Redesigning Encounters: Shocking Revelation

As I wrote about in Redesigning Encounters: Ambush!, while DMing the War of the Burning Sky campaign, I’ll be updating encounters to the Monster Manual 3 design shift. Doing this fills a very specific purpose—it helps to prevent combat grind. From my previous article:

When the Monster Manual 3 was released, things changed drastically: damage went up, defenses went down, and hit points were reduced across the board. Additionally, power design noticeably improved, creating monsters that were a pleasure to run. All of these variables amounted to shorter, exciting, and more varied combats.

The War of the Burning Sky’s first few adventures, unfortunately, were written before this all-important design update. I’ll have the privilege of recreating each encounter by taking creatures from the MM3 or the Monster Vault, and fluffing the descriptions to feel like the monsters described in the adventure.

The stat blocks for Shocking Revelation begin on page 42 of The Scouring of Gate Pass. The encounter consists of:

  • Larion, Level 4 Elite Skirmisher
  • Wisp Solon, Level 4 Controller
  • Lightning Blast, Level 3 Blaster

The Good, the Bad, and the Fluffed

Unfortunately, there aren’t any Elite Level 4 Skirmishers in the MV. Though I could have used the rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide to make him elite, I decided leaving him a standard threat would be fine. Of the three Level 4 Skirmishers listed on page 314 of the MV, the Deathjump Spider seemed to have the mobility that Larion needed.

As before, I kept all of the Deathjump Spider’s stats; fluffing is simply about changing the way the mechanics look and feel, not how often or how powerfully they hit. The only exception to this is the ability scores. Since it doesn’t make sense for Larion to have an Intelligence of 1—as the Deathjump Spider does—I used all of Larion’s ability scores as established in his adventure stat block; I didn’t worry about how these would or would not affect his powers.

Larion marked a strong departure from how I fluffed the monsters in “Ambush!” As written in The Scouring of Gate Pass, he’s a varied combatant, with many attack powers that give a decidedly rogue-ish feeling. In contrast, the Deathjump Spider has few powers to fluff. Here’s what I did:

The Deathjump Spider’s melee attack became a rapier; I kept the poison damage, explaining that Larion’s weapon was coated in poison. Next, the spider’s death from above recharge power became boots of leaping—with a twist. As written, the Deathjump Spider jumps at a PC, and then attacks. For this encounter, Larion should be running away. To emulate this, I gave him a ranged weapon—handaxes, to match the miniature—and made it so the attack happened in the air. (Since the spider has no ranged attack power, I simply used the Orc Archer’s ranged attack; as a power from a Level 4 monster, I knew this would balance out just fine.) The completed power looks like this:

,b>Effect: Larion jumps up to 6 squares. This movement does not provoke opportunity attacks. During the jump, Larion use a handaxe, knocking the target prone on a hit.

Prodigious leap stayed exactly the same and was fluffed into an extension of Larion’s boots. This would have been a great opportunity to include some magic boots in the treasure; however, I had already picked other items for this level’s parcels. Thus, in order to maintain verisimilitude, after Larion used prodigious leap—an encounter power—I made sure to describe the boots as catching fire and charring up, as if they’d used all of their magic in this one, amazing jump.

Unfortunately, that rounded out the Deathjump Spider’s powers. I didn’t feel Larion was quite varied enough, so I did end up adding in roguish riposte, split strike, and guarding blade from his original stat block, making sure to fluff powers from other Level 4 MV creatures in order to stay at the damage output Level 4 monsters should be doing. In the end, Larion became a Frankenstein of powers from various monsters. Despite this, I never once felt he was over or underpowered; he lasted exactly as long as he should have, and the mobility of the Deathjump Spider kept the flavor the designers of the original encounter were trying to evoke.

As mentioned in Musings on Our Second Session, I decided to use a Phoenix instead of a Solon. The Solon, a Level 4 Controller, was easily fluffed into a Phoenix by using the Goblin Hex Hurler—a Level 3 Controller—as a base. The goblin’s melee attack became a bite (doing fire damage for good measure and maintaining the slide ability, of course). Blinding hex was fluffed into blinding radiance, dealing radiant damage with the blindness. His stinging hex easily translated into living fire—an almost sentient halo of flame that followed the PC, attacking if he so much as dared move an inch. Lastly, vexing cloud became immolation. Instead of dealing a -2 penalty to attacks, I made the burst deal ongoing 5 fire damage.

Finishing off the Phoenix, I removed goblin tactics and lead from the rear. Lead from the rear didn’t fit the Phoenix thematically. However, looking back, I probably should have kept goblin tactics (fluffed into avian reflexes or some such), as it might have made a nice power to have.

The Lightning Blast trap, a Level 3 Blaster in the adventure, was fluffed from the Magic Crossbow Turret on page 217 of the Essentials Dungeon Master’s Book. In this, it became a Fireball Turret, working exactly as written, just dealing fire damage.

Lastly, I added some creatures. Adding more monsters served a few purposes:

  1. With the Phoenix being a level lower than originally intended and Larion not being elite, the encounter needed more power.
  2. I wanted the combat to be a bit more beefy to make use of the 3D terrain I’d built.
  3. A combat with two very mobile monsters was probably going to be boring. The encounter really needed a few slow moving, hard hitting creatures, and so I added Dwarf Statues.

The Dwarf Statues were simply fluffed from the Guard Drake, a Level 2 Brute (the drake’s bite easily became a battleaxe to match the miniature). In the narrative, the Dwarf Statues were part of the Depository’s “security system,” much like the Lightning Blast trap.

In the end, the encounter ran long and I believe that’s because of the brutes I added; I should have either cut their hit points in half or made them minions and added four more.

Keeping Things Balanced

The encounter level for Shocking Revelation is listed as 2 (675 XP). After my adjustments, the encounter level rose to 5. In order to return the encounter level to 2, simply make the Dwarf Statues minions.