Guest Post: Throwing Axes: A Skill Challenge

Posted on : 28-01-2011 | By : Brian | In : D&D, Guest Posts, Marcelo Dior

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Guest contributor Marcelo Dior returns to us, giving us his take on a contest of martial skill, the axe-throwing contest.

Let’s say there are two Rangers in the group, equally skilled with the battleaxe, or you’re the Ranger and that thickheaded Dwarf Fighter keeps bragging about he being the best axe thrower of the realm. I present you, dear reader, a Skill Challenge that could be used between two PCs or against one or more NPCs. It’s a competition, the…

Axe Throwing Derby

Setup: a target (usually circular, but it could be a straw doll mounted on a rack) is put 10 yards from each of the competitors, who have 30 seconds to throw their axes. Considering 10 seconds for each Skill Check, the contenders may roll up to three different Skills before actually throwing their axes, otherwise they won’t be awarded any points. Only the battleaxe or the greataxe is permitted.

All the Skill checks have a DC 15, and they might be:

  • Acrobatics: The contender concentrates on the weight and balance of his axe while adjusting his stance so the throw comes out more precise. Success: +2 bonus to the throw. Critical failure: -5 penalty to the throw.
  • Athletics: Cannot be used on the last (third) throw. The competitor flexes his or her muscles to lend potency to the throw. Success: +2 to the throw. Critical failure: -5 to the throw.
  • Bluff: Must be made prior to the throw of another contender. The competitor makes sudden and odd movements, feints, and jokes in an effort to make an adversary lose focus. Success: one contender near the you takes a -1 to his or her action (throw or Skill Check).
  • Endurance: Cannot be used on the first throw. You try to catch your breath for the next throw, ignoring the weariness of the previous throw. Success: +1 on a Skill Check made before the next throw.
  • Healing: You summon your inner energy and your knowledge of anatomy to warm your muscles correctly and recover from the weariness of the competition. Success: +1 on the Endurance check, above.
  • Perception: You gauge the distance to the target, wind speed and direction, and the play of lights and shadows cast over the field to precisely calculate your throw. Success: +2 to the throw. Critical failure: -5 to the throw.

(I decided the roll of 1 on Skill Check should have consequences, something alien to 4e, to make things a little bit more interesting, reflecting in game terms a gross miscalculation on the use of Acrobatics, Athletics, and Perception.)

Competition details:

After all contenders have made their Skill Checks, any and all of the bonuses and penalties they earned are added to a Melee Basic Attack roll against 12 (that’s right, Melee Basic, not Ranged. This is a precision test, not an attack to kill a monster). The one who beats it by the greater margin earns points equal to the number of contenders. The second best net hit earns points equal to the number of contenders -1, and so forth. Failing in beating the DC of 12 earns you no points for that round. In the case of a tie, both competitors earn the same number of points.

After the first throw, the weapons are returned and the targets are repositioned at 25 yards. The same 30 seconds (three Skill Checks) are available and now the DC for the Melee Basic Attack is 15. The points are tallied and we move to the third and final round of the competition, with targets at 50 yards and DC 18. In the case of a draw at this point, the last round is done again with the contenders that have tied, as many times as necessary to untie the score.

Usually, in this kind of contest, magical axes or other items — such as magical bracelets or belts — aren’t allowed, and the organizers (if there is one) will have means of detecting magic over or on the competitors.


Obviously, this competition may be about other kinds of weapons. It could be a dispute of archery (with Ranged Basic Attacks instead of Melee), knife-throwing or even the obvious handaxes. An especially peculiar organizer could allow the mix of battle- and greataxes and handaxes amongst the contenders (in which case the check is made with the Ranged Basic Attack for the contender using the handaxe). That would lead to possible and interesting protests by the other competitors or heated discussions at the tavern after the competition about the validity of such an obviously lop-sided contest.

D&D Lite: Giving D&D the Gamma World Treatment

Posted on : 25-01-2011 | By : Brian | In : D&D, Gamma World, House Rules

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When Essentials was being marketed to us, it was marketed as a faster, easier version of D&D (for the most part). To some extent this is true; making an Essentials character is easier than in standard D&D, due primarily to the limited set of options compared to the vast array of abilities available in standard D&D. Some classes, also, are easier to run because they are simpler versions of the standard D&D versions.

That said, some people I game with thought it would be a different beast, not so similar to the D&D they already knew. Once those people started playing Gamma World with me, they told me that they thought it would be nice if Essentials had been more like Gamma World: fast, mostly random character generation, simplified rules, quick(ish) combats. It got me thinking: what if someone were to create a version of D&D based on Gamma World, using its rules where possible and adding things from D&D when necessary. This “D&D Lite” would be a quick-starting, simple, lean version of D&D, ideal for pickup games and one-shots.

Core Assumptions
Mechanically, there are some things I’m going to assume about D&D Lite. In general, the rules will follow those of Gamma World. There is a simplified set of conditions and keywords, there are no feats, character generation can be mostly random, if that is preferred, though selection of race and class are not out of the question.

Magic items will play somewhat less of a role in D&D Lite. I envision them being more similar to Omega Tech cards, acting as limited-use encounter powers more than magic items proper. As in Gamma World, one’s level will be added to just about everything, to compensate for the lack of magic item bonuses.

Alpha mutations are a key component of Gamma World, but such a mechanic does not fit into D&D Lite. Instead, class- or race-based encounter powers will be introduced as players level up.

There will be a very limited set of races and classes; these will take the place of origins in Gamma World. I’m thinking eight of each, so that a d8 can be rolled for random generation, with the player choosing whether race or class is primary. For races, I’m thinking: human, elf, dwarf, halfling, half-elf, tiefling, dragonborn, and eladrin. For classes: fighter, rogue, cleric, wizard, paladin, warlock, druid, and bard. Each origin will have one novice power, one utility power, one expert power, and a handful of journeyman powers. Journeyman powers will allow for some variation between characters of the same race or class, and will take the place of Alpha mutations. There will likely be three journeyman powers per origin, and any time a player gets access to a new journeyman power, that player will get to choose one of the remaining powers from either origin.

As in Gamma World, the level cap is at 10; however, I’m thinking that players will use the D&D experience point chart rather than the quicker Gamma World chart.

Next Up: A race origin and a class origin!

Initial Thoughts on Fortune Cards

Posted on : 23-01-2011 | By : Brian | In : D&D, Reviews

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A little while ago, there was a lot of flutter in the Twitterverse about Fortune Cards, and what kind of effect they would have on D&D. Will they unbalance combat? Will they add even more complexity to an already complex game? How are they used within the game?

For the most part, I abstained from this conversation because I had nothing meaningful to add. I do now, though. You see, last week at Encounters, I got the opportunity to use them. The store I play at, Family Fun Hobbies, is a Wizards premier store, so they sent a bunch of packs of Fortune Cards to the store for playtesting and feedback during Encounters. Each player at the store got a pack of cards, and got to use them during the encounter. These are my observations.

First off, I don’t think they introduce any significant balance issues. Most of the cards are extremely situational. One requires that you hit with an at-will or encounter power while you have combat advantage, while another only triggers when you are dropped to 0 hit points or fewer. Those that are not situational, that are more broadly applicable, usually have some sort of trade-off; a simple damage bonus usually comes at the cost of accuracy, an attack bonus at the cost of a minor action, or a full-speed shift at the cost of possibly falling prone at the end of it. Further, you can only have one of these cards at a time. The situational cards can be extremely helpful, but if you’re saving a card that triggers when you drop to 0, that means you’re not using any of your other cards, and you may not get to use the card you have at all.

As far as complexity goes, they do add some. It’s not a lot of complexity, since you can only have one, but it is an additional card to keep track of, and once you’ve leveled up a few times and have a sizable number of cards already, it would be easy for some of your abilities to get lost in the shuffle, even more so than usual. Drawing or discarding a card is also another thing you have to remember to do at the beginning or end of your turn, and (in our case) was occasionally forgotten.

My primary concern about Fortune Cards is simply that they provide yet another prescribed action for you to choose from which, in general, reduces the chance that you’ll be creative and come up with your own improvised actions. Combat tends to be a lot more fun when players are utilizing the environment, or attacking in creative ways, and Fortune Cards provide another thing that serves to distract from doing that. There’s a tendency in D&D, particularly among new players, to think that the only actions available to you are those that are laid out in front of you on your power cards, and I’m afraid that Fortune Cards might muddy the waters further.

In general, though, for a player like myself who is extremely familiar with the rules of D&D and tends to try to find interesting things to do anyway, I think Fortune Cards are fine. I’d probably shy away from using them in groups with newer players, or with players who aren’t that familiar with the rules. For that reason, it’s unlikely that I’ll be using them in my home game.

Solo Swarm: Demonic Stirges

Posted on : 22-01-2011 | By : Brian | In : D&D

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As if a swarm of regular stirges weren’t bad enough, sometimes a swarm of the beasts gorges itself on the blood of demons and their ilk. When this happens, the swarm becomes corrupted, gaining a malevolence that other stirges do not possess. Demonic stirge swarms seek out humanoid prey, and they delight in dessicating as many people as they possibly can.

Gamma World: Into the Steading

Posted on : 20-01-2011 | By : Brian | In : Gamma World, Session Reports

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In our last update, the group had found and entered a mysterious tower full of badders and porkers, reputedly the source of the defective robots plaguing the outpost of Kin.

After dealing with the yexil and the guard-badders upon entering the tower, the party hunkered down to rest for a bit. His Grace skinned the yexil, making a fur coat and hat from its pelt. The Inevitable piled a bunch of junk against the door leading deeper into the tower in an attempt to fortify their position while they rested. However, he had grown his own fur coat (a shaggy yeti pelt), and his furry hands kept getting in the way. Once the group had rested up, they removed the makeshift barricade and continued down the stairs, into the tower.

When they reached the bottom of the stairs, they saw a pair of badders crouched behind an overturned table, trying (unsuccessfully) to remain hidden. The party attacked the two badders, taking one out quickly and badly injuring the other. Two more badders–these ones armed with flails–came from around the corner, though, and quickly dropped Qro7t with their flails and psychic emanations. The Shroom activated his laser hound (a mechanical device with a faulty targeting system), which joined the fray. Man Bush crashed through a side door to outflank the badders, and found a large machine occupying the center of the room. On the other side of the machine was an iron cage containing three vacant-eyed humans, two women and a man. They seemed strangely oblivious to the battle around them.

Man Bush quickly figured out that the machine was generating harmful psychic emanations, but was also healing the badders. Once the party had taken care of the badders (and revived Qro7t), they focused on disabling the machine by hitting it with large objects. They tried to get the attention of the caged humans, but after they were unsuccessful, Sparx theorized that perhaps the machine had left them in a vegetative state. Sparx, The Inevitable, and His Grace pooled their knowledge about Stupendico Robotics (whose facility they were in) and the machine in front of them, and determined that the machine had originally been used to read peoples’ minds, but had been subverted by the badders. They got to work repairing the machine, and successfully reversed its harmful effects; hopefully, while they were exploring the rest of the facility, it would help the caged humans recover.

The party entered a natural cavern, and Qro7t sneaked forward to scout the area. Finding nothing, he ventured further, only to stumble upon the lair of a group of blood birds and gamma moths. Using psychic powers recently gained, the party managed to instill terror into one of the blood birds, and force another blood bird to attack one of the moths. Things, however, got worse.

The gamma moths’ radiation beams proved nearly lethal, dropping Qro7t (again) and The Shroom, and badly injuring Man Bush. The birds, on the other hand, proved to be virtually no threat at all. Between The Inevitable’s gunplay, His Grace’s tending to the wounded (with squirrel jerky and a sort of squirrel mash rubbed on The Shroom’s feet), and Man Bush finding a cache of ammo for his sniper rifle, the party was able to defeat the creatures and revive their wounded.

Hunkering down in the caves, the party rested before venturing down, deeper into the cavern complex.

DIY: Gamma World DM Screen

Posted on : 19-01-2011 | By : Brian | In : Downloads, Gamma World

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So you want a Gamma World DM screen, huh? So did I, when I started playing Gamma World. Initially, I downloaded this screen, printed it, and taped it to the inside of my D&D screen. An unsatisfactory solution, due to the fact that, if I were to play D&D, I’d have to remove all the Gamma World stuff, then put it back on when I switched games. So, I decided I needed a dedicated screen for Gamma World.

So, I chopped up the above screen and reconfigured the tables to my liking, arranging them in a 3-panel, landscape-style document. Then I grabbed some wallpapers from WotC’s website, and spliced them together to make some player-facing art.

After printing these things out on card stock, I mounted them to some foam board (which you can pick up in most craft stores). Initially, I attached both side panels to the center panel with packing tape, but this proved an unsatisfactory solution; you see, I couldn’t fold the second panel once the first panel was folded, which made it cumbersome to transport and store. So, I detached one of the side panels and instead attached it with Velcro, so that I could detach and reattach it at will, making it easier to store and transport. You can see the final product here:

DM-Facing Side

Player-Facing Side

If you’d like to make your own Gamma World DM screen, here’s the file that I printed and mounted to the foam board. It contains both the DM-facing side and the artwork on the reverse side.

Gamma World DM Screen (777)

Credit where credit is due: the tables come from here, the artwork comes from here. None of it is my own creation; I just re-mixed it.

Guest Post: Playing the Other Side

Posted on : 18-01-2011 | By : Brian | In : Advice, D&D, Guest Posts, Marcelo Dior

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Today we have a guest post from a new contributor, Marcelo Dior. Marcelo comes to us from Brazil; he writes on his own blog, and also speaks on some podcasts.

I’ve been adapting the adventures from the book Well of Worlds (Planescape) for 4e for a couple of months now. Last Sunday, I ran my 4e version of the fourth adventure of that book, Blood Storm. In it, the players are visiting some unimportant Prime Material town, when they are first approached by a Pit Fiend in disguise, then by a Marilith (also in disguise), each hiring them for such an absurd amount of money that some PCs might cry.

I’m cutting the description very short here, because it’s not important right now (someday I’ll publish all my suggestions for adapting Well of Worlds to 4e). The important thing is that they should accept both contracts, not realizing they’ll conflict. The Baatezu (devils) and the Tana’ri (demons) have agreed to meet at a ruined, old church just outside town. The church itself has been consecrated (or desecrated) to the devils and the graveyard, to the demons. They’re both interested in that town and the townsfolks’ souls, but neither side wants the Blood War to spill over to that plane of existence (yet) so they decided to meet and “talk” it over. But, being fiends, each party tries to have and edge at the “talks” come midnight.

By that point in the campaign, the PCs should be somewhat famous around Sigil, being level 9 (out of 20 in AD&D) and all. So the fiends detected or recognized them when they arrived in town, and each side tries to hire the PCs. The adventure is designed in such a way that the two contracts don’t seem to overlap, and eventually the PCs arrive at the old church and graveyard, realizing that they’ve, quite literally, made made a pact with the devil. And the demon.

Preparing the adventure, I realized that the possibility of the players choosing any of the sides on the battle at the climax were infinitesimally small, for half of the party is composed of good or neutrally aligned Divine characters (I’m using the old alignment system — it’s Planescape after all) so I decided to change the way the scene would unfold. Instead of having eight monsters controlled by me (four demons and four devils) that would alternate between attacking the PCs or the other fiendish group (Baatezu and Tana’ri would never join forces against anyone, let alone a bunch of mortal adventurers), I decided that if the scene unfolded as I expected, i.e. the PCs stepping back and deciding to wait and see who’d come out of the fray alive and then finishing them off, I’d give the players the control of the monsters!

Oh, I’m so bright, aren’t I? I had six players in front of me, and six monsters (the Marilith and the Pit Fiend would take their battle to the skies as they’re way too powerful to be let loose over the battlefield). I adjusted all the monsters to be of the same level (8, in this case) and gave the Tana’ri to the players at my left-hand side, and the Baatezu to the players at my right-hand side. Everyone would have so much fun playing the monsters and I’d wash my hands of deciding which side would be left standing to fight the PCs, and how damaged they’d be.

If only.

The players… didn’t enjoyed the experience. First of all, they wanted to play their characters, whose level had just increased at the end of the last adventure, and not some random monsters they’ve never seen before. Second of all, the monsters aren’t designed to be controlled in that fashion, because they usually have only one or two attacks, and way too many hit points. I was careful not only to level all the monsters but also to choose critters that had recharging powers, but that wasn’t enough. By the end of the third round, my players were vocally wishing the fight ended soon, so they could put their own PC minis on the table and start hacking at the remaining fiends.

When the session ended, I asked for feedback (as I usually do, asking what they liked the best and what they didn’t like very much). They loved the scenario (being unknowingly hired by both sides as the tip of the scale) and enjoyed the battlefield very much (I’m careful to always put interactive and dangerous terrain) but the experience playing the bad guys wasn’t so good. But they appreciated the idea, and suggested to me, given the opportunity to do it again, I should choose or make monsters that: 1. were more like PCs, with lots of attack options (Elites, maybe?); and 2. Cut away a lot of the hit points, so the quarrel wouldn’t take more than three rounds (if so much).

That’s the lesson I give you, reader. Sometimes brilliant ideas in theory are pretty stupid ones in practice. But players are always in search for original and innovative ideas their that DM is willing to throw at them.

Have a nice game!

Guest Post: Game Breakers

Posted on : 17-01-2011 | By : Brian | In : Advice, D&D, Guest Posts, The Great Seamus

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The following is a guest post from friend of the blog, The Great Seamus. After the line you’ll see the entirety of his guest post, followed by another line. After that line, I’m going to insert some of my thoughts on the topic.

I’ll open with a story from a campaign I was DMing in the last few weeks. I had taken the module from the Monster Vault and modified it to include in my campaign world.

My players were adventuring in the mountains. They had come into possession of a relic, The Staff of the Winter King, who had been awakened from his icy slumber and had draped the land in an unnatural and unforgiving winter. He was demanding the return of his staff, of course. The players had the responsibility of locating this staff and bringing it back to the king, and then finding some means to ending this winter. Learning some of the history of this individual, the party had come to the consensus that they would have to defeat him, as he was a terrible warlord who sought to dominate the earth. So the players sailed on the magical dragon ship (nearly dying in the process) and managed to crash it into the area just outside of the king’s fortress. Upon reaching the gate, they were stopped by a guardian (a modified elemental solider, ice of course), who silently demanded that they hand over the staff.

So they did.

Being a dutiful creature, the guardian glided off, returned the scepter to the king, and then brought back a half dozen of his friends to kill the interlopers. Now, this combat was originally designed for the party to either sneak past the creature, or simply fight the one brute and several summoned minion allies. But the situation, played out honestly, resulted in what was nearly a total party kill. Two characters were killed in the first three rounds of combat, and two more ran for their lives. The other two gave their lives so that the runners could survive. One of the survivors ruled her character so traumatized that she was retired, while the other went into hiding for a time. The players simply resigned themselves to rolling new characters for the next session and giving it another crack.

And this is where the problems begin. Sometimes players are a pain. As the DM, I put a lot of work into this campaign – from integrating the module into my world, to simply doing the paperwork that comes naturally to the process, and to have the players simply hit the reset button wouldn’t work for me. So what does a good DM do when his players break the campaign? In my mind, there are three options, all of which revolve around a central core – there need to be consequences. Players cannot simply hit the reset button. It throws out a lot of the hard work the DM has done, and oftentimes adds all new work – new characters to track, generating new treasures off of their wishlists, incorporating their new backgrounds, new stat cards, new minis, and getting them all together for a start. Not to mention that they all need to get on the road and get to the objective all over again. Real world consequences, however, teach players that their characters’ actions matter, even well after their characters have passed on.

I. Your life doesn’t end just because you got whupped
What villain worth his salt simply lets the dead bodies of his enemies go to waste? Raising them from the dead to torture for information is always a fun idea, though the souls of the PCs may not necessarily be willing. The next step is to raise them as undead servants, who regain their faculties (if not their lives) and must now progress as zombies or worse. The rules were made to be modded, of course, and simply adding the undead keyword and a few token resistances can adjust combat to accommodate their new unlives – though in the future it would be very difficult for them to get around in civilized society as, say, zombies.

II. Fudge the story
This is my least favorite option, because it presents less in the way of consequences and more of an inconvenience for the players – come back the next session and say that the players were not killed outright, but taken prisoner. Stripped of their weapons and armor, they were thrown into an icy prison to rot away. From there, the survivors may mount a rescue mission, while the captured PCs have to try and execute a daring escape. That way, the players keep their characters, and have a chance to salvage the adventure.

To modify this, perhaps the PCs were captured alive, though the players didn’t know it. Their characters become generals in the army of the Winter King, and help him to wreak bloody havoc across the land. The new party needs to stop the old party in order to even get a crack at the king and his staff.

III. What does this mean for the rest of the world?
he option I ultimately chose, I allowed for the players to hit the reset button – new campaign in a new part of the world (they wanted a nice, temperate jungle adventure after freezing in the north) so they picked new characters and decided on traveling south, towards the jungles.

Along with thousands of refugees.

The winter king, in his glory, is expanding his empire, and the lands he takes are swaddled in the embrace of that same terrible weather. Ice, snow, and sleet that destroys crops and makes life almost impossible have sent the residents of those now occupied lands to villages and cities in the south. Other nations and races are sealing their borders, and food is getting scarce. Bandits plague the roads driven by hunger and desperation, and many towns and villages simply deny the party entrance. As a DM, this means more wandering monsters, higher DCs to forage for food, and more difficulty performing social skills checks – especially against other races.

The most important thing a DM can be is flexible, but there is a line not to cross. You can’t let the players treat your work like a game of Final Fantasy. There are no save points, and certainly no reset button.

Having an entire campaign go down the tubes because of some choices the players made is pretty frustrating. It means a lot of extra work for you as the DM, and means that the story you were trying to tell may not get finished. And I agree that there should be consequences for the players’ actions. There’s one thing that, having read the above post, I feel is missing from that core conceit.

Actions should have consequences, but consequences should be fun
Fun may not be the best word, but it’s the most concise and perhaps the closest to what I’m trying to say. Here’s my train of thought.

D&D, and other RPGs like it, is a game, and games are designed to be fun, first and foremost, for everyone playing the game. If the players make some bad decisions that cause a TPK (or a near TPK, as the case may be), then that’s probably going to hurt the DM’s fun in the long-run because of the extra work and the wasted effort put into that story. What you have to remember, though, is that–once the initial rush of an epic combat is over–getting clobbered by the monsters isn’t all that much fun for the players, either.

Combat should have consequences. If players don’t feel any tension as a result of their characters’ lives being imperiled, that’s a problem that you have to solve. That said, if your consequences are simply meant to punish players, or to encourage them to take the safe route, then your consequences might need adjustment.

A lot of indie RPGs subscribe to a particular philosophy. The idea is that success is, largely, inherently good. Failure may not be inherently good, but it should be at least as interesting as success, and it should lead to situations that are at least as interesting and fun for the players (even if they aren’t fun for the players’ characters). I think that applying this philosophy to D&D is, in general, a good idea, especially when it comes to game-breaking events like this.

If the players have really bungled things and it looks like the bad guys are going to win, don’t think of it as a negative. Think of it as an opportunity for drama, an opportunity to tell the story in a way you hadn’t thought of before. In the above example, I particularly like the idea of bringing the PCs back as undead creatures in the service of the Winter King. Not only do the PCs get to play for the other side for a bit, but eventually you get to give them the choice of betraying their master and trying to do the right thing, even if it means their destruction as the necrotic energy that animates them is dissipated with the Winter King’s demise.

Encounter: Kobold Warren

Posted on : 13-01-2011 | By : Brian | In : D&D

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Kobold Warren
Level 2 Encounter (650 XP)

Livestock has been disappearing in a nearby town, and now children are going missing. Having tracked the disappearances to a tribe of kobolds, you enter the darkened warren, unsure of what to expect.


  1. Entrance. The players enter the cave system here. The entire cave is dark, and the kobolds do not yet know that the PCs have arrived.
  2. Pool. The water knee-high, and is difficult terrain. In addition, the splashing alerts the kobolds in the chamber beyond unless the PCs pass a group Stealth check (DC 15).
  3. Mushrooms. These mushrooms are poisonous. When a creature enters a space containing mushrooms, they explode in a close burst 1, attacking each creature in the burst (+8 vs. Fortitude; ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends) on a hit).
  4. Trapped Bridge. This bridge covers a 10-foot hole. As a standard action, a kobold standing at 4 in the chamber beyond can cause the bridge to drop anyone on it into the pit. Creatures on the pit are allowed a saving throw to avoid falling. If a creature succeeds, it falls prone on the closest non-pit square; if it fails, it falls into the pit, taking 1d10 points of falling damage and falling prone. An Athletics check (DC 10) can be used to climb back out.
  5. Stalactite Wall. These stalactites are close together, providing superior cover to the kobolds on the other side, who are small enough and experienced enough to have adapted to the closely-placed stalactites. Creatures that they target with ranged attacks to not gain cover when the wall is between them.
  6. Bolt Holes. These are small tunnels, big enough for a Small creature but too small for anyone larger. The kobolds know the layout of the twisting tunnels; because of this, a kobold in one of these squares can use a move action to move to any other bolt hole square. Another small creature can also use these bolt holes, but because other creatures do not know the layout of the tunnels, it requires two move actions to move to another bolt hole.
  7. Tactics
    If the party makes enough noise splashing through the pool, the kobolds get a surprise round because of the forewarning. The tunneler on the trapped bridge stays there, trying to lure creatures onto the bridge. It readies an action to shift off of the bridge as soon as another creature moves onto it. The tunneler by the bridge’s trap mechanism likewise readies an action to trigger the trap as soon as his comrade is clear of it. The kobolds then attack from range while the party deals with the pit.

    The kobolds behind the stalactite wall use its cover, and pepper the party with javelins as they try to move through the area. As soon as it hears the sounds of battle, the kobold in the guard drake’s room commands the drake to attack, then attacks from range. The slinger attacks from range, first using its special shot, then switching to regular shot when it is exhausted. The dragonshield waits, hiding (Perception DC 17 to spot it), until a PC comes within reach (it has readied an attack for such an occasion), or until the guard drake is defeated.

    If everyone else is killed and the dragonshield is bloodied, it and the slinger try to escape through bolt-holes toward the entrance.

Minions with Staying Power

Posted on : 12-01-2011 | By : Brian | In : Advice, D&D

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I’ve talked about minions in the past. In general, I’m a big fan of minions. I like what they do mechanically; I like that I can use them to throw hordes of mooks at the PCs and make fights that look huge and impressive, but are easy to run and won’t cause an automatic TPK.

Sometimes, though, it can be a little frustrating when a wizard’s scorching burst or a dragonborn’s dragon breath clears out all the minions in the encounter in one go; this has the general effect of lengthening the encounter by a turn or two (because the wizard used his standard action to clear out the minions, for example), without adding a lot of tactical depth to it. Sometimes I like to spice things up, and use minions that’ll stay around a little bit longer, allowing them to actually be a threat. I don’t do this all the time; it’s not a technique that you want to overuse, because it’ll get frustrating to the PCs if every minion is hard to kill. Sometimes, a minion is just a minion, and it’s meant to be knocked over by the PCs. Sometimes you want the PCs to feel like badasses, cutting through entire swaths of of mooks in one go.

For those other times, there are some tricks you can use to allow your minions to last a little bit longer.

Resist All
The most obvious way to give a minion staying power is to allow it to resist attacks to some degree. Sticking with the obvious train of thought, you can give your minion resistance to all damage. I’d suggest resist 10 all at heroic tier, then 15 or 20 at paragon, and 20 or 25 at epic.

Upside:This has the effect of making your minions more resilient to bursts and blasts in general, because bursts and blasts tend to do less damage than single-target attacks. Dragon’s breath, for example, is likely going to do, at most, 1d6+4 damage during the heroic tier (though it might creep a little higher for high Constitution characters); that’s not enough to get past the resistance. This means that you’re unlikely to see entire groups of minions cleared out by a single attack, unless it’s an encounter or daily power.

Downside: The PCs will probably have to engage a lot of the minions individually, burning an entire turn to take down a single minion. This can be particularly frustrating for strikers, who want to be maximizing their damage potential. As such, you should use this trick sparingly. You can also pair it with a load-bearing boss; give the boss a trait that gets rid of the minions’ resistance when he dies, and drop some hints that this may be the case. That way, if the players focus fire on the boss, they can take out the minions once he’s gone, and your minions will have gotten a few extra rounds to wail on the good guys.

Denial Powers
Another trick you can use is to give the minion a power or trait that triggers when it drops to 0 hit points, and keeps it a live a little longer. You could allow the minion to make a saving throw to see if it actually dies, you could give it an extra turn after it drops to 0 before it actually dies, or you can (as a DM that I’ve played with does) say that the minions only die when the damage they take is an even number.

Upside: Some of your minions are going to survive being hit multiple times, even when they take a lot of damage. They’ll likely get a few swings off before they bite it. This also has the upside of not requiring a lot of book-keeping or math; you don’t have to worry about how much damage is done, or how many hit points the minion has.

Downside: Again, you can wind up making your encounters longer than they need to be. Abilities like this can also frustrate players, as they wail on a minion again and again with no effect. The even/odd trick also presents unique problems with powers like magic missile, which do static amounts of damage. You can circumvent some of these problems with the load-bearing boss technique above, or by making these powers encounter powers for the minions (so that minion only gets one saving throw to resist being killed).

Death Effects
Rather than trying to artificially prolong the lives of your minions, you can embrace their fragility and make their most potent abilities trigger when they die. A minion that explodes in a close burst 3 when it dies, attacking everyone around it, can discourage players from attacking further minions, especially when they’re close to other minions of the same type (for fear of starting a chain reaction). You can also allow a minion to make a basic attack or charge attack against its killer as an immediate action, guaranteeing that it’ll get at least one attack in before it leaves the battlefield. Minions that heal or buff other creatures in the fight are also an effective deterrent, particularly if you make it clear what they’re doing when they die.

Upside: The PCs still get the feeling of badassery for killing tons of minions, and you ensure that your minions actually have an effect on the battle. These kinds of powers can also encourage a lot of tactical thinking in your players, forcing them to maneuver the minions around to minimize the effects of their death bursts.

Downside: More a cautionary note than a downside, don’t make your minions’ death bursts to potent. A minion that causes a burst 1 attack that does 5 damage is probably fine, but a minion that does automatic damage on death to everyone in a burst 1 might be too powerful. Remember that more than one of these minions might be dying at the same time, and that damage can add up very quickly.

Terrain and Positioning
If you don’t want to mess with a minion’s powers and traits, you can simply use the terrain to their advantage, and position them advantageously. Spread your minions out to avoid them being wiped out by a single burst attack. Put artillery minions in high places so that your ranged strikers and controllers have to engage them individually. Introducing minions in waves can also be effective, or simply delaying the arrival of the minions for a round or two. Allow the PCs to engage the regular monsters, then attack with the minions while they’re otherwise engaged.

Upside: This doesn’t require any modification of the minions themselves, and it requires virtually no book-keeping at all. It’s also the best technique to use frequently, as it’s a more organic solution.

Downside: Players are clever, and this technique doesn’t always work. You may spend a lot of time positioning your minions in the perfect spots, only to have your players spring a surprise tactic on you that kills them all in one go.

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