Underdark is pretty much out, so instead of running a final preview for that set, we're going to take a look at the three skirmish-legal battlemaps from the Hellspike Prison set by Matt Sernett. We'll touch on some of the distinctive features of each map as they affect skirmish play.
Lethal Triangle: Most of our battlemaps follow our original setup pattern, starting players at diagonally opposite corners. Mushroom Cavern tries something different by placing both start areas on one long edge of the battlemap. Big chunks of stone wall prevent the warbands from seeing each other at the start of the battle. To get at the enemy, both warbands flow around the stone obstacles toward the center of the map. An additional tweak is that neither warband routs toward its starting area. Instead, the exits are on opposite short edges of the battlemap, adding extra incentive for taking the fight to the enemy's side of the cavern.
Pull You, Pull You, Spike You: Eleven squares of Spike Stones near the center of the map channel Player A's non-fliers toward the space between the two main blocking walls. It's no coincidence that both Player A and Player B have victory areas in the "valley of death" between the walls. Player A's non-fliers can end run around the death channel and the spike stones by going a minimum of twelve squares out of their way --probably not a likely move unless Player B is moving toward the victory area in the lower right corner.
Skulls & Mushrooms: There's a new terrain type on this map -- Risky Terrain. Each square of Risky Terrain is marked by a skull. Risky Terrain counts as Difficult Terrain. In addition, any creature that starts its activation on a Risky Terrain square has to roll a d20. On 6-20, the creature has no problem and takes its turn normally. On 1-5, the risk doesn't pay off, and the creature takes 10 damage.
Why take the risk? The Mushroom Cavern map provides a fairly obvious incentive. One of Player B's victory areas is mostly covered with Risky Terrain, and a 25% chance of taking damage could be a lot safer than going toe-to-toe with the enemy in the "valley of death."
Got Wings?: The lava that covers a number of the shortcuts into or around the stone walls of the keep is impassable for non-flyers. Creatures with Flight, however, can zip right over the lava, provided they don't stop. It's a whole new world of empowerment for creatures with Flight, who will be able to dictate the timing of engagement as never before.
Left, Right, or Straight Up the Gut: Magma Keep's start areas are on directly opposite sides of a wide chunk of stone. Player B can choose to send his force straight up the middle of the central keep or advance along the ledges to the right or left. The other player, Player A, must go right or left before having the option to cut into the middle. Given that each side has a victory area along one of the edges, it's possible that either side could attempt to barricade itself along an edge.
While I'm mentioning the victory areas along the edges of the board, I should mention that the orange crystals in those areas don't have any game effects (until you and your friends decide to do something fun with them, naturally).
Setup Options: One cool thing about the Hellspike map is that both players have the option to start up to four squares of creatures split away from the rest of their forces. If you're playing a warband with only four creatures, you could start your whole warband in your smaller starting area.
The Hellspike: I don't see it mentioned anywhere in the book, so I'll take this opportunity to mention that the square containing the Hellspike, in the Sacred Circle that's a victory area for Player B, is considered an impassable stone wall for purposes of D&D Miniatures.
Epic Battles: Unlike the other two maps, Hellspike is designed to be played with Huge creatures. It bears the Epic bug, so it can be used in official Organized Play 500-point games (when the new rulebook gets published with Set 9 and OP moves to using maps instead of tiles).
Smoke with Impact: Making elegant and fun maps for Huge creatures is a little tougher than making maps for normal creatures. One of Hellspike's tricks is to cut off line-of-sight but not movement with Smoke terrain that slices across the map. How big a deal will Smoke be? I expect it'll get its own strategy article.
That's all for this round of previews, but tune in soon for an in-depth map strategy article from one of our champions.
About the Author
Rob Heinsoo is the lead designer of D&D Miniatures. He's also the designer of Three-Dragon Ante, the card game played by D&D characters in taverns everywhere. WotC will publish Three-Dragon Ante in November as a noncollectible, 72-card deck.