• Let's Read Threats to the Nentir Vale: Hurly-Burly Brothers

    Copyright 2011 Wizards of the Coast.

    This post is part of a series! Click here to see the others.

    This is such a simple entry, but I really like it.

    The Lore

    Once upon a time, many years ago, a powerful troll shaman bore two children, twin boys. Like any mother, she wanted her children to grow up safe and protected, so she cast a powerful ritual that bound their spirits together. From that point on, they could only be killed while in close proximity to each other.

    This ended up making the brothers Hurly and Burly even more unkillable than your typical trolls, because they grew up to hate each other’s guts. Staying in close proximity is the last thing they want to do!

    Nowadays, they live in two caves five miles apart, both north of Winterhaven near the foothills of the Cairngorm Peaks. One of them is close to the shores of Lake Wintermist, the other is to the west. The book doesn’t say which brother lives where, but as long as you remember your own decision it should be fine.

    Hurly and Burly mostly keep to themselves, roaming the area around their respective caves and hunting the local wildlife. Every once in a while, though, one of them will end up encroaching on the other’s territory, and the two have a bitter and violent fight that can last for days. The brothers tear each other to pieces, but this does no lasting harm because they’re trolls. It does leave both of them angry enough to begin taking their frustrations out on surrounding settlements and passing travelers for a while, which is one possible reasons for meddlesome PCs to get involved with the two.

    Could one of the brothers move further away to end these altercations? Sure! But neither of them will give “that rotten git” the satisfaction of backing down.

    The Numbers

    The brothers are so alike they share the same stat block! They’re both Level 9 Elite Brutes with 240 HP and Speed 8. As trolls, they’re Large Natural Humanoids.

    Their basic attack uses a troll-sized battleaxe, and they can use Cleave to attack all enemies in a Close Burst 2 (that’s an area 2 squares on a side). This does a bit less damage to each target and pushes them 1 square.

    The trolls have Regeneration 10, which as usual shuts down for a turn if they take fire or acid damage. Instead of Troll Healing, they have Bound By Blood. As with troll healing, once they drop to 0 HP the brothers get back up with 30 HP after a turn. To prevent this, they must be hit by an attack that deals fire or acid damage while within 5 squares of the other brother. This can be either the attack that drops them, or an extra attack made while they’re down, as usual.

    The brothers’ blessing is not general knowledge, but they of course know all about it. PCs might discover it by studying the trolls and succeeding at a DC 21 Arcana or Nature check. This could be done through quiet observation, but it will most likely happen after the first time one of them fails to die to the usual troll countermeasures.

    Final Impressions

    I really like the fairy-tale quality of the brothers’ story. Presumably, the party will end up interacting with them when tasked to resolve their conflict in a way that stops their periodic rampages.

    This could be resolved with murder, of course, even though that’s the boring solution. Regardless of the party’s level, they can never hope to defeat one of the brothers if they meet him alone. He’ll just keep getting back up! The PCs must discover the blessing and find a way to get them together, which could mean provoking another fight between them. In that case the brothers will try their best to stay further than 5 squares apart, so PC controllers have their work cut out for them.

    But why restrict ourselves to violence when there are many more fun ways to handle this? If you spring the brothers on a party that’s way too weak to fight them, the PCs must engage in trickery or diplomacy to convince the pair to move further apart. Or maybe the actual enemy is some more powerful threat, and the PCs must somehow enlist the brothers as hired muscle. And it has to be both of them. So now the controllers will find themselves trying to prevent enemies from forcing the trolls together.

  • Let's Read Threats to the Nentir Vale: Hunter Spiders

    Copyright 2011 Wizards of the Coast.

    This post is part of a series! Click here to see the others.

    This is a vale-specific group, but it includes at least one deep-cut reference to early AD&D.

    The Lore

    Deep beneath the Nentir Vale, lies the infamous drow city of Erelhei-Cinlu. Though forgotten by the people of the surface, it sends the occasional raiding party there to meddle in its affairs and capture slaves. The city was directly connected to the Vale by a tunnel that emerged in the Ogrefist Hills, but this tunnel collapsed three years ago. And when it did, it trapped one of those raiding parties on the surface.

    This group, who calls themselves the Hunter Spiders, initially made camp in the Ogrefist Hills to await rescue, but for some reason the houses of Erelhei-Cinlu didn’t make any serious attempt to clear the blocked passage. This was especially concerning for the group’s leader Ti’irtha, who was the daughter of House Despana’s matron.

    After a few months, and much thought, the group decided no rescue was coming and moved east into Harken Forest. They knew the forest had seem many skirmishes between elves, eladrin and drow in the past, and figured it might contain an entrance to another part of the Underdark named Torog’s Highway. From there they could journey home.

    Ti’irtha asked for Lolth’s guidance and was directed to a bramble-choked region of the forest north of King’s Road, known as Spiderhaunt Thicket. The place turned out to contain many ancient elven and eladrin ruins, as well as large populations of giant spiders and undead fey. The Hunter Spiders soon put to work the many captives they had acquired in their raid searching for the Underdark entrance that surely had to be here. They’ve been there ever since.

    The drow themselves focus their efforts in maintaining and increasing the numbers of their enslaved workforce. They mainly prey on the King’s Road to the south of the Thicket, linking Fallcrest to Harkenwold. When movement there grows too sparse, they prey on the Trade Road to the north, which links Fallcrest to Thunderspire. It’s a less ideal hunting ground for them because there’s fierce competition from the Raven Roost bandits. When pickings are slim on both roads, they get a bit more desperate and prowl the outlying farms of Fallcrest, giving rise to rumors of obsidian demons who snatch people from their beds.

    Lolth’s guidance did not come without a price, of course. This is the goddess of betrayals and of the cycle of abuse, as we discussed in previous Let’s Reads. Shortly after the Hunter Spiders arrived on the Thicket, Ti’irtha and her consort Vhaelor found a hidden shrine to Lolth while exploring the region alone. Seeing that as the sign it was, Ti’irtha murdered Vhaelor and ofered his blood to Lolth on the altar. For her devotion, she was “rewarded” with transformation into a werespider.

    As a band of elite raiders straight out of the original drow city-state, each of the Hunter Spiders is an extremely powerful and skilled individual. But there are only 24 of them left from the original party, and they have no way of replenishing their numbers. They’re not interested in conquest or in surface intrigue - their main goal is to return home. This makes them one of the rare evil factions in D&D that might be truly amenable to negotiation. If they party can offer them a way of returning to the Underdark, they really will pack up and leave, possibly even freeing their prisoners in the process if that’s part of the asked price for the information. However, they’re all wise in the ways of Lolth, which means that getting them to trust you is a challenge in itself (and almost impossible if you do intend to betray them).

    The Numbers

    The Hunter Spiders are all drow, which means they all have Darkvision and their powers tend to be shadow and spider-themed. They’re placed at mid-Paragon tier, so they’re heaviweights in the Vale power scale, but as mentioned above they are few and have no way to bring in reinforcements. It should be possible for you to come up with a breakdown of how many of the 24 drow left use each of the three “generic” stat blocks below. And we also get stats for Ti’irtha.

    Drow Darklasher

    This is an assassin employing shadow-themed magic and a really sharp dagger. It’s a Level 15 Lurker with 114 HP.

    All of the darklasher’s attacks deal 2d10 extra damage against targets granting combat advantage to it. The dagger does solid damage but has no other riders. It can also attack at range using a Lashing Darkness spell, which can only target a creature that can’t see the drow. This deals heavy force damage and slides the target 1 square.

    Instead of attacking the darklasher can use Shadow Levitation to shift 4 squares into the air and gain total concealment plus a fly speed of 4 (hover) for a turn or until immediately after it attacks.

    Another way it has to become unseen is its Cloud of Darkness encounter power, a minor action that creates a zone of darkness in a Close Burst 1 around the caster. The zone lasts until the end of the encounter, blocks line of sight for everyone except the darklasher, and if any creature other than the darklasher enters the cloud completely, it becomes blinded while inside. The zone can be dismissed as a free action.

    So it seems that Darklashers can behave kinda like artillery. Set up a cloud of darkness and stay inside, using Lashing Darkness to hit people from afar and either disrupt their maneuvers or pull them into the cloud for a stabbing boosted by combat advantage. If forced out, use Shadow Levitation to fly away and hide.

    Drow Spider Totemist

    Another drow spider-themed spellcaster to add to our ever expanding collection. This one is a Level 16 Controller (Leader) with 154 HP. It projects an aura named Dark Pact Mobility (5) which allows bloodied allies inside to automatically succeed at saves against slowing or immobilizing effects.

    The totemist has this name because their main weapon and implement is a handheld spider totem. Their basic melee attack is a Totem Bite that deals light physical damage and inflicts 10 ongoing poison damage (save ends). Their ranged attack is a Venom Ray that targets Reflex, deals poison damage, and immobilizes for a turn.

    The totemist can also summon a Spider Swarm (recharge 5+), creating a zone in a Close Burst 2 around themselves. Enemies grant combat advantage while inside, and if they end their turns there they take 10 poison damage. The zone lasts until the end of the encounter, or until the totemist casts the spell again.

    Drow Razorscourge

    A drow soldier armed with a razor scourge, showing us that drow end up sounding edgy even when they try to come up with a practical descriptive name. They’re Level 17 Soldiers with 163 HP.

    The scourge has Reach 2 and marks for a turn on a hit. It can also be used for an Ensnaring Lash that deals less damage but grabs on a hit (escape DC 23). While the grab lasts, the target takes 20 ongoing damage. The drow can still make basic attacks while it has a victim grabbed, but the grab ends when automatically when it uses Ensnaring Lash again.

    If an enemy marked by the razorscourge and within melee reach of it deals damage to one of its allies, the drow can react with a Retributive Flogging and make a basic attack against the enemy.

    And finally, razorscourges are the only stat block in this entry that have access to the traditional drow Darkfire encounter power, a minor action attack that deals no damage and exposes the target, making it grant CA and nullifying its cover and concealment for a turn.

    Ti’irtha, Drow Werespider

    Ti’irtha is a Level 17 Elite Skirmisher with 288 HP. She has ground and Spider Climb speeds of 7, and Resist Poison 10. She follows a lot of the same rules for “mammal” lycanthropes.

    This means she has Regeneration 10 that shuts down for a turn when damaged by silver, can change shape between a drow and a giant spider with a minor action, and has sets of attacks specific to each form.

    In human form, her basic attack is Dark Caress, a touch spell that deals physical damage and inflicts Poison Vulnerability 5 (save ends). If the target was granting her CA, that save is rolled at -5.

    In spider form, her basic attack is a bite that deals poison damage and exposes the target to the Spider Queen’s Curse (see below). She can also shoot a whole frigging’ Spiderweb in an instant, a minor action Area 1 Within 5 attack that restrains those it hits until they escape (DC 23). The area becomes difficult terrain for the rest of the encounter. This recharges when she is first bloodied.

    As an Elite, Ti’irtha can make Double Attacks, and shift between attacks (1 square in drow form, 3 in spider form).

    Ti’irtha has an incentive to shapeshift constantly in a fight, setting enemies up with Dark Caress and knocking them down with Spider Bites. The Spiderweb is an excellent opener since restrained enemies make the whole process much easier.

    Spider Queen’s Curse

    This isn’a monster, but it’s a Level 17 Disease that’s more treacherous than typical lycanthropy. It follows all the normal rules, but the effects are very on-brand for Lolth. The Maintain DC for your Endurance rolls is 16 and the Improve DC is 23.

    If Ti’irtha or another werespider bites you, roll a save at the end of the encounter. If you fail, you contract the Curse at stage 1. This makes you feel really good! You gain +1 to Fort, Ref and Will, and makes you recover an extra 2d6 HP whenever you spend a healing surge. Yes, even when this expenditure is from something like a cleric’s Healing Word.

    If you progress to Stage 2, you feel even better! The defense bonus remains, that recovery bonus increases to 3d6, and you get a -2 penalty to your Endurance rolls. Someone else might find that concerning, but you don’t. I mean, it’s all good things so far, right?

    If you progress to stage 3, you immediately die and a swarm of monstrous spiders bursts from your corpse.

    By the time you’re fighting Ti’irtha or someone like her, you’ve had easy access to Remove Affliction for about ten levels, so here’s a disease that tempts you into letting it develop. You can spend all that money and those healing surges now for a bit of safety, or you can ride the high a bit longer to benefit from better defenses and healing. It’s okay, you can stop anytime you want.

  • Let's Read Threats to the Nentir Vale: Hounds of Ill Omen

    Copyright 2011 Wizards of the Coast.

    This post is part of a series! Click here to see the others.

    We’ve already seen a bit of the history of the region known as the Gray Downs in other entries, for the [Barrowhaunts][2] and the [Gray Company][3]. The first tells us it was home to ancient hill clans, and the second tells us it’s also full of Nerathi ruins. This entry provides the missing link.

    The Lore

    The hill folk who once lived in the Gray Downs were one of the Vale’s indigenous peoples, which means they’ve been here since before recorded history. Now, recorded history isn’t very expansive on our setting, but even if they’re not that ancient, the fact is they were already living here when the first Nerathi expeditions arrived. In their heyday, these hill clans were famous for their formidable hounds, used in both hunting and warfare.

    Nerath acted in the predictable manner of all empires, and waged war on the hill folk to annex their land. They soon found themselves fighting a determined opponent, who stayed and fought even after other people such as the Tigerclaw decided to flee to the frigid wilderness north of the Vale. In the end, though numbers won out and the hill folk where mostly annihilated.

    Their hounds, however, were far too loyal to let a little thing like death stop them. They stood guard besides the corpses of their masters, and roamed the hills looking to inflict revenge on their killers. This only stopped when the Nerathi built a great barrow to honor the fallen. When the last body was buried, the hounds vanished… mostly. In those those dark nights when the moon looms large in the sky and the gray fog rises over the hills, they emerge to hunt again. Present-day inhabitants of the Vale call them “Hounds of Ill Omen”, because of the manner in which they hunt.

    A hound will appear to its intended victim and let loose a baleful howl before vanishing into the fog again. From that point onwards, misfortune will plague the victim in everything they do. As calamity follows calamity, the victim flees in search of anyone who can help. Some believe that begging the gods or even the hounds themselves can save one from death. Most end up caught by the hound after suffering enough, and dragged beneath the earth to the barrows where the hounds’ masters can feast on the poor soul.

    Sometimes a howl will echo over the hills, louder and longer than any other. That’s the voice of Bregga, their alpha female, an enormous hound who is rumored to have walked the hills even before the hill folk lived here. The same rumors and legends say she can see into the hearts of mortals, and sends her children to hunt the unjust, possibly seeking retribution for the sins of Nerath. When she howls, she calls her children to raise their masters so that all can hunt together.

    The Numbers

    We get stats for a typical hound, for Bregga, and for a sample hill folk shade of the sort the hounds can rouse.

    Hound of Ill Omen

    The typical Hound is a Medium Shadow Beast (Undead) and a Level 7 Soldier with 80 HP. It has Darkvision and a Speed of 8, which means it always catches you. It’s a ghost, so it’s immune to disease and poison and has both Insubstantial and Phasing.

    The Hound’s version of Insubstantial makes it take half damage from all attacks except those that deal force or radiant damage. And if it takes radiant damage, the trait shuts down until the end of its next turn. It also projects an Aura of Ill Omen (2). If an enemy inside the aura spends a healing surge, they become slowed for a turn.

    As with any dog monster, its primary attack is a Bite, which damages and marks for a turn. It a marked enemy willingly moves away from the hound, it can use Howl of the Pack as an interrupt. This targets the Fortitude of the triggering enemy. On a hit it deals thunder damage and makes the target grant combat advantage for a turn. Pretty nasty if you have other monsters in play who can exploit that.

    Once per encounter the hound can use a Howl of Doom, a selective Close Blast 5 which targets Will, deals thunder damage, and inflicts the curse for which the hound is named. Cursed targets take 3 psychic damage whenever they miss every target with an attack. At the end of each extended rest the target can make a DC 16 Religion check to get rid of the curse. After the first failed check, the damage increases to 6. After the second, it increases to 9. And after the third the target dies.

    Now, this kinda reminds me of the disease mechanics, but it’s a different thing. Going with the strict reading most 4e monster powers demand, the Religion check must be made by the target and no one else. I suppose allies can help using Aid Another, but they can’t make the check for the victim. Remove Affliction does work on it, since its description says it works on curses, but there’s a chance the party might not have access to it yet since it’s a level 8 ritual. This curse is particularly horrible to non-divine defenders and strikers, since most of their attacks are single-target and they are unlikely to be trained in Religion or have Int as their highest attribute.


    Some legends say Bregga lived in the Gray Downs since before even the hill folk arrived here. Her ghost is the leader of all the Hounds of Ill Omen, and some of those Religion checks are made as prayers to her to pretty please remove the curse, thank you very much.

    Bregga is a Large Shadow Beast (Undead) and has all the same traits as a regular Hound, including her Insubstantial and Aura of Ill Omen. She is a Level 10 Elite Skirmisher with 212 HP.

    Her basic bite damages with no riders, and she can also use a Clamping Bite that deals the same damage and allows her to shift half her speed while pulling the target along with her. Drag and Snap lets her use Clamping Bite and Bite against the same target, in that order. Her How of Doom works the same, but with higher base damage and a Religion DC of 18.

    As a move action she can use Ghostly Travel to become invisible and move her speed, remaining invisible until the end of her turn. This recharges when she is first bloodied.

    Hill Clan Apparition

    The shade of a warrior from the ancient hill clans, raised from its grave by the howl of its faithful hounds. It’s a Level 8 Minion Soldier with ground and flight speeds of 6, immunity to disease and poison, and Resist 10 Necrotic.

    The apparition is surrounded by the Chill of the Grave, slowing any enemy that starts their turn adjacent to it. Its basic attack is a Shadow Blade dealing physical damage, and it can shout a Call of the Dead as a ranged attack to deal a bit of psychic damage and pull the target up to 4 squares.

    They’re minions, so you’ll always run into a small army of them. Their main goal is to disrupt the PC’s formation and bring their squishies closer to the much more dangerous hounds.

    Final Impressions

    As far as dog monsters go, these are pretty nifty. The lore tying them to the Nentir Vale setting really makes them stand out from the pack, so to speak. The Gray Downs where these hounds live also contain other monsters that interact with them in interesting ways.

    They might end up helping the Barrowhaunts, since the latter are cursed to protect the barrows from outsiders. The Barrowhaunts entry even contains a few more minion stat blocks that could represent variant hill folk shades.

    Another group that calls the Downs home is Gray Company, which the hounds would absolutely hate, since they claim a direct descent from the people responsible for slaying their masters. Hound and Barrowhaunt attacks might be one reason why Gray Company is having a hard time progressing towards their goal of rebuilding the empire of Nerath.

  • Let's Read Threats to the Nentir Vale: Harken's Heart

    Copyright 2011 Wizards of the Coast.

    This post is part of a series! Click here to see the others.

    This vast Harken Forest takes up the entirety of the Vale’s southern border, and sprawls northward to completely enclose the barony of Harkenwold. It used to be even vaster, but successive waves of settlers cut it down some, just like it happened with the northern Winterbole forest.

    This place is home to many creatures and dangers, though its temperate climate means their character is very different from the frost-aspected Winterbole. This article looks at one of its most important factions.

    The Lore

    The Vale’s first elves came to live here shortly after their people split from the Eladrin, settling in the Harken Forest. Some of these elves grew fascinated with the primal power of the forest, and formed a group they called Harken’s Heart to worship and protect it.

    Harken’s Heart differs from a typical druidic circle in that they consider themselves to have a duty to Harken Forest as opposed to a more general duty to the balance of nature. Their interpretation of what constitutes an attack on the forest is paradoxically much broader than that of a typical druid circle. When war broke out between the treants of Harken and Winterbole forests, Harken’s Heart eagerly joined battle on the side of their “home team”, and behaved in such a ruthless and violent manner during the war that it shocked the independent druids who also lived there. In response to the circle’s behavior, a powerful independent druid named Eyton cast a curse upon the whole circle. The curse severed their connection to the primal spirits and left them powerless.

    The druids of Harken’s Heart were dismayed and enraged at this, but their weakened state and their fear of Eyton’s power prevented them from taking direct revenge. Instead, they appealed to Melora, goddess of nature, and asked her to restore their power.

    The deity decided to only grant part of their request, for her own mysterious reasons. Today, the druids of Harken’s Heart enjoy the full extent of their power while inside the borders of the forest. This power quickly wanes and disappears once they leave its confines.

    In our narrative present, Harken’s Heart is made up of several hundred members, most of which were born into the circle and raised within its culture. They live in small camps scattered all through the forest, with some of them choosing to live alone. Their important structures are made of trees woven together by magic, and are hidden behind natural obstacles and features in the forest.

    The leader of Harken’s Heart is known as The Hierophant, and is the group’s top negotiator, judge, arbiter and policymaker. Hierophants rule for life, and appoint their chosen successors. If one dies without a successor, the remaining druids hold an election to choose the next Hierophant.

    Some Harken’s Heart druids look for a way to end the curse, while others instead look for a way to expand the boundaries of the forest. The Harken treants are very interested in this as well, and it’s rumored that they’re planning a huge land grab in the near future.

    The Numbers

    We get several stat blocks for different types of elven druids here. As elves, they all have low-light vision and the Wild Step ability, which lets them ignore difficult terrain when shifting. As druids, they all have Forest Walk and can Change Shape as a minor action take the form of a beast until they use the power again or until they die. Some of their attacks can only be used in beast form, some only in elf form.

    Harken’s Heart Acolyte

    A young elf who is still undergoing basic training, the Acolyte is a Level 7 Minion Skirmisher that already has all the common traits above. It fights with a Quarterstaff in elf form, and with a Claw in beast form. The claw attack is stronger and allows them to shift 1 square before or after the attack.

    Acolytes have every reason to always fight as beasts.

    Harken’s Heart Druid

    A fully trained druid. This one’s a Level 7 Controller with 78 HP.

    In elf form, the druid fights with a Quarterstaff and can cast a Wall of Thorns spell. As the name implies this is one of the very few monster attacks that uses the Wall rules. Creatures caught in the wall when it appears take some immediate and ongoing physical damage (save ends). The wall remains as a zone that counts as difficult terrain for creatures without Forest Walk. Any of these who enters the zone or ends their turn there also takes 5 damage. The spell recharges when the druid is bloodied.

    In beast form the druid attacks with a Lunge that deals the same damage as the quarterstaff and lets them slide the target 2 squares as an effect.

    In either form the druid can use Entangle, a non-damaging ranged spell that immobilizes (save ends).

    Druids have more reason to change shape mid-fight. The beast form’s basic attack is better, but their big spell requires them to be in humanoid form.

    Harken’s Heart Defender

    Defenders are elite druids who are the first to confront any threats to the forest. They’re also responsible for training the acolytes. Defenders are Level 9 Soldiers with 95 HP.

    They have a Quarterstaff basic attack when in humanoid form, but all of their cool maneuvers happen in beast form.

    Their Mangle basic attack damages and slows for a turn. They can use a Primal Flurry that attacks enemies in a Close Burst 1 for the same amount of damage and knocks them prone on a hit. If those enemies try to stand up during their next turn, the defender gets to make a free basic attack against them. A miss deals half damage and knocks prone without the possibility of a free attack. This recharges once the defender is bloodied.

    Once per encounter they can use Beast’s Pursuit as a move action, shifting their speed to a space adjacent to an enemy and gaining a +2 to hit until the end of their current turn.

    Harken’s Heart Hierophant

    This entry doesn’t give a specific name and personality to the current Hierophant, so you’re free to do that yourself to fit your current campaign. These stats work whatever their personality is, and can also be repurposed to represent other high-ranking Harken’s Heart druids.

    The Hierophant is Level 10 Elite Artillery with the Leader tag and 166 HP. Unlike other druids, its best powers can only be used in humanoid form.

    Their only basic attack is the Quarterstaff. At range they can attack with Earth Slam spells, which deal physical damage and can knock the target prone on a critical hit. They can also cast Lightning Storm spells (recharge 5+) which attack an area, deal heavy lightning damage, inflict ongoing thunder damage, and create a zone that deals lightning damage to those caught inside. Quite powerful!

    The beast form is reserved for when the Hierophant is surrounded and needs to make a Frenzied Escape. This attacks enemies in a Close Burst 1, deals heavy immediate and ongoing physical damage, and lets the druid shift its speed to a space not adjacent to any enemies, gaining +4 to all defenses during this movement (in order to dodge PC defender attacks).

    Finally, the Guardian of the Forest minor action can be used in any form. This non-damaging attack has a range of 20 squares, and on a hit it makes the target be marked by an ally of the Hierophant that’s also within 20 squares of it.

    Final Impressions

    A nice implementation of the classic concept of angry druids, with a surprisingly low amount of entangling vine effects in play. They’re extremists, so even nature-attuned PCs might get into conflict with them. The identity of the Hierophant being left as an exercise for the reader makes it easy to play stories where a hard-liner Hierophant gets replaced by a moderate or vice-versa, causing a sudden switch in the circle’s campaign role.

    The Winterbole-Harken treant war is an important setting element that will appear here again. It affects not only the treants themselves but also factions allied to both sides. On the Winterbole side, open war is certain to bring the Frost Witches into the conflict, and either them or the Winterbole treants themselves might contrive a way to bring Bitterstrike in.

  • Let's Read Threats to the Nentir Vale: Gray Company

    Copyright 2011 Wizards of the Coast.

    This post is part of a series! Click here to see the others.

    The Gray Company are a new, setting-specific faction.

    The Lore

    As far as history goes, the fall of Nerath is still a relatively recent event. Many humans alive today likely have a great-grandparent who was alive during the final days of that empire. Members of longer-lived species like elves, dwarves and eladrin might even have witnessed those days themselves.

    So it’s no wonder that Nerath has it own share of revivalists who want to rebuild it to fit the glorious image in their head. In the Nentir Vale, the most prominent of those groups is known as the Gray Company. Many people in the Vale consider them nothing more than a well-equipped gang of bandits, but its members believe themselves to be working towards the rebirth of their glorious empire. Their singular focus on this goal makes them a dour and humorless bunch, seemingly always covered with the dust of ages even when their equipment is new.

    The Company is made up primarily of humans, who were the dominant people of Nerath. It is led by one Halvath Cormarrin, a man who claims to be a scion of Nerath’s royal line. It recruits people from across the Nentir Vale, spreading stories of the glories of the old empire and inviting those most fascinated by them to join up. Once a recruit joins up, they’re in for life. Deserters are hunted down, executed by hanging, and left on display on crossroads, as the old law dictates.

    The Company’s HQ is located in the Gray Downs, a region thick with Nerathi ruins and artifacts. Much of their time and effort is spent exploring these ruins and recovering these artifacts which they consider theirs by right. Cormarrin is particularly interested in finding old pieces of regalia like the Sword of Nerath and the Threefold Crown, since possessing them would increase the legitimacy of his claim.

    Anyone who steals these objects (whether from Company itself or from the ruins they consider their territory) is ruthlessly pursued. Particularly resourceful thieves are invited to join up and lend their skills to the Company’s cause. Others, including those who refuse the invitation, are executed in manners prescribed by old Nerathi law.

    Company members are trained, equipped and organized to the standards of the Nerathi military, or as close as Cormarrin can manage those. This means they also count plenty of battle mages among their number. Their magic specializes in controlling the pervasive mist of the Gray Downs, with a large side order of artifice (to get those recovered magic items working again) and necromancy (to get those old fallen heroes of Nerath working again).

    Other chapters of the Gray Company have begun appearing in other regions of the Vale, each of them led by a self-proclaimed prince of old Nerath. If these groups all got together under one banner, they could become a formidable army with a real chance of achieving their goal… but they feud with each other as much or more as they fight their actual enemies, so their overall progress remains minimal. As some jokers say, this too is a grand Nerathi tradition.

    The Numbers

    Gray Company members are all in the late Heroic Tier, meaning they haven’t quite broken through to “regional power” status. All of the stat blocks here represent humans, which make up the majority of their soldiers.

    Their signature trait is Grim Solidarity. If someone with this trait starts their turn adjacent to another creature with this trait, they can make a saving throw against one effect that a save can end. All Company members have this, which means they’re difficult to debuff when in formation.

    Gray Company Recruit

    Recruits joined relatively recent, so their training and gear is not yet up to the standards of the Company. They already have Grim Solidarity, though. They’re Level 7 Minion Artillery armed with short swords and short bows. If they score a critical hit, Inspired Fervor lets them make a free basic attack against the same enemy with a +2 bonus to hit.

    Gray Company Soldier

    A veteran who earned the right to carry a sword of genuine Nerathi make. Armored in plate, he’s a Level 7 Soldier with 80 HP. His basic attack with that Ancient Longsword has no riders, but whenever an adjacent enemy makes an attack that doesn’t include the veteran as a target, he can use Strike of the Ancient Blade to make a free sword attack against them that also pushes the enemy and knocks it prone.

    If an ally of the soldier drops to 0 HP within 5 squares of him, he can react For the Glory of Old Nerath (encounter) and make an attack in a Close Burst 1 that deals more damage than a basic strike and inflicts 5 ongoing damage (save ends).

    Gray Company Fallen Hero

    Either an actual Nerathi soldier whose body was exhumed and reanimated, or a modern day Gray Company veteran who died in combat and was “re-upped” for a second term of service. In either case, this results in a sapient undead revenant who likely has no memory of its previous self. It’s a Level 6 Brute with 89 HP. It has Grim Solidarity, Darkvision and the standard undead traits (immune to poison and disease, resistant to necrotic, vulnerable to radiant).

    The fallen hero’s Longsword deals necrotic damage and inflicts Vulnerable 5 Necrotic for a turn. It can invoke Nerath’s Vengeance to make a sword attack against every adjacent enemy, and this recharges once it’s bloodied.

    Gray Company Mist Mage

    Mist mages are responsible for getting those old magical items (and Fallen Heroes) back into working order. In combat, they use spells with a cold and mist theme, which goes well with the environment of the Gray Downs.

    Mist mages are Level 9 Controllers with 95 HP. They have Resist Cold 5. They use Ice Daggers in melee, which deal cold damage and slow for a turn on a hit. They can also summon Misty Tendrils to attack enemies in a Close Blast 3 that deals cold damage on a hit and slides 1 square as an effect.

    Once per encounter they can create a zone of Gray Mist (area 2 within 10 squares). Any creature that ends its turn in the mist takes a -2 penalty to attacks and is slowed for a turn.

    They can also use a Freeze Mist spell as a minor action, which targets a slowed creature and immobilizes them for a turn on a hit.

    Mist mages will likely start the fight by laying down Gray Mist, and then use Misty Tendrils to herd the PCs into the zone. They will then use Freeze Mist to keep these PCs immobilized as their buddies move in for the kill. Note that, as controller monsters, they’re quite capable of bringing the damage themselves.

    Halvath Cormarrin

    The leader of the Gray Company is a Level 8 Elite Brute with the Leader tag and 214 HP. In addition to having Grim Solidarity, he can exhort his underlings to fight Until the Last Breath, which acts as an Aura 5 that allows allies inside to make one last free attack when they drop to 0 HP.

    Cormarrin wields an Ancient Rune Flail and can make Double Attacks with it. He can also use swing it around and have the Rune Flail’s Arc attack everyone in a Close Burst 1. A hit deals the same damage as a basic attack, pushes the target 1 square, and knocks it prone. A miss deals half damage and pushes 1 square. Good move to escape being surrounded.

    Once per encounter, Cormarrin can use Cry of Glory to turn a normal hit by an ally within 10 squares into a critical.

    Final Impressions

    Like Dythan’s Legion, the Gray Company is a faction modeled after the army of a fallen empire whose main goal lies in the restoration of that empire. The Legion can more than match them man-for-man, but the Company probably has more soldiers, particularly if you tally all the different chapters together. They might skirmish near the shores of Lake Nen.

    Other possible sources of conflict for the Company include the Barrowhaunts, who probably were Nerathi when alive, and also claim the Gray Downs as their territory. Other interesting monsters also make their home there, as we’ll soon see.

    Ironically, if Dythan’s Legion ever decides the Gray Company is a threat that must be eliminated, the resulting large-scale confrontation is probably going to unite the Company’s disparate chapters around a common enemy and make that assessment into a self-fulfilling prophecy. As it is, I’m sure many of the Company’s “princes”, Cormarrin chief among them, would just love to hire the Gravelstoke family to help secure their claim as the true heir to Nerath. Whether the Family ever takes one of them up on the offer will depend on what you want for your campaign.

    A truly unified Gray Company would finally become the regional power they want to be, and this might merit bumping their levels up to the Paragon tier. Do the PCs accept this new order, or to they fight it?

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