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Tag Archives: Boss Fight

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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[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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D&D Next / 5th Edition Fan Adventure!

So, a lot has happened since I went radio silent a few weeks ago:

Plans to work on a write-up for a full adventure in the Neverwinter game I am currently running fell through for the moment. Due to my theatre schedule/the holidays/time spent playtesting a game developed for N.A.G.A.D.E.M.O.N – and whatever else decided to get in the way. During that time I managed to play a bit more of the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition playtest. Then I did some digging…

Turns out that other authors have been posting their homebrew playtest adventure content. This seems kosher with the playtest’s strict (and somewhat odd) regulations on what you can/cannot talk about due to the fact that these adventures don’t actually reveal any of the playtest information (instead referencing page numbers to mechanics that would require the player to sign-up for the playtest anyway). In light of that, and due to the fact that I might have actually finished writing my Neverwinter adventure BEFORE running it (A problem due to nosey players reading spoilers on this blog), I instead set out to write my own 5th Edition adventure.

Thus I give you “The Astral Conqueror of Sargodell Deeps.” Intended as a single-session foray into the rules, it’s not terribly complicated or difficult, but manages to fit in a variety of challenges. Whenever I write a one shot, I try to set a few goals or constraints for myself to make it interesting. In this case:

  • Create a more “traditional” dungeon crawl experience without it dragging on overlong
  • Try to fit the whole dungeon on a table at once
  • Use exclusive sets of Wizard’s of the Coast’s Dungeon Tiles (Oh Caves of Carnage, how I have kilted you…but no more!) without too much mixing and matching
  • Provide an opportunity to use some fancy new miniatures I picked up in a context that fits the adventure (Thus, the inclusion of the trebuchet, flying cultists, and our primary villain)
  • Try out a letter-substitution puzzle and dress it up as interpreting arcane runes (A simple puzzle that requires just enough brain power and effort to make you feel cool for solving it, without bogging down the adventure. And it makes you feel like a wizardy archeologist!)

The file is a tad large as I went overboard on the image quality for the artwork and maps.

As for plans moving forward, times are getting much busier for me, though when they finally die down I’ll get back to business as usual with weekly posts. I still intended to post that Neverwinter adventure – just as soon as I get around to writing it – but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that arriving any time soon if I were you.

In the meantime, check out the new adventure over on the Full Adventures page! Give it a gander and as always let me know what you think – constructive criticism makes for better adventures and content in the future. And if you are someone I know personally who is likely to be a player in a run through of this adventure, KEEP OUT! You’ll see what it’s all about soon enough.

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2012 in Announcements, Not Playtested

 

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Kill Your Darlings

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This encounter is intended for any number of players of any level

Let me tell you a story about my early days of DMing – back when 3rd edition didn’t need a decimal point after the number. Back when you were excited about “Song and Silence” hitting the shelves of your FLGS. Back when Cause Fear lasted 1d4 minutes (seriously, why not make a spell that just tells one of your friends to go home and hang out by himself?)

I was asked to run an impromptu game for some friends. We were all pretty deep into playing Warcraft III at the time (this was, after all, the world before the World of Warcraft) and that had infected our thinking. Their was a mutual suggestion to play a party of orcs – a short term brush with running an “evil” campaign. This half-cocked little session ended up being the impetus for a long running campaign, but that’s another story for another time.

So as they all rolled up their heartless orc raiders I started digging through stat blocks and the DMG for challenges. While going through our collective resources I stumbled upon some character sheets that the guys had used a week before, for a game I wasn’t present at.

I slipped those character sheets in with my notes.

I ran the game. It was what they expected. They raided a village, killed its militia, pillaged the farmsteads, laid siege to the kind-hearted land-baron’s villa, and awaited the armed response from the incensed lord of the realm. That response came.

It was headed by their characters from the previous game.

It was a resounding moment for the players. A conflict of interests slashing into their previously simple world of callous orcish brutality. They wanted to win – but winning meant destroying something they cared about. Also they had min/maxed those characters like crazy, and the fight would not be won easily. In the end it was a memorable game in which the players were invested, conflicted, and had a lot of fun.

And that’s the goal for this weeks encounter: have your players make a one-off character, grow to love them, and then force the players to betray their darling PC. Old school DM cheatery – or compelling gimmick to encourage player investment? I’d argue it’s both.

Part I: The Bait
New sourcebooks are coming out all the time, and so are new ideas for characters. Running ongoing campaigns is great, but it doesn’t provide players that opportunity to mess with other character concepts, races, class builds, or backstories. That’s where the one-shot adventure comes in – and that is stage one in your emotional terrorist plot! This will take some careful planning on your part, but the payoff will be worth it.

Propose a one-shot adventure set in your campaign’s world (in fact, you may wish to abstain from any mention that this session takes place in the same continuity, but don’t be untruthful if asked.) Secretly the purpose of this adventure is to establish these player-made characters: their history, group dynamic, and accomplishments – just before they are handed over and made NPCs. For maximum impact, they should not return for a couple sessions, giving your players time to get back into the swing of your usual game, to the point where their “alt” is almost forgotten. Almost.

While the one-shot has a nefarious goal, there’s no reason why you can’t use it as a chance to introduce a place the “real” PCs will soon visit, explore another aspect of the campaign world, mess around with gameplay at a higher or lower level (adjusting these characters accordingly when the final showdown with the “main” PCs occurs) or to tell the story of other NPCs both new and old. This one-shot gets maximum use as a “flashback”, “flashforward,” or a “meanwhile, 100 miles to the north…”

So the location of this adventure is likely to be somewhere the original PCs will be going soon (whether they know it or not). Set some guidelines for the one-shot characters, but encourage your players to try new things, or explore other aspects of the campaign world. Playing a valiant paladin who is a sworn vampire hunter? Try playing a necromancer! Used to your city dwelling guild assassin? What about a skilled, anti-social ranger? Steering them toward characters who would conflict with or (worse) be friendly towards their usual characters isn’t absolutely necessary, but it might not hurt. Maybe run it as I did, demanding that all the players choose an evil alignment (assuming your PCs to be predominantly good).

Now comes the hard part: running a session that is fun and having the players make characters they enjoy. Obviously there’s no quick and simple advice for this: it’s a honed craft and an art all its own. But giving the players an opportunity to try out some off the wall or atypical characters is usually enough. I’d suggest setting most of the encounters on the easier spectrum – that way the players succeed more often, and have a good opinion of the usefulness of these characters. Don’t wuss out on them or anything, but definitely pull some punches. Consider it an investment for later.

Part II: The Switch
Your game returns to normal. You run a session or two as always, with the same Pcs the players have been consistently playing, furthering your group’s collective plot-lines. You might lay down some hints of what will be to come, but you’ll lose the element of surprise if you get too heavy handed. Then, roundabouts the 2nd or 3rd session after the one-shot, the “alternates” show up!

Don’t just state that the characters are there – describe them in detail as though the players had no knowledge of these knaves. Let the realization sink in! Remind your now conflicted players not to do too much metagaming here. While they may love Torbash the Dark: Half-orc Necromancer, their lawful good paladin has no appreciation for him. And if he never took prisoners before; why would he now?

The “alt” characters (please don’t mind the MMO terminology) can be in conflict with the PCs in many ways: commanders of an enemy army, a rival adventuring company, they might be bandits preying on the PCs, mercenaries hired to “deal” with the heroes, mind-controlled pawns of an evil overlord, opponents in a competition, etc.

Though I joke about being brutal to your players it is mostly just that. This is meant to be a fun challenge and add some drama and pathos to your game, not to be particularly emotionally abusive. The PCs very well might find a way to avoid bloodshed, take prisoners, escape, or even turn enemies to tenuous allies. As always, give the players a fair shot to improvise and “make things right” no matter how hopeless or straightforward a situation you throw at them.

Stats and Powers
Running a full player character sheet as the DM can be a bit much – even worse when you have more than one! To simplify things, you might consider “monsterizing” the alts. Draw up a Monster Manual style stat block, using one or two of their At-Will attacks, and one encounter, and one daily power of the highest level available. Keep any iconic abilities (marking, a “Healing Word,” sneak attack damage, etc). Think about what powers, skills, and items the players made use of during the session with this character and use or emphasize those, ignoring the bits that got ignored anyway. That might make a combat encounter with around five fully-fleshed out characters more manageable.

Special Considerations: Ominous Foreshadowing!!!
So I’ve highly encouraged you to conceal the presence of the “alts” before they are finally revealed for dramatic impact – but it can be just as engaging to instead do the complete opposite: foreshadow their arrival at every turn! Building anticipation of this confrontation can be just as valuable a story-telling tool as making it a “twist.”

Maybe the last moments of your one-shot reveal that these characters have arrived in a location the usual PCs have just/will soon explore. Perhaps their last goal put them in league with a hated enemy from the ongoing story. Maybe they arrive in the wake of the PCs, and it becomes clear a confrontation will soon occur as the new characters track the old. This final scene can be used to build anticipation for your next session, and serves as a good cliffhanger.

Another thought: Let’s say you have a player who is very unhappy with his or her character, and you’ve been seeking an appropriate exit for this PC. Now is a great time! The player can “swap” characters in a way that is rooted in the story and the action of the game. Maybe the alt has a change of heart and turns on his allies, siding with the PCs when the conflict is at its most desperate. If the new characters aren’t morally at odds with the party, perhaps the no-longer favored PC duels the alt in a rigged contest and loses, leaving the victor a clear and valuable new companion for the party. Perhaps it is this PC you want to get rid of that proves a turncoat, and the new character, though appearing at first a foe, instead proves to be a misunderstood ally. Whatever your approach, this can be a great avenue to introduce a “replacement” character that already has a place in the player’s hearts and minds.

A final word: the goals here are to be surprising, to get your players emotionally involved in the game’s characters, to add a nice twist to your plot, and to remind them that just because the game is designed for them to ultimately “win,” it does not mean that the challenges along the way will be easy!

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2012 in Playtested, Story Challenge

 

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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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