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Hustle and Flow (Part 1)

This encounter is intended for five player characters of 6th level

Inspiration for this encounter came from a couple of sources, mixing together into a delicious magma stew. For one, working on a play that centers around a catastrophic volcanic explosion got me thinking about lava as an obstacle (and any kid has likely toyed with this notion before – if the game “Floor-Is-Hot-Lava” is as widely played as I assume). I was also taken with the rather simple but compelling notion of a trap/environmental obstacle having stages of threat that are keyed to the initiative track: a convention used to great effect in Dungeon Crawl Classic’s “Tomb of the Savage Kings.” (Though it certainly wasn’t invented in that adventure).

I’m writing this up as two linked encounters: Part 1 is the exploration of the space prior to the eruption of lava, and Part 2 the flight to escape. Clearing out the dungeon thoroughly on the way in won’t make much difference when lava monsters begin pouring (literally, due to their viscosity) out of the ceiling!

These encounters presume the machinations of Imix, the Prince of Elemental Fire depicted in Monster Manual 3 (pg. 112). If the Primordials have no place in your campaign, sub Imix out for another powerful entity or deity tied to fire and/or chaos.

Setup
The PCs are exploring a section of dungeon dangerously close to a volcano, lava flow, planar nexus of fire, or any other place in which pyroclastic material threatens to burst through the walls (spoiler alert: it will). This section of the dungeon is difficult to navigate though not heavily populated. But when exploring a room rife with treasure (or stumbling into the chamber next to it) they inadvertently trigger a lava flow to burst in and begin filling the chambers. This will mark the end of the first of these two linked encounters. At that point, it is a race against time over obstacles, rubble, and newly arrived foes, to get back to the more secure chambers of the dungeon.

“Secure” being the operative word…this is, after all, a dungeon.

Background
This section of the dungeon was once the temple to a wrathful cult of Imix, a terrifying primordial consumed by ever-burning fire, endless rage and unbridled hatred. Despite being trapped outside the Material Plane by the Gods, Imix still carries out his deeds of wanton destruction through agents and cults in the world. This particular cult displeased him with repeated failures, and so he influenced a number of magma beasts to trigger a minor eruption, burning all the cultists to death.

What remained was their prized possession: a weapon that consumes with fire and sews chaos wherever it is wielded. Imix wants this weapon back in the hands of his servants but has failed to accomplish this thus far. His underlings slumber in the rock nearby, and if the object is disturbed, his wrath would be great indeed.

Map

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Features of the Area

  • Chasm – This pit is 2 squares (10 feet) across and 8 squares (40 feet) deep (a 4d10 fall). Fortunately the sides of the pit are jagged, with frequent handholds, requiring only a DC 12 Athletics check to climb. Should lava begin to flow into the squares of this chasm, they fill both vertically and horizontally, meaning an unlucky adventurer might be climbing up out of the pit while molten rock licks his/her heels.
  • Doors – These are all normal, wooden doors. Wear and tear has eaten away at the locks of all but one of the doors (indicated on the map).
  • Secret Door (indicated by a red “S”) – This door swings easily on a rotating hinge if ample pressure is applied Hard Perception check to detect. Can be opened from either side.
  • Rubble and Debris (Indicated by a square containing an “X”) – Rough Terrain.
  • Statue of Imix – This statue stands almost as high as the dungeon’s ceiling and depicts Imix: the Primordial Lord of fire and rage. During the second phase of this linked encounter, a Magma Brute flows up through the ground and suffuses itself with the statue, giving the magma creature a solid form and appearing to animate this otherwise mundane if disturbing sculpture.
  • Altar – This altar seems to be made of the petrified remains of several humanoids bound together and burned to death. Heat emanates from the altar. Upon it is an artifact weapon of great power (see the “Loot” section below). In addition to this, there are 200 gp worth of gems, coins, and valuables still littered around the altar.

Treasure
The main loot found in this section of the dungeon is the holy artifact of Imix. Use any magic weapon with the “Fire” keyword that is particularly powerful for your player’s level/loot schedule to represent this (it is supposed to be a rare and coveted item, and thus, somewhat more unbalancing than other loot. Take this into consideration). Add the following additional ability (which is perhaps unknown to the PCs until it triggers):

Trigger: An attack roll is made and the d20 comes up “1”
Close Burst 3 (All creatures i burst, including the wielder) 2d10 Fire Damage (Any immunity/resistance the wielder possesses against Fire damage is ignored)

Recommended Item: Flame Tongue Weapon (Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium pg. 26)

Tactics
The Volcanic Dragons are brothers and sisters from the same clutch. Though dragons are typically solitary these three found a strength in numbers and a joy in threatening their foes using the strength of numbers. They will happily come to one another’s aid, but abandon their kin; seeking to hide and later ambush their opponents if seriously wounded. The dragons are inexplicably draw to this place – a vague calling on the part of Imix.

The zombies are the unfortunate cultists who displeased Imix and are now trapped here to hopefully serve with more distinction in death than they did in life. Their charred and now ash covered forms should call to mind the body casts made from cavities discovered in the volcanically brutalized ruins of Pompeii.

The zombies are used to working in tandem with one another, and do so instinctively. That said, they are not affiliated with the dragons, and any cooperation on their part is purely accidental. Indeed, each party might attack one another just as soon as they would attack the PCs.

Monsters
x3 Volcanic Dragon Wyrmling (Monster Manual 3 pg. 72)
x3 Grasping Zombie {G} (Monster Vault pg. 293)
x5 Zombie Shambler {S} (Monster Vault pg. 295)
x2 Magma Infused Zombie {M} [Use the stats for the “Chillborn Zombie” (Monster Manual pg. 275) but replace “Cold” damage with “Fire” damage. This zombie spatters its foes with hot, fast-hardening magma that weighs them down and pins them in place for further attacks from the creature’s burning arms.]

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The Ogre Zombie’s Tomb

This encounter is intended for five characters of 2nd level

It dawned on me that I had perhaps been getting too elaborate with many of my encounters. Mind you I didn’t want to just spit out a lot of “10 square by 10 square with 5 skirmishers of player’s level” snooze fests – but at the same time I might be getting a tad over dramatic with the set-piece encounters. Not everything needs to be a big, epic, hours long brawl, I know. So I’m going to attempt to offer some quicker and more easily planted encounters interspersed with the over-the-top cinematic fights I happen to love so much. My goal with this blog was to provide content that could easily be slapped into any night’s session. Set-pieces have a way of forcing you to work around their schedule.

I’ve also been neglecting the dungeon! Madness! To alleviate that I intend to produce more “drag and drop” dungeon chamber encounters. The place where most games can afford to have an on-the-fly addition is in the dungeon – so it stands to reason that you’ll likely get the most mileage out of some pre-generated dungeon encounters.

Set Up and Backstory
This encounter can be a series of rooms in any old dungeon of your choosing. Its presumed that some other creatures – kobolds or goblins or what have you – occupy the dungeon (to serve as a food source). This particular niche was carved by desperate townsfolk long ago; who buried an ogre that had been destroying crops, caravans, and people for years. They feared him so much that it was rumored even death would not slow the brute down, and so a few bold souls interred his corpse in the dungeon, and filled a pit with holy water to make certain he didn’t come lumbering out.

A few were superstitious enough to bury the monster with some valuables in the hopes that would appease it in the afterlife. Sadly, it wasn’t enough, and the rotting ogre’s corpse has been stomping impatiently in front of the holy water moat for a very long time.

Some of the dungeon’s denizens have been making forays into this area to try and recover the treasure from the ogre zombie’s side of the moat – but found themselves food for the cave fisher lurking nearby. The beetles are picking clean what the fisher doesn’t want.

Map

Map Features
Rooms: Are roughly hewn stonework. Relatively smooth walls and floor, save for cracks and the occasional debris. The ceiling is in disrepair. The obvious light sources are the fire beetles (emanate light at half the distance of a normal torch) and some distant rays of sunshine beating down through the cracks in the ceiling of the zombie ogre’s chamber (bright enough to treat the room as normally lit).

The cave fisher is hidden in a shadowy corner of the antechamber where it has adjourned to digest its last meal. It gains a +5 bonus to it’s stealth check while concealed here. If need be it will creep forward along the ceiling to get in range of prey, keeping a +2 bonus from the relative camouflage of the broken and uneven ceiling.

Sitting at the foot of the pool are the remains of some unfortunate dungeon denizen is now a meal for the fire beetles – thus continuing the dungeon circle of life.

Pool: this stone moat dips drops to a depth of about four and a half feet and is filled with sanctified water. If submerged or splashed onto an evil creature it deals Ongoing 5 radiant damage. The zombified ogre is unwilling to step foot in or even chance crossing the pool due to his instinctive repulsion by consecrated places.

Loose Ceiling: The ceilings in these chambers are worn and buckled with age. Already stones and pieces of rubble are strewn about the dungeon floor and more sections seem at risk of collapsing. The ceiling height is 4 squares (20 feet) or in more practical terms, a 2d10 fall.

A section of ceiling directly above the pool is especially loose. If the players come within sight of the hulking zombie it very well might smash the walls in frustration, causing a section of rubble to fall into the pool. This would give the zombie stepping stones to cross over – escaping its prison and entering the fray. Allow this to happen when the players are finally gaining the advantage in the fight. If you are utilizing dungeon tiles, use a 2 by 2 square rubble tile to indicate the pathway across the holy water pool

Monsters
x1 Hulking Zombie (Monster Vault pg. 294)
x1 Cave Fisher Angler – Marked “C” (Monster Manual 3 pg. 28)
x3 Fire Beetles (Monster Manual pg. 30)

Map Tiles
Making good on a previous intention – the map for this encounter was composed with individual tiles from the “Dungeon Tiles” master set “The Dungeon.”

 

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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.

 
2 Comments

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

 

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