Tag Archives: Level 4

The Pen is Mightier

This encounter is intended for three characters of 4th Level

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


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

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

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

Flammable Objects

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

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

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

Tempting Literature

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

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

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

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



Features of the Area

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

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

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


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

x2 Branded Zealot (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 6)

x1 Ashmadai Thug (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 4)

To accomodate four players, add an additional Branded Zealot

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Posted by on March 8, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The Defiled Infirmary

This encounter is intended for four characters of 4th level

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Sheep’s Clothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heal DC 5: He’s dead.

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

Guest Patient

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

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

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




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

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


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[X1 Isle of Dread] Cyclopean Towers of the Kopru – Part 1

These encounters are intended for any number of players venturing through “X1 The Isle of Dread” using the August release of the D&D Next Playtest (Levels 3-7)

     Despite my love of wilderness adventuring, no gaming group I was with did anything with hex crawls until recently. I discovered that they were really up my ally, allowing the players to greater agency in controlling the action and to create drama with a random set of tools that functioned better under the usual wear and tear of player insight. The obvious Skyrim analogies are all extremely helpful in understanding their appeal. 

     My group of intrepid D&D Next playtesters is about to embark on X1 – The Isle of Dread and as I gear up to run the adventure, I find myself a little disappointed by the placement of some of the encounters. Looking at the map, I feel like a lot of the action will take place on the main landmass; yet a lot of the location based encounters are on the periphery. While that lets random encounters (which I love!) to bear the brunt, part of the appeal of a big hexcrawl to me is finding places that can be revisited later. That Dire Bear warren you cleared? Great place to bed down for the night and sit out this storm.

     In this vein, I decided to spend the next few entries writing up additional, map keyed encounters for use with Isle of Dread. While stated for and intended for use with D&D Next, I think a lot of this content will be fairly useable for any addition of D&D running the adventure.

     I’ve included snapshots of the island map to help you identify which hex these encounter areas take place in.

A Note to My Players

Hey guys, thanks for reading my blog! You are all real champs. That said, I’m about to share secrets from our game with the internet at large for their possible use and modification in there own games. But that means you could read ahead, cheat, and ruin some of the fun and surprises for yourselves. Don’t do that. I’ll know if you do – and that’s the quickest way to get 2d6 mindflayers dropped into an encounter on a whim. 

You wouldn’t want that. So just navigate away, and trust that you’ll be seeing all of this very soon.

Go on.

Are they gone?

Ok, cool. Now the adults can talk.

The Kopru as Villains

     The encounters detailed below emphasize the Kopru presence on the island as a primary antagonist. In brief, the Kopru are serving as a vanguard for invasion from the Far Realm (themselves a derivative offshoot of Mindflayer and now the shock troopers of an Illithid invasion force). While the island’s isolation allows them to enter the material plane without fear of reprisal, the native’s success in escaping the Kopru’s imperial designs has prevented them from expanding. However the arrival of mainland pirates, traders, the PCs, and other foreign interests has given them the opportunity to take thralls, plant suggestions in sleeper agents, and even stow away aboard escaping ships. The Kopru have been waiting in secret for their chance to leave the island and expand their nefarious plans, and that time is now.

     Across the face of the island, the vile outsiders have erected eldritch standing stones. These obsidian coral obelisks glow with strange green runes, and give off an uneasy psychic energy that causes fitful dreams and eerie whisperings in the minds of sane mortals who wander too close. The corrupting influence of these monoliths has lead to the prevalence of carnivorous primates on the island.

     The positioning of the stones is determined by mystical ley lines that criss-cross the island.  The stones gather magical energy from natural pathways in the earth, allowing the Kopru to maintain portals to the Far Realm with minimal difficulty. What specific purpose these standing stones and the ley lines they influence has is up to you as the DM. In large part they are merely another mysterious site on the island and an objective for the Kopru to guard or reclaim as need be. You may wish to consider adjusting random encounter charts when the PCs are exploring near these standing stones to reflect the presence of alien beings from the Far Realm creeping through portals onto the island.

Standing Stone 1 (SS1) – The Champion’s Harem [4th Level Party, difficult]


          A strange obelisk, made of some shiny ebony stone and patterned as though it were comprised of a an adamant coral stands a good fifty feet high, jutting from the vegetation. Green runes of inexplicable origin glow brightly even in daylight at irregular intervals and asymmetric angles along the length of the structure. 
     Surrounding the eerie monolith are four colorful pavilions stand in a clearing surrounded by jungle vegetation. Movement is easily discernible in the encampment. Amid the bright rugs and silken tents are five women, and two men, mostly island natives though two of the women are blonde and fair of skin. All are scantily clad in silken garments, and adored with necklaces, earrings, decorative sandals and other wardrobe embellishments. They seem to be serving a heavily muscled native man covered in the skins of dangerous jungle beasts who sits under the central pavilion on a throne lashed together of saber-toothed tiger hides and long, broad-headed spears. Delicious looking island fruits, fresh cooked meats, and jugs of some kind of libation seem in no short supply amongst this odd yet inviting encampment. 

     The Kopru guarding this stone is a practiced mage, and has opted to lure travelers into a false sense of security using illusion magic. It attempts to mentally dominate one of each group it encounters, and enslaves the others to be sent to the central plateau to serve its masters – either as labor force, or food for mindflayers. The creature has cast a Disguise Self spell to appear as a genial and intimidating native warrior. Nearly all of the others are thralls, captured from the villages or among the pirates of the island. One of the non-native women is in fact a witch who abandoned her former allies and has sworn willing service to the Kopru in order to learn powerful dark magic from them. Though she dresses and acts like the other magically stupefied women, she is completely lucid and an ally to the monstrous sentinel of this place.

     The Kopru under his native guise is friendly and inviting to the PCs, offering food, drink, a place to rest, and even a few healing potions or offers of healing. The servants are pleasant and flirtatious, offering any lustful dalliance the PCs wish with the hearty approval of the presiding warrior. [If this all sounds like some cheesecake, Sword and Sandal Frank Frazetta painting, it is exactly that, and should be described as such].

     This seeming native warrior explains that he was a soldier in service to the leaders of Tanaroa, but grew tired of village life and struck out on his own for the excitement of the jungles. There he rescue the people of the encampment who work as his willing servants and concubines. He is quick to assert that they are no bandits, taking what they need from the wilderness, or claiming salvage from pirates and outcasts when possible. He claims to know nothing of the obelisk but acknowledges that it is unsettling. His choice to camp there was to investigate and see who or what might show up. 

     The scheme is to get the PCs to sleep without posting a guard.The food and drink is laced with a mild sedative in order to facilitate this (PCs attempting to stay awake must make a CON DC 10 Save with Disadvantage). Belligerent or suspicious PCs are bound and disarmed while they sleep. One of the PCs (your choice) is instead subjected to the Kopru’s Dominate Person ability (Disadvantage on the save while they are asleep). If successful, the Kopru uses this PC to encourage the others to acquiesce, to go with the Kopru’s allies, and to hear them out. If the whole party is captured, in 1d6 days, a patrol from the central plateau arrives to take the captives there, forcing them into slavery or feeding some or all of the party to a mindflayer. Opportunities for the PCs to escape may depend on fortunate random encounters (the patrol is subject to attack by the wild denizens of the island too!) or their own ingenuity.

     The Kopru never drops its Disguise Self illusion unless attacked., recasting the spell in secret for as long as the PCs remain awake. Should it run out of available spells, the Kopru under its guise explains that it must leave to go hunting, and waits until the PCs are incapacitated to return.

     Loot: Among the finery in the pavilions are 6d20 gp worth of assorted gems, and an additional 3d20 gp in coins. The Kopru and Witch each carry a spellbook which contains the spells they know. There are also two healer’s kits, and six healing potions, as well as ample food and wine to resupply an adventuring party.

   Standing Stone Effect: Creatures dominated by a Kopru for a full 24 hours while within 2 hexes of this standing stone must make a WIS DC 13 Save with Disadvantage. If they succeed, they are free of the Kopru’s control. Upon failure, they are permanently charmed by the Kopru (but subject to another save under the normal conditions for its “Dominate Person” ability). If the effect becomes permanent, the Kopru is freed to use Dominate Person again without losing control of this thrall.

     Similarly, mind effecting and Illusion spells like Charm Person, and Disguise Self are strengthened by the field effect, imposing Disadvantage on any creature making a save against them (This effects the players as well).

   Creatures: x1 Kopru (pg. 61) [w/ x4 Level 1 Spells: Disguise Self, Charm Person, Magic Missile, – x2 Level 2 Spells: Scorching Ray, Suggestion

     x1 Human Witch-Doctor (pg. 58) 

     x6 Servants (You can use the stats for Human Commoners to represent the servants, though they flee rather than opt to fight.)

Standing Stone 2 (SS2) – The Thing Beyond the Gate [3rd Level Party, Average]


     The towering 50 foot tall obsidian pinnacle jutting up from the dry basin below you is even more bizarre when set against the red rocks and grit. It’s coral-like texture is strange to witness this far from the ocean and in this cracked, nearly lifeless corner of the island. Covering the monolith are glowing runes of green, and cruder sets of glyphs interspersing them that flicker in blue. Hacked into the dirt and rock around the obelisk are magic circles, roughly 10 feet long and gleaming with an eerie and malevolent green shimmer. Sitting beside the stone is a waist satchel that seems to have been violently torn from its wearer – judging by the shredded leather and greenish blood staining it.

     The Kopru that lurked near this obelisk had grander designs than those of his superiors. He sought to open another portal to the Far Realm and draw out an opposing faction of Mindflayers and aberrant creatures to claim the island. But his inexperience and lack of proper materials made for several failed rifts between worlds, until his experimenting succeeded – with uncontrollable results. The small pathways to the Far Realm that he did manage to open allowed the tendrils of a vast, squamous, Lovecraftian horror from beyond the veil to reach through, grabbing the Kopru and crushing it to death. The creature waits by the tear in worlds eagerly to snap up prey form the material plane.

     The beast waits until the PCs draw as close to the portals as possible, (the satchel might serve as unintentional bait) using its otherworldly organs to “sense” beyond the portals. Once the party has slain # of PCs x2 tentacles, the beast recoils away from the portals for a time until it can regenerate its appendages. Though technically part of the same enormous beast, treat the tendrils as individual monsters. Only one tentacle can emerge from a portal at a time, meaning that the PC’s moments of victory can be quickly dashed when a lopped off tentacle is replaced by another writhing horror.

     Alternately, any spellcasting using Dispell Magic on a portal can easily close it, sealing off that route by which the beast can attack. Doing so earns the same EXP as defeating the tentacles in combat. Similarly, the PCs could merely move out of range of the tentacles, though doing so earns them no EXP outside of that gained for killing a tentacle.

     To increase the challenge level, change the number of tendrils to Party Members x3.

     Loot: The satchel contains x2 healing potions, x3 random scrolls containing level 2 Mage spells, and 75gp worth of magical components used in rituals.

    Standing Stone Effect: This obelisk distorts the veil between worlds, allowing for easy passage across dimensions. Any spell or magical effect that involves other planes is enhanced (Targets get Disadvantage on saves, die rolls are maximized, summoning durations are doubled, etc. This may involve some measure of DM fiat). The obelisk effects the hex it is in and all adjacent hexes on the map.

     Creatures: Eldritch Tentacles (see below)


Standing Stone 3 (SS3) – Cliffside Pteranodon Aerie [4th Level Party, Average]


     Standing tall on an outcropping of rock jutting out of the ocean not far from the mainland itself is a solid black coral obelisk. The sharp structure is ringed with green eldritch runes, glowing fiercely even in the light of day. Circling this fifty foot tall cyclopean juggernaut are three enormous winged lizards. The approach to this outcropping is made from a much lower elevation on the mainland. Several rickety rope bridges connect to bare stony platforms emerging from the waves. The spans angle upwards to the high elevations of each towering step-stone and are occasionally tossed about by rugged ocean breezes.

     This obelisk is perched on a precarious escarpment emerging near the costal cliffs of the island. The Kopru standing sentinel over it benefits from its isolation, but has still coerced a troupe of lizardfolk and their pteranodon mounts as his elite troopers. Two of the lizardfolk are stationed under the obelisk at all times. Three attend to their aerial mounts in a cliffside cave, high up on the mainland. The other two are out in the jungles hunting together for food to feed the entire troupe. The Kopru itself is busy seeking allies among the malevolent creatures of the ocean, and will not return for many days.

     When the PCs approach, any chance of parlay is for naught, the reptilian savages guarding this warped shrine have orders to kill on sight. The mounted lizardfolk will swoop in and attack with their blowguns while their beasts peck at the adventurers. Meanwhile, the two lizardfolk on the cliffs head down to the lowest bridge and attempt to hack it down, cutting off the PCs easy access to the obelisk (for ease of adjudication, it will take him three rounds of chopping to cut down any given bridge). The remaining lizardfolk arrive after the first round to attack from the rear.

     If your players are arriving at this challenge at a higher level, consider having the Kopru be on hand to defend its territory. In this case, the creature itself holds out above the action on the platform with the obelisk, attempting to dominate a PC with heavy melee attacks (or better yet, one who has crossed a bridge first and might be used to chop the bridge down with allies still upon it). Barring this, it uses its Wand of Magic Missiles to fire one missile per round, pelting the PCs with artillery until they draw close enough for its claws. If the Kopru is hard pressed or in danger, it uses the power of the standing stone to fly out of reach, opting to soar into the jungle and hide until the danger passes.

     Loot: Cut into the mainland cliffs and accessible via a rope ladder, the lizardfolk have occupied a small cave full of cookfire, gnawed bones, and simple, moldy cots. The Kopru itself rests in the back of the cave in a pit of mud dug for its comfort. The cave contains 3d20 gp in various stashes, and 1d6 precious gems, each worth 50 gp. If the Kopru is present, it carries 2 healing potions and its Wand of Magic Missiles.

     Standing Stone Effect: Creatures native to the Far Realm (such as the Kopru) gains a fly speed of 30 feet (Subject to restrictions as the Fly spell) at-will, while within the hex that the stone occupies.

     Creatures: x3 Pteranodons (pg. 31) 

x10 Lizardfolk (pg. 64) [3 mounted on pteranodons] 

—For increased challenge, x1 Kopru [Armed with a Wand of Magic Missiles (Magic Items pg. 15)]

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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Combat Encounter, Not Playtested


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The Abyss Gazes Back


This adventure is intended for five players of 5th level (using D&D 4th Edition) or 4th level (using D&D Next playtest rules June 2013 Release)

The trick with finding a large lode of a rare and valuable mineral (especially one as coveted as Mithril) is keeping it a secret while you mine it. This week’s encounter brings the heroes into a “lost” mithril mine in search of treasures and historical trinkets. The only (surface) entrance into the mine is through an encoded teleportation circle – a security measure that kept it safe for a very long time.

But while dwellers above never managed to find the mineral trove, those that lurk below have known about it for quite some time…

The PCs have come across the “code” for activating a linked portal found in a now defunct section of a dwarven mine. Perhaps this information was given as a reward, found in the library of an evil lich, or plucked from the skeletal hand of those lost in a failed expedition. Either way, the dwarves of this community lost access to their most valued treasure: a nearly untapped lode of raw mithril. Whether or not the players share this with the dwarves is up to them (perhaps they are being employed but the leaders of this clanhold or thaig to explore the mine and deem it “safe.”

Whatever the case, the only way in is by incanting the magic words and drawing the required symbols to activate the portal. Everything seems to go fine…but unbeknownst to the party, there were a few errors in the scribing of the instructions.

A Neverwinter Night
This adventure was originally written with the Neverwinter Campaign Setting in mind. As such, the 4th Edition rules incorporate monsters from that source, though subbing them out for any aggressive subterranean Lurker/Artillery combo will suffice.

If you are using this encounter in a Neverwinter/Forgotten Realms game, it likely takes place under the cavernous halls of lost Gauntlgrym, or in chambers adjacent to The Chasm. In this case, you will likely wish to add one of the Plaguechanged themes from page 95 of the campaign setting book to the nothics. Likely, these lower mines have themselves been warped by the Spellplague, and strange properties may effect the mithril found here.

Plot Text
Something is definitely wrong. The harmonic thrum of the teleportation circle is now growling dissonantly. Everything was done perfectly – the words were spoken, the hand motions made, the sigils drawn properly into the runes… there is the expected flash of light as the portal activates, and then you feel nothing below you.

You crash to the ground, having dropped a mere two feet, but losing your footing and orientation. Wherever you are, it’s dark…very dark. The air around you is cold and unmoving, dampness presses against your skin and off in the distance is a faint silver glow. The emanating light is coming from the rocky floor beneath you. As your eyes adjust, you can see its source, a vein of pure mithril.

What you don’t see are your friends. Did they teleport along with you? Were they left behind? Did something…worse happen?

Before you can investigate, a reptilian shriek shatters the grave quiet of the cavern. There’s something out there.


A high-res poster of this map is included in theVaults of the Underdarkmap pack.

Features of the Area

    •Illumination:The faint glow from the pure mithril gives off dim light in any 10 feet (2 squares) from a mithril vein (visible on the map as silvery swaths on the ground). Otherwise there is no natural light in the mine. A pair of everburning candles sits on the desk in the foreman’s office.

    •Rubble: These sections discarded equipment, wrecked and abandoned barrels, overturned carts and debris count as rough terrain. A close inspection with Perception/Intelligence (Search) Moderate DC, reveals 1d100 gp worth of raw mithril among the wreckage of each debris pile (seven piles total).

    •Foreman’s Office: Still warm and inviting thanks to the everburning candles on the desk, this small room comprised the office of the mine’s work director. His ledger and logbook contains mostly the boring minutiae of running a mine: weights, measures, shift schedules, etc. if a PC is insistent on poking through the books, they will find that a large load of mithril was exported to a hidden location not far away for “safe keeping.” The logbook includes either a treasure map or a riddle that points to the cache’s location. Obtaining this trove of unprocessed mithril would give the party an additional treasure of no small value.
    Also in the office is a locked (Moderate DC) treasure chest containing a few changes of clothes (now moldered with age), and a magical armor of the appropriate level.
    At your discretion and for an increased challenge, the chest might also be trapped, with a dead nothic nearby as a hint to what kind of security measures the chest employs.

    •Teleportation Circle: This is where the PCs were supposed to arrive when entering the hidden mine. They can escape using the same encoded magical incantations, though they will suffer the same discombobulated arrival on their return trip (which will likely be more meddlesome than disastrous. An Arcana/Intelligence (only if trained in Magical Lore) Moderate DC check will fix the malfunction, allowing for normal use of the portal.

    •Exits: The southern corners press on to 10 foot wide corridors leading off into different directions and other passages in the cavern system. Where they lead is up to you.


D&D 4th:
x4 Nothic Mindwarp (Neverwinter Campaign Setting pg. 95)
x2 Nothic Plaguegazer (Neverwinter Campaign Setting pg. 94)

D&D Next:
x7 Nothics


The nothic make use of the shadowy environment and their predilection towards stealth to make quick strikes against the PCs, blasting them with their gaze attacks or swiping with their claws, then ducking away to hide around a corner. They will try to keep the PCs separated and uncoordinated, keeping two nothics on particularly weak targets, alternating which attacks and which hides. They will take their time to double back or circle around through the maze in order to strike unexpectedly.

Consider granting additional experience equivalent to a level 1 monster to account for the initial advantage the nothic’s have in attack their dispersed foes.

Most of the mithril in this mine is inaccessible (since it has yet to actually be mined) but clumps of ore can be found in the wrecked carts and barrels. Selling or trading these might grant the party the equivalent of a monetary treasure parcel (or us the guidelines for random value described in the “Rubble” entry above.)


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Panopticon of Torment


The orcs slave’s need your help – but can’t risk activating these deadly collars to aid you

This adventure is intended for five players of 4th level

Some time ago, the consistent campaign I was running saw the player’s recently liberated base of operations under attack by a floating fortress full of orcs. The castle was built on an earth mote (technically a device within the castle powered the levitation) and its occupants – who were clearly not responsible for its original construction, used it as a high fantasy aircraft carrier of sorts.

I had a hankering to go “old school” with mapping, and so took to pencil (for sake of clarity, I opted for a mechanical, rather than a truly old school no. 2) and graph paper to detail the entire complex. It had all the expected features, main gate, dining hall, supply closets, arcane ballistas, wyvern rider hangar, latrines, etc. But in addition to the main complex It had an adjoined hunk of rock (also floating) full of useful ore, where the orcs kept slaves working round the clock.

The following encounter details the interior of said anti-gravity prison. Though it could just as likely be placed in a much more mundane setting.

Whoever built this sophisticated mine complex/prison camp originally is long gone, and it is now run by a savage and crafty band of orcs. The new occupants found the place already stocked with eldritch devices used for controlling prisoners with magically applied pain compliance and – if need be – a summary and explosive execution. Though difficult for the wizard who concocted it, the system was easy enough that the orc’s warlocks and shamans soon figured out how to use it with few “accidents” during their experimenting.

The prison’s architecture is also impressive. While not an archetypal application of the design theory, it is a panopticon – a prison arrangement in which the guards can view all prisoners at all times, yet the inmates cannot see their captors at all. Naturally, a few choice arrow slits allow the guards to fire upon the prisoners as well.

Slave Collars
When they moved in to the mine, the orcs found and eventually figured out how to use a nefarious device used by the previous occupant to keep his own slaves in line.

This wicked enchanter created several “control collars” that lock around the neck of a victim. The collars are a cold, stark metal, with a gleaming gem inset in them. The lock is a removable, mundane lock (Moderate Thievery to open), but has a tamper-proof magic cast upon it…causing the gem to explode with great force, killing the wearer and harming anyone standing too close. The gem is further enchanted to induce pain in the victim when a corresponding “control crystal” is depressed. The idea is to torment the slave until they act in accordance with the master’s wishes.

As a final and perhaps the most insidious option, the master can simply detonate the crystal remotely. In this way, the slaves are conditioned to be “moveable” by the operator of the collar.
The collars are collectively controlled from a guard house in the prison, where a single person can orchestrate the entire mine from one spot.

Eventually, the prisoners are so physically and mentally exhausted by the torture, that they are easily conditioned into carrying out their tasks without any need of further pain compliance.

• In game terms, a creature operating the collar control board (Move action) can cause slaves to move 4 squares, or can cause a slave to “explode,” killing the slave and dealing 1d6+Encounter Level Force Damage to any creature in an adjacent square.


Features of the Area
Entrance Corridor: The PCs enter from the short passage to the west.

Cliff: This sheer cliff provides almost no handholds (Hard Athletics) and drops down 20 feet.

Barred Gates: These two conventional prison gates each feature a single door that opens outward. They are both locked (and can only be unlocked from the inside or with a key). Picking the lock on the first is a Moderate Thievery check, requiring a Move action to accomplish. The second gate has a much sturdier lock, requiring a Hard Thievery check. A combatant can make attacks through the bars with appropriate weapons, but takes a -2 for doing so.

Guard House:Standing on three sturdy, polished stone pillars is the prison’s guard house. From the outside, it appears as a windowless metal building. Magical scrutiny however, will reveal that the facade is enchanted. The effect is like that of a one-way mirror: the orcs inside can see out as though the wall were not present at all (visible light outside is slightly dimmed).

At intervals around the wall (and even cut into the floor and angled beneath the guard house) are thin arrow slits (not visible from the outside). The iron door that leads in is visible, and is locked Moderate Thievery.
A metal bridge leads from the upper level of the mine cavern. As a move action, a lever in the same square as the door can be pulled and this bridge can be retracted underneath the building. Or vice-versa.

Around the central building support pillar is a circular trap-door. Attached tot hat pillar is a retractable ladder that allows the guards to drop down into the pit if need be (and prevent prisoners from climbing up into the guard house). The trap door is usually closed, the bridge folded up, and the trap-door itself locked (Hard Thievery).

Arrow Slits: Indicated by red “Ranged Attack” emblems on the map, these firing positions provide superior cover, but allow attacks only in squares that follow a straight line out from their position. The two opening in the floor are angled to provide a clear line of sight/effect to any square beneath the guard house.

Control Board: This strange metal board juts out from the wall at about waist height. embedded into it are small crystals, each of a different color. Slots next to the crystals indicate there is space for three more. This board is used to manipulate the collars affixed to each of the prisoners. Touching the crystals induces pain in the victim – the greater the pressure, the more intense the pain. Pushing the crystal down causes the slave’s collar (and thus, the slave) to explode. Removing the crystal will deactivate the collar, rendering it safe to unlatch.
A Move action by anyone adjacent to the board can be used to cause a slave to move 4 squares, to deactivate a collar, or to cause a slave to explode (see ‘Slave Collars” above).

Mine Pit: This area is being excavated to get at a particularly rich cache of ore. The drop down is only 10 feet and on a good day the prisoners are afforded 4 feet of rope to make the climb down.

NOTE: I chose a few monsters from rarer publications – those without a subscription to DDI or the names books might want to substitute for some other orc of the appropriate level/role

x3 Orc Bolt Throwers (Dungeon Magazine 157 pg. 31) OR x2 Orc Archer (Monster Vault pg.226)
x1 Orc Wolf Shaman (Orcs of Stonefang Pass pg. 27)
x2 Orc Raider (Monster Manual pg. 203)
x10 Slaves – use stats for “Human Rabble” (Monster Manual pg. 162) PCs only receive experience if a slave is rescued. Slaves do not actively seek to harm PCs and flee from being attacked.

The Raider’s task is to tie up the PCs in direct confrontation, skirmishing and moving back into cover. The archers/bolt throwers stay safe inside the guard house, hurling their projectiles through the safety of the arrow slits. While the shaman prioritizes using the control board to send slaves off on suicide charges, he will summon his wolf spirit in order to clear out any PCs approaching the door to the guardhouse.

Unless controlled to rush at the party, the slaves cower; avoiding combat and taking cover when possible. They are not active combatants either for or against the PCs.

Possible Rewards
Most of the orcs here are on duty, and aren’t carrying much in the way of treasure. Consider dropping your smallest monetary treasure parcel here. You might also exercise the option to provide some Ritual Components if a PC makes a successful Moderate Arcana check to find a way to break down the collars into useable components.

The control collars are recoverable, but won’t function more than 150 feet from the control board, which could be removed by resourceful PCs.

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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Combat Encounter, Playtested


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Canoe Ambush

This encounter is intended for five players of 4th level


Not dissimilar to sitting ducks

Every D&D nerd does it. Be it in film, video games or literature. You see something cool and say “What are the stats for it.” I distinctly remember watching Legolas fire arrows in quick succession on screen during Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” saying to myself – “Clearly, someone spent that 3rd level feat on ‘Rapid Shot!'” But it goes further than just trying to fit game rules into everything (The traditional “Stat Me” thread you see in every gamer forum). I find a lot of inspiration in the scenarios heroic book/film/video game characters run into. Those plot twists and moral dilemmas are ripe to be stolen and planted right into your game.

After all that’s the beauty of the tabletop RPG – all those times you sat helpless screaming into your book/screen “Don’t trust Lord Murderhavoc! Listen to his name, he’s clearly the villain, just stab him now!”- when that situation comes up in-game you have control over how the character acts. A courtroom trial, a hostage situation, the classic “save your partner or save the mayor, choose one,” all these classic scenarios that could be solved a hundred different ways, now get solved your way.

It’s an awesome experience and no other medium really manages to capture this level of choice.

I wanted to tie together a few travel and ambush encounters (The carriage attack was meant to be one) but largely abandoned that plan. However one of those ideas gnawed at me. One inspired by the film version of Fellowship of the Ring. I was smitten with the scene where the fellowship was under attack by Uruk-hai as they were paddling their way down river towards Mordor (One does not simply walk in, I know. But paddling is a whole other story).

I tend to feel that travel related challenges get overlooked in contemporary editions of D&D and other roleplaying games. In part that’s because travel issues often break down into boring bookkeeping (Did everyone mark off their rations for the day?) But it also means a lot of scenes like the river bank attack from Fellowship get overlooked. Of COURSE they were paddling along in boats – that’s a quick way to travel in ye dayes ofe fantasye. Why does that kind of scene never get played out at the tabletop!? I felt it was a missed opportunity.

In writing this encounter I answered my question – chase scenes or any combat with relative movement is hard to orchestrate while keeping the frenetic energy the encounter needs to fit the scenario. Too many rules and you bog things down, not enough rules and the encounter seems unrealistic or silly. Way too many rules and it seems too arbitrary. After approaching this is encounter in several terrible and overly complicated ways in my head, I abandoned the usual tactical micromanaging that is 4th Edition’s forte for something much more abstract and fast. This is a very different way to run encounters than what I usually present and it isn’t for everyone. Consider it an experiment.

This encounter combines a skill challenge with combat to give the players a feeling of being divided between two complimentary goals – fighting off their attackers and getting out of range of attacks entirely. The PCs will be struggling to get their boat downriver fast while enduring the spears and arrows of a vicious tribe of goblins.

A battlemap of sorts won’t hurt here merely to let the players get their bearings and keep a count of their opponents – but any complicated movement and tactics won’t be necessary.

Abstracted Combat
This chase scene plays out differently from the “Stagecoach Ambush” in that the time frame is much longer and the precise maneuvering unnecessary. A critical assumption here is that the normal round lasts much longer than in regular combats – the precise time is whatever you need it to be, but roughly 1 minute per round in general. Somewhere between the fast pace of combat and the montage pace of a skill challenge.

This messing with the time frame causes some logical problems. Assume that rather than attacking only once a minute, the characters are taking potshots back and forth. Consider having ammo dependent characters expend 2d4 ammunition per attack to represent this. Their attack roll represents that one “clear shot” they get to make a decisive attack. In this case, scoring an attack is more about taking the time to line up a shot, or waiting for that goblin to come running out of the underbrush and give a clear line of fire. Let the extra seconds account for the messiness of fighting on the run. As for encounter or daily attack powers, presume the rest of the minute is filled with unsuccessful ranged basic attacks. This time frame works a bit bizarrely with the 4th Edition mechanics but it’s one-time adoption will make the scenario make a bit more sense, and will hopefully provide your players with some fun narrative leeway in describing their actions.

Since the players are relying on their vehicles for movement, and even in an expanded time frame it would be impractical to keep switching between oars and weapons, they’ll need to make a choice between spending their action paddling or attacking. For melee combatants who are put out of range, that choice might end up being pretty easy (and not a punishment – seeing as how these characters usually have the primary skills needed to contribute to the associated skill challenge).

The goblins will stay within 10 squares of the players at all times in order to make ranged attacks without penalty (consider them to be 15 squares away if they begin falling behind in their pursuit). The goblins are spread out, but their positioning will vary – in order to represent this, any player making an area (or similar burst) attack may target 1d4 goblins + 1 per square beyond Burst 1.

The goblin hex hurler will function a bit differently in this encounter. “Vexing Cloud” will instead hamper all PCs in one canoe with a -2 to skill rolls for one round (unless they are capsized, in which case the penalty persists until they succeed a check to move forward the skill challenge). For the purpose of “Stinging Hex” PCs are considered to be moving if someone in their boat succeeds at a skill check for the round.

Skill Challenge
Complexity: Special – 1 Success per canoe each round minimum / 10 Successes total to end the challenge – OR defeat all enemies

In this challenge the PC’s are attempting to evade their goblin pursuers while navigating the perils of the river. Skills will be used to keep the canoes moving at a steady pace, find shortcuts to travel faster, and to avoid any hazards that might be up ahead on the water. This skill challenge is a bit odd in that it has a primary goal to reach, and also incremental goals by round (similar to how many overland travel challenges treat group Endurance checks).

  • At least one character in each canoe must succeed with at least one of the skills associated with this challenge. If this is not accomplished, no successes count towards the overall goal during this round – the faster canoe must wait for the others to catch up or risk splitting the party! (Unless – that’s their plan! If so, roll with it! Count the successes but make the slower canoe the target of all attacks until they can succeed on 2 skill checks – thus “catching up” with their disloyal companions)
  • After 10 total successes, the goblins break off their attack – the players have traveled into terrain too rough to follow and the angry little creatures are exhausted from their pursuit anyway.
  • In short – The players need 10 successes, and must have at least 1 successes per round per canoe.

Likewise, the goblins will need to be making rolls to keep pace with canoes. The players might be able to defeat them by speed alone! (Though certainly filling them with a few arrows will slow them down considerably). The primary skills that contribute to this challenge are listed below. As always, a good player suggestion for an unusual skill is immediately applicable to this challenge as well.

  • AthleticsModerate DC – You row hard and fast, jetting the canoe along
  • AcrobaticsModerate DC – Your impeccable hand-eye coordination help you keep a steady and smooth pace, making it much easier to steer the vessel
  • Endurance Moderate DC – It’s hard work being the man-power for a vehicle but you hang in there and do not tire, stroke after stroke
  • Nature – Moderate DC – Traveling the wild lands means taking to the water at times, and your experience in rowing makes piloting this canoe old hat
  • Secondary SkillsHard DC – As always in a skill challenge, allow inventive and feasible uses of unrelated skills (For instance, an Intimidate roll to keep the goblins at bay or a Perception check to find a quick tributary concealed by underbrush). Should this come up, allow only 1 success towards completing the overall skill challenge from this particular use of the skill.

Goblins Keep Pace
Your goblins will have skill rolls of their own to make in order to keep pace with the boats! It’s assumed they are jogging alongside, taking pot-shots when they can.

For each round that both canoes make successful skill checks, make an endurance check for the goblins (See the chart below for DCs). If a goblin fails its first skill check, it is falling behind and takes a -2 to all of its attacks during the next turn. If it fails this roll two times in a row, it loses the party, and gives up its pursuit to catch its breath. This goblin is considered defeated.

  • Players fail their skill challenge during the round: Easy DC
  • Players succeed their skill challenge during the round: Moderate DC
  • Any canoe had three PC’s using their actions to row: Hard DC
  • The goblin took a wound during this round: -2 to skill roll
  • The goblin was knocked prone, slowed, immobilized, restrained, or otherwise had its movement hampered: -4 to skill roll
  • The goblins bloody or drop a PC to 0 HP: +2 to skill roll

Gently Down the Stream
Each canoe can hold 3 humanoid passengers, a reasonable amount of equipment, and a few pounds of cargo. Each is assumed to have three oars on hand, though they don’t necessarily all need to be in use for the canoe to move. Remember that the players are traveling downstream, and in the best of circumstances need only to steer as the current will keep moving them towards their destination at regular pace.

Depending on your party’s size, the players will likely need 2 canoes. Adjust the numbers dependent on the number of players you have (Or consider giving them a longer canoe to accommodate a party of only 4 players).

The biggest threat to the PC’s progress is their canoe tipping. If you’ve ever actually been canoeing you know it isn’t that difficult to get one to spill it’s contents – especially if said canoe is getting arrows fired at it.

Capsized PCs are in the water and next to their canoe. They must succeed at a group skill check Hard DC (any skill used in the overall skill challenge is applicable as a primary skill and can be used as an aid another, even if it is not the same skill – for example, an Athletics check with a Nature check to aid another) to turn their boat over, get back in safely, and recover their oars. Failing this roll indicates the PC are stuck in the water for this round. During a round in which at least one boat is capsized, no progress can be made toward ending the overall skill challenge. An non-capsized boat assisting grants a +2 per occupant helping (using oars to push over the capsized boat, holding up drowning PCs, etc).

While capsized, PCs grant combat advantage.

I always advocate upping the ante in any encounter – and providing some natural river travel hazards in addition to the goblin artillery will let tour heroes truly feel heroic and under the gun. Or whine about things being too hard. Or both.

Assign a hazard to appear up ahead at the top of the initiative stack on round 3 and round 5. In most cases be upfront about what the players see ahead and perhaps even read the descriptive text as box text (the exception is the “hidden obstacle” which will be subject to perception – most likely passive – checks). You can roll randomly for these hazards or simply assign the ones you think fit the scene best. If the PCs are having trouble already, consider only using one hazard (ideally at round 3 or 4).
Roll 1d8

Rapids: DCs for navigating the river become Hard during this round.

  1. Rapids: DCs for navigating the river become Hard during this round
  2. Tight Curve: If at least one PC takes damage this round, those in the boat must make a group skill check (any skill used in this skill challenge is applicable and can be used as an aid another, even if it is not the same skill). If the roll fails, the boat capsizes
  3. Hidden Obstacle: Passive perception checks (Hard DC) reveal that sharp rocks are up ahead. Succeed at a second skill challenge roll or the boat capsizes (Succeeding at the passive perception check grants a +4)
  4. Low Branch: Attacks against each PC in a canoe +3 vs. Ref Target is knocked out of the canoe. An ally must make an easy Athletics check to rescue them. Failing that roll capsizes the canoe.
  5. River Monster: Attacks against all capsized PCs this round +7 vs. AC 2d4+4 damage
  6. Thick Brush: Goblins gain concealment for this round
  7. Dense Forest: Goblins gain cover for this round
  8. High Bluff: Goblins gain combat advantage this round


  • x3 Goblin Sharpshooter (Monster Manual Pg. 137)
  • x8 Goblin Snipers (Monster Vault Pg. 152)
  • x1 Goblin Hex Hurler (Monster Vault Pg. 155)

Round-By-Round Breakdown

  • Round 1: Goblins are waiting in ambush for the PCs and do not need to make endurance checks
  • Round 2: No Change
  • Round 3: First Hazard
  • Round 4: No Change
  • Round 5: Second Hazard
  • Round 6+: No Change

Special Considerations
Using the Canoe as Cover: It might dawn on your players that they are much safer by getting underneath an overturned canoe and paddling past the ambush underneath their vehicle. That’s not a terrible plan but runs into a few problems: for one, any gear not on a character will fall into the river and possibly be lost. Secondly, the PCs will have limited air in the breathable bubble their canoe forms. If your players opt for this plan, give them 3 free successes towards the completion of the skill challenge, before it becomes apparent that their air is running low, and they’ll have to risk the goblins fire. Alternately, you can get them out of shimmying their way past the fun by having the blindly-guided canoe smash into an obstacle. They’ll need to come out from underneath to flee the vessel, and that means enduring the goblins projectiles once again.

The trick here is to reward the players for clever thinking, but to let them know that no plan is foolproof, and they’ll need to adjust their tactics. Clever ideas should always grant an advantage (maybe even a significant one!), but not serve as an “I Win” button.

Deflecting Arrows: Frustrated melee combatants might get it in their heads to attempt to deflect incoming projectiles with their oars. While there isn’t much in the way of existing rules for this – it is also AWESOME. I would allow a player attempting this to make a melee basic attack roll (weapon proficiency bonus +1). Since these rounds encompass roughly a minute, that’s plenty of opportunity to deflect arrows – Any incoming arrows with an attack roll lower than the deflecting PC’s attack roll fail to find a mark. This only applies for the canoe in which the deflecting PC is a passenger.

Again this is a very on-the-fly ruling and certainly not appropriate for an across the board rules modification. If this doesn’t sound right to you, use your best DM judgement. Its very likely your players might not even think of trying this!

Canoe Stats: You’ll be unlikely to need strict vehicle stats for the canoe’s in this encounter, but should it come up, some fan-made stats for canoes in “Gamma World” would certainly be compatible.


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Stagecoach Ambush

This encounter is intended for five characters of 4th level

I have a confession to make – I love orcs. Like, I really, really love orcs. Look, I know they are hackneyed and overdone and formulaic but I just don’t care. They sit right up there with “undead anything” as my favorite bad-guys. I know everyone has “their” conception of what orcs look and act like with the variations being often small and to most people meaningless (for my money: big, burly, tusks, flat faces, ninja turtle green skin – Warcraft II style orcs or bust!) but no matter how you spin them, I love them. The fact that I’ve not given them much stage time on the blog is a personal failure. One I’m fixin to correct.

This week’s encounter has the players protecting precious cargo (and themselves) on a wagon rushing its way through dangerous territory. Along the way they are ambushed by a raiding party of orcs on dire wolves. Your pull/push/sliders will thank you for this one.

Though a top-ten rule of DMing is that it’s always best to be consistent – that notion should be trumped by the need to make the game fun. In lieu of that, I suggest bending some normal rules here for the sake of making this encounter work in the way that players imagine the action playing out. When in doubt, take the player’s side, but make them roll for it.

On paper this is an incredibly difficult encounter for players of this level – but remember, the dire wolves are primarily transportation and will be unlikely to attack at all. Similarly, it won’t be hard for players to incapacitate the orcs by knocking them off their mounts or off the carriage itself, so they have distinct advantages to even the odds.

Rules Refresher
Because this encounter involves a lot of mounts and a vehicle, it behooves you to re-familiarize yourself with the rules for both. Mounted combat is covered in the Dungeon Master’s Guide on page 46. Vehicles are covered in Adventurer’s Vault on page 14.

The PCs are hired to move some valuable cargo (the specifics are up to you, though a variety of items is best – including some that might be fragile, or even alive!) on board a large’ roofed, wooden stage-coach of sorts. They’ve been hired on as both teamsters (drivers) and muscle to protect the precious cargo. In order to arrive at their destination, they must pass through territory controlled by the ruthless “Bleeding Blade” orc clan – and a big, slow moving coach is too tempting a target for them not to hit.

The orcs aren’t the smartest of beasts, but do know how to plan a good ambush. They’ve kept an eye on the characters and sent a raiding party ahead to intercept them. One particularly strong orc waits on a thick tree branch above the road, ready to drop onto the carriage and wreak havoc. The others will pepper the PCs with ranged attacks, eventually moving closer to hop onto/into the carriage. One orc will attack the horses in an attempt to slow the carriage. As a last ditch effort, they will toss their torches onto/into the carriage – if they can’t have the loot, nobody will! Waaaaagh!

In this combat encounter the players will try to defeat their opponents while continuing to stay in motion, and keep their coach and its cargo from harm.

Make it clear to the players that if the coach stops, there’s no way they can simply carry all the goods to the destination. Likewise, their path will be swarming with orcs. While this wouldn’t be a total “game over” (and indeed would make for an exciting twist!) it does mean mission failed, and no cash reward.

Combat Breakdown

  • Round 1: The orcs appear within 6 squares of the carriage (3 on each side) and will close in, making ranged attacks
  • Round 2: The orcs engage and close in further. One Battletested moves in to make melee attacks against the lead horse.
  • Round 3: The orc rampager drops down from a tree limb overhanging the road, right onto the carriage roof.
  • Round 4: The orcs start trying to board the carriage
  • When the Rampager is dead: the orcs begin tossing torches – the torches target a square of the carriage and use the orc’s ranged attack. On a hit, the torch ignites that square. Ignited squares deal ongoing 5 fire damage to the carriage and will deal 5 fire damage to any creature that begins its turn or moves through and ignited square

Plot Text
This just might be the easiest money you’ve made. Worried as the merchants were about sending their goods through this forest, you have yet to see any of the many dangers they cited to you. Still you keep on your guard – just a few more hours and you will be home free. Out of nowhere, the calming rhythmic clack of the carriage wheels is interrupted by a blood-curdling ululation. The battle cry of the Bleeding Blade orc clan is followed by the throaty howling of their dire wolf mounts. Your horses whiney in terror at the sound, and keeping the reins steady becomes a challenge. As you draw weapons and ready for battle, they burst out of the forest, riding hard alongside your carriage. “Pathetic fools!” cries one of the orcs in heavily accented and broken common. “Now you die! We take all! All belong to Bleeding Blade!” So much for easy money.


Those clever foxes at Paizo have a Gamemsatery map pack that would work for the Carriage as well (though the proportions might be less convenient than the one pictured above).

x1 Orc Rampager (Monster Vault pg. 228)
x2 Orc Archer (Monster Vault pg. 226)
x4 Battletested Orc (Monster Vault pg. 225)
x6 Dire Wolves (Monster Manual pg. 264)

Managing Relative Speeds
This encounter is a tad tricky mechanically because it is a chase scene in constant forward motion. To make this easier to deal with assume some constants in the encounter. The horses drawing the player’s coach are too overburdened to run, but will double move their maximum speed each round.

*For the purposes of this encounter, your driver need only use a single move action to order the horses to go – this let’s the player contribute a standard action to the encounter without costing the wagon any speed, and makes a lot more sense in context.

Carriage Speed Breakdown: horse movement rate (10 squares) -4 speed (from the coach) leaves us at 6 speed. Adventurer’s Vault indicates there is a +2 speed bonus for having more than two horses drawing the coach. This leaves a total coach speed of 8.

8 squares in a move matches the dire wolves’ normal movement rate. Thus, in order to change position, relative to the carriage the wolves will have to run. This will let them maneuver up to 4 squares per round – but doesn’t leave them the actions needed to attack.

Use the following speed penalties depending on how many horses are killed off (this fudges the rules a bit in the interest of representing more incremental speed loss:

  • 3 Horses pulling: Carriage speed 7
  • 2 Horses pulling: Carriage speed 6
  • 1 Horse pulling: Carriage speed 4

When Someone Falls Off
A fall at these speeds (either from the carriage or off of a wolf) is treated as being a bit more severe than the usual 10 foot fall: 1d10+4 damage.

Keep in mind the rules about forced movement and dangerous edges: a player moved off of/out of the carriage does get a saving throw to instead fall prone at the edge. You may even opt to let the player treat a tumble off the carriage top as falling from a ledge and provide a last ditch grab at the side of the carriage as per normal rules (page 290 Heroes of the Fallen Lands). To grab the edge a player must make an Athletics DC 15 roll.

Barring that, a fallen player still has options. Their friends might slow the carriage enough for them to catch up (a potentially dangerous proposition). One particularly heroic option is to grant them the opportunity to hijack a passing wolf rider, passing a Hard Athletics/Acrobatics roll to jump on the back of the creature.

Otherwise, one orc rider might break off to engage the player, keeping the encounter fun/challenging for the player, and giving them the opportunity to possibly mount the wolf and catch up. The dire wolves are brutally trained as mounts – though they will accept non-orc riders, they’ll still make an opportunity attack against anyone climbing on.

For simplicity’s sake, if an orc is “unhorsed” (unwolfed, I suppose?) assume he spends a round quickly hopping back on his mount, and pushing it to breakneck speed to catch up. Leave the orc and mount “offscreen” for a round, then return the wolf to a far off square, and deal 4 damage to it to represent the strain of increased speed to catch up.

The players should be expecting a good sized reward for guarding this carriage and its contents (perhaps two moderately sized coin parcels). If the orcs manage to set fire to the carriage, reduce this coin reward to represent damaged goods that don’t get delivered.

Because the Dire Wolves are serving as mounts in this encounter, and will be unlikely to make any attacks, they may not factor in much to the overall experience reward. This will require a little bookkeeping on your part. For each wolf that doesn’t attack, provide only 25% experience. Otherwise grant 50% EXP value. If the carriage stops and players end up being attacked by both orcs and wolves (a very difficult encounter at this level) grant full experience.

Special Considerations
Your players are likely to want to attempt some stunts to even the odds in their favor. Below are some suggestions for how to adjudicate those actions:

  • Leaping from mount to carriage: Move action – Acrobatics Moderate Check. Failure indicates a fall
  • Leaping from carriage to mount: Move Action – Athletics as per jump distance with a +2 to the DC. Failure indicates a fall
  • Leaping to a mount and kicking off the rider Standard Action – Athletics as per jump distance +5 to the DC. Failure indicates a fall
  • Throwing obstacles at a mount Make a ranged DEX attack against the mount’s REF. on hit, the mount is knocked prone and the rider falls off (see “When Someone Falls Off” above)

Low Hanging Branch -Hazard 25 EXP
Targets: all creatures on top of the carriage Detection: Perception DC Moderate
Attack +8 vs REF
Effect: 1d10 damage and the target is knocked prone
Countermeasure: A creature aware of the oncoming branch can forgo their movement to make an Athletics Moderate roll as a free action during the branch’s attack roll. A success let’s the character ignore the attack.

Thrown Torch Torches target a square of the carriage and use the orc’s ranged attack. On a hit, the torch ignites that square. Ignited squares deal ongoing 5 fire damage to the carriage and will deal 5 fire damage to any creature that begins its turn or moves through and ignited square

For further inspiration, might I suggested viewing some classic cinema


Posted by on April 16, 2012 in Combat Encounter, Not Playtested


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