RSS

Tag Archives: Criminal Underworld

Prisoners of the Seatower of Balduran

This encounter is intended for any number of players of any level using the  Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition ruleset

Most gaming groups who run last year’s nostalgia inducing Murder in Baldur’s Gate will pick a faction and support their side throughout the adventure’s many and various short quests.

Of course, my group decides to get themselves thrown in prison as a ruse to earn the confidence of the crime faction in order to serve as a vice squad for the authorities. This is why it is hard to write RPG modules – how are you supposed to anticipate this madness?!

The result, ultimately, is that I accrued a few short encounters that you can throw into any prison scenario – whether you are in Baldur’s Gate or elsewhere in the multiverse. It’s not a full on encounter, but a string of “incidents” that can be used to spice up your game.

•An older prisoner is coughing and sputtering, but who isn’t in this damp and dreary place? A DC 15 Medicine check reveals that this prisoner has caught “the damp” and will die within a few days if not treated. Convincing the guards that he isn’t just faking the illness requires a DC 10 Persuasion check (with Advantage, if some medical jargon is applied to the entreaty). Once the prisoner is well and back in his cell, he will be grateful and reward the heroes in some way (handing them a spare shiv, warning of some impending plot against them, or cutting them in on a prison break, etc.)

•An upper level of the prison is home to the more affluent incarcerated. A nobleman named Rexus Bormul has become the defacto “lord” of the cellblock. Technically speaking he could walk right out of here (either legally or illegally) but prefers the immense power he has over the prison to the relative power he has outside it. From his poshly appointed cell he entertains guests and chats jovially with the guards and wardens, bribing them so thoroughly that they may as well be his henchmen. 

    Rexus calls the PCs up to his spacious cell block for wine, food and entertainment. After attempting to woo them, he requests their assistance in some matter – perhaps delivering a letter once they make it “outside,” breaking up an escape attempt, murdering a fellow inmate, or simply spying for him. It is up to you whether Rexus is a genuine ally, a scheming villain, a friend of an enemy, or an enemy of an enemy.

•A scrawny halfling inmate palms a valuable or contraband possession from one of his fellow convicts – one who has been threatening the tiny criminal. The thief plants this personal treasure on one of the PCs, hoping that in the ensuing scuffle, the party will be able to solve this problem for him.

•One select nights, a corrupt warden holds prisoner brawls in the late evening. He allows guards, and maybe even inmates to net on one another in bare-knuckle brawls (fought until unconscious). This is highly illegal, and no doubt he PCs will be pulled into the matches. They may be asked to take a fall in a fight, may curry favor with their keepers by winning fights and earning a particular guard a lot of money, or they might try and rat out the whole operation to the day warden.

     Perhaps the fights even take on a more sinister turn as knives, or even desperate wild dogs are pulled in off the streets to fight inmates for “entertainment.”

•A hero with a particularly valuable skill (a bard who performs, a crafter, a learned sage, etc.) is taken from the general population cell to a private chamber where a warden, or ranking guard asks their help in a special project. This might confer the party some boon, earn the ire of their fellow convicts, offer a chance for escape, or even present an opportunity for an advantageous romance.

•An odd, squirrelly inmate reveals that he was a mage the whole time, hiding his abilities for months (or even years!) in order to facilitate a riot or prison escape plan. The PCs might learn this ahead of time with an Arcana DC 15 check by finding impromptu spell notes carved amongst the hash marks that litter the wet stone walls.

•Being below sea level, this section of the prison has a small pond in the ruined part of the tower. Escape would be impossible through the sturdy iron grate, but small fish do manage to swim in and out. Inmates are welcome to try and catch their own meals by hand (eaten raw, or cooked by sympathetic guards), or this paltry place to while away the hours might be the scene of a struggle as one convict attempts to drown another. Or perhaps impromptu lock-picks can be crafted out of the bones of some unlucky fish?

•That dead rat has been there in the corner for weeks, and the guards refuse to remove it! In truth, the very slowly decaying corpse is serving as a dead-drop for the passing of notes; perhaps between prisoners, guards, or someone on the outside. Tiny notes are rolled up and slid into the varmint’s rotting maw. 

Map

       

Features of the Area

1. Stairs up

2. Guard Station

3. Storage

4. Double locked entry portcullis

5. West general population cell block (Barred walls and locked doors, includes simple cots and sewage holes for bodily waste) DEX DC 15 to Lockpick

6. East general population cell block (Barred walls and locked doors, includes simple cots and sewage holes for bodily waste) DEX DC 15 to Lockpick

7. Mess hall

8. Kitchen (Locked, guards only. Only dull knives present)

9. Underground pond (entry to the lake barred by an iron grille)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 6, 2014 in Incidents, Playtested

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Pen is Mightier

This encounter is intended for three characters of 4th Level

     I’m mining my old 4th Edition Neverwinter Campaign Setting game yet again for this week’s encounter. I was really proud of the concept behind this one, and thought it might place some interesting choices in the hands of your PC’s, as well as provide them with a nuanced little set-piece combat. Like the other encounters in this series, I’m referencing plot and organizations from the Neverwinter (and thus, Forgotten Realms) campaign setting, but adjust whatever you need to suit your own campaign world and circumstances.

Setup

     Devil’s in the D&D world are the more conniving and long-sighted of the two breeds of infernal outsider. Thus, one of the Ashmadai’s plots in Neverwinter aims to conquer the city through the “long-game” should their other efforts fail. Because in recent years the city has been beset by very immediate disasters and the practical necessity for rebuilding; much of the city’s records, legal files, and historical texts have been abandoned. Most were destroyed during the catastrophe and the destruction it wrought on Neverwinter castle, but the House of Knowledge stored many such documents. A wealth of scrolls and books dedicated to municipal bureaucracy still survives down in its underground archival stacks. 

     It’s hard to say just which Ashmadai mastermind got the idea, but the cultist have been hard at work digging through these documents. They have set aside a chamber where some of the more learned and treacherous Ashmadai are hard at work forging, editing, splicing, and re-writing all day long. The goal is to manipulate the city’s records and history, so that when order is finally restored and judicial disputes over lands, inheritance, and succession commence, many such battles will end in favor of the cultists and their allies. Because few in Neverwinter have had the time to think of securing these documents the cultists have free reign to literally re-write the city’s storied history.

     The chamber in which the cultists are forging documents is part of the lower levels of the House of Knowledge. Hard at work, these cultists are unlikely to hear the PCs approach unless they have been tipped off to the presence of intruders (in which case one of the thugs will stand guard outside).

Flammable Objects

     There are some singular drawbacks in being innately talented with destructive pyromancy while working in a library. That’s a limitation that your players might be able to capitalize upon. The cultists will NOT make any attacks that deal fire damage/will forgo additional fire damage while near flammable documents (these areas are labelled with red “X”s on the map).

     That said, accidents (and clever players) do happen. If documents catch fire, one of the cultists will cease their attack in order to save the crisping parchment in question. Their next action will be spent dousing the flames even if this means risking an attack of opportunity. After completing this task they will rejoin the battle. If the damage is extensive (catching fir to an entire bookshelf) then they will attempt to salvage whatever they can from the ruin (this will require their next three actions). If the cultist is attacked while attempting to preserve these artifacts, it will be made clear to him/her what the greater threat is.

     While attempting to save damaged documents, attacks against cultists have Advantage and their saving throws are made with Disadvantage.

Tempting Literature

     Following combat, your players will have an interesting choice on their hands. Among the projects on the table is a near exact copy of a will and accompanying deed to one of the mansions in the Blakelake District. The cultist working on this forgery didn’t have time to fill in the name of the beneficiary – leaving the mansion’s fate up to the players. The document is legal and binding (for all intents and purposes) and could easily be used to allow the PCs to obtain the property with little effort.

     It’s up to you whether or not the PCs get away with this morally unsound acquisition. The more interesting choice is to allow them to enjoy their new hideout for a time – before an heir to the manse arrives in Neverwinter seeking to reclaim their family estate. What stake this newcomer has in the city, and what allies they might have at their disposal, could make this a difficult situation to navigate.

     You have a number of option to resolve this contested ownership. A hearing before the city’s ruler Lord Neverember could become a tense legal battle (with the forged will being the key to victory), or a bloody clash in trial by combat. Devious parties might attempt to remove their rival through treachery or assassination. Good aligned PCs might cede the land without dispute and find a grateful heir happy to reward them for preserving the mansion from falling into Ashmadai hands. Perhaps the returned inheritor is among the cultists, and despite their efforts, the estate still serves as a cult headquarters. 

     You might instead tempt the party with any number of other rewards acquirable through manipulation of legal documents that the Ashmadai were busy forging – from glory in the annals of Neverwinter’s history to rights to titles or lands outside the city.

Map

       

Features of the Area

     Lighting: Candles on the table and torch sconces on the walls provide a greasy brightness to the room.

     Table: The large table in this room is covered in parchments, ink wells, quill pens, thin knives, and other implements of forgery. The table itself extremely heavy (and was likely constructed inside this room. It would take at least three PCs accomplishing Easy Strength checks in the same initiative turn to overturn it.

     Bookshelves: Five of these 6.5 foot tall wooden shelves line the walls. They are buckled and warped, and are beginning to show their age. Each is crammed full with scrolls, folios, vellum sheets, books and bundles of loose paper, all carefully organized. Their contents are highly flammable. Overturning the shelves themselves requires a Moderate Strength roll. Should a shelf fall on one of the combatants, they are considered Restrained until they can make a Moderate Strength or Dexterity roll as an action to shimmy out from under the obstacle.

Monsters

x1 Cultist of Azmodeus (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 7)

x2 Branded Zealot (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 6)

x1 Ashmadai Thug (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 4)

To accomodate four players, add an additional Branded Zealot


 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Infiltrating Zinnaatis’ Outpost

This encounter is intended for three players of 2nd level and uses the August D&D Next Playtest Rules

One of the difficulties of living in a subterranean hell-hole like the Underdark, is that you cannot make/grow all the things you desire to use in your various plans and plots. Thus, trade with the surface world is inevitable. For the Drow and other Underdark dwellers, this means dealing with the disreputable and cruel elements that lurk topside. To facilitate this, trade posts are often established within a few miles of an access point to the surface. Though not truly in the Underdark due to their proximity to more typical caves and caverns, these establishments are just as dangerous, and likely to be full of sinister humanoids (if you’re lucky!) from both above and below, each just as suspicious and contemptuous of the others.

This week’s encounter will take the PCs into one such outpost in search of a McGuffin (The ecounter will presume this is the stolen journal of a long dead wizard, but you can substitute and item appropriate for your campaign). The encounter is meant for a smaller group of PCs, and hinges on their use of stealth, deception, bribery, and diversion. If the whole camp is alerted, the PCs won’t stand a chance in open combat. But by being careful and clever, they can get in and out without ever being noticed.

Setup

A recent contact of the PCs with a magical background is piecing together the research of a long dead wizard in order to make sense of the old mage’s spell book. In trying to dig up his belongings, the contact found that most of them were stolen not long ago in a raid on a trade caravan. Some sleuthing anda little  divination   lead him to locate the dead wizard’s journal – a half mile below the surface in a Drow traders den called Zinnaatis’ Outpost. The book’s exact whereabouts weren’t precisely discovered, so the contact will need the PCs to investigate the outpost, and sneak out with the book.

Each area on the map has some activity going on that might help or hinder the PCs efforts to search for the book. The events and relevant stats are noted below. All creatures referenced are from the Bestiary document unless otherwise noted.

Zinnaatis’ Outpost

     Established by an overly ambitious Drow soldier, this forward camp is close to the surface world; making it an ideal trading post, and an even better place for spies to nest. It’s been around for a good ten years now, and its success is based largely on Zinnaatis hands-off approach to management. A wise businesswoman, if not a loyal soldier, she made sure that traders had privacy, a few creature comforts, and a heaping helping of her own religious zealotry.

     Guard duty is covered by various mercenaries hired from among the surface traders by Zinnaatis. She permits her various trade contacts to come and go as they please, so long as they pay the entry toll and shoulder the brunt of her unusually high taxes (much of which find their way into her personal coffers). Among them are hobgoblins, kobolds, orcs, and even some unsavory human bandits. 

I Prefer A Straight Fight to all this Sneaking Around…

     Ostensibly the PCs would not be welcome in a place like Zinnaatis’ Outpost. Thus they must take measures to conceal their identities and intentions. Anything from disguises, to a good cover story (slaves are traded through here regularly, and some treacherous humans, half-orcs, and half-elves serve as mercenaries down here, and are thus not unheard of) to some good old fashioned stealth would suffice. Make the players work for it through roleplaying and careful planning. A solid cover story or disguise should stand on its own, calling for rolls only if the PC’s behavior becomes suspicious.

     However, if the party insists on picking a fight, even the fractious creatures of the outpost know they have many common enemies on the surface – with the most likely foe being adventurers! Any monsters in the area who witness the PCs behaving suspiciously will most likely turn on them – and some will probably even slink off to the others sections of the cavern for reinforcements! Remind the PCs that this is a dangerous mission, and that discretion is the better part of valor.

A Blade in the Dark

     These kinds of infiltration narratives when presented in films like (any) James Bond, literature, or video games like Metal Gear Solid and Assassin’s Creed, feature protagonists getting the drop on their foes and dispatching them quickly and quietly. The D&D Next rules don’t provide any specific insight on this sort of situation (it doesn’t exactly fit the circumstances of a coup de grace), as the “one-shot kill/incapacitation” tends to be a rare situation and a cause for easy abuse of the rules. At the same time, this encounter presents circumstances where it would be perfectly logical for a PC to drop a foe with a single roll – and that’s likely how your players will be thinking! While game balance is always important, maintaining verisimilitude keeps players happy and makes your world consistent – and sometimes that requires a bit of fudging int he rules. Since not everyone is a rogue and benefits from sneak attack, here are a few suggested rules “hacks” when dealing with this very specific situation:

   •A foe that is caught completely unaware might be considered eligible for a “coup de grace.”

   •Otherwise you might allow such an attack to deal 2 or 3 weapon damage dice (giving the foe an unlikely chance to survive, while not ignoring the fact that rogues should be better at this kind of work than any other class.

   •Snapping the neck of a sentry could be represented as a simple STR vs. Opponents CON score as DC roll. This would require the assailant make a DEX roll to sneak up on his/her target first (thus ensuring that rogues remain superior at wetwork to other classes).

These sorts of ambushes rarely require the PCs to roll initiative(unless their victim spots them first, or survives the attack). After stealthily eliminating a foe, there is always the problem of what to do with the body, of course…

Map

       

A full poster version of this map is included in Vaults of the Underdark. All sections of rubble and furniture count as difficult terrain.

It’s Never That Simple

     If your PCs were successfully subtle, consider having one of the patrols follow them as they attempt to reach the surface, and attack them en route. This will discourage them from lingering, and given any players feeling dejected by a lack of combat a chance to wet their blade.


Patrols – These patrols wander around and outside the outpost, looking for suspicious activity and on hand to quell any hostilities flaring up from a deal gone awry. Each patrol’s path is dictated on the map, and it will take them about 5 minutes to complete a circuit (they are searching the area, chatting with visitors, and taking their time). 

     Unlike some of the other occupants of the outpost, the patrols will know right away that the PCs do not fit in, and will accost them, attacking quickly if the PCs don’t have cover stories or disguises that hold up. If they see the PCs approaching or leaving the outpost (essentially in areas “off the map”) they will charge after them without questioning.

     Features of the Area – Patrol 1 (P1 on Map) – x1 Drow (pg. 39), and on a leash, x1 Guard Spider(As “Spider, Giant) but 10 HP and medium size); Patrol 2 (P2 on Map) – x2 Hobgoblins (pg. 55), x1 Hobgoblin leader (pg. 55) 

1. Statue of Lolth – This sixteen foot tall effigy occupies the high-ceilinged middle chamber of the outpost. Zinnaatis is an especially pious drow, and sings her Demon-Web Godess’ praises to all of her trade partners. Right now, however, a crowd is gathered round the statue. A tall human clad in black robes and wearing a skull-like mask is screaming an angry sermon from the base of the massive artifact. 

     He asserts that his God (pick whichever evil deity you deem appropriate) is far superior to he lowly bug-witch of the drow. The statue has angered him, and threatens that his cultists will refuse to trade with the outpost if they are not given equal religious representation. For all his unscrupulousness, the priest knows his audience, and is managing to work the crowd into an uproar. Many of the creatures in this are are packed together to listen, two or three at a time occupying the same five foot space.

     It would not be difficult to begin a riot in this crowd which might provide convenient cover to the PC’s actions. However, getting caught in the rioting is its own danger. Moving through a rioting crowd can be accomplished with a STR DC 10 check at Half Speed. For every round stuck in the crowd, a PC must make a CON DC 10 save. Failure results in 1d6 bludgeoning damage and the PC is knocked prone, save for half damage.

     Features of the Area – Creatures here have Disadvantage on WIS checks due to their distraction with the oration. This chamber is brightly lit by torches.

     Creatures – x1 Skull-Masked Priest (Dark Adept pg. 11) and his x4 Dark Adepts (pg. 10), x10 Kobolds (pg. 59), x12 Goblins, x3 Orcs, x4 Hobgoblins, x2 Drow

2. Trading Floors – These rooms are crammed with merchants and shoppers. Those trading offer all kinds of mundane wares at or below book price (since they are primarily stolen). Magical items are traded in the “library.” It is not entirely unusual for violence to break out on the trade floors and is acceptable so long as it is brief and contained. The traders are from al walks of the Underdark and the surface, and they all keep a close eye out for thieves. Guards patrol the cramped crowds, but have Disadvantage on WIS checks to notice any foul dealings due to the size of the crowd (this is not true for merchants keeping an eye on their goods). The punishment for stealing here is the summary removal of both hands. If asked about a book, anyone here will recommend checking with the magical item vendors in the library.

     Features of the Area – Creatures here have Disadvantage on WIS checks due to their distraction with the bustle. This chamber is brightly lit by torches.

     Creatures – The guards consist of x2 Hobgoblins, x3 Goblins

3. Latrines – This room is perforated by holes in the ground full of stinking biological waste. It is the unfortunate duty for some kobold or goblin to clean the pits as punishment once a day. There is little for PCs to find here save disease. If they are using a light source, grant them a WIS DC 10 check with Disadvantage to Spot. A succeeding PC notices a glint coming out of one of the pits. One of the hobgoblins concealed a gem worth 100 gp that he pinched from the latest cache of loot. Good luck retrieving it.

     Features of the Area – This room is unlit.

4. Sealed Storage – Inside this chamber are all of the large and expensive trade items that merchants would prefer a little extra security for (at a cost, of course). The door to this room is made of heavy steel, and shut with a lock (DC 15 to pick). There are always two sentries on the landing outside (choose from the creature near the Statue of Lolth above). Within the room are four well armed and disciplined hobgoblins. They imedietly question anyone entering the chamber and are very suspicious of anyone not accompanied by one of the Drow (Disadvantage on checks to Bluff or Intimidate).

     Most of the supplies are piled up in crates and boxes in the center of the room, leaving only 5 feet ofclearance  along each edge. Hobbling over the supplies counts as difficult terrain.

     Features of the Area – Dimly lit by a single lantern hanging above the door. The heavy door and noise outside mean that it is very difficult to hear anything in this room past the stoop outside. sentries who might hear yelling or the din of battle make their WIS checks with Disadvantage. At the back of the room are armor stands with 5 medium and 1 small (a gift for a particularly loyal goblin!) suit of Drow Chainmail. In addition there are various traders crated here (DM discretion). The warehouse floor is always attended by a goblin known as “His Majesty the Count” who does Zinnaatis’ counting and sums – he is easily recognized for his smudged apron and tiny leather visor, as well as the oversized ledger book he constantly lugs around.

Drow Chainmail – AC 16 (Otherwise as “Mithril Chain”)
These shirts of extremelly light, shimmery black mail are prized by the vicious dark elves. Drow Chain is infused with the magical contamination Of the Underdark and as such, cannot survive long outside such environs. It breaks down into a black dust after exposure to sunlight in 2d6 days.

     Creatures – x5 Hobgoblins, x1 goblin

5. The “Orb and Weaver” Tavern – Cramped, hot, and reeking of cheap grog and sweat, the sign of the Orb and Weaver refreshes the surly raiders and bodyguards that service the Underdark merchants. Hanging above the bars entrance and well lit by phosphorescent lichen is a wooden sign, painted in purple and featuring the image of a spider hanging over a loom, its abdomen appearing to be a crystal ball. The echoing of the chamber means that even on a sparse night the bar is booming with a cacophony of voices. 

     The bartender, Luhrg the Mugbreaker (Use the “Oorog” stat block) has been working this tavern for a year now and is a surprisingly quick study for an orc – he stays friendly with everyone and is happy to sell rumors and information for a price (typically between 5-15 gp). Luhrg hears about everything eventually, and knows every face that passes through; meaning that he knows where to find whatever you want. It also means he’ll be extremely nosey about the PCs presence, battering them with friendly questions in order to loose the details from them. If the PCs play along and their cover story holds up, Luhrg will be amiable and helpful. Close lipped PCs will find themselves being overcharged, ahrassed by the customers, and eventually tossed out.

     The PCs will needs be on their best behavior here. The patrons are all drunk and spoiling for a fight. So long as no weapons are drawn, it would be acceptable for a barroom scuffle to occur, though that will likely mean the end of the PCs stay for causing trouble. A fistfight with one table of ruffians might cause the whole bar to erupt in flying fists, or only attract the cheers of other tables (at the DM’s discretion). Given the cruelty and grudging nature of the inhabitants, a bar fight would likely mean the patrons attacking one another just as soon as the PCs! To keep the peace, Luhrg has hired on a Drow waitress who is fully armed beneath her revealing bustier (use the Drow stats with AC 12).

     Luhrg serves he normal fare for a low quality tavern, grog, moonshine, watered down ale, as well as more exclusive local drinks with vile names like “Mushroom Musk” and “Umberhulk Sweat.” The tavern’s most expensive drink, the “Mindflayer Mucous Shot” has an unusual effect on those that can resist it. Any PC who downs the shot makes a CON DC 12 Save. They instantly fall unconscious for 2d10 minutes on a failed save. A successful save grants Advantage on any lore roll for the next 1d4 days.

    Features of the Area – Well lit by candles, lanterns, and lambent lichens. Moving anywhere in the cramped bar requires double movement.

     Creatures – x1 Orog (pg. 71), x1 Drow, x1 Orc, x3 Goblins, x2 Hobgoblins, x2 Gnolls, x4 kobolds (at the bar, on booster seats)

6. The Library – Not dissimilar to the trading floors, this oddly cozy nook houses several bookshelves as well as magical oddities strewn about on carpets. There is a sales counter in this room, attended by a rather grubby looking human hedge-wizard who eyes everyone entering as though they are a potential meal. He grumbles to himself at odd intervals. At the moment, most of the sellers are not on hand, just a fewgoblin assistants   attending to their master’s wares. 

     The book the PCs seek is sitting plainly upon the largest shelf, and the attending wizard will explain that it is worth 550 gp or the equivalent in barter. 

     The open space outside the Library consists of a crowd of gathered villains. They talk and mill quietly amongst themselves, trading gossip and making impromptu deals. The crowd can easily be used as cover for sneaking PCs, or a source of information.

     Blocking the northward entrance into the gallery where the Statue of Lolth looms is a blockade consisting of gnoll ruffians. They will not allow the PCs to pass by, snarling something about the magical sundries beyond are only for privileged shoppers approved of by Zinnaatis herself (albeit much less eloquently). Though the sentries are very adamant, a CHA DC 20 check to intimidate might convince them to let a PC by (any demonstration of magic prior to this grants the roll advantage). What they don’t realize is that any such sentries guarding the rear entrance are incapacitated.

     At the intersection The alley west of the Library are a pile of drunk goblins. Though mostly unaware of their surroundings, the leader is an angry drunk, and will get belligerent and combative if the PCs are too loud or try to talk to him. The PCs might be able to get away with fighting these goblins (the crowd nearby has little concern for the wretched creatures) though efforts would needs be taken to make it appear as one of the expected brawls that occasionally crop up in the outpost.

     Features of the Area – This chamber is brightly lit by torches.

     Creatures – x1 Human Witch Doctor (pg. 58), x1 Drow, x2 Goblins; The blockade in the alley consists of – x3 Gnolls (pg. 48); The crowd outside the Library is made up of – x1 Green Hag (pg. 53), x2 Drow, x2 Doppelgangers (pg. 32), x3 Dark Adepts, x1 Cultist of Asmodeus (pg. 9); In the west alley – x3 Goblins, x1 Goblin Leader (pg. 49)

7. Zinnaatis’ Mansion – Calling this underground holdfast a “mansion” is generous. It is little more than a barracks. The first floor contains kitchen, storage, bunks, armory, and a few offices. The second floor is reserved as Zinnaatis’ private apartments. From here the Drow officer tends to the business matters of the trading post, keeping her collected taxes (and bribes) locked in a magical safe containing a “Bag of Holding” within which is her horde. The mansion is not included in the scope of this adventure. The divinations used to scry out the McGuffin mark it being in the trade floor, not within the walls of this complex. However, players being players, you may wish to pull out some appropriate map in case they decide to investigate. Stats for Zinnaatis are given below, though a scrape with her would be a suicidal fight for a small number of PCs at this level.

Rewards

     The D&D Next Playtest gives relatively good guidelines for rewarding players for non-combat situations. Given that this encounter involved a great deal of guile and problem solving, it would be a shame to overlook experience rewards merely because the PCs avoided open confrontation. That said, their accomplishments would not equate tot he same value as all the monsters who appear in this encounter, many of whom serve as intimidating set dressing and a reminder that the PCs are in over their heads and vastly outnumbered. 

     As a general rule, for every chamber the PCs successfully navigate without starting a fight, grant them 100 EXP (grant combat experience as normal). If their plan is especially clever, dramatic, amusing, or effective, feel free to throw another 50 EXP in as a bonus. Completing the entire encounter successfully is worth an additional 100 EXP. 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Setup
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).

Map

20130709-175659.jpg
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.

Negotiation
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)

Tactics
Drow
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.
4e
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.

Next
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.

Resolution
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.

Monsters
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)

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Heist

20130628-000415.jpg

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.

Complexity
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.

Complications
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):

20130628-125805.jpg
*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.

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Showdown at the Rumbling Cabin

20121114-221219.jpg

Lilian – Halfling Warrior

This encounter is intended for five characters of 2nd level

So – I have a confession. Sometimes it takes me while to get posts out not just because of the many hats I wear but because making tactical maps for even a brief and simple combat encounter takes a long time. I’s fun work when I’m in the mood, and I’m usually very happy with how they turn out (even using my off-the-cuff and amateurish photoshopping) but setting this weekly deadline for myself means I usually dread the task. But my laziness should not be an excuse to withhold good ideas!

I also have this terrible habit of obtaining great maps (overworld, encounter grid, or otherwise) and never making much use of them. So I’m deciding to alleviate both these flaws by incorporating more ready-made maps, or even building encounters around maps I’ve found that inspired me to build some story around them. Thus these aren’t original works, and I’ll be sure to link to their true authors or sources.

This week’s encounter is inspired by a slick map I found will perusing Chris Perkins’ “Dungeon Master Experience” over on the official D&D website a while ago. He posted a handful of his favorite maps (in varying sizes and image qualities) and the abandoned cabin stuck out to me for both being cool, and for being in sharp resolution that looked great on a retina screen!

You can find the map in question here.

Setup
In this scenario, a group of renegades has holed up in an abandoned woodsman’s cabin. Their status depends on the needs of your campaign: they might be simple bandits, fleeing criminal masterminds, spies from another nation or plane, Freedom fighters fleeing the wrath of a tyrant, religious heretics, etc. They might be plotting their next move, taking a break in a safe haven from the stresses of being on the run, or using the cabin as a “safe house” until their allies can lend aid.

Meanwhile, they are being tracked by a rival faction that has located the cabin, and is battening down outside for a tense standoff. The hunters might be legitimate or corrupt law enforcement, an armed religious inquisition, bounty hunters, agents of a crime lord, or a rival adventuring company. Whatever their origin, the hunters are seeking for a safe way to assault the cabin, with limited intelligence on what they face inside.

What neither faction realizes is why this cabin was abandoned in the first place: it sits at the epicenter of territory shared by a pair of Ahnkegs. Because the renegades have been trying to avoid suspicion, they have moved around little and stayed quiet, which helped them avoid the notice of the subterranean beasts. But as soon as hostilities break out, the giant carnivorous bugs will detect the movement of multiple potential meals above, and burrow up from below to strike when they are least expected – and least desired!

Cops and Robbers
The PCs represent one of the two factions. They might be The Hunted, using this abandoned logging cabin as a safe-house. Alternately, they might represent The Hunters, surrounding the renegades hiding in the cabin and entrenching themselves for an intense stand-off. Wether they were hired for the task, beholden to an organization, or mistaken for one group or the other is up to your campaign’s needs.

Who’s Side Are You On?!
On paper, this seems to be an incredibly difficult encounter. But bear in mind, the ankheg have only one agenda: eating. They will attack the most convenient target, regardless of their faction. The chaos of the attack can be used to help the PCs turn the tables on their foes advantage, or to allow you to challenge players with an encounter that might otherwise be a cakewalk. Though the ankhegs have a set of tactics they usually follow, feel free to use a little DM omniscience to guide them toward whatever target will make the encounter more interesting – and chalk it up to the random behavior of a thoughtless bug-monster. I’m not advocating meta-gaming here, merely pointing out that a wild animal can sometimes act in ways that are dramatically potent!

Tactics
Renegades: Those holed up in the cabin are unwilling to exit and will force a siege. They know that the thick underbrush and sturdy trees are likely to conceal more of the PC’s party, and aren’t willing to pick a fight without the advantage of their ramshackle fortification. They will station a sniper on the second floor to serve as lookout and to take potshots at any PCs who come too close to the cabin. The renegades stay near each exit; both to anticipate being attacked on all sides – and in case the stand-off takes a turn for the worse and a chance to escape presents itself (no honor among thieves, after all!)

    The Enforcers: The lawmen (or perhaps the more organized criminals) approach the cabin with caution if not stealth. They move from cover to cover and attempt to do so quietly. Their goal is to surround the cabin or, at the very least, be in sight (and crossbow range) of each of the major exits. Once they are in position, their leader will call out for the PC’s surrender. The enforcers are reluctant to enter the cabin – knowing that doing so puts them at an extreme disadvantage. That said, after a few hours, or if an opportunity to turn the tables (capturing a PC who has exited the cabin, sneaking onto the roof, starting a fire in the cabin, summoning a monster or area effect spell inside, etc.) they will spring into action. This is about when the ankhegs will strike as well.

     Ankhegs: The ankhegs can spring on their initiative, or in the round when it would be most dramatically valuable. Try to toss them in during the second or third round of combat to maximize their effectiveness and to keep this conflict a three-way fight. As a general rule, the ankheg will attack the nearest target granting Combat Advantage, regardless of whether or not that will provoke an opportunity attack. When bloodied, they will be more discerning in their targets. If an ankheg is at 10 HP or less, it will flee for its life, burrowing swiftly into the ground to retreat.

The ankheg’s goal is to snatch a target, drag it underground (Using Gnaw and Scuttle to shift 2 squares using its burrow speed in the squares directly under where it was just standing), and begin tearing into it with impunity on the following turn. The victim’s allies are welcome to climb down into the ankheg’s hole – if sliding into a dimly lit tunnel full of screams and giant, flailing, insectoid limbs sounds appealing.

Monsters
x2 Ankheg – (Monster Manual II pg. 11)

Renegades
x4 Common Bandit – (Monster Vault pg. 170)
x1 Cluff MacLire – [If this source isn’t available, substitute any Level 4 Soldier with the “Leader” keyword] – (Dungeon 181)
x1 Halfling Wilder/”Halfling Sniper” [Replace “Mind Thrust” with “Crossbow” which deals normal damage] – (Dark Sun Creature Catalogue pg. 60)

OR, if the stats for this creature are not available:
x1 Hobgoblin Archer/”Elf Sniper” [Replace “Hobgoblin Resilience” with “Elven Accuracy”] – (Monster Manual pg. 139)

Enforcers
x4 Town Guard – (Monster Vault pg. 171)
x1 Cluff MacLire – [If this source isn’t available, substitute any Level 4 Soldier with the “Leader” keyword] – (Dungeon 181)
x1 Halfling Wilder/”Halfling Sniper” [Replace “Mind Thrust” with “Crossbow” which deals normal damage] – (Dark Sun Creature Catalogue pg. 60)

Map

20121108-124800.jpg

The link to Wizard’s website above has a higher quality version

Features of the Area
  Shrubs and Brush – Grants concealment
  Felled Trees, Stumps, Rocks – Difficult terrain; Ankheg’s cannot surface in these squares
  Tree Trunk – Blocking terrain that grants cover; Ankheg’s cannot surface in these squares
  Fences – Passing over fences requires two squares of movement. Can be used as cover.
  Well – Grants cover. Drops down two squares before the water level.
  Cabin Floorboards – These flimsy, termite-eaten boards do not deter the Ankheg’s from surfacing.
  Tables and Chairs – This flimsy furniture does not deter the Ankheg’s from surfacing.
  Curtains – Grant total concealment. Passing through requires two squares of movement.
  Windows – though there is glass still in the panes, it is easily broken. Windows require two squares of movement to pass through.
  Stairs – These rickety stairs are difficult to ascend, requiring two squares of movement. All terrain on the ruined, partially collapsed second floor is rough terrain.

Rewards
Experience rewards on this one are a little tricky, especially given that some of the enemies are fighting one another. I’d argue for calculating the total, and giving the players half. Adjust for more or less, depending on how difficult the fight was. Ultimately, I feel that giving the players more EXP is never the wrong choice – they will feel accomplished and powerful, and let’s face it: how many campaigns have you run all the way from 1-30? Speeding things along won’t hurt.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Combat Encounter, Not Playtested

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: