So it's close to time for the end of my frozen world campaign, and the PCs will soon be trying to wrest the final part of the Godslayer from the claws of the Great Wyrm White Dragon, Drifa, who serves Mulcarn, the god of Winter who has been ruling the world for the last 1000 years.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, congratulations -- none of my players have realized where I ripped off my campaign plot from yet. If you are playing in my game, please stop reading now.
In short, I need a challenging and memorable encounter with a Great Wyrm White dragon.
This is an E8 Pathfinder game, and we use a few rule variants such as Conviction Points and Plot Twist cards. The party consists of a (very optimized TWFing) dwarven Gunslinger, a (quite well optimized wolf-riding and longbow focused) halfling ranger, a half-orc bombardier (ie nova-enabled) alchemist, a human cavalier, a human bard with a staff that lets him cast Prismatic Ray/Spray a few times a day, and a human oracle of flame. All will be at least 8th level with 15 post-8th level feats by the time they head to Drifa's lair.
CRs aside, in a straight-up fight at close range, the gunslinger and alchemist will obliterate a typical Great Wyrm White Dragon in a round or two without breaking a sweat while everyone else looks on and claps. The dragon might not even be able to act before dying.
I've already done the "flyby attacking dragon" schtick and would like to try something different this time. That worked fairly well, by the way -- went with a mature adult green dragon in a dense forest, so it could easily fly out of visual range every round after making its vital strike attack with a bite (and snatch attempt). It also had a pair of shadow fey dire tiger minions that could charge through undergrowth, pounce, and either turn invisible or dimension door away after attacking (and were protected by the blurring shadow effect in any event). This encounter ended in a draw as the PCs realized they were in dire straits after wounding the dragon, and they chose to parley and strike a deal with the creature rather than deal with the potential repercussions of continuing to fight it.
I see a few obvious possibilities, including the 3.5 Scintillating Scales spell (the PCs are using 3.5 material too so it's certainly fair game). I also want to use an illusion of the dragon sleeping to hopefully draw out a nova from the alchemist and maybe others as well. Some degree of protection from fire sounds like a good idea, and I'm thinking that a clan of kobold thralls might fit this dragon well and serve to rationalize a few encounters before the dragon itself is reached (mostly traps, as the kobolds will try their best to not even be seen by the PCs, let alone try to actually fight them). Maybe the kobolds have a beast of some sort that they can unleash on the PCs on their way to the dragon -- this will be in a land of tundra and broken ice, so any ideas are welcome.
Any suggestions on how to build the dragon? I envision the encounter as taking place inside a great glacial cavern, perhaps high atop a mountain of ice.
Again, I'd like to do something different from flyby attack vital strike; or is that the ONLY option available for an effective dragon encounter when the party includes a gunslinger and alchemist?
|Ipslore the Red|
Try using the dragon's crush attack in conjunction with an AMF. From what I hear, it's rarely used and reasonably lethal.
With more research: Take advantage of its blizzard and ice shape abilities. It should fight in a place of its own choosing, where it's made all the terrain difficult ahead of time. Then have it use its blizzard to shut down charging, and remember that it can see and move perfectly in snow and ice.
Spam its at-will ice wall to separate the PCs. Use ice tomb to imprison the PC you consider to be most dangerous. Divide and conquer. Try to make it so the PCs can't see each other or buff each other. Try to make it so they can't see or target the dragon.
As for your PCs:
Gunslinger, alchemist, and ranger can't attack what they can't see. Blind them, possibly with blizzard or fog cloud. Do they have any way to improve their vision?
Assuming the cavalier is melee-focused since you didn't state otherwise, blizzard and difficult terrain combined will shut him down if you make sure to keep the dragon moving. What counters does he have to lack of mobility?
Staff guy: What's the CL on the staff? If it's not at least 9, it has no chance to penetrate the dragon's SR. If it's 17 for prismatic ray's minimum level, he may be a threat. Imprison either him or the oracle, I'd say.
Oracle of flame: Unless the CL is boosted somehow, none of their spells will beat SR 29. If they do have Spell Penetration and its line, they may have a chance, but not much of one.
Also, unless they have really high HP somehow, at level 8 they should die to one correctly used breath weapon from a great wyrm.
Ipslore, I was under the impression that AMF's area of effect (10' Radius) precluded it from being used this way by anything of Gargantuan size. It could maybe keep the pinned character out of magic, but the other headache that would result might not be worth it (ie players would be insisting that the dragon was in the AMF when it suited them, and NOT in the AMF when THAT suited them).
|Ipslore the Red|
Use his wealth and spell selection to create a unique fight. I had a surmise umbral dragon fight a high level archaeologist, gun toting ninja, two hand fighter and alchemist. Not a dissimilar set up. I tried to use a little deception to have them think it was a black dragon, so they had prepared acid resistance spells... But they were also in the habit of heroe's feast each day. The first breath weapon only was failed by the fighter. The dragon knew about the heroes (they were well above 11th level legendary status) and had spent his wealth to prepare two clones and access to a suite of pit and wall spells, as well as damaging ranged spells. He had stacked up on standard defensive spells, as well... Nothing too unique.
So, after fighting some worshippers the dragon began with some spells at range to weaken the party a bit. His true sight and walls only allowed a few sneak. attack gun shots at a distance... I didn't want to totally stop the gunfight, though. Despite it being a bad choice he ended up trading full attacks with the fighter and bard, dealing some serious damage before getting a vital strike critical and falling. He hadn't been too tough, but a satisfying fight. Then the group heard the first clone roar and opted to do a chase encounter from game mastery guide to escape (but still earn experience from the encounter!) and continue the story. They were well geared so flthey enjoyed it despite not getting his hoard.
TL;DR: with spells and defensive gear from his wealth, even a full attack fight was challenging and fun!
A CR 15 White Dragon can have an AC of 0ver 40. How are they going to hit the AC of a Great Wyrm?
With that aside read the spoiler below.
I only used a CR 15 Ancient White Dragon. It's AC is AC 37, touch 8, flat-footed 37 (+29 natural, –2 size)
After casting mage armor and shield that goes up to :AC 45, touch 8, flat-footed 45(+29 natural, +4 armor, +4 shield –2 size)
The attack routine is Melee bite +31 (2d8+16/19–20), 2 claws +30 (2d6+11), 2 wings +25 (1d8+5), tail slap +25 (2d6+16)
Dragons are not limited to the sorc spell list so using magic fang or divine power is not a bad idea. Depending on which spell you use the attacks bonuses go up by 4 to 6, and you can just power attack to add on more damage. You could also just give the dragon a scroll to use.
The fight should also be out in the open. The dragon has a +16 stealth, which is not great, but I am sure he knows they are coming so giving him invisibility allows for him to have a +36. He is not in combat so he can take 10. Now they have to beat a 46 to avoid a surprise round.
You will be tempted to open up with a breath weapon but instead use the breath weapon to activate the blizzard ability.
Blizzard (Su) An ancient white dragon can use its breath weapon to create a blizzard in the area around it as a standard action. This creates heavy snow conditions in a 50-foot radius for 1 minute, centered on the dragon. This snow slows movement (4 squares of movement per square entered) and limits vision as fog does.
This also means the PC's can't target the dragon because they can't see him unless they are within 5 feet, and that is not a good place to be. The dragon is also not slowed by this ability. Disarming or sundering the gunslinger's weapon is a good idea so do that. I prefer the disarm. The dragon can also fly off drop it somewhere and come back before its buffs are gone.
Since you are using a Great Wyrm choose the most annoying PC and Ice Tomb him.
Ice Tomb (Sp) A great wyrm can, as a standard action, cause a creature to sink into ice. This works as imprisonment, but only while the target is touching an icy surface. A white dragon can use this ability once per day (CL equals dragon's HD). Targets entombed by this ability can be freed by casting freedom or by physically freeing the creature from the ice (Hardness 0, 360 hit points). The save DC is Charisma-based.
And make sure the dragon has haste and see invis, along with resist energy for those annoying fire based spells.
Everything I listed can be done by the Ancient dragon except for the Ice Tomb. If you use a Great Wyrm it only gets worse.
PS: The dragon has a terrible fly skill, but you can give it magic item that grants a +5 to the fly skill for 2500GP, or just have it put more ranks into fly to offset the size penalty since you will be building the Ancient version anyway.
Drifa's lair should not be covered, and I mean every square inch of it, with brown mold (Thank you, Ipslore the Red).
The kobold thralls are a good idea. But I'd also give Drifa four fire giant slaves (you read it right: Fire Giant) with rings of cold resistance that Drifa has enchanted in such a way that he can summon those rings to his claw at will (just in case those giants get uppity). These should be met in the outer hall and drain off some resources. Be careful; you don't want to weaken the PC's so much that they retreat (yet, see below), but you don't want them coming before the dragon totally topped off, either.
One of those giants should be a druid who casts control weather every day (duration 8d12 hours) to create a blizzard inside the cavern. It is unlikely that the group will know that effect is from a spell and thus they probably won't target a dispel at it. Now the ranged people are seriously hampered. And Drifa can use its breath weapon for damage and not the blizzard effect.
Instead of ice in the cavern, consider a fast moving tumultuous lake. The water will still be freezing, but because it's moving so fast, it isn't ice. Everyone has to stand at the entrance (one big target) or they have to fly through a blizzard. This eliminates the walls of ice, which are a very good idea, but, honestly, an icy slippery floor is probably what most PC's are going to expect when entering a white dragon's lair. And the hoard? At the bottom of the lake, of course.
Also, I allow dragons to use Intimidate to enhance their fear aura. If a dragon uses Intimidate to demoralize then their fear aura is increased by 1 for every 5 that it exceeded the DC of the Intimidate check. “Run away, run away!”
When I design a dragon encounter, I design it with the intention of the PC's retreating from the dragon the first time. I consider their first attempt to be a foray, a recon to see what they're up against. I design it to buck their expectations so they're not really prepared and it'll be a TPK if they're stubborn. But if they retreat, reassess, alter plans and retry, well, then, that's different.
|Ipslore the Red|
Drifa's lair should be covered, and I mean every square inch of it, with brown mold. That will absorb a lot of their fire-based attacks.
Rest of the post, which generally seems good, aside: This doesn't work. Any cold damage instantly destroys brown mold, and great wyrm white dragons emanate a 10-foot cold aura that deals 2d6 cold damage. It'd only manage to survive where Drifa never went, which is not likely to be where she fights.
I recommend having the fight be in a canyon between glaciers, with the bottom open to the dark foreboding arctic sea. Its one thing to dual wield, another to do it while climbing, and if they use spider climb or the like, the dragon uses spells or ice shape to slide the ice wall down into the sea. The dragon can ice walk to make up for poor flying conditions, and there should be a blizzard to obscure visibility.
Use the burrow speed to attack from inside the glacier, and swim speed to take to the sea. Whatever they cannot follow becomes safe haven
Let the dragon raid consumables from its hoard under the sea or in a hollow inside the glacier.
Choose spells that let the dragon set up permanent advantages in its lair. a stunn or loss of actions could mean they fall off the canyon wall. Loathsome veil is good. Symbol of stunning is better.
Some kind of sea creatures could inhabit the lower canyon, or some other creature could be bullied into being an ally. It needs something.
Worst case scenario: the dragon has a mate. Doesnt even have to be the same age catagory, just one or two lower to round out action economy.
High wind can make archery difficult or impossible, but will also make flying hard. The dragon has infinate Control Weather to set this up.
disarm weapons and drop them in the sea.
Suggestion Spell: go for a refreshing swim.
Plenty of defensive spells like mirror image and displacement.
The key is that the long drop with sheer walls gives the dragon a mobility advantage again without being a flying kite again.