Old Soldiers Never Die
What begins as a simple expedition to settle a new village in the ruins of the mysterious Castle Inverness sets off a chain of events that could threaten every living being from Winterhaven to Hammerfast. Not everyone in the Nentir Vale is happy yo see civilization brought to Inverness, particularly the ghost of Salazar Vladistone, who commands the spectral legion called the Phantom Brigade.
"March of the Phantom Brigade" is an adventure designed for season 4 of the Dungeons & Dragons Encounters official play program. It includes the information the Dungeon Master needs to run the adventure, thirteen ready-to-play encounters (each intended for one session of play), and full-color foldout battle maps depicting the various encounter locations.
"March of the Phantom Brigade" (2011), by Rodney Thompson, is the adventure for Season 4 of D&D Encounters. It was released for play between the Winter 2010 and Spring 2011 seasons.
Continuing the Encounters. "March of the Phantom Brigade" continues in part with the model set during previous seasons of D&D Encounters. It's a module that was used for organized play of 1st- to 3rd-level characters, with each week of play consisting of just one encounter and meant to run two hours or less. These encounters are arranged into chapters; characters can take short rests between most encounters and extended rests between chapters. In "March of the Phantom Brigade," there are three chapters with lengths of 4, 4, and 5 encounters, for 13 total weeks of play.
That said, "March of the Phantom Brigade" premieres some considerable renovations to the Encounters format, including the layout of the physical book, its structure, the rules for playing the season, the design of the individual encounters, and the design of the adventure as a whole. Because Wizards was working up to a year ahead on its Encounters, "March of the Phantom Brigade" was probably the first opportunity they'd gotten to respond to feedback on the Encounters program—hence the large number of changes.
Previous Encounters seasons had divided their modules into multiple books (one per chapter) and had been organized using the Dungeon Delve (2009) format, which separates out individual encounters (including tactical battles) from the normal flow of the module. "March of the Phantom Brigade" changes all of this by collecting all of the chapters into a single book and laying out the adventure as a single narrative.
There were also some major changes ruleswise: Previously, characters had gained levels together at the ends of specific Encounters; now players gained experience individually and could level up at dramatically different times. This caused some problems within the organized play format, because players would often come and go from week to week.
"March of the Phantom Brigade" ran from February 9, 2011, to May 4, 2011.
About the Encounter Format. In the previous seasons of Encounters, each week's gameplay tended to center on a single battle, often prefaced by a bit of optional roleplaying. However, by Season 4, Wizards had been hearing that players wanted more than a weekly combat scenario. As a a result, author Thompson set out to support a bunch of different players, including "the explorers, the roleplayers, the combat junkies, and... the ones who like a little bit of everything in their adventures."
For the explorers, the first couple of weeks focus on an Oregon Trail sort of trailblazing, in which players have the opportunities to "poke around and gain a little information" throughout the adventure. For the roleplayers, there's a large cast of NPCs who have been more extensively detailed, providing more opportunity for interaction. Overall, Thompson tried to make sure that each encounter has some opportunity for roleplaying and some opportunity for discovery, so that each one felt like a mini-D&D adventure. These changes were all supported by experience points being awarded for roleplaying and other sorts of non-combat interaction.
There were also some changes in "March of the Phantom Brigade" related to how the individual encounters were linked. The previous three Encounters seasons had been railroads, which guided players carefully from one encounter to the next. Now, for the first time, a decision that the players made in week 1 had consequences in week 2, effectively changing the odds for which of three combat encounters the players might face.
In addition, there was considerable time passage between the individual chapters, allowing more opportunity to tell an epic story: Six game months pass between chapters 1 and 2, then another two pass between chapters 2 and 3.
About the Product Tie-In(s). As with the earlier Encounters season "Keep on the Borderlands," "March of the Phantom Brigade" focuses on D&D Essentials. Essentials characters are required unless the organizers say otherwise, and the pregens are all Essentials. However, Fortune Cards (2011-12) were the new tie-in for the season. "March of the Phantom Brigade" was the first organized play program where these collectible cards could be used. In addition, three special cards were available to players who earned enough renown points: Cautious Maneuver; Impervious; and One More Chance.
The adventure's plot is also connected to Wizards' big crossover event at the time, "The Abyssal Plague." This event spun out of The Gates of Madness (2011) ebook and The Mark of Nerath (2011) novel; it then ran through six additional novels. All told, it touched upon three worlds: the Points of Lights world, the Forgotten Realms, and Dark Sun. In "March of the Phantom Brigade," the players encounter the Plague in chapter 5 and search for its origins; Encounters players would rediscover the Plague in a more central role in "The Elder Elemental Eye" (2012), Season 8 of Encounters.
Some of the critters related to this Encounters season would also return in a later Points of Light supplement: Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale (2011) includes six types of Abyssal Plague Demons and five members of the Phantom Brigade.
About the Homage. In "March of the Phantom Brigade," the players join an expedition to settle a new town in the ruins of Castle Inverness. The town and its "ghost tower" had previously been seen in C2: "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" (1980). There are hints that the Nentir Vale's Castle Inverness is the exact same locale as the previous one, even though the castle had originally been set in Greyhawk. One section of the adventure says that the castle's main gate "was placed using magical power and techniques completely alien to the world"; another states, "the foundation stones don't follow the contours of the hilltop, suggesting that the castle was not designed for this hilltop, but was instead moved here from somewhere else."
This was not the first homage to "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" in the Points of Light world. There are at least two other Ghost Towers in the Vale—of which the Ghost Tower of the Witchlight Fens had previously gotten the most attention. That tower was mentioned in the red box Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (2010) and got more description in "Ghost Tower of the Witchlight Fen" (2010), a solo adventure available from Wizards online. Finally, "The Dungeon of the Ghost Tower" appeared in Dungeon #182 (September 2010) to complete the story of the Witchlight Fens Tower.
Expanding the Points of Light World. Following on from "Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents" (2011), "March of the Phantom Brigade" was the second of three Encounters seasons in a row all set in the Nentir Vale. Inverness hadn't appeared on any previous maps of the Vale, but "March of the Phantom Brigade" locates it between Hammerfast and Harkenwold. Hammerfast, the Harken Forest, and Inverness get the most expansion in this season of play.
About the Creators. Prior to 2010, most of Thompson's Wizards work was on the Star Wars Saga Edition. More recently, he'd been involved in many of the Essentials books, including Heroes of the Fallen Lands (2010), Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms (2010), and the first Monster Vault (2010).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.