Saturday, August 1, 2009

Gnoll Barracks

Look, gnolls aren't a bad monster, but putting them next to demons just doesn't do them any favours.

Unless the DM has been making a lot of use of the random encounter table, the Gnoll Barracks will be the players' first run-in with Maldrick Scarmaker's gnolls. It features a gnoll huntmaster and his pack of hyenas. Gnolls being a kind of unpleasant hyena-man, it's a natural match-up. There's a couple of gnoll brutes thrown in for good measure.

There's nothing wrong with this encounter. It's a pefectly by-the-numbers dungeon scuffle. There's some humanoids who need killing, and the players kill them.

The sin is only that players have been here before. It's an identical set-up to any number of battles both in Keep on the Shadowfell and earlier in Thunderspire Labyrinth. You could replace the gnolls with goblins, hobgoblins or duergar and nobody would notice.

Compared to the memorable and imaginative encounters elsewhere in the Well of Demons, this is the ugly stepsister. Hurry through it; there's better coming.

Improvements:

[1] Not an improvement as such, as it's strongly suggested in the module itself, but the way to wring the most out of this encounter is by emphasising the flavour. The hyenas aren't just hyenas - they're vicious, hungry animals in an enclosed space. Their howls will echo up and down the stone corridors and be virtually deafening at close range. They should be, really, quite frightening. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that they're level 2 monsters in a level 6 encounter and there's a good chance of them falling over the first time someone breathes on them.

3 comments:

Oscar said...

I don't know... it was pretty memorable having players puking their guts out looking for the +2 cloak hidden amongst the hay, gore, and feces in the kennel. I don't know what is more disturbing, the fact that the gnolls are keeping pretty potent magic gear as bedding for their mutts, or the fact that DnD does stuff like this often enough that the players in my group knew that was the best bet to finding loot.

zinovia said...

The last time my players found a midden, the wizard began using mage hand to sift through it without touching anything. I thought that was sufficiently clever that I put a minor (non-magic) bit of treasure in there. Of course that now guarantees that they will use the same tactic to sift through every smelly dung-heap and compost pile they come across, most of which contain only dung or rotting vegetables. Nothing keeps people trying like intermittent reinforcement of the behaviour, so I'm sure they'll keep digging through the dung no matter what.

As for the hyenas, you might consider putting in a couple of krenshars from Monster Manual 2. They are similar to hyenas but are more level appropriate for this fight, and have a fear ability that could be nasty. Besides, they are much creepier and fit thematically.

GregT said...

@Oscar - We skipped straight past the cloak, if I remember correctly - it was a silly place to have loot, and I put it elsewhere instead.

@Zinovia - Well, I'm well and truly past this encounter now but I like your advice - particularly as I just got a krenshar in the last box of minis I bought.