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In Defense of the Refugees (AKA: “Save the Ladies!”)

This encounter is intended for five PCs of 3rd or 6th level using the most recent D&D 5th Edition statistics as of July 2

I was really fond of the Lord of the Rings console games that popped up in the mid 00’s. I mean sure, these weren’t the best beat-um-ups on the market, but they hit home by leveraging a franchise that I was obsessed with at the time. Given that one of my earliest memories is of playing Golden Axe with my father while propped up on a stool in front of an arcade cabinet – loving a co-op beat-um-up is never hard for me to do. 

A particular gem from those games was the “Minas Tirith Courtyard” level. In essence, it was a siege scenario in which you had to hold off endless hordes of increasingly difficult opponents, while making way for a flood of civilians to escape. The level ended once two-hundred villagers (all women, as I recall. Hence why this level became “save the ladies!” In common parlance) escaped to the safety of an inner wall. It was a grueling task, and a perfect complement for the scenes of devastation and warfare it was meant to invoke.

This encounter attempts to capture the feel of that scenario with a satisfying set-piece battle.

Setup

The PCs have agreed to help defend a community (castle, city, fortress, whatever is appropriate) from an invading army. While regular troops man the walls, the party is overseeing an evacuation. Civilian refugees may be fleeing the city out of a postern gate, falling back to an inner defensive ring, or breaking for the harbor to board boats that will take them out of the conflict. Regardless of the particulars, citizens have no choice but to rush through a warzone to reach safety. When the scenario begins, enemies have breached the defenses and the PCs will need to earn their keep covering the refugee’s flight.

At your discretion, some of the soldiers defending the walls may come down to lend the PCs a hand. Assign no more than one soldier per player, and bump the number of monsters in each wave up by one to compensate.

The party will face endless waves of opponents in this encounter. Their goal is to hold out until all refugees have made it through the exit gate in the southern corner of the map, before themselves pulling back to safety. Depending on the difficulty you intend, the number of total civilians can be adjusted up or down. As an alternate way of working the scenario, the parties goal might be to stand their ground until a prescribed number of refugees makes it through the gate (in this case, consider deducting the EXP value of slain refugees from the party’s total EXP).

   •Each round, 1d4 refugees arrives at the eastern edge of the map (Labelled “Refugee Entry” with eligible squares shaded in blue).

  •Every refugee that successfully escapes through the gate grants its EXP value to the party in the same way a defeated enemy would.

  •Number of refugees: Easy – 10; Moderate – 20; Difficult – 30

Map


When monsters enter the battle, roll 1d4: that monsters arrives in the corresponding entry point on the map (Labelled “Monster Entry”) and takes its turn. Monsters that arrive through entrance 4 will almost always make for the exit gate to cut off any refugees that get past their brethren.

Features of the Area

    Rubble: Walls broken by siege equipment, burning wagons, overturned market stalls, or even piles of corpses. Areas of rubble require 10 feet of movement to pass through.

     Barricade: These stacked barrells, crates, and debris grant half cover.

    Tower: This watchtower is positioned to overlook a great deal of the courtyard. The room is 25 feet up and features an arrow slit that grants Superior Cover, but does not allow the shooter to see anything east of the fountain. The advantage of being able to snipe from the safety of the tower are obvious, but not being on the ground to draw enemies away from the fleeing refugees is a serious disadvantage.

    Porch: This adjoined patio area has a sturdy stone railing all around it that can grant half cover if someone inside crouches. Leaping over the railing is easy enough to do, but requires 10 feet of movement.

    Fountain: The fountain in the middle of this battlefield grants half cover, or full cover if the attacker is on the other side of the large statue in the middle. Enterprising or vicious PCs will find it deep enough to drown orcs in.

   Stone Structures: The low stone buildings might compirse homes, gatehouses, customs offices, or storage. Though their slate roves aren’t especially steep, a 15 foot climb is still required to get to the top, where a PC could enjoy an elevated vantage point. Some of these building have missing walls, destroyed by siege weaponry, creating a path for the city’s invaders to stream into the courtyard.

Monsters

   —Level 3 encounter: One wave every other round

 Wave 1: 10 Goblins (Pg. 49)

Wave 2: 10 Hobgoblins (Pg. 55)

Wave 3: 1 Hobgoblin Leader (Pg. 55), 2 Hobgoblins

Wave 4: 1 Ogre (Pg. 69)

Continuous Waves: 1d4+1 Hobgoblins

—Level 6 encounter: One wave every other round

Wave 1: 10 Orcs (Pg. 70)

Wave 2: 7 Oorogs (Pg. 71)

Wave 3: 1 Orc Leader (Pg. 70), 2 Oorogs

Wave 4: 1 Hill Giant (Pg. 46)

Continuous Waves: 1d4+1 Oorogs


Allies

For the civilian refugees, use the stats for:  Human Commoner (Pg. 57) [And for the record, the civilians comprise both men, women, and children, not just ladies! All the same, don’t NOT save the ladies – that isn’t very feminist either.]

•For allied soldiers (if you choose to provide them), use the stats for:  Human Warrior (Pg. 58 – Replace armor with “Ringmail” and bump AC to 14)

Enemy/Ally Tactics

The attackers (be they orc or hobgoblin) are in the thick of city fighting now, and much of their discipline is fading in the chaos of battle. Use the following guidelines in determining an enemy’s targeting priorities:

1. If a PC is within 10 feet of an enemy, it will attempt to attack the PC

2. Enemies will otherwise attack the nearest opponent, whether they are a civilian, soldier, or PC

3. Enemies will switch targets to the last target that attacked them, thus allowing your players to “pull” the horde off of a civilian

4. Enemies who come out of entrance 4 will make for the exit gate, to block the passage of those fleeing

Though based on a video game, the best part of tabletop RPGs is their infinite mutability. These rules of engagement make for an interesting tactical encounter, but as always, use your judgement. Smart players will find ways to draw enemies away from the fleeing refugees. And likewise, a moment of dramatic ramping-up in which a foe purposefully ignores the players to slay the defenseless civilians might be just what the story needs.

Similarly you can follow a set of guidelines for the behavior of the fleeing refugees:

1. A refugee will always avoid provoking attacks of opportunity when possible (unless ordered by a PC)

2. Refugees always attempt to move toward the exit gate at best possible speed, allaying this only for reasons of safety

3. If within reach of an opponent, a refugee will use the Disengage action

4. If in reach of an opponent and unable to move closer to the gate, a refugee will use the Dodge action

5. Refugees consider PCs and soldier allies and can move through their space unhindered

If you opt to provide the players with back-up in the form of additional soldiers, consider letting the PCs give orders to the troops. They are in control of where the soldiers move to and how they form up, and can even order them to attack particular targets. If you wish to make this more complicated, perhaps an Easy Charisma roll is needed to clearly explain orders over the din and confusion of battle. In this case, PCs might only be able to give vague directions (“Stand left of the gate” or “form up on my right”) rather than letting the players choose which precise square for each soldier to stand in (the more tactical option).

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App Store Round-Up

Things are still plugging along with the short adventure I’m writing, and that will be up as soon as I’ve had time to tweak the format and draft it properly. And, you know…finish the actual writing.

But so as not to leave you without any content this weekend I wanted to share my thoughts on a tiny smattering of tabletop gaming apps out there on the market right now. I hadn’t. Intended to use this blog for much commentary of this sort – wanting to focus on putting out raw game content for fast, easy utilization but as you know I have become a chronic “breaker of form” as of late. Besides, anything that might improve your game at all is a good thing. And by thing, in this case, I mean app.

I’ll preface by saying that as an iPad/iPhone user (flame war in the comments below) my experience is limited to what’s available on the Apple app store – but you’ll find that some of these apps have Android versions. This is by no means an extensive list and may not even be the best apps for their purpose; rather these are apps that I either use, intend to use, or merely have a crush on. By all means, if you have encyclopedic gamer app knowledge, or simply a favorite that I overlooked, share a link and your recommendation in the comments. Always be linking. Web hits are like points – and it’s all about the points, Brendan.

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DM Tools
Recommendation – Must have!

I really cannot stress enough how much I love this app. I’ve used it extensively in the past year or so and this well-supported app continues to improve with every version. It was built with 4th Edition in mind; tracking initiative (rolling it for you or taking the value of an initiative you roll yourself) tracking hit points, bloodied values, and status effects, as well as ongoing damage, prone status, and defenses (including temporary adjustments). It’s simple to heal or damage a creature on the fly and initiatives can easily be shifted around or grouped as need be. The newest version even allows you to change a creatures icon so you can easily spot the orc warchief from the orc grunt (hint: he has the fanciest hat). It even includes a virtual die-roller!
To help DMs plan ahead of time you can set up and pre-roll initiatives for encounters you have built, plugging creatures in as needed. The latest version has expanded to allow more information per creature (info like race, class, skill bonuses, etc.) though all that is purely secondary.
The latest edition has expanded the app’s functionality beyond just 4th edition D&D. With a little work you can set up DM Tools to serve a variety of games with varying initiative systems. The game library starts out with D&D 4th and Pathfinder pre-loaded, and though I haven’t toyed with the function enough to speak to it’s practicality you can even download additional modules (Maybe it will even support some zany phased initiative like in “Alternity.” I would wiggle with glee)!
In all I find this app flexible though not too busy, and very practical. Do yourself a favor and check DMTools out.

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DMDJ
Recommendation – A great addition if it’s your group’s “thing”

I feel a little bad reporting on an app that I’ve only used a couple times, but DMDJ is too cool a concept to ignore. The difficulty with introducing music or sound effects to a game is keeping them fresh, and not letting the requisite tinkering with the old jam box/iTunes/stereo get in the way of the game. Alas, most movie and video games soundtracks are intended for short scenes, not 45 minutes worth of roleplaying and 2 hours of combat (yes, yes, I admit, my encounters can get a little…busy). DM DJ seeks to alleviate that problem and provide the DM with a greater breadth of flexibility in their soundscape. It features ambient sound for a variety of environments (and caters to more than just the typical medieval fantasy by including the other two best RPG genres: horror and sci-fi) in addition to easily looped music tracks and one off sound effects.
It depends on the situation of your game, but you can use DMDJ to set a great mood, and keep everyone focused and in character. I even used it to spice up a night of Artemis: Spaceship Bridge Simulator (A video game with a lot of table-top sensibilities that I highly recommend to any who want to “boldly go” and string six computers together) and found that the drone of a spaceship’s engines and some rhythmic techno made a great game all the more exciting.
Not everyone gets into the “bells and whistles” of a game and not every scene needs an ambient soundtrack, sure. But I stand firmly behind DMDJ as a solid addition to your game. Recommended that you have a player or a second device running it, since the music won’t keep playing if you open up another app.

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3D Virtual Tabletop
Recommendation: Good for long-distance games; a work in progress

When I first saw the link to this app I was all over it. I’m a real whore for miniatures – and battlemat-heavy combats have always been one of the trickier impediments to on-line tabletop gaming. The simplicity and ease of use that a 3D battle grid could provide would really help a lot of games to get off the ground. Right now there are desktop, iPad, Kindle Fire, and Android versions available – though in some cases the full list of features are not yet implemented. Still, I’m in love with a map that creates its own “fog of war” to keep the players guessing what might be down that next hallway without forcing me to slow down the flow of the adventure to draw it.
My biggest gripe with the 3D Virtual Tabletop is that there isn’t quite enough flexibility. Though I love the ability to tag miniatures with light sources, I’d also like to SET light sources in the environment. The ability to plug in your own maps is great, but being able to make custom miniatures would also be pretty awesome.
While I’d still stick with my stable of unpainted Reaper miniatures – I’d recommend giving the Virtual Tabletop a look-see. For gaming groups that can’t meet in person or for gaming in confined spaces (Road trips, plane rides, trains voyages!) it would be a cool and handy thing to have.

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2012 in Announcements

 

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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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L4D(&D)

This encounter is intended for 5 PCs of level 5

About a year ago I had a regular D&D group I was DMing for while also playing a great deal of Valve’s “Left4Dead” games. Somewhere between the process I got it in my mind to try and replicate the Infected vs. Survivors dynamic at the table-top (like you do). L4D has such a tight, exciting play experience and its elements seemed like they would translate well to 4th edition’s monster building mechanics. It was sort of a personal experiment in encounter design to see if I could translate something very structured, (albeit outside the confines of D&D’s rules), into the game. The experiment went well, with the encounter going just the way I anticipated when it hit the table. I’ve tweaked some of the stats and devised a more definite map (The original one was quickly scrawled onto a battlemat and promptly erased after) to share here.
The monsters in this encounter are all vulnerable to fire – that’s in keeping with the advantages granted by fire as they are depicted in Left 4 Dead, but it’s also a slight nod to the fact that PC’s with Fire keyword powers often get hosed by the plethora of resistant monsters. Time for your Infernal Warlock to shine!

Story Text
The fact that the lumber camp is several miles outside of town meant that it wasn’t all that uncommon for there to be little contact between townsfolk and workers midweek. Indeed there was a barracks of sorts for those working the mills and forest. However its been more than a week and not a soul has been seen. Worse yet, a clinging fog has spread across the camps multifarious buildings, and strange ululations can be heard from the camp by night. All of the workers, who would normally have returned eagerly to their families, have failed to arrive. Something sinister has occurred among the creaking mills and warehouses.
As you walk up the well trod forest path you cannot help but feel that many eyes are on you. Despite the roads well worn wagon ruts the place seem to have been abandoned for years rather than days. There is a bright light coming from the main camp, brushing aside the damp fog clinging to the earth and trees around you. A bonfire, set very recently, burns bright through the night, illuminating four single story buildings. The remains of a wagon lies in shambles up the dirt path in between the single story buildings that make up the main logging camp. Surrounding the camp is a periphery of old stumps, and beyond that the foreboding woods.
Propped against the shattered wagon, in a state of ruin competing with his vehicle is the corpse of an old man. He wears military garb and a green tunic, a beret slanted on his white hair, his beard specked with blood, a longsword tumbled inches from his crushed fingers.

When at least one player moves near the cart, read the following:
As you approach to investigate, the first howl shatters the gloom. It is human and inhuman all at once. Amidst the cacophony of snarls, grunts, and shouts you can hear a few very distinct noises – a hacking cough, a persistent and measured growl, and a series of grotesque belches and moans. Drawing your weapons, the creatures appear from all sides, moving fast, their glassy eyes wide with rage.

When the Tank’s initiative round begins, read the following:
A great bellow breaks through the din of combat. Between the scramble of these infected loggers your eyes fall on a horrific sight: a mound of muscle and scar tissue that was once something akin to a man, now plodding it’s way between buildings in your direction. It bellows again, burning with an unquenchable fury. Those arms are thick enough to tear down a building – best not to think what will happen if it gets within reach of you.

Map and Monsters

 

Features
Buildings – Athletics DC 15 to climb; each building is 3 squares in height. Each of the buildings has its doors locked (Thievery DC 15). The occupants attempted to seal themselves inside but to no avail. The long orange roofed building is the workman’s barracks and consists of a single open room with triple bunked beds and other living accouterments. The grey roofed building is a workshop where crafters make furniture and other woodwork sundries. The green roofed building is a storage house. The detailed building is the lumber camp foreman’s office. The actual mill building is some yards away, closer to the forest and not pictured on the map.

Ruined Cart – Squares that contain the ruined cart count as rough terrain

Shrubs – Shrubs do not impede movement but grant partial concealment to anyone occupying the same square

Fire – This bonfire was started by the unfortunate soul the PC’s find slumped against the ruined cart. It is still burning bright and assorted pieces of kindling nearby might serve as a torch if a PC was inclined. A torch made in such a fashion deal 1d6+Str modifier fire damage and the target takes ongoing 2 fire (Save ends). Anyone who begins their turn in or enters a fire square takes 1d8+4 fire damage.

Combat Sequence
When the encounter begins, the players face the following:

  • x1 Hunter (H)
  • x1 Boomer (B)
  • x1 Smoker (S)
  • x8 Common Infected (C)

During the second round, add the following:

  • x4 Common Infected (C)

Once one of the infected creatures is dead and at least one other is bloodied, have the Tank (T) enter at the initiative immediately following the number at which this trigger occurred. On the next Common Infected initiative pass, add the following:

  • x6 Common Infected (C)

Monster Placement and Common Infected Waves

The goal here is to simulate the kind of gameplay that makes Left 4 Dead shine: the players feel hard pressed to succeed and just short of overwhelmed. Being a tabletop game D&D permits the DM (A superior equivalent to the respectable “AI Director” of the L4D games) to control the tension much more closely. If players are having too hard or too easy of a time, adjust the entrance of the additional common infected accordingly – or have more or less common infected arrive as you see fit.

The monster placement indicated on the map shows where the creature(s) enter the map area, even if they are not on the map at the beginning of the encounter. In the case of common infected, clump creatures around the squares indicated as their “spawn point.” If players ask where they come from, the monsters are coming out of the woods, crawling out of buildings, or rising up from concealing reed where they lay inert.

At the beginning of the encounter the Hunter, and Smoker are assumed to be perched on the sides of the building adjacent to them, ready to climb up onto the roof but hidden from easy view by the PCs. The Boomer is behind a closed door.

Tactics
Dividing the party is the best maneuver for this ambush. The attack begins as soon as at least one player makes their way near the ruined wagon.

Smoker: The smoker will likely be the first attacker. Keeping to the roofs is the safest bet. Keep the smoker hidden until a PC comes into range and then strike. This should draw the players closer into the middle of the ambush. If the smoker’s victim is freed, he will hide out of sight until his “Smoker Pull” ability refreshes.

Hunter: The hunter will hang back and not attack until a PC is isolated from his/her allies. The party’s ranged attacker or controller makes for a likely target. If the Hunter’s target escapes his grab attempt, it will leap away to safety.

Boomer: The Boomer will stay indoors until at least two players are within range of his “Bile Puke” power (If a PC opens the door the Boomer is hiding behind he will be forced to attack). Once this has been expended, the boomer will attempt make melee attacks in the midst of the party. Remember that the Boomer is something of a suicide bomber – don’t be afraid to have the Boomer move into melee even if he is outflanked and outmatched.

Common Infected: Like many minions, their goal is to swarm the players quickly. Keep them in clumps, but not all together. This will prevent the party’s controller from wiping them out too quickly, while still giving him/her a group of good targets for area attacks.

Tank: The Tank will pursue one target doggedly until pulled away. Should he become marked or subject to a defender aura he will immediately peel off and pummel the new attacker. The Tank’s multi-target attack power is very circumstantial and so his damage output will likely be lower than that of most elites – that’s ok. The nature of the tank is to get in and absorb damage so that the other infected can do the major damage. His “throw rock” power is intended to keep targets pinned down or separated so that his allies can pick off targets.

* – Don’t forget that a lot of infected abilities apply conditions that cause the targeted PC to grant Combat Advantage. This stacks with any specific attack bonuses stated in an infected creatures power.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Combat Encounter, New Monster, Playtested

 

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