Three heroes, four Hobgoblins. Two of the heroes are battered and bruised at 3/4 hit points and three or four healing surges remaining, while the Wizard is fresh as a daisy and spoiling for a fight.
In the room are the Hobgoblins – two Soldiers, an Archer and a Warcaster. There’s also two captives huddled in a corner – a couple of local farmkids who (unknown to the sergeant who sent our heroes on this wild goosechase) thought they’d impress the village girls by spending a night in the Haunted Keep. And yes, they’ve both pissed their pants.
There’s a locked iron box against a side wall and a rug in the centre of the room that hides a trapdoor down to Level 2 just in case my players want to continue playing 4e D&D, old style.
Now, I’ve used the Hobgoblin Warcaster before and he’s one tough critter who fights well above his weight. Like all Hobgoblins he’s got a chance to shrug off save-based effects immediately, has two ranged attacks that can either toss characters around like a ragdoll or knock them prone. Up close he’s just as tough with a Lightning strike from his staff which does a serious amount of damage and dazes the poor hittee until the end of the Warcaster’s next turn. Combine that with Force Lure and he can pull a foe toward him one round to Shock Staff him the next.
The downside to the Warcaster is that all of his abilities recharge on the roll of a d6. That’s a lot of in-game tracking for just a single monster. Instead of this, I decide the he can use his Shock Staff every other round, Force Lure twice in the encounter and Force Pulse just once. It’s easier that way.
The great thing about 4e Hobgoblins is that they’ve got something highly unusual for your typical monster-fodder race – training in the History skill. To my mind, they’re like Klingons – they have a strong and rich oral tradition and are proud of their past. I love that. These particular Hobgoblins are in the Haunted Keep searching for the mortal remains of The-La-Ka, a legendary “Hero” of their people.
Not that the players are interested in any of this, of course. They just wanna fight. Initiative is rolled.
“I rolled a 20! Does that mean I do critical initiative?”
The captives in the corner add an extra tactical wrinkle to the combat; they can’t just lob a Freezing Cloud into the room or it’s goodbye Farm Boys. This limits Mahkra’s options somewhat (bwahahahaha!) so instead he lobs a Cloud of Daggers at the Warcaster and tries to manoeuvre around the edge of the room to position himself between the villagers and the Hobgoblins.
Squidgee has the same idea, using Acrobatics to get across the room (wall running Halfling Jesters!) and Sly Flourish against the Archer.
Hairy Bob…. well, Hairy Bob just charges in. It’s what he does.
I’m happy to say that all of the Hobgoblin’s attacks in the first round miss (heck, my highest roll was a 4). Mahkra gets to the farmboys and unleashes Icy Hell Freezing Cloud into the middle of the room. The Warcaster takes 7 damage, then another 8 on his turn. The Soldiers fare equally poorly and the Archer takes damage once. Hairy Bob (who is also in the blast) makes his saves. Which is nice.
The Hobgoblins have been wrong-footed. The Archer is up close and personal while the Soldiers are at the back, faring poorly against Hairy Bob. The Warcaster is in the middle of the room and uses Force Lure to drag Squidgee toward him to use his Shock Staff on him next round. No such luck.
Our Squidg’ uses Deft Srike to position himself so the Warcaster is between himself and Hairy Bob. Sneak Attack. Hairy Bob then turns (ignoring the Soldiers for a second) and also Sneak Attacks. Ouchouchouchouchouch.
One Solider and the Archer don’t last much longer, and the last Hobgoblin surrenders, agreeing to tell the players all he knows about the lower levels and swearing that His People will never enter the Haunted Keep again.
In the iron box they find 60gp, 300sp and a Magic Item level 3 of their choosing (Treasure Parcels 9 & 4 from the DMG).
We leave it there. We’ve played 4e D&D using nothing more than our minds, character sheets & dice and lived to tell the tale. It’s been a short adventure full of laugher, fun, stupidity and all the things that make D&D great, and it’s been a pleasure to be DM. This could have been any edition of D&D but the fact that it was 4e added something to the game. Every character class had options, both in-combat and out. I presented a Skill Challenge, and the players lapped it up.
Would I do it again?
In a heartbeat.