Use This Book Tonight returns to kick off the New Year! I'm Stephen Schubert, a developer in RPG R&D, and I'll be your guide for the UTBT installments this year.
What is Use This Book Tonight? Well, as the established audience can tell you, sometimes you may acquire a new release, but you might not have a chance to digest it in its entirety and figure out how best to include the new rules in your campaign. This article can give you a way to use that book immediately.
This month, Races of the Dragon hits stores. The latest entry in the Races series brings dragons to the forefront, and it introduces a couple of new races, the dragonborn of Bahamut and spellscales, in addition to the more familiar kobolds and half-dragons. The new races have no level adjustment or ECL, so they work great for PCs (or even NPCs). The dragonborn race introduces a new mechanic to character generation and advancement: transformative races. In short, a character of any race can undergo the Rite of Rebirth and become a dragonborn.
This column provides an encounter that leads the PCs to the discovery of the Rite of Rebirth. PCs that then decide to answer the call of Bahamut may do so, leaving their old race behind and choosing to become a dragonborn.
What You Need to Read
Here's what you need to read before running this encounter:
The Basics of Dragonborn
As mentioned above, the dragonborn race is a new, transformative race presented in Races of the Dragon. Unlike a typical race, dragonborn do not breed; instead members of other races choose to undergo a transformation to become dragonborn and serve Bahamut, the god of good dragons. These individuals give up some of their racial characteristics to gain draconic qualities much deeper than mere cosmetics, and they can develop draconic senses, wings to fly, or even the use of a breath weapon.
Sylxis, a young and brash dragonborn, was investigating leads that pointed to an abandoned mine possibly used as a base of operations by a local cult of Tiamat. In truth, the mine has seen a flurry of recent activity since a group of kobold miners has excavated rooms and chambers deep within the mine to serve as a temple and refuge for the cult. Sylxis hadn't gotten very far into the mine tunnels when he ran afoul of a kobold trap and was knocked unconscious.
The kobolds, surprised at the appearance of the dragonborn, have elected to bring up the matter with Angriz, the half-dragon wizard who had organized their mining operation. Four of the kobolds have been sent with a pushcart bearing the still-unconscious Sylxis for a late-night rendezvous with their blue-scaled boss. The bombardier Orn, the smartest kobold of the bunch, took charge of the group and subsequently ordered the warrior Ner and the miner Edar to push the cart containing Sylxis's body. She also convinced the healer Sjir to come along since she needed someone who could keep Sylxis alive in the likely event that the cart might get overturned and the dragonborn suffer additional damage.
During an evening where the party travels late in the day, or perhaps as they set up camp near a road, they see four cloaked shapes. Two of them struggle to push the cart up the road. Though they are trying to be quiet, they aren't succeeding particularly well (DC 5 Listen check to notice them, not including distance modifiers). They attempt no initial hostile action, and once they realize that they have been noticed, they try to push a little faster while avoiding eye contact and keeping their cloaks pulled up.
Orn, the only kobold that speaks a lick of Common, rebuffs any greeting or invitation, saying only that they are in a hurry and have no time for chatting. Offers to help are similarly rejected, though it is obvious that Ner and Edar are struggling with the weight of the cart. Of course, the kobolds aren't particularly well disguised, so a DC 10 Spot check provides a sense that the cloaked forms aren't halflings, via clues such as a scaly clawed hand on the pushcart, or a glimpse of a tail peeking beneath the cloaks. A PC that succeeds on a DC 15 Spot check can also note Sylxis's hand hanging limply out from under the heaps of rope and blankets stacked upon the pushcart.
If the PCs take no action and allow the cart (and the encounter!) to pass them by, a wheel comes off the cart not 50 feet from where the kobolds passed the PCs. The contents of the cart spill over the road, and the dragonborn's body rolls out on top, plain as day.
The kobolds are initially unfriendly toward the PCs, and because of their allegiance to Angriz and the cult of Tiamat, it is more difficult to sway them via Diplomacy (Diplomacy checks suffer a -5 penalty). If Orn's attitude can be shifted to friendly, she will at least stop to talk to the PCs, and might even be convinced that the PCs are better equipped to handle the pushcart and the body, if they press. The PCs might well intimidate the kobolds into revealing their mining operation, but the link to Angriz is revealed only in the unlikely event that the kobolds' attitude is helpful.
If confronted about the presence of the body, the kobolds immediately tense. Orn, being the smart kobold she is, warns the PCs to not come close and that the body is actually that of a plague victim. A clever ruse, but unfortunately for Orn, she isn't too good at telling lies (Bluff modifier -1). If the PCs approach, she nervously pulls out a metal ball and issues a final warning, while taking a couple of steps back. (At this movement, the other kobolds also move back a step, since they know that the ball is an explosive ditherbomb.)
If the PCs persist (or if Orn spots a PC moving around their flank), Orn and the other kobolds spring into action. Orn begins by shaking and tossing a strong ditherbomb, following up with her other ditherbombs, and then using her Tumble skill to get away from opponents. Ner takes cover behind the cart, using his longbow at range but pulling his longspear once foes get close. Sjir starts by trying sleep on likely fighter- or rogue-types, and then alternates crossbow shots and healing, as needed. (She won't use her scrolls unless the situation looks exceedingly dire, and even then she's just as likely to run away.) Edar, ever the stalwart kobold miner, tries to take cover by hiding underneath the pushcart, and he will fight only if attacked more than once, and only to defend himself.
The kobolds know when they are outmatched. Both Orn and Ner try to flee if reduced to below 10 hit points, unless Sjir is ready with a quick healing spell. If both Orn and Ner are driven off or killed, the other two kobolds attempt to run.
Scaling the Encounter: As presented, this encounter should challenge a group of 3rd- or 4th-level PCs. For PCs of 5th or 6th level, add a small CR 4 dragon, such as Sventvutha, the very young black dragon on page 132. For even higher-level PCs, you might stage the encounter just as the kobolds turn over the body of Sylxis to their half-dragon master.
Assuming the PCs rescue and revive Sylxis, they have found a new friend and potential ally. Sylxis gladly elaborates on the dragonborn and his reasons for becoming one. (When he was human, his brother fell to a spawn of Tiamat, and he vowed to fight in Bahamut's name against the evil dragon goddess and her minions.) He discusses the Rite of Rebirth and how that transformed him from human into dragonborn, and he encourages like-minded individuals to choose to serve Bahamut, as well. If Sylxis becomes a recurring part of your campaign, either as an NPC or cohort, stat him up as a dragonborn paladin two or three levels lower than the party level. You can also use the dragonborn paladin racial substitution levels found on page 108.
Many other kobolds still work in the abandoned mine for some unknown (to the PCs) purpose. The PCs could become a thorn in the side of Tiamat's cult by hampering or destroying the mining operations. If Orn or Ner survive and make it back to the mines, they no doubt expect an attack and have a number of traps and ambushes ready.
The PCs may also wonder where the kobolds were taking Sylxis. Angriz has been meticulous about keeping any nefarious activities very quiet and has worked hard to establish himself as a legitimate businessman, despite his half-blue-dragon appearance and heritage. Exposing Angriz could be a great challenge for the PCs. (Stats and additional background information for Angriz can be found on page 140.)
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About the Author
Stephen Schubert is a Developer with RPG/Minis R&D, has co-authored Heroes of Battle, Magic of Incarnum, and Magic of Eberron, and has also helped develop many exciting upcoming D&D products, including Player's Handbook II, Monster Manual IV, Tome of Magic, and Tome of Battle! Stephen also is the lead developer for D&D Miniatures starting with War of the Dragon Queen.
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