Sometimes, things just don’t go as well as you expect they might. Or sometimes they go just as poorly as you feared. It all depends on the dice with D&D. This one isn’t a funny story, but instead was a great moment of just how frightening some moments can be if done right.
This is the same campaign of Dialogues 2 and 3, only my character, a human priest named Kallos, has since died. In the session immediately after Dialogue 3, in fact. After getting knocked unconscious, he was thrown across the room (1 failed Death save) and then he rolled a 1 on his turn immediately after, so… dead. It happened really quick, and the party was only level 3, so there’s really no coming back from that.\
My new character is a halfling barbarian named Xiuhcoatl (pronounced Shee-uh-ko). She’s something of a monotone character, deadpanning everything, but she’s also a sadist, so it’s an interesting combo. This Dialogue, however, isn’t really her story.
The party has ventured deep into a tunnel, chasing an evil duergar who attacked our town. We have to find him to stop him from telling his people of the surface’s defenses. As we delve further into this cave (we’ve been in here for hours), we find a man sitting in the middle of a pile of bodies, all cut in half. He stands in darkness, mumbling to himself, and in walks my brother, who then joined the party. (This was a welcome surprise to the half of us who hadn’t been told he was coming.) His character seems a little… unstable. We warily accept him into our fold as we continue on.
Now, the party didn’t rest before following the dwarf down here. We fought him, he ran off, and we gave chase. My level 4 barbarian is at 18/53 health, our other warlock is tapped out for spells, and we’re all but spent as it is.
So our DM was surprised that, when we find a crumbling door and some tents nearby, we don’t rest and plan. In fact, we don’t even take the sneaky approach.
I accidentally alert the dwarves to our presence, and the party takes cover. Theren, our spent warlock, casts Grease at the choke point in the doorway. Jod, the crazy warlock, and I hide behind the doors and whack them as they walk through. There’s three duergar. Then, three more show up. Things are going well. The duergar are rolling pretty low and, miraculously, we haven’t taken any damage yet (in this fight, that is).
But as I said, we’re already tapped out. By the time we take out three of the dwarves, a mind flayer steps out of the third and last tent. As soon as all the players see this, we decide it’s best to retreat. We can’t take on three more duergar and a mind flayer. And while Kollin the player knows how dangerous they are, Xiuhcoatl has never seen one, and she likes to grapple people. If an illithid is grappling you it can eat your brain, which will kill you outright. So she might unwittingly get herself killed just because she doesn’t know what she’s up against.
On Theren’s turn, he takes out Remnant’s Necklace (as mentioned in Dialogues 2). We’ve since learned that this necklace will “greatly empower a single spell cast through it”. We haven’t been told what that means, exactly, so Theren casts Eldritch Blast through the necklace at the mind flayer. He does this to push him back and to discourage him from following the party as we make our escape.
The DM asks him to roll 5d10, as opposed to the normal Eldritch Blast damage of 1d10.
A giant beam blasts through the fray, slamming into the mind flayer and throwing him back into the tent. The party sort of mutually misinterprets this as a signal to go in, so we do.
Jod walks up to the mind flayer and casts Arms of Hadar, thrashing tentacle-like wads of paper (part of his backstory) wildly at him and the three remaining duergar.
On the illithid’s turn, he casts a wave of psychic energy outward, and the DM asks all of us to make an intellgence saving throw. If I recall correctly, our rolls were 3, 4, 4, 5, and 6. Our best score against this save was 10, and we needed to beat a 15. Think about that. Out of 5 people, all of us failed what could be considered a fairly average spell save DC. This also dealt about 12 damage, if I recall correctly.
So all 5 of us, in addition to the duergar, are stunned for 1 minute, or until we make the saving throw on our respective turns. Our monk has fallen unconscious. I’m at about 4 health. Theren’s almost down, too. All of us are stunned, and since Kallos died, the party no longer has a healer.
At this point, I would have said the chances of a TPK right here and now would be over 70%.
Jod and Xiuhcoatl make their save on their next turn. Theren and our artificer are still stunned, and our monk is unconscious.
On the mind flayer’s next turn, he walks up to Jod and grapples him with his tentacles. Really bad news.
On Jod’s turn, he casts Cloud of Daggers at 3rd level. This spell deals 4d4 (6d4 at 3rd level) damage when a creature enters the cloud or starts its turn in the cloud. So he deals 6d4 now.
Xiuhcoatl is too far away to get to the illithid without using a dash action. Instead, she rushes over to the monk and gives him a healing potion.
On the monk’s next turn, he jumps up and runs over to the mind flayer and starts clobbering him. He’s looking rough.
Everyone else is stunned. Theren would have cast Eldritch Blast to knock the mind flayer away. Our artificer could have dealt tons of damage, but they can’t.
I’m panicking because this is only the second time my brother has played D&D. I don’t want his character to die after him barely playing, but I’ve done all I can.
The mind flayer’s turn begins, and before anything else happens, Cloud of Daggers deals its damage.
The numbers on these d4 were 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4. He dealt 21 out of 24 possible damage, and because he rolled so well, the mind flayer dies, and Jod lives to see another day.
We were pulled to the brink, and as far as Jod’s life was concerned, that fight could not have been any closer.
Needless to say, we rested after that fight.