Dungeons & Dragons Online

Need to spice up an encounter for lower level players? Try having three sides to the fight.

Smashing goblins is fun but can get boring sometimes. I've had two encounters that are pretty memorable.

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Due to some well played shenanigans and hot dice, the party found a group of mercenary bandits hired to kill them by a tribe of Orcs. For once, the murder hobos actually snuck up and TALKED instead of just murdering. They offered a higher price than the Orcs were paying in exchange for walking them to the orc base.

Crit success would have been the mercs walk away, abandoning their mission. This was enough of a success to do a "fake prisoner" trick, so everyone was cuffed enough to fool orcs, but could be slipped off as a free action.

Inside was the BBEG! What a twist! So now the party wants to murder, and kicks off a fight in the orc cave. With the Mercs right there. All told it was the BBEG, 8 orcs, 8 mercs, and 5 party members. Now the bard and the BBEG are spending their actions negotiating (rolling contested persuasion/deception/intimidation) every round trying to get the mercenaries to switch sides by offering increasingly large amounts of gold. To simplify things I resolved that roll at Initiative 0.

It was a goddamn bloodbath. The party played the hell out of it and were the only survivors. Even then they were on their last legs and half KO'd.

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After that I started writing encounters with that idea in mind. One of my favorite Adventurer's League one-shots is to run a "Suicide Squad" game. Everyone brings a Level 6 PC. For whatever reason, all but one of the PC's were captured by the law and sentenced to death. Players can decide how innocent they actually are for plot hooks later. Now you're given the chance to complete an impossible task and get years off your sentence. The mission is put under the command of the lawful goodest PC who serves as the G-Man responsible for the mission's success.

The first mission: Cultists have captured a dragon, and are hauling it along this road. Ambush them before they get there. (Great time to re-use goblin ambush maps from LMoP).

Investigation would reveal the dragon is sleeping and the cart they're hauling it in is very rickety. The guards are all professionals, and are backed by casters. Really high investigation would reveal that the casters all sling Chaos Bolt, the guards are Polearm Masters, and the big boss is carrying a magic whip.

The whip instantly puts targets into magical sleep on-hit. So long as it is actively held, the target stays asleep. Detect thoughts reveals that the dragon knows this and does not like the whip, and was captured unwillingly. The Cultists are cartoonishly Chaotic Evil, and the Dragon is cartoonishly Lawful Evil.

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When the boss goes down or otherwise drops the whip, the dragon spends its next turn waking up. The next turn after that it throws a breath weapon centered on whoever holds the whip, destroying it (barring player shenanigans). Once the whip is destroyed, the dragon will start moving to fly away, attacking any creature in its path unless it is given a reason to stay. If it flies away, it will go murder murder an orphanage or whatever, resulting in a mission failure. Alternatively, anyone can pick up the whip and make the appropriate attack roll to see if they hit the dragon. Better roll high though because they're the priority target until it goes down.

The Dragon is CR 8-10, the 8-12 guards & casters combined all CR 1-3. All told, each side is 120% deadly if fought by the players individually. The chaos created by a dragon that uses all of it's abilities against whoever is nearest makes for some fun character choices and a memorable encounter.

The furthest it ever went off the rails was when the 2-3 surviving PC's let the G-Man fail out on death saves and rode the dragon off into the sunset while chanting "evil campaign!!!!" If it all stays on the rails, they'll complete the mission, slip back into RP, then realize there's only one G-Man player and 4-5 PC's staring life sentences who could just walk away…

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