Upheaval Encounter – Meeting the “Fell”


(This was the best picture I could find that closely resembles “The Fell”. Belongs to WOTC)

In my last post “Vertigo“, I described the layout and general function of the small town that the players were starting in, leading up to the beginning of the first encounter, in my dystopia themed campaign.  In this article, I’m going to discuss the first encounter, what I hoped to accomplish in it, what worked and what didn’t.

Encounter Setup

One of the most important pieces of this encounter was the safety of Vertigo’s citizens.  So, using my own version of a 4th Edition D&D rules for a Skill Challenge, this is what I came up with:

Currently, there are 17 people within the bar at this late evening time, including the bartender and his waitress, but not including the # of PC’s.  Obviously the main point of  this skill challenge was to protect as many of the NPC’s as possible, getting them to safety.  I wanted each player able to contribute to the cause, so all skills were available for use, as long as the player was able to come up with a viable argument for its use and depending on the time spent on the action, determined how much of a player’s turn was used.

The reason why this was my own version of a skill challenge, was that the failures didn’t come from failed skill checks, it came from NPC’s that died.  I set it up so that the PC’s needed to keep at least 13 of the NPC’s alive, or fail the challenge, which meant a failure rate of “4”.  That also meant that successes weren’t determined based on their passing skill checks either, they just allowed the PC’s help in keeping the NPC’s alive.

In addition, I had some notes for myself, which included:

  • The Fallen, when faced with a choice between an NPC or a PC, are smart enough to attack the obvious threat first, which would be the PC.
  • NPC’s had an AC of 10 and if they were hit at all, they died.
  • The tavern is currently in complete darkness.

I also tried to put together some of the difficulty class checks.  Keep in mind this is for a paragon campaign and while not all skills are represented, I allowed any skill that made sense, given a fair argument, but here are a couple I jotted down:

Acrobatics: DC22:  (i.e. Maybe tumble in front of a patron in order to move them out of harms way, but taking the blow instead)

Dungeoneering: DC23:  (i.e. Possibly learn of a way to bring down the rock over the tunnel, to stem the flow of monsters.)

Intimidate:  DC22:   (i.e. Intimidate the NPC to move to a certain location, or to taunt a monster away from an NPC)

Diplomacy: DC22:  (i.e. Coax an NPC to move out the way or hide, help another NPC, etc.)

Bluff : DC24:  (i.e. Feint with a creature to draw them away or move them in a different direction, bluff a PC to get them to move.)

Perception:  DC22/24:  (i.e. PC might see an opening for an NPC to move or a PC to take a specific action)

Insight: DC24:   (i.e. PC anticipates enemy movement, tactics, etc.)

Streetwise: DC22:   (i.e. Navigation through bar, cubby holes for hiding, store rooms, knowing the bar in and out.)

Stealth: DC26:  (i.e. help NPC’s hide or PC finds way to conceal them/keep them hidden.)

I also wanted to give them a bonus, dependent on how many of the NPC’s were saved from harm.  If the players managed to keep 15+ of the NPC’s safe, they would get a +1 morale bonus to all rolls, through the next encounter.

Here’s what happened:

The giant wight/ghoul type creatures, called the “Fell” or “Fallen”, started coming through the burrowed tunnel in the west wall of the tavern.  Maybe 4 of them got in (there were still 20 or so more behind them).   First, the artificer had thrown some sort of alchemical flare on the ground to give some light to the group, as well as to denote where the exit was and to deter the creatures, but then the Goliath Seeker, Orilio stopped them in their tracks.

Orilio managed to keep them bottle-necked in the tunnel, by casting a spell of swarming bats, creating a “Slow” area effect.  If you know 4th Edition, you know how utterly annoying status effects can be and when placed tactically, can be a huge obstacle to overcome, especially in this case, since he was able to sustain the spell indefinitely.  Since there were 6 or so players, along with all the tables and chairs, only 4 creatures were able to enter the room, as the creatures in the tunnel had nowhere to physically go.  It didn’t help that the Goliath seeker was also a net specialist, who continually slowed the creatures and in some cases knocked them prone.

So in hindsight, I would have either made the tunnel bigger or given the creatures a surprise round to empty into the tavern, (which I probably should have done anyway) in order for this encounter to have been more of a threat.  It ended up turning into a pounding contest, with the players piling on the monkey and bringing them down much easier than I anticipated.  Plus, with the sheer number of creatures, it ended up being a long drawn out battle, which is something I both wanted and didn’t want.  I wanted it to be long and drawn out, but with the PC’s taking considerable damage and utilizing most of their resources, to inspire fear and terror in their characters, the whole point of this campaign.  What I didn’t want was them to monotonously pound the creatures away, that became a rinse and repeat exercise.  While it wasn’t as bad as that, the PC’s, though faced with a challenge 3 levels higher than their own, tactically contained the creatures and mercilessly butchered them.  A teachable moment for me as a DM.

In the end, only one of the NPC’s died, who just couldn’t get away fast enough from the initial onslaught of the Fell.  The fire ended up spreading in the tavern, due to the immense amount of alcohol that continously found its way to the now sticky, wooden floor from depressed patrons who all have lost hope in the will to live.

The PC’s ended up forming a water bucket brigade after the fight and were eventually able to put the fire out. On the way out to get the water buckets though, they found about a dozen more Fell, dead, outside  the tavern entrance.  They would later find out that no one in the town did the slaying…another mystery.

When they got to the buckets, they noticed that they had freshly cut holes in them, obvious sabotage.  One of the PC’s had the great idea to take 2 buckets, putting one in the other, where the hole in the top one met with the side of bottom, allowing it to become an intact bucket.

With all said and done, I had left the PC’s with a lot of questions, which is something I like to do for all my campaigns, to inspire and provoke thinking.

Anyways, the questions that arose were some of the obvious ones:  Who were The Fell and why did they attack Vertigo?  Where does the tunnel lead and will there be more coming?  Vertigo is in danger, what do they do next?  Who sabotaged the holes in the buckets?  What was the wind that blew through, extinguishing all the lights?  Who better to tell you, than the players themselves.  Here is the recap of Orilio.

Orilio the Goliath Seeker – Recap: (by Nathan Ophardt)

“Fools. I am surrounded by fools, and incompetents. Who builds a defensible burrow underground, lines it with flammable material, and then only gives themselves one means of escape? It’s as if they were inviting tragedy. For their sake, its fortunate that they had heroes around to protect them.

Beasts of the Shadowfell invaded our little slice of “safety and civilization” in Vertigo. What brings them here? There are so few places with any semblance of life left, how did these creatures find it? Did they follow me, from the rift in the mountains?

What feeble respite we may find from the numbing terror of this life was torn from us, yet again. Thanks to Trey’s hard work, we could enjoy cool beer in the tavern at Vertigo. But somehow, the Shadowfell found us, and burrowed through the heart of the mountain to attack us from where we were safest. Bursting through the walls of our drinking hole, the dark creatures of the Shadowfell brought with them a foul wind, extinguishing light like they extinguished hope. My allies reacted quickly; Trey threw out an alchemical flare to allow us to see, I hurled a table across the entrance to provide a safe path for people to flee, while others encouraged the bar denizens to flee to the back, away from the fight. The beasts showed their own lack of intelligence by attacking on only one front. A simple spell surrounded them in bats, and kept them pinned down where we could assault them with impunity. That, and my net kept the creatures pinned down, while our warriors charged into the fray to keep the enemy from spreading out, and the remainder of us prowled at the edge of my winged swarm, butchering whatever made it that far.

The fire proved to be as much of a challenge as the beasts. With the last of them dead, the inferno was an impassible barrier to most. Hoping to find enough water outside, I charged through and was followed by several of my companions. We found more chaos outside, corpses and damaged water buckets, but with quick thinking and quick action, we put out the fire and allowed the civilians to escape.

We are faced with a difficult situation in Vertigo. We have a small band of true survivors, surrounded by a horde of people who lived through the Cataclysm through sheer luck, and don’t have the sense to flee from ravening monsters without prompting from someone strong enough to issue commands. At the same time, our little utopia treats us all the same, and those of us with skills and knowledge above the norm spend our days mucking out the tavern and carrying water buckets along with the rest of the field hands to “earn our keep”. Is it time for someone to step up and organize this little corner of the world, and divide our limited resources and manpower in a more intelligent way? Is my time better spent tending the vegetable garden or hunting down sources of danger? I’m just a simple boy from the mountains, with no skill at leading others, but hopefully we can organize ourselves a little better, before something more dangerous comes along.”

In the coming weeks, you will also hear the recaps from two more of my players in the campaign, who are also my 2 co-authors of this site, Brightmatrix and Ness.  Once we hear those recaps, I’ll continue on with the story of my campaign and how it unfolded.

Hope you’re enjoying it!


About jinx_the_bard

Longtime Dungeon Master, tabletop and video gamer. Been playing D&D and Shadowrun on and off most recently. Ran a post apocalyptic, paragon, 4th edition D&D campaign for a couple years. Running a 5th edition campaign now called "The Fall of Astia". Enjoy Borderlands 1, 2 and even the Pre-sequel (which I tend to play with fellow author Ness), Fallout 3 and 4, Bioshock and Skyrim. (Games this good never get boring) I also indulge in Magic The Gathering, mostly in the Legacy and Modern formats. Please feel free to contact me at dungeonmaster.bm@gmail.com for any questions, thoughts or things you'd like to see featured on our site.