Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Kobold Lair, Inside

The second section of the kobold lair is generally regarded as one of the hardest encounters in Keep on the Shadowfell, and has resulted in more than one total party kill (TPK) for unwary adventurers.

The encounter as printed features no less than 17 kobolds, divided into two waves. The heroes have three rounds to take out the trash mobs before the goblin boss Irontooth wades into the fight with his pet kobold wyrmpriest. Irontooth alone is a party-level threat, packing 106 hit points and a crippling two-swing "dual axe" power. With the addition of the wyrmpriest, who has a group heal and a nasty ranged attack, Irontooth can be a killer.

To make things worse, if any of the kobolds from outside escaped to deliver a warning, the players can find both waves ready and waiting when they enter the cave. Alternatively, unwise players might move immediately into the cave after clearing the outside guards, forfeiting the vital five-minute rest they would otherwise be entitled to.

Hard fights are a good thing. Players love them, providing they're not every fight. The times when characters are in real danger of death are the times your players will tell stories about years later. I'd question the wisdom of DMs who actually let their entire party die, as permanent character death generally isn't fun for anyone, but to some extent that's a matter of play style.

So, in my eyes, the kobold lair is a success. Lots of monsters with a range of interesting powers, a named villain who packs a genuine threat, and an interesting tactical layout. My players had fun here, and so did most every group I've checked on the internet. It caps off the kobold storyline nicely, and as a reward the players will get their first really worthwhile magical item - a suit of +1 dwarven chainmail.

The sole problem with this encounter is, once again, a misleading layout. As mentioned before, the maps are cribbed from the D&D Miniatures game. The battlemat of the lair shows a pile of treasure in the northeast corner which is so big it occupies 16 squares, or approximately 80 square feet. Players will be bitterly disappointed when they discover that the gold is merely artistic licence, and the treasure is in fact limited to one chest containing a handful of coins and the aforementioned dwarven chain.

The conclusion of the fight features a defeated Irontooth futilely calling to his dark master Kalarel for aid, followed by the players discovering a signed letter indicating that this same Kalarel is up to evil shenannigans in a local ruined keep. With the kobold questline finished, the stage is set for the main adventure, as the party head back to Winterhaven to find out a little more about the titular Keep on the Shadowfell.


[1] The kobold wyrmpriest's incite faith power gives 5 temporary hitpoints to each kobold ally within close burst 10. This can result in minions with 6 hitpoints, which runs counter to the philosophy of minions having either a single hitpoint or being dead. Also, it's devastating to the party if the wyrmpriest uses it before the minions have been mostly mopped up. Was this the intended effect, or should it read "non-minion kobold ally"?


Front Toward Everybody said...

It may not be in KOTS, as it's meant to be possible to run without the benefit of the core rulebooks, but the Dungeon Master's Guide states that any non-missed attack that deals damage kills a minion.

So while technically the kobold minions could acquire temporary hit points, they have no mechanical effect.

Greg Tannahill said...

Hey, I'd missed that rules clarification, thanks!

Probably would help if minion stat blocks listed their hitpoints as "N/A" instead of "1".

Brian said...

A couple changes here in the revised version:

1) The Dragonshields are replaced with another new kobold variant, the Denwarden (level 2 soldier). Like the Dragonshield, they have a marking ability, but they also have the much needed ability to do it at range.

Their mark allows them extra melee attacks as an immediate action. If they hit with this, they make the target grant CA for the next turn. It seems like we're adding a potentially tougher foe to what's already a potential TPK encounter.

2) To compensate for this, all of Irontooth's defenses have been reduced by 2. If the party focuses fire when he shows up, he should go down a little faster than before.

Still a tough encounter, and still a lot of fun... now with added variety.

Marco Filippo said...

My party didn't like this encounter... at all. Two characters died (the dragonborn paladin and the human cleric) and they took it pretty bad.

Of course, some of them have this issue going on. They play essentially to feel great and powerful and when they are reminded that even in the game they are not gods in disguise... they take it... pretty bad.

Bu even more moderate players (my favourite kind, btw) were considerably baffled, espcially when they had access to the text od the encounter. The explanation I gave myself in this case was that the bunch of us was not yet accostumed to the 4E rules, with the characters still fighting an "alone" fight instead of a "team" fight, which seems the core fight idea in this edition of the game.

I still remember the female dwarf fighter running away... ahhh, precious moments... as her real-life counterpart is an insufferable power player... :-) *EVIL GRIN*

Fruitybix said...

this was the first game ive ever run with a bunch of players who had never played before. and the players really struggled with it. i grasped that this would be a little tricky when i saw the number of kobolds, so i strongly hinted that whatever was behind that waterfall was nasty, and that maybe the players should find nonstandard solution.

one of the players had bought a stack of giant iron nails from the town smith, and they discussed hammering them through blocks of wood and sowing them in the shallow water, then drawing whatever was inside the cave out and hitting it with ranged attacks.

in the end though, the rogue, who is the most frustrating individual i have ever played overruled them all and they just charged in. it was a very close encounter, however they mostly did very well, except the afforementioned rogue who was ko'd three times, being revived the first two times until the other playes got sick of him and left him unconcious and stabilized.

the players mostly stuck around the small pool where they enter and supported each other (except the rogue who went solo) which worked extremely well.

there was a bit of frustation towards the end, with everyone stuck in an intricate grid where they could not change position without taking multiple opprtunity attacks, and if i had not simply made irontooth and his remaining minions act silly and overconfident it could have been a wipe.

overall the players were a little exhasperated with missing irontooth over and over again, but the only one who really did not like it was the rogue. but then, he is impossible to please.

until i read this, being not that much of an expert, i did not realize it was such a hard encounter, i just attributed it to everyone being new at the game.