by Mike Shea on 8 April 2013
In March of 2013 I had the honor of writing up a Dragon Magazine article on Cryonax, the Elemental Prince of Ice (DDI Subscription Required).
After writing articles and statistics for both Yan-C-Bin and Olhydra and with Imix and Ogremoch statted out in the Monster Manual 3, Cryonax remained the only evil elemental prince yet to be converted to 4th edition by Wizards. As the cover subject for Heroes of the Elemental Chaos he definitely needed to see some attention. When I had the chance to build him, I took the opportunity to make him the toughest 4th edition creature I could. As he stands, I believe he is the most dangerous creature ever officially published for 4e.
In this article I'm going to discuss the mechanical design concepts of Cryonax as a high-epic threat designed to challenge a group of level 30 PCs. To learn more of his background, the descriptions of his mountain and the endless potential adventures below it, and his mortal servants, you will have to subscribe and read the article itself in Dragon Magazine issue 421.
Cryonax is designed to challenge a party of level 30 adventurers. If you've followed other articles on this site, read my book on Running Epic Tier D&D Games, or run high-epic 4e games yourself, you know how hard this can be. When I sat down to build Cryonax, I used every idea I had and considered every tool allowed by the rules of 4e to keep him protected from 30th level PC shenanigans and help him dish out some serious pain. In my playtests, he did just that. After some development tweaks by master developer Chris Sims, he came out even stronger.
The easiest way to beef up any monster one plans to design from scratch is to make it a brute. Because of his size, appearance, and the nature of the other elemental princes, it made sense to make Cryonax a brute and the statistical benefits make him much more dangerous. Brutes have lower AC but make up for it with increased hit points and damage. Since damage is a multiplier (usually 1.25 x normal damage) his damage output more than makes up for the lack of AC. At level 34, this damage is off the charts. I expect PCs won't have any trouble hitting Cryonax whatever his defenses, but when he hits back, they're going to notice.
Cryonax has a couple of simple features that make him significantly dangerous. Threatening Reach is an easy way to give a solo monster lots of actions in a round. With Cryonax's size of huge and his reach of 5, he threatens an area of 13 x 13 squares.
Cryonax's Fury gives him a ton of basic attacks on his own turn. Mixed with one of his three action points, he can dish out 10 to 20 attacks on his turn. His Spit Black Frost ranged basic attack can hit two creatures per shot, thus spraying up to 20 different attacks if he uses an action point. You'll probably want to mix up his melee and ranged attacks to give it some variety.
Due to the ferocity of combat at 30th level, Cryonax will want to use action points every round he can. Battles don't last three full rounds at this level. You probably don't want to be too much of a dick and pour all of Cryonax's attacks on a single PC. They're intended to be spread across the group, but that option is available if you need to break through some sort of powerful damage-negating defense and, if he's marked, make sure to have the marker feel the pain of drawing that sort of attention.
Cryonax's Breath of Chilled Death is as close as we typically come to a save or die. At level 30, however, dropping a PC to 0 hit points usually means you're kicking in some sort of epic destiny power, so I wouldn't worry about it actually killing anyone. Dropping PCs below 0 definitely gets a player's attention but with so many negative hit points available, they're usually far from dead.
Cryonax's Shardstorm is his built-in environmental effect. This doughnut aura is intended to keep PCs within a reasonable range of him so they don't just fly around and pepper him with arrows.
Specialized defenses are most important for solo creatures in the epic tier, otherwise they will be completely incapacitated for the entire battle. Cryonax has a few built in defenses to make him harder to pin down and stick in a box. His Epic Resillience converts most action-stealing status effects into vulnerability and combat advantage. This helps whiddle away his massive hit points without removing his threat. His Primordial Charge helps deal with any movement-reducing effects. Because it is limited, he should probably only use this when he is really pinned down. Cryonax's blindsight mitigates the blind status effect as well.
Level 30 PCs have a lot of unique effects that the above defenses might not cover. As a DM you have a few choices. You can just live with that and hope it doesn't make him completely useless as an opponent or you can cheat and expand the above defensive effects to include other debilitating status effects. That can very easily seem like cheating to players, however, so you want to be careful.
As he stands, Cryonax should be a considerable challenge for a level 30 party. Extremely robust PCs and extremely tactical players might want an even greater challenge, however. For this you can upgrade Cryonax into "hard mode" with only a couple of changes. First, you'd increase the damage of his Shardstorm aura and the Black Frost zones to 50 damage instead of 25. No PC will want to stay in that for very long. Second, when bloodied, reduce the safe area of the Shardstorm to 5 squares instead of 10. This gives PCs a choice of staying in a shardstorm and taking 50 damage or stand within his threatening reach. It's an awesome hard choice for PCs that will have even level 30 PCs scrambling.
However you run him, Cryonax should be a very powerful foe for high-end epic PCs. If they find themselves on the path to face him, you are in for an epic battle indeed. For more tips running epic battles, take a look at Running Epic Tier D&D Games. You can also read my two other D&D books, the Lazy Dungeon Master and Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips.