Monday, July 13, 2009

Side Trek #4: Court of Bones

They can't all be winners. After three genuinely excellent side treks, the fourth and final encounter presented in Dungeon #156 is merely average.

The Court of Bones has two interlocking hooks; if the DM is using the Random Encounters from the as-printed module, the players may encounter Az'Al'Bani, a deathlock wight. Az'Al'Bani is searching for the hidden tomb of a minotaur necromancer, and he's managed to discover the sole key that will open its ancient doors.

Az'Al'Bani's not the only one looking for the Court; the drow merchant Gendar is on its trail also, and when players return from the Horned Hold with Urwol's skull scepter Gendar is quick to send them on another quest - this time to break into the Court and recover a valuable crystal which was entombed with its occupants.

As written, the side-trek has players hunting down Az'Al'Bani to obtain the key and then assaulting the Court - or, alternatively, players can just anticlimactically pick the lock. That skips over the various intriguing scenarios involved in bargaining with the wight or even joining forces, but to be fair to author Greg Bilsland it's reasonably clear that those aren't explored for reasons of space rather than any blindness to the idea as a whole.

In any case, when players finally reach the Court they've got a textbook undead battle in store. The minotaur necromancer in whose honour the Court was built is, of course, clinging to unlife, and when players arrive he animates in the form of a lethal Specter. He's attended by a pair of axe-wielding minotaur skeletons and a duo of fireball-throwing undead mages.

It's essentially just a hackfest. If the party doesn't have some divine classes available to totally trivialise these undead, victory still requires nothing more clever than a bunch of damage output and some competent tanking. As is, by now, a Wizards trademark, there's a mosaic in the middle of the floor that provides a trivial regeneration boost to enemies who stand on it.

It's not a bad encounter; it's just not inspiring. It's much like any number of other encounters published both in the retail modules and Dungeon Magazine, and it's probably not worth wasting your players' time on now that the Well of Demons is in sight and we're finally getting to the good parts of Thunderspire.

In short, Thunderspire has more than enough average for go around; we don't need to go to Dungeon Magazine looking for a top-up.


Todd said...

Hey man, at least it's actually minotaurs.

Randy said...

That's true, I'd expect you to at least be glad the undead are actually minotaurs this time; if I recall correctly, you recently complained about some lost opportunities for such.

Greg Tannahill said...

Point taken.

Anonymous said...

I'm kind of curious. I Haven't been bothered actually getting and reading 4th edition D&D. As I haven't done any roleplaying since I moved away from Canberra . So I was wondering if undead are still broken like they were in 3.0 and 3.5.

Let me explain what I mean by broken. In 3.0 and 3.5 undead had 2 common properties. Firstly paladins and clerics could turn or destroy them. Secondly they were immune to rogue sneak attacks.

When fighting undead creatures clerics and paladins were suddenly a lot more powerful, and rogues lost half of their damage output. These properties weren't a problem in one off undead battles, however when confronted with an undead themed game...

I'm curious has these design flaws persisted into 4.0?


Michael Cardoza said...

@Nick --

Rogues don't lose their damage output. Clerics still get a bonus attack, but it's not as overwhelming as it was in 3e. I have a cleric in the party I'm running, and it hasn't been a problem at all.

KoalaBro2 said...

Not only do Clerics, Paladins, Avengers, and Invokers get a special encounter power versus undead, but they are also likely to be able to do Radiant damage, which (depending on the undead) will provide an extra 5-10 damage.

Of course, other classes can occasional get powers that do Radiant damage, and there's magic items that do Radiant damage, so that's not entirely restricted to the Divine classes.

All in all, I'd say that undead aren't "broken" in 4e, but that if all your players face is undead, the Divine classes are going to have a definite edge.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my question guys.


Anonymous said...


Any chance of reviewing the recently released Eberron module? Out of all of them, that's the one I'd be most likely to consider buying.

Greg Tannahill said...

@Mego Thor: I'm not planning to buy the Eberron module or talk about it here; I'm not really an Eberron player and I'm almost certainly not going to get the chance to run it.

I can tell you that the Forgotten Realms one (Sceptered Tower of Spellgard) is so dire as to make Keep on the Shadowfell look like a work of art, if that helps.

Greg Tannahill said...

@Nick - Sorry, missed your comment first time around. Hey, are you the ex-Canberra Nick I went to school with?

Okay, rogues are no longer gimped versus undead. Clerics and paladins are still good - in fact, even better. They've got a once-per encounter Turn Undead which deals pretty devastating damage, and all their attacks that deal Radiant damage are extra effective versus undead.

So it's just a question of divine classes being buffed rather than anyone else being nerfed.

The response to the "undead themed game" in 4E is the way they mix creatures. You're really encouraged to mix and match strange monster types, so even in an undead themed game you'd find the undead being helped out by hobgoblins or elementals or something bizarre. Divine characters would still be a strong choice, but on the other hand there are now four divine classes so you can build a whole party of them without overlap if you want.