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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Panopticon of Torment

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The orcs slave’s need your help – but can’t risk activating these deadly collars to aid you

This adventure is intended for five players of 4th level

Some time ago, the consistent campaign I was running saw the player’s recently liberated base of operations under attack by a floating fortress full of orcs. The castle was built on an earth mote (technically a device within the castle powered the levitation) and its occupants – who were clearly not responsible for its original construction, used it as a high fantasy aircraft carrier of sorts.

I had a hankering to go “old school” with mapping, and so took to pencil (for sake of clarity, I opted for a mechanical, rather than a truly old school no. 2) and graph paper to detail the entire complex. It had all the expected features, main gate, dining hall, supply closets, arcane ballistas, wyvern rider hangar, latrines, etc. But in addition to the main complex It had an adjoined hunk of rock (also floating) full of useful ore, where the orcs kept slaves working round the clock.

The following encounter details the interior of said anti-gravity prison. Though it could just as likely be placed in a much more mundane setting.

Setup
Whoever built this sophisticated mine complex/prison camp originally is long gone, and it is now run by a savage and crafty band of orcs. The new occupants found the place already stocked with eldritch devices used for controlling prisoners with magically applied pain compliance and – if need be – a summary and explosive execution. Though difficult for the wizard who concocted it, the system was easy enough that the orc’s warlocks and shamans soon figured out how to use it with few “accidents” during their experimenting.

The prison’s architecture is also impressive. While not an archetypal application of the design theory, it is a panopticon – a prison arrangement in which the guards can view all prisoners at all times, yet the inmates cannot see their captors at all. Naturally, a few choice arrow slits allow the guards to fire upon the prisoners as well.

Slave Collars
When they moved in to the mine, the orcs found and eventually figured out how to use a nefarious device used by the previous occupant to keep his own slaves in line.

This wicked enchanter created several “control collars” that lock around the neck of a victim. The collars are a cold, stark metal, with a gleaming gem inset in them. The lock is a removable, mundane lock (Moderate Thievery to open), but has a tamper-proof magic cast upon it…causing the gem to explode with great force, killing the wearer and harming anyone standing too close. The gem is further enchanted to induce pain in the victim when a corresponding “control crystal” is depressed. The idea is to torment the slave until they act in accordance with the master’s wishes.

As a final and perhaps the most insidious option, the master can simply detonate the crystal remotely. In this way, the slaves are conditioned to be “moveable” by the operator of the collar.
The collars are collectively controlled from a guard house in the prison, where a single person can orchestrate the entire mine from one spot.

Eventually, the prisoners are so physically and mentally exhausted by the torture, that they are easily conditioned into carrying out their tasks without any need of further pain compliance.

• In game terms, a creature operating the collar control board (Move action) can cause slaves to move 4 squares, or can cause a slave to “explode,” killing the slave and dealing 1d6+Encounter Level Force Damage to any creature in an adjacent square.

Map
PanopticonofTorment

Features of the Area
Entrance Corridor: The PCs enter from the short passage to the west.

Cliff: This sheer cliff provides almost no handholds (Hard Athletics) and drops down 20 feet.

Barred Gates: These two conventional prison gates each feature a single door that opens outward. They are both locked (and can only be unlocked from the inside or with a key). Picking the lock on the first is a Moderate Thievery check, requiring a Move action to accomplish. The second gate has a much sturdier lock, requiring a Hard Thievery check. A combatant can make attacks through the bars with appropriate weapons, but takes a -2 for doing so.

Guard House:Standing on three sturdy, polished stone pillars is the prison’s guard house. From the outside, it appears as a windowless metal building. Magical scrutiny however, will reveal that the facade is enchanted. The effect is like that of a one-way mirror: the orcs inside can see out as though the wall were not present at all (visible light outside is slightly dimmed).

At intervals around the wall (and even cut into the floor and angled beneath the guard house) are thin arrow slits (not visible from the outside). The iron door that leads in is visible, and is locked Moderate Thievery.
A metal bridge leads from the upper level of the mine cavern. As a move action, a lever in the same square as the door can be pulled and this bridge can be retracted underneath the building. Or vice-versa.

Around the central building support pillar is a circular trap-door. Attached tot hat pillar is a retractable ladder that allows the guards to drop down into the pit if need be (and prevent prisoners from climbing up into the guard house). The trap door is usually closed, the bridge folded up, and the trap-door itself locked (Hard Thievery).

Arrow Slits: Indicated by red “Ranged Attack” emblems on the map, these firing positions provide superior cover, but allow attacks only in squares that follow a straight line out from their position. The two opening in the floor are angled to provide a clear line of sight/effect to any square beneath the guard house.

Control Board: This strange metal board juts out from the wall at about waist height. embedded into it are small crystals, each of a different color. Slots next to the crystals indicate there is space for three more. This board is used to manipulate the collars affixed to each of the prisoners. Touching the crystals induces pain in the victim – the greater the pressure, the more intense the pain. Pushing the crystal down causes the slave’s collar (and thus, the slave) to explode. Removing the crystal will deactivate the collar, rendering it safe to unlatch.
A Move action by anyone adjacent to the board can be used to cause a slave to move 4 squares, to deactivate a collar, or to cause a slave to explode (see ‘Slave Collars” above).

Mine Pit: This area is being excavated to get at a particularly rich cache of ore. The drop down is only 10 feet and on a good day the prisoners are afforded 4 feet of rope to make the climb down.

Monsters
NOTE: I chose a few monsters from rarer publications – those without a subscription to DDI or the names books might want to substitute for some other orc of the appropriate level/role

x3 Orc Bolt Throwers (Dungeon Magazine 157 pg. 31) OR x2 Orc Archer (Monster Vault pg.226)
x1 Orc Wolf Shaman (Orcs of Stonefang Pass pg. 27)
x2 Orc Raider (Monster Manual pg. 203)
x10 Slaves – use stats for “Human Rabble” (Monster Manual pg. 162) PCs only receive experience if a slave is rescued. Slaves do not actively seek to harm PCs and flee from being attacked.

Tactics
The Raider’s task is to tie up the PCs in direct confrontation, skirmishing and moving back into cover. The archers/bolt throwers stay safe inside the guard house, hurling their projectiles through the safety of the arrow slits. While the shaman prioritizes using the control board to send slaves off on suicide charges, he will summon his wolf spirit in order to clear out any PCs approaching the door to the guardhouse.

Unless controlled to rush at the party, the slaves cower; avoiding combat and taking cover when possible. They are not active combatants either for or against the PCs.

Possible Rewards
Most of the orcs here are on duty, and aren’t carrying much in the way of treasure. Consider dropping your smallest monetary treasure parcel here. You might also exercise the option to provide some Ritual Components if a PC makes a successful Moderate Arcana check to find a way to break down the collars into useable components.

The control collars are recoverable, but won’t function more than 150 feet from the control board, which could be removed by resourceful PCs.

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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Combat Encounter, Playtested

 

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Battlefield Extraction

This encounter is intended for a party of five 3rd level characters in D&D 4th edition / 2nd-3rd level characters in the D&D Next Playtest

I’m finally making good on earlier claims to gear a few encounters towards map resources that I have already on hand (and don’t need to create from scratch, which eats up a lot of time that I could otherwise spend doing the actual writing.) Outside of the practical benefits, it also provides you DMs out there with more incentive to use those map packs you’ve picked up and completely forgotten were sitting in your trove of tools and toys.

To sweeten the deal, I’ve written this encounter to be playable in both 4th Edition and D&D Next. Where applicable I’ve presumed 4th Edition stats and math, with equivalent D&D Next information [In brackets]. If I’ve overlooked any place where the rules don’t cross over one-for-one, use the guidelines in the playtest document and your good DM judgement (don’t sell yourself short, it IS good!) to accommodate.

Setup
This encounter will assume a few plot details that aren’t really necessary but enhance the narrative gravity. It presumes that the PCs are in search of a dwarven expert of some kind – an individual with a particular craft or magical talent who is a valuable cultural icon in his/her community (A renowned architect, a master weaponsmith, a stoic prophet, a well-read scholar, etc). Unfortunately, this expert is also damned stubborn, and not willing to sit back in safety when his/her community comes under attack by a horde of various goblinoids and their allies – bound to the service of a conniving Hobgoblin warlord, Morrick.

This dwarven city/outpost/colony has been under siege for nearly a month now, and the PCs (wether they were aware of the ongoing warfare or not) arrive in the thickest of hostilities. After a frustrating search for their quarry, they learn that this expert (To keep things open-ended we’ll refer to him/her as the VIP) they seek has volunteered on the front lines, taking up a position in a bunker set to hold a side entrance into the settlement.

When the PCs arrive, they find the dwarven defenders hard pressed, and their VIP in the midst of what appears to be a desperate last stand – if they don’t come to the rescue…

Plot Text
Believe it or not, this siege might have actually helped your search. Normally dwarves tend to be tight lipped to outsiders and self involved even around people they like, but with breaks in chain of command, mercenaries and allied forces scrambling through battlements and commercial areas alike, you received hardly a raised eyebrow. Eventually, someone knew where this dwarf you’re looking for was.

It’s worse than you thought. That stubborn fool didn’t listen. The last report was that your quarry took up a weapon and tromped off to the front lines. Fortunately the rank and file soldiers you keep bumping into know the way to Steelymane’s Bunker. You kick up a cloud of dust as you rush past the weary and wounded – going in the opposite direction and straight into the belly of this war.

The bunker is a forward position used to hold what is essentially a postern gate Into the Dwarven settlement. Supposedly it hadn’t seen much fighting, but the scream of dwarf, goblin, and steel rings down the cramped hallways as you approach. You spill down shallow stairs, hoping you aren’t too late.

Map
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A high-quality poster version of this map is included in the Vaults of the Underdark map pack.

Features of the Area

River – This stream is part of the settlement’s primary water source. It is deep and fast, if not broad. Any creature swimming across must make a Moderate Athletics [Moderate STR (Swim)] check to cross without difficulty. If the creature fails, it is washed downriver 3 squares (15 feet) for each move action it spends swimming. Failing by 5 or more indicates that the creature is flushed downstream 5 squares (25 feet) and may soon be in danger of drowning (DM discretion)

Battlements – The wall on the southeastern area of the map grants partial cover. This section of the settlement is raised up 10 feet from the top of the wall to the ground below. Lowering oneself down requires 3 squares (15 feet) of movement, or a single square to simply drop down (possibly taking falling damage without an Easy Acrobatics/[DEX (Jump)] check). Due to inadequate hand-holds, climbing up requires a Moderate Athletics [Moderate STR (Climb)] check to climb

Statues – These statues were once beautiful works of art, and are now pitted and dented by arrows and misplaced spells. They grant full cover.

Stalagmites and Rubble – On land or water, these squares count as rough terrain requiring 2 squares (10 feet) of movement to pass through

Crates and Barrels – These stashes of military equipment are provided to serve the Dwarven garrison. As a Move action, a creature can recover 1d4 shots of ammunition for a ranged or thrown weapon (assuming it is not exotic). These squares also count as rough terrain requiring 2 squares (10 feet) of movement to pass through. Small creatures can use them to hide behind, in which case they grant partial cover.

Arrow Slits – The bunker has weathered this assault and dished out much damage in return thanks to these openings. Each arrow slit grants Superior Cover.

Door – The entrance to the bunker is a sturdy wooden door, reinforced with iron bands and locked by two locks, requiring 2 Moderate Thievery [DEX] checks. (You may want to familiarize yourself with your rule-set’s doctrine on breaking objects).

Corpse Pile (Not pictured on map) – Fighting has been thick here, and the dwarves have met their enemies head-on at the killzone in front of the bunker. Sprinkle pockets of rough terrain between the bunker and northern entrances to represent the piled up bodies of fallen soldiers from both sides who could not be removed from the battlefield. A clever PC might need to recover one of the casualties weapon’s or ammunition in a pinch, or might even hide amongst the dead and ambush an oncoming wave of enemies.

“First one in, last one out!”
One important challenge to bear in mind is that your players very well might perceive this battle as a losing fight. If that is the case, they’ll likely want to get the VIP out of the bunker and back to safety, abandoning the front to attack. The VIP won’t stand for this – being the stubborn and stalwart dwarf that he/she is. Don’t absolutely refuse to let the PCs convince their quarry to quit the field, but doing so should be challenging, and might require precious time (and actions) that could otherwise be spent on defense.

If the PCs cut a deal with their VIP to stay until the bitter end, hit them with a final wave of monsters (see Wave 5) to test their resolve and prowess. This constitutes the last wave in the goblinoid army’s surge to take this entrance. If it should fail, the invaders retreat to lick their wounds and regroup – thus granting the PCs and VIP time to do business.

Invasion
Attacking monsters arrive from the northern section of the map. They may arrive from  northwest or northeastern (“river side”) entrances into the cavern.

Defenders Positions
The PCs have a few allies in this encounter, assuming they try even in the slightest to beg the dwarves assistance.

Platform: x4 Dwarf Warrior (Monster Vault pg. 100) / [x4 Dwarf Conscripts – add Heavy Crossbow: +4 to hit (Range 30/120) Hit: 1d10+1 dmg (Against the Cult of Chaos pg. 6)]

Bunker: x2 Dwarf Warrior (Monster Vault pg. 100), x1 Dwarf Clan Guard (Monster Vault pg. 101), x1 VIP – Any 4-6th level Dwarf would be appropriate – I would recommend: Dwarf Sunpriest (Dark Sun Creature Catalogue pg. 41) / [x3 Dwarf Conscripts – add Heavy Crossbow: +4 to hit (Range 30/120) Hit: 1d10+1 dmg (Against the Cult of Chaos pg. 6), x1 VIP – use the stats for “Human Warchief” with the following adjustments: +3 HP, Dwarven Resilience, “Commander +2” applies to all dwarves, rather than creatures with the “Disciplined” action]

The Invaders Arrive
The savage goblinoid army that is striking at the dwarves has been pressing the defenders on this side hard for hours now. Their last push will come in several waves, and without the PCs help, the reduced numbers of the garrison won’t be enough to hold them back.

Wave 2 will arrive on the map (IE: in sight of the PCs and their allies) 2 rounds after the first wave begins skulking up. After that, roll 1d4-1 (minimum of 1) to determine the number of rounds that pass between the remaining waves arrival. You need not stick to this, if the arrival of the next wave would be dramatic and appropriate. But if your players are…how to put this delicately… big fat cry-babies, it might be a valuable guideline to use.

Wave 1
x3 Bugbear Thugs (Monster Vault pg. 159) / [x3 Bugbears (Bestiary pg. 6)]
Tactics: Two of the bugbears move forward, suing cover if possible and throwing ranged attacks at the defenders. The other bugbear makes a beeline for the corpse pile, burying himself under the dead with a Move action. Beneath several bodies clad in chain and plate, this bugbear receives total cover and blocks line of sight to his position. He will lie there in wait, trying to lure a PC from the safety of the bunker or other cover. If no attacks against him are made, he continues to wait until the goblin horde passes by, then pops up, joining there charge and using his smaller allies to screen ranged attacks.

Wave 2
x15 Goblin Snipers (Monster Vault pg. 152) / [x15 Goblins (Bestiary pg. 50)]
Tactics: 5 of the goblins are actually approaching under water. They begin up river (northeast entrance to the map). These sneaky commandos are using sturdy tubes as snorkels to stay beneath the water line and evade the screen of crossbow bolts. PCs receive a -2[Disadvantage] to detect these commandos.

Wave 3
x5 Hobgoblin Battle Guard (Monster Vault pg. 157) / [x5 Hobgoblins (Bestiary pg. 56)]
Tactics: These soldiers move forward slowly in a tightly packed shield wall, using their move twice to close in (see special movement for the Battle Guard) / [or using a move and the “Dodge” action (How to Play pg. 13)]. Once they close to melee, they focus their attacks on a single target as much as possible.

Wave 4
x 1 Ogre (Monster Vault pg. 216), x1 Morrick, Hobgoblin Commander (Monster Vault pg. 158) / [x1 Ogre (Bestiary pg. 70), x1 Morrick, Hobgoblin Leader (Bestiary pg. 56)]
Tactics: Morrick sticks to cover and moves into the outer edges of the fighting, where he can make a well-excused retreat, if need be. The ogre rushes into combat, using a double move/[hustle] if need be, to close the distance. When bloodied, Morrick retreats.

Wave 5 (Optional)
x15 Goblin Snipers (Monster Vault pg. 152) / [x15 Goblins (Bestiary pg. 50)]
Tactics: This optional wave is simply a maul of angry goblins. It is intended as a final test of the hero’s ability to endure extended combat. It should feel a bit tiring, but don’t let combat drag on to the point where it is boring. As soon as you and your players are finished with this battle, the goblins retreat in a scattered, disorganized fashion.

Possible Rewards and EXP
Given the difficult nature of this encounter, and the increased drama of having to keep a VIP alive during a challenging combat with no breaks in between, grant your players bonus experience equivalent to a 4th level monster. Additionally, if the heroes persevere, they will gain the aid of the dwarven VIP, as well as praise and commendation from the defenders (who will have warmed quite a bit to them) for how they carried themselves on the field of battle.

 

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