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Thread: Running Epic Tier Campaigns
Wednesday, 30th June, 2010, 08:33 PM #1
Superhero (Lvl 15)
Running Epic Tier Campaigns
I noticed in this thread there were a few people who were wanting to know about running epic tier campaigns and such. I've actually run two very high epic tier games, one to level 28 and one is about to finish on level 30. I have lots of experience with 4E epic tier and it's probably worth sharing, given that it seems a lot of people haven't played epic.
There are three core principles to epic tier that are most essential to realize:
1) PCs are much more powerful than any other tier.
This might seem obvious, but it's hard to appreciate until you see a wizard use legions hold three times per day. Or how a radiant mafia or pre-errata bloodpulse team forced movement could absolutely wreck any encounter. This means you have to adjust the way you design and think about encounters - what works at heroic no longer works by epic. The increase isn't so substantial as to make the game not function. It is substantial enough that if you aren't appropriately designing encounters, you will get caught out and things will not be challenging at all.
Of all the monsters in 4E though the creature that suffers the most by epic from the large amount of powers PCs have by this point is the poor solo. PCs by this tier have so many daze, stun and dominate until end of next turn effects, the poor guys are never going to get a turn by themselves. 5 PCs vs. 1 solo is effectively 5 chances to stick one effect on the solo - making it useless for an entire turn. Then they do it again next turn (or extend the effect or similar, such as by an orb of ultimate imposition). What I've actually done in my games -that works very well as well it should be noted - is to give solo monsters after level 11 a save against daze, stun and dominate effects even if they wouldn't normally get a save. This has actually really 'fixed' the issue considerably, meaning that an even level solo can challenge a group of PCs pretty adequately - despite the huge proliferation of daze, stun and dominate effects.
Without such a rule expect every solo in existence to end up stun locked after their first daze, dominate or stun and never do anything for an entire encounter. Either that, expect to have to put other monsters, traps and terrain into every encounter with a solo or they will be utterly trivialized.
2) Monsters from books earlier than MM3 frankly don't cut the epic mustard.
This is one of the greatest "hidden" flaws of 4E. Monsters by epic did ridiculously low damage combined with billions of status effects. If you've read peoples epic experiences you'll often find that a common complaint is that fights are a "grind", which means that PCs spend a long time killing things and aren't very threatened in the process. This is because monster powers are frequently not much better than in heroic tier for early books and they only "scratch" PCs. A DR of 10 or some temporary hit points can easily remove most of a creatures attacks - rendering them grossly ineffective. MM3 has definitely fixed this and given epic monsters the teeth they need to actually be challenging.
This is a more general problem than the solo above, which is caused by the proliferation of "until end of X turn" stun and similar powers. This is really caused by a "maths" error that really underestimated the amount of damage monsters actually should be doing.
3) Encounters need to be designed most with terrain and creature synergy in mind.
More than any other tier, you need to consider the terrain you are fighting on when you make encounters. By this point PCs should be besieging the very heart of the enemy and the enemy should be firmly on their turf. Zones, terrain, effects, traps and similar that conspire against the PCs, like the terrain given in Plane Below is perfect for this tier. You should use it copiously! Make PCs get some use out of those "useless" non combat rituals by using a ritual that lets them fight something underwater, or flying through the air over lava or whatever. Change up rules, like having the PCs fight in the heart of the aboleths mad fortress that changes how teleportation works or lets every aberration with a swim speed fly.
PCs have the ability, hit points and resilience for some experiments! Make varied encounters that don't deliberately spite what the PCs have - instead make them use those powers creatively! Got huge bursts? How about enemies that phase and can move in and out of walls (denying the character any line of effect). A battle over a huge pit of lava with small pillars can make for an exciting aerial based encounter. Make them think creatively to get around obstacles instead of doing the same thing over and over (which is very likely to work well and always trivialize an encounter, that is why they are doing it to begin with!).
First Epic Tier Game - Horrible
The first epic tier game I ran was Tides of Dust, set in Faerun and going to level 28. The primary problem with this game was I skipped a few levels into epic due to time and to finish the campaign up a bit faster. Unfortunately, this wasn't such a great idea because it meant I didn't get really acquainted with how epic tier was really different.
The first thing I noticed was the sheer power level of the PCs compared to the monsters. I had MM2 by this point but even MM2 solos like the Beholder Ultimate Tyrant, which at the time I thought "WHOA! This is going to be great" did absolutely nothing to this party. The beholder was even 4 levels higher than the party when I used it and was trivially defeated. Only its telekinetic ray kept it alive for any amount of time, for a pitiful amount of damage that didn't bloody a single PC. The gold dragon I tried was similarly useless as well.
Why was this though? What had I done wrong that heroic and paragon I had not (minding the hints that what was coming were already being seen in paragon anyway)?
1) No terrain, it had some buildings and such, but otherwise it was a straight up fight. This rarely works in epic unless the monster you're using is exceptionally well designed.
2) A single solo vs. five level 25 PCs is not a winning combination when I did so. What caught me off guard was the "stunlock" from the Bloodmage. The power destructive salutation actually stuns on a miss until the end of your next turn. He deliberately missed with the power twice (Archmage lets you prepare a daily twice), meaning the Beholder lost every action for the first 2 rounds and did absolutely nothing. By the time it got a single turn it had taken so much damage that it couldn't effectively fight anymore.
Combined with poor damage but strong effects when it did hit, all the creature did was annoy the PCs as it delayed the inevitable. Very disappointing, especially as by all means this is a creature with a great stat block. If only it had been given the ability to use any of its powers.
3) No supporting creatures, minions or traps. If the solo won't be able to take actions, something else should be able to take some actions instead to challenge the players.
This meant combats were very straightforward and the only way to get a "classic" solo fight was to use EL + 7 (!!!) solos. Otherwise PCs hit them too easily and then just mauled them with stun and daze effects until the end of their next turn. In other words the only way to make them challenging was to basically make them un-hittable, which made combats a huge grind and really made me think solos weren't worth it anymore. Not that this was that effective because destructive salutation will still stun until the end of a creatures next turn on a miss.
The overall effect was creatures needed to have highly metagamed powers - one in particular that switched the "enemy and ally" target line was very hilarious (as it stunned the entire party instead of the intended monster). I started to adapt towards the end of the campaign, using more terrain and traps. Really started to put some very well designed groups of monsters - the solo died an immediate death and every encounter after was a group of monsters.
Suddenly things weren't so easy for the PCs. Powers like that of displacer armour (melee and ranged attacks back then rolled TWO dice for an ENTIRE encounter - insane, which was eventually fixed by wizard) were no longer instant wins as I mixed many creatures with burst and area attacks in. I increased the size of the maps, spreading monsters out and using much more elevation to my advantage (an elevation of 5 squares does little to a ranged creatures actual range, but does a huge amount to catching it in a burst and blast). I started to use more flying creatures, learning that keeping a creature outside a PCs reach and whacking him was very effective.
Tactics changed, I made "overall" rules for the final dungeon that manipulated the environment like gravity and teleportation - giving the monsters a crucial mobility advantage. I didn't just jack up the levels of monsters anymore, I started using more monsters in encounters instead. Encounters were still "grindy" but there were enough creatures that the PCs certainly noticed their overall damage output - but nothing was too bad here.
In the end the battle against Dagon at the end of the game was fun and satisfying enough, but the whole experience didn't feel as coherent and fun as it could have been. I had learned a pretty harsh lesson on epic tier and it was almost a year before I got a second chance.
Second Epic Tier Game - MM3 saves the encounter levels!
This is another FR game, that has been largely planar since the paragon tier and the PCs stepped into Sigil. Epic tier began with a quest to find an angel who was known to be associated with the BBEW (Big Bad Evil Woman in this campaign). Numerous changes were afoot this time and I was much better prepared.
1) I took my PCs tactics and capabilities into account more. Although this party doesn't use anything on the level of "Team forced movement", which was exploiting the power of bloodpulse and long distance forced movement powers, it was still important to consider their abilities.
2) I used a variety of terrain, room sizes and monster abilities - particularly flight, to make encounters much more challenging.
3) I thought more about how creatures should work together and why. Particularly I put into practice the idea that every encounter should do something very different tactically. For example, one encounter would have a lot of flying enemies, another a lot of very hard hitting soldiers or similar. Keep mixing things up all the time and keep the PCs off guard.
4) I developed a new and now defunct with MM3 tactic. I took a monster of X level and reduced its level - but only their HP and defenses. I kept their attacks and damage exactly the same. This meant monsters hit very often, but weren't substantially harder to hit themselves. With the damage of pre-MM3 creatures being "scratch them", this worked out very well because while they hit more the damage just meant they were reliable.
5) Solos were always accompanied by friends and I gave them many ways of avoiding being stunned, dazed or dominated. Auras and other tricks also helped to make solos more exciting - even so they frequently fell very short as the "until end of next turn" effects still devastated them.
Another thing with epic I did was I never used EL0 and EL+1 encounters. They were frankly a waste of time and effort, because 5 monsters could never challenge 5 PCs of the same level anymore. They would be trivially wiped out by area and burst powers that inflicted "until end of next turn" status effects. By now you'll notice that this whole "until end of next turn" thing comes up a lot - but it's really the proliferation of them by epic that's the problem. It's very easy to disable most or all creatures without any chance of a saving throw.
This meant that I jacked up the ELs, using the monster level trick I described earlier and set them upon the PCs. Epic battles were usually hit fests - but I actually resisted the temptation to spam a lot of stuns, dominates and similar on the monsters side. They were kinda grindy in many ways, because the base EL I used was EL + 3 (that was a "standard" epic encounter IMO). A hard encounter could be up to EL + 5 or even EL + 7! But I had managed to make numerous challenging encounters, through terrain, monsters powers (My PCs hate anything that flies and invisible creatures, a win for me!) and just putting a lot of effort in.
But let's be clear: It took a LOT of effort to make fun and challenging encounters. I needed to make a lot of custom traps, really optimize creatures and think of new mechanics to make monsters more interesting and challenging.
None the less I continued like this and then, as if from above in a heavenly light came Monster Manual 3.
Flaws with Epic Monsters that Monster Manual 3 conclusively fixes
1) Monster Manual 3 makes brute accuracy baseline. This means an effective +2 to all attacks and this really helps. The amount this helps cannot be underestimated, because brutes really suffer at epic. They are autohit by PCs constantly, they cannot hit your average defender except on ridiculously high rolls and when they did hit the damage was worthless anyway.
Consider the level 30 apocalypse spell brute, which does a whopping 4d10+20 damage on a melee basic attack! That's astounding and when he hits you, no matter who you are you will feel that damage.
2) Better power design. Many epic MM3 creatures are not entirely disabled by daze and stun. They have free action attacks, they can still find ways to deal damage while stunned (growing heat of the Volcanic dragon is a classic example of this IMO). The general damage output is now enough that you can't just regenerate, use DR and surgeless healing to just negate all damage.
This has led to PCs losing much more healing surges than before, with the monsters actually presenting a solid threat. Most importantly, I've dropped the encounter levels of the monsters quite a lot. The wonderful side effect of this is much faster, more violent and more fun combat. PCs are being hit and damaged for significant amounts, but monsters aren't actually needing to be massively over the PCs level or anything silly (therefore a huge miss fest).
For some examples, I posted these in general messages with my encounters this weekend, showing how the MM3 and the changes to monster design have really changed my game. I've gone from 2 encounters in four hours to running four encounters in four hours. I'm immensely happy with the new math behind monsters (especially their damage) and the general improvements to their powers.
In any event here are the encounters I ran and ELs, my party is level 28 and then level 29 after the first encounter.
Consists of: Sorcerer, Wizard, Fighter, Barbarian and Cleric.
They are currently defending the deck and controls of a huge elemental warship that they are flying straight into the BBEGs swirling fortress of doom to penetrate it.
First Encounter: EL 28 solo Balor of my own semi-construction (part Wizards and part my own). Used the new maths for damage and attack bonuses.
Was a resounding success. It was an immensely short fight, only 4 rounds but was obscenely violent. My houserule that lets solos save against "end of next turn effects", the better accuracy and huge damage meant for a very short, violent but exciting fight. One of my favourite solo fights and was completely even level with the party! No huge 2 hour grind of almost missing with the solo "scratching" the PCs for a pitiful 18 damage a hit.
Couldn't have been happier.
Next encounter with the party at level 29; EL 29 encounter.
2 Fire Archon Blazeswords (level 28 solider)
2 Oil archons (Level 28 brute)
6 Fire Archon Flamebows (Level 28 minion)
1 Iron Archon (Level 28 skirmisher)
This encounter didn't go so well, due to the PCs having legions hold (close burst 20 stun power if you've never seen it before). None the less the archons got some good hits in and were able to abuse the party quite a bit before dying, but overall got very unlucky (some very good dice rolls went against them so they didn't get to move that much).
Next encounter was around EL 30 (So EL +1).
Klurichir (level 28 soldier)
Swordtail Vrock (level 29 Skirmisher)
Herald of Colorless Fire (Level 28 skirmisher)
Godslayer Inferno (Level 28 artillery)
Chosen of Pazuzu (Level 29 artillery/controller - sort of does both)
Six shards of uralinda.
This battle was interesting because it was their first chosen. He's based on the demonomicon entry with the alternative powers that followers of Pazuzu have. His main thing is "Seed of Discord" which forces a PC to use their highest level encounter power against their allies (power "borrowed" from the Astral Kraken). The Barbarian has Hurricane of Blades (can you see where this is about to go by chance?). The Cleric at one point used his phalanx leader power, which allowed the Barbarian to teleport adjacent to him. The chosen went and in a very tense four attacks, the Cleric had to suffer his own allies Hurricane of Blades! 111 damage later, the Cleric managed to get away with it, but he was soon mobbed by the Godslayer inferno and the herald of colorless fire.
The Klurichir didn't get to do that much overall, as he was a bit far from the action in the end. He did take a big chunk out of the fighter and prevented him from healing during the entire fight, so was overall a success. The Swordtail Vrock flew about clawing at the PCs as well and generally being a pain.
None the less they progressed through that combat in 5 rounds and with plenty of time to spare. Sadly the soccer drew the defender away from the game - which slowed down this encounter and the next one quite a lot (PCs playing other peoples characters often slows the game up massively sadly).
This battle took roughly an hour (that is with a PC missing!) and it was appropriately challenging. Epic tier fights before have been walkovers with the PCs barely noticing, so I am very impressed thus far.
The final encounter was EL 21 (EL +2) and consisted of:
1 Swordtail Vrock (Level 29 Skirmisher)
1 Marilith Ward Keeper (level 29 controller)
1 Molydeus (Level 29 something, I think he's a soldier)
6 Goristo Eviscerators (Level 28 minion)
1 Bonegouge Assassin (level 28 lurker)
1 Retriever (Level 28 soldier)
1 Herald of Colorless Fire (Level 28 skirmisher)
This encounter has been interesting because the Marilith got a huge chunk out of the Barbarian straight away and the fighter. The PCs have got things back a lot by the wizard using Legions Hold twice (Close burst 20 stuns on hit, dazes on a miss - both save ends. Obscenely good actually). The bonegouge assassin hasn't had a single turn and neither has the herald of colorless fire - which is kind of annoying (really, legions hold is incredibly brutal when someone can do it three times in one encounter).
Thankfully the demonic generals have been showing the chaff how things are done. The molydeus has been on a pure rampage of destruction against the cleric, mauling him with its two turns of attacks and an opportunity attack when the cleric tried to leave (Due to his ability to autosave stun/daze effects he's not been bothered by legions hold). The Marilith as I mentioned took huge chunks out of both the barbarian and the fighter - though will be dying on her next turn unless she gets a bit lucky somewhere.
We've left the combat at around round 4 and it will probably end on round 5/6. Then I've got the final encounter of that ship to do, an antagonist from the PCs past is going to show up to try thwarting their attempt at getting to the genuine BBEG. Should be quite dramatic, as the Balor they killed in the first encounter? He's not gone yet, he's going to form into a sneaky cacodaemon and try to posses one of the PCs during that fight - making it especially tricky. It's also the highest EL I've tried since the release of the MM3: EL + 4. Let's see if it will be truly as epic as I hope!
We had to stop before finishing because another player left and it was the end of the session anyway. But it won't take long to resolve at the start of next session.
Edit: I should note where you see monsters from previous MMs, I've gone and improved their powers and abilities. For example the retriever has the hilariously bad self repair, which is a standard action for a +4 bonus to AC and a whole twenty HP. I've made it so that it gives +4 to all defenses, restores 20 HP and recharges all of its eye rays automatically (which it then uses for free on its next turn - making self repair a "Oh no" power instead of a waste of an action and a turn).
Edit2: Speaking of, here is my solo Balor's stat block. Corrected the errors in it:
Last edited by Aegeri; Wednesday, 30th June, 2010 at 08:45 PM.
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Friday, 2nd July, 2010, 10:07 AM #2
Spellbinder (Lvl 16)
Thanks for reporting about your epic gaming experiences. We really need a lot more of these reports! Alas, I can't give you XP again (already gave them to you in the previous thread).
The majority of what I've seen on these boards are the opinions of 'theorycrafters' or people who made arena-style test runs with mock-up pcs (though, admittedly, this is in part because it simply takes time to get to epic levels in a 'real' campaign).
This is _so_ much better!
I'm currently reading MM3 and while the epic monsters are all around better designed to deal with epic pcs, based on my own theorycrafting (hah!), they probably could still use a bump here and there. I'm looking forward to Monster Manual 4
In a sense, the D&D game has no rules, only rule suggestions. - Tom Moldvay
Friday, 2nd July, 2010, 11:02 AM #3
Scout (Lvl 6)
Great insight on epic play. Thanks!
(unfortunately, it seems I've already spammed you with xp...)
Friday, 2nd July, 2010, 01:39 PM #4
Grandfather of Assassins (Lvl 19)
One of the things I did for some epic play was to focus a lot more on story elements and less on combat. Totally over the top environments, profound mystery, vast evil conspiracy, etc. Obviously you have to have encounters, but like Aegeri says they should each have some really seriously unique elements to them. Epic is time for the DM to go crazy. Fail a skill challenge in heroic tier and maybe you lose a shot at some XP or take some damage or make an enemy. Fail one in epic and the doom of the world is unleashed!
I do think a lot of the big epic monsters lack real "epicness" too. One aspect of that is like what Aegeri is saying about status conditions trivializing them. I just don't think the paradigm of a single solo creature on the battle map with one (or even a couple nowadays) sets of actions really does justice to a lot of these monsters.
I like to think of epic tier as sort of like "The Time of Legends" from Time Bandits. The things you run into are totally over the top, but the characters can handle themselves.
Friday, 2nd July, 2010, 01:54 PM #5
Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)
yeah, high stakes is what Epic level play is about. The PCs arn't really doing anything fundamentally different to what they did in Paragon or Heroic, its just that failure is probably bad news for the world not just themselves.
They should be risking everything for ultimate victory (plot-wise, not necessarily encounter-wise).
An example from my own game is that my PCs are rescuing Avandra who is being imprisoned in an undersea Dagon temple (where agents of Dagon have been using her as a breeding sample to clone demonic versions of her for their own neferious plans). The PCs need Avandra as the catalyst to call a grand conclave of the Gods to stop the God War that has steadily been spiraling out of control since late paragon tier.
Victory = A chance to stabilise the gods and unite them against the true threat.
Failure = The loss of another god and an escalation of the god war with possibly catastrophic effects.
Like I said mechanically the PCs are still doing fundamentally the same thing they have always done, in this case "assault a dungeon to kill the bad man and rescue the princess". But the overall context makes everything much more Epic.
Friday, 2nd July, 2010, 05:12 PM #6
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Really excellent topic and write up!
I've been running a 1 to 30 campaign over the past two and a half years or so. Our group is now level 26 and I've noticed all of the things you've mentioned. So far there hasn't been any serious exploitation of one or more powers that destroys every battle, however, which has been nice.
There are three problems I've run up against the most and I've come up with house rules to fix them.
Solos getting stun-locked
First, locking up Solos, as you mentioned, has been a big problem. We refer to this as the bucket-on-the-head. Long ago, even early paragon, I've had ways to deal with this. My most recent favorite way to deal with it is the Brutal Shakeoff or the Anti-hero powers:
Brutal Shakeoff: as a free action, this creature can take it's level in damage to remove any one single status effect.
Anti-hero: When stunned, this creature instead loses its next standard action and grants combat advantage. When dazed, this creature instead loses its next minor action and grants combat advantage.
Both of these work pretty well. The Anti-hero doesn't handle other debilitating attacks like blind and unconsious, so Brutal Shakeoff seems to work better.
Monsters deal too little damage
I remember reading the original WOTC article about 4e that showed the Pit Fiend. My original reaction was "wow, this guy doesn't do a lot of damage!" I figured, though, that the math for 4e was very different so I didn't think much of it, but my initial reaction was right on. Creatures above level 10 really don't do enough damage. I've been houseruling this a bunch of different ways but Greg Bilsland had probably the best and easiest solution: double the static damage of monsters above level 10 or triple it if they're a brute. That's easy enough to do. He wrote about it here:
More on Monsters I ź In the Eye of the Beholder
Players resist too much elemental damage
The third thing I notice a lot since level 10 or so is how much of an effect player resistances can have on a battle. I had a battle with a bunch of Fey Lingerers against my level 15ish group. They completely walked away from the battle without a scratch. The amount of damage the lingerers did was already low but it being all Necrotic and the entire PC party having resist 10 necrotic made it far too easy.
At the epic tier, this is even worse. Most PCs will have resist 10 to resist 15 to all types of elemental damage, especially necrotic.
Finding creative ways to deal with resistances has been really hard for me. On the one hand, I want players to feel like those resistances are really helping them. On the other, I want them to still be threatened by creatures who inflict these types of damage.
I have a few ways to deal with this but none of them are ideal:
Increase elemental damage One easy way is to increase elemental damage by 5 at paragon and 10 at epic. This will break through most of the resistances but still make the player feel like he or she got away with something. The problem comes in if you hit someone who doesn't have that form of resistance and now they get hit way too hard.
Environmental Effects that Eliminate Resistance Another way I've been dealing with resistances is to add some form of environmental effect that eliminates resistances. For example, a cursed altar in the center of a room might radiate a general necrotic presence that eliminates necrotic resistances until three successful heal, arcane, or religion checks eliminate the presence.
Likewise, a pool of lava or a bog of poisonous gas might eliminate fire, poison, or acid resistance when characters begin within it.
Monster powers that eliminate resistances The third technique I've used is to add effects to monster powers that eliminate resistances. For example, a red dragon's bite would eliminate fire resistances (save ends) instead of doing extra fire damage. A lich's aura 5 might eliminiate necrotic resistances as long as one is within the aurea. The black dragon's cloud of darkness might eliminate acid resistances. This type of attack works well when it replaces another status effect like weaken, daze, or stun - effects that simply slow down combat. Eliminating resistances, on the other hand, keeps threat high without slowing down battles.
Battles run too slow
With so many powers, so many items, and so many feats; players are going to take longer to run their turns than they did at the heroic tier. The best way to speed up this combat is to make sure they know their characters really well. This means one should generally avoid beginning campaigns at high level, instead, let the campaign reach that level on its own. If you're going to run one-shot adventures, run them in the heroic tier or specifically generate very simple epic-tier characters without a lot of options.
The other thing to keep in mind is that dishing out damage speeds up combat. Avoid things that reduce this damage such as variable resistances, monster healing, and damage-reducing status effects like stun, daze, and weaken.
A quick way to deal with stuns, dazes, and weakens, is to give players a chance to shake these off by taking a bunch of damage instead. For example, a character might be able to shake a daze at the beginning of his or her turn by instead taking ongoing 10 psychic damage. You'll have to play with the numbers to get them right.
Running an epic tier campaign is a lot of fun. We get to use our biggest miniatures. We get to run games in the most fantastic areas. We get to sic our most powerful monsters against our PCs. Running an epic tier adventure, however, takes a fair bit of understanding about what you might face. Keep this in mind as you prepare to run one.
Thanks again for this thread, it's excellent.
Friday, 2nd July, 2010, 06:18 PM #7
Orcus on an Off-Day (Lvl 22)
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Friday, 2nd July, 2010, 08:15 PM #8
Minor Trickster (Lvl 4)
This was an incredibly useful post. Thanks for taking the time to fill in all of the details about the monsters, experiences, and how you fixed up the old attributes.
Friday, 2nd July, 2010, 09:37 PM #9
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
Awesome, awesome, awesome.
I can't believe DMG3 still isn't on a publication calendar.
The Meloran Gnomes are a fey people that historically lived along the banks of the Melora River and two of its tributariesŚthe Heart and Knife RiversŚapproximately 150 leagues west of Fallcrest in the present-day Nentir Vale. Speakers of Gnomish, an Elvish dialect, the people developed a settled culture in contrast to that of more nomadic gnome tribes in the Great Plains region. They established permanent villages featuring large, round, earthen lodges some 40 feet in diameter, surrounding a central plaza. Primitive industry, agriculture, and trade with the bisonmen were key to their daily life.
Approximately 15,000 strong at their peak, a plague outbreak has reduced their numbers to approximately 125.
Friday, 2nd July, 2010, 11:15 PM #10
Superhero (Lvl 15)
So I noticed a few comments that some of you were seeing this effect at Paragon tier and as I alluded to in the opening post, that's about when it becomes a major problem. I've run four games into paragon and I can say that the main difference is usually based on the controller. If you have a good stun and similar spamming controller, life can be very hard for monsters compared to if you don't have a controller who can.
Increasing damage since MM3 seems to be a simple solution though, my most recent campaign to enter paragon has done so pretty much as MM3 came out. So I've been playing with the increased damage since it started and that's made a really big difference. Not to mention that in many ways I've "improved" older monsters by giving them some new powers or abilities (extending aboleths reach to reach 3 as an example).
By paragon tier PCs should be investigating lost temples and other things. These places should be the home of the creatures that live there and they should have big advantages. Plenty of complete darkness for lurkers, narrow caverns or side corridors can be used to block area/burst attacks. The place you fight can make a huge difference to how any encounter will go and this is never more important than at paragon/epic.
By around level 13 or so solos start to become ineffective due to the fact the PCs now have plenty of daze, stun and similar powers. Not to mention general disables like attack penalties and defense penalties. Here you should consider a few things to improve solos:
A) Houserules like Slyflourish posted or my own. Either allow them to save things that wouldn't normally get saves, like dazes and stuns util the end of their turn, or use powers like Hydra fury, or just let them take damage to remove effects. Whatever you choose to do, make sure your PCs know about it and that its consistent. The goal isn't to make stun and daze powers useless, just appropriately reduce their power so they cannot trivialize a solo fight. At the same time, you don't want to make a controller feel like he has no point, so outright immunities are something I would avoid. Denying immediate reactions, free actions and similar are still just as useful (even if they won't lose their whole turn).
B) Outside of solos, consider what monsters you are putting into an encounter and how they function together. For example, in my epic game I have made an archammer runespiral daemon. This creature takes a defensive role as well as an offensive role. It has a passive aura 5 that reduces burst, close and area attacks against itself and creatures within the aura by a -5 penalty and they suffer no negative effects on a miss. This aura allows creatures to be somewhat together and be protected from area of effect powers, while allowing the PCs to "Snipe" out the runespiral daemon as ranged and melee attacks suffer no penalty.
This creature provides a clear target and doesn't entirely shut down AoE stun and dazes. Instead it encourages the PCs to adapt their tactics and find a new solution to the creature - such as having to hit it away from its allies with a power like cratorfall, then unleash their burst attacks. The important thing is when you make such things they shouldn't be used in excess. One or two is a unique and fun challenge for your players. Every encounter being filled with tons of them feels like spiting their power choices deliberately.
Another example from my paragon campaign are the aboleths I made. Aboleth Overseers have a powerful aura 5 that renders all slime servants and thralls within it utterly immune to the dominate and stun conditions. This is because the Aboleth Overseer is basically mentally controlling them and ripping that control away from the beast, which is more than a simple mental connection is almost impossible. This makes the aboleth an important target and keeping his servants away from him becomes a key part of the strategy (the overseer if you're wondering is immune to charm, but he can still be stunned!).
However here is something important that you ALSO need to remember as a DM: Your PCs aren't heroic tier anymore. Paragon and Epic PCs should be allowed to feel utterly awesome. That's right, sometimes you should make an encounter that is 100% vulnerable to all of their tricks! Sometimes the monsters are grouped up, or the PCs clearly get the drop on them or any number of other circumstances. Every so often it's good to have an encounter where the PCs beat the snot out of creatures and make themselves feel pretty powerful. Especially if you are making some pretty tricky and difficult encounters to challenge them, the odd "simple" encounter helps to reinforce how powerful their characters are.
Not everything has to be life or death, in fact it's undesirable to have every encounter push the PCs especially if you don't want "short" adventuring days. One of the consequences of the increased damage and especially the huge nerf to Cleric surgeless healing in my current epic tier game, has been that PCs are actually running lower on healing surges. Before I believe my PCs could take 5 or even 6 encounters in one day. Now they are managing to get through 4 and the front line characters (Battle Cleric, Fighter and Barbarian) have been absolutely mauled.
3. Traps and Hazards
This is a slightly different concept to just terrain, which is more physical things like how the map is laid down, if there is a pit somewhere or if there are large curtains obscuring sight. Traps and hazards - those things you add to an encounter that are worth experience - should benefit the monsters more than the PCs. Traps should be prepared by the creatures (think Kobolds) and be at their usage and knowledge. Traps are a good way of mixing up a combat, because they usually can't be physically destroyed by the PCs and require skills to avoid or disarm. Hazards are similar in traps in this respect. An example from one of my games is strange tree like mushrooms that drop spores, which make you trip balls when you accidentally hit them with burst and area attacks (while not affecting the local myconids who rather enjoy it in fact). This can break up a combat and make it more tactically interesting, without having the vulnerabilities that adding another creature does.
An example from my epic game is actually the use of the recent cacodaemon from Demonomicon. Ter-Soth (See the OP) was killed by the PCs, but such a vile and detestable daemon doesn't just fade away into nothing. Aside from blowing a massive burning hole straight through the ship the PCs are on, his spirit is actually still lingering around near where he died. When the PCs fight one of their main antagonists of the campaign, she will "awaken" his spirit as a vile cacodaemon!
This gives the PCs an immediate dilemma - the cacodaemon cannot be affected by powers very much and they need to stuff his soul into an item. At the same time their antagonist is throwing spells aroud like mad and pressing down on them. This actually has an important plot related point as well - as the Wild Mage sorcerer has an item with the bound soul of a wizard who was binding daemons. By binding Ter-Soth into that item and taking the time to do that, the PCs can get a strong magical item and an ability to bind the antagonist reducing her effectiveness in the combat! At the same time, ignoring Ter-Soth means the PCs are under threat of being dominated and potentially even dominated for the whole encounter!
This encounter uses a monster that functions as a trap (I quite like the cacodaemon) and combines it with a pretty powerful solo. At the same time the hole in the center of the deck can reduce their mobility a little or provide a place for the antagonist to hover over if she needs to. Additionally two heralds of colorless flame provide enough of a destraction that AoE powers are still useful (as there are 3 enemies they can effect), without really being exceptionally useful to them in this encounter like the previous ones.
It does mean that the controller and sorcerer have to make a tough decision. Do they try to shut down the antagonist and the two heralds of colorless flame? Or do they spend actions removing the threat of the cacodaemon before it can cause considerable disruption to their plans? This sort of dilemma is exactly the thing you should be aiming for at epic. Large burst powers are very effective against team monster, but when you need to decide between affecting a trap and affecting team monster with your actions it's no longer a simple decision.
It's worth noting that the cacodaemon was written with the old dominate condition in mind. There is no longer any daze condition while dominated, but the intent of the power is clear anyway despite that.