Stagecoach Ambush

16 Apr

This encounter is intended for five characters of 4th level

I have a confession to make – I love orcs. Like, I really, really love orcs. Look, I know they are hackneyed and overdone and formulaic but I just don’t care. They sit right up there with “undead anything” as my favorite bad-guys. I know everyone has “their” conception of what orcs look and act like with the variations being often small and to most people meaningless (for my money: big, burly, tusks, flat faces, ninja turtle green skin – Warcraft II style orcs or bust!) but no matter how you spin them, I love them. The fact that I’ve not given them much stage time on the blog is a personal failure. One I’m fixin to correct.

This week’s encounter has the players protecting precious cargo (and themselves) on a wagon rushing its way through dangerous territory. Along the way they are ambushed by a raiding party of orcs on dire wolves. Your pull/push/sliders will thank you for this one.

Though a top-ten rule of DMing is that it’s always best to be consistent – that notion should be trumped by the need to make the game fun. In lieu of that, I suggest bending some normal rules here for the sake of making this encounter work in the way that players imagine the action playing out. When in doubt, take the player’s side, but make them roll for it.

On paper this is an incredibly difficult encounter for players of this level – but remember, the dire wolves are primarily transportation and will be unlikely to attack at all. Similarly, it won’t be hard for players to incapacitate the orcs by knocking them off their mounts or off the carriage itself, so they have distinct advantages to even the odds.

Rules Refresher
Because this encounter involves a lot of mounts and a vehicle, it behooves you to re-familiarize yourself with the rules for both. Mounted combat is covered in the Dungeon Master’s Guide on page 46. Vehicles are covered in Adventurer’s Vault on page 14.

The PCs are hired to move some valuable cargo (the specifics are up to you, though a variety of items is best – including some that might be fragile, or even alive!) on board a large’ roofed, wooden stage-coach of sorts. They’ve been hired on as both teamsters (drivers) and muscle to protect the precious cargo. In order to arrive at their destination, they must pass through territory controlled by the ruthless “Bleeding Blade” orc clan – and a big, slow moving coach is too tempting a target for them not to hit.

The orcs aren’t the smartest of beasts, but do know how to plan a good ambush. They’ve kept an eye on the characters and sent a raiding party ahead to intercept them. One particularly strong orc waits on a thick tree branch above the road, ready to drop onto the carriage and wreak havoc. The others will pepper the PCs with ranged attacks, eventually moving closer to hop onto/into the carriage. One orc will attack the horses in an attempt to slow the carriage. As a last ditch effort, they will toss their torches onto/into the carriage – if they can’t have the loot, nobody will! Waaaaagh!

In this combat encounter the players will try to defeat their opponents while continuing to stay in motion, and keep their coach and its cargo from harm.

Make it clear to the players that if the coach stops, there’s no way they can simply carry all the goods to the destination. Likewise, their path will be swarming with orcs. While this wouldn’t be a total “game over” (and indeed would make for an exciting twist!) it does mean mission failed, and no cash reward.

Combat Breakdown

  • Round 1: The orcs appear within 6 squares of the carriage (3 on each side) and will close in, making ranged attacks
  • Round 2: The orcs engage and close in further. One Battletested moves in to make melee attacks against the lead horse.
  • Round 3: The orc rampager drops down from a tree limb overhanging the road, right onto the carriage roof.
  • Round 4: The orcs start trying to board the carriage
  • When the Rampager is dead: the orcs begin tossing torches – the torches target a square of the carriage and use the orc’s ranged attack. On a hit, the torch ignites that square. Ignited squares deal ongoing 5 fire damage to the carriage and will deal 5 fire damage to any creature that begins its turn or moves through and ignited square

Plot Text
This just might be the easiest money you’ve made. Worried as the merchants were about sending their goods through this forest, you have yet to see any of the many dangers they cited to you. Still you keep on your guard – just a few more hours and you will be home free. Out of nowhere, the calming rhythmic clack of the carriage wheels is interrupted by a blood-curdling ululation. The battle cry of the Bleeding Blade orc clan is followed by the throaty howling of their dire wolf mounts. Your horses whiney in terror at the sound, and keeping the reins steady becomes a challenge. As you draw weapons and ready for battle, they burst out of the forest, riding hard alongside your carriage. “Pathetic fools!” cries one of the orcs in heavily accented and broken common. “Now you die! We take all! All belong to Bleeding Blade!” So much for easy money.


Those clever foxes at Paizo have a Gamemsatery map pack that would work for the Carriage as well (though the proportions might be less convenient than the one pictured above).

x1 Orc Rampager (Monster Vault pg. 228)
x2 Orc Archer (Monster Vault pg. 226)
x4 Battletested Orc (Monster Vault pg. 225)
x6 Dire Wolves (Monster Manual pg. 264)

Managing Relative Speeds
This encounter is a tad tricky mechanically because it is a chase scene in constant forward motion. To make this easier to deal with assume some constants in the encounter. The horses drawing the player’s coach are too overburdened to run, but will double move their maximum speed each round.

*For the purposes of this encounter, your driver need only use a single move action to order the horses to go – this let’s the player contribute a standard action to the encounter without costing the wagon any speed, and makes a lot more sense in context.

Carriage Speed Breakdown: horse movement rate (10 squares) -4 speed (from the coach) leaves us at 6 speed. Adventurer’s Vault indicates there is a +2 speed bonus for having more than two horses drawing the coach. This leaves a total coach speed of 8.

8 squares in a move matches the dire wolves’ normal movement rate. Thus, in order to change position, relative to the carriage the wolves will have to run. This will let them maneuver up to 4 squares per round – but doesn’t leave them the actions needed to attack.

Use the following speed penalties depending on how many horses are killed off (this fudges the rules a bit in the interest of representing more incremental speed loss:

  • 3 Horses pulling: Carriage speed 7
  • 2 Horses pulling: Carriage speed 6
  • 1 Horse pulling: Carriage speed 4

When Someone Falls Off
A fall at these speeds (either from the carriage or off of a wolf) is treated as being a bit more severe than the usual 10 foot fall: 1d10+4 damage.

Keep in mind the rules about forced movement and dangerous edges: a player moved off of/out of the carriage does get a saving throw to instead fall prone at the edge. You may even opt to let the player treat a tumble off the carriage top as falling from a ledge and provide a last ditch grab at the side of the carriage as per normal rules (page 290 Heroes of the Fallen Lands). To grab the edge a player must make an Athletics DC 15 roll.

Barring that, a fallen player still has options. Their friends might slow the carriage enough for them to catch up (a potentially dangerous proposition). One particularly heroic option is to grant them the opportunity to hijack a passing wolf rider, passing a Hard Athletics/Acrobatics roll to jump on the back of the creature.

Otherwise, one orc rider might break off to engage the player, keeping the encounter fun/challenging for the player, and giving them the opportunity to possibly mount the wolf and catch up. The dire wolves are brutally trained as mounts – though they will accept non-orc riders, they’ll still make an opportunity attack against anyone climbing on.

For simplicity’s sake, if an orc is “unhorsed” (unwolfed, I suppose?) assume he spends a round quickly hopping back on his mount, and pushing it to breakneck speed to catch up. Leave the orc and mount “offscreen” for a round, then return the wolf to a far off square, and deal 4 damage to it to represent the strain of increased speed to catch up.

The players should be expecting a good sized reward for guarding this carriage and its contents (perhaps two moderately sized coin parcels). If the orcs manage to set fire to the carriage, reduce this coin reward to represent damaged goods that don’t get delivered.

Because the Dire Wolves are serving as mounts in this encounter, and will be unlikely to make any attacks, they may not factor in much to the overall experience reward. This will require a little bookkeeping on your part. For each wolf that doesn’t attack, provide only 25% experience. Otherwise grant 50% EXP value. If the carriage stops and players end up being attacked by both orcs and wolves (a very difficult encounter at this level) grant full experience.

Special Considerations
Your players are likely to want to attempt some stunts to even the odds in their favor. Below are some suggestions for how to adjudicate those actions:

  • Leaping from mount to carriage: Move action – Acrobatics Moderate Check. Failure indicates a fall
  • Leaping from carriage to mount: Move Action – Athletics as per jump distance with a +2 to the DC. Failure indicates a fall
  • Leaping to a mount and kicking off the rider Standard Action – Athletics as per jump distance +5 to the DC. Failure indicates a fall
  • Throwing obstacles at a mount Make a ranged DEX attack against the mount’s REF. on hit, the mount is knocked prone and the rider falls off (see “When Someone Falls Off” above)

Low Hanging Branch -Hazard 25 EXP
Targets: all creatures on top of the carriage Detection: Perception DC Moderate
Attack +8 vs REF
Effect: 1d10 damage and the target is knocked prone
Countermeasure: A creature aware of the oncoming branch can forgo their movement to make an Athletics Moderate roll as a free action during the branch’s attack roll. A success let’s the character ignore the attack.

Thrown Torch Torches target a square of the carriage and use the orc’s ranged attack. On a hit, the torch ignites that square. Ignited squares deal ongoing 5 fire damage to the carriage and will deal 5 fire damage to any creature that begins its turn or moves through and ignited square

For further inspiration, might I suggested viewing some classic cinema


Posted by on April 16, 2012 in Combat Encounter, Not Playtested


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

4 responses to “Stagecoach Ambush

  1. sinclairvox

    April 16, 2012 at 7:03 AM

    “When in doubt, take the player’s side, but make them roll for it.”

    This, sir, is the philosophy that makes you an excellent DM.

  2. Babcock

    May 11, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    Hey Luca,
    Ran this encounter this past Monday, scaled down a half step for lvl 3 adventurers. You were quite right, the controllers loved it. I have a controller-heavy party with an Invoker, Wizard, & Monk. The Paladin was slightly irked for her choice of starting inside the carraige, but Dani’s Monk was hanging off the side, kicking wolf-riders and doing Crouching-Tiger-Hidden-Dragon leaps from wolf-back to the carriage. Try as I may, the Hobgoblin Dervish I concocted that jumped onto the carraige on turn 3 got his ass kicked pretty thoroughly and then unceremoniously dumped off the back. The real triumph was the wolf-rider archers that harassed them from afar and managed to bloody most everyone and drop the wizard perilously close to death. Another triumph, sir!

    • theyoungking45

      May 17, 2012 at 12:25 AM

      Fantastic news! Thanks for running the encounter and I’m glad it worked out at the table as well as I had envisioned it in my head.

      If you don’t mind, I’d love to post your feedback from the “Library Fire” to the comments as well -as I think they’d be very useful for anyone running that encounter.

      • Babcock

        May 17, 2012 at 7:31 AM

        Feel free to do so!


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