Is Lair Assault Impossible?
by , 09-05-2011 at 09:48 AM (2833 Views)
I wanted to start this blog post with a bold statement, but based on the 23 times I've run Lair Assault its looking like that is true...
The real answer to that question however, is no. Although Lair Assault is incredibly tough, itís not impossible, the luck of the dice, the right fortune cards and a well built party can beat the challenge.
A fortunate timing of trying out pre-cast Hirst Arts blocks and Google+ launching meant Mike Mearls saw what I was doing, commented upon it, and opened the door for me to ask to get a copy of Forge of the Dawn Titan early so we could build it in 3D for the Best of British D&D Challenge.
At the time I thought the modular sections I had been building would work, and i'd just have to do some more. Some of us had discussed the likely terrain and guessed that there would be some changes to the terrain during the encounter. What I hadn't expected was a totally new dungeon layout using a totally new map.
When I got the booklet, I used some spare tiles to layout rough shapes of the rooms to calculate the amount of tiles i'd need. It became clear that it was going to be a big dungeon, about 2 foot by 3 foot, and I was going to have to change some rooms to work with the cast pieces. The prospect of casting approx 800 tiles, and a similar number of wall pieces was daunting, made more so when I realised that many rooms, and the environmental changes, would be best served by increasing the depth of the rooms, by raising the floor tiles up, meaning I'd need to about 2000 floor tiles!
The 2 months of lead time meant that I had lots of time to build pc's and to have trial runs against myself trying out rooms as I built them. And then, at the end of August, I started running online warm-up sessions for the Leeds team in the Best of British challenge, partly so that my friends stood the best chance of winning the prize (they didn't) and partly because I wanted to ensure I had the nasty streak that a DM needs to make Lair Assault come alive.
From the 23 times i've had pc's enter the encounter I feel that I've got a fairly good grasp on it and can offer the following advice:
Put simply Lair Assault is tough. While the creatures in it are not particularly harder than the standard, the choice of creatures and the level spread available coupled with their synergy with each other and the terrain makes them a killer selection. The terrain itself is probably the biggest challenge in the encounter, it's tough to begin with but changes quite quickly, literally dropping the pc's into trouble.
Advice for players:
The first room will probably be the hardest room you'll face. The combination of the narrow walkway, choice of exits, and the fact that any nasty GM will populate it with the toughest monsters in order to delay you escaping the room until after the terrain changes occur. My advice here is Recon and Rush.
You have 3 exits from the room, and it is definitely worth undertaking the challenge a few times to figure out whatís beyond each room, and how the next rooms change. In theory you could split the party, and have characters head to each door, and check them out pre terrain changes and post terrain changes, and then restart the encounter.
* Rush through
Once you've figured out which room is the best second choice, it is advisable to reach it and ideally get through it before the terrain changes occur. Given the most monsters you are likely to face in here is 3 and a flame spitting statue, you can typically double move to reach each door in a single turn. Your main problem is from creatures blocking your movement by being on the walkway. Do you enter the liquid, and provoke opportunity actions, due you take a running jump over the liquid?
Of the three exit options, all of them have major disadvantages, and the shortest route is potentially the deadliest. In terms of dealing with them:
* Chamber of Platforms - use double moves and long jumps to jump between the platforms next to each door.
* Weak/Cracked Floor - A good option for high strength characters, and most DM's won't use many monsters in here. This room also benefits greatly if you have a ranger/hunter with Bridge of Roots.
* Rune Corridor - Avoid! it's nasty enough at the best of time, and a good DM will use the room and monsters to great effect to slaughter you.
Over the 23 games, some definite themes came out as to what characters work well, and what doesn't. The main comment to make here is that while it is easy to make a powerful level 5 character, you should be building your characters as a group to ensure synergy. Its no use having a warlord who can grant basic attacks if no one can make them with a decent damage bonus.
The common classes I have seen are:
Goliath Warden (earth) - Although i'm not convinced that a defender is a good choice in Lair Assault, where this encounter seem to rely on speed and skill, the double athletics rolls, resist 3 all options, huge amount of HP, and the secondly role of controller make this a popular and good choice. It's self buffing AC and Reflex make you hard to hit, yet you can survive longer than your allies when taking damage.
Warlord - Personally, I'm not a great fan of the warlord, but I can't dispute that a well built lazy lord (i.e. one that is designed to grant allies attacks) is a great choice here. Couple this with a Slayer, and monsters fall down quickly.
Ranger/Hunter - Several groups brought a ranger AND/OR a hunter (AND was more common than OR) to provide ranged damage and control after attempting the encounter a couple of times. The combo of a twin strike bow ranger, and great bow hunter is nasty, providing great ranged support (which with the right lazy lord is great). The hunters slide on a basic shot came in useful, and both can take Bridge of Roots.
A common choice of theme was the Wizard Apprentice and Noble themes because of that additional level 6 item.
As for items, anything granting fire resistance or extra healing was good, Disk of Energy Resistance was a common choice (though it would appear people were cheating with this as you need to be a warforged) as was Amulet of Life and Cloak of the Walking Wounded. A particularly awesome combo was Forgemasters Gloves with the Mark of Making feat, giving the wearer 10 fire resistance, which though halved to 5, meant he pretty much ignored all ongoing damage.
Take 17 in your primary stat at level 1, with a +2 racial, and +1 at level 4, you'll have the same bonus as starting with 18 in it, and have more points to improve things like your Constitution.
Initiative... If you can win initiative, you can get out of rooms before the monsters can react and block you. Warlords can really help here.
Focus on the following skills: Perception, Athletics, Thievery
Doors are a severely limiting factor, and it can be worth double moving, opening as a minor, and using an action point to wedge the door open, increasing the options available to the rest of your party.
Think old school. Mike Mearls loves 1e, so doing some 1e stupid things (like eating the fish), can help you survive.
Advice for the DM:
First of all, to really make Lair Assault the deadly challenge it deserves to be, you're going to have to disobey Wheatens Law, and be a dick. Focused fire, blocking movement, coup de grace's, pushing creatures into hindering terrain, pretty much anything nasty should be done. I really recommend explaining to the players that your sole aim is to **** them up. The book effectively says this, but it NEEDS stressing to them.
In terms of monster selection and positioning, the default setup in the book is ok, but nothing special. I found 2 combos that worked well in the first room:
1. Hell hound, guarding door to the platforms, its aura injures anything trying to move past, it's got a high chance of hitting on opportunity attacks, and the close blast can ignite the pools. Fire Temple Champion, move him back towards the 2 doors a square, and his breath can ignite all 4 pools, and I recommend doing this as soon as you can, before charging down the walkway to block people. Blazing skeleton, next to a door on the large section of floor tiles, it provides a ranged option at the start of the encounter. Finally, a Flame Spitting Statue, which readies an action to hit a creature on the walkways once the pools have been ignited...
2. Fire Temple Elects, Servant of the Fire Lord, either a Fire Bat or Blazing Skeleton, and again a Flame Spitting Statue. The Servant of the Fire Lord can buff the minions, turning them from ok to deadly hitters, and then charge in, buffing himself as well. If the minions then charge in as well, you can surround the party, causing OA's if they attempt to move. The only downside is the minions perchant for exploding, but even this can mean you deal lots of small amounts of damage, and ignite the pools.
Review as a DM:
Lair Assault is a real blast to run, the environment and need for intelligent monster tactics keeps you on your toes, and it's nice to be able to aim for a TPK without consequence. The downside is that you'll probably get some crappy reactions from the players. I've been called a douchy douchebag and been told that its **** and not ****ing fair...
I do however agree with most of the comments regarding the rune corridor. There should be some skill based option for getting past it, in addition to the 2 options that exist. I'd have liked some more ranged attack options, and the creatures with a minor action option were much more fun to use than those without.
Finally, Lair Assault has highlighted some flaws in the 4e rules that I've tended to house rule. The use of athletics for jumping is a little on the complex side, while standing up after being knocked prone should be handled differently, specifically in regards the immobilized condition/provoking opportunities.