This encounter is intended for five characters of 6th level
It dawned on me that my encounters often neglect traps as a n element of their danger – a fact I’d like to alleviate. This encounter ended up looking somewhat “old school” to me – a notion that I rather liked, even if it’s just my interpretation. While I’m not positive that this one will make it’s way into my Neverwinter game – I built it with that campaign in mind.
Though the setup expects this ambush to occur in a dungeon, it could also happen in a wide alley in a city – though the traps and secret doors would necessitate your location being in some kind of gang territory, where unseemly persons would have the freedom to modify nearby buildings in such a way. It might also necessitate you describing the traps somewhat differently, even if their game function remains the same (those pendulum blades couldn’t really swing from the ceiling in an alley, could they?)
While passing down an otherwise standard dungeon hallway (exactly 10 feet wide, of course!) they trigger several traps, meant to keep them pinned between fleeing and moving forward. In their indecision, they are attacked by fleet-footed assailants using a series of secret doors and a network of hidden side tunnels to pop out, strike, and return to hiding.
At the end of this dark hallway is an open room from which warm, inviting light is spilling out. It’s only a few feet ahead. Go on, what’s the worst that could happen?
Features of the Area
Lighting – Thanks to torches or candles emanating from a room on the opposite end of the hallway, this corridor is shrouded in dim light (enemies gain concealment and all Perception checks made at a -2 for PCs who lack low-light or Darkvision)
Pendulum Scythe – Squares that are highlighted in yellow indicate the path of one of the three swinging pendulum scythes (see the DMG for stats and description)
Flame Jet – Squares containing the four flaming jets (visible on the map) constitute the area of the trap’s attack. The jets are not readily visible until they are firing, and a Perception check is required to notice the tell-tale nozzles (see the trap’s description in the DMG)
Trap Triggering Pressure Plate – This plate (a single mechanism that stretches across both squares, in spite of being represented on the map as two separate plates) activates all three pendulum traps. It also activates the jets which were timed with a delay (to represent this trap triggering as an immediate reaction when a PC enters its space). For information regarding spotting the plate and disabling the traps, see each trap’s entry in the DMG (the entry for the scythe pendulum has information regarding the Perception check needed to notice the plate).
Secret Door Triggering Pressure Plate – Each of the pressure plates adjacent to a secret door controls that door. The door’s slide from side to side when activated, and do not shut until the floor plate is depressed again. Doing so requires either 1 square of movement while in the plate’s square, or a minor action while in the plate’s square
Secret Door – These doors require a Hard Perception check to detect. They are not particularly thick and allow sound to pass through quite easily – thus the drow on the other side can hear the PCs as they traverse the hallway. The door slides from side to side when the pressure plate to open it is triggered. There is just enough space between the door and jamb that a PC could fit their fingers in and force it open with a Hard Athletics check. They would gain a +2 to this roll if they had the foresight to shove a foot in the door before it closes.
Side Passages – These vanishing passages go off into another section of the dungeon (likely a barracks or guard room from whence these drow came).
Trap Control Box – Each of these two boxes controls all of the traps in the hallway. They can be used to activate the traps – but once activated they are difficult to disable (though intended to automatically reset after 2 minutes of activity). If the PCs manage to bypass the pressure plate trigger and the drow notice them, the dark elves will most likely activate the traps from these boxes.
The plan is for the PCs to miss the warning signs of the traps, and end up having to pass through the gauntlet of spewing fire and whirring blades. However, if a perceptive group notices the danger, the lurking drow ambushers will trigger the traps on their own. They then emerge from the secret doors, strike, and return, sealing back the door if they can.
The drow stand near to a secret door in the round before attacking. On their turn, they will typically activate a door and step adjacent to an enemy with a move action. Their standard action is spent making a Nimble Slash attack, and then utilizing the power’s 3 square shift to return to the other side of an open secret door. With their minor action they seal the door. Each drow tries to stick to this plan as best as possible, allowing him to strike without repercussion until the PCs realize they are being ambushed, and ready actions to anticipate their foes.
The drow may switch doors to keep the PCs guessing, and to slow the party down with the activated traps in the corridor. If the PCs do manage to gain an advantage, they will use their Cloud of Darkness ability to deter pursuit and attempt to vanish down one of the other secret corridors.
The secret doors themselves are slightly porous, and sound travels through them very easily. The drow can hear the PCs if they aren’t stealthy in their approach, and can make a reasonable guess as to how far along the corridor their enemies have come. Should the PCs avoid the traps trigger, the drow can activate both blades and flame jets from the control boxes in either corridor.
x 3 Drow Swashbuckler (Neverwinter Campaign Setting pg. 122)
-The drow’s role in the overall Neverwinter arc isn’t typically a major one, but Netheril is one of the significant factions in the city. You could represent a Shadovar ambush using the monsters listed below:
x 1 Shadar-Kai Gloomblade (Monster Manual pg. 240)
x 2 Shadar-Kai Chainfighter (Monster Manual pg. 240)
-In case you don’t have access to the Neverwinter Campaign Setting, and aren’t too fond of the Shadar-kai, here are a few other good options to represent this encounter’s devious ambushers:
Bugbear Backstabber (Monster Vault pg. 159)
Gnome Spy (Monster Vault pg. 148)
Wraith (Monster Vault pg. 284)
x1 Pendulum Scythes (Dungeon Masters Guide pg. 88) – make this an elite trap, but instead have 3 rows of trap, and all of them are activated on the trap’s initiative.grant an additional 100 exp for the added danger.
X1 Flame jet (Dungeon Master’s Guide pg. 90) – This trap affects a wider area than specified; use the map as a guide for what squares are effected. Grant an additional 100 exp for the added danger.
This encounter can be a meat grinder for unprepared PCs, or a breeze for the wise and lucky. The drow are in a perfect position to attack the PCs without being attacked for at least one round. Some players might object to this sort of play as unfair – but after all, that is the point of traps and ambushes. The trick is to encourage your players after the initial shock of their predicament. Push them to describe their character’s actions, and not to think of the turn-based combat as a straight-jacket that let’s the drow have game mechanic immunity. There is plenty that the players can do to counter their foes – though they will likely not see this until getting their noses bloodied.
If you’re still uncomfortable being so cruel to your trusting (the fools!) players, give them non-specific hints of the ambush ahead. As I said above, this encounter is imbued with a lot of “old school” cruelty, but don’t let that get in the way of the fun – coax it into being a challenge!