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Ashpeak Ascent

07 Sep

“The McGuffin sits atop this peak” – like you would have it any other way…

This encounter is intended for five players of 6th level

This week’s encounter (which I have been toying with in my head for a while and in bits and pieces since April) is brought to you by a stew of collaborative neuroses.

Every D&D nerd does it. Be it in film, video games or literature. You see something cool and say “What are the stats for it.” I distinctly remember watching Legolas fire arrows in quick succession on screen during Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” saying to myself – “Oh yeah, the ‘Rapid Shot’ feat!” So I do this just as bad and as often as anyone else.

Confession: I am an unabashed “Bioware” fanboy. I know that being a fanboy is wrong – but it feels so right! After all, these are the folks who made “Baldur’s Gate!” Who is going to fault me for loving that with zeal and fanaticism?

Let’s add to that the fact that I am one of those guys who gets way too excited about trailers and you are lead to today’s encounter.

So when I saw the opening cinematic for Dragon Age: Origins – that is to say, the “Sacred Ashes” trailer – I knew the day would come when I wrote it up as an encounter.

Today is that day.

Purpose
Outside my self-gratifying desire to needlessly pin numbers onto story elements – I also wanted to take a crack at an encounter that lasted longer and came in small, distinct chunks with fewer monsters (or weaker monsters) in each. It’s a method I’ve seen used to recall the quick fights/many rooms feel of some old school dungeons (A feeling closer in step with the current 5th ed/D&D Next design ethos) and I felt like it would adequately represent the action of the video.

Our Hurlocks will be played by orcs today (surprise surprise!) Now if you’re looking for a Dragon Age RPG, then Green Ronin has you covered; my goal is to tool around with an encounter based on the video, not give you a full conversion for all the monsters and magic of Ferelden and her neighbors. That being said, if you’d like your orcs to feel a bit more like darkspawn, might I suggest adding the following monster power:

Darkspawn Blood (Poison)
No Action – Close burst 1
Trigger: The Darkspawn is first bloodied or drops to 0HP
Target: Attacking Creature

Effect: The target takes ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends)

Set-Up
This encounter works well as the “front door” to a dungeon you were already planning on running. Whether the darkspawn/orcs are simply camped in the ruins or actively looking for the McGuffin the players are after is up to you.

The players will have to fight their way up the mountain slope, through the outlying ruins, and finally be confronted by a lesser dragon at the entrance to the dungeon. A straight-forward running melee.

Map
NOTE: Not all of the Darkspwan/Orcs are accounted for on the map to prevent clutter. Precise starting location can be a little fast and loose. Stick to the descriptions of each phase and use what works best for you.

Map Features
Flat Topped Pillars – These pillars (rectangular shaped pillars on the map) can be climbed with an Athletics Moderate check and require an entire move action to reach the top. They otherwise provide cover and are blocking terrain.

Broken Pillars – These pillars (represented by circles on the map) can be used as cover and count as blocking terrain, but are crumbling and unsteady.

Ruins – Squares containing ruins count as rough terrain and provide cover from ranged and area attacks

Cliff – Don’t fall off the cliff or it’s game over, man

Ice – The sheet of ice on the western side of the map is dangerously slick. For every square entered, make an attack +7 vs. REF. on hit, the creature takes 2 damage, is knocked prone, and their movement ends.

Encounter Phases
Phase 1: Ascent – 10 Orc Savages, 1 Battletested Orc
As the encounter begins, allow PCs to establish their marching order at the westernmost end of the incline. The front two PCs will use their passive perception to detect the orcs ambush in the mists up ahead (Perception DC 17). If they succeed then the orcs do not gain surprise when they attack, and initiative is rolled normally. The mist lingers for the first two rounds, granting the orcs light concealment. Make certain that the Battletested Orc is in the second row of attackers, letting the players cut down the first few orcs easily. This is a rough bottleneck, so you might consider letting push effects function like Sten’s charge in the video, knocking back an extra rank of orcs when their front row is shoved back. When the PCs clear this ramp, they’ll have a moment of calm until they round the corner and come in full view of the ruins.

Phase 2: Hit the Deck! – 10 Orc Savages, 1 Orc Shaman
Once the players come into view of the shaman the next phase begins. The PCs can now see the Savages as well, who are in mid jog forward to engage the interlopers. The Shaman makes sure to use fireball (see the entry for the shaman below) as soon as at least 2 PCs are in range, not worrying much about scorching a few of his own men (though he won’t endanger many or them lest he risk his own hide). The Shaman will flee from melee but won’t maneuver too far away.

Phase 3: Ruins – 15 Orc Savages, 2 Battletested Orcs Ideally the players will have their initiatives staggered with the orcs in order to draw them into the varied terrain of the ruins. Regardless the orcs will charge in at best possible speed. Let the Battletested orcs swarm the first opponent in (likely your defender) giving that character a hard fight. The minions can chase after softer targets. Two of the Savages will have short bows (same damage as hand axes, range of 20) and fire from relative safety behind the ice sheet.

Phase 4: The Dragon Arrives – 1 Young Earthquake Dragon The dragon will first attempt to keep the advantage of its reach and flight by hovering over any ranged attackers and biting them. Once its aura grows strong, it will land in the midst of its foes to subject them all to the earthquakes effects.

Monsters
x35 Orc Savages/Hurlock Grunts (Pg. 226 Monster Vault)
x3 Battletested Orcs/Hurlock Alphas (Pg. 225 Monster Vault)
x1 Orc Shaman/Hurlock Emissary (Pg. 229 Monster Vault) – replace the Vengeful Whirlwind power with the Wizard’s Fireball spell (Player’s Handbook pg. 161) Use the Shaman’s attack bonus and damage from Vengeful Whirlwind. Add an “Effect: Target is knocked prone” line.
x1 Young Earthquake Dragon (Pg. 69 Monster Manual III)

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