Escape Plans


4th Edition


I have a villain coming up in a few weeks who the players hate and want to kill. I want them to get close, but he needs to get away for now so he can be a thorn in their side later.

Do any of you have advice on how he can be in a fight, and still be guaranteed an escape route without me having to obviously cheat to make it happen? If knowing what my players are capable of, here is what the party make-up was like at 11th (they are 12th now, and will be 13th when they first fight him).

Liberty's Lance

Liberty's Edge

1) If is thematically appropriate you can grant the villain the ability to turn invisible, at least temporarily. Perhaps this could be something similar to the gnomish Fade Away power. That way he take his next action to get of combat and escape the situation.

2) However you handle it, having a teleportation circle nearby and granting the villain a way to use it quickly would insure escape. Really, any kind of "back door" that provides an easy escape route that simultaneously hinders the PCs attempt to use it would likely work.

As you said though, you don't want to be arbitrary about it, so make sure there are clear mechanical justifications for the obstacle. For instance, perhaps an escape tunnel is trapped so that anyone who follows the fleeing villain risks the chance of being buried beneath a collapse.

3) I am not sure how long you intend the villain to around beyond this encounter but it might work if the villain has more than 4 or so levels on the party. You would have to careful, but it could be successful. A well-supplied and prepared party can defeat such an NPC, if they have the opportunity to focus all of their daily attack powers and magic item daily powers on the individual. Or a villain of that type might take out the characters quickly due to lucky die rolls and crushing attacks. Of course, if the villain knocks everyone out but doesn't kill them (for his own mysterious purpose) that might be a good way to get him out of there. You would just need to provide a way to stabilize and revive the fallen heroes.

As I am sure you know, 4e characters are hardy enough to withstand attacks from creatures of significantly higher level. They might not be able to stop the villain entirely, but if played right they can do some harm while still allowing the villain enough hit points and defenses to survive the encounter. This would also give the clear cue that this villain isn't someone to trifle with and he might be a reoccurring problem that will be better handled at a later date.

However, there are so many factors at play, this tactic might not work the best for you.

I am not sure if those will help, but they are the first things that came to mind. If I come up with anymore I will stop by and drop a few more suggestions.

Good luck on this encounter. 4e definitely makes this kind of scenario more plausible, but good luck on the part of the players and bad luck on the part of the villain can still result in a sudden and unexpected death for your NPC. Fortunately, it is rather easy to sense the tide of battle and adjust accordingly, lessening those chances considerably.


So here's my idea, and it really only works if you're willing to give your PCs a taste of the villain as they will eventually fight him (and assumes that point will be a ways off).

You let the encounter play out as normal, but when he's reduced to low hit points (within a round or two of death), have him go through a transformation - a "Now witness my true form!" moment, or the like - and then allow him to fight the party for another round or two as a much more powerful monster. These last couple of rounds should be clearly overwhelming to the PCs - you want to drive home the point that this villain's true power is beyond their ability to handle. Then, after a round or two, have him visibly tire and appear drained of energy; despite the power of his new form, he can only maintain it for a short while at the moment. Before his newfound power leaves him completely, he uses the last bits of it to supernaturally whisk himself away to safety.

This accomplishes a few things. First, it foreshadows the final encounter with this villain, giving them a glimpse of his real power (and, by association, the level of power they'll need to aspire to in order to truly challenge him). Second, it will feel like less of a cop-out on your part; instead of the villain simply running away because he's been beaten, he has a final awesome moment and then retreats to recover his power. Third, instead of the party feeling robbed of their kill, they'll instead feel like they were lucky that they only had to fight his true form for a couple of rounds.

I don't know if this suits your needs or not, but it's definitely in keeping with a number of fantasy tropes. Be careful not to accidentally kill a PC outright during the final couple of rounds. You want to give them pause and show them what they will eventually defeat, not sign their PCs' death warrants without a fighting chance.


You could tie Scott's idea with a quest based on stopping him gaining more power so he can maintain his new form (which, lets face it, is going to be a dragon :D ) for much longer.

Part of the final encounter with this dude could be trying to stop him acsending permenantly to this new form. The example encounter in the DMG2 with the cultist's performing the ritual is a good example of this.


Maybe the villain somehow summons or calls for help to occupy the party as he withdraws and escapes. Possibly reward the party for driving him away or if you go with one of the above magical escape routes, have the villain leave behind a magic item that he drew power from to expedite his departure, kind of a magical component the villain was forced to expend to escape and is now left behind for the party. That way the party feels some satisfaction.


Well, here's my question - what's the nature of the villain? A sly, cunning villain might cheat death by having allies come to his aid - or even better, manipulating authority. The town guard might burst in as the PCs beat him down, and he surrenders to them - being imprisoned for now, but returning to cause trouble later.

A sneaky trickster type might escape through stealth alone, and likely has the stealth tricks and mobility to get away just fine.

A more powerful brute might be trickier. I tend to favor giving them a power that kicks in when bloodied - some sort of burst of rage that lets them attack enemies around them and drive them back, thus giving him a free shot to escape - possibly while minions pour in to cover his retreat.

A spellcasting enemy, of course, could fall back on prepared rituals or the right spells to win his escape - teleportation, invisibility, illusions, all provide potential escape routes.

There is always the missing body approach - if the fight takes place in a cinematic location, falling out of the window of a ten-story tower might make his death seem likely - except his body is never found...

Or, of course, simply letting him die and having his allies bring him back to life - or have him return as undead. There is a story in my local group about players learning that lesson repeatedly, and finally - after killing their archenemy for the fourth time - they animated him as a mindless skeleton (so he couldn't be brought back to life elsewhere), shoved the skeleton in an iron box with a magic item that confounded divinations, and dropped the box into the deepest depths of the ocean.


To hard to guess, not knowing the inherent powers of the villian, but don't forget a encounter area can be preset, and taking a look at rituals that may grant him or her some type of advantage may be worthwhile. You could also consider some alchemical potions in conjuction with a secret or concealed door. There is also the basic concept of having a body double, especially if the villian is a target for political or guild based assasination.


You are at the low Paragon level so you might hint at the Epic level.

The character may be a villian but you can hint at him being part of something even bigger.

When the players almost have the villian caught, have a hand / claw / tentacle reach through a portal behind the villian and grab the villian.

You can add in some ominious words like, "I am very disappointed in you, ________"

The portal then shuts behind the villian.

Have this an encounter event triggered when the villian becomes bloodied.

It also allows the villian to be a higher level then the players for their level as they don't have to bash out all the villian's hit points to win the encounter (only need to do 50%).

Players get two things from the encounter.

One, that the person they fought was tough because he was only bloodied when the fight ended and was likely still looking tough.

Two, the villian they think is tough is part of something even bigger and if they think the villian is tough then his boss must be even that much tougher.


Here's a little more background. The villain is an 18th level Ardent who, along with his allies captured the party so he could steal a McGuffin from a companion NPC of the party. While stealing it, he also took a very important item the group needs to take down a BBEG which will happen when they are 20th. I auto-created him in the character builder just to have a base-line and some powers to play with during the capture encounter. When they fight him he will be an Elite Controller-Leader, but his level may change to fit the specific encounter.

Right now the group is trying to escape his 'death trap' and I am sure go after him to get revenge and their item, plus the McGuffin. I want him to get away once, so the group will have to follow him to his hiding place and end it there.

My current idea is to have a group of Divine Power Source allies enter the battle when he gets bloodied and protect his escape, but knowing how devious my players are, they could likely prevent him, especially since the group has many ways to prevent escape, an Invoker and a Seeker, plus a Fighter who can Mark, and a Dragonborn Barbarian who has a flight speed of 8.

I just want to have all my ducks in a row prior to the encounter so my players get pissed that he escaped, not feel cheated because I broke the rules so he could get away.


Raevhen wrote:
Here's a little more background. The villain is an 18th level Ardent who, along with his allies captured the party so he could steal a McGuffin from a companion NPC of the party. While stealing it, he also took a very important item the group needs to take down a BBEG which will happen when they are 20th. I auto-created him in the character builder just to have a base-line and some powers to play with during the capture encounter. When they fight him he will be an Elite Controller-Leader, but his level may change to fit the specific encounter.

In terms of Ardent-specific powers, I think Dimension Swap may be a good one to look at, letting the villain an ally switch places via teleportation. Which can get him out of trouble, and put a defensive lackey behind to distract the party.

For other ways to buy time to escape, Walls are a good solution (assuming the fight is in an environment enemies can't fly over. Wall of Ice should take a bit to get through, especially if other enemies are still around to keep the PCs occupied. Wall of Thorns mostly blocks line of sight, and costs a lot of movement to get through - if he has a tight corridor to flee down, filling it with a Wall of Thorns will easily take a couple rounds to chase after him.

In order to avoid the party feeling cheated, I think the important thing is to give them some triumph anyway (such as recovering the McGuffin and whatever else he stole.) A good way to do this would be to give him a henchman to take the fall for him here - someone who he has handed the items off to, who fights to the death while the Ardent escapes. Thus, the party feels successful and gets what they want, even if he got away.


Mechanically, make sure he saves an action point for that all important extra move/teleport/wibbly far realm doodad to help him get away.

Also, make sure you have prepared what to do if he DOESNT get away, cos players will come up with some f%~&ing crazy hairbrained ideas sometimes and usually either have the balls or the luck to pull them off.

Liberty's Edge

Raevhen wrote:

not feel cheated because I broke the rules so he could get away.

Here's where 4e shines like 1e did. Broke the rules, ahem, as a DM controlled critter you ARE the rules. Think of some ritual, perhaps in line with the contingency spell of previous editions. A smart villain has no intent on dying so would make sure s/he was protected against mishaps (like under estimating the strength of the party). Means the players may have to research ways to counter the "contingency ritual" (side quest?).

S.


Stefan Hill wrote:
Raevhen wrote:

not feel cheated because I broke the rules so he could get away.

Here's where 4e shines like 1e did. Broke the rules, ahem, as a DM controlled critter you ARE the rules. Think of some ritual, perhaps in line with the contingency spell of previous editions. A smart villain has no intent on dying so would make sure s/he was protected against mishaps (like under estimating the strength of the party). Means the players may have to research ways to counter the "contingency ritual" (side quest?).

S.

While the game does give you the flexibility as DM to pull this off, it can still feel terribly arbitrary to the players. I think the OP is trying to develop a way to allow his villain to escape safely without giving the PCs the impression that there was nothing they could have done about it.


I'm not really sure if there is a definite way to avoid it feeling like a 'cheat.' If there is, I believe it can be found in Matthew Koelbl's suggestions. Let the party have their triumph despite the villain escaping. For some reason 'Star Wars IV: A New Hope" pops into mind, Vader survives, but the ending doesn't harp on the fact that he was still out there somewhere.

I believe, no matter what edition you play, the GM is equally capable to "cheat" in order to keep the story moving forward, but one has to just do it without leaving the party feeling cheated.

For his escape, I prefer him retreating with powers that let him retreat to places the party has a hard time following or drop barriers behind himself as he runs. I also do like the 'missing body' approach mentioned, although that may be caused a bit by me reading a nice piece on the Staff of the Magi recently.


Scott Betts wrote:


I think the OP is trying to develop a way to allow his villain to escape safely without giving the PCs the impression that there was nothing they could have done about it.

You have it correct. For story reasons, I need my villain to escape to drive this storyline, as well as others in a sort of cascade effect. Once he escapes, I want them to desire revenge, not feel powerless.

I do like the idea of a small victory by taking out the villain's number one henchman, and foiling his plans, so the villain is on the run, not ignoring those meddling kids. I think that will set the right tone.

Thanks to the ideas here I am looking at him saving his action point to do something like an Expeditious Retreat followed by 2 guards who have actions right after his (using delayed actions to sync up the actions beforehand) who cast double walls the long way down a 10 foot wide corridor covering his retreat.

Sovereign Court

As a DM, I am frequently trying to come up with backup plans for my villains. After all, they like living, right? If they know some powerful group is going to come charging in with holy smites, they'd reasonably try to tilt the odds.

Unfortunately, I often underestimate my group as well. Whether it be a very fast monk that runs down the BBEG or a sorcerer who just happens to know how to Copy Teleport, the PCs are very good at finishing their tasks.

I have used these options before because they are mostly rational and even available to the PCs:
1. The villain plays dead. Using a high Bluff, a sneaky/shadowy BBEG can take a hit and make it appear fatal. Best when the PCs are on a timetable to stop something else going on (boat leaving the dock, magic ritual charging up, etc.).
2. The villain gets turned undead, or gets Raised. An evil cleric might be able to handle this option best, and undead brutes are typically nastier the second time around.

Anyway, not strictly what you were looking for but hopefully useful backup-backup plans.


One option I used recently... was simply having the villain surrender. Once things were hopeless, he gave up, and agreed to give valuable information to the authorities if turned over to them.

Of course, once the PCs went along with this, he did indeed offer useful information... and then, inevitably, escaped as soon as the opportunity arose, to cause trouble later.


Vendle wrote:

...

I have used these options before because they are mostly rational and even available to the PCs:
1. The villain plays dead. Using a high Bluff, a sneaky/shadowy BBEG can take a hit and make it appear fatal. Best when the PCs are on a timetable to stop something else going on (boat leaving the dock, magic ritual charging up, etc.).
2. The villain gets turned undead, or gets Raised. An evil cleric might be able to handle this option best, and undead brutes are typically nastier the second time around.

Anyway, not strictly what you were looking for but hopefully useful backup-backup plans.

In one campaign, it was the Raise Dead used on villians that led the players to start incinerating every body they killed (especially the BBEGs). :D


Stefan Hill wrote:
Raevhen wrote:

not feel cheated because I broke the rules so he could get away.

Here's where 4e shines like 1e did. Broke the rules, ahem, as a DM controlled critter you ARE the rules. Think of some ritual, perhaps in line with the contingency spell of previous editions. A smart villain has no intent on dying so would make sure s/he was protected against mishaps (like under estimating the strength of the party). Means the players may have to research ways to counter the "contingency ritual" (side quest?).

S.

The actual tricky part is probably not in breaking the rules so the villain can escape - its explaining why the villain does not do it again when he's close to death in the final encounter. That said maybe he does - and it does not work for some reason (divine favour withdrawn for example).


Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:


The actual tricky part is probably not in breaking the rules so the villain can escape - its explaining why the villain does not do it again when he's close to death in the final encounter. That said maybe he does - and it does not work for some reason (divine favour withdrawn for example).

Or, as Stefan mentions, you can even make it into a bit of a quest for the PCs. If he escapes through an obvious trick that he might be able to use again, the PCs can try and find a way to prevent him from using it the next time they meet.

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