I Need To Be an Evil DM

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Normally I am a rather benevolent DM, smudging high hits now and then, having monsters change targets once a player is about to die rather than finish them off, keep encounters fun you know. However for an upcoming game me and my group wanted to test our skills.

The players are going to optimize themselves as much as possible while I as the DM will be designing a short dungeon that will be the most difficult meat grinder possible, under certain specifications. The players are going to be creating PCs specifically for this game having them be level 12 with the standard equipment and everything. I on the otherhand have to keep the encounters within their range (I.E. easy encounters being one or two levels below their level, hard encounters being two to four levels over their level), I can't use customized monsters outside of face lifts or minor alterations to existing ones (though I can increase and decrease the levels of existing monsters), and I can't go over my exp budget.

Long story short, I want to win this (I.E. kill the players). Problem is, I'm not much of a meta-gamer and I only have a scant amount of knowledge of being a player so I have no idea how good a heavily optimized team can be nor what monsters and traps are the best to kill a PC group.

I'd be greatful for advice/suggestions/whatever concerning making the toughest encounters possible within the established limits.
..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />Long story short, I want to win this (I.E. kill the players).



"During the night, your characters all had heart attacks and died.  I WIN!"

Seriously, this completely misses the point.  COMPLETELY.  You're the DM.  You have infinite resources.  You can have a flight of fifty level 35 red dragons descend on the PCs while they're in their underwear if you want to.  Any time you want to wipe the PCs off the face of the map, you can.

If you want to win a game against your friends, there are hundreds of board, card, and dice games you can play.

Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Not entirely sure if you read the post (edit: I'm pretty sure you didn't). I have a limit that I have to follow.


  • Encounters must be of appropriate level

  • I can't go over the set amount of exp per encounter (to keep it appropriate of level

  • I only want to win because the players and I agreed to make this a competition


In short, no I don't have infinite resources, I have very quantified resources to be honest. I can't just have the players jumped when their sleeping because it isn't a campaign, this is a short dungeon we're doing for fun and they know that I'm doing all this, and they are building characters specifically to beat whatever I make as well. 


Pehaps if something is too long for you to read, you shouldn't make statements that go against what was said in the relatively short 3 paragraphs posted.

A time limit before the entire complex sinks back beneath the waves... or the sand... or into the negative energy plane.   This forces them to push ahead and actually have to budget resources.

To motivate the PCs, the last room contains some fabulous treasure, an item they are geased to find, prisoners in need of rescue, the only means to destroy an artifact that is poised to destroy the world/planet/magic as the PCs know it... so running away is NOT an option.

Perhaps this minidungeon's entrance acts as an evil cloning device.  Whomever walks in the front (and only) entrance is cloned (to include gear) in a room at the end (a room containing a map and a written explanation to the clones).  The clones move towards the PCs, intent on killing them.  Should the clones win, they become the PCs, and move into the greater world to wreak havoc in the PCs' names.  If a clone is killed, it (and all of its gear) dissolves into sludge.

Craft the dungeon so that those on the inside have the defensive bonuses; forcing PCs to come into areas one at a time; lower ceilings (it is hard to do much in areas with a 4 foot ceiling); hard-to-reach enemies that are throwing spells or missile weapons; a water-covered floor that an enemy hits with a lightning bolt once all of the PCs (especially those sporting metal armor) are standing in it.   

Enemies come in waves.  As one combat is winding down, the next starts immediately, preventing PCs from looting, healing, or resting up.

Divide the party.  Antimagic zones.  Puzzles and traps that test the players, rather than the PCs - consult earlier editions for ideas, here.

Present choices with no "correct" answer: someone always dies, valuable items are destroyed (doors that open by placing permanent magical items into the hands/mouths of statues, that of course, destroy them are good for this), rooms collapse, etc.

Properly used, illusions can be nasty.  Even something as simple as bad guys hiding behind an illusory wall or an illusion of one type of monster over an opposite or different kind of monster can work.  Perhaps a flash of light (similar in effect to a teleportation spell) goes off, resulting in a horrid monster standing where a PC had been.  Of course, the horrid monster is an illusion over a PC, complete with monster sounds whenever the illusion-clad PC tries to speak.  For giggles, the illusion-clad PC may see and hear the other PCs as monsters, as well, leading to an instant fight.  To further reinforce the idea the idea of teleporting over illusion, take the affected player into another room, and bounce between the rooms during rounds, to determine who does what to whom.  

Then the PCs kill one another off.

Lastly, pull no punches.  Bad guys finish off PCs and destroy PC items.  Traps kill (I like rooms that fill up with sand, to get around Water Breathing spells and the like; the stone cylinder that drops around a PC and fills with Green Slime or acid is another bit of nastiness).  

Cheers!
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To make it challenging instead of just longer, you'll want to make encounters where the monster goal is not necessarily to kill the PCs and the PCs' goal is not necessarily to kill all the monsters, rest, and move on. Each side should have a goal and should try to stop each other from attaining it while achieving their own. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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What you're basically looking for is setting up almost a pure board game where it's just tactics. Honestly, done correctly and pulling no punches, it can be very difficult for the players to win. That being said, here are some pointers.

The players, depending on their optimization skills, will be very powerful. Taking a look over at the optimization board, the top level 12 striker can expect to kill 1 standard at level mob per round. And that's without bonuses/synergies from the rest of the party. A well crafted party can increase their powers multiplicatively.

Craft your monster team in similar ways. Provide mobs that get bonuses for CA with ones that blind or knock prone. Have flying monsters with ranged attacks so they never have to get in melee. Find simple low xp traps that can still separate the party or slow them down (self closing pits are an easy choice). There are also some nasty auras out there. Put them on the things the defender will have to deal with so he gets burned by them as much as possible.

As to tactics, depends how mean you want to be. Focus fire is a favorite PC trick. Have all of the ranged mobs focus down the leader or a powerful striker. Coup de grace is a particularly mean tactic. Or have some powerful aoes and try to include everyone in them, especially downed pcs.

As I said, it would be extremely tough for a party to deal with a few encounters where you're using such underhanded tricks, but if they're asking for it, that's how you can oblige them.
A time limit before the entire complex sinks back beneath the waves... or the sand... or into the negative energy plane.   This forces them to push ahead and actually have to budget resources.

To motivate the PCs, the last room contains some fabulous treasure, an item they are geased to find, prisoners in need of rescue, the only means to destroy an artifact that is poised to destroy the world/planet/magic as the PCs know it... so running away is NOT an option.

Perhaps this minidungeon's entrance acts as an evil cloning device.  Whomever walks in the front (and only) entrance is cloned (to include gear) in a room at the end (a room containing a map and a written explanation to the clones).  The clones move towards the PCs, intent on killing them.  Should the clones win, they become the PCs, and move into the greater world to wreak havoc in the PCs' names.  If a clone is killed, it (and all of its gear) dissolves into sludge.

Craft the dungeon so that those on the inside have the defensive bonuses; forcing PCs to come into areas one at a time; lower ceilings (it is hard to do much in areas with a 4 foot ceiling); hard-to-reach enemies that are throwing spells or missile weapons; a water-covered floor that an enemy hits with a lightning bolt once all of the PCs (especially those sporting metal armor) are standing in it.   

Enemies come in waves.  As one combat is winding down, the next starts immediately, preventing PCs from looting, healing, or resting up.

Divide the party.  Antimagic zones.  Puzzles and traps that test the players, rather than the PCs - consult earlier editions for ideas, here.

Present choices with no "correct" answer: someone always dies, valuable items are destroyed (doors that open by placing permanent magical items into the hands/mouths of statues, that of course, destroy them are good for this), rooms collapse, etc.

Properly used, illusions can be nasty.  Even something as simple as bad guys hiding behind an illusory wall or an illusion of one type of monster over an opposite or different kind of monster can work.  Perhaps a flash of light (similar in effect to a teleportation spell) goes off, resulting in a horrid monster standing where a PC had been.  Of course, the horrid monster is an illusion over a PC, complete with monster sounds whenever the illusion-clad PC tries to speak.  For giggles, the illusion-clad PC may see and hear the other PCs as monsters, as well, leading to an instant fight.  To further reinforce the idea the idea of teleporting over illusion, take the affected player into another room, and bounce between the rooms during rounds, to determine who does what to whom.  

Then the PCs kill one another off.

Lastly, pull no punches.  Bad guys finish off PCs and destroy PC items.  Traps kill (I like rooms that fill up with sand, to get around Water Breathing spells and the like; the stone cylinder that drops around a PC and fills with Green Slime or acid is another bit of nastiness).  

Cheers!



You are pure evil, my friend. :D 

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Have you taken a look at the D&D Lair Assault adventures? They have been designed exactly with what you have in mind. They are for lower level PCs both because for a designer it is a lot more challenging to get this done fairly with higher level PCs and because they want players to retry after their first failures with different characters.

Still, some things help regardless of levels:
- Challenging fights last LONG. Make sure that the terrain changes after a couple of rounds. For example, in one the early ones the villain was performing a ritual. Half-way portions of the dungeon collapsed, opening rifts filled with magma and filling other coridors with fire.
- Be a tad unfair with environmental effects. They have no real xp value assigned to them, and assigning them can be challenging. For example, how unfair is a pit filled with magma? Do the monsters have forced movement powers? And even if they do, will the PCs be stupid enough to stick close enough to those magma pits for the monsters to actually use those pits? (Last weekend I ran an adventure with several pits with necrotic energy and monsters with forced movement powers, in the end only two PCs ended up falling in 12 rounds of combat.) What about an effect that reduces the resistance against a particular effect? Or a rather lethal poisonous gas that the PCs can disable if they are quick enough, but will deal damage if they don't. At the very least the environment should not hurt the monsters.
- Don't hesitate to create monster combinations that appear to be unfair. My players loved it when I combined undead with radiant vulnerability with monsters whose aura dealt damage to anybody using a radiant attack. It forced them to think about how to manouver out of the aura to use their most powerful attacks against the undead (which had an aura that prevented healing).
- Do you want to keep the game fun? Nothing gets PCs killed as quickly as massive use of hard control effects such as daze, stun and petrification. One of the most lethal encounters I ever run was during a playtest of a LFR adventure with 3 medusa's and a setup that had all the PCs bundled up. It ended with all PCs as statues. They did not take much damage, but the medusa's simply kept using their petrifying blast, and eventually PCs did fail those saving throws. It was boring as hell in the end, and I asked my players beforehand whether or not I should go for lethality or fun; they opted lethality for playtest purposes.

One thing, the Lair Assault purposely use only a single encounter that tends to be finished in 1 hour of gaming. The whole setup guarantees PCs die, likely early on. If the game lasts too long, the people whose PC's died early will be bored. Furthermore, those adventures are tested extensively before release. It is a real challenge to make really deadly encounters beforehand that remain fun throughout when you don't know the PCs beforehand and the characters have no vested interested in their PCs beyond the current adventure. Expact to fail ;)

iserith's advice about using alternative goals to challenge the players is the key to finding the balance you're trying to achieve.  Having goals will allow you to flood the map with monsters and hazards, pits and traps, and the PCs don't have to be overwhelmed by it because they have a goal to focus on that doesn't require them to kill all the monsters.

One example of a goal could be to just escape a mob of monsters.  Think about your typical zombie movie.  Swarms and swarms of zombies coming from every direction.  The heroes have to kill some of them, obviously, to clear a path, but they are doomed if they don't keep moving, and the exit isn't necessarily clear or obvious.

Minions of party level+4 are terrific for this, since they're easy to kill but if they hit it will hurt, and they are perfectly acceptable within the exp budget.

And by the way, exp budget is grossly overrated.  As long as no monster is of a higher level than party level+4 and the PCs have a discernible goal, feel free to use as many monsters as you want.
Sleeping with interns on Colonial 1
Another vote here for high-level minions. Especially since your players might well fall into the munchkin trap of building a party of single-target strikers. A horde of level+4 minions can easily decimate such a party. Also, use waves. Send a bunch of relatively weak monsters at them to get them to blow their alpha strike, then bring out the real meat of the encounter once they've used up their action points and dailies.

"My flying carpet is full of elves."

A flaw in D&D design is that a miss is pretty damn boring and to some players downright frustrating.

Thus, while I like the minion idea a lot (and use it frequently to challenge single target strikers), I'd recommend at-level minions, but more of them. And always remember minions can do a lot more than just attack - grant saves with Heal checks, grab, bull rush, aid attack/defense, threaten the PCs' goals while they're tied up with standard monsters, etc.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Find Your GM Style  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools

I'm Recruiting Players for a D&D 5e Game: Interested?  |  Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

If you're going to use minions, may I suggest Mossling minions? They're level 12 and potentially deadly.
An horde of Mossling Hurlers on a featureless plain. Pretty damn scary.

Or, since you can change a monster's level , take an elder blue dragon (from MV). Level it down to 12. Now, as a level 12 solo, it should be worth 3500 xp. Use two of them, and you have a level 16 encounter (precisely 7000 xp). Make the party fight them on a plain, featurless desert. Keep the dragons constantly 22 squares high in the air. Spam Thunderclap/Lighting burst/Breath Weapon. Win.

You can also level up a young blue dragon to 12 and achieve similar results, if you want to be less evil.
A time limit before the entire complex sinks back beneath the waves... or the sand... or into the negative energy plane.   This forces them to push ahead and actually have to budget resources.



What you're basically looking for is setting up almost a pure board game where it's just tactics.

I have a "pure board game" in my truck right now that has a time limit, and, while it involves tactics, is always about more than just one side killing the other. In the first mission, one side is trying to eliminate the other, and the other is trying to hide. In the next mission, the side that was on the offensive is now on the run and cannot win simply by killing all of the enemies. The game is "Mutant Chronicles: Seige of the Citadel" and it has more to teach about making combat challenging and interesting than most D&D products I've seen.

I pull out the stops on my players all the time. I defeat them on a regular basis, and they just go on to the next challenge because the statement "I want to win this (i.e. kill them)" is misguided. Not because a DM shouldn't want to win, but because killing them isn't the only (and probably isn't even the best) way to win (i.e. cause the PCs to lose.)

Salla's point of "During the night, your characters all had heart attacks and died.  I WIN!" is the classic end point of this way of thinking but that's actually on the right track. If it was "During the night, the kidnappers you had been tailing reach their destination and sacrifice their victims. You lose." I think we'd be getting close to something everyone could get behind. The point is that the players can lose, clearly and decisively, and still be alive.

The flipside of this, the ideal I hope to reach myself, is having players who will choose to kill their characters - not risk death, but actually step deliberately off the cliff - in order to win.

Survive, and still lose. Die, and still win. Aim for that, for both monsters and PCs. Once you have interesting ways for them to fail, you can pull the stops out in terms of tactics, terrain, traps, etc.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

To the OP: sounds like what you're after is a board game. A truly balanced DM vs. Players scenario is really outside the scope of 4e. I'm sure it can be done, but in reallity what you will be doing is playtesting a concept rather then "winning" against your players. Not that it won't be fun to try. (as an aside, play Dungeon Command. It's awesome, but more of a 1v1 game)

But regarding the concept of DMs winning as it relates to where this thread has gone: I thought the DM wins when the players have fun.
To the OP: sounds like what you're after is a board game. A truly balanced DM vs. Players scenario is really outside the scope of 4e. I'm sure it can be done, but in reallity what you will be doing is playtesting a concept rather then "winning" against your players. Not that it won't be fun to try. (as an aside, play Dungeon Command. It's awesome, but more of a 1v1 game)

But regarding the concept of DMs winning as it relates to where this thread has gone: I thought the DM wins when the players have fun.


Normally I'd agree with you, but in this situation both parties seem to be completely aware of the competitive nature of this challenge, so why not? 
What you're basically looking for is setting up almost a pure board game where it's just tactics....



I like to be contrary, so I'll argue that the opposite would be true:  you can run a tough dice game, and if you're really lucky you might cause them to sweat a little.  But to be a truly evil DM, put the dice away, and present them with a story or setting that sticks a rusty knife into them and twists it around a little.

Make every victory cost them something.

Give them tough choices, and make those choices things that will haunt them in their sleep.

Freely give the PCs nice things:  good friends, trusted allies, shiny stuff, but be sure they understand what sort of a crapsack world they are in during Session Zero.  Let them get comfortable with the freebies, and take them for granted.  But, once in a while, as Evil DM, you are obligated to take one or two of those nice, easy things and break them in horrible, heart-breaking ways:  the Evil DM should learn to be lord of easy-come, easy-go.

Take alignment out of the game, and ensure that it's never as simple as "the orcs in black hats are bad guys, and the elves in white hats are good guys" - when two sides of an argument are basically good guys and friends of the PCs, and your story forces them to choose sides and kick the loser when he's down and then they have to go home with that on their conscience, you know you've been an evil DM.  The Evil DM isn't doing his job, if he isn't at least occasionally making the PCs hurt the ones they love.

Hurting the PCs?  That's small-time, it's for petty, tin-pot banana-republic Killer DMs.  You're better than that.  At the very least, hurting the PCs' friends and loved ones should be at the lower end of your ambitions as Evil DM.  Aim a little higher than that... getting the PCs to voluntarily help you hurt their loved ones, and try to justify to themselves that they've done the right thing?  THAT should be a little more worthy of a higher class of Evil DM.

"Failure doesn't have to equal death."  In an ordinary game, that motto would inspire snorts of derision from tin-pot Killer DMs:  "that's cheating, you're going too easy on your PCs!"  But, ordinary Killer DMs are not artists, and they don't understand the subtleties of these things the way that a truly evil DM does.  Failure doesn't have to equal death, in a world where fates worse than death are your bread-and-butter. 

Failures should be interesting in ordinary games, but in an Evil DM's game, failures should be interesting in ghastly, horrific, and soul-chilling ways.

But don't paint everything black... any stooge with a paint-roller can do that.  As an artist, you are painting something with depth, texture, perspective, subject, foreground and background and depth and heighth, light and shadow.  Victories should be interesting, too, and interesting in real and genuine ways that give the PCs convincing illusions of hope.  The Killer DM's kingdom is an iron-shod, dice-studded boot stomping on a PC's face forever and ever, but an Evil DM's glorious kingdom is a place where the PCs thank you again and again for lifting your iron-shod boot, and tell you how sweet the air is whenever they have time to breathe.  The Evil DM's victims cheer for him whenever he puts the boots to other victims for a while.

Mere dice will never give you any of that.
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
I think what you might be looking for is FourthCore: hub.saveversusdeath.com/

Check out www.saveversusdeath.com/ for some serious killer dungeons.

The main issue is to throw stuff at them that saps their resources. Permakill their HP and Surges. Up the damage equations and accuracy of your monsters but lower their defenses. Traps and puzzles should abound. Force the players into crappy situations where they have to choose what they can most bear to lose.

Dont just attack a player, attack their skills. If you have a trap heavy dungeon, kick the Thief in the teeth early. Lots of arcane stuff everywhere? Put some pain on the Wizard!
I like a lot of the suggestions and I think I have a few ideas for some encounters. Be aware, this might be long.

1) For encounter one I think using the minion idea is pretty good, but I want to try mixing things up in case there are characters with a good amount of AoE, since like I said the players will be optimizing themselves and I'm pretty sure they'll use a controller that can decimate a horde of minions.

I want to have a undead theme, so I'll try using several ghoul minions (with one or two non-minions hidden with them) with wight's claw grafts to serve as an alpha wave, using them to immobilize the PCs and then draining healing surges from them after getting them immobilized while also using the ghouls to act as disease carriers due to their nature as using touching attacks, maybe Melting Fury or Scarlet Plague.

After this alpha strike, I bring in several wights to drain more healing surges from the players who are backed up with level adjusted Deathlock Wights to aid the ghouls in immobilizing the players while the other wights close in to drain more surges, while also raising fallen allies. I also think I'll give the deathlock wights bestow curse and dying curse with Tomb King's Wrath and give the melee wights Thirst of the Vampire to help keep thier hp up.

I think using Orcus Blood Cultist monster theme powers for the encounter, giving the minions Rotting Strike to add to their damage and Death's Embrace in case they manage to down a PC before they die. I could give Bloodstained Strike or Aura of Impending Death to make players or monsters getting bloodied more interesting. Finally I could give Penumbra of Doom and Necrotic Burst to the Deathlock Wights to help buff and debuff.

The entire fight could take place in a lightless room with Defiled Ground terrain to best benefit the undead enemies and some of the monsters could be holding magic items so that the players will feel happy about making it through the encounter without being suspicious since the items are cursed.


2) For encounter two, I think I can go for a invisible enemy theme. First of all, the entire room is pitch black like the last and there are four columns throughout it with several pools of necromantic seepage to give players knocked into them Soul Rot. The players have to find the enemies and kill them while fending off their assault, however only one monster is actually able to go invisible.

I'll have several skeleton archers (reskinned drow snipers) who are hidden behind illusionary walls that pelt the PCs with poison bolts while one or two exalted brains in a jar, hidden behind an illusion that makes them look as though they're a part of the columns in the room who psychically assault the players (and dominating them when possible) while the players are skirmishing with a balhannoth.

The fight will harmlessly end if the players manage to kill the archers, giving more of a motivation to find and kill the archers than to fight all of the enemies. However I think I could add some traps, perhaps a mirror of life trapping or two that I can try knocking players or force dominated characters into walking up to them.


3) A third encounter counter could be more of a race than a fight. The players will be placed in a huge room filled a bunch of prisoners tied to posts. One one side of the room is a single wraith. The point of the encounter is to release the prisoners (through either a standard action or a minor action through a theivery check) while the wraith will target the restrained prisoners and kill them, turning them into new wraiths, making it a race to prevent the wraiths from killing as much prisoners as possible.

The wraiths will ignore the players unless attacked, however when the last prisoner is killed or released, if the players saved more prisoners than the wraith killed them, the wraiths simply flee. However if the wraiths kill more than the players saved, then the wraiths all attack the players, likly forcing them to flee.

Since the wraiths ignore the players unless attacked, the players could split their forces, one team to slow the wraiths and one to release prisoners. Then again since the encounter is mostly about preventing the wraiths from killing the prisoners, I guess more evilly inclined PCs could kill the prisoners if it is faster that way.


4) For the fourth encounter, I was thinking of something intellectually taxing rather than relying on dice rolls. Placing the PCs in a room in the middle of which is a chess board. One player has to remain playing chess against me (and by me I mean my computer). While the one player is playing chess, the encounter starts slow.

However whenever the PC has a piece captured, a monster is released into the room and the rest of the team has to deal with it to protect the PC who is playing chess (as he/she can't get up without forfeiting). There are two tricks to this. The first is that the higher the value of the captured piece, the stronger the enemy is released. A pawn= a zombie. A knight or biship= a ghoul. A rook= a wight. A queen= a vampire. The second trick is that the room has a custom terrrain feature that raises all undead killed within the room with half of their hp after a random amount of time after their death.

The motivation behind this room is that if the players win the game of chess, all curses are removed from them and their equipment, as well as any diseases they might have, restore any daily item and power uses, restore some of their healing surges, and give them a powerful magic item (this time non-cursed) that allows the wielder to change the damage type of any of their attacks to radiant (which would obviously help against the boss of the dungeon which comes after this encounter). Otherwise the players can simply skip and escape from the room if they want, but they won't get any of those winning benefits.


5) The final encounter will be the boss fight. The players will fight against a lich with the Ascetic of Vecna template that will blast the PCs from a safe distance at the top of one of four pillars of ice while using Lich Step to go back and forth between them. The pillars themselves are controlled by the lich so that they can raise and lower temselves from 10 to 20 squares in hight allowing the lich to go low enough to attack the players before rising up above the range of most attacks. At his side he'll be flanked by level adjusted Fallen Angels of Sorrow (reworked as undead), while level adjusted Fallen Angels of Death take the fight to the PCs themselves.

While the angels are more or less straight forward, the PCs have to use strength checks (or just do damage) to the pillars that the lich is standing on to topple them, forcing him to move from one, to the next, to the next before being forced to fight on the ground. Since the angels all have radiant resistance, the players can't rely on harming them with radiant attacks (though the lich is still vulnerable to them) so if the players get the magic item from the previous encounter, whoever is using it can go all out against the lich while the other players focus on the angels.


Anyway for those who managed to read all of that, what do you think? Any advice on how to improve these encounters? Anything that the players might do to get around them with little effort?
Why not involve everyone in playing chess?

To steal a cue from ... X2 Castle Amber?, the room is the chessboard, with pieces arrayed in proper locations across the room.  As soon as a player steps onto the floor/board (to include hovering or flying over), s/he becomes constrained by that pieces movements and no other player can enter that space (deity level magic).  When taken, the PCs join a statue gallery off to one side as statues.  Should a PC make it to the other side, the remaining PCs (if any) are whisked away to join him/her as the puzzle ends.

So it becomes not so much a game of winning chess, but a game of using chess-legal moves to reach the far side of the board.

Are the darkened rooms magically dark, or simply contain no light sources?  I would think it matters.

Cheers!

 
A shout out to Gaming Grounds in Kent, Ohio and Gamers N Geeks in Mobile, Alabama. www.zombiehunters.org for all your preparation needs. http://shtfschool.com/ - why prepping is useful, from one who has been there.
Did the agreement on your end of it include not being able to create PC-type characters? A couple of clerics and wizards slightly higher, or at least equal, level than the PC's with spell penetration or other enhancers that make the spells most effective, ogres with weapon specialization, basically anything the players can use to max out their characters should be open to you too!

Some of what I've read from other posters here play into this: a bunch of moderately tough encounters that wear them down, and they don't have time to lay back and recover spells repeatedly (maybe once).
A few fireballs of only 5 or 6 dice, while they're sleeping, can really mess them up.
Dispel Magic as an area spell and NOT targeting a particular person can be used to cut into the defenses of the PC's wizards, without having it reflected back at your villains.
FLANK ATTACKS, otherwise known a BACKSTABBING, can be nasty.
In 1st, 2nd and 3rd edition games, Will o' Wisp are VERY hard to hit and immune to most spells, but aren't overwhelming in power level. I don't know about 4th edition.

Of course, nothing says one or more of the prisoners the heroes rescued halfway thru the adventure can't have a high disguise and acting skill to conceal that he/she/they are vampires...
Did the agreement on your end of it include not being able to create PC-type characters?


Creating PC-based NPCs are more than likely no good... but I can always use a class template to give a monster access to the spells and powers of a PC class. I never thought about trying that and I know some powers and features that PCs have are pretty awesome, and the templates let me give them to monsters.

Will o' Wisp are VERY hard to hit and immune to most spells, but aren't overwhelming in power level. I don't know about 4th edition.


In this edition they seem pretty annoying and look like they are pretty good at being evasive, but I haven't seen them in play so I can't say.

Of course, nothing says one or more of the prisoners the heroes rescued halfway thru the adventure can't have a high disguise and acting skill to conceal that he/she/they are vampires...


That is simply brilliant. I should kick myself for not thinking of that.

I'm surprised more people haven't said to take a look at the Lair Assault encounters. These really were designed with just this in mind, a one-off high difficulty encounter. Here are a few suggestions taken straight from the last two:

1) Limit number of rounds: Spiderkiller did this brilliantly. 20 rounds to finish the whole encounter? This actually created a physical time limit (after all, even with 6 players, each round only took about 15 minutes each maximum). Of course, there needs to be a compelling reason for this, in this case, a drow priestess was summoning the demon armies of Lolth.

2) Environmental Hazards: Fast-moving water, lava, ice, cliffs, anything you can think of. Use monsters that can push/pull/slide the players into hazardous terrain. Sure they can make a check to fall prone instead, but that's a bonus for you. Anything that limits PC mobility is great. Force players to make Athletics/Acrobatics checks to move from point A to point B. Terrain is a huge part of making things tactically interesting.

3) Match the monsters to the encounter: Again, Spiderkiller did this well. Similar to environmental hazards, try to make your monsters "immune" to the hazards as much as possible. In a cave or other enclosed space? Have spiders with a climb speed which can bypass ground terrain altogether. Lava pits? Fire elementals spawn from them, picking off ranged strikers and healers from the safety of the lava. Water? Make sure your monsters have swim speed or fly/levitate.

4) Have surprises: Tyrantclaw did this. I mean, the island was filled with orcs and dinosaurs. I was expecting a T-rex as the end boss, but I wasn't expecting the quest giver to become the T-rex. The goal did a complete 180 from protecting her to killing the T-rex that she had become. If everything leading to endgame was challenging enough, your players should be running out of juice at this point. Time to clean up!
Wizard's first rule: People are stupid.
Every optimized party has weaknesses.  Have enough 'easy' encounters that one will prey upon a weakness.  Each encounter should target different defenses so that an AC optimized party can be hit with medium rolls.

Encounters:
1.  A cramped twisty maze with tiny opponents.  Each turn is so close together that only two PC's have line of sight, while all the monsters can attack.

2.  An extremely long open room with a balcony 10 squares above the floor, filled with archers.  Most of the PC's will have to spend several turns running to the locked door on the opposite side, which opens to a stairway going up the the balcony level, where they will still be a turn away from mellee range. 

3.  A room that is the size of an aoe or blast attack, which all the monsters have.  Position the critters behind a paper wall, so they can time their attack for multiple PC targets.
  

To add insult to injury, each encounter and the whole dungeon, should use less exp than you are allowed.              
If the monsters have to be an apropriate level, then what level are they?

Send a blue dragon at them before they get inside some place.  Make sure it has it's area burst with a range of 20.  Keep the dragon 21 squares up, and have it use the area burst at the square above whoever is below it.
Send a couple of them and make sure to send about 20 kobold minions of their level.  Make sure the kobolds emerge from underground tunnels to where the party is.

Blammo, trouble for the party.


Throw a vampire lord at the group while they are sleeping.  Have him dominate the person on watch, and drink his blood till he dies.  If it goes sour, have him mist form out of there.  An hour later, here comes the vampire lord to try again.  Rinse, repeat.
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