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  • High-Level Antagonists

    I'm running a game with four players whose characters have reached Essence 4, 60+ Charms apiece. Does anyone have advice about how to challenge them in combat? I'm finding the canonical foes in the book a little lackluster.

  • #2
    Okay, so Sandact6 has some general stuff about this here. I also have some general stuff to say but I'll need to gather my thoughts.


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    • #3
      The Goblin King, Filial Wisdom, from 1e Ruins of Rathess. He is one of the dozen or so Solar Exaltations that was not imprisoned by the Sidereals following the Usurpation. He has survived for over a century as the prophet of the God of Ruin and is an Essence 6 Dawn Caste Solar with every Charm that the GM desires, plus seven Charms of his spiritual patron when they are fused.

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      • #4
        All Deathlords, Powerfull demons of the third circle, Elders both Lunars and Siderals. These are the examples that come to mind.
        Although all these powerful adversaries rarely go to the fight alone and have the support of allies, armies and demons or ghosts invoked.
        For one-on-one PC fights against an NPC abyssals and infernals with the same amount of Essence they should equal the PCs and Lunars and Siderals should be so slightly behind that they are equally valid for an individual combat.

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        • #5
          If you can get your hands on the Lunars manuscript (I think you can still pay a nominal fee to unlock the backer previews?) It has statlines for 3 Lunar Elders that might help.

          While people are on this topic, has anyone actually tried statting up 3rd circle demon? I wouldnt be sure where to start.

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          • #6
            A 3rd Circle should show up in Adversaries eventually, or thats what I heard


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            • #7
              You could try the yin-yang master from my martial artists supplement. He's a pretty tough fight, and I'm interested to see how he fares against players who particularly care about optimization. The fight has been tested, but not against a group of super-serious combatants. Please let me know if you have any feedback!

              (If you think the fight isn't tough enough, you could throw in a few more master martial artists to even out the numbers.)


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              • #8
                The biggest issue you're going to have with high level foes is that you're probably playing them for the first time, whereas your players have been playing their characters for quite some time. Do not try to match your PCs in power by giving the antagonist just as many moving parts. You're not going to be able to play them as effectively, you'll make sub-optimal decisions, you'll get your deathlord summarily murdered in 7 ticks, to throw out a totally random example that just came to mind out of nowhere and which I'm not at all bitter about to this day. *ahem*

                You want to focus on a few things.

                1) Their resistances, particularly in regards to your PCs special tricks. It's okay to Nope some effects, especially if your players are too reliant on them (give your master poisoner a poison-immune foe to worry about, your stealth-murder-ninja an enemy with precognition, etc) but try not to render a PC totally ineffectual. Don't make these complicated. You want a cost, duration, and the effect it negates. If it doesn't negate it but just lessens it somehow, keep the effect simple and easy to apply on the fly.

                2) Bread and butter attack combos. Don't have a page of Charms you cobble together on the fly. List a few attacks complete with all effects in their respective entries. These are the attacks your foe can reliably perform on any given turn until they start getting worn down. They should make the PCs worry enough to put effort into their defence through stunting or motes, but not be ruinous every time they land.

                3) A few big set-piece powers. These change the dynamic of the fight, make the feel of this fight unique, portray the themes of your antagonist at their most glorious, make PCs shit their pants, and are generally the thing your players should be talking about when they look back on this fight. Unless they are ongoing defences, you should only bring these out a few times (or even once) during the fight (and their cost should be correspondingly high).

                Attacks of this magnitude are devastating, usually over a wide area. Ideally you want to not kill your PCs with them the first time you use them, but surviving such an attack should leave them in no doubt that they don't want to get hit again. There should usually be a way to counter or at least mitigate them present in the scene. A devastating area attack than can only be defended against by taking cover behind living wood, for example.

                Defences of this type should do more than say "Nope" or "Yes but at -3". They should be memorable, and change the way the PCs approach the fight, like spraying acid at anyone who hits the enemy in close combat, or siphoning the mote cost of a spell aimed at them into powering up one of their other powers if the enemy succeeds at a roll to capture it. If they are simply a perfect Nope, they should present a serious obstacle to winning but have a way around them that your PCs can discover beforehand or during the fight (cannot be restrained except by thread woven of cat-hair, skin turns aside all damage except when they are sober, etc).

                Some of these set-piece powers may redefine the fight more directly, such as by casting everybody into a dreamscape where they wage war through a metaphor chosen by the enemy, or in a less esoteric way by reshaping the terrain.

                Some set up a challenge to overcome that is tangential to defeating the enemy, like causing an entire building to sail up into the air, upend itself, and come crashing down again, giving the PCs a few rounds to try to rescue the people inside.

                So yeah, there's some thoughts, I hope it helps and stuff ...


                "Measure of Hope is right about everything." - Wise Old Guru

                Currently running an Exalted 2.5 Abyssals game in a homebrew modern shard because I value neither my time or my sanity, and I'm loving almost every minute of it.

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                • #9
                  Another thing to consider is that high level opponents should have minions of comparable power to the PCs. Perhaps the Deathlord is served by a company of one hundred Essence 5 nemissaries who each predate the Great Contagion and who have each mastered a few martial arts styles. At any time, twenty of them are protecting their mistress from harm, half patrolling her manse and half protecting her person, though their appearance suggests that they are only mortal servants.

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                  • #10
                    a hundred is a-bit to many, especially at that high essence. I do not think thats the kind of odds e4 characters can face.


                    .

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Measure of Hope View Post
                      The biggest issue you're going to have with high level foes is that you're probably playing them for the first time, whereas your players have been playing their characters for quite some time. Do not try to match your PCs in power by giving the antagonist just as many moving parts. You're not going to be able to play them as effectively, you'll make sub-optimal decisions, you'll get your deathlord summarily murdered in 7 ticks, to throw out a totally random example that just came to mind out of nowhere and which I'm not at all bitter about to this day. *ahem*
                      Oh yeah, I've had this problem many times. I've run a fight and then realised the NPC had a very useful charm that I'd forgotten amongst the 30-odd other charms they were using in the fight.

                      We didn't kill a Deathlord in 7 ticks this way... but in 2nd ed, I did grapple Walker in Darkness with an Essence 4 Dragonblood for 3 rounds while the rest of the party threw aggravated damage and a ton of debuffs on him. I died, but we killed Walker in Darkness... with Dragonblood. There were quite a few points at which he could have used stuff to get around our attacks, but the ST wasn't familiar enough with, well, basically every Abyssal charm in the book, to remember to use them.

                      You want to focus on a few things.

                      1) Their resistances, particularly in regards to your PCs special tricks. It's okay to Nope some effects, especially if your players are too reliant on them (give your master poisoner a poison-immune foe to worry about, your stealth-murder-ninja an enemy with precognition, etc) but try not to render a PC totally ineffectual. Don't make these complicated. You want a cost, duration, and the effect it negates. If it doesn't negate it but just lessens it somehow, keep the effect simple and easy to apply on the fly.

                      2) Bread and butter attack combos. Don't have a page of Charms you cobble together on the fly. List a few attacks complete with all effects in their respective entries. These are the attacks your foe can reliably perform on any given turn until they start getting worn down. They should make the PCs worry enough to put effort into their defence through stunting or motes, but not be ruinous every time they land.

                      3) A few big set-piece powers. These change the dynamic of the fight, make the feel of this fight unique, portray the themes of your antagonist at their most glorious, make PCs shit their pants, and are generally the thing your players should be talking about when they look back on this fight. Unless they are ongoing defences, you should only bring these out a few times (or even once) during the fight (and their cost should be correspondingly high).
                      These are all good points.

                      Originally posted by The Fool of Creation
                      Another thing to consider is that high level opponents should have minions of comparable power to the PCs.
                      Yeah... but also an equivalent number. Not massively outnumbering them!

                      When my Essence 5 group of 5 PCs (2 Full Moons, a Slayer, a Twilight and a Night, so fairly combaty) in 2nd ed broke into the Imperial Manse chasing Walker in Darkness (who was going to use the Sword of Creation to kill millions), they had to fight their way past a group of four Essence 3 Abyssals. The PCs outnumbered them and had more XP.
                      The Night Caste PC died in that fight.
                      And then they had to fight a Deathlord (who killed one of the Full Moons in one round).

                      Now an Essence 5 Nephwrack isn't as powerful as an Essence 3 Abyssal. But they are pretty significant. The plot in the game I currently play (of Essence 4-5 characters) is all about trying to defeat one Nephwrack and his minions and allies. So far my Zenith has lost an arm, and the Immaculate Master has been captured. That was just against the Nephwrack's minions.

                      A Nephwrack is a normal fight for an Essence 5 group of PCs. 5 Nephwracks is a challenge, someone might lose an arm. 20 Nephwracks, let alone 100, will demolish them. The same applies to Dragonblood.
                      (Well, unless you're using the rule of inverse ninjas, of course. Maybe that was your intention? A size 2-3 battle group of Nephwracks with Might 3?)


                      My characters:
                      Dr Soma Vaidya, viper-totem Lunar and kung-fu doctor
                      Brother Alazar, Zenith occultist and last survivor of the Black Monastery of Leng
                      Avatar by Jen

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                      • #12
                        Anyway, Fimbulwinter, how combat-orientated are your PCs? And how much do they split up? I had a similar problem when I was running a 3rd ed game of Essence 5 PCs, but they were quite mixed in combat ability, and often split up. I concluded that the Resistance-Supernal Dawn in Heavy Artefact Plate was basically unkillable (but slow and not with incredible offensive capabilities, so could be tanked), while, say, the two meleeists were vulnerable to being softened up by groups of tiger warrior archers (because they relied on HGD to defend themselves, which isn't much use vs Battle Groups). The Full Moon didn't really have any massive weaknesses, but he was willing to fight multiple enemies by himself, so he was challengeable (and I wasn't aiming to really kill PCs per-se, just challenge them and occasionally make them flee).

                        And of course, there's always the non-combat tactics. Throw lots of social stuff at them so they spend their XP on that rather than more and more combat. Have them deal with a plague, or infrastructure issues. I'd generally do a small combat that I expected them to breeze through every couple of sessions, and a big serious challenging combat about once every five sessions. But it depends on the group, some groups want lots of combat.

                        Saying this, I still found it pretty difficult (which is partly why I ended the game).

                        You really, at that point, have to go for Behemoths and enemy Celestial Exalts. I used a rival circle of Solars, that worked okay. Dragonblood can work, but only if they're Essence 4-5 and there's at least as many as the PCs, preferably slightly more. And the majority of them will probably need to be using Immaculate Martial Arts.

                        The issue with enemy groups of Exalts (and it has to be groups, 4 PCs will kill a single enemy quickly, even if they're Essence 5), is the number of charms, as Measure of Hope suggested. You should definitely give them big soak and lots of ox-bodies, and give them straightforward builds (fire aspect who's all about fire charms) rather than fiddly ones that require switching between auras. Keep it simple.
                        Last edited by The Wizard of Oz; 04-16-2019, 04:21 PM.


                        My characters:
                        Dr Soma Vaidya, viper-totem Lunar and kung-fu doctor
                        Brother Alazar, Zenith occultist and last survivor of the Black Monastery of Leng
                        Avatar by Jen

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                        • #13
                          This is Exalted especially at high essence a direct combat challenge probably isn't appropriate. You're playing as one of the mighty demigods they killed/imprisoned the architects of reality not some D&D wizard. My approach is as the characters advance the only worthy opponents become other Exalted. Rather than dropping a single big opponent on your players multiple opponents with diverse ability tends to work better.

                          Also try make killing your enemies not the the goal of the scene. They can fight for possession of an item, protect a mortal from assassination, keep a dam from being destroyed, prevent a thief from escaping, etc. You can also get a lot of mileage out of making opponents characters that the players dont want to kill. They can even be friends that come to blows over differing goals. You can also try to have some many enemies that killing them all and accomplishing your goal cant bothe be achieved.

                          As for really big iconic fights ment to challenge high essence characters directly in combat, they rarely come out of nowhere. A major villain can come back repeatedly if you make sure to give them a surefire escape plan. The could even be that villain is so damned powerful the players are forced to run away. Even a Deathlord can have bigger priorities than chasing down and slaughtering Solars they crossed swords with. Your real goal with this is to get some practice using the character in combat and tweaking them as you go, so that for the real final battle you want you know how the character plays and can run them effectively in the real fight

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Hark View Post
                            A major villain can come back repeatedly if you make sure to give them a surefire escape plan. ... Your real goal with this is to get some practice using the character in combat and tweaking them as you go, so that for the real final battle you want you know how the character plays and can run them effectively in the real fight
                            Hah, that's a good idea.

                            With my high-essence game, one member of the rival circle was a Liminal, so after the PCs killed him, he came back again. And the Twilight was Supernal Craft, and used the pinnacle craft charm where you make clones. Thus, he also came back once after dying.

                            I felt that was the most reliable way of ensuring villains came back, but some times they escaped through teleportation or necromancy (ie jumping into the Underworld).

                            Until of course, the final battle, after which they stayed dead.


                            My characters:
                            Dr Soma Vaidya, viper-totem Lunar and kung-fu doctor
                            Brother Alazar, Zenith occultist and last survivor of the Black Monastery of Leng
                            Avatar by Jen

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                            • #15
                              Back in 2e I used an Infernal with Cecelyne's dodge charms. She would use the upgraded version that makes you immaterial for a round to walk through walls or pass through the floor. Once she was out of sight a quick disguise generally did the trick. Didnt hurt that she was actively aiding the players against a circle of Abyssals. Cant brain wash the population with demon bug food if they are all dead.

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