Watch our sessions live on my YouTube channel every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Subscribe and catch up on previous episodes!

It’s amazing how much progress you can make in a marathon four-hour session. How about five separate battles, including an epic confrontation with a fireball-slinging Flameskull and his army of zombies?

We started our session a bit earlier on Sunday. At this point “Lost Mine of Phandelver” has lasted us nearly four months, doing weekly 2-3 hour sessions. We’re coming up to a busy schedule for me at the end of January/beginning of February: a gaming convention followed by a family vacation. Wrapping up this campaign and going on a brief but necessary two week hiatus would be extremely helpful to my sanity.

Thus not only did we start earlier, but we ended up going an additional hour later than usual! I was impressed by my players’ energy levels and enthusiasm throughout this session. They were in their element – this entire session was one big dungeon crawl filled with baddies to deal with, culminating in the biggest fight of their lives.

Previously the party had confronted the Black Spider within Wave Echo Cave and learned of the undead blocking his path to the Forge of Spells. They exchanged prisoners for Nundro, and returned to Gundren at the entrance, getting a much needed Long Rest.

Once again they descended into the pit, this time heading toward the Eastern tunnel. They spotted the skeletons in Area 3, and Kalinaar whipped out his Divine Sense to search for any lingering undead. Finding none, the PCs continued on….until the horde of Stirges above their heads swooped down. I rolled a crit for their stealth check, allowing a whopping amount of attacks before the party could even react.

Stirges are relatively week, having literally only 1 or 2 hp and a single attack. But 10 of them suddenly on top of the party proved an interesting challenge. Nearly half of them successfully latched on to their foes, including Talus who was just bragging that he’d never had to spend a single hit dice to heal yet. Miri was the MVP of this battle, with her two attacks able to kill two stirges in a single turn (or even three with Flurry of Blows).

Wave Echo Cave skeletons

The party headed South and listened at the doors. Kethra’s caution is cursory at best, and she busted through the Western door, spotting more skeletons on the ground. Since the party had just seen dormant skeletons, they were unprepared for the undead that suddenly sprang up when they entered the room, to the tune of nine skeletons!

Skeletons are pretty weak fodder, but a large number of foes gives me a large number of attacks, and many chances to hit. It all comes down to the dice, and while I rolled incredibly well with the striges, not so much here.

Still, the party was somewhat drained from the stirge battle, and after this encounter they needed a Short Rest. This encounter also highlighted the flanking bonus the PCs often forget about, but thanks to Kethra’s Disengage bonus action, she can dance around foes and help grant advantage for other party members. It’s an effective strategy the party would continue to use throughout the evening.

In the opposite door they located a locked treasure chest filled with coins that had been overlooked for centuries – finally some treasure! Kethra picked the lock with ease, then shoved some papers inside and re-locked it, just to screw with the next adventurers. Talus pawed through the papers and gleaned some information on the Mine and the orc attack centuries ago that left it a husk of death. I enjoy these little moments that show off the players’ keen sense of role-playing their characters.

Thanks to the magic of dynamic lighting in Roll20, the party could see the glowing mushrooms of Area 8 all the way from Area 3, and they were drawn to them like a moth to the flame. The ever inquisitive, scientific-minded Talus went in for a closer look. For once Kethra had the cautious idea to use mage hand to examine them, but Talus was far too curious. Once he got close, the mushrooms all shuddered and elongated, releasing toxic gas into the air that begun to fill the room. Talus made the CON save and backed out.

Wave Echo Cave fungi cavern

The gas eventually dissipated and Kalinaar decided to test the scientific process by entering the mushroom cavern again. Again the mushrooms reacted and flooded the room, and again the CON save was successful. Satisfied the PCs retreated from the deadly room. They briefly debated over trying to take and keep some of the poisonous ‘shrooms, but ultimately decided to leave them well enough alone.

The party returned to the crossroads at Area 3 (the stirge attack) and went North. The path branched once again in every direction, with a door to the North. Kethra listened and heard scraping and crunching. Everyone prepared for a battle, assumed positions, and they opened the door via Mage Hand.

Inside were a trio of ghouls trying desperately to find any hunk of meat on some long dead skeletons. The battle was over incredibly quickly compared to the previous horde fights, and the ghouls didn’t stand a chance. Sadly it’s another room of baddies with zero treasure, or as Kalinaar so eloquently put it, “a junk room with junk monsters.”

From here the party got rather confused and turned around. Wave Echo Cave is a HUGE dungeon. Now that we’re using dynamic lighting, the PCs only see what their tokens can see, so previously explored areas become dark again. Not to mention the fact that we arrived in Wave Echo Cave two sessions ago.

I had actually anticipated this, and put a clue in the mine tunnels of Area 2 – a recently dead ghoul with acid burns melting away half its body, the sure sign of an Ochre Jelly. I didn’t have any intention of releasing another Jelly on the party unless they really insisted on exploring the tunnels again.

Wave Echo Cave tunnels

Miri remembered that the tunnel continued to the East as an alternate route, and the party decided to head South. Most of them did, anyway, Kethra found some stairs heading North, and unwittingly stumbled on the ghouls on the Western ledge of Area 9. It is not the first time Kethra has wandered off and gotten them into trouble, and probably won’t be the last.

Four ghouls isn’t that much harder than three. Thankfully for Kethra they had to spend a Dash action to reach her, while she use Disengage and Dash back to the party. Rogue’s do make excellent scouts, or in this case, running full-bore back to the part with slavering undead at her heels.

The ghouls got in some hearty blows, and at one point had both Miri and Kalinaar paralyzed (Kalinaar has a surprisingly low CON modifier for a Paladin, and would spend the entire combat paralyzed). In an act of fitting karmic retribution, Kethra took a vicious blow from the final ghoul, dropping her to less than 10 hit points.

After four combat sequences in relatively quick succession, the party finally got a brief reprieve as they took a big U-turn, heading toward the stockroom in Area 7. The stockroom represents a safe-ish rest area in the middle of the dungeon. Though the party had found seven ghouls since their last Short Rest, they decided they were good enough to continue on without stopping.

Heading North they found the great cavern of Area 9, filled with multiple ledges and skeletons. It was here that Kethra revealed she had stumbled into the Western side, so the party was somewhat satisfied knowing they probably would’ve had to fought those ghouls anyway. Nothing else remained in the cavern, but two hallways lead North. The party took the Eastern tunnel.

FlameskullWhen they reached the smelter I got every Dungeon Master’s favorite player phrase: “Oh, crap!” The flameskull is an impressively cool enemy, an animated skull that shoots fire, and and can cast several fire-themed spells as a 5th level wizard (the party are all 4th level at this point).

That would be challenging enough, but it shouted a warning, and eight corpses rose up as zombies. Zombies aren’t all that strong, the PCs were battling them at level 3 back in Thundertree. But a horde can prove troublesome, especially when they provide a meat shield for the flameskull.

“Flamey” as he would be referred to, unleashed a Flaming Sphere in the hallway, hoping to break up the party’s defensive positions. Unfortunately it also deterred the zombies somewhat, and he later had to move it, heh. The party took ranged pot shots at the nearest zombie, and Talus helped construct an illusory wall to further funnel them. Miri and Kalinaar provided a wall for Kethra and Talus, and everything seemed okay. Until the Fireball.

The Flameskull has one 3rd level spell slot dedicated to Fireball, and I unleashed it. 8d6 damage that the PCs can only save for half damage. I had a huge explosion graphic prepared, and my players were horrified – and I was slightly worried after rolling a 30 for damage.

Talus used one of his divination die to auto-succeed his save. Both Kethra and Miri made their saves thanks to solid DEX save modifiers. Fifteen damage still knocked Kethra out, who was still wounded from the ghoul fight. Kalinaar failed his save but thanks to his Gold Dragonborn-ness he took only half damage from fire.

So everyone took a solid 15 damage, and suddenly the entire dynamic changed. A tough fight turned tense, with every roll of the die becoming critical. Tactics had to be carefully planned, and every action decided upon. It was fucking glorious.

Wave Echo Cave flameskull fireball

The most potent moment came when the flameskull unleashed his normal Fire Ray attack, one at Kalinaar and the other at Miri. They had refused to retreat or move from their defensive position – at one Kalinaar shouted “Hold the line! Don’t back down!” A good roll could’ve downed one or both of them…..instead I missed with both attacks, and everyone exhaled.

The party spent every single one of their healing potions and points of inspiration. I further gave both Kalinaar and Miri a point of inspiration for holding the line about halfway through, and frankly just to help even the odds. I’m not in the business of wiping out the party, and since all dice rolls are public there’s only so much I can fudge. Inspiration is one of them.

We had to actually look up the Death Saving Throw rules, as this is the first time somebody has fallen in battle since level 1. Kethra rolled a 20 on her second roll (Roll20 always rolls twice in case of advantage/disadvantage). I allowed someone to give Kethra their inspiration so she could take the 20 and auto-stabilize and get back into the fight. Talus also used his Fog Cloud to great advantage, giving the party a breather while the the bad guys wandered around lost. The battle finally turned in their direction.

Finally only the flameskull remained, and a concentrated effort from everyone brought it down. In its dying breath it called out to its master, warning him of the intruders it failed to stop, and cluing the PCs into yet another threat within the mine. The party was bloodied, exhausted, and spent – but also triumphant in their most harrowing battle yet (I also screwed it up, as the flameskull is immune to all fire damage, not just resistant).

I also made a note to explain the particulars surrounding a flameskull, since Talus was proactive in immediately casting Detect Magic. The flameskull will revive itself in an hour unless holy water, Dispel Magic, or Remove Curse spells are used. What the party decides to do with that information we’ll have to find out next week.

Four hours and five battles later gave us our craziest, longest session yet, but I’ll be damned if that flameskull battle wasn’t one of my favorite moments we’ve ever done in tabletop role-playing.

Watch our sessions live on my YouTube channel every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Subscribe and catch up on previous episodes!