Friday, February 6, 2009

Bull Rush and the Gimp

Upon venturing northwest from the Goblin Guard Room, players will arrive at the Torture Chamber (above), where they'll find a handful of goblins led by a Hobgoblin Torturer.

This is kiddyspeak. We are clearly intended to read between the lines. The goblins have a total of four rooms in the keep, and a grand total of zero living outsiders to torture. In fact, as far as we know, the only visitors who have EVER come to the keep were the pair of Thunderspire Slavers who Kalarel summarily executed.

It's possible that the goblins may have designated a whopping 25% of their living space for torture, and kitted out an entire room with a rack, fire pit and cage, but you're fooling yourself if you think that this is in some way judicial. Clearly they're up to something entirely more lewd. Take the hobgoblin, who is described as "clad in black leather armor and wearing a leather mask". That's not standard issue for either torturers or prison guards. That is, in the vernacular, a gimp suit. A gimp suit that is going to give him a nasty rash.

The suit, incidentally, is treated mechanically as +1 bloodcut hide armour, which players can salvage after the fight. The question of whether anyone wants to wear a magical hobgoblin-sized gimp suit into battle is one that players may well struggle over.

This encounter has an ulterior motive. By the conclusion of the kobold quest chain, players have presumably come to grips with the basics of 4th Edition combat. Now that they're in the keep, it's time to teach them some of the bells and whistles. The Goblin Guard Room really highlighted the importance of tanking, and got at least one player familiar with the intricacies of the climbing rules. Following that theme, the Torture Chamber is all about learning how to bull rush.

To bull rush, a player uses a standard action to target an adjacent enemy and makes a Str vs Fort attack. If they are successful they push the target one square and move into the square thus vacated.

Usually this is a loser's move as the attack does no damage and your opponent can recoup the lost ground with a shift. However, the Torture Chamber introduces environmental hazards such as the aforementioned fire pit that make it a potentially more interesting tactic. In addition, the hobgoblin has a +5 strength modifier, making him much more likely to hit with a bull rush than with his standard weapons.

It's a bit unfair on the players, though. There's no two ways about it - bull rush is a loser's move. Very few players will have the +5 strength modifier that the hobgoblin exhibits, very rarely will there be so many damaging obstacles in close proximity, and players who do happen to be muscled up will probably have better regular attacks than the anaemic +6 vs AC that the hobgoblin is packing.


[1] The "tactics" section specifically says that the Hobgoblin Torturer will use bull rush. This module, released prior to publication of 4th Edition, was intended to be played without the Player's Handbook, and yet bull rush is not defined in its quickstart rules. Another sign that the module wasn't playtested or another casualty of an enforced page count?
UPDATE: Actually, the bull rush rules do appear - twenty-five pages further into the module, tucked into the "features of the area" column for the Hobgoblin Guard Room. So, they're defined - just not helpfully. Again - space considerations, or poor quality control?

[2] Is bull rush considered to be balanced as currently printed? Many classes feature at-will or encounter powers that push or slide in addition to dealing damage. Causing a bull rush to do the player's STR modifier in damage alongside the push would make it significantly more attractive while still making it weaker than any of the class-specific powers. Would this have an unforeseen imbalance elsewhere?

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