The gamers assembled and soon we were playing!
We transitioned almost immediately to an encounter, as the party continued their journey south and west toward their destination with the villagers in tow. They'd come out of the rugged hills into more gentle terrain. Ahead, they saw carrion birds gathering, and soon came upon a scene of carnage. There was a pile of a dozen or so orcish dead, and another five staked out on the ground and slit open. Most of the dead, and all of those that were staked out had their faces painted with ash and coal to resemble a black skull. A few of the dead had a large red handprint dyed onto their armor. Amidst the dead was a broken banner, baring a large skull. They sent two still-living orcs on to meet Gruumsh, and then saw a party of Red Hand orcs come over the crest of the hill nearby. The largest among them called out "Blood for the Blood Lord!" and they charged into battle. Maddie's paladin was closest to them, with Andrew's thief not too far behind. The paladin charged right up and engaged them, as the rest of the party began to close in. The orcs swarmed around the paladin though, and very nearly brought her to the ground.
So, the Paladin was in the thick of things, but the rest of the party swarmed in and kicked some Orcish ass.
They pressed on, and soon came to a farmestead, not far from the village that they were headed to. They made it to the village, and made arrangements to leave their charges here, to be incorporated into the community. Illgiliant made sure to leave some gold with them to help them out. There was a feast held, and it was revealed that something was stirring in the Shadowdeep, a forest nearby. Recently a family had gone missing from their farmstead not far from the Shadowdeep. Smelling a quest, the party was soon headed in that direction, after Father Kreuz spent a little time healing sickness and illness among the villagers.
They entered the Shadowdeep, and were soon set upon by a greeting party of kobolds. The kobolds were hidden in the dense foliage, and it took a little doing to get out there and engage them. Once they'd dispatched the kobolds, they wanted to know if there was any sign of tracks, to see where the kobolds had come from, hoping to track down the missing family. The kobolds tracks led into a low, narrow tunnel carved into a huge and thick hedge. After a bit of hesitation, the party went hands and knees into the hedge.
They moved along for some time, before coming out and landing right in another ambush. This time, a number of minions and a couple of dual wielding kobolds attacked them. Between Andrew's multiclass Thief/Wizard, and Jason's Dragonborn breath weapon, the minions fell quickly, and soon it was two vs seven, and the remaining kobolds fell.
Moving quickly between encounters, they pressed on toward the center of the forest, and found a circle of huge trees, obviously not just mundane. Within the circle waited a group of heavily armored kobolds. The wind whispered through the trees, and they heard a voice on the wind, "Kill them, my little ones." And the party leapt into combat.
Again, the party wiped out the five armored kobolds pretty much without breaking a sweat. Then the Witch stepped out of the tree. She darted *out* of a tree, across the grass, fired off an attack at the party, and leapt *into* another tree. Smelling a tricky fight, the party began to spread out to the trees in the circle, to try to catch the Witch. As she'd dart from one tree to another, she'd beckon large tree branches to sweep down and smack some of the characters, or she'd whisper on the wind to one of the characters, and that character would turn and strike his or her companions! At one point, she reached out of a tree, grabbed Father Kreuz, and pulled him into the tree. Half a second later, he fell from the branches overhead. The party soon caught her in the open, and worked desperately to keep her from vanishing into the trees again. They swarmed around her, as she fought fiercely against them, turning two of them into trees, and dealing out powerful attacks. When the paladin bloodied her, the entire ring of trees began to flail with their thick branches, striking most of the party and knocking many of them down. Finally, despite the trees healing her wounds, the party brought her down. One of the trees gently lowered its branches and gathered her up. She spoke to the party, telling them that the stars carried portents of the Blood Lord. Also, that the family that they sought went West, with their kidnappers. The kidnappers had bought passage through the Shadowdeep, and she gave them the mace that they'd use to buy their way through. With that, the tree carried her up into its branches and out of sight.
After resting, the party carried on west, and after another few days of travel, they made it to the gates of the three communities that they called home.
Now some notes and thoughts about the game.
During the first encounter I realized that we'd failed to mention whether any resting had occurred between the last session and this one. Quick mechanics: characters can take a short 5 minute rest, which recharges their "encounter" powers, and lets them use healing surges and such to regain lost hit points; or they can take a "long rest" that will regain all healing surges, all hit points, and recharge "daily" powers. They can only take a long rest once per day. After a long rest, action points, which they can accumulate after successive combats, reset to 1, which means that unused action points can go to waste.
A few times before I'd forced long rests on the characters, due simply to in-game time progression and lack of bad guys to fight. This seemed somewhat unfair for the players, so I offered to let them take a mechanical/metagame long rest that would recharge them, but also reset their action points, or to let them take a long rest, that a bunch of people would normally do once per day - but would them them keep their action points, and would not reset their surges or dailies. They liked this, and we're going to run with it.
The other thing that I really noticed in the first encounter, and through the rest of our session, had to do with the balance of characters vs bad guys in a fight. Maddie's paladin ran in, got surrounded, and got pretty beaten down. Obvious point: a character, even a defender, is pretty quick work for the concentrated attention of three or four or more bad guys. This is pretty normal, and I only mention it because I'm picking the mechanics apart. On the other hand, I noticed repeatedly during this session, that the party seemed to make incredibly short work of the opposition. To the point that I am going back and closely looking at encounter setup, trying to make sure that its' appropriately balanced. I won't say that the combats have necessarily been a cake-walk for the party, but at least two combats were over pretty much within two rounds.
I think I've mentioned before how simple monster design is. I love how easy it is to change and tweak beasties. For instance, there are orcs in the monster manual, but none that are 2nd level. So I just took the orc "types" that I wanted, and reworked them for the appropriate level. Took maybe 5 minutes to do. Its easy to create "powers" and abilities and such as well. Instead of using a bunch of stock powers and such for monsters, I'm creating my own with no hassle, just coming up with some cool fluff description, thinking about what I want it to do, doing a quick comparison with similar level stuff for power balance, and I'm done. Again, five or ten minutes max. The Witch that they fought - not in the book. Made her up whole-cloth. And she was a fun fight.