Last night’s game was one that I will remember for a while. It is the night I really got the dragon right and the players had to get inventive to bring it down. The spell casters had to play a major enabling role to get at the creature as it was just completely owning the battlefield – as a dragon should do in its own lair.
The game was Pathfinder and the battle was from the Adventure Path the Frozen Stars. It is the concluding battle to the module and is set to test the players. They were facing a very old white dragon commander known as Yrax, the Lord of High Storms (or something similar). He had an AC of 34 and hit points of 238 (ish) and a list of magical abilities that stretched over a page!
The dragon initially used its frightening presence (HUGE range – 270′) with a roar as it leaped into the sky leaving at least half the party shaken. It also laid down a freezing cloud that caused some of the party some discomfort. Taking to the air was the best thing it could do. It’s chamber at it’s widest point was around 160 feet and 120′ in the other direction. the chamber ceiling was at 80′ high and so the dragon rose up to 70′ height with its 100′ movement.
The first round was a taster for the players as they realized this dragon was going to be hard to kill. The creature was just too far away for a lot of the focused warriors and its DR of 15/Magic caused them no end of difficulty as they had magic hand to hand weapons but not ranged weapons. The witch (Keena) came at the dragon with her hexes. She was flying also so could get in range and attempted to evil eye the creature.
That was an incredibly smart move in Pathfinder as hexes are supernatural abilities and hence avoid the spell resistance of the target (a healthy SR 25 in this case). It did have a good save though and succeeded the first time around meaning that the evil eye lasted only a single round BUT she targeted the dragons saves for a -4 penalty. this was again a great idea.
The dragon’s second round saw it cast displacement on itself giving everyone a 50% miss chance with attacks against it. It flew further around the chamber avoiding most combatants at this stage and showing though it had a “poor” next to its flying speed that it was still fast and capable of controlling the battlefield.
The next round saw the first damage to the dragon as Dynus (the rogue/wizard) let loose a fireball (area of effect avoids SR) but it only did some minor damage. Keena could have cackled and kept the evil eye going but instead she attempted it again because if she got it to fail its save the effect would stick for 9 rounds. She was disappointed a second time around. The other magician (Jeremiah) took the opportunity while the creatures saves were low to loose a Feeblemind spell. He nailed the spell resistance check and with the reduced save the Dragon’s Charisma and Intelligence both dropped to 1 turning it into a feral beast!
Even with that massive win (no more spells for the Dragon) everyone still on the ground or attempting to get in the air with air walk (there is a definite restriction in that spell that means it is far inferior to fly) were being outclassed.
The following round swung the game. Keena managed to stick the evil eye and some of the opponents on the ground started to get in close to the dragon. The Skald (a little Goblin known as Knobby) managed to fool the dragon with a hallucinatory terrain forcing it to go to ground. In this time Keena again hit it with a misfortune hex meaning it needed to roll twice on any d20 roll and as she was hasted she got a retribution off too which meant that the dragon took half damage of any physical damage it dealt in the round.
From there the battle ended very swiftly. The dwarven fighter (Urgunn) was on song and started chopping the dragon up. The dragon being too stupid to realise that its own attacks were the cause of the majority of its damage managed to do a total of three quarters of its full hit points to itself! The fighters and physical warriors were able to clean up the mess and Urgunn finished the fight with a massive critical hit at the end.
I was really very happy with this combat. It lasted around nine rounds of combat and was almost a perfect combat. The players were frustrated by the creatures mobility and had to reinvent the way that they attacked the problem. Keena’s persistence was awesome and really was (if her player knew it or not) the impetus for the change of tactics and opened up a weakness in the creature where there were so few avenues of weakness.
The Feeblemind spell provided by Jeremiah is a common tactic by him vs. spell casters but this is the first time he had a target with such a HUGE spell resistance. The luck of the dice were with him though (as was his character build as he focuses on spell penetration) and in combination with Keena they managed to kill the spell casting of the creature.
Then, finally, the two nails in the coffin were the hallucinatory terrain that forced the dragon to the ground (thanks to Keena’s evil eye hex) and Keena’s retribution hex. This made the dragon a feral fighting machine on the ground where everyone could finally get at it as well as the creature itself doing most of the damage to itself.
It is moments like these that really make me happy that I am playing Pathfinder. The character options that are selected really highlight the ability for the party to try different modes of combat and “switch” to a new attack style when they need to. It also showed the characters that are very highly focused in one build were the characters that really suffered and became ineffectual.
I will remember this game for a long time. I got the dragon bang on to rights. His arrogance to start with, his believed superiority and usage of his lair to frustrate the players. But beyond that, his descent into a feral angry beast when his intelligence and charisma was removed. He became instinctual and dangerous but the players had his strengths in mind and turned them to weaknesses.
Most of all I will remember this game because it truly highlighted to me what being a fan of the players is. I sat in total respect of the tactics that were employed and the ability of them to turn on a dime and try something new was very impressive. There were really no players badly injured in the battle which is how it should have been because they nailed what they needed to do. In the end, and I know this sounds a bit stupid and maybe a little condescending but it is not intended that way, I was very proud of the players and what they had achieved.
Often I find myself frustrated with the game but last night, which was a long game so we could finish it off, I hopped into bed and dreamed of dragons. I have my players to thank for that! Keep rolling.