Tag Archives: Hobgoblins

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.


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


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.


   —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


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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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.


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…



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.


     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. 


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Adventure Site – Dhunraven, City on the Wildlands

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

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

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

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

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

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

File Download —> Castle Dhunraven – City on the Wildlands


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Battlefield Extraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Features of the Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Incidents – Captive Audience


While traveling overland in a region where hobgoblins are plentiful and a nation or other military authority has interests. The tension in this encounter will be greater if you establish that the local authority is so dedicated to the eradication of the hobgoblin threat that it has a bounty on hobgoblin scalps.

A platoon of soldiers sworn to a well regarded local power (a lord, a temple, etc.) are guarding the remains of a hobgoblin war-camp. Though very few soldiers are among the prisoners, there are many women, children, and all the weaklings who served in support roles for the goblinoid brigade.

In her command tent waits the human unit’s leader – Ser Ashlee: promoted and knighted in the field when the man she was squired to died in battle. Unfortunately for her, all other senior officers also fell during the thickest of the fighting, and Ashlee (consider her equivalent to a level 1 paladin if stats are necessary) has been thrust into a position above her training.

When she hears adventurers have approached, she seeks their help. She doesn’t know what to do with the civilian captives. Putting them to the sword – as her men suggest – sounds cruel, but if the hobgoblins are spared they might rise up and slay honest citizens of a civilized community. Despite being non-combatants, the camp of hobgoblin captives is unruly, and tensions are rising with each passing day. Seeing as how adventurers have more experience with goblinoids, she asks their advice.

In the hobgoblin’s society, might makes right, and many of the civilians will serve the humans – as they are the victors, they are the new masters. Others among the defeated might see this as a chance to escape a caste system that has held them down: feigning obedience until they can escape the humans as well – perhaps requiring bloodshed to do so.

What about enslaving the civilians? Surely they are accustomed to hard work, and toil at the behest of more kind masters might even seem a gift. That said, the forcing of sentient beings into slavery is still reprehensible to many moral codes.

You might further complicate matters by including insurgents and assassins in amongst the throng of children,wives, cooks and smiths. How do the PCs decide who lives and who dies when their opponents act the same as innocent bystanders (if this is indeed the case at all). Even further, some of the hobgoblin youths may grow up to learn the truth, and swear vengeance for fathers they never knew.

On the other side of the issue; Ser Ashlee’s soldiers are eager to be done with the savages. They desire revenge for their fallen friends and commanders, and not a few of them feel that Ashlee isn’t fit to lead. Many of the men are familiar with a local authority’s (perhaps their own military’s leader’s) offer of gold as a bounty for hobgoblin scalps. They see the wholesale slaughter of the civilians as more than simple justice – but also a lucrative exchange.
Mistrust of the adventurer’s motivations, faithlessness in Ashlee, and anger at their lost friends threatens to turn the soldiers on one another. Perhaps PCs eager to make what seems to be a morally obvious choice will have to deal with the unexpected consequence of the soldier’s outrage, and even a possible mutiny.

And what of the practical concerns? Ashlee’s army has other campaigns to participate in – who will stay behind to guard all these captives? Furthermore, so many civilians means many mouths to feed – mouths that politically valuable or dangerous persons may be unwilling to provide for.

Uncertain of herself, and eager to be a wise and cautious leader, Ashlee admits her lack of expertise, and will take whatever course of action the PCs suggest.

This incident is meant to introduce a popular old moral dilemma to players who (hopefully) have yet to run across it. This scenario has pit adventurers against one another and threatened to make a 2nd rate fighter out of many a paladin. Savage humanoids tend to be violent and dangerous – though unlike demons or the undead, they are rational, thinking beings whose morality is subject to their own choices. That said, there is an undeniable tendency in the goblinoids – especially considering they are already indoctrinated by a culture and society of violence – to return to barbarism. Beyond their capacity for redemption, the alternative is participation in genocide. Having characters bound to ethical codes (like a paladin or cleric) can complicate this matter further.

Possible EXP and Rewards
This one is short, so grant experience equal to a monster of the average party member’s level. While this Incident wont grant the PCs any loot, keeping the civilians alive might result in them gaining a hobgoblin follower. Whether he is a loyal if pathetic servant, or a cunning assassin in disguise is up to the needs of your game.

As for what to name him…I’d recommend “Morrick.” Seems like a trustworthy name.

Assuming the players encourage the slaughter of the hobgoblin civilians, grant them the possibility of a significant amount of gold from bountied hobgoblin scalps (two or even three treasure parcels in gold.) However the soldiers in the army who did the difficult work of putting down the hobgoblin forces in the first place will likely object to PCs stepping in and taking a reward they consider theirs.

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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in Incidents, Not Playtested


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Walkway Ambush

“Tide of Iron” is looking pretty good right now…

This encounter was inspired by an odd bit of architecture I see every day. I just couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to get into a good ol’ medieval fantasy scrape along this weirdly arranged floor. You can plant this encounter in any castle, ruin, mansion, palace, or other sprawling building. Ideally the PCs need to traverse this walkway to get to another part of the complex, since more obvious routes are unavailable. They are then ambushed in this choke point by their foes.

Hard Lines: denote a ledge with a drop-off of 4 squares (20 feet). The walls are uneven brick and have an Athletics DC 15 to climb.
Pillars: These tall artfully sculpted pillars can be used to grant partial cover to any creature in their space. (If using dungeon tiles, you might want to forgo actual pillar tiles and instead tell the players there is a waist high railing along the edge that grants cover).
-Tree: Since your more industrious and acrobatic characters are likely to ask, the tree stands a little over 20 feet up and is a sturdy oak. It looks like it could support the weight of a climber. An Athletics DC 20 check must be made to make the 2 square jump from walkway to limb and vice versa. The intervening squares of tree count as rough terrain if they are being traversed by a climber. The limbs are sturdy but not full of foliage, and do not grant concealment, though the trunk would gran cover to anyone on the ground.
Doors: The PCs enter from the Easternmost door, and need to get through the double doors to the west. None are locked.


  • x2 Hobgoblin Battle Guards – G (Monster Vault pg. 157)
  • x1 Hobgoblin Spear Soldier – S (Monster Vault pg. 157)
  • x2 Hobgoblin Archers – A (Monster Manual pg. 139)
  • x1 Hobgoblin Warcaster – W (Monster Manual pg. 140)


This one is pretty straight forward. The hobgoblin Battle Guards march up to the stairs leading to the side the PCs are on and block their path as best they can. Standing one square behind them is the Spear Soldier who can take advantage of his reach to attack, while staying safely behind his allies. Should both Battle Guards fall, he will retreat to defend the Archers and Warcaster. Meanwhile, the Archers and Warcaster all take cover in the pillars and rain ranged attack upon the PCs. A particularly devious DM might even have the Warcaster use his Force Lure to fling an unwitting PC off the ledge (Don’t forget to give such a rube a saving throw to fall prone before tumbling over, and a subsequent athletics roll to grasp the edge as they fall.) For the most part the Warcaster is providing a little physical support for the Archers, as most of his ranged attacks require a recharge. In the event that PCs manage to bypass Battle guards and attack the archers directly, the Spear Soldier will likely fall back and lend support.

On the PCs end, be aware that the 5 square distance between ledges will let PCs use a lot of close attacks against the Archers. Likewise, an Eladrin PC can easily teleport over the gap, thought hat might leave him exposed to the Warcaster and Spear Soldier without help.


*A note about map tiles: I composited this image using several map packs and cheated with a bit of Photoshoppery. You’d easily be able to approximate it with Master Set: The Dungeon and Master Set: The Wilderness, with just a bit of Arcane Towers mixed in. In the future I might design maps with an eye toward using a single dungeon tile set but for now I’m applying them liberally as a resource to properly visualize encounter areas.

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Posted by on February 17, 2012 in Combat Encounter, Not Playtested


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