Sunday, February 8, 2015

Encounter Building Walkthrough: Kobold Guard Post

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Pact of the Tome! The article this week is very late due to sickness issues, but rest assured that it exists.

Today, we'll be discussing the encounter building rules in D&D 5E and working through an example of how to use them. You'll definitely want a copy of those rules on hand to reference, so either download the DM's Basic Rules (p. 56) or pull out your Dungeon Master's Guide and turn to page 82. We're also referencing the Kobold creature, which you can find in the DM's Basic Rules (p. 34) or in your Monster Manual (p. 195). Finally, I'll be borrowing some techniques from The Angry DM to make our encounter more exciting. In general, I highly recommend this guy's website - though his writing style is unique and doesn't work for everyone, his advice is gold and will improve your game. For this article, though, we'll be referencing his three-part series on encounter building - creaturesbattlefields and ambiance, and putting it all together.

Did you know that the Arctic Kobold is
a type of watch? I didn't until I did an
image search to illustrate this article.
First, let's discuss the setting for this adventure and encounter (it's also the setting of the game I ran last night - I like multitasking). The adventurers are trying to scale a glacier, and one of the obstacles they run into along the way is a warren of arctic kobolds living in twisting, turning tunnels they carved into the ice. The kobolds are nasty buggers, and they'll stop at nothing to get these adventurers off their mountain - or at least out of their warren.
This particular encounter is a kobold guard post. The kobolds aren't particularly organized, but they do recognize the value of having guards to spot and drive away deadly creatures like yeti and humans. If the adventurers engage the kobolds, they should be able to defeat them without any casualties - let's aim for a Medium difficulty encounter.

Before we start the mathematical aspects of building our encounter, let's take a few moments to understand both the creatures we are using and the environment they live in. Mechanically, kobolds are low-level cannon fodder that like fighting in large numbers. They're equally powerful at melee and at range so long as at least one of them is in melee with their target. Finally, with only 5 HP and an AC of 12, they're liable to go down every time an adventurer hits one of them - which will happen a lot.
Flavorfully, kobolds are tricksters. They won't hesitate to use their large numbers to overwhelm opponents, but they will also use tricks and traps to stymie their foes.

Next, we'll want to consider our environment. "The entrance to a glacier tunnel" suggests any number of possibilities. Ice walls and protrusions create cover from ranged attacks and block movement, slick ice trips up moving characters, ravines block movement while giving archers a clear shot, and spiky areas of ice provide a battlefield hazard. Additionally, kobolds are clever and could build battlefield-changing traps such as a covered pit or a triggered icefall (creating difficult terrain after it is triggered). Because the kobolds chose this location as a guard post, chances are the terrain here is largely to their advantage.

Finally, we'll want to have a rough idea of the party we're working with. For this article, we'll assume something fairly standard - say, four level 1 characters with a fairly "standard" (cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard) setup. Eyeballing it, it seems like four kobolds might be an appropriate Medium challenge for our group, but I'll talk about this calculation in a little while.

The initial encounter setup looks something like this.
Pretty drab - we can do better.
Now, let's map out a rough idea for the encounter. Essentially, the kobolds will defend a choke point (the entrance to their cave) in a mob - they don't have an organized warning system, relying on their initial numbers to drive away intruders. They'll attack if the adventurers refuse to leave after being warned, and will fight until significantly outnumbered, at which point they'll attempt to preserve their lives by surrendering or running away.

However, this basic plan has a few problem. What if the party decides to hang back and attack with ranged weapons, picking off the kobolds one by one? Although the kobolds can fire back, the party will probably be able to find cover in the area outside while the kobolds have none. This setup also allows the party complete freedom to have their toughest members come in and "tank" hits in the choke point, leaving weaker characters like the wizard free to avoid being hit.

The second version of the encounter is much more
challenging - some preparation on the kobold's (and your)
part can make a big difference! (The box with an "X"
represents the covered pit).
Let's brainstorm a few ways to change this up. Although we could add another type of monster to the fight (including one of the kobold types I wrote about in my last article), let's see what we can do to change the terrain instead. First, we can give the kobolds a way to cope with ranged attackers by giving them an ice barricade to hide behind. The kobolds can duck down and use this as three-quarters cover (+5 AC under D&D 5E's rules), while standing up to make their ranged attacks. This gives them an advantage in a ranged confrontation, encouraging the party to close to melee - and when they do, they'll have to climb over the barricade, treating it as difficult terrain.
When the party does close, they'll be faced with a nasty surprise. Kobolds love traps, and a simple covered pit (DMG p. 122) will entrap the first character to charge into it. Because the pit is only 10 feet deep, they'll only take 1d6 damage from falling in, but landing prone will take them out of the fight for a turn. Note also that the pit's presence (probably the untouched snow piled over the top) can be detected with a DC 15 Perception check - many characters, though, (especially a charging Barbarian) won't have their Passive Perception that high, meaning they're likely to fall straight into it.
The pit's purpose is to bring the tough melee characters out of the fight for a round or so. This breaks up the party formation and allows the kobolds to focus their fire on the party's vulnerable second rank. The pit also acts as an obstacle after it is discovered, forcing the melee members of the party to move in the tight space around it and allowing the kobolds to surround anyone who makes it to them.

Difficulty XP
Easy 100
Medium 200
Deadly 400
Now that we've covered the tactical aspects of the encounter, let's talk about the "balance" side. As the Basic Rules and DMG suggest, we first calculate the difficulty thresholds of our party in the table on the left, adding up the "Easy," "Medium," "Hard," and "Deadly" values for four level 1 characters (based on the table on BR p. 56, DMG p. 82). Next, we total up the XP from our monsters - in this case, four kobolds are worth 100 XP. But wait! Because there are multiple monsters in the encounter, we use the encounter multiplier for 3-6 monsters, which is x2. Therefore the XP value for this encounter is 200 XP, (although we'll be awarding only 100 - the multiplier only counts when calculating encounter difficulty, not when awarding XP). Finally, we compare this value to the party XP value - four kobolds is a medium difficulty encounter for this party, which sounds about right.
However, we'll want to consult the Modifying Encounter Difficulty section, since we've changed up the terrain to favor our monsters. The guidelines give "The enemy has cover, and the party doesn't" as something that can increase encounter difficulty, and it applies here - the pit trap also helps the situation go in the kobold's favor, although it isn't explicitly mentioned. We'll therefore push the difficulty of this encounter up to Hard to match the guidelines. Is that okay? It is - we've stacked the deck in the kobold's favor to give the PCs a challenge, and so long as every encounter in the adventure isn't this hard that's probably fine.

Today, we walked through the process of building a tactical combat encounter. Next week, we'll cover... something else! I haven't decided yet, so if you have a suggestion feel free to post it in the comments. Thanks for reading - I'll see you next week on Pact of the Tome.

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