3.5e Frustrating and Annoying Wizard for the PCs to fight

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Howdy All!

Title says it all.  What are some of your favorite tricks for making a wizard just friggin' frustrating to battle?  He'll be a level 17-19 wizard, evil, and have the appropriate amount of gold too.  And these tricks can include spells, items, and anything else your creativity requires. 

Thanks! 
Two words: teleport contingency.  Nothing is more frustrating than a villian who just won't die!

 
Next thing you will tell me Browbeat is bad.
Two words: teleport contingency.  Nothing is more frustrating than a villian who just won't die!
 



Gotcha covered.  Trigger will be his death, teleport location will be magic trap at his home base rigged for some sort of resurrection spell.  (Though, to assist the plot, if they kill him, I'll DM-edit the teleportation's effects to leave a clue for locating his lair.)

What about some illusion spells to help muddle the combat?
What are some mean things to cast during a Time Stop?
The spell Blacklight seems nice and frustrating: magic darkness that the caster can see in just fine. 
So you're designing an encounter specifically to be frustrating? Do you expect that to go over well with your players?

I don't mean to derail the thread, but seriously: If your first priority is pissing off your players, you really need to think hard on how to handle the situation and if it's worth it in the long run. After all, there's a distinct difference between making an encounter difficult for your players and making an encounter that is designed with the sole purpose of making them angry.

My suggestion is to run this online, because running this in person is just asking for a player or two to jump over the table and throttle you. If that's what you want, go ahead... But I must ask: WHY do you want to make it frustrating and annoying?
Gunmage, a homebrew arcane striker. (Heroic Tier playtest ready.) GDocs link. (More up to date.)
Switch to 4E. It's much easier and less time consuming to design a frustrating wizard encounter in 4E than it is in 3.5
Khyber is a dark and dangerous place, full of flame and smoke, where ever stranger things lie dormant.
So you're designing an encounter specifically to be frustrating? Do you expect that to go over well with your players?

I don't mean to derail the thread, but seriously: If your first priority is pissing off your players, you really need to think hard on how to handle the situation and if it's worth it in the long run. After all, there's a distinct difference between making an encounter difficult for your players and making an encounter that is designed with the sole purpose of making them angry.

My suggestion is to run this online, because running this in person is just asking for a player or two to jump over the table and throttle you. If that's what you want, go ahead... But I must ask: WHY do you want to make it frustrating and annoying?



A wonderful concern, KColette!  I foresaw this but forgot to expound when I typed up the original post.

The players are heavily optimizing powergamers who know the rules of character building very well.  The campaign is 85% over, and they've blasted their way very convincingly through many interesting and bizarre battles.  This wizard they are about to encounter is the "BBEG" and I feel that if I "slip up" and they beat him without much trouble, then sadly they will not feel the satisfaction of figuring out a truly capable and tricky foe.

My background, at the same time, is not that of a power gamer.  I don't know spells and combos and PrCs and stats and good armor for your cat.  I am in serious need for rules to use against them so they have fun.  

Honestly, if I did make it overwhelmingly frustrating for myself as a player to handle, it would still only be a minor inconvenience for this party.    

The other thing is, "annoying and hard-to-pin-down" is partly so combat can be drawn out longer than the standard "one-shot the caster lol" when the DM quickly cooked up a high-level spellcaster.  I want to hear from them something like, "woah, that didn't work... what is he using?  I know!  Step back, I'm going to try this instead!"  Again, the satisfaction of overcoming.  On top of that, the BBEG has a long history with the party, and will be taunting them constantly throughout.  Some of the taunting will be plot-oriented--would be a pity if it wasn't included.

Thanks!
Aha. Though that still sounds like what you're aiming for is hard, not frustrating.

Unfortunately, I'm not extremely well versed in 3.5 (outside of core, that is), nor am I an optimizer. I just wanted to make sure you had an actual reason for aiming to frustrate your players. I've known a couple DMs who thought any encounter that resulted in the players wanted to knock the DM's teeth out was a good encounter. That said, a frustrating encounter isn't inherently bad, so long as it's done for the right reasons. And "Give the players a long, intense battle against their final foe" is a good reason to aim for that.

Only advice I can give is to have the wizard set up to avoid the usual one-shot methods, including scry-and-fry. And set up circumstances so he has most of his buffs and defenses set up before the party enters the room. Any reasonable time sink is good, such as traps, sentries, etc. Anything that'll buy the BBEG a minute or two.

After all, it'll really drive home the point that the party is powerful. Powerful enough to make the wizard specifically prepare to fight them. On that note: What's the party make up? What sort of spells, feats and features do they use often? You should have an at least one-time counter for each of their common tactics.
Gunmage, a homebrew arcane striker. (Heroic Tier playtest ready.) GDocs link. (More up to date.)
Lots of teleportation, defense against good, defense against arrows, defense against spells. Teleport around so that the melee man can't reach it, while using spells to destroy equipment and magic items. Teleport back to base. For this to work, the wizard would have to have a good initiative, and a chance to prepare.
My only question is what books are available to you?
Anything that makes him hard to find. Greater invis and flight is a special combo for anyone without true seeing. Displacement and mirror image can make melee combat pretty hard. Illusions generally only allow a saving throw if you interact with them. Illusionary walls of flame swords can really mess with players. Illusionary pits and enemies can have similar effect.

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"                                                  "I'd recommend no one listed to Krusk's opinions about what games to play"

Though that still sounds like what you're aiming for is 
hard, not frustrating.

I can make it hard, with powerful save-or-die effects that will likely instagib random members of the party while they feel cheated.  Well, maybe that's just frustrating in its own way.  Perhaps the BEST way to describe it is, I want this wizard frustrating to kill.

What's the party make up? What sort of spells, feats and features do they use often? You should have an at least one-time counter for each of their common tactics.


Their main DPS is a Chozo Warrior(7) Dervish(3) Chozo Warrior(1).  He runs in at insane speeds covering 120 feet easily and getting in attacks as he moves around a target because of his levels in Dervish and his insane Dex mod of +8.  Dishes out 180+ dmg per turn if there's enough enemies nearby.  It's all Brilliant Energy too.
They have a Curst Artificer.  He's a item wielding problem solver constantly pulling solutions out of his pockets.  Doesn't give too much (comparably) to combat.  
They have a Ghost with levels in Fiend of Possession.  He can possess and control living beings, and his insane CHA makes the Will Save DC to resist a whopping 29.  So unless he's already brought a possessed body he likes, I can expect him to possess one of the enemies in any given fight (unless they have protection from control like from Protection from Evil/Good.)
And they have a lightning caster.  A feat he has (Energy Substitution?) turns all his energy spells into lightning energy.  Takes no damage from lightning, and heals 1/3 it instead, so it's not uncommon for him to Fireball (er... Lightningball) while enemies AND himself are in the radius--free healing.
Lastly, a newb to D&D is dinking around with a Dread Necromancer that was built by more experienced players.  No real contribution to combat--his summons appear after the Dervish and Lightning Caster have taken out most if not all baddies.

All of them are decked out with broken but legit items from every sourcebook this side of narf-biscuit-land.  I know what you might say.  Freaking overpowered.  I know *I* say it.  BUT THEY'RE ALL HAVING FUN.  My #1 goal!  So I'm not going to alter THAT aspect.

My only question is what books are available to you?


Practically all.  Even the occasional Dragon Magazine thing, but only if they seem reasonable.  Plus, if it's on www.DnDtools.eu, it's available to me.
Though that still sounds like what you're aiming for is 
hard, not frustrating.


I can make it hard, with powerful save-or-die effects that will likely instagib random members of the party while they feel cheated.  Well, maybe that's just frustrating in its own way.  Perhaps the BEST way to describe it is, I want this wizard frustrating to kill.

Apparently we're having some sort of miscommunication here, so allow me to explain: When I say make a fight "hard", what I mean is: Make the enemies difficult to kill and make it a struggle for the PCs to win. I do NOT mean "throw in a lot of save-or-die effects." Save-or-die effects are what I file under "frustrating."

Save or die = "Well, you're unlucky, #*%^ you, roll a new character."
Hard = "Exchange damage and debuffs, forcing the party to use every buff, heal and tactic they have available to claw their way to victory."

If this is going to be the grand and glorious end to the quest, they should throw everything they have into it. But that is not the same thing as "get really lucky or die."

A good final battle should require the party to think and to adjust their tactics mid-fight. It shouldn't just be a dull slugfest, where they spam attack until they deal enough damage to bring the BBEG down.

Maybe you should add some lesser monsters to the fight. Maybe some are healed by lightning in the same way as the PC, while others are vulnerable to it. Some are could resist physical attacks while others are weak against them. Use enemy placement to force the players to think about movement and priority targets. But perhaps keep the lesser enemies notably weaker or have most of the monsters' abilities not effect the BBEG very well. So the ghost is going to have to move from body to body, experimenting with which ability is the best to use against the BBEG (who will, naturally, be immune to possession.)

Make them think and keep them on their toes, since that's the way to ensure the fight is memorable. Though, due note that all of this is opinion, coming from someone who isn't particularly familiar with how these classes and abilities work. The advice I'm giving is theoretically, not crunch.
Gunmage, a homebrew arcane striker. (Heroic Tier playtest ready.) GDocs link. (More up to date.)
You'll notice he said he wanted the wizard frustrating to kill... not frustrating to survive.

So SoDs would be frustrating to survive.  Similarly, a whole passel (ie, 6+) suite of powers of "Ha Ha!  Not Dead yet" will be really frustrating to handle when you're trying to put the guy down.  Say, he's got 3 different powers: shield, an II teleport, and Mirror Image.  And he's got a magic item that lets him recharge each of those 1/enc.  That's 6 rounds of "one key attack missed", which could be pretty frustrating, without killing PCs or being too likely to cause players to rage.

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Practical gameplay runs by neither RAW or RAI, but rather "A Compromise Between The Gist Of The Rule As I Recall Getting The Impression Of It That One Time I Read It And What Jerry Says He Remembers, Whatever, We'll Look It Up Later If Any Of Us Still Give A Damn." Erachima


 Actually, the dervish and the ghost are pretty easy to deter since they're one-trick ponies...

 Now, since the BBEG knows the party, and is expecting them to show up at some point, he should be well-prepared for their standard operating procedures. Make sure the party faces him on his terms. He should have the homefield advantage and use it viciously. In fact, if the BBEG gets to pick the location of the final showdown, he should have it set up as a gauntlet just to get within striking distance.

 The dervish (never seen any of that "chozo" stuff before - what book is it from?) needs to move in order to get his extra attacks - if there's not enough room for him to move freely or he can't get to the bad guys, he's either much less effective or completely hosed depending on which methods you've used to pin him down. Make sure you're intimately familiar with the movement rules and all the little intricacies of the requirements for the character to pull off his tricks - in 3.5, there are usually a fair number of restrictions involved in when and how characters get to pull off their signature combos, especially if they're pretty complex and combine a lot of different elements.
Aside from using terrain such as small rooms, corridors, traps and tables/chairs/pillars to make navigating through the room harder, there are any number of spells and items (both magical and mundane) that can slow, entangle, or otherwise impede his progress. In fact, one of the wizard's underlings should be standing by with a readied action (trigger: when the character moves more than a certain distance) to hit them with a ranged weapon or other attack that can trip them. This should be used very strategically - pick the time when it will have the most effect both theatrically and tactically. Only ever do this twice in one fight though (at least to the same character) - the first time it will be irritating, the second time it will have the player out for the enemy's blood. Don't do it a third time (and never on consecutive rounds) because then you're reaching the point where the player will start to take it personally.
 There should also be hordes of minions for the guy to blow through - if he wants to hit something, give him something completely expendable to hit. You can bog him down with meatshields while still letting him ricochet around the battlefield slicing heads. If there's some sort of plot device actually producing these speedbumps, then that thing becomes an obstacle that the dervish presumably needs the help of the other party members to shut down, making it so that the party has to accomplish more than one goal to suceed.

 The ghost is even easier to stymy, even without giving the BBEG's underlings protection against possession - it's a hell of a lot easier for the wizard and the rest of team Bad Guy to just isolate/immobilize/kill their own people once the ghost has taken control of them than to actually kill the ghost itself. The ghost most likely has even more restrictions, limitations, and prerequisites for his possession trick than the dervish's twirling - at the very least, possession has a limited range.
The wizard should have a couple of temporary protections and ways to foil the ghost, but the ghost (with the help of the spellcasters) should be able to overcome them.

 The gadgeteer should be spending most of the fight pulling magic junk out of his pockets as fast as his action economy will allow - there should be any number of failsafes, contingencies, traps, buff spells and protections to overcome. Force him to choose every turn between buffing one of his allies and whittling away at the bad guys' defences and protections.

 For the spark-mage, throw in a handful of melee guys and a ranged guy or two that are resistant/immune to lightning - hell, have the bad guys trot out a flesh golem to chase the caster around, they're healed by lightning. Since there's at least a certain number of enemies that are guaranteed to survive the mage's initial assault, if not either be only slightly inconvenienced by it or actually helped, he'll need the rest of the party's help to keep them away from him long enough to find a non-lightning way to deal with them. If he walked into the fight with nothing but a straight lightning-damage blaster set-up for his memorized spells, the fight just got a lot tougher since he won't be as able to contribute to helping the other party members get past their own obstacles.
 If the BBEG has the ability to set up any sort of anti-magic fields, they should be placed tactically on the battlefield rather than having the BBEG stand in one defensively or try to cast it on the party's casters - if the BBEG is in some hard-to-reach place or in a well-defended position, then any anti-magic should be concentrated on those areas of the battlefield where it would be most advantageous for the party to cast from. Because of the nature of blasts and bursts and the fact that spells require line-of-effect (if not direct line-of-sight) to their targets, making sure that the blaster can't hit the whole battlefield and has to choose his positioning carefully to engage multiple targets can take a huge of chunk damage potential away from the blaster while still letting him rain hell down on his opponents. Alternately, the same pupose can also be served by the terrain-based obstacles you're using to slow down the dervish.

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There are reasons they call me Mad...


 Actually, the dervish and the ghost are pretty easy to deter since they're one-trick ponies...

 Now, since the BBEG knows the party, and is expecting them to show up at some point, he should be well-prepared for their standard operating procedures. Make sure the party faces him on his terms. He should have the homefield advantage and use it viciously. In fact, if the BBEG gets to pick the location of the final showdown, he should have it set up as a gauntlet just to get within striking distance.


Which is pretty much what I was trying to suggest: Don't make their standard modus operandi completely worthless, just set things up so the players have to think about how and where to use their abilities, while also considering options they may have neglected until now.

The dervish (never seen any of that "chozo" stuff before - what book is it from?)


I'm wondering if he has power armor from an alien race of bird men, honestly. (Which isn't a slight against the concept, since I'm a moderate Metroid fan...) I've never heard of it, either. But, of course, I've barely heard of anything outside of the PHB and Unearthed Arcana.

Really wish I could be helpful to the OP, honestly.

There should also be hordes of minions for the guy to blow through - if he wants to hit something, give him something completely expendable to hit. You can bog him down with meatshields while still letting him ricochet around the battlefield slicing heads. If there's some sort of plot device actually producing these speedbumps, then that thing becomes an obstacle that the dervish presumably needs the help of the other party members to shut down, making it so that the party has to accomplish more than one goal to suceed.


I like this idea, primarily for forcing the party to think tactically: Are resources better spent shutting down the artifact/teleporter/assembly line/mook-maker-9000 or can they afford to just slog through the fodder? If they feel they need to shut the device down, they have to consider if they should just blast it or if they should be efficient about clearing a path to it. They also have to consider sending the muscle to break it or the mage to short circuit it. (For reasons related to this last one, try to drop a couple hints on which method is easier, though make both methods possible.)

Gunmage, a homebrew arcane striker. (Heroic Tier playtest ready.) GDocs link. (More up to date.)


Their main DPS is a Chozo Warrior(7) Dervish(3) Chozo Warrior(1).  He runs in at insane speeds covering 120 feet easily and getting in attacks as he moves around a target because of his levels in Dervish and his insane Dex mod of +8.  Dishes out 180+ dmg per turn if there's enough enemies nearby.  It's all Brilliant Energy too



Make the wizard a lich.

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"                                                  "I'd recommend no one listed to Krusk's opinions about what games to play"

Make the wizard a lich.



Which leads to a LOT of room for super-cool ways that the wizard could hide/disguise his phylactery

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Why there should be the option to use alignment systems:
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If some people are heavily benefiting from the inclusion of alignment, then it would behoove those that AREN'T to listen up and pay attention to how those benefits are being created and enjoyed, no? -YagamiFire
But equally important would be for those who do enjoy those benefits to entertain the possibility that other people do not value those benefits equally or, possibly, do not see them as benefits in the first place. -wrecan (RIP)
That makes sense. However, it is not fair to continually attack those that benefit for being, somehow, deviant for deriving enjoyment from something that you cannot. Instead, alignment is continually attacked...it is demonized...and those that use it are lumped in with it.

 

I think there is more merit in a situation where someone says "This doesn't work! It's broken!" and the reply is "Actually it works fine for me. Have you considered your approach might be causing it?"

 

than a situation where someone says "I use this system and the way I use it works really well!" and the back and forth is "No! It is a broken bad system!" -YagamiFire

Or in stead of making him a lich you could make him use “Magic Jar”.


He could have his choice of bodies to posses in several secret dungeons (perhaps clones of other adventurers). Give him a familiar that follows him around invisibly within the maximum range of the spell. The familiar can have all kinds of protections perhaps stoneskin (fly if needed) and perhaps a Ring of Teleportation.


So if the wizard is defeated /slain his soul returns to the magic jar and is brought back by the familiar to one of his save dungeons where he picks another body (his original body remains save in one of his dungeons at all times.


And this gives the wizard the additional possibility to take over one of your group if the opportunity arises. Note that he can communicate telepathic with his familiar no matter in which body he is.

Panartias, ladies-man and Jack of all trades about his professions:

"Once, I was a fighter -

to conquer the heart of a beautiful lady.

Then I became a thief -

- to steal myself a kiss from her lips.

And finally, I became a mage -

- to enchant her face with a smile."

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