The Crimson Blades is a roleplaying mini-adventure that can be played entirely with D&D Miniatures from the Aberrations set. It's intended for four 5th-level player characters in an ongoing D&D campaign but could also be played as a stand-alone fight with either the full D&D rules or the streamlined, tabletop skirmish combat rules.
This scenario uses the following miniatures:
- Emerald Claw Soldier (x3)
- Gnoll (x3)
- Iron Cobra (x2)
- Kobold Champion (x2)
- Fiendish Dire Weasel (x2)
- Bladebearer Hobgoblin
- Kobold Sorcerer
- Half-Elf Hexblade
This mini-adventure is based on the "Ambush Dungeon"map from the Map-A-Week 2003 Archive. Download the keyed version of it here (600 kb zip). (The download is not a miniatures-scale map; it only shows the layout of the dungeon and keyed rooms. We recommend using your D&D Miniatures battle grid with small stones, coins, or dice to indicate wall corners. Alternatively, if you have a laminated battle grid or an erasable battle mat, you can draw the dungeon on that grid as the characters explore it.)
All NPCs and monsters are exactly as noted on the "D&D Quick Reference" side of their statistic cards unless otherwise noted (or you're playing with the skirmish rules, of course). None of the figures used here are rare, but feel free to substitute similar miniatures you have for any you lack.
Except where noted, monsters have no treasure, and NPCs carry only their gear. All creatures fight to the death.
The Half-Elf Hexblade leads this band of mercenaries. They hire themselves out to other evil factions that need more muscle. The group, which calls itself The Crimson Blades, also accepts commissions for particular jobs such as extortion, assassination, and kidnapping. The current situation is the result of one such kidnapping.
The band was hired by a campaign villain or organization of your choice to kidnap an important campaign NPC. This person could be a member of the royal family, a wealthy and influential merchant, or a wise sage who has uncovered crucial, hidden meaning in a prophecy regarding the re-emergence of a hideous and ancient evil. The kidnapped victim need not be personally known to the PCs, but the heroes will be more motivated to get involved if the victim is an acquaintance or friend. Alternatively, the villain truly behind the kidnapping could be a personal foe of the heroes who is using the Crimson Blades to strike at the PCs through a valued NPC. The real mastermind's identity shouldn't be immediately apparent.
Whatever the setup, the Crimson Blades kidnapped their target and returned to the band's lair in what was once a dwarven outpost (perhaps it conceals the entrance to a lost dwarven empire that any dwarf PC would be excited to uncover).
On its face, this is a simple rescue mission; the heroes must bring the kidnapped NPC back home, alive, to receive a reasonable reward (determined by the DM and in keeping with the theme and power level of the campaign). Note that the honor and prestige awarded the heroes for rescuing a famous or beloved person could outweigh any monetary or magical reward.
Choose any appropriate figure to represent the kidnapping victim.
The heroes are involved for any of the following reasons:
1) They are well known as heroes in the region where the kidnapping takes place;
2) They have previously worked with or for the family, faction, or organization the victim is linked to, or;
3) The victim is a friend or family member of one or more of the PCs, and they are determined to rescue their loved one and punish those responsible.
The PCs enter the complex via the eastern tunnel in the intersection at the upper right corner of the map (marked with an arrow). The DM may determine that the north tunnel leads to another exit or another underground complex if that suits the needs of the campaign, or it can simply be an unfinished dead-end.
When characters first approach this entry intersection, roll 1d6 for an encounter as explained below.
All the stonework is well done but ancient. The dwarves who created this complex intended it as a military outpost, not as a luxurious abode, so the stonework is of good quality but plain.
Guard Patrols: This dungeon is unusual in that it contains no doors. The Hexblade is paranoid and fears conspiracies against him, so he's had all the doors removed. (Some of the residents, the kobolds for example, have hung pieces of old tarps, tapestries, or the clothes of slain intruders across the doors to their quarters to gain some degree of privacy.)
While the absence of lockable doors may seem a boon to attackers, the Hexblade hasn't left the complex with no security system. Guard patrols walk a circuit of the hallways and monitor the movement of all beings within the complex. Any time the party approaches within 15 feet of any intersection, they have a 1-in-6 chance (roll 1 on 1d6) to meet a guard patrol that is approaching along a cross corridor toward the same junction.
If an encounter occurs, the guard patrol notices the PCs automatically unless the heroes conceal themselves (no visible light source, they are invisible and silenced, etc.). The party notices the guards, too; each patrol typically has one member carrying a torch. If the party is trying to move stealthily, roll a Spot or Listen check for the guards (as appropriate) against the party's worst Move Silently result.
If the patrol is not caught unaware by the party, one guard flees (if possible) to get help from another patrol. Up to three patrols are on duty when the PCs enter, each composed of either three Emerald Claw soldiers or three Gnolls. Once three patrols have been dealt with, no more d6 rolls need to be made at the four-way intersections (unless the DM decides otherwise, as usual).
1. Triple Chamber
This large room once served as barracks for the dwarven soldiers garrisoned here. Its purpose remains the same, though the inhabitants have changed for the worse. The easternmost portion of the chamber is a common room and makeshift cafeteria for the complex's residents. Several large tables and numerous wobbly chairs fill the room. This portion of the chamber is unoccupied (unless the DM adds some vermin feeding on the scraps of food left lying about).
The small central section serves as quarters for the Gnolls. Because they are outnumbered by the other guards (the Emerald Claw soldiers), the Gnolls must content themselves with this smaller space. Other than the Gnolls' cots and meager personal belongings, this space is empty.
The western portion of the room belongs to the soldiers of the Emerald Claw. This room also contains several cots, a few footlockers, and other nondescript items. Three off-duty soldiers play a game of knuckle-dice in the northeast corner; they are armed and armored but not expecting trouble. Roll the PCs' Move Silently roll against the soldiers' Listen result of 11.
This room, south of the triple chamber, is the complex's kitchen. The Emerald Claw soldiers typically do the cooking (they refuse to let the Gnolls even enter the room most of the time), but no one is present now. A large dwarven oven and two fireplaces along the south wall (all of which are vented to the surface via 6-inch-wide chimneys) are more than adequate to provide for the complex's current needs. Much of the rest of the room contains fresh or preserved foods on shelves or hanging from hooks on the walls.
To the east of the kitchen lies a small chamber containing the complex's water source: a deep well dug by the dwarves who built this place. Because this chamber is cooler than the kitchen, some food, such as cheese, is also stored here. The room is unoccupied.
4. Practice Room
The Hexblade demands that members of the group practice their swordplay regularly. As a result, the main portion of this two-part chamber has several crude, straw-filled dummies for practicing bladework, a few targets for ranged weapon practice, and many wooden weapons so that live sparring doesn't result in dead opponents. The smaller portion of the room has straw mats covering the floor, apparently to accommodate wrestling practice.
One Bladebearer Hobgoblin practices in the main chamber now. He is fully armed and armored and working out at one of the dummies. If the PCs try sneaking up on him, his Listen skill result is 13.
5. Sorcerer's Quarters
The Kobold Sorcerer is the band's only true spellcaster. The smaller antechamber is his office and study; the larger chamber is his private residence. The office area houses a crude desk and a meager collection of books that the sorcerer looted during the group's missions. The sorcerer doesn't need to study magic from tomes the way a wizard does, but he likes to imagine himself as an intellectual. His quarters include a bed, a footlocker containing personal belongings, and an old tapestry that the sorcerer uses as a rug. He currently sits on his bed, playing with his pet rat. The rat is not a familiar, though the PCs cannot know that when they enter. The kobold's Listen roll is 15 to hear the PCs' approach. He has all his spells available.
6. Hobgoblin Quarters
This chamber serves as the home for the hobgoblin members of the band. The contents are typical for such a room. When the PCs enter, one Bladebearer Hobgoblin sits on the end of his cot facing the doorway, trying to crack what looks like the leg bone of a cow to get at the marrow.
7. Triple Chamber #2
These interconnected rooms comprise the lair of the Hexblade leader of this mercenary band. The northernmost section is an assembly area where the Hexblade holds meetings. A large table and enough benches to allow every member of the band to sit fill this chamber. Two Iron Cobras reside beneath the table and attack anyone who enters the room not accompanied by the Hexblade. In combat, the Hexblade can also direct them to fight.
The central portion of this chamber is the Hexblade's sleeping quarters. For a leader, the room is quite sparse. Only the barest furnishings are present. The leader's paranoia dictates that he keep his valuables elsewhere. There is much speculation amid the band's members over the location of the Hexblade's hidden cache.
The southernmost part of the chamber serves as the band's fallback position. If intruders cannot be stopped by the patrols, the Hexblade's instructions are to gather here for a last stand. Stored in this chamber are caches of food, water, ammunition for ranged weapons, and enough furniture and other belongings left behind by the dwarves to barricade both entrances and provide cover for those inside. In addition, two more Iron Cobras reside in this room at all times.
If the Bladebearer Hobgoblin or the Kobold Champions in the rooms leading into this portion of the Hexblade's chambers are still alive when the Hexblade is attacked, roll 1d6 twice, once for each connected chamber. On a result of 1-3, that room's inhabitants follow the Hexblade's standing order and move toward the fallback room. On 4-6, any inhabitants disregard that order and instead head toward the prisoner's cell to prevent the captive's release.
If the Hexblade is attacked in his quarters, he assumes the Iron Cobras in the chamber the PCs came from have been destroyed (unless he has evidence to the contrary), so he executes a fighting withdrawal to the chamber where he believes the other Iron Cobras still exist. He loudly calls for aid as well.
8. Champions' Quarters
This chamber, to the east of the band's fallback room, serves as quarters for two Kobold Champions. Both are present and alert when the PCs enter unless they've previously moved to the fallback chamber or to the prisoner's cell.
9. Guard Room
The mercenaries converted this chamber to a guard post. Two Fiendish Dire Weasels (pets of the Kobold Champions quartered down the hall) are chained here at all times. They can't leave the chamber but can reach any square in it. Further, if the hobgoblin or the kobolds from chambers #6 and #8 choose to secure the prisoner rather than go to the fallback chamber, this is where they come. The weasels only attack intruders. The mercenaries will not kill the captive, because a dead kidnapping victim won't bring any ransom.
South of chamber #9 is the room where the kidnapping victim lies, bound, gagged, and tied to a flimsy cot. The victim is scared and bruised but otherwise in good condition.
The chamber in the southeastern corner of the complex is the garbage dump for the mercenaries. Its stench is strong but not overwhelming. Nothing of interest to the PCs lies within.
Concluding the Adventure
Assuming the PCs are successful, not only are they lauded for rescuing the victim, but they have also destroyed a dangerous band of swords for hire. If any members of the band were taken prisoner by the PCs, they tell all they know about the plot. Only the Hexblade and the Kobold Sorcerer, however, know who hired the band to perform the kidnapping.
The Hexblade will reveal nothing under any circumstances. By the time he's captured, his paranoia is so great that he trusts no one and assumes that the same people that hired him also sent the PCs as part of a complex double-cross plot. Despite this belief, he refuses to sell out his patron, just in case this was arranged as a test of his loyalty to that very patron.
If the heroes fail to rescue the captive but live to tell the tale, they have made an enemy of the Crimson Blades, especially the paranoid Hexblade. He could take it into his head that the heroes are the greatest threat his band ever faced and that they must be eliminated at all costs.
For a 5th-level party of heroes, cleaning out the complex earns 11,750 XP to be divided among the members of the party. Each patrol of ambushers that was overcome is worth another 750 XP.
About the Author
Dale Donovan is a 15-year veteran of the gaming industry, during which time he edited Dragon Magazine, wrote or edited on every RPG line produced by the company, be it TSR or Wizards), moved from rural Wisconsin to suburban Seattle and back to Wisconsin. He's worked for Steve Jackson Games, Guardians of Order, White Wolf/Sword & Sorcery, the Valar Project, and Green Ronin, among others. He loves games, books, comics, movies, and his wonderful wife and lovely daughter.