Monday, March 23, 2009

Hobgoblin Barracks


I looked before at the idea of equivocation, where a DM can ostensibly present a choice, but use subtle cues to induce the player to pick the result he wants. At the time I speculated as to whether it had been used intentionally in the Goblin Guard Room. In the Hobgoblin Barracks, we learn that it wasn't.

There are two ways to leave the Hobgoblin Guard Room. Both are open passages; one leads south, and the other leads east. Players will go south.

Seriously. Players will go south. Run the room, see what happens.

There's several factors at work here. Players entered the room from stairs, also to the south. Heading south through another passage is "tighter" - it keeps players nearer to their entry point as the crow flies, which acts subconciously even if both directions are equally far in walking distance. Also, there's a symmetry at work. The room to the west of the Hobgoblin Guard Room is a dead end; it cues players to think that the east is also a dead end (which, it turns out, it is).

I've already looked at dead ends in Keep on the Shadowfell. The entire cave system is a useless appendage hanging off the main dungeon spine. Here again, in the hobgoblin area, we find a part of the dungeon that players have no real reason to visit. Going south takes them straight past this area, and so most parties will never see it.

The Hobgoblin Barracks is a straight fight. The hobs get to show off their squad tactics, which they missed out on in the Guard Room. The soldiers and grunts here get +2 AC when they're base to base with an ally; the archer gives a nearby ally an attack bonus whenever it fires. The bumbling creatures who so easily fell down pits in the last room are suddenly vicious killers, and this fight can go sour on the players very quickly.

The Hobgoblin Warcaster here is one of my favourite low-level monsters, and I was pretty excited that they used him again in the opening encounters of Thunderspire Labyrinth, the follow-up module. He's got a Force Lure, which damages an opponent and slides them up to three squares, and a Force Pulse which hits everyone in close blast 5, pushes them a square, and knocks them prone. They're rechargable so with a bit of luck he can be doing one of these practically every turn. It's pure havoc and it works great with the other hobs.

The module suggests that if players don't enter this room and instead pass it by, the hobs will come out and ambush them during the next encounter. The next encounter for players who walk by is either going to be a room full of traps or a gelatinous cube. Either way, the ambushing hobs are going to get significantly more than they bargained for.

Improvements:

[1] Both the trap room and the gelatinous cube are good encounters, and they're both extremely dangerous. As fun as it would be to introduce hobs to them, it'll break one of the best two encounters on this floor of the dungeon, and you're risking a TPK, for no better reason than that the players went the way the map layout suggested. As much as it hurts to lose this encounter and the next hobgoblin room, the best policy is don't ask, don't tell - if the players don't ask what's in this part of the map, don't ever tell them.

[2] If you want to run the hobgoblin areas, it's as simple as adding some description when it comes time for players to leave the Guard Room. Tell them that to the east they can hear scraping and cursing, reminiscent of more hobgoblins hurriedly strapping on battle armour. If they don't boot down the door to clear the area, you can at least feel justified in springing the hobs in a later encounter, knowing that the players made a meaningful choice based on actual information.

4 comments:

Oscar said...

My PC's actually walked straight into the guard room. I told the players that it was getting late and after the guard room was a good place to stop. One of the PC's took that to mean he could go exploring the area of the Guard Room, and he was just strolling down the hall and peeking in doors looking for loot. Well, he opened the Barracks and the session instead ended with the Dwarven Paladin of Moradin staring face to face with a hobgoblin. Great cliff hanger.

Unfortunately the encounter sucked. The hobgoblins set up their ambush, but the PCs were content to shoot at them from around corners. They mopped up the minions in a single round when I tried to use them to get the PCs into the combat proper, and then I had the PC's flanking the enemy from both sides giving up any advantage the hobgoblins had. I think the Warcaster got a single attack in with his rechargeable powers before he dropped. Which is a shame, since I was thinking it was going to be much more interesting than it turned out to be.

By The Sword said...

That warcaster would be much more effective in the room with the pit.

rystefn said...

Have you noticed that every time you say "the players will go (direction)," that it's always to the right of where they came in? Reminds me of the game Earthbound, where there's a sign at the start of one of the cave complexes saying "Did you know that 90% of players will go right when first entering a dungeon?" or something very like that.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if that has something to do with dominant handedness -- do lefties tend to go left first? 90% going right would tend to correlate to the 7-10% incidence of left-handedness.

What about people who speak languages that read right to left, like Japanese? Does that have any influence?

Very interesting.