I mentioned in my last Tales from the Table that we were going to finish talking about the Frog-Pot Phenomenon, so here we go.
When last we left our intrepid adventurers, they were traveling up the mountain to the original birthplace of the primal spirits. Long ago, the Dragonborn built a ring of small cities around the mountain, intending to protect it as a sacred place. The Tieflings saw that someone else could potentially have something nice, which could not be allowed. The fighting shattered the mountain, enraged the spirits and prevented the animal fathers from moving to stop the obyriths. When they come to the summit, they meet one of the oldest and most powerful of these spirits, but he’s not in a good mood.
This is the base. Keep in mind that Meloga is only one creature, despite the fact that his various forms have unique stats and separate hit points. Also, in case it isn’t clear, the base provides his forms with two or three standard actions per turn. Meloga is technically a solo, but lacks the solo characteristics. I suppose that he should have the +5 to saving throws, but he doesn’t need action points. Trust me on this.
It’s also worth discussing Prone and Marked. These are conditions, but my experience has been that many players consider them to be in a separate, special category. In my version of the combat, Meloga shed these conditions the same as any other, but your mileage may vary.
This was the first form they saw. It’s perhaps the most deceptive of the forms, as everything but its recharge power is easily manageable. The real trick here is to manage to stay in the form long enough for two or three party members to become restrained, at which point Consumed by the Earth becomes the equivalent of the atomic bomb. Most players will not have much fear of restrained in the epic tier, as they have good access to teleport.
Mirrored Carapace was originally (tokens x 15) and it got up to 60 twice during the encounter. It created some interesting tension at the table. The real purpose of the Turtle form is to use Harden to provide an opportunity for the Firebird form to have an open turn to murderate someone.
This was the least satisfying of the forms. It isn’t bad, it just isn’t as exciting as the others.
Once the players realized what the brute form could do and that it would have three of those bombs per turn if it was one of the last two remaining forms, they started working to force Meloga into the Firebird so that they could kill it first. (if you’re interested, the order they achieved was Treant -> Firebird -> Storm -> Turtle, which actually got a little dicey when the Turtle got back up to four shell tokens.)
I’ve long said that boss fights work best when there is a metagame that transcends routine tactics and this fight is no exception. Applying conditions is the mechanism by which the players force Meloga to switch forms. There is also the metagame of who gets to establish which of the forms remain when Meloga goes into “berserk mode.”
This is one of the most complex monsters I’ve ever designed, so I was a little nervous about how it could turn out and told my players that before we began. I think they were a little surprised to hear that I was worried, as they’ve come to expect that I will have a plan for how the fights are supposed to feel. This brings us back to the Frog-Pot theory.
There were two encounters between their last extended rest and this combat: a “red ooze” trap and the spirit encounter from my previous post, both of which were harder on the party than I expected. Thankfully, the only resource that was problematic was the number of healing surges left to the Rogue. The players remembered that they have a ritual that allows them to shimmy around healing surges, so they stocked the Rogue back up and kept going. Things could have turned out very differently, however.
Part of the reason that the frog-pot problem exists is that, while we spend a fair bit of energy teaching GMs how to build an encounter, we spend almost no time talking about how to build an encounter arc. I would like to fix that.
Decide in advance when the rests can occur.
Yes, the most effective solution really is that simple and, yes, it does mean more planning or at least an awareness of where you are going with the arc.
Learn to read the gauge.
Your players will have their own comfort level. Pushing people past that level is a sometimes food.
Keep simple fights simple.
When you make a setup fight more complicated or more challenging, you run the risk of depleting more resources than you intended.
Provide methods of resource management and recovery as needed.
This is actually a form of power creep, as being low on resources is intended to be a consequence of a variety of choices, so use a delicate hand here. It’s one thing to give them magic mushrooms that give them healing surges. It’s quite another to recharge powers. Comrades’ Succor is a simple solution, but you should notice that none of the published rituals allow you to regain dailies (at least not that I’ve seen).
Reward hitting milestones.
I was reading an article recently, one that I cannot now easily find, that talked about giving the characters benefits for reaching milestones. It’s an excellent idea. After all, the thing keeping the party from moving forward is the apprehension of risk vs. reward. Being low on resources means more risk.