Lair Assault: Attack of the Tyrantclaw – Round-up

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 8, 2012

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!

The Party

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.

Equipment

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.

Resources

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).

Combat Tactics

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.

DM Tactics

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?
Two DMs

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.

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?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Colin May 8, 2012 at 10:06 am

Hello again! The game was great fun.

I’ve done a bit more research regarding the Pixie Music Box. The power affects “natural beasts”.

From the Rules Compendium, a beast are “ordinary animals or creatures akin to them. They behave instinctively”. From this definition, you could rule out any animal with Intelligence (more than 3 Int). I have seen the stats of the monsters, so I’m not sure who that would affect. “Ordinary animals” I guess would depend on the setting, so there is a lot of leeway there.

Natural creatures are “native to the natural world”, so again it would depend on the setting. I think someone said that the dinosaurs were not natural, but were transformed from something else? I think that would make them not natural but Alteration or Transmuted perhaps.

2 Joe Lastowski May 8, 2012 at 10:55 am

This Lair Assault combined D&D, dinosaurs, and tower defense games, so I was sold the second it was announced. I didn’t get to run it, but played it a coupled times. Here’s what I found:

- since the island is in the Feywild, it seems like all the dinos are native to the Feywild and not the natural world, which would sort of eliminate the PMB option. Though their stat blocks classify them as Natural Beasts, so I’d say it’s up to the DM. Certainly the Tyrantclaw shouldn’t be affected by it. I’d say that the orcs could certainly take an action to command the dinos to attack, and certainly attacking them should break the spell (as it does for every cleric and bard zone-of-peace type power).
- speaking of the feywild, don’t forget that fey-origin characters gain an additional +1 to attack in this module
- we found caltrops (from Mordenkainen’s) to be a great thing to spend any extra gold on. For 10 gold you get a square that must be treated as difficult terrain or slow the creature passing it (save ends). We lined the outside of the area with 80 squares of them or so before the ritual started, which slowed down all but the flying dinos for at least a round.
- the orcs’ real issue was that “take a standard action when you die” power. We used a lot of damaging zones or effects that slowed them so that we could kill them from a few squares away but still avoid the death charge.
- I believe the module says that when the T-Rex shows up, any other dinosaur who is bloodied will flee. Our DM ran it that they (and the orcs) attacked us normally, then fled if they got bloodied.
- Our DM also ran the T-Rex with an “attack the nearest piece of food” mentality. Usually that was a PC, but when it was an equal distance to a PC or orc, he rolled a die and determined it randomly.
- we used all boxes in our games. The other options were just too expensive.
- The Belt of Sonnlinor Righteousness was an awesome last-minute thing to throw at the tyrantclaw, because as he bit me for huge damage to knock me below 0 HP, I activated the daily power, which deals the same damage back to the attacker. I was a high charisma character at the time, so I sang Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” as this happened.
- The Earth Elementalist Sorcerer’s ability to slow targets with his elemental bolt was awesome in neutralizing the flyers.

Unlike the Talon of Umberlee, which was just ridiculous damage on top of ridiculous damage, Attack of the Tyrantclaw was lots and lots of fun. Sure, it was challenging, and sure, the dinos hit pretty hard… but you expect a dinosaur to do lots of damage. I also liked that there were no insta-kills (like last season with falling off the boat).

3 Sentack May 8, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I’ve run two instances of Lair Assault. Talon and this one with almost the exact same group. 5 Twin-Striking Drow Rangers. Let me say that, this group obliterated Talon without breaking a sweet and lost to Tyrantclaw due to just a little bad luck. Honestly, what most likely killed them was the fact that they didn’t know the trick about the Dinosaurs after Turn 4. Had they known that, they would have destroyed this Lair Assault with ease.

One player built all 5 of the same character. Twin Striking Drow Rangers with “Spitting-Cobra Stance” (Get an immediate interrupt attack against any target that moves closer until the end of the encounter) basically meant they got at least 2 attacks a round, with one being Twin Strike. They were almost able to wipe out each wave before the next one reached the table.

Insult to injury, the group had 3 people who are relatively new to D&D. The build was just that damn good. They were defeated but barely. If I ran it again for that same group, I don’t think it would even be a challenge.

4 Feeroper May 8, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I ran the the T-Rex as I did the other dinos. If she is inclined to attack the party as a dino, then I figured since the other dinos were just transformed natives from that island, then that means they would be of a like mind by the same transformation magic unlocked from the obelisk. Thats how I saw it anyways. I did have the T-rex crush a few orcs in order to get a bunch of the PC’s though.

The PMB is not specific enough in its description, so I felt like I would be cheating if I tried to rule my way around it. If this was my home game, then maybe I could flavour it differently depending, but since it is LA, I didnt want to turn that item around just so it made it easier for me. The way it is written, if taken at face value, means it will work on Natural creatures, which the dinosaurs are classified as. The closest I came to turning the effect around would have been to argue that the Dino’s are actually not natural in that they are the island natives transformed by magic. However, since “Natural” is in the stat block for the monsters, it just felt like a cheat to me.

Honestly, I think as a DM playing with a group of players who have played this season already or have DM’ed it previously, the key is to focus on Hyacinth as much as possible. I managed to get her down a fair bit, and if it werent for the smart (and excessive) crate placement by the PC’s at the beginning then I would have gotten to her much earlier. I suggest bringing those Orc Storm Casters in as early as possible, on the Pterydactyls if needed, that way you can get off their encounter burst power right away that will work towards weakeneing the defenses placed around her as well as taking her down a couple, then spam the lightning bolts as long as you can before the 5th round hits. If I was running this again i would bring the Casters out on the Pterydactyls on the first round as opposed to later. I also feel like I let the boxes interrupt me more than I should have, and I hesitated throwing my ground forces at her. One or two more good hits and she would have been toast!

Once 5th round hits, its a war of endurance, so a well prepared and tacticaly sound party can win out in the end. A party with multiple PMB’s will utterly dominate the map from that point.

It is certainly a big job to DM this LA with the amount of action happening on the map, and I agree that a secondary DM would be a good thing to come in with. I was lucky enough to have Derek there as a player who could assist with some DM duties as needed, but overall the LA was really fun. It was a great concept and really felt like they are doing new and interesting things with the format despite a couple hiccups.

Ive only been able to DM LA for these first 3 seasons thus far, so Id like to play it next season as well as run it. I really like the whole “Rise of the Underdark” theme they are launching so Im really looking forward to see what the next 2 LA’s are like.

5 Sunyaku May 9, 2012 at 7:03 pm

I limited the Pterydactyls to two full movements before dropping players, but since the mod said all of the dinosaurs were intelligent, I always dropped players into the boiling oil… except for one time I dropped a player onto the pointed obelisk just for lulz.

This became the theme song of our Lair Assault sessions (NSFW, adult Youtube credentials required: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHpDPuh8A2Q)

To make sense of the mod, I decided that the tyrantclaw orcs greatly revere the dinosaurs, so they positioned themselves in synchrony with the dinosaurs, so there was no reason for the T-Rex to attack. After the T-Rex was out, bloodied dinosaurs fled, but orcs fought to protect their demi-god T-Rex from defilers until the T-Rex was dead.

No one at our table attempted the pixie music box, but I probably would have found a DM reason to nerf it. This is not a normal island, and not normal beasts. Intelligent creatures would not be so easily affected in the same way that “music soothes the savage beast”.

I used a direction die to determine which way the waves came onto the map from, but if players had attempted nightmare mode, I decided that I would choose the directions to be the most devious. It seems silly that orcs watching from the jungle would not optimize their assault to counter whatever the players were trying to do.

As far as the T-Rex is concerned, I had the orcs stay out of the way, so it mostly attacked players and other dinosaurs. The dinosaurs mostly from trample attacks, though. If the players failed to protect Hyacinth, I decided that primal energies would burst fourth and turn all of the orcs and PCs in the area INTO DINOSAURS. If humanoids were transmuted into dinosaurs, then the whole “intelligent dinosaurs” theme makes a lot more sense… and would also add to my argument against the PMB.

In general, I do not allow single items to overcome a Lair Assault challenge, and I will do everything within a DM’s power to maintain the integrity of the challenge. For example, the winning party wanted to start with their characters in the boiling oil, because they wanted to start off with regen from their daily armor ability. I ruled that they could not start there, because there would be no reason to waste their powers until AFTER a threat was established.
Sunyaku´s last blog post ..Review: 15th Anime Central Convention

6 Sunyaku May 9, 2012 at 7:07 pm

I’d also like to note that I consistently had orc casters roll athletics checks LIKE A BOSS to climb the empty towers (players never really used these, to my surprise) and rain down death unscathed.

I also found it better to use the Triceratops wave first. This way there are fewer dinosaurs around when the T-Rex pops anyways.
Sunyaku´s last blog post ..Review: 15th Anime Central Convention

7 Greg Bilsland June 23, 2012 at 2:51 am

I really enjoyed reading everyone’s conclusions and wrap-up comments about Attack of the Tyrantclaw. Thanks for the feedback. Chris Perkins worked on the next two—Spiderkiller and ______. I’ll be back with one late this year that should provide some interesting new challenges—and might be the deadliest yet.

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