We're all in the RPGA, so we're playing in the Forgotten Realms setting for D&D 4th edition.
My friends all made up new characters, and we elected to start a campaign based on some pre-published modules: first, the intro adventure in the back of the Forgotten Realms Campiagn Setting book, followed by the Scepter Tower of Spellgard mega-adventure.
"Spoilers ahead for "Barrow of the Ogre King"
Our group consisted of a shadar-kai rogue, a dwarf fighter and a tiefling warlord. We only had three players, but RPGA rules specify a minimum of four… so we fudged it with a communal PC (human wizard).
The PCs begin in Loudwater, a frontier town surrounded by woods and ancient ruins. The midday market is in full swing and our characters are milling around the various shops… when the city wall suddenly erupts in an explosion!
Goblins pour through the breach, attacking townsfolk. Without hesitation, our heroes leap into action. Our dwarven fighter does what fighters do best, wading right in and pounding goblins into the dirt. The warlord was good at forcing the goblins around the terrain and keeping the fighter alive. And the rogue was… well, being roguish. Ducking through doorways, throwing shurkien and backstabbing everything in sight. And the wizard was blowing up minions left and right.
Soon, it became apparent that the goblins were trying to reach the local magic shop for some reason. Between the wizard's grasping shadows spell and the shadar-kai rogue's ability to teleport, that got shut down real fast. The PCs subdued two of the goblins & finished off the rest, then set about saving the injured citizens of Loudwater.
A brief interrogation of the goblin leader ensued, whereby they learned the goblins were trying to retrieve an object stolen from them: a dagger carved from the horn of a large humanoid being called the "Ogre King." These goblins live in the Ogre King's burial mound & worship its body… and their leader claims to have a ritual that will allow him to ressurect the Ogre King.
This doesn't sound like a good thing, so the leader of Loudwater asks the heroes to put a stop to the ritual. And, thus, we have our plot hook! ;)
A brief trip leads everyone to the outside of the barrow. The path leads through a stone dwarven face, carved so that you walk through its open mouth. Beyond this gate is an open courtyard. Some investigation led the PCs to a secret door in one corner of the courtyard, exposing a ladder leading into the earth. One short climb later, and they found a door underground. This door opened to a rubble-covered chamber, its roof supported by very weak rotting timbers. Turns out, the center of the courtyard was trapped, designed to collapse into this pit and drop unsuspecting victims painfully into the barrow.
Just up a short flight of stairs from the rubble-strewn floor were more goblins in a stone-tiled chamber (with a neat "trap" involving a magic teleportation disc… that the PCs avoided like the plague). With surprise on their side, the PCs launched an attack. These goblins were no minions, however. In fact, two of them were extremely tough & equipped with heavy battleaxes! At least two heroes were nearly killed during this battle, but a combination of the warlord's inspiring words and the dwarf's "hammer CPR" kept them going.
Disaster was neatly averted when the dwarf spotted yet another pit trap in this chamber before he would have stepped into it. This pit was a shorter drop than the other, but contained four starving dogs that would've ripped him apart! With that out of the way, they were able to take down the last few goblins and catch a brief rest.
As a DM, this was a tough battle to handle. I screwed up by not sizing down the encounter for the smaller number of PCs, and I did have to fudge at least one roll to prevent a PC from certain doom. I generally didn't pull punches though, including when one of the battleaxe-wielding goblins nearly dropped the warlord to instant death. One of the real things that confounds a DM, though, is when PCs do exactly the opposite of what the adventure suggests.
For the next chamber, the adventure suggested that if the PCs tried to sneak through using Stealth, they could potentially slip past the enemies entirely, or at least get a surprise round. So, of course, they all elect to have the dwarf bash down the door with his hammer. o.o
This was a burial chamber that doubled as a shrine for the goblins. Two goblins were at a small statue making offerings when the door went ka-boom, so they came out swinging. That's also when the dwarf zombies came shambling out of the antechamber. And this is where the dice come in.
See, most of the zombies are minions (one hit kills a minion). The one "real" zombie was pretty tough, but had a special zombie-weakness: a critical hit kills it instantly. (Think "head shot.") Guess what the wizard rolled with his scorching burst spell?
So, that combat went shorter than I expected. They even managed to force one of the goblins to surrender with a good Intimidate skill check, and had him take the dogs from the previous rooms' pit with him when he left. This time, they didn't bash in the door to the next room…
This room was a bit interesting. Another teleportation disc, plus a large open pit with a set of stairs down into it, and several hobgoblins assisting the goblin hexer (a spellcaster). There was one goblin hiding by the doorway that smacked the first PC that stepped in, and the hexer actually had another goblin "stored" inside the teleporation disc that he brought out as reinforcements. Again, though, the heroes were smart and managed to shut down the enemy's most dangerous tricks. They almost managed to knock one of the hobgoblins into the pit, too.
Finally, they descended the stairs into the pit. At the bottom, they find the goblin shaman in front of the Ogre King's sarcophagus. Remember what I said about "not going by the adventure's recommendations" earlier?
The adventure was written with the idea that the PCs would at least try to talk with the goblin, and get some information from him. They could even attempt to negotiate with him. So, what do they do?
The shadar-kai rogue says, "We want to help! Here, I'll give you the horn!" He makes an insanely high Bluff skill roll, walks up and stabs the shaman in the neck… with the ritual horn-dagger! Preventing an anti-climax, the shaman had over 200 HP, so the final battle ensued. Which effectively meant bashing the shaman into a corner and beating him to death, while he tried to blast them with area-effect spells.
In the end, the heroes subdued the shaman and dragged him back to Loudwater. And there was much rejoicing. (< Monty Python > Yaaaaay. < /Monty Python >)
Overall, I think everyone had a good time. We'll have to run one more adventure next time before we can dive into Scepter Tower of Spellgard, and I think this extra adventure will be just as much fun.