Running a three (two)-stage (elite) solo (who killed your father)

Last week, one of my players’ characters met his father for the first time. Well, the ghost of his father, as his father was slain 25 years or so earlier… and the character is 26. And oh by the way, his father said, the dude who killed me has returned here, planning to raise 300 corpses for his undead army. Go get ‘im.

This week, I ran that battle.

I had read The Angry DM’s posts on making a three-stage boss monster. I figured this was a good chance to do the same. But I did it differently:

Shelloukh, orc necromancer, is a standard level 9 artillery. When he is first damaged, or when one of his four Dread Guardians fall, he summons four zombie minions. When he reaches 0 hp, he transforms into a standard level 9 brute.

I didn’t make him a solo because I wanted to use four Dread Guardians without making the fight too dangerous. I just acted like he was a solo, and it worked out.

As an artillery, he was awesome. He stayed back and used ranged and area attacks, and he stayed next to two of his Dread Guardians. He had 78 hp as artillery. He also had a brazier of evil green fire in front of him, which was a great prop for illustrating the somatic components of his spells — he reached in once, picked up some fire, crushed it, and then some mists appeared elsewhere on the battlefield.

As a brute, he had a battleaxe, combat superiority, and 124 hp. I wish I’d given him the standard dual-attack at-will, because he was insufficiently brutal. He had an aura 1 that prevented healing surges, but that never came into play.

On the other hand, four dread guardians meant he took half damage almost the whole battle. I felt bad when the paladin used his daily, rolled well, and delivered 45 points of damage, reduced to 23 because the last guard was still standing there. In retrospect, two guardians and two more living orcs might have been better.

About two hours earlier, in-game, the PCs had slain four orcs on that spot. So when Shelloukh raised his zombies, I just had them zombified. They came up from behind the party and mostly harrassed the wizard, who was forced to turn around, breathe lightning on them, and then turn back to controlling her fireball. I imagined her dragonborn face just annoyed at the undead pests.

At the end, the paladin with the ghost dad delivered the killing blow, and I used the rules about story events improving magic items to make his new ancestral hammer go from +2 to +3.

Overall, it was pretty sweet. I think the stage switch from an artillery to melee kept the encounter from becoming too much of a drag, despite that two of the three melee characters ran out of dailies, encounters and action points. It perhaps wasn’t as scary as it should have been. No PC was on the floor at any time.

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