The material below is Open Game Content
Although each type of unit is defined by its general character, different versions of each unit are formed to cover a wide range of challenges. To determine which version to use, begin by calculating the average party level (APL) of the unit’s foes. Take the sum of the equivalent character levels (Hit Dice + level adjustment) in the party, then divide by the number of characters in the party. Increase the APL by one or two if there are more than five characters in the party or if they are unusually powerful for their level due to high ability bonuses, magical items, etc. Decrease the APL by one or two if there are fewer than four characters in the party or if they are relatively underpowered compared to the average characters of their level.
Once you have the APL, consult the following table to determine how many tactical units the party will face and what encounter level to use for each unit.
Number and Encounter Level of Tactical Units
|D20||%||NUMBER OF UNITS||ENCOUNTER LEVEL|
|7-12||31-60||1||Equal to APL|
|13-16||61-80||2||APL-1 and APL-32|
1 If the APL is less than 3, use one unit with EL equal to APL
2 If the APL is less than 4, use one unit with EL equal to APL
To determine the types of unit, you can use the following tables to randomly choose units, or choose ones that are appropriate to the story. Wild stirge nests are not under the control of ashmalkins; ashmalkin nation encounters represent nests that have been colonized by fey.
Random Unit Encounter For A Wild Stirge Nest
Random Unit Encounter For An Ashmalkin Nest
The role that each unit plays in the horde and the creatures typically found in each unit are described below, along with detailed tactical advice for getting the most out of the unit in combat.
Hungry members of the horde take wing and search for warm-blooded nourishment. Flying above the entanglements of the swamp, aerial units are fast moving and far ranging. Aerial units may be encountered at a greater distance from the nest than any other group in the horde.
The goal of an aerial unit is usually simple: to find prey, feed on it, and then return home to digest. They are typically driven by hunger—since stirge hordes tend to deplete the local food supply very quickly, the unit may well be on the verge of starvation—and will not hesitate to attack forces that outnumber them, hoping that one or two stirges will escape with a full belly.
Aerial units directed by an ashmalkin wing jockey perform more complex roles: leading enemies away from the nest, providing air support to other units, or launching preemptive strikes to weaken enemy forces before the main battle is joined.
The stirge is the key creature for the aerial unit. A lowlevel encounter might consist of several stirges flying together in a flock. Deadlier challenges will involve an entire swarm of stirges. In many cases, the swarm will be accompanied by individual stirges. These represent “alpha” stirges, relatively fierce and dominant members of their kind that fight separately from the swarm and usually make up the vanguard of the attack.
An ashmalkin wing jockey commands the most dangerous aerial units. Their ability to act strategically and communicate with other forces greatly increases the flexibility and threat potential of the unit. If the aerial unit is part of a wild stirge nest, substitute additional swarms for the wing jockey.
Individual stirges like to attack creatures that are big, slow moving, and unarmed. They lack the sophistication to identify spellcasters, but they are cunning enough to choose targets that appear helpless or unable to make an attack of opportunity when the stirges enter their square. Flocks of stirges will gang up on a single target whenever possible, hoping to overwhelm it quickly.
Swarms of stirges will try to engulf the entire group of its enemies rather than choosing specific targets. If its prey is too spread out for the swarm to engulf them all, it will try to catch as many as it can or position itself to feed on multiple targets in the next round.
Wing jockeys will direct swarms under their command to attack targets suspected of being magic-users, knowing that these pose the greatest threat to the unit. Individual stirges will often be held in reserve, readying their actions to charge anyone who attempts to cast a spell.
Flocks of stirges like to fly stealthily below the cover of the swamp’s vegetation and not reveal themselves until they are within charge range of their target (80 ft.). Since swarms of stirges have little hope of remaining unseen unless they are flying under the cover of darkness, encounters with aerial units that include swarms often begin at the maximum spotting distance for the terrain (360 ft. for moor terrain in a swamp environment).
A flock of stirges will rush at its chosen victim all together; as many as eight stirges can attach to a Small or Medium character. When a swarm fights alongside individual stirges, it will often delay its action until after these alpha stirges have made their charges. The mob mentality of the swarm prefers to test its enemy’s defenses before the entire swarm commits to the attack, circling around
and around the enemy before descending on them with frightening suddenness.
Aerial units led by a wing jockey often coordinate with other elements of the horde. They frequently serve as reconnaissance scouts, or go beyond the front line of battle in order to take out ranged attackers or spellcasters.
Setting up ambushes is a favorite pastime for ashmalkins. They become bored too easily to maintain any one ambush for very long. When a nation is alerted of an attack, however, there will be no shortage of prepared ambush points ready to receive the rush of warriors who are eager to wreak carefully planned mischief.
Ashmalkin ambushes take full advantage of the surrounding environment. In a swamp, they are often set up near patches of quicksand or a pit in a dungeon. Another favorite spot is a sturdy tree surrounded by a moat of deep water, forcing enemies to swim if they wish to assault the ambush point directly. Ashmalkin rogues may also create their own traps around an ambush, some of which may be quite ingenious.
The most common role of an ambush unit is to harry, delay, and weaken foes before they can reach the nest. For most ashmalkins, however, any opportunity to loose huskbombs on an enemy and hurl flamedarts at them as they wallow in quicksand is its own reward whether it serves a strategic purpose or not.
The key creature in an ambush unit is the ashmalkin warrior. One or more will always be present to conduct the ambush; in more dangerous ambushes, they will be assisted by the powers of an ashmalkin wizard.
Hollow husks and stirges are also essential components of the ambush. The hollow husks are typically held in wicker cages whose latches are rigged with strings, allowing the ambushers to set them free when the moment is right.
In many ambushes, the husks will have been specially treated to create huskbombs and sporebombs. Stirges play two roles in the ambush. Each ashmalkin present will have a stirge as a personal mount, allowing them to fly away if the ambush point is overrun and giving them the mobility to launch sorties against vulnerable targets. If there are more stirges than ashmalkins, these will be caged and released along with the hollow husks when the ambush is sprung.
Ashmalkins are cunning opponents able to adapt their tactics to suit the larger strategic goals of their nest or nation. If they are striking from a distance to lead their enemies into a prepared ambush, they will launch firefly bolts at the target that has the biggest muscles and carries the most melee weapons, hoping to provoke them into charging the source of these annoying pinpricks—where the various threats of the ambush are waiting.
However, if an ambush unit needs to hold its enemies at bay or delay their advance, ashmalkins will fire upon the archers in a group with the intent of starting a long and drawn-out exchange of missile fire.
Ashmalkins who are ambushing intruders generally prefer to remain unseen until they are within 40 ft. of the enemy. This range lets them ride stirges into melee range in a single round or hurl flamedarts (-6 range penalty). At this range, most opponents will need to charge to make melee counterattacks, making it more likely that they will be stopped by any quicksand or other traps the ashmalkins have prepared.
Ashmalkins who are defending the nest or using delaying tactics will often begin attacking at 400 ft., the maximum range of their firefly bolts. When firing at this distance and from a position that offers cover or concealment, they will often hide immediately after firing. Their Hide roll suffers a –20 penalty in this circumstance (typically reducing their skill check to 1d20–6), so this tactic is generally used only at distances where their opponent suffers a similar penalty to their Spot check (-1 for every 10 ft. of distance). Clever PCs can negate this shoot-and-hide tactic by readying an action to fire as soon as an ashmalkin shows its head.
Ashmalkins use group tactics to excellent effect. This goes beyond simple coordinated attacks and includes larger strategic considerations. One group of ashmalkins will often attack to draw attention away from others who are saddling up their stirges, releasing captive hollow husks, filling huskbombs with gas, or making an escape. If more than one ashmalkin is involved in a combat, one of them will typically ready an action to attack if they see a spell being cast. Likewise, during an exchange of missile fire, warriors will take turns firing while the others hide and reload their crossbows.
Unlike the roving and largely mindless risen dead (see below), the undead in a necromancer unit have been trained to obey the ashmalkin wizard who commands them. This wizard is often one of the most powerful members of his kind, and may be the ruler of the nation. Necromancer units often remain within the nest, where they supervise the caging of hollow husks, the creation of huskbombs, and similar projects. They may also lead other units in forays against the enemy or travel alone on espionage or guerrilla missions.
The ashmalkin wizard and his stirge mount are the key creatures for the necromancer unit. Four to seven hollow husks will typically be under the wizard’s command. His power will increase with encounter level, and the most dangerous necromancer units will also include a shadow.
The worst thing that can happen to a necromancer unit is having its lovely undead rendered useless by an enemy cleric’s turning ability. Knowing this, the ashmalkin wizard will focus his own attack on foes that are wearing or wielding obvious holy symbols. If no such enemy is apparent, the necromancer may ready an action to attack anyone who makes a turn attempt.
Te undead in a necromancer unit will generally choose the same sort of targets they would if uncontrolled: bleeding or unarmored creatures for hollow husks, and strong creatures not wielding magical weapons for shadows.
Whenever possible, a necromancer unit will remain hidden until its leading members are within 35 ft. of the enemy. If it is not possible to approach unseen, the wizard commander may split his unit into several waves, each maintaining 60 ft. or more distance between them, in hopes of using successive waves to burn up the turn attempts of an enemy cleric. The ashmalkin wizard may sometimes close with the enemy in order to use a shortrange spell, but in general he will prefer to direct the attack from the rear, ready to fly away and pick up more undead if the initial assault goes poorly.
Unless he is of sufficiently high level to use a command undead spell, the wizard’s control over his unit is somewhat crude—enough to maneuver the undead into position and hold them back from attacking until the proper moment, but not enough for sophisticated cooperative tactics.
A necromancer’s contribution to a joint action thus usually takes the form of casting spells to assist his allies or damage the foe, while the undead in the unit serve as his personal bodyguards. He may also loose his undead to join the fray, especially if he sees any enemy clerics distracted by other concerns.
Ashmalkins are far too disorganized and contentious to maintain a regular schedule of watches and mounted patrols. Nevertheless, their nations rarely lack roving sentries. Saddling up and going hunting is a popular sport among ashmalkins. Because most hunting parties don’t travel very far before being distracted by something else or split up by internal conflict, the region around a nest tends to be patrolled almost as tightly as it would if it boasted a disciplined army.
The most common role of a patrol unit is to locate enemies, alert the nation, and attack the foe. Patrols also often serve as reinforcements, flying in to support other units, or as flankers, attacking the enemy from behind.
The key creatures in a patrol unit are ashmalkin/stirge pairs. Hunting parties most often consist of four or five riders and mounts. A mounted ashmalkin wizard will accompany more dangerous patrols, and warriors and wizards will advance in character level at higher encounter levels.
Patrols will choose their targets based on their objectives. When they are working in tandem with an ambush unit, they will attack melee fighters and then fly away, hoping that the fighters will pursue them to the ambush site. If they are supporting units that include undead, they may attempt to identify enemies wearing holy symbols and take them out of action.
Patrols that are engaging the enemy on their own will usually target apparent spellcasters and those who are wielding missile weapons. Such foes usually cannot make attacks of opportunity if the patrol enters their square, and neutralizing these ranged attackers will make it easier for the patrol to pursue hit-and-run tactics.
Patrol units typically fly their stirges low to the ground, moving slowly enough to stay hidden if the terrain offers cover. While hiding in this way, they move at half speed and have a reduced ability to spot enemies; they rely on their mount’s superior hearing to detect intruders. A party that is making no effort at silence will typically be heard from 140 ft. away. If the patrol has two or more riders, one will stay behind while the others attempt to sneak up to 40 ft.
To spot the patrol before it attacks typically requires a DC 28 Spot check (+14 stirge Hide bonus + stirges taking 10 on roll + 4 for 40 ft. distance). A DC 15 Listen check will reveal that something is flying through the brush nearby, depriving the attackers of their surprise round, and allowing any character who succeeded at this check to make a second Spot check with a +10 bonus.
Once the attack is underway, the ashmalkin who remained behind will launch a flare to alert the rest of the nation that enemies have been sighted. If all of the riders are engaged, one will attempt to withdraw long enough to send this signal.
A favorite tactic for patrols is for the first rider to fly by and use a shocklash to disarm the target, allowing other stirge and rider pairs to enter the enemy’s square without drawing attacks of opportunity. Ashmalkins like to let their stirges attach to an enemy and drain blood while they subdue the foe with their shocklashes. However, they are always careful not to let their mount become full (i.e., drain 4 Con points), since it becomes harder to control a stirge whose natural impulse is to return to the nest and digest its meal.
Once another unit has engaged an enemy, patrols in the area will often fly over to join the action, and once the nation as a whole is alerted, other parties will saddle up to get in on the fun.
RISEN DEAD UNIT
The area near a stirge nest is often haunted by roving bands of those who were victims of the blood-drinkers in life and are now their reluctant allies in undeath. These monsters tend to gang together, drawn by some foul kinship or perhaps by the memory of their social habits when alive.
Risen dead units have very simple goals: to find living things and destroy them. This will sometimes involve attacking other members of the horde, although their fear usually holds them back from doing so.
The key creature in a risen dead unit is the hollow husk. Units composed entirely of hollow husks can be crudely manipulated by mounted ashmalkins, who may use the hollow husks’ desire to keep away from stirges to herd the undead into position.
More dangerous risen dead encounters may include an incorporeal shadow. Not inhibited by a fear of stirges, shadows are the most likely to attack other units. At the higher levels in which they are likely to be encountered, however, the ashmalkin nation may have a necromancer powerful enough to convince the shadows to restrain themselves.
Because they are obsessed with blood, hollow husks will always go out of their way to attack a creature that is bleeding, even if this means bypassing more convenient targets. When they are not distracted by the scent of blood, hollow husks prefer to target humanoids that are unarmored and soft-skinned, since these can most easily be made to bleed.
A group of hollow husks usually acts in concert, the creatures using their tumbling abilities to slip past the front ranks of their enemies and set up flanking situations wherever they can. Rather than ganging up on a single enemy, however, each hollow husk prefers to take a position where it can threaten as many targets as possible.
This increases their chances of being allowed an attack of opportunity, and also helps to ensure that they will be able to make a full attack during their round. Shadows are often drawn to the strongest and most vital life forces. If possible, they will keep well clear of magic weapons that might be able to harm them.
Risen dead units prefer to approach the living unseen. For hollow husks, this requires the presence of cover or concealment; shadows can remain hidden more easily by keeping much of their bodies inside the ground, floor, or wall. Given the chance, the unit will approach to within 35 ft. of its target before beginning the attack; at this distance, a hollow husk can move into the square behind its chosen target (tumbling if necessary) and attack from the rear in a single round.
Risen dead units lack the intelligence or communication necessary for joint tactics with other units. However, the hollow husks’ craving for blood does create some coordination: once one hollow husk has drawn blood with its claws, the others will be drawn to attack the same target. is craving will also cause a risen dead unit to join in a fight initiated by another unit, although this is less likely if there are stirges in the other unit.
Blood bloats are patient predators. Their preferred hunting strategy depends on the fact that swamps, dungeons, and ruins are usually full of spiders. When a lone blood bloat encounters potential prey, it will follow at a distance, swimming below the surface so that only its watchful eyes can be seen. If the prey chases a blood bloat, the bloat knows the location of all the spider webs in its territory and is only too happy to lead its pursuers into a spider’s lair. If they choose to ignore the blood bloat, it will follow until their path intersects a spider web.
Either way, blood bloats are perfectly happy to let another creature’s web catch their prey. While the victims struggle in the spider’s trap, the blood bloat will slip up and snatch a tasty morsel. If it is lucky, it can drag a pack mule, or perhaps a halfling henchman, deep below the muck of the swamp before the heroes finish dispatching the oversized vermin and notice their loss.
The blood bloat is the key creature for the swamp unit. In more dangerous encounters, several blood bloats may hunt together cooperatively, or the blood bloat may be a particularly large and powerful specimen.
One or more monstrous spiders present a good opportunity for the blood bloat’s attack, but other creatures could be used as well. The blood bloats might wait to attack until some stirges fly by and create a distraction: for ELs 1–5, simply substitute two stirges for each medium spider and four for each large spider. A swamp unit could also be created using only blood bloats; in this case, substitute a regular blood bloat for each medium spider and a 5 HD bloat for each large spider.
Blood bloats are, like sharks and crocodiles, powerfully attracted by the scent of blood. Their first choice of creature to attack will always be the one who is in the water and bleeding. If no such target is available, blood bloats prefer to attack creatures that are not much bigger than themselves, not heavily armored, and are relatively defenseless. Animals (either pack beasts or animal companions) are a favorite target.
Spiders hate fire, knowing all too well what it can do to their webs. ey will usually attack targets that are holding torches or other sources of flame.
While it is waiting for its moment to strike, a blood bloat will typically swim at a distance of 360 ft. from its prey to avoid detection and make it easy to escape if it is seen. When the time is right, the bloat will “run” for two rounds, swimming at full speed (×4 move) but remaining beneath the surface of the water in hopes of staying hidden.
Its goal is to arrive within 40 ft. of its chosen target, so that it can move and attack in a single round.
Spiders will remain hidden for as long as possible; their ideal encounter distance is when the prey has blundered into their web and is directly below them. If this fails, they may throw webs from 10 or 20 ft. away (especially if there is something at that distance that will provide them with cover) or leap directly into melee combat.
A typical swamp unit attack begins with a surprise round, in which only the spider and those who have spotted its web can act. Following that, the spider will bear the brunt of the attack for the first two rounds while the blood bloat approaches.
On the third round, the blood bloat will attempt to bite and attach onto its chosen prey. If it can feed on the weakest member of the enemy and then slip away unchallenged, so much the better; but if it is going to have to fight, it prefers to do so once it has already gained some extra vitality from the blood of its victim. If other units are present, the swamp unit will generally attempt to stay on the sidelines, snapping up prey whenever the opportunity presents itself but not actively cooperating with other forces.