3-stage solo dragon inspired by The Angry DM blog and LFR adventure CALI4-2

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I created this 3-stage solo dragon using the advice from angrydm.com/2010/08/the-dd-boss-fight-pa..." title="angrydm.com/2010/08/the-dd-boss-fight-pa...">The Angry DM blog. This dragon will replace the one in the Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) adventure CALI4-2, which I found rather boring to fight when I played the adventure.

What do you think? Does this look like a fun monster?

Sapphiraktar the Blue (stage 1)



Sapphiraktar the Blue (Stage 1)                                                                                                            Level 18 Solo Artillery



Gargantuan natural magical beast (dragon, undead)                                                                                                       XP 10,000



HP 230                                                                                                                                                                              Initiative +11



AC 32, Fortitude 31, Reflex 28, Will 28                                                                                                                     Perception +17



Speed 10, fly 12                                                                                                                                                                  Darkvision



Immune poison; Resist 15 lightning, 15 necrotic



Saving Throws +5; Action Points 1



Traits



Draconic Alacrity



A dragon makes two initiative checks and it takes a full turn on each initiative result. A dragon may take one immediate action between the end of each of its turns and the start of its next.



Draconic Resilience



At the end of each of its turns, a dragon may save against any effect or condition causing it to be dazed, dominated, stunned, unconscious, or removed from play, even if the effect does not normally allow a save.



Standard Actions



m Gore • At-Will



Attack: Melee 3 (one creature); +23 vs. AC



Hit: 3d8 + 13 lightning and necrotic damage.



M Claws • At-Will



Effect: If Sapphiraktar targets only one creature, he can make this attack twice against that creature.



Attack: Melee 2 (one or two creatures); +23 vs. AC



Hit: 3d8 + 13 damage, and Sapphiraktar can slide the target up to 2 squares.



Minor Actions



A Mesmerizing Glance • At-Will (1/round)



Attack: Ranged 10 (one creature); +21 vs. Will



Effect: Sapphiraktar slides the target up to 2 squares.



Hit: The target makes an at-will attack chosen by Sapphiraktar against a target chosen by Sapphiraktar.



Miss: If the target willingly moves to a square nearer to or adjacent to Sapphiraktar before the end of its next turn, it takes 10 psychic damage.



Triggered Actions



R Spitbreath Reaction (lightning, necrotic) • At-Will



Trigger: An enemy hits Sapphiraktar with a ranged attack.



Attack (Immediate Reaction): Ranged 20 (the triggering enemy); +21 vs. Reflex



Hit: 3d6 + 9 lightning and necrotic damage.



C Black Lightning Breath Weapon (lightning, necrotic) • Encounter



Trigger: Sapphiraktar is reduced to 0 hit points or fewer.



Special: Sapphiraktar can use this power even if a condition exists that would normally prevent it from doing so.



Attack (No Action): Close blast 20 (three creatures in blast); +21 vs. Reflex



Hit: 4d6 + 15 lightning and necrotic damage, and the target is immobilized and grants combat advantage (save ends both).



Miss: Half damage, and the target is slowed and grants combat advantage (save ends both).



Effect: Sapphiraktar flies 8 squares. This movement does not provoke opportunity attacks.



Effect: After this action is fully resolved, Sapphiraktar is removed from the battlefield and replaced with the Furious version, who retains the same initiatives.



Skills Arcana +16, Athletics +21, Insight +17



Str 24 (+16)            Dex 15 (+11)           Wis 16 (+12)



Con 20 (+14)          Int 14 (+11)             Cha 15 (+11)


Alignment chaotic evil           Languages Common, Draconic, Deep Speech


Furious Sapphiraktar (stage 2)


Furious Sapphiraktar the Blue (Stage 2)                                                                                            Level 18 Solo Artillery



Gargantuan natural magical beast (dragon, undead)                                                                                                       XP 10,000



HP 230                                                                                                                                                                              Initiative +11



AC 32, Fortitude 31, Reflex 28, Will 28                                                                                                                     Perception +17



Speed 10, fly 12                                                                                                                                                                  Darkvision



Immune poison; Resist 15 lightning, 15 necrotic



Saving Throws +5; Action Points 1



Traits



Strafe



The dragon gains a +2 bonus to attack rolls until the start of its next turn if it begins its turn with no enemies adjacent to it.



Draconic Alacrity



A dragon makes two initiative checks and it takes a full turn on each initiative result. A dragon may take one immediate action between the end of each of its turns and the start of its next.



Draconic Resilience



At the end of each of its turns, a dragon may save against any effect or condition causing it to be dazed, dominated, stunned, unconscious, or removed from play, even if the effect does not normally allow a save.



Standard Actions



m Gore • At-Will



Attack: Melee 3 (one creature); +23 vs. AC



Hit: 3d8 + 13 lightning and necrotic damage.



M Claws • At-Will



Effect: If Furious Sapphiraktar targets only one creature, he can make this attack twice against that creature.



Attack: Melee 2 (one or two creatures); +23 vs. AC



Hit: 3d8 + 13 damage, and Furious Sapphiraktar can slide the target up to 2 squares.



Move Actions



A Black Lightning Burst (lightning, necrotic) • At-Will (1/round)



Requirement: Furious Sapphiraktar must be able to fly and move to use this power.



Effect: Furious Sapphiraktar flies up to its speed before making the attack. This movement does not provoke OAs.



Attack: Area burst 2 within 20 (creatures in the burst); +21 vs. Reflex



Hit: 3d6 + 9 lightning and necrotic damage.



Miss: Half damage.



Triggered Actions



C Wing Backblast • At-Will



Trigger: An enemy hits Furious Sapphiraktar with a melee attack.



Attack (Immediate Reaction): Close burst 3 (creatures in burst); +21 vs. Reflex



Hit: The target falls prone.



Effect: Furious Sapphiraktar flies up to half its speed. This movement does not provoke OAs.



C Thunderous Dive (thunder) • Encounter



Trigger: Furious Sapphiraktar is reduced to 0 hit points or fewer.



Special: Furious Sapphiraktar can use this power even if a condition exists that would normally prevent it from doing so.



Effect: Furious Sapphiraktar flies up to 12 squares before making this attack and must end this movement on the ground. This movement does not provoke opportunity attacks.



Attack (No Action): Close burst 10 (creatures in burst); +21 vs. Fortitude



Hit: 4d6 + 15 thunder damage, and the target is knocked prone.



Miss: Half damage.



Effect: The target gains vulnerable 10 lightning until the end of its next turn, and the “Stream and Water” terrain effect no longer exists.



Effect: After this action is fully resolved, Furious Sapphiraktar is removed from the battlefield and replaced with the Bloodied version, who retains the same initiatives.



Skills Arcana +16, Athletics +21, Insight +17



Str 24 (+16)            Dex 15 (+11)           Wis 16 (+12)



Con 20 (+14)          Int 14 (+11)             Cha 15 (+11)


Alignment chaotic evil           Languages Common, Draconic, Deep Speech


Bloodied Sapphiraktar (stage 3)



Bloodied Sapphiraktar the Blue (Stage 3)                                                                                          Level 18 Solo Artillery



Gargantuan natural magical beast (dragon, undead)                                                                                                       XP 10,000



HP 230                                                                                                                                                                              Initiative +11



AC 32, Fortitude 31, Reflex 28, Will 28                                                                                                                     Perception +17



Speed 10, fly 12                                                                                                                                                                  Darkvision



Immune poison; Resist 15 lightning, 15 necrotic



Saving Throws +5; Action Points 1



Traits



O Uncontained Lightning (lightning) • Aura 5



Any enemy that ends it turn in the aura takes 10 lightning damage.



Draconic Alacrity



A dragon makes two initiative checks and it takes a full turn on each initiative result. A dragon may take one immediate action between the end of each of its turns and the start of its next.



Draconic Resilience



At the end of each of its turns, a dragon may save against any effect or condition causing it to be dazed, dominated, stunned, unconscious, or removed from play, even if the effect does not normally allow a save.



Bloodied



The dragon is considered bloodied, regardless of its hit point total.



Standard Actions



m Gore • At-Will



Attack: Melee 3 (one creature); +23 vs. AC



Hit: 3d8 + 18 lightning and necrotic damage.



M Claws • At-Will



Effect: If Bloodied Sapphiraktar targets only one creature, he can make this attack twice against that creature.



Attack: Melee 2 (one or two creatures); +23 vs. AC



Hit: 3d8 + 18 damage, and Bloodied Sapphiraktar can slide the target up to 2 squares.



C Black Lightning Breath Weapon (lightning, necrotic) • Encounter



Attack: Close blast 20 (three creatures in blast); +21 vs. Reflex



Hit: 4d6 + 20 lightning and necrotic damage, and the target is immobilized and grants combat advantage (save ends both).



Miss: Half damage, and the target is slowed and grants combat advantage (save ends both).



Minor Actions



M Tail Slap • At-Will (1/round)



Attack: Melee 4 (one creature); +21 vs. Reflex



Hit: 3d6 + 10 damage and Bloodied Sapphiraktar slides the target up to 3 squares to a square adjacent to him.



Triggered Actions



Wing Snap • At-Will



Trigger: An enemy attacks Bloodied Sapphiraktar while flanking him.



Attack (Immediate Interrupt): Melee 1 (the triggering enemy and an enemy flanking with the triggering enemy); +21 vs. Fortitude



Hit: 3d6 + 10 damage, and the target is pushed 1 square.



Skills Arcana +16, Athletics +21, Insight +17



Str 24 (+16)            Dex 15 (+11)           Wis 16 (+12)



Con 20 (+14)          Int 14 (+11)             Cha 15 (+11)



Alignment chaotic evil Languages Common, Draconic, Deep Speech



Notes:

I tried to retain the spirit of both the original LFR monster and its component parts (the Elder Blue Dragon and the Deathbringer Dracolich), supplemented with ideas from The Angry DM's solo design.

During Stage 1, Sapphiraktar uses Mesmerizing Glance to wreak havok among the party and uses Spitbreath Reaction to punish PCs who dare to attack him from range.

During Stage 2, Sapphiraktar becomes a flying bringer of pain in the form of Black Lightning Burst, which he should get to use at +2 attack thanks to Strafe. This time the dragon punishes those who dare to attack him in melee with Wing Backblast.

During Stage 3, Sapphiraktar can literally not contain his anger as it leaks out in an Uncontained Lightning aura. The dragon can no longer think straight enough to use any of its previous signature abilities such as Mesmerizing Glance or Black Lightning Burst -- instead it uses feral attacks like Tail Slap and Wing Snap. 

Finally, in the context of the LFR adventure, there will not be any Obelisks protecting Sapphiraktar. He has enough built-in protections (Dragonic Resilience) and those pillars make the combat incredibly tedious and grindy.
I didn't check every damage expression, but it looks like fun. Change-ups and the like make for interesting encounters in my opinion, especially when it comes to solos which can be awful grinds by themselves. I haven't seen the LFR adventure you're referencing, but you do mention that the pillars are getting the axe. What else is going on in the scene that makes it interesting? Terrain, alternate goals, or the like? (Out of curiosity, and so I can imagine how the dragon's abilities interact with that.)

And since I always like to talk dragon encounters, here's one I did early in the year that was pretty crazy. I'd likely approach this differently now, but the design was solid in actual play.

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It's LFR, so the implicit goal of this (and every) encounter is "kill monsters". That's what the players expect and what most of them enjoy.

[FYI the adventure itself is in the second link of my first sentence of the original post.] 

Funnily enough, the original version of this encounter featured an alternate goal -- to deactivate several Obelisks that protect the dragon in various ways. However, in practice, running around the map to make STANDARD ACTION skill checks on Obelisks is not nearly as much fun as just pounding on the dragon. So rather than futz with the Obelisk Skill Challenge I decided to make a more interesting dragon to fight.

I suppose now the goal is "try this 3-stage solo and see if it's fun". I'll let the players know up front that this will be a different sort of boss fight, and I might adjust it on the fly to make it fun and exciting.

= = =

Re: your dragon encounter, consider it yoinked for the next time I need an exciting solo fight. I've wanted to try a Worldbreaker ever since I read about them.     
I find most LFR adventures to be pretty weak, but that's not new for me to say. I'm curious - were the obelisks required to be terminated before you could affect the dragon or the like? I remember svendj talking about how a lot of LFR adventures make you do things like that. Good on you for taking them out. Although... wouldn't it be neat if the PCs could interact with the obelisks in such a way as to switch the dragon between forms? In theory, some forms might be easier to deal with than others given a certain party composition. I think I might write that down for use later. An interesting encounter could be built around that notion.

Anyone/anything else in the fight or just the dragon? 

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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Saying that the implicit goal in LFR is "kill all the monsters" is a little unfair, particularly when you are referencing a module in which....

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the first combat encounter centers around solving riddles, and the second combat encounter requires farming various forms of primordial energy and then getting out alive....while killing the monsters is practically irrelevant.
I've played LFR since 2008, and I generally enjoy it, but a lot of its quirks do grate on me. One LFR quirk that drives me insane is when they try to balance an encounter by making it (nearly) impossible for the PCs to affect the monsters.

Because LFR is implicitly a "kill monsters" combat game (not a Story-driven game, and definitely not Location In Motion), anything that takes the PCs out of that mode needs to be MORE INTERESTING than combat. Unfortunately, I do not find skill challenges to disable obelisks to be interesting AT ALL.

For reference, the original encounter includes
* the dragon
* 2 earthmote rune guardians (reflavored earth elementals - soldiers with a slide/prone power)
* 6 obelisks to disable via **TWO** STANDARD ACTION skill checks each (each obelisk protects the dragon: he doesn't trigger OAs/Immediates; zones/conjurations go poof; dragon rolls extra saves at start of turn; as Immediate, can cancel damage or effect that hits him; crits on 18-20; backlash damage)
* 1 big river of "remove your lightning resistance"

The massive action denial of the standard action skill checks was just too much. So, in my version of the dragon I integrated most of what the obelisks used to do and changed the encounter into "kill monster"... which is what LFR players want anyway.

I haven't decided if I'm keeping the earthmote rune guardians or not. Probably I'll have them pop up on round 2 or 3 if needed.

I except the dragon to last about 2 rounds in each of his stages, so 6 rounds total. That's about the right length of combat, methinks. 
* 6 obelisks to disable via **TWO** STANDARD ACTION skill checks each (each obelisk protects the dragon: he doesn't trigger OAs/Immediates; zones/conjurations go poof; dragon rolls extra saves at start of turn; as Immediate, can cancel damage or effect that hits him; crits on 18-20; backlash damage)



Good lord. You're right to have taken that out, not that you need my agreement on that. By any chance was that mod written prior to the new elite/solo designs like Action Recovery and the like?

I haven't decided if I'm keeping the earthmote rune guardians or not. Probably I'll have them pop up on round 2 or 3 if needed.



This sounds good. Pile it on.

I except the dragon to last about 2 rounds in each of his stages, so 6 rounds total. That's about the right length of combat, methinks. 



That also sounds about right.

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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the first combat encounter centers around solving riddles, and the second combat encounter requires farming various forms of primordial energy and then getting out alive....while killing the monsters is practically irrelevant

The first combat involves solving riddles while killing monsters.

The second combat does involve "farming ... energy" as you put it, but guess what? The monsters try to kill you while you do this. 

Notably both solving riddles and farming energy is more interesting than mere combat, hence no need to adjust those encounter since they are already fun.

However, disabling obelisks is not interesting at all, hence my plan to replace (obelisks + Sapphiraktar) with (burly solo Sapphiraktar).

Anyway, I'm not going to debate the merits of this adventure. I wanted feedback on my 3-stage solo, which I'm grateful for iserith for providing.
It just occurred to me - how much "headroom" does the dragon have? I remember having a blue dragon mess with a high-level party once and the fact they were exploring a ravine put them in a particularly bad spot as the blue could just rain lightning down on them from above pretty much with impunity. (None of the PCs were particularly good at ranged except for one.) Many of the PCs' hard-earned cohorts and hirelings were fried in the making of that episode, RIP.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

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For what it's worth, we played the original version on AL 16 with a party of 5. We didn't have too much difficulty with the encounter despite completely ignoring the obelisks. If we were a group whose skills were more well suited to it, it would have made an interesting tactic. In any event, as a player, I didn't find this fight boring at all - enjoyed it quite a bit. I also like the idea that the format rewards those characters who have invested in mobility and skills, rather than just combat.

Anyways, regarding the boss template - I've used the Angry DM boss idea twice before in my home game and it's been pretty successful. I enjoy the phased fight approach.

Your numbers on the template seem fine, and I think you've done a good job differentiating the phases, which is key to a boss fight (as opposed to a solo). I would only recommend two changes:

Draconic Resiliance - Add "petrified" to your list.

Stafe - consider making this a +2 or even +4 damage bonus instead of an accuracy bonus. As is I think it's a little too powerful. Your mileage may vary, and if you're using this for specific players rather than a random LFR table, you'll know your group best of course.
the first combat encounter centers around solving riddles, and the second combat encounter requires farming various forms of primordial energy and then getting out alive....while killing the monsters is practically irrelevant

The first combat involves solving riddles while killing monsters.

The second combat does involve "farming ... energy" as you put it, but guess what? The monsters try to kill you while you do this. 




To be fair, that is the point of alternate goals in combat, the monsters aren't there to play hockey   
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iserith, the fight takes place in the dragon's lair, so it doesn't have much headroom. But I think the fight will be exciting enough, and I don't want to have the dragon fly up out of range which turns things into a grind.

JRedGiant1, thanks for the advice. You're right that Strafe will work better as +damage rather than +accuracy -- and will be more noticeable for the PCs. (They can't really tell if the dragon got more accurate, but they can certainly tell if it deals more damage.)

CorranHorn, I was being somewhat flippant in my responses and I assume you were as well. I generally do like alternate goals in combat -- indeed I just made that sort of modification to a different adventure.

But for this combat I want to try the Boss Fight in its pure form: no obelisks to disable, no alternate goals for the dragon, just an unadalterated beatdown. It should work well in the context of this adventure. The first two combats already feature alternate goals, and the entire premise of the adventure is, "The dragon has a McGuffin you need. Go research its weaknesses, power up some Mojo to use against it, then kill it and take its stuff." 
Cool, let us know how it goes. I'm always curious to know how these things work out in actual play.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

First off, check out the Maroon Prince in ABER4-1 (you need to mail Greg Marks for the trilogy), and then read the thread about the adventure. Seriously, with a little tweaking it's the most fun (and deadly) dragon I've ever ran.
It's basically a level 18 Calastryx (Monster Vault: Threats to Nentir Vale) with a Brown Dragon's Sand Cloud power tacked onto it (rechare 5-6: shift speed, each enemy you shift through takes some autodamage and is blinded save ends).

This is what I immediately noticed:

- Bloodied has only 230 HP?
- I'd word the Action Recovery effect differently. As written you don't have the petrified and blinded conditions, and don't account for other devastating effects like attack penalties. You should just "remove a harmful effect or condition" at the end of each turn. Making saving throws also doesn't work very well, because if you miss one or two saves the fight gets way too easy. The dragon should just take AL damage to remove one condition or effect. 
- It has 3 action points.
- The Black Lightning Dragon Breath of stage 3 should have a recharge, I think 5-6. 
- Damage is low for 5 players. The Maroon Prince at level 18 does 4d6+19 damage on melee attacks and 4d6+15 on area attacks. This is a lot, but a good challenge at this level. For four players you can decrease both by 2. 

About the flying thing: iserith definitely has a point about headroom, but on the other hand your players are into the second half of paragon tier. They should be able to bring down a flyer, and if they don't, you can always do it yourself by primarily using melee attacks at range 2.
You need to read The Angry DM's blog post to understand the 3-stage Boss Monste mechanics.
angrydm.com/2010/08/the-dd-boss-fight-pa...

- Bloodied has only 230 HP?

It has 230 hp in each of three stages, for a total of 690 hp, or almost exactly the same number of hp (688) the unmodified monster has at AL 18.

- I'd word the Action Recovery effect differently. [...] You should just "remove a harmful effect or condition" at the end of each turn. [...] The dragon should just take AL damage to remove one condition or effect.

Good point. Will do.

- It has 3 action points.

Yes, one more than a normal Solo. *evil cackle*

- The Black Lightning Dragon Breath of stage 3 should have a recharge, I think 5-6.

Disagree. I personally hate recharge; it's one of the worst mechanics in 4e -- swingy, unpredictabe, fiddly, and hard to remember in the heat of combat.

For this particular monster, by Stage 3 it will have already blasted the party with dragon breath once and hit them with its burst power a couple of times. So it doesn't need more than one additional usage of breath weapon in Stage 3 -- that'll be kind of it's last "screw you!" as it goes down.
   
- Damage is low for 5 players. The Maroon Prince at level 18 does 4d6+19 damage on melee attacks and 4d6+15 on area attacks.

The difference could be that Sapphiraktar is an Artillery and the Maroon Prince is a Brute.

Anyway I can easily increase the damage on the fly, if necessary. (And the damage does increase during Stage 3, though perhaps not by enough.) 

Math: AL 18 damage should average 26 for a standard monster, 33 for a brute. Sapphiraktar (from CALI4-2) is listed at 3d8+13 or roughly 26 damage; the Maroon Prince's 4d6+19 is 33 damage. 

About the flying thing: [...] your players are into the second half of paragon tier. They should be able to bring down a flyer

Meh, I'm not here to enforce some sort of Paragon tier D&D version of  "you must be this tall to ride this roller coaster", I'm here to DM an exciting dragon fight. If that means keeping the dragon on the ground so that the party can work it over, so be it.
I guess I just dislike the multi-stage monster concept. I haven't actually run them before, but it seems like a lot of bookkeeping for little gain. You have three different lists of abilities for a single monster, and you have to swap them after a relatively short time (after it lost 1/3 of its HP, which can be easily be only half a round if your players have a decent nova). Then you've put a lot of time into something you didn't even get to use properly. 

If you don't go all-out with action points in the first round, you can actually play a normal solo like a multistage one. Just give it a couple of different encounter or recharge powers that you use at different stages during the fight (like after it lost 1/3 and 2/3 of its HP), have powers that trigger at the end of a stage, and limit yourself to using one action point per stage. Then you don't have to bother with having 3 stat blocks that look the same but are a little different. 

Anyway, that's just me being unnecessicerily (sp?) critical of something that you are just trying out to see if it's fun. Good luck! It won't be worse than the original ;)
Svendj, I disagree. I ran Bloodknuckels (from the Angry DM) a little while ago in my game and he was an amazing success - the PCs loves it. I am about to run the Young Red Dragon (Angry DM version) against my PCs (deleveed by two levels). This will be our first ever dragon combat, and I'm a bit nervous about the flying part. In Phase 1 the combat will be in a building, then in phase 2 it will be outdoors and the dragon will be aloft, then crash back down in phase 3. But I'm going to need to find something for my melee-based PCs to do while the dragon is flying about overhead - not sure what.
Svendj, I disagree. I ran Bloodknuckels (from the Angry DM) a little while ago in my game and he was an amazing success - the PCs loves it. I am about to run the Young Red Dragon (Angry DM version) against my PCs (deleveed by two levels). This will be our first ever dragon combat, and I'm a bit nervous about the flying part. In Phase 1 the combat will be in a building, then in phase 2 it will be outdoors and the dragon will be aloft, then crash back down in phase 3. But I'm going to need to find something for my melee-based PCs to do while the dragon is flying about overhead - not sure what.


Alright, I'll check them out and perhaps use one in a future adventure. 

About the flying thing: you could add some environmental things the melee PCs could use to bring the dragon down. Ballistas are maybe a bit too convenient, but any half-decent adventurer can do a lot with a sturdy length of rope, good aim and a strong arm.
the first combat encounter centers around solving riddles, and the second combat encounter requires farming various forms of primordial energy and then getting out alive....while killing the monsters is practically irrelevant

The first combat involves solving riddles while killing monsters.

The second combat does involve "farming ... energy" as you put it, but guess what? The monsters try to kill you while you do this. 




To be fair, that is the point of alternate goals in combat, the monsters aren't there to play hockey   



No, they are there to try to kill you, which is significantly less violant than hockey. ;p
I guess I just dislike the multi-stage monster concept. I haven't actually run them before, but it seems like a lot of bookkeeping for little gain. You have three different lists of abilities for a single monster, and you have to swap them after a relatively short time (after it lost 1/3 of its HP, which can be easily be only half a round if your players have a decent nova). Then you've put a lot of time into something you didn't even get to use properly. 

Assuming you don't write it down in one stat block (such as for example the Vecna monsters), it is actually not that much bookkeeping. It are effectively three different monsters that you swap out when you get a particular stage of damage. Considering you have about 3 different monsters in a regular encounter, most DMs would be able to handle it ;) 

I personally love phased fights and have used it on occassion to great effect in my home game (especially with boss fights), although I always combine it with a clearly visible change to the environment as well. It is a bit of a challenge though to add it to LFR adventures both for book keeping purposes and time constraints. In my experience these fights do tend to take more time, and in the end LFR is still bound by that four hour time limit. Another issue for LFR is that experimenting with monsters tend to require either a lot of playtesting or DMs being comfortable with adjusting the encounter on the fly and in my experience DMs are still very hesitent to do so in organized play (and I don't blame them: you need to be able to read those players you have never seen before really well to properly judge the challenge they seek). I might give it a try sometimes... maybe something to propose to the authors/developers of the next BI since those are better suited to experiments anyway ;)

You know what, screw it. I'm going to try a multistage solo in a homegame tomorrow. I'm doing it a little bit different than The Angry DM, mostly because I don't want to write down 3 stat blocks. 

Show
It's a Sea Kraken (MM3) that's going to attack a rockettrain the PCs are on (they're on Mechanus, rockettrains are common there ^__^ ). In the first stage the Kraken is going to rip open the train and drag its passengers out. 

When entering the second stage, the Kraken will release a wave of aberrant energy. This will cause the Modrons on board of the train to "invert", changing them into monsters. They're creatures of ultimate law, so aberrant energy has devastating effects on them. This means the Kraken gets reinforcements. 

In the third stage, the Kraken tries to escape (the players need a bodypart to trade for a quest item, so they actually want to kill it). It enlarges its debilitating zone, which now also does more damage.

I'm going to keep the mechanic where it regains its action point and is replaced with a new version at the beginning of each stage. Should be fun 
Looks great svendj - hope it works out for you. Kamikaze Midget designed a phased dire eel fight (lvl 6) here (www.enworld.org/forum/d-d-4th-edition-di...) some time ago, which you might want to look at for further inspiration. It can adapted to a space kraken pretty easily. 
- I'd word the Action Recovery effect differently. [...] You should just "remove a harmful effect or condition" at the end of each turn. [...] The dragon should just take AL damage to remove one condition or effect.

Good point. Will do.


I would consider allowing the dragon to both save against all conditions AND take AL damage to remove ONE condition or effect.  Perhaps worded something like this:

"Improved Draconic Resilience:  At the end of each of its turns, Sapphiraktar may save against any harmful effect or condition, even if the effect does not normally allow a save.  The dragon may also choose to take AL damage to remove one condition or effect."

Multiple failed saves against a daze or an attack or defense penalty is not totally crippling, but failing even one save against a petrifying or removed from play effect will make for a pretty boring combat with a true solo.

One thing that the obselisk hazard did provide the dragon was additional defenses by partially nullifying or otherwise de-fanging some of the PC attacks for the first several rounds, until they were able to begin disabling the obselisks.  Without the original wording of Draconic Resilience being amped up, I don't think it would adequately compensate for the loss of the obelisks.
JRedGiant1, thanks for the advice. You're right that Strafe will work better as +damage rather than +accuracy -- and will be more noticeable for the PCs. (They can't really tell if the dragon got more accurate, but they can certainly tell if it deals more damage.)


As the dragon will not be attacking with its breath attacks during Stage 1, the PCs won't notice an increase in damage output due to the Strafe trait, though they may notice an increase (and eventual loss) in the dragon's accuracy due to Strafe.

While the PCs may notice an increase in the potency to the Gore and Claw attacks because of Strafe, they also may not.  The PCs may not see much use of the Gore and Claw attacks during Stages 1 and 2 (which should not last more than one to three rounds each).  And Gore and Claw attacks already have their damage output amped up for Stage 3, when they truly take center stage.  Of course, their is no reason that the static damage modifier cannot increase a little at Stage 2 and again at Stage 3 to represent the dragon's increased concern and increased feral rage.  What I don't see is how it has anything to do with Strafe in Stage 2.

In terms of the stage development itself, I really like how Sapphiraktar moves from being confident and smuggle to being increasingly feral and ferocious by the final stage.

We used the 3-stage dragon in last night's game. See below for the stats we used, plus some comments on how I would modify it.

marlofkark was the DM, and I was one of the players.

Strangely, my PC triggered the dragon's stage transition both times... karma?

Overall I was pleased with how the encounter turned out.

The player of the wizard PC was frustrated because (supposedly) her debuffs didn't work on the dragon. However -- she did get to turn the dragon into a tiny spider for 3 PCs' turns, meaning that it couldn't use Immediates and it could barely move. This transformation would have been even more effective if the 3rd PC's hit (mine) hadn't triggered the stage transition, which of course poofed the dragon back into dragon form. Still, it bought the PCs respite for a while.

During Stage 2 while the dragon made multiple strafting runs, I specifically told the wizard's player that she should hit it with an Immobilize (or Prone) power to stop it from flying, but she ignored me. She claimed this would be a waste because the dragon would just shrug off the condition at the end of its turn. I'm not sure how preventing it from making its most powerful Stage 2 attack is a waste, but whatever. 

The player of the paladin PC had the misfortune to get knocked prone multiple times, and because he didn't have any viable non-melee attacks, he was pretty ineffective in the fight. (Standing up, charging, and making MBAs.) We should probably tone down the prone effects from the dragon... although I do think that characters with zero non-melee attacks need to be rebuilt to have some.

The dragon's resist 20 all was pretty nasty. Eventually we allowed the PCs to shut it off (until the start of the dragon's next turn) by dealing radiant damage. One player suggested that the phylactery (a widget that the PCs pick up in the immediately previous encounter) could expend a charge to shut off the resist all, for groups that can't deal radiant damage.

Interestingly this dragon might work better with a blend of resist all and insubstantial, where it gets to use whichever prevents less damage. So for nasty over-optimized strikers who hit for 70-90 damage, it resists 20. But for woefully ineffective wizards who hit for 21 damage with magic missile, the dragon resists half (i.e. "insubstantial", but not really).

Here's the dragon as we ran it.

Sapphiraktar, 3-stage boss monster (of doom)


Sapphiraktar the Blue (Stage 1)                                                                                                            Level 18 Solo Artillery


Gargantuan natural magical beast (dragon, undead)                                                                                                       XP 10,000


HP 230                                                                                                                                                                              Initiative +11


AC 32, Fortitude 31, Reflex 28, Will 28                                                                                                                     Perception +17


Speed 10, fly 12                                                                                                                                                                  Darkvision


Immune poison; Resist 20 all


Saving Throws +5; Action Points 1


Traits


Draconic Alacrity


Sapphiraktar acts on initiative counts 31 and 21. He takes a full turn on each initiative result. He may take one immediate action between the end of each of his turns and the start of his next.


Draconic Resilience


At the end of each of his turns, Sapphiraktar ends one effect or condition. He may also take 20 damage to end another effect.


Standard Actions


m Gore • At-Will


Attack: Melee 3 (one creature); +23 vs. AC


Hit: 3d8 + 13 lightning and necrotic damage.                                                                                                              [25, crit 35]


M Claws • At-Will


Effect: If Sapphiraktar targets only one creature, he can make this attack twice against that creature.


Attack: Melee 2 (one or two creatures); +23 vs. AC


Hit: 3d8 + 13 damage, and Sapphiraktar can slide the target up to 2 squares.                                                         [25, crit 35]


Minor Actions


A Mesmerizing Glance • At-Will (1/round)


Attack: Ranged 10 (one creature); +21 vs. Will


Effect: Sapphiraktar slides the target up to 5 squares.


Hit: The target makes an at-will attack chosen by Sapphiraktar against a target chosen by Sapphiraktar.


Miss: If the target willingly moves to a square nearer to or adjacent to Sapphiraktar before the end of its next turn, it takes 10 psychic damage.


Triggered Actions


R Spitbreath Reaction (lightning, necrotic) • At-Will


Trigger: An enemy hits Sapphiraktar with a ranged attack.


Attack (Immediate Reaction): Ranged 20 (the triggering enemy); +21 vs. Reflex


Hit: 3d6 + 9 lightning and necrotic damage.                                                                                                                [20, crit 30]


C Strafing Black Lightning Breath Weapon (lightning, necrotic) • Encounter


Trigger: Sapphiraktar is reduced to 0 hit points or fewer.


Special: Sapphiraktar can use this power even if a condition exists that would normally prevent him from doing so.


Effect: Sapphiraktar flies up to 12 squares while making the attack. This movement does not provoke OAs.


Attack (No Action): Every creature over which Sapphiraktar flies; +21 vs. Reflex


Hit: 4d6 + 15 lightning and necrotic damage, and the target is immobilized and grants CA (save ends both).   [30, crit 40]


Miss: Half damage, and the target is slowed and grants combat advantage (save ends both).


Effect: Sapphiraktar flies up to an additional 12 squares. This movement does not provoke opportunity attacks.


Effect: After this action is fully resolved, Sapphiraktar is removed from the battlefield and replaced with the Furious version, who retains the same initiatives.


Skills Arcana +16, Athletics +21, Insight +17


Str 24 (+16)            Dex 15 (+11)           Wis 16 (+12)


Con 20 (+14)          Int 14 (+11)             Cha 15 (+11)


Alignment chaotic evil Languages Common, Draconic, Deep Speech


 


During Stage 1, Sapphiraktar…



  • ·         uses Mesmerizing Glance to wreak havoc among the party

  • ·         uses Spitbreath Reaction to punish PCs who dare to attack him from range

  • ·         prefers to use Claws (to slide PCs into the stream) rather than Gore


 


Difficulty levers: reduce/increase resist all; spread/focus Claws attacks; use/don't use Resilience.


Furious Sapphiraktar the Blue (Stage 2)                                                                                            Level 18 Solo Artillery


Gargantuan natural magical beast (dragon, undead)                                                                                                       XP 10,000


HP 230                                                                                                                                                                              Initiative +11


AC 32, Fortitude 31, Reflex 28, Will 28                                                                                                                     Perception +17


Speed 10, fly 12                                                                                                                                                                  Darkvision


Immune poison; Resist 20 all


Saving Throws +5; Action Points 1


Traits


Strafe


Furious Sapphiraktar gains a +10 bonus to all damage rolls on a turn if he begins that turn with no enemies adjacent.


Draconic Alacrity


Furious Sapphiraktar acts on initiative counts 31 and 21. He takes a full turn on each initiative result. He may take one immediate action between the end of each of his turns and the start of his next.


Draconic Resilience


At the end of each of his turns, Sapphiraktar ends one effect or condition. He may also take 20 damage to end another effect.


Standard Actions


m Gore • At-Will


Attack: Melee 3 (one creature); +23 vs. AC


Hit: 3d8 + 13 lightning and necrotic damage.                                                                                                              [25, crit 35]


M Claws • At-Will


Effect: If Furious Sapphiraktar targets only one creature, he can make this attack twice against that creature.


Attack: Melee 2 (one or two creatures); +23 vs. AC


Hit: 3d8 + 13 damage, and Furious Sapphiraktar can slide the target up to 2 squares.                                           [25, crit 35]


Move Actions


A Black Lightning Strafe (lightning, necrotic) • At-Will (1/round)


Requirement: Furious Sapphiraktar must be able to fly and move to use this power.


Effect: Furious Sapphiraktar flies up to half its speed (normally 6) while making the attack. This movement does not provoke OAs.


Attack: One, two, or three creatures over which Sapphiraktar flies; +21 vs. Reflex


Hit: 3d6 + 9 lightning and necrotic damage.                                                                                                                [20, crit 30]


Miss: Half damage.


Triggered Actions


C Wing Backblast • At-Will


Trigger: An enemy hits Furious Sapphiraktar with a melee attack.


Attack (Immediate Reaction): Close burst 3 (creatures in burst); +21 vs. Reflex


Hit: The target falls prone.


Effect: Furious Sapphiraktar flies up to half its speed (normally 6). This movement does not provoke OAs.


C Thunderous Dive (thunder) • Encounter


Trigger: Furious Sapphiraktar is reduced to 0 hit points or fewer.


Special: Furious Sapphiraktar can use this power even if a condition exists that would normally prevent it from doing so.


Effect: Furious Sapphiraktar flies up to 12 squares before making this attack and must end this movement on the ground. This movement does not provoke OAs.


Attack (No Action): Close burst 10 (creatures in burst); +21 vs. Fortitude


Hit: 4d6 + 15 thunder damage, and the target is knocked prone.                                                                              [30, crit 40]


Miss: Half damage.


Effect: The target gains vulnerable 10 lightning until the end of its next turn, and the “Stream and Water” terrain effect no longer exists.


Effect: After this action is fully resolved, Furious Sapphiraktar is removed from the battlefield and replaced with the Bloodied version, who retains the same initiatives.


Skills Arcana +16, Athletics +21, Insight +17


Str 24 (+16)            Dex 15 (+11)           Wis 16 (+12)


Con 20 (+14)          Int 14 (+11)             Cha 15 (+11)


Alignment chaotic evil Languages Common, Draconic, Deep Speech


 


During Stage 2, Sapphiraktar…



  • ·         becomes a flying bringer of pain in the form of Black Lightning Strafe,

  • ·         which he should get to use at +10 damage thanks to his trait

  • ·         punishes those who dare to attack him in melee with Wing Backblast


 


Additional difficulty levers: "forget" to Strafe / Wing Backblast; don't apply extra Strafe damage.


Bloodied Sapphiraktar the Blue (Stage 3)                                                                                          Level 18 Solo Artillery


Gargantuan natural magical beast (dragon, undead)                                                                                                       XP 10,000


HP 230                                                                                                                                                                              Initiative +11


AC 32, Fortitude 31, Reflex 28, Will 28                                                                                                                     Perception +17


Speed 10, fly 12                                                                                                                                                                  Darkvision


Immune poison; Resist 20 all


Saving Throws +5; Action Points 1


Traits


O Uncontained Lightning (lightning) • Aura 5


Any enemy that ends it turn in the aura takes 10 lightning damage.


Draconic Alacrity


Bloodied Sapphiraktar acts on initiative counts 31 and 21. He takes a full turn on each initiative result. He may take one immediate action between the end of each of his turns and the start of his next.


Draconic Resilience


At the end of each of his turns, Sapphiraktar ends one effect or condition. He may also take 20 damage to end another effect.


Bloodied


The dragon is considered bloodied, regardless of its hit point total.


Standard Actions


m Gore • At-Will


Attack: Melee 3 (one creature); +23 vs. AC


Hit: 3d8 + 18 lightning and necrotic damage.                                                                                                              [30, crit 40]


M Claws • At-Will


Effect: If Bloodied Sapphiraktar targets only one creature, he can make this attack twice against that creature.


Attack: Melee 2 (one or two creatures); +23 vs. AC


Hit: 3d8 + 18 damage, and Bloodied Sapphiraktar can slide the target up to 2 squares.                                        [30, crit 40]


C Black Lightning Breath Weapon (lightning, necrotic) • Encounter


Attack: Close blast 20 (three creatures in blast); +21 vs. Reflex


Hit: 4d6 + 20 lightning and necrotic damage, and the target is immobilized and grants CA (save ends both).   [35, crit 45]


Miss: Half damage, and the target is slowed and grants combat advantage (save ends both).


Minor Actions


M Tail Slap • At-Will (1/round)


Attack: Melee 4 (one creature); +21 vs. Reflex


Hit: 3d6 + 10 damage and Bloodied Sapphiraktar slides the target up to 3 squares to a square adjacent to him. [20, crit 30]


Triggered Actions


M Wing Snap • At-Will


Trigger: An enemy attacks Bloodied Sapphiraktar while flanking him.


Attack (Immediate Interrupt): Melee 1 (the triggering enemy and an enemy flanking with the triggering enemy); +21 vs. Fortitude


Hit: 3d6 + 10 damage, and the target is pushed 1 square.                                                                                                                                            [20, crit 30]


Skills Arcana +16, Athletics +21, Insight +17


Str 24 (+16)            Dex 15 (+11)           Wis 16 (+12)


Con 20 (+14)          Int 14 (+11)             Cha 15 (+11)


Alignment chaotic evil Languages Common, Draconic, Deep Speech


 


During Stage 3, Sapphiraktar…



  • ·         can literally not contain his anger as it leaks out in an Uncontained Lightning aura

  • ·         uses Breath Weapon as soon as possible, then

  • ·         can no longer think straight enough to use any of his previous signature abilities

  • ·         instead uses feral attacks like Tail Slap and Wing Snap

  • ·         prefers to Gore (to taste his enemy's blood) rather than Claw


 


Note that during this stage, Sapphiraktar's damage is better than normal.


 


Additional difficulty levers: increase/reduce damage by 5 or 10; "forget" to Tail Slap or Wing Snap.



Recommended changes:

* mix of resist all and "insubstantial" as noted above
* change Wing Backblast (Stage 2) to push creatures away rather than prone
* change all dragon powers that outright prevent OAs to instead buff his defenses by +4 to +8 against OAs
* when Sapphiraktar takes radiant damage, he loses its resist all / "insubstantial" until the start of his next turn
* [in the context of the LFR adventure] as a minor action, PCs can expend a charge from the phylactery to make Sapphiraktar lose resist all / "insubstantial" until the start of his next turn  
The player of the paladin PC had the misfortune to get knocked prone multiple times, and because he didn't have any viable non-melee attacks, he was pretty ineffective in the fight. (Standing up, charging, and making MBAs.) We should probably tone down the prone effects from the dragon... although I do think that characters with zero non-melee attacks need to be rebuilt to have some.



I could've used my handaxe, but I was hoping to eventually combo the minor action power of the Dragonslayer Weapon with Blood of the Mighty. I just never got a chance to. Also, that Draconic Resilience makes my Champion of Order awesomeness way less awesome. That's not a complaint. I understand the need for such a feature. Just saying I was effectively neutralized.

RS: 60/60 CS: 60/60 RotS: 60/60 U:60/60 CotF: 60/60 BH: 60/60 A&E: 51/60 TFU: 53/60 LotF: 37/60 KotOR: 37/60 CW: 26/40 IE: 31/40 JA: 17/40 G@W: 7/40 DT: 7/40 Good trades with: Lily_Wan, creme_brule, suki_jedi_apprentice, Ephant_Mon
Also, that Draconic Resilience makes my Champion of Order awesomeness way less awesome. That's not a complaint. I understand the need for such a feature. Just saying I was effectively neutralized.

Right, sorry you got nerfed so hard, dude. And thanks for being a good sport about it.

For obvious reasons a true solo can't be allowed to get perma-dazed/weakened by Champion of Order's Certain Justice. (Although imposing dazed/weakened on the dragon for one of its turns would prevent huge amounts of damage -- remember that it does not shrug off conditions until the end of its turn.)

Same thing goes for all the usual PC shenanigans like stunned until EoNT, unconscious, etc. -- those just utterly wreck the monster and make the encounter not interesting at all. So a monster trait like Draconic Resilience allows the monster get out of those encounter-ending debuffs, although the monster does have to suffer through one round of being a drooling target dummy before it ends the condition.
It's pretty safe to assume that champion of order's power will never stick to a big bad, of any kind. Use it on a secondary elite or a really dangerous standard. In general, control is balanced under the assumption it's used on a standard. If you set your sights there, you're more pleasantly surprised by the result when it does work successfully on something bigger.

I will say, that's one reason why solos should have friends. To give all those other powers more chances to shine.

One concern I'd face with this monster is that it's not very tough against a radiant party. The group I played this adventure with I'm pretty sure we'd have bypassed the first form entirely by dropping it before its initiative. I wonder if there are ways to shore up these multi-phase fights to protect the first phase against the typical effect of all the APs and buffs coming out early.
Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director
Once it was a spider, I'd have smacked it good with a rolled-up newspaper and ruined your encounter.

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I will say, that's one reason why solos should have friends. To give all those other powers more chances to shine.

True. If I were designing this as a real encounter I'd experiement with adding some standard monsters. But I didn't want to go overboard given that we had no real idea how the 3-stage solo would pan out.

One concern I'd face with this monster is that it's not very tough against a radiant party.

Oh, did I say radiant damage shuts off its resist? I meant fire damage. *wink*
Oh, you're a group of pyromancers? I didn't mean fire damage, I meant cold damage.
(Basically the DM should adjust on the fly to fit the group. If the group needs a way to shut off the resist, give them one. If they would easily bypass the resistance, don't let them.)

The group I played this adventure with I'm pretty sure we'd have bypassed the first form entirely by dropping it before its initiative.

If that's how you get your jollies, more power to you.

I wonder if there are ways to shore up these multi-phase fights to protect the first phase against the typical effect of all the APs and buffs coming out early.

Sure, use some of the tricks from EPIC4-2: monsters start off the map, monsters start out insubstantial, or just give 'em like 1000 temporary hit points that go away when they start their first turn.

This actually goes to one of the frequent topics around here, which is that the DM and the players should agree on what type of game they want. If the players want to effortlessly gang-tackle the dragon as soon as it shows up, that's fine (although as a DM I would never find that fun enough to bother DMing for them).

Once it was a spider, I'd have smacked it good with a rolled-up newspaper and ruined your encounter.

Heh, that's effectively what happened -- it got swatted by 3 PCs' worth of attacks, which triggered the stage transition into Stage 2. We could have allowed a player to narrate swatting it instead of making an attack roll... that would've been cool.

I wouldn't allow the swat to end the encounter, though. This is a mega-powerful dracolich which has had plenty of time to come up with countermeasures to being turned into a tiny spider.

Do you guys play in person or online? 

In person.


The group I played this adventure with I'm pretty sure we'd have bypassed the first form entirely by dropping it before its initiative.

If that's how you get your jollies, more power to you.



Heh, that's effectively what happened -- it got swatted by 3 PCs' worth of attacks, which triggered the stage transition into Stage 2.



The dichotomy of these statements is baffling.  

Dan Anderson @EpicUthrac
Total Confusion www.totalcon.com
LFR Calimshan Writing Director
LFR Epic Writing Director

LFR Myth Drannor Writing Director

Well, what I mean is... 230 hp really isn't a lot at level 18. Especially since all of the PCs have an AP for this fight, cause it's the 3rd fight. (hmm, maybe this adventure gave you one for the puzzles though)

But, sure, if radiant didn't turn off its defense that'd switch things up. The party I played with (randomly, actually - just who happened to show up, the latter two being people who don't normally play) included my invoker/morninglord, a rogue with a radiant rapier, and a bard/ranger with a radiant bow. So, without doing anything crazy, I'd expect initiative to go: "I go and turn off its defense, damaging and controlling it some. The rogue hits its two-three times bloodying it. The bard/ranger hits it two-three times finishing it." Without any particularly special effort, just doing normal stuff.

I mean, the trick is that my preferred jollies is that every PC and monster gets to act (one reason my invoker doesn't actually have any stun powers), so missing out on the first phase is a real downside for me. And since, yeah, I'm pondering this most from the perspective of throwing epic multistage solos, I have to expect that almost every table will be able to nova down a first stage.
Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director
There's a tension between giving the monster enough defensive mojo to prevent it from being nova'd in one turn, and so much defensive mojo that it turns into a grind. When we played it, the dragon might have erred on the grindy side, hence our on-the-spot decision to allow radiant damage to shut off its resist.

Uthrac, let me address your point about the dichotomy between "get your jollies by muderizing the monster on round 1" and "got swatted by 3 PCs' attacks" by way of giving a more detailed round-by-round breakdown of the battle. This is all from memory, so apologies if the math doesn't exactly work out.

Show
Note: we used average damage for all monsters, which is what the numbers in brackets are in Sapphy's stat-block.

Pre-Battle
We used the map of the red dragon lair that came with the colossal red dragon "mini". (However, we did use the proper blue dragon "mini" for Sapphiraktar). PCs started in a 5x5-ish "PC start area" in one corner of the map.

Sapphiraktar flies in, causes a cave-in so the PCs know they can't escape. Initiative is rolled. The order for the entire fight will be:

* barbarian (supremely optimized charge-build)
* rogue|sorcerer (lightning damage, would-be Riposte Striker) (me)
* Sapphiraktar turn 1
* paladin (Str-based)
* Sapphiraktar turn 2
* wizard (terribly unoptimized)
* warlord (moderately poorly optimized)

Right off the bat I see that the initiative is going to screw the party. If I had been DMing, I probably would have spread Sapphy's turns out so that more than one PC got to act in between them.

Round 1
Sapphy is about 15 squares away from the PCs.

Barbarian charges Sapphy, hits for about 80 damage and prone. DM notes that "not all of the damage gets through". PCs frown.

Rogue|Sorcerer moves up behind some cover, unleashes a 5d8 area burst attack on the dragon. Sapphy retaliates with Spitbreath Reaction (which we decided should also work against Area attacks, not just Ranged).

Sapphy stands up, uses Mesmerizing Glance to force the barbarian to charge rogue|sorc and hit for 50ish damage. Rogue|sorc goes bloodied. Sapphy uses Claws on barbarian, but DM forgets that it's a double attack so only hits once.

Paladin double-moves but cannot reach Sapphy. (Paladin couldn't have known this, but he would have been better off delaying.)

Sapphy uses Mesmerizing Glance to force rogue|sorc to attack barb; that attack misses. Sapphy flies over to warlord and wizard, claws one of them.

Wizard uses Mass Transformation to turn Sapphy into a tiny spider.

Warlord orders barbarian to charge the dragon (Commander's Strike-ish power).

Round 2
Barbarian pounds on Sapphy for about 70 damage.

Rogue|Sorc moves into flank, uses rogue power on dragon (with CA), hits for about 40 damage. This reduced Sapphy to 0 hp which triggers first stage transition.

This is what I mean by "3 PCs got to swat the spider" -- during the time that Sapphy was transformed, 3 PCs got to take swings against it. (Well technically only 2 because the warlord used his turn to order the barbarian to attack.)

Sapphy uses Strafing Black Lightning Breath Weapon (end of Stage 1) to blast everyone in the party. Weirdly this only hits the wizard, who gets immobilized, while everyone else gets slowed (and takes damage and grants CA).

The stage transition happened on the rogue|sorc's turn, so now it is Sapphy's turn.

Sapphy uses Black Lightning Strafe to attack 3 of the PCs. Lands, then Claws the paladin and tries to slide him into the stream (which would have imposed lightning vulnerability). Paladin makes his save to fall prone. (I think he should have allowed himself to be put into the stream instead.)

Paladin stands up, charges Sapphy with MBA. Hits. Sapphy reacts with Wing Backblast to re-prone paladin, rogue|sorc, and wizard.

This was too much proning, which is why I recommend changing it to just push 3 or something.

Sapphy uses Black Lightning Strafe to attack 3 more PCs, continues to Claw people.

Here we see how the init order is screwing the PCs. Because the paladin was (unexpectedly) the least effective PC, and because he kept triggering the dragon's immediates, it was like Sapphy got multiple turns in a row, which wasn't the intent. Poor paladin kept rolling 6s and 7s on his attack rolls in addition to being slowed / prone / etc.

Wizard does something ineffectual. (It was around now that I advised her player to try to Immobilize the dragon so it couldn't keep using Strafe. She declined because that would be "useless". Surprising how easily players get discouraged when their debuffs won't stick for more than 1 turn!)

Warlord heals rogue|sorc, attacks, misses. 

Rounds 3-4
Barbarian continues to dole out sickening amounts of damage.

Rogue|Sorc (me) uses a charge from the phylactery to let everyone spend a healing surge.
 
Paladin continues to struggle with prone, slowed, and only making MBAs.

Wizard can't do enough damage to punch through resist 20 and is too pouty to apply actual CONTROL effects.

Warlord suffers from not taking feat taxes to keep his attack bonus high enough and keeps whiffing.     

Around now is when we decide that we need a way to shut off Sapphy's resist 20 all, so DM picks radiant (which makes sense vs. a dracolich). He probably thought the paladin or wizard would be doing most of this (wizard likes radiant powers), but...

Rogue|Sorc (me) realizes the situation is turning grind-y. Activates Crown of the Brilliant Sun on every attack from now on to change all lightning damage (via lightning weapon) into radiant damage.

I decide to nova to force the next stage transition. Hit with standard action, turns off resist. Hit with minor action attack which triggers stage 3...

Sapphy uses Thunderous Dive (end of Stage 2) to prone about half the party. Fortunately he is still adjacent to my PC after this.

Continuing my PC's turn... hit with another minor action attack to turn off resist *again* (because Bloodied Sapphy is a new monster). Action point and hit with another attack. Take aura damage (used up my sorcerer resistance earlier to block an attack).

Sapphy orients towards 3 PCs and blasts them with Black Lightning Breath Weapon. Paladin and barbarian go bloodied. Sapphy Tail Slaps the paladin next to him. Gores the barbarian.

Paladin finally gets a turn of adjacency and I honestly can't remember what he did. The dice hated him so much that he probably rolled a 3 or something.

Sapphy Gores the paladin, Tail Slaps the rogue|sorc (who is starting to wish he hadn't neglected his defenses quite as much).

Wizard, uh, really I have no idea.

Warlord probably orders the barbarian to hit again.

Round 5
Barbarian, good grief, you're the reason we need resist 20 all (remember this reactivated at the start of Sapphy's "turn 2" last round).

Rogue|Sorc uses a shift power to get into flank, attacks, hits, turns off resist again. This flanking attack triggers Sapphy's Wing Snap which I honestly forgot we had given him. Heh.

Sapphy's last turn. DM decides to have him fly away which triggers a table's worth of OAs from everyone. Clearly, the dragon does not survive this.


Potentially interesting facts:
* PCs were never in serious danger at least judging by hit points. However...
* I'm pretty sure the DM never used any of Sapphy's Action Points.  
* DM also forgot that Claw is a double-attack. That would've made a big difference.
* Sapphy never used his Draconic Resilience to shrug off a condition. Every condition that he ended was either because of a stage transition, or was when he started his turn and reactivated resist (which was our on-the-spot ruling).
I have to expect that almost every table will be able to nova down a first stage.

I think that's actually OK. If the PCs nova down the first stage, they still have to deal with the (unexpected?) next two stages.

Also remember that at the end of stage 1 the monster gets to make some sort of massive attack. In EPIC that attack can be really, really over-the-top if you want.

(I probably didn't make Level 18 Sapphiraktar's end-of-stage attacks brutal enough, but I was scared to ramp them up without any playtesting.)

So the PCs have succeeded in nova'ing away Stage 1 at the expense of their APs, some Daily powers, and whatever amount of damage they took from the end-of-stage attack.

Now they've got to face Stages 2 and 3 of an Epic solo without APs, down a few Daily powers, and wounded... seems fair to me.

= = =

The more I think about it, the more I like my flippant idea of giving Stage 1 a huge cushion of temp hit points that go away when the monster starts its first turn. That way the monster can survive whatever damage the PCs throw at it before it gets to act, yet all those temps don't really affect the fight once it gets started. 

Of course, you'd need some way for the monster to survive all the non-damaging effects that get piled onto it prior to its first turn. In this 3-stage design, the monster doesn't shrug off effects until the end of its turn, but you could change that to the start of its turn if you want. Just need to be aware that the latter will definitely make it hard for PCs to exert any Control (in the Controller role sense), since the monster will never spend any of its actual turns being debuffed.
The temporary hit points shtick is a key component of the worldbreaker design I posted above. It's not only a cushion (not in the way I used it, but it's not a stretch to imagine), but it's a good "countdown timer" for the stages that follow. I'm not exactly sure how you'd work it into this "staged" design though.

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And since, yeah, I'm pondering this most from the perspective of throwing epic multistage solos, I have to expect that almost every table will be able to nova down a first stage.



You could give the Superboss for an epic multistage solo an additional trigger in stage one, reading as follows:

Triggered Action: (No action, triggered when Superboss Phase 1 is reduced to 0 hit points).
Effect: Superboss does not die, and Switch to Superboss Phase 2 is not triggered. At the beginning of Superboss Phase 1's next turn, remove all conditions from Superboss Phase 1, and Superboss Phase 1 can then stand up as a free action. Following this, at the end of the turn, Switch Superboss to Phase 2 is triggered.
Special: Superboss Phase 1 loses this ability at the end of his first turn.

You're walking on very thin ice when you start nerfing round 1 novas. Depending on what tier you're writing for, it's possible that players have nothing left but at-will powers and one or two dailies after their round 1 nova. If the monster then goes "LOL, I'll ignore all the damage you just did" and then comes online, it'll either be a boring fight (spamming low damage at-wills) or a very lethal one because the solo utterly destroys them. 

It's the nature of 4E that the nova is just the most effective tactic. If a solo suddenly deviates from that without any previous warning, like "You notice it has some sort of forcefield protecting it" (temp HP cushion), players will feel like they've been duped and complain the fight is unfair. 

If you're afraid of nova's, there are other ways to fix that.
Examples
- Give the monster a immediate/free/no action insubstantial encounter power that triggers on getting hit and lasts until the end of the monster's next turn. When players see the monster's insubstantial, they'll hold back for a while or change tactics. 

- Trigger the second/third stage early, make it last longer, and include a mechanism as part of the trigger that puts the solo temporarily out of reach of the players (like teleportation or flying). 

- My favorite: make the stage 3 form super strong. If they're done with their novas but the monster's not dead yet, they now have to deal with a truly powerful creature. If they saved their novas for the third stage, this wouldn't have happened. Hydras that grow extra heads once they lose 1/4 of their HP are my favorite example of this.
We used the 3-stage dragon in last night's game. See below for the stats we used, plus some comments on how I would modify it.


[report]



Most of the things you report are general monster design. How did you, the other players and the DM experience the multistage thing? 

When I ran mine last week, one of my players was very concerned when the stage 2 monster didn't become bloodied even after it was dealt lots of damage, and started thinking about running away or otherwise changing tactics. He wasn't aware that he was facing a multistage monster and that it would only become bloodied when it had lost 2/3 of its HP. 

That's when I learned you have to make it very clear to the players when you're deviating from the standard D&D rules. 
We made it clear up front that the monster was different and that it broke the rules in various ways. We didn't specifically say anything about its bloodied value.

I thought it was a good fight. Especially during Stage 2 when the dragon strafed several times.

I would not use a 3-stage boss monster against low-level PCs precisely because they might run out of Encounters / Dailies to use against it. I'd save the 3-stage monsters for levels 7 (when you get your 3rd Encounter attack power) and up.