You’ve been reduced to difficult terrain.
Its hard to say, and Im sure even harder to hear, but sometimes our heroes fall. Such was the case this week 10 of DnD Encounters, for one unlucky adventurer, but I should start at the beginning…
Special Note: If you are playing at my table, please feel free to bring 2nd level characters to week 11 and 12. Even if you havent technically scored the correct amount of XP, the climax of the adventure is written for 2nd level characters, and anyway, you’ve all earned it, especially after this encounter.
Even Specialler note: If you come with a first level character I will make you level him up at the table while we play! By hand!! With books!!! And I dont use exclamation points lightly.
The night began with our same 8 players and characters from the week before. We jumped right in with little delay, while around us 2 other tables-full were getting down to business. By this time, we are all hardened veterans, grognards of the DnD Encounters. Hearing the fading voice of Fayne crying to be saved (again) the party did a quick hurry up and rest. I said they were able to get it down to 2-1/2 minutes, heh, I should have had it a skill challenge – ok the sorceress is binding wounds while the rogue loots the bodies, the ranger is searching for secret doors as Fayne’s voice echoes of the chamber walls. Ok make your rolls people… great job, youre down to 2-1/2 minutes. Like a pit crew of a nascar racer these pros have the “five minute rest” down to a science. If only…
As usual, the encounter began, prior to initiative, with the battleminds wild dash into the room. I love that move. There is no indecision there, he flies into the room as far as he can go in a wild blind rush. its awesome. This room was dimly lit with weird psychedelic lights, making the evil mushroom men concealed until he came within a square of them, so his mad dash was re-directed to the left by a rotpriest rising up to block his initial line right down the center. Then practically all of the myconids went, due to some very bad initiatives on the PCs part.
The enemy this encounter was made up of myconids, a type of sentient mushroom creature. There were three types, the rotpriest who wielded a big damn staff, the guard who had spikey fists, and these non intelligent floating gasbag minions who won initiative. They were hovering globes with vines trailing, exuding an acidic sweat. Two of them moved to block the doorway. The first gasbag quickly exploded, damaging most of the party. Then the main fighters, Hax, Stilgar, and Rossik all endured attacks as they rushed past the other blocking gasbag. Hax attacked the first of 3 rotpriests, who cunningly was able to absorb the damage of his blow, and redirect it through pulsating roots across the floor, and up the vines of another gasbag near the door, exploding him to great poisonous affect. Soon the last gasbag exploded, but they had done their jobs well, and everyone was whittled down in HPs at least a bit.
The ability of the myconids to redirect half of the damage they take to nearby allies completely changed the tactics of the party. No longer were they able to count on focus fire taking enemies down one by one, because the myconids spread the love amongst them. This increased the difficulty of the encounter, and coupled with the burst attacks in the small room which also increased the danger level, the encounter quickly became worrisome, as more than one player began to contemplate the risk of a TPK: Total Party Kill. I too was worried about this, and you can read my DM wrap up at the end to see how I handled this risk.
Then 2 of the 3 rotpriest used their pacifying attack, which I described as being like the floating seedling things of Avatar, who caused one to become a bit out of it for a few minutes. This power caused much anger and gnashing of teeth to many players, as it caused them to lose precious time. This attack caused a strange divide to the game, as round 2 became strangely peaceful, but then when 3 came around, it was back to business.
The room was very small and cluttered, and there were many burst affects. It created a need for special tactics. The ranger was caught in a crossfire with his back against the wall. he soon fell, but miraculously rolled a natural 20 on his save. I have a houserule that in addition to immediately spending a healing surge, a PC can also leap to his feet as a free action. Because, what is cooler than that? Rossik was dropped 4 times this fight and twice TWICE he rolled a natural 20 to leap back to his feet.
Meanwhile the mushroom men continued to attack. Once the pacifying spores were spent, the rotpriests had two at-will attacks to choose from, the first was the big whopping 2-by-4 they carried. The second was a decomposing spray burst that I liked to call emerald showers. These attacks were decimating the party, and almost everyone went down at one point or another, except for Hax, Tordak, and the Shardmind. A myconid guard had somehow gotten through the doorway and was pummeling poor Midget with his thick spiked fists. She was reduced to zero and dropped, then he stepped forward to engage the shardmind, who kept retreating one shift at a time until eventually I joked we would be back in last weeks encounter.
Stilgar and Hax were on the right side of the room, fighting off a guard and rotpriest. They got Stilgar between them and knocked him out. On the left, the battlemind turned from the rotpriest he was attacking and chased the guard into the hallway, the rotpriest raining emerald showers down on them, knocking out the ranger for the 4th time. This rotpriest also knocked out the ardent. The battle was looking grim, with 3 characters down.
The turns moved faster as the PCs dropped. This time the ranger did not spring up, and it was soon the rotpriests turn again, who sprayed necrotizing emerald showers upon all, and the other rotpriest also sprayed, and the room was awash in emerald showers. The rogue dropped, now 4 characters were down, not to mention we had been playing 2-1/2 hours. Rossik was also caught in the radius of that decomposing spray, and he suffered for it even though he was unconcious. He was hit and hit again, and slowly, sadly, Rossik passed beyond his negative bloodied value, pissed to death by mushroom men. Silence fell across the table. Desperation set in.
I remember seeing the sorceress turn come up, and the worried discussion about which direction she should slide her targets. There was a nervousness in the air. I have to congratulate the player, Sloan, on handling the whole matter of character death well. It was stressful, and having been unconcious so much, he had very little actual combat action this encounter. This was not a fight well suited for an archer specced ranger. He suffered opportunity attacks and a definite restriction in his movement. Being stuck against the back wall, hemmed in, and subject to close bursts, the outcome was inevitable. I must say, the attempt was valiant, and Sloan won the moment of greatness award for the night, for his many recoveries on the battlefield, each one more amazing than the last, until the last. Rossik was a great character, and part of me hopes Sloan chooses to resurrect the fellow for next week, he deserves another chance.
The shardmind and the battlemind dealt with the guard on the bridge, while the shaman and swordmage finished off the guard and rotpriest. Meanwhile 3 unconscious characters made their death saves. They survived, but the ardent was one strike away, by the time the last myconid was stalk chopped and cap split. It was a long intense, and complicated battle, but I think the victory was well deserved. It was rough. For me, as DM, it was one of the more interesting combats of the season, and I had more fun than I have in a long time. Each week I have scads of fun, and I hope the players do too, but this week, I had a group of enemies with which I was really able to challenge the PCs like never before, and there were many rounds where the balance was clearly favoring the myconids with victory. I only hope the players had as much fun, because I could tell that the complicated nature of the combat, the long time we had to play – almost 3 hours, the death of Rossik, and the peril all the other PCs were in could make it a real hard battle to love.
DM Aside: I went into this fight assuming I would have 8 players. So I prepared by adding 3 creatures – this time I added one each rotpriest, guard, and gasbag. Once the battle started, I realized the encounter was now-over-powered due to mistakes in the adventure – it is statted out for 6 pcs, not 5. This led me to eventually scrap the green slime completely. At first I was disappointed, since I wanted to use the slime, but in the end I think it worked out even better, because the battle became focused against the myconids, a solid enemy with great synergy. The green slime would have added an unpredictability to the combat which would have made things even more complicated than they already were.
On the other hand, oh how I want to drop a slime on some one. I am evil, that way.