D&D Miniatures
Assaulting Magma Keep
Making the Most of Hellspike Prison
By Jason Lioi

Last week, Rob Heinsoo gave us a brief preview of each of the maps from Fantastic Locations: Hellspike Prison. This week, we examine one of those maps in more detail: Magma Keep.

Racing to the Victory Areas

When making a strategic evaluation of a new map, perhaps no factor is more important to consider than the location of the Victory Areas. Experienced players know that scoring Assault points, and denying them to your opponent, can often be the key to victory in a close game. Further, in many games, the location of the Victory Areas has a big effect on where the bulk of the fighting takes place.

Magma Keep's Victory Areas are placed such that scoring Assault points on round one requires a speed 10 creature for the player starting on side A, but only a speed 8 creature for the player starting on side B. This is a significant advantage for player B, because while there are many solid creatures to choose from with speed 8 or 9, relatively few efficient creatures exist with speed 10 or higher. Player B should nearly always be able to achieve first-round Assault points, whereas it will be more challenging for player A to do so.

Magma Keep

Bottled Up Inside

Scoring Assault points on the first round is helpful, but it's often even more beneficial to dictate to your opponent where she can move. This means blocking important corridors and intersections and using your creatures to remove many of the enemy's movement options. The inside of Magma Keep has several tight passageways that are perfect for such tactics, but one spot in particular stands out. Near the center of the map, where the east-west passage through the keep joins the room leading to B's northern Victory Area, a creature can be positioned to prevent Medium enemies from getting through without an Attack of Opportunity and Large creatures from moving through at all. This is a strategically important area, and holding it greatly restricts your opponent's tactical movement.

Here again, Magma Keep gives the advantage to player B, who can reach this area more quickly than player A. A speed 8 creature can bottle up this intersection from player B's Start Area on round one, even if it is Large, because there are no corners in the way to slow it down. Player A, however, needs a medium unit with Flight 8 or better to reach the same spot in the first round.

Creating choke points in this way does not block all movement, of course. Abilities such as Fly, Incorporeal, and Burrow allow the enemy to pass right through your blocking creatures. Such abilities are useful on any map, but they are particularly valuable in the cramped passages of Magma Keep. When building a warband for use on this map, give units with these abilities slightly higher priority than usual.

Routing and Rallying

Whether playing on side A or side B of Magma Keep, be aware of how far your creatures are from the exit squares. A failed morale check is always bad, but it's worse if the creature immediately runs off the board without getting an opportunity to rally.

Half-Ogre BarbarianGithzerai Monk (reversed)At first glance, it may seem that player A's creatures are better off than player B's creatures when routing, because when player A's creatures rout from within the Keep, they must run all the way around the blocking wall to the outside in order to reach the exit. That same wall blocks line of sight, however, so while it probably will prevent figures from routing off the board on the turn their morale breaks, it is entirely likely that they will rout to a position where they are no longer in command. This presents player A with an unpleasant choice -- move a commander out of position to gain a chance to rally the routing creature, or allow it to run off the board on its next activation without getting a rally save, or devote a back-up commander just to watching this path. Player B's routing creatures, having a nice central corridor to run down, will end their first routing movement closer to the exit, but should usually end up in command.

Underdark and Magma Keep

The upcoming 2005 Sealed Championship will be played on Magma Keep, using units from the Underdark set. Whether you're planning on attending or just cracking open Underdark boosters at home, here are some units that should excel on Magma Keep. Good luck to all the competitors!

Lawful Good
Githzerai Monk
With speed 10, he can get anywhere on the map quickly. With 25 AC, he doesn't mind taking some AoOs along the way.
Medium Silver Dragon
Flight 7 means this scaly champion of Good can ignore enemy blockers and lava pits alike. Land it wherever its breath weapons can do the most damage.

Chaotic Good
Rikka, Angelic Avenger
As a flying unit that packs a punch, Rikka will never leave your opponent's thoughts. Be cautious not to overexpose her by using Waylay before she has support nearby.
Half-Ogre Barbarian
A fast, large-sized ground-pounder with good attack bonus and high damage. Use him to block critical intersections. Your opponent will hesitate to take AoOs to go around.

Lawful Evil
Helmed Horror
While not as fast as other units on this list, his Flight ability and great durability more than compensates.
Dark Naga
Lighting bolts will be very useful in the long, straight corridors of Magma Keep. Speed 8 lets it get the spells off where you need them.

Chaotic Evil
Winter Wolf
Tied for fastest unit in the set, this icy beast packs a decent breath weapon for his cost as well.
Mounted Drow Patrol
Rare indeed will be the turn in which this unit's Wall Walker ability cannot be used. Make hit-and-run attacks using Mounted Melee Attack because the Patrol can't withstand a toe-to-toe slugfest.

About the Author

Los Angeles resident Jason Lioi has enjoyed playing D&D for over twenty years and has recently branched out into d20 Apocalypse and Axis & Allies Miniatures. After winning the 2005 D&D Miniatures Constructed Championship, Jason was invited to design his own mini, which will be released in an upcoming set. Jason writes for Wizards of the Coast on a freelance basis.

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