This post is part of the May of the Dead blogfest being run by Going Last. If you’d like more undead type goodness, head over here for lots more.
This particular encounter has been kicking around in my head for a while now, but it was too… unformed for me to feel comfortable publishing. Fortunately, the May of the Dead blogfest gave me a kickstart; by applying an undead theme to the encounter, it now had purpose and flavor.
I’m not going to dictate the specific background to the encounter in order to give you the opportunity to take it in your own direction. However, the very basic setup is this: a shaman is attempting to use lightning to animate or raise a body. He has converted a ring of standing stones into a primal conduit to channel a storm’s energy into the body, which lays in the center on a slab of stone. His motivations, backstory, and the plot leading up to the encounter, I leave up to you. Sounds very “Frankenstein’s Monster”? Yup, it’s supposed to. Except in this case, instead of using science, the Good Doctor is using primal power.
When the PCs enter the scene, there is a storm raging. Four of the standing stones have metal spikes attached to them. The spikes are glowing with St. Elmo’s Fire. The shaman is working some sort of ritual over the body while his spirit companion stands watch.
Rain: Because of the storm and driving rain, any squares more than two away are considered lightly obscured (granting partial concealment).
Standing Stones with Spikes: Divide the map into four quadrants. One standing stone with a spike should be in each quadrant. At the top of each round, roll a d4 to determine which of the standing stones is struck by lightning. Every creature in that quadrant will also take Med Damage (by level)*, and any trees in that quadrant gain a surge of the primal life force the shaman is channeling – they can also attack on their turn. Finally, 1d4+1 elementals appear in that quadrant and attack the PCs directly after the standing stone attack is resolved (storm/air elementals are suggested, though a water elemental could be formed out of the rain as well). If you need to tone down the encounter at some point, you can make these elementals appear with 1/2 normal hit points.
Trees: At the end of the initiative order, trees have a placeholder. Any trees in the quadrant that was struck by lightning this round can make the following attack: Melee 4; 5+lvl vs. AC; High Damage.
Shaman: The shaman will stay out of combat unless defeat or disruption seems imminent. It is DM’s discretion whether he simply flees the scene or tries to keep the PCs from disrupting the ritual and lightning rods.
Spirit Companion: Recommended to be some type of elemental of the PC’s level +3.
Disabling the Standing Stones
Of course, any clever group will decide that the standing stones are the real threat in the encounter. They generate monsters every round, do auto damage, and grant the TREES attacks. So they’re going to want to disable them, or at the very least, avoid them. Here are some skill uses for the encounter:
- Nature: No action difficult DC check to half the damage done to self and allies the next time lightning strikes. (The PC tells allies they need to take cover)
- Athletics: Move action moderate DC to climb a standing stone. If the standing stone has a spike, the PC is now adjacent to that spike. *If a stone with a spike is struck while a PC is adjacent to it, that PC takes triple damage from the strike.
- Arcana: If a PC is adjacent to a spike – TWO standard action moderate DC checks to disable a spike. Also, a no action aid another can be made to shout instructions to a PC that is trying to diable the spike.
- Acrobatics: Move action moderate DC to hop between the tops of stones. A PC must have already climbed the stones to use this skill.
The End Game
Much of the encounter end conditions will be dermined by you based upon the story background. It is suggested that a certain number of lightning strikes completes the shaman’s ritual. Whether that new (flesh golem perhaps?) monster then enters the fray, or whether the shaman disappears with it (and the storm subsides, and the elementals disappear) is up to you. Keep in mind that the PCs may simply decide to go straight for the shaman or even hack the not-yet-animated body to pieces before the ritual is complete. Prepare for those possibilities.
This map has patches of sparser grass along the edge of the map to delineate the quadrants. Characters that are standing on the line are in two quadrants at once. Also, the stones with the spikes have a blue dot on them.
So there you have it. A somewhat fleshed out encounter with a great undead theme. Just add level appropriate monsters, and a good dose of story, and you’re ready to go!