4th Ed Dungeon Crawling – pt 2 – Groups o’ Mooks

This is part 2 of a series of articles – both are reposts from my old short lived blog at embraDM.blogspot.co.uk

The (Tar) Devil is in the Details

Last post I gave a bit of an overview on my thinking for running a dungeon crawl using 4E D&D, as a more freeform dungeon exploration of the type you’d get using Pathfinder or other systems, cutting down on the big break between the combat encounters and exploration.  After the first session, I got thinking about the monster design for the rolling encounters, and got a bit more about waves of reinforcements and things.

The Mooks

(All the base stats that I tinkered with were taken from either the Essentials Monster Vault or DM Kit, or from Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale, with a bit of help from the ever awesome Sly Flourish DM Cheat Sheet.   They should match up with the base monster maths given in Monster Manual 3, with the exception of number of hit points)

We’re all familiar with the base enemies of 4E by now – minion, standard, elite, solo.  As explained last time out, for my purposes I needed a category between a minion and a standard. I’m calling them Mooks – it seems appropriate; they’re never going to be a serious threat to the players individually, these are the guys that get in the way until the big guys turn up.  The base level for these guys, and what I did for the first session, was to take a standard soldier or brute, and reduce his HP to about 30.

During the first session, we found that a wave of a few of these guys goes down in about 3 rounds of fighting (makes sense, it’s about half the number of rounds that a normal fight should usually take).  This was intended, but it could quickly turn into a problem if each wave of these guys turns up with high damage encounter powers… standard 4E balance assumes about 1 enemy per hero, with an encounter power or two – if your heroes are going to be fighting 3 waves of 4 mooks each instead, that’s going to be a lot of extra damage getting thrown at them.  I decided that was too much to be sensible – I played conservative with numbers during the first session anyway, and decided I wouldn’t use the encounter powers on the sheet.  I left them off entirely for the next session.  The idea of these fights was a gradual spend of the party’s resources; if every wave of 3 Mooks turned up and used encounter powers, that’d move us into high spike damage territory.

So for level 5 basic mooks that gives us something like the following (with apologies for very basic formatting):

Brawler – Level 5 Brute

HP: 35; Bloodied 17; Init +4

AC 17; Fort 18; Ref 17; Will 16

Speed 5

Standard Actions

Smack (weapon) – At will

Melee Attack 1; +10 vs AC

Hit: 1d8 + 11 damage

Guardsman – Level 5 Soldier

HP 30; Bloodied 15; Init +8

AC 21; Fort 18; Ref; 17; Will 16

Speed 5

Standard Actions

Jab (weapon) – At will

Melee Attack 1; +10 vs AC

Hit: 1d8 + 8 damage

So that gives us a base line – brutes still have lower defenses than soldiers, but hit a bit harder and have slightly higher HP (they might just about survive an extra hit).  Artillery become similar, but have a lower damage melee at will, and an added ranged attack:

Bowman – Level 5 Artillery

HP 30; Bloodied 15; Init +8

AC19; Fort 15; Ref 18; Will 16

Speed 6

Standard Actions

Dagger (weapon) – At will

Melee Attack 1; +10 vs AC

Hit: 1d6 + 6 damage

Bowshot (weapon) – At will

Ranged Attack 10; +10 vs AC

Hit: 1d8 + 8 damage

I didn’t use any skirmishers in these groups – these were meant to be quick fights to blast through, so no need for enemies shifting around and making things take longer.

The dungeon complex that the party was going through for the first foray into this type of play was the local Iron Circle HQ, so the enemies were a mix of Human Brigand types and Tar Devils.  Most of the groups were either levelled up or down by a level, or got something else added to them for variety. A couple of examples:

  • crossbowmen kept the effect that the Iron Circle Sentry minions have in the DM’s Kit – a few extra damage if the victim moves before the start of the Mook’s next turn.
  • The tar devils gained normal tar devil racial resists and vulnerabilities, and deal fire damage instead of untyped (much to the delight of our Tiefling Warlock).

No need to go overboard – since these fights are over quickly, you don’t want to have too many things to manage.

Encounter Groups

When planning, I used groups of 4 mooks (usually either 2 soldiers with 2 artillery, or 4 soldiers), or 2 brute or soldier mooks with a normal strength Mage as a leader of the group.  With their low defences, brutes in this form really do go down like chumps, so they’re better coming in with something else or as wandering groups to join in already ongoing fights.

Between three and five of these groups should be a good number in between the party’s short rests, but that will obviously depend on how much you want to stretch them and how the group plays.

For the top floor of the dungeon, I’d decided on reinforcements arriving by rolling dice to determine whether or not they became aware of an ongoing fight. I’d tried out a D20 roll, with a cumulative +5 modifier for each round a fight had been ongoing for. a result of 20+ including modifiers meant reinforcements came to see what was going on.  This worked out reasonably in that it was simple to run with, but was a bit too random for my taste.

For the second floor, I simply placed the groups around the rooms and decided myself how they reacted – sneaking up behind the group when they started investigating, one of the archers running to fetch reinforcements, a Mage running off to hide elsewhere when they were seperated from their companions by a LoS blocking cloud.  For groups close together, I had intended to make Perception checks to see if they joined in (again, with modifiers as the fights went on longer), but it never came to that in play.  Overall I was happier running things myself like this – it made for a good ongoing narrative feel to the whole floor.

Final Thoughts

In the end, I was pretty happy with how the two floors of dungeon I ran this way worked out (the third floor ran with more standard 4th ed encounters as a run up to the boss fight).  I’m certainly intending on refining the idea further and using it again in the future – as well as dungeons, I can imagine using it for attacks on enemy camps, or the heroes taking part in defending towns and the like.  Any situation where there wouldn’t necessarily be set piece fights with a chance for a 5 minute break in between should be fair game, really, so  I may well return to give more details when I’ve tried out more fights at higher level.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to put together a quick example to show how I might do this in practice now that I’ve played with the idea, and that’ll be the conclusion to this little mini-series.

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