D&D General Tier 2 and 3 combats

J-H

Hero
Thanks for the replies


  1. Encounter - forest path, and a single Chimera , was doing a swooping attack, until wizard cast something that reduced its movement to 0 so fell out of the sky
  2. Encounter - Ruins with lots of uneven terrain. Enemies were a Gorgon, 7 soldiers and a giant type, some charm spells and plant growth ( great plan ) and again I caused little damage and the creatures were destroyed
  3. Encounter - different jungle path, 8 lions and an enhanced golden lion.
Thanks! The post above about Twists is a great idea.

#1: Chimera, CR 8 by itself. Easy encounter, and no ranged options except a breath weapon, and no CC. Easy fight. No threat to anyone except players who choose to stand next to it once it's grounded. Too easy.
#2: Gorgon, CR5, giant CR 5 or 7 (Hill giant or stone giant), plus NPCs (not sure, CR 1-2?). Re-read the text of charm spells. They only protect the caster, not the entire party, and they are not domination spells unless it's something like Crown of Madness. Any ambushing? Enemies entering the fight in round 2 from a different direction? Still looks like an easy fight by CR.
#3: 9 lions, all melee, 8x CR1 + 1 bigger one. All melee, no CC, and no threat to the squishies unless they attacked from ambush along the sides where they could hit everyone at once.

Where are the archers? The enemies using magic? The debuffs or AOEs that are more than a 15' cone directed at the party tank? If you want to challenge your party, don't limit yourself to melee beatsticks. Here's how I would re-work them to be actual challenges.
#1: 3 Chimeras attacking from two directions. Earthbind only knocks 1/3 of the enemies out, and at least one of them can go after the back line. The chimeras use flight for mobility, and use tree tops to provide cover against ranged fire when they aren't down in melee. They disengage at 40% health and fly nearby, swooping back in if someone gets really low health.

#2: The Gorgon is sleeping nearby and gets woken up by combat, charging blindly forward from the side, possibly hitting the back line. It may also be something that can be lured towards the enemies. One foe, possibly the giant, has a few druid spells and Constitution save proficiency, and uses Spike Growth to keep people from running away from him. He stays in back and hurls rocks while the soldiers screen, using the rocks and terrain for cover from ranged attacks.

#3: All the lions get buffs. I'd modify a Winter Wolf statblock for something level-appropriate (8x CR 3s). The big one stands on the path as a distraction. The others all attack from hiding along one side, they attack from one side, two lions targeting each PC as the pack targets their prey. Then they retarget to any characters knocked prone, biting them and trying to drag them off into the jungle.
 

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GuardianLurker

Adventurer
Hello. Our campaign rumbled ever onwards. PCs are level 8 and after next week get to level 9. This is usually where my campaigns start to wobble for me.

...snip...

So I am wondering if anyone has any good articles or blogs or just plain advice for making combat encounters more fun.
As your party enters 10th level, you can expect sapient opponents to be (at a minimum) aware of their presence in the area. If their opponents can reasonably expect to be their opponents, you can expect them to actually plan and prepare to counter well-known party abilities. (In short, the parties opponents can use the "research the monster" tactic on the party!)

Likewise, it becomes a LOT more important to pay attention to monster immunities and resistances. Forgetting these can make a DRAMATIC impact on the combat. For that matter, you can tweak the encounter by giving them these (see Countering, above).

Finally, a small increase in stats (i.e. use the elite stat block) can be justified fairly easily.

Also, your party is entering the levels where a lot of the lower-level terrain effects just won't matter to them anymore, whether because they can just power through them, or because the counters are low enough level that they can finally spare the resources to use them. For example, endure_elements basically shuts down environmental damage from weather. When their highest level spells are 2nd or 3rd, that's expensive enough that the party isn't likely to use them unless its critical. When they're casting 4th and 5th level spells, it's now cheap enough to use for safety. If it becomes a recurring issue, the party's likely to have acquired a permanent item to deal with it (or at least a large supply of consumables).

You'll have to start thinking less in terms of small-scope tactical problems and complications, and more higher-level, larger-scope, and even strategic complications.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Make sure the party can't always dictate the pace of play.

This means, especially, putting them in situations where they cannot rest after every encounter.

Situations like waves of bad guys, or where the bad guys are the ones pursuing the party are obvious examples.
 

aco175

Legend
Teleporting casters/backstabbers jumping behind the PCs is always fun.

Terrain where the melee people need to climb down a ladder and back up another side or through a low tunnel or something that delays them a round or two. Although you are getting to the point of them jumping or flying over terrain.

Waves of bad guys. You can gauge how things are going and bring in more if needed. I always liked the bad guy breaking a crystal and a demon coming out and attacking everyone- even the bad guys. Now, suddenly there is a huge threat the the bads run from or some might join the PC in fighting.

I saw a video or thread about a 13th level party going on a 1st level quest. They bit onto the farmer needing help with goblins and went to help him. They kept waiting for the encounters to become something gotcha or detrimental but they never did and the party just stomped over the poor goblins. The players had a blast and let the farmer keep his 10gp. Might be cool once in a while to stomp.
 


Thanks for the replies


  1. Encounter - forest path, and a single Chimera , was doing a swooping attack, until wizard cast something that reduced its movement to 0 so fell out of the sky
  2. Encounter - Ruins with lots of uneven terrain. Enemies were a Gorgon, 7 soldiers and a giant type, some charm spells and plant growth ( great plan ) and again I caused little damage and the creatures were destroyed
  3. Encounter - different jungle path, 8 lions and an enhanced golden lion.
All in the same day??
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
My advice:

If you're doing a single-creature encounter, you really want to use a supplemental system or, at the bare minimum, use something that has lair actions. But I still don't recommend it for even bosses.

Multiple creatures with different roles that complement each other works great. For example, the gorgon and giant encounter had something decent going with the gorgon providing assistance with proned abilities and their dreaded petrification breath while the giant could capitalize with big damage, but the soldiers (assumed guards) probably didn't contribute much. Instead, you could include a spellcaster meant to buff the allies or reign in the battlefield control that the players got to indulge in for too much.

Finally, the terrain should work for the enemies unless you're trying to nerf them. If your plan involves big melee users, you want the area to be cramped to ensure that they get to who they need to get to. If your enemy is flying, you want the players to be on a pretty high mountain/platform so there's the constant threat of being thrown off. If they're mostly ranged or casters, you'll want plenty of cover and locations that are hard to get to naturally.
 

[*]Encounter - forest path, and a single Chimera , was doing a swooping attack, until wizard cast something that reduced its movement to 0 so fell out of the sky

Think like the monster. What is its goal and how should it achieve it? Is it hungry? If the humanoids have mounts, torch one (and the upwind trees), adding the claw attacks to be sure its dead. Stay low and use the trees and smoke for concealment/cover. If they don't abandon the mount fast enough, or they heal it, repeat when fire breath recharges.

No mounts? Looks for a little unarmored humanoid. Same basic tactic but after breathing fire you grapple it and fly off with it. Make the other PCs run through or around the fire to chase you. It should be Difficult terrain to slow them down (dense undergrowth, marsh, broken ground, hills, etc). Chimera will do 10-20hp/round to grappled target. If they get free they should expect 2d6 falling damage.

Is this territory dominance? Again, similar tactics but harassing. Hit them with fire & attacks, then fly off until fire recharges. Spend the time to circle around the long way and attack from the side opposite you flew off. Kill mounts to slow them down. There's no reason to take much damage when you can do a flyby and inflict 30-50hp damage to one creature. Go take a nap for an hour and heal up.

And don't forget that forest fire. It's wonderful mayhem. Smoke for concealment, animal handling checks to keep mounts under control, and a very non-trivial danger. A fire can easily move 30-60ft/round. Maybe the Chimera attacks in grove of highly flammable pines. The Chimera can short rest while the pcs are running for their lives.

[*]Encounter - Ruins with lots of uneven terrain. Enemies were a Gorgon, 7 soldiers and a giant type, some charm spells and plant growth ( great plan ) and again I caused little damage and the creatures were destroyed

Giant and Gorgon in one area with a clear downhill path to PCs, steep enough for uphill to be Difficult. Ruins should be chosen (or have been rearranged) to provide full cover for everyone (at least if giant sits). Soldiers are in a separate sheltered area with no direct path to PCs (i.e. climb vs difficult terrain).

If any interactions with PCs needs to happen, have giant do it. A big obvious target. Try to keep gorgon hidden until the giant orders it to attack, ehich should when PCs get to a point the gorgon can move 40ft and get PCs in poison breath cone. Giant stays behind half cover (+2 AC/Dex saves) while targeting a PC that failed the save with thrown boulders ( & advantage from being restrained). Gorgon's next action is to charge/trample/gore a smallish creature.

The soldiers attack the PCs with bows (and hopefully surprise/advantage) either when they charge the giant (slowly, uphill) or when a PC reveals themselves to be a caster (and they get turned into a pin cushion). Soldiers duck back to get 3/4 cover (+5 AC/Dex saves) between volleys.

If the gorgon is getting flanked, giant tries to take out the weakest PC and calls the gorgon back.

If the PCs wind up beneath the soldiers' cover, PCs get rocks (maybe alchemist fire) dropped on them. With proper placement, the giant should still have line of sight.

[*]Encounter - different jungle path, 8 lions and an enhanced golden lion.

CR1s aren't going to be a huge challenge but the PCs should know they were in a brawl. Not sure about the enhanced lion but goal should be to disorient PCs, sow mayhem, kill the weak. Don't let yourself get sucked into 2 lions per PC and don't fight to the death. Lions don't play fair.

Have lions Pounce on weakest looking PC first, with as many attacking as is viable until it goes prone, then move to next PC. Most lion attacks should be with advantage from Pack Tactics.

Best case (for lions) is lions 1-4 knock down all PCs. Then lions 5-7 rip the squishiest PC to shreds while 8 & 9 target next squishiest.

When PCs inflict harm, a couple lions should try take gang up on the PC to let the injure lion swap to a weaker foe. When more than half are injured or two are killed the lions should fade away.
 
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over 3 days

FYI, this could be a perfectly good single day. I.e. the giant is the BBEG. They stationed one or two spotters down in the jungle with a magic doodad of lion summoning, hired/recruited the Chimera as the guard for the mountain trail, has the soldiers as servants and the gorgon as an attack-dog.

You have lions (9x cr1 ~4500xp), the chimera (cr6 2,300xp) and the ruin battle (gorgon Cr5 + 7 bandits cr1/8 and let's say an ettin cr4 = ~7700xp ). That is an easy, medium and hard encounter 14,500xp out of a 24,000xp daily combat budget. You could still add a real boss battle, which is probably a bigger giant-kin. Maybe a cloud giant (cr9 5,000xp) or a Hill Giant with a pack of 4 giant boars ( cr5 + 4x cr2 =7,200xp Hard)

Odds are the PCs got a short rest after the lion and the chimera so they should be at full hit points before the ruin fight. They should get a few minutes before the boss fight to use potions and such but the BBEG should appear in less than an hour.

If they take a long rest after the chimera, ramp up the next day difficulty by changing the sequence. The giants are aware the chimera is dead. Same ruin set up, but the boss is not far away guarding a different path. The boss hears the ruin fight and arrives just as the PCs have won, turning it into two back-to-back fights with maybe one round of healing/looting.
 

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