This adventure is intended for 3-5 player characters of 3rd level and applies to the final release of the D&D Next Playtest
So last year my fledgling 4th Edition Neverwinter Campaign Setting game fell apart thanks to my busy schedule. Though I lament its loss, I think the last encounter I ran can have some future life – potentially in your own game. The PCs were investigating some Ashmadai (read: evil devil-man) cult activity in the decrepit ruins (NEVERWINTER CAMPAIGN SETTING SPOILER AHEAD) of Neverwinter’s once beautiful House of Knowledge. They were questioning some of the squatters and homeless holed up in the old Oghman shrine, when their inquiries got the attention of cultists concealed amongst the rabble. A desperate melee ensued wherein the party had to limit their area attacks – lest they harm innocent bystanders. But with the cultists disguised in the crowd and the doors to the room shut, the party was in a dangerous (and near TPK!) situation.
This encounter seeks to capture the tension of being locked in a room with an overwhelming number of foes, and many innocents caught in the cross-fire. I’ll also explore some home-brew rules for dealing with grappling mobs in a fast, easy way that affords you some realistic options in regards to being pinned by multiple attackers.
And you don’t need to be playing a Neverwinter campaign to benefit! Bear in mind, this encounter is tuned between moderate and tough for the level the players are at. Still, multiple opponents tends to make encounters much more difficult. You may wish to spring this encounter on a party that is fresh and has all of its resources to bear.
Setup and Tactics
The PCs must track down a lead related to their current plotline. A possible informant lives amongst the squatters in a rundown library (In Neverwinter, the House of Knowledge) in a desiccated part of the city. Unbeknownst to them, less than savory elements (The insidious Ashmadai Cultists of the Forgotten Realms, for example) move in and amongst the destitute persons living in the ruins. Some of the rabble are evil agents taking advantage of the fact that few wish to be bothered with the City’s poor and downtrodden.
The vipers amongst the peasants are carefully concealed – and would like to remain that way. The main chamber of the library is a tall, dome roofed rotunda crammed with the unwashed poor. Let the PCs ask some questions of the unwashed masses and do some investigating before the action starts.
The PCs may opt to flee, rather than fight – a perfectly sensible response! However with the mob latching hold and supernatural cultists barring the main means of egress, that will be easier said than done. The cultist rabble will attempt to grapple PCs (two or three at once) to keep them in the room and allow the tougher cultists to more easily slay them. None of the cultists is above using an innocent bystander as a human shield.
The conditions in this once shinning bastion of knowledge couldn’t be worse. The destitute are crammed into every nook and cranny of the dilapidated ruins. Clotheslines now hang haphazardly from rotting bookshelves, old folios feed pathetic cookfires, and all around you is the smell of mold, decay, and human waste.
But you can detect the shifting air as someone closes the worn double doors to the library’s central rotunda. Standing in front of the only entrance to this lobby is a tall man in a black cloak. He sneers at you and hisses, “We don’t accept outsiders prying into our business. You know too much for your own good.” A warm, eerie light emits from the man’s open palms and with a snap, magical chains of molten hot metal slide out of his hands and clink on the floor.
Around you the crowd cowers, and backs away. Most of the crowd, anyway. Some anonymous vagabond shouts “Kill the outsiders!” There is a flash of movement as the squatters run too and fro…some scrambling to get away from the melee…others pushing forward with rusty knives, clubs, and bare hands to strike at you!
The Rabble Attacks
Part of the challenge in this combat encounter is separating the innocent squatters from the concealed cultists. To create an environment of confusion and tension, only have part of the hostile human rabble attack at first. Each round, more of the incognito cultists will strike at the PCs. Use the below guidelines for how many Human Rabble to introduce per round:
If the players attack the crowd indiscriminately, assume that some of those killed were indeed cultists; other were not. Innocents who are attacked will opt to flee rather than strike back. The cultists won’t bother to attack the other squatters – nobody will believe their claims of Ashmadai cultists hiding iut in the old library anyway. However, if barring the PCs path means injuring or harming innocent civilians, so be it.
Innocent squatters use the same “Human Rabble” stats as the cultists.
The grapple rules in D&D Next (found on page 17 of the How to Play document) are simple and efficient, but lack a bit of the nuances that apply to attacks from mobs. Consider applying some of the following optional rules below to make this encounter mor dangerous.
For context: restraining a target is like holding them tight bodily, while their arms and legs are still free to move (albeit in a much more limited fashion, hence the apllication of disadvantage). Pinning aLimb is like getting an opponent into an arm or leg lock; stopping their limb from functioning while not impeding overall bodily mobility. In either event the target is grappled, and thus bound in place, though not completely motionless.
Multiple Grapplers – •A second (third, fourth, etc.) attacker may grab an already grappled target using the normal rules for initiating a grapple, and does so with advantage.
•There should be a limit to the number of assailants in a grapple (4-5, DMs discretion).
•Three or more grapplers may move a target without taking the normal 5 extra feet of movement penalty. Doing so requires that they all act on the initiative of the lowest attacker.
•Any assailant may attempt to restrain, or pin the limb a grappled creature.
•Escaping a grapple with multiple creatures requires you to make a Strength or Dexterity roll opposed by a Strength roll from each attacker. You need only beat the highest attacker’s result to escape the grasp of each assailant.
Pinning a Limb – While grappling a creature, as a separate action you may attempt to constrain a creature’s limbs by making an opposed Strength check opposed by the creature’s Strength or Dexterity (their choice). Doing so prevents the creature from using that limb (possibly denying them use of a weapon, or spellcasting ability if both hands are bound). The creature need only escape the grapple to cancel the effects of a pinned limb.
Features of the Area
Lighting: Cracks in the walls and broken stained glass windows in the upper floor, along with the blaze of cookfires and candles make this room brightly illuminated.
Statue: In the middle of the room is an enormous statue of Oghma – though this may not at first be apparent. Weather, vandalism, and seismic disaster have all contributed to this once beautiful piece of art’s decrepit appearance. Stained and pock marked with ware this 30 foot tall statue is barely recognizable, but its size is no less impressive.
Stairs: Though damaged and now treacherous, these marble stairs wind around the wall of the rotunda and climb up seven stories. Each floor above the main chamber is lined with stacks of rotting books and crumbled shelves, niches where statues once stood, and the occasional row of scholar’s stalls. Anything of value has long since been looted.
Floorspace: Though left open in the image, feel free to clutter the floorspace with tents, cookfires, clotheslines, cots, waste piles, barrels, crates, fallen sections of ceiling, and any other debris you might expect in a shanty-town.
This map was made using the Dwarven Forge map visualizer
Branded Zealot – (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 6) [3 Players: x2, 4 Players: x3, 5 Players: x4]
Human Commoner – (Bestiary pg. 57) [3 Players: x15, 4 Players: x19, 5 Players: x24]