This section will contain spoilers for the Scales of War Adventure Path............you have been warned.
You only have to watch the beginning of this clip to get a feeling for how this level plays out.
I finally had the opportunity to play through Batman: Arkham Asylum and absolutely loved it! Every level did something new and crazy to really give each layer a different flavor and the sewer levels were particularly terrifying. There were several moments when I literally jumped while playing through this level. Then tension and knowing that you are facing something much more powerful than yourself was absolutely terrifying.
Now of course this turned my mind to my next major D&D adventure and how I could take what worked well in this game and input it into my campaign. My players are beginning the epic tier and the major quest in the Scales of War adventure leads them deep into a Shadowfell Domain of Dread, The Dark Realm of Monadhan. And this domain is a land of treachery, betrayal and darkness.
The first part of the published adventure Betrayal at Monadhan is an interview with an angel who asks the party to infiltrate their way through a perilous dark domain to find access to one of Tiamat's exarchs who is up to something. The party is sent on their way into the dark domain, which is an awesome opportunity to use the new Despair Deck from the Shadowfell Boxed Set I just picked up (which I'm going to write my thoughts on later). The party is set to arrive in a swamp, a dismal place in a jungle long forgotten and the adventure is detailed to merely throw the party against a hydra, just to show that the Shadowfell is dangerous. Now I could see how that could be semi-meaningful, but just throwing an encounter against my party for the sake of it isn't interesting to me so I decided to have some fun with it and that is where my experience with Arkham Asylum comes into play.
So the party arrives on a wooden platform in a tremendous swamp reaching out in every direction they can see. Wooden walkways extend out in every direction and large mangrove-like trees extended thick, black roots into the muck and mire. The mist lies thick and the heat is stifling, suggesting a tropical environ, but the time of day is nondescript as some kind of pale sun burns, veiled behind the cloud filled sky. Even with the oppressed feeling of this dark place, the party feels the need to move on. Every so often, the can see bubbles rising from the muck indicating a bizarre presence to the place. After walking along for a short time, they sense something very off. The bubbles of the swamp begin to coalesce to one large section of swamp and one large bubble explodes forth and the swamp falls still. At this point, the encounter parameters kick in and initiative will be rolled!
The party will start up near the first branch of the walkways from the bottom. As the party struggles to figure out what is going on, they will notice bubbles moving under one of the walkways closest to the largest group of characters. The walkway will begin to shake at the top of the initiative count and on the initiative of the hydra, the hydra will burst up as a free action and make a bite attack on all the characters on that walkway platform.
I'm using a modified version of the hydra included in the module to include some of the solo adjustments from the monster vault (essentially taking the traits of the hydra from the monster vault and applying them to the heroslayer hydra included in the adventure path). While the hydra is submerged under the muck, it is in search mode. While it is in search mode, if a character moves more than half their speed during their turn, the platform they are on begins to quake. At the start of their next turn, the hydra makes an attack centered on the platform. Each creature is attacked and the platform is destroyed and anyone on it is thrown into the mire/mud. If no character moves in a round while search mode is active, the hydra comes screeching out in the mud closest to the largest cluster of players on it's turn and merely destroys an unoccupied walkway section instead of taking an action.. At the end of its next turn it dives back under the mud after making normal attacks.
My goal is to make the party not only get roughed up by a tremendous hydra creature, but also to inspire terrible fear in my players by basically completely removing the movement speed issues of the hydra and giving it free reign in the muck. If the players find themselves in the muck, they must succeed in an Athletics check (moderate difficulty) in order to move within the muck and if they fail they begin to sink into the mire. A character that starts their turn buried in the mire is targeted by a +20 vs. Fortitude attack, on a hit, the target takes 15 poison damage and is weakened (save ends) by the sludge.
So from here I took an encounter that was just a throw away (no story importance) and gave it a little bit more spice to try and create a more memorable and flavorful introduction to this stage of the adventure. I'm going to try and run it this upcoming week and hopefully it will be something to really grab them AND DRAG THEM SCREAMING INTO THE MIRY DARKNESS!!!!!!!!!! Or maybe just be a cool adventure. We'll see. ;)