Last month, we presented the first installment of Use This Book Tonight, which showed the DM who had just purchased Races of Destiny how to use it in his game with virtually no prep work.
This month, we take a look at another brand-new title: Complete Adventurer. In the vein of previous titles in the series (such as Complete Warrior), this book explores a variety of topics of interest to those characters who focus on skills over sword or spell, but also holds plenty of options for fighters and wizards looking to branch out a bit. From feats and skill uses to spells, exotic gear, and prestige classes, this book is absolutely loaded with options.
Take the beastmaster prestige class, for example. If your barbarian or fighter has ever envied the druid's ferocious pet wolf, or even if you already have an animal companion but want to amp up the ability (or perhaps gain additional companions), this class is for you. With prerequisites that can be met by just about any martial- or nature-oriented character by 5th level, the beastmaster offers plenty of payoff -- full base attack bonus, four skill points per level, and of course, a loyal animal companion that is nearly the equal of the druid's. (And no, you don't have to dress in a loincloth -- unless you want to, of course!)
To support this character (as well as all the many other characters who bring pets to the dungeon) Complete Adventurer also presents additional information on the Handle Animal skill, including 10 tricks that you won't find in the Player's Handbook. If you've ever wanted to teach your dire bear to grapple the enemy spellcaster or train your pet monkey to swipe the evil high priest's rod of rulership from his pack, you've come to the right place.
What You Need to Read
Here's what you absolutely, positively have to read before running this encounter:
- Sample beastmaster NPC in Chapter 2. No way to get around this one, since you'll need the stat block for the encounter. Thankfully, though, all the class features are familiar even without reading the rest of the book, so you should be able to run this one without any significant cross-referencing. See "The Encounter," below, for details on using the NPC.
- Consider reviewing the "Assist Attack" trick in Chapter 3; it's also summarized below.
Eventually, every team of adventurers visits a town or city, and that's where this encounter occurs. Whether the PCs have just returned from delving into a ruined temple or living the high life thanks to the loads of gold they've "liberated" from dragon lairs is immaterial -- this encounter doesn't involve their past activities. Nope, this time the PCs are just innocent victims of a ranger who has gone a little feral. If this encounter can take place while the characters are otherwise involved in an adventure, so much the better -- it gives you some breathing room should they get interested in Leena's past.
Leena of the Mean Streets is the sample beastmaster detailed in Chapter 2. Though her default alignment is neutral good, change that to neutral for the purpose of this encounter. She doesn't have to be evil to have formed a negative opinion of her own race, but she's definitely not a good person any more (assuming she ever was). Whether wronged once too many times by a conniving merchant, abused by the local constabulary, or just not quite right in the head, Leena has decided that humanity simply can't be trusted any longer. For the last several months, she has been hunting her fellow humans in the town or city currently occupied by the characters. So far, authorities have just chalked up the deaths to sewer rats, not suspecting that a more intelligent villain is behind the scheme.
Two other minor adjustments are necessary to run this encounter. First, increase Leena's speed to 40 feet (thanks to her longstrider spell, which has a duration of 2 hours). Second, add "assist attack" to the list of tricks known by Manster, Leena's dire rat companion. The dire rat currently knows three tricks, but is eligible for up to two more based on Leena's animal companion class feature. (The fifth trick doesn't really matter, but feel free to add another to the rat's list if desired.)
A 7th-level NPC, Leena is a reasonable challenge for a group of 5th- to 7th-level PCs, particularly since she'll be attacking from ambush. Against 3rd- or 4th-level characters, she represents a severe challenge, but still isn't an unreasonable encounter; that said, you might choose to have the PCs run into her right after she has killed another victim (reducing her hit points to 40 due to injuries from the fight). If your PCs are 8th level or higher, consider adding a pack of dire rats (say, a half-dozen per level above 7th) to her entourage -- though these animals aren't loyal companions, and they enjoy none of the benefits that Manster does, they have been taught the attack and assist attack tricks by Leena and follow her for the reward of food. Characters above 10th level probably won't find any variation of this encounter challenging (though a trio of beastmasters with similar statistics might give even 12th-level PCs a run for their money, particularly if the PCs are coming off another encounter).
As the encounter begins, the characters are on a quiet city street after dark. Maybe they're exploring the seedy side of town, but that's not necessary -- Leena takes her prey wherever she can. The important point is that no help will arrive for at least a minute after the fight begins. Leena knows nothing about the PCs -- she just doesn't like people.
While Leena waits around a corner in a nearby alley (30 to 40 feet from the party), Manster scuttles from her position across the street into another alley. Any character who succeeds at a DC 10 Knowledge (local) check (or a DC 10 Intelligence check) remembers that the city has suffered a rash of dire rat attacks recently. If they don't immediately follow the rat, it pokes its head out as if to taunt them. It retreats if ranged attacks are used, but the characters can still hear it scratching and gnawing.
Eventually, the characters move to investigate, and that's when Leena springs her trap. From opposite sides of the street, she (possibly with dire rats in tow) and Manster move to flank a lone opponent. She delays her attack until after Manster moves into position. For its part, the dire rat doesn't try to injure characters directly, instead using aid another to assist Leena's attack (see Chapter 8: Combat in the Player's Handbook). Chances are that the characters haven't ever seen a rat use tactics, so this in itself might be enough to set them on edge. Any other rats present use similar tactics, which should dramatically improve Leena's ability to deal damage in combat. Even with only Manster flanking and aiding, her attack bonuses go up to +14/7 with her scimitar and +12 with her short sword (only the first attack gets the bonus from aid another). And if that foe happens to be a human, she adds +4 on all her damage rolls!
Leena fights until reduced to less than 20 hp, then takes off running while ordering any remaining dire rats to scatter. If Manster is slain, she focuses her attacks on the character that killed Manster, but not to the point of stupidity (there are plenty more rats in the sewers, after all). Thanks to her speed of 40 feet, she's probably capable of getting away from all but the most determined (and fleet-footed) pursuers.
Should Leena escape, the dire-rat-aided killings continue. She bears no special grudge toward the characters (she won't try to hunt them down, for example), and avoids them if she fears the result of a rematch. Tracking her down quickly might be a tough endeavor unless the PCs have someone capable at gathering information or otherwise following her trail. Eventually, though, she'll be back out on the street hunting human prey, so it's probably only a matter of time before dedicated investigators run her to ground.
If and when the PCs defeat Leena, they've solved a local mystery of some significance. A reward for the group is almost certainly in order -- something in the neighborhood of 100 gp times the average party level is probably appropriate. If the DM wants to extend this chance encounter into a full-blown adventure, perhaps one of the victims' family members approaches them with a request to recover some item carried by the victim (but not held by Leena when defeated). This might take the form of a locket, a diary, or some other personal possession of emotional value, and would require locating Leena's hideout (probably an abandoned building, sewer tunnel, or similarly unpleasant location that is almost certainly teeming with dire rats and/or rat swarms).
Or perhaps the characters find Leena's own journal among her possessions, which details her hatred for the human race, including specific names of those who forged this emotion. This diary might reveal the identity of a corrupt government official, guildmaster, or other figure of power, which leads the characters in an entirely different direction.
Regardless of the direction this encounter leads, consider putting the investigation in the background while the characters pursue other adventures. Let them make a few Gather Information checks and tell them you'll get back to them with the results at the next game. That gives you plenty of time to read through more of the book to find more material to use in the newly inspired adventure, whether that's a bloodhound on the same trail as the PCs, a pack of streetfighters laying claim to the turf that the PCs are investigating, or a team of ninjas sent to retrieve Leena's damning journal before it surfaces and ruins the reputation of a powerful lord.
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About the Author
By day, Andy Collins works as an RPG developer in Wizards of the Coast R&D. His development credits include the Player's Handbook v.3.5, Races of Destiny, and Complete Adventurer. By night, however, he fights crime as a masked vigilante. Or does he?