Meryl "Wiggy" Wiggins - Gnome Wild Sorcerer
Sophia - Half-Elf Valorous Bard
Tavar - Deva Retribution Avenger
Brucarius "Bruce" Wyllis - Human Sword and Board Fighter
When we last left our heroes, they had managed to survive the crash of the airship, albeit with a loss of healing surges (due to the rough landing, since both the pilot and co-pilot were killed). They led the surviving passengers of the airship in the general direction of the goblin airship, which had landed ahead of them. Survivors included Mindartis (an Eladrin prince), Rangrim (a Dwarf banker), Tordek (a Dwarf soldier), and Adelé (a Human merchant). Several miles into the journey, the party came across signs of a bulette (specifically, the mound of dirt where it had emerged from the ground and a swath of broken trees where it had ambled through the thick forest). They hastily continued, veering away from the bulette's path. Soon they came across a standing stone marked with a single rune just outside of a clearing. As far as the PCs (Meryl and Sophia, anyways) could discern the rune marked a "gate" or "entry" in an archaic form of Elvish. The clearing contained strange trees and a circle of exotic mushrooms, which Meryl identified as a crossing to the Feywild (though it wasn't currently active). Upon leaving the vicinity of the mushrooms, the trees seemed to bewitch the party, disorienting them and interfering with their compass. They confirmed with Mindartis (who had lived in the Feywild as a child) that this was indeed a crossing, and that the trees were native to the plane of Faerie (the Feywild). Without a compass, all the party could do was head in the general direction of the enemy airship.
While walking through the forest, the PCs were ambushed by a scouting party from the goblin airship. A Hobgoblin Warmonger commanded 3 Bugbear Thugs and 2 Hobgoblin Battle Guards (all from Monster Vault). The bugbears charged Tavar, who was in the lead, in round 1 (Tavar's passive perception prevented a surprise round - fortunately heavily armored and/or large goblinoids aren't terribly stealthy). The party did a fair job of killing bugbears and hobgoblins until the start of round 3, when a young bulette emerged from the ground out of nowhere, seemingly attracted to the sounds of battle. It randomly attacked combatants, and unfortunately the dice seemed to hate Tavar as he was attacked by it twice in a row (round 3 and round 5). The fight proved tough, as the goblinoids were employing sound tactics (focus-firing, flanking, etc.) and the bulette was wreaking havoc with its high damage attacks. Wiggy had some exceptional luck with Chaos Bolt, however, nailing 4 opponents with it one round. I've never been a huge fan of the Wild Sorcerer; I guess I'm just distrustful of randomness. From the DM's side of the screen, though, it seems that I was under-estimating the build's effectiveness. It wasn't too long before the Bugbears and the Hobgoblin Battle Guard's were defeated, leaving only the Warmonger left. He had charged into melee to flank Wiggy, but was soon routed after seeing his allies hewed to pieces. Tavar was unconscious at this point, and Bruce Wyllis was eager to finish the leader off, moving and then charging. The hobgoblin was cut down, but just at that moment the bulette (who was currently burrowed underground) got to randomly decide to attack a PC. The dice couldn't crap on Tavar with him being out of the action, and so the bulette chose to go after Bruce (who, to be fair, probably made the most racket charging down that hobgoblin. Bruce was already bloodied, and the bulette happened to crit. That's 48 damage to a 5th level PC who was already pretty well injured; needless to say this was more than enough to bring him below his negative bloodied value. And so the bulette leapt up from the ground, snatching Bruce Wyllis and devouring him nearly whole. The powerful jaws severed one of his hands off as he bit down, but not before that hand had managed to extend his middle finger in protest. Wiggy kept the hand as a memorial to Bruce's fighting spirit (in a top hat that he'd turned into a bag of holding).
The disheartened PCs followed the trail of the goblins through the woods (a trail that was very obvious in the thick vegetation). If there was any doubt cast upon them by the disorienting spell of the Feywild trees, it was now dispelled; they had a clear path to follow, as these goblins must have come from the airship. They followed the trail uphill into increasingly rocky terrain, until they came upon a bare, rocky bald with noticeably strange geological features (the rock didn't look quite natural up here). At the other edge of the bald stood a castle. As the PCs made their approach, they noticed that the castle's moat did not contain water, and that it was climbable on their side but perfectly sheer on the other side (which was approximately 100 feet away). Great chunks of earth had seemingly been ripped from the bottom of the moat, and were now magically floating as a series of platforms leading across (assuming one was brave enough to jump from platform to platform over a 20 ft deep moat). Two gargoyle statues stood upon two of the platforms. Well, needless to say the party which now consisted of an Avenger, Bard, and Sorcerer wasn't the most athletic. All of them ended up failing to jump across gaps at some point, and they hadn't even gotten halfway across the moat. Their solution was to toss a grappling hook onto one of the gargoyle statues and climb up onto the platform, which was roughly halfway across. At least now getting across would only require 2 more jumps! Sophia and Tavar made it across to the next platform when 2 earth elementals (leveled up from the MV versions) emerged from the very rock of the platform. After the surprise round, 2 air elementals (also leveled up) appeared as well, and the gargoyles shed their stone forms and attacked (with devastating spike damage). I should mention that by this point Wiggy had only 1 healing surge left, so being cut off from the group and flanked by a gargoyle and an air elemental was a bad spot to be in. He ended up using that last surge during the fight, but managed to escape falling unconscious with 0 surges left by the skin of his teeth. The encounter taxed the party's resources (almost all remaining Dailies were used, and everyone used an action point), and they were desperately in need of an extended rest. Note that they hadn't used any dailies prior to this encounter, so while they had the means to really give it their all, they probably would have been in better shape if they'd used dailies in the previous 2 encounters.
The False Castle
As Tavar investigated the castle after clearing the moat, he was discouraged to learn that it had no doors! Sophia walked up, instantly recognizing it was an illusion. The party simply walked through the illusory castle wall and saw a small cabin. They were welcomed to the cabin by a horrible stench, which they soon found out was its owner who had been dead for months. Tavar's heal check revealed the cause of death to be a stab wound to the back. The party searched the room, finding an assortment of magic items (several different potions, a Silent Crowbar, a Deepfarer's Pouch, and a Bag of Holding, among other things). They learned that the deceased owner was clearly a Wizard (big surprise, given the castle illusion), and they also discovered a trapdoor in the kitchen. After smelling an even more horrible stench upon opening it, the party decided to fetch the NPCs and camp outside the cabin but within the confines of the illusory castle walls. Feeling refreshed after the extended rest, the party then went back into the cabin to explore the trapdoor. They discovered a room that contained 1) a dead Shadar-kai assassin, 2) a teleportation circle, 3) a broken line of residuum that had apparently acted as an arcane barrier before the Shadar-kai disturbed it, 4) a huge, rotting pile of strange meat, and 5) a Hellghost Dark Drake (Monster Vault 2) eating said meat pile. The drake immediately attacked the party. In round 2 a (the?) Dark Drake of the Moon Hills appeared in the hallway behind the party (the drake has the ability to gain insubstantial/phasing, after which it becomes invisible). While the Hellghost Drake was quickly dispatched, the Dark Drake proved problematic. I played the creature as it would reasonably act, using its ability to become invisible every other round and following it up with a devastating attack on the weakest-looking PCs. Soon everyone was bloodied (including the Drake), and healing was completely gone. I believe Sophia was down, and one more attack would easily bring either Wiggy or Tavar down (possibly killing them outright if I rolled well). With the drake down to its last HP, however, I simply had it flee through the door ahead. Tavar and Wiggy revived Sophia, but with the threat of an invisible opponent lurking ahead Wiggy decided to pursue the beast instead of letting it flee. It was secretly waiting on the other side of the door with a readied action, and fortunately I rolled poorly or Wiggy could have been in very big trouble. Seeing that Sophia was now back up (and attacking it), the Drake decided to phase through the wall outside of the cabin. Fairly sure they were safe (and unable to pursue the drake through walls even if they weren't) they searched the room. They found a significant haul of residuum, a book of teleportation circle destinations, and a ring on the Shadar-kai that depicted a wilted rose and was adorned with onyx gems. This seemed to be the symbol of some type of organization, though the PCs didn't recognize it. Seeing as this was a good stopping point, we ended the session here.
I'd never used lurkers much before this, and I think I used them too much in this session. This was partially due to the improved monster design which made lurkers seem so much cooler. The young bulette, the gargoyles, and the dark drake were all lurkers, and these were all consistently the most problematic enemies for the PCs. The biggest problem was that I tended to roll critical hits with these guys, and given their extremely high damage dice the PCs were regularly at risk of dying. The first encounter with the goblin ambush was already won when the bulette snatched Bruce Wyllis up before fleeing with a full belly. I didn't intend to kill a PC here, and honestly I really didn't think it was all that likely! I was simply trying to put pressure on them by draining their surges, adding an element of desperation to the rest of the journey.
I like the tactical possibilities that lurkers present - you really need to prioritize them during the rounds that they're vulnerable because their spike damage is so high. I also like the suspense that they generate when they aren't yet taken out, because the PCs all know that they're going to appear out of nowhere in another round and deal some really hefty damage. Perhaps this group is a little too inexperienced to make full use of all of the tactical possibilities. Perhaps the party simply isn't optimal (2 relatively low-damage strikers and no controller). Or maybe it was just dumb luck. I really have been critting a lot during the last 2 sessions (which is funny, because I never seem to crit as a player and I'm using the same gorram dice!). I honestly didn't have these problems when I playtested the encounters (with the Wizard and Panther Shaman that I'll be using in this campaign, as well as a Warforged Fighter and Eladrin Brutal Scoundrel Rogue). I think at the very least I should use lurkers more sparingly. I devised (and playtested) these encounters at different times, and I didn't realize how similar they were to each other (in their lurker-heaviness) until playing them consecutively!