‘D&D’ Encounters DM Report — “A Bright Light,” Part I

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Okay, before I even start sharing what took place during last night’s D&D Encounters event, I must issue a very STERN spoiler alert here. If you are a regular player and have a DM, you might ask your DM to read this post FIRST and decide whether they’re interested in running it. I tell you this only because if you continue to read, you’ll be exposed to some major giveaways for this week’s two-part adventure I’ve titled “A Bright Light.”

So, consider yourself warned. Further reading will most definitely well spoil some surprises regarding this mini-adventure. If that doesn’t bother you… keep reading.

*** SPOILERS BEGIN ***

Between Adventure League seasons 1 and 2 (for the 5th edition of D&D), there are a total of nine weeks of unscheduled play. Our event coordinator, Topher, asked his four DMs (I’m one of those) to try and cover the events in Chapters 4 and 5 of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure book. Unfortunately, much of the content for Chapter 4 is lacking and puts a lot of responsibility on the DM’s shoulders to create encounters and adventures that happen to players during a long bit of travel. I tossed out the suggested adventures (each about a paragraph in length) and decided to create my own. For the first two weeks, my players (on the road between Greenest and Elturel) found a small cultist group performing a dark ritual on a baby black dragon deep in a cavern (Part I and Part II of “The Road to Elturel”). Following that adventure, my players spent two weeks on a river between Elturel and Baldur’s Gate and had a few encounters that included a mysterious cargo ship with a surprise guest in low cargo deck (Part I and Part II summaries of “Sholla’s Dream”).

For the next two weeks, I’ve wanted to come up with something unique and distant from the book, so the players have found themselves arriving in Baldur’s Gate after their adventure on the water.

Tonight’s players included:

Jimmy (the Page) – Human Bard
Rolan – Elf Ranger
Edaliu – Gnome Bard
Borax – Dwarf Cleric
Aramel — Human Warlock
Essie – Human Fighter

When the players arrived in Baldur’s Gate, they were immediately escorted to a gathering place for the Order of the Gauntlet. If you read the previous few reports, you’ll know that the players were sent by Leosin to Baldur’s Gate to try and obtain bodyguard/escort positions for a cultist caravan that would be arriving in BG shortly after the players arrival. Well, plans changed. The players met with Railic, the local leader of the Order of the Gauntlet:

Three nights ago, a caravan of travelers arrived from the south. We were able to confirm they were members of the cultist army, but this is not the group that we are expecting in the next day or two. This group was… different. They had a strange two-wheeled wagon, much smaller in size than a standard wagon, hitched and pulled by a single horse. Locked. No windows. Very odd.

Before we could decide an action, however, a local rogue group got a little aggressive. Some items were stolen from the cultists. One of the members of this band of rogues is an agent of ours, and he recognized the value of one of the items and sent word to me. The rogues were able to celebrate for about an hour before they were tracked and killed in their hideout. Our agent was also killed. This is the information he provided.

The players were given a simple handout of a coded message with the deciphered text written below:

Rogue Coded Letter

But the group of rogues (including the agent) were found and killed by Pewna’s group before the Order could reach their agent. Pewna’s group hit the road fast, and now the players have been given the task of chasing down Pewna and finding that very important map.

As you can see, the agent intended to create a copy of a map, but we never received it. Pewna is one of the cultists’ elite leaders we identified, and we’d heard rumors that he would be in possession of a map that could lead us to the army’s rendezvous point for all of these caravans–somewhere between here and Waterdeep is all we know. We made a move on Pewna and his group early this morning, but we were too late. We missed their departure from the city by a few hours.

 

The players accepted the mission, and were joined by three members of the Order as they left on horse and began chasing the caravan. Late into the evening, something happened:

Sherlo (one of the members of the Order) points at a strange reddish light in the distant sky. It dives and ascends, then circles. Suddenly, a burst of orange-red flame shoots from the sky towards the ground. The light appears to circle again, another burst of flame is blasted to towards the ground, and then the red light disappears completely.

 

Murmurs of dragons started up. The ranger was itching to use the new magical item he obtained a few weeks back (a quiver that can charge up to a dozen arrows that deal extra damage to dragons). The ranger scouted ahead while the remaining party members continued to move on the road. After some time had passed, the ranger discovered the results of the sky attack:

Five wagons burn, plus an odd-shape two-wheeled version. Inside the larger wagons, the glitter of melted gold and silver can be seen mixed with the charred wood of the crates and chests that must have held numerous objects and coinage. The grass and sand are charred in a wide circle around what must have been Pewna’s caravan. A dozen dead horses, their skin blackened, lay on their sides near their respective wagons. Four half-orc bodies are found among the debris–burned badly.

The players joined up with the ranger and quickly figured out there was a shortage of bodies. Seven cultists (that included Pewna) and eight half-orc bodyguards apparently had disappeared. A loud scream or bellow was heard from the east, and the players began making their way in that direction, hoping to discover Pewna and retrieve the map. As the players made their way further into the forest, a strange red glow was seen through the trees a mile or so ahead.

There is no shortage of trees (standing and fallen) for your party to hide behind and move to and from as you move in the direction of the glow. With only the moon’s light, every tree seems to provide a shadow that requires a second look.

The snap of a branch startles you–it comes from the left where Sherlo’s shadow is seen.

“Sorry,” he hisses. And then a ball of green flame shoots out from a shadow and envelops his body. You barely hear his screams as more green flames begin to arc in your direction and strange shadows begin to move from tree to tree.

COMBAT!
Six players plus two members of the Order (one member was sent back to Baldur’s Gate to update the Order on what had occurred with Pewna’s caravan) against an unknown set of enemies. How many? Eleven in all. I set out a hand-drawn gridded map of a thick forest and started placing enemy counters on the board. Because it was night and there was a mix of light from both the moon and the red glow in the distance, I informed my players that they could not make out details of the enemies and only a rough approximation of their position on the map. All rolls (for both sides) would be at disadvantage until a reduced distance between players and enemies was reached.
I printed up a number of two-sided paper minis, shadows on both sides to obscure the creatures’ overall look. Some were tiny… some where quite large. (One of my players asked where I got the bases–I printed them with my 3D printer. Here’s the STL file if you want it. Prints nine at a time, and I use hot-glue to secure the figures in the slot.)
Shadowy Creatures
Rolan (the ranger) took the first shot. The unknown enemy scampered off as far to the rear of the combat area as possible. Edaliu (gnome bard) climbed a tree and fired off an arrow… miss. An enemy fired a strange green ball of flame at Jimmy (the Page, a bard) and missed. Misses were becoming the norm in this dark environment. Only as the enemies began moving forward did a few players start to catch glimpses of the strange-looking enemies they were facing. One of the Order rushed in for a face-fo-face confrontation with a single enemy–the enemy’s damage killed this NPC outright. I think that made the players sit up a bit straighter in their seats.
With 17 combatants, most of the night’s action was combat. I used a printout to help me track movement as well as some of the players’ spells–Sleep and Fairie Fire were cast during combat, knocking out one enemy and causing three enemies to glow and remove the disadvantage when attacking them.
The damage caused by these unknown enemies was definitely more substantial than the players were used to–I was rolling a lot of 7s and 8s, and even 12 points of damage at one point… for level 4 characters, these damage rolls were easily consisting of 1/3 to 1/4 of their total HP. With eleven enemies attacking six players, the fight was definitely stacked against the players. At one point, Jimmy dropped to about 12 HP… he was also the source of three enemies’ attention–a strange bellow from one of the enemies caused two other enemies to run directly at Jimmy and focus their attention and try to intimidate. He wasn’t having it, though… two teammates took out two of the three enemies, allowing Jimmy to finish off the fourth. Edaliu, Aramel (warlock) and Borax (cleric) were on one side of the map dealing damage to half of the enemies while Rolan, Jimmy, and Essie (fighter) were taking care of the other side.
It was a long fight… well over an hour in real time. When it was done, eleven enemies lay scattered around the forest. The players searched these strange-looking creatures and discovered two undamaged items similar to the one below:
Strange Item
(Jimmy the Page also felt it necessary to stuff all these corpses into a Bag of Holding for possible resale value to an Oddity Circus–“Betcha haven’t seen anything like this before!”)
The glow continued in the distance, and the players cautiously made their way up a slight incline and then stared down at a very strange sight. An unusual temple of some sort was spotted. Unlike other buildings, this one lacked corners and what would be considered normal walls and 90-degree angles. There were also no visible doors–how would one get in? Its curved surface was also shiny and definitely not made of wood or stone. And sitting on top of the curved surface was a smaller protrusion–bubble-like in shape but flattened. Could Pewna be inside?
And that’s where I left my players last night. Next week, the conclusion to “A Bright Light” will finish up and I’ll be able to share much more detail about the entire adventure.
In the meantime, here are the three types of enemies they encountered during combat. All dead, of course.
Creatures Revealed
The players noted that the weapons used by these creatures were odd and not recognizable. They had a similar firing mechanism as a crossbow, but they lacked strings. The weapons weren’t giving off any magical vibes either. Strange, strange.
I hope my players had fun last night. Most of them took some damage during combat, but they all survived this surprise attack with some lucky rolls and good tactics.
Next week, things are going to get stranger and darker. See you then.
—–
I’ve also had a few readers email to ask that I keep a running list of my D&D-related posts. You can always click on my name in the header of any post to get a list of previous GeekDad.com posts I’ve written or click on a filter word such as D&D, but here’s the requested list of just D&D posts:
Adventurers League Sessions 1-18 (playing as Niloshis, Half-Elf Sorcerer)
Session 1 – Session 2 – Session 3 – Session 4 – Session 5 – Session 6 – Session 7
Sessions 8-9 – Session 10 – Sessions 11-15 — Session 16Session 17Session 18
D&D Encounters DM Reports (attending Adventurers League as a DM)
Session 19 – The Road to Elturel Part I
Session 20 – The Road to Elturel Part II
Session 21 – Sholla’s Dream Part I
Session 22 – Sholla’s Dream Part II

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