So there I was spending all sorts of time, crafting monster stat blocks for a chief-lieutenant type of recurring foe for my players and what did they do? They beat the holy living bejeezus out of him before he could even fire off his heaviest powers. Now my recurring foe was recumbent in death. So what did I do? I introduced the party to his big brother, who was a higher level priest (and at the upper end of their ability to deal with according to the stats).
I set up a “get to know you” encounter, a little mixer with a few air elementals and a Fury of Mual-Tar storm, in a market square. The Priest had the initiative (and effectively surprise) and told the players what he thought of them for killing his brother. The he blasted them with his heaviest power and revealed his elemental minions and planned to get the hell out of there. He was supposed to recur after all.
What happened? They beat the holy living bejeezus out of him! Again! If he hadn’t recharged his ‘Hammer of Jupiter’ when he did, he would have been chutney. Keep in mind the characters had literally pulled an all-nighter, with two other encounters before and no extended rests. Yet they still (rather viciously) trounced my poor priest, so that he only got out of the line of fire with a measly 19 hit points. And this was a character that was literally not going to fight for more than the initial round, with over half the party dazed or stunned after the opening salvo. I thought for sure he would be able to get away and the characters would happily hold a grudge and look forward to the next meeting.
A few weeks before, in our low-level, gritty campaign, a party of 2nd-3rd level characters fought a 6th level elite (recurring villain-first time appearance) and a bunch of thugs. They cut the thugs up as planned, but the fighter pinned the villain down hard, so that he couldn’t shift away, and they ended up capturing him. That session ended on a cliff hanger so his fate is not yet decided, but I got to thinking.
What can I do to keep these recurring NPC’s alive? Do I have to make them long-ranged artillery or really shifty skirmishers? Do soldiers and brutes have no chance at making a getaway? Or should the villains be so powerful that the party can barely touch them? None of these options seemed really appealing, so I just decided to create a new power for my villains sort of like a super skirmisher power.
It’s called ‘Bad Penny’ and is printed below in the stat block for the high priest that the players almost smoked last time. As you can see he is artillery, but his most powerful power is a close burst 5. That means that he has to get in pretty close (for 23rd level) to use it. Which means the party can pin him. And of course, if you single out a monster as somehow special, you single him out as a target as well.
So the power I came up with to help him flee is ‘no action’ because the party loves to stun him as much as he loves to stun them. It lets him shift 6 so he can generally get away from defenders surrounding him but a fighter could still stop him with combat superiority. It also ends all conditions on him, which is a must. They party kept alternating dazes and flanking and immobilization (damn ranger anyway) so that for three round he effectively couldn’t move at all. He needed to have something that lets him shake those conditions.
That said I didn’t want the power to be a get out of jail free card. I’m sure my players may still feel that it is, but it has some limitations. It’s a daily. There is no recharging it in the fight. He gets to use it once and then he’s done. It also only gets him 6 squares. That will be fine if he still has his turn afterward, but as a ‘no action,’ like a free action he can use this power whenever he likes (say for instance after he’s been dropped to one hit point and three characters get to go before his turn). So he’ll be able to get away for a moment, but most likely he’ll be easily caught before his actual turn. But maybe that’s all he needs to get through a magic portal or something.
So the power is a good trigger for him to start his flight, unencumbered by the heroes, but on the other hand, it doesn’t completely whisk him away, scot-free. He’s still within striking distance of creative (and vindictive) players and their characters, but at least they can’t just step on his toes and thrash him repeatedly like some old cartoon until he’s dead, dead, dead. Now at least he, and his ilk, have a fighting chance at recurring. It looks like the party will be hunting him down this Thursday, so I’ll probably get to see how it stands up to a play-test.
Maybe he’ll keep his holy living bejeezus on the inside for a change.