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High Level Assassinations

SetentaeBolg

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Validated User
#1
I am facing an interesting situation in my regular D&D campaign. The PCs are high level now (9th level spells, the full kablooie). They have a target they want to kill.

The target is a 20th level spellcaster undead (kind of vampire/lich cross). He is the head of a very large and powerful empire of similarly nails undead, including several liches and other spellcasters. Last session, they tried a tactic of using Gate to summon him onto another plane and mulching him. I went with the assumption that this guy has plenty of divinations etc cast about potential assassinations and is generally prepared enough to try to counter even such high power attacks.

The Gate was successful; his plan was to step right back through the gate, but the PCs grappled him and pulled him away a full sixty feet. They counterspelled his attempted teleport and started laying down the hurt on him. I then had him Gated back home by an ally. Now, this is a bit chumpy, to be honest; it only makes sense if he had some warning that someone was going to Gate him. I can think of several ways this might be possible for him, but at the same time, none of those in-game justifications really excuse chumping the PCs out of their (well-earned) victory. My out-of-game justification is I want their fight (or even theft, it's a particular item he has that they want) to be a bit more interesting than the Gate. So I'm aware I probably don't want to rob them of sweet victory more than once.

So, how can I best, in-game and out-game, handle this? I can probably make him straight out immune to Gate (his Empire has access to Wishes), but he retains no memory of the incident (the PCs have a goober than rewinds time and used it to reset to before the Gate was cast). I have his personal guard as four 9th level spellcasters, four death knights, one lich assistant and 20 upstatted ghouls - these are the guys who usually escort him about on the rare occasions he leaves his throne room.

So does anyone have any recommendations, in-game and out-of-game, to make the confrontation with this guy interesting? A lot depends on the tactics my players follow - they might straight up just try to infiltrate and steal the item, they might try to subvert one of the liches (who is an old ally), they might just go in guns blazing with some specific setups to neutralise the undead. Any ideas are welcome.
 

NobodyImportant

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#2
If your players have earned their victory, then give them that victory. That doesn’t have to be the end of things. If he’s similar to a lich, you can just say he had a philactory this whole time. If that’s already been ruled out somehow, and he is permanently dead, well, that doesn’t necessarily mean the item the players are going for is going to be any easier. There are plenty of other powerful undead in that nation, after all, and they’ll likely be engaged in a power struggle. Maybe some of them have the potential to be even worse than the old guy ever was. Your players may end up deciding who ends up in charge, and, well, they already have a lich on the inside.
 

SetentaeBolg

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Validated User
#3
If your players have earned their victory, then give them that victory. That doesn’t have to be the end of things. If he’s similar to a lich, you can just say he had a philactory this whole time. If that’s already been ruled out somehow, and he is permanently dead, well, that doesn’t necessarily mean the item the players are going for is going to be any easier. There are plenty of other powerful undead in that nation, after all, and they’ll likely be engaged in a power struggle. Maybe some of them have the potential to be even worse than the old guy ever was. Your players may end up deciding who ends up in charge, and, well, they already have a lich on the inside.
It's not the death of this guy they really seek, but an item he has they need to kill the *real* big bad guy. Once they finish him, the evil undead empire is much less of a threat. He's not the primary target, I just need to come up with reasonable precautions he might have without kerbstomping every idea the PCs have.
 

Icon

Old enough to know better
Validated User
#4
Gate him and throw up a magic circle after he is through which prevents teleportation/summoning/gating. That way he can neither attempt to flee nor be called out. Saving throws and resistance may apply and defeating such is left as an exercise to the party.

As for acquiring the item, infiltration sounds like the source of several sessions worth of play with opportunities to come away with more than just the item in question (both in character and out of character). Of course that could also be the beginning of a direct confrontation--sneak in and since we're here....
 
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Calypso

Bunny With a Glock
Validated User
#6
So, a few thoughts. If this lich thing has access to 9th level spells and wish, it could easily spend most of its time in a pocket dimension it controls, which means gate would not work. That means they need to either figure out when it leaves that pocket dimension (but mind blank means it can't be done with divination) or somehow get an inside man to tell them. Foresight would also mean that it couldn't be surprised by such a tactic.

Second, it could easily have had an item that prevents it from being pulled through like that. Dimensional shackles, based on the spell. You have to imagine that a powerful undead spends like half of its time thinking about how other people are out to get it and coming up with wildly impractical means of stopping them. What else is it going to do with its time?

But I think this is important: you either need to come up with those counter-measures now, so you're not on-the-fly screwing your players for being creative, or you need to be up front with your players about how it has all these counter-measures, and that you're going to come up with them on the fly to make the narrative fun and interesting, but that you'll provide them with a reward for coming up with something either way (whether that is Inspiration, information, whatever).
 

Icon

Old enough to know better
Validated User
#7
I'm pretty sure a magic circle can't prevent Gate. Very few things can.
Depends on how you read:

When you cast this spell, you can elect to cause its magic to operate in the reverse direction, preventing a creature of the specified type from leaving the cylinder and protecting targets outside it.
And it is perfectly fine to rule that does not apply. In any event it does not sound like your players are planning the Gate tactic again.

Another thought comes to mind for making the confrontation interesting is to present the players with information pointing to something the bad guy would be willing to give up the item in exchange for. Leaders of nations invariably have difficult situations they need resolved. Maybe the thing that needs attention is something the players would not find odious or possibly is something leading to something nastier than a nation of lichens and undead running about. Yeah, he's a bad guy but he wants to rule the world and what is coming his way only wants ashes to remain.
 

Icon

Old enough to know better
Validated User
#8
Second, it could easily have had an item that prevents it from being pulled through like that. Dimensional shackles, based on the spell. You have to imagine that a powerful undead spends like half of its time thinking about how other people are out to get it and coming up with wildly impractical means of stopping them. What else is it going to do with its time?
If you're that powerful and have access to the Wish spell I would imagine the first thing you do is wish yourself a new, true name. Your old name is out there but won't work for things that require your name. Even if you end up unable to cast Wish again, the result is likely worth it (especially if you're evil).
 

AlwaysToast

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Validated User
#9
Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum will prevent teleportation, all planar travel and most divination. Gate is a form of planar travel. The down side to all this security, it goes both ways for teleportation and planar travel. The resident is cut off from magical escape methods. You would think any arcane using bad guy would at least consider this as standard home improvement. Rules that everyone has to follow means if the PCs go in to the enemy base, they only have to deal with what is in there. They don't have to worry about counter-gates, etc.

Hallow can also be used with the feature Extradimensional Interference to stop Gate.

Glyph of Warding + Divination Magic (So you know what you need to stop, and where the glyph needs to be) + Dispel Magic: When X happens, dispel it.

If you just want a harder fight: Give the NPC a magic item that gates/teleports/opens a door to a pocket dimension/etc, to get his own troops into a fight whenever he’s in trouble. It doesn’t get him out, but it does change the condition of the fight. Or have the minions have magic items that teleport them to wherever there boss is if he takes damage.

Contingency + Banish (Banish yourself back to your home plane) also a way to protect yourself from Gate (although there are a lot better uses for Contingency).

Hostages that will be killed/turned undead, etc if anything goes wrong with the important Villain. May require PC plan to be slightly more sophisticated. The simple version of this is the target is most vulnerable when they go out among the innocent civilians with their troops. If something goes wrong, the innocent civilians are the ones that suffer. (Only works as a deterrent if PCs are good guys.)

Just let the PCs succeed at the assassination if they try it again. Have the Lich/Vampire come back (or have a subordinate take over). Now the bad guys (and his followers) are on offense trying to assassinate the PC with the Item before they can use it against the big bad. If the PCs aren’t protected from divination magic/planar magic, the enemy can “Gate & Slay” them back, or try any number of assassination methods (preferably while the PCs are busy). The PCs will be on offense against the big bad, but defense against the last guy.
 

SetentaeBolg

Registered User
Validated User
#10
Another thought comes to mind for making the confrontation interesting is to present the players with information pointing to something the bad guy would be willing to give up the item in exchange for. Leaders of nations invariably have difficult situations they need resolved. Maybe the thing that needs attention is something the players would not find odious or possibly is something leading to something nastier than a nation of lichens and undead running about. Yeah, he's a bad guy but he wants to rule the world and what is coming his way only wants ashes to remain.
This is what I thought would happen: the PCs would try to contact the lich they know (which is risky; it's an unwilling lich mentally enslaved to the emperor, but they have seen it shake off its murderous impulses before) and either get some information/assistance from it (which could be considerable) or consider making a diplomatic approach. The diplomatic approach would probably be prelude to a trick (as the undead emperor guy is thoroughly evil and his nation in the midst of slaughtering their allies), but it is a valid way to go. The actual big bad guy is an enemy of the emperor too, and is essentially using him as a monkey's paw to sow chaos and prevent opposition, so the emperor would have good reason to help them out - if he could be convinced of what was going on.

I reckoned without high level PCs wanting to chew through enemies!

But I think this is important: you either need to come up with those counter-measures now, so you're not on-the-fly screwing your players for being creative, or you need to be up front with your players about how it has all these counter-measures, and that you're going to come up with them on the fly to make the narrative fun and interesting, but that you'll provide them with a reward for coming up with something either way (whether that is Inspiration, information, whatever).
I agree with this; part of the motive of posting here was my guilt over chumping the PCs plans with on-the-fly defenses - a GM can always win that battle. It does feel unfair to do that kind of thing and in general it runs counter to how I prefer to run games. But the PCs went into it more quickly than I thought they might, so I had to improvise.
 
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