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Let’s TPK – Intense 5e Encounters: The Slushfort

The Slushfort is an intense 5e encounter for 3-5 5th level adventurers.

Alistair Enred the Cruel is a regional crime kingpin. He has kidnapped NPCs that are important to the party, and fled to a location called The Slushfort

Alistair Enred had been antagonizing the testing party for a few sessions now. He had threatened them and sent people to burn down their newly purchased tavern. When his plan didn’t work he quickly escalated things to senseless violence. He has a reputation for cruelty after all. 

The testing party had tracked down Alistair and fought him already, but he used a 50% hit-point threshold reaction to escape the fight and teleport back to his lair. Then the party got caught in a blizzard and Alistair sent sell-swords to attack their tavern and kidnap the important NPCs. You can read more about that in my recent post Being a Dungeon Master: Robbing the Players of Satisfaction.

You may wish to have Alistair do something frustrating like this to your party. It might lead them to make foolish decisions like charging at the fort head on and stepping on a leg breaker trap. (bolded links jump to the appropriate section of the encounter) The build up will also make the final payoff more satisfying. Try to apply all of the lessons from Being a Dungeon Master: 14 Hard Learned Lessons.

This adventure acts as the conclusion to a full adventure arc, because the test party had already tracked down Alistair and he managed to escape. When you use an encounter like this intense 5e encounter it should include the satisfying conclusion to one of your party’s arcs.

What key elements allowed the test party to overcome this encounter?

The testing party was a barbarian, fighter, and rogue. I can’t stress enough how deadly this intense 5e encounter is. It’s deceiving that a party of 3 managed to survive. It’s important to understand how they were able to overcome the encounter before you throw it at your party. You will probably need to scale this encounter back in intensity for your party unless you are running a very high fantasy campaign where your characters have a lot of overpowered magic items.

      1. The barbarian is a Totem Warrior  who has chosen the Bear Totem Spirit which means that for most of the 10+ round combat he was resistant to damage. 
      2. The fighter has two overpowered accessories. One of them gives him +2 AC, and the other gives him 50% life steal on his attacks for 10 rounds.
      3. The rogue is clever and cautious. He has a bow that gives advantage when fired outside at night that he used to cancel out disadvantage when firing beyond 30ft in the blizzard. He also had the 3rd level Justicar follower from Strongholds & Followers which offered a slight distraction to the enemy and a little damage. 
      4. The party frequently engage in deadly tactical combat together. They typically make strong combat decisions. In many campaigns the characters will not be so proficient in this area. 
      5. The party chose to use the Stealth Option: Tunnel Entrance

By the end of the initial fighting the barbarian had nearly mitigated his entire hit-point pool in damage and sat at 12 hit-points, and the fighter’s entire hit-point pool had been lost, recovered, and lost again. If you don’t want that awkward TPK moment you might wish to send 5 party members out on this one.

Encounter Map

This encounter was designed for the map Island Fort [35×35] by Cze and Peku (and Neutral Party). To get the full flavour you’ll need the snow variation included in the Intrepid Explorer (3$ tier) rewards.

If you don’t want to buy the map, you can draw your own basic version of the general layout. I would just recommend supporting Cze and Peku because the maps are amazing! 

See the enemy placement guidelines below. Note that the green tinted defenders are runners who will flee to get help when April Enred commands them to. Other than the obvious stairway in the west tower, there are two additional stairways highlighted with red boxes. 

Exterior enemy placement map for intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort
Exterior enemy placement map for intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort
Interior enemy placement map for intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort
Interior enemy placement map for intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort

Encounter Hazards

Blizzard

There’s always a blizzard during this encounter that reduces visibility to 30ft. Ranged attacks can be made at targets beyond 30ft at disadvantage after they have been spotted by the player or if they have recently attacked the player or a party member at the dungeon master’s discretion. 

Slush Moat

A shallow man-made lake that has been heavily salted results in a waist high pool of slush. The slush is difficult terrain. When exiting the slush an individual must pass a DC 15 con save or have impaired movement for 1d4 rounds. 

Traps

There are traps strategically placed around the island that have been further obscured from view by the heavy snowfall. These traps require a DC 15 perception check to spot. There come in three variations: 

Leg Breaker - intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort

Leg Breaker

Spot DC: 15

Effect: When a player steps on this beartrap like device it will snap shut dealing 1d4 crushing damage and reducing their movement to zero.

Escape: An action can be used to make a DC 15 strength check in order to disengage the Leg Breaker and free the trapped character.  Party members within 5ft can also perform this action.

Dinner Bell - intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort

Dinner Bell

Spot DC: 15

Disable DC: 20, detonate on fail

Effect: When a player steps on this device it will detonate. The high pitched blast will deafen the player that triggered it for 4 hours. anyone in a 3×3 square around the device is deafened for 1d4 hours.

Alerts: Squad leader closest to the explosion.

Regret Maker - intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort

Regret Maker

Spot DC: 15

Effect: The main entryway has been barred, and barricaded, and boobytrapped. If the players attempt to force open or smash through this main door the Regret Maker will detonate. Anyone standing in the 2×2 space in front of the door must make a DC 20 CON save or be knocked unconscious.

Alerts: Squads in The Barracks, and on The Ramparts.

You may wish to prepare a “You wake up in chains” jailbreak scenario in case this trap knocks out the entire party.

Trap placement map for intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort
Trap placement map for intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort

Sniper

Sniper coverage map for intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort
Sniper coverage map for intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort

April Enred prowls the ramparts with an initial stealth roll of 30, waiting for the party to come within view. With her special sight she’s able to see 100ft through the blizzard conditions. When April spots the party she will perform an Aim For The Head against the highest HP target that she can see. This will place the party in initiative. April will use her surprise round to alert the nearby guards to get help. When April is outside in the blizzard and she can use a bonus action to enter stealth with a +10. 

April’s dirty tactics factor heavily into the difficulty of this intense 5e encounter.

Aprils combat rotation is as follows: 

        1. Aim For The Head, stealth, and reposition
        2. Reposition, Aim For The Head, stealth

Once all the other combatants have been defeated on the rampart, April will flee to Alistair and Boris in the Barracks

The party can also attack April by using readying an action “shoot April when she comes into view”, or by making an attack at disadvantage on her last known position after she has just performed phase 2 of her rotation. 

Stealth Option: Tunnel Entrance

The party doesn’t have to go trudging through the slush moat, trip over a leg breaker, ring the dinner bell, and get shot in the head. Make sure that the NPC’s in town disclose that the Slush Fort pulls it’s drinking water from an underground river that flows through a network of caves. The closest entryway to the cave network is a few kilometers to the south of the fort. The party can choose this option if they want to be covert and infiltrate the compound

Hint to the party that they may run into something nasty in the caves, and prepare a wildlife encounter that would fit in a snowy mountain cave network. I prepared an encounter with a yeti and I was going to roll a d20 and have them encounter the yeti on a 18+. Instead the party ended up having varying survival rolls and arguing about which way to go through the tunnels. If they ended up choosing to listen to the rogue who had a lower survival skill they would have encountered the yeti. This could have burned up some of their resources before the main event. 

If the party is strong, and you feel that they can handle a frontal assault on the fort then you should make the tunnel more costly to use. Tell them that on top of the potential dangers lurking within the cave network, that searching for the entrance in this blizzard could take so long that one of the NPC’s isn’t alive anymore when the party finally reaches the fort

If the party takes the tunnel to the fort they eventually come upon a well used walking path leading to a hole cut in the frozen surface of the river. The party can use the nearby spiral staircase to ascend into the storage building

Encounter Instructions

Storage Building

VIP 1 is be located in the storage building. They have been tortured a bit. Alistair managed to remove their finger nails but then he was called away. VIP 1 is seated upon a bronze device which will detonate if they move off of it. They will inform the party of this. The door on the north side of the room leading outside has been locked from the inside. The stairs can be taken down into the tunnels, or up onto the ramparts. 

Ramparts

The rampart is 28 feet tall, lined on either side with 5 foot tall stone walls featuring 2 foot embrasures running along the wall that allow units to see and shoot at targets on the ground. 

medium can use the ramparts for 3/4 cover, small units can use the ramparts for full cover. Any unit that ends their turn without moving after firing from the ramparts only benefits from 1/2 cover due to the exposure of looking through the embrasure.

Climbing to the top: DC 25 athletics means you make it all the way to the top.

Partial success: 20 athletics makes it 20 ft and 15 athletics makes it 15ft.

Failure: 10 athletics mean you fall.

April’s Squad

 

April’s squad is spread out on the ramparts keeping over-watch on the surrounding area. When the party is discovered by the April’s Squad then April Enred immediately fires on them and dispatches the Defender Runners (The green defender tokens on the setup map.) to the Barracks and the East Wing to alert the other squads.

See Sniper section for more details about April’s behavior on the Ramparts.

April is the sadistic niece of Alistair Enred. She is tactical and her squad will alert others

Barracks

The Barrack’s is cozy. The fireplace is crackling and the ale is flowing. AlistairBorisGoro, and a few defenders are here along with VIP 2. Alistair is entertaining himself by torturing VIP 2 mentally in some way. In the test encounter VIP 2 is a sorcerer, and magic has a heavy price in the Elseight Secret Police campaign. Boris holds a knife to the base of the sorcerer’s skull and forces them to perform parlor tricks for Alistair’s amusement. Using her magic is slowly killing her, and by the time the party finds her she will be in rough shape. Try to do something similar with your VIP 2.

Goro’s Squad

 

If Goro’s Squad is roused by a scout from April’s Squad they will proceed up the tower to the 

Rampart and seek out the party

If Goro’s Squad is attacked in the Barracks they will protect Alistair

Goro the Great is an exiled mountain-folk war-chief. He is aggressive and his squad will seek and destroy the party. They will take risks to apply pressure to vulnerable targets. Be sure to have Goro shouting commands to tip the players off to his style of fighting.

Alistair and Boris

 

 Alistair and Boris will always stay together. Their favored position is safe inside the barracks. When the other squads are alive Boris will fight to protect Alistair. When the other squads are incapacitated Boris will hold a knife to the throat of VIP 2 and attempt to negotiate for his own life abandoning Alistair to his miserable fate. 

East Wing

The East Wing is a party. Leon’s squad is thankful to be inside and they are indulging in some cards and a few hard drinks. The squad’s bravery is bolstered by being in good spirits and drinking strong spirits. They have advantage on saves against being frightened. 

Leon’s Squad

 

If Leon’s squad is roused by a scout from April’s Squad they will do nothing for 1 round, and then they will proceed to a defensible position on the Rampart that makes the most sense given the party’s last known location. 

If Leon’s squad is attacked in the East Wing they will withdraw as a group and aim to get safely to the Barracks.

Leon is a veteran of the watch. He is defensive and his squad will fire from cover. If the party doesn’t attack Leon’s Squad and chooses to enter the barracks then Leon’s Squad will move to pincer attack. Be sure to have Leon shouting commands to tip the players off to his style of fighting.

Enemy Cards

April Enred - intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort

April Enred

 Medium, Humanoid

  • Armor Class: 14 (Leather Armor)
  • Hit Points: 30 
  • Speed: 30 ft.
  • Key Attributes: Dex +3
  • Aim for the head: If the Enred Family Crossbow is about to be fired with advantage against a humanoid, you may instead trade advantage for a guaranteed critical hit. (sneak attack still applies)
  • Dagger: Melee Weapon Attack, +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: (1d4 + 3) piercing damage.
  • Enred Family Crossbow: Ranged Weapon Attack, +5 to hit, reach 80/320 ft., one target. Hit: (1d8 + 3) piercing damage. 
  •  
    •  

Drops treasure: Enred Family Crossbow

Berserk Bill - intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort

Berserk Bertha

 Medium, Humanoid

      • Armor Class: 13 (Hide Armor)
      • Hit Points: 60
      • Speed: 30 ft.
      • Key Attributes: Str +3, Con +3
      • Reckless: At the start of her turn, Berserk Bertha can gain advantage on all melee weapon attack rolls during that turn, but attack rolls against her have advantage until the start of its next turn.
        Greataxe: Melee Weapon Attack, +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: (1d12 + 3) slashing damage.
Captain Leon - intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort

Captain Leon

 Medium, Humanoid

      • Armor Class: 16 (Breastplate & Shield)
      • Hit Points: 40
      • Speed: 30 ft.
      • Key Attributes: Str +2, Wis +3
      • Restrained: At the start of his turn, Captain Leon can restrain his aggression in combat taking disadvantage on all melee weapon attack rolls during that turn. Attack rolls against him have disadvantage until the start of his next turn.
        Longsword: Melee Weapon Attack, +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: (1d8 + 2) slashing damage.
Boris Whoreson - intense 5e encounters

Boris Whoreson

 Medium, Humanoid

      • Armor Class: 15 (Studded Leather)
      • Hit Points: 50 
      • Speed: 30 ft.
      • Key Attributes: Dex +3, Con +2 
      • Multi-attack: The Boris can make three melee attacks.
      • Dagger: Melee Weapon Attack, +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: (1d4 + 3) piercing damage.
      • Reaction: If Boris is within 5ft of Alistair Enred he can use his reaction to take the damage for an incoming attack that would otherwise harm Alistair
Alistair Enred - intense 5e encounters

Alistair Enred

 Small, Humanoid

      • Armor Class: 8 (Unarmoured)
      • Hit Points: 20
      • Speed: 25 ft.
      • Morningstar: Melee Weapon Attack, +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: (1d8 + 2) piecing damage.
      •  

Alistair himself is a weak combatant. This is either the result of a recent pummeling from the party, or the twist that the regional crime kingpin is actually a total wimp. Whatever fits best in your game.

Goro the Great - intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort

Goro the Great

 Medium,  Monstrous Humanoid

      • Class: Medium, Monstrous Humanoid
      • Armor Class: 16 (Chainmail)
      • Hit Points: 80
      • Speed: 30 ft.
      • Key Attributes: Str +4, Con +4
      • Greatness: Goro deals an extra 1d8 damage when it hits with a weapon attack (included in the attacks).
        Greataxe: Melee Weapon Attack, +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: (1d12 + 4 + 1d8) slashing damage.
      •  

Drops treasure: Goro’s Not So Great-Axe

ranged attacker - intense 5e encounters

Defender

 Medium, Humanoid

  • Armor Class: 13 (Leather Armor)
  • Hit Points: 15
  • Speed: 30 ft.
  • Key Attributes: Dex +2
  • Longbow: Ranged Weapon Attack, +5 to hit, reach 150/600 ft., one target. Hit: (1d8 + 2) piercing damage.
  •  

Two tokens on the setup map are tinted green. Those tokens are April’s ‘Runners’.

Civilian - intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort

Alistair’s Civilian Friend or Family

 Dealers Choice

      • Armor Class: 8 (Unarmoured)
      • Hit Points: 9
      • Speed: 30 ft.
      •  

In my game I’ve used Alistair’s grieving sister, but maybe you have another NPC in mind. I included this to show that despite his nature, Alistair is a real person who cares about someone. It also gives the party a moral dilemma to deal with if the barbarian wants to decapitate the civilian but the rogue wants to recruit them. 

Prisoner - intense 5e encounter - The Slushfort

VIP Prisoner

One of the group’s kidnapped VIP friends.

Treasure

There are two loot items specific to this intense 5e encounter. 

Enred Family Crossbow

This crossbow has been passed down in the Enred clan for generations. Gaudy, golden inscriptions of snakes cover the beautiful cherry wood. 

Light Crossbow, ranged weapon (simple, crossbow)
Damage: 1d8
Damage Type: Piercing
Item Rarity: Rare
Properties: Loading, Range, Two-Handed
Range: 80/320
Weight: 4

  • Aim for the head: If the Enred Family Crossbow is about to be fired with advantage against a humanoid, you may instead trade advantage for a guaranteed critical hit. The attack will still trigger sneak attack. 

Goro’s Not So Great-Axe

A sturdy black handle connects to massive, crescent shaped blades set symmetrically on the axe head. The blades shimmer with a rusty crimson sheen. A spike extends out from the tip of the axe head. A filth gutter is cut into the spike to gather bacteria and guarantee infected wounds. 

Great-axe, melee weapon (martial, axe)
Damage: 1d12
Damage Type: Slashing
Item Rarity: Rare (requires attunement)
Properties: Heavy, Two-Handed
Weight: 10

Goro’s parting gift: When you are about to go unconscious or die from an attack you may use your final moment to stab a humanoid attacker with the spiked tip of the axe. The filth gutter will ensure that the wound becomes infected, and the target will die within 1d100 hours if they cannot find excellent medical treatment.

Attunement: To attune to this axe one must

1. Hold the axe with both hands.

2. Believe with all your might that this axe is the solution to all of life’s problems. 

You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. In addition, while you are attuned to this weapon, your hit point maximum increases by 1 for each level you have attained.

Curse: Goro’s Axe has been cursed, and becoming attuned to it extends the curse to you. As long as you remain cursed:

You are unwilling to part with the axe, keeping it within reach at all times.

You have disadvantage on attack rolls with weapons other than this one, unless no foe is within 60 feet of you that you can see or hear.

Whenever a hostile creature damages you while the axe is in your possession, you must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or go berserk. While berserk, you must use your action each round to attack the creature nearest to you with the axe. If you can make extra attacks as part of the Attack action, you use those extra attacks, moving to attack the next nearest creature after you fell your current target. If you have multiple possible targets, you attack one at random. You are berserk until you start your turn with no creatures within 60 feet of you that you can see or hear.

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Jade Breed

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