Is 4th Edition too easy…too cookie-cutter? Should the adventures and encounters shape themselves to the heroes, or should the heroes have to adapt to the encounters? If for instance, a demon prince wanted to defend their realm, would they do so in bitesize chunks conveniently spaced for heroes to defeat? Or would they make things as absolutely difficult as possible for the heroes to triumph?
I suppose the best answer is to have a mixture of game balance and verisimilitude.
The term Delves is used to describe a mini-adventure of between maybe 2-5 encounters. Generally, Wizards of the Coast seem to favour the 3-encounter Delve by default. Personally I think thats the best idea for generic Delves, but for more specific Delves I prefer a 4-encounter format; typically (though not always) with encounter levels of +/-0, +1, +2 and +3. A generic Delve (just to explain myself) would be something you could just plug in and play without any major story needed.
There are two approaches to designing an attack upon Demogorgon’s realm. Firstly a direct assault, secondly a more convoluted ‘macguffin’ style approach; where the heroes need to find ‘A’ (possibly an object, or person or piece of information) to get to ‘B’.
This is the approach we’ll be taking. The direct assault is still going to be quite a journey and likely involve the following Delves:
- The Mirror Tower (location – Prime Material Plane): Pure fabrication on my part, as a set-up, how about introducing a threat to the Prime Material World. A pair of wizard brothers reside in a tower by the coast, each one loyal to one of Demogorgon’s heads plague the lands with floods. The tower itself is invisible from the outside and can only be seen reflected in a body of water. Within their tower is a gateway to the Abyss. The tower itself is also a potent weapon (a bit like a lighthouse) with a maddening gaze if you witness its beacon. The sorcerors command an army of demons, chaos warriors and weird creatures that have threatened to expand across the land. Alternately you could simply have the heroes travel to Sigil where they should be able to find a gateway to the first layer of the Abyss, in effect bypassing the opeining Delve.
Ideas: Chimera-riding Chaos Champions.
- The Iron Fortress (location – Pazunia 1st Layer of the Abyss): In Pazunia, the heroes would be able to find and locate an Iron Fortress loyal to Demogorgon, probably commanded by one of his exarchs (possibly the Balor Severik) which has a gateway to the Screaming Jungle.
Ideas: The fortress is itself a humongous Iron Leviathan, replete with smaller iron golems.
- The Screaming Jungle (Layer 90)…once within the Jungle they need to make their way to the coast. But that surely will bring them into conflict with Mandrillagon’s forces.
Ideas: Demonic apes riding giant fiendish behemoths (dinosaurs: Triceratops; Pteradons; Megaraptors). Mandrillagon’s (mobile) fortress might be on the back of a giant Demon Brute (Godzilla?). Winged Monkey Demons (small – monkeys); Barlgura (medium – orangutan demons); Gorgants (large – gorilla demons).
- The Brine Flats (Coastal Region of Abysm)…The three key areas here are Lemoriax (the capital city); Ungorth Reddik (Demogorgon’s tower on land) and Wat Dagon (coastal defenses)
Ideas: Demogorgon’s (land based) armed forces. Dusins (medium – crocodile demons).
- The Blood Sea (Layer 88)…the heroes need to cross the Blood Sea to get to Demogorgon’s Fortress. The chances are that they’ll be attacked by Pirates (led by Rezankee) or even Demogorgon’s Fleet (commanded by Belcheresk), and possibly may face attack from the air or sea.
Ideas: Ixitxachitl champions ‘riding’ possessed mortals as ‘cloaks’.
- Abysm Fortress Descent…my idea here is that the heroes need to descend to the bottom of one of the fortresses two towers (the bottom of which interacts with Dagon’s realm of course), then cross over via a connecting corridor and ascend to the top of the second tower.
Ideas: Obyrith experiments (Types VII; VIII; IX & X demons?).
- Abysm Fortress Ascent…this will be where Demogorgon basically throws the kitchen sink at the upstart heroes.
Ideas: Two-headed Beholder.
This could involve anything. The Savage Tide adventure path (for instance) presents the heroes with options of:
- Allying with other Demon Princes
- Corrupting Allies of Demogorgon to turn against him
- Freeing enemies of Demogorgon
- Slaying Demogorgon’s clones and children
Undertaking each of these ‘side-stories’ weakens Demogorgon to some degree. You could also add to that list:
- Destroying Demogorgon’s Soul Object (Venom Fountain)
- Gaining an artifact specifically designed to slay him
- Learning Demogorgon’s true name
Okay so what exactly are the most powerful encounter groups Demogorgon could probably put together to thwart the heroes? Again this throws up two approaches. Proactive strike teams and defensive positions.
Defensive Delves (Where the heroes must bypass your defenses)
Primary roles will be Artillery; Lurkers and Soldiers. In these cases we can also include various traps and hazards; I’d suggest perhaps one trap per encounter of a level equal to the enemy with highest level in that encounter.
- The Mirror Tower
- The Iron Fortress
- Abysm Fortress Descent
- Abysm Fortress Ascent
Proactive Strike Teams (Where the villains hunt the heroes)
Primary roles will be Brutes; Controllers and Skirmishers. We can set-up each area to have multiple strike teams who attend to different levels of threat. Think of these in three capacities. 1. Security Guards. 2. Police. 3. Elite Special Forces. When the heroes move through an area they’ll probably encounter the basic native bullies (the Police). If they dispatch those then they can expect to encounter more powerful demons (the Army) and finally the most powerful force in the area will be sent to defeat them (Elite Strike Team). If that force is dispatched then they are bound to come under the scrutiny of the resident evil.
- The Screaming Jungle
- The Brine Flats
- The Blood Sea
No Extended Rests!
One of the keys to really making the PCs pay for every inch they take is to give them no extended rests from the time they first set foot in the Screaming Jungle. Demogorgon has millions of demons under his command. More than enough to plague and tarry the PCs (and their resources), even if the groups in question have little chance of victory, this cannon fodder can make them waste their powers, softening them up for when Demogorgon makes his move.
Where n is the Level of the BBEG of the Delve.
- Weak (Police): EL n-8…these forces are basically a nuisance more than a threat.
- Standard (Army): EL n-4…basic military, a threat but not very durable
- Elite (Strike Teams): EL n…superior military forces.
- Unique (Resident Evil): EL n+4…the Demon Prince in charge plus another Strike Team.
- Basic Defenses: EL n
- Heavy Defenses: EL n+2
- Choke Point: EL n+4
- Last Stand: EL n+6
Big Bad Evil Guys per Delve
- The Mirror Tower: Wizard Brothers, each Level 27 elite Artillery
- The Iron Fortress: Saint Kargoth, Level 28 solo Soldier
- The Screaming Jungle: Mandrillagon, Level 30 solo Brute
- The Brine Flats: ?
- The Blood Sea: Belcheresk, Level 31 elite Brute
- Abysm Fortress Descent: Dagon, Level 32 solo Controller
- Abysm Fortress Ascent: Demogorgon, Level 34 solo Controller
Startling Level for the PCs
Looking at the above I’d suggest the PCs are about Level 28 before they aegin the assault the Mirror Tower.
- The Mirror Tower: EL 27, EL 29, EL 31, EL 33 (Wizard Brothers plus allies plus defenses)
- The Iron Fortress: EL 28, EL 30, EL 32, EL 34 (Saint Kargoth plus allies plus defenses)
- The Screaming Jungle: EL 26 (Armed Forces); EL 30 (Elite Forces Encounter); EL 34 (Mandrillagon plus allies)
- The Brine Flats: EL 25 (Armed Forces); EL 29 (Elite Forces Encounter); EL 33 (? plus allies)
- The Blood Sea: EL 27 (Armed Forces); EL 31 (Elite Forces Encounter); EL 35 (Belcheresk plus allies)
- Abysm Fortress Descent: EL 32, EL 34, EL 36, EL 38 (Dagon plus allies plus defenses)
- Abysm Fortress Ascent: EL 34, EL 36, EL 38, EL 40 (Demogorgon plus allies plus defenses)