RSS

Tag Archives: Playtest

Theater Ninjas presents “GameNight”

       

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Penguincon 2013 After Action Report

     This past Saturday marks my first visit to Penguincon, hosted by Gamers with Jobs. I had been aware of the convention going on here in Cleveland, but assumed I’d be too busy to attend. Wouldn’t you know it, stars more-or-less aligned so that I could go! Board games and the ever incredible “fudge island” here I come! Because of my predilection towards running games (rather than wandering around the con and just having fun like a normal person) I was encouraged to prep a quick one-shot featuring the barely week old release of the D&D Next playtest. 

     Oh right! The newest Playtest! I couldn’t have been happier. Other than my hold-over gripes with feats, this latest (and final!) update to the public playtest is without doubt the best we’ve seen yet.

     In my typical fashion, I prepared copious amounts of glitz and glamor for the occasion. Quality always trumps special effects, I know that intellectually, but my heart screams out to blast a smoke machine down the intricately detailed halls of some modular Dwarven Forge set-dressing. I tried my hand at a few new effects for this very brief adventure.

   

     I know, I know, it’s a game of the imagination. But I just don’t trust the player’s imagination to picture it correctly! They need help! And LED lighting! Wish I had taken the time to do something fancier with the mosaic tile puzzle (stolen and adapted from a similar trap in the old 3rd edition Book of Challenges). Regardless, that particular trap was exactly as vexing as it needed to be both times, not bogging the players down in trial and error, but still forcing them to think sideways.

     This adventure, a variation and expansion on a previously posted encounter, Curse of The Black Jarl, fratured four (five if you count the Forge of Foresight) quick challenges that varied between combat, interaction, and exploration/puzzle solving. Ultimately I think it gave players a good feel for the speedy combat, and the flexibility of the core rules.

     What was cool for me was getting to run two groups of players through the same adventure, using the same party (six pre-generted characters, with six players in each of the two sessions). The groups were able to compare notes afterwards and see who had the simpler solution to puzzles (“Oh, you guys just used the doors as a bridge…we got set on fire a lot.”) At the end of the day there were no complaints about the system getting int he way of the fun, the final boss was tweaked just right, and each character had a place to shine regardless of the player’s level of experience (we had some newbies to D&D!) And once again, my sincere thanks to all those who joined me for the game – glad you liked it!!

     I’ll look into formatting the adventure into a friendly and readable PDF, with map and mosaic tile floor handout. It ran between 2 – 2.5 hours making it ideal for this kind of convention play. I think I’m learning my lessons from D&D Encounters well.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

[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)]

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Infiltrating Zinnaatis’ Outpost

This encounter is intended for three players of 2nd level and uses the August D&D Next Playtest Rules

One of the difficulties of living in a subterranean hell-hole like the Underdark, is that you cannot make/grow all the things you desire to use in your various plans and plots. Thus, trade with the surface world is inevitable. For the Drow and other Underdark dwellers, this means dealing with the disreputable and cruel elements that lurk topside. To facilitate this, trade posts are often established within a few miles of an access point to the surface. Though not truly in the Underdark due to their proximity to more typical caves and caverns, these establishments are just as dangerous, and likely to be full of sinister humanoids (if you’re lucky!) from both above and below, each just as suspicious and contemptuous of the others.

This week’s encounter will take the PCs into one such outpost in search of a McGuffin (The ecounter will presume this is the stolen journal of a long dead wizard, but you can substitute and item appropriate for your campaign). The encounter is meant for a smaller group of PCs, and hinges on their use of stealth, deception, bribery, and diversion. If the whole camp is alerted, the PCs won’t stand a chance in open combat. But by being careful and clever, they can get in and out without ever being noticed.

Setup

A recent contact of the PCs with a magical background is piecing together the research of a long dead wizard in order to make sense of the old mage’s spell book. In trying to dig up his belongings, the contact found that most of them were stolen not long ago in a raid on a trade caravan. Some sleuthing anda little  divination   lead him to locate the dead wizard’s journal – a half mile below the surface in a Drow traders den called Zinnaatis’ Outpost. The book’s exact whereabouts weren’t precisely discovered, so the contact will need the PCs to investigate the outpost, and sneak out with the book.

Each area on the map has some activity going on that might help or hinder the PCs efforts to search for the book. The events and relevant stats are noted below. All creatures referenced are from the Bestiary document unless otherwise noted.

Zinnaatis’ Outpost

     Established by an overly ambitious Drow soldier, this forward camp is close to the surface world; making it an ideal trading post, and an even better place for spies to nest. It’s been around for a good ten years now, and its success is based largely on Zinnaatis hands-off approach to management. A wise businesswoman, if not a loyal soldier, she made sure that traders had privacy, a few creature comforts, and a heaping helping of her own religious zealotry.

     Guard duty is covered by various mercenaries hired from among the surface traders by Zinnaatis. She permits her various trade contacts to come and go as they please, so long as they pay the entry toll and shoulder the brunt of her unusually high taxes (much of which find their way into her personal coffers). Among them are hobgoblins, kobolds, orcs, and even some unsavory human bandits. 

I Prefer A Straight Fight to all this Sneaking Around…

     Ostensibly the PCs would not be welcome in a place like Zinnaatis’ Outpost. Thus they must take measures to conceal their identities and intentions. Anything from disguises, to a good cover story (slaves are traded through here regularly, and some treacherous humans, half-orcs, and half-elves serve as mercenaries down here, and are thus not unheard of) to some good old fashioned stealth would suffice. Make the players work for it through roleplaying and careful planning. A solid cover story or disguise should stand on its own, calling for rolls only if the PC’s behavior becomes suspicious.

     However, if the party insists on picking a fight, even the fractious creatures of the outpost know they have many common enemies on the surface – with the most likely foe being adventurers! Any monsters in the area who witness the PCs behaving suspiciously will most likely turn on them – and some will probably even slink off to the others sections of the cavern for reinforcements! Remind the PCs that this is a dangerous mission, and that discretion is the better part of valor.

A Blade in the Dark

     These kinds of infiltration narratives when presented in films like (any) James Bond, literature, or video games like Metal Gear Solid and Assassin’s Creed, feature protagonists getting the drop on their foes and dispatching them quickly and quietly. The D&D Next rules don’t provide any specific insight on this sort of situation (it doesn’t exactly fit the circumstances of a coup de grace), as the “one-shot kill/incapacitation” tends to be a rare situation and a cause for easy abuse of the rules. At the same time, this encounter presents circumstances where it would be perfectly logical for a PC to drop a foe with a single roll – and that’s likely how your players will be thinking! While game balance is always important, maintaining verisimilitude keeps players happy and makes your world consistent – and sometimes that requires a bit of fudging int he rules. Since not everyone is a rogue and benefits from sneak attack, here are a few suggested rules “hacks” when dealing with this very specific situation:

   •A foe that is caught completely unaware might be considered eligible for a “coup de grace.”

   •Otherwise you might allow such an attack to deal 2 or 3 weapon damage dice (giving the foe an unlikely chance to survive, while not ignoring the fact that rogues should be better at this kind of work than any other class.

   •Snapping the neck of a sentry could be represented as a simple STR vs. Opponents CON score as DC roll. This would require the assailant make a DEX roll to sneak up on his/her target first (thus ensuring that rogues remain superior at wetwork to other classes).

These sorts of ambushes rarely require the PCs to roll initiative(unless their victim spots them first, or survives the attack). After stealthily eliminating a foe, there is always the problem of what to do with the body, of course…

Map

       

A full poster version of this map is included in Vaults of the Underdark. All sections of rubble and furniture count as difficult terrain.

It’s Never That Simple

     If your PCs were successfully subtle, consider having one of the patrols follow them as they attempt to reach the surface, and attack them en route. This will discourage them from lingering, and given any players feeling dejected by a lack of combat a chance to wet their blade.


Patrols – These patrols wander around and outside the outpost, looking for suspicious activity and on hand to quell any hostilities flaring up from a deal gone awry. Each patrol’s path is dictated on the map, and it will take them about 5 minutes to complete a circuit (they are searching the area, chatting with visitors, and taking their time). 

     Unlike some of the other occupants of the outpost, the patrols will know right away that the PCs do not fit in, and will accost them, attacking quickly if the PCs don’t have cover stories or disguises that hold up. If they see the PCs approaching or leaving the outpost (essentially in areas “off the map”) they will charge after them without questioning.

     Features of the Area – Patrol 1 (P1 on Map) – x1 Drow (pg. 39), and on a leash, x1 Guard Spider(As “Spider, Giant) but 10 HP and medium size); Patrol 2 (P2 on Map) – x2 Hobgoblins (pg. 55), x1 Hobgoblin leader (pg. 55) 

1. Statue of Lolth – This sixteen foot tall effigy occupies the high-ceilinged middle chamber of the outpost. Zinnaatis is an especially pious drow, and sings her Demon-Web Godess’ praises to all of her trade partners. Right now, however, a crowd is gathered round the statue. A tall human clad in black robes and wearing a skull-like mask is screaming an angry sermon from the base of the massive artifact. 

     He asserts that his God (pick whichever evil deity you deem appropriate) is far superior to he lowly bug-witch of the drow. The statue has angered him, and threatens that his cultists will refuse to trade with the outpost if they are not given equal religious representation. For all his unscrupulousness, the priest knows his audience, and is managing to work the crowd into an uproar. Many of the creatures in this are are packed together to listen, two or three at a time occupying the same five foot space.

     It would not be difficult to begin a riot in this crowd which might provide convenient cover to the PC’s actions. However, getting caught in the rioting is its own danger. Moving through a rioting crowd can be accomplished with a STR DC 10 check at Half Speed. For every round stuck in the crowd, a PC must make a CON DC 10 save. Failure results in 1d6 bludgeoning damage and the PC is knocked prone, save for half damage.

     Features of the Area – Creatures here have Disadvantage on WIS checks due to their distraction with the oration. This chamber is brightly lit by torches.

     Creatures – x1 Skull-Masked Priest (Dark Adept pg. 11) and his x4 Dark Adepts (pg. 10), x10 Kobolds (pg. 59), x12 Goblins, x3 Orcs, x4 Hobgoblins, x2 Drow

2. Trading Floors – These rooms are crammed with merchants and shoppers. Those trading offer all kinds of mundane wares at or below book price (since they are primarily stolen). Magical items are traded in the “library.” It is not entirely unusual for violence to break out on the trade floors and is acceptable so long as it is brief and contained. The traders are from al walks of the Underdark and the surface, and they all keep a close eye out for thieves. Guards patrol the cramped crowds, but have Disadvantage on WIS checks to notice any foul dealings due to the size of the crowd (this is not true for merchants keeping an eye on their goods). The punishment for stealing here is the summary removal of both hands. If asked about a book, anyone here will recommend checking with the magical item vendors in the library.

     Features of the Area – Creatures here have Disadvantage on WIS checks due to their distraction with the bustle. This chamber is brightly lit by torches.

     Creatures – The guards consist of x2 Hobgoblins, x3 Goblins

3. Latrines – This room is perforated by holes in the ground full of stinking biological waste. It is the unfortunate duty for some kobold or goblin to clean the pits as punishment once a day. There is little for PCs to find here save disease. If they are using a light source, grant them a WIS DC 10 check with Disadvantage to Spot. A succeeding PC notices a glint coming out of one of the pits. One of the hobgoblins concealed a gem worth 100 gp that he pinched from the latest cache of loot. Good luck retrieving it.

     Features of the Area – This room is unlit.

4. Sealed Storage – Inside this chamber are all of the large and expensive trade items that merchants would prefer a little extra security for (at a cost, of course). The door to this room is made of heavy steel, and shut with a lock (DC 15 to pick). There are always two sentries on the landing outside (choose from the creature near the Statue of Lolth above). Within the room are four well armed and disciplined hobgoblins. They imedietly question anyone entering the chamber and are very suspicious of anyone not accompanied by one of the Drow (Disadvantage on checks to Bluff or Intimidate).

     Most of the supplies are piled up in crates and boxes in the center of the room, leaving only 5 feet ofclearance  along each edge. Hobbling over the supplies counts as difficult terrain.

     Features of the Area – Dimly lit by a single lantern hanging above the door. The heavy door and noise outside mean that it is very difficult to hear anything in this room past the stoop outside. sentries who might hear yelling or the din of battle make their WIS checks with Disadvantage. At the back of the room are armor stands with 5 medium and 1 small (a gift for a particularly loyal goblin!) suit of Drow Chainmail. In addition there are various traders crated here (DM discretion). The warehouse floor is always attended by a goblin known as “His Majesty the Count” who does Zinnaatis’ counting and sums – he is easily recognized for his smudged apron and tiny leather visor, as well as the oversized ledger book he constantly lugs around.

Drow Chainmail – AC 16 (Otherwise as “Mithril Chain”)
These shirts of extremelly light, shimmery black mail are prized by the vicious dark elves. Drow Chain is infused with the magical contamination Of the Underdark and as such, cannot survive long outside such environs. It breaks down into a black dust after exposure to sunlight in 2d6 days.

     Creatures – x5 Hobgoblins, x1 goblin

5. The “Orb and Weaver” Tavern – Cramped, hot, and reeking of cheap grog and sweat, the sign of the Orb and Weaver refreshes the surly raiders and bodyguards that service the Underdark merchants. Hanging above the bars entrance and well lit by phosphorescent lichen is a wooden sign, painted in purple and featuring the image of a spider hanging over a loom, its abdomen appearing to be a crystal ball. The echoing of the chamber means that even on a sparse night the bar is booming with a cacophony of voices. 

     The bartender, Luhrg the Mugbreaker (Use the “Oorog” stat block) has been working this tavern for a year now and is a surprisingly quick study for an orc – he stays friendly with everyone and is happy to sell rumors and information for a price (typically between 5-15 gp). Luhrg hears about everything eventually, and knows every face that passes through; meaning that he knows where to find whatever you want. It also means he’ll be extremely nosey about the PCs presence, battering them with friendly questions in order to loose the details from them. If the PCs play along and their cover story holds up, Luhrg will be amiable and helpful. Close lipped PCs will find themselves being overcharged, ahrassed by the customers, and eventually tossed out.

     The PCs will needs be on their best behavior here. The patrons are all drunk and spoiling for a fight. So long as no weapons are drawn, it would be acceptable for a barroom scuffle to occur, though that will likely mean the end of the PCs stay for causing trouble. A fistfight with one table of ruffians might cause the whole bar to erupt in flying fists, or only attract the cheers of other tables (at the DM’s discretion). Given the cruelty and grudging nature of the inhabitants, a bar fight would likely mean the patrons attacking one another just as soon as the PCs! To keep the peace, Luhrg has hired on a Drow waitress who is fully armed beneath her revealing bustier (use the Drow stats with AC 12).

     Luhrg serves he normal fare for a low quality tavern, grog, moonshine, watered down ale, as well as more exclusive local drinks with vile names like “Mushroom Musk” and “Umberhulk Sweat.” The tavern’s most expensive drink, the “Mindflayer Mucous Shot” has an unusual effect on those that can resist it. Any PC who downs the shot makes a CON DC 12 Save. They instantly fall unconscious for 2d10 minutes on a failed save. A successful save grants Advantage on any lore roll for the next 1d4 days.

    Features of the Area – Well lit by candles, lanterns, and lambent lichens. Moving anywhere in the cramped bar requires double movement.

     Creatures – x1 Orog (pg. 71), x1 Drow, x1 Orc, x3 Goblins, x2 Hobgoblins, x2 Gnolls, x4 kobolds (at the bar, on booster seats)

6. The Library – Not dissimilar to the trading floors, this oddly cozy nook houses several bookshelves as well as magical oddities strewn about on carpets. There is a sales counter in this room, attended by a rather grubby looking human hedge-wizard who eyes everyone entering as though they are a potential meal. He grumbles to himself at odd intervals. At the moment, most of the sellers are not on hand, just a fewgoblin assistants   attending to their master’s wares. 

     The book the PCs seek is sitting plainly upon the largest shelf, and the attending wizard will explain that it is worth 550 gp or the equivalent in barter. 

     The open space outside the Library consists of a crowd of gathered villains. They talk and mill quietly amongst themselves, trading gossip and making impromptu deals. The crowd can easily be used as cover for sneaking PCs, or a source of information.

     Blocking the northward entrance into the gallery where the Statue of Lolth looms is a blockade consisting of gnoll ruffians. They will not allow the PCs to pass by, snarling something about the magical sundries beyond are only for privileged shoppers approved of by Zinnaatis herself (albeit much less eloquently). Though the sentries are very adamant, a CHA DC 20 check to intimidate might convince them to let a PC by (any demonstration of magic prior to this grants the roll advantage). What they don’t realize is that any such sentries guarding the rear entrance are incapacitated.

     At the intersection The alley west of the Library are a pile of drunk goblins. Though mostly unaware of their surroundings, the leader is an angry drunk, and will get belligerent and combative if the PCs are too loud or try to talk to him. The PCs might be able to get away with fighting these goblins (the crowd nearby has little concern for the wretched creatures) though efforts would needs be taken to make it appear as one of the expected brawls that occasionally crop up in the outpost.

     Features of the Area – This chamber is brightly lit by torches.

     Creatures – x1 Human Witch Doctor (pg. 58), x1 Drow, x2 Goblins; The blockade in the alley consists of – x3 Gnolls (pg. 48); The crowd outside the Library is made up of – x1 Green Hag (pg. 53), x2 Drow, x2 Doppelgangers (pg. 32), x3 Dark Adepts, x1 Cultist of Asmodeus (pg. 9); In the west alley – x3 Goblins, x1 Goblin Leader (pg. 49)

7. Zinnaatis’ Mansion – Calling this underground holdfast a “mansion” is generous. It is little more than a barracks. The first floor contains kitchen, storage, bunks, armory, and a few offices. The second floor is reserved as Zinnaatis’ private apartments. From here the Drow officer tends to the business matters of the trading post, keeping her collected taxes (and bribes) locked in a magical safe containing a “Bag of Holding” within which is her horde. The mansion is not included in the scope of this adventure. The divinations used to scry out the McGuffin mark it being in the trade floor, not within the walls of this complex. However, players being players, you may wish to pull out some appropriate map in case they decide to investigate. Stats for Zinnaatis are given below, though a scrape with her would be a suicidal fight for a small number of PCs at this level.

Rewards

     The D&D Next Playtest gives relatively good guidelines for rewarding players for non-combat situations. Given that this encounter involved a great deal of guile and problem solving, it would be a shame to overlook experience rewards merely because the PCs avoided open confrontation. That said, their accomplishments would not equate tot he same value as all the monsters who appear in this encounter, many of whom serve as intimidating set dressing and a reminder that the PCs are in over their heads and vastly outnumbered. 

     As a general rule, for every chamber the PCs successfully navigate without starting a fight, grant them 100 EXP (grant combat experience as normal). If their plan is especially clever, dramatic, amusing, or effective, feel free to throw another 50 EXP in as a bonus. Completing the entire encounter successfully is worth an additional 100 EXP. 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Battlefield Extraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map
href=”https://savevsweekend.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/20130322-174310.jpg”>20130322-174310.jpg
A high-quality poster version of this map is included in the Vaults of the Underdark map pack.

Features of the Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: