In the continuing spirit of helping out time-pressed Dungeon Masters with a brand-new book in their hands, this month's Use This Book Tonight column peruses Heroes of Battle. This tome, the first in Wizards of the Coast's genre series, explores what it means to add a theme of warfare to your campaign, both from a mechanical and roleplaying perspective. If you've ever wanted to drop your player characters into scenes of battlefield glory, this is the book for you. From military hierarchies to battlefield terrain, from pregenerated enemy units to new skill uses in warfare, Heroes of Battle covers the gamut of issues likely to arise in a warfare-based story arc or campaign.
But PCs needn't be soldiers to get something out of this book. Not only are the feats, prestige classes, magic items, and spells useful in a traditional D&D game, but this book also presents some new options for team-oriented PCs of any background. After all, you don't have to be saving a friendly soldier pinned behind enemy lines or defending Helm's Deep to know the value of teamwork. For your party leader, picking up a commander aura is a great way to support the rest of the characters. Teamwork benefits help everyone in a group to better accomplish crucial tasks, from infiltrating enemy encampments to dodging friendly fireballs.
The encounter presented in this column works regardless of whether your PCs are actively involved in military activities. Sometimes you don't need to be a soldier for the war to find you.
What You Need to Read
Here's what you absolutely, positively have to read before running this encounter:
The Encounter (EL 9)
Without realizing it, the player characters have become the target of a local duke or warlord. According to intelligence gathered by this individual, the PCs are working as agents for his enemy (another nearby ruler or rival to power). It's up to you whether this is true; perhaps one of the PCs' mentors or employers is (or has ties to) this enemy, or maybe the intelligence is just flat-out wrong. It's even possible that someone the characters wronged in a previous adventure has set them up. Regardless, the characters are now marked as targets, and their new enemy has called in some favors to put a professional on their trail.
Gregor Antus is one of the sample dread commandos detailed in Chapter 5. For the purpose of this encounter, Gregor is a vicious, bloodthirsty commander of troops and currently leads a team of six well-trained 3rd-level human warriors (see stat block below). The DM should change his alignment to neutral evil to reflect this. This is a challenging encounter for a four-person group of 6th- to 8th-level PCs, and even 9th- or 10th-level characters may have a tough time dealing with Gregor's Garrison. Consider increasing experience point rewards by 10% or so for this team due to their extra abilities.
For lower-level groups, you can reduce the hit points of the NPCs to reflect the fact that they've already fought a battle or two before encountering the PCs. Drop Gregor's hit points to 40, the warriors' hit points to 10, and eliminate all potions of cure wounds carried by the NPCs. You should also reduce XP rewards for these foes by 20%, which lowers the EL to about 7. Be aware that while this makes Gregor and his troops more vulnerable to defeat, it doesn't make them any less capable of dealing damage to the PCs; a single full attack by Gregor against a flanked PC could easily drop that character.
Luckily (?) for the PCs, Gregor is not out to kill them. His employer wants to learn more about the characters' activities and intentions, and so Gregor seeks to capture one or more of them alive for questioning. Thus, he arms himself with a masterwork sap (add to his possessions) to use in combat. (Add the following to Gregor's statistics: Atk +9 melee [masterwork sap, 1d6+1 nonlethal]; Full Atk +9/+4 melee [masterwork sap, 1d6+1 nonlethal].) The rest of his garrison attacks normally, relying on Gregor to deal sufficient nonlethal damage to render at least one foe unconscious but alive.
The encounter can take place just about anywhere, though whatever location is chosen should allow plenty of hiding places (such as shadowy alleyways or underbrush) to maximize the ambush potential of the NPCs. Gregor's employer has informed him of the PCs' general suite of abilities, though newly gained talents (such as a new feat or spell known) may be unknown to the dread commando and his team.
This group has spent long hours practicing tactics and techniques, making them a well-honed unit. Even if spotted from their positions of hiding, the garrison still has a good chance of beating some or all of the PCs on their initiative checks; thanks to Gregor's team initiative bonus (a dread commando class feature), he and his allies gain a +2 bonus on this roll (included in the statistics). The garrison begins the assault with a spread of ranged attacks, preferably from hiding, against as many foes as possible (to wound as many as they can before closing to melee). This allows them to take advantage of Gregor's Bloodthirsty Commander aura, which allows allies within 30 feet of him to deal +1d6 points of damage to a wounded foe. Remember that any successful attack Gregor makes against a flat-footed foe adds not only his own +4d6 points of sneak attack damage but also his +1d6 points of sudden strike damage (which functions similarly to sneak attack but applies only against flat-footed opponents, not flanked enemies); he doesn't benefit from his own commander aura.
Once the fight has begun, the warriors close to melee and concentrate their attacks on wounded enemies. The entire group (including Gregor) shares the Superior Flank teamwork benefit. When two members of the team flank the same enemy, all members of the team can make melee attacks against that enemy as if they also flanked the enemy. Not only does this increase more NPCs' chance of hitting, it often means that Gregor can deliver a deadly (and surprising) sneak attack against a target that he wouldn't otherwise be flanking. For his part, Gregor tries to deal at least some amount of nonlethal damage to two or more PCs (increasing the chances of taking a living prisoner).
The warriors fight to the death or until Gregor flees or is defeated (at which point they scatter). If captured and questioned, the warriors have no useful information regarding Gregor's employer -- Gregor never told them who was footing the bill -- though they can confirm (under duress) that their unit was hired to capture one or more of the PCs "because somebody doesn't like who you're working for."
Gregor, on the other hand, doesn't believe he's being paid enough to throw his life away. If reduced to 10 or fewer hit points, Gregor suggests a truce, offering the knowledge of his employer's identity in exchange for his life (and the lives of his garrison). If accepted, he orders his warriors to lay down their swords; otherwise he endeavors to escape at any cost. He's true to his word -- he is far more willing to save his own life than protect the one who hired him.
Gregor's Garrison: Male human warrior 3; CR 2; Medium humanoid (human); HD 3d8; hp 13; Init +3; Spd 30 ft.; AC 17, touch 13, flat-footed 14; Base Atk +3; Grp +4; Atk or Full Atk +6 melee (2d6+1/19-20, masterwork greatsword) or +7 ranged (1d10/19-20, masterwork heavy crossbow); AL N; SV Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +1; Str 13, Dex 16, Con 11, Int 8, Wis 10, Cha 9.
Skills and Feats: Hide +8, Move Silently +5; Stealthy, Weapon Focus (greatsword).
Possessions: Mithral chain shirt, masterwork greatsword, masterwork heavy crossbow, 10 bolts, potion of cat's grace (consumed; included in statistics), potion of cure moderate wounds, 20 gp.
In the likely event that the PCs learn the identity of their new enemy, they'll almost certainly seek a reckoning with this individual. Depending on the enemy's status, that may or may not be prudent (or even possible). It's one thing to take on a ferocious dragon in its lair, but going up against a powerful political figure is asking for trouble. The PCs may well have to go back to a mentor or other ally for assistance, and may even find themselves volunteering for service to get their revenge. Whether or not your campaign features an actual ongoing war, various military operations are certainly a reality of any world with rival factions, so this is a great way to get your players interested in the options offered by Heroes of Battle.
If Gregor or any of his garrison survives, word soon gets back to his employer about the failure. Unless the PCs have done something unusual to anger or embarrass Gregor, he won't seek vengeance upon them. Of course, that doesn't mean they won't cross paths with this dread commando at some point in the future. It's even conceivable that they might end up on the same side of a fight -- Gregor's not picky about who fills his purse with gold.
In the event that Gregor's Garrison defeats the PCs, they carry off anyone who sustained nonlethal damage. Those reduced to negative hit points are left behind and assumed dead (which means the PCs could well stabilize and recover on their own). Surviving PCs will have to track down their attacker and, eventually, his employer to rescue their friends. To keep the players of captured characters involved, you can allow them to create new characters -- perhaps sent by the NPC ally who inadvertently got them into all this mess -- or you can run the infiltration while simultaneously interweaving some roleplaying-heavy interludes featuring a confrontation between the captured PCs and their new enemy!
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About the Author
By day, Andy Collins works as an RPG developer in Wizards of the Coast R&D. His development credits include the Player's Handbook v.3.5, Races of Eberron, and Dungeon Master's Guide II. By night, however, he fights crime as a masked vigilante. Or does he?
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