Following up on last week's strategic overview of Magma Keep, this week we take a closer look at another of Hellspike Prison's fantastic maps: Mushroom Cavern.
Burrowing to Victory
Scattered about Mushroom Cavern are several long, straight walls that divide the map into distinct rooms. A central room, created by the long walls that border each side's starting area, contains a victory area for each side. These victory areas are a mere two squares apart and are close enough to the starting areas of both sides that they are likely to be hotly contested in most games.
The player starting on side B can achieve first-round assault points in this area with a speed 4 creature -- if that creature has Burrow. By burrowing under the wall adjacent to side B's start area, a speed 4 creature can double-move to almost any of the squares in B's central victory area. If no creature with Burrow is available, side B will need a creature with either speed 7 or a medium creature with Flight 6 to reach the victory area on round one.
Player A is not so lucky. Going under the blocking wall between side A's start area and the central victory area in one turn would require a speed 5 creature with Burrow. Currently, no such creature exists. Therefore, player A must circumvent the wall, which requires either a creature with either speed 9 or Flight 8.
Heading toward the other victory areas, located along the bottom of the map, is a significantly longer route for both players. Speed 12 is needed to reach any of these areas on the first round, and in the case of player A, this creature must have Flight as well.
Seizing the Initiative
It is common practice among top players to pass the turn if they win initiative on round one. If you and your opponent have the same number of activations, then forcing him to go first lets you move your most important pieces after seeing how your opponent positioned his entire warband. When playing on Mushroom Cavern, however, this advantage will often be outweighed by the tactical benefits of occupying the central room before your opponent gets there.
Using the first two activations of the game to move a pair of creatures entirely through the central area can put your opponent in a difficult position early on. This is especially true if you started on side B. By denying your opponent entry to the central room, he may be forced to engage you from spaces where his units are within a double-move of the exit, making each morale check an all-or-nothing affair.
This maneuver is most effective when all of the following are true:
- The units you are blocking with are fairly sturdy (possessing some combination of high hit points, high AC, DR, and Conceal);
- Your opponent lacks burrowing, incorporeal, or flying creatures that can bypass and flank your blockers;
- Your opponent's heavy hitters have high enough speed that they will rout off the board should they fail morale while engaged with your blockers.
Should your opponent decline to attack your forward blockers, he faces the prospect of a long march around the cavern, possibly through spike stones or risky terrain. In the meantime, you should be collecting assault points from your captured victory area.
The Race Goes Not Always to the Swift
On many maps, slower units are at a distinct disadvantage because they cannot force the enemy to engage them on favorable terms. On Mushroom Cavern, however, it is possible for a well-crafted slower warband to succeed. This is because the central victory areas are close to the starting areas and also because several of the Underdark units possess special abilities that offset their slow speed while dovetailing nicely with the terrain features of Mushroom Cavern.
The warband listed below is composed of units that can exploit the landscape of Mushroom Cavern. It contains no units with speed above 6, but it should perform well against faster bands if piloted carefully. Warband builders on a budget will also be pleased to find it contains no rares and no units from sets prior to Aberrations.
Slow and Steady (Lawful Good, 200 points)
Cleric of Dol Arrah (Angelfire, Unc, 45 pts)
Mercenary Sergeant (Underdark, Com, 23 pts)
Loyal Earth Elemental (Underdark, Unc, 34 pts)
Justice Archon (Angelfire, Unc, 32 pts)
Xorn (Underdark, Unc, 24 pts)
Dwarf Wizard (Angelfire, Unc, 21 pts)
Gold Dwarf Soldier (Underdark, Com, 17 pts)
Hill Dwarf Warrior (Aberrations, Com, 4 pts)
This warband includes two units with the Burrow ability and one unit with Flight, both of which will help you overcome early blocking attempts on the part of your opponent, should he win first-round initiative. The Cleric of Dol Arrah's high commander rating gives a hefty bonus on initiative rolls, including terrain initiative. With luck, this will let you choose side B of Mushroom Cavern and immediately burrow a creature into scoring position. Both commanders can contribute to the battle with spells and command effects while staying safely behind a wall of tough fighting units.
When playing this band, remember that your burrowing and flying units are immune to the spike stones of Mushroom Cavern but not the risky terrain. Lure your opponent through the former if the opportunity presents itself, but try to avoid ending your turn on the latter.
Next week, we'll look at the final tournament-legal map from Hellspike Prison: Hellspike itself.
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.