As we planned on Friday, I got together Saturday afternoon online with Barbara, Lane and Zach to finish up the side quest of ridding Winterhaven of the kobold menace. There was only one encounter to run: the infamous Irontooth battle. From reading about the Keep on the Shadowfell adventure online, I knew that other DMs said that the Irontooth battle could be a total party kill (TPK), especially if the players were unlucky or if they were still new to the game and not understanding what they could do. The battle is set up as a sixth-level encounter for a party of first-level players. Encounters that are a level or two above the players are totally reasonable but challenging, and three or four levels above them should be highly threatening. Five levels above? Now you’re just trying to kill your friends, and that’s not fun.
So, in addition to scaling the battle down to work for three players, I wanted to scale it down a little farther still in order to be more like a fifth level encounter. This is a good time to talk about scaling encounters for smaller parties.
Wizards of the Coast tries to help out DMs when it comes to scaling battles up or down for party size or character level (on pages 56-57 of the DMG1). Every monster has an experience point value, and an encounter of a given level for a given party is made up of monsters whose XP total equals the XP for a monster of that level times the number of PCs in the party. If you want a first-level encounter for three players, you see that a first-level monster has XP of 100, so you want monsters that total 300 XP (100 XP times three players). If it were a third-level battle for a party of six characters, you’d see that a third-level monster has XP of 150, so you want 900 total XP in the encounter (150 XP times six players), and so on. That could be made up of a whole bunch of tiny little minions or just a couple of higher-level baddies.
The Irontooth battle as written is worth 1,250 XP – a sixth-level encounter for a party of five players. I wanted it to be more like a fifth-level encounter for a party of three players, which meant I was aiming for more like 600 XP. That meant I had a lot of slashing to do.
- The encounter calls for 10 Kobold Minions at 25 XP each. I cut this down to 4 minions (100 XP)
- 3 Kobold Skirmishers at 100 XP each became just one (100 XP)
- 2 Kobold Denwardens at 125 XP each became one (125 XP)
- 1 Kobold Wyrmpriest at 150 XP was eliminated, which I hated to do but I had to do something (0 XP)
- Irontooth himself is built to be worth 300 XP. I cut his hit points from 106 down to 80 and removed his hit point regeneration ability (getting back 5 HP per turn once he’s bloodied seems too strong), but left his damage and other abilities alone. I figured this made him worth about 250 XP (250 XP).
- In addition, a Kobold Slink escaped the previous battle to go into the cave to warn the other kobolds, so he was going to show up here. However, he was beaten up from the earlier battle and doesn’t have any healing surges, so I started him at his bloodied hit point value and shaved his XP from 100 to 75 (75 XP).
All together, this adds up to 650 XP, which is slightly above a fifth-level encounter for this party. Hoo boy! This could be tough. The map is below (and the Gametable .grm file is at this link, as well as on the Downloads page with my other maps).
Fortunately, the party’s tactics were sound. The battle is set up in two waves, with a second group of enemies (including Irontooth) coming into the fray three rounds after the first wave. The party finished off the first wave (four minions and a skirmisher) during round three, just in time for the second wave (Irontooth, the denwarden and the bloodied slink) to show up. Had they still had parts of the first wave running around while they were trying to deal with the second, it could have gotten ugly. As it stood, they did a good job of saving their daily powers and action points for the second wave, where things got challenging. The Healing Word power that I had given to Lane’s druid, Kana, was used up early on, and everyone’s second winds were used, too, but they ultimately finished off Irontooth with single-digit hit point totals remaining.
My favorite part of this day’s session was the excitement when the treasure chest came into view. Zach’s character seriously considered ignoring her allies in battle (all three characters are female, even though Zach is male) so that she could sneak over to the chest and try to pop it open during battle. Cooler heads prevailed, and she decided to keep fighting and pick the lock on the chest later (no one thought to try using the key from Irontooth’s pouch, but the lockpicking went off without a hitch).
We’re going to try to get together on Friday nights, starting this coming week, with the whole group of five adventurers. This time, they’re ready to take on Shadowfell Keep itself.