The final session of this season of D&D Encounters attracted 27 participants to Goodgames Ballarat, the equal highest (with the penultimate session) attendance we’ve had in the history of the Encounters program at our store. A few of our regulars were missing, but they were made up for by a number of new players.
Admittedly, fighting a demi-lich would probably not be my choice of someone’s first experience of D&D, but my DMs and I sat down before the session and worked out what changes we’d make to the demi-lich’s stats so that everyone could enjoy the game. My particular contribution was to allow all weapons – magical or non-magical – to work on the lich, because magic weapons have been very rare in this campaign, and the new players, in particular, had none.
Based on other comments from the web community, we also added in the opportunity for characters to make called shots against the teeth of the demi-lich to rescue characters who were felled by its trap the soul attack. This was not my initial idea, but my DMs seemed enthusiastic to use that rule, so we went with it.
With Lee returning to the DM’s chair, Dave moved over to DM the new players (all six of them!) and I resumed my co-ordinator role. One of the major jobs I’ve had as co-ordinator is in helping the DMs with quick rules references; if a DM has not immediately known how something has worked, they’ve been able to ask me. It’s been very useful, and it’s something we’ll miss as we go back to a more standard Encounters season that doesn’t require a co-ordinator.
The tables were comprised as follows:
Lee’s Table: Glen, Josh, Harry, Nick, Tim, Brody
Ben’s Table: Shane, Troy, Jesse, Josh, Danielle
Callan’s Table: Tait, Liliana, Matt, Jason, Lachlan
Dave’s Table: Melissa, Kris, Djoran, George, Marcus, Amy
The groups were summoned back to the gatehouse, where I, as Syranna, the Red Wizard rebel who has helping them, gave them instructions on what they had to do in the Phylactery vault: they had to find the phylacteries of each of the liches that supported the insane ruler of Thay, Szass Tam, and destroy them,
I let them know that the mission could be quite dangerous. I was quite worried about how trap the soul might work, and so I’d prepared sheets for the 5 NPCs to hand out as replacement characters if necessary. With their instructions completed, they stepped through the black gates to the phylactery vault.
All four teams ended up in a strange place: the inside of a d4! Each group emerged onto a different “side” of the space, with gravity doing weird things as it attracted to the nearest side in all cases! Shane immediately grabbed a rock, and threw it towards Jason’s group; they were rather surprised to find a rock falling from the “sky”… although, if they knew Shane better, they might not have been!
A number of smaller tetrahedral sepulchres stood around the place – three on each floor. These were quickly determined to be the locations of the phylacteries, and the groups cautiously approached their doors, which were engraved with four-armed gargoyles, poised to attack.
It surprised no-one when, upon opening the doors, twin gargoyles leapt off the doors and attacked.
Defeating the gargoyles was not particularly difficult, although Dave’s table, which had all the new players, took quite some time to destroy them as Dave had not only to run the combat, but also to explain how the rules worked!
Once the gargoyles were defeated, the groups were able to enter the sepulchres, where they found the spaces lined with shelves on which the phylacteries of the liches were stored. Magic protected the phylacteries, so that needed to be taken down first. The spell-casters of the groups began that process while the fighters and rogues looked on nervously (or in anticipation).
The tables of Lee and Ben were the first to disable the magics and destroy the phylacteries – at Callan’s table, they were having trouble rolling above a 5 on their dice, so things were taking significantly longer and they were taking feedback damage from the failed attempts!
However, with the destruction of the phylacteries, each group found itself fighting an Aspect of Kazit Gul, the mad demi-lich who had originally built the Doomvault. Kazit Gul was immune or resistant to pretty much every attack the groups could throw at him, and had the ability to blind nearby characters as well as trap the soul – rip the soul from a character and imprison it in the demi-lich’s gem teeth. After a few seconds, the body of that character would disintegrate into ash.
So, the major confrontation had begun: Ben and Lee were running the demi-lich, Dave’s group were still fighting gargoyles… and Callan’s group were having trouble just disarming the phylactery protections! In fact, as the battle raged on at the other tables, Callan’s group decided they were having so much trouble they’d go to another of the sepulchres and trigger its gargoyle attacks. So, eventually we had three groups fighting the demi-lich aspects, whilst the other group just took down gargoyles.
The demi-lich was particularly hard for Ben’s table, as it took the souls and destroyed the bodies of both Danielle and Troy. Danielle’s rogue, who had been playing since the second session of Scourge of the Sword Coast and had tamed the dire wolf, Fluffy, was the first to die, and the group were unable to destroy the tooth that had trapped her soul in time. I gave her Hadarr’s character sheet so she could continue playing. When Troy’s fighter died, he gained Jekk.
Lee’s table, however, were doing much better. Glen had commented to me, last week, that Dave (who DMed them for the previous session) wasn’t really prepared for how optimised the table was. They showed once again how effective they were. They saved the one soul of the character who was trapped by the aspect, and slew the demi-lich in two rounds. It was an astonishingly effective performance.
Dave’s table finally defeated their gargoyles and destroyed the first sepulchre’s set of phylacteries, so their Aspect then arrived. And their cleric (Kris, I think) was extremely smart and cast Bless, thus giving everyone advantage on saving throws. This meant that, at the end of the night, they were the only table that never failed a saving throw against the trap the soul effect – an amazing achievement.
Meanwhile, Callan’s table had destroyed their floor’s worth of gargoyles, and were now disabling the phylactery protections piece by piece: with three successes needed, they would make one successful check on a sepulchre before moving to the next one, until each sepulchre had only one protection left. At that point, they finally were ready to summon the demi-lich.
Lee’s table destroyed the gargoyles protecting a second sepulchre, and all prepared for the appearance of the demi-lich when they destroyed its sepulchres. They were rather put out when it didn’t appear and Lee explained that there was only one aspect per table. With such an optimised group, it didn’t take them that long to deal with the remaining sepulchres, and they finished well in advance of any other group. With Callan’s group only just starting the fight against the demi-lich and Dave’s table also a fair way from finishing, Lee bowed to their wishes and had another aspect appear and attack them. This time, I advised Lee, to return to some of its original stats. Along the way, I made helpful suggestions. When one of the monks’ souls was trapped, Tim tried using magic missile to destroy the tooth, hitting it with five maximised missiles. I informed him that was five separate attacks, each dealing only 2 points of damage to the tooth, none enough to destroy it. In this way, both Monks were slain, but the demi-lich still went down after 2 or 3 rounds. What a party!
Ben’s table finally slew their aspect, and from there proceeded to destroy the rest of the phylacteries. Ben didn’t give them another aspect to fight, so I handed them my copy of the Basic Rules and suggested they start thinking about their characters for next week’s adventure.
Callan’s table were losing some characters to trap the soul, but they were able to rescue those characters. They used faerie fire to make attacking the lich more certain and to counteract the disadvantage from making called shots against the teeth – a very clever manoeuvre – but I did have to inform them that blind characters couldn’t benefit from faerie fire – they had to be able to see it! However, eventually, they too destroyed the demi-lich.
Dave’s table also destroyed their aspect of Kazit Gul and then destroyed the rest of the phylacteries. (In fact, they had one more group of gargoyles to fight, but noting how late it was getting and that everyone else had finished, we wound it up there).
With the phylacteries destroyed, it was finally time for everyone to go home. The Red Wizards of Thay had been severely punished for their attack on the Sword Coast, and it will be interesting to see the ramifications of the heroism of the characters in the future. Szass Tam is no longer the force he was, although his servant, the lich Tarul Var, had survived in our play of the adventure.
Finally, the group were reunited with their patron, Sir Isteval. He congratulated them on their achievements, ending with a warning of further dangers to come…
A new threat looms on the horizon. The Cult of the Dragon has become increasingly active, though we don’t yet know its purpose. Factions, new and old, are gathering adventurers to face this threat. If you seek to challenge these threats, look to the Harpers, the Order of the Gauntlet, the Emerald Enclave, the Lords’ Alliance and . . . even the Zhentarim. Together, these groups will face the new challenges.
And so ended Dead in Thay and the Dreams of the Red Wizards series. What we began on February 16th, six months ago, is finally over. 23 sessions of D&D Encounters had brought the characters from 1st to 8th level, and provided some of the most memorable experiences with D&D Encounters we’ve yet had. In a few weeks, we’ll begin the first of the new Dungeons & Dragons seasons as Tyranny of Dragons launches. (In the meantime, we’ll run a three-session adventure I’m writing, which builds on events from Legacy of the Crystal Shard, Lost Heir of Neverwinter and Storm over Neverwinter).
There’s something special about playing with so many other players all experiencing the same adventure. I know it elevated the material higher than it would have if we’d only had one table of players. We grew from three to four tables of players during the season, and I’m very grateful to Ben, Dave, Callan and Lee for running the games. I return to the regular DMing chair next season, which will be fun.
It should be noted that due to historical reasons, we run D&D Encounters sessions on Saturday evenings at 5.30pm here at Goodgames Ballarat. Originally, the reason was because the store wasn’t actually open on Wednesday evenings, which made it quite difficult to run on Wednesdays, as you might imagine. (The store still isn’t open on Tuesdays, so we always miss Tuesday release dates!) So we started running it on Saturday evenings, and by the time the store began to open on Wednesday evenings, that timeslot was grabbed my Heroclix and Magic players, making it rather hard to get in for role-playing then as well. So, we’ve ended up on Saturdays.
D&D Encounters runs from 5.30 pm until about 7.30 pm. (The sessions have gotten longer over the past couple of years; I used to be able to finish most in 60-80 minutes!) Then we have a 30 minute dinner break, before continuing with a bunch of other role-playing games from 8 pm until 11 pm (store close). Callan runs a fortnightly campaign of Rifts, alternating weeks with Lee’s campaign of Pathfinder. I’ve been running my AD&D First Edition campaign for the past three years, often on a weekly basis, but I’m dropping it back to fortnightly so I can alternate with a Lost Mine of Phandelver and D&D Expeditions campaign. Meanwhile, Josh (not one of the two Josh’s playing in Encounters!) has picked up the new players from Dave’s table onto a weekly Lost Mine of Phandelver D&D campaign as well.
Exactly how all of that will change as we move into 5E is uncertain. I really want to run the entirety of Tyranny of Dragons, and I have friends who are really interested in joining in on that as well! (Will we reach 5 tables?) However, it certainly seems likely that there’s a lot more role-playing at Goodgames Ballarat in the future!