Excerpts Archive | 5/20/2011
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Fell Court
Monster Vault Excerpts

The first tieflings were created through a pact with powerful devils, but even that association could not prevent their empire’s destruction. Only when Bael Turath is restored can tieflings begin to forge a legacy that will endure for ages to come—or so says the Fell Court.

In today’s excerpt from Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale, we look at one of the book's dangers—not one mere monster, but a group connected to the Nentir Vale.

The Fell Court

The first tieflings entered the Nentir Vale as ragged survivors, exiled from most civilized areas and distrusted by all because of the corruption of Bael Turath. A handful of tiefling scoundrels descended from those refugees have banded together for mutual protection, calling themselves the Fell Court. These self-proclaimed scions of Bael Turath are determined to restore the shattered empire under their rule.

Swindlers and Thieves: The outcast tieflings have settled in the seedier parts of Fallcrest and other communities throughout the Nentir Vale. Their leader, Melech Ambrose, fancies himself a visionary and a general, but in truth he behaves more like a petty crime lord, lurking within Fallcrest’s slums and conducting clandestine operations that fund his “war chest.” The Lord Warden of Fallcrest has only recently become aware of the Fell Court and seeks more information about the tieflings, but his agents have had trouble uncovering the Fell Court’s activities.

Fell Court Blackheart
Level 2 Lurker
Medium natural humanoid, tiefling
XP 125
HP 37; Bloodied 18 Initiative +10 AC 16, Fortitude 14, Reflex 15, Will 13 Perception +8 Speed 6 Low-light vision Resist 5 fire
Blackhearted Scoundrel
Whenever the blackheart deals damage to an enemy granting combat advantage to it, that enemy cannot spend healing surges (save ends).
Standard Actions
Melee Deadly Sickle (necrotic, weapon)At-Will
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +7 vs. AC, or +8 vs. AC if the target is bloodied
Hit: 1d6 + 7 necrotic damage.
Melee Sly Attack (necrotic, weapon)At-Will
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +5 vs. Reflex, or +6 vs. AC if the target is bloodied
Hit: 1d6 + 7 necrotic damage, or 2d6 + 14 necrotic damage if the blackheart started its turn in smoke form.
Miss: Half damage.
Smoke FormAt-Will
Effect: The blackheart assumes smoke form until it reverts to its normal form as a free action or until it drops to 0 hit points. While in smoke form, the blackheart cannot attack or be attacked and cannot regain hit points. Enemies can enter its space, and it can occupy the same space as another creature. It moves at full speed instead of half speed while squeezing. If the effect ends while the blackheart is occupying another creature’s space, the blackheart reverts to its normal form in the nearest unoccupied space.
Triggered Actions
Blood CurseEncounter
Trigger: The blackheart drops to 0 hit points.
Effect (Free Action): One enemy that the blackheart can see loses a healing surge.
Infernal Wrath (fire)Encounter
Trigger: An enemy within 10 squares of the blackheart hits it with an attack.
Effect (Free Action): The triggering enemy takes 1d6 + 3 fire damage.
Skills Acrobatics +11, Bluff +9, Stealth +11, Streetwise +9
Str 16 (+4)
Dex 20 (+6)
Wis 15 (+3)
Con 19 (+5)
Int 13 (+2)
Cha 17 (+4)
Alignment evil
Languages Common, Infernal
Equipment leather armor, sickle

Above the Law: Melech Ambrose runs a modest black-market operation out of Fallcrest. He has become a folk hero among the slum dwellers, who are usually unprotected by the constabulary, because of his defiance of the established authorities. Ever the smooth talker, Melech has wormed his way into several important social circles beyond the slums and befriended well-to-do people willing to turn a blind eye to his criminal enterprises in exchange for a fat purse.

Though many question his motives, he has never been charged with a crime and acts shocked when accused. He is fiercely protective of his fellow Fell Court members and does whatever it takes to shield them from local authorities.

Schemes of Conquest: Melech and the other Fell Court tieflings are several generations removed from the glory of Bael Turath, and they long for the empire’s return. The first step is conquering Fallcrest, but such ambitions demand gold. Most of the Fell Court’s money comes from Melech’s black-market dealings and various schemes that prey on the misfortune of others. In various hidden redoubts, the Fell Court has begun to amass weapons and supplies for a secret army that will one day overthrow the Lord Warden of Fallcrest. Until then, it uses honeyed words and promises of Bael Turath’s return to lure more tieflings into the fold.

The Fell Court does not deal directly with what qualifies as high society in Fallcrest or elsewhere. Instead, its members use sycophants and unknowing stooges to acquire useful information that might enable them to fill their coffers or blackmail a potential enemy.

Melech Ambrose
vel 5 Skirmisher (Leader)
Medium natural humanoid, tiefling
XP 200
HP 68; Bloodied 34 Initiative +6
AC 19, Fortitude 17, Reflex 16, Will 18 Perception +10
Speed 5 Low-light vision
Resist 5 fire
Aura BloodthirstyAura 1
Bloodied enemies grant combat advantage while in the aura.
Aura Drake FervorAura 3
Drake allies gain a +2 power bonus to damage rolls and saving throws while in the aura.
Insufferable Antagonist
If Melech starts his turn subjected to one or more immobilizing, restraining, or slowing effects, he makes a saving throw. If he saves, those effects on him end.
Standard Actions
Melee Scimitar (weapon)At-Will
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +10 vs. AC, or +11 vs. AC if the target is bloodied
Hit: 2d8 + 4 damage.
Melee Fiendish Strike (weapon)At-Will
Effect: Melech shifts up to 2 squares before the attack.
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +8 vs. Reflex, or +9 vs. Reflex if the target is bloodied
Hit: 2d8 + 4 damage. If Melech has combat advantage against the target, the target is also dazed until the end of Melech’s next turn.
Ranged Hurl Flame (fire)At-Will
Attack: Ranged 5 (one creature); +8 vs. Reflex, or +9 vs. Reflex if the target is bloodied
Hit: 2d6 + 6 fire damage.
Triggered Actions
Infernal Wrath (fire)Encounter
Trigger: An enemy within 10 squares of Melech hits him with an attack.
Effect (Free Action): The triggering enemy takes 1d6 + 6 fire damage.
Skills Bluff +13, Diplomacy +13, History +11, Stealth +9, Streetwise +13
Str 17 (+5)
Dex 15 (+5)
Wis 16 (+5)
Con 20 (+7)
Int 18 (+6)
Cha 22 (+8)
Alignment evil
Languages Common, Infernal
Equipment chainmail, light shield, scimitar

Dark Dealings: Melech reports to his own dark masters. He is in direct communication with powerful devils that guide him in his dealings, and these fiends have a vested interest in seeing Bael Turath rise from the ashes. To aid him, the devils have granted Melech some measure of control over the felldrakes that have invaded the Nentir Vale, giving the Fell Court access to small groups of the tiefling-bred monsters. Melech’s followers are trained to work in concert with felldrakes, and individual members of the Fell Court often keep one or two of the creatures as pets and protectors.

Through his network of spies and informants, Melech Ambrose has become aware of the activities of the Iron Circle and learned that its leaders are followers of Asmodeus. Thus it seems to him that the Fell Court and the Iron Circle have much in common.

The Iron Circle has the power to conquer the Nentir Vale far more quickly than the Fell Court could, and yet Melech chooses not to feel threatened by such a rival. Instead of opposing and undermining the efforts of the Iron Circle, Melech has attempted to make contact with Iron Circle agents in the hope of forging an alliance. To date, his overtures have been ignored. Neither he nor his spies have been able to arrange meetings with high-ranking members of the Iron Circle, but once the Fell Court gains notoriety, he trusts that will change.

Melech believes—rightly or wrongly—that the Iron Circle lacks a tight network of spies throughout the Nentir Vale. Thus, the Fell Court has something to offer at the negotiating table. If the Iron Circle proves receptive to an alliance, Melech plans to negotiate a sweet deal on behalf of the Fell Court. He believes that war is coming to the Nentir Vale, and once the conflict is joined the Iron Circle is likely to fight the frontline battles while the Fell Court operates in the shadows, slowly growing in strength. Melech would be willing to serve as a vassal to the Iron Circle’s leaders and a governor of Fallcrest. Once the Nentir Vale has been brought to heel and the Iron Circle begins to set its sights on other regions, Melech can begin to tighten his grip on the vale and amass the resources needed to achieve his dream of resurrecting Bael Turath. The outstanding question in Melech’s mind is whether the leaders of the Iron Circle are wise enough to embrace Bael Turath’s return, or whether Melech must plan for the day when the Fell Court turns its back (and its proverbial dagger) on the Iron Circle.

Getting In: Nearly all members of the Fell Court are tieflings. A few outlying members belong to other races, but they are considered disposable and have no real opportunities for advancement within the organization. When the Fell Court becomes aware of a potential recruit, it assigns a middle-ranking member to shadow the candidate and gather information about his or her associations (friends, benefactors, and enemies).

The process of initiation begins with a staged attack against the potential recruit: Either the Fell Court hires thugs to accost the individual, or it orchestrates an encounter between the individual and one of his or her known enemies. Regardless, the Fell Court is careful to conceal its involvement in the planning of the attack. Once the potential recruit feels sufficiently threatened, the Fell Court intervenes. The intervention might take the form of a band of armed tieflings coming to the candidate’s defense or a secret payoff to keep an old enemy at bay. As the Fell Court comes to the candidate’s rescue, one of its members undertakes the task of befriending the potential recruit and creating a bond of trust.

If the candidate’s desires align with those of the Fell Court, he or she is invited into a small social circle of tieflings whose primary reponsibilities include keeping an eye on each other and providing assistance to other tieflings as needed. The first step of initiation is making the candidate feel like part of a community, without burdening the individual with too many obligations. Once the recruit becomes a loyal and dedicated member of the community, he or she is granted a meeting with one of Melech Ambrose’s trusted underbosses.

The underboss welcomes the recruit into the larger organization, asserts his belief that tieflings must honor the legacy of Bael Turath, and gives the recruit a “trial by fire”—an assignment that demonstrates his or her commitment to the Fell Court’s goals. This trial is tailored to the individual: The underboss won’t ask a tiefling fighter to steal a Bael Turathi relic from a dwarven vault if such a task is better suited for a rogue, but he might ask the fighter to intimidate someone or serve as a bodyguard during a tense negotiation.

If the candidate’s beliefs don’t quite align with the goals of the Fell Court, measures are still taken to make the individual feel welcome within the organization. The Fell Court continues to help the candidate any way it can, but it keeps the candidate at arm’s length until the candidate volunteers to perform tasks that further the Fell Court’s agenda. Until then, friends within the organization continue to influence the candidate by demonstrating how important it is for tieflings to band together and rebuild their own society. In some cases, the Fell Court stages situations designed to make the candidate sympathize with his fellow tieflings’ struggle for independence. A close friend within the organization might disappear under mysterious circumstances, luring the candidate into a quest to find the missing tiefling that ultimately leads to conflict with the Fell Court’s enemies.

Getting Out: A recruit who becomes a liability is assigned to tasks that keep him or her out of the public eye and as far away from centers of Fell Court activity as possible. Unless the individual quickly shows signs of being a useful member of the organization, he or she is quietly eliminated. In death, the failed recruit is put to good use: His or her body is often killed in a fashion that points suspicion at one of the Fell Court’s irksome rivals, such as the River Rats (page 94). The recruit’s death is used as a rallying cry to lure other tieflings into the fold.

Driven by Ambition: The rank-and-file members of the Fell Court are ruffians and creeps. They defend Melech Ambrose’s holdings as well as serve as initial contacts with potential recruits. All are driven by personal ambition and the hope of promotion to underboss, and they genuinely believe in Melech’s dream of rebuilding the tiefling empire.

When the organization needs someone shadowed or eliminated, one or more Fell Court blackhearts are deployed. A gang of ruffians and creeps might have a single blackheart lurking in its midst. Sometimes two or three blackhearts combine efforts to take down a particularly troublesome foe.

Melech supervises several greedy underbosses, and each of them has a number of ruffians, creeps, and blackhearts to command. An underboss also has one major operation to oversee. For example, an underboss might be charged with amassing and protecting a trove of weapons hidden in a warehouse, while another might be in charge of the Fell Court’s kidnapping ring in Fallcrest.

Melech also employs a number of magically gifted tieflings who refer to themselves as hellmages. Many of them, like Melech, claim to be the lost scions of fallen noble houses. Some hellmages specialize in training felldrakes, while others serve as Melech’s bodyguards marshals, and lieutenants.

Excerpt Schedule

The green dragon Vestapalk and his kobold wyrmpriest companion are bound by a common destiny.
A handful of tiefling scoundrels have banded together for mutual protection, calling themselves the Fell Court.
During the dead of night, the hounds of ill omen emerge from the mists, ghostly apparitions howling their song of doom.
These ill-tempered trolls were separated at birth for a reason, and they’ve survived by being nearly indestructible.
Served by animated brass minotaurs and wielding powerful magic plumbed from the depths of the Underdark.
Upon the witching hour, their heads tear free from their shoulders to hunt the dark for the sweet blood of innocents.