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Category Archives: Combat Encounter

The Thing in The Pit

This encounter is intended for 3-5 characters of 2nd level and makes use of current playtest/5th Edition data as of July 6th 2014


This one is a quickie: a room I designed for a one-shot dungeon crawl that unfortunately got passed over. Some of the party will be forced to fend off the slapping appendages of an abhorrent otherworldly creature, while the rest of the team attempts to breach the entrance to the dungeon before the lot of them are crushed. Make certain to have a player character on hand who can pick locks – or else this encounter is far from being fair.

Map

                                

Features of the Area

    Terrain: Each large block of dungeon floor is 10 feet by 10 feet. Any 5 foot squares marked with a star are considered difficult terrain

   The Pit: This yawning chasm reaches far down into the Underdark, where a massive, amorphous beast from the Far Realm is trapped. The drop is 20 feet where tight cracks and crevices leech deeper into the ground. The elastic tentacles have wormed their way up through these openings. Because the uneven walls of the pit provide good handholds, no check is necessary to climb back up (the writhing tentacles may pose their own challenges, however)

   Treasures: The locations of the two treasure caches are indicated by gold sunbursts on the map (see “Rewards” below)

   Exit Door: This sturdy steel door is a half-foot thick and incredibly heavy. It is shut up tight by three identical locks. Passage to and through the door is blocked by a toppled over column (see below).

      •Each lock requires a DEX DC 10 check to open, and some appropriate lock-pick must be used (a set of Thief Tools would suffice, and Proficiency in such tools grants advantage as normal). 

   Broken Columns: One of these collapsed columns has fallen in front of the locked exit door. With the stone ruins blocking the way, it will be impossible to unlock the door.

      •The column is very heavy, and another party member will be needed to lift it, if not completely move it out of the way. A STR DC 10 check is sufficient to lift the column up, allowing access to the lock. This same character can keep the column elevated for several rounds without having to make another check, but must use their action on their turn to do so. A STR DC 15 check will allow the character to shove the column aside and out of the way for good.

Monsters

The otherworldly abomination is far too massive and durable to be killed by a few paltry, low-level heroes. Fortunately for them, the beast cannot drag its squamous bulk through the caverns below to reach them. Instead, it has extended several of its slimy, mouth-covered tentacles to probe for prey. Though each individual tentacle can be destroyed with some ease, more will take their place, and the creature itself will take little damage. Is the monster regenerating these tentacles, or does it just have a near inexhaustible number on its body? That’s a question bets left unanswered.

•x(# of PCs) Tentacles (40 EXP each)

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     Beast Tentacle (Medium Aberration – Limb)

AC 12 (Vulnerable: Slashing)

HP 8

   Available Actions:

Slam  (Within 15 feet of any part of the pit; one creature) +3 to hit (1d6+3 bludgeoning damage); automatic hit and +1d6 bludgeoning damage if target is already restrained

Trip  (Within 15 feet of any part of the pit; up to two creatures) DEX save DC 12 or target(s) are knocked prone

Ensnare (Within 15 feet of any part of the pit; one creature) +4 vs. STR or DEX (target’s choice); on hit target is restrained and may attempt the check again to escape as an action. A tentacle that has ensnared a target in this way may deal it 1d6+3 piercing damage as an action

   Traits:

•Each time a beast tentacle is destroyed, roll 1d4-1 (minimum of 1) – a new tentacle replaces it after that number of rounds has passed.

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Tactics

The tentacles have supernatural blindsight, and the best has enough intelligence to try and interrupt any character attempting to escape. Otherwise, they try to kill and eat every PC (like you do, when you are an amorphous beast)

Rewards

In the nook in the north part of the room, the skeleton of an unfortunate explorer (wounded by the beast and unable to escape) is crumpled against the wall. Amid the ragged ruin of bones and torn clothes are x1 Healing Potion, a silver ring worth 10 gp, and three raw, uncut gems worth a total of 100 gp

One of the water basins in the eastern section of the dungeon is home to the formation of some uncut precious stones. A STR DC 10 check (advantage if a dagger, prybar, or other tool is used) will free the gems, which can be sold for 50 gp

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In Defense of the Refugees (AKA: “Save the Ladies!”)

This encounter is intended for five PCs of 3rd or 6th level using the most recent D&D 5th Edition statistics as of July 2

I was really fond of the Lord of the Rings console games that popped up in the mid 00’s. I mean sure, these weren’t the best beat-um-ups on the market, but they hit home by leveraging a franchise that I was obsessed with at the time. Given that one of my earliest memories is of playing Golden Axe with my father while propped up on a stool in front of an arcade cabinet – loving a co-op beat-um-up is never hard for me to do. 

A particular gem from those games was the “Minas Tirith Courtyard” level. In essence, it was a siege scenario in which you had to hold off endless hordes of increasingly difficult opponents, while making way for a flood of civilians to escape. The level ended once two-hundred villagers (all women, as I recall. Hence why this level became “save the ladies!” In common parlance) escaped to the safety of an inner wall. It was a grueling task, and a perfect complement for the scenes of devastation and warfare it was meant to invoke.

This encounter attempts to capture the feel of that scenario with a satisfying set-piece battle.

Setup

The PCs have agreed to help defend a community (castle, city, fortress, whatever is appropriate) from an invading army. While regular troops man the walls, the party is overseeing an evacuation. Civilian refugees may be fleeing the city out of a postern gate, falling back to an inner defensive ring, or breaking for the harbor to board boats that will take them out of the conflict. Regardless of the particulars, citizens have no choice but to rush through a warzone to reach safety. When the scenario begins, enemies have breached the defenses and the PCs will need to earn their keep covering the refugee’s flight.

At your discretion, some of the soldiers defending the walls may come down to lend the PCs a hand. Assign no more than one soldier per player, and bump the number of monsters in each wave up by one to compensate.

The party will face endless waves of opponents in this encounter. Their goal is to hold out until all refugees have made it through the exit gate in the southern corner of the map, before themselves pulling back to safety. Depending on the difficulty you intend, the number of total civilians can be adjusted up or down. As an alternate way of working the scenario, the parties goal might be to stand their ground until a prescribed number of refugees makes it through the gate (in this case, consider deducting the EXP value of slain refugees from the party’s total EXP).

   •Each round, 1d4 refugees arrives at the eastern edge of the map (Labelled “Refugee Entry” with eligible squares shaded in blue).

  •Every refugee that successfully escapes through the gate grants its EXP value to the party in the same way a defeated enemy would.

  •Number of refugees: Easy – 10; Moderate – 20; Difficult – 30

Map


When monsters enter the battle, roll 1d4: that monsters arrives in the corresponding entry point on the map (Labelled “Monster Entry”) and takes its turn. Monsters that arrive through entrance 4 will almost always make for the exit gate to cut off any refugees that get past their brethren.

Features of the Area

    Rubble: Walls broken by siege equipment, burning wagons, overturned market stalls, or even piles of corpses. Areas of rubble require 10 feet of movement to pass through.

     Barricade: These stacked barrells, crates, and debris grant half cover.

    Tower: This watchtower is positioned to overlook a great deal of the courtyard. The room is 25 feet up and features an arrow slit that grants Superior Cover, but does not allow the shooter to see anything east of the fountain. The advantage of being able to snipe from the safety of the tower are obvious, but not being on the ground to draw enemies away from the fleeing refugees is a serious disadvantage.

    Porch: This adjoined patio area has a sturdy stone railing all around it that can grant half cover if someone inside crouches. Leaping over the railing is easy enough to do, but requires 10 feet of movement.

    Fountain: The fountain in the middle of this battlefield grants half cover, or full cover if the attacker is on the other side of the large statue in the middle. Enterprising or vicious PCs will find it deep enough to drown orcs in.

   Stone Structures: The low stone buildings might compirse homes, gatehouses, customs offices, or storage. Though their slate roves aren’t especially steep, a 15 foot climb is still required to get to the top, where a PC could enjoy an elevated vantage point. Some of these building have missing walls, destroyed by siege weaponry, creating a path for the city’s invaders to stream into the courtyard.

Monsters

   —Level 3 encounter: One wave every other round

 Wave 1: 10 Goblins (Pg. 49)

Wave 2: 10 Hobgoblins (Pg. 55)

Wave 3: 1 Hobgoblin Leader (Pg. 55), 2 Hobgoblins

Wave 4: 1 Ogre (Pg. 69)

Continuous Waves: 1d4+1 Hobgoblins

—Level 6 encounter: One wave every other round

Wave 1: 10 Orcs (Pg. 70)

Wave 2: 7 Oorogs (Pg. 71)

Wave 3: 1 Orc Leader (Pg. 70), 2 Oorogs

Wave 4: 1 Hill Giant (Pg. 46)

Continuous Waves: 1d4+1 Oorogs


Allies

For the civilian refugees, use the stats for:  Human Commoner (Pg. 57) [And for the record, the civilians comprise both men, women, and children, not just ladies! All the same, don’t NOT save the ladies – that isn’t very feminist either.]

•For allied soldiers (if you choose to provide them), use the stats for:  Human Warrior (Pg. 58 – Replace armor with “Ringmail” and bump AC to 14)

Enemy/Ally Tactics

The attackers (be they orc or hobgoblin) are in the thick of city fighting now, and much of their discipline is fading in the chaos of battle. Use the following guidelines in determining an enemy’s targeting priorities:

1. If a PC is within 10 feet of an enemy, it will attempt to attack the PC

2. Enemies will otherwise attack the nearest opponent, whether they are a civilian, soldier, or PC

3. Enemies will switch targets to the last target that attacked them, thus allowing your players to “pull” the horde off of a civilian

4. Enemies who come out of entrance 4 will make for the exit gate, to block the passage of those fleeing

Though based on a video game, the best part of tabletop RPGs is their infinite mutability. These rules of engagement make for an interesting tactical encounter, but as always, use your judgement. Smart players will find ways to draw enemies away from the fleeing refugees. And likewise, a moment of dramatic ramping-up in which a foe purposefully ignores the players to slay the defenseless civilians might be just what the story needs.

Similarly you can follow a set of guidelines for the behavior of the fleeing refugees:

1. A refugee will always avoid provoking attacks of opportunity when possible (unless ordered by a PC)

2. Refugees always attempt to move toward the exit gate at best possible speed, allaying this only for reasons of safety

3. If within reach of an opponent, a refugee will use the Disengage action

4. If in reach of an opponent and unable to move closer to the gate, a refugee will use the Dodge action

5. Refugees consider PCs and soldier allies and can move through their space unhindered

If you opt to provide the players with back-up in the form of additional soldiers, consider letting the PCs give orders to the troops. They are in control of where the soldiers move to and how they form up, and can even order them to attack particular targets. If you wish to make this more complicated, perhaps an Easy Charisma roll is needed to clearly explain orders over the din and confusion of battle. In this case, PCs might only be able to give vague directions (“Stand left of the gate” or “form up on my right”) rather than letting the players choose which precise square for each soldier to stand in (the more tactical option).

 

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Sanctum of the Fiend of Possession

This encounter is intended for four 3rd level characters

     Concluding this series of encounters based on my old defunct Neverwinter game is the ultimate boss fight. Since the goal of the dungeon was investigating a cult’s plot to possess citizens with the spirits of evil outsiders, I figured the most fitting final encounter would be with a creature that is eager to possess the PCs. Originally, I paired this fight with a language substitution puzzle that could be uncovered using a series of scattered notes (your favorite “tell the story with journal entries” gimmick, from System/BioShock games). The recovered notes would reveal a key to the puzzle, allowing players to translate a magical glyph system that they would then apply to scribing a summoning circle in order to bind the Devil they were fighting. My notes were incomplete and relied on some specific circumstances so I eschewed them for the sake of this write-up.

     As before, I make references to people, places, and organizations in Neverwinter; swap these out for entities from your own campaign world where necessary.

Story Background

     Understanding the circumstances of this encounter requires a little setup. Any of these plot elements can be reworked or discarded as need be, but for brevity’s sake I’ll transcribe the situation as it was planned in my game. Beneath the House of Knowledge were a series of crypts and archives that housed ancient books, scrolls, records, manuscripts and relics. Alongside these were the bodies of priests and acolytes who served the temple in life – now comfortably resting between stacks of books in death.

     Loremaster Atlavast; the last Oghman priest to have survived the cataclysm makes his home in these crumbling archives, navigating through the sewers beneath the city when he needs to make trips above-ground. Eccentric, jealous, and more than a little snooty, Atlavast kept to himself, seeking only to preserve the knowledge that survived disaster beneath the temple’s crumbling façade. 

     But ever paranoid, Atlavast was quickly made aware of the Ashmadai cult’s infiltration into the refugees living in the temple above. He began a one-man guerrilla campaign against the cultists; using old spells and traps of his own devising to discourage them from exploring the lower levels of the House of Knowledge. He began to research devils and their other fiendish kin in order to better combat his enemy…and this was his undoing.

     In a moment of uncharacteristic boldness he read from a tome in the “Dangerous Books” wing of the archives. Lurking in the pages was a spectral possession devil named Xamzael that was freed from its prison between the covers when Atlavast read from a forbidden passage. The creature immediately possessed the priest but was denied access to the surface due to ancient wards placed on the the door to the archives, trapping it there. 

     Vaguely aware of the Ashmadai thanks to its limited ability to read Atlavast’s thoughts, the devil uses its host to find a means of escaping, and has even constructed a summoning circle to call more of its brethren into the mortal plane to help. Were it to escape, the devil would happily join the Ashmadai forces in conquering the city…with the expectation of becoming Neverwinter’s new infernal king, of course.

Tactics

Much of the flow of this fight is dictated by this devil’s particular qualities, so read its stat-block carefully and get a feel for how it orchestrates the battle. Xamzael will do its best to avoid direct confrontation with the PCs at all costs. It’s first action is to attempt to possess the nearest and hardiest available target; using the host as both weapon and human shield.

The fiend begins combat with a random devil arleady summoned, and Invisibility cast on itself if it is aware of the PCs incursion. Xamzael will prioritize summoning more help when his follwers are killed. He can use the summoning circle even while possessing a foe. 

Summoning Chart


Map


Features of the Area

  Illumination: Between the menacing red glow of the summoning circle and the flickering candles positioned about the room, the chamber is filled with dim light.

  Book Stacks: Each wall (Including those around the square columns in the center of the room) is covered in rickety shelves containing moldy old tomes. Some are ancient and forgotten spellbooks, some merely treatises on the magical arts, still others tertiarily related to the craft of wizards (such as accounts of a city’s “Mage Laws” or ledgers of the names of individuals burned for “witchcraft”).

There are eight and a half foot tall, free-standing bookshelves as well. A Moderate STR (Athletics) check could be used to topple the case over, dealing 1d6 bludgeoning damage and potentially trapping a target if they are not strong enough to remove the fallen shelf.

  Tables and Chairs: Worn out tables and chairs occupy the north side of the room. Once these were used for scholars studying the potentially dangerous tomes around them. Age has worn the furniture down, and the surfaces are caked with cobwebs and dust.

  Summoning Circle: This circle is a weak gateway to the outer planes. Xamzael has been using it to call forth lesser fiends to do his bidding. He need only spend an action to loudly incant in a foul language while adjacent to the circle in order to call forth a random devil (see the chart above). Once the circle has been used it will require an indeterminate time to recharge. 

Roll 1d6: on a 5-6 another devil is poised, ready to pass through into the material plane. This will be apparent to the PCs: the creature’s growls can be heard through the veil between worlds and the glyphs of the summoning circle itself glow with a pulsing red light.

Any spellcaster who expends a 3rd level spell slot and succeeds on a Hard Intelligence (Arcana) roll can disable the circle, closing the portal for good.At your discretion, appropriate spells like Protection From Evil might also close or disrupt the circle as appropriate. 

Monsters

Imp (pg. 26)

Lemure (pg. 27)

Spinagon (pg. 29)

x1 Possession Fiend/Xamzael (See below)

Rewards

Originally, the destruction of Xamzael was required to free Loremaster Atlavast, and the reward for this harrowing battle was acquiring a new ally. The needs of your campaign will dictate an appropriate compensation: the room is filled with scrolls, old spellbooks, and rarities. New spells, a tome sought after as part of a quest, treasure maps, or even some secreted away relic would all be suitable. 

New Monster

                                           


 

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The Defiled Infirmary

This encounter is intended for four characters of 4th level

This week’s encounter is also pulled from my scrapped plans to have PCs explore Neverwinter’s “House of Knowledge,” one of the places of note mentioned in the wonderful Neverwinter Campaign Setting, released for 4th Edition. The plan was to have the party investigate an undercover cult headquarters and bust up some of their various schemes. Some of the overtones can be adapted to match many nefarious organizations, but I’ll allude to Neverwinter personalities, groups, and locations, for clarity’s sake.

NEVERWINTER SPOILER ALERT: 

The former sanctuary of learning and literature turned refugee camp has been infiltrated by nefarious Ashmadai cultists. These minions of the evil Azmodeus are facilitating the possession of persons of high and low countenance all over Neverwinter. With their efforts, it might be impossible to know who is thinking for themselves, and who is a sleeper agent for the cult.

     A major theme behind all of my House of Knowledge encounters was to explore how a dark cult could operate within a headquarters that was seemingly out in the open (though more aptly, “hidden in plain sight.”) Thus, it was often the case that what the players first saw was merely a banal veneer covering up dark deeds.

     This encounter finds your party wandering into the impromptu infirmary within the House of Knowledge (Or any similar adventure site in which the enemy is operating under cover). Cultists, posing as members of a good-aligned priesthood, are offering aid to the sick, injured, and dying, among the multitudes of refugees and squatters. In truth, they are undergoing rituals of possession to allow their infernal allies to take up residence in the bodies of weakened mortals, before actually healing these hosts with the aid of the new spiritual parasite. 

     The action begins with the party finding the infirmary in working order – a seemingly worthy endeavor by well-meaning men of faith. But investigation will reveal the cracks in the façade, and if the cultists discover the PCs snooping too much, they may have a fight on their hands.

Triage

The Cultists: Two priests of Illmater; a human and half-elf named Robett and Taylon respectively, attend to the six (actually seven) severally injured refugees who are in this room. If pressed, they explain that they use a combination of clerical magic (they will not cast any spells in the presence of the PCs) and conventional healing to treat the wounded and the sick. Though they are cordial with the party, it is clear that they are quite busy attending to their patients – their faces are laced with sweat, their eyes marred by the dark circles that sleeplessness brings.

Religion DC 5: Illmater is a deity of compassion, healing, selflessness, and forgiveness

Religion DC 15: The symbol of Illmater that these priests wear is outdated – they use the rack rather than the more contemporary hands bound in red cord.

Religion DC 20: Some of the embellishments on the holy symbols they wear are out of place. Gilding on the design would be forbidden by mendicants of Illmater.

     In truth, these two are Cultists of Azmodeus – and thus members of the Ashmadai cult. While it is true that they are tending to the wounds of their piteous charges, they do so at a measured rate, leaving the patient’s bodies in a weakened state. This makes them more susceptible to a magical ritual of possession which the “priests” have worked on them. When completed, a creature from the Abyss will take up residence in the victim’s mortal form. While the cultists will calmly endure the PCs presence for a time, if they get too nosey they will be asked to leave. If they become belligerent, the disguised priests call for help in the form of x4 Ashmadai Thugs from the rabble outside.

     Obviously all this snooping could easily tip off the Ashmadai cultists. When the party first enters they will be quietly and politely questioned by one of the “priests” as to why they are there. He’ll believe any reasonable excuse. With a smile, both mengraciously decline offers to help the wounded, insisting that while busy, they have everything under control.

     The priest/cultists are indeed busy tending to the wounded, and thus won’t be keeping their full attention on the PCs. Whenever a character attempts an action surreptitiously, make a WISDOM roll for one of the cultists with disadvantage, against a DEX (Stealth) roll for the PC. If the cultist succeeds, he looks up from his work long enough to spot the the snoop.


In Sheep’s Clothing

Once in control of a victim, the devil can call on the attacks, spells, and abilities listed in its stat block, even in the host’s physical form. In doing so, they shed some semblance of humanity, taking on glowing eyes, a flaming corona, and sharpened claws and fangs for a time. Because this is so obvious, most of the possessed will be very unlikely to join battle and risk revealing their true nature.

Patient 1: A halfling man, badly beaten with clearly discernible bootprints on his face. This poor beggar ran afoul of some drunken ruffians who went to far in their casual abuse. He has been completely possessed by the creature assaulting his mind.

Heal DC 15: The wounds on this halfling show a strange rate of healing that neither magic nor medicine can account for. 

Heal DC 20: Even stranger, his scar tissue is of a reddish hue and smells faintly like a campfire.

Patient 2: Half chewed by rats and other vermin, this human street pauper spent any copper he could beg, borrow, or steal on an escape into a bottle. Exposure and the insistent hunger of vermin nearly cost him his life before he was found unconscious, not far from the House of Knowledge. The cultists have yet to begin possessing this man.

Heal DC 10: Perhaps the priests have not prioritized this man correctly…despite a few bandages he has some serious wounds still open and vulnerable to festering that have not yet been treated.

Patient 3: This lady of the evening stood up for her friend when the Mintarn Mercenaries charged with “protecting” the city attempted to drag the girl into lock-up on an imagined charge. The beating she received for her loyalty wasn’t as bad as the hypothermia she endured after being pitched into the river. She has been partially possessed.

Heal DC 15: That this woman has been submerged in frigid water for too long is plain. She does not, however, respond properly to your prodding and medical tests – her eyes lolling and incoherent moans coming from deep in her throat. Hypothermia wouldn’t account for the stupor she seems to be in.

Arcana/Religion/Nature DC 15: Not all of the poultices sitting on this bedside cabinet are medicinal, though you cannot place their use.

Arcana DC 20: One of the jars here contains embers from a funeral pyre – and a finger bone from a fresh corpse. This is a common reagent in dark rituals.

Patient 4: Maimed during fighting in one of the city’s countless skirmishes, this dwarf could find no work with both her hands damaged beyond use. Unable to earn a wage, she became destitute and without money, could not pay healers to treat her injuries. Thus she has come to the only place left her. This patient has been completely possessed by a fiend.

Heal DC 15: Maybe she’s asleep….her wounds aren’t so bad that she should be comatose.

Heal DC 20: There is a strange film on the stumps where her hands once were. Perhaps an infection after the priests amputated her rotting flesh?

Heal DC 25: Um…there are fingers growing back out of her stumps. That is not a thing that Cure spells can do.

Patient 5: With so many bones broken it’s a wonder this half-orc managed to drag himself all the way here. He was a scavenger; digging for loot amid the ash-choked ruins in the Blacklake District. Something must have gone wrong, likely a building collapse, and he barely escaped with his life. Whatever valuables he found were bartered for safe passage back here. The cultists have recently begun possessing this victim.

Heal DC 15: With such extensive injuries, so many bones shattered;  and the apparent lack of emergency care he has received, it is surprising this half-orc survived so long

Heal DC 20: His eyes are strangely discolored and you cannot quite tell why that would be.

Arcana DC 20: Amid his occasional meaningless mumbles you catch a few snatches of a language that makes your skin crawl – He’s speaking Infernal.

Patient 6:  This man bears the glowing azure marks of the Spellscarred. Whether he died of complications from that supernatural affliction or natural causes is hard to say. He’s still warm, and must have only expired a short time ago, probably going unnoticed by the overworked priests. They had not yet gotten around to trying to possess this victim, though he was to be an experiment in what happens when a devil’s spirit gains control of a spellscarred creature.

Heal DC 5: He’s dead.

Heal DC 10: These still glowing marks indicate that he is a victim of the strange supernatural storm known as the “Spellplague.”

Guest Patient

     To the Ashmadai’s benefit, they managed to acquire a gravely injured Red Wizard (Marked “R” on the map) who was at work spying on the city. Though ostensibly in service to Thay, the Ashmadai are secretly plotting against their masters, and possessing this agent would give them a leg up in their goals. The wizard is kept hidden behind a thick red curtain, and if pressed, the fake priests explain that he has a contagious disease, and that the PCs must stand back for their own safety.

     The Red Wizard is bound to his cot and gagged, his wounds being tended to intermittently while the cultists work their vile magic. He is still conscious and if someone barges into his room, will thrash about, calling feebly for help through his bindings. Like all those of his order, this mage wears a robe of scarlet and black, has a shaved head, and is adorned in wicked looking tattoos (in his case, covering the neck and below his ears).

     While evil, and certainly in league with some likely foes of the party, the necromancer, If rescued, will be genuinely grateful for the heroes intervention. Injured and out of spells, he is unable to put up a fight either in defense of himself or against the PCs. He will quickly bribe them with the 50 gp he had on his person (kept in a drawer near his bedside) if they allow him to go free.

Map

     

Monsters

x2 Cultist of Azmodeus (Storm Over Neverwinter pgs. 6-7)
x1 Ashmadai Thug (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 5) – enters the battle from the hall outside
x1 Scorch Devil (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 9) – One of the possessed patients. Enters the battle when he/she raises from the bed and begins to attack

To increase the difficulty of this encounter, consider add one additional Scorch or Fimbrul devil to the encounter per additional PC. In this case, the partially patients possessed patients finish their awful transformation as the conflict begins. To accommodate 3 players, remove one of the priests.

 
 

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Mobbed in the House of Knowledge

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.

Plot Text

      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.

Mobbed!

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.

Map

This map was made using the Dwarven Forge map visualizer 


Monsters

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]

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Combat Encounter, Playtested

 

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[X1 Isle of Dread] Random Encounter – Dinozon Ambush

     As usual, theatre obligations have put my game on hold for the moment (And I’m not even in the show this time!) But all that down time means I can pick away at filling out some of the details I’m adding to the adventure. Since I’m changing some things around on the dear old Isle of Dread, that means adjusting some of the random encounters. Today’s post will be about replacing those goofy phanatons with something a bit more deadly. I’ll give you a hint…it required me to revisit my old love of paleontology. 

Spoilers

     Like last time, if you’re one of my players, buzz off! No peeking! Secrets are ahead! (Not that the title didn’t spoil things already….)!

Amazons on the Island

     I always prefer to tailor the game world to what my players (and to some degree their characters) expect to find in it. So in order to facilitate some intrigue with one PC’s backstory, I’ve replaced the phanatons with an encampment of vicious rogue amazons. Though typically only defensive in nature, these amazons have turned away from the tenets of their sisterhood in order to persue agressive goals of conquest. While these circumstance are unlikely to gel well with most other campaigns, the amazons simply use the Human Warrior stat block, and could easily be swapped out with pirates, natives, neanderthals, or any other humanoid already present on the island.

     What is significant about this encounter is what the amazons are riding into battle: vicious utahraptors. These large dromaeosaurs inspired the erronously named “velociraptors” that made you pee your pants when you saw Jurassic Park  way back….anytime you watched that movie. Using their dinosaur mounts, the amazons increase their mobility and lethality by degrees. Also, riding dinosaurs is awesome.

Setup

      Have the PCs make a normal check to determine surprise when travelling overland. If they are using stealth, the amazons will need to make checks to discover their presence (to simplify this, give them advantage on the check to account for the keen senses of their mounts and the fact that they are out on active patrol).

Plot Text

      You’re finally getting used to the sounds of this awful place. The hoots and growls of unfamiliar animals are becoming commonplace to your ear. You no longer feel the humidity and atmosphere as some alien blanket wrapping around and suffocating you. It’s not home. You’ve merely adapted. Like survivors always do.

     Which is why the lull in bird shrieks should have been a clue. Before you know it they are on you. Women, most of them human, clad in scanty, piecemeal leather and scale armor adorned with vibrant feathers, wisely trading some degree of protection for comfort in the steamy rainforest. They charge forward, mounted on bipedal lizards covered in the brightly colored feathers that their riders wear. You’ve seen several varieties of these reptilian monstrosities on the island already but these look particularly fierce: big as a horse with long tails, a head full of piercing teeth, and a wicked razor toe on either foot. 

     The woman warriors call out to you in a heavily accented common, “Outlanders! This island is ours, and you do not belong here. The penalty for tresspassing is death!” Well, that elimantes negotiation as a viable option. The women let out a birdlike warcry and move to circle your party. The raptors descend upon you.

Tactics

     Two of the mounted amazons rush towards the most isolated target, while the rest harry the column of PCs with ranged attacks from either side. Their plan is to force melee PCs in two different directions – splitting up the group and isolating individuals so that the amazons can gang up on individuals, using the raptor’s pounce ability whenever possible. 

     When half of the amazon patrol is dead or severally wounded, they will raise a call to retreat. Dismounted amazons will not leave their stranded sisters behind. Any captured amazons will only bring down further attacks from search and rescue patrols.

     The raptors are tamed and trained for war, but strongly tied to their riders and accustomed to the amazon’s particular commands. As an action, a PC can attempt a hard WIS [Handle Animal] check, to climb in the saddle and get control of one of the beasts. If not under control of a rider, a raptor will attack the nearest enemy, but is well trained enough not to engage one of the amazons.

 
 

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[X1 Isle of Dread] Cyclopean Towers of the Kopru – Part 1

These encounters are intended for any number of players venturing through “X1 The Isle of Dread” using the August release of the D&D Next Playtest (Levels 3-7)

     Despite my love of wilderness adventuring, no gaming group I was with did anything with hex crawls until recently. I discovered that they were really up my ally, allowing the players to greater agency in controlling the action and to create drama with a random set of tools that functioned better under the usual wear and tear of player insight. The obvious Skyrim analogies are all extremely helpful in understanding their appeal. 

     My group of intrepid D&D Next playtesters is about to embark on X1 – The Isle of Dread and as I gear up to run the adventure, I find myself a little disappointed by the placement of some of the encounters. Looking at the map, I feel like a lot of the action will take place on the main landmass; yet a lot of the location based encounters are on the periphery. While that lets random encounters (which I love!) to bear the brunt, part of the appeal of a big hexcrawl to me is finding places that can be revisited later. That Dire Bear warren you cleared? Great place to bed down for the night and sit out this storm.

     In this vein, I decided to spend the next few entries writing up additional, map keyed encounters for use with Isle of Dread. While stated for and intended for use with D&D Next, I think a lot of this content will be fairly useable for any addition of D&D running the adventure.

     I’ve included snapshots of the island map to help you identify which hex these encounter areas take place in.

A Note to My Players

Hey guys, thanks for reading my blog! You are all real champs. That said, I’m about to share secrets from our game with the internet at large for their possible use and modification in there own games. But that means you could read ahead, cheat, and ruin some of the fun and surprises for yourselves. Don’t do that. I’ll know if you do – and that’s the quickest way to get 2d6 mindflayers dropped into an encounter on a whim. 

You wouldn’t want that. So just navigate away, and trust that you’ll be seeing all of this very soon.

Go on.

Are they gone?

Ok, cool. Now the adults can talk.

The Kopru as Villains

     The encounters detailed below emphasize the Kopru presence on the island as a primary antagonist. In brief, the Kopru are serving as a vanguard for invasion from the Far Realm (themselves a derivative offshoot of Mindflayer and now the shock troopers of an Illithid invasion force). While the island’s isolation allows them to enter the material plane without fear of reprisal, the native’s success in escaping the Kopru’s imperial designs has prevented them from expanding. However the arrival of mainland pirates, traders, the PCs, and other foreign interests has given them the opportunity to take thralls, plant suggestions in sleeper agents, and even stow away aboard escaping ships. The Kopru have been waiting in secret for their chance to leave the island and expand their nefarious plans, and that time is now.

     Across the face of the island, the vile outsiders have erected eldritch standing stones. These obsidian coral obelisks glow with strange green runes, and give off an uneasy psychic energy that causes fitful dreams and eerie whisperings in the minds of sane mortals who wander too close. The corrupting influence of these monoliths has lead to the prevalence of carnivorous primates on the island.

     The positioning of the stones is determined by mystical ley lines that criss-cross the island.  The stones gather magical energy from natural pathways in the earth, allowing the Kopru to maintain portals to the Far Realm with minimal difficulty. What specific purpose these standing stones and the ley lines they influence has is up to you as the DM. In large part they are merely another mysterious site on the island and an objective for the Kopru to guard or reclaim as need be. You may wish to consider adjusting random encounter charts when the PCs are exploring near these standing stones to reflect the presence of alien beings from the Far Realm creeping through portals onto the island.

Standing Stone 1 (SS1) – The Champion’s Harem [4th Level Party, difficult]

                                       

          A strange obelisk, made of some shiny ebony stone and patterned as though it were comprised of a an adamant coral stands a good fifty feet high, jutting from the vegetation. Green runes of inexplicable origin glow brightly even in daylight at irregular intervals and asymmetric angles along the length of the structure. 
     Surrounding the eerie monolith are four colorful pavilions stand in a clearing surrounded by jungle vegetation. Movement is easily discernible in the encampment. Amid the bright rugs and silken tents are five women, and two men, mostly island natives though two of the women are blonde and fair of skin. All are scantily clad in silken garments, and adored with necklaces, earrings, decorative sandals and other wardrobe embellishments. They seem to be serving a heavily muscled native man covered in the skins of dangerous jungle beasts who sits under the central pavilion on a throne lashed together of saber-toothed tiger hides and long, broad-headed spears. Delicious looking island fruits, fresh cooked meats, and jugs of some kind of libation seem in no short supply amongst this odd yet inviting encampment. 

     The Kopru guarding this stone is a practiced mage, and has opted to lure travelers into a false sense of security using illusion magic. It attempts to mentally dominate one of each group it encounters, and enslaves the others to be sent to the central plateau to serve its masters – either as labor force, or food for mindflayers. The creature has cast a Disguise Self spell to appear as a genial and intimidating native warrior. Nearly all of the others are thralls, captured from the villages or among the pirates of the island. One of the non-native women is in fact a witch who abandoned her former allies and has sworn willing service to the Kopru in order to learn powerful dark magic from them. Though she dresses and acts like the other magically stupefied women, she is completely lucid and an ally to the monstrous sentinel of this place.

     The Kopru under his native guise is friendly and inviting to the PCs, offering food, drink, a place to rest, and even a few healing potions or offers of healing. The servants are pleasant and flirtatious, offering any lustful dalliance the PCs wish with the hearty approval of the presiding warrior. [If this all sounds like some cheesecake, Sword and Sandal Frank Frazetta painting, it is exactly that, and should be described as such].

     This seeming native warrior explains that he was a soldier in service to the leaders of Tanaroa, but grew tired of village life and struck out on his own for the excitement of the jungles. There he rescue the people of the encampment who work as his willing servants and concubines. He is quick to assert that they are no bandits, taking what they need from the wilderness, or claiming salvage from pirates and outcasts when possible. He claims to know nothing of the obelisk but acknowledges that it is unsettling. His choice to camp there was to investigate and see who or what might show up. 

     The scheme is to get the PCs to sleep without posting a guard.The food and drink is laced with a mild sedative in order to facilitate this (PCs attempting to stay awake must make a CON DC 10 Save with Disadvantage). Belligerent or suspicious PCs are bound and disarmed while they sleep. One of the PCs (your choice) is instead subjected to the Kopru’s Dominate Person ability (Disadvantage on the save while they are asleep). If successful, the Kopru uses this PC to encourage the others to acquiesce, to go with the Kopru’s allies, and to hear them out. If the whole party is captured, in 1d6 days, a patrol from the central plateau arrives to take the captives there, forcing them into slavery or feeding some or all of the party to a mindflayer. Opportunities for the PCs to escape may depend on fortunate random encounters (the patrol is subject to attack by the wild denizens of the island too!) or their own ingenuity.

     The Kopru never drops its Disguise Self illusion unless attacked., recasting the spell in secret for as long as the PCs remain awake. Should it run out of available spells, the Kopru under its guise explains that it must leave to go hunting, and waits until the PCs are incapacitated to return.

     Loot: Among the finery in the pavilions are 6d20 gp worth of assorted gems, and an additional 3d20 gp in coins. The Kopru and Witch each carry a spellbook which contains the spells they know. There are also two healer’s kits, and six healing potions, as well as ample food and wine to resupply an adventuring party.

   Standing Stone Effect: Creatures dominated by a Kopru for a full 24 hours while within 2 hexes of this standing stone must make a WIS DC 13 Save with Disadvantage. If they succeed, they are free of the Kopru’s control. Upon failure, they are permanently charmed by the Kopru (but subject to another save under the normal conditions for its “Dominate Person” ability). If the effect becomes permanent, the Kopru is freed to use Dominate Person again without losing control of this thrall.

     Similarly, mind effecting and Illusion spells like Charm Person, and Disguise Self are strengthened by the field effect, imposing Disadvantage on any creature making a save against them (This effects the players as well).

   Creatures: x1 Kopru (pg. 61) [w/ x4 Level 1 Spells: Disguise Self, Charm Person, Magic Missile, – x2 Level 2 Spells: Scorching Ray, Suggestion

     x1 Human Witch-Doctor (pg. 58) 

     x6 Servants (You can use the stats for Human Commoners to represent the servants, though they flee rather than opt to fight.)

Standing Stone 2 (SS2) – The Thing Beyond the Gate [3rd Level Party, Average]

                                   

     The towering 50 foot tall obsidian pinnacle jutting up from the dry basin below you is even more bizarre when set against the red rocks and grit. It’s coral-like texture is strange to witness this far from the ocean and in this cracked, nearly lifeless corner of the island. Covering the monolith are glowing runes of green, and cruder sets of glyphs interspersing them that flicker in blue. Hacked into the dirt and rock around the obelisk are magic circles, roughly 10 feet long and gleaming with an eerie and malevolent green shimmer. Sitting beside the stone is a waist satchel that seems to have been violently torn from its wearer – judging by the shredded leather and greenish blood staining it.

     The Kopru that lurked near this obelisk had grander designs than those of his superiors. He sought to open another portal to the Far Realm and draw out an opposing faction of Mindflayers and aberrant creatures to claim the island. But his inexperience and lack of proper materials made for several failed rifts between worlds, until his experimenting succeeded – with uncontrollable results. The small pathways to the Far Realm that he did manage to open allowed the tendrils of a vast, squamous, Lovecraftian horror from beyond the veil to reach through, grabbing the Kopru and crushing it to death. The creature waits by the tear in worlds eagerly to snap up prey form the material plane.

     The beast waits until the PCs draw as close to the portals as possible, (the satchel might serve as unintentional bait) using its otherworldly organs to “sense” beyond the portals. Once the party has slain # of PCs x2 tentacles, the beast recoils away from the portals for a time until it can regenerate its appendages. Though technically part of the same enormous beast, treat the tendrils as individual monsters. Only one tentacle can emerge from a portal at a time, meaning that the PC’s moments of victory can be quickly dashed when a lopped off tentacle is replaced by another writhing horror.

     Alternately, any spellcasting using Dispell Magic on a portal can easily close it, sealing off that route by which the beast can attack. Doing so earns the same EXP as defeating the tentacles in combat. Similarly, the PCs could merely move out of range of the tentacles, though doing so earns them no EXP outside of that gained for killing a tentacle.

     To increase the challenge level, change the number of tendrils to Party Members x3.

     Loot: The satchel contains x2 healing potions, x3 random scrolls containing level 2 Mage spells, and 75gp worth of magical components used in rituals.

    Standing Stone Effect: This obelisk distorts the veil between worlds, allowing for easy passage across dimensions. Any spell or magical effect that involves other planes is enhanced (Targets get Disadvantage on saves, die rolls are maximized, summoning durations are doubled, etc. This may involve some measure of DM fiat). The obelisk effects the hex it is in and all adjacent hexes on the map.

     Creatures: Eldritch Tentacles (see below)

  

Standing Stone 3 (SS3) – Cliffside Pteranodon Aerie [4th Level Party, Average]

 

     Standing tall on an outcropping of rock jutting out of the ocean not far from the mainland itself is a solid black coral obelisk. The sharp structure is ringed with green eldritch runes, glowing fiercely even in the light of day. Circling this fifty foot tall cyclopean juggernaut are three enormous winged lizards. The approach to this outcropping is made from a much lower elevation on the mainland. Several rickety rope bridges connect to bare stony platforms emerging from the waves. The spans angle upwards to the high elevations of each towering step-stone and are occasionally tossed about by rugged ocean breezes.

     This obelisk is perched on a precarious escarpment emerging near the costal cliffs of the island. The Kopru standing sentinel over it benefits from its isolation, but has still coerced a troupe of lizardfolk and their pteranodon mounts as his elite troopers. Two of the lizardfolk are stationed under the obelisk at all times. Three attend to their aerial mounts in a cliffside cave, high up on the mainland. The other two are out in the jungles hunting together for food to feed the entire troupe. The Kopru itself is busy seeking allies among the malevolent creatures of the ocean, and will not return for many days.

     When the PCs approach, any chance of parlay is for naught, the reptilian savages guarding this warped shrine have orders to kill on sight. The mounted lizardfolk will swoop in and attack with their blowguns while their beasts peck at the adventurers. Meanwhile, the two lizardfolk on the cliffs head down to the lowest bridge and attempt to hack it down, cutting off the PCs easy access to the obelisk (for ease of adjudication, it will take him three rounds of chopping to cut down any given bridge). The remaining lizardfolk arrive after the first round to attack from the rear.

     If your players are arriving at this challenge at a higher level, consider having the Kopru be on hand to defend its territory. In this case, the creature itself holds out above the action on the platform with the obelisk, attempting to dominate a PC with heavy melee attacks (or better yet, one who has crossed a bridge first and might be used to chop the bridge down with allies still upon it). Barring this, it uses its Wand of Magic Missiles to fire one missile per round, pelting the PCs with artillery until they draw close enough for its claws. If the Kopru is hard pressed or in danger, it uses the power of the standing stone to fly out of reach, opting to soar into the jungle and hide until the danger passes.

     Loot: Cut into the mainland cliffs and accessible via a rope ladder, the lizardfolk have occupied a small cave full of cookfire, gnawed bones, and simple, moldy cots. The Kopru itself rests in the back of the cave in a pit of mud dug for its comfort. The cave contains 3d20 gp in various stashes, and 1d6 precious gems, each worth 50 gp. If the Kopru is present, it carries 2 healing potions and its Wand of Magic Missiles.

     Standing Stone Effect: Creatures native to the Far Realm (such as the Kopru) gains a fly speed of 30 feet (Subject to restrictions as the Fly spell) at-will, while within the hex that the stone occupies.

     Creatures: x3 Pteranodons (pg. 31) 

x10 Lizardfolk (pg. 64) [3 mounted on pteranodons] 

—For increased challenge, x1 Kopru [Armed with a Wand of Magic Missiles (Magic Items pg. 15)]

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Combat Encounter, Not Playtested

 

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