Combat rating 1
1 Animated armor (CR 1)
3 Guards (CR 1/8)
1 Noble (CR 1/8)
Combat rating 2
2 Animated armors (CR 1)
1 Grey Ooze (CR 1/2)
Combat rating 3
1 Animated armor (CR 1)
3-4 Skeletons (CR 1/4)
1 Minotaur skeleton (CR 2)
Combat rating 3
1 Animated armor (CR 1)
2 Orcs (CR 1/2)
1 Orc eye of Gruumsh (CR 2)
How to Use
One of the main rules of animated objects, and animated armor in particular, is to let the players see it, and get used to it, in its non-animated form. That way, when it does animate, if feels a lot more magical, mystical.
With that in mind, I’m going to start with a small puzzle to get the players to explore the room. Afterwards, we’ll continue on to combat encounters.
This puzzle takes place in an office room. Perhaps they have a meeting here, either they don’t know that the owner is a villain yet or he’s politically important and they can’t just attack him. (Political importance is something that has to be explained to players, sometimes with an explanation of the consequences it they do attack).
Alternatively, they are sneaking in to rob an item that they need.
Even if they don’t have any reason to suspect the owner, there is a good chance that they will take the opportunity to look around if the owner is late to the meeting. If you feel that they’re to law abiding to do so, you can let them hear rumors that amount to the owner being involved in some form of crime, or go horror style and mention some story about someone who disappeared from the house and was never heard of again.
Other ways are if they are after an item that the owner denies having, or after information that they believe he has. And of course if they are trying to steal something from him this is all unnecessary.
Description of the room: Among the features of the room are a large desk. There are a few papers on the desk, a vase with roses, and a small drawer on the owner’s side of the desk. There is a picture on the wall showing scenery that the players might recognize as the area outside the house, but as it appears at a different time of day (for example: it is currently evening, but the picture depicts the area as it appears at noon;) a clock where one hand is of a short, pompous noble standing straight while a servant lies flat his back before him (the servant being the other clock hand;) a floor rug depicting mountains with a castle in the distance at the side of the picture; two suits of armor, one on each side of the door; and a few chairs and a sofa to complete the rooms furniture.
The Puzzle: The clock and the picture are a magical object. The clock will stick to any surface, and the picture will depict what is on the other side of the wall (floor, ceiling) to which the clock is stuck at the time the clock is placed there. If and when they realize this, they can use this to examine the room. The desk has a carefully hidden false compartment [locked] and the rug conceals a well disguised trapdoor behind the castle. One of the keys is in the vase [if you want, the roses’ thorns have had poison smeared on them] and the other key is inside one of the suits of armor, low down where they won’t be able to reach it easily. Which key fits which lock is up to you, and how they retrieve the keys is up to them.
Hints: I mostly have in mind for them to examine the room until they find the secrets. That said, the picture matching the landscape outside is a clue [don’t tell them it matches. Describe the land around the house sometime before they enter the house, and describe the picture when they see it. Let them realize it’s the same. Possibly add a particularly shaped mountain, tree, building, or some such to make it easier.] The time of day in the picture being wrong is to make them think of the idea of time, and hopefully lead them into investigating the clock.
The clock hands are a clue, but a subtle one that they will almost certainly miss. The clue is the fact that the hour hand is pointing to twelve. (You should make the appointment time be either early morning or evening.) Since the time is wrong, it is obviously not a clock. If they’re coming in as thieves at night the minute hand can be a bat hanging down from the middle [pointing at six] and the minute hand can be either a shabbily dressed man [zombie] or a vampire.
The picture is permanently fastened to the wall so as not to give them a [fairly useful] magical item that they will take away with them.
Combat Encounter (difficulty 3)
Let them have a battle in that room, one that doesn’t involve the animated armors. Once their enemy sees that he’s losing the battle, he runs for it, leaving the armor to cover his escape.
Trigger his flight from the room when there are still significant enemies left, but the players have the upper hand. They’ve taken down one or two of the enemies, and are not in a bad position regarding the remaining ones. I would guess that this should be toward the end of the third round or toward the beginning of the fourth, depending on where your players are in the initiative order (before the head villain or after.)
As he leaves, he animates the armors [one on each side of the door] and orders them to cover his retreat. I would suggest having them move into the doorway [to block it] and ready an action to attack the first PC who comes in range. After the first round, they’ll move into the battle like normal adversaries.
(The goals I’m going for are threefold. One is to bring reinforcements into the middle of the battle. Another is to force the players to choose between splitting off part of their forces or letting their enemy escape. Finally, if they do decide to pursue, they’re going to have to find a way to get past the armors in a hurry.)
A problem with any encounter where the enemy is supposed to flee is that they often don’t survive long enough to do so. The players often manage to kill important enemies before they can do so much as unveil their grand plan. Among the things you might do to increase the chances of your villain fleeing are 1) don’t give him a combat role [I.E., he isn’t a fighter, mage, or damage dealer of any kind,] this will also save you from accidently moving him too far from the doorway. 2) give the players a reason/goal to take him alive.
(The other thing sometimes done is to give them extra HP and to rig saves on their behalf. The reason I’m not suggesting it here is because of the low level [presumably] of your PCs.)
Animated armor is also useful for an encounter where your players are sneaking around the mansion trying not to get caught. This is essentially a rouge-type mission, but you can involve all your players quite easily by suggesting [through an NPC, such as the quest giver] that getting the objective might require multiple people. Really all you need is to let the players know that the quest is longer than five minutes and intended for multiple people. Players don’t want to sit out of quests, and they’ll find reasons for all of them to go.
The reasons for sneaking in can be that the villain is too strong for them to fight. It can also be that the villain is too important to take down without clear proof of guilt. If they’re not certain that he deserves to be killed they might choose to sneak in on their own, especially if they have a hope of finding proof of guilt or if he has some quest object that they need and which he isn’t willing to give them.
How they get in to the manor is up to both you and them. They could try to break in, in which case you’ll have to decide on how many guards there are, where they are and whether being discovered means that everybody is alerted and they have to flee or whether they can fight the guards that caught them and hide the bodies.
(Ideally don’t have them fight the guards as this will interfere with my ideas for the encounter. If you have no choice, I’ll discuss it at the end of this section. If they choose to sneak up on some guards and kill them before they can give off an alarm, that’s no problem at all.)
You can also get them in by having them find out about a secret tunnel/entrance, or by having them attend a party that the villain is throwing [possibly in disguise] and sneaking out during the party.
The item/evidence can be hidden in his office, using the puzzle above (you might want to make it easier by having them know to search the office, specifically. Perhaps the NPC quest giver tells them, or they overhear rumors about the office being a secret place that even the maid isn’t allowed to enter.) The armors won’t animate and interfere until the players have found the item(s) they’re looking for. (The villain doesn’t want one of his guests to be clobbered for accidently opening the wrong door.)
In addition to whatever amount of danger the armors themselves might be, alert the players to the fact that as soon as they start fighting back, they are going to set off a ruckus that will be heard through the manor. Perhaps they can take them out silently. Perhaps they will have to block the door while they deal with the armor [possibly spending extra rounds mid-fight blocking it farther as the people outside start trying to break it down] and then escape through the window or the trapdoor in the floor, or perhaps they will flee, and then have to evade being spotted by other guards/people as the armor clunks slowly pursuit.
If they’re pretending to be dinner guests, you might let them know that the armors are going to be magically drawn to them and they need to find a way to slip out before all the guests are assembled into one spot for the armor to identify. Or, it could be that the armor is about to burst into the party and nobody realizes it. It’s also possible that the armor doesn’t have any way to track them down / identify them, but the guests are getting searched or being questioned with a zone of truth. (Except for the really important guests, possibly.) Can they pretend to be important guests?
The last way to use animated armor is to use it to set up the villain’s abilities in advance. Meaning, they visit the villain and see the armor. Later on, when he’s trying to stop them, he sends the armor after them, and because they already know that he has this magic armor [even if they didn’t know it could animate] and will support the story better than just having the villain dispatch a random monster after them.
This is in particular useful for when you were planning to use the armor and then didn’t end up using it. It can always make an appearance later. If you need to raise its difficulty, in response to the players gaining levels in the meantime, use the helmed horror stat block.