When I plan out a session, I type it up in an email to myself with links to the compendium so I can just use my tablet during play. It’s nice, each creature in an encounter gets it’s own tab in a browser, so I can easily switch and quickly view them for defenses, hit points, attacks and such. That said, I never planned on any of these emails being read by anybody but me.
I trust myself to add interest to an encounter during the night of play. The map/terrain is completely on the fly. Often, I will give each player a piece or two of terrain and tell them to build the scene while I load up the browser with all the creatures for that encounter. I will almost always add some sort of fantastic terrain, whether it’s simply a slippery rock jutting from within a pool to an immobilizing patch of mud on a riverbank. These elements are necessary within every encounter, but rarely ever planned.
So, what follows is an extremely sparse, unedited account of the latest sessions we’ve played in our heroic campaign to date. The campaign theme is Western/Steampunk/D&D. The Black Dragon won the war of centuries past and rules the land. Dragonborn and draconians fight for Black, enslaving and erradicating all fey creatures. Industry is on the rise and slowly destroying magic. Large machines scour the land for resources, ravaging nature. Train-tracks are slowly spreading in all directions, bringing the awful might of Black to every corner of the world.
The campaign began with our party newly enslaved on a chain gang, tasked with boring a hole through a mountain for the train to pass through. Large ants poured out of the mountain, attacking everything on sight. The players used the confusion to escape, after chasing down every last slaver and slaughtering them. One dragonborn slaver tried to escape with a crate containing a “Golden Clasp”. They players chased him down, killed him and deduced the clasp was a sacred artifact of the Black Dragon. Somehow, the artifact is being tracked and has caused the players a whole mess of trouble. In their flight they came across a cave full of civilians, escaped from a town full of evil. They decided to investigate the evil town… (sorry I didn’t have these encounters saved).
make it to town just fine…
will save DC hard or gain a despair card… insight moderate dc to notice the despair
townsfolk look at them with suspicious, shifty eyes. dogs roam the street, heads down, tails between their legs.
a fist fight breaks out in the street before them, a knife flashes and one falls down, slowly dying. Nobody pays him any mind, if saved he gets up and walks away without thanks or even acknowledgement.
hookers call out to them with passionless pickups, show their wares with no abandon or shame
an out of tune piano plays an eerie, unmoving melody. it seems to be a drinking song, but nobody sings along and the music lacks energy. the music comes from inside a bar/brothel. a drunken man staggers out of the bar, falls and scrapes his hand badly on a jutting nail. gets up and walks away, blood dripping from his hand, without a sound. the swinging doors reveal a busy establishment, nearly full tables, though no one is talking. dark eyes look at the PC’s, then back to their drink.
a dwarven barkeeper calls out to them to come and drink freely, anything for some conversation or news of the outside world. the dwarf shoves a patron out of the middle stool of five. the patron falls over and blacks out. another gets up and rifles through his pockets, then sits to resume his drink. the unconscious man forgotten.
at one point the door opens, a man enter with weapons drawn, when their eyes lock upon the PC’s, 12 patrons stand up and all advance for attack. the other patrons continue to drink, uncaring of the fight around them.
Encounter 1 – Bar Fight
12 Crazed Human Rabble – Effect on death (No Action): Roll a d20. On a 15 or higher, the rabble is instead of death, merely knocked prone.
1 Mad Wraith – Invisible, attacks through the floor and walls until seen and attacked. Hit or miss, it flees. It will continue to come back until bloodied, at which point it flees completely.
1 Iron Circle Dark Adept – * add – the target gains 10 temporary hit points and stands up if prone
The dwarf closes the bar to clean. the patrons leave, unresponsive, uncaring. The dwarf asks for help throwing the bodies into the street.
if asked “what’s going on here?” he tells them it’s best to wait until night falls, when the mysterious tower generally appears.
the tower is a pillar made of bones, rising to the skies from within the center of town. it only appears within the shadow of moonlight. it reeks of necrotic energy. the town gathers around it in seeming worship, stretching out their hands toward it. some fall over, feinting, others weep.
soon a large brute of a half-orc appears on a building top, clothed in a red robe. he speaks to the group, welcoming them and their worship.
“tonight we gather to the feast, eager for the feed. but i feel a disturbance. we ask those who would feed to arise and cleanse from our midst the unbeliever, the uncleaned. take them from us and make them one of us.”
at his words a mist begins to form, thick around the feet of the PC’s. the mist begins to take shape and the players are attacked.
“behold, The Eaters have answered our prayer!”
20 Wisp wraith – +2 to attacks, damage, and defenses while within 10 of the moon wraith
the crowd disapates during the fight, shortly afterword a fire starts in the town.
Skill Challenge – Stop the Fire
Perception check notices the fire, coming from The Dwarven Gullet
Perception check notices problems:
Fire hasn’t yet gotten to liquor behind bar
Screams of pain (2 girls and 1 patron) come from upstairs
Curtains are on fire
Perception check notices three things:
cart full of hay parked across the street
Stables behind bar… horse troff and manure
General store across street has bags of flour stacked outside
The fire begins to take on a life of its own…
If the skill challenge was successful, all creatures start with -25% HP.
Full health if challenge failed
1 Young Blazewyrm
2 Lesser Magma Elementals
8 Mane (described as smoke demons)
A child finds them after the battle. With a finger pressed to her lips, she motions them to follow. She leads them through twists and turns, disappears into a building, then into the kitchen, then down into the ash pit beneath the fireplace. Beneath the town of Dusthaven is an entire city, long forgotten and abandoned. The city is full of children…
A child finds them after the battle. With a giggle and finger pressed to her lips, she motions them to follow. She leads them through twists and turns, disappears into a building, then into the kitchen, then down into the ash pit beneath the fireplace. Beneath the town of Dusthaven is an entire city, long forgotten and abandoned. The city is full of children… the girl finally reveals herself and it is obvious at this moment that she is a ghost.
She tells them it is mostly safe here, as long as Magdaline doesn’t hear them.
She saw them touch the pillar and is concerned, she tells them they should leave this town.
The pillar is bad, it makes you sad, then even sadness is gone.
She can see it both here… and there.
There, it glows a sickly green and lots of scary monsters lurk around it.
Other children start to appear slowly, some are quiet, others wander up and try to touch the PC’s, deciding whether they are alive or not.
The governer is a bad man, he removed the tounges of many children.
He always wear the hood up, but one boy saw his face… says it was like “ours” (the childrens) not yours (the PC’s).
More children appear…
I’ve seen the governer there too, he’s the only one from town that goes both places.
… but the souls of so many innocents have spawned some grief.
Encounter 1 – Griefmotes
2 (3?) x Gieifmote
1 – Griefmote Cloud
At the end of the encounter the children cheer, they laugh, they sing and dance… they make all sorts of noise.
The noise has angered Magdaline, she comes with her posse.
Encounter 2 – Magdaline
Posse – 3 x Phantom Warrior
Magdaline dies in a flash of sickly green… the child says she’ll come back tomorrow night. The bad ones always do. The tower makes them.
They wake up groggy and not quite themselves (despair deck)
Little girl, Jaquita, Jackie for short explains that they could live here forever if they didn’t need to eat and drink. But as it is, there is no water.
Players can get water running at the aqueduct, but it is overrun by slime and creatures.
The bad guy never comes during the day, but he’ll be back later tonight for the ritual again. He usually comes down here after, but he’s “there”, not “here”.
water cave – inhabited by bullywugs
Encounter 2 –
pipes covered in slime, pool full of fish –
The PC’s rush to leave the catacombs before the water fills it in. Unfortunately, as they leave, a bullywug priest and his posse stops them. The Priest has a bullywug mud lord next to him, and a guard of four Bullywug Croakers. The priest bellows:
“You’ve destroyed our home and murdered our children. Your evil ends today. Your bodies shall writhe in the mud of our fallen kin!”
The Bullywug raises his hands and the mud around the PC’s feet begins to stir, then rises into a shambling form. On his first turn the priest slaps his hand on the bullywug mud lords shoulder and then leaves.
The water is slowly raising the entire time
Round 1 – begins with difficult terrain
Round 4 – All PC’s must save on Athletics DC 14 or be slowed until the end of their turn
Round 6 – Swimming
Bullywug Priest (attempts to leave after the raising the mud) –
Murk Wretch – (4 appear when the Mud Lord is bloodied)
Bullywug Mud Lord –
Bullywug Croaker – (4 on first round)
Hazard – Rat Swarm
A horde of rats swim through the water, looking for escape. They cling to and scratch anything in their path for 5 rounds. PC’s may take countermeasures at the beginning of their turn to up their defenses. If the countermeasure is a success, count that as a success for the skill challenge. 3 failures results in a disease-
Disease – Wererat Filth fever
The priest is there, ready to make a final stand. He vows to either kill the PC’s, or die with the rest of his clansmen.
Bullywug Priest –
Bullywug Chieftain –
Bullywug Champion – (x2)
Bullywug Croaker – (x8)
Bullywug Croaker – (4 on first round)
the players arrive back at the underground city to face the mayor, acerak.
Acerak arrives to the area unseen by the players unless one of them happens to be touching the pillar. Because of the Golden Clasp, Acerak knows the players are close and is expecting them. Because he is wearing the Golden Medallion, he can see and interact in both the physical world and the shadowfell at the same time.
Jackie will alert the PC’s to Acerak’s presence, indicating that he is touching the pillar.
pillar of bone –
As long as a player leaves their hand touching the pillar, all around it (burst 10) becomes bathed in the shadowfell. Those outside the shadowfell aura can not see or interact with those within.
The Golden Medallion –
Perception 16 will notice a golden chain around Acerak’s neck holding a medallion with the same markings as the Golden Clasp.
Differing from it’s regular power, this necklace absorbs 3 HP per plus of this item from any healing surge spent while wearing it. Half those HP are regained when you are reduced to 0 hit points or fewer. If worn with any other piece of the Golden Set, instead receive all HP absorbed. This power can only be used once per day and all HP are lost at the end of an extended rest.
Upon Acerak’s demise, players can witness this medallions power. Acerak still drops to the ground, but immediately regains 24 HP upon reaching 0 or fewer HP.
golden clasp –
If worn during the battle, that player can see and interact in both the physical world and the shadowfell at the same time.
Wraith Figment –
2x Wraith Figment’s appear adjacent to the bone pillar any time a player places their hand upon it. They always attempt to attack a character touching the pillar. They can not see into the physical world.
Dragonborn Mercenary –
On the 4th round of combat, 4 dragonborn mercenaries arrive on the scene. They can not see into the shadowfell. They attack any player seen and attempt to knock them out and capture them.
The players may ignore them and rest within the shadowfell. If they take an extended rest, they each gain a despair card.
Above ground, a dragon roars at their success or failure. The dragon can not get to them, but remains above ground to attack on sight or revel in their torture.
Young black dragon –
double HP. +2 to all attacks and defenses. increase all damage by one die type and 2 fixed points.
Dragonborn Mercenary x4 –
Players awake in the night a number of times to the sound of the dragon roaring above ground. They know he’s there and waiting for them. They have a choice. They can go and face him, or try to find Jackie’s hidden path.
Face the Dragon –
Encounter 1 – The dragon is pissed
the townsfolk were told not to let the players leave
encounter 2 – townsfolk
soldiers (3) – http://www.wizards.com/dndinsider/compendium/monster.aspx?id=157
constable – http://www.wizards.com/dndinsider/compendium/monster.aspx?id=6040
tiefling – http://www.wizards.com/dndinsider/compendium/monster.aspx?id=6042
OR — The hidden pathway
Skill Challenge – Follow Jackie (through walls and such)
Failure = minor combat
Minor Combat – Centipede Burrow
Encounter 1 – Magdaline was told to not let them leave
+2 to all defenses, attacks, and damage
Posse – 3 x Phantom Warrior
Skill Challenge – Undergound river
2 failures = -2 penalty to all checks, each additional failure = a healing surge
Exit into a large pool with few rocks to stand upon –
Encounter 2 – Archerfish and a crocodile
Archerfish (4) – http://www.wizards.com/dndinsider/compendium/monster.aspx?id=5080
after the battle, the lake is surrounded by hundreds of halfling savages… the are obviously cannibals, with bones adorning their clothing and such.
they try to tie up the players— skill challenge to remain unbound
then take them to the pits, where a cauldron is waiting for them — skill challenge to talk to leader
the leader wants to eat them all — skill challenge to remain uneaten
shortly after success or failure, the dragon arrives and he is pissed.
skill challenge success means halflings help and players are unbound
failure, players begin the fight bound and halflings retreat into the jungle
Encounter 2 – Dragon
if the halflings help, then increase dragonborn brutes from 4 – 6
The players begin seperated, having ran from the dragon in all directions. Their first task is to regroup, but the halflings are scared and unhelpful… some even hope to trap and eat the singled out foe.
Skill Challenge, regroup. Failure results in missing the first two rounds of combat in the next encounter. Each failure beyond the initial two equals another missed round.
Each player comes across 5 minion halflings that hope to eat them, they must talk or fight their way out. Failure results in a minor encounter.
Eventually, the players regroup near a large pool of cooled lava. Disturbing it angers the lava demons who then attack relentlessly.
Encounter 1 – Lava demons
2 x Magma Hurler
Seeing the players vanquish the powerful demons, the halflings are more prone to help. They motion for the players to follow, those who speak Giant can communicate. The halflings request their aid… their chieftain has fallen.
The witch doctor hovers over the pale form of her fallen chieftain, she begs the players assistance. They must travel through his dreams into the shadowfell to find and convince his spirit to return the the world of the living.
The chieftains dreams are full of nightmares, to reach the shadowfell they must vanquish his fears.
Encounter 2 – The Chieftains Dream
1 x Goblin Underboss
2 x Barghest Savager
1 x Beholder Gauth
Upon killing the beholder, it’s corpse explodes into a shadowy gate
The players arrive in the shadowfell, though not fully. They appear insubstantial, etheral, as if in a dream.
Their task is to find the chieftain, though he is not in plain sight. It might be possible to track him, with the appropriate checks.
As they follow the tracks, the players hear the howling of beasts in the distance. The howling seems to be getting closer… If the tracking is going well, the players encounter a pack of Famine Hounds and Deathdogs. If the tracking is failing, they are ambushed.
Encounter One – Facing the Pack
Famine Hounds x 4 – Damage remains the same (-necrotic), attacks and defenses go up by 2.
Deathdog x 2 – Half HP, damage is 4d4 +4
Weak, bloody, and tired, the players continue following the tracks. Soon they come upon a choice. The etheral, greenish images of a crowd of ghosts surrounding a large, solid, Pillar of Bone stands before them on the horizon. Before them, and much closer, an inn with lanterns of black flame swinging in a non-existent breeze.
As they journey toward their choice, a brilliant flash of green catches their attention. A ghost wanders toward the pillar and evaporates as it touch the pillar. Their soul shoots off into the distance in a streaming green light . A wight remains where the ghost once stood, then ventures off into the night. Another ghost walks toward the pillar, another flash of green… a halfling can be seen waiting in the crowd.
Hopefully the players will run to help the ghosts. They fight wights… lots of them. During the fight, they can try to stop the ghosts from touching the pillar with successful skill checks.
The fight begins with 3 wights, 1d4 more arrive with every passing round… – 1 per successful skill check. As they get overrun, the inn seems to be getting closer somehow. Perhaps someone inside the Inn will hear their screams and come to their rescue.
Wight x 3 (and then some) –