D&D 5E Special Combat Setups you have found particularly effective

Stalker0

Legend
So while its fine to just have two balls of enemies knock out each other here and there, memorable combats are often about neat setups and special tactics. So tell us about some of the combat setups that you found creating really interesting combats, perhaps even very deadly ones!

My most recent one, that turned out to be very engaging for the party:

The party heads down a very narrow corridor that has a waterfall of antimagic water (strips the spell buffs off someone, it also serves to stop the undead, a barrier to prevent their exit). It leads into a 30 by 30 ft room. The corners of the room each have a wight (with chainmail so AC 16). In the middle of the room is a circle of dark skulls, and a coffin in the middle (containing a Vampire Spawn). On the far side is a locked door, above the door is a grate leading to a narrow (air vent like) tunnel, containing a Spirit Naga.
  • The Anti-magic water stripped off one of the players Enhance Ability buffs, the rest of the group used blankets and other equipment to make it through without issue.
  • The Dark Skulls act on Initiative 20. They release a pulse up to 40 feet away (aka just outside the room). People that fail a Str Save DC 13 are pulled in 10 feet. This yoinked the scout who had just opened the door into the room (I find its good to prevent the party from using doorways to funnel monsters). Further, the Dark Skull deal 1d8 necrotic damage to anyone in their area, and heals any undead the same amount. The skulls can be disabled like a trap using thieves tools, or religion to purify them.
  • The spirit naga pops in its head on its initiative, casts a spell, and then pulls back up into the safety of the tunnel.

This turned into a hell of a fight for the party. The cleric managed to turn 3 of the wights who ran back into the antimagic water, which took them out. However, the vampire got a hold of the scout and started biting into them. Several of the party did not have magic weapons, and so the vampire resistance + normal healing + skull healing made it quite durable. The naga dominated the barbarian, who then started beating into the rogue. The bard managed to disable the skulls using religion, just as the naga came down a second time, casting a 5th level sleep spell, which dropped the bard (would have gotten the rogue as well if they were not an elf). The scout slipped out of the vampire's grasp and moves back to use arrows, but the vampire decides to move onto the unconscious bard and rip into them! The bard is nearly killed, but awakes, and gets the vampire with a Tasha's hideous laughter. The barbarian takes some damage and finally awakens from the dominate, and tries to get the naga through the grate, and the naga retreats with dimension door (to another section of the tunnel).

The party finishes the last wight, and beats on teh vampire. The barbarian than grapples the vamp and pulls her under the water. The vampire takes 20 acid damage from the "running water vulnerability", and is eventually killed.


The party then heads to another very narrow corridor, with another grate. As expected, the naga drops down. The barbarian races ahead to try and grab the naga, but the naga goes first and manages to get off a lightning bolt. In the narrow corridor, everyone has disadvantage on reflex saves and everyone takes the bolt, leaving them reeling. The barbarian does manage to grapple the naga, and they get some hits in, but the naga d doors once again, battered but alive. The party now heads into the final area of the dungeon, swearing vengeance on the naga (who is now enemy number 1)!
 

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Asisreo

Patron Badass
A super simple one:

A few mummies and a hard-hitter like a Lich.

Have the mummies gang up on a PC and reduce their HP, then blast them with a Finger of Death, turning them into a zombie.

Or if the lich has the opportunity, Power Word Stun a PC then have the mummies gang up.

It emphasizes the importance of getting rid of the mummies first. At that level, it's not difficult but you'd need to have a head for tactics to recognize the usefulness of getting rid of the mob.
 

aco175

Legend
I used a bunch of skeletons and a gelatinous cube. The cube did not bother the skeletons unless they walked into it. It was attracted to the warm bodies of the PCs and the skeletons were just guarding the access to the tomb.
 

Thouls and bearded devils. Two monsters with some complex abilities and defenses. This fight threw the group into fits trying to figure them out; but after retreating and doing some game planning, they managed to best them. ( They held a choke point with two tanks up front, archer used magic arrows, the spellcasters went nova.)

 

Werehamster

Villager
Floating down a river split up on two flat boats, the party enters a part of the river where it gets very misty/foggy. The rive slows down a little and deepens on either side of the small island in the middle of the river. It is a densely forested area here. The PC at the front of the first boat failed their Perception check as they see a lot of droplets of water floating in mid-air...suspended. Right as the boat travels into the area where the droplets are suspended, the first PC hits the webs and is stuck. All of the water droplets were condensation collected on the webs that stretch from both banks to the center island.

4x Giant Spiders
1x Ettercap

Waiting to ambush anything that comes across the area get webbed up and taken to the Island for feeding. The Ettercap will wait for someone to be left alone and will stealth over and web them into submission. Challenges are the water itself, the webs, and there are two NPCs guiding the boats down the river. Not to mention the poison as well.

The ambient mood and scene setting were the most fun in this encounter, as the party never saw it coming with the mystery of the floating water droplets and creepy mist.

Enjoy!
 



Bodak.

That's it.

That's the tweet.

Bodak.
Those things are brutal without foreknowledge.

My favorite combat setup that I ever ran was a cambion in a hook shaped hallway ending in a small room with a fire pit. The hallway was accessed by a portal and every turn the players needed to make a Wis save or become frightened. The DC started at 1 and went up by 1 each round they were in the area. The cambion is CR 5 and the party were five level 3s. With action economy the players should be able to handle it as they'd only encountered one combat before this that day.

The fear effect hit two players before it even got to DC 3 and the cambion succeeded on enthralling the fighter. The fighter then crit the heck out of the paladin and everyone else was missing their attacks due to disadvantage from being frightened except the wizard. It was chaos. Some quick thinking by the wizard and timely saves against the fear effect gave the players the win by the skin of their teeth. It is still one of the most discussed encounters on my group.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Bodak.

That's it.

That's the tweet.

Bodak.
Yeah, in my recent campaign that thing (with a pair of bruiser minions) at 5th level killed one character, dropped another and had the rest of the group in single digit hit points. They can be brutal.

Interesting fight we had was a doppelganger hiding in a 10' pool of murky water. Narrow 3 foot wide walkway around it meant everyone was in single file. Doppelganger pulled one PC under in the pool and took its shape. Party couldn't tell who was who and it managed to pull another PC in by "asking" for help to escape from the water. Easy to make a more dangerous encounter if there's something else in the water to deal with the pulled in PCs (octopus, kelpie, shark, etc.) while the doppelganger goes fishing for more PCs.
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
Another terrifying creature is the Shambling Mound. Fun fact, escaping the mound's grapple doesn't stop its engulf effect. It also isn't in full cover like a swallow attack, which could be good or bad depending.

This led to a pretty devastating combination with Vine Blights (thematic as well) where they can use their entangling plants ability to restrain their enemy and the Mound engulfs them. Vine Blights are surprisingly cheap encounter EXP wise, so you can fit about 1-2 of them before it gets to deadly for an average level 5 party.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
This is from my remix of N1 - Against the Cult of the Reptile God and a good example of the kinds of battles I set-up (this was not climatic battle, but potentially the penultimate one for this adventure).

The Troglodyte Egg Chamber

This cavern's floor is sunken about 12 feet below the narrow outer edge which varies from 3 feet to 7 feet wide and the center portion is a maze of stalagmites ranging from three feet to 12 feet away from each other and ranging in heights from 5' high to 18' high (and the taller ones have the tops smashed off creating uneven pedestals throughout the chamber. The ceiling is 15 feet from the surrounding lip. Near the center (marked with an "S" on the map) is a great stone bowl full of troglodyte eggs atop an 8' high stone pedestal and surrounded by tall braziers to keep it warm. At the center of the eggs is an oversized fertility symbol in the form of a platinum oversized egg (and incredibly valuable). There are other treasures piled around the pedestal between the four braziers.

The outer path above the main floor is patrolled by two troglodyte meatseekers, who remain camouflaged as long as possible. When attacking they try to use their "Feed the Tribe" ability to knock opponents into the lower level. There are also three normal trogs and two trog scouts in the upper area who help to distract the PCs for the meatseeker attacks (particularly the scouts using missile weapon attacks to draw the PCs in more).

The meatseekers are adept at climbing and jumping. Jumping from spire to spire requires an athletics check to make standing long jump (assuming it is within the jump distance allowed for individual character). A successful check means the jumper lands safely atop the flattened spire. The DC should be 8 + distance jumped. A failed check by less than 5 means they have jumped and grasped on to the top/side of the spire. Failure means falling to the lower floor below. If a character does not have at least one hand free when jumping (to grab the other spire) the check is made at disadvantage. Because the meatseekers are adept at climbing and jumping and have claws, they do not suffer this penalty while jumping. Anyone falling takes 1d6 points of damage is automatically prone. Assuming someone is jumping without the goal of landing atop of a flattened spire, they can add a few feet to the distance by aiming to grab the top of the spire, landing astride it and pulling themselves up. The DC is the same, but add 3 feet for medium creatures, 2 feet for small creatures, and 1 foot for tiny creatures.

In the lower area is the main guardian of the egg chamber, the Troglodyte Juggernaut, who will remain curled in a ball camouflaged until someone falls, jumps, or climbs into the lower area OR if an enemy makes it to the egg bowl.

Other Notes:
  • The normal trogs and scouts are kind of afraid of the juggernaut and tend to stay away from it.
  • The juggernaut is 12' tall and can attack foes up on the walkway with its claws, but at disadvantage.
  • If the eggs are visibly harmed by the PCs all troglodytes (except the dim juggernaut) in the chamber gain advantage on all attacks.
  • If the juggernaut goes berserk it might harm the eggs (which the other trogs take as a sign from their god)
  • Assuming the juggernaut is dealt with (it cannot be called off unless it feeds), threatening to harm the eggs could put the PCs in a position to negotiate with the trogs
  • When my PCs ran through this, the party druid wildshaped into an ape and had a delightful time leaping from spire to spire and distracting the juggernaut while the PCs dealt with the rest of the threats.
The map I am including below is not quite the version I used during actual play (which I drew to scale on 1" grid paper) since the version I used had every stalagmite marked with width at base and height.

eggchamber.jpg


meatseeker.jpg


trog-scout.jpg


juggernaut.jpg
 


Stalker0

Legend
Had an interesting one for a recent boss fight.

Party of 6 5th level characters versus a 15th level Open Hand Monk. The monk had an item that party was questing for, and was guarding it for someone else for a brief time. The monk was on a platform (5 by 10 feet) in the middle of a pool of water. The water was 30 feet around the platform on each side, and about 15 foot deep. Near the bottom of the water had anti-magic properties that could dispel effects (which I had used in a previous room so the party was aware of it). the party had a number of potions and scrolls at their disposal (some haste potions, a fire giant strength one, and a potion of heroism, bless), and decided to really buff up for this fight.

Ultimately the party used the white dragon they had befriended in the previous room (long story) to release a blast that froze over some of the water to the platform, giving them some ice to step on for a time (but I rolled a d6 each round to see if the ice held, on a 1 it would break).

The monk used stuns and open hand techniques (and the great thing there is, a stunned target automatically fails its save against the open hand saves) to knock people into the water. The monk could also move across the water if he choose, giving him a lot of mobility.

So the fight turned into a series of icy moves (requiring a DC 10 acrobatics check), with a bunch of dunks as players came out the monk, only to get knocked back and stunned into the water.

The fight finished with the monk diving into the deep water to heal, and the party chasing after. Ultimately it turned into a grapple fight underwater, with the barbarian finally managing to hold him long enough for the party to beat on him and take him down.

A long and tough fight, one of my better showings for a solo monster with no minions or backup against 6 characters.
 

ECMO3

Hero
Another terrifying creature is the Shambling Mound. Fun fact, escaping the mound's grapple doesn't stop its engulf effect. It also isn't in full cover like a swallow attack, which could be good or bad depending.

This causes blindness which really nerfs the engulfed creature if she is a caster.

The best tactic I have seen used with this was on a bladesinger who was engulfed. The player remained calm no screaming for help or hand wringing. When it got to her turn .....

I use my action look through my familiars (about 50 feet away) eyes. I cast misty step with my bonus action and teleport to a spot I can "see" through my familiars eyes.
 

ECMO3

Hero
So while its fine to just have two balls of enemies knock out each other here and there, memorable combats are often about neat setups and special tactics. So tell us about some of the combat setups that you found creating really interesting combats, perhaps even very deadly ones!

My most recent one, that turned out to be very engaging for the party:

The party heads down a very narrow corridor that has a waterfall of antimagic water (strips the spell buffs off someone, it also serves to stop the undead, a barrier to prevent their exit). It leads into a 30 by 30 ft room. The corners of the room each have a wight (with chainmail so AC 16). In the middle of the room is a circle of dark skulls, and a coffin in the middle (containing a Vampire Spawn). On the far side is a locked door, above the door is a grate leading to a narrow (air vent like) tunnel, containing a Spirit Naga.
  • The Anti-magic water stripped off one of the players Enhance Ability buffs, the rest of the group used blankets and other equipment to make it through without issue.
  • The Dark Skulls act on Initiative 20. They release a pulse up to 40 feet away (aka just outside the room). People that fail a Str Save DC 13 are pulled in 10 feet. This yoinked the scout who had just opened the door into the room (I find its good to prevent the party from using doorways to funnel monsters). Further, the Dark Skull deal 1d8 necrotic damage to anyone in their area, and heals any undead the same amount. The skulls can be disabled like a trap using thieves tools, or religion to purify them.
  • The spirit naga pops in its head on its initiative, casts a spell, and then pulls back up into the safety of the tunnel.

This turned into a hell of a fight for the party. The cleric managed to turn 3 of the wights who ran back into the antimagic water, which took them out. However, the vampire got a hold of the scout and started biting into them. Several of the party did not have magic weapons, and so the vampire resistance + normal healing + skull healing made it quite durable. The naga dominated the barbarian, who then started beating into the rogue. The bard managed to disable the skulls using religion, just as the naga came down a second time, casting a 5th level sleep spell, which dropped the bard (would have gotten the rogue as well if they were not an elf). The scout slipped out of the vampire's grasp and moves back to use arrows, but the vampire decides to move onto the unconscious bard and rip into them! The bard is nearly killed, but awakes, and gets the vampire with a Tasha's hideous laughter. The barbarian takes some damage and finally awakens from the dominate, and tries to get the naga through the grate, and the naga retreats with dimension door (to another section of the tunnel).

The party finishes the last wight, and beats on teh vampire. The barbarian than grapples the vamp and pulls her under the water. The vampire takes 20 acid damage from the "running water vulnerability", and is eventually killed.


The party then heads to another very narrow corridor, with another grate. As expected, the naga drops down. The barbarian races ahead to try and grab the naga, but the naga goes first and manages to get off a lightning bolt. In the narrow corridor, everyone has disadvantage on reflex saves and everyone takes the bolt, leaving them reeling. The barbarian does manage to grapple the naga, and they get some hits in, but the naga d doors once again, battered but alive. The party now heads into the final area of the dungeon, swearing vengeance on the naga (who is now enemy number 1)!

Here are a few:

1. Using a free action to place a vail of acid, alchemists fire or holy water on the ground so the wizard can Catapult it on her turn getting extra damage on the catapult

2. Using your familiar to "help" the Rogue, although this is a bit obvious I think.

3. 6+ level Human Rune Kinght with tavern brawler and a Rogue dip for athletics expertise - action: shove prone then with 2nd attack d8 unarmed strike then bonus action grapple. If you miss with any of those you can action surge to take another shot at it. The enemy is now prone and has a move of 0 and can not stand up until he breaks the grapple which he is doing against expertise. If you use the Rune Knight ability to turn large you can do this to Dragons and Giants and you have advantage on the athletic check. To add insult to injury, a Warlock or other caster can lay in Hex and make the enemy have disadvantage on str or dex checks.

4. Arcane Trickster - Bonus action mage hand legerdemain to take an enemy caster's focus or component pouch. Can do this with Thief using fast hands too, but it is harder to pull off.

5. Put silence on a Lich from beyond 60 feet and then use a use a Shield guardian to grapple her so she can't escape. I had a party defeat a Lich at 4th level doing this. She was supposed to be a major story item that we could not defeat.

6. Put silence on an enemy casters and then have another character levitate him.

7. Fighter uses disarm attack then the Rogue uses his mage hand to take the enemies weapon off the ground with a bonus action.

8. Hex plus grapple or shove. Hex wisdom to screw up insight checks.

9. Grapple an enemy then use him for cover.

10. Grapple a small or tiny enemy then throw him as an improvised weapon doing damage to both the thrown guy and the guy you throw him at.

11. Rogue covering an escape and playing rear guard by throwing caltrops, ball bearings or hunting traps or just taking the dodge action, while he cunning action dashes to keep up with the rest of the party

12. Bladesinger with all defenses up walking by every enemy on the battlefield just to draw their AOO so the rest of the party can move around that round at will.

13. Bladesinger/Undead Warlock - hitting one enemy with an attack and causing frightened, hit a second with booming blade so he takes movement damage then move away and draw AOOs (one at disadvantage) so your quasit can go in and try to poision the one you hit with booming blade and still escape without drawing an AOO. After this one enemy is frightened and can't move towards you, the other can move towards you but he takes BB damage and is poisioned.

14. Using sapping sting or ensnaring strike on anything that is flying.






3.
 

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