Having examined Magma Keep and Mushroom Cavern in the past two weeks, we now take a look at the last tournament-legal map from Hellspike Prison: Hellspike itself.
Where There's Fire, There's Smoke
Hellspike is bisected along the short axis by a narrow band of smoke. This new type of "terrain" blocks line of sight but does not block line of effect or movement. The majority of creatures will not be able to use ranged attacks or spells to target creatures on the opposite side of the smoke. Because the smoke runs nearly the entire width of the map, ranged units will have a difficult time finding targets on Hellspike.
There is, however, an exception to this: creatures with the blindsight ability ignore smoke entirely. Looking down the list of creatures currently available with both blindsight and a potent ranged ability, two in particular stand out as possible candidates for use on Hellspike: Lord Soth (LE, 98 pts., Giants of Legend) and the Archmage (CG, 98 pts., Angelfire).
If used as one of the first two activations of the game, Lord Soth's Abyssal Blast can possibly catch the entire opposing warband still sitting on their start area. The effect of this can be ruinous to an opponent. But to have the maximum chance to pull off such a stunt, Lord Soth must be pushed with a Beholder's telekinesis eye ray prior to firing off the Abyssal Blast. While usually a strong choice, the Beholder is less than optimal on Hellspike because it does not have blindsight to allow targeting through the smoky squares. Whether this disadvantage can be fully offset by a devastating early Abyssal Blast depends on the composition of the opposing band. If an opposing band is largely fire-immune or has saves high enough to pass the majority of its saves against the Blast, the gambit is unlikely to pay off.
The Archmage is similarly able to target enemies through smoke squares, and so can be a strong choice for use on Hellspike. In addition, as a fast flying unit, the Archmage is not affected by difficult terrain and can fire off spells from a position two or three squares deep in the field of difficult terrain at the bottom of the map. Enemy ground units will be slowed as they move to engage -- and when the Archmage moves away, they will be slowed again on the way out.
Start Areas and Victory Areas
Hellspike offers multiple start areas to both players. In addition to their main start area, each player has a small, two-by-two square start area on the opposite side of the map. For player A, this smaller start area is a mere eight squares away from the nearest victory area. Any unit grabbing first-round assault points in player A's top victory area is likely to come under immediate attack because side B's main start area is in close proximity. If player A goes for first-round assault points in the lower victory area instead, it will require a speed 9 unit to achieve.
Player B's small alternate start area, located in the extreme bottom left corner of the map, is B's best bet for first-round assault points. It still requires a speed 10 unit, or speed 9 with flight, to make it to the spike stones victory area on round one. In general, side A should have an easier time scoring first-round assault points.
Command and Rallying
Hellspike presents some interesting challenges to players when it comes to keeping units under command for morale saves. Because the smoke blocks line of sight across the center of the board, it will be tough for bands with a single commander to simultaneously command troops on both sides of the smoke. Remember, however, that all your units within six squares of your commander are considered under command, regardless of whether they have line of sight to the commander. Therefore, by standing near the edge of the smoke, you can lend your command effect to units on the opposite side while still keeping your exit squares within line of sight. This way, your fighting units can gain the benefits of your command rating both for their initial morale saves and any subsequent rally attempts.
If you are playing on side B of Hellspike, be very cautious about moving toward the bottom left area of the map. When doing so, you are actually closer to your exit squares than you are at your main starting area, and therefore only very slow units will have a chance to rally should they fail a morale check. If possible, it is better in most cases to advance along the top of the map toward the sacred circle victory area. This gains you more breathing space to rally routing creatures.
Player A can go in either direction around the central pillar and remain roughly equidistant from her exit squares. This makes it a good strategy for player A to try to force a battle on the side nearer to B's exit squares. This might be accomplished by cutting off the top route with a large creature, blocking enemy creatures from moving through without taking an AoO. A large creature can fit on A's upper start area and arrive in this choke point early in round one. However, this means giving up the easy assault points that a unit can grab from A's top start area.
Epic Battles Ahead!
Hellspike is an Epic-legal map, as indicated by the blue insignia near the top of the map. Huge and Epic minis will be right at home on Hellspike. Among current units of these types, two stand out as having some unique benefits on this map: the Nightwalker (CE, 393 pts., Giants of Legend) and the Epic version of Rikka, Angelic Avenger (CG, 143 pts., Underdark).
The Nightwalker has blindsight to see through Hellspike's smoky patches and possesses the speed to catch an opposing band in a first-round Unholy Blight. This can be punishing to the weaker support units in a good-aligned warband. The Nightwalker has performed poorly against ranged units with autodamage, such as the Gauth, because such units bypass the Nightwalker's extremely high AC. On Hellspike, most such units are hampered because they can't target through the smoke, so the Nightwalker should have a slightly easier time.
Epic Rikka can choose from four different victory areas on which to use her Waylay ability. This, combined with her speed of flight 8, lets her move to almost anywhere on the map immediately after using Waylay. Weak commanders and spellcasters will find it nearly impossible to hide from her avenging blade on Hellspike.
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.