Last week, I offered up a collection of build packages - themed builds to slowly showcase across the coming weeks - as well as the option to try "something completely different". That Something Completely Different won by a sliver. So, here it is.
And if you are in the habit of skipping my preambles, this time, don't - it's all new material.
This week, I’m trying something different. There are times when we focus too strongly on an individual build rather than a whole party, and forget that a character's true strength emerges after being put together with their allies.
Furthermore, in the spirit of Breaking the Four Boxes, I’d like to present our groups, showing off how we don’t bother with Defender/Striker/Controller/Leader archetypes. There’s traces of it (since D&D was designed with that in mind), moreso here than in most of our games, but you’ll see some of the bending and blending at work.
We play in two games at the moment – one which has been going on since 2006, the other which is less than a year old – and the interplay between the characters is interesting. The more recent campaign includes several spectacular examples of interplay, and we’ve been steamrolling higher-CR encounters as a result.
So, in the spirit of doing a CO diary, we'll show you how that party does it. You'll see builds for all five members, but only up to the level we've currently reached, along with a tactical snapshot of our teamwork tactics and a detailed example combat from a recent section.
DEAD FOR NOTHING
Effective Level 8 Dungeoncrawl / Whodunnit in Eberron
Campaign Houserules: Fractional is required. Flaws are allowed (but not everyone uses them; those that do have good justification for each one (respectively, an overactive dragonmark having physical side-effects, a lifetime of working a library job and only recently hitting the field, and health problems from years of a chain-smoking habit)). The Mike Mearls modifications to the Hexblade are in effect (summary: Hexblade gets good Fortitude save, add Charisma mod to curses per day (and a curse isn’t used up if it fails), curse as a swift rather than a free action, dead levels get a Quick Cast ability, and get armored mage up to Medium with shields.) New material that we’re writing as designers/developers is showing up for playtesting – Seichiru’s defining “Shinobi” class is an example. (It’s a sublime way ‘ninja’ variant strongly based on one put forth by heretic888 (it is to the swordsage what the scout is to the ranger); its unique school (Hidden Door) focuses on surprise attacks, positioning, and maintaining momentum.)
- The Leader: Sentinel Marshal Alexander “Xander” Ramses d’Deneith (Human Educated Wilder 8)
- The Big Guy: Aluonna “Bones” Ironbone, the Protector (Goliath Bard 3 / Crusader 4)
- The Smart Guy: Professor Morris Gilliam of Morgrave University (Human Archivist 7 / Erudite 1)
- The Chick: Tsukiyo-ue-Umi no Seichiru (Human Passive Way Monk 3 / Shinobi 5)
- The Lancer: Hadyn gar Kan (Human Hexblade 8)
(The Five Man Band was accidental at first, but now we play it up for kicks. It isn’t a perfect match: The Big Guy is technically split between Aluonna and Hadyn, with Aluonna acting as The Chick when she’s not The Big Guy and Hadyn only acting as The Big Guy when he’s not doing his Lancer thing. Likewise, Seichiru is equal parts The Chick and Sneaky Guy. But there's enough shades of it that we can still work with it.)
Background: This team was designed around a simple idea: Any two teammates can support each other in critical ways, which usually create openings for a third. This usually results in overwhelming numerical or action advantage, whereupon we can simply be patient and win through attrition. It also directly promotes varied teamwork, as which two pair up at any given moment is largely a function of circumstance or chance placement. There’s also a solid understanding of the action economy here: virtually everyone is designed to maximize their opportunities to successfully act, minimize their chances of wasting an action, and do the exact opposite to their enemies. (Absolute cheese like Synchronicity or Celerity is considered unsporting and skipped, though.)
The DM, RadicalTaoist, expected optimized characters (and would be designing encounters accordingly - most recently, he's descried it as "D&D on Legendary") and warned us that the campaign involves “old-fashioned dungeon clearing and murder mysteries”, and we quickly learned it co-starred a large cast of secondary characters with an… interesting relationship to honesty. Hence, we need to be good at two things: investigation and social manipulation, and efficiently beating face over multiple encounters.
The team started at level 6, and has faced substantially more combat encounters than social ones thus far, but spiders take a while to weave their webs. The group, interestingly, is not optimized for spiking - it's a much more tactical team, designed for an inevitable and efficient win, rather than a quick and brutal one.
Least Dragon-mark, Mark of the Dauntless, Psicrystal Affinity, Linked Power
(Level Adjustment +1)
Scribe Scroll, Heighten Spell, Extend Spell, Midnight Metamagic, Improved Essentia Capacity
Improved Unarmed Strike (B), Dodge, Hidden Door Counter
Concealed Defense, Flowing Strike, Mighty Throw, Counter Charge, Under the Blade
Bind Vestige, Improved Bind Vestige, Power Attack, Practiced Spell-caster
Extra Music, [Healing Hymn]
Know Direction, Mage Hand, Detect Magic, Mage Hand
Passive Way Monk
Prestidigitation, Feather Fall, Comprehend Languages
Psycarnum Infusion, Psicrystal Affinity
Passive Way Monk
Improved Trip, Mobility
Song of the Heart
Read Magic, Undetectable Alignment
Passive Way Monk
Hideous Laughter, Charm Person
Grip of Iron
Shield Block, Douse the Flames, Charging Minotaur, Crusader’s Strike, Battle Leader’s Charge, Iron Guard’s Glare
Step of the Wind
Object Reading, TK Thrust
Leading the Charge
Song of the White Raven
White Raven Tactics
Devastating Charge, Moment of Perfect Mind, Concealed Assault
Mind over Body
Death’s Call, Whirling Blade, Glitterdust
Note 2: As I type this, Morris may or may not be undergoing a rebuild to test a new prestige class. If we do a later showcase, you'll see.
Note 3: Quite a lot on Seichiru is stuff you won't recognize, since it's material we're writing and playtesting internally, and as such is subject to change.
Note 4: Because I KNOW you’re going to ask it, the badass custom miniatures were hand-drawn by Seishi.
Xander: Mark of the Dauntless is an amazing Wilder feat, as Xander is immune to the dazing from Psychic Enervation (its biggest drawback by far). Link Power + Wild Surge effectively lets him manifest powers without an action, if he links them to his immediate-action Grip of Iron – in effect, this is Magic: The Gathering’s “During your discard phase…” applied to D&D. (Although we rule it too cheesy, it also seems to allow double-surging: For instance, if he Surge+3’s Grip of Iron (just before his turn), and spends the 3pp from the surge on a Linked 3pp Energy Stun, when the stun goes off (without an action) he can simply surge again (as the earlier Surge was on Grip of Iron, not Energy Stun: Link Power turns the second into an augment for the first) for a 6pp Lightning Stun that cost him one power point and his psionic focus, and could be augmented much larger if he wanted on either turn.) Grip of Iron also transfers its bonus to Telekinetic Maneuver’s grapple checks, which allows him to lock down and slowly crush a broad array of targets. At the moment, he engages multiple targets with a dorje of Psychic Scimitar; soon, his psicrystal will let him double-up on the telekinetic grapples. Outside of combat, he’s picked up tracking skills, investigative skills (the wilder list is surprisingly good at this), and some clairsentience abilities, becoming our point-man on most crime scenes.
Aluonna: Nicknamed “the Valkyrie” during planning, and in many ways a more martial version of the A-Game Paladin, Aluonna’s optimized for Inspire Courage, raising everyone’s combat prowess something fierce (up to +4 already – Song of the Heart, Inspirational Boost, and a Badge of Valor – and she’s getting Words of Creation in a couple levels, hence the high Intelligence for a Bard/Crusader). As a warrior, her own damage potential comes from White Raven charges and Inspire Courage. Charging comes with an AC penalty, she lacks Power Attack, and bonus damage from White Raven (or Inspire Courage) doesn’t care about handedness, so she uses a longsword (as a goliath, this does the same base damage as a greatsword) and a shield – which gives her extra slots for wand chambers over a two-hander. Bard wands (Inspirational Boost, Swift Expeditious Retreat) and charge-mobility skill tricks allow her to basically act as a tactical missile after she starts singing, and then acts as a damage magnet and deterrent once she digs in – perfect for direct assault or creating a "safe zone". Outside of combat, Aluonna is the moral backbone of the team, serving as the group’s secondary lie detector and primary diplomat (and the “good cop” to Hadyn’s “bad cop” during shakedowns).
Morris: Our magical shock trooper, Morris’ main stunt is “Metapsycarnum”. Expending his psionic focus on Psycarnum Infusion can treat an incarnum receptacle as full for one round, even though no essentia is in fact invested. This is used to get around the 1/day limit on Midnight Metamagic, effectively becoming “expend focus for [essentia capacity] levels of free metamagic”. (Let that sink in for a bit. For context, we all know how powerful Divine Metamagic is? Well, this is about as good, but usable any number of times per day, with any number of metamagic feats in any combination on any given casting!) Combined with an emphasis on Heighten Spell and spells that cripple the enemy over time (his combat spells involve things like Nauseating Breath, Opalescent Gaze, and Creeping Cold, with whatever combination of metamagic he feels he needs at the time), he’s conservative with his spells but applies them for maximum impact. Outside of spellcasting, his Dark Knowledge can further augment our team’s numerical advantage. Since Dark Knowledge directly demands an education, Morris is the team’s knowledge base, including a subfocus on forensics through Heal, and he’s very good at his job.
Seichiru: Sei’s testing out Hidden Door and the Shinobi for us. She’s specialized in mobility (mid-level shinobi basically act like elusive Spring Attackers, and her speed is augmented), able to move and tumble just about anywhere and deliver strikes that play with enemy position and condition, while evading being pinned down herself. Her strikes (largely from Setting Sun and Hidden Door) usually render the targets flat-footed, stunned, prone, or at a massive penalty to counterattack, or involve a Dex-based trip/throw. Interestingly, since some of her strikes have a Spring Attack effect (something unique to shinobi), she can even stay on the move with readied actions, which (combined with counters) makes her a great harrier, able to interrupt and foil a lot of potential actions even from what appears to be a safe distance away. She doesn’t deal a lot of damage (low Strength and monk-style unarmed combat), but she trips very well and has several opportunities to connect (flurry, Improved Trip, and counters). Outside of combat, Sei’s our trapscout, spy, infiltrator, and saboteur. (For story reasons, she’s also the regional expert – we’re in a foreign land with which she may or may not be familiar. What’s a ninja without some secrets?)
Hadyn: What do you expect from a single-classed hexblade? He weakens the enemy numerically. Dark Companion and Focalor’s aura (through Improved Bind Vestige) give -2 attack, -2 AC and -4 saves simply for having him nearby, and that’s before he deploys his curse or Imperious Command intimidation. (If Aluonna creates a "safe zone", Hadyn creates a "kill zone".) Once the foes are sufficiently debilitated, he just opens up with Full Power Attacks against their lowered AC for straightforward damage. Outside of combat, Hadyn packs a Shax haversack (as he has the fewest direct options of the team from his class features, having an eclectic array of tools helps him contribute in unusual circumstances) and enough ranks in Bluff and Intimidate to operate as counterintelligence, and just a splash of UMD to improvise on odd loot we find. His familiar is mostly a secondary scout or messenger (and played for comic relief) right now, but things will change in a few levels (Improved Familiar is in the cards; hexblade familiars are pretty badass). The other “familiars”, Xander’s and Morris’ psicrystals, haven’t expressed themselves as much.
This is just a quick sampling of what I mean by reinforcing each other. Obviously, the environment and specific enemies we find are a big influence on our tactics.
Xander+Aluonna: Aluonna’s Inspire Courage adds to all weapon damage bonus, including the unarmed damage inherited by Xander’s TK Maneuver grapples, which can add up really fast (since he uses Grip of Iron whenever he wants to (ab)use Link Power, his grapple bonus is, in a word, stratospheric.). Xander’s TK Thrust is occasionally used to pull Aluonna from a threatening position back to defend the team (an inverse Fastball Special, if you prefer), or set her up for a second round of charging (he can also do this by repositioning the enemy, which is sometimes easier than moving the massive, heavily-armored goliath, even if she is a willing target). Plus, given Xander’s role in many other dual techs, having Aluonna on hand to White Raven Tactics him is amazing.
Xander+Morris: Morris can set up AoE sustained death effects, while Xander holds enemies in position with TK Maneuver so they can’t escape the metamagic’d Acid Fogs. Similarly, the former can easily cover for the latter if we’re fighting enemies smart enough to “go for the mage” first – they’re both ‘mage-types’ (and thus can frequently be found near each other, away from the fray, since they devote their move actions to their magic), but Xander’s tough enough to survive a direct assault, and will be able to push away or pin down anyone who tries to get to Morris.
Xander+Seichiu: More Fastball Specials can put Sei wherever she’s needed or save her if she’s in too deep, while Sei’s own stunning and positioning powers tend to clump targets up for Energy Stuns – and some of Sei’s maneuvers become deadlier against stunned or denied-dex targets. Unlike normal grapples, if Sei strikes at a TK Grappled target, she doesn’t have a chance of hitting Xander – he’s usually far away, concentrating on the power.
Xander+Hadyn: Anything close to Hadyn gets its saving throws hosed and becomes easy picking for Xander, and enemies held in Xander’s telekinetic grip are easy pickings for Hadyn’s Power Attacks. Similarly, the action advantage gained by using TK:M against anything distant and Imperious Command + Never Outnumbered against anything nearby can be downright abusive. Oh, and Hadyn’s amazing magic resistance (Arcane Resistance + Mettle + good Fortitude/Will saves) gives him a good chance of shrugging off friendly fire if Xander needs to aim an Energy Stun where it’ll hit Hadyn.
Aluonna+Morris: Healing Hymn works surprisingly well with Lesser Vigor or Cure Minor Wounds, in effect giving very, very powerful healing effects for dirt-cheap costs even without metapsycarnum. Similarly, Morris is the only character not normally able to obtain action advantage (one of the few weaknesses of the cleric list: action advantage tends to come from summons there, and we’re avoiding doing that here) – but he partners with Aluonna, thanks to White Raven Tactics, whenever he’s got a damage-over-time effect up. Although we haven’t needed to do this yet, the WRT trick can also be used to cover for Morris’ refocusing for more powerful metamagic. Finally, this pair’s main buffs all use different bonus types (Luck from Recitation, untyped from Dark Knowledge, and Morale from Inspire Courage – note that none of these are Enhancement or Competence, which are the easiest to get from equipment), stacking up into the stratosphere.
Aluonna+Seichiru: These two are alarmingly mobile (yes, even the heavy-armor goliath!), usually able to play very effective sheepdog with each other. Generally, Sei acts as perimeter control, and Aluonna is able to chase down anything Sei knocks over before it gets too far away. More directly, Inspire Courage makes sure the medium base attack Shinobi has a good chance of striking with her maneuvers, as none of them trigger on touch attacks, while Sei’s abilities to stun or knock targets prone make them easy targets for Aluonna’s charges. Similarly, Inspire Courage helps with Sei’s modest damage output – less in terms of hit points, and more in terms of her maneuvers that have damage-based DCs. Finally, many Hidden Door maneuvers bestow conditions but become more powerful if they hit a foe already suffering from particular conditions (i.e. a strike might have a chance of knocking a target prone, or a chance of stunning an already-prone target). With White Raven Tactics, Seichiru can literally dual-tech herself with both setup and finisher.
Aluonna+Hadyn: The former is based around maximizing Inspire Courage, the latter is based on hosing enemy attacks/saves/checks – put the two together, and it isn’t uncommon for these two to grant an almost double-digit swing in relative modifiers in our favor without really consuming actions to do so. That translates into a LOT of powerful Power Attacks and negating incoming enemy attacks (both directly, through Hadyn’s intimidation and Shield Block, and indirectly, through Iron Guard’s Glare and Hadyn’s debuffs.). Finally, if all you need is a truckload of damage right now, nothing in the team can keep up with White Raven Tactics bringing out another full Power Attack from Hadyn.
Morris+Seichiru: There isn’t an amazing standout dual tech on this pairing ( yet… ), but that’s usually because Morris hangs in the back targeting groups while Seichiru skirmishes around the front targeting stragglers. When they’re in tight quarters, Sei’s trips and throws prevent dogpiling on the spellcaster, and Morris’s high-DC (Psycarnum Heighten) spells act as a secondary lock. Interestingly, Morris can do this even with basic AoE effects: because Seichiru operates like a spring attacker, she can vacate the premises after doing a Setting Sun throw, rather than remaining in the line of fire.
Morris+Hadyn: Just as with Xander, finding your targets at a serious saving throw disadvantage is a huge benefit for any spellcaster - and by applying their respective tricks in tandem, it isn't uncommon to have an effective +7 or more DC modifier compared to simply casting the spell normally (meaning it's rare that Morris' spells fail, short of the target being flat-out immune to whatever he casts). More importantly, the action advantage picked up by Imperious Command + Never Outnumbered far outweighs the action cost of refocusing, so in effect Hadyn not only opens a window for a lethal Morris spell, but gives him cover to reload. Morris is also able to act as an auxiliary Aluonna through his Dark Knowledge abilities and buff spells in some battles, so the Aluonna/Hadyn pairing is partially true here – as is Morris’s general stacking joy (Hadyn’s penalties are all untyped, believe it or not, though not everything is vulnerable to all of them).
Seichiru+Hadyn: Hadyn’s big weakness is his low mobility and lack of reach (Focalor’s aura forces him to forgo reach weapons), but he deals amazing spike damage. Sei’s big weakness is her low spike damage, but she has amazing mobility. When the two team up, it’s a match made in heaven: Sei has a Talisman of the Disk (MIC 188, a real steal), which lets Hadyn hop on her sidecar. Typically, he curses and repositions his Dark Companion, then she runs in, bringing his aura to bear on her enemies, then she delivers her maneuvers (tripping, stunning, etc) and triggering his readied Power Attack before she spring-attacks away, taking him along for the ride. This has proven to be a big asset to the team when the terrain is at our disadvantage and Sei can "share" Step of the Wind. (We don’t use this trick all the time; usually Hadyn’s most effective as a stationary, full-attacking anchor point (and kill zone for the spellcasters), while Sei runs the perimeter dealing with archers, casters, and skirmishers.) Hadyn also packs a couple spells which can catch targets flat-footed or otherwise distract them long enough to trigger the more powerful functions of Sei’s maneuvers, and he hoses saves enough to make sure it works… but the hexblade’s low spells per day make this somewhat infrequent.
Combat Example: Escape from the Labyrinth (CR 11)
Although I statted the party as they currently stand (level 8), this encounter happened towards the end of level 7. It took place as we were exiting a dungeon complex, having heard the enemy outside, demanding that we surrender for (essentially) graverobbing. We had just faced down a few very difficult encounters, and by no accounts were we at full strength – but we were close enough to camp to justify going all-out anyway. Due to hearing the enemy demands, we had time to buff up before emerging from the labyrinth in a staggered cluster.
I’ve omitted some details (such as enhancement bonuses and ability boosters) for brevity.
- Xander: Armed with: Dorje of Psychic Scimitar (one already active and wielded), shield.
- Defensive Precognition and Inertial Armor (both Surged) were active. Due to heavy Surge use and careful strategy design from DisposableHero_, Xander had plenty of power points remaining.
- Morris: Armed with: Tome of Worldly Memory, breastplate.
- Morris had used up almost all of his spell slots and all of his Dark Knowledge uses to get us through the dungeon in one piece, and he was sitting at low HP (we decided to patch up the frontliners with what little healing strength we had left).
- Aluonna: Armed with: Longsword, shield, chambered wands (Swift Expeditious Retreat, Inspirational Boost), plate armor, Badge of Valor.
- Aluonna was singing Inspire Courage +3 (via Inspirational Boost; the badge was out of charges) and was in the Leading the Charge stance.
- Seichiru: Armed with: Gauntlets, Talisman of the Disc, Healing Belt (out of charges for this encounter).
- Sei had some lingering Strength damage from a battle earlier in the day, and was in the Step of the Wind stance. Shinobi class features add extra school-based abilities while in a corresponding stance; with her choices, a Setting Sun stance improves her defenses while on the move.
- Hadyn: Armed with: Scythe, mithral breastplate, buckler with Arrow Deflection augment gem, backup flail with least return (quick-draw) augment gem.
- Hadyn had made a good pact with Focalor, and was free from his influence for the day. He had only three curses left (thank you, Mike Mearls!), but was at nearly full HP and had not cast any spells at this point.
The two casters' psicrystals were pocketed for the fight, and the hexblade's familiar was separated from him (running an errand), so they’re basically non-entities for this encounter.
Since I’m one of the players in this game, it’s not my place to know exact stats on our opponents, but here’s a basic summary from what we could recognize and what RT was willing to share later.
- 2x Edgewalker Defenders (Human warrior-type, Spiked Chain + Combat Reflexes, Deft Opportunist, Improved Trip. Notably not using Thicket of Blades). In two groups roughly 40' away from the entrance with about 15’ or so between the groups.
- 2x Edgewalker Initiates (Human monk-type, Decisive Strike, Improved Trip, Pain Touch, Snap Kick.). Initially adjacent to the Defenders.
- 2x Edgewalker Wardens (Human archer-type, Manyshot shoot-and-scoot style). Began off to a side, hidden in the bushes, but still within Manyshot range.
I don't know their exact levels, but RT was kind enough to inform us afterwards that this was a CR 11 encounter - hey, he did warn us to bust out all the optimization-fu we could muster. An encounter 4 levels higher than our party's level, after being seriously taxed by a pair of CR 9 fights and multiple CR 5s earlier? Bring it on!
The basic set of enemy tactics is straightforward enough to anyone looking at their builds: The defenders were simple but effective mini-Lockdown types, aiming at holding us in place long enough for the Initiates to pull off a Decisive Strike + Snap Kick + Pain Touch combo to seriously hurt anyone they hit. (They could also use Pain Touch normally to hold us in place long enough to do the Decisive Strike + Snap Kick combo on their own via a trip, or to buy time for the Defenders to get into position depending on how battle unfolded). The Wardens were supposed to keep our attention divided and would focus-fire on anyone who broke past the defenders. Fairly straightforward, with the bulk of their power coming from very high modifiers in the relevant areas (Deft Opportunist, Precise Shot, and - I'm not sure about this, but likely - Ability Focus (Stunning Fist/Pain Touch).)
All parties aware of each other to start (and thus were not flat-footed). However, the wardens started off with ready actions to fire at those of us in the back of the formation (turned out to be Sei and Morris) once we were out of the dungeon complex.
Initiative order: Seichiru, Aluonna, Defenders, Xander, Morris, Initiates, Wardens, Hadyn
- The wardens' readied attacks triggered, missing Seichiru but damaging Morris, knocking his HP quite low.
- Seichiru tumbles through the defenders' threatened areas to initiate a Devastating Throw, successfully tossing one defender down near the other. Realizing that this places her in a precarious spot (in at least one defender’s threatened area, and probably two of them by the time her next action comes up, to say nothing of the initiates), she switches stances to Under the Blade (a Hidden Door anti-flanking stance; she loses the improved defense from a Setting Sun stance but gains improved misdirection abilities instead.)
- Aluonna, continuing her performance, initiates Battle Leader's Charge at the nearest defender, which scores a critical hit. (We interpret +flat damage (such as Battle Leader’s Charge + Leading the Charge) as multiplying, so this hurts a lot.) Note that Battle Leader’s Charge doesn’t provoke AoOs, so the defenders’ chains can’t stop her.
- Defenders: The first stands up (and suffers an AoO from Aluonna) and retaliates with an Improved Trip against Aluonna, which fails. The second shifts position and tries the same trick, succeeding this time – knocking Aluonna prone – and following up with an Improved Trip and the rest of a full attack against her.
- Xander responds with an immediate action: Wild Surge Grip of Iron, linked to a 7pp Energy Stun (Lightning). (He doesn’t have TK:Maneuver at this point, so he’s using Grip of Iron as a carrier for the Energy Stun.) When his initiative ticks, instead of taking his turn (and triggering the linked energy stun), he delays until after Hadyn.
- Morris, badly wounded, Psycarnum Infuses a Heighten Spell onto a Minor Image, made to resemble him summoning several ogres from various points of the battlefield. (Quick tactical aside: In Riedra, the belief that foreigners summon and traffic with demons is commonplace, and the public image of a demon is similar enough to an ogre for this to be a surprisingly convincing tactic.) Only one initiate and one defender make the save to recognize their nature; critically, both wardens fail. Morris then ducks inside the dungeon entrance for cover and remains there for the rest of the battle.
- The Initiate that failed the save attacks the nearest ogre (making the disbelief save after he attacks it), while the one that made it closes in on Seichiru and makes a trip attempt, augmented by Pain Touch. Sei misses the DC by two, but attempts a counter against the Improved Trip followup - only to fail by one. She then rolls a four on the save vs Pain Touch and ends up prone, stunned, nauseated, and cursing the dice gods.
- The wardens attempt to relocate away from the "summoned ogres"; in the process they get - and succeed - another save to disbelieve.
- Hadyn sends his dark companion into the fray, giving a save penalty to virtually everyone, and curses the nearest defender, who fails his save. He then moves into the middle of the fray (provoking AoOs from both defenders, but they miss due to the penalties he's inflicted), ending up within 10' of both defenders and both initiates. He delivers a powerful Intimidate check, using his 1/enc Never Outnumbered skill trick (so it demoralizes everyone within 10’, rather than just those in reach) and spending an action point for a result too high for any of them to resist. Thanks to Imperious Command, all four melee opponents are now cowering and shaken. (It's worth noting here that, since Hadyn didn't attack, he benefits from his buckler’s AC bonus.)
- Xander's delay triggers, setting off the lightning stun in the middle of the fray, hitting a defender and an initiate. The defender (suffering several penalties from the dark companion and from Hadyn's Aura of Sadness) fails the save and is stunned, while the initiate passes (taking no damage due to Evasion and not needing to save for the stun). For his move+standard, Xander jogs up to Seichiru and employs his Mark of the Dauntless to remove her stun.
- Seichiru, no longer stunned but still nauseated and prone, attempts to stand - as the defenders are cowering and can take no actions, Sei doesn't take an AoO.
- Aluonna, also prone, stands up (no AoOs due to cowering foes again), attacks and kills the more wounded (and stunned) defender, then initiates White Raven Tactics, targeting Xander.
- Xander responds by using a Wild Surged telekinetic thrust to pull the nearest warden towards the fray; the archer fails the save and winds up dangerously close to the team.
- The remaining defender is cowering and can take no actions.
- Morris remains in the cave, concentrating on the illusion. (He's low on spells and HP.)
- The initiates are both cowering and can take no actions.
- The nearby warden 5' steps and unloads a full Rapid Shot attack against Hadyn, whose augmented AC from the Arrow Deflection crystal just stops the attack. The more distant warden unleashes a Manyshot towards Xander, whose augmented AC from Defensive Precog and Inertial Armor lets him effortlessly evade it.
- Hadyn repositions his companion, 5' steps to within Aluonna's reach (she's got Shield Block), Curses the nearby warden (who handily fails the save) and unleashes a two-handed Power Attack full attack; thanks to all the penalties he's got stacked up and the bonus from Aluonna's song, he easily staggers one initiate and heavily damages the archer.
- Seichiru is no longer nauseated, so she closes the distance to the second warden and initiates Mighty Throw, suplexing the warden next to Hadyn (and within his Aura of Sadness). Sadly, she's still suffering significant Strength damage, but the followup attack still hurts due to Aluonna's song.
- Aluonna delivers a Crusader's Strike against the nearby defender, again handily hitting due to her song and Hadyn's curse, killing the defender and healing some of the damage she took during her round 1 beating. (Although he’s hurt worse, Morris is too far away for the strike to heal.)
- Xander unleashes a Wild Surge TK Thrust to "Fastball Special" Seichiru towards the more distant archer. Sei is not amused, but easily manages to land on her feet.
- Morris sees his spell isn't helping as much anymore, so he refocuses and Psycarnum Extends a lesser vigor on himself.
- The staggered initiate Aids Another (unsuccessfully, due to all of Hadyn's penalties) and falls unconscious. The second initiate attempts a stunning trip attempt on Hadyn, but rolls a natural 1.
- The wardens both 5' step and unleash full attacks on their nearest attackers, hitting Seichiru once and ALMOST hitting Hadyn once – although they’re outside his auras and attacking at full strength, the attack against Hadyn is deftly Shield Blocked by Aluonna.
- Hadyn unleashes his final curse for the day on the conscious initiate, who (being within both the Aura of Sadness and the Dark Companion's influence) easily fails. Hadyn then full Power Attacks, attacking first the initiate (success, he's cut in half) then 5' steps towards the warden for the second attack (natural 2 on an iterative attack, miss).
- Seichiru closes with her warden (switching to Step of the Wind again; with the defenders far away, she’s no longer in danger of being flanked, so the defensive class features she gains from any Setting Sun stance are the clear winners), and initiates Flowing Strike. This is a playtest low-level maneuver from Hidden Door that deals slight bonus damage and can possibly render a target flat-footed (or prone if they’re already flat-footed); Sei's damaged Strength makes the odds of success low but the bonus damage might compensate on the offensive front. The warden rolls a 1 and becomes flat-footed for 1 round.
- Aluonna lets loose a Charging Minotaur attack against the archer who keeps trying to flee Hadyn, employing Twisted Charge to adjust the angle of attack. Thanks to Powerful Build, attacking a non-Strength-based enemy, and Hadyn's curse, the bull rush sends the warden flying back several squares and slams her into a nearby menhir.
- Xander throws his Psychic Scimitar at the same warden, and rolls really well on a disarm attempt. He demands the warden's surrender, but due to the language barrier and the archer's fanaticism, no dice.
- Morris refocuses, but otherwise does nothing, conserving his spells.
- The warden nearest Sei attempts to move away with a normal move action. Sei takes the AoO from the movement, using it on a trip attempt (but rolls hilariously poorly and fails). The other warden (disarmed) draws a sword and fights defensively against the psychic scimitar. While this has no effect damage-wise it does increase her AC.
- Hadyn (who's on the deep end of the alignment pool and tends to lose himself in battle) moves close enough to the (sword-wielding) warden to capture him in both his Aura of Sadness and the Dark Companion's influence. He deliberately provokes an AoO (which fails; the auras debuff enemy attacks as well as saves, so this isn’t the first time Hadyn’s done this) by casting Dread Seizure (a reflavored Hideous Laughter spell) at point-blank range. The archer fails the save hilariously, getting no actions for 7 rounds. Hadyn ends his turn menacingly holding his scythe at the archer's throat.
- Seichiru moves around and recovers maneuvers - we're testing recovery methods; for the moment, this involves skirmish tactics but can allow a single non-maneuver attack. Here, this attack is an Improved Trip attempt against the warden, which succeeds this time.
- Aluonna (who has a thing against bullying and unfair fights) moves next to Hadyn and the seizing archer. She pushes his scythe away and convinces Hadyn not to take the helpless archer's life. At the end of this turn Aluonna's maneuvers recover.
- Xander redirects his scimitar to the only remaining combatant (the prone archer near Sei), and gets a basic hit in.
- Morris continues to observe the fray, delaying (as he doesn't wish to burn up more spell slots).
- The warden attempts to stand, provoking an AoO (successful) from Sei. Realizing she's cornered, the warden draws her sword.
- Hadyn responds to Aluonna's urging and agrees to spare the warden, dropping his scythe. He retrieves a set of manacles from his haversack and starts to lock up the warden.
- Seichiru delivers another Flowing Strike against the prone warden; it deals sufficient bonus damage to finish her off and end the encounter.
The DM confides, post-session, that several of the enemy attack rolls would have succeeded, had they been made without Hadyn's immense penalty effects, and that many of our successful attack rolls came from a big Inspire Courage bonus from the beginning; the team observes that the tide was completely turned as soon as Sei threw the enemies close enough to each other for Hadyn's Never Outnumbered+Imperious Command and Xander's Energy Stun to do their thing. (The encounter seemed easier than it was largely because these enemies weren't fear-immune.) The immense action advantage put the enemies on the defensive despite their initial advantage (and actually prevented several of the enemy tactics from showing up – notice how the initiates never got a chance to use that Decisive Strike + Snap Kick combo, even with AoO tank support?), and during the time that bought us, we successfully inflicted a LOT of damage courtesy of Aluonna's charges and Hadyn's power attacks, which we were always in a position to do thanks to Xander's placement control and Sei's persistent movement.
Normally we spend that time inflicting conditions as well (Seichiru specializes in trips and stuns, Morris packs spells that nauseate or do damage-over-time), but this encounter prevented that (due to Sei getting stunned/nauseated herself and Morris being out of spell slots). As for Xander, his style was quite effective in controlling everyone’s positions this fight, but since then, his build-defining power (Telekinetic Maneuver) has come online, and his style evolved accordingly. (Show of hands: How many of you noticed Xander's a telekinetic with precognition armed with an energy sword projected from a special hilt and a penchant for throwing lightning around or gripping people with force effects?)
Special note regarding Morris: This encounter doesn’t show his strengths very well. He may have played a small (but significant!) role here, but I believe he had just three low-level spell slots and (after that arrow) single-digit HP remaining, plus no uses of Dark Knowledge left. (We’d just squared off against multiple high-CR “boss battles” before this, and he used up his healing on those of us more likely to stand in the front and take hits.) If he had been fresher, this fight would have been over in half the time.
Well, you haven't heard the last from this group. If this proves popular, we'll showcase more as it progresses past a few more levels (similar to a CO Diary), or perhaps give a peek into our other games. If you've got a particular observation or question for this group, you can post it here and we'll do what we can to address it.
(And as for next week's showcases? We'll use the votes from the previous thread to figure out where we're going. If you feel like continuing the votes, you can, but it's not all that important for this thread - that's why it isn't a "Weekly Optimization Showcase".)
In the meantime, though, I’d love to hear stories about your teams working together as a whole, or working against the usual stereotype of the Sturdy Brawler, the Sneaky Stabber, the Squishy Wizard, and the Armored Bandage. (This group is a little closer to that archetypal spread than we usually play, but the interplay was interesting enough to exhibit.) The lack of a need to break down your group that specific way, and to blend roles as you see fit, is one of the brightest shining points of 3e/3.5 - I'm sure you've got stories of your own, and I'd love to hear them.