Redesigning Encounters: Dual at Gabal’s School

The group’s encounter with Shealis was different than those that had come before: it was completely possible for the group to talk their way past her. A detailed skill challenge was put together so the party could choose whether they wanted to open with diplomacy or hostility. Though the players chose diplomacy, in the end it failed and Shealis attacked.

Overall, the encounter was enjoyable for the group, mostly because the players were able to work together and focus on one powerful enemy. On my side of the screen, however, Shealis was boring. She was little more than a shotgun, firing powerful blasts in whatever direction I chose, with no finesse or variety. Additionally, the combat was very swingy; after two rounds, characters were already slipping into unconsciousness. This was, of course, due to the high amounts of damage she was putting out as a 6th-level creature (more on that later).

According to the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Shealis was near the upper-most suggested limit a party could fight. My guess as to where things went wrong would be either my dice were too hot (I rolled three natural 20’s during the entirety of the combat), the players’ dice were too cold (a few natural 1’s skittered across the table), or perhaps four levels above the party level is just a tad-bit too high in practice, no matter what the DMG says.

The Dual at Gabal’s School encounter, known as Shealis’s Apartment in the adventure, is located on page 49 and consists of the following:

  • Shealis, Level 10 Elite Controller
  • Wisp Solon, Level 4 Controller

The Good, the Bad, and the Fluffed

First of all, I ditched the solon. I talked a little bit about this in my Musings on Our Second Session article, but in a nutshell, I’m just not sold on solon’s. Don’t get me wrong—I love including new and exciting creatures where thematically appropriate. I just don’t know that the solon, a creation of the adventure path’s writers, is filling a place in the world that can’t be filled by an established creature that the players are already familiar with. For the foreseeable future, I’ll probably fluff solon’s into other monsters, or remove them altogether.

Without the wisp solon, Shealis is a 5th-level encounter. But as a 10th-level creature, she’s eight levels above the party level! Page 56 of the DMG states:

Levels of Individual Threats: Choose threats within two or three levels of the characters’ level. Threats in an easy encounter can be as many as four levels below the party’s level. Threats in a hard encounter can be as many as three to five levels above the party’s level.

And then, on the very next page, the DMG goes on to say:

Level: As you select individual threats to make up your encounter, keep the level of those threats in mind. Monsters or traps more than four levels below the party’s level or seven levels above the party’s level don’t make good challenges. They’re either too easy or too hard, even if the encounter’s level seems right.

As a 10th-level creature, Shealis does not fit the criteria of a good encounter; she would be way too powerful for the PC’s. I decided that I wanted the combat to be four levels above the party level, which naturally set Shealis as a Level 6 Solo Controller. Flipping through the Monster Vault, I saw several good controllers at that level, but no solo controllers—and then I saw the Young Blue Dragon. Sure, it was an artillery, but who cares? When I fluffed Flaganus from the Fallen Devil encounter into a Young Black Dragon, we had a blast!

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that creatures from the artillery role don’t do much more than hang back and do lots of damage. Things got pretty stale for me by the end of the combat, something that could have been avoided if I had picked one of the controllers and added a few templates from the DMG to make it a solo. It was definitely a learning experience.

The Young Blue Dragon’s powers were very easy to fluff: uncontained lightning was renamed to unfettered power, instinctive lightning became crushing burst, gore turned into wand of power, claw fluffed easily into arc lightning, lightning burst became energy burst, the dragon’s breath weapon was renamed shocking blast, wing backblast was fluffed into readied sweep, and finally, bloodied breath was renamed bloodied blast.

Only one of the powers’ mechanics were changed: the dragon’s breath weapon, now called shocking blast. Instead of a close bast 10 effect that hits up to three creatures in the blast, I changed it to close blast 3 that hits up to two creatures and added a one square slide effect.

I also added to Shealis triplicate image, lifted straight from her original stats in The Scouring of Gate Pass. Lastly, I added the three powers from this gem of an article I came across recently. I highly recommend them; they were quite effective!

Keeping Things Balanced

The encounter level for Shealis’s Apartment is listed as 5 (1,000 XP to 1,175 XP, depending on if the solon is included). After my adjustments, the encounter level rose to 6. In order to return the encounter level to 5, simply choose a Level 5 Solo creature.