Obviously, there will be some spoilers in this post. However, I will keep the details of my commentary limited enough that the reader will require the Lair Assault Forge of the Dawn Titan module to completely understand my suggestions. As a player, if you have played through the first dungeons and dragons lair assault module at least three times, you will probably be familiar with a lot of this as well– but you earned your experience, so you should not feel guilty if you continue to read this article.
Initial Lair Assaults
Waves upon waves of adventurers crash upon the treacherous cliffs of Lair Assault, and most meet their end. At the time I am writing this, some dozen parties of adventurers have assaulted the lair at my FLGS, and only two have barely succeeded. The player character death rate stands at about 90%.
During the first one or two assaults on the lair, players are cautious and surprised by what they find. After that, parties begin optimizing damage resistance types, and choose items to overcome the specific of the the Forge of the Dawn Titan.
Lair Assault dungeon masters have a great deal of freedom to structure their lair as they please, and this can play a huge part in the success or defeat of each party. As each group of players returns with more experience and better party optimization, how can you scale monster choice and tactics to continue to make the challenge even harder?
The Best Monsters
Regardless of mode or level, the DM will always have one Mordai Vell (boss), one fire elemental, and five trapped statues at their disposal. Depending on the number of players, the DM receives additional monster groups within level range 4, 5, 6, and 7. To scale Lair Assault over time, you can use some of the “lesser” monsters earlier on, with some of the less devious tactics. As the players think their experience has caused them to gain an edge, the DM can turn up the heat by using better monsters and more lethal tactics.
Level 4 Monsters
- Best: Hellfire Warlock
- Worst: Seared Devil
A pair of seared devils can be a good choice for a party’s first run on the lair. Their relatively untyped damage will discourage players from focusing on damage resistance, and their relative simplicity can help lull players into a false sense of security. In all cases, however, the Hellfire Warlocks are the better choice. Even if the party can resist some fire damage, their controller effects can still inflict huge amounts of damage as they are pushed into burning oil or lava, and pushed or teleported off of ledges (and don’t forget about the AOE teleport damage, which occurs at the source of both the teleport-er and the teleport-ee). If a group tries to “run past” a room, the Hellfire Warlocks can use their “Ride the Fire” ability to isolate individual players for other creatures to murder.
Level 5 Monsters
- Best: Fire Bat
- Worst: Blazing Skeleton
Both level five monsters are great options, however, they have certain advantages and disadvantages depending on the room you place them in. For the sake of surprise, and multiple attacks, I lean slightly toward favoring the Fire Bat. Since the Bat can fly, you can start the bat in all kinds of crazy locations in 3D space. Depending on the location you choose, the players may not see the bat when they first enter the room. The bat could be on a ceiling, under a platform, hiding behind a part of a statue… or any other place you can imagine. The shift attack is also great for choke points. The Blazing Skeleton is a good choice for the far end of the “lava hall”… the hall past the Rune Hall, just before the boss room. Any of the aura damage creatures are also useful at common choke points, such as the entrances to the boss room.
Level 6 Monsters
- Best: Fire Temple Champion
- Worst: Servant of the Fire Lord
The dragonborn fullblades can do the most untyped damage of any creature in this challenge. When all the players have has fire resistance, this is critical. Their marking abilities are also very useful for extending the life of the boss, Mordai Vell, to ensure that Mordai gets as many attack rounds as possible. Lots of hit points and high defenses make them the best defender option available. The Servants of the Fire Lord are kind of a gimmick, and probably should not be used more than once. Their best possible application is two Servants of the Fire Lord and four Fire Temple Elect minions in an open space. But seriously, who let Elves into a cult of fire worship?
Level 7 Monsters
- Best: Hell Hound
- Worst: Fire Temple Elects (minions)
Minions go down too fast, and once the part has fire resistance, they are significantly less useful. However, I would strongly endorse a set of Fire Temple Elects in a party’s first run on the Lair. I found that if there is just one minion in the collapsing room, players will charge in, unafraid of the cracks in the floor. If the room is empty, players immediately assume that the room is just a big trap. Hell Hounds are great because they have a ton of hit points, and a deadly breathe weapon that recharges easily. Their aura damage also makes them very useful at any choke point.
The Deadliest Tactics
In a party’s first assault on the lair, a DM can afford to spread the damage out a bit. However, the best strategy is to identify the weakest link in the party, and focus fire until they are dead dead. Focusing on the weakest link optimizes the damage output of the monsters, and forces the party to consume their healing abilities in the least optimal way.
Once a player is unconscious, DO NOT STOP if you have a good opportunity to reach their negative bloodied value. Continue to attack an unconscious player unless you have a strong incentive to perform a different action. Remember, each hit against an unconscious player is an automatic coup de grace, which maxes out the damage (like a critical hit). With level five player characters, generally two coup de grace hits are required to finish the character off.
If the party has a lot of healing available, you may want to focus on knocking a character unconscious and then moving on to the next best target. You don’t want to waste monster damage output on a player you can’t quite finish off, and then the character starts from zero + surge value + bonuses.
A Note About Round Four
I didn’t like the idea of players knowing exactly when the big fire wave would go off, so I randomized it, in a way. I wait for a “6″ to appear on a d6 to activate the effect. At the end of round 3, I roll 2d6, end of round 4, 3d6, end of round 5, 4d6, and so on. By the end of round 7, 6d6 nearly guarantees you will roll at least one six. So far the big boom has gone off in round 4, 5, 6, 7, but never in round 3. Maybe I’ll get lucky next time!
The Cruelest Statue Locations
Any corner will due, but which are the best corners?
These are great for screwing with the minds of your players. Early on, players assume every statue is dangerous. A mundane statue in the Closet Hall can really make the party squirm. Do they jump the lava, or risk entering attack range?? A mundane statue near the closets may be enough to discourage players from thoroughly investigating the area.
Anyone who has played a “turret defense” game knows that the best location is the spot where the statue will be able to fire the most shots on a target. Translating this to Lair Assault, that means the Entry Chamber, and The Forge.
For great lulz, I do highly recommend considering placing two trapped statues in the Platform room, if only to maximize falling damage. I stopped placing trapped statues in the Rune Hall, because vulnerable 10 fire is bad enough. After a couple assaults, most players realize that the Rune Hall is by far the worst option to reach the objective. Adjust for this placing more obstacles on the other paths… and remind players that there is no “best option”. This is Lair Assault!
As I have identified the Rune Hall as the worst possible route for players to traverse, this is where I normally put the Bejeweled Statue. To mix things up, I sometimes place the Bejeweled Status in the Platform Room, as it encourages more falling damage.
Tactics By Room
Essentially, the egress way of any room in the fire temple can effectively serve as a choke point for players. To make life more difficult over time, include monsters with aura effects that can easily be moved to block these choke points.
Easy: One trapped statue, and a few of the “worst” creatures from the list above. Don’t expend a lot of effort trying to set players on fire.
Challenging: Two trapped statues, and a mix of the best and worst creatures. If players are in an unlit pool, simple have a “burning” creature walk into the pool to ignite the fire as part of a move action.
Evil: Two trapped statues and two mundane statues. Only the best creatures, and three of them in the first room (in normal play) regardless of the number of players at the table. Placing this kind of force early in the encounter allows you more statue shots, more pushes into fire, and also decreases the chances that a statue will be disabled or destroyed, due to the target rich environment. If you are concerned about concentrating forces in one place, I can tell you from experience, a party that runs from the monsters in the first room is a party that will die.
I will note that I errata’d the module to include 1d4+2 fire damage for each square that a character climbs along the super hot walls. After all, it IS a lava pit, the walls are melting!
Easy: As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy placing a mundane statue, and a single minion in this room for a party’s first assault on the lair. This incentives action over caution, and players are more likely to end up in the burning lava pit.
Challenging: Don’t bother investing resources here. You’ll do more damage if you put them elsewhere.
Evil: If you have minions to spare, place them in the boss room, adjacent to the false wall. This will prevent a party with breaching armor from getting through the false door. It will also help hold the line if players have a character spec’d for “Kool-aid man” wall smashing.
To be extra evil, you should errata the module to add “steam damage” if a character is successfully ejected into the air. I think 2d6 is appropriate.
Easy: Two of the “worst” creatures, and no Hellfire Warlocks. Hopefully the “round 4 event” will be a big enough surprise the first time through.
Challenging: One trapped statue in the close corner and the bejeweled statue in the far corner along with two Hellfire Warlocks and a Fire Bat. It never ceases to amaze me how the bejeweled gives players a sense of hope. It also never ceases to amuse me when players fall into the mud trying to jump to the bejeweled statue. Demonstrate the awesome power of the Hellfire Warlocks by pushing and teleporting players into the mud.
Evil: One fire elemental (who can fly, mind you), two Hellfire Warlocks, and two trapped statues. Consider starting one Warlock actually IN the mud near the center of the room, so he is concealed under the platforms. Make a point of using the teleport ability at close range to maximize the burst three teleport damage.
I never bother putting monsters in this room, though in Nightmare mode, I do think it is amusing to put a single minion in one of the three closets. >:D As I mentioned earlier, putting a mundane statue in the corner can encourage players to avoid the closets altogether, and encourage them to jump over lava instead of taking the easy path.
Easy: One trapped statue at the entrance, and one mundane statue. This discourages players from entering this hallway, because you know that they REALLY don’t want to enter this hallway…
Challenging: Two mundane statues. Just enough to make players cautious, and distract them from the “hot magical wave” that washes over them as they walk across the runes.
Evil: Put the Bejeweled statue and a mundane statue in this hall. Focus fire elsewhere. I consider the effects of this room to be a “zone”. Climbing the walls instead of touching the floor will not save you.
Easy: No creatures. The jump checks are dangerous enough.
Challenging: One aura damage monster at either the entrance or the exit, depending on whether you choose the melee or ranged option. The ranged option is particularly irritating, as players usually have to jump over lava to get into melee range.
Evil: No creatures. Focus fire in The Forge and the Entrance Chamber. In nightmare mode, consider the “challenging” option.
To be clear on the evil inherent in this room, dominated characters must do the absolute worst thing possible to other players, and to themselves. Daily or encounters powers MUST be spent if they area available, and players MUST use an action point to make additional attacks if the action point is still available.
Easy: One trapped statues, two monsters, and Mordai Vell. When Mordai Vell is bloodied and teleports, consider moving him across the lava in front of the idol.
Challenging: Two trapped statues, three monsters, and Mordai Vell. Retreat to one side with readied actions and ranged attacks to maximize the hazard damage in the room. Be sure to use at least one Fire Temple Champion. A Hell Hound is a good second choice. If there are zombies in the lair, dominate them when they start unconscious, or when they become dead dead.
Evil: Two trapped statues, maximum number of monsters, and Mordai Vell. If you have spare minions, use them to bull rush players into lava, or perform standard action heal checks on fallen allies. Remember, every monster is considered to have at least one healing surge. If you include a bat in the room, place the bat somewhere out of sight. Use the bat to keep players away from the idol. Also, if a dominated character is only unconscious, compel them to walk into lava and end their turn in lava to finish the job (40 fire damage). Unconscious players do not receive saves against forced movement.
Nightmare Mode Bonus Creatures
Assuming that you are using all of the “best” creatures, in nightmare mode you receive one additional creature of each level, except for Mordai Vell. This means you may need to make the best of the “worst” creatures. With the help of the “best” creatures, fortunately, there are some nice options available.
Bonus Fire Elemental
This is the best part of Nightmare Mode! Unfortunately, the module only comes with one Fire Elemental token, so you’ll need to find another one. Since this monster is a nasty bag of hit points with super-high defenses, I endorse placing one of the two fire elementals in the Entry Chamber, Platform Room, or The Forge. I would not put two in the same room.
A single Seared Devil becomes very useful in rooms that require a lot of jumping, such as the Lava Hall or Platform Room. Marking and slowing players will slow group group progress, increase the number of statue attacks, and prevent jump checks. Naturally, I would recommend the Platform Room.
The Entrance Chamber or Lava Hall are solid options. See tactics for those rooms for the logic in this.
Servant of the Fire Lord
This monster works will in an area with a lot of space, so I think the entry chamber is the only appropriate location for him. Since the monster is also the ONLY monster in the module with a specified skill check modifier (diplomacy +10), the first thing this monster should do is attempt a Jedi mind trick (of sorts) to earnestly convince players that Mordai Vell is a great master who will do wonderful things for Neverwinter, as he burns away all that should not be…
4 Temple Elect Minions
I like to spread my minions across the map. The Forge is a good option for a pair of minions. I would put the other two in the Entrance Chamber along with the Servant of the Fire Lord.
Did I Miss Anything?
How do you murder your player characters? Do you have any devilishly delicious ideas that should be added to the list? If you’ve run or played through the lair, what do you think about this new Dungeons and Dragons play format?