Well I suppose it had to happen eventually. The Guardians of the Vale are no more. They were exploring the Barrow of the Ogre King not far from Loudwater in the Gray Vale when it happened.
Entering the Barrow had begun with a really tough fight against some goblins in an excellent defended position. They eventually won through and took time to recover before proceeding. Moving into a long hallway they were attacked by zombies and a pair of goblins and those were dispatched in short order. They proceeded down a long stairway, kicked in the double doors at the end, and seeing only 2 goblins before them (one clearly a shaman of some type) they charged in. They then realized that there were two hobgoblin soldiers flanking the doors behind them so two of the party peeled off to fight them while the other two charged ahead. Things got ugly from there. The hobgoblins gathered in the center of the room, reinforcing each other with 2 forming a front line while 1 stayed in the back firing arrows from his longbow and preventing access to the shaman. That shaman fired off an obscuring cloud that interfered with the party's vision then began systematically blinding the members of the party, greatly hampering their fighting capability. In the confusion the heroes each began attacking separate targets and didn't bother to try and shake off the various magical effects that swirled around them. Heroes fell and were revived several times but they gradually wore down. until finally only the Druid and the Goblin Shaman were left standing and unfortunately the Shaman was in far better shape. Darkness closed in and the heroes never returned from the Barrow of the Ogre King.
DM Notes: I haven't presided over a TPK in several years and I don;t like them any better in 4E. The apprentices blew right through the first encounter with moderate damage to 1 or 2 characters. After a short rest they were in excellent shape. That next encounter though...
What can I say? It was 5 Level 3 monsters against 4 Level 2 characters, and the adventure is supposed to be for level 1 characters so it should have been fairly easy, right? Well it might have been, except that they utterly failed to concentrate their fire on one target and the most dangerous target -the shaman- was not attacked until everything else was dead! They also bickered over tactics, and worst of all, they kept forgetting to roll their saving throws! I eventually got tired of reminding them and simply asked "Are you done with everything" at the end of their turns and moved on. We ended up at one point with out of 4 badguys bloodied and 3 out of 4 characters bloodied, then it went downhill. Just as an example, the Elf Ranger fired off his daily at one of the hobgoblin soldiers while he was blinded and rolled a nat 20 - Epic! It was something like 38 points of damage in one shot and it took the soldier from unbloodied to 4 hit points, and he would stay there for about the next 10 rounds as no other attacks were made against him! One round later the Dwarf Warlord activates his daily and gives the Elf Ranger a shot (still blinded) and he rolls ANOTHER nat 20 - for another 30-odd points of damage! Against the other hobgoblin soldier! Sigh. Also while he's high fiving and enjoying these moments he's forgetting to roll his save against the blindness from the shaman, and that soldier ends up sticking around for another 8 or 9 rounds with 6 hit points too. It was touch and go for a while but in the end the Shaman was nearly undamaged when all of his goblin buddies finally fell and the heroes were all bloodied and mostly in the single digits so he simply picked them off one by one and never even reached bloodied status.
I will say that the opposition here is tough - hobgoblin soldiers start with a 20 AC which goes up to a 22 if they are next to another hobgoblin, and then the shaman (a Goblin Hexer) can throw out a cloud that nearly fills the room and gives his allies cover, effectively making them a 24 and that cloud is a sustain minor! So he fired it off in round 1 and simply maintained it for the rest of the battle!. Even at 2nd level AC24 is a a tall order. He can also hit individual targets for 2d6+1 damage and blinding as an at-will which is also nasty as it's a -5 to everything. Of course, forgetting to roll your saves against these things makes it that much worse. At one point the poor Dragonborn Paladin was Blinded, Slowed, Marked, Hexed, and Bloodied - we use pipe cleaner rings to mark status effects and we couldn't see the mini as he was buried in little colored rings!
So some lessons learned:
For the players:
- ROLL YOUR SAVES!
- If there's a guy in the back shooting you every turn and really messing you up then SHOOT HIM! They had a Druid and a Bow Ranger...
- Running away is OK - you don't have to stay and die together
- Healing Potions are worth it
- Look a little harder at synergies between monsters even when the encounter is supposed to be level appropriate in published adventures. I didn't really see that escalating armor class thing with the hobgobs and the hexer. Of course the hexer was only AC 17 so the best answer there is to shoot him full of holes, but still, it can get nasty in a hurry.
- Stick to my guns - I reminded them for the first few rounds and even gave them an "are you done" prompt after that but bad things happen when you don't pay attention and use bad tactics and sometimes that bad thing is a total party wipeout.