by Mike Shea on 4 January 2010
Since posting my first Monster Optimization article on wraiths, I've had a lot of requests for some optimizations at the heroic tier. Today we're going to set up an optimized encounter at around level 5 using Ghouls and the Deathlock Wight.
This optimization focuses on the "immobilize" status effect carried by both the Deathlock Wight and the Ghouls and its primary purpose is to set up the Ghoul's "Ghoulish Bite" attack.
Ghoulish Bite states that the target must be immobilized, stunned, or unconscious (which they soon will be if you inflict this on them a couple of times). Though it drops the attack down by two (+10 vs AC instead of +12) this seems to make up for the fact that any of these conditions provide combat advantage (taking it back to +12). At level 5, that's a pretty high attack score.
The Deathlock Wight's primary enabler for this optimization is his Grave Bolt, a ranged 20 +6 vs Reflex attack that immobilizes his target.
One of the better ways to arrange this encounter is to put one or two Deathlock Wights in some hard-to-reach places, say platforms high up on a cavern or tomb wall. The ghouls should delay until after the wights with the wights targeting the PCs surrounded by the most ghouls. The ghouls might even ready an action to ghoul-bite as soon as the wight's attack strikes. This might lose them the action, though, and it's hard to explain why ghouls would be so tactically smart, so probably best to simply delay.
If the Wights are up on a high platform, they can throw some PCs off with their Horrific Visage ability.
The Deathlock Wights also have an interesting reanimate ability. Unfortunately, this ability only works on level 4 and below creatures instead of the level 5 wights. If you want to be particularly nasty, consider upping the wights to level 5 or 6. This gives them a bonus to attack with that nasty Grave Bolt and lets them reanimate ghouls once per wight per encounter. As long as the ghouls go right after the wights on the initiative, this can likewise set up a nasty situation: ghoul dies, PC stands next to ghoul corpse, wight minor actions to reanimate the ghoul than Grave Bolts the PC, ghoul ghoul-bites for 3d6+4.
So here's your optimized heroic-tier encounter of true nastiness: Level 8 encounter designed for a party of level 5 heroes. six Ghouls and three level 5 Deathlock Wights in a cavern or tomb that puts the wights high up on platforms with the ghouls roaming around below. Your PCs won't know what hit them, but their guaranteed to hate ghouls the rest of their lives - if they live at all.