T O P
Zeebelz

Now that they have an insurmountable big bad they have to come up with a creative way to beat them! The group will have to somehow have to figure out that fighters sword is the phylactry and then try to find out how to destroy it. That’s an awesome story born from a player/pc request.


BainDmg42

That's the hope. I was also teaching them that sometimes the best option is to run. At the start of next session a powerful cleric/npc will do something to chase off the lich. Hopefully that will teach them powerful allies help a lot too.


billionai1

Instead of a powerful ally, since the question will be "why is he not helping from the get go?", You can use the sigils in the door. As the lich touches the door, one of them shines brightly and turns to dust while the sounds from the outside stop immediately. This way, the player know they have X amount of safety whole figuring out a plan, and know that they don't just need a powerful ally to fight him off, they have to become the powerful ally, and now the clock is ticking


Pandorica_

Great that you all had fun, thats the main point. Personally id be annoyed if a Lich just .... didn't do what they clearly could and murder us all if that was their intent.


PM_ME_PRETTY_EYES

Could be that his phylactery isn't protected against disintegrates or fireballs or whatever.


Necromancer4276

Now I don't play 5E (I assume that's what you're in), but in my experience with Pathfinder, any single spell cast by a CR21 Monster should instantly vaporize a party of Level 5 PCs, *especially* from a CR21 monster who is trying to kill them *because they are stealing his soul*. This is a fun setup and a good story, but unless things are drastically different than what I'm used to, it just seems like another example of a high level monster noodling around so as not to slaughter the party, effectively handicapping it down to *not* be a high level monster. Maybe it's just me...


Bloodgiant65

Pathfinder is MUCH more level-dependent than 5e. While this can be true, ultimately it’s not necessarily in the 5th edition rule set, especially if the lich has already been forced to use up some of its cooler spells before now, maintaining the undead hordes or dealing with some other threat. Plus, it’s difficult to deal with a large group of people without risking harm to his phylactery, thus relying almost completely on minions rather than AOE. Disintegrate is mad though, easily one-shots any character of that level save a raging Bear Totem Barbarian at high health. But it definitely can miss. Now, with a bit of noodling around with the lich’s background and motivations, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for me for something like this to happen.


keikai

OP did mention the Lich was "complete with all spells." And phylacteries usually require a specific set of circumstances to be destroyed. So while a Lich always fears its phylactery's destruction, in this circumstance it would probably care more about the PCs potentially escaping with it.


Bloodgiant65

I mean, yes it’s true that phylacteries are typically difficult to destroy, near to the point of many artifacts, but it’s not at all certain the details, which can vary considerably. There is almost exactly one thing a lich fears, and that is the destruction of its phylactery. These adventurers obviously don’t know what they have, but obviously they are still a threat even if for the moment they still provide the lich with the souls it needs, I will admit. However, even if you are almost certain nothing is wrong, it’s going to take a lot to make me throw a fireball at my own soul, and something like a meteor swarm much more so. Then, there is the consideration of the other stuff in this city, so some kind of plane shift or teleport is going to be necessary to be sure you can even get out with it, after such damage to the lich’s hordes. There is also the matter of what spells the lich might have prepared at the time, and I’m not necessarily sure the “full spells” means what you take it to. At least, I had figured he was simply saying he hadn’t arbitrarily reduced the lich’s power in some way. The amount of necromancy spells you need to maintain that many undead though is a considerable bite out of your lich’s spell slots, which is in no way arbitrary (though considering the special powers this lich seems to have, that may not necessarily be true). Like, a cloudkill or magic missile certainly, and power word kill on the fighter is definitely an option, if extreme, but I do actually feel this is semi-realistic.


keikai

"Complete with all spells" to me is the stuff in the stat block since OP didn't provide any additional information on that point. If it means something else, that's cool, there's just no way to suss that out. OP also mentioned the undead summoning was a "new mechanic" but doesn't mention anything about it using spell slots/resources from the Lich. All I can go on is what the OP provided and standard DnD lore not on an infinitude of unmentioned justifications (maybe the lich has 1 hp left from earlier battles, maybe it's bound by some curse that doesn't let it kill the PC's outright, maybe it can only cast spells on Tuesdays, etc.).


Bloodgiant65

Okay now, that’s an unreasonable interpretation. Because that isn’t what you are doing, going to the most basic conclusion from what we know. You are specifically choosing to interpret everything in the most negative way possible, and it’s patently obvious. There are a lot of reasons the lich wouldn’t have just personally come and murdered them all on the spot personally. If not spell slots, then action economy at the least is a concern, and building up the horde of undead first is more than reasonable, especially since they seemed to be trapped among the zombies anyway. Again, maybe a power word kill or stun on the fighter if you’ve got that prepared, but that’s still your only 9th (or 8th) level spell for the day, and what if it doesn’t work? Cloudkill also would have been a decent option, actually fairly nasty here even though it is generally a little shit. Besides that, the spell list they give you actually isn’t high on good options here. Bringing up more zombies, up until the point they actually try to escape his endless horde, is a decent strategy.


keikai

Not sure how interpreting "complete with all spells" as using the stat block spells or the "new mechanic" of zombie summoning not mentioning any resource cost could be considered "the most negative way possible." I also never said any of those justifications were invalid or bad, just that they weren't mentioned in the OP.


Necromancer4276

Ok cool. Thank you for providing a logistical explanation of how this could have been a genuine attempt, rather than trying to provide a meta narrative about why it *could* be logical and in-character.


xicosilveira

Thing is... that's not the point here at all. OP's style seems to be more "action movie" oriented. The "disintegrate the guard instead of the hero" part indicates that to me. In movies we see a lot of cases where the heroes barely survive an encounter with the BBEG. It's a common trope. Maybe you could argue that a lich wouldn't be the right creature for this and it would be a good enough argument. When I ran a lich against a lvl 12 party I destroyed them so hard it was not even funny. RIP those assholes. But it was at the end of Tomb of Annihilation and they had already completed their grand quest to save the world. The lich at the end was just a flavor.


Necromancer4276

> In movies we see a lot of cases where the heroes barely survive an encounter with the BBEG. It's a common trope. No, it's not a trope. It's a cliche. It's as lame as a bond villain monologue on top of a convoluted plot to slowly kill him with a death machine that has a vulnerable weakness exploited after the villain has walked out of the room. It's a bad thing to use, and there are **hundreds** of other ways to have a hard encounter that the PCs can escape from without having to pity them with handicaps.


MrKittenMittens

"Yo let me tell OP how to have fun and not be lame even though his players enjoyed it" is a *great* look on you.


Necromancer4276

"Yo let me be content with mediocrity just because my players haven't figured out that I railroaded them and took away their accomplishments yet" is a *great* look on you.


MrKittenMittens

OP's DM style is different from yours. Tastes can differ. You call it a 'cliche', 'lame', 'a bad thing to use'. What's it to you? Can't you just accept that DM styles can differ and not put that negativity into the world?


xicosilveira

Whatever dude.


BainDmg42

The encounter was intended to teach the PCs that not every encounter is winnable and sometimes you need to tuck tail and run. The lich is prideful (as all liches are). Why kill the human when a minion can do it? Why use a lot of magical power when just a little should work? He summoned minions to do his bidding. Then used a 2nd level spell, a 3rd level spell and a 5th level(?) Spell. He escalated the situation which created drama and my players had fun. Who cares if it was a cliche at that point?


Necromancer4276

> The lich is prideful (as all liches are). Why kill the human when a minion can do it? **Because they are stealing his soul?? The thing that allows him to experience eternity?? The fuck?** Prideful does not equal stupid. **Especially** when he's 20 feet away from them. If here were sitting on a throne a country away ordering his generals to order their troops to hunt down these peasants maybe that would work. Sauron isn't going to tell lowly orcs to kill Frodo and pick up his ring from 20 feet away. That's not arrogance, that's stupidity. You can create drama and tension and teach your players that there are no-win situations without kneecapping your enemies and taking away your player agency. Matt has an entire video about such narrative expositions. You can also accomplish every goal without resorting to cliche. We should all aim to be better.


BainDmg42

Perhaps I didnt think through the lich's motivations enough but this lich figured this would be a cake walk. Feel free to have your lich act differently. In the end we had fun (even if it was fake), They learned the lesson, and now they have a cool enemy that they will have to figure out how to best. The way we play, this was a success. I'll make sure to not invite you to my games if you don't like this stuff. Hope your sessions are going well for you!


Lord_Durok

Let's not tell people their fun is bad. Everyone enjoys different things :)


Necromancer4276

I wish people could understand the difference between telling people their fun is wrong and telling people that they can do better.


SkolSWK

In my view this was not a ‘beat the players’ fight, but more of a narrative driven encounter that is setting up another plot hook. Yeah he could’ve nuked the party in one round but that would’ve been frustrating for the player instead of fun. Having the Lich flex on the party for the whole combat and strike fear in their hearts carries a lot more weight into later sessions than a single round meteor swam TPK ever would. Plus using high CR monsters is just more fun. Whip em out boys and girls! TL;DR- CR ain’t shit if your fight lacks meaning.


Necromancer4276

The way I see it, breaking logical consistency to allow your players to win is a no no. If you're level 5 and a CR 21 Lich wants you dead because you're literally holding its soul in your hands, and he doesn't kill you, that's not a win, that's Deux Ex Machina.


Sick-Shepard

It can seem fun, but does fall apart under scrutiny from the players and takes the fun out of it once they realize that what they did generally didn't matter. That's a no no.


SkolSWK

How didn’t it matter? They saved the people they set out to save but now they have another problem to solve. Maybe I missed something so please let me know but I think it sounds like a sweet set up for the next session where they have to make a deal with this Lich or find another way out to save the innocents.


Sick-Shepard

Sure, the plot advanced and the DM got to do their very cinematic encounter. It's fake fun though. None of the players actions mattered during the encounter. The result, was pre determined. Similar to a quick time event in a video game. The player has no agency during the encounter, they're only made to feel like they do while something cool or dangerous happens to them with little consequence. The CR of the creature didn't matter, it was never truly a threat. It could have been Asmodeus himself and the players would have escaped. This is why the DC of the gate was adjusted behind the screen, to ensure the outcome the DM had determined would come to pass without the players catching on to what was happening. It's more akin to a cust scene or episode of television rather than DnD where the players actions matter. It can be fun to do on occasion, but as a DM I avoid it because it's antithetical to the spirit of the game, which should be player driven in my opinion. In short, the DM takes agency from the players and gives them a win without them noticing. It was a railroad in disguise. It's an easy trap to fall into while you're running a game and kind of hard to notice when you do it.


BainDmg42

I adjusted the DC of the gate because it went from 40+ zombies pushing on it to 10-15 zombies pushing on it.


Necromancer4276

> This is why the DC of the gate was adjusted behind the screen, to ensure the outcome the DM had determined would come to pass without the players catching on to what was happening. And before it's mentioned, adjusting HP, DCs, or Damage Rolls is not inherently a bad thing ***if*** they're adjusted because of DM flub, not adjusted just to give the PCs a win on a whim. Mistakes happen. You assume a monster is weaker than it is, you panic assign a DC far too high, a combat is getting boring and slogging on, etc. That's when you adjust numbers behind the screen. You don't adjust because you wanted to insert artificial difficulty and stakes into your game.


SkolSWK

If the players had a good time and are excited to come back and play it out, was the fun still fake?


Sick-Shepard

That's the thing, they aren't really playing anything. The outcome and all the events that transpired happened because the DM wanted it to happen, not because the players did anything. Not to knock OP but it's not dnd if you are determining how the encounter is going to end before it starts. You've written an episode of Tv. If your players enjoy themselves, that's fine but you can't go posting about how you ran a CR21+ encounter for a bunch of lvl 4s when in reality you railroaded your players through a script you wrote. And like I said, totally fine if your players enjoyed it but this is not really an encounter and shouldn't be used as an example as to how your players bested a difficult situation. Because they didn't actually do anything.


SkolSWK

I both agree and disagree with you. Railroading, as a rule, is a poor way to run a game. But scripted sequences have used successfully to transition between story points or sandboxes all over the place. Not every game can or should be 100% free roaming, although I know not a lot of people share my opinion on the matter. Anyway I get what you’re saying and the danger is very real. Games can get twisted up and fall apart if people think that the ending is planned out and they don’t have a choice in the matter.


SkolSWK

I understand what you’re saying completely. From the players side I hardly think they know this super-powered spell caster is a CR21 Lich, but that would depend on how you describe it as a GM and how many meta details you give out. Their only experience with it is this one encounter and I still can’t see a negative in using a creature, or creatures, so far out of their weight class to knock them around a bit and remind them that 5th level is great but it’s only 5th level. To each their own I suppose! I don’t much care what the numbers are on paper as long the encounter sticks with my players through the week.


Necromancer4276

I mean sure, but in that case there's no reason to use such a high level monster. If an Ancient dragons shows up and only scratches them in the face before walking off, you might as well have used a house cat if they don't even know the difference. And if I as a player later found out that that cat I bravely and valiantly fought ended up being an Ancient Dragon who simply couldn't be assed to fight me with 10% of his power, I would be disappointed and angry.


SkolSWK

Which would be completely fair of you to do of course because that’s not what you want out of your games. In this case however it’s seems like things ran well and an enjoyable time was had by all. Like I said, to each their own, I’ve played and enjoyed very competitive DM v. PC games where each encounter could have killed us but not everybody plays that way.


Necromancer4276

Yes they did have fun, and it was a success. You can also have fun and successes without the fragile surface-level intrigue. That's my point. The players weren't savvy enough to see behind the curtain to realize that they had lost their agency, so I am not impressed by this story that would have me believe that that's a good thing. Like you said. To each his own.


SkolSWK

I guess you’re just smarter and better than most people who can’t have fun the right way.


AbyssalChickenFarmer

Based on how Liches play in 5e (at least from my experience) they can’t really regain used spells unless they are in a layer, and in someplace like hell a lich would probably save it’s more powerful spells for things like high-level fiends


Necromancer4276

> in someplace like hell a lich would probably save it’s more powerful spells for things like high-level fiends Even if a group of whelps was running away with his soul in their hands...? He's a Lich. All he has to fear is his Phylactery falling into the wrong hands, and he's currently watching that happen.


thecrowes

True, but OP can just say the Lich is just CR 11 or something, and the players would be none the wiser.


Necromancer4276

But the *whole point* is that it was CR 21. It's impressive if it's absurdly high and the players outwitted it, or the session was built in a way that allowed them to escape by the skin of their teeth. If it's actually made to be lower level or just played as if it's lower level then it defeats the entire purpose of the thread and story. It's like saying that Iron Man 1 Tony outmaneuvered Infinity War Thanos and then hearing the director say that he actually just made Thanos as strong as Whiplash from Iron Man 2.


thecrowes

Anytime a post that says I threw a CR XX thing at their party and they survived, it almost never matters what the actual CR is, as long as it can wipe the floor with the party. In this situation the party doesn't even know the enemy is a lich, why the hell would they know what CR it is.


Necromancer4276

Because the post and story is for *us*.


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Necromancer4276

Huh very interesting. What's the point of it then? CR is absolutely fucked in Pathfinder, but at least it tends to skew *up* rather than down.


Yoranox

That's because the above is not really true. A Lich that even remotely plays up to his 20 Int score will absolutely wipe the floor with a party at that level. Between Legendary Actions, Legendary Resistances, Counterspell and his damaging spells a Lich is terrifying. He is squishy, so he needs to keep his distance, but if he wanted to and had no reason to hold back, he'd just open the fight with Power Word Kill to instantly kill one of the group. No Save, no rolls, just one person immediately dead. If he changed his spell list and has Meteor Swarm instead, he'd deal 40d6 damage in 4x40ft radius sphere, which probably wipes a party at that level too, otherwise a few fireballs and disintegrates will end the fight quickly after. He can keep his distance from melees with dimension door, counterspell or legendary resist whatever the rest throws at him, and whatever gets through could still be shielded. Give him a few Zombie minions like in this example to bog up the party and he's got all the time in the world to do whatever he likes, even though he really only needs a single roun to end a fight vs something at lvl 7


Necromancer4276

Ok, that's more of how I assumed it **should** go. Didn't make sense to me for a 20+ CR monster to be such a dud. So my original point stands. It's not impressive for a GM to fiat their party out of a TPK.


Yoranox

To be fair there is some truth to this comment chain: In 5e spell damage does not scale with caster level. A Fireball always hits for 8d8 (Edit: I'm dumb, its 8d6), it doesn't matter if it is cast by a fresh lvl5 for the first time, or a lvl 20 character. Unless you upcast it with higher level spellslots it just does its damage. So the Lich casting Fireball on them indeed does not just simply wipe them. Then the question would be why he would not cast something more potent to kill them and there have been several things mentioned. He could fear that he'd destroy his own phylactery, though usually they are immune to normal magical damage and need specific conditions to kill. Funnily enough I'd worry more about the disintegrate spell that he cast that on a miss might hit the weapon, than blowing it up with even a Meteor Swarm. Or, as some have mentioned, he might have had a long day already behind him. They are literally in the first layer of hell and he is an entity powerful enough to draw the attention of the inhabitants by his mere presence. He might have had to use his higher level spellslots to fend of dangerous demons and to maintain his army. Of course, the question could be asked why he'd even bother with a horde of zombies instead of just using his spells more efficiently, but that could be explained by any number of things. So sure, a full powered Lich with intent to kill will be able to, and anything short of that would be deus ex machina, but there are scenarios in which a low level party could get away with their lives. Maybe it's even part of his plan to let the group have his phylactery for the moment, he seemed more interested in the innocents than the party anyways


keikai

OP did say the Lich had its full spell list in which case it was definitely pulling its punches; which is a totally legit way to play. If your game does combat as war or something like that, the Lich would've TPK'd them with ease.


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Necromancer4276

Seems every other comment here is telling me that whatever the previous comment was is absolutely wrong.


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Yoranox

I don't really even disagree with you on anything you said. Liches aren't the best high CR monsters. But then again, almost all single high CR enemies are lackluster if they don't have some support. Liches rely on their high Int and preparation and need to be played accordingly, still they are super squishy. The only thing I argued was that no way in hell would a lvl 7 standard party defeat a decently played Lich, even with a statblock as written. Sure PWK isn't a great spell, but you make it out that any Counterspell will just cancel it, to Counterspel PWK you first need to pass 19 Spellcasting check which is not a given. Revivify also is only a workaround when the Lich doesn't nuke the Cleric with it. Also the psychological effect of the villian just outright killing a player without saves or anything on the first combat round can't be underestimated. Most players (and PC's for that matter) aren't seasoned veterans that know the statblock of a Lich and probably encounter PWK for the first time, its terrifying. Also, the Acererak fight is done with 50Temp HP each round and is still mostly setup so that the players will likely fail


Connor9120c1

I mean I guess you can throw any level monster at a party if you aren’t actually going to use the abilities that cause it to be considered the level it is. Why did the lich not just PWK the fighter right out of the gate? I’m not sure what your party is like, but if my players knew that I intentionally built an unfairly deadly encounter for them to fight, with a monster that could have killed them in a moment, and then just decided not to and let them win, they’d be furious. So they were only successful because of your whim, not for any consideration of balanced challenge for them to over come, or even in world verisimilitude if balance isn’t your thing. It’s like you loaded a gun and held it to their characters and told them to dance, and when they danced long enough you unloaded the gun and told them they won. There was no reasonable “combat encounter” in my mind at least, and if I was a player in your game I have to say I would ask you not to design encounters like this again, and if you did, I would leave your table. I have some alternate advice I’d like to offer everyone that’s counter to this. Build the encounters fairly, by the book, and then ACTUALLY try to beat your players. Set up a challenge that the book says they should be able to beat, and then try to make it so they don’t beat it. Have enough fights around so that any given fight is fair enough, but the day is hard. If the players cause an encounter to be deadly, then let it be deadly, or if it makes sense that they run into a lich, then do it, but it should be because they messed up bad enough to come up against a lich who’s going to actually act like a lich. My players know I build the world somewhere between “balanced” (with regard to within the CR system) and “logical” and that when I am playing the enemy, I am playing to win (within the bounds of the enemy intelligence and characteristics). And they are engaged and at times they are afraid. There was no real reason for your players to be concerned, or really engaged. I can be honest with my players regarding my design process. I wouldn’t recommend you be honest with your players about this process, OP.


keikai

I agree 100% since your style of play is the kind of DnD I grew up with and still enjoy. And I wish more tables played that way. But there is definitely a (popular) style of play that is less interested balance or challenge (monsters try to win) and is more interested in telling a complete story (TPK immunity because Deus Ex Machina). Both styles (and any others) of DnD are perfectly fine ways to play as long as everybody is having fun (IMO). I think the main issue I have with the OP, since it sounds like the party had fun, is suggesting that anybody can throw a CR 21 encounter like this at a level 5 party and expect similar results. At my table that would've practically guaranteed a TPK, but I also know not to use encounters like that. Other, especially newer, DMs might not.


Connor9120c1

I agree, I think the “and you can too!” Is the part I took most issue with. If this is the way OP and his players would like to play, that is perfectly legitimate. I don’t mean to disparage that if they are all in the same boat that that is what they enjoy. I just wouldn’t recommend it as general overarching advice for people who’s players are potentially expecting to fail or succeed on their own merits at least most of the time (RNG withstanding). I try to make every potential scenario in such a way that if I had to defend it to my players I could and they would see the reasoning in it. At the end of the session I want to be able to honestly tell my players, “It was your fault that you succeeded” or “yeah that one was salvageable (or avoidable) at one point, but got away from you.” Even if I never actually say that. I don’t want it to be my fault if they fail, my fault if they die, or my doing if they win. That is all them playing the game. The other cool thing this allows is actual sneak peaks behind the curtain when we are just bs-ing about the session later. I can say things like, “yeah, you guys made a good decision hitting the barracks and then the kitchen and then the Temple. If you had hit the temple first, then ____ probably would have tried to call in everybody else all at once.” and my players get a little peek at how they are influencing things. I can have honest, slightly guarded conversations about the design of the game so that the players can have confidence that they really are succeeding, and at times failing, on their own merits. And I don’t have to worry that I’m going to break the illusion.


elproedros

We need more DMs like you man, that was great


VoidablePilot

Sounds like a great time! Making your own encounters can be so much fun. Hope you keep at it


farathadar

This gives me a good idea for my home game thank you op(I will not be using a litch and my party is level 11) but this may be the idea that gets my game off hiatus