D&D 5E Beefing up Acererak for 16th level PCs?

mrm1138

Explorer
I'd been running the Adventurers League adventures for Tomb of Annihilation, but when I got to the point where the death curse was over, I realized that the players would feel cheated if they weren't the ones to stop it. As such, I had them go to the Tomb of the Nine Gods, and since it's mainly traps and puzzles, it's been a pretty good challenge for them.

What I'm worried about is whether or not the final encounter with Acererak and the atropal will be a cakewalk for them, so I figured I should increase the challenge. I've noticed that they tend to tear through encounters that consist of only a couple enemies, so I'm wondering if increasing the number of NPCs is the best way to go. Perhaps I could increase the number of wraiths created by the atropal during a round, and have them absorb any damage to the atropal? What are some other ideas?
 

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Quickleaf

Legend
I ran Acererak for a party of 4 very experienced players with 12th or 13th level PCs, more magic than typical, good builds, and both Artus & Dragonbait as allies. One PC was shoved into lava, Artus was knocked unconscious over lava and fell to his death, and Dragonbait died to finger of death (becoming a powered-up zombie).

My approach included a couple things:
  • I ran the Sewn Sisters > Atropal > Acererak as a sort of running battle, no rests.
  • Instead of having Acererak arrive when the Soulmonger and Atropal were destroyed, I had him arrive when either the Soulmonger or the Atropal were destroyed. In our case that meant they had a last round of combat with Atropal that overlapped with first round of combat with Acererak.
  • I interpreted Acererak's legendary actions to allow him to upcast animate dead as a Legendary Action – this just made sense given all those skeletons in northern alcoves, and a way to pay off the overwhelming ossuary motif of the Tomb. I had these skeletons focus on Grappling (and dragging into lava), Shoving (into lava), and trying to break concentration of spellcasters – they never made normal attacks.
  • I had the lich phylacteries be an expendable resource for Acererak that he could "burn" to activate Legendary Resistance or to slightly modify his spells (e.g. extending range on animate dead to be able to reach the northern alcoves). I kind of foreshadowed that and was more lenient on the phylacteries being destroyable, so that players could choose to target the phylacteries if they wished.
  • Developed about 6 rounds worth of strategy focusing on creative use of Acererak's spell list as written.
 

pukunui

Legend
I don't remember where I got it from, but you could look at using this version of Acererak that includes mythic actions.
 

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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
If you want a couple simple changes:
  • Give lichboy an aura that deals fairly minor damage to all creatures in it, and heals him.
  • Give him a legendary action where the aura expands for a turn, hurting everyone, and giving him THP in a big juicy amount.
  • Let him summon minions, and move all of them, as a legendary action.
  • Give him some magic pillars with HP equal to 1/4 of his each, that when broken reduce his defenses.
 


Could you describe the players and their characters for us? Sometimes just adding a simple tweak could create a HUGE obstacle for the players to overcome.

For example, I had a party of 16th level PCs who were fighting against Demons in the Abyss. They have a LOT of magic abilities to boost their AC (Shield of Faith, Shield, Blur, Mirror Image). So rather than make it a simple demonic stronghold I populated it with a company of mercenaries I called the "Spell Eaters": Yugothoth and Glabreezu. In 5e Glabreezu can cast a spell as part of their multi-attack action, which was a new and welcome surprise. I attacked the Fighter/Sorc who casts Shield and boosts his AC into the high 20's. I missed. Then I cast Dispel Magic, destroy his Shield, hit him with the other claw and latch on. Needless to say it was a really difficult adventure for them. The Yugoloth could also cast Dispel Magic at will. Spell slots are very limited in 5e and they burned through their spells quickly. By the time they were in the middle of the stronghold they were nearly out of spells. That gave the Arcanoloth carte blanche. At the same time, our Ranger was used to being a 2nd tier DPS character. Her Mage Slayer feat immediately pushed her to the top and of course she scored lots of killing blows. One in particular was she saved the Ftr/Sorc from the Arcanoloth.

I didn't have to change anything except my strategy. I knew my PCs and their strengths. Even though the Demons they were fighting were half of the PC's Challenge Rating their abilities made them incredibly powerful. They hate True Sight, Blind Sight, Dispel Magic at will (and as part of Multi-Attack), bleeding attacks, Cloud Kill (to which they were immune). It was a nightmare for that particular group. I'm sure there's something you're seeing which says, "they can easily beat Acerak" but we're not seeing it. Sometimes just sprinkling in the right monsters will do the trick.
 



dave2008

Legend
I'd been running the Adventurers League adventures for Tomb of Annihilation, but when I got to the point where the death curse was over, I realized that the players would feel cheated if they weren't the ones to stop it. As such, I had them go to the Tomb of the Nine Gods, and since it's mainly traps and puzzles, it's been a pretty good challenge for them.

What I'm worried about is whether or not the final encounter with Acererak and the atropal will be a cakewalk for them, so I figured I should increase the challenge. I've noticed that they tend to tear through encounters that consist of only a couple enemies, so I'm wondering if increasing the number of NPCs is the best way to go. Perhaps I could increase the number of wraiths created by the atropal during a round, and have them absorb any damage to the atropal? What are some other ideas?
What level is your group going to be when they fight Acererak? Acererak can cast spells up to 3rd level at will and at the costs of one legendary action. If you just trade out his 3rd level animate dead for fireball or lightning bolt, he will put your PCs in a world of pain.

EDIT: please note that one change jumps his CR up to 25. If that is not enough, give him Max HP and he is CR 26. That would be an Epic Encounter for up the 5, 15th lvl PCs.
 
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mrm1138

Explorer
Could you describe the players and their characters for us?
All characters are level 16 and will be when they face Acererak and the atropal.

Okay, so the major damage dealer is the tiefling swashbuckler rogue who recklessly throws himself into danger. Since the characters had previously gone through Curse of Strahd, he's a wereraven. (He volunteered to be resistant to nonmagical damage instead of fully immune.) Thankfully, all of the attacks will either be magical or of a type to which he's not resistant.

Next up is the halfling barbarian/tempest domain cleric of Kord. He has a magic hammer that is essentially Mjolnir, and one of his go-to spells is shatter.

Then there's the elven rogue/cleric/ranger whose favored enemy is the undead. He has a magic bow, the archery fighting style, an extra attack, and the sharpshooter feat, so he can deal a ton of damage.

The wild card is the eight year old girl with a fiendish patron. She likes to set things on fire and uses the bonfire cantrip anytime she can. She also has the use of counterspell, so that can usually screw up the villain's plans for a couple rounds.

The half-elf sorcerer/fighter also has counterspell, plus she has an extra attack. She also has a +3 staff, but I'm hoping most of the party will choose to avoid close quarters combat.

The one who can't avoid close quarters combat, however, is the dwarven fighter battle master. Honestly, he doesn't do nearly as much damage as one would think a high level fighter would do. He's pretty tanky, though, and has an AC of 21.

So yeah, six PCs with a lot of actions per round. That's why I worry that the enemies will just get wailed on and only occasionally be able to dish out some significant damage.
 

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