Advice setting up a totally killer TPK-worthy end-scene ambush


Rise of the Runelords

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Advanced Denizens of Leng Wizard (diviner) 9th/ Arcane Trickster 9th clock in at a CR 18.

4 of these guys (CR 22 encounter) 'owned' the group: the uber-cleric wound up mazed twice - the second maze kept him out of the loop for an extended period as the character had but one find the path prepared; the monk and his cohort were obliterated *and* the lich mystic theurge was (temporarily) destroyed. The EK and Wizard were temporal stasis'd. Having obtained their objective (greasing the monk and lich), they left without having taken a single point of damage.

High-end arcane tricksters are extraordinarily dangerous foes. I would not discount them lightly.

Silver Crusade

Ooh that's Just the favor Karzoug would call in! A team a Advanced Denizens of Leng with class levels! Nasty. On top of everything else. Good thing I have a few days to build out the encounter.


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Turin the Mad wrote:


High-end arcane tricksters are extraordinarily dangerous foes. I would not discount them lightly.

I would expect to defeat a party of 4 16th level PC's with any group of 4 18th level plus npc's.

However adding class levels to Citizens of Leng will make them combat effective and so a good choice for ambushing pc's.


JohnHawkins wrote:
Turin the Mad wrote:


High-end arcane tricksters are extraordinarily dangerous foes. I would not discount them lightly.

I would expect to defeat a party of 4 16th level PC's with any group of 4 18th level plus npc's.

However adding class levels to Citizens of Leng will make them combat effective and so a good choice for ambushing pc's.

The OPs description of the group's damage output & attack bonuses tell a different story than an APL of 16 normally does.

Martial Artist Monk 10 adds 5 to an Advanced Denizen of Leng = CR 14.

Wizard (Diviner) 9/Arcane Trickster 6 adds 7 to the same = CR 16.

It is mostly a matter of just how nasty the OP wants to get with the ambush.


I think Turin has some pretty sinister ideas for teaching a healthy dose of humility to the group of PCs in the Original Poster's game. All that wonderful game knowledge put to nefarious use... Wonderful, isn't it.


Advance the blue dragon to ancient age, then add another ancient red dragon in the final fight. Throw in an iron golem as well except it's made of gold and has the giant and advanced templates. If you still don't think that's enough throw ceoptra in the final battle as well instead of outside it.


Magda Luckbender wrote:


In preparing the ambush et al the biggest problem I've run into is the crowded tiny space. For once this works in favor of the PCs.

Wait, why is this a problem? Karzoug has time to prepare, right? Can't he just come up with sixty different deathtraps?

    -- Symbols on every available surface (cost is no object, and they're going to roll a nat 1 sometime)

    -- Some kind of explosive, gas, whatever, triggered in the surprise round.

    -- As soon as the PCs show up, someone casts antimagic shell. Someone else casts Dimensional Lock around the antimagic area. And someone else casts Teleport Trap around that. (Pay close attention to how Teleport Trap works... it makes normal teleportation impossible, full stop. If you fail your save, you go where the caster wants you to go. If you make your save, you /don't/ teleport.)

    -- wave after wave of incorporeal enemies coming at them out of the walls.

Honestly, if Karzoug knows they're coming, it seems like he could do plenty to prepare.

Doug M.


Here's a trick I used once: Karzoug takes something dangerous and unpleasant that he already had hanging around, bound to service in a soul gem or an iron flask or some such, and forces it into a more or less human shape. Then he uses magic jar to put some other spirit into its body. Now the creature not only looks harmless, it really is: to all available evidence, it's a midlevel NG adventurer who was defeated and captured by Karzoug.

The PCs can "rescue" this poor soul at some point. Poor bard, her only possession is a +2 ring of protection with a lovely black stone that she managed to conceal from Karzoug's torturers. She's... I don't know, 10th level or something? High enough level to survive hanging around with the PCs, but it should be clear that she's not really in their league. She'll sincerely try to help, but she won't actually be that helpful. You want the PCs thinking "aw, we'll get a little extra xp for rescuing this poor gal". Maybe she directs them towards a place where her colleagues were being kept captive. Whoops, nothing there but some plump Lengers and a few gnawed bones. Karzoug, you bastard!

... except that of course, when Zero Hour arrives, Karzoug has a contingency spell set to go off. That lovely black stone is the magic jar containing the original outsider. POOF: the poor rescued bard disappears forever as her body warps and distorts, sprouting extra limbs, a tail. In her place is a pissed off marilith. It has to discharge one service before it's free: do everything in its power to kill the PCs. Since it's been listening to their annoying do-gooder babble for days at this point, it's perfectly down with that.

(Note that, to play fair, you should give the PCs some chance to notice something off; maybe the ring radiates evil, or something. But the bard says she knows it's evil, but it's never done her any harm, and she thinks it might be some sort of key. There never was a PC who could resist "some sort of key".)

Doug M.


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Symbol spells do not work as well as you would expect a very large number of them are enchantment and so Karzoug cannot cast them.


JohnHawkins wrote:
a very large number of them are enchantment and so Karzoug cannot cast them.

He's rich. He has people for that.

Doug M.


Don't forget that the bad guys have bards and buff spells also. If you don't go the antimagic route, swarms of bad guys piling buff upon buff is an option too.

Flip economy of action so that it works for you: lots and lots of your guys all doing different stuff. Distract the PCs and get them dispersing their attacks and wasting actions. Have multiple attractive-looking targets: the enemy bard, the enemy wizard, the guy who loudly challenges the PC fighter, the half dozen raging troll barbarians (who have that freaky group barbarian teamwork feat that gives them double rage bonuses), the fiendish tyrannosaur. Here's a trick: as you're describing one particular opponent, make and hold eye contact with one player. You'd be surprised at how often that works.

Other people have mentioned this, but it bears repeating: Karzoug has been watching, and knows how the PCs roll. Come the final combat, he/you should have a response up the sleeve for every single trick the PCs have ever tried before.

Get the PCs character sheets and stare at them for a while. No, seriously, do. I've found that whenever I do that, weaknesses begin to emerge. "Wait, Alice's Reflex save isn't all that. Bob has a really crap CMD... well, he uses hastened Dim Door to escape from grapples. But what if he couldn't? And Carl... huh, without all his buffs on, Carl ain't much. How could they be taken away?" And so forth.

Don't forget about sundering and disarming. Those don't get used a lot because players hate them, but they're fair game in a final boss fight like this one.

Doug M.


I'm a bit late to this party but I had a thought.

Have big stacks of very heavy and unusually large gold bars (375 lbs each) in the room. Have them coated with a nasty contact poison.

Once the party is within the AMF, K can still use telekinesis to fling these gold bricks into the AMF. He can do a quickened true strike first. The gold brick will do 15d6 damage, plus poison.

If you allow metamagic feats like intensify, empower, and maximize apply to the telekinesis damage it can just get ugly. Not sure if I would allow this... YMMV.

You could also have him fling 15 poisoned greatswords per round instead, which will do twice as much potential damage, and the poison can be an injury poison instead. The wall behind him could be a huge rack of greatswords. However, he has to roll to hit for each one, so true strike would be a waste. He could do a second telekinesis as a quickened spell though.

Since without magic it is unlikely that the AC of PCs is going to be much higher than mid-20s, and Karzog attacks at +21 with telekinesis, maybe the swirling mass of greatswords is a good thing.

If he has a custom ring of telekinesis with a boosted CL then he wouldn't have to use spell slots for a non-quickened spell.

Edit: could a forcecage be set up so that it surrounds but does not touch an AMF?


Use an assassin with a heavy pick and silence to kill the party as they sleep. Introduce the drug system to the characters, starting with Aether. Make cursed items that have a timed delay on aquiring them. Sunder their bag of holding. Use Explosive Runes.


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I really want to hear how this all comes out.

Doug M.

Silver Crusade

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I just ran another session. The PCs are inside the Hepteric Locus doing their best to slay as many bosses as possible. So far they've got 3 Lamia Harridans, 1 Rune Giant, and scores of lesser giants, shadows, summoned monsters, etc. PCs have been carefully hoarding resources & rapidly slaying anything that comes near. They're at about 80%+ daily resources.

The PCs are playing very smart and tactical. They remain highly mobile, already using two tactical group teleports. They strike fast then move. At this early stage Karzoug does not wish to tip his hand that he knows their every move. Even with his telepathic direction of his minions coordination is less than perfect. Also, he's causing his minions to make tactical errors and to coordinate less-than-perfectly. This is a set-up for his TPK attempt, of course, to get them to drop their guard.

PCs are currently caught inside, in a huge corridor, in a pincer between two powerful buffed enhanced giant armies with magical backup. The floors swim in giant blood. PCs have taken and healed considerable damage.

Eventually the giant armies will force them to retreat. They have several means of retreat. Karzoug is gambling they choose ONE PARTICULAR form of retreat and is trapping that retreat. If they don't go that way they just face the normal end-scene, as tough as I can make it.

I want help with the TPK killing field. Also with tactics for the endscene fight. A good way to start is to have two methods specifically targeted to drop a particular PC. Help me find and exploit their weaknesses. Please post practical, specific ways to go after each PC.

I'm looking for two versions:

A. A 'set-piece' killing field where the PCs teleport into a trap. Enormous &^%*&%* will come down the instant they appear at a prepared location. This confusion should give assassin teams their opportunity. There can be a team focussed on each PC, if needed.

B. A 'general' version for each PC, suitable for use as opportunity allows.

Karzough wants two or three methods of destroying each PCs, so the backups have backups. Layered TPK. Force the players to pull out all the stops.

Here are the PCs:

#1 Bloodrager Barbarian. Not utterly optimized. Hits for about 300-600 HP per round.

#2 Squishy bard, cohort of the Bloodrager #1 above. Buffs and casting, actively works to be stealthy and safe. Tactically very cautious.

#3 Dimensional Dervish Synthesist Summoner melee beast. Very fast, flying, tactical teleportation, 25' reach. 300-600 HP per round. Dropped an augmented Rune Giant in one round. Fantastic saves. Uses every trick in the book. Pretty much impossible to stop in combat. Eidolon dispel renders this one nearly helpless, but I'm certain there are backup plans.

#4. Switch hitter brawler with pet. Less optimized, but still hits for 300-600 HP / round.

#5. A life shaman & familiar. All caster. Great buffs & healing & clever use of exotic spells.

#6. Blockbuster God-style Divination Wizard. Specializes in Dazing Fireballs, but has lots of other spells. Has all the standard layers of magical defenses. E.g. Stoneskin, mirror image, blur, flying, invisible, displaced. Always wins initiative, never surprised. Karzoug's minions have used many scrolls of Communal Protection from Energy. Ceoptra made them long ago, at Karzoug's instructions. Select squads of giants have been protected against five forms of energy, nullifying the dazing fireballs, which the wizard's player appreciated. Has an improved familiar with all sorts of tricks. Can quicken a spell each round.

OK, that's the lineup. Help me with a fool-proof plan to take them down.

Douglas Muir wrote:
Karzoug has time to prepare, right? Can't he just come up with sixty different deathtraps?

This. Help me with the layered deathtraps. Note that they've only had a few minutes to set the traps. Here's what I have so far:

1. The minions brought several hundred small slaves to the already-Desecreated ambush point, bound them helpless, then had them all slain by a greater shadow. That resulted in several hundred nearby shadows, hungry for life energy.

2. They pack the room with assorted unintelligent undead.

3. Numerous magical traps & spells in place, already active.

4. Nearby strike teams, invisible to undead, ready to focus fire to maximum effect. All kinds of nasty tricks to make things worse for the PCs.

5. Several Pugwampi Fey locked in cages, protected from undead, shivering in terror. Enough to blanket the PC's landing zone in Unluck.

6. Some of the Lamia Harridans are Cleric with negative energy Variant Channeling (Madness) which causes confusion, DC buffed from Desecrate and a few other tricks. They are in the stone via Meld Into Stone, waiting for the right moment to strike. All four, heavily buffed, pop out at the same tactically opportune moment, Channel, then Quick Channel. Each PC will need to make up to 8 consecutive Unlucky saving throws or be confused. They'll have to slow down after Round 1, as they may live long enough to act twice.

7. Help me with more tricks. E.g. Stack a bunch of things with auras. What? What summoned monsters?

8. A strike team that will specifically target each PC, waiting to strike. Help me with this. E.g. Arcane Archer shoots an Anti-magic arrow at ground near the Synthesist. Eidolon is one while they are within anti-magic. Killing team moves instantly on the exposed Summoner. Teams will either be Karzoug's minions or 'contractors' from Leng with class levels.

9. What spells can Karoug's minions stack on the landing zone to put the hurt on? While all spells are on the table, even Karzoug doesn't have scores of 9th level spells on scroll. E.g. Limit of one Disjunction on a scroll.

*******************

Again, I'm looking for specific ideas for A) when the PCs are ambushed and B) In case they avoid or surprise the ambush. Thanks!


A rune giant with an antimagic field who has improved grapple could be a nightmare.

Half-Dragon rune giants? With breath weapons and wings?

Karzoug is the big transmutation guy, so maybe he could "make" these.

Also, think of Linnorms. Those death curses can be nasty. I can see certain types of Linnorms being native to the Kodar mountains.

A Half-Linnorm template would be interesting - mostly half-dragon, but with the death curse added on.

Just spitballing ideas here.

Silver Crusade

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Tonight I ran what I expected to be another grind session, wearing the PCs down. The earlier horde of lesser giants had bought time for this main force to get in position and buff up to the max. All at once they fought twelve Advanced Blast Shadows, two score (that's 2 x 20) advanced runeslave fire giants, 16 enslaved advanced cloud giants, 8 enslaved advanced storm giants, 8 rune giants, 4 lamia harridans, four summoned Lillend Azata, & 3 flying invisible red herrings who cast only 1st level spells. The empowered blast shadows were suicidal, already wounded, and attempted to close with PCs to be slain in a blast of glory. That amounted to 240 HP fire damage hitting most of the PCs, scorching several. What's the CR of that encounter? Please help me here.

Mostly they massacred the giants without having to take full attacks in return. One PC, the Bloodrager, went down and nearly died after taking over 300 HP damage from a hasted supremely buffed full attacking rune giant. All took substantial damage, even the AC50 Synthesist. After slaying many mighty foes, but not more than 1/4 of what was on the field of battle, they decided to flee. The synthesist wanted to continue the fight, but the rest were keen on tactical retreat. They were wounded about 30% (after several in-combat heal spells from different casters), bloody, tired, exhausted, more than 50% depleted of resources, when they decided to teleport back to safety ... and into the horrible prepared ambush.

We left things at the start of the combat round on which they teleported in, after a description of the ambush scene. Karzoug's plans to slay them are laid bare. They now know he can watch through the Sihedron Rings. We'll gleefully take up the probable TPK in two weeks. I give them 40% chance of full TPK, another 40% chance at least one PC surviving, and a 20% chance they win through and still manage to take down Karzoug.


I think your EL for this encounter is 26. You take the highest CR monsters (8 Rune Giants = CR 23] and add +1 CR for each grouping of monsters beneath that, down to a certain point (I believe the group's party level minus eight) (+1 for fire giants, +1 for storm giants, +1 for cloud giants, +1 for Harridan. The blast shadows I believe are a CR under and would add them as environmental effects. However, since they obviously didn't engage the PCs en masse, I would grant the PCs tactical advantage as far as their environment. I might be off about all this, but that feels about right. If you CR out your PC's party (6 17th level guys= CR 23) The description of the fight sort of supports that.

Dark Archive

So, did everyone die?

Is Varisia now the land of Karzoug and Leng?


Wait, why did you want everyone in that party to die?


Yes, what happened to your PCs? Did they immerge triumphant or were they skewered on the swords of Rune Giants, transmuted into golden statues as a warning to other adventurers?


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber
Icyshadow wrote:
Wait, why did you want everyone in that party to die?

If you check out the first post, you'll see the GM was challenged by the players to craft an encounter that would actually threaten them - and that they had been steamrollering through everything else. He took the information from the book including how the Rings can be scried upon (as could the amulets), and used that to set up the trap.

The players were for this. So it's not a killer-GM situation, but a bored player situation.

Sovereign Court

Each of you suffers a heart attack, no save possible. You die.

TPK!

It isn't climactic, granted, but I'm not sure I follow the intent behind the OP.

Is it to kill the PCs off so they have to make new ones, or is this a (mutually agreed upon) planned unwinnable fight for munchkins to end their adventuring careers to ultimately go out in a blaze of glory before making new characters?

The approaches would be completely different. "heart attacks, you're all dead, no save." only works for the former, obviously.


Sarcastro wrote:

So, did everyone die?

Is Varisia now the land of Karzoug and Leng?

x2! I'm curious to hear how it all turned out!


I'm the synthesist summoner in this game. Sorry to resurrect an old thread. The GM gave me permission to read the thread and update you all on the outcome, but I didn't bother until now because the outcome was just depressing. Why? Because the game ended, and the entire ambush session was just not fun.

Not because the PCs lost. We survived the ambush just fine. Only the cleric died, and the PCs would have been able to resurrect her. If we'd been able to continue the game, the PCs would have probably gone up a level or 2 from that huge mess, and come back stronger than ever, particularly when armed with knowledge about the sihedron rings (which after teleporting into the ambush, I deduced could be the only possible way the enemy had this much knowledge about us).

I think the GM just lost interest in the game after his huge ambush failed. After that, he felt that PC victory would be nearly certain, so there was no point in continuing. I disagree, but there's nothing I could do about that decision. So, IMO the ambush was a bad idea in every possible way. It was a game-ender no matter whether the PCs survived or TPKed, and that's just not a good thing.

To clarify: the players DID NOT ask for this. ONE of the players asked for more of a challenge, but the other players (including me) were just fine with how things were. Even that one player (the wizard) was just asking for smarter, more tactical enemies, not for anything crazy. Speaking only for what *I* want, I just want to experience and overcome a module as-written. For me, the fun is in roleplaying my PC, and overcoming a pre-set challenge, NOT having the challenge "level up" to my power level.

Really, the whole session wasn't much fun. Making progress, and playing the game from day to day, leveling up, and defeating enemies was all the players really wanted. Not to be thrown into an artificially inflated meat grinder. The whole ambush had so many things going on, that it was impossible for the GM to remember everything. He made multiple rules mistakes, that both benefited the party and harmed them. Maybe that balances out, but who knows what would really have happened if the rules had been followed? I also feel like maybe he pulled a punch or two during the fight, but that's harder to tell. I don't blame him for the mistakes... no GM could have remembered everything that was going on, and he's otherwise a good GM.

Anyway, the party survived 2-3 rounds in that meat grinder before deciding it was too much, and teleporting out. We survived half a dozen symbol spells (with pugwampis), endless attacks, and dimension doored to the land over the crypt, before retreating to a city to get our cleric back on her feet. It was pretty nasty, and it wasn't really fun. Who would want to vicariously experience something like that? Players play so that they can overcome their enemies and be challenged while still winning. We did "win" in the sense that we survived, but it still wasn't fun to spend an hour on each combat round making save after save after save and surviving wave after wave of enemies. The GMs turns took way too long. I felt like... what is the point of any of this? And this was vindicated when we "won" the battle, but "lost" the war. Oh well. It was just such a shame to have to stop playing a PC I really loved, and abandon a game that was really a lot of fun until that last disastrous session. I'm still depressed about it.


Did you share these thoughts with the GM? As a GM, I well understand the difficulty of wanting to challenge your players to keep them occupied. When you give them encounters that go down in a round or two, it seems like they could become so easily bored as they steam roll through what you have written or prepared. On the other hand as a player I also get how good it feels when you get to steamroll or stop an enemy from even acting, gaining that feeling of power and mastery over the game. Not to mention how much fun it is to role play that character.

Of course it's been some time now so it may be too late, but if you and the other players (including the GM) are still up for it, you guys could certainly go back in with things toned down to where it originally was so the campaign could at least be finished.


I think the GM knew he had made a mistake. Talking about it more wouldn't have helped, or changed anything. It was a learning experience for us I guess. We've all moved on, several of us literally, so there's no chance of bringing the game back. I completely stopped playing Pathfinder after that, until just a couple weeks ago. Maybe some day I'll have a chance to bring that PC back in a high-level game, but such chances are rare as in my experience, D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder cause way too much stress on GMs after about 12th level, and GMs start looking for any excuse to end a game. Understandably, but it's unfortunate.


Madwand wrote:

I'm the synthesist summoner in this game. Sorry to resurrect an old thread. The GM gave me permission to read the thread and update you all on the outcome, but I didn't bother until now because the outcome was just depressing. Why? Because the game ended, and the entire ambush session was just not fun.

Not because the PCs lost. We survived the ambush just fine. Only the cleric died, and the PCs would have been able to resurrect her. If we'd been able to continue the game, the PCs would have probably gone up a level or 2 from that huge mess, and come back stronger than ever, particularly when armed with knowledge about the sihedron rings (which after teleporting into the ambush, I deduced could be the only possible way the enemy had this much knowledge about us).

I think the GM just lost interest in the game after his huge ambush failed. After that, he felt that PC victory would be nearly certain, so there was no point in continuing. I disagree, but there's nothing I could do about that decision. So, IMO the ambush was a bad idea in every possible way. It was a game-ender no matter whether the PCs survived or TPKed, and that's just not a good thing.

To clarify: the players DID NOT ask for this. ONE of the players asked for more of a challenge, but the other players (including me) were just fine with how things were. Even that one player (the wizard) was just asking for smarter, more tactical enemies, not for anything crazy. Speaking only for what *I* want, I just want to experience and overcome a module as-written. For me, the fun is in roleplaying my PC, and overcoming a pre-set challenge, NOT having the challenge "level up" to my power level.

Really, the whole session wasn't much fun. Making progress, and playing the game from day to day, leveling up, and defeating enemies was all the players really wanted. Not to be thrown into an artificially inflated meat grinder. The whole ambush had so many things going on, that it was impossible for the GM to remember everything. He made multiple rules mistakes that both benefited the party and harmed them. Maybe that balances out, but who knows what would really have happened if the rules had been followed? I also feel like maybe he pulled a punch or two during the fight, but that's harder to tell. I don't blame him for the mistakes... no GM could have remembered everything that was going on, and he's otherwise a good GM.

Yea, not so much. "Good GM" and "deliberately orchestrated a TPK, complete with posting on internet threads looking for ideas" do not go together. At all.

Of course, maybe I'm being too judgmental. After all, his plan was a smashing success: once he sprung his mega-ambush, the campaign ended. Mission Accomplished!


Latrecis wrote:

Yea, not so much. "Good GM" and "deliberately orchestrated a TPK, complete with posting on internet threads looking for ideas" do not go together. At all.

Of course, maybe I'm being too judgmental. After all, his plan was a smashing success: once he sprung his mega-ambush, the campaign ended. Mission Accomplished!

Mission accomplished, yes. But I'm not bitter or angry about it (just depressed). I've played with bad GMs and good GMs, and this one was certainly the latter. GMs make mistakes from time to time, and I forgive them that, because they are human. I can totally understand how someone might think, "These PCs are super-powerful! Time to ramp up the challenge to the max!" without also thinking this was a deliberate bid to end the game. Eh, it's fine. These days I get the high-powered gaming I like with the Mutants and Masterminds system. Pathfinder just isn't well-suited to playing at higher levels, because it stresses GMs out way too much.

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