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Tag Archives: Level 7

In The Dead of The Night

This encounter is intended for five players of 6th-7th level

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“It’s time to make camp for the night…who has the first watch?”

I’m sure you still say it, but I feel like in our shiny 4th Edition world, this common phrase doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to. We used to dread taking those couple hours (four if you were the elf) to be the one awake, watching beyond the campfire, hearing the clatter of that 1d12 worth of Random Encounters and straining to hear whether it was just a few stirges or another F*#%ing manticore.

The random encounter hasn’t entirely evaporated from the game by any means, but the structured nature of 4th Ed’s experience/encounter planning has made the idea of random events a bit of a pariah.

But that was the appeal of being attacked in your camp at night. There was a real threat to it. The darkness which you usually held back with your party’s combined arms gained a little more terror when it was only you, huddled up in your orc-blind, waiting to see what would come poking around the dying embers of your campfire. The mystery and tension of camping in dangerous areas lead to a lot of cleverly planned and confidently executed bivouacs that were designed with defense in mind. Alarm spells, jingling pot and pan tripwire, salvaged beartraps, high canopy hammocks, they were all the sort of tactics paranoid parties employed so they could get a good night’s rest (and more importantly, your spells and hit points back).

I think that random encounters still have a place in the game – they just require a bit of preconception and purpose. When plotting out the encounters a party will face for a given level you might assume two or three easy encounters to be random ones – either occurring during travel or as a result of being attacked while camped. Since these usually aren’t major set-pieces or plot points they can be short and offer minimal threat (The advantage of surprise and already spent party resources will likely be in the monster’s favor anyway). Just because you choose a random time for his and hers owlbears to charge the camp, doesn’t mean those monsters weren’t in your experience budget. You trade a random monster chart for a pre-planned agenda, and let the timing and location of the fray stay unexpected.

So essentially, “random” encounters have become more purposeful (or perhaps more coherent to the campaign as a whole) while still maintaining their edge of being the unexpected. It isn’t a bad trade when all is said and done. And besides, if you come up with several possible encounters for the party’s level and locale, you can still roll on an exciting chart! Random still lives…it just takes some more work. (And trust me, utilizing the suggested encounters at the end of monster entries in any of the various Monster Manuals can be a big time saver). Besides, part of the reason for random encounters in the first place was to try out a fancy new monster! Like, maybe something from the often overlooked Open Grave….

Purpose
This encounter is meant to ambush the players when they are at their most vulnerable, camped out for the night in the middle of an unrelated journey. Mistakenly the PCs have camped over a mass grave left from a long forgotten war, where the spirits and bodies of warriors who have long since died still refuse to admit defeat, and will attack those who wittingly or unwittingly disturb their resting place.

Plot Text
Read (most likely paraphrase) this one to any players standing watch:

Boredom again…just like every night. It’s not that the trackless miles of traveling is any more interesting, but at least you are getting somewhere and challenging your body. All this sitting around, listening to the drone of insects and the mocking hoots of owls is fatiguing in a completely different way. Still, it isn’t that long to stay awake. Before long you’ll be tucked into your bedroll, nodding off under the sufficient cover of a tent. Not a care in the…
Was that a hand? It can’t be. Must be a squirrel moving around in the grass over there. A…nocturnal squirrel?
You are barely to your feet when an arm follows the writhing object out of the ground. Definitely a hand, the skin pulled taught and dirty, beaten and worn by age and worms. A moan goes up from nearby, and the slithering of chainmail to the staccato beat of unsteady legs approaching you.
Hopefully there is enough time to call out an alarm. They are coming from every side. Even below.

Map
Give your players the opportunity to map out their camp on their own – after all, they are the ones setting the camp and know how many tents/bedrolls they have between them. This might be hint alone to plan defensively when setting up their sleeping arrangements. If your players are vague or not that interested in the details, use the map below (I embellished very little on this one, so you can construct it very closely with the “Wilderness” set of Dungeon Tiles). The example details encounter No. 4, just to give you an idea on some possible layouts. Note that some of the undead should emerge from the ground already in the camp, and others might wander in from the fringes.

Features of the Area
Tents – Tent flaps are a bit unwieldy, and exiting a tent requires 2 squares of movement. Creatures inside a tent have full concealment though the tent is unlikely to be thick enough to provide cover

Campfire – Depending on how well the players have maintained their campfire (if they are using one at all) this may pose a danger to either the PCs or their undead opponents. Consider letting a lit campfire deal 5 Fire damage to any creature that moves through or begins it’s turn on the campfire’s square

Trees – Tall, sturdy deciduous trees provide an escape route, a lookout post, or convenient cover. Climbing one should be an Athletics Check Easy DC

Cliff – Setting the encounter near a drop adds some tension, limiting the player’s avenues of escape. This cliff drops steeply down a good 15 feet or so (1d10 damage fall)

Water – The stream drops quickly to about thigh height, and is treated as rough terrain. You might wish to constrain the undead’s movements to the pictured side of the river (where their grave is) in order to provide beleaguered PCs a means of escape.

Tactics
Tactics will vary depending on which undead end up popping out of the ground, but each iteration of this encounter has a few things in common. Where enemies will pop out of the ground, or approach from will vary depending on the map’s layout, but try to stagger the arrival of minions, skirmishers, and a few brutes or soldiers. This will drop that feeling of dread onto the players as they realize there are more opponents than what they see, and they could appear from any side (sorry warlock, no safe back row to hide out in without fear of retribution!)
The wraith will rise out of the ground near (or even through) the campfire, easily phasing through the stone burying it’s crushed former body. This will likely give it the drop on any lookouts or PCs who have gone without tents.
At least one soldier/brute emerges from the soil inside one of the tents, hopefully startling an unarmed (and possibly unarmored) PC.
Pre-plan which squares your undead will be emerging from. If a player chooses unwittingly to sleep over one of these squares, that will grant the creature a free grab attack with combat advantage during a surprise round.

Monsters
Wraith [Not pictured, lurks beneath the campfire square] (Monster Vault pg. 284)
Green Arcanian/ Skeletal Wizard (Monster Manual III pg. 16)
Ghast (Monster Manual III pg. 95)
Rot Grub Zombie [Z] – and Rot Grub Swarm (Monster Manual III pg. 166-167)
Wight (Monster Manual pg. 262) 5
Forsaken Shell (Open Grave pg. 148)
Dread Zombie [G] (Open Grave pg. 197)
Skeletal Archer [S] (Open Grave pg. 180)
Crawling Gauntlet [U] (Open Grave pg. 142)

To determine which encounter the players face, roll 1d4

Encounter 1
x6 Crawling Gauntlets
x1 Wraith
x2 Ghasts
x1 Wight
x1 Rot Grub Zombie

Encounter 2
x6 Crawling Gauntlets
x1 Wraith
x2 Dread Zombie
x1 Forsaken Shell
x1 Rot Grub Zombie

Encounter 3
x6 Crawling Gauntlets
x1 Wraith
x1 Green Arcanian
x2 Wights
x1 Rot Grub Zombie

Encounter 4
x6 Crawling Gauntlets
x1 Wraith
x3 Dread Zombie
x1 Skeletal Archer
x1 Rot Grub Zombie

Special Considerations
An encounter like this can wind up being particularly unfair to fighters, paladins, and other heavy armor wearing characters. Much of their class balance revolves around their easy access to heavy armor as an inherent advantage, and denying that (since they cannot sleep in heavy armor, and will not have time to properly dress) can put them at an unfair disadvantage – especially if one of the player’s more potent magic items was his or her suit of shining fieldplate.

To offset this, you might wish to allow them to dress partially (throwing on an arming coat, tightening on their helm, slipping into the ol’ greaves). Doing so would grants +1 AC per move action spent, up to a total of half (rounded down in this case) of the armor’s normal value. This also adds a layer of resource management to the fight – is it better to take the time to armor up, or get out there and fight in your underwear (it isn’t entirely unheard of).

The site of an ancient battlefield, and all of these undead were (or were at least the hands of) soldiers left to rot. If the players seem like they are in a hopeless situation, a History Hard DC check might reveal something about what happened to these creatures back when they were men. Showing some signal of allegiance to their former army or recognizing their sacrifice, or offering a proper burial might sway the wraith, skeleton, wights or ghasts, getting them to give up pursuit of the players. Other undead (especially the crawling gauntlets) are too far gone to be reasoned with.

Asleep and Awake
It might help to review the rules for resting, sleep, and waking up (Player’s Handbook pg. 263). A particularly cruel DM might rule that a player is groggy for the first round of combat (dazed) unless they make an Endurance Easy DC Check but you didn’t hear that from me.

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Defiled Graveyard

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The Deathknight really wants you to know who he marked

This encounter is intended for five PCs of 7th level

The inspiration for this one came from a handful of sources. Firstly, I feel like I’ve been doing a bit too much monster design and not focusing on encounter circumstances and environment nearly enough. So…I split the difference a bit on this one – taking the monster cues from existing monsters and tacking on two of my favorite templates – The Necromancer and Death-knight, rather than concocting something from scratch. Secondly I was noticing a lot of battlemats and maptiles making the rounds that depicted graveyards – but infrequently have I ever played in an adventure that wound our way into one. And third of course is my not-so-secret love for undead themed bad guys (they are right up there vying hard with orcs for “favorite villain horde” in my heart). So pull out that graveyard map you got when you picked up “Keep on the Shadowfell” – you’ll finally get some more use out of it!

Set-Up
This combat has the PC’s facing down a pair of complimentary elites (a Deathknight and Death Master) with a scattering of minions (zombies, of course). To up the tension, the Death Master has the option of creating MORE minions – some as a product of her template, and others as an environmental function. Graves on the map can be used by her to spring forth additional zombie minions. But this encounter also gives a little love to player necromancers – letting them even the odds by summoning their own minions out of the unquiet grave dirt!

This one would work well as the first step in a crypt dungeon. Odd to have a “mini-boss fight” at the beginning of the dungeon – but a tough first encounter might give otherwise bold PCs a moment of pause. Otherwise it could be the culmination of a side-quest related to necromancy and mysterious undead related goings on.

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Lin-Wen has found non-combat uses for her undead horde as well

Plot Text

The evidence my not be present yet, but your guy tells you that the rumors about mounting numbers of undead stalking about the graveyard have to be true. There was no sign of activity during the day, which means, – naturally – you’ll have to investigate at night. Fortunately or not, the moon is full and you can see clearly as you approach the gates. Inside the graveyard, shadows cling like a mantle off every object and seem to teem with malevolence. A churning and chill mist roils around your feet. Two figures step out of one of the mausoleums to meet you. One is tall, nearly six and a half feet, clad in platemail. His, or maybe “its” eyes glow, as does the axe it wields. The woman accompanying him laughs. “So you finally found our lair? A good thing. I was hoping for some more capable corpses to join our ranks. Kill them!” At her command, four reanimated bodies pry themselves up from the ground, hidden by the mist that clings thick around the headstones. Their rotting skin reeks of the grave, and their moans fill the heavy night air.
Just as well. You weren’t expecting a negotiation anyway.

Nothing good ever happened in a graveyard


Map And Features

In the interest of letting you flex out the muscles of any graveyard maps you have already lying around (and to buy me time to work on a more complicated map for a coming post!) I decided not to provide one for this encounter. Use your best judgement in positioning the enemies in this encounter. The Deathknight and zombies should be firmly between the Death Master and the PCs, with plenty of graves littered about to be exploited. Mausoleums, pillars, and large gravestones make a great addition to provide some cover from ranged attacks. That said, a nice view of the map I used can be found here.

Arcane Glyph: (NOTE this feature appears on the example map I use but is not necessary for this encounter – though it adds a nice twist) Living creatures that begin their turn in these squares take 5 necrotic damage. Undead creatures that start their turn in these squares gain 5 HP.

Fence: The fence around the graveyard can be climbed with a Moderate Athletics roll as a move action.

-Gravestones: Squares containing gravestones can be used as partial cover.

-Graves: Any creature adjacent to or in a grave square (A square containing a gravestone or grave dirt) that possesses at least one encounter or daily power with the “necrotic” keyword (or is trained in the necromancy specialty school) may use the following environmental power:

“Arise, and Do My Bidding!”                                          Environmental
At-Will * Arcane, Necromancy
Move Action
Target:
An adjacent grave
Effect:
The caster manipulates the defiling necrotic energies of the graveyard to reanimate the corpse in this grave. At the end of the caster’s turn, an Zombie Shambler appears in a square of the grave (or adjacent to it). The Shambler acts on the caster’s initiative and moves to attack the caster’s nearest enemy. It can be directed to attack a particular target with a minor action but is incapable of doing anything more complex than moving and attacking.
Restriction: This power only functions once per grave. (Consider marking off any graves whose contents are now empty)

New Monsters

Monster List
I was a little torn here, when it came to which minion to choose for this encounter. The Shamblers were perfect with their “chance to survive” special ability – but they were a bit lower level than I would have liked. On the other hand, the Skeletal Legionaries were much closer to level and I could see their marking capabilities as wreaking havoc on a lot of parties – but all those marked conditions makes for a much more difficult encounter to manage. In the end I decided to present both options. Consider the version of this encounter with the skeletons to be “Nightmare Mode.”

x1 Deathknight [Thaedric]
x1 Death Master [Lin-Wen] (Modified from the “Tiefling Occultist”, Pg. 263 Monster Vault)
x4+ Zombie Shambler (Pg. 295 Monster Vault) OR x4+ Skeletal Legionary (Pg. 257 Monster Vault)

Special Considerations
Circle of Buffs: Keep in mind the following buffs that opponents on the field share with one another. Many of these go away when one of the elites drops:

  • Undead within 10 of the Death Knight gain a +2 to hit
  • Unholy Flames adds a temporary weapon buff to allies in burst 2
  • Undead within 5 of the Death Master do not have radiant damage vulnerabilities

Living Dead Girl: While our necromancer is, strictly speaking, still alive; her cavorting with dark powers has cursed her as a being of unspeakable darkness and evil, and she counts as undead for the purpose of powers and effects

Bonus DLC!:
So, you Diablo II fans might find this all very familiar: a battle in a graveyard against a boss who continually raises zombie minions? Sounds a lot like a particularly vexing first boss, right? It wasn’t a conscious choice, but when I made the connection, I decided I’d ignore my admonishment about being too eager to create new monsters…just this once:

Blood Raven would be a good stand-in for one of the other elites mentioned above. If you want to use her on her own, consider adding some undead muscle that can slow, grab, or immobilize, to compliment her evasive tactics. And don’t forget to take advantage of the cover provided by spaces featuring gravestones.

 

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