Throwdown Thursday: Over the Gjol, a Bridge Ambush Battlemap for 5e D&D
Ha ha! With this I am officially back on track and pumping out more high-quality Dungeons and Dragons stuff that you can bring to your table tonight! Only probably not tonight, because it’s Thursday, and I figure that the percentage of my ten regular readers (hi guys!) that get to play on Thursday is pretty slim. But if, in fact you do, I come bearing gifts. Not only did I get the Rook, that crazy necromantic bio-assassin, all typed out and prettified for you, but I’m bringing you a battlemap inspired by something that is very near and dear to my heart.
When I was about twelve, I got to play an excellent game by Bungie that I don’t think many people actually got their hands on. This was back before the Halo days…or really, even the Marathon days. It was an isometric strategy game called Myth: The Fallen Lords. If I had to point at any one piece of media that gave me my absolute love for standard vanilla human soldiers pitting their courage and skill against forces from the realm of nightmare, I’d…well, I’d probably emphatically point to Glen Cook’s fantastic Black Company novels. But if I had to use both hands, I’d point to Glen Cook’s fantastic Black Company novels and Myth: The Fallen Lords.
That game made me think in a way that Command and Conquer and Warcraft just didn’t. Whatever units the mission started you with, that was it. No reinforcements were coming. Your archers hit harder if they were on a hill. Rain would put out the fire on your dwarves’ Molotov cocktails before it would blow up the wave of zombie Thralls that were shambling out of the darkness to rip your footmen apart. It was grim, it was gritty, and it was dark. It was hard as hell. But the writing and the voice acting was something that I wasn’t prepared for. I was down there in the mud and blood with humanity’s last hope against the Age of Undeath, shepherded in by Soulblighter, Shiver, Lurker, The Watcher, and other such names to run away from very fast. I loved it.
The River Gjol was the mission that flummoxed me. The story was that the Legion, our plucky heroes, were sandwiched between the horrifying undead forces of The Watcher to the north and Soulblighter to the south. The master plan as handed down by Alric, the wizard-king in command of the Legion, was to cross a river leaving a small band of fighters behind to slow the advance of Soulblighter long enough to let Alric and the main body engage The Watcher. It was a mission with a timer and waves of onrushing undead. If the game was hard before, this level was a diamond trash compactor. But I played it over and over and over again, experimenting with satchel charges and higher ground and flanking maneuvers…I don’t know that I ever beat it. I certainly skipped it with cheat-codes, because I was twelve.
Any road, reminiscing about that mission, that delaying action against the forces of Soulcatcher made me think about the heartpounding intensity of a really well-placed ambush. And since I’ve got an undead bio-assassin that, if you’ll pardon the expression, lives for that kind of thing, I figured that I’d give you a place to spring a nasty trap on your heroes.
Welcome to the Gjol. It’s a nice sturdy bridge across a river with a picturesque waterfall up to the north there. There’s some rocky outcrops that thrust up out of the jaws of the river, but for the most part, it’s a nice straightforward bit of terrain. I’ve got some abatises over there on the left, and a mysteriously broken down farm-cart with some bodies on the right. I’ll let you come up with the backstory, because I trust you. What I do want to call attention to it the three catwalks over the top of the bridge. Those are traversable terrain.
Because the Rook needs somewhere to roost.
If you want to get real nasty, know that Rooks don’t have to fly alone. Nothing will get your PCs blood pumping like realizing that the Rook brought along some friends. Zombies don’t need to breathe. Like the Thralls in the first mission of Myth: The Fallen Lords, you could easily build a ticking clock by letting those mindless undead shamble out of the river-bottom and climb those leaning obstructions, those rocks and logs, up to the upper level. Just a legion of glassy-eyed backup for our plague doctor…brrr.
Let me know how it turns out for you guys. Happy “it can’t be hopeless” to you!