Ok so I have some good playtest feedback for you. So in my current campaign, there are some reality alterations going on, and after last fight I mentioned to you, a groundhog day occurred. The party found themselves waking up to the same day as before, except now they were 12th level (at least most of them). The same city was once again under attack by elementals, and so the party went to meet it.
So this time it was:
1) 1 Ancient Fire Elemental
2) 1 Ancient Earth Elemental
3) 1 Ancient Water Elemental
4) 1 Ancient Wind Elemental
5) 8 "minion-mentals" - I used 4e minion rules to create small little elemental pieces. (1 hp, AC 12, +5 attack, 5 dmg, +2 to saves, no elemental abilities)
5) A custom monster. I used the base stats for a Star Spawn Mage (a recurring villain in the game), but replaced the abilities with the following:
Spellcasting (DC 18): Storm of Vengeance 1/day (precasted), Firestorm 2/day, Wall of Ice 1/day, Crown of Stars 2/day (precasted), Chain Lightning 1/day
Legendary Action (4 actions, -1 for each elemental lost) (the creature was drawing elemental power from the ancient elementals.
Heal - Heal 30 damage, one elemental of his choice takes 30 damage.
Spawn Minion - a Minion-mental appears within 60 feet.
12th level Barbarian
8th level Fighter (with the foresight spell on them...flavorwise they remembered the reality shift and hadn't changed to their 12th level form, and so remembered this day again. It was also really cool that my player was willing to give up 12th level awesome to stay within flavor for such a big fight, so I gave him a really nice boon because of it)
12th level Druid
12th level Bard
12th level Warlock
10th level Sorceror
9th level Life Cleric
1 archer mob (used basic mob rules, effectively just added 16 dmg a round to a creature of the party's choice).
The pregame (Party had 1 minute to prepare as they had to wait for a teleport effect).
1) Party was blessed by some nearby low level clerics before they went in.
2) Life Cleric had beacon of hope put on the group.
3) Warlock had his pet earth elemental join the fray.
4) Druid had planar bound a Galeb Dur early in the day in this reality. He also called woodland beings (upcasted) to summon 2 pixies (note here: I adjusted Pixie CR to be 2 instead of 1/4, as I agree with everyone else that its hokey broken as written. The player also recognizes the potential for abuse, and so only brings them out on special occasions like this).
Party arrives in a similar situation as last time. They are on the edge of a city being flooded, with people panicking everywhere. the elementals were 500 ft and advanced on the city. It was storming heavily, but this time due to a Storm of Vengeance already underway (unlike the control weather that occured last time). The elementals had the Water and Earth in the front as the pace setters, the worm mage 60 feet back, with the fire and wind 60 feet on the sides of the mages, with the minion mentals hugging the mage for now. Unlike before, these elementals are not just mindlessly moving towards the city, the worm is commanding them, and they will play smart and tactical.
The barbarian does his old ballista trick, this time bringing the fighter with him. A little smarter this time though, he attacks the water elemental in the front instead of diving in completely. Other members of the group use d doors to move to the front line. It is on! Also everyone rolls a check vs the storm's defeaning effect. The cleric is deafened, everyone else is good. (the cleric is basically a heal bot so its not going to impact much).
1) The Druid d doors on the party's carpet of flying with one of his summoned pixies straight up, and the pixie dispels the storm (sigh, I really hate how easy it is for a 3rd level spell to take out such a high level spell effects). Unlike with control weather, the storm dissipates immediately, and so its effects are not felt for the rest of the fight.
2) The Water elemental bashes the barb, doing some good damage.
3) Fire elemental does its fire spear on the barb, doing 50 fire damage (one crit). The barb's rage doesn't help against that, and suddenly he is in a lot of pain.
4) The life cleric rushes over and heals the barb. (life cleric + beacon of hope = crazy healing)
5) The Air Elemental swings in from behind the water elemental and whirlwinds the barb, fight, and cleric. All 3 make their save, they get hit a bit but not flung, sigh! (cleric passes his concentration, I want that beacon taken out but its not to be yet).
6) Earth elemental moves forward on the right side and nails the Warlock with a couple of rock throws.
7) Warlock gets in several repelling blasts on the worm (he has spell sniper so he has range for days). The worm is knocked back a good bit.
8) The worm moves back up and hits the cleric, barb, and fighter with a chain lightning (again cleric passes concentration....darn!). Unfortunately the repelling blast push far enough back that I wasn't in range for the crown of stars bonus action.
9) Sorc and Bard spent their turns on d dooring party members.
Overall: The party is feeling the heat. They see how strong the elementals are, and know they cannot stay in melee like this, or they will get crunched.
(order isn't exact, things get a little fuzzier in my memory).
1) Cleric moves to the second group (Warlock + pet elemental + Sorceror) to give them some much needed healing. Takes an OA from the Water E, but I miss.
2) Water Elemental attempts to move and go after the squishy casters. This triggers an OA from the barb who has the Sentinel feat. Water Elemental is stopped in its tracks, and so bashes on the barb again. Damn barb gets making his strength saves (a barb passes strength saves, who would have thought?), so no grapples for me.
3) Ballistas hit both the Air and Water elemental (they have a line attack, so nailed both of them).
4) Fire Elemental uses its Fire Spear volley, and I attacked everyone. (I had the pixies make a stealth against my elemental's passive perception. By technical reading of the book, a permanent invisible creature is technically not hidden once they attack or cast spells. But considering the pixie can then move 60 feet, and is already 120 feet in the air...that breaks my disbelief too much. So we do allow a stealth check...but I note this because it does make the pixies stronger). Ultimately one pixie gets its stealth by 1, and the other passed handedly!! The fire elemental can't see them for spear targeting. This would be a big factor in the round.
5) Druid tries to confuse the fire and earth elementals with 1 of the pixies, and dispels the worm's crown with the other. Combination of saving throw advantage + rerolls manages to hold it off, but I burn most of my rerolls on the attempt. Druid turns into a fire elemental and drops off the carpet (he has a feather fall ring). He goes up to the worm and ignites him.
6) Sorcerer follows up with a heightened banishment on the Earth Elemental. And poof!
7) Worm uses a wall of ice to encase the warlock and sorc (I used the wall form, in hindsight should have used the dome as I had just enough radius. I did good damage, sorc made his concentration check by 1!!!!
8) Wind Elemental bashes on the barb, and uses gust of wind to throw a blow away the barb and fighter (they pass their saves...and I take a mage slayer OA for the trouble. They are not doing that again!)
9) My Water E then gets an Otto's Irresistible Dance put on it by the bard.
Overall: I could tell that the saving throw advantage + reroll was frustrating the casters, but they seemed reassured when I mentioned they had burned through the rerolls of some of the elementals. The whole group cheered when the barb stopped the water elemental, I think everyone in the room knew that if the water elemental had gotten to the casters and done a whelm...a lot of things would have gone south very quickly.
1) Water elemental is destroyed!
2) Fighter and Barb are polymorphed into TRexs by the Pixies, Fighter goes against the Air elemental, Barb against the Fire.
3) The warlock smartly had his earth elemental burrow under the wall and then actually lift him and the sorceror above the wall! (we all laughed that the elemental was "duel wielding wands"). They lay out a lot of damage on the Wind Elemental.
4) The Air and Fire elementals do a LOT of good damage, as they basically can't miss the t rexs. But the meatbags soak the pain.
5) My worm sees one of the pixies this time, and I have a choice to make. I could firestorm the pixie, but the range was such that I couldn't hit anyone else, and it would be a HUGE amount of overdamage. So I decided to firestorm the casters, and tell the fire elemental to attack them next round. Sorceror has fire resistance, which saved his butt (he would have failed the concentration save otherwise, and the earth elemental would have come back). But both the warlock and sorc are now bloodied (below half health).
1) Air Elemental gets killed.
2) The Druid releases the "Legion of Doom". He has a magic item that produces another call woodland being effect, and he summons like 16 owls to attack the worm. Even with resistance against non-magical attacks, I take a good amount of damage.
3) The fire elemental recharges his fire volley, and attacks EVERYTHING. I killed all the owls and hit most of the party. But you know what I don't hit...that god damn pixie! (rolled a 1). The polymorphs stay up for a moment.
4) With various damages that occur in the round from the Air, Fire elementals (and a few minion mental attacks), the Trex forms on both barb and fighter go down, but they did there job, soaking ~130 damage each.
Mostly cleanup. With only teh fire elemental and Worm left, the party goes to work. They dispatch the fire elemental and then in short order, with no one left to draw from to heal, the worm is taken out as well.
1) In general I didn't enjoy the bonus spellcasting on most of the elementals. It was just more work and lot of the effects were weak compared to the elemental itself. I think would I would rather the spell effects get absorbed into the attacks (wind elemental attacks can blow away like gust of wind....earth elemental attacks can leave bursts of earth that are difficult terrain). Or they just get big spells that are worth giving up their normal action for.
2) I forgot to parry all the time. There are two reasons for this. One... when your a busy DM with a lot to run, its easy to forget the little things. I find this especially true with reactions. When its on my turn, I can make sure I go through the ability and check off that I did everything. But with reactions...I know I have to remember to do things on a players turn as well....with 1 monster that's fine, but as soon as you have 2 or 3 or 4 monsters to keep track of, that gets a lot harder.
So in general I don't like reactions on non legendary monsters for that reason.
Two...to keep the combat moving quickly, my players will often do their attacks ahead of time (for example the druid rolled all of those owl attacks off his turn so we didn't have to wait so long). But that means temporary AC bonuses get muddied, and again makes it even easier for me to forget. But I WANT my players to do that, it makes the combat go so much quicker.... so the reality of speedier combat interferes with the one paper theory of what the monster should do.
3) The only ability my party called Fowl on was the Fire Elementals Fire Volley ability, and I can understand this. I mean at one point I literally shot about 20 attacks in every direction. They said that the fact that it could do so many attack with accuracy was the problem....aka not hitting its allies. If the elemental had like a big fireburst that hit everything (allies and enemies alike) than fair play. But that it could so precisely target basically everything on the board, they thought was hokey.
4) Bless is just a really good spell no matter what level your at. +2 to saves helped a LOT in this combat (I house rule it as +2 instead of +1d4).
5) I will say that the Fire Elemental did feel like the star of the show. I think its the best elemental overall... the best spells by far, good saves (especially charisma for banishment which is a common elemental slayer). Decent HP, Decent AC., amazing ranged attacks, great speed...and wonderful damage. The party really felt the force of Fire Aura Damage + Ignite Damage + more damage when they hit + then it gets to go and do more damage. Also very notable that its the only elemental that bypassed the Barb's rage resistance.
Now if the party had more fire resistance, could be a different story. But overall I do think its the most solid, well rounded elemental...it is good in nigh every situation....whereas I think its easier to trip up the other elementals with XYZ.
6) Ultimately this fight was a great success. While on paper the party won "handedly" (with no one even going unconscious), I could tell the party was nervous throughout the fight. Ultimately, some key rolls really set the pace of this fight....if I had knocked out a concentration a little earlier, if the barb had failed just one strength saving throw, if the pixie had rolled just 1 less on a stealth check, if I had rolled just one higher on my attack against the pixie....could have turned into a much bloodier combat.
That said, it was a 2.7x deadly fight based on XP budget... but I am quite used to my party trashing encounter guidelines. My baseline is deadly (I never use anything less, unless its literally a fight for fun where the party gets to joke around). So 2x is when I actually feel the fight is "supposed to actually start feeling challenging". So under that guide, I feel the challenge lived up the XP budget I would expect for my group.
7) I had forgotten that the saving throw rerolls were a reaction, so I actually used them twice on saves (whoops!). I think that might have made the fire elemental confused...but oh well, the party had enough lucky rolls I think it was one that I got in one for myself