Death DMing Advice vs Optimized Characters

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Alright, for whatever reason, someone has decided to set up a Death DMing competition. The rules thus far defined are as follows:



  • PCs will be 5 man teams of the 12th level with standard WBL.



  • No encounter can have a CL of greater than +3.



  • RAW and official material only! No DM fiat, no homebrew.



  • Monsters must be level 10-14.



  • There will be a 14,000 exp point budget divided over 5 encounters.



  • 2 secondary objectives must be included (this isn't my concern for now). 



  • Monster Themes are allowed (DMG 2).



  • Levelling Monsters up or down as per MM3 scaling to fall within the 10-14 level range is allowed.



  • Converting Elites into Standards and Standards into Elites is allowed (not sure about solos).



  • Must be amusing to spectators (assume they have Darkvision and Blindsight and a view of the action from any given angle).



  • Cannot be entirely or mostly underwater (I asked specifically).



  • There must be at least one accessible 'safe room' the PCs can take a short rest in between encounters.




One CL+1 encounter I have in mind is this:



  • A 3x3 elevator carries the PC up to the encounter in what appears to be a 5x5 room completely closed in by walls. Each wall is covered in 'doors'.



  • The doors to the east and west are false. The doors on the north and south walls are illusory.



  • The walls to the east and west are real. These overhang another wall by 2 squares. This overhang is concealed by an Illusory Wall that runs all the way down to the bottom.



  • The floor 1 square out in each direction from the elevator is in fact illusory, concealing a 60 foot pit, excepting a single square at the northeast and southwestern corners (hopefully to trick a PC into wasting a turn). These doors are locked to suggest importance and waste time (hard DC).



  • At the bottom of the pit, and lining the walls of the central 3x3 pillar is Razorwire; difficult terrain that deals 20 damage to anyone who enters its space or starts their turn in it. Rough illustration of side view: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/713896/paint.jpg



  • The entire section of wall to the north and south is illusory allowing one way sight to the pillar from the side opposite the 3x3 central platform.



  • The ceiling is 1 square above the ground.



  • Illusions at the ceiling conceal 6 2x2x10 deep vertical niches fringing on the north and south edges of the 3x3 platform.



  • Each niche except 1 contains a stealthed and invisible level 11 Standard Balhannoth with the Demogorgon theme. Each Balhannoth has the Dominating Gaze and Threatening Reach theme elements. One niche contains a level 12 Standard Balhannoth of Demogorgon, likewise stealthed and invisible.



  • Each niche is covered with an adamantine grate that grants cover to the Balhannoths and prevents them from being pulled/slid/pushed into the pit while allowing them to attack the hapless PCs below.



  • Each niche features an adamantine Arcane Locked (attuned to Balhannoths) 2x2 sliding door beyond the grate. Each of these will open or close together as a minor action.



  • A L11 Crazed Lich Remnant (Those Who Hear theme, Mind Twist + Far Realm Action) is on a 3x3 platform to the north and south beyond the illusory wall, aligned with the central 3x3 platform the PCs are on. They will focus fire the most damaged PCs. These pillars are covered with Defiled Ground.



  • Each of these Lich platforms are 7 squares away from the central platform, with the interposing distance being a 60 foot deep pit concealed by an Illusory Wall floor.



  • Pillars are scattered throughout the area 3 squares distant from the nearest surface, allowing the Balhannoths to automatically catch themselves against falls.



  • All surfaces are a Hard DC of their level to climb (DC 28), are unusually smooth and slippery (+10 DC) for a total of 38 DC to climb. Catching a surface to prevent a fall is therefore a DC 43 Athletics check.



  • Essentially the Balhannoths (hopefully) get a surprise round, dominate all the PCs with their auto-CA Dominating Gaze during the surprise round, force them to run in and out of the Lashing Tentacle auras while provoking 6 OAs before having them plunge off the edge of the 3x3 central platform to their doom.



  • Survivors will be auto-dazed with Reality Shift, and then hit with Whipping Tentacles before trying to toss them off the platform. The Balhannoths will then close the adamantine doors as a minor to prevent retaliation.



  • The central platform itself is ringed with Hellfire terrain on the vertical edges. At a start of each adjacent player's turn, that player takes 10 ongoing fire damage (save ends), which increments by 5 for each failed save.



  • The 3x3 elevator/central platform and Balhannoth pillar tiles are covered with Black Sand terrain that halves hit point recovery.


 
I will of course be expecting optimized builds, which is where you guys come in; because you know them the best, you can help me create the most lethal RAW legal dungeon possible. To start, are there any real weaknesses with the above set up?
I don't think optimized builds account for tiny-box-of-deathtrap rooms.
Why not play checkers?
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomb_of_Horrors

Track down a copy of the 1 ed version, and run that. The traps and monsters should convert easily.
A few months ago I joined a short-lived D&D playgroup. When showing my character background to the other players to see if we were all on the same page, one of them, a real nitpicking, rules-lawyering, big-headed **** (later responsible for derailing/collapsing the entire campaign) reads it over and says: "Your character has a wife? Are you stupid? You're just giving something to the DM to use against you." I didn't react outwardly at the time, but gradually, the real impact of what he said, and what that represented, sunk in, and I realized that his criticism embodied entirely everything that is wrong with the Player-DM relationship as it is commonly seen.
www.necromancergames.com/pdf/grimmy_prev...  this whole series was kinda kewl back in the day.
I think its unrealistic to expect an optimised party to not have anyone with a fairly high perception, I recall playing with a guy about a year ago who at around level 12 in fact had something like 30+ passive perception, not including bonuses to detect invisible creatures, every single one of your creatures (including the vinecallers) needs to make an active stealth check that beats their PP or your surprise round will start to go haywire the more players that have PP that beats even one of your creatures stealth roll, and even then I'd say if the character are actively wary and watching for ambush they should also receive an active perception check.  They will quite possibly also see through your illusory walls and floors. 

Its also quite likely they will all have higher initiative than your monsters, so if any of them manage to act in the surprise round you can guess they are going to do something pretty significant that will throw off your whole plan.

Theres also the matter that its around that point that people start to try to get abilities that let them counter dominated and such which might screw with your plans again.

Also, have you included the traps you clearly have everywhere in the xp budget you are putting up, a 200ft deep pit of that size I'm pretty sure would not fit into your level range/xp budget.

Speaking of xp budget, i'm greatly confused why its only 14K xp for 5 encounters, thats only 2800 xp per encounter, and a single balhannoth is 1600xp.
Halaster's Clone.  Turn that dominate into daze.
www.necromancergames.com/pdf/grimmy_prev...  this whole series was kinda kewl back in the day.



Lol, awesome. Yeah, I'm definitely going to draw some inspiration from this.



Thanks for the earnest feedback Franger.

I think its unrealistic to expect an optimised party to not have anyone with a fairly high perception, I recall playing with a guy about a year ago who at around level 12 in fact had something like 30+ passive perception, not including bonuses to detect invisible creatures, every single one of your creatures (including the vinecallers) needs to make an active stealth check that beats their PP or your surprise round will start to go haywire the more players that have PP that beats even one of your creatures stealth roll, and even then I'd say if the character are actively wary and watching for ambush they should also receive an active perception check.  They will quite possibly also see through your illusory walls and floors. 

Its also quite likely they will all have higher initiative than your monsters, so if any of them manage to act in the surprise round you can guess they are going to do something pretty significant that will throw off your whole plan.

Yeah, I wouldn't doubt it actually. I think I might revise initial deployment then to have the adamantine doors start closed, predicated on the assumption that the PCs will both detect all monsters and act first. This way they'll be hard pressed to target the Balhannoths and nova them before they get a chance to attack.

Also, I think keeping a 'real' path to several of the fake doors (which will be locked to both waste time and suggest importance), and possibly adding more fake doors might be worth considering so that PCs that do act first are encouraged to end up essentially wasting a good portion of their first turn.

Theres also the matter that its around that point that people start to try to get abilities that let them counter dominated and such which might screw with your plans again.

For sure. I sincerely doubt though that every PC will have the ability to negate or downgrade dominate as my dungeon isn't the only one they'll be going through (basically we're seeing which death dungeon can kill most quickly/efficiently), and they have no foreknowledge of it, so dominating gaze seems likely to work on most, if not all the PCs.

Also, have you included the traps you clearly have everywhere in the xp budget you are putting up, a 200ft deep pit of that size I'm pretty sure would not fit into your level range/xp budget.

Do terrain elevation differences actually cost XP? I can't find XP costs for illusions used specifically as a terrain feature (Fantastic Terrain, DMG/DMK). 

Speaking of xp budget, i'm greatly confused why its only 14K xp for 5 encounters, thats only 2800 xp per encounter, and a single balhannoth is 1600xp.

I agree it seems pretty low; I'm assuming this is because of all the shenanigans that can be done with terrain types/features which have no XP cost, and the lethality of some cherry picked, hyperlethal/OP mobs like the Balhannoth (which I feel pound for pound is probably the most consistently deadly mob I've yet seen in 4e; it's horribly designed).

Balhannoths have been converted into L11-L12 Standards with the Demogorgon theme. This is in accordance with the competition rules.
A Kalashtar could toss the party a +4 bonus to will, which is decently slick.

Fighter's Clearheaded will let him save at the start of a turn against dominated.

Dwarf's Stone Stubborn is like Halaster's Clone, downgrading the domination.  And Dwarf would get resistance to your planned forced movement.  Not a bad choice.

Thri-Kreen have something similar in Insect Mind.

Battlemind's Corona of Floating Force negates terrain damage.

Bargle wrote:
This is CharOp. We not only assume block-of-tofu monsters, but also block-of-tofu DMs.
 

Zelink wrote:
You're already refluffing, why not refluff to something that doesn't suck?
Kalashtar could definitely be an annoyance if none of the Bals get their surprise round; I doubt I will see them though, even though they're permitted since they're not especially popular amongst Char Op circles in my experience. One of the more impactful speed bumps if it does show up, assuming it gets to use it before Reality Shift autodazes.

Clearheaded only works against effects a save can end fortunately.

Stone Stubborn will only work against one of the Dominating Gazes.

Insect Mind is definitely annoying. I doubt whether I'll see it, but it would screw up the planned opening for damn sure (at least for one character).

My Body Myself is kind of like Insect Mind, but dazed (save ends) isn't a terrible consolation. I expect though that a build using this may have Superior Will.

CoFF I'm not concerned about.
What keywords are on the Dominating Gaze?  Resplendent Cloak is a flat +2 Will bonus against charm/fear/illusion for basically the entire party.  You can be sure that if I was heading into this with an optimized group, someone would be wearing that for the group bonus it offers.

A tiefling with Dispater's Iron Discipline + Superior Will and a way to downgrade the domination could likewise be bad for you.

Bargle wrote:
This is CharOp. We not only assume block-of-tofu monsters, but also block-of-tofu DMs.
 

Zelink wrote:
You're already refluffing, why not refluff to something that doesn't suck?
Psychic only happily (for some reason, since it doesn't deal psychic damage; error?) so RC will not apply.

And yeah, I am counting on the usual Tiefling DID + SW cheese surfacing for at least one character. That plus dom to daze downgrading is probably my biggest concern so far as dom negation goes.

Also, have you included the traps you clearly have everywhere in the xp budget you are putting up, a 200ft deep pit of that size I'm pretty sure would not fit into your level range/xp budget.

Do terrain elevation differences actually cost XP? I can't find XP costs for illusions used specifically as a terrain feature (Fantastic Terrain, DMG/DMK). 



I would say this isn't just a terrain elevation change though, look at any pit trap from any book pretty much and you'll see its basically what you're doing but potentially with extra effects rather than just a huge drop.  Basically what you are trying to put in is just a much higher level of a false-floor pit or perhaps a concealed pit which are level 1 traps.  The only time I've ever encountered a drop similar to what you are proposing was in some specific Dark Sun mod where you got taken into the air and you had the option to jump off, but in doing so you had several potential ways to try to break your fall (ie it was a skill challenge and each failure resulted in effective damage once you hit the ground), despite that we still had 2 people in the game who opted to simply jump straight off at 100ft and plumet to the ground, they both lived just fine, neither of them was full hp when they jumped either. 

I guess my long winded point is that as a player (or other DM in that challeng) I would probably cry foul at including something that clearly didn't fit the level range and you included without even attributing an xp value.
Oh, I am fully willing to admit it is a completely dirty, cheesetastic loophole that deserves a call out, but as far as I can see it is also completely RAW and competition legal.

That said, it's possible additional rules for the competition might obviate or limit this element of the encounter, just as making a dungeon almost entirely underwater was vetoed.
Also pixies, pixies are totally gonna ruin your pits :P
Naw, pixies have their altitude limits to keep them grounded; if it gets dominated and ends its turn above a pit, it is eating dirt.
Pixies wearing rings of lesser feather falling and immoveable rods.  It would take time but they could get back up.
Why would they want to get back up? The bottom of one of those pits is the ideal place in that room to stand and fight.
Very true.
And any PC who can teleport enemies is a save away from destroying your encounter.  Falling for 20d10 damage and being out of range for all of their powers and pincushions for the resident Twin-Striking Ranger.

Lets talk Pit traps.  Oh, thats not what you are using as the main room? Weird.  Anyway. 
The closest thing I can find to your 200 foot deep illusion covered 'room' is the Dread Pit (elite) from Dungeon 160.  
"Trap: The trap can cover up to 20 contiguous squares. It is 30 feet deep."  
From my understanding of your room, there is 14 squares (non-contiguous) that lead to falls.  You are however dropping them nearly 7 times farther.
"Perception     DC 32: The character notices the illusory floor.
 "  
I am assuming you wanted a hard (or harder) DC to notice the illusion.  As someone else stated, this is around the passive perception of a standard perception monkey of level 11.
"Attack • Necrotic  Immediate Reaction      Melee 
Target: The creature that triggered the trap.Attack: +30 vs. ReflexHit: The target falls into pit, takes 3d10 damage, is knocked prone from the fall, and loses a healing surge.Miss: Target returns to the last square it occupied and its move action ends immediately.Effect The pit is still hidden, but other characters have now seen that one specific square is unsafe. Inside the pit, any bright light creates only 1 square of dim light. Dim light doesn’t function, nor does darkvision. A creature that starts its turn in the pit takes 15 necrotic damage."

This trap not only can attack one person a turn (since its an immediate reaction) it also does less damage (3d10 vs 20d10), but has some other nice features (surge loss, light reduction, automatic damage while in pit).

So all in all, pretty comparable to your 'pit' right?  Btw, this trap is a level 26 elite.  Worth 18,000 xp. I think you just blew your budget... for the entire competition.

But thats not all my advice.  If you are ruling it as simply terrain and giving no experience, players get a few more saves then you think.
1) save vs forced movement into the Hellfire hindering terrain.
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Saving Throw: A creature can make a saving throw to avoid being forced into hindering terrain, whether it is pulled, pushed, slid, teleported, or otherwise moved against its will. See “Forced Movement” and “Teleportation".

2) save for dominated forcing them into the pit
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In spite of this condition, the creature’s allies remain its allies, and its enemies remain its enemies. If the dominator tries to force the creature to throw itself into a pit or to move into some other form of hindering terrain, the creature gets a saving throw to resist entering the terrain.

3)Arguably, they would get a save for every square of forced movement for the Black Sands terrain if you consider it also Hindering Terrain.

4) Arguably, they would get a second save for #2, because dominated specifically gives them a save vs those types of effects, and then being forced into the hindering terrain does as well.  (this one is a weaker argument)
5) if the player has a way to downgrade the dominated to dazed, or the ability to use free actions while dominated they would also get an Athletics check as a Free action to catch hold
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Catching Hold
A creature that falls while climbing can make an Athletics check to catch hold of something to stop the fall immediately.

        Action: Free action. The check is a response to falling.
        DC: See the Climb table, and add 5 to the normal DC.
        Success: The creature doesn’t fall.
        Failure: The creature falls and can’t try to catch hold again as part of this fall.



Also, you are using the Monster theme rules incorrectly.  On page 104 of DMG2 (2 pages before the Demogorgon Cultist write up) it states that when you add a theme to a monster you choose 1 attack power and 1 utility power from the list.  You added 2-3 of each.  For that matter, how did you adjust the monsters down from being an Elite?  The rules text you referenced (MM3) has no information on with modifying monsters(unless I missed some errata).  DMG 1 and 2 however do.  DMG1 gives rules for upgrading, not downgrading, but I can wing it.

Ooo, we ran into some trouble here.  Adding a template to a monster makes it into an Elite.  As per DMG1.
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Multiple Templates: Each of these templates is intended for use by itself, making a monster into an elite opponent. However, you can turn a standard monster  into a solo creature by adding two templates. Follow the process for adding each template, one at a time, but add just one template’s hit point bonus (your choice which). Then double the creature’s total hit points. Increase the monster’s saving throw bonus to +5. You can also advance an elite monster to a solo one by adding a template, then doubling its hit points and adjusting its saving throw as above.
And DMG2.
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Like all templates each of the following functional templates transforms the modified creature into an elite monster - a force to be reckoned with on the game table.
And:
Templates work best when you apply them to a creature that is not a minion, elite, or solo creature.  When you apply the template to a standard creature, the template upgrades the creature to elite.
 Also, removing Elite from a monster, dropping it two levels, and re-adding an Elite template back seems like a lot of chances to make a few 'accidental' math errors if you know what I mean.  Especially when you are using the math incorrectly.  And especially with the XP reward.  You did remember to reduce their stealth modifier as well, right?  But regardless is it still under the passive 30 mentioned already.
Automatic Cover against player attacks with no penalty to their own attacks, in addition to always having combat advantage is effectively a +2 level increase.  Mathematically.  Or this: The Balhannoth is standing on a grate, so the players have line of sight to all four of its corners (during its turn anyway).  Not standing on the grate? Well then the players probably have cover from its blast attacks.  In addition, how are they all getting in their threatening reach during the same round, and still having a minor action left over to close the arcane locked door? (And presumably another minor to go invisible, and another to open the door).

TLDR version:  Players get at least 2 saves (one for pit, one for hellfire, possibly one for each square of black sand) to avoid going into the pit.  
And your 'pit trap' is roughly equivalent to a level 26 elite trap. 
You are throwing elites at the players still.  And incorrectly building them (ie, giving them twice as many extra powers as you are supposed to for an ELITE, and calling it a standard). Much less the 2 minions you have in there.  And I don't know about you, but giving a blast 3 Dominate to a Minion seems a little too far out of the mold.
Ours is a world where people don't know what they want, and are willing to go through hell to get it. -Don Marquis
14,000 over 5 encounters is way too low of a budget. 5 level equal encounters would be 17,500.  You want some low some high, but overall, if you want to challenge the PC's, you want high. I'd go with 20,000 budget, with no more than 6,500, and no less than 2,500 in an encounter.

Can you put time pressure so there is no more than 5 minutes between encounters? Since most rituals take more than 5 minutes, this would remove their use, making smoe debilitating conditions more permanent for the duration of the delve.

Now use a bunch of leveled up iron gorgons. Someone will fail two saves. Once you take out a PC, the rest is just dominate and kill. Optimized PC's do way more at-will damage than monsters. Focus on the leader. You should be able to run him out of surges fast, add in a lurker wight or something to drain his surges even more. By the end of encounter 3, he should be running pretty low on surges. Should be just a matter of one more encounter to take him completely out. Once you have 5 PC's worth of monsters against 3 PC's without a leader, they shouldn't survive the last encounter, and yet will feel good about themselves for having survived that long.

Generally, monsters with monster friendly large AoE's should serve you well. Multiple swarms are also pretty good, when their aura's can stack. Judicious use of blinding or immobilizing/restraining attacks may hinder some PC's. There is also always the insubstantial weakening monster trick that I'd hate to recommend in any normal game.
Thanks for the feedback Firebug. Very helpful.


Themes/Conversions: Fortunately Themes (DMG2) do not count as Templates and incur no XP cost or classification adjustment at all. This is where the Balhannoths and Mosslings (I'm replacing these with Lich Remnants btw) are getting their huge quantity of powers and traits. I am not using Templates. Good catch on the limits of the powers that can be used however. While Threatening Reach is essentially a no brainer, the choice between the Lashing Tentacles Aura and the Dominating Gaze is a bit trickier. The latter seems the more reliable however, given there are many ways to negate low quantities of fire damage entirely.

Concerning the Elite to Standard and level conversions, I did recheck them and the math appears correct concerning their stats.


Positioning: The balhannoths are indeed pressed right up against the grate at the start of combat. That said, it is easy for me to envision a grate that covers at least one of the Balhannoth's corners, in order to fit the requirements of cover.

The Illusory Wall blocking LoS to the Balhannoth holes provides them with total concealment.

I'm not sure why you feel that their Threatening Reach is incompatible with a minor action to close their door. Going invisible is not required due to the Illusory Wall.


Teleportation Forced Move vs Balhannoths: Fortunately even if the Balhannoth fails its save, it's only one Balhannoth. An AoE like Twist of Space might be problematic. That said, given that teleportation to a square does require line of sight, this could be addressed by surrounding the central platform with an Illusory Wall (seperate from Illusions terrain entry). Illusory Walls block line of sight and cannot be disbelieved, though they can be recognized as false. 

Creatures with Spider Climb can auto-stop themselves from falling assuming they're adjacent to a surface after being Force Moved ala the Athletics rule you cited so pillars placed at regular intervals throughout the room such that each 2x2x2 space is adjacent to at least one square of surface (I'm thinking 1 pillar spaced 3 squares from the nearest surface) would safeguard against this sort of thing.


Saving throws vs HT and Falls: Yeah, I'm aware domination allows a saving throw; it's a last ditch attempt to kill the PC after having him wade through a bunch of OAs. I'm not convinced they'd get two seperate saving throws though. The rule suggests that despite getting dominated, they are simply allowed the saving throw against hindering terrain they'd normally get. 

The Athletics check to avoid dropping is annoying. I could make the surfaces of the area unusually smooth and slippery for +10 to the DC. Couple that with a hard DC of their level (28) and the +5 DC for grabbing a surface while falling, and the resultant 43 DC should be practically unmakable to most if not all of the party.

Concerning Hindering Terrain forced movement, I don't think the squares adjacent to the Hellfire gouts technically count as HT, since they themselves are not terrain features that actively damage. Black Sand doesn't appear to technically qualify as HT according to the Compendium definition.


Ring of Lesser Feather Falling: This is a _definite_ problem and requires a redesign. I need to make the pit shallow enough (12 squares) that the Balhannoths can easily teleport and attack creatures on the bottom in a single movement. 

The Balhannoths could teleport to and hang from their climbing pillars as above, and walls set 2 squares in from the real walls to the east and west while attacking the PCs with their reach 3. These underhanging walls would be concealed with an Illusory Wall from the outer most overhang of the east/west wall to the floor of the pit. Saturating the bottom and the sides of the central pillar with Razorvine strikes me as a good idea, as this would deal 20 untyped damage for each square a character moved through, plus an additional 20 for starting a turn in it. Coupled with OAs,  the Hellfire ongoing, and initial attacks, this should prove terminal. 


@ Mengu: The reason it's so low is because of all the crazy and cheesy terrain and cherry picked monsters encounters can be supplemented with. I think as my prospective encounter illustrates, it's not too difficult to build a relatively low CL encounter and still have it reliably and quickly kill even optimized PCs with good use of terrain.

Time pressures will definitely be used. Thus far the PCs will have 25 minutes _total_ to clear the dungeon, and less to secure the secondary objectives.
I'll get back to the themes and whatnot in a bit, have to run to class.

Why not just cut to the chase and have 5 miles of razorvine with no other path to take.
Done, PCs are all dead, with no chance of survival and worth zero XP out of your budget since you are placing Fantastic Terrain as traps and not counting them as such.
Ours is a world where people don't know what they want, and are willing to go through hell to get it. -Don Marquis
Front load the monsters.
Have the toughest come first to use up their resources, then have the rest come in to them. don't let them get in a short rest.

Alternately, if it is a foul to use only one large encounter you could have the first encounter the hardest to use up their dailies/consumables and soften them up for the final (also hard) encounter.

Also:
Is there any room in the wording of the contest rules that prohibits adding incentive for the players  to kill each other?
I'll get back to the themes and whatnot in a bit, have to run to class.

Why not just cut to the chase and have 5 miles of razorvine with no other path to take.
Done, PCs are all dead, with no chance of survival and worth zero XP out of your budget since you are placing Fantastic Terrain as traps and not counting them as such.



It has to be amusing to spectators unfortunately. Seeing the PCs run around like suicidal retards and plunge off ledges while they're on fire is hilarious; a slug through nothing but Razorvine not so much, though I certainly plan to make heavy use of this wonderful terrain hazard.

@ Skrimshaw: Yeah, frontloading is definitely on the agenda. I want all of their dailies and nova capacity blown when they need it most.

That said, there has to be at least one accessible safe room they can take short rests in between encounters. I should add this to the OP ruleset. 
Themes/Conversions: Fortunately Themes (DMG2) do not count as Templates and incur no XP cost or classification adjustment at all.


It seems I was mistaken on the Themes vs Templates.  I think I probably thought that because the very first example was an elite monster, and its right next to the templates section.
I'm not sure why you feel that their Threatening Reach is incompatible with a minor action to close their door. Going invisible is not required due to the Illusory Wall.
Maybe I am mistaking your intention here, but it seems like when you completely close the Adamantine sliding door, the monsters are essentially in a separate room from the adventurers... meaning you will never use your threatening reach.  And since all monsters technically have individual turns even if they roll the same initiative there is no way for them to have threatening reach during each others turns and still be closed off during the adventurers turn, unless all of them have a switch that opens and closes the sliding doors for all the other monsters.  No hint there at all.

Teleportation Forced Move vs Balhannoths: Fortunately even if the Balhannoth fails its save, it's only one Balhannoth. An AoE like Twist of Space might be problematic. That said, given that teleportation to a square does require line of sight, this could be addressed by surrounding the central platform with an Illusory Wall (seperate from Illusions terrain entry). Illusory Walls block line of sight and cannot be disbelieved, though they can be recognized as false.

Unless you are seeing rules text I am not, the Illusionary Wall rules text in the terrain section of the compendium prefaces the entire section with "Creatures that realize that an object is an illusion ignore its effects", "Use characters’ passive Insight checks to determine if they notice something “not right,” but don’t allow them to make active checks without good reason. Once a character has reason to be suspicious, he can make an Insight check as a minor action to attempt to disbelieve an illusion." Then it states that illusionary walls can block line of sight, and then goes on to talk about one way illusionary walls.

Saving throws vs HT and Falls:
 Yeah, I'm aware domination allows a saving throw; it's a last ditch attempt to kill the PC after having him wade through a bunch of OAs. I'm not convinced they'd get two seperate saving throws though. The rule suggests that despite getting dominated, they are simply allowed the saving throw against hindering terrain they'd normally get.  (snip)   Concerning Hindering Terrain forced movement, I don't think the squares adjacent to the Hellfire gouts technically count as HT, since they themselves are not terrain features that actively damage. Black Sand doesn't appear to technically qualify as HT according to the Compendium definition.
If you are refering to two saves vs each square of hintering forced movement, yeah I said that one was unclear.  But if you are refering to Hellfire terrain not being hindering terrain, that is false.  It is hindering terrain. The squares next to the Hellfire are not hindering (because of the hellfire anyway) because hellfire only affects the square itself.  Black Sand is a little shaky, but arguable, on being hindering terrain as well, as halving healing is not quite the same thing as dealing damage.   Also, I find it strange that pits (outside of traps) are not defined in the terrain section of the DMGs.

The Athletics check to avoid dropping is annoying. I could make the surfaces of the area unusually smooth and slippery for +10 to the DC. Couple that with a hard DC of their level (28) and the +5 DC for grabbing a surface while falling, and the resultant 43 DC should be practically unmakable to most if not all of the party.

Unfortunately you can't do that.  Athletics checks are defined as specific DCs dependant on the type of wall, it is in no way level based. So the hardest DC for climbing is 30 (brick wall + slippery + very slippery) and the hardest catch hold roll would be 5 more then that.

Ring of Lesser Feather Falling:
 This is a _definite_ problem and requires a redesign. I need to make the pit shallow enough (12 squares) that the Balhannoths can easily teleport and attack creatures on the bottom in a single movement.
But if you do that the pit is much easier defined as a pit trap!  Meaning, an actual trap, since that distance (12 squares) lines up with about what an upgraded Weakened Floor(elite) trap should be doing at level 14 or so.  But that makes it worth experience!  We can't have that.  (also to cover your room you would need 3-4 of them) And nevermind that it is an Illusion rather then just a weakened floor.
The Balhannoths could teleport to and hang from their climbing pillars as above, and walls set 2 squares in from the real walls to the east and west while attacking the PCs with their reach 3. These underhanging walls would be concealed with an Illusory Wall from the outer most overhang of the east/west wall to the floor of the pit. Saturating the bottom and the sides of the central pillar with Razorvine strikes me as a good idea, as this would deal 20 untyped damage for each square a character moved through, plus an additional 20 for starting a turn in it. Coupled with OAs,  the Hellfire ongoing, and initial attacks, this should prove terminal.

 Why not just throw in 32 level 10 minion soldiers (or 16 level 14 minions) with the Demogorgon theme (for the blast 3 dominate) and half a dozen squares of razor vine.  Have the minions come in a few at a time, then dominate, and have the extras ready actions in case someone has superior will, force everyone dominated to charge each other(or charge whoever has superior will) over the squares of razorvine.  You should have enough minions that everyone will be dominated 100% of the time.  And threatening reach just for kicks.  And make them Creeping Spawns so their MBA slides 2, so back through the razorvine again for fun.

Ours is a world where people don't know what they want, and are willing to go through hell to get it. -Don Marquis
(yawn) ... Umber Shadow Hulk.
Still needs a rather specialized build to beat.

Cranium Rats in DMG2.
You can build a H.I.V.E.

Unlimited Rituals = PCs can't do that.

Here comes your 19th forums breakdown ... ohh who's to blame, it ain't 5E driving you insane.

 

Also, relying on a surprise round is generally a bad plan.

Even if you can just force a surprise round, there are about a million and one ways of negating a surprise round. Rangers get a utility at level 6 that lets them unsurprise a number of allies in burst equal to their wis mod. Even if it's just one or two allies, it's still going to screw the whole plan, and I can guarentee you that you will have a ranger in your group. There are several paragon paths, some feats, and other nicknacks that prevent players or entire parties from being surprised.

Couple that with the fact that you're likely to have a bunch of super-high init damage fiends (if you don't, expect at least one of them to be runepriest (or MC) for Rune of Meritricious Alacrity for a party-wide +10.) They're also likely to have low-light or darkvision, meaning that relying on cover and concealment wont necessarily work if the party can see them anyway.

You may be better off just giving them ridiculously difficult terain to navigate (A cave, filled with vines, making all the surfaces difficult terrain, even the air,) throwing scaled up old-school Mad Wraiths (aura 3 daze) with Demogorgon at them to keep them in a tar pit, and then putting a bunch of insanely high-damage burst artillery way out in the back beyond the impossibly dense terain.
 Maybe I am mistaking your intention here, but it seems like when you completely close the Adamantine sliding door, the monsters are essentially in a separate room from the adventurers... meaning you will never use your threatening reach.  And since all monsters technically have individual turns even if they roll the same initiative there is no way for them to have threatening reach during each others turns and still be closed off during the adventurers turn, unless all of them have a switch that opens and closes the sliding doors for all the other monsters.  No hint there at all.

Yes, I should have been more explicit about the fact that they open and close together. My wording was completely ambiguous. Fixed.

Essentially the tactics work like this:

#1: Open the doors, dominate the party.

#2: If a dominated PC's turn occurs before the next Balhannoth or no PC acts prior to the next Balhannoth's turn, keep doors open for OAs and/or Reality Shift. Otherwise close all doors. Repeat.

#3: When all Dominating Gazes have been exhausted, open doors if necessary (otherwise Reality Shift), use Whipping Tentacles then close doors.


 Unless you are seeing rules text I am not, the Illusionary Wall rules text in the terrain section of the compendium prefaces the entire section with "Creatures that realize that an object is an illusion ignore its effects", "Use characters’ passive Insight checks to determine if they notice something “not right,” but don’t allow them to make active checks without good reason. Once a character has reason to be suspicious, he can make an Insight check as a minor action to attempt to disbelieve an illusion." Then it states that illusionary walls can block line of sight, and then goes on to talk about one way illusionary walls.

Illusions are a distinct and seperate rules entry from 'Illusory Walls' in both the DMG and Compendium so their rules do not apply to Illusory Walls.

If you are refering to two saves vs each square of hintering forced movement, yeah I said that one was unclear.  But if you are refering to Hellfire terrain not being hindering terrain, that is false.  It is hindering terrain. The squares next to the Hellfire are not hindering (because of the hellfire anyway) because hellfire only affects the square itself.  Black Sand is a little shaky, but arguable, on being hindering terrain as well, as halving healing is not quite the same thing as dealing damage.   Also, I find it strange that pits (outside of traps) are not defined in the terrain section of the DMGs.

Hellfire's square is clearly hindering terrain, though the PC will already be falling by the time he moves through it since it's located on the top most vertical square of the 3x3 platform. I did not argue against that.

Black Sand I don't think is really arguable since it doesn't actually deal damage.

Unfortunately you can't do that.  Athletics checks are defined as specific DCs dependant on the type of wall, it is in no way level based. So the hardest DC for climbing is 30 (brick wall + slippery + very slippery) and the hardest catch hold roll would be 5 more then that.

Sucks, but 35 DC isn't too bad. Even Strength based, Athletics trained characters have a very reasonable chance of failing (about 75% assuming a bonus of around 19), and they have to retry each and every time they take damage.

But if you do that the pit is much easier defined as a pit trap!  Meaning, an actual trap, since that distance (12 squares) lines up with about what an upgraded Weakened Floor(elite) trap should be doing at level 14 or so.  But that makes it worth experience!  We can't have that.  (also to cover your room you would need 3-4 of them) And nevermind that it is an Illusion rather then just a weakened floor.

Still not technically a trap. That said, definitely getting a hostile vibe from your post.

Why not just throw in 32 level 10 minion soldiers (or 16 level 14 minions) with the Demogorgon theme (for the blast 3 dominate) and half a dozen squares of razor vine.  Have the minions come in a few at a time, then dominate, and have the extras ready actions in case someone has superior will, force everyone dominated to charge each other(or charge whoever has superior will) over the squares of razorvine.  You should have enough minions that everyone will be dominated 100% of the time.  And threatening reach just for kicks.  And make them Creeping Spawns so their MBA slides 2, so back through the razorvine again for fun.

Actually this is pretty reminiscent of a minion based encounter I had in mind, though that had more to do with a huge 32 strong firing line of generously spaced undead minion blasters on Defiled Terrain on either side of the PCs in cover granting cages surrounded with one way Illusory Walls and Razorvines, each with the Crazed/Far Realm theme that grants them an action point and the ability to force an attack + cause OAs vs allies (save ends) via Mind Twist.

There are a couple of things I don't like about this (the Demogorgon minion) specific set up:

The minions getting auto-owned by zones/walls is a major consideration.

The PCs also get their saving throw each and every time I try to move them into a square of Razorvine. 


@awaken: 8 L10 Far Realm themed Cranium Rats as an encounter is already on my short list. I have no idea what you mean by a 'Umber Shadow Hulk'. Is this some kind of abusive template?

EDIT: Nevermind, Shadow Hulk, lol. Another MM work of genius. Hopefully I'll get the clearance to convert Solos to Standards/Elites, but even without clearance to do so, downgrading him to the acceptable level range will be adequate for a lethal encounter. Problem is he's not as totally surefire as I'd like due to interrupts/readying, save ends duration, inferior action economy vis a vis alternate options (assuming I have to use him as a solo) and having to hit. 


@Zhara: The encounter isn't _dependent_ on a surprise round though it obviously helps. Whether they're surprised or not, and whether they can determine the Illusions as false or not, it just means they won't die quite as quickly.
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