So tonight is a big showdown between the characters and an adventurer-hunter named Umgru the Slayer. The characters are all 9th-level, which means they can handle most challenges I throw at them. But tonight I want to change things up a bit. I want to hit them with some of the toughest things that they’ve ever fought… that all have low CRs.
Because I’m evil like that.
SPOILERS: If you’re one of my players and you don’t want to ruin the game for yourself, don’t read this. And if you decide to read it anyway, I’m still going to make your life hell. Muahahaha!
Here is the map of the fortress:
Here are some basic things to know:
- The Top Entrance is tough to access. There’s the flaming wreckage of an airship covering it. The inflitrators (see below) will sneak in through this access point.
- The entire base is surrounded by a pretty dense forest with only a narrow road leading to it. The forest itself counts as difficult terrain when moving through it. The trees are large pine trees, standing 70-100 feet tall.
- The encounter is at night. However, there’s enough fire/light around to make it so most creatures can see.
- Umgru’s group uses horns, whistles, and torches to communicate the locations of the PCs, blowing/ringing once for each one present.
- Torches are used by the trebuchet.
- Whistles are used by the fighters in the forest.
- The inflitrators use horns.
#1 – Cows, Basilisks, Ball Bearings
Right now, the PCs are in a rather large cave at the bottom of their fortress (area #14). Little do they know that Umgru is a farmer by trade. And cows, surprisingly, are pretty powerful critters. Located in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, these Challenge Rating 1/4 creatures have a whopping 18 Strength and can deal some pretty significant damage on a charge (with a +6 to hit no less). Also, they’re Large, which is what I really like, meaning that the PCs will have to use action economy to get through them. Otherwise, they’ll act as massive obstacles (offering 3/4 cover). So how many can I throw at them?
As 9th level characters, an “easy” encounter is 550 experience per character. There are five characters, so that’s an allowance of 2,750.
Thus, I think I’ll go with 9 cows. And to make it interesting, they’ll have bags of ball bearings tied to their sides spilling out as they manically crowd the place. Of course, they’ll slip on their own ball bearings, too, but that’s not the point. They’re here to make things difficult for the PCs.
Oh, and for just the hell of it, I’ll also toss in a basilisk. It’s going to be turning the cows to stone as it waddles around (sucking up a nice, fat cover bonus from the cows, too). That’s a grand total of 2,875 encounter experience. Still an easy encounter but obnoxious AF to be sure.
#2 – Rapid Fire Arrow Machines
Next up, the only physical exit out of the place will be a door that’s been yanked off its hinges. The other exit got blasted by a wrecked airship (yeah, my campaign is weird). Covering this exit will be a little machine I whipped up for The Secret of Forsaken Peak called the rapid-fire arrow machine. Basically, this gizmo allows its users to hide behind it while firing a line of arrows in rapid succession. It will cover the only exit and be locked and loaded when the first character pops its head out. They’re all covered in camouflage, letting them blend in with the forest (but they’re noticeable once they start firing).
If a single machine (CR 2) is manned by three commoners, that means it has a total encounter experience of 960 experience. However, since the machine doesn’t function as well without its operators, I’d say that it’s realistically only 450 encounter experience. Again, to make this an “easy” encounter I need to build up to 2,750 experience. So that’s three machines aimed at the door, each manned by three commoners. Each RFAM will be spaced out in a T-pattern, too, making it difficult to close the distance between each one
Should the PCs try to bum rush it, it’ll also have a big ol barrel of gunpowder hiding behind it with a fuse. The operators will split off into the forest in three separate directions, lighting the thing as they go. Ka-boom! The bomb itself will deals 24 (7d6 damage) to any creatures (DC 12 for half) within 10 feet of it (that’s basically a 20-foot sphere).
Rapid-Fire Arrow Machine
Armor Class 15
Hit Points 50
Damage Immunities poison, psychic
Challenge 2 (450 XP)
The rapid-fire arrow machine fires nearly two arrows per second thanks to a clever crank device. The rapid-fire arrow machine has a shield at the front of it that offers three-quarters cover to the weapons team that operates it. Before it can be fired, a special container holding the arrows must be loaded and the machine must be aimed. It takes one action to load the weapon, one action to aim it, and one action to fire it. In addition, a creature can use its action to push the machine 10 feet forward on its wheels.
Arrows. The rapid-fire arrow machine fires a blast of arrows in a 90-foot line that is 5 feet wide. Each creature in that area must make a DC 11 Dexterity saving throw, taking 19 (4d8 + 1) damage on a failed saving throw or half as much damage on a successful one.
#3 – Archers
Speaking of hidden weapons, the forest has at least three trained archers (one of which is Umgru) hiding away. None of them will be close enough to get hit by area of effect spells, and if anything, they want to split the party anyway so they can take out the damage dealers first. These will be mostly grunts, scouts (CR 100) using short bows tinged with drow poison (DC 13 Con save or become poisoned).
#4 – Infiltrators
Next up, the top of the place will have inflitrators break in and get into good positions. These guys’ll be a bit tougher. It will be a goblin master thief (CR 5; the infamous Jeth) and an archer (CR 3). That’s a total of 750 encounter experience, still an “easy” encounter. Their job will be to fire and move, staying far out of range, all the while keeping the group divided.
They’ve also set up a wide swath of caltrops in area #5 to slow down the PCs from engaging with them.
#5 – Bait
At a visible distance, Umgru will be sitting on a hill watching from a horse 200 feet away, wearing his skull mask. Except that’s not Umgru! It’s bait! One of Umgru’s men, an acolyte, has dressed up as Umgru and is waiting for someone to go after him. This is mostly to drive out the character that’s a will-o-wisp and can reach him in time. The will-o-wisp has a ton of powers that makes him difficult to nail down so the best Umgru will do. The acolyte is armed with three banishment scrolls and will use it to send the will-o-wisp back to his home plane (he was turned into a will-o-wisp in the Shadowfell). The acolyte is only a CR 1/4 creature. He is backed up by at least two bandits armed with light crossbows. They have been trained to wait until the wisp appears to fire. Instead of potions of fire resistance, these men will have had potions of lightning resistance.
#6 – Glue Ballista on a Wagon
One of the biggest weapons that Umgru’s folks will use is a ballista manned by three commoners on the back of a wagon driven by a team of two horses. This will be placed outside the exit. The tip of the arrows will be removed and set to deal bludgeoning damage instead of piercing; plus it has a tanglefoot bag attached to it. Also, the rear of the bolt is attached to a 60-foot length of chain, the other end of which is attached to the wagon itself. On a hit, a creature is grappled and restrained for 1 minute. The creature can make a DC 17 Strength to check to break out. However, the driver of the wagon will use their held action to send the riding horses off. The target must then make a DC 18 Strength saving throw (or be knocked prone) and dragged off by the horses who move 120 feet per turn. On a successful saving throw, the target managed to stay on its feet but is still moved. The dragged target takes 1d6 damage for every 60 feet dragged. Meanwhile, the drivers throw objects at the creature. This will be used on any characters that have poor Dex.
#7 – Traps
The forest is loaded with traps set up by the hunters over the last few months. Mostly, it’s hunting traps, trip wires with falling nets, and pits, meant to slow down the characters down more than anything.
- Hunting trap. DC 14 check to notice. DC 13 Dex saving throw or take 1d4 damage and stop moving. Takes a DC 12 Perception check to notice. See page 152 for the PHB for more details.
- Tripwire with a net. If a creature moves through the tripwire, it drops a net on a 10 x 10-foot area. Creatures in it are restrained and if they fail a DC 10 Strength saving throw they are knocked prone. See page 122 of the DMG for more details. Noticing the trip wire requires a DC 10 Perception check.
- Pit. A character automatically falls in if they hit, dropping 10 feet and taking 1d6 damage. See page 122 of the DMG for more details.
#8 – Trebuchet
On the same hilltop where “fake Umgru” can be seen, there is a trebuchet. It’s manned by five commoners that lob flaming logs at the base every round. While it won’t target characters directly, it does cause considerable damage to the hillside, sending debris down below (Dex save 12 to get out of the way or take 4d10 bludgeoning damage).
The wall of the base has an AC of 19, 400 hit points, and a damage threshold of 10. Once the base is broken, the stairs between area 5 and areas 12-14 collapse, making it impossible to move between the two spots.
#9 – Forest Fire
With all the flaming goodies being thrown around in the middle of the hot, dry summer, the forest will catch fire pretty quickly. All of Umgru’s men have accounted for this (not to mention the fire magic of the characters) and drank potions of fire resistance in preparation. The fire spreads quickly each round. To avoid taking fire damage, a character must succeed on Dexterity saving throw with a DC of 5 + 1 for every round the fire has been going (to a maximum of 15). A failed saving throw causes 1d10 damage and the character ignites. Until someone takes an action to douse the fire, the character takes 5 (1d10) fire damage at the start of each of its turns.
After 5 rounds of the forest fire, the fire causes extreme heat (p 110 of the DMG), and trees begin to fall. Each round of fire, there is a 10% chance that a tree falls. A character must make a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw or take 14 (4d6) bludgeoning damage plus 5 (1d10) fire damage and is restrained (escape DC 13). While restrained, the character takes 5 (1d10) fire damage each round.
#10 – Where is Umgru?
Umgru will wait patiently for the right signals. At the start of the encounter, he’s hidden in the forest, using his bow to pick off any characters that he can see. Once he gets the sense that the characters are split, he’ll enter the base. And clean up the rest.
Umgru will first target casters, then powerful melee combatants. He’s no dummy. If he drops to 2/3 of his hit points, he’ll immediately try to put distance between himself and his attackers.
While this seems like certain doom for the characters, there are a few wild cards that the PCs will have up their sleeves to keep themselves safe:
- They have a secret escape hatch down into a dungeon that’s below their fortress. Should things get too hairy, they can escape. Umgru is not aware of this dungeon.
- The acolyte may be replaced with a new character, a cleric, who will turn to help the PCs. This could effectively take out the trebuchet and keep the will-o-wisp in the game.
- There is another party of adventurers in the dungeon with the PCs. Umgru believes that the second group is probably dead (or at least pretty beat up). Should the PCs get the other group to assist, it could make things more difficult for Umgru.
- The wizard, Amraam, has a beholder living in his head that has “rewired” Amraam’s brain to allow him to fire a disintegration ray from his eyes. It works exactly like a beholders normal disintegration ray.
- There are least three higher powers that are invested in the PCs staying alive: a yugoloth, a devil, and an angel (they don’t know about the angel yet). Should things get too bad, a little Deus ex may be in order. I’d prefer not to throw this lever, but hey. I don’t wanna kill these guys. I kinda like ’em. Kinda.
Thanks for reading!
Of course, I’m not going to TPK my players. But this should be a pretty fun challenge for them since it’s way off the beaten path.
I’m curious to see how they handle it.
Like some of this stuff? Be sure to share it on social media.
See you next time.
Cartography by Dyson Logos. Main image by D. Hugh.