Runehammer is one of my favorite You Tube channels. Hankrin Feranale (hankerin’ fer an ale. Get it?) presents D&D as an old-school-meets-board-games tactical story-telling experience, and it works for me. Ken Hite once said the whole point of narrative in D&D is to string the fights together, and Hankrin seems to subscribe to that philosophy.
That said, he knows how to squeeze a lot of narrative juice out of combat encounters. His videos on monster AI and adjusting challenges are must-watch for any GM who wants to get more out of combat than a hit-point countdown. (Note that Runehammer started out as Drunkens and Dragons, and Hank gets hammered in quite a few of his vids, but the core content is worth the obnoxious You-Tubery.)
I applied the wisdom in these videos to my Dr. Levinson the-Fly-Meets-Immortan-Joe cul-de-sac encounter, and here’s what I came up with:
AI for Dr. Levinson:
Hankrin suggests pre-determining monster behavior via logic gates and writing the routines on index cards. Here are my three cards, for preparation (his passive state, in which he prepares his evil master plan for world insectoid domination), aggressive and retreating behavior.
LOS is line of sight, which means he tries to get out of sight for ranged attacks, or find a LOS for ranged attacks. Place of Safety means he’s in his lair, rather than out and about getting ready for world domination. Timer means he sets off the timer (see below) that sends a wave of buggy death into the surrounding area.
Next, I applied Hankrin’s three challenge factors of damage, disruption and duration.
Damage: Since I’m going to be using Pugmire which is based on the 5e SRD, I decided to look at the 5th Monster Manual to check out the Ankheg, a bug-monster that DR. Levinson was going to summon on a natural 20. I found that the Ankheg was essentially what I wanted Dr. Levinson to be, so now he’s mechanically a super-intelligent Ankheg with Spider Climb and the ability to summon Stirges on any even roll above 16.
I decided to double the damage for Dr. Levinson, because I want him to be deadly and scary, as well as a potential recurring villain. I’m using fixed monster damage, an option listed in the 5e MM, so we’ll see how that goes.
There are enough new factors in this encounter that I didn’t also want to add the complexity of monsters from multiple sources. I took out most of the 13th Age and Other Dust mechanics for Levinson and added an animated carpet to the encounter. The “carpet” is really a swarm of insects controlled by Levinson that overwhelms a character and tries to force its way into their body. Gross and scary, I hope.
Disruption: Disruption dictates how much freedom to act the PC’s have in the encounter. Hank’s illustration of a low disruption encounter is fighting a balrog in an empty parking lot. A high-disruption encounter might have broken terrain, traps, changes in elevation, and so on. The disruption effects in Levinson’s lair are all DC 12 (another of Hank’s ideas: one disruption DC per encounter), and they all have the same effect: they disrupt the characters’ ability to act freely. The lair is full of termite-damaged floors and walls, line-of-sight disruptions in the form of debris and termite mounds, and an ongoing effect called “swarm skeeve” (name suggestions welcome, btw) that’s a DC 12 Charisma save. Characters who fail the save must spend a round swatting, stomping and generally being occupied with the layer of insects that undulate all over and fly through the encounter. Certain areas of the floor are badly damaged; avoiding them requires a Wisdom or Dex save. Characters who fail must spend a round extracting a foot or other appendage from the broken floor. Between the skeevy swarm, the weakened structure, and the termite mounds blocking line of sight, this should be a fairly disruptive encounter.
Duration: If Dr. Levinson successfully retreats, the PC’s have 1d4 rounds to prepare before he unleashes a wave of heritor bugs, which will overwhelm the PC’s and disperse into the world in a twenty mile radius from the cul de sac. All settlements within that radius will have their resources reduced by one level. All level one settlements will be destroyed. (Rules for enclave rankings and resources can be found in Other Dust.)
So there you have it! AI and challenge tuning for Pugmire and other PA games! I hope you enjoy the ideas from Runehammer. Give him a look, a like, and subscribe if you dig his stuff!
(Here are links to Hank’s video on timers and one of his brilliant room design vids. I used these ideas in the encounter design, but I didn’t write them in to keep it reasonably brief.)