We recently played our last game of the year, I can’t believe it’s been 1 1/2 years already with 4e. I feel I’m getting into a nice groove with my Dm’ing, both on the table and off. My prep time is going quicker than ever thanks to all the digital tools at my disposal, and I’ve finally found a tracking system for combats that has everything I’ve been looking for. I’m a happy DM right now, and feel like I’m where I should be given the amount of time I’ve been on the job.
One of the lessons I took away from our last session is the ability to spot encounters that don’t necessarily add anything to the adventure, and are more of a drag, rather than fun. To put things in context, I’ve been running the “Tears of Ioun” series from Dungeon Magazines issues 161-163. It’s a nice trilogy dealing with the Far Realm, and it has been a welcome change of pace from the Undead Orgy I’ve been putting my players through. But we hit the issue of “The Grind” with the last fight before the big boss. Let me show you the details:
Here is the map for the encounter we faced… the party approaches from the stairs, into that plain room shaped like a cross. Features of the area? None. The statues. That’s it. 4e adventure design does not really encourage this type of environment, but in the authors’ defense, I’ll chalk it up to 4e newbie issues. But let’s admit that this room couldn’t be more boring, specially so for a mini-boss, a solo level 13 blob of hit points (designed pre-MM2 solo tweaks)……
Level 13 Solo Controller • XP 3,500
Medium aberrant magical beast
Initiative +10 Senses Perception +10; all-around vision
Warped Ground aura 3; enemies treat the area within the aura as difficult terrain.
HP 675; Bloodied 337
AC 27; Fortitude 26; Reflex 26; Will 27
Resist 10 acid
Saving Throws +5
Speed 6, Swim 5
Action Points 2
m Bite (standard; at-will) • Acid
Reach 2; +17 vs AC; 1d8 + 4 damage, and ongoing 10 acid damage (save ends)
M Braking Bite (immediate reaction; usable when a creature moves or shifts within 2 squares of the foul gibberer; at-will) • Acid
Targets the triggering creature; reach 2; +17 vs AC; 1d8 + 4 damage, ongoing 10 acid damage (save ends), and the target stops moving
C Gnashing Teeth (standard; at-will) • Acid
Close burst 2; targets enemies; +17 vs AC; 1d8 + 4 damage, and ongoing 5 acid damage (save ends)
C Caustic Spew (standard; recharge 4 5 6) • Acid
Close burst 2; +15 vs Reflex; 3d6 + 6 acid damage, and the target is blinded until the end of the foul gibberer’s next turn
C Gibbering (free; at-will) • Psychic
Close burst 5; deafened creatures are immune; +14 vs Will; the target takes -2 to attack rolls and all defenses (save ends both). First Failed Save: The target takes -2 to attack rolls and is dazed (save ends both)
So there’s the monster…. an aberrant gibbering mouther type guy that spits acid. He can cause minuses to hit as a free action and daze the hell out of the party. We know how much the dazed condition sucks. The rest of his attacks are acid based, and my pc’s had an acid resistance trick up their sleeves. So this fight pretty much ended up being a toe to toe back and forth. You can’t flank him because he has all around vision, (although in a bit of bad editing, the tactics actually say he goes after flankers first to avoid the flank, WTH?) and the room doesn’t have any dynamic features to make the combat pop. Also, once they were in melee with him, they didn’t want to move away from him due to his bite when you shift out. So it was an 8 round whack-the-mole situation until someone dropped. 675 hp of this for 9 rounds or so. Meh. Bad Dm’ing? Maybe… but more so, bad eye for not tweaking this baby ahead of time.
First thing I should have tackled was the encounter itself. What purposes, story wise, does it serve? None other than to protect the big boss’s room behind one of the double doors. Did the guard really need to be this big HP blob? No, it certainly does not. The room could have been filled with a couple of aberrant themed soldiers instead, some elites, rather than a solo. Guys that could really have put the squeeze on the party. Next the room itself. Where’s the dungeon dressing? James Wyatt has a great article in the December issue of Dungeon dealing with dungeon dressing. Both the DMG & the DMG2 have great new fantastic terrain that I could have thrown in there to spice things up. This room might as well be an empty arena.
So to answer my question, “is the encounter worth it?”, the answer is no. This encounter was not worth it. Certainly a more dynamic encounter with a variety of enemies and terrains would have served the same story purpose, without the grind and feeling of “what was the point of all that?”. The lesson learned is that as a DM, visualize in your head how these things are going to play out at the table. You know your party, you know their capabilities, so keep that in mind when designing or adapting encounters. I was a lazy DM for running the encounter as-is. Don’t be a lazy DM, always ask yourself if the next :45 minutes to an hour of game time are really worth it for you, and for your players.