Monday, June 15, 2009

Western Guard Post

The Western Guard Post is the entry to the Horned Hold proper. Regardless of whether players are coming from the Duergar Workshop or the Great Hall, they find that both bridges across the chasm lead to this room.

The setup is this: each of the bridges dead-ends at a door.
The southernmost doors (left-hand side of the map) are "iron-reinforced" and "barred from the inside". Duergar inside the guard post are watching this approach like hawks. They are apparently dead keen on preventing any attacks from their own southern fortress (the one with no external doors).

A little to the north of the Duergar is the bridge to the northern fortress and the outside world. This bridge terminates at an unguarded, unlocked door. Players can come straight from the Duergar Workshop and across this bridge without being detected.

Possibly it's a secret bridge. Possibly the Duergar didn't think that anyone would dare attack the western fortress without first neutralising the southern one. Possibly Duergar just aren't very good at counting past one. Certainly the module gives no reason why the dwarves are focusing an ungodly amount of firepower (including two semi-sentient animated crossbows) on one bridge while completely ignoring the other.

However you run it, though, this encounter is focused on doors.

Players coming up the guarded bridge are in for a world of hurt. The Duergar, watching through arrow-slits, are able to deploy both damage and debuffs against targets exposed on the walkway while gaining superior cover against return fire. The module offers some alternate combat resolution, in the event that players have crossed the bridge "unseen or in disguise", which is a nice change, with characters able to bluff guards, force the door or pick the lock.

If players get through the door or, more sensibly, have used the unguarded bridge, the Duergar are going to want to restrict player movement. The unconventional setup of this area really limits both line of sight and range, and one Duergar standing in a doorway can effectively hold up an entire group of players. The module offers no rules on barring or barricading the interior doorways but if a DM lets either Duergar or players get busy with the doors it can turn the battle into a doorway-based tug-of-war.

It's a shame there's no doorway rules, actually, because controlling these doors is a key part of the fight. Like the last couple of encounters, the Duergar here are more than willing to run for help, and it's a particularly difficult area to catch fleeing dwarves before they get away and alert their friends - who include two elites and a level 8 brute.

By the time my players got through the portcullis, the workshop, and then the numerous doors of this room, they were willing to specifically request that there be no more encounters based around barring or breaking doors.


Bryant said...

The theurge is particularly useful for jamming up hallways. The combo of Brimstone Hail followed by Vile Fumes easily stifles direct assaults on the outer hallway from location 18. My players found this very satisfying, because the doors turn it into a tactical challenge rather than a power challenge. Once they got around and behind the duergar, the fight was over.

John said...

If you check out page 12 of Adventure Book 2, under the description of location 9 "North Bridge" it mentions that the door leading to location 18 is locked and provides the Thievery/Str DCs to get around it.

Of course why this information isn't located in the encounter section, or atleast repeated there... Oh, and hey, it mentions that area 18 is 'old and rarely used' which I suppose explains why there aren't any guards there... maybe... Not really >.>

Greg Tannahill said...

Bryant - I initially enjoyed the Theurges but then realised that lots of status effects are just really annoying if the Theurge's allies don't have the DPS to capitalise (which they don't). By the time we got to the third Theurge in the hall we were sick of them.

John - Ah hah! Good spotting. When I ran the module I'd had that door locked but upon re-reading I couldn't work out where I'd gotten that idea from. It at least makes it a little more reasonable.

Bryant said...

Ah, yes. The problem with key information that's in the overview but not the encounter section is pretty endemic -- one serious problem with the delve format.

Anonymous said...

"The problem with key information that's in the overview but not the encounter section is pretty endemic -- one serious problem with the delve format."

You're not kidding. WotC have had nothing but plaudits for their layouts, but I think the modules are letting the side down. I'm reviewing Scales of War over at my site and the issue is even worse there.

Bryant said...

I like the basic idea, but the execution could be better. The spreads are awesome. Having an overview of a section is awesome. Maybe they just need to bite the bullet and repeat information (and charge way more for the added page count, sigh)?

Johan_L said...

We went through this one the hard way, but solved it through my Wizard deploying a nasty encounter-long zone (Grasp of the Grave Wizard D5) to drive the enemies away from the firing slits, two people teleporting in (Fey Step and Warlock U2 teleport), the Ranger/Rogue picking the lock from the outside while we lifted the bars from the inside.

Still, it was a toughie, and things devolved into a running battle throughout the entire tower. Which was good in a way, since I had my sturdy Shadowfell Gloves-enhanced Flaming Sphere to make mince-meat of the opposition.

Osric said...

I think the H series is offering an item of Dungeon Design 101, here. We saw some choices of direction in H1, but those didn't make much difference...

Here -- for once -- is a chance to reward scouting and planning by having it make a real difference. And it's set up so blatantly that it's advertising itself. DMs should feel liberated to really punish a party that tries to rush the Southern Bridge.
A whole category of players will get satisfaction from the opportunity for scouting efforts to pay off. And the fools who rush in can be beaten back, then discover that scouting around gains them an edge and then enjoy putting their revenge-pounding onto the duergar all the more.

It may also need to be said that DMs shouldn't totally victimize a scout (Rogue, Ranger, whatever) who like like Kelly in the Great Hall steps more than one move away from the party.
The scout, on the other hand, needs not to hog the DM's attention for too long at the expense of the rest of the group.

I think the critical design error here is that the cleverer route is the one encountered first! Fools rushing in without first controlling their southern flank can totally get away with it and not realize that there was any error. So I think the Western Guard Post should raise an alarm which will at least alert, and possibly mobilize Rundarr and co. if they're still alive.

I'm about to run the Western Guard Post for my slayer-heavy group that cleared Guard Post One, Urwol's workshop and Rundarr in one running Encounter of increasing desperation.
The first Duergar lurker they met survived the whole sequence and alerted the Western Guard Post. (So I'm giving him a name -- "Zharrodak" -- and promoting him with a couple of extra levels or so, with a view to a bit of recurring-villain potential.)

I'm not just telling them what to conclude from the near-death (but far from TPK) experience and the fact that the alarm's been raised ahead of them yet again. I give them a 50/50 chance of having learnt the lesson that they sometimes need to control the situation a bit better -- instead of just blaming it on the fact that multiple foes with recharging Invisibility would be b****r to control for anyone!

I share Greg's concern about the Northern bridge being too tasty, even with its door being locked. I'm making it more obviously the preferable route but less automatically successful than the MAW (Module As Written).
I've killed the light on the bridge, saying the area is in dim light, and full darkness below the height of the parapet. I've said that there's a heap of furnace-slag and junk outside the smithy door (Difficult terrain; Stealth penalties).
I'm saying that forcing the Western door by Strength will automatically raise the alarm, so they must use Thievery. (I love the way this is decoupled from class now. As the Rogue class defines a combat style independent of skill with locks, traps and cutpursing, other people can possess those skills now!)
I use skills a lot (Lemme hear you say "15 years of Rolemaster", everybody!) but I guess I should embrace 4e and make surprise-attacking the Western Fortress a protracted Skill Challenge. People need to Stealth across whilst a convincing Bluff/Intimidate action keeps the attention of the Duergar firmly on the Southern Bridge instead of letting them mobilize to secure on all fronts. Insight (or a tougher Perception) should assist in determining when is a good time for a Stealther to move or stop moving, or when the socialisers need to step up their efforts to distract attention in response to a noise being heard etc.