Munchinking up some NPCs

First of all, if you play in my Sunday game at the Brooklyn Strategist (Andrew) then stop reading.

OK. The party has recently been tussling with a large assassins’ guild in my campaign. They’ve been pretty smart about witnesses and make good use of disguise, Charm Person, and the Gnomish Trickster’s illusions so the assassins aren’t really sure who’s been hitting them so hard. That’s about to change.
I’ve decided that the party is renowned enough that the guild will hire another adventuring party to take them out. Therefore I need some advice on NPC creation to make for a good fight.

The party includes:

Tweedles, lvl 5 Gnomish Trickster
Morven Glittergrabber, lvl 5 Dwarven Craftpriest (with belt of Giant Strength)
Barjik, lvl 5 Paladin
Strum of Strudl, lvl 5 Barbarian
Vito, lvl 7 Thief

There are also ten or so henchmen, 100 mercenaries a longship and two galleys.

I have some ideas for master killers (Anti-Paladin, Mage and Assassin all being obvious) but would love to get some advice. Bonus points for items/spells/proficiencies combo-ing in cool ways.

Assassin polearm-charge backstab in the first round is bad news, especially followed by cleaves. For bonus points, add poison, Giant Strength, Fighting Style Two-Hander, Haste or Swift Sword (I forget if that’s other-targetable)… Our assassins and thieves typically charge into backstab; we rationalize it as the ‘prison-yard rush’ school of backstabbing.

Combat Trickery Knockdown also combos nicely with backstabbing; a two-weapon whip or flail tripper (or both? Can you do that? If not, get a spear for the other hand and do the double-damage charge on the first round) in plate with Knockdown Trickery and Fighting Style Two Weapon is an assassin’s best friend. Could work on the antipaladin if they have access to CT:Knockdown - we usually just use fighter henchmen for this.

Jedavis’s suggestions are amazing. (Swift sword is not other-targetable, sadly).

At the mid-levels, fireball, hypnotic pattern, and stinking cloud tend to be murderous, and various illusion spells can be quite nasty.

My typical party-elimination tactic is a mage with invisibility and inaudibility casting fireball, immediately followed by a charge by his nearby comrades into the now weakened party.

I’ve always wanted to see a group of Zaharan Ruinguard charge into battle riding basilisks. Any problem can be solved through vigorous use of animal husbandry.

Classes with weak early levels or insanely high XP requirements are the most likely to work as guided missiles.

In general, though, I’m not sure I would care enough to optimize my NPCs for this kind of situation. It seems to me that your goal is ‘create an adventuring party capable of challenging your party’, which doesn’t require that it be equal-level or any such thing.

Given the hundred mercenaries your party has, the NPC guild has only two real options; stealth assassins or pitched battle.

Hiring 5 5th level characters for a month (by henchman monthly fees) would cost 2,000 gp. (400 gp per). The same 2000 gp could get you 166 heavy infantry. This isn’t a huge advantage over the party’s mercenaries, and therefore as an intelligent and risk-averse guildmaster, my choice would be to attack by stealth.

Thus, a recommended stealth party.

  • Mage: Invisibility, Inaudibility, scrying spells, and nukes. Everyone needs a mage.
  • Assassin: Probably obvious reasons.
  • Elven Nightblade: It’s like a mage and an assassin in one!
  • Elven Ranger or Explorer: If the party is ambushed in the wilderness, their ability to disappear into the undergrowth is almost as good as invisibility.
  • Shaman: A 5th level shaman can shapeshift into his animal totem. Select a flying totem and scout for the ambushers.

This group of 5 NPCs can follow the PCs and ambush them when they are weak, ideally when they are returning to town from a dungeon. They’ll be low on supplies, low on HP, possibly with some party members mortally wounded. And if the PCs remain too strong for the ambushers to deal with, they can sabotage supplies, spook animals, and so on, all of which is vastly more effective in the wilderness than it would be in a city.

My players two campaigns ago were working on both ankheg cavalry and rust monster cavalry. Animal husbandry is indeed a dangerous thing.

For maximum impact, they might plan their attack for during a party’s dungeon delving, when the party and their mercenaries are separated.

If they’re video-game villains, you might go ahead and have them just show up somewhere in the depths of the dungeon, when the PCs are low on supplies and far from help…

More likely, they could try butchering the 100 mercenaries while the PCs are away to even the odds up a bit. Plus that works for a bit of nice storytelling too: “You emerge from the necromancer’s tomb, eager to once again experience the smell of air untainted by blood and smoke, and inhale deeply, only to be severely disappointed.”

These are all great suggestions. Tonally I’m looking to create a kind of kung-fu movie vibe where the party has a series of encounters (separated by days, weeks or hours) with villains who have interesting schticks.

I could see the Anti-Paladin tripstar charging into battle with a crew of uparmored assassin henches. He charges in and knocks people over and his lackeys put the boot in.

An invisible, inaudible mage who chose the right spells could conceivably be a part of all the encounters without the PCs even knowing at first…

I should probably work up the total syndicate income of the Shrouded Eye to see what an appropriate bounty would be. The PCs have been hurting them pretty bad.

Hmm, tricky. Engagements in ACKS tend to be decisive in my experience, especially if the party is focusing fire. They usually pursue retreating opponents unless they’re badly injured - of course, if you know your players do this, use it to mount an ambush on the lead elements of their pursuit.

jedavis won this thread on the first reply. All you need to make that happen is an Elven Nightblade. Throw in some assassin henchmen, maybe a mage and some monsters to round up the anti-party.

If you want to go the Antipaladin or Zaharan Ruinguard route, make them undead, and give them lesser undead henchmen. After The Flesh FTW.