City of the Overmind: Rumble in the Vats 3D, Part 1

Previously in Chatty’s Game.

Our heroes arrive in the Overmind’s re-education camp, finding several brainwashed monsters and losing their Warden comrade, who he went chasing after another Shifter.  Once the commotion abated, the party sought out the camp’s Beholder foreman and defeated it, finding a 3rd key part and discovering how the city’s brainwash portals worked.

After resting in a discrete inn with a very special massage service (can you say Medusa?) the heroes disrupted the Overmind’s brainwash portals found in the city’s central plazas, freeing hundreds of monsters and fomenting sentiments of anger and revolt in everyone.

As they heroes approached the Vats, where the Overmind creates it’s most fearsome servants, they came upon the eviscerated remains of what appeared to be Fangs, his equipment strewn all over the floor…

Our last session was one of those gaming experiment that  could have gone many different ways.  Fortunately, it mostly turned out as I had planned and everyone seemed to enjoy it (with one notable exception I’ll get to later).

But for now, here’s:

Rumble in the Vats, the Cliff’s Notes

As the party started to gather up their fallen comrades’ gear, another Fangs ran to them, panting, wet and bloodied.  While it started putting on its gear, he told the party that he was being chased by a group of Grells (Large Brains+Tentacles+Bird Beak).  Before answering any questions, he led the party into the Vats, a series of sunken pits filled with gigantic reservoirs and multi-leveled metallic platforms and walkways.

Once there, the party spread out to fight the Grells. Following Fang’s instructions,  they also proceeded to destroy the gigantic reservoirs, who promptly disgorged enough toxic acidic sludge to flood the whole area. Additionally, some strange Metal-organic snake were activated, started repairing the damaged vats and shot blinding beams of divine light at the party!

Fighting the Grells, the Snake Construct Welders and wave after wave of Headsquid Zombies, the party finally prevailed and proceeded to destroy the remaining reservoirs. As the last of the Goop filled the sunken area almost to the brim, the whole ‘lake’ started bubbling and churning with sickening organic sounds.

Out of the goop arose a grotesque creature apparently made out of all the monsters the party had just defeated  as well as some  draconic parts.  As it screamed against the whole world, the PCs quickly climbed out of the Vats.

But the Amorphous Squamous Monster started giving chase…

Behind the Screen

Two weeks ago, I conceived a scene to combine 2 player goals: Get the last Key part to (supposedly) open a way into the Overmind’s castle and allow the PCs to destroy the Vats.  Since Eric missed the last game, and since he was the one who chose the ‘destroy the Vats’ goal, I didn’t want to start the scene without him.

It’s a good thing that we didn’t play it then, because I since got new ideas and I broke up the usual format (Successful Skill check = Successful Scene/ Failure = complication) for a more classic set-piece encounter (my strong point).

In fact, I decided that since my players liked a good fight, I would give them one that would likely take the whole evening (apart from a 15 min intro and possibly a 10 min epilogue).  The challenge would be to make the whole affair enjoyable and devoid of any elements that would impede the action or lead the dreaded Grind.

While mulling over how I could make a fight scene stand out, I remembered a 12 year old game that was moldering in my basement.  Back in the late 90’s we played several Games Workshop Games, namely Space Hulk, Blood Bowl (2 seasons) and Necromunda.

That last one was a futuristic skirmish game set in the rusted Undercity of a huge megapolis in the Warhammer 40k world.  The game featured pieces of 3D terrain made of cardboard supported by plastic walls…they were perfect for the scene I had in mind.

Here, have a look:


Cool huh?

Of course, I had to deal with the absence of grids on the 3D terrain pieces, but I had a few 9′ long plastic rods divided in inches.  I was confident that we’d work something out.

Now for the reservoirs that the PCs would have to bust, I decided to use Tin-foiled soda cans.  I wrote simple rules to target the reservoirs and created 4 levels of damage (Low, Mid, High, Seriously frakked), each with various ways that the Toxic Goop in them would spew out and hit nearby creatures.

The really cool idea I got while writing the effects of damaging the vats was that each emptying reservoir would contribute to flooding the area with said Toxic (Acid/Psychic) goop.  I planned it so that busting all vats would flood the area to reach the exact height of the upper platforms of the map.

Now that I had a setup and rules for interactive terrain (the reservoirs), I needed monsters and a game plan for them.  I wanted the scene to feature several waves of monsters (as Yan taught me when a played in his game last summer).

So I decided to tie everything that had happened so far in the game.  I would have Eric’s Warden, Fangs, who by now, is suspected to be a clone of a City Within citizen, run up to the PC, all wet and bloodied, telling his mates that he was being chased by 4 Grells (1 Philosopher Grell and 3 Horrid Grells). However, these creatures are all Elites and I didn’t want to play out a fight with 4 elites as I wanted other monsters to show up later.  But I really wanted to use Grells… then it dawned on me.  I could make them all start out already bloodied (from chasing/fighting Fang)! Thus I have the power of the Elite, without the Hit Points!

I also still wanted to finish the scene with some sort of Toxic Horror (A Squamous Thing, think Gibbering Mouther made of melted Dragons instead of Humans) rising from the resulting lake of Goop.

I still needed something in the middle…

That’s when Chgowiz, responding to one of my prepping Tweets, told me: “You’re missing something very important.”

Knowing Chgowiz, I assumed he meant ‘randomness’ or something Old School.

Chgowiz: Yes, you need some of that too, but you need something else. Something Jeff Rients would tell you?

Chatty: I’m baffled.

Chgowiz (Sighing): You need more Laser Robots.

Chatty: …

Chatty: Oh man,you are a freaking Genius! (it’s true, he totally is)

At that point I thought: “What if I had some bio-mechanical monsters, half-abberant, half-construct that were activated to repair any damage to the Vats?  And since I like Laser Clerics so much, why not make the main attack of the creature a beam of Radiant light?

Enter the Foulspawn Arctide Welder!

Foulspawn Arctide Welder Level 12 Artillery
Medium Aberrant Animate XP 700
Initiative +10 Senses Perception +10
HP 97; Bloodied 48
AC 24; Fortitude 26, Reflex 21, Will 24
Immune Toxic Goop (Dmg and status effect)
Speed 6; Climb 4; Swim 4
M Arc Weld (Standard; at-will) ? Radiant
+12 vs Reflex; 1d6+6 plus 1d6 Radiant
R Photo Pulse (Standard; at-will) ? Radiant
Ranged 10; +15 vs Reflex; 2d6+6 Radiant Damage, and Ongoing 5 Radiant (Save ends)
r Photon Overload (Standard; recharge 56) ? Radiant
Ranged 10, +15 vs Reflex, 6d6+6 and target is Blinded and takes 5 ongoing Damage (Save ends both), Foulspawn Arctide Welder takes 10 pts of Radiant damage and is blinded until the end of it’s next turn.
Welding (Minor; at-will)
Repair 5 hit Points to an adjacent metalic object
Alignment Unaligned Languages None
Str 10 (+6) Dex 18 (+10) Wis 8 (+5)
Con 20 (+11) Int 12 (+7) Cha 12 (+7)

Incredibly cool no?

While I showed the monster to my good South African friend John, he started riffing about how cool it would be to have the monster have some kind of power source to fuel it’s ‘laser’ and ways to knock it out.  I argued against it, having reached a level of complexity in my encounter that I was comfortable with, not wanting to add more.

However, while we were discussing this, I had (yet) another flash.  One of the players goals that we hadn’t done yet, was Mike’s Invoker’s goal of bringing back the influence of the Gods to the City.

So I asked myself, what if the power sources of the Arctide Welders were Divine Relics of the major gods of the Realms?  And what if the invoker could detect them?

Note my liberal use of ‘what if’ when I relate my creative process.  That innane question is one of the most powerful creativity tool. I’ll discuss it more in my Creativity Series.

Once I had my answers, my encounter was complete! To avoid last time’s mistake, I did not leave that encounter to chance… this baby was a set-piece that was going to happen, not a conditional encounter.

Up Next: The Fight!


  1. Great fight Chatty! It sounds like the complexity of the fight and variability really lended itself to create an enganging fight!
    .-= wrathofzombie´s last blog ..Oh So Sorry… =-.

  2. Erik Waddell says:

    That squamous monster sounds awesome. I bet the look on the players’ faces was great when you described it’s horrible form rising out of the goo!

  3. “Fortunately, it mostly turned out as I had planned and everyone seemed to enjoy it (with one notable exception I’ll get to later).”

    Ooh the suspense!

  4. I’ll try to get part 2 up tomorrow… maybe in abridged version. I have a deadline for a Magazine article coming up next week.

  5. Very cool, chatty. Your encounters are always awesome. I especially love the 3D terrain.

    On a purely picky and technical level, their attacks should be +17 vs. Reflex.

    Photon Overload seems to be particuarly harsh against the monster (monster takes 10 dmg and is blinded) – artillery don’t have a whole lot of hit points. Should be interesting to see how it worked out in play.

    The cool thing about your “bio mechanical repair monsters” is that I could see you creating a set of these, one for each role. Maybe even an elite leader of some type. Not really appropriate for the particular battle you were planning but if the PCs might encounter these creatures in the future it’s worth considering.

  6. i’m glad my players haven’t listened to me and started reading this blog.

    Their expectations of combat would fly through the roof after this. Way to raise the bar chatty :(.

    Very cool.


  7. @BradG: Thanks. I picked the Attack bonus from the Flame Snake (leveled up to 11) so I might indeed have forgotten to level it up to 12. In Hindsight, the Overload attack should not have caused Damage nor blinded the snake… the PCs were well able to deal with the damage output as it is.

    I’d likely just give a -2 to hit to the snake until end of next turn to represent the flare overloading the welder’s vision.

    There’s always room for more Bio-mechanical monsters. Always! And I just had an idea to link them to a specific creator.

    @WhitDnD: You can always just say that ‘this guy is crazy, no one DMs like that” WHile that would be untrue (have a look at Mike from Penny Arcade, using Dwarven Forge, laser pointers and freaking mirrors!), if your players aren’t net-D&D savvy then you’ll be safe.

  8. Was it also rugose?

  9. Hmmm? I don’t think I get the reference here. Or is it a random drive-by comment? 😀

  10. You have been running with the Lovecraftian theme, so I figured the squamous monster was a reference to Out of the Aeons (and a huge amount of humor aimed at OotA) “I might call it gigantic – tentacled – proboscidian – octopus-eyed – semi-amorphous – plastic – partly squamous and partly rugose – ugh!” (pretty much all of the big bad eat you guys in lovecraft were squamous, rugose, or some combination thereof, which is a great well of humor.)

  11. I have been running with such a theme, although I must confess I don’t have the literary background to appreciate the inner jokes Bruce Cordell (who professed his love of Lovecraft’s work over beers) put in his monsters.

    Just give me a melted monsters with claws/fangs/mouths and eyes everywhere and I’m happy to have it go Godzilla on the whole city!

    But yeah, it’s rugose all right!

  12. Honestly, I have a very limited tolerance for lovecraft himself, but I adore any number of authors who do like him a lot.
    (As an example, this has both brevity and awesomeness to suggest it: The Dream Quest of Pooh Corner:
    .-= Michael Phillips´s last blog ..Sanctuary’s Dragon Slayers =-.

  13. Nice 3D terrain. I always find 3D terrain interesting for things like multi-level line-of-sight, falling, and area effects. Reminds me of UFO: Enemy Unknown (aka X-Com: UFO Defense), a videogame with small squad based combat which uses these to great effect.

    I once ran a monster which was essentially a robot. I described it as sort-of resembling a skeleton made from shiny metal, and it roamed the corridors of a strange crashed metal ship. Another time I had a tank: some dwarves trapped a genie and wished for “a weapon the likes of which will not be seen for a thousand years”, and that’s what they got.
    .-= Jonathan Drain´s last blog ..A Wizard Did It: Patching 3E to 4E Continuity =-.

  14. I didn’t catch Mike’s mirror and laser pointer madness but i did see his falling into a volcano combat that he posted a month or two ago, Madness! Between you and him i’ll be screaming at a buried statue of liberty in the sand before long.

    Hopefully Wizards of the Coast catch on to your madness and think about 3d dungeon tiles. Until then i’m just going to have to settle with steali… borrowing your ideas! Have you ever tried LEGO for set pieces?