Lair Assault – The New Gold Standard for D&D Adventures

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on September 30, 2011

During the past week I had the pleasure of experiencing Lair Assault: Forge of the Dawn Titan as both a player and DM. Not only did this adventure live up to the incredibly high expectations I created in my mind, but it exceeded them completely. In my opinion this is one of the best, most entertaining D&D adventures I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing or running. This is the standard by which I’m going to compare all future adventures from Wizards of the Coast. They’ve almost done themselves a disservice by setting the bar so incredibly high. Topping this is going to be tough.

Before continuing I want to assure those of you who haven’t yet played Lair Assault that there won’t be any spoilers herein. I don’t think the details and observations I present will shock anyone or ruin their experience the first time thorough. My intent is not to provide a play-by-play of what happened. If you’re interested in that, check out the actual play podcast below. (Warning, this podcast reveals a lot of Lair Assault’s secrets). Today I’m going to share my overall thoughts on the adventure now that I’ve actually had a chance to play it.

Equipment

Coming into this adventure as a player for the first time can be overwhelming. You (hopefully) don’t know what to expect. All you know is that it’s going to be difficult. You’ve created a level 5 PC, tried your best to optimize him, and now you’re ready to rock.

With so many item choices at your fingertips choosing the best can be one of the most difficult choices you have to make in or out of game. Just because you can take a level 6, 5 and 4 item doesn’t mean that you must take a level 6, 5, and 4 item. Items can be these levels or lower. Don’t be afraid to take a level 3, 2 or 1 item in place of your level 4 item slot. Choosing items with useful powers and properties can be better than items with just a straight up bonus to attacks or defenses.

For example, Dwarven armor +1 is a level 2 item and it allows you to regain hit points as a free action. This will likely be more valuable than regular +2 armor. Sure your AC suffers by 1, but I think that the healing trumps that.

Also consider using your level 6 or 5 item slot to take a wondrous item or an item for your head, feet, waist, hands or arms. You don’t have to take a weapon, armor and neck item as your level 6, 5 and 4 items. A Power Jewel is a good level 5 item that allows you to regain a level 1 or level 3 encounter power. If that power heals or grants temporary hit points regaining it could be useful.

You can spend your other 840 gp on anything else including up to two consumables. If you can afford it, take a Potion or Regeneration and a Potion of Healing or two Potions of Healing. Trust me, you’ll need them. [Edit: It was brought to my attention that a Potion of Regeneration is a level 9 item. You can only purchase consumables up to your level, so it's not a legal option for this adventure. My mistake. Stick with two Potions of Healing.] At level 5 most PC have a healing surge value around 10 hit points anyway so it’s not like you lose a lot by drinking the potion.

Earn glory

At the beginning of the session the DM is supposed to distribute Glory tracking cards. The card lists all the things you can do during the adventure (including dying) that can earn you Glory. Study the card closely as it may give you some clues about what to expect or what to look for during the assault.

Know your place on the team

As soon as initiative is rolled and the game begins things can quickly go to hell. It’s important that everyone play their role. If you’re role is leader then your primary job is to keep the party alive and on their feet. Your job is not to engage monsters by yourself. Those in the defender role should engage and lock down as many monsters as possible. If you want to do lots of damage play a striker, otherwise get out of the way and let the real strikers do their job. As soon as you take on a role that your character is not designed for there’s going to be chaos. The only way to be successful in Lair Assault is to work together as a team. Everyone is relying on you to do you job. If you do something else, everyone will pay for your grandstanding.

Assuming that everyone plays their role it’s time to look at the bigger picture and address teamwork. The party has to behave like team. If you don’t work together you’re toast. I’d strongly recommend that the party designates a leader (not necessarily the person playing a leader class). Whenever the party needs to decide which way to go, which monster to focus fire on, when to flee or when to turnaround and try a new path the “leader” has final say. Without a leader the players will spend a lot of time bickering over what to do. No one wants to back down because everyone thinks they’re right and things get worse before they get better. Having a leader to settle these disagreements should keep things running smoothly.

Making the most of your resources

If the party does run into trouble (and they will) you’re going to need a lot of healing. Without ample healing resources most parties will die fast and horribly. It doesn’t matter that your PC has a lot of healing surges or not, triggering those surges is the issue. Most leaders have two healing power per encounter. Once those are gone all you’ve got left is your second wind and possibly Healing Potions. Be mindful of this during character creation and strongly consider choosing items, feats or powers that let you heal or gain temporary hit points. Many of the character I saw at the table took a multi-class feat from a leader class. It’s well worth it.

The best way to avoid the healing surge problem is to avoid taking a lot of damage in the first place. Using your most powerful abilities early can make a huge difference. Since this is one giant encounter any effects that last until the end of the encounter will be active the entire session (unless you fall unconscious). Be sure to use your encounter and daily powers as quickly as possible. This also goes for action points. Don’t hold out for the perfect moment to use those actions pints. Use them when they’ll help you most, even if it’s just to move or take another minor action. Don’t hold back.

For example, during my game a PC was in desperate need of healing. After attacking and moving he drew a potion as a minor action. He decided that using his action point to consume it was a wasted action point. By the time his turn came around again he was dead, his corpse still grasping the healing potion. He died before he could use his action point or his daily powers. If you’ve got them, use them before it’s too late.

In an adventure like this it’s going to be instinctive to fight the monsters. Remember that killing all of the monsters is not required (unless you’re trying to earn the Glory for accomplishing that task). Remember your role and remember the other things your character is capable of doing. Your skills are your friends and should be relied upon heavily. To start with, make monster knowledge checks. If you learn that the monsters have burst or blast attacks, don’t bunch up. If they have forced movement powers than don’t stand near a ledge or other hazardous terrain. Any time you don’t know what something is, try to identify it. Look for traps and try to deactivate any that threaten the PCs.

Experience required

Lair Assault is not for beginners. I hate turning anyone away from a public play game, but this should not be anyone’s introduction to D&D. For experienced players this is not the time to try something new. Part of what makes this adventure so thrilling is the pace. If you’re playing a new class for the first time you’re going to slow things down. You’re also likely to overlook the little details that your class provides. Stick to what you know and run it like you own it.

Replay value

Wizard expects that 80% of parties will suffer a TPK their first time through. All three of the sessions I’ve witnessed suffered a TPK. The advantage of this kind of adventure is that it’s designed to be played over and over again. The DM can and will adjust the types of monsters and their location within the dungeon each time so there is an element of surprise. However, some things remain the same each time, including the layout, the traps and the natural hazards. So there is a lot of value in playing it more than once.

After you’ve played Forge of the Dawn Titan you will be armed with knowledge. Before attempting the adventure again you can create a brand new character or tweak your existing one. You can do this after each attempt whether you were successful or not.

The sessions we played this week took about two hours of real-time before the PCs were all killed. Some of the players didn’t know their character very well which slowed things down considerably. If you’re playing with a group of experienced player who really know their character than I’m guessing that you can get through it in about 90 minutes, less if you’re killed.

Podcasts

During my first stint as the DM for Lair Assault I recorded the entire adventure. If you haven’t yet played this adventure than I’d recommend that you not listen until you do. This podcast will reveal a lot of the secrets of the adventure (but not all of them).

After the adventure I sat down with the other DM and we talked about what we liked and disliked about the adventure, how the players at our table handled challenges and some of the strategies that we used. Again, if you haven’t yet played Forge of the Dawn Titan then I suggest you hold off listening to this Podcast until you run through the adventure at least once.

Have you played Lair Assault: Forge of the Dawn Titan? How did you do? How much Glory have you earned so far? Share your best moments from Lair Assault below. Please try to keep them spoiler-free or at least warn readers that you’re going to give away details so they can skip your comment.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pedro Rodrigues September 30, 2011 at 10:56 am

Lair Assault is NOT an adventure, its just another spin-off from 4th Ed rules mechanism, like the boardgames, the miniature games and the card driven game being play-tested.

Its like comparing an FPS to an RPG; its entertaining, yes, and baffling why they took so long to come up with it (perhaps to cool down the MMORPG rep), but to claim it as the standard for proper RPG adventures is completely missing the point.

2 Liack September 30, 2011 at 11:09 am

Seems more like a DnD Encounter event, with the it being a long one-shot encounter rather than multiple encounters. Now I am conflicted, since I would want to run it, but I’ve never played with strangers, and usually am on a schedule. Arrrgh! Don’t tempt me like that, Ameron! :p

3 ogehn September 30, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I have run the Lair assault 3 times and enjoyed changing things each time.
I haven’t done it myself but I think, other than monster selection, if they can provide options for room effects or traps (one or two perhaps). Changing even minor things to the lair does add a bit more as I have changed flavor text to throw off the PC’s.

Also I think 20 turns to finish the ritual is a bit long. Each time I have run the Lair Assault the PC’s usually make it the last room well before 20 turns.

The three times I have run it have also been TPK. First time the PC’s were barely alive and died entering the room. The last two attempts the PC’s make it to the end and monster changes defeated them. Had the 8 minions attack the group that had no Controller, it was a slaughter.

My only problem is not the Lair but current players in the area. There are people who want to play, unfortunately only two ever made characters and the rest wanted Pre-mades (which I made last minute during the first attempt). Wonder if other groups had to deal with this.

4 Mike September 30, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Corrections:

The Power Jewel requires that you have reached a milestone before you can use it. Not a useful item.

You cannot buy a potion of regeneration. You are allowed to purchase two consumables of your level or less. A level 9 consumable is illegal.

And if you’re wearing heavy armor, using a +1 item instead of a +2 item actually lowers your AC by 2 because of the masterwork qualities.

5 Ameron (Derek Myers) September 30, 2011 at 12:45 pm

@Mike
Power Jewel must have been updated because the entry in the compendium doesn’t have any restrictions or conditions regarding milestones.

You’re right about the consumables. I didn’t realize that they couldn’t be above level 5. So the Potion of Regeneration is out. Go with two Potions of Healing.

I always forget about the Master Work AC bump. So you’re right again there’s a 2 point swing on AC. I’d say that makes the choice probably about even. Avoid a couple of hit (thereby not needing the healing) or take the hits but have the power to heal as a free action when you need it most. If your party is light on healers then I’d go wit the higher AC. If you’ve got a lot of heals to go around I’d say go with the free heal.

6 Alphastream September 30, 2011 at 12:59 pm

@Pedro – can you tell me where “Adventure” is defined? Is this any different than something found in, say, AD&D’s Book of Lairs? This is absolutely an adventure. It has a story, it has a place to explore, foes, and a conclusion. Because the time pressure is in rounds, you can actually RP all you want. But, of course, this is a delve-style adventure where the idea is to focus on the mechanical challenge. That doesn’t mean it isn’t an adventure… it just is limited in scope and focused on one type of experience.

Great review. It really is interesting how many people are enjoying Lair Assault. I’m not a big fan of delves, but I had a really great time playing LA.

7 Mike September 30, 2011 at 1:00 pm

My Adventurer’s Vault has the requirement on page 176, and I don’t see any reference to the change in the errata for AV. Odd that it’s not mentioned in the compendium. What about the Character Builder? The offline one has the Special note.

8 Pedro Rodrigues September 30, 2011 at 1:38 pm

@Alphastream

My definition of adventure at least is much broader than an extended encounter.

In that context, you can also consider any single encounter an adventure, or the scenarios of CR, WoA or Legend of Drizzt an “adventure”; i do not, and i believe many also do not.

And even if that is the case, how can an adventure “limited in scope and focused on one type of experience” be a gold standard for other adventures? Such an adventure should excel on different levels, not only the limited ones that Lair (admittedly well) does.

9 Thorynn September 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Isn’t it 840 GP as starting gold? Sorry to nitpik

10 Randilin September 30, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I’ve played twice now and beaten it once, it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it. For me it lacked the store aspect of a really good game. It felt like the whole store had already taken place and now I was running in to fight a boss in a video game.

I’ll play them as they come out and even run them. But I certainly hope it doesn’t become the standard for new modules from WotC. Maybe the standard for the final encounters, but honestly I want to play out the stuff leading up to it, I want to tell that store and not just the story of the final fight.

11 Skeeter September 30, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Pedro –
I would consider the “adventures” in Castle Ravenloft to be “adventures.” There is a story, a threat, an objective, and success or failure. That’s an adventure in my book!

12 Kiel Chenier September 30, 2011 at 7:17 pm

All in all, after listening to the podcast, with the right group of people, Lair Assault could be a lot of fun.

However, it also removes from play a lot of what I like about ‘Dungeons & Dragons’.

For my entire opinion on D&D Lair Assault, follow the link below:

13 Pedro Rodrigues October 1, 2011 at 10:42 am

I received the new adventure “Madness at Gardmore Abbey” and after looking through the contents, reading through the first 2 books (which contain the background and description of the locations and NPCs, as well as all the info regarding the Deck of Many Things) and skimming through the other two books that contain the encounters, I would say that THIS is the new gold standard for adventures.

This package has it all: a fantastic, sandbox adventure with plenty of details, interesting NPCs each with their agendas, interesting encounters with some unusual situations, an artifact with actual, physical elements, with a very interesting mechanism that influences the adventure and, true to its nature, even randomizes elements of it, for a very unique experience.

It also contains not only tokens and maps, but tiles as well, increasing the value and reuse of the components; the books don’t only constitute a single big adventure, but are structured in such way that there are at least 5 smaller, independent adventures within that can be played unrelated to the main one, and easily integrated in any campaign.

The deck effects are very interesting, and not resumed to the complete artifact; each card can affect all encounters, giving them an aspect of unpredictability: more, this unpredictability extends to the adventure itself, as there is a preparation step which will randomize several aspects of the entire adventure according to how the cards turn out, literally .

While it will still be some time until I can introduce this adventure into my campaign, it will most definately will, and I can’t wait; its THAT good.

14 Carda October 1, 2011 at 10:53 am

I’ve run Lair Assault three times now, and the party succeeded once, thanks to one player “borrowing” his character build from the CharOp forum. (And then he went and gloated about it in the same thread afterwards. Kind of a slap in the face, really.)

Your point that the party needs to work together as a team is absolutely correct. The last game I ran (a couple of weeks ago, thanks to my FLGS having schedule conflicts with the release events for the new Magic set), one of my players told me that I didn’t TPK them, because I didn’t even need to be there. The party was doing a fine job of doing themselves in, he said. And given that one player kept opening doors to see what was behind them, apparently unaware of the fact that the monsters could open the doors themselves once they were activated, I could kind of see his point.

I’m looking forward to running another session soon, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to force my party to go through the one room they habitually avoid.

15 Astrolounge October 1, 2011 at 11:56 pm

I just played through Lair Assault for the first time. I was using a Deva Pacifist cleric with a feat that caused him to gain temps equal to his Wisdom modifier whenever he took cold or fire damage. In an adventure in a volcano, where virtually everything does fire damage. I also popped Moment of Glory right away over the whole party for Resist 5 all which I sustained for the whole encounter. Effectively meaning that I couldn’t be damaged by anything that did less than 10 in one shot. Then I got attacked by the fire elemental that causes ongoing 10 fire. I activated Armor of Sudden Recovery’s daily power that ends an ongoing damage condition and gives you regeneration equal to the value of the ongoing until the end of the encounter. Now I was regenerating 10 per round ON TOP of having Resist 5 and gaining 5 temps pretty much whenever I took damage. I could actually stand in lava for the 20 damage every round and suffer no net loss. I didn’t even get bloodied during the adventure, let alone have to spend a surge. And since I didn’t have to spend any healing on myself, I could spend it on my allies. Nobody even died. We’re playing it on nightmare next time.

16 Lahrs October 2, 2011 at 11:06 am

We have been alternating Lair Assault with LFR every Saturday. When it comes to the D&D programs at our store, Lair Assault sits in the middle, with LFR being on top and Encounters on the bottom when it comes to enjoyment and numbers.

Between all of our tables, we had 6 TPK’s. That was until yesterday and our most experienced team went through and beat the entire encounter in 4 rounds. We played again and beat it in 6 rounds on Nightmare. Now that the challenge is gone, we plan on running through one more time on Commando (no magic items) and then shelve Forge of the Dawn Titans.

For us, this season of Lair Assault is over because we have so thoroughly mastered it, but we had such a great time doing so that we are very eager to play next season. Playing LFR and Encounters has the DM judging and telling a story, which is a wonderful style of play and by far my favorite. LA really opened up the DM vs. players. Not an aspect I want to routinely play or DM in, but it is a very fresh way of playing. The DMs gleefully TPKed groups, and nobody felt bad or cheated. Once we finally succeeded, there was a huge sense of accomplishment.

Teamwork has been mentioned a few times, and LA has proved to be such an invaluable tool that Encounters had not been able to convey. In Encounters, and even LFR, there is little in the way of focus fire and coming up with fun strategies to synergize abilities. In the end, our groups were moving as one solid unit, delaying turns, holding actions, using potions and healing on each other. The adventures become a solid unit and not just a group of single players.

@ogehn I do not understand the desire to play pre-gens in Lair Assault, as the whole point is to make the best character you can. I would have no problem helping someone make a great character as it would be a great opportunity to players see all the cool things they can do.

20 turns does seem like a lot, but on one play through the group did lose by running out of time.

17 Kiel Chenier October 2, 2011 at 11:13 am

@Lahrs Regarding pre-gen character sheets. There’s a decent portion of players who, a) don’t have access to the materials required to make characters on their own, b) don’t give a cuss about making characters to begin with.

I’ll see what I can do to accommodate this need in the future.

18 QuackTape October 2, 2011 at 1:48 pm

@Mike – Good call on the masterwork armor. I totally forgot that was an option and it certainly would help my poor PCs who keep getting beaten up.

@Ogehn – I also have many players who don’t want to make there own PCs for various reasons. I have at this point 10 or so that I made, including 5 Tieflings (in case someone wanted to go for that Glory).

19 Sunyaku October 2, 2011 at 9:43 pm

I’ve run Lair Assault 6 times now. Only one party survived. BTW — Noble Theme is a must for an extra level 6 magic item. :-D I have been blogging about various aspects of Lair Assault rather extensively this month… here is link to a portal of all of the Lair Assault content thus far:

http://heroesofshadow.com/2011/lair-assault-forge-of-the-dawn-titan.html

20 Astrolounge October 3, 2011 at 2:17 am

@Sunyaku: Noble is great, but Wizard’s Apprentice also works, especially if you want a level 6 implement instead of a weapon.

21 Al October 3, 2011 at 10:42 am

@Astrolounge: How did you gain regen 10 when you were resist 5? Isn’t that a little like having your cake and eating it too? Also, fire isn’t the only damage type in the assault.

22 Lahrs October 3, 2011 at 12:36 pm

@Kiel Chenier – Fair enough. Out of our three tables, nobody wanted a pre-gen, so I didn’t think it through enough to see other people may want them. We still all bring our books to our sessions in case some do not have access to the materials. Once the player makes a character, either they can continue with their own character sheet or one of us who has Insider will go home and print out their new character.

@Al
SPOILER if you haven’t played it before.

The Fire Elemental does 10 ongoing fire damage. The armor of Sudden Recovery has a daily ability that automatically ends ongoing damage and changes it to ongoing regeneration. So, hit by fire elemental, change the ongoing to regen and you now have fire resist (with the right race or ability) and regen 10. Only Mordai Vell uses different power types (psychic and force) which negates fire resistance, but the regen 10 definitely helps make up for it. Every other creature does fire or untyped damage, so it is best to stack up against that.

That is what I was talking about earlier, once you figure out the secrets, the game is ridiculously easy. It may take many play throughs to find out the secrets, which is where the fun is at. We may have TPK’d quite a few times, but it was great.

23 Ameron (Derek Myers) October 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm

@Lahrs
One of the worst kept secrets in Forge of the Dawn Titan is the abundance of fire damage. Once the Sudden Recovery armor tactic became widely known I made a point of redeploying my monsters and not using the Fire Elemental in the first room. There are other monsters that deal ongoing fire, but it’s only 5. So as the PCs get pounded they have to decide if they should trigger the power on the armor the first time they have ongoing fire damage and only get 5 regen or wait until hey encounter the Elemental in order to get 10 regen. In the game I ran the PCs never encountered the Elemental because they didn’t go in the room he was guarding.

24 Sunyaku October 3, 2011 at 10:17 pm

@Ameron I also stopped putting the fire elemental in the first room for that reason. Often I put him next to the bejeweled statue at the far end of the rune hall. ;-)

25 Kosmolio October 4, 2011 at 8:55 am

Played through Lair Assault for the first time tonight. Half the party died but we were victorious. The DM wasn’t rolling too hot though. Overall I am really impressed with it.

26 Al October 4, 2011 at 10:51 am

Please remember that armor of sudden recovery is cloth or leather only. So you’ll gain regeneration but probably lose allot of AC.

@Lahrs if you have resist fire 5 and get hit with ongoing fire 10 you are taking ongoing 5 not 10.

27 Lahrs October 5, 2011 at 8:45 am

Al, I am not sure if you meant that as a comment to the armor of sudden recovery. Even if you are only taking 5 damage (or 4 in our case) due to the resistance, you still have ongoing 10, therefore the ongoing regen is 10 and not 5.

The last time we ran through, we had 4 Genasi wizard/artificer hybrids and one Genasi barbarian who was optimized for strength checks. Our wizards defenses were 17, 19, 21, 17 (with lightning reflexes) and 19, 19, 19, 17 (with unarmored defense). So yeah, the AC was a bit low, but the majority of attacks target reflex, so it wasn’t too bad. You could put plate mail on the wizards if you wanted to improve AC. Even though it is untrained and you take penalties from that, magic missile is auto damage, so it wouldn’t affect wizard damage output.

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