Commedia of Death

24 Sep

This adventure is intended for five players of 3rd level


DM cat dares you to eat the magic cheese…

This week’s encounter is modified from one I ran way back in the day – during my first ongoing 4th edition game. That said, I’ve made some significant tweaks to keep it up to speed with the shape of the game today.

The inspiration for this encounter was twofold. Primarily, I wanted to get some use out of a set of the Paizo “Game Mastery” map packs I had picked up that featured an amphitheater. Though I’m a big fan of the Game Mastery line, their Map Packs line sets are very hit-or-miss and sadly “Ruins” is a big miss. The artwork isn’t up to their usual par, and the editing makes it very unclear as to where the delineated squares are in relation to the structures depicted (is that a window? Is it in my square? Does it give me cover? Is this rough terrain? What is going on with this map!) That said, the amphitheater tiles were precise enough, and I had already bought the tiles so – may as well make some use out of them.

My other inspiration was to use the theater location to depict a theatrically related combat encounter. You may recall that my background is in theatre, and that included more that a few theatre history courses. So I hit on the idea of linking the stock characters in Commedia Dell’arte to some of the various monster roles. What you get is a skirmish that’s a bit off the wall, out of the ordinary, and very memorable (And I’m not just blowing smoke! My players have brought this one up several times!)

As a quick note, the Commedia archetypes are sometimes referred to as “masks” (since most of the characters are represented by a mask – the traits of which are universal and recognizable across different theatre troupes.

Encounter Background
Adjust the encounter’s background to fit your setting. For convenience I’ll relay the backstory assumed for the original campaign setting:

Nearly 100 years ago this amphitheater, now in ruins, was a popular destination for talented performers. All were welcome, and often the elite both locally and abroad would sit beside peasants to see all manner of theatrical spectacles. Its reputation eventually drew the attention of a famous female bard named Achio and her on-again-off-again adventuring companion/rival/lover Tolivar, a talented illusionist.

The two of them sought to put on a performance the likes of which had never been seen – from now until the end of time. Seeking obscure knowledge and through much experimentation, they sought to create spectral constructs that could retain an actors performance and repeat their part over and over. With the bards lore and creativity and the wizard’s raw intelligence, they seemed to have succeeded – enchanting several actor’s masks with the ersatz personas.

They dubbed these concoctions of illusion and elemental magic “Figments.” Appearing as ghostly apparitions when they manifested despite being quite physical, the creatures they concocted were more akin to golems more than anything; though their only material substance was the mask which acted as the magic’s focal point. They were capable of discorporating, leaving only the mask behind until showtime, when the shimmering actor would reform in an instant. The creatures seemed to serve their purpose, reciting lines and following prescribed stage blocking; though Tolivar noted with some trepidation that they occasionally displayed a measure of independence – a quality most crafters of constructs would consider a critical error.

The night of their first performance was a hit, up until Act 4. All at once, something in the creatures snapped, and they began to attack the audience. Not wanting to waste all their hard work (and hard spent coin) Achio and Tolivar evacuated and rescued the patrons of the theatre, but chose not to destroy their magical actors. Neither ever succeeded in finding a way to capture or correct the deranged Figments.

To this day the illusive monsters lie dormant, the enchanted masks laying haphazardly on the stones of the abandoned theatre – few brave enough to chance getting near. Local legend says that if a living being takes a seat in the theatre, the creatures manifest and begin the play they set out to perform so many years ago.

None who have stayed until Act 4 ever live to tell about it.

Ideally, the PCs will walk into the amphitheater. The Figment’s masks are laying haphazardly on the stage section, and an Easy Arcana check would reveal that they are enchanted. When the PCs get within 20 squares of the masks, they corporate, and begin going through the play they were programmed to perform. A Hard Insight check reveals that something is “off” about the spectral actors – they break character staring threateningly into the audience, or silently mouth threats to PCs.

If the PCs make a threatening move, the Figments attack. Otherwise, they break their cover at the beginning of Act 4 and leap into the audience, taking a surprise round to attack any PC who fails a Moderate Insight check.

The content of the play the Figments are performing is at your discretion. It should, however be meaningful. Bits of historical information, cryptic foreshadowing or paralleling of events occurring in the campaign world or hints of future adventure are all marvelous bits of information that can give the scene even more weight.

The principal Figments begin this encounter on stage, with the chorus possibly surrounding the top level behind the theatre’s seating or below or to the side of the stage.

Il Capitano seeks to engage the PC’s strongest melee combatant, fleeing to attack any ranged attackers once he is bloodied. The lovers will pick whatever target is most convenient for the both of them to attack in unison. Arlecchino dances throughout the battle striking targets of opportunity, ideally seeking a position with which to gain combat advantage, or else striking and then dancing away using his “Acrobatic” trait. The chorus will simply mob the PCs, doing their best to clog up the battlefield while making room for their own allies to zip in and out of advantageous positions.

Being illusionary creatures, they have no real sense of self preservation, and will fight on until destroyed.

It’s a vexing proposition! I want to encourage you to support Paizo’s GameMastery line as it is typically great – but the “Ruins” Map Pack is absolute crap! My recommendation is to use their sample of the actual tile as a guideline for your own battlemat, and instead invest in one of their awesome Flip-mats

Features of the Area
Marble Wall: The wall behind the stage is blocking terrain
Marble Pillars: Both pillars are blocking terrain
Stairs: These worn, crumbling steps are rough terrain
Seating: Squares that contain rounded benches are easy enough to move through with care, however they slope and dip in places. PCs may not shift into these squares, but can otherwise move normally. Adept at navigating the amphitheater, the Figments have no such troubles.

To represent the monsters as “Figments” you’ll need to make some alterations – though this will mostly be a matter of “re-skinning” the creatures. To make each one fit the characteristics of its associated mask a few power swap-outs are detailed in each monster’s entry.

•Each monster becomes a Medium Humanoid Construct (Keyword •Illusion) and gains Resist 5 Fire and Cold damage, Vulnerability 5 Force damage
•Each is capable of discorporeating when there is no audience present. When doing so, the Figment can neither effect nor be effected by the world. They can corporeate or discorporeate At-Will.
•Destroying a Figment’s mask (1HP 12 All Defenses) destroys the Figment itself. This can only be accomplished if the Figment is discorporeated. If a figment drops to 0 HP while corporeated, its mask shatters automatically.

x1 Arlecchino – Gremlin Deceiver (Monster Manual 3 pg. 106) – Arlecchino, or harlequin, is a trickster and acrobat, wearing a dark mask and a colorful patchwork costume
Replace “Sabotaging Presence” with the following traits:

Acrobat: Arlecchino may shift up to three squares before and/or after making a basic attack. Describe this as a series of cartwheels, tumbles, and tricks.
Lazzi of Flashing Blades: As a standard action, Arlecchino grants all non-minion Figments a single standard action that they use immediately. This is an encounter power.

x1 Il Capitano – Elf Noble Guard (Monster Vault pg. 113) – Il Captiano is a boisterous and rude braggart and foreigner. His mask is flesh toned with a big nose and bristly mustache.
Replace “Elven Accuracy” and “Wild Step” with the following:

Bravado: When not bloodied, Il Capitano deals an additional 1d10 damage with melee attacks
Better Part of Valor: When Il Capitano takes damage, as an Immediate Reaction he knocks the attacking creature prone and Capitano is pushed 2 squares.

x2 The Lovers – Dread Marauder (Monster Manual 3 pg. 75) – Always unmasked, the innamorati are the young lovers who play the principal roles in many Commedia plays. They wish to fall in love and be married; a goal that is opposed by master characters like Il Capitano and facilitated (and/or complicated) by comedic servants, Zanni like Arlecchino. They are young, beautiful, and prone to extremes of emotion.
Replace “Eyes of Undeath” and “In the Master’s Defense” with the following:

True Love: A lover gains combat advantage against enemy adjacent to the other lover.
Miserable Without You: When not within 4 squares of the other lover, they are considered Weakened.

x8 Chorus – Human Goon (Monster Vault pg. 170) – Though not a part of Commedia, the tradition of the chorus is both long and varied in theatre, having its roots in greek drama. Fantasy settings tend to have anachronistic elements, so the presence of a chorus in this Commedia play isn’t completely off base. The chorus all wear uniform masks, but each with a different color. Otherwise each wears a bland costume so as not to upstage the actors.

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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Combat Encounter, Playtested


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