Pyren Diaries: Session 4 Make Your PCs Fight PCs

Hey everyone, Jarred from Monsters & Multiclass. This week's session was another good one. It was very broken up between 3 sections. RP, investigation, and combat.

At the end of the previous session the party, now named the Krushlords at least when they're in a fighting pit, was invited to an event after their decisive win in the arena. Luckily they accepted before hand so I had tons of time to prepare who they would meet, what they would talk about, and important events that would take place. 3 hours before the session I had a friend ask me if he could join the session as a guest spot and completely fucked it up. I made a noncombat character up with him that was basically Todd from Bojack Horseman. He was going to be their new biggest fan and at some point when I think of something better than "he has rich parents" I am sure will be a key player in...something.

Hooray last minute additions to throw a wrench into your hard work!

One thing I think is important to bring up before moving into the actual session was my ability to say no to an extent here. He originally wanted a combat capable character that could join in with them. Story wise it wouldn't have made much sense for them to get another person who then drops off the face of the earth. But more important, I knew they had a fight the next day that I had spent a good chunk of time balancing. They were going to go up against a group that I planned on locking in as rivals. To do this I wanted a fight that was extremely tough and had a really high chance of them losing. Adding in a 5th PC on their side would have been catastrophic. So I told the friend who wanted to join that it was fine for him to join but not to fight. So I guess what I am saying is, only agree to things you can actually manage.

Hooray compromise!

So when the session started I had notes on who they would meet and what they would discuss. But more important than the specifics were the details I had floating in my head about who the people were that they would talk to. I think one important thing I need to move away from is filling out conversations and instead putting down these NPC's personalities, quirks, and motives. From there the conversation flows rather easily. If I know that a person is loud and out going, always has a parrot on their shoulder, and is mainly driven by status and wants people to see shows at their theater, then a conversation with the PCs after an arena fight is easy. I always let conversations go off the rails. It is an inevitable part of DMing. Planning a framework takes those rails away.

So the RP part of this overall went great. A few things I wanted to do were forgotten by the time the session came around but the important things were achieved. They met their rivals, the Terkins, they were invited to a show at Caden's the most prominent theater in Talront (The city they are in), and they received a quest from a member of the council. I really want the council to be under some scrutiny as I have never done anything with political intrigue before beyond Waterdeep Dragonheist which I think did a fairly poor job of setting the tone or allowing it to blossom. One of the main themes I am shooting for though is the question of how to expand from a town into a full fledged city or even a kingdom while respecting the area around, nature, and the people who live there now. The druid and cleric should be heavily motivated by the nature preservation aspect as the first target of the council is happens to be the rivers that surround the city.

So the quest they received was to scope out who is harassing this council member. They will come to find out it is someone against multiple decisions made by the council in regard to the environment. I haven't fully fleshed out that side of things as I figured the party's main focus was going to be the arena fight they had coming up. I was correct...mostly. The next day after the party the PCs did their usual morning routine. The cleric tried to curry favor with the church and get introduced to a higher up priest where I set the ground work that it wasn't normal for someone to have magical powers just from devout worship. The druid got to talk strategy for the upcoming fight with the fighter. And after all was said and done, it was an hour before our normal end time and I asked if everyone was fine to go a little late if we started the fight soon. Everyone said it was fine so I gave one final "Anything you want to do before we get it rolling?" The ranger speaks up "yeah I want to investigate the councilman's home"

I wasn't sure how to describe the rest of the table's face but luckily I found this. 

I didn't want to tell them no. I don't really like telling players no and it made sense they'd want to check it out. It was overall fairly uneventful though. I made sure to keep it that way. Based on my solid ability checks they received some useful information. They were looking for a male half elf. This was enough for the ranger so we moved on to the fight!

I am just going to lead by saying this was probably one of the most fun and intense fights I have ran in a long while. I used some existing stat blocks that mimicked PCs. Mage, Gladiator, Warlock of the Archfey, and Master Thief. The CRs were a little all over the place but I spent a good bit of time making sure it felt truly balanced. I even wrote out the first few turns and what the spell casters would use their concentration on. The result was fantastic and I seriously cannot recommend using stat blocks like this enough.

I started off with the mage casting fly, this allowed most of their party to get into a good position. I used it at 5th level to get rid of the Cone of Cold that definitely would have killed or almost killed the entire party. My biggest regret was using it on the thief and warlock instead of the thief and fighter. The warlock didn't need to get close quickly, the fighter did. Second mistake was leaving the mage out in the open to start. At 15 ac and only 40 HP or so, he barely made it past turn 1. Lucky for me, he ended the first round with 1 HP left. The real kicker was that the druid cast blindness/deafness and blinded the mage. At the start of the round, the mage dropped fly and used greater invisibility. This basically removed them from the fight until they could shake off the blindness. I figured this would be 1 or two turns and then you have an invisible mage to deal with but it actually took 4 rounds. From here it was a battle of attrition. The enemy warlock was blinking in and out each round while holding the Eldritch Knight Krush. And this is when everyone started going down. He was hit twice, while held, which meant they were both crits, and this was a half orc so that means an extra damage die, plus the gladiator stat block which is an extra damage die on every attack. Basically came out to 9d8 that turn. A near by fireball caused the Life Cleric to go down and badly hurt the ranger. The druid brought up the Life Cleric who used a mass healing word. Everyone got up, the gladiator went down, the thief went down, the ranger went down. EVERYONE WENT DOWN.

Just...5 more minutes. Please.

Near the end of the fight there was a moment when 3 PC's were down, the druid was the only one up, and they had 3 HP left. A healing word, followed by the Life Cleric getting up and shooting out another mass healing word and their channel divinity which shoots out another 25 HP total, and they were back in business with just enough time to finish the fight.

The entire thing took 2 hours. Everyone was excited and exhausted so I quickly ended the session. But the best part of it all was seeing how well the fight was balanced. At multiple points both sides were on their last legs. And the only real mistake I made was forgetting how Eldritch Blast works and treating it like a normal cantrip (Like firebolt).

10/10 session. It was a great time and I am hyped for next week so I can end this gladiator shit and stop having to find crazy fights that exhaust all resources and almost kill them in one fight!

Hooray balanced fights and satisfying conclusions!