The Zone Stat Block
Now we come to the central feature of Project Slaughterhouse: The Zone Stat Block. Each zone has one or more fairly simple stat blocks. The stat block defines the zones level, population, and what happens when the party does things there.
The stat block is your guide to populating and repopulating the zone. The basic assumption is that you start the game with a blank map (or area if you aren’t using a map) and you’re going to place several encounters on the map based on the stat block and the roster. At campaign design, this may seem like an extra step, but as the party starts to mess around, it will become very helpful.
After the party leaves the adventure site or takes an extended rest, you’re going to have to repopulate any areas they have explored. Again, the zone stat block and rosters will provide you with the information you need to do this very quickly.
First, zones come in four different roles:
- A Lair is a zone that functions as a faction headquarters. If a faction is ever left without a lair, the assumption is that they leave the adventure site, never to return. They simply can’t regain a foothold. You can think of a lair as the source of a population. In a sense, it is where new monsters come from.
- An Outpost is a zone loosely controlled by a faction. It isn’t as vital to a faction as a lair. If it becomes too much struggle to hold onto an outpost, a faction will abandon it, but they will also keep reinforcing it against minor incursions.
- Contested Territory is a zone that two or more factions would like to control, but they are evenly matched and neither can get a hold over the other. If one faction or the other is eliminated, the contested territory will usually become an outpost of the rival faction because they can now control it.
- Unclaimed Territory is a zone that no faction is particularly interested in claiming. It is simply there. Unclaimed Territory is usually populated by unaligned creatures, but factions may also occasionally be encountered wandering through.
Each zone has a population: a number of experience points worth of creatures (and skill challenges and traps) that is present in that zone. When you populate a zone, you draw on creatures from the various rosters and build four or five encounters that, together, add up to the population number (or very close to it, it’s okay to be slightly fuzzy).
So, if we take a look at the stat block for the Fortress. We can see that it starts the game as a Lair of the Blood Pudding tribe. We can also see that the only monsters in the Fortress are from the Blood Pudding Roster. And we can see that the Lair contains 7,500 XP worth of creatures drawn from the Blood Pudding Roster. Easy at that.
Now, suppose the party attacks the Fortress and starts fighting with the orcs. For instance, let’s suppose they attack the Guard House and kill all of the orcs there, about 1,250 XP worth of creatures. But then they retreat. They were already exhausted and they don’t have the energy to keep fighting the orcs.
This is where Schrödinger’s Gun comes in (if you read that part). The party doesn’t actually know how many orcs are in the Fortress. They only know they killed one little guard post. They are going to assume there are a lot more orcs. When they return, the orcs will probably reinforce the guard post.
This is where population thresholds come in. The idea is that the party can’t simply keep attacking one encounter at a time and then running away to go to sleep. They have to really push to make a dent in the orc forces. There is a minimum number of encounters they have to have with the orcs in the fortress before they can make a dent. If they retreat and take an extended rest, they will lose all of their progress unless they defeat a minimum number of orcs.
The first population threshold is called “depleted.” This is the point at which the population stops resetting every time they leave. If they have reduced the orcs total population (measured in experience points) to 3,750 XP (about half, or two encounters) without retreating and resting, the orcs will stop repopulating. They have made a dent. Only 3,750 XP worth of orcs remain inside (about two standard encounters or more much easier encounters) when the party returns.
There is another population threshold called “abandoned.” This is the point at which the population gives up. They’ve lost. If the party retreats and rests after getting the population down to this figure (1,500 XP, one encounter), when they come back, the orcs are gone.
This means that the XP is a little fuzzy. The party can get more XP by making multiple visits without depleting the population. Likewise, the party can get less XP by forcing the orcs to abandon the lair.
But, there is also another trigger condition. If the party sneaks in and manages to assassinate both the chieftan and the priest, the orcs will descend into chaos and start fighting amongst themselves for dominance. At that point, they will finish themselves off and, by the time the party returns, they will have abandoned the lair.
Now, what happens when the orcs abandon the lair? Well, the stat block tells us that too. In this case, the Fortress changes hands. Lord Vizier and his goons would love to get their hands on the Fortress. If the orcs are forced out, the next time the party returns, Lord Vizier has moved in and the place has become an outpost. And, because we wrote this possibility into the stat block, we prepared a second stat block for what happens when this occurs.
This stat block looks pretty similar to the first, except this is now an Outpost. Unlike the Lair, the Outpost is not some place that Lord Vizier will try to hold onto even when he’s losing. So, you will notice that the population never reaches depleted. Instead, when half the population is gone, the place is simply abandoned. Vizier gives up on it rather than sending reinforcements into a death trap.
But we also added a trigger. We know that Vizier wants the Temple first. If he is in control of the Temple, he is now ready to commit resources elsewhere. So, he will keep a population in the Fortress even if they are getting killed. They will hold it a little more fiercely.
Finally, if Lord Vizier is forced to abandon the Fortress, no one else will move in. The orcs are gone, Lord Vizier doesn’t want it. It becomes unclaimed territory. And we would have another stat block ready for that eventuality.
Let’s look at another case. The Sewer is the lair of the aberrants because of the gate. They aren’t really an organized faction. Instead, they literally just spawn into existence and wander around. And they aren’t trying to hold territory. First of all, notice that we build encounters from two rosters when we fill the Sewers. The aberrants are wandering around, but so are unaligned sewer creatures. No one else will come down here, though. They are afraid of the abberants.
The second thing to notice is that no matter how many aberrants the party kills, they will never force the aberrants to leave the Sewer. The aberrants just keep popping through the gate. However, if they make a serious dent in the population of the Sewer, it will take a while for it to recover. So, they could make a big push, retreat, and then return to close the gate.
The triggered action tells us that when they close the rift, the aberrants now lose control of the sewer. Once the aberrant threat is thwarted, the gnolls and the orcs will bring their war down here. If you look at the zone map, the sewers are a valuable way to move around the city (they connect to several zones) and the orcs and the gnolls will take advantage of that.
The final stat block shows what happens when the orcs and gnolls have come into the sewers. It is now a warzone. Orcs and gnolls are fighting (and there are still sewer creatures) and both would like to control the sewer. If either side is defeated (by the PCs), the other side will claim the sewer as an outpost. And, once again, we will have prepared stat blocks for both of those eventualities.