Tag Archives: Level 3

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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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.


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.


This map was made using the Dwarven Forge map visualizer 


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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[X1 Isle of Dread] Random Encounter – Dinozon Ambush

     As usual, theatre obligations have put my game on hold for the moment (And I’m not even in the show this time!) But all that down time means I can pick away at filling out some of the details I’m adding to the adventure. Since I’m changing some things around on the dear old Isle of Dread, that means adjusting some of the random encounters. Today’s post will be about replacing those goofy phanatons with something a bit more deadly. I’ll give you a hint…it required me to revisit my old love of paleontology. 


     Like last time, if you’re one of my players, buzz off! No peeking! Secrets are ahead! (Not that the title didn’t spoil things already….)!

Amazons on the Island

     I always prefer to tailor the game world to what my players (and to some degree their characters) expect to find in it. So in order to facilitate some intrigue with one PC’s backstory, I’ve replaced the phanatons with an encampment of vicious rogue amazons. Though typically only defensive in nature, these amazons have turned away from the tenets of their sisterhood in order to persue agressive goals of conquest. While these circumstance are unlikely to gel well with most other campaigns, the amazons simply use the Human Warrior stat block, and could easily be swapped out with pirates, natives, neanderthals, or any other humanoid already present on the island.

     What is significant about this encounter is what the amazons are riding into battle: vicious utahraptors. These large dromaeosaurs inspired the erronously named “velociraptors” that made you pee your pants when you saw Jurassic Park  way back….anytime you watched that movie. Using their dinosaur mounts, the amazons increase their mobility and lethality by degrees. Also, riding dinosaurs is awesome.


      Have the PCs make a normal check to determine surprise when travelling overland. If they are using stealth, the amazons will need to make checks to discover their presence (to simplify this, give them advantage on the check to account for the keen senses of their mounts and the fact that they are out on active patrol).

Plot Text

      You’re finally getting used to the sounds of this awful place. The hoots and growls of unfamiliar animals are becoming commonplace to your ear. You no longer feel the humidity and atmosphere as some alien blanket wrapping around and suffocating you. It’s not home. You’ve merely adapted. Like survivors always do.

     Which is why the lull in bird shrieks should have been a clue. Before you know it they are on you. Women, most of them human, clad in scanty, piecemeal leather and scale armor adorned with vibrant feathers, wisely trading some degree of protection for comfort in the steamy rainforest. They charge forward, mounted on bipedal lizards covered in the brightly colored feathers that their riders wear. You’ve seen several varieties of these reptilian monstrosities on the island already but these look particularly fierce: big as a horse with long tails, a head full of piercing teeth, and a wicked razor toe on either foot. 

     The woman warriors call out to you in a heavily accented common, “Outlanders! This island is ours, and you do not belong here. The penalty for tresspassing is death!” Well, that elimantes negotiation as a viable option. The women let out a birdlike warcry and move to circle your party. The raptors descend upon you.


     Two of the mounted amazons rush towards the most isolated target, while the rest harry the column of PCs with ranged attacks from either side. Their plan is to force melee PCs in two different directions – splitting up the group and isolating individuals so that the amazons can gang up on individuals, using the raptor’s pounce ability whenever possible. 

     When half of the amazon patrol is dead or severally wounded, they will raise a call to retreat. Dismounted amazons will not leave their stranded sisters behind. Any captured amazons will only bring down further attacks from search and rescue patrols.

     The raptors are tamed and trained for war, but strongly tied to their riders and accustomed to the amazon’s particular commands. As an action, a PC can attempt a hard WIS [Handle Animal] check, to climb in the saddle and get control of one of the beasts. If not under control of a rider, a raptor will attack the nearest enemy, but is well trained enough not to engage one of the amazons.


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Take and Hold Victory

This adventure is intended for five players of 3rd level using the August 2013 D&D Next/5th ed Playtest

     As you’ve likely heard, the public component of the playtest for D&D Next/5th ed is coming to a close. While I was a bit surprised that public playtesting would not be a constant, I’m not un-happy with the decision. My gaming group has been consistently playing with the playtest rules for almost a year now, and having a “set” core of rules will be a welcome change for those frustrated with having to re-imagine their PC every couple of months (an expected symptom of playtesting but nonetheless tiresome when you were just getting used to your character).

     While I take umbrage with some elements of the newest release (namely the overinflated feats, and the lack of character customization at Level 1) I’ve generally been extremely happy with the playtest, seeing it as a marriage of 3rd and 4th editions along with some new DNA that makes for a much more manageable game. It’s fun for the players, and it is effortless to DM. And I can’t sing the praises of the emphasis on Bounded Accuracy enough!

     Given all this, you’ll finally see the inevitable shift towards exclusively D&D 5th content here on Save Vs Weekend. While writing up hybrid adventures isn’t terribly arduous (as WoTC is demonstrating with the ambitiously multi-edition Murder in Baldur’s Gate) I usually have limited time to write, given all my various obligations. Saving a little time by writing for one edition (the easier one to write for as well!) means I can get more encounters out to you faster.

     Look on the bright side – if you play Pathfinder, it will require little conversion on your part to use my content now! And if you are a die-hard 4e fan, now you have another traitor to rage against! Edition turn-coats!

Bunker Battle

     This week’s encounter serves as a perfect follow up piece to “Battlefield Extraction.” It employs the accompanying “Dwarven Redoubt” map – both of which come with Vaults of the Underdark and are designed to be used in conjunction at the same time. For our purposes it is a separate location, though  you may wish to presume the assigned mission is all a part of the same military campaign featured in the plot to the previous encounter.

     As a side note for Dragon Age fans, these maps strongly reminded me of that world’s “Deep Roads” and it is no accident that the concept is reflected a bit in these encounters. The best thieves steal from the best.


     The PCs have agreed to aid (or been coerced into service by) an army of dwarves, hard pressed to defend their underground community. Thanks to the PC’s efforts the tide is beginning to turn, but one major impediment stands in the way of immediate military progress: A fortified bunker teeming with enemy forces. Their presence in the  fortification means the combined might of goblins, kobolds, orcs, ogres, and worse are constantly threatening a devastating counter attack. Due to it’s strategic position, the only option is a more-or-less frontal assault. The PC’s will need to navigate through a series of makeshift traps to dislodge their opponents. After a brief respite, the party will have to dig in and face a brutal counter-offensive; surviving until their own reinforcements arrive.

    But don’t think the dwarves are simply exploiting the PC’s kindness – each player will gain control of a dwarf soldier to serve as his or her second on the battlefield. Give each partner a distinct personality and make them likable – that way it’s all the more heart-wrenching when they die horribly in battle!



A poster version of this map is available in the “Vaults of the Underdark” map pack from WoTC

Features of the Area

   Illumination:  Braziers, torch sconces, and a battlefield fires mean this chamber is filled with bright illumination.

   Stones, Rubble, Crates and barrels:  Rough terrain.

   Heavy Wooden Doors: These sturdy doors are barred from the inside (AC 13, HP 35).

   Arrow Slits: Three-Quarters Cover for those inside the bunker, but they do not hamper the ability to make ranged attacks for those firing out of them. Only reach weapons like a glaive can make melee attacks through an arrow slit, and do so with disadvantage.

   Yellow X – Bear Traps: These round metal traps with jagged teeth feature a pressure plate in the middle. When a creature steps on the plate, it clamps the steel jaws shut on the victim’s leg. [WIS DC 10 to spot with Disadvantage, though a DEX DC 15 saving throw negates the trap’s effects. On a failed save, the bear trap deals 1d4 piercing damage and the target is immobilized. A trapped creature can escape with a DC 10 STR check, but takes an additional 1d4 slashing damage. Alternately, a character trained in Thieves Tools can disable the tap with a DC 10 DEX check as an action].

   Red X – Collapsing Bridge: Kobold trapsmiths have weakened the supports on the bridge, making it likely to crumble apart. If a creature enters any such section on the bridge they must make a DC 15 DEX save or fall into the water below and lose any remaining movement. The entire weakened section collapses all at once. Those that succeed on the save may safely move to an adjacent section of the bridge for no additional movement cost.

   Green X – Caltrops: These pronged blades are conceale by dust, dirt, and jagged stones [WIS DC 10 to spot with Disadvantage] but otherwise use the normal rules for caltrops (Equipment, pg. 9) 

   Blue X – Falling Rocks: A tripwire strung between the cavern walls [WIS DC 15 to spot, DEX DC 13 saving throw negates]. If the wire is sprung it dislodges a bundle of boulders suspended above the passage that fall down onto anyone standing within 10 feet of the tripwire (squares adjacent to and in the areas marked with a blue X). 2d6 bludgeoning damage. All creatures beneath the rocks may make a DEX DC 13 save for half damage.

   Green Slime: The sections labelled with a green splotch indicate the presence of a growth of Green Slime (Bestiary pg. 52)

    Passages North, East, and South of the Bunker: These areas are off the map but will come into play in some capacity. Each is a wide passage that extends 40 feet off the map before turning sharply and leading into more narrow passageways. From the bunker, a creature can see anyone within 40 feet of the map’s edge, giving the players roughly one round to attack or prepare for foes once their enemies have rounded the corner and are approaching the areas pictured on the map. Essentially, players can make one ranged attack at any foe approaching or fleeing from sight of the bunker before the target is out of sight and likely safe.

With A Little Help From My Friends

The PCs are chosen to make this assualt in part because the dwarf troops are stretched thin, and because they have distinguished themselves in battle. There’s a good chance they just might pull this off with their limited numbers. That said, command isn’t leaving them high and dry, and is opting to assign a dwarf conscript to escort each PC as backup. The presence of the conscript has been factored in to the overall challenge of this encounter, and you need not divide or detract any experience from the PCs beacuse of their presence.


Image by Ruben Ramos used under Creative Commons:

Stats for the conscripts appear in the Against the Cult of Chaos [pg. 9] conversion document: *Make the following changes: •Attack bonus to +3, •AC 15 (Worn Scale Mail and Shield)

Phase 1: Charge!

The players will be approaching the bunker from the western edge of the map. Due to the cavernous nature of the terrain, there is no way to maneuver around the bunker; its purpose is to serve as a choke point against those approaching from outside the dwarven redoubt. The monsters garrisoning the bunker are technically speaking on guard, but a few days without any action has made them lax in their duties.

Players may attempt a DEX roll to sneak around and get a better view of the bunker’s numbers, defenses, and potentially nearby traps. This roll is opposed by the WIS of the kobold guards on duty (you need only make one roll for all the guards). If the players are not spotted, or instead opt to charge into the cavern without first scouting, then they have Advantage on their Initiative roll.

The first phase of the battle is a straight up assault, crossing through the no-mans-land of traps to dislodge the creatures holding the bunker. If the defenders lose 2/3 of their numbers of the Hobgoblin is killed, they attempt to flee.

Phase 2: Digging in

Once the PCs have secured the bunker, they will have a period of three hours to take a short rest, and then begin setting up traps, defenses, and otherwise keeping watch. After this time, the reinforcements of the monstrous horde arrive and attempt to dislodge the PCs from their defensive position.

 A simple DEX DC 10 check allows a PC to remove and reuse a trap left by the kobolds (This is an automatic success for anyone with proficiency in Thieves Tools). Otherwise, the crates and barrels of supplies just north of the bunker are full of crossbow bolts, hammers, spears, saws, shovels, nails, wood, spare daggers, and other such implements that the PCs could use to create impromptu fortifications (There was expanded construction intended for this bunker/customs station before the attack had commenced).

A careful search of the outside supplies [INT DC 13] reveals a small, ornate locked chest [DEX DC 10 for anyone with a lockpick, those trained in Thieves Tools have Advantage] containing 4 Healing Potions (The chest itself is worth 10 gp)

The players might be wise enough to keep a guard on while tending to their plans. If so, whoever is on watch will see the occasional kobold or goblin scout peeking around a corner to spy on their progress. They will flee quickly when they spy a sentry. If no guards are posted and the PCs are busy and vulnerable, 1d6+2 goblins will attack once before the three hours elapses.

Phase 3: Counter-Attack

At the end of three hours, a loud orcish warhorn booms through the chamber. The horde’s reinforcements have arrived! The PCs have two rounds to take positions. After that, the attackers arrive in waves (See “Monsters” below for what creatures comprise each formation:

Round 1: North and East formations

Round 3: South formation

Round 5: Rear Guard – Individuals arrive from [1d6: 1-2 North, 3-4 East, 5-6 South]

Phase 4: The Final Push

The horde has held its best for last, releasing all of its reserves and the unit’s fierce leader in a last-ditch, suicidal attempt to take the PCs down. These forces arrive 10 minutes after Phase 2, and come from the Eastern edge of the map.


     •Bunker Defenders (200 EXP):

x6 Kobolds (Bestiary pg. 59)

x2 Kobold Dragonshields (Bestiary pg. 60)

x6 Goblins (Bestiary pg. 49)

x1 Hobgoblin -Stays inside bunker at all costs (Bestiary pg. 55)

     •Phase 2 – North Formation (140 EXP)

x2 Orcs (Bestiary pg. 70) 

     •Phase 2 – East Formation

x3 Kobold Dragonshields (100 EXP)

x4 Kobolds 

     •Phase 2 South Formation (80 EXP)

x8 Goblins

     •Phase 2 – Rear Guard (80 EXP)

x4 Goblins

x4 Kobolds

     •Phase 4 – Approaching from East

x1 Ogre (Bestiary pg. 69)

x1 Orc Warlord (Bestiary pg. 70)

x3 Orcs


In addition to the combat experience granted for each phase of the fight, the PCs will find the dwarves quite pleased and unusually generous in the wake of the victory. Likewise, they will no doubt join the surviving dwarf soldiers and officials in a feast. 

•x5 Ornamental gems per PC

•A +1 Weapon with the Delver and Sentinel (Orc) properties. [Magic Items pg. 6]


Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Combat Encounter, Not Playtested


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Battlefield Extraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Features of the Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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D&D Next (5th Edition) Playtest – December


This playtest session found us running “The Astral Conqueror of Sargodell Deeps” which you can find on the “Full Adventures” page

So I recently had the opportunity to delve into the newest edition of the playtest with (mostly) the same group of players that I had last time I did some serious testing. Again, I wrote up a short, one-off adventure in advance and ran them through It (By now, advancing their modified characters up to Level 3). Here are a few impressions that I had by the end of the night.

Monsters – Wonky?: I walked away from the last iteration thinking that monsters needed a little tweaking. This time through, however, I was happy to find them working effectively. Even lower level monsters, with scant Hit Points, were occasionally able to survive a blow from higher level PCs (Meaning that they weren’t all “minions” across the board). This was nice because it kept the gameplay fast without making creatures too easy to take down. I had ended up using a Hill Giant as the model for the final encounter and he ended up going down quite easily, so creatures that are intended to taking longer to bring down may yet require some tweaking.

Martial Dice and Maneuvers: These continue to shine. The new maneuvers added are easy to use, logically intuitive, and tactically valuable. I think this aspect of the game is very strong and I’m excited to see where it goes from here (especially in context to the Ranger and Paladin)

Skill Dice: This was one of the bigger changes in this iteration of the rules. I came at it with a bit of skepticism (silly, considering my love of the now defunct Alternity, and the fact that game thrived on a similar mechanic – But that was also an entirely different system, and the modifier dice were part of it’s charm.)

It seemed that having more dice to roll would slow things down (even if it added to the tension and made things more fun for those who love rolling dice). I’d like to try this out from the other side of the table before really coming down on how I feel about it, but my players (all newer to the game) were none too fond. It made skill checks more complicated, and added a level of confusion where there was normally just a static bonus to consider.

For my money, I lament the loss of the players choice to invest a greater bonus into a particular skill. I feel the previous iteration was going int he right direction on this (allowing a player to increase his character’s static bonus to a skill, but topping out relatively quickly to prevent skill creep). I’m still open minded to the skill dice, but will explain it very carefully in the future, and if it goes away, I can’t say that I’ll be terribly heartbroken.

Hard to think in terms of “Attributes First”: This may be my gamer conditioning infecting my players, but I found we consulted our skills very often when considering what to do. This isn’t bad at all – a core function of classes in D&D is to give each player a role to fill – a time to shine – something that they need to step forward and try. But I worry that I was undermining some of the open creativity that was encouraged in emphasizing the attributes. It’s a useful thing to keep in mind, and interesting that my DM conditioning may have accounted for this reliance on the skill list. Old habits die hard.

I didn’t get too much in direct feedback from the players since we had to pack it in quickly and head home, lest we all be caught in a tiny blizzard – but I’ll put out some feelers to them and see what further insights they have, updating this post appropriately.


Laying out the dungeon in advance

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Posted by on January 24, 2013 in Announcements


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D&D Next / 5th Edition Fan Adventure!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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