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5E Campaign Encounter Help (High Level)

pogre

Hero
In my campaign, the players have two sets of characters. The first set reached level 20 and are in semi-retirement and are known as heroes of the realm. The second set has just reached the climax of a story arc and have reached 14th level. So, I'm doing something a little different for me - there are multiple threats coming together and the players are going to be bring both sets of characters - the first half of the session will be devoted to the epic characters' task, the second half to the 14th level set.

I need your help with the challenge of the epic level group.

The main enemy is a mage who has engineered a coup in the Mages' University and is working to take over the realm itself. He has access to a couple of apprentices. The problem is a 20th level mage even with a shield guardian are going to be a speed bump for this group - Even if I add in a couple of high level apprentices. I would like to make the epic challenge, well, epic.

Please give me suggestions.

What allies should the rebel mage have. Where do the PCs need to confront him?

This is not a 'gotcha' encounter - I just want it to be interesting and tense.

Thanks for helping me!
 

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Fiends and Elementals are always good allies for powerful mages. Add in a cold themed fiend and an efreet to spice things up.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Why is the mage confronting the PCs directly? I agree with not playing gotcha, but that doesn't mean that there can't be red herrings and troops the PCs have to get through, think waves of bad guys with the last wave being the mage. Attrition is going to be your friend here I think, as will misdirection.

Not knowing your group, some suggestions. I know you could do the whole fiend thing (and it's not a bad suggestion) I personally get tired of every high level fight being fiends. But there are a lot of other options.
  • Send in the clones ... err ... simulacrum.
  • Improved invisibility + counterspell (although this can be annoying if overdone)
  • A mob of iron golems
  • Charm a bunch of innocent NPCs so they have to be dealt with in the middle of the chaos
  • Have the mage orchestrating everything from behind an impenetrable barrier while in an antimagic zone; make it the goal of forcing him out of safety. Think in terms of multiple goals and paths to achieve those goals.
  • He's really an ancient dragon. Surprise!
  • Other puzzles and traps depending on what the players enjoy.
  • Throw in mobs of other relatively low level monsters - the DMG has rules for it.
  • Borrow and steal legendary and lair actions from other high level monsters. Dragons have some cool ones. Heck, give him legendary resistance described as a special pendant he has around his neck with glowing crystals that absorb spells and go dim until his next turn.
Yes, some of these tactics could be a little annoying so I would play it by ear a bit. Remember, the NPC caster is probably a genius and there are times when I'm flexible on my options. That NPC is smarter than me and probably thought of things I didn't and may have something prepped that will perfectly counter the PC's actions. Again, don't overdo it.

Anyway, that's what I can come up with off the top of my head. Challenging high level PCs can be tough, but you know your group better than I do and what will be fun.
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
First, if the PCs (or half of them) are Epic, give the Enemy Magic some Epic boon-type stuff.

Second, a 20th-level wizard can (literally) have an army of simulacrum RAW (if you play without house-ruling it). I was joking with a friend of mine the other day that pretty much once a Wizard reaches tier 4, due to that single spell and how much you can abuse it, I finally "won" D&D. ;-)

Anyway, here is a neat idea if you incorporate DM "PCs" as well, have the wizard grow a clone of himself but much younger, like maybe late teens, and have him join the party as a guide or something in some capacity, and mess with them that way.

Otherwise, the sky's the limit really.
 

pogre

Hero
Second, a 20th-level wizard can (literally) have an army of simulacrum RAW (if you play without house-ruling it). I was joking with a friend of mine the other day that pretty much once a Wizard reaches tier 4, due to that single spell and how much you can abuse it, I finally "won" D&D. ;-)
Man, I was excited by the idea of an army of simulacrum-created dupes until I read this in the spell description:
If you cast this spell again, any currently active duplicates you created with this spell are instantly destroyed.
Still, a very cool spell I will be using!

Also looking at contingency - are there other prep spells the powerful mage could have ready? Keep in mind, the mage is involved in a very active plot to take over or destroy a mages' university and take over the PCs' native land - it is not really in the cards for the mage and his forces to 'turtle.'
 

TheDelphian

Explorer
The idea with simulacrum is nothing prevents it from casting the spell. So hence army.

I like Golems for wizard thugs. Thematic and usually fun.

Summoned help and magical traps work fairly well too depending on prep time f the enemy.
 

THEMNGMNT

Adventurer
Enemy spellcasters don't have to follow the same rules as PCs. In my current 15th level campaign, the BBEG wizard has an infinite army of clones with a hivemind, plus the ability to hold Concentration on multiple spells simultaneously. I haven't done this personally, but I would consider also letting him cast multiple spells on his turn, or gain legendary actions, or both. Maybe he can't be counterspelled. Etc.
 


THEMNGMNT

Adventurer
I think the flavor of minions depend on the theme of the spellcaster. For example, there are a lot of solid undead for a necromancer -- especially creatures that can drop players to 0 hp like a banshee or a bodak. Evokers could partner with elementals and genie. Golems are always good. Demons and devils are great, too.
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Man, I was excited by the idea of an army of simulacrum-created dupes until I read this in the spell description:

...
I rule that a simulacrum cannot create a copy of an individual that already has a simulacrum nor can they make a simulacrum of themselves because they do not qualify (they are not beast or humanoid, they are illusionary creatures).

Alternatively, the simulacrum has half the HP of the original caster, then the next version has 1/4 and so on until you get to 1 HP caster. Which, I guess could be interesting.

However, there have been never-ending threads about this. My ruling may be a house rule, it just far too much of a loophole if allowed.
 

pogre

Hero
I rule that a simulacrum cannot create a copy of an individual that already has a simulacrum nor can they make a simulacrum of themselves because they do not qualify (they are not beast or humanoid, they are illusionary creatures).

Alternatively, the simulacrum has half the HP of the original caster, then the next version has 1/4 and so on until you get to 1 HP caster. Which, I guess could be interesting.

However, there have been never-ending threads about this. My ruling may be a house rule, it just far too much of a loophole if allowed.
I hear ya'. However, I need dirty tricks. And, since I am kind of stingy with treasure the material costs for the components is significant (1,500 GP in gems I think) that would slow my players down from using the same tactics.

Wait a second, I think I'll have the PCs find out that the bad guy has purchased all of the rubies available in the kingdom over the last several months.

Kills two birds with one stone! Helps my bad guy and limits the players from using the same trick too much!
 

pogre

Hero
You folks who have designed high level encounters and adventures more than me - is there a way I could leave a clue that the bad guy, once vanquished, has a hidden clone?

The spell reads:
The original creature's physical remains, if they still exist, become inert and can't thereafter be restored to life, since the creature's soul is elsewhere.
Sort of the PCs trying to restore the mage for some bizarre reason, how can I leave a clue that this has happened?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I stick by my simulacrum ruling because if the NPCs can do it then PCs can do and sooner or later it will come back to bite me.

However, I agree with @THEMNGMNT, the NPCs can have access to things the PCs don't. So I'd create golem replicas that he's pre-programmed spells into. So smaller spell list, any other special abilities or resistances that I want. Probably make them look a little "odd" on close inspection and crumble to dust when killed.

Although I do like the idea of the hive mind as well - do they chant "assimilate" as they march forward? Maybe "resistance is futile?" ;)

For the clone I think you'll have to leave clues. Something along the lines of dying words "this isn't over yet" or evil BBEG gloating that gives away the secret "You may defeat me, but I will return" kind of thing.
 

THEMNGMNT

Adventurer
In my campaign, I didn't leave clues about the clone. Bad guy showed up, players killed him, high fives all around. Next adventure, same bad guy shows up again. Players get a puzzled look, then kill him, high fives all around. Next adventure, same bad guy shows up for a third time. Players say, "What the....?" Then they kill him. Then they get to investigating what the heck is going on. Now they're deep in his laboratory trying to find the self destruct sequence for the clone banks.
 

dave2008

Legend
What are the limitations your are putting on the NPC mage? Can it be like Acererak in ToA and have at-will spells through 3rd level? Can you deck it out with magic items? Can you give it supernatural gifts and/or epic boons from the DMG. If the bold options are possibilities, I have some beefed up magic users in my 5e Epic Updates: Humanoids that will at least allow it to last longer.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
pogre said:
Obviously, I need help with high level dirty tricks!
Sounds fun! B-) A few ideas...

Imprisonment Contingencies: What if this archmage was the former "defense against the dark arts" teacher who cast imprisonment on several of the Mage University's worst enemies, trapping them on the university grounds? And what if he worked a "back door" causing the imprisonment spells to be broken one-at-a-time under specific conditions? What if he'd "broken the code" allowing for the casting of multiple contingency spells on himself? You could have unique contingencies worded thus, for example:

"When the death ward affecting me is triggered or dispelled, the imprisonment spell I cast upon Kabalth-Durim, the wastrilith bound to the university's fountain, will end."

"When my Fourth Glyph of Warding in the Western Wing's Stained Glass Gallery overlooking the flying buttress facing Dundamere is triggered or dispelled, I am protected by mirror image and the imprisonment spell I cast upon the death knight Revander, binding him to the very brick and mortar of the Grand Foyer, will end."

Thunder Gate Combo: This is a pretty fanatical / desperate move and assumes you don't already have a plan for the archmage's 9th level spell (e.g. foresight)...

The archmage opens a gate to a realm of unspeakable horrors right behind the PCs, and his apprentices (possibly using the Ready action) cast a whole bunch of thunderwave spells (ideally after the PCs are peppered with bane by an allied bard or cleric first) to force them through the gate. Now the PCs are faced with the choice of leaping through the gate but be pursued by the hordes of the Abyss (or wherever) or holding the line against the hordes of extraplanar monsters and trying to organize a withdrawal back to the Material Plane.

This becomes more complicated if the PCs have a hair-trigger NPC ally who is gunning for the archmage, and risks disrupting his concentration on the gate, potentially stranding the PCs in the Abyss (or wherever).

The Final Lesson: Until this coup, the archmage was playing the part of a magic professor, right? You know all those spells with a "if you cast this spell every day (or every 7 days) for a year, it becomes permanent" clause? He's been planning for this. The coup begins with his final lesson demonstrating the guards and wards spell. The spell becomes permanent! His co-conspirators are immune and/or know the password to evade the spell's effects, but everyone else is screwed. Personally, I like setting up the two magic mouths from guards and wards to trigger otherwise obviously avoidable glyphs of wardings, casting thunderwave along a narrow hall lined with stained glass overlooking a precipitous fall, showering the PCs with glass shards and defenestrating one or more... a PC can cast shield or feather fall, but not both. YMMV. ;)

Pairing the heavily obscured foggy corridors (created by the guards and wards) with several invisible stalkers seeking out specific high-value targets would be thematically apropos.

The main enemy is a mage who has engineered a coup in the Mages' University and is working to take over the realm itself. He has access to a couple of apprentices. The problem is a 20th level mage even with a shield guardian are going to be a speed bump for this group - Even if I add in a couple of high level apprentices. I would like to make the epic challenge, well, epic.

Please give me suggestions.

What allies should the rebel mage have? Where do the PCs need to confront him?

This is not a 'gotcha' encounter - I just want it to be interesting and tense.

Thanks for helping me!
To orchestrate a successful coup, the archmage is going to need more than "a couple of apprentices." He needs sympathetic allies in as many sectors of society as he can get – civil administrators / bureaucrats, at least one branch of the military, temples or religious figureheads, etc.

I'd say if he doesn't have a 1/3rd to a 1/2 of the mages in the Mages' University backing his coup, then he needs to be drawing on outside assistance from his allies in the military, temples, government, etc.

My point being: This isn't a smash-and-grab job. The point at which the archmage is taking violent action against the ruling council in the Mages' University indicates that he's confident enough in his support base to hold power after the violent coup.

That's really important to consider.

You folks who have designed high level encounters and adventures more than me - is there a way I could leave a clue that the bad guy, once vanquished, has a hidden clone?

The spell reads:

Sort of the PCs trying to restore the mage for some bizarre reason, how can I leave a clue that this has happened?
  • A scar on the dead archmage's left inner arm where 1 cubic inch of flesh was stripped away in order to cast the clone spell.
  • Several spell components from a particular seaside town known for its pristine saltwater "healing" pools. Hinting at archmage's purchase of saltwater for the clone spell.
  • In the aftermath, his apprentices sneak in to cast raise dead on the corpse, but... it doesn't work. Maybe the PCs are called in when the apprentices seal themselves in the archmage's tomb, and while confronting them, the apprentices (and the PCs) realize the resurrection isn't working. Figuring out why could lead to investigation... scar on inner arm... archmage recently commissioned a dwarven craftsman to make an expensive jeweled man-sized urn... his favorite staff was no longer tipped with a diamond... Arcana/Investigation checks and/or divination to put the pieces together.
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
Man, I was excited by the idea of an army of simulacrum-created dupes until I read this in the spell description:

Still, a very cool spell I will be using!

Also looking at contingency - are there other prep spells the powerful mage could have ready? Keep in mind, the mage is involved in a very active plot to take over or destroy a mages' university and take over the PCs' native land - it is not really in the cards for the mage and his forces to 'turtle.'
So, you want an army if simulacrums? RAW? You can have it, you know? In fact, once you have the first one, you can create (literally) thousands of them a day.

The wizard (with Wish prepared) creates a simulacrum (A). He doesn't cast it again, so his simulacrum is not destroyed.
The simulacrum (A) uses Wish to create a simulacrum (B) of the wizard (who still has Wish BTW). The simulacrum (A) doesn't cast it again, so its simulacrum (B) is not destroyed.
The second simulacrum (B) uses WISH to create a simulacrum (C) of the wizard (who, again, still has *Wish). Simulacrum (B) doesn't cast it again, so (C) is not destroyed.
And so on...

With 600 rounds in an hour, that is 600 simulacrums per hour, or over 7,000 by the end of day 1 (12 hours to cast the first simulacrum spell, and then 6 seconds per wish spell).

By then, the original Wizard finishes a long rest, has his 7th level spell back, so all future simulacrums have both 7th level spells. All the first "editions" so to say, are lacking a 7th and 9th level spell. The later editions are only missing their 9th level spells.

So, in case anyone contests this is not RAW, here is the section of the spell that might come in question:
1594087877036.png

And you just have to note, neither the original wizard nor any of the simulacrums as casting the spell again. Only once each (the wizard actually casting simulacrum, the rest using their wishes for it), none of them cast the spell twice. So, none of the simulacrums are destroyed.

That's it. Simple and effective. An army of archmages, and if you have the wizard wait until after a long rest, all the duplicates (but the first) are only missing their 9th level spell, but have all the rest.

Not bad and completely RAW.
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
I rule that a simulacrum cannot create a copy of an individual that already has a simulacrum nor can they make a simulacrum of themselves because they do not qualify (they are not beast or humanoid, they are illusionary creatures).

Alternatively, the simulacrum has half the HP of the original caster, then the next version has 1/4 and so on until you get to 1 HP caster. Which, I guess could be interesting.

However, there have been never-ending threads about this. My ruling may be a house rule, it just far too much of a loophole if allowed.
By RAW you cannot create a simulacrum of a simulacrum (for the reasons you say) so there is no need to rule it that way, it is already done.

And, although I showed how you can abuse the RAW version, I also house-ruled it that you cannot create a simulacrum of a creature that already has a simulacrum in existence.
 

dave2008

Legend
By then, the original Wizard finishes a long rest, has his 7th level spell back, so all future simulacrums have both 7th level spells. All the first "editions" so to say, are lacking a 7th and 9th level spell. The later editions are only missing their 9th level spells.
And half the hit points ;)
 

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