Tag Archives: 4e

Theater Ninjas presents “GameNight”


     I’m frequently making references to Theater Ninjas, the Cleveland-based theatre company I’m a member of. The brief snatches about my theatre life are usually in context of how I’m dividing myself between many time consuming passions and putting poor Save Vs. Weekend on the back-burner. But in this case, Ninja action applies directly to the gaming world!

      The Ninjas actually use games an awful lot in our rehearsal process; both for scripted and self-written original pieces. This year we decided to expand upon the group’s interest in games, and invite the audience in to join us.

     Enter our new, free, monthly get-together: GameNight. The focus of GameNight is to introduce fans, collaborators, supporters, new comers, gamers, the curious, their friends, and anyone else to try out some games that focus on story and player creativity. In almost all cases that means some kind of role-playing game. My interest in table-top role-playing grew out of my love of improv and began with traditional titles like my beloved D&D. But recently (and in part because of GameNight) I’ve also branched out into some newer, extremely innovative titles that focus more closely on character and open-ended story-telling. More often than not our selections are (gasp!) totally GMless!

     I wanted to share a bit about the games we’ve been playing, and how GameNight can be relevant to D&D players of any edition. There are a lot of facets to what makes a good D&D campaign, and that ultimately comes down to which interests all the players at the table overlap on. But no matter what, story and character are going to play a role: and the more care you put into these elements the more your game will benefit. “Care” in this case does not mean hours of writing or railroading the PCs. It means establishing some simple links between and objectives for characters to inspire players to build the plot and dramatic action themselves. GameNight’s offerings are great at that, and I think each of these indie games has a place in supplementing the regular play (or campaign world prep) of a D&D game.

     We started GameNight off with Jason Morningstar’s FIASCO, a game where players create everyday people with burning ambitions and faltering impulse control. FIASCO’s rules build relationships between player characters into the action, – and even folks new to the RPG world take to it easily. A single game of FIASCO can be a good building block for exploring your D&D campaign’s characters, or even figuring out how the party got together before the classic “you are sitting in a  tavern when” moment (A suggestion Jason even mentions in the rules for FIASCO). In particular, Wizards of the Coast vet Logan Bonner has written a fantastic FIASCO playset that pairs well with experienced D&D players.

     Most recently GameNight took a crack at Ben Robbins’ Microscope. In this game, the players work together to write the epic history of a world by taking turns to create sweeping periods of history, crucial events, and the moment-by-moment role-played scenes that changed the fate of the world. Using Microscope as prep for your D&D game is a good way to bring the players into the world building stage. It can also be a means to sidestep forcing your players to write a 5-page essay explaining their character background (protip: maybe ONE of your players will EVER do this). You can build 1,000 year spans time, or focus in on a few pivotal minutes. Being non-linear, you can hop back and forth down the timeline, zooming in as you wish. Each player has complete, neigh unquestionable authority on their turn, but builds on the ideas of everyone else at the table. It’s your chance to invest the players (and their characters) in the world and its backstory, making them more likely to closely follow the plot and react strongly to the villains, allies, and institutions they run into along the way.

     Opening a D&D campaign with one of these (or any of the countless other) “story-games” can reap major rewards in player investment and attention, and does a lot of the dirty work for you. Best of all, it’s actually a lot of fun, and can help burn off any fatigue incurred from playing the same game for a long stretch of time by allowing you to try something new, while still contributing to the host campaign.

     I personally advocate for FIASCO and Microscope. Each of the Theater Ninjas’ GameNight events has been a major success. I love to hear the players chatting about that month’s game, the stories they built together, and how they might do things next time as they pack up at the end of a session.

     If you’re a gamer in Cleveland Ohio, I highly encourage you to check out the next GameNight event (details at the Theater Ninjas website). I think it’s a foray into a different way to play the kind of games we already love, and gives you ammo and ideas for your own home campaigns. You’ll find some pleasant surprises. But then again, I am a little biased.


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Posted by on November 28, 2013 in Announcements, Story Challenge


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The Abyss Gazes Back


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…

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.


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.


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

D&D Next:
x7 Nothics


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.

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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Fungal Lake Dead-Drop

This encounter is intended for use with either 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons or the July iteration of the D&D Next Playtest. 4th Edition: Five players of 6th level / D&D Next: Five players of 5th level

Every environment needs water for living creatures to survive – and even the warped beasts of the Underdark are no exception. The presence of a small but significant freshwater pond not far from a surface entrance into the depths of this subterranean nightmare world causes alarm to most. For adventurers, it means opportunity.

This encounter was originally written for my now defunct Neverwinter game, and as such, references an organization related to that campaign setting. None of that flavor is necessary to run the encounter, however. The situation has the players meeting shady, possibly hostile criminal elements for a trade or deal – in a location that is even more dangerous and alien. Unbeknownst to either party, they are stepping into the home of a colony of Myconids – one of the Underdark’s bizarre inhabitants. The fungal monsters attack both sides as interlopers; but whether or not this ruins the deal is up tot he players.

Agents of the Drow spy network, The Bregan D’aerthe, have approached the players through their surface contacts in Neverwinter regarding a bit of business. Perhaps the Drow have information the players desperately need and are willing to pay for, maybe they have acquired (or seem to have acquired) knowledge or an item the mercenary Drow are after. Whatever the case, a meet is scheduled near a large pond in a cavern not too far from the surface (A site used by Bregan D’aerthe agents to pass secret messages and materials). Strictly speaking, this will require the players to go into the uppermost reaches of the Underdark – a dangerous proposition. They will need to decide whether or not the benefit outweighs the risk (And in order to prod them into the deal, there should be a clear and significant reward).


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

At the Start of Combat: Position the Myconids throughout the cavern near regular giant mushrooms. They have been lying in wait the whole time, camouflaged among the unanimated fungi.

The PCs and Drow begin (most likely) at the opposite shores of the pond.

Plot Text
The erie glow from the mushrooms and the shimmering of fluorescent algae off the water hasn’t stopped being unnerving to you even after waiting half an hour. In the Drow’s defense, if this were an ambush or a trick, they would have sprung it by now…unless of course the plan was to make you die of boredom. Finally you ear a singsong voice call out “Sorry we took so long, dangerous voyage, this one.”

A petite, female Drow woman rounds a corner in the caverns on the opposite side of the pond. You note how unnerving it was that you never heard her footsteps echoing in this enormous cavern. Slinking out of the shadows behind her are two male Drow, each clad in dark armor with sword at his side. “I know what you’re thinking but calm down, surface-dwellers. We’re here to deal. Think about it, if we wanted you dead would we bother with theatrics?” The Drow and her party approach the banks of the pond on their side and beckon for you to do similarly.

The specifics of the meet will depend on your campaign. Regardless, the players actions during the negotiation will determine how the drow act during the pending combat. If the players come off rude and uncooperative, or worse, if they are too cooperative int eh proceedings (not down bidding the drow, showing any sort of weakness, seeming indecisive or amateur) then the Bregan D’aerthe agents will use the battle as an excuse to slay the players and take what they were offering in trade.

However, if the players impress the drow, they will serve as an ally in the ensuing battle, hoping that the unexpected skirmish doesn’t sour their deal. Should the players successfully intimidate or wound the Drow before combat begins in earnest, they will cut their losses, and seek to flee if possible.

Regular roleplaying and your judgement of the drow’s response should be enough to adjudicate this encounter. However, if the players are eager to use their skills and social abilities, consider running this scene as a Complexity 1 or 2 Skill Challenge. Success means the drow serve as allies, failure will ensure that they turn on the PCs if able.

Primary Skills: Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate, Insight
Secondary Skills: Dungeoneering, Perception (If items are involved), Appropriate Knowledge skill (If secret information is being passed along)

The Bregan D’aerthe mercenaries will vary their tactics depending on their relationship With the players.
• Indifferent: A “better part of valor” approach, keeping away from the myconids and allowing the PCs to take the brunt of the beating when possible, though likely not attacking them. In this case, if an opportunity to steal what (or whom!) the PCs are bringing to the offering table presents itself, the Drow will take it, even if this means killing a single PC.

•Cooperative: If negotiations went well, the Drow will regard the PCs as comrades in arms, knowing that the conflict can be resolved quickly with teamwork. They will set up flanking maneuvers, attack targets the PCs debilitate, and offer covering fire. Combat might be another opportunity for the PCs to prove their trustworthiness, healing or aiding their “allies” in this skirmish.
All that said, the Drow are selfish by nature and as a result of their occupation. Don’t go overboard in their assistance.

•Hostile: If things went south, then the Drow might see the myconid attack as a perfect opportunity to get what they want without breaking a sweat. They will take pot shots at the PCs first, hoping the monsters will wear them down enough to be easy targets and recover whatever valuables they have, or making the pending interrogation that much easier.
The Myconid Guards move in immediately, using their Pacification Spores on the most physically imposing combatants (at least one of them will approach the Drow). The Sovereign and Rotpriest will move together, joined at the hip so that the leader can retain the benefits of the Rotpriest’s healing.

The Myconids all focus on a single target (one of the Drow, if you are feeling forgiving towards your players) attacking it together as a colony. The goal is to make bodies as soon as possible for the Sovereign to re-animate. Meanwhile, the Adults choose to hamper any combatant that deals a great deal of damage, stunning them if possible.

The battle is another opportunity to weigh the PCs competence. If they performed admirably, this might tip the scales in the PCs favor, proving to their perfidious business partners that they are not to be trifled with. Otherwise it might give the Drow an opportunity to strike or flee while the party is weakened or off balance.

4th: x1 Myconid Sovereign (Monster Manual II, pg. 164)
x1 Myconid Rotpriest (Monster Mnaual II, pg. 164)
x3 Myconid Rotslammer (Underdark) -Or- Myconid Guards (Monster Manual II, pg. 164)

x2 Drow Swashbuckler (Neverwinter, pg. 122)
x1 Drow Informant (Neverwinter, pg. 122)

D&D Next: x1 Myconid Sovereign (Against the Slave Lords Bestiary pg.58)
x2 Myconid Adult (Against the Slave Lords Bestiary pg.57)
x6 Myconid Juveniles (Against the Slave Lords Bestiary pg.57)

x3 Drow pg. 40 (The Informant replaces a short sword for Dagger, and adds “Invisibility” to her spellcasting list)


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Adventure Site – Dhunraven, City on the Wildlands

As you know, I use this blog as a repository for my old, forgotten, unused, untested, or well loved DMing materials. I always thought it was a shame that most DMs let all their hard work vanish into obscurity – so I decided to share my notes publically.

On a whim, I figured I would compile the map and notes I had left over for a previous 4th ed. game I was running with friends who have long since moved to various corners of the world. An easy addition tot he blog – I’ll just compile and reformat some notes, touch up the grammar, add a few stat blocks and that will be that.

Oh, and I’ll provide stats for those using the D&D Next playtest too.

And, you know, a few more NPCs while I’m at it.

Turns out it became a major project that I just couldn’t relent on until it was in decent shape. Maybe a waste of time, maybe some good exercise in writing adventure sites. Maybe I’ll come back to it. Hopefully you’ll get some use out of it! The document covers Dhunraven as an adventure site (think of it as a mini campaign setting that can be slotted into a much larger overall game).

Dhunraven is inspired by one of my oft mentioned favorite low-level generic D&D adventures: The Dead of Winter. Since it was locked away on the Character Builder disc that came with the ORIGINAL 3rd edition PHB it isn’t easy to come by, but I just might have a little link to help you out, in case you are interested in the source material.

File Download —> Castle Dhunraven – City on the Wildlands


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The Heist


One last job – nab the Maltese Owlbear at all costs. It was a simple plan – what could go wrong?

Hands down, the best Skill Challenge I ever ran was a heist. It was also completely impromptu – while preparing to move the adventure along to our planned portion for the evening, one of the players simply said “Before we ship out, I need to pay my old rival back. We’re going to rob his brothel.” There was a moment of silence. I took my twenty minutes to prepare the skill challenge, they took theirs to plan the job.

It’s a great scenario for any RPG game: The team of specialists coming together to separate and use their individual skills to overcome obstacles, then working together to eliminate the unforeseen dangers.

What follows is not a specific heist, but the guidelines on how to run a freeform caper scenario using the Skill Challenge as the core backbone of the action.

Whether you are knocking over the safe in a backwater town’s brothel or infiltrating the Inter-dimensional Bank of Sigil, a heist should be meaningful and complicated, with plenty of risk and opportunity for the whole party to stretch their specialized skills. I’d recommend a minimum of Complexity 3

It All Starts With a Simple Plan
Behind the DM screen, keep a numbered list of the total successes needed to complete the skill challenge. Leave a line next to each digit to be filled in momentarily.

A strong benefit to using a heist in your game is that they always begin with a planning and prep phase. This allows the players to participate alongside you in building the Skill Challenge itself – and lets them do some of the heavy lifting! Begin the scene by introducing the idea of the heist, but don’t specify a skill challenge. As each PC adopts a role in the heist and adds steps to the plan, mark down those steps on your numbered list. The players might do your work for you, creating exactly the same number of “steps” as there are requisite successes in the challenge. If they don’t, start pointing out complications to the players – only things their characters might legitimately notice or recent changes in the lay of the land – What if the safe is trapped, too? … You notice a guard with a crossbow walking the roofs … The Countess will be wearing a mask just like all the other guests, (etc.)

No Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy
In a heist, primary skills represent the PCs actions to further the goal of nabbing their quarry. In the normal skill challenge, the only risk for failing a roll with a Primary skill is that the party is one failure closer to losing the skill challenge. During a heist challenge, this also generates a Complication.

The Complication must be resolved (usually by the character that failed the roll though not necessarily) before that character can attempt any further rolls towards completing the skill challenge. Failed attempts to remove the complication also count against the skill challenge, but will rarely count toward it. Because heists are long, difficult, and dangerous skill challenges – it might behoove a DM to use one or two of the Complications (depending on their circumstances) to also remove a failure from the challenge. For example: Dispatching a sentinel who caught the PC using Stealth might remove that failure (the witness is gone) but successfully hiding to avoid a patrol after setting off an alarm doesn’t halt the alarm and thus shouldn’t cause a failure to vanish.

Use Complications as a tool to mechanically reward/hamper the PCs actions in the story. They ramp up the tension, pad the challenge into becoming a longer and more meaningful encounter, and ask the players to stretch their character’s creative muscles. Specialists who botch a die roll may need to improvise, rely on often ignored skills, or use teamwork to overcome an unexpected interruption.

Below is a chart of some suggested Complications and likely skills used to respond to them. It is by no means exhaustive and as always good roleplaying and clever but logical thinking should always win out over the base rules. Use this chart as a guideline to improvise the use of other skills in these challenges as well (Arcana might work in place of Thievery to disarm a magical rune trap, perhaps Religion stands in for Bluff to deal with a nosey cult inquisitor):

*Combat – Erupting into a full mat-and-minis combat would definitely bog down and steal the thunder from a heist (if an extensive combat is involved in the heist, it should probably be an expected scene that occurs anyway). If the player opts to use feat of arms to get out of a scrape simply have them make an attack roll, and make attack rolls for the sentries opposing them (ideally an appropriate minion of the player’s level +/- 1). If the attack roll hits, the PC dispatches all foes involved single-handedly, but incurs damage from any of the attacks rolled against him/her. If the players opts to use a Daily or Encounter power, forgo this roll as they have paid for the error with a resource.

Players may have more detailed wishes for this scrape, and that’s fine. Do whatever you can to keep the fracas in a “theater of the mind” kind of resolution system to speed things along. Depending on the situation, they might need to make a further Complication roll to get rid of the bodies (Stealth or Athletics being the recommended skills).

Obviously, attacking nosey servants or bumbling guests poses little threat, but the problem of removing the body (as well as the moral ramifications of harming and innocent passerby) should serve as the appropriate challenge. And if the witness escapes the attack, the PC might be in even deeper water.

Secondary Skills and Complications
What constitutes a primary skill is very open for debate in a heist. Perception could be used in a leading role to discern which casino guest is carrying the mcguffin, or it could be used in a support role to be on lookout duty for another PC using Stealth to sneak into the governor’s private rooms. Only Primary skills are subject to Complications if they fail. However, you might rule that an appropriately applied secondary skill (such as Perception in the above example) permits a PC to ignore the effects of a Complication, ignore a failure, or both. If a player is not using a primary skill to push the challenge along but is helping in other ways, don’t be afraid to make their contribution meaningful – negating failures is a great way to do this.

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Posted by on June 29, 2013 in Playtested, Skill Challenge


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Panopticon of Torment


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

This adventure is intended for five players of 4th level

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Battlefield Extraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Features of the Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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