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D&D General Do I need an attitude adjustment? (They're gonna nova the BBEG)


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Mod Note:

No excuse for an insulting poster, either. Keep it respectful.

Sorry to sound insulting. Wasnt my intention.

The point was that 'If the adventure is underwhelming, the DM is almost invariably the one at fault.'

A good adventure helps the DM, but a talented DM can make almost any adventure challenging and/or entertaining.
 

Ishhh...
Strahd isn't something you want to toy with.
With more than four players, I use this.

Single encounter big bad guys
Add 1 feat/ASI per 4 CR (save the first four)
Add 1 legendary action per PC above 4.
Multiply HP by 1 +0.25 per PC above 4.
Add 1.5 AC (round up) per PC above 4.

So Stradh becomes
AC: 22
HP: 288
Gets 7 legendary actions.
Would get 2 more ASI/feat. (you could add a third if your group is heavy on magical items).
I would give him Mage Slayer and Sentinel and any magical items he could wear to enhance his fighting abilities.

Change Strahd spell list to include Dispel Magic and Counter spell, Vampiric touch is a killer as it will heal strahd and potentialy enhance is self healing (with the sentinel feat). Having it cast at 5th level makes for 5d6 damage on an unarmed strike.

Have him use his passwall legendary ability.
Make him concentrate his attacks on the group's healer(s)
Have him use minions like bat swarms to hinder the group.
Put off the lights.
And make him retreat when half his HP are down. 7 rounds (3 with an unmodified Strahd) and:"Heeeeeeeeeeee's baaaaaaaack!"

Players should be affraid of Strahd.
I used these tactics on three different groups. (and one was an unmodified Strahd). They all had a hard time. The third group was at the hobby store and complained that Strahd had been too easy. I offered to re enact the battle to show them. They were a prepared group but chose to fight Strahd during the night without the Symbol of Ravenkind... I TPKed them easily and they could not accuse me of cheating. I roll on the open.

If you use Strahd as a headon fight with no tactical retreats, even with my modifications, he will be an easy fight. Strahd is not there to play fair, he will use every advantages he has to TPK your group and you should play him accordingly.
 

I think 8 PCs are a lot, but Srahd if he bothers can pick any number of PCs one by one. His lair actions are well. He can literally move through the walls of the castle, attack and disappear. He can close the doors, isolating a few PCs with magically closed doors. He can detach the shadow of someone or raise a dead spirit while within his castle. If he faces the PCs on their Terms, that is his own's fault.
The Tarroka Deck tells the players the one Situation where he will make his last stand, because they find him in quite a suicidal mood.
Otherwise, I can't imagine how 8 PCs will make a beeline out of his crypt.
 

nevin

Adventurer
In my experience once you get a party above 6 it gets hard to balance things and combat get real swingy. Player deaths become more common because as you add more to balance the encounters it's more likely one person may get hit with multiple things.

I do agree with that I can't imagine Strahd having a toe to toe fight with a powerful party. There's a reason he's been around so long. He's always been about surviving not winning.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Sigh. Never mind. I appreciate the willingness to help, but very few of you are actually answering the question I asked. :.-( This is why I didn't want to go into specifics about the adventure, because I had a feeling the thread would go this way.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
I'm in the process of wrapping up a campaign that has lasted all year, and I'm kind of dreading the last few sessions. I could use some outside perspective on what I need to do about that. I'm going to try to put this in general terms to start with, but I'm sure I'll leave out some important detail or other, so I'll add more detail if needed.

Note: I'm running a published adventure, so my options for reworking things are limited. But I'm not sure it matter much even if this were a homebrew, as we're at the stage where there isn't much for the PCs to learn; they just need to confront the BBEG.

My group is eight players--way too big, I know. I had my doubts about that from the start, but I thought I could stay on top of it by just making the fights tougher. That's had mixed success; but more importantly, I didn't anticipate the change in interpersonal dynamics the larger group would cause. About half the group used to game together decades ago, back in high school, and I feel like they're reverting to an immature mentality now that they're all together again. I've seen some of the original group change their playstyle with the return of these new people. They're much more prone to mouth off to the BBEG and generally act murderhoboish than they were when the group was smaller.

As of now, the PCs have entered the BBEG's domain, which is large. Their plan is to explore the place thoroughly and loot everything of value they can find, camping whenever they get low on resources (using Leomund's Tiny Hut). Then, when they feel like they've plundered all the good stuff, they'll take a long rest so they're fresh and then take on the big guy.

I had tried to set up a much more tense situation. I originally thought they would confront the BBEG sooner rather than later, and I'd envisioned a dramatic standoff with him that would bring in some character-specific plot threads that have been building for a while. I actually do think the players of the characters those threads would affect would enjoy having those threads become important, but they're caught up with the energy of these new folks and are now actively avoiding any situation that will make it easy for me to bring in these ideas. (For reasons that would take too long to explain, I can't make the BBEG come to them at this stage.)

Anyway, the main thing is that I feel like the players completely have the upper hand, and I'm not sure what is the best way to respond to that. How do I balance what's fun for my players with what's fun for me?

It's not that I want to kill PCs, but I'd like to make the climax of the campaign tense and memorable. I'd like the players to have to use abilities they don't usually have to pull out, and maybe be inventive sometimes. And yeah, I'd like for the bad guys to get some good hits in, to show off their own abilities and make the situation seem serious. But then on the other hand, it seems like players always remember combats as more tense than they look from my side of the screen, so maybe I'm overestimating the importance of that aspect.

I know that getting attached to the idea of specific scenes happening is always dangerous, but do I try to salvage any of the showdown I'd hoped for, or do I just let it go?

Do I try to make things harder for them? Try to bring back some of the roleplay? Or is that me trying to impose my will and take away their fun?

How do I psych myself up to run a BBEG who's going to go down like an absolute chump when confronted with eight fresh PCs? I'm actively hating the thought right now, but maybe I just need to get over myself and learn to like it. I remember someone saying that the goal of being a DM is not to win, but to lose with style. I'm just not sure even how to do that when I feel so completely outmatched.

Sorry for the long post. Any thoughts or advice will be carefully considered.
Gather the big bad and his minions around their tiny hut. Dispel the hut, before the PCs have recharged. Big battle.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Sigh. Never mind. I appreciate the willingness to help, but very few of you are actually answering the question I asked. :.-( This is why I didn't want to go into specifics about the adventure, because I had a feeling the thread would go this way.

Well, your original post basically boiled down to "How do I psych myself up to run a BBEG who's going to go down like an absolute chump".

The answer is - you don't. Strahd isn't designed to be a brute. If you try to run him like one or if you aren't willing to modify the mod to a level appropriate to the number of players you have then there is no answer. As the stat block for Strahd says, "you must play him intelligently and do everything you can to make him a terrifying and cunning adversary for the player characters."

In addition, I always beef up my legendary creatures a bit if I have more than 4 characters because monsters are designed to work best with that number of PCs.

I'm not sure what you want - if you want a tougher encounter you're going to have to make modifications. If you are unwilling or unable to reduce the PC's threat level through resource attrition, you have to do it by using different tactics, adding more monsters and/or buffing the bad guys. Not sure what other options there even could be.
 

jgsugden

Legend
To answer the specific question: How do you balancer your fun with the player fun?

You're in a relationship with your players. In a good relationship, you want to make your partner(s) happy, and find joy in making that happen. Sometimes you need to sacrifice your preferences to make sure that things are good for your partner(s).

That being said, if you're sacrificing too much, perhaps it isn't the right relationship and you need to rethink it and try a different approach, such as not being the DM, playing a different campaign that better suits your desires, or otherwise creating more opportunities for fun.

I'd handle this situation by:

1.) Let them wrap it up with a big win. They came up with a good strategy. Let the story play out and let them get their win. If the story naturally develops to give them more challenges - great! If not, they'll lament that the BBEG wasn't as much of a challenge as they expected ... but they'll likely do it with a smug smile trying to escape.

2.) It sounds like you're not enjoying the railroad of a published adventure. I find a lot of DMs get frustrated trying to keep players 'on track', so I'd recommend getting off the track. In the future, if you're going to get a published adventure, try approaching it as a place setting, and not a script. Let the published materials give you the starting position for the story, but spend no effort keeping the PCs on track. Let them go off the rails and mix things up, sidestep things, or explore areas not listed. Heck, they may abandon the main storyline. Let them and play in the Sandbox. I've run one published adventure path with three different DMs. One stayed close to script while the other two went wildly off script to the point that I could barely recognize the later chapters. I had a blast in all three, and the DMs all enjoyed themselves.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Sigh. Never mind. I appreciate the willingness to help, but very few of you are actually answering the question I asked. :.-( This is why I didn't want to go into specifics about the adventure, because I had a feeling the thread would go this way.
If you mean the question you bolded in your OP, the answer is to do something to the situation that will increase your fun without completely torpedoing their fun. If that means having Strahd harass or confront them rather than let them slow roll through his castle's crypts, then do it. If you aren't having fun with the possibility of him going down like a chump, stop having him act like a chump.

Sometimes it's perfectly appropriate for the BBEG to go down like a chump - usually because the players have worked hard to get there and set it up. But it doesn't feel as good if they're cake-walking or crypt-farming their way toward it. Make it more climactic.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
One other thing to note. Get feedback from your players. Find out if they're having fun or if they're bored. While I don't like cakewalks (nor would I enjoy a grindhouse campaign), different people play for different reasons. I try to celebrate the wins of my players just as much as they do.

You can talk to them directly, solicit answers offline or even set up an anonymous survey. I've started playing around with ranked voting for campaign direction, it's anonymous and free. That way we don't have one person dominating the conversation and always getting their way.

Good luck.
 

matskralc

Explorer
Sigh. Never mind. I appreciate the willingness to help, but very few of you are actually answering the question I asked. :.-( This is why I didn't want to go into specifics about the adventure, because I had a feeling the thread would go this way.

I think the discussion went to "well, this is how I would amp up the challenge" because nobody here knows what you should do. That's a DM/player dynamics question that can only be answered by you having a discussion with your group in which you lead off by asking "would this be more fun for you guys if it was more challenging? I know I'm not having a ton of fun right now".

Edit to add: you don't have to read far between the lines of the OP to discern the problem. New players to the group have the group playing the game in a way that the OP doesn't enjoy. That problem isn't solved with doom clocks, re-statting BBEGs, or a careful consideration of monster tactics.
 
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jayoungr

Legend
Well, your original post basically boiled down to "How do I psych myself up to run a BBEG who's going to go down like an absolute chump".
Because the players have gained control.

The answer is - you don't. Strahd isn't designed to be a brute. If you try to run him like one or if you aren't willing to modify the mod to a level appropriate to the number of players you have then there is no answer.
If I gave the impression that I'm not willing to modify, then that was a mistake. I am absolutely willing to modify the difficulty and in fact have got a tougher version that I'm planning on using. But I don't have a lot of confidence in my own ability to make any solo monster versus eight fresh PCs with all their nova abilities into a compelling fight. I was hoping to have some additional encounters to soften them up before that.

One other thing to note. Get feedback from your players. Find out if they're having fun or if they're bored. While I don't like cakewalks (nor would I enjoy a grindhouse campaign), different people play for different reasons. I try to celebrate the wins of my players just as much as they do.
At least one of them has told me they find combat challenging enough. It looks easy from my side of the screen, but as I said in the original message, players apparently find it more tense because they don't know the statblocks. It is true that they never seem to take much damage, though, largely because the party has a glamour bard with catnap (read: free movement and 40 HP spread across the party every round, regained with a ten-minute rest).
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Anyway, the main thing is that I feel like the players completely have the upper hand, and I'm not sure what is the best way to respond to that. How do I balance what's fun for my players with what's fun for me?

The main thing in my view is to redefine what is "fun for you." My criteria for this is that the players had the agency to do what they wanted within the constraints of the game and the existing fiction and that a story was created as a result of playing. "A story" not "the story I wanted to tell." I try my best not to imagine what the outcomes will be. Sometimes the story is a dramatic confrontation where the PCs barely pull off a victory. Sometimes the story is that they slap down the villain and steal his loot. The fun for me is finding out which outcome it is, regardless.
 

matskralc

Explorer
But I don't have a lot of confidence in my own ability to make any solo monster versus eight fresh PCs with all their nova abilities into a compelling fight.
You shouldn't. Nobody should.

Solo monsters are near impossible to run in 5E against a "normal" sized party of four. Against eight, the action economy advantage will absolutely wreck you. Lair actions and legendary actions can only go so far. If you've got eight fully-rested level 10 PCs, I wouldn't even consider engaging with anything less than Strahd, a CR 10 lieutenant, and a handful of CR 4-6 minions. That's well beyond a deadly fight, but still only roughly half of the daily budget. If the PCs are resting up and preparing, then so is the BBEG.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Because the players have gained control.


If I gave the impression that I'm not willing to modify, then that was a mistake. I am absolutely willing to modify the difficulty and in fact have got a tougher version that I'm planning on using. But I don't have a lot of confidence in my own ability to make any solo monster versus eight fresh PCs with all their nova abilities into a compelling fight.
I don't know what timeline you're on or other details, I've never even run the campaign even though I purchased the monsters in DndBeyond because I plan on having a potential enemy in my campaign being a vampire.

Having said that, I think you've boxed yourself in a bit unnecessarily. It doesn't need to be a single fight against one BBEG, and I agree that a solo (in any edition) will always be difficult to set up as a challenge. So the question seems to be, how do you change the scenario to be a challenge?

If you want to take the game time, set up a scenario where there is significant attrition of resources. You can't change what's happened but set up a scenario where they have to have multiple fights without a rest. It can be as simple as "You go to rest but nightmares stop you from getting any rest." If they try to leave every time they go out the door they find themselves just walking back into the castle. Another option is to use a doomsday clock where they simply don't have time to rest. It may well mean however that you need to make secret caverns under the castle and generate new encounters.

Alternatively give Strahd a bunch of minions. In particular, give him a minion made to look like him that they attack and after a round or so have reinforcements appear. They could come out of secret doors, teleport in or perhaps they were just invisible. Be sure to have them come from multiple directions so that everyone feels threatened. After they're softened up a bit, have Strahd come in and start attacking the most vulnerable.

Set up challenges other than killing Strahd that requires people to do something other than fight the vampire. A side ritual is going to sacrifice a bunch of kids and if it completes Strahd will gain immense power. The group can't focus on both threats.

Or ... just cheat. Well, not cheat, but get creative. Set up a mirror house that splits the party into two different groups. Have each group fight a mirror copy Strahd. This might be a bit tough to run, I'd recommend doing one full round for group A and then switch over to group B. Personally I think this could be a lot of fun, especially if after defeating the "mirror" versions of Strahd they have to face the real thing.

Remember, Strahd isn't just a vampire, this is his domain. You certainly don't have to let the players do whatever they please and you don't have to follow the mod.

Personally I prefer smaller groups, and would never run a game with 8 players other than for a one-shot so I understand the challenge. But another thing to remember is that setting up difficult challenges does not mean you have an adversarial relationship with your players, overcoming difficult challenges is part of the fun for most people.
 

TheSword

Legend
If you want to be really cruel... while one half group is playing have the other. Create characters that are three levels lower than the PCs no magic items. Standard points buy. Get them to summarize them for you AC, Hp, Stats, Saves, Feats, damage and to hit on a standard attack, 3 go to spells. Have the other half do the same while they’re waiting. Suggest these might be back up characters if they die.

Then when they meet Strahd have some or all of those characters be his charmed slaves. Fighting in his defense. Previous heroes who bowed to his will!

Lol.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
Anyway, the main thing is that I feel like the players completely have the upper hand, and I'm not sure what is the best way to respond to that. How do I balance what's fun for my players with what's fun for me?

It's not that I want to kill PCs, but I'd like to make the climax of the campaign tense and memorable. I'd like the players to have to use abilities they don't usually have to pull out, and maybe be inventive sometimes. And yeah, I'd like for the bad guys to get some good hits in, to show off their own abilities and make the situation seem serious. But then on the other hand, it seems like players always remember combats as more tense than they look from my side of the screen, so maybe I'm overestimating the importance of that aspect.

I know that getting attached to the idea of specific scenes happening is always dangerous, but do I try to salvage any of the showdown I'd hoped for, or do I just let it go?

Do I try to make things harder for them? Try to bring back some of the roleplay? Or is that me trying to impose my will and take away their fun?

How do I psych myself up to run a BBEG who's going to go down like an absolute chump when confronted with eight fresh PCs? I'm actively hating the thought right now, but maybe I just need to get over myself and learn to like it. I remember someone saying that the goal of being a DM is not to win, but to lose with style. I'm just not sure even how to do that when I feel so completely outmatched.

Sorry for the long post. Any thoughts or advice will be carefully considered.

To balance competing interests, look for areas of common ground and see what fits in that territory. Identify must-haves and nice-to-haves, and then make sure the must-haves are included.

I think you can definitely salvage some of the scenes you’ve pre-written, but likely not As Written. Probably, you can tease out the essential elements of those scenes and turn the key moment into a bullet-point. (Keep a list of these bullet points).

Now, your players are going to want to rely on their plan A (hunker in a hut and come out guns blazing). So there should be opportunity for that to happen. They also want to talk some smack, it seems to me, so there should be an opportunity to do that too.

I think if you re-cast the scenario, you don’t have to worry about the chump-thumping. One avenue that occurs to me is to protract the scene into 3 to 5 different encounters in which performance in the early encounters affects the final showdown in the last encounter. Then I’d use those encounters to drop in the bullet-point must-haves.

If I were psyching myself up and reimagining the showdown, it might look like a pursuit of strahd up a tower, each level locking behind the party so they can’t retreat. And it’s not “can you beat strahd?” It’s more like “can you beat strahd 3 to 5 times?” So the nova strat works out well at first, but as they move up the tower, they have to dig deeper to get those victories. So the sub-strahd bosses are perhaps his shadows and each has strahd’s stat block but a preferred strategy based on his abilities and accounting for your must-haves (legendary resistance turns into legendary power - grants the shadow an automatic success on whatever ability it is using). Defeating each shadow drops the key to the next floor and the wedding is at the top.

I’d do the strahd shadow encounters like this:
1st encounter - Beasts. The Shadow takes Strahd’s bat form and also summons some swarms of bats. Legendary Power affects his Bite Attacks when used. (Use the encounter space to drop in your must-have RP stuff. Strahd’s disembodied voice can do a lot go back-and-forth with the players).
2nd encounter - Charm. The next Shadow uses Charm (Legendary Power, if needed).
3rd encounter - Predator. The next Shadow uses Greater Invisibility, Spider Climb, and Multi-Attack.
4th encounter - Spells. The next Shadow focuses on Strahd’s Spellcasting. Make sure to use fog cloud, blight, and all 3 fireballs.
5th encounter - Strahd. By now, your 8 players have run a decent gauntlet of all your must-have scenes/RP encounters, have either used their nova strategy or played to conserve some firepower, and depending on how fast they did it all, they either catch Strahd during the wedding (so he’s surprised) or late (so he has some wolves summoned and some spells up). I’d also let him cast Animate Dead on any fallen PCs as a legendary action.
(This is all just by way of example. There are probably hundreds of ways to push your party off of plan A).

Anyway, the protracted encounter(s) would give you the room you need to balance the fun. And instead of a blowout there’d be a decent attrition before a final showdown. And you have the time to do the stuff you wanted to do. It might not be exactly how you envisioned, but it could still have a lot of what you’d planned.
 

Argyle King

Legend
He isn't. The "revised version" literally changed about four sentences, mostly to remove references to Vistani characters' current levels of sobriety.

Thanks for the info.

Further thoughts: The last group I played through Strahd with approached things from the perspective that most of the NPC
Strahd has a variable difficulty. He has the tools to wipe the floor with almost any party around 10th level, but that doesn't mean an individual GM will play him that way, or that it will be a satisfying climax for the party. But you can split the difference. I mean a wedding ceremony is just asking Strahd to cast seeming and make everyone who fails the save look like Strahd. Including the players. :D

The most recent group I played through the game with horribly stomped Strahd... like it wasn't even close.

Part of that was due to a combo of lucky rolling and having a paladin who could dish out a ton of radiant. Critical smite in round 1 - followed by everyone saving against whatever it was that he had attempted. Offhand, I don't remember exactly what was attempted because it was a few years ago. But I do vaguely remember Strahd being crushed badly contrasting strangely with a near TPK against the jackal-headed thing.

I'm not sure that making other folks look like Strahd would have meant much to that party. The general consensus was that a large portion of the NPCs in the setting were kinda dbags. By the end, the group was somewhat apathetic toward doing anything other than murdering Strahd and leaving.
 

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