Monthly Archives: February 2012

Body-guarding the Duke


Sorry, I know, I know, yet another “hob-knobbing with the nobles in the city” skill challenge. This one came up because I’m involved in a homebrewed 4th edition “Birthright” game (you know, the easiest setting to conform to a wildly different edition of the game), so you’ll have that. You can use this challenge to clue the players into some broader conspiracies in the campaign, or simply as a for-hire job to occupy the PCs in a city or large castle.

–Challenge Complexity 4 – 8 Successes before 3 Failures. The level of the challenge is up to you, but a moderate challenge would be suitable

The players will be attempting to protect their VIP from harm, by either deterring any assassin’s direct attacks, or by revealing hidden assailants. A new, young duke has decided to take a tour of the city whose rule has just fallen into his hands. He wants to connect with the people directly and let them see and speak to their new liege. A noble goal, though it means exposing himself to a lot of danger. Hence why he’s hired the players to make sure his tour goes smoothly. Successes indicate that the players have discouraged any attacks from occurring, or that they have exposed and potentially apprehended would-be assailants. Failure indicates that an assassin slips by their defenses and somehow harms the duke – though the characters may then attempt to catch the fleeing attacker and interrogate him. After 3 failures, the duke is dead, and the PCs have failed completely.

This skill challenge should begin with a planning phase, where the players decide who will be doing what to protect the duke, and how they will coordinate tasks as the nobleman makes his way through the city. Once the challenge starts you can go around the table – initiative won’t matter much as this skill challenge happens more or less simultaneously. The duke is exposed to many dangers, and wants to get out there and meet his people, so having a protective ring of PC’s just won’t do – though they are welcome to be close to him. This is the reason why a PC could potentially be standing right next to the duke, but another PC’s failed skill check indicates he is harmed by an assailant that slipped by the nearby bodyguards – it’s just impossible for one person to cover all the angles – especially in a crowd.

Transparency in a skill challenge is always a tricky issue, but in this case I’d advise you take a more narrative approach, and not let the players know right away that they are in a skill challenge per se. Let them describe their character’s actions and intentions and then add an appropriate skill. Below are recommendations for how to apply skills in regards to the most likely actions players will take. Actions will fall into two major categories, with a third category of optional skills:

Deterrent: Any action taken to discourage assassin’s from ever even making an attempt on the duke’s life, or actions to mitigate attacks, fall into this category. If a character succeeds with one of these skills then the assassin’s do not attack – but remain hidden in the crowd. 1 Success is gained toward completing the challenge

Interception: Any action that seeks to reveal who among the crowds is an assassin, or to spot shady figures before they can strike, falls into this category. Because these are much harder to accomplish, they tend to be at a harder DC – but will grant two successes. Be sure to indicate to any player who wants to attempt an interception action that it will be harder to do. If a player succeeds with one of these skills an assassin is foiled, and also revealed for what he is. The character may then attempt to apprehend the assassin before he flees, using an appropriate “apprehending” skill (See below). The player then has a chance to interrogate the assassin and potentially gain useful campaign tidbits, or bonuses later in the skill challenge (Also below). Regardless, succeeding at one of these harder skill rolls nets 2 successes toward completing the challenge

Apprehending: Any action where the player tries to catch a revealed and fleeing assassin falls into this category. Allow any player who just succeeded at an interception skill or failed at any skill to attempt one of these skill roles if he/she so desires. The assassins that the characters are encountering are low-level thugs – desperate men hired to be disposable knives in the crowd – and if caught, will fold under pressure. They know very little but will easily spill their guts, desperate for a pardon or at least to keep their lives. Let the player threaten or cajole the assailant before he gives up his information, but it isn’t necessary to make another skill check – a little roleplaying will suffice. To make the assassin’s information a bit more of a surprise, consider using the random “Assassin Interrogation” table below.

The skills in this challenge are divided by category. Let the players know if a skill is easier or harder to accomplish – either with in game hints or just metagaming it.

–Deterrent Skills–

Intimidate (Moderate) – You stand guard at the Duke’s side, hand on your weapon, shooting daggers figuratively (and if need be, literally) into the crowd. It’s clear that any attacker will have YOU to deal with.

Endurance (Moderate – may cost healing surges) – You are near the duke at all times, eyes on the crowd, ready to dive in the way and take a bolt in the chest for the nobleman, if that’s what it comes to.

A failure with this skill means that an assassin leaps from the crowd and attacks, hitting the PC instead. That character loses 2 healing surge and incurs a -2 to all skill checks until the end of the encounter from his/her untreated wound – but this is not counted as a failure towards the skill challenge. A Heal (Easy) check will negate the skill check penalty.

Diplomacy (Moderate) – It’s no easy task keeping a sometimes angry crowd under control, but your hard gaze, calm demeanor, and measured words hold the throng at a safe distance. With everyone behaving rationally, any disruption will be easy to notice, denying the assailants the advantage chaos affords.

–Interception Skills–

Perception (Hard) – Keeping and eye on the crowd you manage to spot the attacker drawing his weapon, and call out an alarm. His attempt on the duke’s life bungled, he makes a break for it!

Insight (Hard) – You have an eye on the crowd; watching their expressions, reactions, looking for anything suspicious. That’s when you see a man pushing his way forward through the throng a bit too fast – his jaw set, his eyes twitching nervously around. You point him out, and he flees!

Bluff (Hard) – Out in the crowd you seem to be just another onlooker. You jeer and shake your head at the duke, goading any dissenting opinions to join your rude critique – hoping to expose the traitors by posing as a compatriot. “He won’t be in power long, friend.” Says a grim faced man as he passes by you. You sound the alarm.

Stealth (Hard) – You are just like the assailants: another face in the crowd that nobody notices. That puts the element of surprise on your side, making the hunter become the hunted. When you detect a disturbance in the crowd you shoulder your way calmly in that direction; ready to leap out of nowhere at the assassin moments before he can strike.

Streetwise (Hard) – You work backwards: patrolling the shadowy lanes and concealed overhangs, searching for assassins in the most likely locations – the spots you would choose if you were the one plotting the Duke’s demise.

Apprehending Skills

Acrobatics (Hard) – The crowds will slow you down, and his lead will surely let him get away if you don’t close the gap. You quickly scale buildings, dive through shop stalls, and across clotheslines, getting ahead of the assassin and confronting him before he can flee.

Athletics (Moderate) – The assassin is fast; but not as fast as you. Shouldering your way through the bystanders that are slowing his flight, you dash forward, and are on him before he can flee.

Diplomacy (Moderate) – You call out after the fleeing assailant, trying to talk some sense into him. He slows as your words sink in: he has no chance to escape, but to cooperate could mean a pardon – and if not, prison is preferable to being drawn and quartered…

Intimidate (Moderate) – You draw near to the fleeing assassin, shouting promises of pain to come. Knowing that he cannot escape, he yields, begging for your mercy.

Streetwise (Easy) – It isn’t necessary to exhaust yourself closing the distance. Your chase through the closes and lanes directs him right where you want him. One last turn and he’s trapped at a dead end, with you, weapon in hand, mere feet behind him.

Interrogation Table
Successfully apprehending an assassin will give the character an opportunity to interrogate the thwarted foe. No additional skill check is necessary – once caught the assailant is cowed into compliance. Unfortunately these assassin’s aren’t well informed, well trained, or high ranking killers, and know very little about the plot at large. Roll randomly on the table below to see if any valuable information can be squeezed out of a captive:
Roll 1d8

  1. He attempts to fall on his sword – you’ll get nothing out of this one
  2. The fool stammers, trying to give you want you want but he knows nothing useful
  3. Its unlikely he knows anything of value, and simply keeps his mouth shut
  4. The assassin describes who hired him (Share with the PC a hint regarding a very dangerous opponent in a future combat encounter)
  5. The assassin discerned to some extent the nature of who hired him (Grant the PC a hint about reason for the assassination attempt)
  6. The assassin yields up a vial of poison he had hidden and intended to use on the duke (The poison can be applied to a weapon as a minor action. On a successful hit make a Level+3 attack against Fort. A hit causes the target to take ongoing 5 poison damage. This is a consumable)
  7. The assassin warns you where he thinks another ambush will occur (grant a +2 to the next use of either interception or deterrent skills)
  8. The assassin describes the other men hired with him (grant a +2 to all interception skills)

Success: If the PC’s succeed, the duke survives (if perhaps being a little worse for wear.) Provide them with a treasure parcel as reward in addition to the experience gain for the challenge. Grant the PC’s a bonus in gold, subtracting half the bonus if the duke was wounded once (one failure), and the entire bonus if he was harmed twice (two failures). Likewise, the players have likely pleased the duke, and may gain him as a future employer, patron, and/or contact.

Failure: If the duke dies, the city will be in an uproar. The court will promptly exile the PC’s, assuming they aren’t tempted to put them on trial as conspirators (simply for want of a better scapegoat for the duke’s murder). This will likely mean the PC’s can no longer enter the city, and may lose contact with current allies. I typically recommend giving half experience even for a failed skill challenge (after all, the PC’s have learned from their mistakes and managed some measure of success no doubt).

Viewing the crowd from a high vantage point gives PC's an edge in spotting the assassins

Special Considerations:

  • If a player opts to instead execute an apprehended assassin, the PC’s gain 1 success towards the skill challenge. Such a flagrant display of brutality will make his fellow assassins think twice. This also however repulses the duke, who will not convey any bonus gold if the challenge succeeds. This bonus can only be gained once
  • Consider granting PC’s using a tower or high elevation a +2 to Perception checks
  • If the PC’s have made a name for themselves in this city, consider granting a +2 to social skill checks (Intimidate, Diplomacy, and Bluff)
  • In the case of this skill challenge, two PC’s attempting to use the same skill should make separate rolls rather than considering it an “aid another” attempt. Likewise each skill can be rolled multiple times without limit.
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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Not Playtested, Skill Challenge


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Walkway Ambush

“Tide of Iron” is looking pretty good right now…

This encounter was inspired by an odd bit of architecture I see every day. I just couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to get into a good ol’ medieval fantasy scrape along this weirdly arranged floor. You can plant this encounter in any castle, ruin, mansion, palace, or other sprawling building. Ideally the PCs need to traverse this walkway to get to another part of the complex, since more obvious routes are unavailable. They are then ambushed in this choke point by their foes.

Hard Lines: denote a ledge with a drop-off of 4 squares (20 feet). The walls are uneven brick and have an Athletics DC 15 to climb.
Pillars: These tall artfully sculpted pillars can be used to grant partial cover to any creature in their space. (If using dungeon tiles, you might want to forgo actual pillar tiles and instead tell the players there is a waist high railing along the edge that grants cover).
-Tree: Since your more industrious and acrobatic characters are likely to ask, the tree stands a little over 20 feet up and is a sturdy oak. It looks like it could support the weight of a climber. An Athletics DC 20 check must be made to make the 2 square jump from walkway to limb and vice versa. The intervening squares of tree count as rough terrain if they are being traversed by a climber. The limbs are sturdy but not full of foliage, and do not grant concealment, though the trunk would gran cover to anyone on the ground.
Doors: The PCs enter from the Easternmost door, and need to get through the double doors to the west. None are locked.


  • x2 Hobgoblin Battle Guards – G (Monster Vault pg. 157)
  • x1 Hobgoblin Spear Soldier – S (Monster Vault pg. 157)
  • x2 Hobgoblin Archers – A (Monster Manual pg. 139)
  • x1 Hobgoblin Warcaster – W (Monster Manual pg. 140)


This one is pretty straight forward. The hobgoblin Battle Guards march up to the stairs leading to the side the PCs are on and block their path as best they can. Standing one square behind them is the Spear Soldier who can take advantage of his reach to attack, while staying safely behind his allies. Should both Battle Guards fall, he will retreat to defend the Archers and Warcaster. Meanwhile, the Archers and Warcaster all take cover in the pillars and rain ranged attack upon the PCs. A particularly devious DM might even have the Warcaster use his Force Lure to fling an unwitting PC off the ledge (Don’t forget to give such a rube a saving throw to fall prone before tumbling over, and a subsequent athletics roll to grasp the edge as they fall.) For the most part the Warcaster is providing a little physical support for the Archers, as most of his ranged attacks require a recharge. In the event that PCs manage to bypass Battle guards and attack the archers directly, the Spear Soldier will likely fall back and lend support.

On the PCs end, be aware that the 5 square distance between ledges will let PCs use a lot of close attacks against the Archers. Likewise, an Eladrin PC can easily teleport over the gap, thought hat might leave him exposed to the Warcaster and Spear Soldier without help.


*A note about map tiles: I composited this image using several map packs and cheated with a bit of Photoshoppery. You’d easily be able to approximate it with Master Set: The Dungeon and Master Set: The Wilderness, with just a bit of Arcane Towers mixed in. In the future I might design maps with an eye toward using a single dungeon tile set but for now I’m applying them liberally as a resource to properly visualize encounter areas.

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Posted by on February 17, 2012 in Combat Encounter, Not Playtested


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Convincing Reluctant Nobles to Marry

With Valentine’s Day near, love is in the air. And what’s better than love but a love motivated by political necessity! In this skill challenge the PC’s are asked to help cement a marriage that would secure a powerful alliance. I’m leaving the details as vague as I can so that you can more easily slide this into your own campaign. Feel free to adjust the lore sections of this skill challenge as needed. The PC’s will be posing as (or will actually be) courtiers of some sort – bodyguards, handmaids, squires, etc. This will get them close to the nobles so that they can lean on the young couple to tie the knot.

Several skills stand out as being useful and some common applications (and possible actions that could provide a +2 bonus to the roll) are highlighted below. However any plan to convince the nobles of their duties is fair game so long as the player can justify it. That kind of freedom might be crippling to some players so frame it this way – there are several objectives that would aid you in pushing the nobles to your way of thinking:

  • Earn the noble’s trust or friendship; or confirm your credibility as an adviser
  • Establish to the nobles the value the alliance would have to their constituents
  • Discover facts about the nobles that might give you an edge in persuading them

Challenge Complexity
This skill challenge is of complexity (10 Successes before 3 Failures) – The players will need to net 5 successes convincing Baleon, and another 5 with Miranda. Unless otherwise stated, treat penalties and bonuses acquired during this skill challenge to count only for the noble they were used on (unless the players decide to get the nobles to spend time together). Likewise, limits on the number of times a skill can be used are per noble. That said, the three failures count towards both participants.

This encounter is mostly social, and takes place over a period of a few days to a week. Though the consequences could be important and far reaching, the dangers and immediacy is fairly low, so I would recommend setting this challenge at or below the player’s level.

Two families of noble birth are making an attempt to marry off the heirs of their respective organizations (Be it a kingdom, dukedom, mercantile empire, etc.) to solidify a political and financial alliance. Doing so would strengthen both sides and by all accounts this offer seems to be made in good faith. Certainly the peasantry stands to benefit from this arrangement as well (if to a lesser extent). What is derailing the whole thing is that neither of the young nobles has any interest in marrying someone not of their choosing. The families have the heroes recommended to them by a mutual friend as “problem solvers” (likely a previous employer of the PCs or someone who could vouch for their reputation)
The PC’s are offered a temporary position in both noble family’s households (that position is up to you, however it would need to be someone close to either young noble: a body guard, lady in waiting, valet, etc.) This includes room and board within each estate.

Quest Text
Your group’s reputation is finally starting to pay off! Two noble families, who got word of your exploits from their various contacts, have invited you to this city to help them settle an important political matter. A marriage. The heirs to each family are resisting an arranged marriage that as far as you can glean, would be to great benefit for both parties. The young noble’s parents beseech you to encourage the young heirs to agree to the wedding. Baleon, the young man, and Miranda, the fair maiden, have both expressed that they would take extreme measures to preserve their freedom to choose their own spouse.
You’ve come to the capital city of Baleon’s parent’s ancestral holdings, where Miranda and her father have come as honored guests. Each young heir could use a few courtiers to accompany them in their day to day routines here in the city, and that’s exactly how you’ll get close to them. Their parents offer a substantial reward (not to mention the perks of staying in the palace) if you succeed in convincing them of the value of the arrangement.

The Nobles
All of this information could be gleaned by asking the noble’s parents or friends for some inside information about the betrothed.

Baleon: Tall and lean with long blonde hair and goatee and twenty one summers behind him, Baleon is generally good natured, irresponsible, and has no desire to do work of any kind. He sees his position as heir to the throne as a burden. He isn’t unwise – Baleon has already spent time investigating likely candidates to be his advisers and take over his inevitable day-to-day burdens so that he can fill his days with recreation. He has many friends and devotees, though few have really bothered to get to know the man himself and for the most part are enjoying the benefits of a rich companion. He has a complete fascination with magic in general and the practice in specific, though he has no natural aptitude and demonstrated a miserable lack of talent for wizardry. He is often consulting with court mages on questions of casual interest. His passion and talent, however, is for the hunt. Though it does not come up often, he has a marvelous singing voice. He appreciates raucous partying and bawdy jokes.

Baleon is not fond of the marriage proposal, and has even gone so far as to state his intent to run away on an exotic hunting safari outside the country if his parents push him towards this arrangement too insistently.

Miranda: Her mother died while she was yet very young during an accidental fire in the family keep – a trauma that drove Miranda to religion for comfort at an early age. Her father’s duties regrettably kept him away from his daughter, and that often left her in the care of the priests she would frequently pester. Now a woman grown (just past her 19th summer) she is very typical of affluent women in the realm – she takes great pride in her appearance and values “proper” and “ladylike” behavior though is rarely one to call out or dwell upon a faux-pas. All the same she can be a bit of a loner. Miranda is certainly a pretty girl, though in an odd way that does not immediately stand out. To while away time, Miranda enjoys browsing and purchasing new clothing from exotic or aspiring tailors. Though she guards this fact with some fervor, she is a very talented poet. She appreciates dry or dark wit. She is an avid and swift swimmer.

Miranda is so dead set against the marriage that she has threatened to become a sworn member to a religious order – preventing her from taking a husband thanks to a vow celibacy.

Primary Skills
This challenge depends in large part on the player’s creativity and their best bet is to start not by rolling dice, but by roleplaying out the circumstances. Encourage them to ask questions of the parents, courtiers, and the young nobles themselves. If a player does a particularly good job roleplaying, makes a resounding argument, or blunders into asking the right sort of questions, do not be afraid to award a successes simply for that.

Arcana (Moderate – 1 Success toward Baleon only) Impressing the young man with equal parts jargon and parlor tricks, you appeal to his fascination with the magical arts and teach him a thing or two about the eldritch world
Suggested Modifiers: Specific spells, showing off magic artifacts, performing feats of magery for the court

Athletics (Moderate – 1 Success toward Miranda only*) You convince her to (or accept the invitation to) a race with Miranda on the water. Besting her with your speed she’s quite impressed. *The player can only attempt to use this skill if they have gleaned from some other source that Miranda has a penchant for swimming.
Suggested Modifiers: Performing stunts during the race, having a good physique (Con 14 or better)

Bluff (Moderate – 1 Success per character*) You exaggerate your credentials, overestimate what is at risk if the marriage does not go through, or generally give bogus if convincing counsel.
*A failure with this skill imposes a -2 penalty to all other Charisma based skills for that noble during this skill challenge – as the young noble no longer trusts the PCs to take them at their word.
Suggested Modifiers: Trophy’s, Bard songs about the character, The character is dressed exceptionally well, the character presents an expensive gift

Diplomacy (Moderate – 1 Success per character) You serve as a valuable confidant and advisor, making good arguments in favor of the marriage arrangement.
Suggested Modifiers: The character has already succeeded with another skill, the character is dressed exceptionally well, Bard songs about the character, the character presents an expensive gift

History (Moderate – 1 Success Only) You make an appeal regarding the value of the marriage to the kingdom. Using examples you explain how many arranged marriages turned out well, and what each stands to benefit from the union. You explain to the noble the prominent members of their betrothed’s family tree and that they would be marrying into a good bloodline
Suggested Modifiers: Detailed maps, a collection of personal books, contacts to corroborate your testimony

Insight (Moderate – 1 Success Only*) Spending time with the noble and asking some meaningful questions, you get a sense for who the youth really is: their goals, desires, what it is that makes them so reluctant to accept their parent’s marriage arrangements. You do your best to calm their fears. At the same time you share some of your thoughts with your allies, giving them an edge in their dealings with the young “couple.” * A success with this skill also grants a +2 bonus to any uses of Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate on this noble.
Suggested Modifiers: Getting the noble drunk, having made a success with another skill, conversing with the noble’s other confidants

Intimidate (Moderate – 1 Success per character) Its not that you are threatening directly; no, you are instead a master of scaring your subject into action. You the noble know the grim consequences of a failed alliance. You paint a grim picture of the threats posed to both organizations and what stands to be lost by not marrying. You also drive home just how awful some of the other potential suitors could be.
Suggested Modifiers: Testimony from soldiers, pointing out ugly suitors

Religion (Moderate – 1 Success toward Miranda only) A few prayer readings, as well as being a patient ear with a thoughtful word or two has gone a long way to getting you into Miranda’s good graces
Suggested Modifiers: Preaching a sermon in the castle cathedral, attending a religious festival with Miranda, showing off a divine artifact, allowing her to aid you in a ritual with the Religion skill

Streetwise (Moderate – 1 Success per character) The nobility often stays cloistered behind their curtain walls, enjoying their fetes and balls. However there are many places within the cities and villages where one can have a good time; the kind of fun you can’t find behind austere pillars and stodgy guardsmen. You guide the noble on a tour through some of the sights and sounds of the city and beyond, showing them a good time they never imagined.
Suggested Modifiers: The character knows the city, the character offers a rare alcohol, the character has contacts in the city

Support Skills
Diplomacy or Bluff (Hard – Unlimited) You may also opt to smooth things over with an offended or doubtful noble. A success at this check will remove an existing failure (It is presumed you have used the skill in this way on the noble for whom the failure occurred). Failing this roll adds an additional failure to the challenge. This roll can be attempted as often as desired, but as you press and cajole the young nobles they will become more suspicious and resistant. Subsequent rolls add a -5 penalty to the check. Suggested Modifiers: See Diplomacy and Bluff

Mid Challenge Events
For each noble there is a pre-planned sub-plot that the players can be dragged along into. This is essentially an opportunity for players to roleplay more and to find some unconventional skills of use in impressing their young charges. You may elect to do away with these entirely (Indeed, the players may create their own sub-plots and find this unnecessary) or you may wish to make the entire skill challenge run more akin to these side-treks:

If the players discover Baleon’s passion for hunting and express common interest, he will immediately arrange for any PC’s who are interested to join him the next morning for a jaunt through the forest after stag or boar.

It couldn’t be a more perfect day for a hunt: cool, clean morning air, a nearly cloudless sky, and a pack of eager dogs and keen hawks just as eager to pursue prey. Baleon has provided good equipment, sturdy bows, sharp spears, and horses whose cost you estimate as being outrageous. Best show him a good time for all the trouble he went through – there’s bound to be boar out here somewhere.

Someone in the hunting party then has the opportunity to make a Nature (Moderate) or Perception (Moderate) check (These skills can be used to “aid another” in this instance). Regardless of success, move on to the next sequence:

He has his foppish qualities, but you have to hand it to Baleon; he’s no slouch on a hunt. Though all have had their shots at the boar, the young noble brings it down himself. Baleon quickly dismounts to begin cheering over his prize. In its death throws the boar gives a final, violent twitch, striking Baleon’s horse, causing the big mount to lose its footing. He cries out loudly as the animal comes down on top of him. Fortunately the horse only fell on his legs before regaining its own footing: he’s alive, but on the ground, in a lot of pain, and completely unable to move.

Anyone in the party may now attempt a Heal (Moderate) check to gain a success towards convincing Baleon (he’s very open-minded to someone who’s saved his life). If the players feel unfit to treat the wound in the field that can return him to the city to seek the aid of one of their companions, however the player will suffer a -4 penalty for treating the wound much later and after it has been aggravated by the ride back.

Similarly, if any PC’s remark upon Miranda’s wardrobe or discover her eye for fine clothing she recommends a trip into town to visit the handful of traveling merchants who recently set up stalls.

The air is alive with the barks of eager merchants and the smell of fine perfumes and exotic foods. Miranda beams as she goes from stand to stand, taking in the sundry items on sale. You keep an eye out for a good deal or a rare article that might impress your discerning patron.

Someone accompanying Miranda then has the opportunity to make a Streetwise (Moderate) or Perception (Moderate) check (These skills can be used to “aid another” in this instance) to find a lovely piece of clothing for Miranda. Regardless of success, move on to the next sequence:

You are helping Miranda carry home the dresses and jewelry she acquired this afternoon when your eye catches three rough looking men approach. “Hey, pretty,” says the lead man, a bald human with a protruding beer gut. He and his friends walk unsteadily, having recently staggered out of their cups. Miranda rolls her eyes and picks up her speed. “Where you going? Hey! I’m talking to you. I just wanna talk. Get that nose out of the air.” The men pick up their pace, and start closing the gap between your party and themselves.

Anyone in the party may now attempt an Intimidate (Moderate) check to chase off the drunk assailants. A failure indicates that a brawl occurs between the players and the drunks, costing a healing surge. If the players succeed they chase the thugs off without a problem. Should the players draw weapons and harm any of the men, this will add a failure to the challenge: while Miranda appreciates being protected, any extreme violence would upset her.

Special Considerations and Modifiers
You’ll Learn to Love Each Other: If the players suggested letting the betrothed spend time with one another, grant them a +2 to their next charisma based skill roll for both nobles. Actually letting them get to know one another will make them much more tractable towards agreeing to marry.

A Better Offer: If one of the PC’s is of noble birth, or has land holdings and assets, you might point out to them that they could suggest themselves as a better suitor. This would, of course, anger one of the families, but might make for some great role playing and an engaging plot twist.

Success: If the players gain 10 successes before 3 failures they have convinced both Baleon and Miranda that marriage is in their best interest, and they agree. Their ecstatic parents happily grant the PCs at least a monetary reward, and perhaps a small parcel of land. Add to that a few happy customers who might serve as contacts, or would at least speak to the PC’s good reputation.

Failure: The players have pushed too hard, and both nobles decide that the only recourse they have to avoid being forced into a marriage they do not want, is to flee. News reaches their parents that Baleon is on a boat across the sea to engage in an exotic expedition; and Miranda has fled to the safety of lifelong religious vows that will keep her cloistered in a temple for life. The noble’s parents are furious and not only kick the PC’s out of the palace, but send a steward along to inform them of the outstanding expenses they incurred while staying. Inform the players they are being charged an amount in gold (significant though not bank breaking). If they fail to pay, the players might have to contend with legal ramifications or even bounty hunters chasing them down! Regardless the players take a hit to their reputation.

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Posted by on February 11, 2012 in Not Playtested, Skill Challenge


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This encounter is intended for 5 PCs of level 5

About a year ago I had a regular D&D group I was DMing for while also playing a great deal of Valve’s “Left4Dead” games. Somewhere between the process I got it in my mind to try and replicate the Infected vs. Survivors dynamic at the table-top (like you do). L4D has such a tight, exciting play experience and its elements seemed like they would translate well to 4th edition’s monster building mechanics. It was sort of a personal experiment in encounter design to see if I could translate something very structured, (albeit outside the confines of D&D’s rules), into the game. The experiment went well, with the encounter going just the way I anticipated when it hit the table. I’ve tweaked some of the stats and devised a more definite map (The original one was quickly scrawled onto a battlemat and promptly erased after) to share here.
The monsters in this encounter are all vulnerable to fire – that’s in keeping with the advantages granted by fire as they are depicted in Left 4 Dead, but it’s also a slight nod to the fact that PC’s with Fire keyword powers often get hosed by the plethora of resistant monsters. Time for your Infernal Warlock to shine!

Story Text
The fact that the lumber camp is several miles outside of town meant that it wasn’t all that uncommon for there to be little contact between townsfolk and workers midweek. Indeed there was a barracks of sorts for those working the mills and forest. However its been more than a week and not a soul has been seen. Worse yet, a clinging fog has spread across the camps multifarious buildings, and strange ululations can be heard from the camp by night. All of the workers, who would normally have returned eagerly to their families, have failed to arrive. Something sinister has occurred among the creaking mills and warehouses.
As you walk up the well trod forest path you cannot help but feel that many eyes are on you. Despite the roads well worn wagon ruts the place seem to have been abandoned for years rather than days. There is a bright light coming from the main camp, brushing aside the damp fog clinging to the earth and trees around you. A bonfire, set very recently, burns bright through the night, illuminating four single story buildings. The remains of a wagon lies in shambles up the dirt path in between the single story buildings that make up the main logging camp. Surrounding the camp is a periphery of old stumps, and beyond that the foreboding woods.
Propped against the shattered wagon, in a state of ruin competing with his vehicle is the corpse of an old man. He wears military garb and a green tunic, a beret slanted on his white hair, his beard specked with blood, a longsword tumbled inches from his crushed fingers.

When at least one player moves near the cart, read the following:
As you approach to investigate, the first howl shatters the gloom. It is human and inhuman all at once. Amidst the cacophony of snarls, grunts, and shouts you can hear a few very distinct noises – a hacking cough, a persistent and measured growl, and a series of grotesque belches and moans. Drawing your weapons, the creatures appear from all sides, moving fast, their glassy eyes wide with rage.

When the Tank’s initiative round begins, read the following:
A great bellow breaks through the din of combat. Between the scramble of these infected loggers your eyes fall on a horrific sight: a mound of muscle and scar tissue that was once something akin to a man, now plodding it’s way between buildings in your direction. It bellows again, burning with an unquenchable fury. Those arms are thick enough to tear down a building – best not to think what will happen if it gets within reach of you.

Map and Monsters


Buildings – Athletics DC 15 to climb; each building is 3 squares in height. Each of the buildings has its doors locked (Thievery DC 15). The occupants attempted to seal themselves inside but to no avail. The long orange roofed building is the workman’s barracks and consists of a single open room with triple bunked beds and other living accouterments. The grey roofed building is a workshop where crafters make furniture and other woodwork sundries. The green roofed building is a storage house. The detailed building is the lumber camp foreman’s office. The actual mill building is some yards away, closer to the forest and not pictured on the map.

Ruined Cart – Squares that contain the ruined cart count as rough terrain

Shrubs – Shrubs do not impede movement but grant partial concealment to anyone occupying the same square

Fire – This bonfire was started by the unfortunate soul the PC’s find slumped against the ruined cart. It is still burning bright and assorted pieces of kindling nearby might serve as a torch if a PC was inclined. A torch made in such a fashion deal 1d6+Str modifier fire damage and the target takes ongoing 2 fire (Save ends). Anyone who begins their turn in or enters a fire square takes 1d8+4 fire damage.

Combat Sequence
When the encounter begins, the players face the following:

  • x1 Hunter (H)
  • x1 Boomer (B)
  • x1 Smoker (S)
  • x8 Common Infected (C)

During the second round, add the following:

  • x4 Common Infected (C)

Once one of the infected creatures is dead and at least one other is bloodied, have the Tank (T) enter at the initiative immediately following the number at which this trigger occurred. On the next Common Infected initiative pass, add the following:

  • x6 Common Infected (C)

Monster Placement and Common Infected Waves

The goal here is to simulate the kind of gameplay that makes Left 4 Dead shine: the players feel hard pressed to succeed and just short of overwhelmed. Being a tabletop game D&D permits the DM (A superior equivalent to the respectable “AI Director” of the L4D games) to control the tension much more closely. If players are having too hard or too easy of a time, adjust the entrance of the additional common infected accordingly – or have more or less common infected arrive as you see fit.

The monster placement indicated on the map shows where the creature(s) enter the map area, even if they are not on the map at the beginning of the encounter. In the case of common infected, clump creatures around the squares indicated as their “spawn point.” If players ask where they come from, the monsters are coming out of the woods, crawling out of buildings, or rising up from concealing reed where they lay inert.

At the beginning of the encounter the Hunter, and Smoker are assumed to be perched on the sides of the building adjacent to them, ready to climb up onto the roof but hidden from easy view by the PCs. The Boomer is behind a closed door.

Dividing the party is the best maneuver for this ambush. The attack begins as soon as at least one player makes their way near the ruined wagon.

Smoker: The smoker will likely be the first attacker. Keeping to the roofs is the safest bet. Keep the smoker hidden until a PC comes into range and then strike. This should draw the players closer into the middle of the ambush. If the smoker’s victim is freed, he will hide out of sight until his “Smoker Pull” ability refreshes.

Hunter: The hunter will hang back and not attack until a PC is isolated from his/her allies. The party’s ranged attacker or controller makes for a likely target. If the Hunter’s target escapes his grab attempt, it will leap away to safety.

Boomer: The Boomer will stay indoors until at least two players are within range of his “Bile Puke” power (If a PC opens the door the Boomer is hiding behind he will be forced to attack). Once this has been expended, the boomer will attempt make melee attacks in the midst of the party. Remember that the Boomer is something of a suicide bomber – don’t be afraid to have the Boomer move into melee even if he is outflanked and outmatched.

Common Infected: Like many minions, their goal is to swarm the players quickly. Keep them in clumps, but not all together. This will prevent the party’s controller from wiping them out too quickly, while still giving him/her a group of good targets for area attacks.

Tank: The Tank will pursue one target doggedly until pulled away. Should he become marked or subject to a defender aura he will immediately peel off and pummel the new attacker. The Tank’s multi-target attack power is very circumstantial and so his damage output will likely be lower than that of most elites – that’s ok. The nature of the tank is to get in and absorb damage so that the other infected can do the major damage. His “throw rock” power is intended to keep targets pinned down or separated so that his allies can pick off targets.

* – Don’t forget that a lot of infected abilities apply conditions that cause the targeted PC to grant Combat Advantage. This stacks with any specific attack bonuses stated in an infected creatures power.


Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Combat Encounter, New Monster, Playtested


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