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The Planeswalker Journal

Tips to DMing Large Parties, Part 3

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Examples of Good Encounters
Given the vague nature of the last post, I felt it relevant to include some examples here of encounters that work for large parties.

The Party: Rogue/Swashbuckler/Invisible Blade, Barbarian, Paladin, Druid, Sorcerer

Play Styles: The rogue is a halfling with a low STR, thus focusing exclusively on ranged sneak attack with a large amount of daggers and feats to make it happen almost every attack. Barbarian is straight-up big damage bruiser, with the paladin serving as his foil boasting a large AC and lower but reliable damage. The druid is effectively permanently shapeshifted, generally as an elemental to serve as watch during rest periods and scout. Sorcerer is blast-focused, using the Magic Missile Mage PrC from Dungeon Magazine for funzies. Note: These are actual characters in a live game I run once a month. All ability scores were rolled, hence the rogue having sub-par STR and the sorcerer having a better CON than most of the party.

The Location: Extremely large underground dungeon room. The party knows the only way to proceed is through this room, and the magical nature of the dungeon has negated spells from the Conjuration (teleportation) subschool, as well as most higher-level spells that would allow them to otherwise circumvent the room (Passwall and other such things).

Enemies: 1 cyclonic ravager (MM4) plus 3 cloud giants.
Other than updating the ravager's stats for use with Pathfinder, creatures are standard with no additional modifications.

This fight was intended as a kind of "boss" fight for this particular floor of the dungeon, and it worked excellently. As you will see, the players (all new to the genre save for the rogue) felt incredibly humbled from the start and felt genuinely threatened the entire encounter--even when it was clear they had the upper hand.

Through the luck of the dice the giants won initiative. Much to the PC's dismay all three were well within their second range increment to throw rocks at the cluster of targets huddled by the doorway to the room. Due to cover granted by the door only one connected with the barbarian, but the damage roll indicated to the party immediately that this was not an encounter to screw around with. The party quickly entered the room and spread out sufficiently so as not to allow more than two people to get hit with an area spell (the ravager had not gone yet, so they had no indication of its abilities). The druid, as an air elemental, flies up to the ceiling and makes a Knowledge check to gain information on the ravager. Sorcerer throws six magic missiles at a giant and is flustered that it is still standing. Ravager uses its Buffeting Winds ability to spread the party about the room.

Following round the giants bring their melee strength to bear, with the paladin and the barbarian taking the brunt of it. Both players are seriously shaken from the damage, with the barbarian admitting that even with the bonus from rage he can only take MAYBE two more hits. Rogue manages to drop the one wounded giant and roll poorly for sneak damage on another. Druid fails an attack roll and the sorcerer digs deep to throw something like ten magic missiles this round. Ravager uses its movement to circle around and attack the sorcerer directly, for over 1/3 of her health in one attack; the sorcerer feels truly vulnerable for the first time.

Escalation. The two standing giants continue to wreak the PC's front line: Cleave and Great Cleave bring both the paladin and the barbarian to well within one-shot range, with the rogue and the druid getting whacked by large morningstars as well. Making a calculated gamble, the paladin spends his entire Lay on Hands on the barbarian, giving him a fighting chance of surviving another direct hit from one of the giants. In true barbarian fashion, the barbarian confirms a critical and drops one giant, though unfortunately out of range to cleave into the other. The rest of the party coordinates efforts to try and bring the other giant down--they get close, but not quite. Ravager hits the sorcerer again, bringing her to within one-shot range.

Turning point. Giant takes aim at the barbarian, since the lower AC would allow an easy cleave into the paladin and should drop one of the two PCs. The dice gods decide that is not to happen. Barbarian and the paladin bring the giant down; the rest of the party pivots to focus on the ravager but they are all genuinely concerned that they will not be able to bring it down and some player whining ensues (note that up to this point the party has not tried to attack the ravager and outnumbers it 5:1). Due to player movement, the ravager hits the rogue this round, dropping him to single digits.

Final round. All party members do what they can, though some fare better than others. The last round confirmed that the rogue is unable to do any real damage to the ravager due to it being immune to sneak attack. The barbarian needs to succeed on an Acrobatics check in order to jump high enough to get within striking range (since the ravager is flying and using its reach to its advantage). Paladin settles on attempting the same, but with worse results since he has a poor Acrobatics. Druid and sorcerer still effective, and expend all resources to bring the ravager down before it gets another action.

Conclusion: Entire party severly wounded, but no deaths. Large number of wand charges allows for party to be back to full health before they head down to the next floor of the dungeon, with the only daily resources lost being the paladin's Lay on Hands, a couple druid spells, and a large chuck of the sorcerer's daily spell slots. All are negligible as the party is in a perfect place to rest and recover all of their dailies.

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  1. Magrus's Avatar
    Psst. Just because the rogue has 3 classes doesn't make it more than 5 people. That's not a large party!