Content of the article: "Advice on a “defend the cleric” encounter"
If you recognize Gilgamesh as an ancient brass dragon living in Koom, please don't read on, because SPOILERS!
Premise: a group of 6 adventurers, around level 10, must travel to the center of a magical wood, where a shrine has been desecrated. Once there, the cleric of the party must perform the Hallow spell (24 hour casting time) on the shrine to re-consecrate it.
The basic idea is a classic from both MMO's and movies: during the 24 hour casting time, a coven of hags (which desecrated the shrine to begin with) are going to throw waves of monsters at the party to stop the re-consecration. This is intended as an epic encounter (probably 1-2 sessions), with players thinking up ways to protect the cleric, licking their wounds and laying defenses between waves, and culminating in a desperate, chaotic, final battle as the cleric races to finish the spell.
I'm looking for advice on 2 things. The first is the more important one, and where I need the most help. As for the second thing, I have thoughts, but I'm super excited to hear any ideas that y'all might have.
First: what do I do with the player whose cleric is going to be casting the 24-hour-long spell? He needs to be concentrating the whole time, so the waves of bad guys (see below) are going to try to get to him to break his concentration. So what is my player going to do during the series of encounters? He can't do anything except keep casting hallow. But I really don't want a player to be literally watching for (realistically) 1-2 sessions. My ideas so far, none of which I'm terribly fond of:
- Give the player a sidekick – e.g. a Paladin of the same god, which has come to help. During the attack waves, the player gets to control the Paladin. I have an NPC, who the players have interacted with before, who fits this role well, so it would fit within the story arc.
- Give the player an avatar, as a gift from the god to help during the battle. That avatar is a spiritual manifestation of the cleric, which hovers above the cleric. It's able to cast all the cleric's spells (I would argue only ones that don't require concentration), and consumes his spell slots, but can't move. This allows the player to play the same character, gets them to burn spell slots and help out, but still imposes some limits. This seems kinda forced / gimmick-y, though.
- Have an NPC cleric tag along and cast Hallow, and he's the one they have to defend. I'm least keen on this because it's a shrine specifically created by this PC's god, and I want this event to create a stronger connection between the PC and the god.
What do I do here? My current plan is to chat out-of-game with the player that controls the cleric, and ask if he's cool with option 1, but I figured I'd ask for other ideas before I did so.
Second: What kind of waves of monsters should I send? My thoughts to this point are the following waves, in order:
- A guardian, put there by the hags. Not a terribly difficult encounter, but it should give the players the impression that they're limited on time: the hags now know they're at the shrine, and so if they don't start casting Hallow immediately, then it'll just give the hags more time to mount a counter-attack.
- A swarm of popcorn – this is the initial "oh s**t!" response from the hags. Less than 10 minutes after killing the guardian, the hags throw anything they've got available: random animals, some goblins, anything that was nearby in the woods. Easy pickings for a bunch of L10's, but annoying because there's so many of them. This tests whether they're smart on conserving their limited resources (e.g. spell slots).
- A sneaky assassin – a couple hours later, something sneaky comes up – ideally, something invisible – and tries to backstab the praying cleric. Have they set up defenses? Are they keeping watch? Are they all spread out at the periphery, with nobody standing close guard?
- A mini-boss – after 6 or so hours, some large-ish brute with some minions comes charging in. The hags have had time to muster some power and get a bigger bad to try to break through the lines.
- Flying popcorn – to this point, nothing's worked, so the Hags think maybe attacking from a different vector might work. By now, I expect the players have set up defensive barriers, and have some way of detecting invisible infiltrators, but this is a test to see if they thought about 3-dimensional space, rather than just 2D. I want these monsters to be easily-killed popcorn, in case the PCs are low on health / spell slots.
- Something else, if they're still pretty close to full health / resources. This is the "flex" encounter – I can ignore it if they're mostly drained, but keep it if I need 'em just a bit weaker, to make the final wave a challenge…
- The final boss. This won't be the hags themselves, but probably a demon that they were able to summon. (The hags themselves are a later encounter in the campaign.) This is at the end of the 24 hour period, and I want it to be a ticking clock – the demon is trying to get to the center, just in time, while the cleric desperately tries to finish the spell. If the cleric succeeds, the consecration of the shrine fries the demon, and the party wins. Can the party hold it at bay long enough?
Any other ideas for waves, monsters, or other mechanics are welcome.
For context, this shrine guards a soft spot between the fey wild, shadowfell, and material plane – think something similar to Wall in Neil Gaiman's Stardust. The shrine prevents armies from moving between the realms, but individuals can pass between them during specific times of day / specific days of the year. So one option I'm considering (as a potential non-combat encounter) is when a small army of shadowfell beasts, knowing the shrine is down, musters and prepares to invade the fey wild, and the party just happens to be – metaphorically – standing in the middle of the bridge they need to cross, setting charges to blow the bridge to smithereens…
- Encounter Advice – How to build an exciting “race-against-the-clock” encounter?
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