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