Cast of Characters
Lyra Cinderfield (my character): Human Staff of Defense Wizard (Helo - Dragonling Familiar)
Berylis Lindelenon (my other character): Elf Panther Shaman (Legadema - Spirit Companion)
Rosil: Elf Brutal Scoundrel Rogue
Unit 27: Warforged Weapon Talent Fighter (Hammer and Board)
Zeus: Dwarf Wrathful Invoker
The Amber Farmhouse
The Red Frogs were hired by a man named Aramis Emis to find the diary of an archaeologist named Viral. It is reputed that Viral discovered a powerful magical artifact, and the diary is thought to provide clues to its whereabouts. The last man known to have seen Viral was Amoz Gib, but he lives in a secluded village called Deadwood Falls located deep within the dangerous and labyrinthine Deadwood Forest. Few find their way through the forest alive, but the party does have one lead: a local farmer/merchant by the name of Athos Amber regularly visits the village, and so the party travels to his farmhouse in order to enlist his services as a guide.
As the party approaches the property, they see a golem with a sack of corn on its back standing in the middle of the path. Upon approaching the construct, it animates and plays back a recording of a man's voice. Assuming the man is Athos Amber, it sounds like his wife was killed by some unknown assailants, and that he was able to hide his daughter in the "attic" before he too was killed. Lyra examines the magical workings of the golem while Rosil investigates its mechanics, and they determine that it's non-sentient, and essentially a piece of sophisticated farm equipment. So they investigate the farm house (which has an attached barn) cautiously. Lyra sends Helo ahead to peer through the windows, but nothing can be seen. The party goes into the barn which houses not farm animals, but a workshop containing another (inactive) golem as well as a bunch of random junk. They enter the house through the door that connects to the barn, and find nothing of interest on the ground floor. Upstairs Rosil scouts the individual rooms; the first contains a desk and a blue chest, the second is a bedroom that appears to be the site of a struggle, and the third contains the horribly mangled body of the wife. The party returns to the first room where Lyra detects the presence of magic in the blue chest, which Rosil picks the lock to revealing a book, several loose pieces of paper, and a magical key that's warm to the touch. The book seems to be an atlas with random notes scrawled into it (including the names of some influential merchants), and fortunately a route through Deadwood Forest is laid out. Among the loose papers is the will of Athos Amber, who appears to be very rich for a simple farmer.
As the party makes their way back to the barn, the key grows warmer in Lyra's hand. It reaches its hottest in front of a very tall pile of junk, which turns out to be an illusion hiding a ladder and a trapdoor in the ceiling. The secret loft contains many crates, and the party suspects that Millie Amber (the daughter) is hidden in one of them. Lyra uses Ghost Sound to emulate the voice that the sentinel golem recorded, and Millie (about 10 years old) emerges from a crate thinking that her father has returned. The party asks her what happened, and she reports that about 5 days ago she was woken up in the middle of the night by her father and told to hide in the (well-provisioned) attic until he came to get her. The party doesn't tell her that it looks like her parents are dead, but offer to escort the girl to Winterhaven where her grandparents live (it's on the way to Deadwood). As they get back to the ground floor of the barn, the doors slam shut and Lyra orders her to return to the attic. Lyra fires several enlarged Winged Hordes out of the windows in an attempt to catch their ambushers off guard, but it doesn't sound like she makes contact. Three regular Wraiths and 2 Mad Wraiths float in through the windows and initiative is rolled.
Before anyone's turn came up Lyra yelled for Zeus to focus on the 3 Wraiths, and the two of them largely succeeded in keeping them out of the fight while the Mad Wraiths were dealt with. Berylis led off with Spirit Hunt after the Mad Wraiths caused Unit 27 to attack Lyra. Zeus caught 2 of the Wraiths with Rebuke Undead, after which they moved forward (unable to do anything else thanks to the daze). Lyra hit them both with Icy Rays, immobilizing them. Rosil critted a Mad Wraith, and Unit 27 stuck close to the Rogue in order to protect him. The controllers double teamed the Wraiths with a combination of area damage and status effects (eventually Berylis finished two off with Twin Panthers), while 27, Rosil, and Berylis took care of the Mad Wraiths.
Once the battle was over, the party escorted Millie to Winterhaven where they found her grandparents. Lyra made sure that they were capable of taking care of the child, and offered to check up on them on their way back through (Lyra was herself an orphan). They then traveled the rest of the distance, with Lyra studying the book (and their route) throughout the journey. Finally the made it to the border of Deadwood Forest, and it was at this point that we ended the session.
The DM for this adventure made a "rookie" mistake, which was forgivable since this was only his second time DMing 4th edition. The mistake was that he used wraiths from the Monster Manual instead of the new ones from the Monster Vault. BIG DIFFERENCE! MM Wraiths are infamously grindy, with the insubstantial property (they take half damage from most attacks) and attacks that inflict the "weakened" condition (target deals half damage). Thus, damage was often quartered when fighting these guys. Also, aside from the recharge power on the Mad Wraiths (that force PCs to attack their allies) their damage is pathetic. Oh, after looking at the stat block those wraiths also have regeneration, which the DM forgot to apply. Anyways, these monsters easily make for some of the most boring combats in 4e being non-threatening and yet dragging out combat by being difficult to actually hurt. The DM ended up calling the fight into round 4 when it was blatantly obvious that the party was going to win (even if it would take a couple more rounds) and sustain no meaningful damage.
I advised the DM to use Monster Vault monsters in the future, and so a very important lesson was learned; 4e had some pretty crappy monster design at first, and an inexperienced eye can't always tell which monsters are the worst offenders. For example, the Monster Vault wraiths don't have regeneration and they don't weaken, so insubstantial is the only damage-reducer that PCs need to worry about. The wraiths also deal almost twice as much damage as their MM incarnations, and they gain the ability to become invisible. If invisible when they attack, they more than double their already improved damage. In short, they actually function as Lurkers. Though MM wraiths are labeled as the same, they actually function more like skirmishers (and not very effective ones at that). I honestly hadn't examined the differences between the 2 versions that closely (I learned early on to simply pretend that wraiths didn't exist precisely because of the aformentioned problems), so I'm actually glad the mistake was made because now I realize that MV wraiths are not only useable, but look pretty fun!
As for my characters, I'm really happy with them so far. I've been agonizing over Lyra's power selection a bit, and before this adventure decided to switch out Color Spray for Icy Rays at pretty much the last minute. Even though Icy Rays isn't enlargeable (and doesn't synergize with Helo's "breath" ability), I think it'll be a better choice. In playtesting multi-target daze often doesn't reliably deny standard actions (it's tough to get a set-up where everyone is denied charging), and the unfriendliness was a concern with relatively inexperienced 4e players. Plus now that Icy Rays slows on a miss it's a phenomenal opening move, and I generally like powers with very flexible targeting capacity (Icy Rays can be used against two creatures that are far apart from each other, meaning that you hamper exactly which enemies are most dangerous regardless of positioning relative to each other). We'll see how it goes.
I also gave Berylis Spirit Hunt shortly before starting play with him, replacing Spirit of the Slavering Bloodlust. Without being an Eagle Shaman, the buffs from SotSB are unlikely to reach the damage potential of Spirit Hunt, so personal damage won out in this case. Besides, I'm waiting to see how well the other players respond to my Spirit Boon before I add more buffs that rely on Legadema's proximity into the mix. So far so good on that front, though; the Spirit Boon came into play almost every round, even if I did have to remind the players about it. Between the Spirit Boon and Strengthening Spirit, I don't think it will be too long before everyone realizes that it pays to be next to Legadema (though I certainly need to do my part and make sure that I actively position her next to people). Anyways, between high personal damage, granted attacks (Claws of the Eagle), and the Spirit Boon it seemed like Berylis dealt comparable damage to Rosil, perhaps being slightly lower (hard to say, as Rosil rolled the only 2 crits of the combat). This being Heroic tier (where Rogues shine) and Rosil being fairly well-optimized means that Berylis is probably exceeding the damage of some strikers, at least this early in the game. As he levels his damage will probably be more indirect (from buffs), though I'm sure personal damage will remain competitive as well. I'm already looking forward to a combat where several enemies are bloodied on the field and Lyra and Zeus simply park themselves next to the spirit and blast away (with the backing of a hard-hitting spirit boon). You can get a lot of mileage out of the Spirit Boon via area damage.