Shadowland : it begins with the horses

Did you know that up to around 1900 there were about two million free-roaming wild horses across North America? I didn’t. That’s a lot of horses. Given that frontier fantasy worlds echo much of the Old West in style (and certainly given 4e D&D’s Points of Light premise), I’d expect it to be much the same there with whole herds of wild horses roaming the landscape.

Now imagine that every single one of them becomes suddenly, inexplicably, out-to-get-you nasty.

There’s a message floatin’ in the air
Come from crazy horses ridin’ everywhere
It’s a warning, it’s in every tongue
Gotta stop them crazy horses on the run

That’s the setup for the opening session of Shadowland, my new 4e D&D scenario for 3rd level heroes. They are relaxing in Whitehold when runners from the wall call out for all able-bodied men to make for their posts. As this is a frontier city anyone capable of holding a sword or wielding a wand is expected to join in the city defence in time of need. Everyone is assigned a position and it just so happens that our heroes’ place is right on the front wall by the gates.

In the distance, they see a huge dust cloud. Gradually it coalesces into the form of thousands upon thousands of riderless wild horses – and they’re headed this way! The gates are quickly shuttered and barred but unless the heroes do something to buy some time they barely hold against the impact and the horses break through.

Whitehold itself is a typical fantasy city in layout with a North Gate (through which the horses enter), a South Gate and a river flowing through the city across which are three bridges. There are a number of open market squares and parkland spaces as well as numerous thoroughfares and narrow alleyways. The heroes’ task will be to help control or corral the horses in some way. Good luck with that.

This is going to be a Complexity 3 Skill Challenge driven session with the heroes requiring 8 successes before 3 failures. If they succeed, the horses are cleared from the city with the minimum of loss or damage. Fail, and they leave a trail of destruction in their wake which will take decades to fully erase from memory. While the heroes are busy they will hear the sound of action from across the city, reinforcing the impression that they are a part of a much larger effort.

Each individual check in the challenge could range from something as simple as a Skill Check (using Nature or Intimidate to change the direction of a lead stallion, for example) to a mini Skill Challenge (erecting a barrier or clearing panicked civilians) or direct combat. Fighting against horses (even crazy ones) isn’t exactly heroic behaviour so I’ll reward non-lethal solutions more generously. That’s one of the reasons I pitched this at 3rd Level; this opens up all those lovely Utility Powers and gives just a little more choice when it comes to Feat and Encounter Power selection.

I’ll be winging this throughout in response to my players’ tactics. As ever, Page 42 of the DMG will be my lord and master when it comes to setting Difficulty Class and damage results.

Never stop and they never die
They just keep on puffin’
How they multiply
Crazy horses will they never halt
If they keep on movin’
Then it’s all our fault

When it comes to horses themselves, the Monster Manual handily provides stats for Riding Horse and Warhorse (here serving duty as Alpha Stallions). Add a Horse Minion (a minionized Riding Horse with 1hp doing 5 damage on a kick, 25XP) and the Stampede! stats below to represent a solid wall of horses charging together in a block, and we’re good to go.

 

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With 600XP to spend on an encounter for 4 3rd level PCs, a typical bunch of crazy horses will look something like this:

  • Stampede! 250xp
  • Alpha Stallion (Warhorse) 150xp
  • Riding Horse 100xp
  • 4 Horse Minions 100xp

That’s a lot of horses! Thankfully I’ll be using the lovely horse minis kindly provided by Tourq at Stuffer Shack. This is a set of five horses based up to the correct size complete with a dab of tack so you can fix your hero to the base as well when he’s riding. I was also send a set of Mini Counters and Bloodied Markers which I will definitely make use of time and again. The Adventurer’s Bundle gets you 10 of each marker and 10 horses for just $33.99 – bargain!

horsesOh crap 

Seriously looking forward to this one. I’ll let you know how they get on!

So take a good look around
See what they’ve done
What they’ve done, they’ve done
They’ve done, they’ve done
They’ve done, they’ve done
They’ve done, what they’ve done
– Osmond Brothers, Crazy Horses

Next: not running, but fleeing

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3 Responses

  1. Swordgleam says:

    And that’s even more absurd when you consider horses are NOT NATIVE to the American continent.

    “Now imagine that every single one of them becomes suddenly, inexplicably, out-to-get-you nasty.”

    It’s cute that you think that’s not their natural state.

    Okay, so maybe not ALL of them are like that. But I know plenty of face-eating horses.

  2. DarkTouch says:

    One of the first 3rd edition Adventures I ran.. or pillaged since I only partially ran it… was ‘Of Sound Mind’ by Kevin Kulp. One of the great surprises of that adventure was a set of psionic horses who look like normal horses until they break out the psionic powers on the poor unsuspecting PCs. It was horribly effective.

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