Ben is making a concentrated effort to better incorporate terrain effects into his game boards. Bypassing this occasional combat twist feels like a bit of a lost opportunity. While you never want to overwhelm an encounter, a subtle tactic stimulant now and again is certainly worthy of DM consideration. Ben’s got a quick modular mud hive square tutorial that when complete, will serve as a sort of a Monsters-at-Work road sign for his adventurers…perceive with caution.
What better place to awaken the earth than in an underground setting. A hollowed out cavern has all the necessary pre-requisites: sharp rocks, silent (and not so silent) odors, subtle noises, water pools and loose dirt.
To make the Pyramid of Shadows D&D 4E module his own, Ben is adding intermittent below ground areas to certain rooms and hallways. These special squares will represent visual cues that undesirable cavern dwellers may be nearby – adventurers will have to watch where they step.
The 2012 film Prometheus serves as the inspiration for our terrain mud hives. Early on in the movie when the research team first enters that chamber, there are tons of jars with a mysterious black liquid resting at the top. Ben was entranced with how the simplest human touch released such deadly beasts.
Consequently, Ben wants a less than obvious terrain square that carries that same sort of imminent danger (and also releases a random combatant anytime someone accidentally disrupts its home turf). Think of it sorta like a bee hive that’s minding its own business until somebody bumps into it.
The very first time the party finds itself beneath the Pyramid, ask the players to perform moderate Nature and Dungeoneering checks. The DM then reads the following…
“Your feet rest upon a natural cavern floor clearly void of personal interaction. Rocks and stones of all sizes surround you. A mixture of sand and dark earth fills its uneven crevices. Non-discrete sections of the floor seem somewhat unearthed…and perhaps previously occupied.”
The DM should spring forth a single minion monster (see below) during this initial inspection. You want to drive home the point that they need to watch where they walk or suffer the consequences.
- Animated Mud (#46, Mage Knight Dungeons)
- Acid Ooze (#46, Mage Knight Pyramid)
- Grub Swarm (Shattered Star)
- Medium Air Elemental (Shattered Star)
- Giant Ant (Dungeon Crawler, Omens)
- Grappler (Dungeon Crawler, From the Depths)
- Monitor Lizard (#29, Underdark)
- Runespiral Demon (#14, Demonweb)
- Kruthik Hatchling (#37, Deathknell)
- Stormclaw Scorpion (#48, Lords of Madness)
- Twig Blight (#58, Dragon Queen)
- Rat Swarm (#23, Unhallowed)
- Rat Swarm (#28, Savage Encounters)
- Stormclaw Scorpion (#48, Lords of Madness)
- Swarm of Spiders (#58, Underdark)
- Demonweb Swarm (#41, Desolation)
- Rot Scarab Swarm (#32, Desolation)
- Snake Swarm (#35, Dangerous Delves)
- Rot Grub Swarm (#40, Lords of Madness)
- Giant Rats (Reaper Legendary Encounters)
Consider making a random monster table to roll upon and having the monster stats at the ready. Minions are a logical role type as these creatures are merely meant to harass and disrupt the group’s normal combat.
The trick is not to get too literal. If the DM were to put these special tiles down on the game board at the outset, it would be rather easy for someone to simply meta game and just walk around the different colored terrain.
Instead, Ben will include a couple unique squares on the board to convey the possible existence of mud hives (i.e. monster hotels). However, the real danger squares will not be revealed until a movement trigger is actually tripped.
The DM will have a photo/sketch of the room with pre-marked threat squares. At the start of a player’s turn, a perception roll is made (moderate DC). A successful roll means the player carefully moves to the desired spot on the map (and nothing happens). A failed outcome means a mud hive has been disrupted and an inhabitant released. The enemy host occupies that bad square and pushes the player back one adjacent square.
Remember, just because one player successfully avoids the mud hive doesn’t mean that no else can activate it on their own turn (think of it like a balance check – just because you know the surface is treacherous, you still have to maneuver the surface correctly).
There are some fun twists here. The cavern monsters may or may not be aware of these maniacal mud hives. If a monster accidentally trips bad square, maybe there’s a yes/no roll each round to determine who the angered occupants attack (you or the monster).
Mud Hive Tutorial
The key to this terrain is building squares that are playable. Miniatures need to rest fairly cleanly on the special squares (which also need to span the traditional d20 width).
Here’s how Ben made his mud hives:
- Glue down your stones
- Add your DAP filler (for the flock to rest on)
- Paint your squares in the appropriate color scheme
- Cover the area with PVA glue
- Sprinkle on your thicker sand flock
- Go back and add a second layer of sand if needed
- Dab on smaller amounts of a darker flock
- Add a little more sand flock (so that dark comes through)
- Spray with your matte sealer
Remember, you’re trying to simulate that the earth has been burrowed or brought up from underneath.
Ben enjoyed several great articles while researching this topic:
- Tutorial: Terrain Powers
- Terrain Effects and Terrain Props Podcast
- A (Mostly) Comprehensive List of Fantastic Terrain
- The Architect DM: Traps, Hazards, & Terrain
Until next week!
Questions to Ponder: What do you think of Ben’s mud hive mechanics? Got any other monster inhabitant ideas? How would you improve upon the terrain build? Got a favorite terrain effect you like to use in your own game? Got a relevant article on this topic to share?