The third Lair Assault has almost run its course and we finally got a chance to run a few sessions at my FLGS. I’m going to assume by now that anyone who is interested in Lair Assault has already played Attack of the Tyrantclaw. That being the case this article will contain a lot of spoilers so that I can speak to direct problems, issues, and tactics. Hopefully it will help DMs who plan to run this adventure again and it will inspire players who haven’t yet defeated the Orcs on Dinosaurs.
There was plenty of interest in playing this season but we had a lot of trouble arranging a time that worked for all of our regulars. By the time we finally got around to playing it was mid-April and the season was half over. But this actually turned out to be a good thing. As the DM for the first event I was able to search the internet for tips and tricks before I ran the first game and am I ever glad I did. Reading about some of the problems other tables experienced gave me time to review some of the rules and be ready to make the right call if similar situations occurred at my table.
Below are tips, tricks, and advice for players and DMs. We’ve also got recordings of three session of Lair Assault: Attack of the Tyrantclaw below for anyone who was unable to play this season themselves but wants to hear how much fun it was to fight Dinosaurs and try to survive. The first two sessions (which I ran as the DM) resulted in TPKs. The third session (in which I played) we won. Enjoy and good luck!
Although you don’t have to kill all the monsters in order to defeat this lair assault killing a lot of them will certainly make things easier. That being said I strongly encourage you to bring a few strikers with you. In the three times I’ve seen this adventure played it’s never lasted more than seven rounds. That doesn’t give each characters a lot of actions so it’s important that the attack actions actually hit and score a lot of damage when they do.
The party should have a couple of strikers. They should be strikers that hit hard. I like Rangers using Twin Strike and Sorcerers (especially the new Elementalist build). Rogues should be completely discounted as it will be too difficult to guarantee that they get combat advantage every round. A striker who can’t deal his extra damage is useless. Assuming you’ve got a ranged striker or two place at least one on top of the battlement and have at it. They’re more likely to draw the attention of the flying Dinosaurs so be ready for it. Take powers, feats, or items with will either keep you grounded, allow you to escape easily or soften your landing. Anyone on the battlement will be too far away from leaders to get healed so you need to be self sufficient when it comes to healing.
Every PC must have the means to heal themselves aside from Second Wind. Potions are good but they require actions to draw and consume, not to mention a free hand. Personally I like to multiclass into a leader so that you can heal yourself or an ally with a minor action. If your class offers powers that let you or allies spend a surge, strongly consider taking it. Regeneration is good, but remember that most regeneration doesn’t work unless you’re bloodied and won’t help you if you fall unconscious. Temporary hit points can be better than healing powers because they allow healthy PCs to buff up before they even take damage. If you can combine temps with easy healing you should survive any Lair Assault.
If all the PCs can be self sufficient then you may not even need a leader. I’d only discount a leader if your party is very experienced and has a solid game plan. If it’s just five strangers getting together at the FLGS you’ll need a leader or you’re toast.
I think the ideal party would be three strikers, a controller who can control the battlefield and a defender. The defender need to mark the biggest, baddest Dinosaurs and lock them down. If they can mark the flying monsters, so much the better. I also think that five strikers could really do a lot of damage quickly and quite possibly handle this without any of the other roles. They may get killed by they’ll certainly have fun in the process.
Lair Assault is intended to challenge the best of the best. It encourages you to create the most min/maxed, power-gamed character you can possibly imagine. What really separates the men from the boys is item selection. If you really do your homework you’ll find that there are some items that really make a huge difference in Lair Assaults. With this adventure the must-have item is the Pixie Music Box (PMB). For 50 gp any PC can purchase this piece of regular equipment (it’s not even magical!) and keep the Dinosaurs at bay.
For those not familiar with this item here’s the relevant passage from the Compendium.
When the shell is opened, a childlike chorus of pixie voices sounds from within it for the next six hours. While the music is sounding, natural beasts won’t approach or attack anyone in the sound’s area (a 20-square radius).
Any party that activates a PMB should have no trouble overcoming this adventure. However, after a lot of parties used this “cheat” to overcome the challenge DMs took to the internet and tried to come up with ways to counter this uber-powerful item.
The most obvious way to counter the PMB is to destroy it. The Dinosaurs won’t come near it, but the Orcs certainly will. I think it’s safe to say that an unattended PMB has defenses of 10 and 1 hit point. So all it takes is a single Orc to smash it. If a PC decides that he’s going to hold the PMB and protect it we’ve ruled that the PMB will use the PCs defenses and that a hit from a weapon will destroy the PMB but not hurt the PC. Blasts and bursts target everyone including the PMB.
Regardless of how DMs try to counter the PMB it only costs 50 gp so it’s plausible that every PC will have one and in some cases PCs may even have more than one each.
The other option is to alter the way the PMB actually works. Once active the Dinosaurs become passive. If attacked in this state I think that monsters should either get a save to counter the music’s passive influence or get to act normally for 1 round. Of course the DM could just be a jerk and say that thee Dinosaurs are special and cannot be affected by the PMB, but that really seems like a screw you to the players. After all, they didn’t make the item they just found it in the Heroes of the Feywild and saw its potential.
Pixie Music Box aside there are still a lot of things you can do to improve you party’s chances of success. It starts with spending your resource points. At the beginning of the adventure you can purchase boxes or ballista to help you defend Hyacinth. After playing this a few times and reading a lot of the feedback on the forums the overwhelming consensus is that the ballista are next to useless given their cost. At first the magic ballista sounded like a good idea. After all, it amounted to a few attack against the Dinosaurs every round. The problem we faced was that it missed more often than it hit (usually because of poor rolling by us) and even when it hit the damage was only 1d8+3 which averaged around 7. It was nice, but not a game charger at all. If you do go with a ballista place it on top of the ramparts. The will keep it from getting attacked by the majority of creatures.
You’re better off spending your resources to purchase 20 small boxes. Spread them out so that no more than 3 or 4 can ever be targeted with burst 1 or blast 3 attacks. The crates have 20 hit points each and that’s damage better absorbed by a box than a PC. By creating a maze from all the boxes you can control the flow of Orcs without the need for a controller. It also allows defenders to really shine as all the Orcs need to come through them. The crates also work well to keep the land-based Dinosaurs away from Hyacinth initially. Although they can try to climb over the crates it seems more likely that they stop and smash the boxes (at least that’s what happened when we played).
The party gets to decide where to place Hyacinth, however, she must be in a square adjacent to the obelisk. I feel that placing her facing one of the two huts provides a significant advantage. Initially the hut and pools of boiling oil make things difficult for approaching monsters. Add to that the placement of the boxes and things become a lot easier. The monsters will naturally move to attack the Druid head on. If there are still a lot of monsters around at the beginning of the fifth round they’ll be in for a nasty surprise when the tar pits boil over. Say goodbye to any lingering minions.
My favourite tactic when I ran this was to have the flying Dinosaurs grab a PC and fly away with him. Few players realized the danger and didn’t really work that hard to free themselves. I had the monsters fly up at their maximum speed for a couple of rounds and then drop the PC. A dinosaur with a flying speed of 8 that double moves each round will add an additional 80 ft or +8d10 to falling damage. The only way to mitigate falling damage is if you’re trained in Acrobatics or have an item or power that will let you do so. I killed two PCs this way in my first run-through. Dropping them into boiling oil was extreme insult to injury.
My only real criticism about this adventure is that it doesn’t clearly indicate what to do wit the combatants once the T-rex appears. Do the Orcs fight the T-rex or keep fighting the PCs? Does the T-rex consider the Orcs or other Dinosaurs allies or will it attack them (including taking opportunity attacks)? Is the T-rex considered an ally for purposes of flanking? What happens when the T-rex is reduced to 0 hit points if there are still other Orcs and Dinosaurs on the board? Do the PCs have to keep fighting them to win? Do they still need to protect Hyacinth?
I’m not normally a fan of using two DMs but given the quantity of monsters that enter the fray and attack simultaneously this is one adventure when a DM’s assistant might actually be a good thing. With four waves of monsters (five if you count the T-rex) there’s a lot of stuff for any one DM to keep track of. If the party lacks strikers or a decent controller then they won’t kill off the monsters that quickly which means a very crowded battle mat and a lot of work for the DM. Bring a friend and give him half the monsters to run. It will speed things up and likely make things a lot easier for any DM no matter how experienced you are.
Actual Play Podcasts
We managed to play three session of Attack of the Tyrantclaw this season. We’re planning to try and get another run or tow in before month’s end, but for now we stand at three. As mentioned above two parties were wiped out, one was victorious. Listen to what we did right, what we did wrong and some creative and sometimes nasty tactics by the DM.
- Lair Assault – Session 1 (2 hours 59 minutes)
- Lair Assault – Session 2 (2 hours 27 minutes)
- Lair Assault – Session 3 (2 hours 39 minutes)
Have you played Attack of the Tyrantclaw? Did you win? Did you use the Pixie Music Box? How have other DMs handled the PMB? What tactics did you use that worked or didn’t work? What party composition, classes or races would you recommend or not?