Encounter Culture#9: Cross Crossbows
This is a fun little low level encounter that focuses on mobility, flight, and machinery.
Basic premise: The cross Crossbows are, simply put, a cluster of flying repeating crossbows intent on raining destruction down on the party. They use their flight and ranged capabilities to harry players that might not yet have the proper abilities to defeat them.
The breakdown: 8 Aerial creature Animated Light repeating Crossbows (CR 5, 1,600 XP)
These Crossbows work great as defenders guarding a spellcaster workshop, or as a hit squad sent to take out pesky rivals or meddling adventurers. It also makes for a great trap. The party opens a chest and a bunch of these jerks fly out, or slots in the ceiling open up and down they come.
The environment is very important for this encounter. Be away of your party's ability to reach the enemy. If everyone has ranged attacks or a great jump or flight options then these enemies work well in an open area. But if the party is a bit more limited then put these enemies somewhere where there are trees, buildings, or ledges for them to climb and jump off of. Another option is to intentionally use this encounter in an open area even if they don't have ranged options. This is a great way to indicate to a lower level party that they have a gap in their offensive options. In this case after five shots the repeating crossbows should be out of bolts and have to flee to reload, ending the encounter before it drags on too long. (Unless of course you want to use these foes as a way to split up or herd an ill prepared party). New players will not soon forget the time that ranged weapons themselves would have been the key to defeating ranged weapons.
Another big factor is the level. Unless you want to stroke the arcane caster's ego, do not use this encounter at any point after the players acquire the fireball spell. One blast ends the counter pretty much immediately. That being said, if you have a later encounter that is just as flammable, this may be a good way to coax the caster into letting the spell go early.
Tale of the tape: These crossbows are Tiny animated Objects that have been given the Aerial creature simple template. On top of that they've been Given two flaws* in order to grant 2 extra CP. This gives them 3 CP total. The first flaw is vulnerability to fire, this is a no brainer since they are after all made of wood. The second flaw is a custom one of my own design: A DC 20 disable device check, done as a standard action, automatically destroys the target. This gives mechanically savvy party members a way to immediately bring down a foe, provided they have the tools and the ability to reach their target.
2 CP buys the Ranged attack quality from Ultimate magic. This turns their slam into a ranged attack for 1d2 damage and a range of 20 ft.
1 CP buys the improved natural attack quality which normally would give them a whopping 1d3 damage. However since for the same cost they could get Burn* which adds 1d6 fire damage, there's no reason not to take 1d6 damage and the base 1d2 and just make it 1d8 piercing damage. Technically not the exact same, but close enough and it means our crossbows deal appropriate damage.
*For those curious, the flaws and burn animated object quality is from Pathfinder adventure path#43, Haunting of Harrow stone.
The Arial creature simple template** Grants our crossbows:
10 Electrical resistance (Which is perfect for wooden crossbows)
A fly speed equal to the creature's normal land speed (15 ft in this case)
And adds 1 Electrical damage to the creatures
** This Simple template is from Pathfinder Player Companion: Monster Summoner’s Handbook.
Hooks: These weapons came from somewhere. Were they stolen from a master weapon maker who grants the players an audience only because of the incident? Such a visit could give them just a single chance to buy extraordinary wares.
Or were these created directly by an enemy of the players? And if so who? The crossbow bolts may have been poisoned with a slow acting toxin or disease with exotic cure, a special remedy must be found, but the poison's origin will serve as a clue. Or the toxin could put the party to sleep to be captured later
What if these weapons were only the scouts, or rejects of a powerful super sentient construct commanding a vast army of specialized living weapons? This trial run may have only served to gather Intel for a much more powerful threat.
Regardless of who made or sent them, If you decide that each crossbow only holds 5 shots (As is typical of a repeating crossbow) then once they are empty they will have to retreat, and this could give the players an exciting chase scene to follow them, and then perhaps a heist or break-in when they arrive.
Variations: This encounter can be scaled up or down in challenge rating by adjusting the number of crossbows. Remember every doubling of numbers is worth+2 CR. Raising the HD of the crossbows can also adjust the encounter (Especially if 4 or more bonus HD are given, as the benefits of the template get better as well).
The crossbows could also be improved by Changing their design, spending more CP to enhance or modify their abilities. Making them steel and giving them faster speed changes them into something much more like modern day drones.
Another Option is to raise the CR by +1 and giving them magical bolts equivalent to +2 weapons, or adding poison to the bolts.
Another option is to pair the crossbows with an animated Ammo cart, of large or Huge size. This has the added benefit of giving melee players and heavy hitters something to swing at. If you add an ammo cart then the crossbows should be required to mover adjacent to it to reload after every 5 shots, and adding that drawback will let you reduce the effective CR of the encounter by 1, after adding an increase for the Ammo cart's respective CR of course.