Wednesday, 18 March 2015

(Princes of the Apocalypse) Dessarin Valley Sandbox 0 - Introduction & Table of Contents

(Edit 09Jun15) I've rewritten the introduction and table of contents in a new post <here> accompanied by a player-friendly map with fewer locations that I think is better suited to turning the Dessarin Valley into a sandbox.

That means that this post is going to be abandoned and those who are interested in this series should go <here> for the revised table of contents etc....

The D&D Adventurers League abridged version of Princes of the Apocalypse for D&D Encounters has now been released ahead of the full version of the adventure in April. And, unlike with Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat, this time I am genuinely impressed.

Of course, I am also biased: I rate Rich Baker my favourite D&D designer of all time and, as was the case with Lost Mine of Phandelver, he's the lead designer of this adventure.

And, as was the case with Lost Mine, it would appear that this adventure has the potential to be an excellent sandbox particularly as it is accompanied by yet another fine map from Mike Schley. So, as I did with Lost Mine, I'm going to post a series of articles on expanding and/or revising the locations in this adventure.

Table of Contents

Here's the list of all the locations from the Mike Schley map above. Please note that the locations marked with an asterisk are encounter locations rather than locations from FR lore. Depending on what material I have to work with, I may or may not comment on these places. 

However, my plan is to cover all the other locations and I will edit in the links as each post is made, just as I did with Lost Mine (aka Starter Set Sandbox).

General Posts

4E Stat Blocks
A Half-Assed Review


*Abandoned Quarry
*Anderil Farm
Bargewright Inn
Black Maw Bog
Cairn Road
*Delegation Ambush
*Dellmon Ranch
Dessarin Hills
The Dessarin Road
Evermoor Way
*Feathergale Spire
The Forlorn Hills
Gaustar's Creek
*Haayon's Camp
Halls of the Hunting Axe
*Helvenblade House
The High Forest
The Horn Stream
The Iron Road
Jundar's Pass
Kheldell Path
Kryptgarden Forest
Lance Rock
The Long Road
*Nettlebee Ranch
*Reaver Ambush
Red Larch
River Dessarin
River Surbrin
*Rivergard Keep
*Rundreth Manor
*Sacred Stone Monastery
*Scarlet Moon Hall
*Sighing Valley (this is not marked on the regional map but is the area around Feathergale Spire)
The Stone Bridge
The Stone Trail
Sumber Hills
*Summit Hall
Sword Mountains
*Temple of Elemental Evil
*Vale of Dancing Waters
The Westwood
Wyvern Tor




More Maps

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Stat Blocks - Hill Giant & Chief Nosnra

I confess that I am not a fan of AD&D, particularly of 1E. And despite that, AD&D has a lot of influences on my 4E gaming largely because my first experiences with RPGs were largely AD&D (although SPI's rather good DragonQuest played a significant role for a while).

Even though I am not a fan of some of the earliest adventures - aka modules - I still see certain potential in them and, having read them over and over again many times in the past 30+ years, they're firmly fixed in my memory and, when I need to ad lib an encounter or even an adventure, they're what I turn to automatically.

G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is one of those adventures and I have just an opportunity to run a it in the form of, effectively a single encounter but that's the subject of <another post>. Here are the two stat blocks I used.

Hill Giant

I imagine most 4E DMs are looking at this stat block and wondering why my hill giant is only level 8 when the official version is around level 13 or so.

The primary reason is this and it relates to the way AD&D informs my approach to D&D: I like my 4E monsters to have the same level as their AD&D hit dice, more or less. And hill giants in 1E had only 8 dice (and 1-2 bonus hit points, IIRC).

The secondary reason is that I am really only interested in running Heroic Tier - and maybe early Paragon Tier - games. My players don't have the endurance for longer games and I still want to use the full palette of monsters, as it were. Dropping their levels to match their 1E hit dice allows me to do that.

As a brute, the hill giant is pretty simple but I tend to think the sweeping club may be superfluous. I would have been better off putting a push or prone rider on the greatclub power and making the stat block that little bit smaller. That said, sweeping club is appropriate... and quite effective. It definitely makes my hill giant feel like a giant when it smacks a PC a couple of squares away.

Chief Nosnra

This charming fellow's picture appears at the top of this post.
While I could have simply gone with an elite version of the normal hill giant and left Nosnra as a brute, I wanted something different for him so that he came across in the course of the battle as something more than just a hard-hitting brute.
My first thought inspired by the 4E version of Steading in Dungeon 197 was to give him a giant crossbow and let him use that as a melee weapon but otherwise make him artillery. However, that doesn't match the picture above, nor does it match the miniature I have that basically matches that picture.
Clearly he isn't a soldier and I didn't want something as complicated as a controller even if he is brighter than the average hill giant. So that left skirmisher and I decided to start with the move and attack everyone ability that a marilith has. However, with the marilith, her movement is a shift so she does not provoke opportunity attacks. That didn't feel like a giant to me, so Nosnra moves and provokes opportunity attacks as normal BUT, in doing so, he also has the potential to really boost his damage output. 

That skirmishing-style attack then alternates - thanks to the recharge mechanic - with basically a double-damage version of his basic attack. As an elite, Nosnra should be able to attack twice. As I have done with a couple of elite (and solo) monsters in the past, I decided to give him a single attack that would allow him to do double damage instead. 

But the really interesting part of Nosnra's stat block for me is the way his two traits work together. I think this is the first time I have seen a leader do more damage, and allow others to do more damage, when he MISSES rather than when he HITS. In some ways, it feels like a monster version of the lazylord: Nosnra can suck in combat and those around him can do better because of it. And considering how high a couple of my PCs' armour classes are, that bonus came to be quite large at one point in the combat.

Anyway, it's a different way for me of looking at a leader-like ability but on the rare chance that anyone else uses this, please do comment on how it went. My own commentary can be found <link to updated in the next couple of days>.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Stat Blocks - Creatures of the Dread Ring, Part Two

I prepared quite a few stat blocks for the Dread Ring in the Neverwinter Wood. in large part because there is a much larger dungeon to explore - the Dread Ring itself - than what my players in Neverwinter: Year of the Ageless One are likely to end up exploring.

For those who have access to Return to the Tomb of Horrors, my version of the Dread Ring includes the dungeon of the Black (aka Bleak) Academy including the triple entrances to the infamous Tomb of Horrors. Sadly, my PCs won't be going there as my players are very cautious and dungeon-averse except where it meets the needs of the plot. But delving for delving's sake? That isn't what they do. Cowards.... ;)

Sword Fodder

The original custom undead for the Red Wizards of Thay was the dread warrior which first appeared in 2E's Dreams of the Red Wizards (IIRC, otherwise it was the Spellbound boxed set). They have survived all the way to 4E but now exist in multiple forms: the dread archer, dread guardian, dread marauder, and dread protector. Although they are level-appropriate and well-designed (they're from Monster Manual 3), I decided to go with some custom monsters for the Dread Ring although they are likely to make an appearance later. I mention them only for the sake of completeness in case someone reading this is looking for some undead with Thayan flavour.

In my former post (Part One) with creatures of the Dread Ring, I included the bone weird as a way of showing the effects of the Dread Ring in terms of creature unusual undead. The Dread Ring zombie comes from that same way of thinking and is also a lurker.

It is based on Strahd's dread zombie from Open Grave - insofar as its ability to "respawn" - but with a lurker twist. In this case, it has the ability to slam someone into the earth of the Dread Ring and then trigger the ability of the Dread Ring to swallow that creature.

I see these zombies as looking like corpses that have been freshly disinterred with clumps of dirt and even crawling worms filling the gaps where the flesh has rotten away. Also, the nature of their method of movement and "respawning" justifies them popping up pretty much anywhere in the Dread Ring.

Thay has always used gnolls as a common slave race and as expendable sword fodder. As a result, I like to include gnolls with any Red Wizard encounters. In this case I went with gnoll archers because they struck me as very appropriate guards for the Dread Ring in this wilderness location. They could also be used to supplement the food supplies of the living Thayans.

But that's just background.

In other posts, I have mentioned that my basic guideline for monster levels is their hit dice in 1E or 2E. Gnolls have 2 hit dice in those earlier editions so that would translate to a level 2 artillery. A standard level 2 monster has the same XP value as a level 10 minion and I definitely wanted these gnolls to be minions so that's why they're level 10 artillery.

The stat block is very simple with no conditions to track. I decided to avoid a normal melee basic attack based on a melee weapon and do something I have done with orcs before and allow these gnolls to make melee attacks with their ranged weapon. Yes, clearly I have watched the Lord of the Rings movies. Point blank shot also has a push effect so that will hopefully allow the gnoll archer to get out of melee range.

Including the Thayan knight in my roster of monsters for the Dread Ring was definitely going to happen for two reasons:
1. I have four Thayan knight miniatures which I have been wanting to use for a while.
2. I really like the Wayne Reynolds art showing a Thayan knight defending a Red Wizard and have used it before to show players whom they were fighting.

I'm actually really happy with how the stat block turned out. It feels a lot like an assault swordmage in the way it plays but it remains really easy to use while being tactically interesting. I suspect I will also be using higher level versions of this stat block in the future as I really like the way it works.

Thayan Banites

One of the changes inflicted on FR courtesy of the events surrounding the Spellplague was that Szass Tam made a deal with Bane and promised him that the Black Lord's religion would be the only one permitted in Thay. (That's the short version.) As such, it makes sense that a Thayan fortress such as the Dread Ring would also include some Thayan Banites.

The dark acolyte of Bane is a minion controller that exists as a speed bump - and hold person can definitely be a speed bump. Also, as much as possible, I try to include ways that the minions I design can survive a hit: in this case the dark acolyte can possibly avoid a melee attack by using cause fear to push the attack away.

The masters of the dark acolytes are the dark hands of Bane, another nasty controller. Their signature/at-will power Bow Before the Black Lord! is really all that they need to mess up the PCs' mobility as it even slows on a miss and, on a hit, prone plus unable to stand can, in the right position, be as effective as a stun.

As you would expect from clerics of the deity of tyranny, they can also dominate but that is once an encounter but it is reliable so, if it misses, it can be used again.

They're quite effective in melee as well, thanks to their aura 3 which gives them and their allies combat advantage against their enemies.

In short, they're nasty.

The final Thayan Banite is the hateful zealot of Bane which is essentially a pursuing avenger in monster form. The reason for the use of the word hateful is because, in 3.xE, one of Bane's granted domains was hatred and all the Banite clerics I ever statted up as NPCs in 3.5E had hatred and tyranny as their two domains.

Anyway, the hateful zealot feels a bit like Darth Maul in the way it plays. Oath of enmity is, of course, the signature avenger ability that ensures that the hateful zealot is very likely to hit while Feel the Hate! makes sure its oath of enmity target is not going to get very far before the hateful zealot catches up with it. And, of course, once it has caught up with its target, bond of pursuit should see it stay in melee or charging range.

I also really like this stat block and expect it to provide a model for any other avengers "monsters" I might build in the future. 

Red Wizards of Thay

Before 4E changed everything, Red Wizards of Thay were organised around the eight schools of magic. Post-4E - more accurately, post the novels by Richard Lee Byers where he, inter alia, introduced Dread Ring and blew up Thay - the Red Wizards largely focussed on necromancy.  5E Thay seems to be heading back to the older version of Thay but who really knows as WotC doesn't seem to want to publish a new FR campaign setting, but I digress....

The apprentice necromancer, like the dark acolyte minion above, is a nasty speed bump. Its primary attack - rotting doom - stops the target from receiving healing. That's tactically interesting too because not being able to heal is not that serious in the first couple of rounds of combat but becomes potentially very nasty later. Do the PCs deal with these minions first to ensure that they have access to healing later or do they take the fight to the primary threats? Hmmm, decisions, decisions....

... and it's a decision made more complicated because the Thayan necromancer that poses the greater threat is also capable of applying that same condition with its ranged basic attack.

But before it does that, grasp of the grave allows it to lay down an ally-friendly zone that lasts until the end of the encounter. Basically, this power is supposed to model a zone of grasping hands and claws of various corpses trying to drag the necromancer's enemies beneath the earth. Hmmm, maybe I should have made it difficult terrain for enemies as well....

My plan is always to pair the necromancer with at least one Thayan knight and anyone closing on the necromancer could end up attacking the Thayan knight in melee instead of the necromancer because of the knight's aegis of the Thayan knight. Hopefully that will give the necromancer some staying power plus its defensive staff melee basic attack can allow it to move away from a melee attacker without provoking opportunity attacks.

And they're the basic generic Thayan forces at the Dread Ring. There are named NPCs such as Valindra Shadowmantle inside the skull-shaped fortress at the centre of the Dread Ring but it's highly unlikely my PCs are going to encounter them. If they do, I will post the stat blocks here.