D&D 5E Is this encounter too difficult?

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I will admit my limitations with higher level play in 5e. Does this encounter seem too difficult? Not hard enough? It's designed for a party of level 14-15, with a good chance they will have had a long rest before entering the portal to this lair. Pardon the wall of text.

The Master Plotter’s Lair

The Master Plotter had chosen an abandoned mine to be used as their base of operations. They closed up the access tunnel so no unwelcome surprises would just wander in unannounced. Years prior, the mine was flooded after an underground aquifer was tapped into.

There are three ways in which one can gain entry into the Master Plotter’s lair: the magical portal from the Barrow, the Fey Circle, or clearing the rocks and debris from the tunnel. Due to the progression of the adventure, the most likely of these to be used by the party is the portal from the Barrow. The other entries will be described in more detail below.

With the exception of the magical portal in area 1, the area in this lair is dimly lit with heavy shadows all around. Area 1 glows brightly in red light. The pit itself descends into the darkness beyond most vision, finally ending in a pool of water 200 feet below. The water itself is only 20 feet deep, and is fed by underground passageways from a much larger aquifer. The water can mitigate falling damage, but only slightly. Any creature falling from the top level of the pit (areas 1 through 3) will suffer 15d6 points of bludgeoning damage, and any creature falling from the lower level (areas 4 and 5) will suffer 10d6 points of bludgeoning damage.

The walls of the pit are rough-hewn and can be climbed by succeeding on a DC 10 Athletics check each turn. Failure means the creature falls. The upper third of the pit, including the numbered areas, has walls covered with carved eyes of varying sizes and shapes. Many of these stone eyes will blink and follow the moving creatures they detect.


Master Plotter Lair Actions

The Master Plotter gains certain lair actions while they are not incapacitated and while they remain in their lair. The lair actions can occur anywhere within the lair. On initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties), The Master Plotter takes a lair action to cause one of the following effects. They can't use the same effect two rounds in a row:

  • One of the eyes along the walls or ceiling emits a cone of dim purple light in a 60 ft. cone. This cone reveals any hidden or invisible creature within the area of effect.
  • Any eye detaches from the wall. Use the Eyeling stat for this creature. Up to six eyelings can be active at any time.
  • A 5 ft. section of the bridge or wooden planks breaks free.
  • A 5 ft. radius area is overcome by violent shaking. Any creature within this area of effect must succeed on a DC 17 Dexterity saving throw or be shifted 5ft in a random direction and fall prone.
  • A gust of wind rushes upward out of the darkness, extinguishing any non-magical flame and dispersing any vapor, cloud, or smoke in the lair.


The Master Plotter Tactics

Unless the party has been exceptionally stealthy, chances are that the Master Plotter is aware of them, either from telepathic communications with Emile, or from the eyes in the barrow. If they have had at least five minutes to prepare, they will be accompanied by six eyelings and will have any magical precautions and defenses up, preferring to stay hidden in the shadows at area 3, where they will wait for the party to enter the fragile wooden pathway before launching an attack. This attack will be with the goal of sending the PCs to their deaths deep within the pit.

Once combat is fully engaged, they will try to remain as mobile as possible, using hit and run tactics on the party. If reduced to zero or fewer hit points, or if pushed into the pit where they fall into darkness, they will undergo a transformation and shift to their second form (a large sized singular floating eye).

eyeling.png

master plotter, 1st form.png

master plotter, 2nd form.png

bottomless pit web.jpg

bottomlesspit2.png

master plotter web.png
 
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Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
Can I suggest an action for the M.P ?

Stolen Sight: As a action the M.P steal the sight of a creature it can see within 60 ft and makes it its own. The creature must make a CHA save or is blinded until the effect ends or after 1 minute has passed. The creature can try the save again at the end of each of their turn. While the creature is blinded, the M.P can see and cast spells as if it was in the character space instead of its own.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Can I suggest an action for the M.P ?

Stolen Sight: As a action the M.P steal the sight of a creature it can see within 60 ft and makes it its own. The creature must make a CHA save or is blinded until the effect ends or after 1 minute has passed. The creature can try the save again at the end of each of their turn. While the creature is blinded, the M.P can see and cast spells as if it was in the character space instead of its own.
That's a great idea!
 

ad_hoc

(he/they)
We don't know how many PCs there are. 6 are roughly twice as powerful as 4 so this is very important information.

It's extremely hard to balance an encounter for a 1 encounter/long rest day. Which is why the game isn't designed for it.

A CR 12 encounter followed by a CR 14 encounter is not going to challenge a level 14 party. The CR 1/2 creatures don't count for increasing the difficulty. Looks like an interesting start to an adventuring day but not a climactic one.
 

ad_hoc

(he/they)
Looking at the 1st form I'm not sure of the calculation but I wouldn't call that CR 12 by glancing at it.

117hp with 15AC is going down in 1 round.

A level 15 fighter with a +2 weapon only misses on a 1 or 2.

6 attacks with the action surge, maybe 1 more with a bonus action.

If they are dueling then their attacks do 1d8+5+2+2 = 13.5

13.5 * 6 = 81.

A Battlemaster has 6 d10 superiority dice. If they spent all of them that is 33 dmg.

It would not be uncommon for a 15th level Fighter to single handedly take it out in 1 round by spending their short rest resources. It has strong defenses against spellcasters but is essentially defenseless against martial attackers.
 

Agree with the others on here. It's much too weak for 14th/ 15th level PCs.

It's 2 Easy encounters back to back.

So effectively it's two of these in a row:

Easy. An easy encounter doesn’t tax the characters’ resources or put them in serious peril. They might lose a few hit points, but victory is pretty much guaranteed.


Also bear in mind CR 12 then a CR 14 is barely 1/4 of an Adventuring day for PCs of that level, so they will nova the crap out of it.

They would destroy this encounter without breaking a sweat, likely inside of a few rounds.

---------------

Suggestions:

A single encounter of CR 20 is a 'Hard encounter' (not even Deadly) for PCs of 15th level, and even then it's only 1/3 of the expected XP for that adventuring day.

Increase your creatures AC, HP, DPR, saves etc to a CR 20 (first form), and then a CR 22 for its secondary form and then it's more of a credible threat.

The forms as they are have far too low of an AC, and far too few HP, and dont do enough damage, and dont pose any threat to those PCs.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Looking at the 1st form I'm not sure of the calculation but I wouldn't call that CR 12 by glancing at it.

117hp with 15AC is going down in 1 round.

A level 15 fighter with a +2 weapon only misses on a 1 or 2.

6 attacks with the action surge, maybe 1 more with a bonus action.

If they are dueling then their attacks do 1d8+5+2+2 = 13.5

13.5 * 6 = 81.

A Battlemaster has 6 d10 superiority dice. If they spent all of them that is 33 dmg.

It would not be uncommon for a 15th level Fighter to single handedly take it out in 1 round by spending their short rest resources. It has strong defenses against spellcasters but is essentially defenseless against martial attackers.
Take the entire encounter in context. The environment for example.
 

Take the entire encounter in context. The environment for example.

It would get streamrolled mate. The encounter needs to be taken into context of the Adventuring day (its's the only encounter, effectively 2 easy encounters in a row).

Form 1 has 15 AC (at best) and 120 HP. One turn from a Sharpshooter Fighter (action surge, 6 attacks, 1d8+15 damage, precise shot to land them all, or menacing strike to bump the damage by an extra +d10), and it's dead.

A Paladin nova smiting it, and then a Rogue finishing it off and it's also dead.

And that's inside half a round.

And the Casters havent even acted yet.
 

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
There was a CR 24-ish monster with an eye theme in Eberron: Rising from the Last War. I think it could be a good inspiration.
 

You need to remember, when looking at its stats, its effectiverely fighting this:

The PCs:
Medium humanoid, LJ (Leeroy Jenkins) alignment
HP: 500
AC: 20
Saves, +10 to all.
Condition immunities: All (see below)

Special: The PCs get 5 turns every round; at Initiative counts 20, 16, 12, 6 and 4. On each of these turns select one of the following actions. Once an action has been used, the PCs cant use it again till the same initiative count on the next round:

1) Fight! The PCs make 6 ranged attacks at +10, dealing 1d8+1d10+15 (25) damage on each attack that hits. Once the PCs have used this action, the number of attacks drops to 3 in subsequent rounds.
2) Wizard stuff: Pick any spell of 8th level or lower that appears on the Wizard spell list. The PCs cast this spell, ignoring concentration.
3) Holy wrath: Pick any spell of 8th level or lower that appears on the Cleric spell list. The PCs cast this spell, ignoring concentration.
4) Sneaky stab: The PCs makes a single melee attack with advantage at +10. If successful the attack deals 4d8+8d6+7 (50) damage.
5) Smite! The PCs make 2 melee attacks at +10, dealing 6d8+5 (35) damage on each hit. The PCs then cast greenflame blade as a bonus action, hitting at +10 and dealing 8d8+5 (40) damage on a hit.

For every 100 points of damage done to the PCs, they lose one of those extra turns (determined at random) and one of those actions (determined at random) until they receive any magical healing. In addition if the PCs fail a save that would have made them incapacitated or stunned, they lose one action (and turn) for a single round as well.

Magic weapons: The PCs weapons are magical.

That's what your NPC monster is effectively fighting.
 

The environment might help the Plotter, but only for maybe 2 rounds. And it's going to depend upon the party. Lots of parties at tat level will have flying for half the party, maybe more. Plus things like Dimension Door so they can close the distance and avoid the bridge.

Very situational, but I would expect this to be more of a challenge for something like an 8th level party, not 14th.

For 14th level, you need to add a lot more support (CR6-8 support) or a lot more actions for the BBEG. And probably more HP, but since it comes back, maybe not.
 

The environment might help the Plotter, but only for maybe 2 rounds. And it's going to depend upon the party. Lots of parties at tat level will have flying for half the party, maybe more. Plus things like Dimension Door so they can close the distance and avoid the bridge.

Yep. The encounters environmental challenges is stuff that PCs have been avoiding (or dealing with) for 10 levels already, and will have counter measures in place for and ways to simply ignore most of it.

Most (if not all) can likely fly by then thanks to spells, items and abilities, and if they cant, it's a 7th level slot and one of their 5 actions each round (from the Wizard or Sorcerer) to enable it.

The magical darkness and fear effects are also likely not an issue for them at this level as well.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Obviously I need to make revisions. Most would not be full strength when they get to this part based on the previous section, but there isn’t anything stopping them from a full rest, so I assumed they would have one. I really need to bump up things quite a bit.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I have to say I was a bit surprised at some of the comments, because the last adventure where we were 12th level, the PCs did not have ways to mitigate fear, darkness, or flight. Only a few did at that level; it was not assumed at all.
 

For reference, my group's 14th level party of 5 killed a Death Tyrant in half a round. And this is with the DT getting a legendary reaction after each of the first 3 characters' turns. It could have been harder for the party if some of those first three eye rays had been effective, but they made all their saves.

Roughly speaking, a DT is similar to your Plotter, except it has all those legendary actions and in your encounter you have distance/range to deal with the first round.
 

Obviously I need to make revisions. Most would not be full strength when they get to this part based on the previous section, but there isn’t anything stopping them from a full rest, so I assumed they would have one. I really need to bump up things quite a bit.

At +6 to hit (5 attacks including legendary actions per round), dealing 11 damage each Form 1 is dealing 22 damage per round to 15th level PCs (only 2 of 5 will likely hit, as the AC's you're dealing with will almost certainly be in the 18-20 range if not higher).

In exchange, the PCs are landing 3-6 (Fighter/ Barbarian), 1-2 (Rogue) 2-4 Monk/ Paladin attacks (plus stuns or smites) all at +10 or there-abouts, plus whatever the Wizard/ Bard (Power word Stun hurts) and Cleric want to dish out.

The 7 attacks (conservative figure) from the 3 Martials alone (that will likely have the benefit of Bless, Bardic inspiration, Lucky, Precise strike, Reckless attack, Cunning Aim and/or normal inspiration) will almost all hit, with each hit dealing 25-50 damage each hit, with the PCs likely all with Magic weapons bypassing its resistance.

It likely dies halfway through round 1.

It needs at least 300 HP, a base AC of 17-18 or so off the bat, an attack bonus 3-4 points higher, and around triple the damage per attack.
 


Quickleaf

Legend
Part of the setup is that Master Plotter lurks to ambush a PC and push them down the pit. One of the conceits of the encounter is that the pit is essentially a Chekov's gun – somebody is going to get pushed down there.

A few aspects of your design aren't reinforcing that:
  • Master Plotter has no Stealth proficiency and a Dex bonus of just +2. So even if he's lurking in magical darkness that he can see through... he still makes sound that a high passive Perception PC would pick up, right?
  • Master Plotter has no built-in way to push / force movement against the PCs. So his only resort is Shove? That doesn't seem like an ideal use of his action.
  • Attaching an Athletics check to the climb and further making the consequence of failing be falling may not properly build the tension of the scene. If someone falls, and THEN Master Plotter tries to shove them, it's... too late, right? The Chekov's gun has already gone off due to that Athletics check you called for. I think either you get rid of the Athletics check, you make the climb even riskier with Eyelings attacking and requiring Athletics checks to hold on if you're hit, or maybe tweaking the scene to make the climb out/up be the difficult part.
EDIT: Overall, it's a cool villain and lair! I like the vibe you're going for. Might be interesting if there's more distinction made between the 2 phases/forms – for instance, might be interesting if stoneskin drops when it changes form.
 
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So this begs the question, what would this encounter be difficult for, assuming party of 5? 10th level PCs?

7th level give or take.

A Solo CR 12 is a 'Hard' encounter for 5 x 7ths, and a CR 14 just slides into Deadly territory for that party.

It's still only around half the Adventuring day XP for that party, so they can Nova it bad, so that tips the scales in the PCs favor.

Presuming a relatively experienced group of players, and a scattering of magic items, they'd win, with maybe a few downed PCs along the way (easily fixed at this level even with a few deaths thanks to Raise Dead).
 

OP I think you may be conflating CR with encounter difficulty (thinking a CR = to level is appropriate).

You need to look at XP budget for the encounter, not CR. In Xanathars (I think it was) the Devs expressly say a Solo Legendary needs to basically be CR'd to around 4-5 levels over that of the Party level (and the XP budget formula checks out with this as well).

For example, a CR 12 is 8,400 xp, so it's actually under the 8,500 xp threshold for 'Deadly' for 7th level PCs, making it a 'Hard' encounter only (and as the only encounter that day, it can be easily Nova striked tipping the scales further in the PCs favor).

For 15th level PCs, a solo CR 12 is an 'Easy' difficulty encounter (and not far off a 'Trivial' encounter, with 'Easy' starting at 7,000 xp for that 15th level Party).

It would be dead halfway through round 1.
 

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