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

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

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

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

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

Setup

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map


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

Features of the Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monsters

   —Level 3 encounter: One wave every other round

 Wave 1: 10 Goblins (Pg. 49)

Wave 2: 10 Hobgoblins (Pg. 55)

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

Wave 4: 1 Ogre (Pg. 69)

Continuous Waves: 1d4+1 Hobgoblins

—Level 6 encounter: One wave every other round

Wave 1: 10 Orcs (Pg. 70)

Wave 2: 7 Oorogs (Pg. 71)

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

Wave 4: 1 Hill Giant (Pg. 46)

Continuous Waves: 1d4+1 Oorogs


Allies

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

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

Enemy/Ally Tactics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sanctum of the Fiend of Possession

This encounter is intended for four 3rd level characters

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

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

Story Background

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

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

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

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

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

Tactics

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

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

Summoning Chart


Map


Features of the Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monsters

Imp (pg. 26)

Lemure (pg. 27)

Spinagon (pg. 29)

x1 Possession Fiend/Xamzael (See below)

Rewards

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

New Monster

                                           


 

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The 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


 
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Posted by on March 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Defiled Infirmary

This encounter is intended for four characters of 4th level

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

NEVERWINTER SPOILER ALERT: 

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

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

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

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

Triage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


In Sheep’s Clothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heal DC 5: He’s dead.

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

Guest Patient

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

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

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

Map

     

Monsters

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

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

 
 

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Conquest and Conclusions for 2013

     With 2013 finally wrapped up I cannot help but take the typical measures and review the conclusions that coincided with the end of the calendar year. I am, by my nature, a person prone to flights of nostalgia, and so I never need my arm twisted to write a retrospective. I had a very solid year as far as my life at the tabletop went, and wanted to discuss some of the milestone moments (both in general and personally). It’s an editorial, which I prefer to keep to a minimum on this blog – so I won’t shed a tear if you’re happier navigating right past this.

 Most obvious is the termination of the public arm of the D&D Next Playtest. Much of my trepidation about the state of the game was alleviated in this latest iteration. I think Wizards is hitting all the marks, and I’ve been evangelizing for this edition much more doggedly than even I had anticipated. And I’ve been earning converts in the process. I’m looking forward to the final release, but am happy to have, until then, a more than workable game in my hot little hands to continue enjoying in the meantime.

     The year also saw the start, conclusion, and delivery on a lot of titanically important gaming Kickstarters. Dwarven Forge rolled out their new line of much more affordable game tiles, Reaper Miniatures fired off a second wave of their (again, very affordable) Bones line, and countless other contenders  dove into the crowd-funding arena in an attempt to support your game (by first earning your support). There’s a lot more in terms of exciting projects popping up this year, so you’ll have no end of reasons to fling money at your computer screen.

     I finally took the time to start investing in a little fancy scenery as well. Being a lover of miniatures, I always want to enhance the table experience in 3D, and getting into the hobby of terrain crafting was a nice jumping off point. It granted me the confidence to try my hand at painting minis as well, and that has been a rewarding, (and time consuming) addition to my retinue of gaming interests.

       

     Most importantly, 2013 marked the end of the longest running D&D campaign I have ever participated in. It spanned eight years (on and off) and three separate editions of the game before it finally reached a climax just a few days before the termination of this past December. The game in question was the (admittedly) blandly named: “Orc Campaign” – a story in which each of the players portrayed a ranking warlord in a bloodthirsty raiding party sent by the Bleeding Blade orc clan.

     The impetus for this game began way back during the early days of our time with 3rd Edition (back before it was 3.Anything) in which I was asked one evening to run an impromptu one-shot. To break up the regularity of the game, the players wanted to try something different – monstrous PCs. Seeing as how we were all avid fans of Warcraft III (this was prior to there being any World of Warcraft!) we settled on orcs. They played their ruthless savages to the gory hilt, even developing a codified trophy system by which to measure who earned the most esteem in battle (based on how many spikes, horns, and skulls adorned your armor. Totally Metal. Totally Brutal). I capped that session off by pulling out character sheets from their regular game, and facing them off against the clerics and paladins they had played but a week prior (a nice switcheroo that I’ve made mention of on this blog before).

     That session was firmly in mind a few years later when The Orc Campaign began. The game was oriented toward realm and squad management; with each player having a handful of orc lackeys who were acquiring EXP and leveling up right along with him (albeit from a lower starting level). I drew up a map of the proposed kingdom for invasion, replete with locations that sounded interesting but were entirely undefined at the time.

     Despite the premise (Orcs, at war! How could this be anything but attack rolls!), the campaign was characterized by a great deal of roleplaying, secret keeping, wheeling and dealing. What I assumed would become a sort of strategy/invasion simulation quickly became “The Sopranos” + A Holy War + Dragons. The principle  thesis of the campaign was thus: How does a leader help a society predicated on “Might Makes Right” as the most important rule of law to flourish? 

       

      The players all had ambitions as to what orc society as a whole, and the horde under their command should be, but had to temper their progressive and often counter-culture agenda against the single-mindedness and violence of their subjects. Underlings challenged their leadership, and players challenged each other (ultimate decision making was kept in the hands of the “Warchief” who held his title through dueling). The worship of the orc God Gruumsh, was opposed by the deep roots of shamanistic tradition among their society, which clashed with the absolute control of the warrior caste. Then add to that one upstart player whose Warlock character had plans to use magical boons from bound demons to polymorph, and thereby “Orcify” the “lesser” races. Conflict abounded within and without. 

     So after years of twists, turns, tense standoffs, secret betrayals, desperate foes, tactics, cruelty, and triumph, we finally laid the game to rest. In the end, prophecy and mutual respect (or ambivalence) led each of the players to cast away their rivalries. They took up swords against their supreme leader; the High Warchief of the clan, and slew him. It was their wish to rebuild orcish society not as a dictatorship, but under the iron fist of a ruling council, where each faction had a check/balance over the other.

        

     Maybe that’s what happens when a bunch of American Humans play a horde of orcs? Or maybe there’s something inherently functional about democratic ideas? Especially when you can enforce that democracy at the tip of a sword (and do away with the whole “civil representation in government” business).

     I’ve kicked around the idea of scribing an “Orc Campaign Setting Guide” for use with D&D Next – most likely as serial supplements posted here at Save Vs. Weekend. I’m not sure if there would be much interest in that or not (since it would be less flexible than the usual material I’m interested in) so let me know what you think.

     Though I’m much busier these days than I was when this blog started 2 years ago (really?!?!) I still intend to keep up with it when time and content permit – especially with the next edition looming over the horizon. You can expect to see more encounters in the coming year, though more than likely they will arrive once, or at best twice a month. I like to be accessible, but thorough in my encounters, and that means taking a little more time on the writing end to save you time on the DMing end.

      Ideas? Comments? Gripes? Please, feel free to share them. As a narcissist I love talking about things I have written and am always happy to hear from you. Another year begins! Gird those loins. Gird them well….

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Editorial

 

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Mobbed in the House of Knowledge

This adventure is intended for 3-5 player characters of 3rd level and applies to the final release of the D&D Next Playtest

     So last year my fledgling 4th Edition Neverwinter Campaign Setting game fell apart thanks to my busy schedule. Though I lament its loss, I think the last encounter I ran can have some future life – potentially in your own game. The PCs were investigating some Ashmadai (read: evil devil-man) cult activity in the decrepit ruins (NEVERWINTER CAMPAIGN SETTING SPOILER AHEAD) of Neverwinter’s once beautiful House of Knowledge. They were questioning some of the squatters and homeless holed up in the old Oghman shrine, when their inquiries got the attention of cultists concealed amongst the rabble. A desperate melee ensued wherein the party had to limit their area attacks – lest they harm innocent bystanders. But with the cultists disguised in the crowd and the doors to the room shut, the party was in a dangerous (and near TPK!) situation.

     This encounter seeks to capture the tension of being locked in a room with an overwhelming number of foes, and many innocents caught in the cross-fire. I’ll also explore some home-brew rules for dealing with grappling mobs in a fast, easy way that affords you some realistic options in regards to being pinned by multiple attackers. 

     And you don’t need to be playing a Neverwinter campaign to benefit! Bear in mind, this encounter is tuned between moderate and tough for the level the players are at. Still, multiple opponents tends to make encounters much more difficult. You may wish to spring this encounter on a party that is fresh and has all of its resources to bear.

Setup and Tactics

     The PCs must track down a lead related to their current plotline. A possible informant lives amongst the squatters in a rundown library (In Neverwinter, the House of Knowledge) in a desiccated part of the city. Unbeknownst to them, less than savory elements (The insidious Ashmadai Cultists of the Forgotten Realms, for example) move in and amongst the destitute persons living in the ruins. Some of the rabble are evil agents taking advantage of the fact that few wish to be bothered with the City’s poor and downtrodden. 

      The vipers amongst the peasants are carefully concealed – and would like to remain that way. The main chamber of the library is a tall, dome roofed rotunda crammed with the unwashed poor. Let the PCs ask some questions of the unwashed masses and do some investigating before the action starts.

     The PCs may opt to flee, rather than fight –  a perfectly sensible response! However with the mob latching hold and supernatural cultists barring the main means of egress, that will be easier said than done. The cultist rabble will attempt to grapple PCs (two or three at once) to keep them in the room and allow the tougher cultists to more easily slay them. None of the cultists is above using an innocent bystander as a human shield.

Plot Text

      The conditions in this once shinning bastion of knowledge couldn’t be worse. The destitute are crammed into every nook and cranny of the dilapidated ruins. Clotheslines now hang haphazardly from rotting bookshelves, old folios feed pathetic cookfires, and all around you is the smell of mold, decay, and human waste.

     But you can detect the shifting air as someone closes the worn double doors to the library’s central rotunda. Standing in front of the only entrance to this lobby is a tall man in a black cloak. He sneers at you and hisses, “We don’t accept outsiders prying into our business. You know too much for your own good.” A warm, eerie light emits from the man’s open palms and with a snap, magical chains of molten hot metal slide out of his hands and clink on the floor. 

     Around you the crowd cowers, and backs away. Most of the crowd, anyway. Some anonymous vagabond shouts “Kill the outsiders!” There is a flash of movement as the squatters run too and fro…some scrambling to get away from the melee…others pushing forward with rusty knives, clubs, and bare hands to strike at you!

The Rabble Attacks

Part of the challenge in this combat encounter is separating the innocent squatters from the concealed cultists. To create an environment of confusion and tension, only have part of the hostile human rabble attack at first. Each round, more of the incognito cultists will strike at the PCs. Use the below guidelines for how many Human Rabble to introduce per round:

If the players attack the crowd indiscriminately, assume that some of those killed were indeed cultists; other were not. Innocents who are attacked will opt to flee rather than strike back. The cultists won’t bother to attack the other squatters – nobody will believe their claims of Ashmadai cultists hiding iut in the old library anyway. However, if barring the PCs path means injuring or harming innocent civilians, so be it.

Innocent squatters use the same “Human Rabble” stats as the cultists.

Mobbed!

The grapple rules in D&D Next (found on page 17 of the How to Play document) are simple and efficient, but lack a bit of the nuances that apply to attacks from mobs. Consider applying some of the following optional rules below to make this encounter mor dangerous.

For context: restraining a target is like holding them tight bodily, while their arms and legs are still free to move (albeit in a much more limited fashion, hence the apllication of disadvantage). Pinning aLimb is like getting an opponent into an arm or leg lock; stopping their limb from functioning while not impeding overall bodily mobility. In either event the target is grappled, and thus bound in place, though not completely motionless.

     Multiple Grapplers – •A second (third, fourth, etc.) attacker may grab an already grappled target using the normal rules for initiating a grapple, and does so with advantage. 

•There should be a limit to the number of assailants in a grapple (4-5, DMs discretion). 

•Three or more grapplers may move a target without taking the normal 5 extra feet of movement penalty. Doing so requires that they all act on the initiative of the lowest attacker.

•Any assailant may attempt to restrain, or pin the limb a grappled creature.

•Escaping a grapple with multiple creatures requires you to make a Strength or Dexterity roll opposed by a Strength roll from each attacker. You need only beat the highest attacker’s result to escape the grasp of each assailant. 

     Pinning a Limb – While grappling a creature, as a separate action you may attempt to constrain a creature’s limbs by making an opposed Strength check opposed by the creature’s Strength or Dexterity (their choice). Doing so prevents the creature from using that limb (possibly denying them use of a weapon, or spellcasting ability if both hands are bound). The creature need only escape the grapple to cancel the effects of a pinned limb.

Features of the Area

     Lighting: Cracks in the walls and broken stained glass windows in the upper floor, along with the blaze of cookfires and candles make this room brightly illuminated.

     Statue: In the middle of the room is an enormous statue of Oghma – though this may not at first be apparent. Weather, vandalism, and seismic disaster have all contributed to this once beautiful piece of art’s decrepit appearance. Stained and pock marked with ware this 30 foot tall statue is barely recognizable, but its size is no less impressive.

     Stairs: Though damaged and now treacherous, these marble stairs wind around the wall of the rotunda and climb up seven stories. Each floor above the main chamber is lined with stacks of rotting books and crumbled shelves, niches where statues once stood, and the occasional row of scholar’s stalls. Anything of value has long since been looted.

     Floorspace: Though left open in the image, feel free to clutter the floorspace with tents, cookfires, clotheslines, cots, waste piles, barrels, crates, fallen sections of ceiling, and any other debris you might expect in a shanty-town.

Map

This map was made using the Dwarven Forge map visualizer 


Monsters

Branded Zealot – (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 6) [3 Players: x2, 4 Players: x3, 5 Players: x4]

Human Commoner – (Bestiary pg. 57) [3 Players: x15, 4 Players: x19, 5 Players: x24]

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

 

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Theater Ninjas presents “GameNight”

       

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      

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

 

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