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Category Archives: New Monster

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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[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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The Abyss Gazes Back

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This adventure is intended for five players of 5th level (using D&D 4th Edition) or 4th level (using D&D Next playtest rules June 2013 Release)

The trick with finding a large lode of a rare and valuable mineral (especially one as coveted as Mithril) is keeping it a secret while you mine it. This week’s encounter brings the heroes into a “lost” mithril mine in search of treasures and historical trinkets. The only (surface) entrance into the mine is through an encoded teleportation circle – a security measure that kept it safe for a very long time.

But while dwellers above never managed to find the mineral trove, those that lurk below have known about it for quite some time…

Setup
The PCs have come across the “code” for activating a linked portal found in a now defunct section of a dwarven mine. Perhaps this information was given as a reward, found in the library of an evil lich, or plucked from the skeletal hand of those lost in a failed expedition. Either way, the dwarves of this community lost access to their most valued treasure: a nearly untapped lode of raw mithril. Whether or not the players share this with the dwarves is up to them (perhaps they are being employed but the leaders of this clanhold or thaig to explore the mine and deem it “safe.”

Whatever the case, the only way in is by incanting the magic words and drawing the required symbols to activate the portal. Everything seems to go fine…but unbeknownst to the party, there were a few errors in the scribing of the instructions.

A Neverwinter Night
This adventure was originally written with the Neverwinter Campaign Setting in mind. As such, the 4th Edition rules incorporate monsters from that source, though subbing them out for any aggressive subterranean Lurker/Artillery combo will suffice.

If you are using this encounter in a Neverwinter/Forgotten Realms game, it likely takes place under the cavernous halls of lost Gauntlgrym, or in chambers adjacent to The Chasm. In this case, you will likely wish to add one of the Plaguechanged themes from page 95 of the campaign setting book to the nothics. Likely, these lower mines have themselves been warped by the Spellplague, and strange properties may effect the mithril found here.

Plot Text
Something is definitely wrong. The harmonic thrum of the teleportation circle is now growling dissonantly. Everything was done perfectly – the words were spoken, the hand motions made, the sigils drawn properly into the runes… there is the expected flash of light as the portal activates, and then you feel nothing below you.

You crash to the ground, having dropped a mere two feet, but losing your footing and orientation. Wherever you are, it’s dark…very dark. The air around you is cold and unmoving, dampness presses against your skin and off in the distance is a faint silver glow. The emanating light is coming from the rocky floor beneath you. As your eyes adjust, you can see its source, a vein of pure mithril.

What you don’t see are your friends. Did they teleport along with you? Were they left behind? Did something…worse happen?

Before you can investigate, a reptilian shriek shatters the grave quiet of the cavern. There’s something out there.

Map

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A high-res poster of this map is included in theVaults of the Underdarkmap pack.

Features of the Area

    •Illumination:The faint glow from the pure mithril gives off dim light in any 10 feet (2 squares) from a mithril vein (visible on the map as silvery swaths on the ground). Otherwise there is no natural light in the mine. A pair of everburning candles sits on the desk in the foreman’s office.

    •Rubble: These sections discarded equipment, wrecked and abandoned barrels, overturned carts and debris count as rough terrain. A close inspection with Perception/Intelligence (Search) Moderate DC, reveals 1d100 gp worth of raw mithril among the wreckage of each debris pile (seven piles total).

    •Foreman’s Office: Still warm and inviting thanks to the everburning candles on the desk, this small room comprised the office of the mine’s work director. His ledger and logbook contains mostly the boring minutiae of running a mine: weights, measures, shift schedules, etc. if a PC is insistent on poking through the books, they will find that a large load of mithril was exported to a hidden location not far away for “safe keeping.” The logbook includes either a treasure map or a riddle that points to the cache’s location. Obtaining this trove of unprocessed mithril would give the party an additional treasure of no small value.
    Also in the office is a locked (Moderate DC) treasure chest containing a few changes of clothes (now moldered with age), and a magical armor of the appropriate level.
    At your discretion and for an increased challenge, the chest might also be trapped, with a dead nothic nearby as a hint to what kind of security measures the chest employs.

    •Teleportation Circle: This is where the PCs were supposed to arrive when entering the hidden mine. They can escape using the same encoded magical incantations, though they will suffer the same discombobulated arrival on their return trip (which will likely be more meddlesome than disastrous. An Arcana/Intelligence (only if trained in Magical Lore) Moderate DC check will fix the malfunction, allowing for normal use of the portal.

    •Exits: The southern corners press on to 10 foot wide corridors leading off into different directions and other passages in the cavern system. Where they lead is up to you.

Monsters

D&D 4th:
x4 Nothic Mindwarp (Neverwinter Campaign Setting pg. 95)
x2 Nothic Plaguegazer (Neverwinter Campaign Setting pg. 94)

D&D Next:
x7 Nothics

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Tactics
The nothic make use of the shadowy environment and their predilection towards stealth to make quick strikes against the PCs, blasting them with their gaze attacks or swiping with their claws, then ducking away to hide around a corner. They will try to keep the PCs separated and uncoordinated, keeping two nothics on particularly weak targets, alternating which attacks and which hides. They will take their time to double back or circle around through the maze in order to strike unexpectedly.

Rewards
Consider granting additional experience equivalent to a level 1 monster to account for the initial advantage the nothic’s have in attack their dispersed foes.

Most of the mithril in this mine is inaccessible (since it has yet to actually be mined) but clumps of ore can be found in the wrecked carts and barrels. Selling or trading these might grant the party the equivalent of a monetary treasure parcel (or us the guidelines for random value described in the “Rubble” entry above.)

 

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Ashpeak Ascent

“The McGuffin sits atop this peak” – like you would have it any other way…

This encounter is intended for five players of 6th level

This week’s encounter (which I have been toying with in my head for a while and in bits and pieces since April) is brought to you by a stew of collaborative neuroses.

Every D&D nerd does it. Be it in film, video games or literature. You see something cool and say “What are the stats for it.” I distinctly remember watching Legolas fire arrows in quick succession on screen during Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” saying to myself – “Oh yeah, the ‘Rapid Shot’ feat!” So I do this just as bad and as often as anyone else.

Confession: I am an unabashed “Bioware” fanboy. I know that being a fanboy is wrong – but it feels so right! After all, these are the folks who made “Baldur’s Gate!” Who is going to fault me for loving that with zeal and fanaticism?

Let’s add to that the fact that I am one of those guys who gets way too excited about trailers and you are lead to today’s encounter.

So when I saw the opening cinematic for Dragon Age: Origins – that is to say, the “Sacred Ashes” trailer – I knew the day would come when I wrote it up as an encounter.

Today is that day.

Purpose
Outside my self-gratifying desire to needlessly pin numbers onto story elements – I also wanted to take a crack at an encounter that lasted longer and came in small, distinct chunks with fewer monsters (or weaker monsters) in each. It’s a method I’ve seen used to recall the quick fights/many rooms feel of some old school dungeons (A feeling closer in step with the current 5th ed/D&D Next design ethos) and I felt like it would adequately represent the action of the video.

Our Hurlocks will be played by orcs today (surprise surprise!) Now if you’re looking for a Dragon Age RPG, then Green Ronin has you covered; my goal is to tool around with an encounter based on the video, not give you a full conversion for all the monsters and magic of Ferelden and her neighbors. That being said, if you’d like your orcs to feel a bit more like darkspawn, might I suggest adding the following monster power:

Darkspawn Blood (Poison)
No Action – Close burst 1
Trigger: The Darkspawn is first bloodied or drops to 0HP
Target: Attacking Creature

Effect: The target takes ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends)

Set-Up
This encounter works well as the “front door” to a dungeon you were already planning on running. Whether the darkspawn/orcs are simply camped in the ruins or actively looking for the McGuffin the players are after is up to you.

The players will have to fight their way up the mountain slope, through the outlying ruins, and finally be confronted by a lesser dragon at the entrance to the dungeon. A straight-forward running melee.

Map
NOTE: Not all of the Darkspwan/Orcs are accounted for on the map to prevent clutter. Precise starting location can be a little fast and loose. Stick to the descriptions of each phase and use what works best for you.

Map Features
Flat Topped Pillars – These pillars (rectangular shaped pillars on the map) can be climbed with an Athletics Moderate check and require an entire move action to reach the top. They otherwise provide cover and are blocking terrain.

Broken Pillars – These pillars (represented by circles on the map) can be used as cover and count as blocking terrain, but are crumbling and unsteady.

Ruins – Squares containing ruins count as rough terrain and provide cover from ranged and area attacks

Cliff – Don’t fall off the cliff or it’s game over, man

Ice – The sheet of ice on the western side of the map is dangerously slick. For every square entered, make an attack +7 vs. REF. on hit, the creature takes 2 damage, is knocked prone, and their movement ends.

Encounter Phases
Phase 1: Ascent – 10 Orc Savages, 1 Battletested Orc
As the encounter begins, allow PCs to establish their marching order at the westernmost end of the incline. The front two PCs will use their passive perception to detect the orcs ambush in the mists up ahead (Perception DC 17). If they succeed then the orcs do not gain surprise when they attack, and initiative is rolled normally. The mist lingers for the first two rounds, granting the orcs light concealment. Make certain that the Battletested Orc is in the second row of attackers, letting the players cut down the first few orcs easily. This is a rough bottleneck, so you might consider letting push effects function like Sten’s charge in the video, knocking back an extra rank of orcs when their front row is shoved back. When the PCs clear this ramp, they’ll have a moment of calm until they round the corner and come in full view of the ruins.

Phase 2: Hit the Deck! – 10 Orc Savages, 1 Orc Shaman
Once the players come into view of the shaman the next phase begins. The PCs can now see the Savages as well, who are in mid jog forward to engage the interlopers. The Shaman makes sure to use fireball (see the entry for the shaman below) as soon as at least 2 PCs are in range, not worrying much about scorching a few of his own men (though he won’t endanger many or them lest he risk his own hide). The Shaman will flee from melee but won’t maneuver too far away.

Phase 3: Ruins – 15 Orc Savages, 2 Battletested Orcs Ideally the players will have their initiatives staggered with the orcs in order to draw them into the varied terrain of the ruins. Regardless the orcs will charge in at best possible speed. Let the Battletested orcs swarm the first opponent in (likely your defender) giving that character a hard fight. The minions can chase after softer targets. Two of the Savages will have short bows (same damage as hand axes, range of 20) and fire from relative safety behind the ice sheet.

Phase 4: The Dragon Arrives – 1 Young Earthquake Dragon The dragon will first attempt to keep the advantage of its reach and flight by hovering over any ranged attackers and biting them. Once its aura grows strong, it will land in the midst of its foes to subject them all to the earthquakes effects.

Monsters
x35 Orc Savages/Hurlock Grunts (Pg. 226 Monster Vault)
x3 Battletested Orcs/Hurlock Alphas (Pg. 225 Monster Vault)
x1 Orc Shaman/Hurlock Emissary (Pg. 229 Monster Vault) – replace the Vengeful Whirlwind power with the Wizard’s Fireball spell (Player’s Handbook pg. 161) Use the Shaman’s attack bonus and damage from Vengeful Whirlwind. Add an “Effect: Target is knocked prone” line.
x1 Young Earthquake Dragon (Pg. 69 Monster Manual III)

 

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“Summer’s Set” Full Adventure Posted

Yikes. It’s been a while.

I mentioned ages ago that I was working on a full adventure that would be eating up my usual encounter writing time. Likewise I promised to post it here to make up for my brief hiatus. Well now is the time! I’ve finally finished the editing and preparation process and am proud to present you with “Summer’s Set“! You can find it on the new “Full Adventures” page. I figured the temptation to write longer content would strike me again, and it would be best to have a place to keep them all organized.

I didn’t end up getting to run the whole adventure due to time constraints, but the group I was running with seemed to enjoy the early half of the story well enough. The combat moved almost as quickly as I wanted it to, which is good. Fights tended to be a bit on the easy side, not taxing the player’s resources as much as I wished, but that’s in part because I was running with a group of 6 – whereas the adventure is – as per standard – built with 5 in mind. Ah well, fun is the most important thing and this adventure was built to be speedy – and an easy fight ends quick, so mission accomplished I suppose. It was partially an exercise in using some fancy game aids I had lying around as well, and those did not fail to impress.

So take a little time and check it out, even if you aren’t planning on running it (but if you think you might be a player, DON’T LOOK!!!!) I’ve included pre-generated characters and abbreviated character sheets along with the adventure to make running it quick and easy.

And to repeat the bit of Errata; in my haste to post I neglected to add stats for the unique creature featured in the adventure. I knew I would forget something! For convenience those stats are repeated here:

 

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Defiled Graveyard

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The Deathknight really wants you to know who he marked

This encounter is intended for five PCs of 7th level

The inspiration for this one came from a handful of sources. Firstly, I feel like I’ve been doing a bit too much monster design and not focusing on encounter circumstances and environment nearly enough. So…I split the difference a bit on this one – taking the monster cues from existing monsters and tacking on two of my favorite templates – The Necromancer and Death-knight, rather than concocting something from scratch. Secondly I was noticing a lot of battlemats and maptiles making the rounds that depicted graveyards – but infrequently have I ever played in an adventure that wound our way into one. And third of course is my not-so-secret love for undead themed bad guys (they are right up there vying hard with orcs for “favorite villain horde” in my heart). So pull out that graveyard map you got when you picked up “Keep on the Shadowfell” – you’ll finally get some more use out of it!

Set-Up
This combat has the PC’s facing down a pair of complimentary elites (a Deathknight and Death Master) with a scattering of minions (zombies, of course). To up the tension, the Death Master has the option of creating MORE minions – some as a product of her template, and others as an environmental function. Graves on the map can be used by her to spring forth additional zombie minions. But this encounter also gives a little love to player necromancers – letting them even the odds by summoning their own minions out of the unquiet grave dirt!

This one would work well as the first step in a crypt dungeon. Odd to have a “mini-boss fight” at the beginning of the dungeon – but a tough first encounter might give otherwise bold PCs a moment of pause. Otherwise it could be the culmination of a side-quest related to necromancy and mysterious undead related goings on.

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Lin-Wen has found non-combat uses for her undead horde as well

Plot Text

The evidence my not be present yet, but your guy tells you that the rumors about mounting numbers of undead stalking about the graveyard have to be true. There was no sign of activity during the day, which means, – naturally – you’ll have to investigate at night. Fortunately or not, the moon is full and you can see clearly as you approach the gates. Inside the graveyard, shadows cling like a mantle off every object and seem to teem with malevolence. A churning and chill mist roils around your feet. Two figures step out of one of the mausoleums to meet you. One is tall, nearly six and a half feet, clad in platemail. His, or maybe “its” eyes glow, as does the axe it wields. The woman accompanying him laughs. “So you finally found our lair? A good thing. I was hoping for some more capable corpses to join our ranks. Kill them!” At her command, four reanimated bodies pry themselves up from the ground, hidden by the mist that clings thick around the headstones. Their rotting skin reeks of the grave, and their moans fill the heavy night air.
Just as well. You weren’t expecting a negotiation anyway.

Nothing good ever happened in a graveyard


Map And Features

In the interest of letting you flex out the muscles of any graveyard maps you have already lying around (and to buy me time to work on a more complicated map for a coming post!) I decided not to provide one for this encounter. Use your best judgement in positioning the enemies in this encounter. The Deathknight and zombies should be firmly between the Death Master and the PCs, with plenty of graves littered about to be exploited. Mausoleums, pillars, and large gravestones make a great addition to provide some cover from ranged attacks. That said, a nice view of the map I used can be found here.

Arcane Glyph: (NOTE this feature appears on the example map I use but is not necessary for this encounter – though it adds a nice twist) Living creatures that begin their turn in these squares take 5 necrotic damage. Undead creatures that start their turn in these squares gain 5 HP.

Fence: The fence around the graveyard can be climbed with a Moderate Athletics roll as a move action.

-Gravestones: Squares containing gravestones can be used as partial cover.

-Graves: Any creature adjacent to or in a grave square (A square containing a gravestone or grave dirt) that possesses at least one encounter or daily power with the “necrotic” keyword (or is trained in the necromancy specialty school) may use the following environmental power:

“Arise, and Do My Bidding!”                                          Environmental
At-Will * Arcane, Necromancy
Move Action
Target:
An adjacent grave
Effect:
The caster manipulates the defiling necrotic energies of the graveyard to reanimate the corpse in this grave. At the end of the caster’s turn, an Zombie Shambler appears in a square of the grave (or adjacent to it). The Shambler acts on the caster’s initiative and moves to attack the caster’s nearest enemy. It can be directed to attack a particular target with a minor action but is incapable of doing anything more complex than moving and attacking.
Restriction: This power only functions once per grave. (Consider marking off any graves whose contents are now empty)

New Monsters

Monster List
I was a little torn here, when it came to which minion to choose for this encounter. The Shamblers were perfect with their “chance to survive” special ability – but they were a bit lower level than I would have liked. On the other hand, the Skeletal Legionaries were much closer to level and I could see their marking capabilities as wreaking havoc on a lot of parties – but all those marked conditions makes for a much more difficult encounter to manage. In the end I decided to present both options. Consider the version of this encounter with the skeletons to be “Nightmare Mode.”

x1 Deathknight [Thaedric]
x1 Death Master [Lin-Wen] (Modified from the “Tiefling Occultist”, Pg. 263 Monster Vault)
x4+ Zombie Shambler (Pg. 295 Monster Vault) OR x4+ Skeletal Legionary (Pg. 257 Monster Vault)

Special Considerations
Circle of Buffs: Keep in mind the following buffs that opponents on the field share with one another. Many of these go away when one of the elites drops:

  • Undead within 10 of the Death Knight gain a +2 to hit
  • Unholy Flames adds a temporary weapon buff to allies in burst 2
  • Undead within 5 of the Death Master do not have radiant damage vulnerabilities

Living Dead Girl: While our necromancer is, strictly speaking, still alive; her cavorting with dark powers has cursed her as a being of unspeakable darkness and evil, and she counts as undead for the purpose of powers and effects

Bonus DLC!:
So, you Diablo II fans might find this all very familiar: a battle in a graveyard against a boss who continually raises zombie minions? Sounds a lot like a particularly vexing first boss, right? It wasn’t a conscious choice, but when I made the connection, I decided I’d ignore my admonishment about being too eager to create new monsters…just this once:

Blood Raven would be a good stand-in for one of the other elites mentioned above. If you want to use her on her own, consider adding some undead muscle that can slow, grab, or immobilize, to compliment her evasive tactics. And don’t forget to take advantage of the cover provided by spaces featuring gravestones.

 

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Lair of the Cavern Hydra

This encounter is intended for five PCs of 6th level

I like 4th Edition a whole lot (As if that weren’t clear) – but I will be the first to admit it has its problems. And like most obsessive nerds, I get really worked up over minor gripes about the obscure things that I love (activate NERD RAYGE!!!!1111)

For one – I never liked how the first Monster Manual resolved the mechanics of fighting a hydra. Now I get it – monster stats should be simple to read and the monster itself easy to run. But a hydra isn’t some random orc or a member of a pack of sneaky shadow hounds. It’s a big monster that should be a big fight (and they are, indeed, solo monsters). But given that in 4th edition encounter balance, a solo monster fills in for around five other monsters – I’m willing to accept an enhanced degree of complication on the part of my solos. Especially in favor of keeping such an iconic monster in tune with the expectations of the players. I mean, even people who have never heard of D&D can probably tell you how they’d go about slaying a hydra – and it doesn’t stack up with the monster as written.

Monster Design Thoughts
Monster Manual II posits a few new variants on the hydra and these hit much closer to the mark – but were still unsatisfying to me. The chosen mechanic in that case was to give the creature an additional bite attack at incremental levels of hit point damage (to represent the players lopping off a head, and having two grow from the stump). That’s much closer – but by abstracting the iconic decapitation elemental inherent in hydra slaying, it takes away from the player’s ability to make a choice and to act on their specific monster knowledge. Not to mention the fact that there’s no provision to prevent the head from growing back/multiplying, which is the whole gimmick with fighting a hydra anyway!

{pant! pant!} Ok, better now. Now I hate to make a lot of new mechanics and design choices (that’s a lie, I love to doit, but I know it isn’t always the best choice for the game) but I think some other monster design elements have inspired me to whip together a more fitting version of the hydra.

The inspiration for this little monster design experiment (and the credit for this great mechanical resolution to my gripe) comes from Dark Sun Creature Catalog (Take a look at the Silt Horror) and similarly to the kraken featured in the D&D Encounters adventure Lost Crown of Neverwinter by Eric Scott de Bie. Both depict a big monster with multiple dangerous appendages, and that’s really how I picture a hydra fight being executed. Think of any film, video game, or book with a similar fight and that’s how it goes – the heroes being grabbed by tentacles or penned in by snapping heads, attacking those primarily and the body after the immediate danger is gone (or negating the danger by attacking those appendages exclusively). That makes for an exciting, lengthy, and epic combat where the heroes can feel heroic. Ideally.

So though there’s many difference between a kraken and a hydra, I think those rules offer a good answer to the game elements of slaying this particular mythological menace. Treating the heads like tentacles – and stating them up as separate minions grants flexibility. Not to mention the fact that I rather like solo fights where a handful of minions help take some of the pressure off the boss itself (case in point).

Purpose
This one is pretty drag-and-drop. The Cavern Hydra lives in a cave. That cave has some treasure in it. The hydra likes eating adventurers. Couldn’t be simpler.

Map
I’d considered whipping up something elaborate but it isn’t really necessary. The Cavern Hydra would lair in a fairly open space in a cave – likely with a sprinkling of stalagmites or pits. Murky water or muck would be a nice plus. So long as it has room to maneuver the battle should go as intended.

New Monster

Monsters
x1 Cavern Hydra
x5 Cavern Hydra Heads

Tactics
The hydra is pretty straightforward, wading into melee quickly to get in as many attacks as it can as soon as possible. Ideally it should be constantly shifting away to force PCs to provoke opportunity attacks from the Threatening Reach that the main head possesses. Don’t be afraid to use those action points immediately – especially if it has combat advantage.

Rewards
The hydra’s treasure can be whatever you need to suit your campaign, though given that it’s a solo creature, 2 parcels seems a fitting reward.

Handing out experience for this monster fairly might be a little unusual. The hydra’s body is not designed like normal solos because it’s expected to be used in concert with the head minions. As such, only hand out the EXP for the hydra proper. If the combat seemed particularly challenging (ie: if the players had no fire on hand) feel free to grant them an EXP bonus.

This resolves the OTHER problem of “clever” (ie: munchkin) characters attempting to “farm heads” with the expectation of getting more experience for slaying more head minions. Instead all they get is ‘nomed by MORE HEADS! That will teach them for trying to ruin a story-based mechanic with their exploitative math!

Special Considerations
Parties not anticipating a hydra might have a difficult time with this encounter if they lack abilities with the Fire or Acid keywords. You might elect to have them use a torch to ignite a stump. Require an attack roll against Reflex to see if it hits, and if so consider the stump sealed.

The biggest threat to this monster is close burst and blast attacks. The hydra might be highly motivated to go after caster types first.

It should go without saying that while presented as two separate monsters statistically – they are in fact, one creature. They will not function the same if put into a combat devoid of each other (not to mention how weird it is to have a dungeon full of snapping, angry, disembodied snake-beast heads. Actually….hrmmm….)

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A hydra inspired by a kraken…Or how about a kraken that is ALSO A HYDRA! They didn’t see THAT one coming!

 

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