Two things made this game night special: the first was that it was Shannon’s birthday, since her birthday was the day before, April 1st. The second was that it was the April Fool’s session. It might be interesting to know about me that I have never been that big of a fan of April Fool’s Day, which is completely strange considering my penchant for being the cut-up. I can back up my claim to foolishness by adding that I am a cards-carrying member of BOTH the Funny-walkers Club and the People-Who-Like-Things-That-Are-Funny Club. I know funny (we are passing acquaintances, sharing more embarrassing silences than laughs) and knowing funny offers the clue to my general dislike of April Fools Day. It is that so few pranks are actually funny in the slightest. Let’s work on it people, now onto the business.
So we are i the middle of Keep on the Shadowfell, almost literally. The characters have cleared out the first level of the dungeon, and have gone down the stairs and slew the zombies that guarded the lower levels. This left them with two choices: to continue going down to the next level by taking the southern stairs, or by detouring to the east to what looked to be burial chambers. The party decided to explore the burial chamber.
They entered a long hall with 5 sarcophagi on either side of the chamber. At the far end, a glow could be seen as well as 2 alters and a set of double doors beyond that. The characters could even here some scrabbling and scratching (which I described as sounding like skeletal fingertips scratching the insides of stone coffins) coming from the sarcophagi. The ranger sent his two lion cubs, Glimmer and Glamour, ahead to scout the chamber and trip any traps that might be there. They did their job admirably, and after Glamour crossed an invisible line past the third row of sarcophagi, the doors of all of them began to swing open and skeletal warriors began to step out.
But at that exact moment, a strange thing occurred: as the skeletal warriors took their first steps out of the sarcophagi that held them, time seemed to slow down, and a shadow seemed to slowly cover everything like a silk shroud. As the shadows darkened the scene, time stopped completely and in that instant, the party found that they were in two places at once. They still stood in the chamber of skeletons, now motionless in mid-attack, but super-imposed over that, they found themselves in the Garden Grotto of the Shadow Panther. A thunderous voice echoed from the far end of the chamber “Who dares to wear the sacred vestments of the shadow panther?!”
I used the map from the PHB3 Game Day adventure, which by a strange coincidence was almost exactly the same map I had built free-hand out of dungeon tiles. When the burial chamber encounter began, I had laid out dungeon tiles to represent the area, and the characters remained back in one corner (cowering with their hands over their eyes, ears, and mouths) while the lions scouted. So when I super-imposed the grotto over the tiles, I had the PC’s keep the corresponding locations. This led to the characters being at the far end of the map, unable to clearly see the The Panther Lady. I ruled that the ranger could see through his cubs eyes which were noticeably closer to the enemy, for which I could tell made Tim happy. This also became important later on, as he spent much of the battle blinded by the shadow mote.
The chamber was a sort of underground garden. There was lots of water that had flowing silvery tendrils, as well as fungus and other stuff growing throughout. There were silvery tendrils in the water (that could tell friend from foe) that could slow and damage. These attacked anyone who began their turn in a water tile. The nearest pool had a vicejaw crocodile in it, which the half-orc barbarian Thokk single-handedly defeated. The rest of the party moved forwards towards the panther lady. She stood on a raised dais 10 ft off the ground, surrounded by water. Next to her was a statue who held in its hands above its head a ball of flickering shadow. The only way up to her was by leaping and pulling oneself up (move action with an athletics check) or by climbing the ladder on one side.
The ranger charged forward with his lions in the lead, followed by Cordelia the genasi barbarian. The druid Felipe was also leading the charge toward her sudden nemesis. She wore the skin of the panther and the panther totem as well. Staying back, Poppy continued to pepper the Panther Lady and the statue of flickering shadow during the beginning and middle of the fight. Her companion Stella also held back until she was needed.
Then the panther lady acted, and she howled, and the sound of echoing hounds could be heard, coming closer. Then out of the shadows 4 starved dog minions appeared in a group. they attacked the lion cubs and ranger, eventually killing one o the cubs. After calling the hounds, the Panther lady fires a shadow bolt at the genasi. Cordelia leaps across the water towards the dais, but doesnt make the grab and slides down the side into the water. Felipe trns into a damaging swarm tha clears many of the dogs away, and finally the ranger and the genasi barbarian make it to the dais. A shadowbolt from the staue blinds Tara, who must use the vision of her cubs to know where to attack.
4 more starved dogs are summoned to harrass the druid, who slays them all with the help of Poppy, who is dividing her shots between the statue and other targets as they appear. When the Pather Lady is struck by a melee weapon, she instantly teleports three squares away, to hang momentarily in the air behind the dais (like Wile E. Coyote before a fall).
Tara, Felipe, and Cordelia, on the front lines have all been heavily damaged, so Felipe uses the great daily spell that grants 12 temporary hit points to everyone in range. Only Thokk misses out on the heals as he is still battling the giant croc. Twice he is grabbed and almost pulled into a pool of water, but each time, he breaks free and gives a devastating blow as retort. Finally, with a new crocodile-skin purse and matching boots, Thokk runs across the field towards the battle with the panther lady. he is healed along the way by Stella.
Into the pools the Pnather Lady retreats, being subjected to attacks by Felipe’s Fire hawk along the way. Cordelia makes it across to her, ad with a mighty blow, she seems to fell the panther lady. Apparently she had an ability to mask her bloodied value, but we are no out of combat yet because the statue is still shooting shadow bolts. So the party hacks away at the statue until the Panther Lady’s turn comes around. Suddenly about her body a shadow coalesces until above her inert body the insubstantial form of an Unmbral Panther crouches, ready to attack. The group was completely surprised by the panther’s appearance, which was sweet indeed.
(Aside: One thing about this point in the encounter gave me an idea for the future. The first is the idea that a monster can have an ability that allows it to mask when it becomes bloodied. This can surprise a player who is accustomed of knowing the bloodied value and using it to plan their strategies.)
Another flurry of battle ensued as the panther attacked, was surrounded, then became invisible, leapt over the group and charged the back lines. With an incredible perception roll o 31+, Poppy saw the swirling shadows of the panther when it was within 3 squares of her. It was too late to stop the charge, ad she was raked for 21 points of damage, and nearly dropped by that single attack. But it was not to be, as Felipe turned, and going ino enraged boar form, she pounced. The panther and the boar tumbled and the boar came out victorious, his tusks red with the heart-blood of the shadowy umbral panther. The panther lady’s voice rang out one more time, “Bury my bones in the tomb of the Shadow panther to complete your destiny and gain greater rewards.” As the umbral panther dissipated into shadow, the three remaining items of the Panther set, the magic claws, paws, and headband were strewn amongst the bones of the pnather lady.
As the panther dissipated, so the shroud of shadows lifted and the cavern grotto became more and more insubstantial. The skeletons, forgotten for the momet, seemed to come back into focus, and stepped out of the sarcophagi, swords raised and the hollows of their eye sockets haunted by a fiery glow.