an item that would’ve helped them quite a bit in this encounter. That item was a+3 Disrupting Mace (Created in ancient days by priests of Pelor, this weapon is the bane of undead everywhere.) that was hidden in the blue altar back in the Chapel of Evil. As it was actually written in the adventure, the mace was just lying at the foot of the stairs there in the False Crypt. I thought that was rather lame, so I moved it to a secret compartment in the blue altar. A living creature touching the altar would’ve caused the secret drawer to pop open and the mace would’ve been theirs to wield in this fight with the lich. Sorry, guys.

Okay, so at the beginning of Session #5, Zerbitt was actually the only one still left in the crypt with the false lich. He quickly scrambled up the stairs, slammed the door, and moved as far as he could up the Corridor of Fear (the corridor with the two flights of stairs and the fear gas). Marrak also moved as far as he could up the corridor on his turn. Jack thought she was the only one left in the hallway back in the vicinity of the door, so she was startled by a blur that shot by her. The blur was shouting, “The crown! The crown!” as it opened the door to the False Crypt and disappeared from sight. A second later, there was a terrible bellow and a loud roar, followed by a flare of unholy black light that burst from the open doorway and then all was quiet. Jack cautiously tip-toed over to the doorway and peered down the stairwell. At the bottom of the stairs she could see two piles of ash and a crown. The crown was spinning around like a top, and then— as Jack watched— it slowly came to a stop, resting between the two piles of ash.

After Marrak and Zerbitt rejoined Jack, they all decided to take a much-needed short rest before heading back down into the crypt and seeing what on earth had happened. When they were ready, Zerbitt crept down the stairs. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse, so Jack and Marrak quickly joined the thief. Jack used a crowbar to pick up the crown and place it in his pack. After that was taken care of, Zerbitt started to move around the golden couch to check on Elric’s body. Before he could get there, though, a zombie slowly rose up from behind the couch! And the zombie looked like it might have been a drow warlock in its former life! Elric? Oh, no!

Just as the zombie started to rise up from behind the couch, there was also a dull rumbling and the room began to shake. Stones and chunks of plaster started to rain down from the ceiling as a great grinding noise came from behind the walls. All three heroes took 8 points of damage from falling rubble (1d10 damage). At this point, you probably need to know that over the course of her two ‘visits’ to this chamber, Jack had become quite obsessed with the golden couch that stood in the center of the room. Apparently she thought it might be the “throne” mentioned in Acererak’s message (from back in the Tomb’s entrance hall). Knowing of Jack’s obsession with the couch may help you understand why she dashed over to it, even as the ceiling in the crypt was collapsing, and declared, “I want to sit on the couch!” So while Zerbitt and Marrak were quickly grabbing some loot that was lying about and then heading for safety, Jack was sitting down on the golden couch. Much to her chagrin, nothing happened except she took 2 more points of damage from the falling stones (1d10 damage) and the zombie started to come around the couch to grab her.

After Jack had (finally) safely made her escape from the False Crypt, the entire ceiling collapsed, burying the room under tons of rubble. Back out in the hallway, the three adventurers dusted themselves off and discussed what to do next. Realizing that whatever they had just fought likely wasn’t the real Acererak (since there were many things in Acererak’s message that they still had to come across in the Tomb), they eventually decided to backtrack and belatedly check out the small chamber off the Great Hall of Spheres that held the 8-foot tall statue of a four-armed gargoyle. But a funny thing happened when they reached the top of the stairs leading up and out of the Corridor of Fear: a door had appeared in the eastern wall at the top of the stairwell! As Zerbitt astutely observed, “Hey, that wasn’t there before!”

What followed was several rounds of comic ineptitude worthy of a Three Stooges skit. In the adventure as originally written, this secret door was warded with powerful magic to prevent its opening. The door could be opened only after targeting it with a dispel magic spell or a Remove Affliction ritual. Rather than have them do that, I’d decided beforehand that our heroes could simply open it with a moderately difficult Strength check. So Zerbitt tried to open the door and failed to beat the DC (which was 17, by the way). Then Jack tried and she also failed. Then Marrak tried and he couldn’t budge it either. Marrak decided to attack the door (AC 5, 20 hp) with his maul and did 10 points of damage. Zerbitt tried to pry open the door with the crowbar, but he couldn’t gain any kind of purchase to wedge it open. Jack next tried to push it open again with a Strength check, but the door just laughed at her feeble efforts. Marrak once again swung away with his maul and did 9 points of damage. (As you will no doubt have noticed, dear reader, the door at that point only had 1 hp left. Not that our heroes knew that, of course.) Following Marrak’s attack, Zerbitt tried the crowbar again but that was still a no-go. After that, they decided to just leave the door be and return to it at some later time. But as they started through the crawlway leading out to the corridor with the three pit traps, Marrak abruptly reversed course, muttering something about how no blankety-blank door was going to get the better of a dwarf. After backing out of the crawlspace, Marrak readied his maul, charged the door, and crit’d it! The door exploded inward and Marrak fell prone on top of it. As Jack and Zerbitt helped him up, a smug smile of satisfaction could be seen on the dwarf’s face.

The Attack of the Play-Doh Oozes

The corridor beyond led to yet another door. Rather than risk the chance of having to go through another Three Stooges door-opening skit, I just let them open this door without even a Strength check. Marrak easily opened the door and found a ruined chamber that had once been a laboratory. Dusty jars, scrolls, and tattered books still cluttered the shelves that lined the walls. Several workbenches and tables were covered with clay pots and urns, and bones and skulls. Three huge vats stood to the south. Zerbitt and Marrak started to check the shelves and tables. Zerbitt found a book titled, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Making a Lich.” Looking around the room, the party realized it was indeed a laboratory… a laboratory where someone had obviously performed the dark rituals by which a lich is created. Perhaps the very lich they had just run across in the False Crypt!

While Zerbitt and Marrak were checking out the shelves and tables, Jack was investigating the huge vats. Using her 10-foot pole to poke around in the murky liquid that filled the middle one (vat #2), Jack saw something shiny at the bottom. She next went over to vat #3 and found the same murky liquid. As she started to probe beneath the surface of the liquid with her pole, two things happened almost simultaneously. First, Jack noticed that her pole was beginning to disintegrate. Second, two play-doh oozes erupted out of vat #3 and I said, “Everyone roll for initiative.”

All things considered (especially the weak party this week), the players handled the fight with the vat oozes extremely well. They focused their fire on the pink ooze and eliminated it before they turned to attack the yellow one. The party handled the dazed (from the oozes’ slam attacks) and stunned (from the foul spew attacks when an ooze was first bloodied and again when it dropped to 0 hit points) effects as well as they could. It only took the characters 3 turns to KIA the pink ooze. The yellow ooze led them on a merry chase around the laboratory, so it took a bit longer to deal with, but by the eighth turn it too was eliminated.

With the oozes taken care of, the PCs once again returned to investigating the laboratory. Zerbitt found a leather-bound folio on one of the tables. Opening it, he discovered some really really awful poetry that Acererak had penned (because we all know that few things are scarier than bad poetry). While Marrak and Jack were heaving at vat #2 trying to tip it over, Zerbitt read them samples from a few of the poems. After the vat was tipped over, all of them were very careful to stay out of the acid, so Zerbitt used his handy stick to snag the shiny object and drag it over. It turned out to be a golden skeleton key that had been cut in half along its axis. Tipping over vat #3 revealed that it held another mirror-image key which locked to the first and made a whole. Jack actually wondered aloud if the key was meant to be used in a keyhole hidden somewhere on the golden couch in the False Crypt (I told you she was obsessed with that couch). Anyway, nothing was in vat #1 except a few feet of murky water. But while searching the bookcase on the western wall, Marrak discovered a secret door! After checking the door for locks and traps, our intrepid heroes opened it and spied a short corridor beyond.

And it was there that the fifth session of our exciting adventure drew to a close. Tune in next week as Robert, Elric’s player, returns to the table with a new character and the party bravely presses on into the Tomb of Horrors!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

March of the Phantom Brigade, Session 13: The Grand Finale

For the thirteenth and final session of D&D Encounters: March of the Phantom Brigade at Total Escape Games, seven brave adventurers descended into the caves beneath the abandoned monastery. Seeking to recover the arrow of time and finish the adventure were Arturo (human fighter), Enzio II (human assassin), Jarren (human wizard), Melek (tiefling mage), Norfalcon (dwarf warden), Thoradin (dwarf cleric), and Valkrite (human slayer). Since I let them take an extended rest after last week’s session, everyone started this last encounter with hit points, surges, and powers completely refreshed.

The Cave-In
The stairs led down into a rough-hewn natural cave system. The chill of winter gripped the caves that deep in the mountain. Ice clung to the walls and floor, making parts of the area treacherous just to walk through. With each step taken by the adventurers, magical pulses released more of the caverns from the time stasis.

Our heroes eventually came to a massive open chamber. As they started to pass through it, they noticed rocks, pebbles, and vertical lines of dirt hanging motionless in the chill air. They realized that the debris remained suspended in the air because some tremor must have knocked it loose immediately before the Time Trap was triggered. At that point, another pulse of magic triggered by the PCs’ advance undid the Time Trap in that area and the adventurers found themselves in the middle of an ongoing cave-in.

Quite a few members of the party got pretty beat up while making their way through the cave-in. Others did make it through very quickly and relatively unscathed, though, and they immediately began to attack the time-trapped duergar in the next chamber. With things beginning to spin a bit out of control as some of the heroes started to engage the duergar in Actherimos’ chamber, while others were still stuck and getting pounded back in the cave-in, I decided to call a time out. I told everyone that the cave-in was stopping and if they all agreed to retreat back into the ‘cave-in area’ they could take a short rest before moving forward as a group and tackling the duergar and Actherimos. A couple of the youngest players (the same ones who had rashly started the battle with the duergar without waiting for the others) didn’t want to retreat and take the rest, but thankfully older and wiser heads prevailed.

Actherimos & the Arrow of Time

The icy chamber beyond the cave-in held the great earthquake dragon, Actherimos, and some of his duergar toadies, all suspended in time. The magic holding them in time faded quickly as our heroes entered the area. As Actherimos wheeled about and prepared for battle, the adventurers could see the mangled corpse of Salazar Vladistone beside it. And clutched in the corpse’s hand was the arrow of time!

I wanted this fight to be challenging for the players, but not so difficult that their dead bodies would lay scattered around the icy chamber. So I held Actherimos back until the party had dealt with most of the duergar, and only then did I unleash the dragon upon them. Once Actherimos was fully engaged, Thoradin courageously made a mad dash past it and headed for Vladistone’s corpse. When the dwarf grabbed the arrow of time, Salazar Vladistone’s ghost appeared at the entrance to the cave.

Vladistone’s gaze fixed on the arrow in Thoradin’s hands. “I remember now,” he said. “I remember how much I wanted to see my Oldivya. I do not know what you intend to do with the arrow, but I ask you— please do not send me back. I could not bear to return to that time and be without her again.”

When Thoradin hesitated in making his decision, Vladistone said that if the party would give him the arrow, he’d join them in the battle against the dragon and he wouldn’t return to the Ghost Tower until the fight was over. After just a moment’s more thought, Thoradin gave the arrow to Vladistone.

True to his word, Vladistone joined the fight against Actherimos. Only after the dragon was defeated did he return to Inverness with the relic. The tower allowed him to enter it and return the arrow, at which point the Ghost Tower disappeared and allowed the ghost to see his wife once again. When the adventurers returned to Hammerfast and the full story of their victory at the monastery was told, there were celebrations in their honor for days on end.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tomb of Horrors, Session 4: The Drow Goes Down

Marrak double-checked the rope tied around Zerbitt’s waist. Just in front of the adventurers a faint haze was hanging in the air, obscuring the stairs and corridor beyond. With a devil-may-care wink and nod, Zerbitt headed into the haze. Marrak lost sight of him as the thief went around the corner and started down the stairs. A few seconds later, everyone heard a bloodcurdling scream and then Zerbitt came tearing back up the stairs and around the corner. The thief was white as a sheet and a look of pure terror distorted his face as he went pelting past his startled companions. Marrak barely had time to register what was happening before the rope was ripped from his hands as Zerbitt dove headlong into the crawlspace and disappeared from sight.

The fourth session of our Tomb of Horrors adventure started with the PCs in the strange chapel. Having just taken an extended rest, they had regained hit points and healing surges, all their powers were refreshed, and they had an action point to use. They were locked & loaded and rarin’ to go.

Note: I figured that the party had spent about 4 hours in the Tomb prior to taking the extended rest. The extended rest was 6 hours long. According to my understanding of the pertinent rules (Rules Compendium, page 172-3), they’ll have to wait at least 14 hours before they can take another one. All of this, of course, must be balanced against that 48 hour deadline until the marsh guide and his cousin return with the boats and then depart, with or without the party.

A Tale of Five Photos

In the photo above, the party has used the large-ish ring they found in the Chamber of Three Chests to activate the Ring Portal in the chapel. Beyond the ring portal, a flight of steps led down to a corridor with series of pit traps. After Elric fell into the first pit and took ongoing poison damage for four rounds, she summoned Mr. Lackey once again. Needless to say, Mr. Lackey was surprised to see his boss had turned into a buxom drow warlock. But then poor Mr. Lackey once again found himself being used as the party’s trap detector; a role he filled admirably by finding the next two pit traps. Everyone was excited when a secret door was discovered at the bottom of the third pit. Before checking out the secret door, Elric had her devil lackey check out the rest of the corridor. After a turn to the north beyond the third pit trap, the corridor went on for about forty feet before ending at a broad door heavily bound with iron bands and locks. Deciding not to mess around with that door right then, the party instead investigated the secret door at the bottom of the pit trap and found a 5-foot-diameter crawlspace.

In the second photo, you see the party starting to tackle the Corridor of Fear. The party could tell that the air in the hallway was tainted by a potent magical toxin, but Zerbitt still volunteered to check it out. There were certain countermeasures a character could take to help protect against the effects of the fear gas (+11 vs. Fortitude), but if the gas hit then the character would feel a rising dread begin to fill them as he/she advanced farther down the corridor. The feeling of dread became so overwhelming that the character fled the area and ran away like a balor was hot on their heels (save ends).

The party had a wicked hard time navigating the Corridor of Fear and reaching the closed door they found down the hallway. Everyone (including Mr. Lackey) except Marrak eventually succumbed to the fear gas and took off running back toward the corridor with the pit traps. Things turned around for the better when Jack was finally able to reach the aforementioned door and open it. Once that happened, the fear gas dissipated in 3 rounds (1d4 rounds).

Beyond the door, the party found a dark stairwell filled with spider webs. A gleam of golden light came from a chamber at the bottom of the stairs. The thick webs blocked movement down the stairs. In fact, a DC 18 Athletics check or 6 points of fire damage was needed to clear 1 square of webs. After several rounds of different characters clearing webs, Zanfire finally reached the bottom of the stairs. In the third photo, you can see that the party had reached a crypt filled with rotting and decayed furnishings. Empty pizza boxes and stacks of old TV Guides littered the floor. Empty Chinese takeout containers were strewn around the small room and piles of dirty laundry were stacked everywhere. All of this crap made the entire chamber difficult terrain. Oddly, in the midst of the appalling squalor was a gleaming golden couch. From it, a skeletal figure with a crown on its head slowly rose to its feet. It made funny noises like your dad does when he’s getting up from the recliner after “resting his eyes” on a Sunday afternoon. But then in a booming voice that shook dust from the ceiling, it shouted, “Who dares to disturb the rest of Acererak? Fools, it is your death you have found! Roll for initiative!”

The fourth photo shows the scene several rounds into the encounter. Looking through the zone of Shadowstorm that has been laid down, we can see that everyone except Acererak and Zerbitt are down. Some of the characters are unconscious and dying. Others have been knocked prone after being blasted by the lich’s Pulse Lightning attacks. In short, dear readers, our heroes were having their butts handed to them. It needn’t have been so, though. There was actually an item that would’ve been a great boon to them in this battle and would’ve helped them avoid this awful butt-kicking… but they didn’t find it before entering the crypt. How very sad for them. (Insert evil chuckle here.)

In the fifth and final photo, most of the party has managed to rally (most of the credit for this must go to Marrak who again and again skillfully used his healing powers to help his allies). They’ve decided to retreat up the stairs and out of the crypt. One party member, however, was unable to join the retreat. Jolted incessantly by Lightning Bolt attacks, unable to get out of the deadly zone of Shadowstorm, and repeatedly zapped by unholy black light from the lich’s Crown of Fear, Elric became the first party member to die in the Tomb. Alas, poor Elric, buxom drow warlock, we hardly knew ye…

Oh, observant viewers may notice that in the fifth photo, Acererak looks as if he is ready, willing, and able to pursue the party up and out of the crypt.

What will the fifth session of our adventure hold for the surviving adventurers? Will your humble DM get a TPK? Or will the battered party be able to somehow, someway, pull off a miracle and defeat their implacable foe?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Quick Sneak Peek at Dark Legacy of Evard

“Evard, master of shadow magic, is dead— or is he? A sinister force has the citizens of Duponde in its clutches. Even as it threatens to drag the whole town into darkness, an unlikely band of heroes stands on the threshold of the Shadowfell to deny evil its prize.”

The next season of D&D Encounters, Dark Legacy of Evard, will start one week from tonight. Designed by Richard Baker, Dark Legacy of Evard is an adventure for characters of 1st - 3rd level. It features lots of Shadowfell creepy goodness for those who want to take a walk on the dark side of D&D. The mini-campaign will run for 13 weeks, from May 11th -August 3rd . Like previous Encounters seasons, one session of Evard equals one encounter each week (1-2 hours of play time).

The adventure is tied into the release of the new Player’s Option: Heroes of Shadow rulebook, so players can use it (as well as Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms) for character creation. If a player doesn’t have a 1st-level adventurer or doesn’t want to create one from scratch, six pregenerated PCs are available. The pregens provided for use with Evard are actually the same ones that came with March of the Phantom Brigade. I have to admit, I was disappointed to open the new DM’s packet and find that WotC was recycling the MotPB pregens. I had been looking forward to new pregens that would’ve highlighted some of the new classes and powers from Heroes of Shadow. Having said that, though, my disappointment with the pregens is pretty much the only negative thing about Evard that I’ll have to share in this sneak peek. I think this is an absolutely awesome mini-campaign and I can’t wait to get it started next Wednesday night.

Besides the tie-in to Heroes of Shadow, Evard also gives the DM an opportunity to use the Despair Deck from The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond. At certain junctures in Evard, players are prompted to draw cards from the deck and the effect on the card (Hopeless, Paranoid, Forgetful, etc) will temporarily hamper the PC. When the effect is overcome, it then provides a boon. One neat (suggested) use of the Despair Deck is connected to a skill challenge in Session 3. Whenever any character fails a check as part of the skill challenge for the first time, that character’s player must draw a card to determine what effect takes hold. The Despair Deck can also be used in connection with a skill challenge in the last session. (Happily, the use of skill challenges has been expanded in Dark Legacy of Evard.)

The DM will need to purchase The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond if he wants to use the Despair Deck with Evard, but there are three new promo Fortune Cards that come with the Evard DM’s packet. They are Cunning Plan, Lack of Scruples, and Cunning Fate. There are also several card boxes that can be given away to the players. Each card box features the art from the new DM screen.

Being a huge map geek, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the maps that come with Dark Legacy of Evard. They are COOL! See the photos below for a sampling of the maps. I think the Evard maps are exceptional and that their use will enhance everyone's enjoyment of each session’s encounter.

Something else that I think will boost the players’ enjoyment is the increase of meaningful decision points in Evard. We saw one of these decision points in March of the Phantom Brigade when the players’ decision in Session 1 directly affected the events of Session 2. Dark Legacy of Evard takes it one step farther by incorporating two major decision points (in Sessions 2 and 8). I like this aspect of the adventure because it gives the players the feeling that they’re actually affecting how events unfold, rather than feeling as if they are just along for the ride.

Alright, so that’s a quick sneak peek at some of the things you can expect with Dark Legacy of Evard. Oh, and to close, I’ll just mention this: I was happy to see that Evard begins where all good adventures ought to start… with the characters gathered in the common room of an inn.

I hope you take the time to check out Dark Legacy of Evard at your FLGS.

Monday, May 2, 2011

MotPB, Session 12: Demolishing the Duergar

In Session 12 of March of the Phantom Brigade at Total Escape Games in Broomfield, CO the players finally learned what happened to Salazar Vladistone sixty years ago at the abandoned dwarven monastery. After the previous session’s exploration of the complex’s sleeping quarters, six PCs moved across the hall this past Wednesday night and checked out the meditation room. Arturo (human fighter), Belgos (drow ranger), Enzio II (human assassin), Jarren (human wizard), Melek (tiefling mage), and Thoradin (dwarf cleric) boldly continued the search for the arrow of time.

When the six adventurers cautiously entered the meditation room, they saw several duergar. Just as everyone realized that the duergar were not moving to attack but were instead frozen in time, a pulse of magical energy signaled the start of another ghostly vision from the past. Tomas Alderson, the human wizard seen in the previous vision, was speaking to the other three members of the Silver Company. He said, “I have prepared a ritual that will allow us to subdue Actherimos and the duergar. When it triggers, it will lay an enchantment over much—though not all—of the monastery and the caves below. It will freeze in time everything caught in it. Our enemies will not die or age, but neither will they be able to affect the world around them.”

After the vision faded, the duergar started to move around and stagger a bit. The adventurers’ presence in the meditation room had disrupted the portion of the ritual that had held the duergar frozen in time for sixty years. For the brutal and savage duergar, no time had passed since the Silver Company was in the monastery, so to them our heroes looked like just another group of invaders. It took the duergar scouts and guards just a moment to orient themselves, and then— with weapons at the ready— they advanced on our heroes.

The players pretty much breezed through this encounter, which was nice for them after last session’s near-TPK. I added an extra scout to the monster mix, but the party still cut through the duergar with a vengeance. Of course, contributing to the adventurers’ domination might have been the fact that I completely spaced on including the three scouts’ Shadow Attack, which would have allowed them to deal a 4d6 extra damage when they hit a target that couldn’t see them. Oops… my bad. Anyway, I thought the players might have trouble coping with the scouts’ Underdark Sneak power, but they very quickly (at Melek’s suggestion) figured out that the best way to negate the scouts’ advantage was to ready actions and hit the duergar hard as soon as they lost their invisibility.

After the PCs wiped the floor with the duergar, they went back out into the long corridor and investigated the previously sealed entrance to the stairs. With the seal broken, the adventurers were able to see that stone steps descended into an icy cave. At the top of the stairs, the party experienced another vision.

Salazar Vladistone clapped his eladrin companion on the shoulder. “Go,” Vladistone said. “I will stay behind and occupy the dragon.”
The eladrin knight frowned and shook his head. “That is suicide, and you know it.”
Vladistone shrugged and unsheathed his sword. “Perhaps. But it has been too long since I saw my Oldivya. Take the others and get out before Tomas’s time trap is sprung. By the time Actherimos is done with me, it will be too late for the monster to escape.”
“At least take the arrow of time with you then,” said the knight. “Perhaps with it, you can find a way to survive.”

So Faldyra was right, after all. Vladistone was a hero. He had sacrificed himself to save his companions and to make sure that Actherimos and the duergar would be caught in the time trap ritual.

Next session, with the thrilling conclusion to March of the Phantom Brigade, the heroes will find out what happened down in the caves below the monastery. And they’ll need to decide how to use the arrow of time. Will they use it to slay the dragon in the past, setting off a chain of events that would see Vladistone never having been killed by the dragon, and thus never having become a bitter ghost? Or will they give the arrow to Vladistone and let him take it back to the Ghost Tower, in the hope that returning it will allow him to commune with his beloved wife again?