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I am currently running a dnd campaign (3.5e) in which the players are: 4 human fighters, 1 aasimar cleric (a war priest, flavored to be like Ajax or Achilles), an elf ranger (plebian .spellcheck. citizen-soldier of the auxilliary forces) and a paladin DMPC created just to see what a paladin roman might look like (trying to personify the ideals of loyalty and duty, but also very much in tune with scholarly pursuits and humanism and ancient roman ideals).
So far they have spent the first mission fighting epic-evil style monsters, orcs with hobgoblin leaders and champions who are bugbears, ogres, hill giants.
The monsters here were put allowed by the local war god (who is vaguely athena and aries all rolled into one) as a test to the empire and to prepare them for an even greater battle in the future with the demon-pharaohs of the far northern desert.
I have placed the empire at the southern end of a desert continent in mostly hilly or mountainous terrain with the orc empire north and west of their location.
I have tried to make the game about 50% role-play and 50% hack and slash. The low-level adventures consisted of harrassing an 800-orc invasion force and moving ahead of it, bringing warning to the various towns and settlements.
I am trying to add greek mythological monsters into it as well. One encounter was a bridge with an oracle who was a medusa enshrouded in mist. 8 caryatid columns (living statues in the form of female warriors) were her guardians and daughters (vaguely representing the muses). The oracle refused to let them pass the bridge until they gave a toll (the gods gave her the authority). The cost to cross the bridge was to be their most valuable asset. One player, a very proud fighter, kneeled before the toll-keeper and was allowed to pass. The priest cast bless on the medusa, since the blessings were his greatest asset. One player, intent on creating a legacy said that he can not give the toll, for his name is his greatest asset. The medusa said.. "you may give your name..by marrying one of my daughters, but I must have the toll, but on the honor attached to your name you must return within a year and give her a son, named after his father. And I will raise the son as my own and thus the toll accepted. You may pass". The paladin said something to the effect of 'curséd witch! the gods have more mercy than I. If not for your kind daughters and fear of the gods I would destroy this bridge to stop the armies that pursue us from sacking the temples of the very gods whose wisdom has spared you. My duty is to protect the Imperial city and I must cross to fulfill it. I give you my duty to stop this army and may your daughters be safe." The last player, playing a vain fighter said... I'm a simple soldier. I march on my belly. My provisions and equipment are my most valuable things in this time of war. But by the gods it is my vanity I hold dear. See what it is that I love most. And showed her a mirror). Long and short: The columns came to life, allowed the players passage and held the bridge.
Next encounter was a flood. They were trapped between two over-flowing bridges. A woman in a cart of fresh-pressed olive oil floating down the river. They saved her, she was a hag as it turns out. They brought the olive oil to soak the slate hillside where the orcs were approaching and set their tower shields against an onslaught of enemies. Big 300-style battle with peons.They began the fight with 200 orcs coming up the hill, a handful at a time. They were much better equipped and had the advantage of preparations, terrain and rest. The exhausted orcs made a nice wall. The allied army came in just as the second wave of orcs were coming.
Next encounter, played off what they learned at bridge. They were on a raft floating downstream trying to take out a bridge where the orc armies were crossing. They were given iron spheres that burst into fireballs on impact. The raft they were on had a shield wall on one end. Half the party split to take out an ambush along the way at an ox-bow bend in the river in a brief bloody battle and ran across a strip of land to get back to the raft. They then entered the city in triumph.
Final encounter... they were chosen as champions to fight alongside a very powerful champion NPC. This was a hastily put together hack and slash. The powerful NPC got his head cut off in the first attack by the enemy champion, a giant. The players then had to fight their one chosen champion with the thought that if they win, they would be the one facing off with this superior enemy. As it turns out, the champion of the human empire had magic that allowed him to get back up and put his head back on his shoulders and finish his fight in a mighty mighty fully buffed up death blow. The players came back to their capital in chariots, realizing that they had fought alongside their god. Well, the priest refused to believe that, so I told him to make a knowledge religion check. He refused to believe it, so he went to an oracle. The oracle said, "believe as you will. you were out-shined by a mortal or fought alongside a god. It is for you to decide which."
FINALLY: The only ideas I have next are... mastodons pulling a wooden cart full of archers, leaders mounted on giant scorpions, sand-basilisks that can turn players to sand instead of mere stone... a fort full of monsters with two big ole towers on opposite corners. I have some new roman-style armor pieces that I'm giving as rewards. a helm of glory that allows a shout to stun the enemy, the balls of alchemical fire, greaves of the last stand that help against bull-rush, the epaulets of honor that give extra attack and damage when opponents attack first, etc.
WHAT I NEED: I'm just looking for ideas on cool terrain ideas and scenes, like a fight on a bridge of boats or against a cyclops. Any ideas at all that fit within a roman/greek style campaign welcome. Think 300 the movie and Troy, jason and the argonauts... stuff like that.
I'll think about this for a bit, and let you know what I come up with. In the meantime, I have plenty of ideas for cool encounters, if you're interested. I think the one that was the most well-liked amongst the group involved an epic setpiece battle with a white dragon. As they were slowly making their way across the surface of a frozen lake, the dragon burst forth from underneath and took to the clouds. The ice shattered as it erupted from the lake, creating a battlefield of floating ice floes. Characters had to jump and balance their way from floe to floe, and could pretty easily slip and fall into the freezing water. To make matters worse, the dragon could use its breath attack to freeze the surface of the water; this could potentially create new paths for it to use on the battlefield, or it could trap characters in the water, requiring some strength or athletics checks to get free.
It may not be exactly what you're looking for, but all in all, it was a pretty memorable encounter for us, so I figured I'd throw it out there.
If done well, aerial combat can be incredibly fun. Taking a page from Hercules, involve a flock of stymphalian birds or something similar (rocs, harpies, ziz). The heroes fall unto the backs a large, multi-leveled flock of the monsters that are currently flying towards a destination. The party has only limited control of the flight path and speed of the creature, a fall from this height would be dangerous if not deadly, and other creatures attack the party members on the backs of these creatures while the unintended steed tries to shake them off.
The party's goal also changes the combat. They could be trying to reach a specific creature, kill all/many of the birds, get to the lower level of the flock and try a safe crash to survive, or hang on and try not to die while the flock returns to (Insert high or unreachable by foot location). For bonus fun, add strong winds, rain, lightning, boulders if in a canyon or mountainside, or the arrows/ballista bolts of an outpost.
It requires a lot of planning and good execution, but it can work wonders.
For something closer to "normal"...
-an overgrown ruin filled with giant trees, sap rivers, and dryads (allies, enimies or observers) that run between/teleport through the giant oaks
-The party is transformed (including thier gear) into pigs/boars. You may want to take a monster from the manual like the dire boar and apply changes to make characters feel as if thier boars are different from one anouther. Roleplaying them talking to other pigs/boars/animals could be interesting.
Hope this helps and post if you need more.
i remember putting my players into a huge massive underground maze for a specific item in one of my campaigns, the twist was that it was a covered mirrored maze where the ceiling, floor and walls were all mirrors and an added bonus that the mirrors couldnt be destroyed. When they finally got to the center of the maze the item seemed to be unguarded until they went for the item and their reflections from all the mirrors came alive and attacked them. You could do something to that effect which can also play into the Theseus and the Labyrinth of the Minotaur legend.
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