Monthly Archives: November 2012

“The House of Knowledge” and the Blog Hussy

My Neverwinter campaign, (which had taken many a blow due to busy schedules) is finally starting to pick up some steam again! The players are finally on track to where they can make their own decisions about what to do in The City, and will soon be seeking out their first site-based adventure. That means I have a whole dungeon to plan! That’s a lot of planning and work and thought!

Naturally, that’s going to put me off from making regular posts for a bit. I know, that comes hot on the heels of some other obligations that have thrown the schedule asunder. To make up for all that, I’ll be writing up my iteration of Neverwinter’s ruined temple of Oghma “The House of Knowledge” as a full adventure. I figure several encounters worth of material will more than make up for the time I’ve snatched.

It’s worth noting that I’m approaching this one largely from a more “old school” perspective, inspired by all the D&D 5th/Next playtesting I’ve been doing lately. Smaller, more frequent combats, more problem solving elements, smaller rooms, etc. I think it will be an interesting experiment.

On other fronts – I have been blog-cheating on you! It’s true! The theatre company I am with has recently begun more regular posts on our Tumblr page. I take occasional writings duties on the blog over there. If you are more a fan of my writing than of D&D (madness!) or if you have some interest in the inner workings of a theatre company, that might be of interest to you.

Until next time!

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Posted by on November 15, 2012 in Announcements


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Showdown at the Rumbling Cabin


Lilian – Halfling Warrior

This encounter is intended for five characters of 2nd level

So – I have a confession. Sometimes it takes me while to get posts out not just because of the many hats I wear but because making tactical maps for even a brief and simple combat encounter takes a long time. I’s fun work when I’m in the mood, and I’m usually very happy with how they turn out (even using my off-the-cuff and amateurish photoshopping) but setting this weekly deadline for myself means I usually dread the task. But my laziness should not be an excuse to withhold good ideas!

I also have this terrible habit of obtaining great maps (overworld, encounter grid, or otherwise) and never making much use of them. So I’m deciding to alleviate both these flaws by incorporating more ready-made maps, or even building encounters around maps I’ve found that inspired me to build some story around them. Thus these aren’t original works, and I’ll be sure to link to their true authors or sources.

This week’s encounter is inspired by a slick map I found will perusing Chris Perkins’ “Dungeon Master Experience” over on the official D&D website a while ago. He posted a handful of his favorite maps (in varying sizes and image qualities) and the abandoned cabin stuck out to me for both being cool, and for being in sharp resolution that looked great on a retina screen!

You can find the map in question here.

In this scenario, a group of renegades has holed up in an abandoned woodsman’s cabin. Their status depends on the needs of your campaign: they might be simple bandits, fleeing criminal masterminds, spies from another nation or plane, Freedom fighters fleeing the wrath of a tyrant, religious heretics, etc. They might be plotting their next move, taking a break in a safe haven from the stresses of being on the run, or using the cabin as a “safe house” until their allies can lend aid.

Meanwhile, they are being tracked by a rival faction that has located the cabin, and is battening down outside for a tense standoff. The hunters might be legitimate or corrupt law enforcement, an armed religious inquisition, bounty hunters, agents of a crime lord, or a rival adventuring company. Whatever their origin, the hunters are seeking for a safe way to assault the cabin, with limited intelligence on what they face inside.

What neither faction realizes is why this cabin was abandoned in the first place: it sits at the epicenter of territory shared by a pair of Ahnkegs. Because the renegades have been trying to avoid suspicion, they have moved around little and stayed quiet, which helped them avoid the notice of the subterranean beasts. But as soon as hostilities break out, the giant carnivorous bugs will detect the movement of multiple potential meals above, and burrow up from below to strike when they are least expected – and least desired!

Cops and Robbers
The PCs represent one of the two factions. They might be The Hunted, using this abandoned logging cabin as a safe-house. Alternately, they might represent The Hunters, surrounding the renegades hiding in the cabin and entrenching themselves for an intense stand-off. Wether they were hired for the task, beholden to an organization, or mistaken for one group or the other is up to your campaign’s needs.

Who’s Side Are You On?!
On paper, this seems to be an incredibly difficult encounter. But bear in mind, the ankheg have only one agenda: eating. They will attack the most convenient target, regardless of their faction. The chaos of the attack can be used to help the PCs turn the tables on their foes advantage, or to allow you to challenge players with an encounter that might otherwise be a cakewalk. Though the ankhegs have a set of tactics they usually follow, feel free to use a little DM omniscience to guide them toward whatever target will make the encounter more interesting – and chalk it up to the random behavior of a thoughtless bug-monster. I’m not advocating meta-gaming here, merely pointing out that a wild animal can sometimes act in ways that are dramatically potent!

Renegades: Those holed up in the cabin are unwilling to exit and will force a siege. They know that the thick underbrush and sturdy trees are likely to conceal more of the PC’s party, and aren’t willing to pick a fight without the advantage of their ramshackle fortification. They will station a sniper on the second floor to serve as lookout and to take potshots at any PCs who come too close to the cabin. The renegades stay near each exit; both to anticipate being attacked on all sides – and in case the stand-off takes a turn for the worse and a chance to escape presents itself (no honor among thieves, after all!)

    The Enforcers: The lawmen (or perhaps the more organized criminals) approach the cabin with caution if not stealth. They move from cover to cover and attempt to do so quietly. Their goal is to surround the cabin or, at the very least, be in sight (and crossbow range) of each of the major exits. Once they are in position, their leader will call out for the PC’s surrender. The enforcers are reluctant to enter the cabin – knowing that doing so puts them at an extreme disadvantage. That said, after a few hours, or if an opportunity to turn the tables (capturing a PC who has exited the cabin, sneaking onto the roof, starting a fire in the cabin, summoning a monster or area effect spell inside, etc.) they will spring into action. This is about when the ankhegs will strike as well.

     Ankhegs: The ankhegs can spring on their initiative, or in the round when it would be most dramatically valuable. Try to toss them in during the second or third round of combat to maximize their effectiveness and to keep this conflict a three-way fight. As a general rule, the ankheg will attack the nearest target granting Combat Advantage, regardless of whether or not that will provoke an opportunity attack. When bloodied, they will be more discerning in their targets. If an ankheg is at 10 HP or less, it will flee for its life, burrowing swiftly into the ground to retreat.

The ankheg’s goal is to snatch a target, drag it underground (Using Gnaw and Scuttle to shift 2 squares using its burrow speed in the squares directly under where it was just standing), and begin tearing into it with impunity on the following turn. The victim’s allies are welcome to climb down into the ankheg’s hole – if sliding into a dimly lit tunnel full of screams and giant, flailing, insectoid limbs sounds appealing.

x2 Ankheg – (Monster Manual II pg. 11)

x4 Common Bandit – (Monster Vault pg. 170)
x1 Cluff MacLire – [If this source isn’t available, substitute any Level 4 Soldier with the “Leader” keyword] – (Dungeon 181)
x1 Halfling Wilder/”Halfling Sniper” [Replace “Mind Thrust” with “Crossbow” which deals normal damage] – (Dark Sun Creature Catalogue pg. 60)

OR, if the stats for this creature are not available:
x1 Hobgoblin Archer/”Elf Sniper” [Replace “Hobgoblin Resilience” with “Elven Accuracy”] – (Monster Manual pg. 139)

x4 Town Guard – (Monster Vault pg. 171)
x1 Cluff MacLire – [If this source isn’t available, substitute any Level 4 Soldier with the “Leader” keyword] – (Dungeon 181)
x1 Halfling Wilder/”Halfling Sniper” [Replace “Mind Thrust” with “Crossbow” which deals normal damage] – (Dark Sun Creature Catalogue pg. 60)



The link to Wizard’s website above has a higher quality version

Features of the Area
  Shrubs and Brush – Grants concealment
  Felled Trees, Stumps, Rocks – Difficult terrain; Ankheg’s cannot surface in these squares
  Tree Trunk – Blocking terrain that grants cover; Ankheg’s cannot surface in these squares
  Fences – Passing over fences requires two squares of movement. Can be used as cover.
  Well – Grants cover. Drops down two squares before the water level.
  Cabin Floorboards – These flimsy, termite-eaten boards do not deter the Ankheg’s from surfacing.
  Tables and Chairs – This flimsy furniture does not deter the Ankheg’s from surfacing.
  Curtains – Grant total concealment. Passing through requires two squares of movement.
  Windows – though there is glass still in the panes, it is easily broken. Windows require two squares of movement to pass through.
  Stairs – These rickety stairs are difficult to ascend, requiring two squares of movement. All terrain on the ruined, partially collapsed second floor is rough terrain.

Experience rewards on this one are a little tricky, especially given that some of the enemies are fighting one another. I’d argue for calculating the total, and giving the players half. Adjust for more or less, depending on how difficult the fight was. Ultimately, I feel that giving the players more EXP is never the wrong choice – they will feel accomplished and powerful, and let’s face it: how many campaigns have you run all the way from 1-30? Speeding things along won’t hurt.

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Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Combat Encounter, Not Playtested


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Incidents – Archery Competition


Some prizes are more valuable than others…

This encounter is intended for any number of characters of any level

As I mentioned, the tourney both in historical and fictional context is about more than just the jousting. There were plenty of other feats of arms, and they also make an appearance in common fantasy/medieval(ish) fiction. Like the grand melee that solidifies fan favorite Brienne of Tarth in “A Clash of Kings.” Or that famous archery competition from Robin Hood lore (your choice of anthropomorphic fox, swashbuckling black-and-white film star, or Russell Crowe). Or that famous pie-eating contest from a few posts back.

The tricky bit about representing a competition at the table is that it inevitably comes down to a lot of die rolls, and a dog-show style display of stat bonus superiority. Not every player at the table is excited by that prospect – though I’m certain you have at least one who is. The trick is to ground it in the characters, and to give the players options to tweak and adjust the circumstances of the competition to keep it interesting.

Don’t forget about the other competitors either! While it is likely that multiple PCs will be competing in the contest against one another (at least ostensibly, even if they ultimately share the reward) there are also NPC archers. As with the Pie-Eating contest, be reasonable when setting up the competition. In general, writing up three major competitors, each with an advantage and an exploit, creates an interesting role-playing possibility, and side-steps the problem of creating a boring “my attack bonus vs. your attack bonus” roll-off. But more on that later.

Knock, Draw, Aim, Fire!
There are three “rounds” in the competition, each a different distance from the target. Bear in mind the range increment penalties for the character’s weapon of choice (some enchanted weapons and feats may have an advantage in this competition. If the distances listed are just shy of granting a player a boon for having an increased range ability; adjust the distance so that the advantage matters in this challenge. After all, the point of having all those cool items and feats is so that they can come in handy!)

During each round, participating PCs make ranged basic attacks against a target (see below). You may opt to allow the player to make relevant Encounter or Daily attacks instead. Similarly you may opt to have the player “consume” an encounter or daily attack power to grant a +2/+5 bonus to the attack roll. Use your best judgement when adjudicating this – if the power would be considered cheating during a competition, its use will disqualify the PC.

-The first round has targets set 70 feet (14 Squares) away from the shooters
-The second round has targets set 150 feet (30 Squares) away from the shooters
-The third round has targets set 195 feet (39 Squares) away from the shooters

The “AC” of each target is equal to a Moderate DC +2 for the player’s level. However, the more accurate the hit, the more points it is worth in the overall challenge:

  • Hitting the target DC: 2 Points
  • DC +2: 4 Points
  • DC +5: 8 Points
  • DC +8: 12 Points
  • DC +10: 16 Points
  • DC 11+ (Bullseye): 22 Points

(NOTE: A roll of a natural 20 is always a bullseye)

Players may opt to wow the crowd by attempting a trick shot. Doing so incurs a -5 penalty to their attack roll, but will earn them a whopping 10 points for style from the NPC judges. Bear in mind that some of the NPC competitors may do likewise. Bear in mind that skills, and non-combat related powers might be applied to a trick shot. Encourage your players to be creative and reward creative (but not game exploitative) thinking!

At the end of the competition, the contestant with the most points is the winner. Runner up prizes may be handed out as per DM discretion.

The Competition
Setting up good opponents will be part of the fun in this encounter – especially if you have groomed your players to well and they opt not to allow their own rivalries to spill over into the contest! Though these NPCs don’t need full stat block, fleshing out two or three characters in brief will make the encounter shine. It is assumed that there are plenty of other contestants in the archery competition (and make sure to point this out – the players are special and should feel as such), but only the PCs and the all-star NPCs have any chance of winning the big prize.

Each opponent should have two qualities: an advantage, and an exploit. This permits you to give the NPCs a chance of winning/losing the competition outside of mere statistics, and allows players who aren’t doing the actual shooting to participate in winning the duel by working behind the scenes. To help you build your NPC rivals; below are (hardly exhaustive) lists of possible advantages and exploits for your players to interact with.

Consider giving the opponents attack roll bonuses equal to or slightly higher than those of the participating PCs.Generally speaking, this and perhaps their Insight bonus are the only stats you will require.


  • Raw Skill: The attack bonus of this NPC is equal to the highest participating PCs ranged basic attack bonus +3
  • Cheater!: The NPC is somehow cheating to win! The cheat can be noticed by a Hard Perception check. During the first shot, use Passive Perception (unless a PC is specifically seeking out foul play) During the second shot the PC (or allied spectators) may make a roll to detect the wrongdoing. The nature of the cheat will effect how it is detected. Some ideas include drugging competitors, replacing regular ammunition with faulty arrows, tampering with the targets, etc. Proof of wrongdoing will get this NPC disqualified.
  • Judge in His Pocket: The NPC has bribed a judge to give him high marks for his relatively easy “trick” shots and to poo-poo the feats of other archers. The PC’s must find this out ahead of time and deal with the judge accordingly.
  • Crowd Favorite: The NPC is a returning champion, and the locals love him. Each round he is cheered for, granting the NPC a +3 bonus on attack rolls. The PC’s must come up with a strategy to sway the crowd away from the champ, or bear the brunt of his advantage. You might opt to make this more severe by having the crowd jeer and boo the champion NPCs opponents, incurring a -2 penalty on their shots unless a Moderate Endurance or Insight check is made.
  • Imposing: Not only is this archer good, but he keeps shooting daggers at you with his eyes…and, might just do that literally too! The PC must make a Hard Insight, Intimidate, Endurance, or Perception check to avoid the glowering of this competitor, or else take a -2 penalty on their attack rolls!


  • Caves Under Pressure: A talented shooter when he isn’t trying to hard, but it’s easy to get in his head. If the PC complete a Complexity 1 Skill Challenge using Bluff, Intimidate, and Insight as primary skills, they will incur a -5 penalty to all the NPC’s shots.
  • Weapon Expert: The NPC is a marvel with a signature bow. He’s so accustomed to its weight and pull that he and the weapon are one. But put any other bow in his hand, and his performance degrades appreciably (-3 attack roll penalty)
  • Cocky: This NPC is so full of himself he knows he will win! Unless…he doesn’t! If the NPC does not make the highest score in a round, he is vulnerable to a Moderate Intimidate or Bluff check to play on his insecurities. If successful, he takes a cumulative -2 penalty for each round he does not make top score in.
  • Cheaters!: The PC’s cheat. The particulars are subject to the kind of cheating the players concoct, and getting caught means disqualification and public shame. Statistically, this will likely require a Complexity 1 Skill Challenge using Bluff, Thievery, and Stealth to accomplish.
  • Fall-guy: This NPC is not known for his honor, but for his greed. He would love to win; but if the PC’s can make losing seem more favorable, he would be happy to take a fall in the competition.
  • Man on the Run: Some of the archery contestants have checkered pasts. This NPC’s just might catch up with him if the PCs have any say in it. If they ask around, it will be revealed that this NPC is wanted by the law, debtors, a rival, or a criminal group. Finding a representative of that group and directing them to their target will remove this archer from the competition entirely.
  • Glutton: Even a fat man can have steady aim…assuming he can draw the bow over his gut! This archer is a voracious eater. If the PC’s can sucker him into overeating, he’ll throw his aim off, incurring a -2 penalty to all his shots.
  • Horny Goat: This young archer hopes to win enough fame to woo any woman he sees. However he is easily distracted by the wiles of lovely and interested women, and that just might keep his eye veering away from the target. If a PC can successfully seduce him (or hire someone else to) the contestant will take a -2 penalty to all attack roles due to his frequent flirtations.

(Apologies for all of the presumed male NPCs here! Pronouns were for convenience only; lady archers are more than welcome to be trounced by your PCs!)

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
As with the Pie Eating Contest, be sure that the reward for the archery competition is properly tempting. Magic items, raw coin, land, and even a chance to have an audience with a noble who has previously snubbed them (the noble will be personally congratulating the winner) are all good possible rewards. Tying the competition into your over-arching plot is also a valuable avenue to explore (Case in point, making it a means to get in touch with a VIP character, or to defeat a rival without resorting to politically caustic open combat).


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