by Mike Shea on 30 July 2012
A couple of months ago, Wizards of the Coast published Far Realm Fiends, an article that fills out the list of monsters at the high epic-tier. The article includes some high-level far realm beasts, a couple of traps, and even a "Nightmare Mode". The article requires a DDI subscription, and, as a freelancer for WOTC, it is a subscription for which I personally thank you.
Many of the design concepts in this article came from the core themes found in my second D&D book, Running Epic Tier D&D Games, but I wanted to discuss a few specific design ideas I went through in building these beasties.
Back in the early days of Everquest, the first truly popular first person massive online game for you youngsters who grew up with Halo, the developers released a zone known as the Plane of Fear, the deadliest zone in any massive online RPG ever released. In the patch notes, they didn't dare you to go - they told you NOT to go at all. They only released it so there was a place out there that made the game dangerous and wild, regardless of what level you were or what gear you had. Despite their warnings, people went in anyway. For those who remember, Plane of Fear break-ins were symphonies of horror. I once had to call in sick for a day because I had spent 20 hours trying to get my corpse and my gear back from the Plane of Fear. In an already unforgiving game, they made a zone as close to hell as I can imagine.
That design idea always stuck with me. Here is a place designers built that they try to steer you away from. When I considered building a version of the Far Realm, that is exactly what I had in mind.
It should suck in the Far Realm.
It was with that idea in mind that I wrote the section in Far Realm Fiends entitled "Nightmare Mode". You'll see what I mean when you read it.
As written, I still consider the Far Realm a 30+ zone, akin to Diablo 3 on Inferno. It isn't meant to be played like the other parts of the game. Based on this concept, if you consider running a true deep Far Realm campaign, I'd modify the effects in the article the following ways:
Psychic Diffusion, Magical Feedback, and Deadly Backlash should all increase from 15 to 30 damage.
All monster levels should increase by 5.
When you're increasing the deadliness of a place like this and monsters like these, it isn't appropriate to simply screw over characters. Instead you want to give them hard choices to make. Yes, they might not find out how bad things are until they try out one of their abilities and find it doesn't act the same way, but now they have a choice to use it and know what they get or not.
When designing your own ass-kicking world-wide effects like this, always give the players a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't choice.
If you're going to run a Far Realm adventure in Nightmare Mode, you will want to warn your players before they go in that life in the Far Realm isn't fair. There's no crying in the Far Realm. Given the challenge, however, you will want to insert rewards worthy of the effort, including, perhaps, a random list of rare items from which to roll from after each successful battle. This is, after all, a true end-game area.
As a level 30+ area, you might consider other effects and situations in the Far Realm. Double-length encounters without a short rest might be the norm. As one set of monsters falls or begins to fall, another quickly takes up the slack. Short rests might be difficult to take at all, given the horror of the place, and extended rests are non-existant.
Here are a couple additional zone-wide effects you might consider:
Psychic Feedback Loop: Any time two creatures end adjacent to one another, any natural creature takes 30 points of psychic damage.
Lost in the Void: Any time a creature ends more than 5 squares away from an ally, that creature is blind until the end of its next turn.
Like all good D&D monsters, feel free to re-level the beasts in Far Realm Fiends to use at any level in your epic-tier game. To increase their level, simply add 1 to their defenses, attacks, and damage and add 10 hit points for each level you increase them. Subtract 1 from the same scores and 10 hit points for each level you want to remove.
Robert Schwalb's Book of Vile Darkness makes a great companion guide to your foray into the Far Realm. The poster maps, monsters, cursed items, and traps fit the realm very well with some increased leveling. The Far Realm Anomaly Mutation chart on page 36, for example, works extremely well for some random strange effects to take control over the PCs.