If you're looking for a book that captures this column's intent to help out the DM, I'd be hard-pressed to name a better one than Dungeon Master's Guide II. While it may seem almost sacrilegious to publish a sequel to such a hallowed tome, this new kid does its older brother proud. (And besides, the Monster Manual has survived its sequels just fine, thanks.) Much like the first volume to bear the initials DMG, this book takes on a wide variety of topics related to running a fun, exciting D&D game. The opening chapters provide loads of advice and helpful tools for the DM, while later sections positively drip with flavorful additions to spice up your campaign. Whether you're new behind the screen or a 20-year veteran of dungeon mastery, this book will help you run a better game.
In the spirit of variety, then, this column gives you not one idea to drop into your game, but three. You can add each one to one of the encounters you're already planning to run in tonight's game, or you can throw two or even all three into the mix. Each option has a separate "Read This" entry to point you to the part of the book you need to check before using the option, a "Say This" entry to help you describe the visual effect of the option, a "What's the Big Deal" entry to summarize the effect of the option and how you can best maximize its impact, and an "Aftermath" that talks about some possible ramifications of adding the option to your game.
Straight Outta Hell
Some or all of the enemies that the player characters face in a significant combat encounter wield weapons and armor forged by blacksmiths native to the Nine Hells of Baator.
Read This: The basic information on weapon and armor templates (pages 273-274) and the hellforged template (pages 277-278).
Say This: (At the start of the encounter) "The armor worn by your enemies looks unusually heavy and has a noxious green hue. Their sturdy weapons share this foul coloration." (During the encounter, as appropriate) "The tight, coordinated defense of your foe denies your weapon a clean strike" or "As the blade gouges your flesh, it seems to deliver a particularly deep cut."
What's the Big Deal: A suit of hellforged armor grants a +1 bonus to its wearer's Armor Class whenever she is adjacent to an ally, so surround any wearer with at least a couple of minions to make sure the bonus is always active. Since the armor also reduces the maximum Dexterity bonus to Armor Class, it works best for low-Dexterity characters.
A hellforged weapon deals an extra point of damage on flank attacks, so make sure anyone wielding the weapon has plenty of opportunities for flanking. The wielders need not be rogues -- in fact, it might even be best if they aren't, so that the weapon's bonus isn't overshadowed by sneak attack damage -- but they should be mobile enough to get into flanking positions.
Because the bonuses granted by this template are fairly small, this option works best when added to a relatively low-EL encounter (EL 4 to 8 or so), since higher-level PCs might not even notice the effect. The items are a bit pricey for nonplayer characters of levels lower than 2nd or 3rd, but a team of 4th-level fighters or warriors would work well.
Aftermath: Assuming your PCs are good-aligned, they'll find the hellforged armor and weapons not to their taste (such characters take a -1 penalty on attack rolls while wearing or using such an item). They'll most likely choose to destroy them, turn them over to a noble or holy organization for destruction or safekeeping (in which case they deserve a reward equal to half the items' total value), or simply sell them (which might come back to haunt them later when the items fall into the hands of the next evil cult the PCs run up against).
Regardless, they may well wonder about the origin of the items. A DC 15 Knowledge (the planes) check or a DC 20 Craft (armorsmithing or weaponsmithing) check reveals the information provided in the hellforged template, at which point the heroes have another interesting question before them: Who supplied their enemies with these terrible weapons and armor? Just like that, you have an adventure hook ready for your next session.
Shrine of the Weaponmaster
A battle with a skilled enemy warrior takes place on a site that once witnessed the death of a mighty warrior of yore.
Read This: The basic information on magical locations as treasure (pages 235-237) and the shrine of the weaponmaster magical location (page 248).
Say This: (When the characters enter the area) "You feel a strange weight of years upon your shoulders, and a faint ring of steel echoes as if over many decades." (When a PC is hit by an enemy who has the special ability) "Your foe seems to tap into some unusual insight as he strikes a particularly telling blow upon you."
What's the Big Deal: A shrine of the weaponmaster is a magical location imbued with a remnant of the martial power of a great warrior (in the generic sense, not the NPC class). Any sufficiently talented combatant can draw on that power to gain a +2 bonus on damage rolls with a chosen weapon for 30 days. Of course, the encounter features just such an enemy -- any barbarian, fighter, ranger, or other character proficient in all martial weapons and with a BAB of +5 or better can gain this benefit.
You can put this magical location just about anywhere you want, from a deep dungeon to a castle parapet to a wooded glade. It's not even really a shrine in the religious sense; there's no altar or divine connection. The only "requirement" for such a location to exist is the death of a great warrior (or perhaps a significant display of martial prowess by a living warrior or group of warriors), which is easy enough to imagine happening anywhere in the world.
It's best if at least one party member has the chance to gain the benefit from this location, so use it only if you have a fighter or similar character of 5th level or higher. Also, make sure that only one or two enemies have benefited from the location; since it's usable only five times before going dormant for 30 days, it's just plain mean to populate the chamber with five 5th-level barbarians who have all gained its effect. Better to have one boss (with the benefit) and an array of other characters who either can't or aren't allowed to take advantage of the shrine.
Aftermath: The characters should have an opportunity to figure out the significance of the location, either by a remark let slip by an enemy ("Did you think you could best me where my grandfather killed the greatest warrior the kingdom has ever known? Even now I use that fool's very skills against you!"), a clue somewhere in the location itself (such as a tapestry or fresco depicting the event itself and hinting at the power remaining in the area), or just the encouragement of a Knowledge (history) or bardic knowledge check (using the DCs provided in the shrine's entry).
Once they've identified the location's importance, by all means encourage one or more eligible characters to take advantage of the power inherent in the site. It's particularly cool if one or more encounters are still left in the adventure, since the PC can immediately use his newfound talent.
The PCs may also want to perform further research into the identity of the fallen warrior. Maybe this person left other remnants of his power behind, such as a mighty weapon or suit of armor. Maybe his tomb has become claimed by hideous monsters or an evil cult. Or maybe one of the PCs turns out to be a descendant of the hero himself!
He Looks Like What?
The PCs finally meet the big bad guy, only to find that there's more than one of him . . . sort of.
Read This: The introduction to the "Unique Abilities" section (page 157) and the "Vestigial Twin" entry (page 160).
Say This: (When the PCs encounter their foe) "Your enemy throws back his cloak to reveal a warped face growing from his shoulder, which stares at you with a baleful glare!" (When the vestigial twin speaks) "Horrifyingly, your foe's extra face begins to speak in a voice that makes your very flesh crawl!"
What's the Big Deal: The unique abilities described in Dungeon Master's Guide II are designed to make important NPCs feel unusual and memorable. In this case, a vestigial head growing from the shoulder of the PCs' enemy can take a standard action (chosen from a limited list) each round in addition to the enemy's normal actions! If the enemy is a spellcaster, the benefits are obvious and significant: an extra spell (verbal component only) each round. For other characters, the effect is often a bit less severe -- the twin can activate a spell-like ability or magic item (such as a ring of invisibility) or attempt an Intelligence-, Wisdom-, or Charisma-based skill or ability check (such as a Spot check to notice a sneaky hero, a Bluff check to feint against a melee opponent, or an Intimidate check to demoralize a PC).
As described by the unique abilities section, these can have a significant impact on the NPC's Challenge Rating. In the case of a vestigial twin, the suggested CR adjustment is +2; for characters with only limited ability to take advantage of the twin you could drop this to as low as +1. Getting an extra standard action each round is a lot like having a second version of the NPC around (particularly for a spellcaster), though of course he doesn't have two sets of hit points or anything like that. (Because of the CR increase, you might consider giving the NPC some extra treasure as well.)
It's best to use this with a foe that the characters haven't met yet (or at least haven't gotten a good look at before now). It might be hard to explain where that extra face was last time they ran into Kelek the sorcerer.
Aftermath: Not a lot of follow-up is suggested for this option unless you decide that the vestigial twin's presence is a sign of some other flesh-warping effect. Perhaps an illithid or other aberration created the vestigial twin as an experiment, or maybe it's the result of an area of horrific chaos. A little investigation by the PCs might uncover a terrible threat to the land.
For a particularly weird twist, give the vestigial twin an alignment that doesn't match the "host" enemy. Maybe it's fighting the PCs only because it thinks they're here to hurt it (or its sibling), or maybe it's an intimidated prisoner of its "host." A good-aligned twin trapped in the body of an evil warlord makes for a very difficult moral decision. If killing the warlord kills the twin as well, what's the best course of action for the PCs to take? In this case, the encounter might have a far-reaching impact (particularly for a paladin or similarly honorable character) regardless of its outcome.
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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?