Article: Encounters with God

Posted on September 2, 2010

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My recent review of Monster Manual 3 (MM3) reminded me that when designing adventures for 4th Edition you don’t want to have any big level disparities between the different monsters you want Player Characters (PCs) to face. When 4th Edition was in its infancy, I would have suggested maybe a level spread from -5 to +5 of the PCs average level. But with the new tougher monster rules from MM3 now the default standard, I think a level spread of -3 to +3 is probably preferable. So if the PCs average Level 10, you probably want them to encounter monsters from Levels 7-13. NB: Under the new MM3 rules I’d estimate that a +4 EL encounter was a 50/50 chance of a Total Party Kill (TPK) — for a standard party. 

Ultimately any DM will best know the effectiveness of their PC group, some groups will have a keen grasp of the rules, min/maxed characters and work well as a team – in which case you may want to move the level spread ‘goalposts up by 1-3 levels.

Going back to MM3, we see Imix, Lolth and Ogremoch detailed along with their cults and followers. But in each case there is a massive disparity between the levels of the followers and servants when contrasted against the level of the deity or primordial in question. This is fair enough in itself, except when you wish to run adventures leading up to a showdown with the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy). For instance any party which can have a shot of taking down Ogremoch; Prince of Elemental Evil, (Level 34)  is not going to be challenged in the slightest by any of his attendants listed in MM3 (Level 24 or lower). So the goal of this article is to give DMs a quick and simple framework for populating Divine Realms, but also showing how the same formula can be used for developing encounters with religions and cults.

Three Tier Structure

Paralleling 4th editions own three-tier structure gives us the (holy?) trinity of encounter groups:

  1. The Cult: Entry level encounters with the cult either in its infancy, or, some isolated pocket of worshippers in a smaller diocese.
  2. The Religion: When the god’s religion becomes an established and dominant force within the region.
  3. The Divine: The god’s immortal realm, the seat of their power.

Encounter Composition

Divine Realm

Always start at the top…with the deity itself. Once we have established the deities Level we can proceed to flesh out its allies, attendants, servants and minions as follows:

  • DEITY: Immortal, Primordial = n (solo)
  • LIEUTENANT: Ally, Lieutenant, Spouse etc. = n (elite) or n-5 (solo)
  • EXARCH: Avatars, Exarch etc. = n-1 (standard) or n-5 (elite)
  • GUARDS: Angels, Archons, Archpriests, Realm Guards etc. = n-6 (standard) or n+2 (minion)
  • MINIONS: Aspects, Minions = n-3 (minions)
  • Player Characters (suggested level) = n-3

Example: Orcus (Prince of the Undead)

  • Deity: Orcus = Level 33 solo Brute (so ‘n’ = 33)
  • Lieutenant: Azazel  = Level 33 elite Soldier
  • Exarch/Archpriest: Quah-Namog = Level 32 Controller
  • Exarch/Avatar Chemosh = Level 32 Brute
  • Exarch: Glyphimhor = Level 31 Brute (modified -1)
  • Exarch: Doresain = Level 27 Elite Controller
  • Exarch: Sleepless = Level 33 Lurker (x2 Twins) (modified +1)
  • Exarch: Tersoth = Level 27 Elite Brute
  • Guards: Death Knights = Level 27 Soldiers
  • Minions: Liches = Level 27 Minion Artillery
  • Player Characters (suggested level) = 30 

Orcus will no doubt have myriad demons and undead (Atropal, Death Knights, Demiliches, Liches, Vampires) in his palace.

I actually outlined encounters for a Throne of Bloodstone redux (for 3rd Edition) which I entitled Throne of Orcus. You can find part one and part two on my website. Alternatively, you could always try Wizards of the Coast’s Prince of Undeath adventure which covers Levels 27-30. I’ll be reviewing that adventure here in a few weeks time.

Great Temple

The epicentre of the religion’s power.

  • AVATAR: Avatar, Great Idol = n-10 (solo)
  • ARCHPRIEST: Archpriest (Pope), Angel = n-10 (elite) or n-15 (solo)
  • CHAMPIONS: Aspect, Guard Captain = n-11 (standard) or n-15 (elite)
  • GUARDS: High Priests, Temple Guards = n-16 (standard) or n-8 (minion)
  • PRIESTS: Priests = n-13 (minion)
  • Player Characters (suggested level) = n-13

Example: Tiamat (The Dragon Queen)

  • AVATAR: Tiamat = L25 solo Brute
  • ARCHPRIEST: Archpriest = L25 elite Controller
  • CHAMPIONS: Aspect, Guard Captain = L24 standard Soldier
  • GUARDS: High Priests, Temple Guards = L19 various
  • PRIESTS: Priests = Level 22 Minions
  • Player Characters (suggested level) = Level 22
  • Aside from the obvious inclusion of evil dragons, Tiamat’s temple is likely to include Drakes, Dragonspawn and possibly a few devils as well like Abishai. The idea of evil knights riding dragons is also an interesting path to follow. 

    Lesser Temple

    The lowest rung on the hierarchical ladder. Cult headquarters.

    • ASPECT: Aspect = n-20 (solo)
    • HIGH PRIEST: High Priest = n-20 (elite) or n-25 (solo)
    • LEADERS: Guard Captains, Lesser Aspect, Priest = n-21 (standard) or n-25 (elite)
    • GUARDS: Cult Guards = n-26 (standard) or n-18 (minion)
    • ACOLYTES: Acolytes, Slaves = n-23 (minion)
    • Player Characters (suggested level) = n-23

    Example: Dispater (The Iron Duke)

    • Aspect: Dispater = Level 8 solo Controller (so ‘n’ = 28)
    • High Priest = Level 8 elite Lurker
    • Priests = Level 7 Artillery
    • Guard Captain = Level 7 Soldier
    • Guards = Level 2 Soldiers
    • Acolytes = Level 5 minions
    • PC Average Level = Level 5

    Of course a cult headquarters of Dispater would likely have various devils (Cambion, Imps, Succubi), or iron related creatures (Young Iron Dragon, maybe Iron Cobras and Defenders) or you could create some new monsters such as a Ferrolisk which turns its victims to iron. Then give the High Priest the ability to animate iron statues to set up a nice dynamic (be sure to have one or two NPC allies of the PCs to give a better chance of having this power seen in action).

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