by Mike Shea on 1 August 2011
Running an epic-tier game is challenging enough, but running a level 30 game is something else entirely. Today, we’re going to look at three tips for running a level 30 encounter that keep the game fast, threatening, and entertaining.
Add high damage environmental effects
The PCs ability to absorb and heal damage grows exponentially as they get higher into the epic tier. At level 30, it becomes very difficult to do any meaningful damage to a PC. They have so many ways to absorb, resist, and heal damage that you really have to step up your game.
Adding high damage environmental effects helps add challenge without adding time to your game.
For example, consider a chaos ship engine that is going critical right in the middle of a big fight. At the beginning of each PC’s turn they take damage from the unstable engine. The engine begins at 30 fire and radiant damage and escalates by 20 every round. This damage might seem absurd until you start to see the healing potential of a group of level 30 PCs. The PCs will have to find a way to stop the engine before the damage gets beyond their ability to heal.
You’ll have to gauge the amount of damage this effect will put out by ear, either by gauging the power of the PCs before hand or during the game itself.
Because it has no initiative roll, does damage to all PCs, and doesn’t require any dice rolling, a damaging environmental effect like this is an easy way to scale up threat without adding time to a battle.
Let bosses wipe all status effects
We’re already aware of the need to mitigate daze, stun, and dominate effects on solo creatures. At the epic tier, and particularly at level 30, PCs might have a dozen different potential status effects that debilitate your level 30 boss creature. To ensure these effects don’t completely ruin a potentially challenging encounter, level 30+ boss creatures should have ways to mitigate any status effect.
There are a few different ways to do this. First, you can simply make bosses above level 30 immune to dazes, stuns, and dominates. This sounds harsh, but if you make it clear to your players that this is going to be the case, they won’t waste their dazing, stunning, and dominating powers on bosses.
Dealing with other status effects should require some effort. The brutal shakeoff is a great way to do it. Let brute bosses shake off any single status effect by taking their level in damage (2x for elites and 5x for solos). Controller, lurker, skirmisher, and leaders might pass any ongoing status effect to an ally. This ensures PCs don’t waste their powers but keeps them off of your boss.
Environmental effects might also help a boss remove a status effect. A high power room damaging orb of absorption might pull effects off of your boss but lower their damage output.
It’s important that DMs regain some control over the pace of a battle, but such control comes with responsibility to ensure you remove effects for the right reason. Don’t simply remove every status effect. Only remove those that hurt the potential fun of an encounter.
Make dying count again
Some level 30 PCs find ways to stay alive and active well after they’ve been reduced below zero hit points. When this is limited, such as recovering a surge’s worth of hit points when hitting zero, it works out fine. When it is unlimited however, such as with the Warlord’s Legendary General level 30 power, you have to make death count again.
Again, environmental effects can come to our rescue. A dark altar, for example, can draw in the spiritual energy of a PC below level 0, leaving them helpless until someone raises their hit points back up again.
A powerful god might be able to banish PCs below 0 hit points, removing them from play into some horrible abyssal plane until they return by make a saving throw at the end of their turn.
Running a challenging, fast, and fun epic-level adventure or campaign is hard work, but you aren’t alone. Take a look at Sly Flourish’s Dungeon Master Tips and Running Epic Tier D&D Games for tips and inspiration.
For some great epic tier monsters (though all of them need some help), take a look at the Monster Manual 3 and the Dark Sun Creature Catalog. If you need some epic level miniatures, take a look at D&D Miniatures from Troll and Toad, an official Sly Flourish sponsor.