Magical Mondays: The Enemy Invincible   Leave a comment

So you want your players to fight a memorable foe.  But the problem you face is that your players are moderately organized, modestly optimized, and advantageously armed.  You, my friend, have a group of average players, fully capable of taking out absolutely anything of their CR.  You also don’t feel comfortable dropping them into a fight against a monster *above* their CR because you’re worried it’ll kill too many of them too quickly.  (It won’t.  But it’s good to try to not murder your players, so you should practice.)  I suggest giving your villain du semaine a single change without changing his, her, or its CR at all: just make it invincible.  Seriously, think about it: make it something that your players won’t be able to drop through a solid application of hit points or wounds or similar things.  Do all this, but don’t change its CR.  How do you make a villain like this?

Image

Okay, maybe not like that.  (Credit to 8-Bit Theater for that.  Seriously, it’s a fun webcomic, go read it.  I’ve linked to the first comic in the archive for you, just go bookmark it, read a couple pages, then come back here.)  Back? Okay, good, back to invincibility.

Making a villain magically invincible is surprisingly easy.  Basically, whenever the villain is not in an area or under the effect of something that causes magical abilities to be suppressed, decide that any situation that would cause injury or remove hitpoints doesn’t do that.  Pretty straightforward, right?

But John, you frantically wail, won’t this make my villain too dangerous?!  What if the players die!

Stop wailing, it never helps.  The thing is, your players won’t die.  Their *characters* might, but they’ll be fine.  Now, I don’t advocate setting up unwinnable situations, and some players have an attachment to their characters that goes beyond making death acceptable, but in a group of mature role players character death can add to the story.  However, I don’t think your players will be at much risk.  Instead, I think that your players will realize that, for the first time in a long time, they’ll have to strategize.

Your players will need to engage crowd control tactics.  Also, remember that Invincibility doesn’t necessarily mean Super Strength.  Three or four players can still pin down even a very strong opponent while they try to figure out what to do with it, and a bull rush attack is almost always a good way to end a fight.  In fact, I recommend building a rule-breaking villain like this around a short story progression if you’re worried about how it might play out.

Act 1: The players are ambushed by this person who was hired by a bigger villain to defeat the players.  Or maybe the invincible figure is the servant of a lovecraftian horror that knows that only the players can actually stop it.  Either way, this person is The Dragon of whoever the real villain is.  Make it possible for the heroes to escape, because The Dragon will attempt to ambush the heroes in such a way that provides an advantage.  Careful application of minions and scenery (goblins from a catwalk who fire arrows, for instance) will stop the players from being able to effectively grapple.  The players might not recognize that as the reason at first (or at all), but when it becomes apparent to anyone trying a grapple check that all twelve goblins up above are firing at anyone trying to grapple, doing so will quickly be apparent as a suicide move, hopefully before the player attempting that bites the dust.  It’s important that you describe all of the attacks that strike this figure as hitting, but not causing damage.  (“Your war axe swings majestically and hits your enemy squarely in the chest, but it simply rebounds from this figure’s frame, shaking violently as not a scratch mars him!”  For extra fun, require a reflex save to avoid dropping the weapon if they land a critical hit.)  This will be the warning the players need: you need crowd control, but the crowd is too big to control this situation; fall back, retreat, regroup.

Act 2: The story outside these three acts progress to some crucial point.  Ideally the players will have done some research and figured out the name of this invincible person (though if they haven’t don’t worry about it.)  A future fight ends with the players in a time crunch.  For example, a crumbling ruin in a city that floats in the sky.  Something the players did causes the crumbling ruin to start shaking itself apart violently, meaning that there are mere moments before the entire structure simply falls apart, killing anyone still inside.  Strongly imply that the players will only need a single hand to count the number of turns before they need to escape, and then have the invincible enemy return, this time alone.  The advantage you give to the players in this situation is not the ability to escape, but the NEED to escape joined with ideal terrain.  Either (a minimum) of one of your players is going to lose a character here, or they’ll figure out that they can bull rush the invincible person.  Whether or not the players escape before a life is lost, make the crumbling ruin (or whatever) cause the villain to fall to what would be certain death for almost anything else.

Act 3: By now, the players have learned a method of depriving this figure of its invincibility, or perhaps a very particular weak spot.  The ideal time to stage the final confrontation will be when the players are busy with something else, but probably wary that the Dragon will be around somewhere.  The “real villain” is an ideal spot for this.  Players need to do something to counteract the figure’s invincibility, but removing this effect needs to be complicated in some fashion.  And here’s the hard part: for this fight, the invincible warrior should actually be able to fight.  Even without invincibility, this figure needs to prove itself harder to fight in single combat than almost any other “regular” fighter they’ve seen yet.  Having some new super weapon or power granted by the real villain to “finally crush these nuisances” might be appropriate.  Alternatively, you could turn the Dragon into a total pushover when the invincibility is lost (and really, what’s more of a pushover than a single level-appropriate enemy?), but then your players might feel cheated unless they either really like the story you’ve crafted (or are big fans of Puzzle Bosses.)

But John, I hear you cry, what if a player brings an antimagic spell or something that nullifies magical effects?!

The simple answer: reward them.  Have it work; completely take away this guy’s invincibility.  For a more tactical approach, this warrior could have a caster as a helper, prepared to counterspell any such things, but that starts to cheat.  If you’re worried that you won’t be able to have the invincible warrior extricate him or herself from the challenge before the players finish him or her off, then consider adding a note when the players research the fellow to say that it’s been tried before, but never successfully; attribute it to being a “long lost magic” or “gift of a powerful genie” or other such long-lost ability.  This has the nice secondary benefit of making the power very hard for the players to replicate on their own.  If you feel a need to represent this with rules (say, in 3.5/Pathfinder equivalent rules), have the ability be Extraordinary instead of Supernatural, and have the note in the research indicate that the figure gained them in a way that made the ability “inherent”, and not subject to the rules of traditional magic.

Remember, you can plan for player creativity in a way that makes sense in a story, but you should NEVER cheat your players by changing the way the magic for a villain works on a whim.  (Note: You should also NEVER make an absolute rule when it comes to storytelling, so feel free to weigh that previous sentence appropriately.)

That’s all for this week’s Magical Mondays.  I’ve got a post on CIY 2014 in the works, and I should have that in the next day or two.  Later!

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