Adventure: The Gates of Zvomarana

Every Sunday night, I run my epic level D&D 4e home campaign.  I prep my adventures in WordPress, then add to it and post it the day after we play.  The intent is an adventure you can easily steal, with commentary at the end on how you might make it better.


Last time we gamed, the players left The Bleak Fallows to report their horrific findings to the Raven Queen.  We’ve had a break from this campaign for two weeks now.  One of our players is on vacation, he’ll be missing tonight’s game too.  That, mixed with my curiosity of what has happened to Zvomarana over the last four in-game days, has led me to the decision to run a side quest.

Remember Zvomarana?  Samantha Umbra reported, out of breath from having ran the entire distance, that Zvomarana, the holiest of the Raven Queens temples, was about to be attacked by an undead army.  That was four days ago in the game world.  How has the temple fared?  Have they fallen yet, or do they still hold fast against the horde of undead beating at their door?  These are questions I’ll let the players decide tonight.

To skip my need to create pregen characters, I’ll let the players use their current characters, BUT… they can’t play their own.  Each player will also control five groups of twenty soldiers.  Four hundred men, four heroes, against a horde of undead.

The goal here is to determine one of three outcomes:

  • Zvomarana falls to the undead horde.
  • A few hopeless men fight on against overwhelming numbers.
  • Against all odds, Zvomarana stands firm.

Three outcomes means three encounters, 2 combat and one skill challenge.  Each failure counts against the possibility of Zvomarana standing against the attack.  The temple only has one real hope of success; they have mortars.

Encounter 1 – We Need More Time!

In this encounter, each player will be in charge of protecting a single tower against assault, while the engineers set up the mortars.  Unfortunately, the horde has catapults and undead flying abominations.  The catapults must not be allowed to attack the towers, but the engineers must be protected.  The catapults must move 20 squares before they can attack, and must have at least one Undead Militia adjacent to them for them to do anything.

  • The players must individually decide how to divide their troops.  How many of their five stay on the tower, and how many assault the catapults?
  • They must also decide whether their hero stays with the tower, or assaults the catapults.
  • Secretly roll 1d6 per tower; that number of Undead Militia (same stats as Zvomarana Militia) assault each tower, the difference remains with each catapult.  Those attacking the tower gain a fly speed of 8.


The heroes need something to fight.  I can’t quite wrap my head around how they would fit into a large scale battle like this, so each Undead troop will have a general.  These Generals join together to defeat the heroes.

  • Players must choose at the beginning of the encounter whether to fall in with the troops, and count as a two Militia Allies for the encounter; or they may participate in the battle against the Generals.

Generals – Raaig Soulflame, Haures, Kryizoth, Void Lich

On the sixth round of combat, the horns of Zvomarana sound retreat.

Skill Challenge: Fall Back!

The Undead army vastly outnumbers the Zvomarana troops.  Whether the sabotage against the catapults was successful or not, the horns have sounded retreat.  If only it were that easy…

The goal here is to see how many of the remaining Militia make it safely back to the temple before the gates are closed.  The players must use their social skills at least twice at a moderate difficulty to order their troops back to safety, after that any creative use of a skill is allowed.  6 successes before 3 failures.  The third and every failure after removes one Militia token.

Encounter 2 – Zvomarana’s Last Stand

They sure better hope their mortars are up and running.

Any catapults that remain attack the Mortars relentlessly.  Any remaining generals attack the heroes.  The Horde presses forward, attacking (at a -2 penalty) those atop the wall whenever possible.  Beginning the second round of combat, a loud roar is heard as a Dracolich swoops onto the battlefield.  Beginning the fourth round of combat, a battering ram gets assembled outside the gates and begins to attack.  +24 vs AC; 1d10+10 damage.  The door has AC 10, hardness 5, and 40 hit points.

The Dracolich

I wanted to use a Dracolich, but hate all its stun effects.  So for this encounter I’m going to try Sly Flourishes recent tip, Making Stun and Dominate Not Suck.  Basically, anytime the Dracolich stuns a target, they take a -4 penalty to all defenses and gain vulnerable 15 all, but can still take actions.


Adventure done and run.  I’ll say this, large scale battles are tough.

I had three main goals for tonight’s adventure.  First, I wanted the players to gain some respect for their allies.  Second, I needed to know what happened to the temple of Zvomarana.  Lastly, I wanted to experiment with large scale battles and learn what works and what doesn’t.

Well I learned something, that’s for sure.  All in all, I think the story told was a good one, but the implementation was rocky.

  • The scene opened with four generals sharing what may be their last meal together.  They talk of the impending horde attack and what steps they’ll need to take to have any hope of success.
    • I used this opportunity to explain the special rules of Militia combat and the two different focuses for their troops; the catapults and mortars.
    • The players used this opportunity to explain their characters to one another.
  • While the generals were still talking, a messenger reported the enemy generals were mockingly calling for a duel.
    • The players all decided to meet in combat deep inside the enemy ranks.  The undead army formed a tight circle around the combatants and dealt 1d6+6 damage to any pushed into them.
    • The distraction created by the generals fighting gave the perfect opportunity for the Militia to do their work.  They became a ticker within the initiative order.
      • On the Militia’s turn, the soldiers took turns attacking and defending.  The higher initiative attacked in round 1, then defended in round 2, then attacked again in round 3, and so on.
    • The undead enemies were all dead shortly into round 5.  The Militia retreated at the end of round 6.
      • 2 catapults remained, 2 mortars remained
  • The skill challenge became getting away from the frenzied undead horde after watching their undead generals slain.  They narrowly escaped being mobbed by the army and got back inside the temple in the nick of time.
  • Atop the wall, the remaining Militia members rained arrows down upon the undead horde.  They had to roll an 11 or better to hit and killed 1d10 minions with each success.  The players did well enough to have nearly ten Militia still standing.
    • The mortars had to roll a 9 or better and destroyed 3d10 minions with each success.
    • They had two rounds to attack before the catapults rolled onto the field.
      • The catapults could instantly kill militia members atop the wall with a successful attack (burst 1).
    • The Dracolich was a pushover.  He got knocked prone and immobilized within the first round.  On the ground, he couldn’t escape, some of which was due to his stuns not stunning.  The players seemed to have little problems hitting, even with a -4 penalty.
  • Though some felt the fear of death, it wasn’t what I would call a victory of “overwhelming odds.”

I’m not done with large-scale battles just yet.  Tonight was an experiment.  Like any good experiment, the point is to learn something.  Until next time, keep learning!


About j0nny_5

Mid-thirties and work a full-time job in beautiful northern Colorado. In my free time I play D&D, video games, and walk my two beautiful Bouvier des Flandres.
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7 Responses to Adventure: The Gates of Zvomarana

  1. 4649matt says:

    From my limited experience playing wargames, I had an idea that seems to work well for mass combat. In a lot of wargames troops are lumped into units, and the unit has a base sized to accommodate the troops on it. Using this you could make a “monster” that is huge or colossal or gargantuan even that is a collection of minions. They move as one, but give and take hits individually. They will likely rout and run past 50% unless they have a commander nearby.
    If you have ever seen or played Warhammer Fantasy Battle this is probably familiar.
    A Unit of Pikemen (or any reach weapon) will likely cause any single character concern. Rows of concentrated attacks, even from minions, can do that.

    • j0nny_5 says:

      The extent of my war-gaming is limited to D&D Miniatures, believe it or not. I had the Militia lumped into units of 20, but the Militia were mainly attacking each other. My conflict arises with; how does a hero interact with the Militia?

      I love your idea of having a huge mini to represent the mob. I was thinking you could then shrink it as the mob is deminished, reducing the huge into a large creature, then again into a medium. The damage could scale too; as the mini is reduced in size, so does the damage. Thanks for the ideas!

  2. 4649matt says:

    Hmmm it really clipped my comment.
    There are a number of ways to handle a mass of troops.
    You could treat a unit of troops like a swarm of the appropriate size (and use the diminishing returns element mentioned above), giving the base hit points, swarm aura and swarm resistances.
    I was thinking more along the lines of using them like in wargames. We would make lots of cardboard cutouts in uniform grid sizes, like 5×5 squares, 10×3, 15×2 and so on. Using ticky tack you attach the troops to the cardboard cutout and now you have a formation.
    If I wanted to make the formation dangerous I would treat them as individual minions that move together. The formation shares move actions and will require a move action to do a wheeling turn. Pull casualties of the back as troops fill in the empty ranks (unless something intentionally pushes into the formation).
    This gives the power of iterative attacks. Throwing handfuls of dice feels epic. Two units in proximity for combat will whittle away at each other really fast.
    XXXXX Consider this arrangement, 5×2 enemy, 5×2 ally
    XXXXX On each sides initiative, they would make 5 attacks
    OOOOO This engagement probably would last a round or two.
    OOOOO Hitting first and hardet will be decisive.

    XXXXX If we take the same formation versus a Hero
    XXXXX The hero is at a slight disadvantage as 3 enemies are adjacent
    H If the hero has area or multiattack powers they may come out
    on top, but it will take a lot longer.

    In either case polearms would dramatically increase the number of attacks as two rows are now able to fight.

    If you are using near level appropriate minions, then I would treat the heroes as normal. They are elite troops acting as artillery, skirmishers, brutes, soldiers, etc, but the main purpose of such troops is morale.
    Treat all heroes as leaders. If they fight in tandem with a unit, give them a small bonus. This will encourage using troops and heroes together for great justice.
    If you want to get all complicated you can apply morale penalties/bonuses to determine when a unit would break. Green levies will break the first time they receive a charge, grizzled veterans will stand their ground until all hope is lost, mindless undead will fight on without fear or care.
    Sorry, This got really long-winded.

    • j0nny_5 says:

      More good ideas, thanks again! I like the idea of different formations using different sized bases. Polearms would definitely help, as would some sort of ranged weapon. I really like the idea of having the heroes grant bonuses to their troops. I tried that with this last adventure, but not effectively (because none took the option). Having the players be able to take their turn normally is a must, but giving them a reason to stay with their troops is also a must. Great solution.

      I was telling my group at the end of this session that it seemed to me a hero within a large-scale battle like this would most resemble a Dynasty Warriors game. While the rest of the troops run around and fight each other, the hero is a maelstrom of death within the masses… until a general shows up to challenge them. You’ve given me a lot of great insight. Next time I’m sure it will go a lot better.

  3. boccobsblog says:

    This is a hell of an adventure. I like the skills challenge. I may steal…borrow, that.

    • j0nny_5 says:

      I’m glad you “liked” it. It was a hell of an adventure to run, that’s for sure. Feel free to steal anything here, that’s what it’s for. Keep reading!

  4. Pingback: Generatory kart potworów do D&D » 3k10

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