Redesigning Encounters: Spy Headquarters
The Spy Headquarters encounter was my favorite so far and not because it was a rewarding combat, but because it was almost completely bypassed by excellent roleplaying and more than a few lucky bluff checks.
The encounter started off with the group convincing the Shahalesti that they were sent by Shealis to open the case of vital military intelligence. I decided that I couldn’t let just one die roll decide the fate of what was supposed to be a difficult encounter, and so I whipped up a skill challenge. We were about halfway through it when I realized there was a good chance I wasn’t going to need any of the stats I had prepared. In the end, not only had the PC’s talked their way out of combat, they had managed to split the bad guys right down the middle: one half dead set on staying the course of their plan and the other half rethinking their recent terrorist acts.
Moments before these two camps resorted to bloodshed, Cody’s character Arender addressed the leader of the faction that most aligned with the group’s goals and said simply, “If you want our help, you have it.” The NPC accepted, allowing us the best of both worlds—an amazing roleplaying encounter and a kick-ass combat encounter. Of course, since the party had effectively cut the playing field down by half (half the bad guys had sort of moved to the good guy side), the combat was less difficult… which worked out perfectly.
You see, I’d planned on having six players for this encounter—my normal five plus a visiting player, my best friend Jeff Farnsworth, in town from Los Angeles for my wedding. However, the day before the game, Brian—who plays Buckidu, the dragonborn paladin—canceled suddenly. This brought the group back down to five players. Since I’d upped the difficulty of the Spy Headquarters encounter to accommodate six, this was going to cause some problems. But when the group was able to effectively nullify half of their enemies, everything evened out.
One last interesting note: Since I recently purchased Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale, I decided I was going to only use creatures from it, just to spice things up.
Spy Headquarters, known as Spies’ Headquarters in the adventure, is located on page 50 and consists of the following:
- 1 Shahalesti Lieutenant, Level 5 Soldier
- 2 Shahalesti Warriors, Level 3 Soldiers
- 3 Feywild Badgers, Level 2 Brutes
The Good, the Bad, and the Fluffed
Because I originally planned on having six players, I pretty much redesigned this encounter from the ground up.
First of all, I removed the Feywild badgers—who were dangerously close to turning the encounter into a Disney movie—and replaced them with four Shahalesti Scouts. I figured that, if this was the Shahalesti hideout, Shealis was going to have some muscle standing by in case some dirty elves came sneaking about. I kicked their level up to 3 and made them minion skirmishers.
Looking through Threats to the Nentir Vale’s index, I found three minion skirmishers; the Lizardfolk Mire Scout on page 118 was exactly was I was looking for. I simply changed the scout’s claw attack to a longsword and renamed fastlight shot to feybolt. This caused an interesting design question: why do these simple eladrin warriors have magical abilities? That’s when I realized the answer was all too simple—all eladrin have access to fey step, an inherently magical power. Since eladrin are originally from the Feywild, perhaps they all have some kind of tie, however small, to that bastion of magic.
I reduced the number of Shahalesti Warriors down to one, renamed him Shahalesti Mystic, and kicked his difficulty level up to a Level 7 Elite Controller. For this, I used Erzoun on page 91. Quickshadow aura became quickening aura, blackfire touch was renamed to greenfire touch (losing the necrotic descriptor and adding radiant), beshadowed mind stayed the same, witch’s prophecy changed into mystic’s domination, and deep shadow became rapid growth (loosing the necrotic descriptor). With the final two powers—shadow jaunt and shadow augury—I simply replaced “shadow” with “fey.” In the end, I had an awesome eladrin spellcaster who lit up with a radiant green fire as he summoned hostile plants to do his bidding.
Lastly, the Shahalesti Lieutenant was beefed up to become to a Level 6 Elite Brute. For him, I used Scargash the Tigerclaw Chief on page 100. For the most part, he stayed exactly the same with some minimal fluffing: razorclaw resilience became simply resilience and his war pick was fluffed into a longsword to match the miniature.
Since I didn’t stick to the adventure and upped the difficulty level based on my group’s dynamic, this Redesigning Encounters entry will probably be less useful to those who wish to update their War of the Burning Sky encounters. On the other hand, it should prove just how easy it is to fluff one monster into another, no matter how different they are visually from each other.
I’m looking forward to fluffing a beholder and a hydra into a couple of Ragesian generals…
Keeping Things Balanced
The encounter level for Spy Headquarters is listed as 4 (875 XP). After my adjustments, the encounter level rose to 6. In order to return the encounter level to 4, reduce both the Lieutenant and the Mystic to Level 4 Elites.