Epic-Tier Pitfalls

by Mike Shea on 9 August 2010

I recently read an excellent post on Enworld that described one DM's experience running two epic-tier campaigns. I've recently been at the tail end of an ongoing 1 to 30 campaign, with a group of PCs currently at level 26. Like the poster of that message, I too have noticed trends in running an epic tier game. Today we'll discuss common pitfalls you might face in your epic-tier adventures.

Stun-locking

The most common problem you might face running an epic tier adventure is how easily your solo monsters will get locked up with status effects like daze, stun, blind, and unconscious. I've written about this in the past and the best two ways I've found to deal with this situation is to use one of the following solo powers:

Brutal Shakeoff: as a free action, this creature can take it's level in damage to remove any one single status effect.

Anti-hero: When stunned, this creature instead loses its next standard action and grants combat advantage. When dazed, this creature instead loses its next minor action and grants combat advantage.

The brutal shakeoff is probably the better of the two. It deals with any status effect, including marks, blindness, or unconsciousness where Anti-hero only handles dazes and stuns.

Too-little Damage

Pre Monster Manual 3, creatures above level 10 don't do enough damage. I've been house-ruling this a bunch of different ways but Greg Bilsland had probably the best and easiest solution: double the static damage of monsters above level 10 or triple it if they're a brute. This is a nice easy rule to keep in your head that requires no bookkeeping at all.

Player Resistances

Players above level 10 often resist a lot of different types of elemental damage. A group of level 15 PCs with standard necrotic resistance gear will walk through a group of Fey Lingerers, who deal only necrotic damage, with no problem whatsoever.

At the epic tier, this is even worse. Most PCs will have resist 10 to resist 15 to all types of elemental damage, especially necrotic.

Finding creative ways to deal with resistances is difficult. On the one hand, we want players to feel like those resistances are really helping them. On the other, we want them to still be threatened by creatures who inflict these types of damage.

Here are a few ways to deal with resistances, though none are ideal:

Increase elemental damage One easy way is to increase elemental damage by 5 at paragon and 10 at epic. This will break through most of the resistances but still make the player feel like he or she got to resist something. The problem comes in if you hit someone who doesn't have that form of resistance and now they get hit too hard.

Environmental Effects that Eliminate Resistance Another way to deal with resistances is to add some form of environmental effect that eliminates resistances. For example, a cursed altar in the center of a room might radiate a necrotic presence that eliminates necrotic resistances until three successful heal, arcane, or religion checks eliminate the presence. A pool of lava or a bog of poisonous gas might eliminate fire, poison, or acid resistance when characters begin within it.

Monster powers that eliminate resistances Try giving monsters powers that eliminate resistances. Perhaps a red dragon's bite eliminates fire resistances (save ends) instead of doing extra fire damage. A lich's aura 5 might eliminate necrotic resistances as long as one is within the aura. The black dragon's cloud of darkness might eliminate acid resistances. This type of attack works well when it replaces another status effect like weaken, daze, or stun - effects that simply slow down combat. Eliminating resistances, on the other hand, keeps threat high without slowing down battles.

Battles run too slow

With so many powers, so many items, and so many feats; players are going to take longer to run their turns than they did at the heroic tier. The best way to speed up this combat is to make sure they know their characters really well. This means one should generally avoid beginning campaigns at high level, instead, let the campaign reach that level on its own. If you're going to run one-shot adventures, run them in the heroic tier or specifically generate very simple epic-tier characters without a lot of options.

The other thing to keep in mind is that dishing out damage speeds up combat. Avoid things that reduce this damage such as variable resistances, monster healing, and damage-reducing status effects like stun, daze, and weaken.

A quick way to deal with stuns, dazes, and weakens, is to give players a chance to shake these off by taking a bunch of damage instead. For example, a character might be able to shake a daze at the beginning of his or her turn by instead taking ongoing 10 psychic damage. You'll have to play with the numbers to get them right.

In conclusion

Running an epic tier campaign is a lot of fun. We get to use our biggest miniatures. We get to run games in the most fantastic areas. We get to sic our most powerful monsters against our PCs. Running an epic tier adventure, however, takes a fair bit of understanding about what you might face. Keep this in mind as you prepare to run one.

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Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.