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How hard is too hard?


Dungeon Magazine General Discussion


I'm running my players through Elfwhisper in Dungeon #90, and it calls for the villain to be stuck in a sinkhole and need rescuing. Now, I figure that's a bit of a letdown after chasing him for two adventures already, so I want to replace it with a big fight scene. The thing is, I'm unsure about whether the challenge is too much for the party. Any advice, guys?

The party is composed of:
2 lvl.7 characters, a diviner and a ranger
5 lvl.6 characters, a bard, a fighter, a sorceror (shadow bloodline), a rogue and a fighter/paladin
1 lvl.5 cleric

The foes I'm considering are:
1 lvl.8 fighter - the villain
1 lvl.7 rogue - 2nd in command
2 lvl.5 fighters
1 lvl.4 rogue

The group will be in a boggy area, and I'm thinking the villain will try to ambush them when they've made camp for the night (and are mostly unarmored/asleep). The boggy area is rife with sinkholes (CR5 trap), so wandering around too much will result in characters falling in and needing help not to be sucked under. I figure the attack will start with attempted mounted bull rushing the sentries into said sinkholes, then irate fighters in the party's midst, with supporting crossbow fire from the darkness.

So, is this a survivable challenge for a group like this? Alternate tactics are also welcome.


bump... Any help, anyone?


Sounds like a tough fight. Not only are the NPCs higher level than the PCs, but the PCs also have the terrain against them. Perhaps you should consider splitting this battle up in 2 battles, where reinforcements arrive halfway the first one. Or give the PCs plenty of preparation time.

Dark Archive

I'd say that remove the terrain hindrence and this encounter is just about perfect if it is the last encounter of the adventure. Using the material in the Core Rulebook I estimate that you have abiout an APL 7 party and the encounter is a EL 10 encounter. It will be on the tough side, but managble for your group.


It isn't the last encounter in the adventure, but I wanted to make it memorable since it's the culmination of a hunt for the villain that's lasted two adventures already. Of course, by "memorable" I don't mean "TPK", so advice is appreciated. ;) They'll have plenty of time to rest up before moving on, though. The other encounters aren't more than EL8 for a regular party, but they're sort of incidental to the hunt for the villain.

I'm thinking that at least some of the henchmen don't have such good morale, and might abandon the fight relatively quickly once they're hurt or the main villain/one of the fighters goes down. They may also have a lvl.4 NPC bard with them. If things get too hairy I could have the local militia find them - I just don't want them to feel like they had to have NPCs save their bacon.


The guy who lives below me is singing on his speaker.

Loudly.

Badly.

Again.

So this will be a rather lengthy analysis of the battle based on what you've told us. Hopefully, he'll be done by the time I'm done so I can go to bed.

I know Alarm is an Abjuration, but any diviner who doesn't cast that while camping in a bog during the pursuit of a two-module villain deserves to have his/her party surprised.

Yeah, it's only a 20' radius, but if these sinkholes are close enough to make the battle itself more difficult, then they'll form barriers for the ambushers as well (they can't very well just walk over them, can they?) The disable device would be a 26. The enemy lvl 7 rogue will have 10 ranks and lets say a +4 Dex. Still needs a 12 or better to disarm the Alarm (assuming its even detected).

So, the enemy is planning a bull rush into sinkhole, irate fighters, crossbow from the dark when the diviner's klaxon goes off. I'd give your players a surprise round before the enemy gets over being startled and charges in.

ARMOUR
Your players won't have time to don armor, whereas the enemy will already have it on. Diviner and sorcerer probably don't wear any, so that doesn't matter to them. The ranger, bard, and rogue probably wear light armour so they won't lose more than a a couple of AC points. The cleric could be out more if s/he wears medium. The fighters will be the worst hit, but they've got the HP to soak it.

SPELLS
The heroes have the bard and cleric for buffs, the paladin and cleric for healing and the diviner could be either another buffer or make use of offensive spells (depending on what's memorized). Most importantly in this part of the equation, the enemy has no spellcasters. Oh, they might have potions or scroll/wands (for the rogues to try to use, but it those don't really have the versatility to balance out).

NUMBERS
There's 5 bad guys to 8 good guys. You mentioned henchman (I'm guessing they're the ones with the crossbows in the woods). But how many are there? And are they just level 3 warriors or what? With the sinkholes and the dark of night (assuming no low-light or darkvision, but I don't know their races) its going to be hard for the two enemy rogues to get flanking against those kinds of numbers; so their main threat (sneak attack) is not very big.

All in all, I don't think your group will have a problem with this encounter. Again, I'm assuming the Alarm spell, but I'd be flabbergasted if it wasn't cast (here's another variable: Do they stand a watch? With 8 ppl, it better be two to a shift!)

But let's say it isn't and they don't. The numbers hamper the bad guys again. You'll only get surprise against one or two. Who do you go for? The paladin and fighter to take out the meat shields? Maybe, but that leaves the healer to bring them back and the diviner to cast area of effect spells. Do you take out the spell casters and face the fighters, paladin and ranger swinging away to full effect? Too many good guys for the group to make a good decision. They'd have to go for hit-n-run; take out one or two and melt into the night (hope a hero falls into a sinkhole chasing after).

Personally, I think your hero group will cheese your proposed enemy group in five rounds or less.

Don't have the henchmen bolt for bad morale. Give 'em good morale; as in, more scared of the 8th level fighter's boss (even if said fighter dies) than of the group, good morale and stick it out to the bitter end. Gives a little foreshadowing of a bigger fish up the chain.

Let the level 4 NPC bard snore loudly through the whole thing.


Wow, thanks for your rundown, Mykull! I hope you managed to get some sleep.

The diviner has a variant of the alarm spell that makes it a mental alarm, so the attackers wouldn't notice it... but then, she's not in the habit of casting it. They do double up on watches, though, so they'll have a decent chance to notice something's up before the attack. Some of them do have low-light vision.

For the henchmen, yes to the crossbows in the woods, but I just meant the rogues, not extras beyond what I mentioned. Do you think that's too easy on the party, and I should have the rogues close to melee? If so, how many extra henchmen would you recommend?

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Mykull wrote:

... Too many good guys for the group to make a good decision. They'd have to go for hit-n-run; take out one or two and melt into the night (hope a hero falls into a sinkhole chasing after).

Personally, I think your hero group will cheese your proposed enemy group in five rounds or less.

When I put myself in the evil shoes of the villain, here's what I came up with:

1) Do I recognize these annoying do-gooder types? Have I actually encountered them before? If not, I need to see what they're up to. I'll send a team of disposable mooks in a straight-forward raid, with another couple of mooks to circle around behind. I'll be hiding to get a good view of what the party does, and I'll try to hear what they say afterwards. If they capture the mooks and try to interrogate them, I'll order my archers to kill one of the minions who seems likely to break.

2) They have spellcasters. Lovely. We'll have to attack before the mages and cleric can prepare spells for the day. It might not be a bad idea to pepper them with arrows every half-hour or so. And get our rogues to start building a simple snare trap.

3) A hit-and-run, targeting the cleric, preferably when he's one of the guards on watch. A second goal, if possible, would be to steal / destroy / drop down a sink hole as much of their magical equipment as possible. But don't be stupid about that.

4) A half-hour before dawn, another hit-and-run, in-and-out with minions providing cover for retreat, targeting the arcane casters, and leading any fighters who follow into that snare.

5) If I've heard them call one another by name, I'll tie a message to one of crossbow bolts we've used to kill the mages. It's an offer to the least trustworthy scoundrel in the party, by name, offering something I think he really wants (how's my Sense Motive?) in return for turning on the rest of the party.


The party has clashed with the villain before - not long before, in fact, so he doesn't have many henchmen left (Elfwhisper calls for most of his minions to be dead too). All good suggestions tactic-wise, though - thanks!

Grand Lodge

Personally I usually find that an average party can handle an encounter twice their level as either easy or average. An encounter 3x their level is a nice challenge to make them actually think. And an encounter 4x their level will make them sweat and think about possibly loosing a character.

And it generally gets worse at higher levels!

lol

You got 8 players from lvl 5-7... (49 character levels)

you are hitting them with only 5 bad guys (29 character levels). The players have TWENTY LEVELS over the bad guys. Keep the terrain restrictions, add some traps, curses, a few summoned monsters, and a random encounter, and you might get a challenge out of it.

I'd bet you my Elven Cloak (yeah like *I* would have ANYTHING elven on me) that the fight is essentially over in 5 rounds.

When are you running this?

Grand Lodge

Krisam wrote:


The party has clashed with the villain before - not long before, in fact, so he doesn't have many henchmen left (Elfwhisper calls for most of his minions to be dead too). All good suggestions tactic-wise, though - thanks!

to heck with what the adventure calls for! what do YOU want? :)

he can easily have had reinforcements already coming. His boss could be sending more without him knowing. Introduce a higher boss and really mess with the PCs.

Add in a random encounter to soften up the PCs.

So, the adventure is calling for a weak, wussy bad guy... what do you feel would make a better story? what would your players would be a better story? beating up on a wussy bad guy, or beating up on a bad guy who just escaped and recovered and is toughened up and ready for whatever they throw at him?

what would your friends pay to go see at a movie? :)

BTW I am a HUGE fan of running adventures like a movie... which adventure would you want to play in? Princess Diaries, Princess Bride, or Indiana Jones?

If Anne Hatheway isn't getting naked, then I vote for IJ... if she is naked, well... see you guys later! >;)


Krome wrote:


When are you running this?

I'm running it in a PBEM game, and they've only just started the adventure, so it'll be a while yet before they meet the villain.

You make some excellent points, and together with the other recommendations (nerf it a little, keep it more or less as planned) I'm a little confused.

I'm considering throwing some hobgoblin/bugbear henchmen into the mix now; I just wish I had more experience DMing so I could better judge/guess how they'd deal with it and how many would be overwhelming. :/ At least I have plenty of time to consider everyone's advice!


As you are a new DM who is not sure about the toughness of an encounter, here is what I recommend.

Do not use a static hit point number for the NPC's. If by the end of round 2 half the villains are dead and none of the heroes are, increase the hit points for the remaining villains. On the other hand if by the end of round 2 half the party is dead and none of the villains are, decrease the hit points of the villains. This way you do not need to worry about adding more NPC's to the encounter. I had a DM once who thought our fight was going too easy and gave the villain 500 extra hit points! Clearly he underestimated our abilities :-0

However, if this is the final battle of the adventure, you should probably not be pulling any punches, this way if some of the characters do die it will feel that much more satisfying to the ones that make it. If the characters just steamroll the "end boss" it is not as satisfying as when they just barely scrape by, at least in my opinion and I play as well as DM.


Dennis Harry wrote:
However, if this is the final battle of the adventure, you should probably not be pulling any punches, this way if some of the characters do die it will feel that much more satisfying to the ones that make it. If the characters just steamroll the "end boss" it is not as satisfying as when they just barely scrape by, at least in my opinion and I play as well as DM.

I completely agree. Thanks for the suggestion, I'll definitely be doing this.

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