View Full Version : The thin line between challenge and slaughter

2008-04-21, 07:02 PM
So, the group I'm running in right now is very fun. We meet up every three weeks or so, due to a member being way out of town. I play the DM of this group, as well as DMPC a sorcerer. In all, we've got a Human Sorcerer (Evoc), a Human Cleric of Pelor (healbag) , a Human Duskblade (jedi) , and a Whisper Gnome Rogue (sneaky sneaky). They're all 6th level.

The problem concerns mainly the Duskblade, but the other characters contribute in small ways. You see, is most adventures I've run there has generally been a climactic ending battle versus one big monster or Necromancer or something of that sort. The group acts as a team to find the location of the last 'boss', and to fight against it. The Rogue goes around and finds where it is. The Cleric heals up any wounds and casts stuff like Bless or other buffs. The person I have trouble with is the Duskblade. He casts True Strike, Shocking Grasp, and Blade of Blood, then runs in, and downs the boss in one hit. This has happened three times so far, and has left me feeling very unsatisfied with the challenge presented, and in turn, my skill as a DM. They dont have to deal with any of the boss monsters special abilities, spells, or any of it's combat-oriented feats, because it's done in one turn easy. I want to make this a more difficult task for them... but without slaughtering them.

An alternative would be to send multiple enemies at the group, but it seems that when I do this, they're left running around trying to regroup their efforts. They cant handle multiple opponents well. So, when I do this, it goes from being too easy to being frustratingly difficult. Recently, they fought a Bone Spider Golem, which is immune to all magic that has a spell-resistance check attached to it. It also spawns undead spider swarms, and has a bunch of other nasty abilities. The fight was a good one, but the Duskblade became very frustrated because none of his damage went through, and he soon went into negative hit points. As a Duskblade, his damage is half magic and half weapon.

You could say that it's a sort of 'hot and cold' situation. When he does well, he effortlessly pushes aside the challenges I've set out. When he does badly, he's almost ineffectual, and simply gets in the way.

The advice I'm looking for is how can I present a challenge to him that wont put him into negative hitpoints?

Thank you for your time.

2008-04-21, 07:07 PM
Use a monster with spell resistance. Some of the Duskblade's spells will get through, but not all. If you can't find an appropriate monster, just give some monster spell resistance. Just try to figure out what its CR will be thanks to the spell resistance so that you don't kill the party.

2008-04-21, 07:24 PM
Incorporeality. Although true strike negates concealment miss chance, as far as I can tell it does not negate the incorporeal miss chance.

For bosses, try to focus on defenses instead of offense. Try to go for "this monster is pretty darn tough" rather than "this monster is tearing us to pieces!"

2008-04-21, 07:26 PM
In my experience as a player, the problem is not the Duskblade, is the 'four against one' situation. Face it, actions are known as the most valuable resource in the game, and your NPC only got one, whereas the PC got four of them to focus on a single target. The Cleric can buff he hell of the melees and they will go all out over the single target, and there's the sorcerer nuking him too. Do not think poor about your DM skills, it's not your fault, not totally anyways.

The solution can involve more foes, but you can also focus on defense when building your encounters. Give them some SR, max their hp, buy them defensive items instead of magic weapons to maul the HP of the party. Give them some AoE effects they can throw from afar, so they can lower the PCs HP without slaughtering them, but giving them the feeling that 'this guy/beast can tear us apart if it doesn't go down'. It's more fun when you drop their HP and resources with a durable monster who can withstand their barrage for six rounds then when you maim them to half HP in a single full attack action.

You can never go wrong with lots of HP, because if you feel you went too far, you simply declare the monster dead when you see fit. And your players will always remember how they dropped that near unkillable monster. Make the saves moderately high but not 'always save except when 1 is rolled' because it can get really frustrating to the players. AC can be high, the right spell or a well placed sunder you drop it to beatable levels.

Edit: Ninja'd for writing too much, well deserved, if you ask me.

2008-04-21, 07:36 PM
I agree with the above people. I've always found that, if you really want an encounter to survive long enough to be a viable threat, high hit points and good Fort and Will saves are the way to go. That way the battle lasts, and your players aren't at such a risk of dying.

2008-04-21, 07:37 PM
Vampires. Just use Vampires.
He might kill them, but can he keep them killed long enough?

Okay, I just get a free wild boar every time I promote vampirism.

2008-04-21, 07:38 PM
Displacement, Fly, Mirror Image etc. Make the Duskblade miss.

Don't start combat with the BBEG in a direct charging line from the Duskblade.

Mooks. Elite Mooks (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EliteMooks), to be precise.

Energy Resistance (Electricity).

There are other ways to deal with this, too. Be creative.

2008-04-21, 08:46 PM
Thank you very, very much for your replies. I wasn't expecting replies to be this quick. Much faster (and better) than other forums I've been on.

Raising the health, making the monsters incorporeal, raising their saves, adding SR, and generally making them last longer sound like a really good idea, and definitely one that I will use. Making a monster tough to kill sounds exactly like what this group needs, although there have been monsters in the past that took a long time to kill, and all that I got out of them was "That took too long, but it wasn't that hard." So, I'll try adding some Displacer Beasts, or just Incorporeal creatures in general, like the Blur spell, and I'll give them defensive items. How would I recalculate a creatures CR if I add, say, some SR to it?

FinalJustice, that's true that the 4 vs 1 thing is a problem, but the other characters that create that 4 dont contribute much. The sorcerer, played by myself, doesnt get a spell off before the Duskblades turn. He's got the second highest initiative check next to the Rogue, and the Rogue uses his turn to get a sneak attack off if possible, but otherwise doesnt do much. Generally, the Duskblade goes first, and ends it in one move action, and one standard action. I've had web in so many situations that the PC's have started to really, really hate web, but that doest deal any damage. I'll look into AoE effects that deal damage. Also, I'll definitely move the BBEG out of a charging line. Sundering the PCs equipment is an interesting notion that I havent thought of, but I have doubts of. Their weapons are all magical, and their armors are pretty damn good as well. Sundering that stuff will set them back a good couple thousand gold, which they wouldn't see as a challenge more of a "The DM hates you" kind of thing. I'll keep it to the right placed spells, then.

I'll look for some more ways around it, but you guys have given me great ideas so far. The SR will do nicely, as will the miss percentage, and the extra health. I'm worried that with the extra health, instead of killing the creature, the Duskblade will bring it down to 10 or so. I could couple it with miss %, and so on and so forth.

Thanks for all your advice. If you've got any more, I'd love to hear it.

((PS:So far, the adventures I've been running have been modules that I've purchased, being the Barrow of the Forgotten King/Sinister Spire package. So, the BBEG's and such have been premade, but I've got to just go back and remake them to suite the challenge better, maxing HP and such. Would it be better to change everything in one go, or to change the things they'll run into, and then change the rest seeing how they fare?))

2008-04-21, 08:59 PM
One more thing that you may not be aware of, I forgot to mention it before:

Your next single attack roll (if it is made before the end of the next round) gains a +20 insight bonus.

True Strike only lasts for a round, so the Duskblade can't "hold the charge" on it for longer than that.

2008-04-21, 09:05 PM
One more thing that you may not be aware of, I forgot to mention it before:

True Strike only lasts for a round, so the Duskblade can't "hold the charge" on it for longer than that.

Yea, I called him on that once, but now he never makes that same mistake. Quick Casts True Strike, using his Duskblade class feature, then charges, or uses his move action to move into position, then standard action to attack. He's got a Glaive, too, so that extra reach helps him when he wants to reach someone as soon as possible.

2008-04-21, 09:06 PM
Ooh, ooh! Build a lockdown anti-charging build. Stand still and Spiked chain.

He charges, you stop him. He tries again, and your BBEG gish uses baneful transposition and goes to town on his friends.

2008-04-21, 09:22 PM
Try to have the party surprised every now and then. The Rogue isn't the best spotter in the world, so it should be fully possible for a sneaky BBEG to get the edge on them, or even just use some sort of a teleportation to catch them by surprise. It's a lot more difficult to fight unprepared than to have everything ready and just go in for the killing blow.

Also, good solo 'bosses' tend to have more actions than standard characters and thus the ability to make up for the PCs' superior numbers. For example, many monsters with auras are good examples of this, as well as off-the-turn effects and effects that occur during another action (such as using spells through attacks or having your spells cause additional effects or maybe have your attacks also force saves or some such).

Also, creating new monsters or classes is perfectly ok as long as you allow appropriate Knowledge-checks. If you don't think an appropriate race/monster/class exists for the BBEG, go ahead and make one specifically crafted for those needs.

But yea, if you want a solo character to fight multiples, you'll want:
-Powerful, multilayered defenses. Now, this early on it mostly means AC, high HP (and possibly Temporary HP), defensive spells (Mirror Image, Displacement, etc.) and maybe some battlefield control-ability to make it harder to reach you (Trips, Spiked Chain, Fogs, Webs et al. are good for this). Later on you get to add contingencies (and overall, triggered abilities), immediate action relocation and so on.
-Lots of actions. Free actions, such as Auras, some race abilities, on-going spells with free discharge effects/constant effects and such allow you to do a lot more than just the normal 3 actions (Standard, Move and Swift/Immediate) per turn. Due to next point, especially Aura-like effects that cause chaos which doesn't last eternally and are somewhat repeatable are good.
-Offense that can weaken and disable the PCs, but preferably not one-shot them or kill them too easily. It's important that if the fight is going to last, it's survivable for the PCs too. Status effects are great for this (having PCs Confused, Cowering, Stunned, Dazed and so on for 1 round or so tends to do a great deal to hamper their overall efficiency without killing them instantly, and thus advancing the combat in BBEG's favour while giving the PCs a chance), as is ability damage. Normal damage of course is natural, but it shouldn't be enough to just drop the PCs in one hit with no chance of avoidance (although they probably start to have at least scrolls of Revivify around by now, so a single character going down isn't GeGe No Re anymore).
-Summons or the ability to generate minions if they don't have any to start with is a great way to even the odds in terms of actions. Note that occasionally, the PCs can be the minions too through Control/Dominate-effects; those are perfectly removable, but can last just long enough to cause damage without being instantenously lethal.

Also, remember not to specifically counter the PCs. It's really annoying to know that your DM is considering your abilities and specifically crafting opponents to beat those; opponents of proper level shouldn't need to be specifically planned to beat the PCs to give them a fight. You don't want them to feel useless because you keep building opponents that just happen to completely trivialize some of the characters. Subtle metagaming vs. the party is ok as long as it doesn't totally disable the characters; it isn't a game of beating the party but telling a story of the party's heroism, so ideally they should all be able to contribute or they won't feel very hero-like. Of course, part of that is helping with the character builds too as too one-dimensional builds will occasionally get shut down by monsters who aren't affected by that style.

2008-04-21, 09:45 PM
Eldariel, you've got a lot of good advice. I'll have to look into the extra actions, as that would be great. The higher AC's and such are things I'll be implementing, but I'm unsure about how effective it'll be with that +20 True Strike. They're saves are pretty high, around the +5-7 range, but I think that Dazed, Confused, and such, are still worth a shot.

I dont plan on specifically countering the PCs, because I can see that it would get annoying. I just want there to be a challenge present, and so I'm going to tailor the monsters to their abilities so that the monsters are killable, but not push-overs. It's a strange relationship with the Duskblade. When he misses his attacks, he instantly becomes frustrated. When he hits, he does massive damage and most likely kills the target. More often than not he misses, but that's why he's got True Strike. I'm gunna have to find some middle ground, or maybe that Energy Resistance, Damage Reduction, or any of the other options you guys have presented me with so far.

2008-04-21, 10:14 PM
I'm gunna have to find some middle ground, or maybe that Energy Resistance, Damage Reduction, or any of the other options you guys have presented me with so far.

Ooh, ooh, have a prepared monster. Kobolds flavor well with this.

They sit on the other side of a big pit of spikes and fill you with pointy sticks. Make Jump checks, get messy, and have fun!

2008-04-21, 10:27 PM
Single monsters / NPCs are always killed in one round - two tops.

It's elementary encounter design that you have to use mooks to protect the "main course" of the encounter, especially if it's a spellcaster of some sort. And remember, the EL you're aiming for is something like party level +3 or +4. So you want one "boss" of CR of party level +2, and a group of mooks who themselves make an EL of party level encounter (for instance, if the party is four ECL 8 PCs, you'd use a CR 10 boss and six CR 4 mooks).

Try using this (http://www.penpaperpixel.org/tools/d20encountercalculator.htm) to calculate the ELs (although, really, it's not very hard at all to just use the table in the DMG; A + B = C, C + D = E...).

Your players are just going to have to learn team tactics beyond "the Duskblade smashes the enemy". Don't just build the last encounter like this, build all the encounters like this (with appropriately lower ELs; there's a good table for that in the DMG too; something like 5% EL X+4, 50% EL X, etc.), so they get to practice in encounters that don't turn lethal as easily. They're also going to have to learn that if something doesn't work (the Duskblade's attacks against a golem), they're going to have to change tactics.

Edit: Check out Dungeonscape for some great encounter design ideas. In a nutshell, it shouldn't ever be possible for one character to charge in and one-shot the opponent before anyone else can do anything.

2008-04-21, 10:33 PM
So I don't know much about duskblades but if he's one shot killing your BBEGs it might be worth considering that he's become imbalanced and some equipment destruction might be in order - either that or the pre-mades are too wimpy :smallsmile:

Also every player is going to occasionally be unable to hurt/be effective against something so the duskblade struggling once in a while is not a bad thing - the thief shouldn't complain that some enemies cannot be sneak attacked, equally the DB should accept that some creatures are going to resist his magic.

Some of the stuff stated above was on my mind (extra hp and the like), but also I wanted to offer some mundane options:

Pit traps
trip traps
greased floors

All of these can slow a charging opponent down quite nicely. Alternately something(s) that engages the DB for a turn or two so the BBEG can get off some of his attacks don't have to be difficult to manage, they are effectively meat shields to hold back the sword wielding lunatic.

Additionally a magical trap that dispels magic on an enemy is just the right kind of thing to de-power the duskblade on his way in - for true evil combine with a silence effect (though this eliminates his magic entirely).

On the BBEG side it is a tough balance to make between an enemy that can hurt your players and one that will shred them. If they find a BBEG that takes several turns to kill easy but time consuming, chances are it couldn't hurt them. It's a good idea to look at the PCs stats before you decide what the BBEG is/can do.

Look at their saves and HP to figure out what will hurt but not kill, but will most likely get through.

One shot items are great for a BBEG as they let him occasionally (and it has to be occasionally) have access to something a bit more impressive than the players were expecting without giving that ability to the players.

DM: as you turn the corner you see an tall dark figure waving a wand at you and a burst of brilliant light arc towards <<duskblade>> (roll lots of dice). The energy then leaps away to <<rogue>>...
PC: WTF? he's got a wand of chain lightning? We're gonna have that!
DM the Dark figure laughs manically then waves the wand again. A small fizzle of energy crackles along its length, the dark figure curses, snaps the wand casting aside the pieces and begins to chant...

Finally - make a duskblade BBEG just slightly better than the PC and have him charge the party... :smallbiggrin:

Just saw Flymo's post and had to add this - an intelligent enemy that know they're coming can smash a party with very few tools.

I had a group of players attack a goblin stronghold once (they complained they were too high level and the adventure was going to suck). The goblins were being led by a slightly higher level than the PCs super-genius illusionist wizard.

The fun we had with them getting shot at through tunnel walls that weren't there - seriously who interacts with or disbelieves in a wall (answer: all my players since)? 80 goblin archers lining the pit they were walking through - not to mention the others pouring barrels of hot oil and then lighting it made for an entertaining first few rounds of combat. I don't think I've ever seen players enjoy killing goblins quite so much.

Of course the wizard popped up from time to time to cast a few nasties from prepared positions the players couldn't get to and whenever they stopped to rest/heal/loot/check things more carefully I reminded them the wizard was resting and preparing more magic...

2008-04-21, 10:50 PM
If the Duskblade specifically is a problem, energy resistances will go a long way. Also, Wall of Dispel Magic between the BBEG and the Duskblade could be a nice surprise, dispelling the True Strike and the channeled spells along with parts of his equipment. Maybe some defensive spike or just simple 'ready action: Dimension Door' or maybe the ACF 'Abrupt Jaunt'. The whole attack misses so the True Strike is wasted.

Note that Arcane Channeling really just allows you to cast one spell through the weapon. Also note that True Strike only lasts for one round so the attack must be done within a round of casting True Strike or the spell is wasted. It sounds like you may be misreading Arcane Channeling: It doesn't allow you to store a spell in your Sword (there're expensive enhancements for that), but rather allows you to cast a spell while making a single melee attack as a Standard Action. This also means that strict reading prevents using this with Charge thus giving him only his normal move to reach the BBEG, which shouldn't always be possible.

Finally, you can whittle down the players with encounters before the BBEG and prevent them from resting with dungeon dangers and the opponents taking the initiative every now and then. That could use up the 'Quick Cast' and few spells from the Duskblade, leaving him with less of a nova ability in the final fight. Really, Duskblade is quite a weak class so I think your issue is just that you're misreading Arcane Channeling to allow you to somehow store spells in a sword and discharge them all at once, which is not the case. All it allows is making a single melee attack while casting a spell, so the net effect is that instead of using a Standard Action for Burning Hands, you use a standard action for Burning Hands + Greatsword Swing, and Burning Hands is lost if Greatsword misses. So effectively, he gets a chance to do 2d6+stat+PA+enhancements extra damage in exchange for risking no effect at all.

2008-04-21, 10:58 PM
Perhaps using the sunder feat will work if the DB is still one-shotting your BBEGs. I'm working on a small adventure where the final man uses just that. But part of making the PCs not feel cheated, I think is to ensure that they know about it beforehand, and have a chance to stock up on backup weapons.
1) They were hired, and their employer gave them some warnings. (so far they haven't listened to any of it)
2)They see the man in action earlier on, perhaps in a joust or the pivotal moments of a battle. (haven't decided how to do that one yet)
3) If I sunder the paladins +2 longsword, they find as loot a +1 adamant longsword. But if the paladin doesn't lose his +2 longsword, they don't find the +1 adamant.

EDIT: There's also a spell in the SC. 4th level I think. When you do an area dispel, it does untyped damage to a person for each enchantment it dispels. Wish I could remember the name

2008-04-21, 11:03 PM
Also, don't always put the enemy in a flat room. Have a maze of pedestals 8 feet or higher (anything too high for regular weapons to reach) and have the BBEG leap from pedestal to pedestal. He can also drop down to catch someone off guard and climb back up (making it difficult for your players to catch up if they haven't invested ranks in Climb or Jump).

Difficult terrain is the best way to stop "BLARGH! CHAAAAARGE!" melee characters. (The paladin in my group does that a bit too much, actually.)

2008-04-21, 11:37 PM
Animated objects make for an interesting challenge for parties such as this. They can have oodles of HP, but elemental spells only deal half damage before overcoming hardness. Plants can also work well for a challenge. Assassin Vines are annoying as heck, but definitely can put a low-level party on the ropes.

As for other ideas, not every encounter has to be pure "whack the XP pińata." Have a combat scenario where the party is fleeing from something. A horde of rampaging goblins? A stampede of animals? A seemingly invincible golem that just smashes through the walls of the dungeon to get to them? It can be more interesting to make them flee combat rather than pursue it.

One of my favorite "dungeons" I ever ran for a party of mine involved a series of hills that acted as a sort of maze for the party. They had to run at the foot of the hills because crossing straight over them would leave them in the open and increase their travel time by a lot. At every intersection, failed spot checks meant falling prey to traps; after the trap would spring, goblins would jump out and take a few whacks at the party, then scuttle back off into the woodwork. It surprised me that the party never found an interest in finding the goblin camp, but it made for a good challenge when they were dealing with constant hit-and-run tactics that always started with a botched trap.

That said, I have to agree with what has been said before: Don't punish a player for being effective. Duskblades as a class are meant to be a support fighter; prolonged encounters will drain them quickly, and it is seriously easy to shut off their best features. I should know, I'm playing one in a campaign similar to yours. I say give all of your players a moment to shine, and if they're walking through the combat too quickly, focus more on non-combat challenges for a while.

2008-04-21, 11:59 PM
Wow, loads of responses. Thank you all for your help. I'll answer/comment in reverse order.

@Hal: Great advice, in addition to what's already been said. They're a bit too high level for Assassin Vines, I think, but Animated Objects are always fun. They've had a run-in with them before, so another run-in will bring back memories. All the advice in this thread is fantastic for changing the adventure I've got, or for creating a new one. I'm not too good at creating an adventure from scratch, and I havent changed adventures much before, but I'll give it a shot for sure. Where do you guys pull out maps and statblocks for your own adventures? I've got tons of ideas, but the maps and creatures are what kill me. I can see the XP Pinata now, and how more interesting challenges should be inserted. I've got a mind on my shoulders, and I should use it.
I'll take your advice on shifting the focus of the encounters, but making the monsters/BBEG tougher would be good for everyone in the party. Every one has to fight the monster, not just the Duskblade, so making them tougher makes it harder for everyone, and in turn, keeps the game equal. I'll be sure not to destroy the effectiveness of the Duskblade, though. He'll still deal massive damage, but it wont be a single-hit killing-blow.

@AslanCross: I was just looking into the terrain/room setup solution. It'd make charging and such impossible, but I cant simply throw some rubble or shrubbery in there, because then he just wont charge, and instead will simply walk up to the guy and attack. He only charges when he gets the chance, but the Charge doesnt matter much. Just another +2 to his already 20 + BAB + magic enhancement + strength mod attack. That sounds like a pretty awesome idea, though. I need to rework the BBEG's to have more character while they fight. When they're talking, and when there's story going on, they're sinister, and they have a personality. When they fight, though, if they last longer than a round, they generally fight taking advantage of their abilities, but never in a certain style that makes them abnormal. For instance, fighting on top of the pillars you mentioned sounds pretty freakin epic. I'll toy around with that idea as I run through the adventure and twist things up.

@herrhauptmann: Sundering their weapons seems like a viable tactic, but I dont know how often I'll be able to use it. If I put it on the henchies they fight before the BBEG, then it'll be good because it'll whittle them down prior to the big fight, but if the BBEG has it, then it's another round that the BBEG has to spend breaking a weapon instead of breaking a face, or keeping his from being broken.

@Eldariel: Dispel Magic is a great idea that I havent looked into yet, but I definitely should. It would get rid of all of his bonuses, and force him to rethink his strategy as he attacks. If I use it enough, spread out, maybe he'll switch from using one huge attack to buffing one attack with True Strike, another with some extra damage, and another with some other things. Abrupt Jaunt looks pretty freakin smexy. Smeeeeexy. I'll have to retailor all of my mobs now to have this kind of stuff. Heck, my next Wizard is gunna have to have that.

We've read deep into Arcane Channeling, and everything he's doing is legal. He's got a Weapon Crystal that lets him store a spell in his weapon, the spell usually being Blade of Blood. He uses Shocking Grasp with his Arcane Channeling ability, so that if he misses, and it doesnt connect, then the spell stays on him, because it's a touch spell, and touch spells hold the charge until discharged on an opponent or at will. The Charging vs. Standard Action is something to look into, but even so, he still gets his full 30 ft. of movement, plus reach with his Glaive.

Whittling them down is something I'll most likely throw in, as well as putting in the traps, the different terrain, the dispelling magic, upping the guys AC, putting some more mobs (mooks) with him, giving him better gear, giving him SR, and so forth. Hehe.

@Saihyol: Traps and such will do nicely, because they dont only stop charging characters, but any character that steps on them, making it more applicable.

@Tsotha-lanti: Forcing the PCs to learn different tactics is exactly what would help me out the most. Putting more mobs for them to worry about will force them to spread their magic, so the Duskblade will have to use Shocking Grasp on one guy, Blade of Blood on another, and save the True Strike for the boss, but not get the major damage. Good stuff.

@FlyMolo: Most of the bosses they've fought so far have been unaware of the PC's presence, or having lack of materials to prepare ahead of time, but now I can change that up with future encounters.

-phew- That was a long one. Again, I really want to thank you all for your advice. All of it is helping me. Collectively, it looks like a lot of this advice works best for homebrew adventures, so I'll be sure to start on a couple of 'em.

2008-04-22, 12:22 AM
IS the guy charging? If he's not level 13 yet . . . he can't charge and channel a spell.

As it's stated in PHB2, you can use a standard action to attack and channel. Charging is a full attack action, which you can't use a channeled spell with until level 13.

Just FYI.

2008-04-22, 12:31 AM
One out of the three times he's downed my guys in one hit, he charged, but the other two he just walked up and diced them. I'll be sure he knows that it's in the rules, though. I think the other two times he just didnt charge because he didnt want to, or because there wasnt a straight line.

2008-04-22, 12:35 AM
Give your guys energy resistance. There are spells and templates that do it, as well as tons of monsters.

Just remember - you can't spell SLAUGHTER without LAUGHTER!

2008-04-22, 03:00 AM
Do you use the ToB?
If so there are many non lethal ways to frustrate your players kill-fu in that book.

2008-04-22, 06:30 AM
Two perfect solutions.

Range & the Z-axis (the up one).

Im currently playing in a small group, im the duskblade, and got a warlock and rogue too (very dps not much survive so we have to watch ourselves but can take out lots).

The thing is, yes i slice through most things with ease, and with the rogue standing on the other side of the target, it dies a lot quicker.

Those two things have stopped this from being the case and us slicing through anything we meet, and giving the warlock time to pull of some of their fancier moves.

We had one boss in some underground ruins that took his final stand at the top of this cliff face (the room had been multiple rooms but they'd fallen down). Which meant to get to him I had to climb up (with him constantly shooting me with things and forcing me to fall off), the rogue had no trouble with climbing and the warlock was free to blast him turn after turn, while i spent half the showdown climbing or falling... of cause when i got up there i had my chance to shine (saved the rogue from being killed and gave her some free sneaks, and we won)... but it was the range element and the z-axis that really let everyone but me shine, and gave me a headache.

Another good solution, which didn't annoy me as much...

Different Objectives! - Its easy when you all have one fixed goal, but when you need to deal with a few different things at once, your role isn't always as fixed as you think it is.

This is shown well in another encounter we had. The main boss was quite easy to kill up close, but getting there was an effort, he had some magical constructs around him in a square, big beafy hard to kill constructs.
They couldn't move and were only facing inwards, but if you tried to get close to the boss, one (or all) of them would zap you with a ray which pushed you back away equal to the damage (or at least it seemed that way).
The rouge managed to get close a few times and hit him, and the warlock spent most of the encounter matching him spell for spell.. while i couldn't get close... but, at least i wasn't useless, i was able to take out the constructs, which the rogue couldn't do what with their lack of sneak attack weakness, but i could with my extra damage (in time).

Basically, i had a *different* job than of just killing the boss, we worked as a team because all of us had something different we could do (warlock keeping the focus of the boss and the rogue to slowly kill him off which was making good use of her dex and reflex saves that I didn't have).

Sometimes you just need to mix up the setting enough so that everyone has something to do and its not always what they are best at.

2008-04-22, 07:29 AM
I have a similar problem,
Duskblade seems designed to blow all its power on a one-shot kill effect, but ususally doesn't have much resiliance. (compared with other melee types)

might be worth trying an illusionist, uses an image that the Duskblade goes nova on, then they have to fight the real Illusionist without some of the resources, will work while mid-to-low level.


2008-04-22, 10:05 AM
Good point, one I forgot to bring up. Doppelganger-type copies of the BBEG are good for making the party waste their resources, whether they're just mundanely disguised minions, magical illusions, magically altered characters or even just random foes that the players can't tell apart of the BBEG since they don't know exactly what he looks like.

Have the decoy engage them first and have the players kill it, then use maybe even more decoys, and once they realize they're fighting decoys, have the real one make an entrance. Or even just after the first one; different approaches exist, but they all fit a smart villain, magical or not. A rogue or even a dark knight with roguish servants could pull it off quite easily.

2008-04-22, 10:07 AM
If they are buffing the hitter to hell and back in order to end it in a single hit just half the damge they did. sure say that they did 24 damage but only take off 10-12 damage. Then you can have the cienmatic throwdown that you always wanted. Just make sure not to let any of the charecters die because it'll leave a bad taste in everybody's mouth but if you make them burn all their resources to beat the guy they'll feel like they accomplished something and it'll be tons of fun for everybody.

And it's important that you do this rarely if you do this for every monster you'll make your charecters paranoid to face a rabbit without 8 hours of rest before hand and they'll have less fun in the game because they'll think that you are opposed to them at every turn. But don't be afraid to rewrite states if you think that the challenge presented to them wasn't enough it's one of the DM's greatest powers.

2008-04-22, 10:22 AM
If they are buffing the hitter to hell and back in order to end it in a single hit just half the damge they did. sure say that they did 24 damage but only take off 10-12 damage.

That's a really bad way to try to fix the situation. Cheat because you build encounters that are just plain too easy (direct route to unprotected spellcaster / boss, no mooks to soak up damage and keep the party busy so the boss can use its abilities, etc.) ? That's no good.

Just learn to build good, tough encounters, use good tactics, and don't coddle the PCs. Death is part of the game, and not that permanent. If you didn't cheat to make the encounter more difficult, then there's no need to cheat to spare a PC's life, either.

I again recommend Dungeonscape - it doesn't only have solid advice on encounter-building, but great encounter traps, and a load of other cool material.

2008-04-22, 10:50 AM
That's a really bad way to try to fix the situation. Cheat because you build encounters that are just plain too easy (direct route to unprotected spellcaster / boss, no mooks to soak up damage and keep the party busy so the boss can use its abilities, etc.) ? That's no good.

It's not the perfect solution but let's face it sometimes the PCs do find ways to short circuit encounters and make your epic capstone fight with the big bad look like as difficult as reaching up to take a piece of low-hanging fruit.

Cheating allows you to remake the fight into what it should have been and what you want it to be and over all just makes the fight more fun and challenging. Unless you are one of the DMs who is out to kill his players at which point it makes the fight one of an endless line of wall bangers.

Warler, Darūk
2008-04-22, 04:05 PM
Beholder?:biggrin: or a gauth (monsters manual 1), but if you wanna rock use a chain golem along whit a dozen and a half of ash rats(monsters manual 2) it will do the job, hope I've helped :amused: oh, and they actually get a lot of xp whit those, so even if it's dificul, they will like it.

2008-04-23, 01:20 AM
Thank you guys so much for your advice. I'm trying to soak all of this in, but I can see that it'll take a couple of tries to get this stuff down pat. Because we only play once every three weeks (at best), I usually end up reading up on new DMing strategies right after a game, then waiting three weeks to use them, so my memory deteriorates them a tad. But, I'll be sure to keep this stuff in mind, and to change up my adventure before hand.

I'm looking into ways to give the BBEG energy resistance. Unfortunately, the BBEG in this adventure I'm running now doesnt have any levels in any class, so having it cast spells would require me to change lots of things. Same for illusion spells, like Mirror Image. I see the alternative of magical items, but that requires there to be an equal amount of wealth taken away from the loot/her gear. How would I go about doing this? I'll post more specifics on the BBEG at the end of this post. ((There are some of my players that are keeping tabs on this thread, so I dont want to spoil it for them.))

I never took into account having a Z-axis that wasn't flying. Flying creatures were always that one threshhold that I didn't want to breach just yet, but having him on a cliff, or even on a higher platform, or some catwalks, makes good use of multiple abilities and skills that the group has. The Duskblade himself has put a bajillion skill points into Climb so that he can be sure he wont ever die from falling from a rope. So, he'd be able to climb up there, while the others could take out the BBEG from the bottom, and fight off Mooks. The different objectives solution is one that looks like it'll be a lot more fun, though, and a lot more applicable in this next BBEG encounter. While the other party members whiddle down the BBEG, the Duskblade could take down Mooks that are rushing them, or keeping them from their goal. I've just got to figure out how to keep the Duskblade from going straight for the BBEG, and occupy him with the mooks instead. I'll just throw the mooks at him. He does have the big glowing red sword, after all.

Actually, I spoke to one of my players about this thing today, and he gave a similar suggestion to what you guys are saying about doppleganger BBEGs or decoy BBEGs. Have one mini-BBEG, which they think is the real BBEG, and when they down that thing, the real BBEG pops up. I could play around with the idea, too, making things like the decoy BBEG is actually an ally of theirs disguised as the BBEG against his will, and they strike him down only to find the real BBEG laughing behind the curtains.

The issue of halving damage and changing damage given to them is a very edgy one. I would never want to have the damage they do reduced unless the creature has stats for it. But, I do pull some punches to keep character death from happening due to the huge inconvenience that it would bring them. It's a lesson that has to be taught to them, yes, but I've been waiting until they can afford Rezzes. More often than not I find myself rolling very high, so one PC would go under 0 at least once per battle. They were ridiculously close to TPKing, which is a huge hassle that is no fun. So, I pull some punches, but little by little I'm letting them take the hurt, especially when they're dealing massive damage back. The problem I have with this is that a lot of the time one of the players reacts... in a sour attitude to not doing so well in battle, so if he fails his saves multiple times, or if he takes a lot of damage, he takes it very harshly. So, I try to moderate the damage done and saves made so that his attitude gets better.

The rest of the info on this post is going in a spoiler tag so that players in my party dont wont read it (if they know what's good for them.)

With the BBEG that's coming up, I've gone ahead and maxed her HP. She doesn't have great weapons (only a +1 shortbow), and only a couple spell-like abilities, such as entangle, and cause fear. The big thing with the BBEG is the Petrifying Gaze, which will definitely be a mean thing. She's got a Chameleon Power, as well, so she gets a total of +20 to her Hide. She's got 2 potions of cure mod, +1 studded leather, and a +1 buckler, and has a +11 melee attack with her snakes that go into a constricting grapple. If I drop her buckler, that would be enough to give her... not much. If I give her other items, would I have to detract the value from the treasure that the PCs find? In the same room are 5 mooks; 4 grimlocks, and a bloodhulk fighter. The grimlocks keep anyone from the BBEG, but they start on the opposite side of the room. The room is 35 ft x 25 ft, with a 15ft alcove on one of the shorter walls, where the BBEG hides behind a curtain, as well as a 10ft alcove in one of the longer walls that has a sort of death trap in it (imagine an electric fence). There are also 4 statues around the room. The Petrifying Gaze is going to be the big thing in the battle, because it could get rid of a character all together, and it would cause the PCs to advert their eyes. How would you change the encounter to be more interesting? Any terrain changes, or changes in the BBEG? I raised her HP from the wimpy 59 to a good 84, which will keep her in for a longer time, but her real damage is going to come from Petrifying Gaze. Also, how can I avoid totally TPKing the group with the gaze, while still making it a threat? I want to at least get one person caught in it. They could always just throw the person into a bag of holding and rez them later. Right now, she's CR8, and with the other creatures it makes an EL9 encounter. Should I change the encounter at all? The Petrifying Gaze looks like more and more of a total destroyer the more I look at it.

Again, thank you for the great advice. It's been fantastic so far, showing me how much more I can do as a DM, and how much power I have with altering the adventures.I want to see how I could apply this to one encounter specifically, and, using that example, learn from it and apply it to all the other adventures that I'll run from here on out.

Thanks for your time and aid,

2008-04-23, 10:54 PM
Well, after thinking for a bit longer, I thought of some tactics that I could use in the above situation. As I said, there are four statues in the room that the encounter will take place in. I was thinking about having the statues toppled over by the mooks, but the break DCs for the statues are a bit too high for the mooks to make: 45. Would you, as a DM, let the checks make it for dramatic effect, or would you run it straight?

Also, the electric fence in the room could be used with Bull Rush by said mooks, but I'm dont know if the PC's will give me the opportunity to do that, because they start on the opposite side of the room as the fence.

I think the best thing I'd be able to do to make the encounter more challenging, and in that sense more fun, would be to use the Gaze to force their attention to the other mooks, while the BBEG whittles them down using her bow. The encounter page itself tells me to save her Deeper Darkness ability for when the BBEG needs to escape, but I'm thinking about using it as soon as combat starts, to give her some miss percentage. But, that would also effect her gaze as well as her attacks, and the mooks attacks. What do you guys recommend?
[Edit follows]

Compared to some of the encounters earlier in the adventure, this one looks easy, with the exception of the Gaze. There's incorporeal, ability draining monsters, as well as permanent disabilities, and strange supernatural abilities, such as Entomb. Really, the only thing going for this one is the Gaze. I suppose the only question that would help me determine whether or not to edit/change the adventure to make it harder, or simply more interesting, is how effective the Gaze is as a weapon against PCs. Diverting their eyes gives them 50% miss chance for it, but the BBEG gets 20% concealment. Totally disconnecting vision from the BBEG shifts that to no chance to get hit by the Gaze, but she gets total concealment, and all benefits that come with it. And if that concealment werent enough, she's got the Greater Darkness to beef it up, although that effects her attacks, and the Mooks attacks.
Oooo, question: Are the Mooks affected by her petrifying gaze as well?

Thank you guys for your answers, and for being so patient. It really goes a long way in helping me develop my skills, and my games.

2008-04-24, 08:37 AM
I don't have it in front of me, but I think that by RAW, the mooks would normally be affected. However, if someone has a gaze attack, using mooks that are immune to gaze attacks is a simple step to get around that. Aren't Grimlocks without eyes, and therefore immune to the gaze even if they might otherwise be affected? I'd double check their stat block on that one, as I don't have a MM in front of me.

Additionally, you don't need the BBEG to be a spell caster. Potions don't require UMD, only a mouth. Oils only require corporeality. Evil temples could have been desecrated long before the current occupants move in to take advantage of the spell effect. BBEG can quite literally employ an NPC caster who might not even be present when the fight goes down.

2008-04-24, 09:18 AM
Three words : Significant Environmental Hindrance. Put in stuff on the floor to get in the way, have multiple levels of ground to worry about, well-placed Evard's Black Tentacles or similar grappling monsters.
Some people have a lot of fun with tactics - I certainly do. There's a rock there? Duck behind it and charge up your weapon! Tunnelling creatures? Ropes to the walls and hang around for easy hits.
Does your group WANT you to make them work together? Do they have fun when the Duskblade ALONE does all the fighting work?

2008-04-24, 10:22 PM
Yea, I entirely forgot that Grimlocks are blind. So, I dont have to worry about that anymore.

NamelessArchon, I'm looking into potions/oils right now (mainly potions), and these look to be just what I've been needing, although I still have a couple of questions. To get these potions, I'd have to drop the +1 buckler for around 1100 gold, giving up the added AC benefit that it gives. A potion of Displacement wouldn't be the best to pick up, seeing as the BBEG is going to have concealment anyways. Resist Energy and Protection from Energy are higher up on my list. Resist Energy could effectively make the Shocking Grasp spell useless, forcing the Duskblade to think of other things to use, or just other spells. Unfortunately, Shocking Grasp and Blade of Blood are the only two spells that he has that deal damage, other than some cantrips. Rather than make his damage not count at all, I'd want to have him put himself in positions to flank, and although dealing his regular damage, he could just deal his regular damage. Depending on what type of Resist Energy I get the BBEG, some damage will go through, or some wont. I was also looking at the Cats Grace potion. Cats Grace would buff the BBEGs ranged attack bonus to +14, as well as put her AC back up to what it was.

More than just make the BBEG more difficult, I want to make the encounter more engaging. In the couple of encounters that come before this one, there are extremely interesting effects, like hot coals spread across the room, the threat of negative levels, ability drain, and incorporeal creatures. There's even a room where creatures attack from mirrors on the walls. This one seems very... bland, except for the electric gate, and the BBEGs Petrifying Gaze. A 'Quaal's feather token, whip' would make it a bit more exciting, but I'd rather have some interesting terrain effect. My Magic Item Compendium has, alas, failed me at finding an item that does this for less than 1100 gold.

@nargbop: Yea, I've talked to the other party members, and they say that they'd like a chance to shine together as a party rather than as people that just happen to follow the same path. There are a couple statues in the room, so they can take advantage of those. I think the first thing I should do is make the room bigger. By doing that, I have more options as to what I can do. Not that much bigger; maybe 5 feet on each wall. But, with that extra space, I can put things like a couple flaming braziers in between the statues that can be knocked over, or a slender pillar, or something else. ((I dont want to put the flaming braziers with coal, because that's in another encounter in the same dungeon.)) What would you guys suggest?

In the meantime, I'm going to try to plant the seeds of sophisticated combat in the PCs minds. Maybe they'll think of something that'll totally blow away anything I could've thought of. If not, they've still got the Gaze to deal with, and the 5 extra mooks to down.

I'll keep reading and rereading the adventure to see if I can find anything to change. Thank you guys for your help, again.

2008-04-24, 11:12 PM
If he whacks your BBEG in one hit... have two BBEGS.

Watch "The Prestige" and you'll see what I mean.


2008-04-25, 07:18 PM
While bored at school, I decided to use the d20 Monster Filter to find a monster suitable to add in this underdark environment. I found the Gargoyle, which fits perfectly into what I've been wanting to do. See, throughout this dungeon there are Gargoyle sinks, some that pour water, and others that are broken. There's one in the room where the BBEG fight takes place. In the BBEG fight, I plan on having some sort of relapse of magical energy that, as a side effect, turns the Gargoyle sink in the room into a real Gargoyle, raising the CR of the encounter to CR10 instead of CR9. I was considering turning every Gargoyle sink into a Gargoyle, but I dont know if that would be too much for the PC's to handle. They might be damaged beyond belief after the BBEG fight, and missing one to two people.
Another thing I could do is have the Gargoyle be created, but not necessarily go after the good guys. It could just attack anyone that's closest to it. I'm still debating on how I will use the Gargoyle, but I'm pretty sure I'll be throwing that in.
What do you guys think?

2008-04-25, 08:02 PM
Ugh. I'm not a huge fan of Petrification : chances are a player that misses out on the combat because of that may be miffed about it. What about letting them make new saving throws against it each round after after they failed, with an increasing DC ? Eventually a 20 will get them out of it.
Or alternatively, make the Petrification last 2 rounds the first time, then 3 rounds if they fail another save...
(Those are rough suggestions - they may need to be simplified to cut down on bookkeeping.)

It's still a threat to be reckoned with, but it's not a Save-or-Suck-badly. 4E goes in that direction I believe.

You got lots of ideas for the terrain already, but here's another one: simply adding some rubble here and there to create difficult terrain can be good too (prevents charging, makes Tumbling harder).

2008-04-26, 10:51 AM
Step 1 - Ligtining resistance
Step 2 - Use enchantment on the kill joy (Hold Person / Charm / Fear)
Step 3 - Stone Skin
Step 4 - Displacement (50% invul. save ftw)

2008-04-26, 07:28 PM
namo, that same thing happened in an earlier encounter with some drow, which were carrying Drow Poison. First shot took out the Duskblade, so he was out for the whole battle. By the end of the battle, he had already left. Note: He was late to work, so he was going to leave anyways, but that made him not care much about leaving.
So, putting someone out of not only the battle, but out of playing for a long time would be a grave inconvenience to them, but would heighten the effect of the BBEG, and bring them closer to experiencing Player Death. The players know the rules for Petrifying Gaze, but due to the half-n-half nature of the BBEG, I can alter the rules to make the Petrifying Gaze easier, and to make up for it, amp up some other stat, like giving her SR, or some extra spell-like abilities. I'm not entirely sure that I want to make the Gaze seem less powerful than it really is, though.
With that in mind, I'm going to carefully place the Gargoyle in the battle, or have some other variations of ways to make the battle interesting. If I lessen her Petrifying Gaze, I'll probably throw the Gargoyle in there. Or, better even, I'll put some vines/plants here and there in the room, taking advantage of her Entangle ability. Possibly give her a wand with Hold Person on it, put some ranks into Use Magic Device, and on one of her attempts with it, have it go haywire and turn the Gargoyle sink into a real Gargoyle. That, and give her that Resistance against Electricity for 10 or 20 damage.

Think that'll be some good changes to the battle? I'll have to recalculate the EL and give the PCs some extra loot that'll help them, like a scroll of, I dunno, Stone to Flesh? That might be too easy, though. Hmm.... What do you guys suggest?

2008-04-26, 07:41 PM
Psionic tattoos. I cannot stress how flavorful these are. Crawling ones are best, but what happens is: The BBEG taps them, they drop off and rush the PCs, manifesting a power on them once the tattoo makes a melee touch attack. (ML plus BBEG's int/cha mod.) Look up the rules on them, they're much fun. Entangling Ectoplasm, despite the crappy name, makes an excellent power to crawling tattooify. Better than tanglefoot bags, because if you miss with the bag, it doesn't chase them around the room trying to get them again. Lots of fun. They're 50gp a pop, so bring lots.