Denizens of Dinosaur Island: Octyrannopus and Rocketceratops


New Monster: Octyrannopus

Stats: as Tyrannosaurus, except with tentacles and a central beak.

Attacks (in addition to stomp and tail-swipe):

  • Tentacles: +10 to hit, reach 10 ft., 2 targets. Hit: 15 (2d8+6) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 15). Until the grapple ends, the target is restrained, and the Octyrannopus has advantage to attack with its beak.
  • Beak: +10 to hit, reach 10 ft., 1 target. Hit: 17 (2d10+6) piercing damage.

The Octyrannopus is a hunter and scavenger of the Haunted Jungle. At some point in the past a normal tyrannosaur either ate or mated with some Cthulhoid horror from beyond space and time, and now there are octyrannopods running around, being all disturbing with their slick wet tentacles and disturbingly blank giant squid eyes. They’re more cunning and more cruel than garden-variety tyrannosaurs (INT+5), and expert at attacking from ambush.

My party encountered their first Octyrannopus when they came out of their most recent dungeon. As they’d been killing guards on the way in, they’d dragged the bodies out and stashed them in the jungle so roving patrols inside the dungeon wouldn’t find their dead comrades lying around. Eventually they penetrated the inner sanctum, had a big fight with the boss monster, and solved the puzzle that was the focus and raison d’etre of the dungeon. Wounded, wealthy, and happy, they staggered out of the dungeon and BAM!, there’s ole Octyrannopus gorging itself on the dead bodies they’d hid in the woods. Thereby illustrating the Smithian principle that it’s not just where you are geographically that generates story-fuel, it’s where you are in a chain of consequences.


New Monster: Rocketceratops

Stats: as Triceratops, but with 2d6 rockets where the horns should be.

Attack (in addition to charge and trample):

  • Rockets: +3 to hit at 0-30 meters, +0 to hit at 30-100 meters, -3 to hit at 100-300 meters, fires 1d4 per turn. Hit: everyone in 15-foot radius from point of impact makes a DC 12 DEX save, taking 4d6 explosive damage on a failed save or half as much on a success. Alternatively, rockets may be used to deliver biological or chemical weapons (hallucinogens, poisons, spores, etc.).

The rockets are ignited by bio-electrical pulses. If a Rocketceratops takes more than 10 electricity or lightning damage in a single turn, roll 1d6 and consult this table:

  1. No effect.
  2. Half the remaining rockets had their ignition systems fried, and will fail to launch when triggered. (For more fun, wait until the Rocketceratops tries to launch them and then roll one at a time see if they work.)
  3. One rocket launches immediately on a random trajectory.  Roll 1d12 to determine heading (like a clock face, Rocketceratops facing 12:00) and 1d20 x 15 to determine the range in meters.
  4. Half the remaining rockets launch immediately on random trajectories. Roll heading and range for each rocket.
  5. All remaining rockets launch immediately on random trajectories. Roll heading and range for each rocket.
  6. All remaining rockets detonate immediately, dealing their normal damage to the Rocketceratops and to any creatures within the blast radius.

Unlike the Octyrannopus, which is a(n un)naturally-occurring consequence of trans-dimensional biological mingling, the Rocketceratops is a product of deliberate alchemical experimentation and genetic engineering. The horns develop normally, with hollow bony cores covered by a thick layer of keratin. Once the horns have attained full size, highly energetic compounds are deposited in the hollow spaces inside, until the horns are completely packed with what amounts to biologically-produced rocket fuel. The bony connection between each horn and the rest of the skull breaks down, and a cluster of massively enlarged neurons develops at the base of each horn. The neural clusters beneath each horn are under voluntary control – the Rocketceratops can deliberately trigger these neurons to deliver a powerful electrical pulse that ignites the rocket fuel and launches the horn. Aiming is fairly haphazard since the rockets are unguided. Rocketceratops brigades are therefore useless for pinpoint bombardments but they are effective against massed enemy formations, fortifications, and cities.

It is not uncommon to see a Rocketceratops fairly bristling with long metal pikes. Canny dino warriors know about the rockets’ vulnerability to electrical damage. They use the pikes, in conjunction with one or more chains dragging on the ground, as lightning rods to draw and dissipate bolts of electricity hurled by enemy sorcerors. For every pike sticking out from a Rocketceratops, jump up one die before rolling on the table above (i.e., 1 pike, roll d8 instead of d6, 2 pikes = d10, 3 pikes = d12, etc.), and ignore any results higher than 6.

Trying to remove a rocket horn from a live Rocketceratops is just asking to get shot in the face, but the horns can be cut away from the heads of dead animals with very little effort. The potential for PCs who steal Rocketceratops horns to accidentally set them off or detonate them is up to the DM.

– – – – – – – – – –


One third of the inspiration for the Rocketceratops came from the Mutant Dinosaur Generator at Goblin Punch, one third came from Jeff Rients and his NecroDinoMechaLaser Squad, and the final third came from the Rundihorn from Dougal Dixon’s book After Man: A Zoology of the Future – I always thought it looked like a rhino crossed with an antiaircraft battery. The font in the pictures is the Vornheim alphabet by Zak S.

Posted in Dinosaur Island, dinosaurs, new monsters, roleplaying | 11 Comments

Denizens of Dinosaur Island: the Haunted Jungle

The Haunted Jungle is basically tropical Mirkwood. The jungles have been corrupted by the dark magic of the Yuan-ti, who want to raise the Serpentine Continent – of which Dinosaur Island is the last exposed remnant – reestablish the Ophidian Dominion, and enslave or exterminate all other sentient races. Most of the monsters here are related to snakes or vines. The few mammals that survive in the Haunted Jungle, like the transparent tigers, are shifted two long steps toward the weird.

The setting in 25 words: strangling vines, oppressive humidity, poisonous flowers, rot, scales, roots, venom, army ants, stench, slime mold, howls, stone ruins, illusions, quicksand, camouflage, ambush, confusion, madness.

Haunted Jungle Monster Table

  1. winged snakes – 8+1d8
  2. vine blights – 4+1d4
  3. giant constrictor snake
  4. Alloconda (see below)
  5. giant poisonous snake
  6. transparent tiger (see below)
  7. shambling mound
  8. Yuan-ti pureblood cultists – 6+1d6

It’s a short table because our party isn’t going to be spending very long in the Haunted Jungle (or will they?). I stole the mechanic from the inside cover of A Red and Pleasant Land where you use the same table with different dice. So for the first encounter in the jungle, roll 1d4 to find the monster, then 1d6, then 1d8 – the farther in you go, the worse the things you find.

I deliberately left the Yuan-ti malison and Yuan-ti abomination off the table. My party doesn’t get to just stumble across those guys randomly in the jungle. They have to find a creepy stone ruin, suppress their instincts for self-preservation, and go inside before they get to discover what turned this jungle dark and corrupt.

Resting Alloconda

Resting Alloconda

New Monster: Alloconda

An Allosaurus with an anaconda where its head and neck should be – the theropod version of the Diplodocobra. Normally keeps the anaconda/neck coiled up on its shoulders, so it looks like a large anaconda coiled atop a headless allosaur, or a small-headed theropod wearing a fat scaly muffler.

Armor Class: 13

Hit Points: 60 (7d10+22)

Speed: 60 ft.

STR 19 (+4)  –  DEX 13 (+1)  –  CON 17 (+3)  –  INT 4 (-3)  –  WIS 12 (+1)  –  CHA 5 (-3)

Skills: Perception +5

Senses: passive Perception 15

Languages: none

Challenge: 3 (700 XP)


  • Multiattack. The Alloconda makes two attacks per turn against different targets: a claw attack, and a bite or constrict attack.
  • Bite. +6 to hit, reach 20 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d6+4) piercing damage.
  • Constrict. +6 to hit, reach 15 ft., one target. Hit: 13 (2d8+4) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 15). Until the grapple ends, the target is restrained, and the Alloconda can’t constrict another target.
  • Claw. +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8+4) slashing damage.

The main gotcha here for parties encountering the Alloconda for the first time is the very long range over which it can strike. In D&D, as in the real world, most snakes can only strike out to 1/3 or maybe 1/2 of their total length. Because the anaconda portion of the Alloconda is sitting on a stable, 2-ton platform, it can strike a lot farther, twice the distance of a normal giant constrictor snake.

Transparent tiger

New Monster: Transparent Tiger

Borrowed from Jorge Luis Borges, of course. If you haven’t read “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius“, you should go do that now, it’s way better than anything on this blog.

Armor Class: 15

Hit Points: 68 (8d10+24)

Speed: 40 ft.

STR 18 (+4)  –  DEX 14 (+2)  –  CON 17 (+3)  –  INT 4 (-3)  –  WIS 12 (+1)  –  CHA 8 (-1)

Skills: Perception +5, Stealth +10

Senses: passive Perception 15

Languages: none

Challenge: 4 (1100 XP)

Keen Smell. Transparent tigers have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell.

Transparency. Transparent tigers are visible only as dim outlines and ghostly stripes against the background. Creatures without Darkvision are at a disadvantage to detect or attack them in dim light, and creatures with Darkvision are at a disadvantage to detect or attack them in darkness.

Pounce. If a transparent tiger moves 20 ft. or more in a straight line toward a creature and hits it with a claw attack, the target must succeed on a DC 14 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone. The tiger can make one bite attack against the prone target as a bonus action.

Carried Away. Once a target has been knocked prone and bitten, the transparent tiger will attempt to drag it off into the underbrush to kill it and eat it. A tiger dragging a medium-sized victim can only move 20 ft. per round, or 30 ft. if carrying a Small victim. The victim can try to escape with a DC 14 Strength saving throw, but the tiger gets an attack of opportunity against the prone victim on a successful escape.


  • Bite. +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 10 (1d10+5) piercing damage.
  • Claw. +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d6+5) slashing damage.

Parties typically have to travel single-file though the dense jungle. A transparent tiger will attempt to knock down and drag off whoever is last in line. Feel free to impose Perception deficits for anyone more than 2 spots from the end to even notice the tiger is there – before Tail-End Charlie gets dragged off screaming, that is.

– – – – – – – – – –

The font in the Alloconda picture is the Vornheim alphabet by Zak S.

Posted in Borges, D&D, Dinosaur Island, new monsters, roleplaying, RPG tables | 3 Comments

One possible Infernal Machine

I participated in Scott Taylor’s Folio 1E relaunch Kickstarter, and got my hardcopy of the module in the mail a few weeks ago. It’s a nice piece of kit – you can read a more thorough review here. But it didn’t fit into my Dinosaur Island campaign so I handed it off to London. We just finished it, after about a week of playing for an hour or so in the evenings. We’ve also backed the Folio #2 module, which runs for about 2 more weeks – you can still get the first module as part of a higher-level reward package.

One of the things in the dungeon that is deliberately left up to the dungeonmaster is the location and nature of the Infernal Machine, a mysterious device that is apparently responsible for all the monsters infesting the dungeon below Roslof Keep. London was stuck for ideas so we divvied it up this way: I’d write the rules for the Infernal Machine, he’d decide where in the dungeon it would be located. Here’s what I came up with:

Infernal machine

The Infernal Machine

A crystal-powered steampunk device about the size of a phone booth. Covered in gears, levers, capacitors, tubes, bellows, wires, flywheels, and less identifiable bits. Upon close inspection some of the components seem to be biological in nature, and others give the viewer the vertiginous suggestion of landforms viewed from a great height. The machine has been running at some low background rate for weeks or years or maybe forever, pulling monsters from across the world (or multiverse) and depositing them randomly around the dungeon. Once the PCs enter the chamber it cranks into high gear, causing monsters to appear much more often and at closer proximity. Every other turn, a row of multi-colored crystals along the top of the machine flashes, and 1d4 new monsters appear at random locations in the chamber. Roll 1d12 to find out what kind:

  1. delving orc
  2. bugbear
  3. dire rat
  4. lesser salamander
  5. ghoul
  6. giant scorpion
  7. giant spider
  8. hobgoblin
  9. kobold guard
  10. ogre
  11. wight
  12. zombie

The machine has an AC of 16 (being mostly made of metal) and 100 HP. Once it’s down to 10 HP or fewer, the numbers of monster appearing drops to 1d4-1. The machine is immune to damage from magical weapons, and each time it is hit by a magical weapon 1d4 new monsters appear immediately and the 2-turns-between-monster-apparitions clock resets.

infernal machine 2

How it worked

Man, this damn thing nearly killed us. London’s barbarian, Bryn, kept wailing on it with his magical battleaxe, and we almost got overrun with monsters. Our nastiest roll generated 4 ogres, each with 59 HP – this for a party of 4 3rd-level PCs with about half as many HP apiece. A couple of those ogres managed to incapacitate both of my PCs. Fortunately, London went on a hot streak, rolling a string of natural-20 critical hits. Between those crits and a couple of rounds where the monsters (i.e., me, DMing this one room) rolled very poorly, London’s druid, Lia, was able to heal both of my PCs enough to get them back in the fight. London also figured out the Machine’s reaction to magical weapons. We managed to take down the last ogre fast enough to finish off the Machine. It was pretty darned close – none of the PCs had more than 7 hit points by the end, and my two only had 3 apiece.

Here’s what we rolled (no fudges), and killed:

  • 3 hobgoblins
  • 1 ghoul
  • 2 hobgoblins
  • 1 kobold guard
  • 2 ogres
  • 2 kobold guards
  • 4 ogres
  • 3 dire rats
  • 3 zombies
  • 2 giant spiders
  • 1 ogre

I set the XP value of the machine at 1100, equal to a challenge rating of 4 in D&D 5e, on the basis that it very nearly killed a group of 3rd-level characters with decent tactics and wardogs. Obviously you should feel free to modify the XP value of the machine – and everything else about it – if you use a version of it in your own campaign.

If you have alternative ideas for diabolical machines that PCs might run across in their adventures, let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for new goodies to spring on PCs.

Posted in actual play reports, D&D, roleplaying, RPG tables | 3 Comments

Epic sandboxery, remixed


Part of the OSR/DIY ethos is building on what others have built, and I’ve taken that to heart here – almost everything in this post is borrowed from somewhere else. The basic framework is from Jeff Rients’s Epic sandboxery, with four of the six major world powers borrowed from the “very simple gameworld” example in Zak Smith’s Do you really want to know? The Six Spheres of Lubanjawi are from Rients again, the wonderfully evocative (to me, anyway) Ape Sultans are of course from S. John Ross’s Encounter Critical, and the Many-Angled Ones are Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s thinly-reskinned Cthulhoids from their Marvel cosmic comics. The abyssal ocean of blood is from James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen.

The Story

The Short, Short Version: the PCs have to find an Epic Sandboxery McGuffin – the Armor of Dawn – that can prevent the end of the world. But the parts were deliberately scattered and have now been lost for centuries or millennia.

Before their final battle with the Mother of Chaos, the Wind Dukes of Aaqa forged the Armor of Dawn for the hero Elbor Eocarr, their greatest ally on this plane. To the one who wears the complete Armor of Dawn is given the power to make and to break bridges between the worlds. After the defeat of the Mother of Chaos and the retreat of the few remaining Wind Dukes, the six pieces that make up the armor were separated by a council of powerful wizards. Those six parts were distributed to the six Great Powers: the Mountain Kings (King Evard’s distant ancestors), the Sea Queens (Queen Doralyne’s ancestors), the Lord of Death (forerunner of the Skeleton King), the Outer Dark (whence come the Many-Angled Ones), the Frost Giants, and the Ape Sultans. The idea was that the six powers would never share the pieces of the Armor of Dawn, nor would any one power let its piece fall into the hands of another, unless the world was once more faced with annihilation.

But that was long ago. These days few remember even the name of the Armor of Dawn, and among those who do, it is often dismissed as a myth. This is a problem, because the remaining Wind Dukes are planning to conquer chaos once and for all – by burning the Prime Material plane down to subatomic particles. Someone is going to have to go out there and reassemble the six pieces of the Armor of Dawn and stop them. Those pieces are:

  1. A sword, Worldbreaker, that can destroy anything it strikes (like the Lazy Gun in Ian M. Banks’ Against a Dark Background) – given  to the Sea Queens, who seek trade rather than conquest.
  2. The Shield Impenetrable, which can withstand any blow (like Captain America’s) – given to the Mountain Kings, whose strength resides in their armies and their walled cities.
  3. The Fey Boots, which allow the wearer to step between any two places (like teleporting in Jumper) – given to the Ape Sultans, whose splayed feet cannot fit inside.
  4. The Hawking Helm, which allows the wearer to send and receive thoughts across any distance – given to the Many-Angled Ones, who think not as men, but only hunger.
  5. The Vital Scale, a chestplate that can cure any wound – given to the Lord of Death, who is not alive and cannot be healed.
  6. Might’s Compass, a belt which allows the wearer to lift any load – given to the Frost Giants, who are too big to wear it, and have the least need of it anyway.


There are some wrinkles:

  • The empire of the Ape Sultans collapsed long ago, and the apes of the south are nearly extinct. The few that remain outside the jungles are bodyguards or pit-fighters in the desert cities. The jungles crawl with were-jaguars and the ruined cities are haunted by the Hounds of Tindalos. The Fey Boots are lost to history.
  • The Shield Impenetrable has passed out of all knowledge of humankind (and elf-, dwarf-, and halfling-kind to boot). It was hidden on one of the Six Spheres of Lubanjawi by the wizard Vespar, who discovered its true nature long ago and foresaw the day when other powers would contend for it.
  • The belt of strength, Might’s Compass, was built into the base of the crown of the Frost Giant king.
  • The Hawking Helm was hidden by the Outer Dark in the stomach of a living planet.
  • In the abyss below the Fortress of Death is an ocean, filled with all of the blood ever spilled in the name of peace. The Vital Scale is on an island in this ocean.
  • Accounts of the whereabouts of the sword, Worldbreaker, are many and varied. It is rumored to be on the hidden island home of the Sea Queens, from which no man has ever returned. It may have fallen into the sea when the ship it was on was sunk by pirates. A roc may have carried it to its nest on a rocky precipice at the edge of the world.

So, that ought to keep ’em busy for a while.

Posted in Armor of Dawn, Big Ideas, campaign ideas, D&D, roleplaying | Leave a comment

Getting some distance from Star Wars

I read this article on io9 and passed it on to Mike, and then we had this exchange via email.

Mike: I can’t help wondering what else Lucas might have achieved in the last few decades if he’d not pithered away so much time revising a re-revising his old films.

Matt: Lots of good stuff in here. I also have been able, for the first time in my life, to step back and contemplate Star Wars more dispassionately over the past year or so. And my reaction has been about the same as this guy’s: “How did this thing, enjoyable as it is, ever eat up so much of my interior real estate?”

Mike: The more I think about SW — which is still a lot — the more I think that it’s really all about not just the original trilogy, but the original movie. That’s where most of the goodness is.

Matt: Which is kind of ironic, since the the sequel movies that I pined for since I first learned of the concept are finally coming out.

But maybe that’s a good thing, because if they’re good, I’ll finally be in a position to love them because they’re actually good, and not simply because they’re Star Wars. I didn’t love the LOTR movies just because they were LOTR movies – in fact, that’s the main reason I was geared up to hate them. So they didn’t even come from a standing start, they had to overcome my initial resistance. That might be a healthy thing for a Star Wars movie to have to do, too.

Mike: Right. Whereas the Hobbit movies started out with my goodwill, and
progressively frittered it away.

I’ve also been thinking about this lately in the context of RPGs (not surprising, since eventually I think about just about everything in the context of RPGs). Until very recently, I almost exclusively played WEG d6 Star Wars. I knew about other systems – even back in high school, I’d been the “system nut” who collected rulebooks and occasionally experimented with them – but none of them had ever clicked with me enough to pull me away from 1e Star Wars.

But in the past year I’ve played two other systems that I’ve really liked, enough that I am either playing them right now (D&D 5e) or will play them again soon (Trail of Cthulhu). And that has been healthy. Up until very recently, I wasn’t really into fantasy roleplaying, and if I was going to do sci-fi roleplaying, why wouldn’t I just use Star Wars? The obvious answer is, what if I want a different kind of experience? What’s scary is that until recently, I didn’t really want any other kind of experience.

Strange Stars cover

One recent prod in the direction-other-than-Star-Wars was picking up Trey Causey’s Strange Stars, a rules-free setting book with so many evocative hooks that pretty much every page makes me want to roll up a character and jump in. Strange Stars has all kinds of cool sci-fi goodness that would make for great RPG fuels but wouldn’t fit into Star Wars. Turns out, I needed that. Plus the cover homage to TSR’s Star Frontiers – easily the coolest game I never played – hits all the right notes for me. If I get a game together, and I really want to, you’ll undoubtedly read about it here.

Posted in roleplaying, Star Wars, Tolkien | Leave a comment

There’s a new sheriff in town

IMG_3438Something new happened last night – London ran his first session of D&D. Since we’re midway through the Dinosaur Island campaign with our original characters, we rolled up new ones this second thing, which we’re calling the Evergreen campaign. London has Bryn, an elf barbarian, and Lia, an elf druid. I have Amarra, a dragonborn monk, and Jodas, a tiefling sorceror.

London started us off with one of the Pathfinder Beginner Box supplementary adventures that Paizo put online for free. Reskinning it for D&D 5e was super-simple, baiscally London kept the story the same and just used the monster stats out of the 5e Monster Manual.

I had forgotten how fragile starting characters are. When you only have 8 hit points, getting hit by almost anything is a life-and-death thing. Nobody died, but we did have a couple get down to a single hit point.

Anyway, we all lived and had fun and we made it to level 2 this morning. Now London is running us through some of the adventures that Dan Hass made available through his Kickstarters (one, two). I’m backing Dan’s 3rd and 4th level adventure package right now. Six adventures for six bucks – you really can’t argue with the price. And they’re well-constructed and straightforwardly written. London has been having a blast with them. The adventures from the earlier Kickstarters are still available if you throw enough money into the current one (a whopping 20-odd bucks), or you can buy them as stand-alone products on DriveThruRPG.

Now London is actively sighing so I gotta get off here and go play.


Someone’s fate is hanging on that d20 roll….



Posted in D&D, roleplaying | Leave a comment

The Battle for Minatou, Part 2 – Actual play report

The last post was about setting up the Battle of Minatou. This one is about how it all went down.

Day 1: The day after we captured the Diplodocobra for Vrenn Larr, one of her teratorn-mounted scouts reported a huge wooden box about 5 miles out to sea, drifting in the sluggish current that runs west-to-east across the top of the archipelago. Our party rode teratorns out to investigate. We found a huge ark, 800 feet long and 200 feet wide, with 8 little cabins regularly spaced across the otherwise flat and featureless top deck. The cabins turned out to be air shafts – we descended through one and found that the ark was full of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and warriors in a magical sleep. We knew they were from Zelzennak Soth because the animals were all wearing mind-control harnesses.

Whilst skulking about the ship we ran into a sentry. We killed him, but not before he sounded the alarm. We skedaddled back to our teratorns and fought a running sky-battle with half a dozen Quetzalcoatlus and their archer/riders that launched from the back of the ark. We made it back to Vrenn Larr’s camp safely. We figured we had a about a day, maybe a day and a half at most before the ark drifted ashore on Minatou.

Day 2: We spent the morning helping Vrenn Larr’s Neanderthals prepare for the coming assault: showing them where to build defensive walls and fortifications, arranging the overall battle strategy, and, in particular, showing them how to build ballistae – a skill that Vaskin and Flint picked up before the first T. rex fight, back on Zaton.

In the afternoon, we got word from a teratorn scout that the invasion ark had drifted ashore by the northern forest. (We figured this out by dividing the western and northern coast into 12 segments and rolling 2d6.) Also, the invaders had brought close to 100 Quetzalcoatlus out onto the top deck of the ark and appeared to be getting ready for a massive aerial attack. We got together all of the teratorns and flying scouts that the Neanderthals could spare and set out to stop or at least slow down the Quetzalcoatlus assault. There followed a mass air combat involving the 6 PCs and 74 Neanderthals on teratorns versus 97 Quetzalcoatlus-mounted archers (the original 100 minus the 3 we’d killed on our scouting mission the day before). Thanks to some inspired teamwork – and some lucky die rolls for the Neanderthals in the early rounds of the battle – we were able to utterly destroy the invading aerial force while only losing about a third of our own.

Day 3: The Neanderthal forces were divided, with three-fourths in the main camp and the rest in east and west camps elsewhere on the island. We sent our Neanderthal hirelings to the east camp to guard the high passes and keep the enemy from outflanking Vrenn Larr’s main force on the eastern side. Our party went to the west camp, with the plan to hide with their mammoths in a high valley and wait for the main body of the enemy troops to go past us toward Vrenn’s Larr’s camp. Once the battle was properly joined there, we would come down out of our valley, wheel around to the east and hit the enemy from behind. We shamelessly stole this strategy from the Robert E. Howard Conan story, “Black Colossus”, which I’d recently reread and which I had London read before the battle.

At dawn we were all in place, and as the sun came up we saw a huge column of smoke going up from the north coast. The invaders had burned their ark. They knew there was no way back for them: this would a battle of complete extermination. Their army came marching out of the northern forest, and as it approached the foothills three side forces branched off. One went far to the east – our hireling Neanderthals and the force from the east camp would handle them. One went directly uphill, intending to outflank the Neanderthal forces in the valley – Neanderthals on the ridgeline would have to use a rain of boulders and spears to break that advance.

The third came right up our valley, the first one to the west of the big valley where the main camp was located. We’d have to engage and destroy this scout force before we’d have the opportunity to execute our planned attack on the main body. I had London roll 1d4 to see what we’d face first from the battle encounter table.

Allosaurs with riders

London rolled a 3 so our first fight was against 8 Deinonychus plus their Berserker controller. A few of us got side-tracked fighting individual Deinonychus that made it close enough to attack us, but most of concentrated longbow fire on the Berserker. In the second turn, Gustav, our resident axe-wielding barbarian, went out mano-a-mano against the Berserker and cut him down. Most of the Deinonychus fled at that point, since they were no longer being directed by the Berserker’s mind-control helmet, but a few had their blood up because they were already engaged. In the mass battle rules we were using, the first encounter of the battle is crucial, since it sets both the number of subsequent encounters and their difficulty. We came so close to having it finished in two rounds, but the last Deinonychus survived into the start of Round 3 with a single hit point. Therefore we would have 3 more encounters in this part of the battle. Next up were the two allosaurs shown above. We handled them with dispatch, knocking them out in two rounds.

Gustav sizes up Shunosaurus

Next up was a Shunosaurus carrying three archers. One thing I did to keep it tactically interesting was to plunk down the next foe before any of us had a chance to move from our last positions, so wherever your mini was on the table at the end of the last fight was where you started the next fight. Gustav, being his usual badass dinosaur-killing self, had waded right in and fatally wounded the second allosaur with his greataxe, so he had a front-row seat for the approach of the Shunosaurus. He promptly stalked toward its back end and lopped off half of its tail, to keep it from bringing its tail-club into play. He got drenched with blood from the tail-stump and had to make a save versus confusion, but he passed. The rest of us arrowed the Shunosaurus mahout into the next life and the uncontrolled sauropod ran off into the forest, carrying its two helpless archers out of the fight.

Gustav vs ceratosaurs

The fourth and final encounter in the valley skirmish, against 3 Ceratosaurus plus their riders, was even more the Gustav Show. In the very first turn he strode up to the nearest Ceratosaurus, swung his greataxe, and rolled a natural 20 critical hit, killing the theropod in a single blow. Right before the battle Gustav had leveled up, so he now got two attacks per turn. With the second attack he hit and slew the rider. BAM! One guy, one turn, 580 XP of bad guys dead in the dirt.

Ceratosaurus biting Alethra

Meanwhile, Alethra got bitten by another ceratosaur. She still managed to stab it in the face three times with her shortsword. The rest of the party correctly inferred that Gustav would be fine on his own and put enough arrows into that Ceratosaurus to kill it. The rider rolled free, but Alethra cut him down. Thanks to her armor and her high HP total she didn’t suffer any lasting ill effects.

Once all the ceratosaurs were dead, we gathered our Neanderthal compatriots, mounted up on mammoths, and rode around to join the main fight.

Bad mammoth

We don’t have any decent mammoth minis so these green dinos stood in for mammoths. Also, we couldn’t balance our PC minis on top, so the groups of people standing to the side of each “mammoth” are supposed to be riding them. Anyway, for our first encounter with the main enemy column we could have gone left to fight a turtle tank, or right to take on this group of hyenas and their controller. We went right – one of the enemy Diplodocobras was stomping the neanderthal fortifications on the west side the main valley, and the fastest path to stop it went through they hyena pack. The mammoths should have been stomp-stomp-stomping the hyenas out of existence, but there was a problem: the archers on the turtle tank and the hyena controller both concentrated their arrows on our Neanderthal mahouts, hoping to make us lose control of our mammoths. It’s a solid strategy – we use it all the time against enemies using mind-control helmets.

Anyway, the mammoth carrying Alethra, Flint, and Aelar was pretty quickly mahout-less. None of our characters has a very good Animal Handling skill, but Alethra sucks the least, so she got to try to get the mammoth back under control. Mechanically, we played it like this: each turn, Alethra rolled a DC 10 Animal Handling check. On a success, the mammoth at least continued moving in the right direction, and she could try again to encourage the mammoth to make an attack. On a fail, we rolled a d12 and used the resulting clock direction to determine where the mammoth wandered. In the photo above, it’s headed off at 7:00 from its previous course.

That was a simply, goofy mechanic, but it was great for ratcheting up the tension in this second part of the battle. We could never know when one of the mammoths was going to off-mission (the second mahout bit it pretty shortly thereafter). And when that happened, we had to decide whether to dismount and continue on foot, or tie up one of our warriors, who could otherwise be raining arrows down on the enemy, with mammoth-corralling attempts that failed as often as they succeeded.

Big Diplodocobra battle

Still, after the hyenas we fought past a pair of stegosaurs and a trio of sabertooths before we ran up against this Diplodocobra, which had a low-level mage for a mahout, plus 5 pretty good archers on its back. As you can see from the photo, by this point Alethra had her mammoth under control, but the rest of the party had dismounted from the second mammoth.

This was a great, tough fight. The Diplodocobra struck Wilvias first and knocked his hit points way down. Then it got Flint, and took him to the brink of death. Meanwhile, the archers had Vaskin down to zero hit points as well. So our two healers were out of the fight. The rest of the party did manage to bring down the Diplodocobra and all of its riders, but it was a near thing.

At this point the party was just about spent, so of course I had to throw one more encounter at them: a Triceratops carrying archers. Our survivors hunkered down behind the neck of the Diplodocobra, which made a good berm, and arrowed the riders into oblivion. We rolled to see what the Triceratops would do once it wasn’t being goaded forward by mind-control, and it trotted off to greener pastures.

All in all, a super-fun, super-tough day of fighting. From start to finish, our PCs earned as much XP in this battle as they had getting from a standing start to Level 4. And so their legends grow.

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