Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Great Hall

At its heart, the Great Hall is an exciting and well-tuned skirmish, and providing that you take Thunderspire's regular gaffs with a grain of salt players will probably have a great time here.

This is the Horned Hold's "southern fortress". It lies directly south of Urwol and the portcullis, with a narrow tunnel connecting the two outposts. (Note that north is to the right on the encounter maps.)

The essence of the encounter is a "levelled up" version of the fight the players have just won against Urwol. The orcs from the last area are replaced here by Duergar Guards, who pack a mean warhammer punch, and they're backed up by more of Urwol's Duergar Scouts.

I didn't mention the Scouts in the last post; they're more understandable if you think of them as Duergar Rogues. They can turn invisible roughly every second turn and they do bonus damage when they have combat advantage. In the cramped terrain of Urwol's smithy they were pretty useless but in the more tactically complex Great Hall encounter they can really be a threat to players.

Urwol's role is filled by Rundarr, who's bigger, meaner and all-round more interesting than the Master Smith. Rundarr is an Elite, he comes with 180 hit points, and like the Duergar Champion's he's based on he has the ability to grow in size when bloodied, assuming a Large size template and rolling an extra +2 to hit and +5 on damage. Ironically, this much more memorable opponent only gets a single line of characterisation - "Rundarr's temper is legendary among the Grimmerzhul, who are bad-tempered by nature" - compared with Urwol's three redundant paragraphs of roleplaying notes.

I've written previously that Thunderspire Labyrinth is training players to control "adds", the additional monsters that might join an encounter if enemies are allowed to flee and find allies. Starting now, they're going to have to demonstrate that they've learned the skill.

If any of the enemies from the Duergar Workshop escaped, they'll flee here and warn Rundarr's troops, giving the otherwise scattered Duergar a chance to take up optimum positions. Later, when Rundarr falls, the rest of his command will flee to alert and join up with the western fortress, who as we'll shortly see barely need the help. If players want to keep fighting balanced, winnable encounters they're going to have to take steps to stop the beaten Duergar from escaping.

Almost as an afterthought, this area also contains three human slaves. They're named Arum, Bessa and Calder (only marginally better than Slaves A, B and C), and while they're not the captives the players are looking for they do know the western fortress and make daily trips there to bring the captives food. The module doesn't take the step of saying it, but one assumes clever players could use these characters as part of a plan to gain a slightly less suicidal access into the the western fortress and the "main" area of the Horned Hold.

Probably the biggest issue with the Great Hall is that it's redundant. Players can skip it and move straight to the western fortress (as mine did) and there's nothing here that advances the plot, enriches the atmosphere, or rewards players for exploring. The Horned Hold isn't such a fun area that you'll want to prolong it, so while it's not a bad encounter in its own right it's ultimately just getting in the way of a focused, excitingly-paced progression through the Hold.


Cut the Great Hall out entirely and use its monsters to replace the ones in the Duergar Workshop. Rename Rundarr as Urwol but still use Rundarr's stat block in preference to Urwol's. You'll have one tight, tough encounter rather than two loose ones, and Urwol will now survive long enough to do some talking and give the Horned Hold some of the personality it's otherwise lacking.


Michael Cardoza said...

Mine skipped this bit too. Pity; the stuffed mind flayer is great flavor, and helps drive home how tough the minotaurs must have been.

Come to think of it, I guess that means Arum, Bessa, and Calder are still in duergar hands. Ah well.

By the by, there was very little my players could do to prevent the retreat from the Workshop, since the Scouts erred on the side of staying invisible -- seemed the sensible thing to do. Probably in retrospect the duergar would have been better off obstructing the bridge leading to the western guard post and forcing the PCs through a nastier gauntlet.

Greg Tannahill said...

Oh, I completely missed the stuffed mind flayer. Thanks for pointing it out. I generally rely on the flavour text to be a summary of what's otherwise described in the room but Thunderspire doesn't have the same view, clearly.

Oscar said...

My party didn't stop one of the scouts from the workshop from fleeing into The Great Hall. They took a five minute rest and then reluctantly followed to clean house. This made the Great Hall one hell of a tough fight.

My party split between coming through the double doors and coming through the kitchen. The slaves were hushed into the pantry and were unnoticed, and the three scouts, two guards, and Rundarr gave the PC's a real run for their money. The battle lines shifted multiple times as the scouts turned invisible and set up flanks and attacked the parties controller from behind.

My largest complaint, actually, is how non-hoss Rundarr actually is. He has a lower attack than the guards, barely does more damage, and has a significantly lower AC. My defenders have a 23-24 AC by this point, and the party's striker is attacking at around +15 with combat advantage. Rundarr wasn't much of a problem at all. This encounter would have been really uninteresting if not for the scouts mixing things up on the PC's.

And once Rundarr fell, the real fun began, trying to find and stop the scouts from making their escape across the bridge. The party really had to work together to find the invisible dwarf opening doors and trying to dodge around the PC's.

It wasn't until the PC's five minute break and rummaging for food and wine did they happen to come across the slaves, which almost ended in some friendly fire.

Michael Cardoza said...

Heh, no. I think you were absolutely right in your comments on Delve-style writeups -- there's some weird artifacts generated by the page count constraints. I hadn't noticed until you said something but now I see stuff like that all over.

The nice thing about Rundarr et al getting away is I've got a bunch of duergar all ready to pop up as a problem in, um, P2? Cause the party will be heading back under Thunderspire then.

Kelly Davis said...

Those scouts killed me, my first 4E death, and, incedentally, the first time I took my rogue farther than one move action away from the rest of the adventuring party! DOH!