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D&D 5E Final Boss (tm) for a level 11 campaign.

Hi guys !

From your play experience, is an Adult Red Dragon (CR 17 Legendary monster) strong enough to fight all alone against a solid (but not optimized) party of 4 level 11 PC et provide a fun and challenging experience ?
If it's not, wich (CR + Legendary) combinaison would be better suited ?

Thanks for your help :)
 

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dave2008

Legend
Hi guys !

From your play experience, is an Adult Red Dragon (CR 17 Legendary monster) strong enough to fight all alone against a solid (but not optimized) party of 4 level 11 PC et provide a fun and challenging experience ?
If it's not, wich (CR + Legendary) combinaison would be better suited ?

Thanks for your help :)
It depends, but that would be a tough challenge for my group.

Though if you need a more interesting challenge I will point you to my CR18 Red Dragon, Adult.
 

Such a fight is likely to be short and swingy. Either the dragon wins initiative and takes out at least one party member in round one, or it will be dead before the end of round two. Bad luck of two or more players failing their dragonfear saves could also lead to things going badly for the players.

I suggest giving the dragon spellcasting as per MM rules. Give it Shield and Counterspell. Don't put the fight in a location where the dragon can't fly out of reach, but makes sure it can use it's lair actions.

Hint to the players about countering the dragonfear if they haven't thought of that already.
 

akr71

Adventurer
The dragon is certainly tough enough, but if you take away its ability to get airborne, then you've severely weakened it from the get go. It is my opinion that a flying dragon out in the open is scarier that a less mobile one in its lair. If adventurers head into a dragon lair, they have an idea what they are up against - out in the open the dragon can just strafe, fly off and come back for another run when its breath weapon recharges, staying out of range as much as possible.

Has the party fought a dragon before (the characters, not the players)? Will they know to prepare for dragonfear?

You could always have them encounter the dragon out in the open - either they hear about an attack nearby or stumble upon it mid-attack. Whether it is attacking a town or merely poaching some cattle is irrelevant - the heroes run in to save the day - the dragon gets pissed off that it is interrupted, uses its breath weapon and flies off.

They can track it back to its lair with visions of immense piles of treasure filling their minds. If the party doesn't take the bait immediately, the survivors of the attack beg the heroes for help.
 

Thanks guys for the answers :)
Actually my question is more about the "Legendary C17 monster" and less about the "Adult Red Dragon" : i could have ask the same question about the Androsphinx, for example.

Is (CR17+Legendary) well balanced enough for a perfect climax (against 4 level 11 PC) ?
 

dave2008

Legend
Thanks guys for the answers :)
Actually my question is more about the "Legendary C17 monster" and less about the "Adult Red Dragon" : i could have ask the same question about the Androsphinx, for example.

Is (CR17+Legendary) well balanced enough for a perfect climax (against 4 level 11 PC) ?
Well to be clear, the Legendary aspect doesn't, in theory, make the monster anymore challenging.

So you are asking if a CR 17 monster is a sufficient challenge for (4) lvl 11 PCs. In general my answer is yes, but it does depend on a lot of things. Some monsters are tougher for some groups than others. Some DMs are better at using monsters than others. Some players are better at tactics and group synergy than others. Without being able to account for all of these factors it is hard to say precisely.

From my own experience: I was able to barely TPK a group of (6) lvl 10 PCs with a CR 19 balor, so I think CR 17 monster for your group should be a good challenge.
 

Challenge ratings are not a precise guide. For example, a dragon's breath weapon makes it relatively more dangerous against a larger party of lower level characters than against a small party of higher levels.

There is also a psychological factor to take into account. If you tell players they are fighting a dragon, they will throw everything they have at it. If you are telling them they are fighting a flying lion with a human head they may well hold back to see what it can do.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Well to be clear, the Legendary aspect doesn't, in theory, make the monster anymore challenging.
I get what you're saying, but I would advise against a solo combat the ends a campaign that does not feature legendary resistance. A single failed save ending the climax is ... boring.

As for whether this is a decent challenge? Deadly encounter XP threshold would be 14,400 XP. This is 18,000. If they are fully rested before hand, this will likely not be a TPK, although they might lose a PC or two. I'd do the following for an end of campaign encounter where I was aiming for "they will likely win, but realistically might lose"

1.) Add a time consideration that forces them to get to and defeat the beast without an additional rest. I'd have them be forced to go in and take it on without letting them optimize spells for the encounter, etc...
2.) Add two encounters before the Dragon, making sure both are 'high hard' in XP and not fast combats (larger numbers of 40+ hp monsters, creatures that can evade attacks and spells, etc...). This builds anticipation, and makes them consider how to use resources.
3.) Make it a spellcaster. 5 6th level or lower spells. (All of my dragons are spellcasters and get to apply a free metamagic from the sorcerer class to each spell, usually quicken, which makes them horribly scary as they should be, rather than a one trick pony).
 

Nebulous

Legend
I would have some minions in the wings in case you need to them to bump up the challenge at the end of the 1st round if it looks like things are going south fast for the dragon. If not, hold off and don't introduce them until when and if you might need to. And like others said, not giving the dragon the advantage of using its incredible flying speed to elude melee attackers is a detriment. In the same vein, if your party is heavily ranged and line of sight is all they need then the dragon will still have some trouble, so blocking line of sight would be another option, or invisibility or mirror image. Or, going back to the minions, have them attack while the dragon moves position.

Also, give the dragon some magic, like a ring of shield for a +5 bonus and it deflects magic missiles.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Such a fight is likely to be short and swingy. Either the dragon wins initiative and takes out at least one party member in round one, or it will be dead before the end of round two. Bad luck of two or more players failing their dragonfear saves could also lead to things going badly for the players.
So take a party member out. They pop back up, like moles.

If OP says, "an adult red dragon walks up from behind the hill. It has black horns on its head, and something is glittering around its sizeable neck," then he has free reign to fudge whatever he wants, because there is an obvious change from what the Monster Manual says. Suddenly, the dragon doesn't die/flee until the DM wants it to.

I get what you're saying, but I would advise against a solo combat the ends a campaign that does not feature legendary resistance. A single failed save ending the climax is ... boring.
If that's the first roll, sure it's boring. But if half an hour of combat leads up to it - pretty cool!
Bunny Easter GIF by Miley Cyrus
 

DeviousQuail

Explorer
IME that is a perfectly fine final boss as long as it's not a surprise to the party. If they have no idea it's coming then don't be surprised if a Legendary CR 17 runs roughshod over them. The caveat here is that this isn't the first encounter of the day and you as the DM play the boss like it wants to survive>win.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Thanks guys for the answers :)
Actually my question is more about the "Legendary C17 monster" and less about the "Adult Red Dragon" : i could have ask the same question about the Androsphinx, for example.

Is (CR17+Legendary) well balanced enough for a perfect climax (against 4 level 11 PC) ?
So, the thing to understand about CR is that it really only cares about how much damage the monster can deal in the number of turns it’s expected to be able to survive. The frame of reference the system is built around is one monster against 4 PCs of a level equal to its CR, dealing about a quarter of the party’s total HP in damage before it dies. Typically, that projection is based on its average damage over the course of 3 rounds, but some monsters deal higher damage and last fewer rounds, while others do less damage but last more rounds.

A CR 17 monster, then, can be expected to deal roughly a quarter of a 4-person, level 17 party’s health in the time it’s expected that such a party will take to kill that monster. Having Legendary Actions doesn’t typically affect its CR, unless those Legendary Actions allow it to survive more rounds or to deal more damage on average over the course of the number of rounds it’s expected to survive.

How does this translate to a fight against a level 11 party? Well, kind of awkwardly. The amount of damage the monster can deal is going to be a fair bit higher relative to the party’s total HP, which means a very high risk of randomly one-shotting a character on a lucky roll. Additionally, there are certain levels where party average DPR spikes. Those levels are 3rd, 5th, 11th, and 17th. So, putting a party of 11th level characters against a CR 17 monster means their average DPR is going to be significantly lower than the CR system expects it to be. So the monster has a high chance of being able to survive an extra round, or maybe two if the players roll poorly.

Now, it sounds to me like what you’re looking for is a challenging but fair fight, and in my opinion, simply putting the party against a single monster that’s several CR above their level isn’t likely to deliver that. Either the party will get lucky with their rolls, in which case the monster won’t be a huge challenge for them, or they’ll get unlucky (or if the monster will get lucky) and they’ll get curb stomped. There isn’t a lot of middle-ground.

If what you want is a challenge that is tough, but not so swingy, you would be better off using a boss monster closer to the party’s CR (between 9 and 13, probably) and give it minions that are well below their CR. That will increase the total damage output on the monster’s side, without putting the boss monster’s damage output high enough that you risk accidentally one-shotting anyone on a lucky roll, and it will keep the number of turns the boss itself can be expected to survive when the party focuses fire on them in that 2-4 range, while providing speed bumps in the form of those weaker monsters, which will more likely only survive one or two hits.
 


Hi guys !

From your play experience, is an Adult Red Dragon (CR 17 Legendary monster) strong enough to fight all alone against a solid (but not optimized) party of 4 level 11 PC et provide a fun and challenging experience ?
If it's not, wich (CR + Legendary) combinaison would be better suited ?

Thanks for your help :)

How many encounters have they had that day, and what magic items do they possess?
 

THEMNGMNT

Adventurer
Lots of good advice here.

In my experience, 11th level PCs are extremely resilient. I'm confident that they can defeat a CR17 red dragon. It's even possible they'll do so quickly and easily. I think the challenge for you is to find ways to extend the fight so that it's long enough to be satisfying. Definitely use legendary actions and lair actions. Consider using terrain in combination with a multi-stage fight.

For example, maybe the dragon's lair is in a volcanic cave. Each turn, something happens in the cave...an eruption of lava, a collapse of a stalactite, an earthquake. The cave itself is filled with crevasses, stone shelves, stalagmites and stalactites which give the dragon many places to strike from or take cover in. In the first phase, the dragon confronts the PCs at the front of its cave. When the dragon reaches half hit points, give it a special "bloodied" ability. For example, as a free action it can disengage and fly away without taking opportunity attacks...or it brings down the roof of the cave to knock all enemies prone while it flies off, etc. In the second phase, minions and allies swarm in from connecting passages. In the third and final phase, the dragon makes a last stand in the back of the cave, atop its treasure hoard, where the volcanic heat and gasses cause automatic, ongoing damage.

Each phase will be challenging for the players, but they'll get a chance to heal or buff in between phases if needed.
 

Stalker0

Legend
The amount of damage the monster can deal is going to be a fair bit higher relative to the party’s total HP, which means a very high risk of randomly one-shotting a character on a lucky roll.
So this is where 5e's HP cushion really comes into play. In order to one shot a PC, once its at 0 you have to deal damage equal to its HP or higher. So an 11th level wizard, assuming a +2 con (which I have found pretty typical in my games), has 68 hp, not factoring in spells like false life or aid, etc.

The breath weapon of a 17th level dragon does 63 damage on average, assuming a failed save. So if a character is fully knocked out, then the dragon has a chance to kill it in one shot (roughly 27% as a matter of fact). Now if the character has any hp remaining before the attack, or has any basic protection magics to give a little temp hp....then the wizard will be down but just fine. Example just adding the 5 hp from Aid reduces the instant kill chance (and this is assuming the PC is already down) to about 10%.

One shoting PCs is very hard at high levels even when they unconscious, and is basically impossible when they are half health or higher. The far deadly option is for the dragon to use its 3 attacks against an unconscious character. Each hit is an automatic death save, 2 on a crit....that's a far more reliable method than using a single big damaging attack.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
So this is where 5e's HP cushion really comes into play. In order to one shot a PC, once its at 0 you have to deal damage equal to its HP or higher. So an 11th level wizard, assuming a +2 con (which I have found pretty typical in my games), has 68 hp, not factoring in spells like false life or aid, etc.

The breath weapon of a 17th level dragon does 63 damage on average, assuming a failed save. So if a character is fully knocked out, then the dragon has a chance to kill it in one shot (roughly 27% as a matter of fact). Now if the character has any hp remaining before the attack, or has any basic protection magics to give a little temp hp....then the wizard will be down but just fine. Example just adding the 5 hp from Aid reduces the instant kill chance (and this is assuming the PC is already down) to about 10%.

One shoting PCs is very hard at high levels. The far deadly option is for the dragon to use its 3 attacks against an unconscious character. Each hit is an automatic death save, 2 on a crit....that's a far more reliable method than using a single big damaging attack.
Ah, sorry, I should have clarified that by “one shot” I meant bringing a character from max HP (or whatever HP they started the fight at) to 0 in one hit, not causing instant death by dealing Max HP damage to a character at 0 HP.
 

Stalker0

Legend
From my own experience: I was able to barely TPK a group of (6) lvl 10 PCs with a CR 19 balor, so I think CR 17 monster for your group should be a good challenge.
I'll also note that in my experience the number of players is a major force multiplier. I would argue that 6 lvl 10 PCs, all else being equal, are about 60% stronger than an equivalent level party with 4 players. That does very on the encounter, encounters with more area effects will favor a smaller and stronger party, where big bad scenarios favor lots of players with lots of actions.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Thanks guys for the answers :)
Actually my question is more about the "Legendary C17 monster" and less about the "Adult Red Dragon" : i could have ask the same question about the Androsphinx, for example.

Is (CR17+Legendary) well balanced enough for a perfect climax (against 4 level 11 PC) ?
Actually, the specific monster matters immensely.

Disclaimer: I have only run a handful of dragons (and a dracolich) in straight up combat in 5e, but I've played in a dragon-slaying series my friend DMed. And I've used dragons thematically and in roleplaying encounters (even an exploration encounter inside a dead dracolich) a whole lot.

One guideline I use as the "you must be this tall to safely enjoy the ride" bar... as my personal litmus test for whether a monster I'm thinking of using might be too powerful... is I look at the monsters damage output in a single turn (both single-target & area effect), and compare that to the average HP of the PCs.

If multi-target damage in one turn can reduce entire party of fresh PCs to 0 HP, that's a red flag.
Similarly, if single-target damage in one turn can reduce a fresh PC to dead (not dying, but dead), that's also a red flag.

So 11th PCs might have an average of 8+(10*5)+(11*1) hit points = 69 HP when fresh. That's a rough number to keep in mind.

An adult red dragon can breathe a 60-foot cone (conceivable getting the entire party) that deals 63 average damage on a failed save. It could almost, but not quite reduce the entire fresh part to 0 hit points in one turn.

However, if its breath weapon was a little closer to the average party HP (e.g. if you'd said a 10th level party, with average 63 HP), then I'd flag the monster as very possibly too powerful in an equal fight.

The adult red dragon's single-target damage in one turn is 26 bite + 15 claw + 15 claw = 56 damage. Probably not going to outright kill a fresh 11th level PC. Checks out.

An androsphinx isn't putting out the same kind of damage as a red dragon; instead its threat comes from more control abilities, game-changing banishment, superior mobility with freedom of movement & teleportation, and some seriously wild Lair Actions.

The androsphinx's flame strike is probably catching 2 PCs with its 10-foot radius, so 2*(8*3.5) = 56 damage. Less than the red dragon, and its not catching the whole party.

Whereas the androphinx's single-target damage, at 2*17 = 34 damage, is much lower than the dragon's.

As a closing thought, I'd encourage you to think holistically about your encounters in a way that goes deeper than comparing CR to level/number of PCs. For example, if the party relies on spells for magical flight to face flying monsters on more equal footing, then the red dragon is at a disadvantage, while the androsphinx (with dispel magic up its paw) suffers no disadvantage and might even turn the tables on the PCs with a nasty fall in store. That kind of thinking will be much more valuable to you than the CR system, at least, in my humble opinion.
 


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