Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 15: Barbarians are NOT DEFENDERS!
After the party's return in triumph there was much celebration. While the Fighter, the Wizard, and the Intermittent Invoker were still recovering the Bard, Warlock, and Barbarian decided to follow up on one problem the Tormites were having.
Someone was digging into some of the burial mounds outside of the city and outside of the graveyard proper. With so many of their priests and templars dead or injured from the disastrous graveyard expedition they asked the party to help investigate and watch some of these mounds. Our three intrepid heroes agreed.
Directed to one particular mound as a likely target they discovered that it had indeed been opened. Moving cautiously they approached the open entrance and saw faint light. They also saw at least one undead creature moving about inside and decided to attack. This proved to be a mistake.
Uthal charged while Jovanni and Mikal moved in but stayed close to the entrance (since they are ranged combatants and liike to give him plenty of room to do his thing). They quickly discovered that there was more than one undead creature in the room as 3 (Boneshard) Skeletons lurked near the sides of the place and were fully capable of moving to engage once they had noticed intruders. The Wight that they had seen from outside also moved in.
The bard ended up sandwiched between two of the skeletons and took a beating while Uthal was busy fighting the wight. In seconds Uthal and Jovanni are bloodied and riddled with bone shards. The Warlock manages to hit one of them extra-hard and it explodes, flinging bone shards everywhere (hence the name - it was a bit of a surprise to the players) and doing just enough harm to its fellow skeleton to cause one of them to explode in shards as well (also a surprise). The heroes retreat - quickly. Dragging themselves back to Phlan they realize they need help to tackle the barrow.
DM Notes I: Since we only had 3 players this session we decided to follow up on a side adventure outside the city and I used "Tomb of the Tiefling Empress" from the Dungeon Delve book, the first non-homemade set of encounters I have used in this campaign. It's a level 5 dungeon and these were 3 level 4 characters so I figured it would be challenging but fine. HA! They took a beating in the very first room and ran away scared -also for the first time in this campaign.
Part of it was the character mix - 1 melee striker, 1 ranged striker, and a controller is not a very solid mix. If the Fighter had been there instead of one of the strikers it probably would have gone quite differently. Also, Uthal had just changed over from using the Mordenkrad (Great Hammer) to the Great Spear, with the idea of fighting in and around Kordan with a big reach weapon. With no fighter in the center, some of his fancy moves are less effective than planned.
The other part was the opposition - Boneshard Skeletons do ongoing damage, explode for a close burst when bloodied, and explode again when slain (in other words, they are awesome) - lots of close burst damage in the close quarters of the entrance tunnel made it very painful for the team even when they thought they might be winning. I ended up having the Wight very obviously run down the outgoing tunnel for reinforcements, encouraging the party to leave.
The next day the trio regrouped and decided to head off to investigate a band of Banites that had moved into the city not far from Podol Plaza. The High Priest of Tempus wanted to know what they were doing and wanted the heroes to whip them if possible. Relieved to be fighting simple orcs the heroes ventured forth.
They successfully negotiated their way past the Plaza guard station (skill challenge similar to the old one) and made their way to the orcs' reported lair. They found a half-ruined mansion (this was the old wealthy district) and discovered a tunnel to the inside though a burned down outbuilding - possibly an escape tunnel from long ago.
Sneaking in the party discovers they are in a basement dungeon with holding cells and manacles on the walls. They also discover a par of Fire Beetles and 3 Orc guards. Combat ensues and this fight goes better than the last one with the trio fighting 2 orcs and 2 beetles up close while one orc chucks axes from a firing slit high up on a wall. Finishing off the melee opponents Uthal charges up some stairs and slays the sniping orc in short order.
Continuing up the stairs the trio kicks open a big door and skids to a halt as they find themselves in the middle of an orc feast - 12 orcs gathered around a huge old table and a big bubbling cauldron in the middle of the room. Seeing a challenge the toughest orc in the room saunters up to Uthal and lays into him. The barbarian responds by thumping him across the room! Mikal unleashes a storm of fire on the orcs and the fight is on - quarter is neither asked nor given as the warriors charge into battle again.
The fight swirls around the room as orc after orc falls to spell and spear. Javanni sings and directs, Mikal blasts away, and Uthal charges and stabs with his spear. There is a tense moment as one orc triggers a trap door, surprising the barbarian who falls into a pit and another orc then dumps the boiling cauldron's contents in on top of him. Seeing the party split, the Gruumsh priest leading these orcs and the war leader gang up on the bard and warlock but in the end it's not enough - with the rest of their group slain they too fall to the spell, spear, and song of the heroes.
DM Notes II: This one went a little better. It was another Dungeon Delve set, this time for level 3 characters, and it was clearly a better match with only 3 characters playing. Plus, Orcs are a little more geared towards a straight-up fight rather than exploding on contact. What's funny though is that some of them do have a "dying strike" ability where they get a free shot when they drop to 0 hit points - it's not a close blast effect however, so all was well. I was happy that I did get to spring the trap too - many times in my experience any kind of monster-triggered trap will never be used as the beasties are wiped out by a fireball or some kind of forced movement effect that renders it unusable. This time it worked.
It's the barbarian's job to charge things so he's just doing what he's best at but it makes things more fun for me too as he tends to be the one to set things off or to take the worst beating because he has a mechanical reason to be rushing out in front of the party! In the old days many barbarians played pretty much like extra-tough fighters and were very static in combat but I really like the way 4E encourages them to move around and CHARGE! as a part of what they do. It's fun for the player and fun for the DM too.
Finally, if you need a good Heroic Tier anti-barbarian monster, remember the Boneshard Skeleton from Monster Manual I - they are perfect for the job.