It’s Here! – Lair Assault: Into the Pit of Madness

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 25, 2013


Into the Pit of Madness is the very last Lair Assault. The program was cancelled. However, before it goes away we have one final offering. A level 10 extravaganza that players are sure to love despite its difficulty.

For the grand finale Wizards of the Coast provided an adventure that is likely to be the most difficult and challenging Lair Assault yet. The challenge is so immense that it requires PCs to be at the very top of the heroic tier – level 10 – to even have a chance of success. The fate of the world hangs in the balance ensuring that the Lair Assault program ends with a bang, one way or another.

For those unfamiliar with the Lair Assault program it’s a standalone adventure that is designed to challenge elite D&D players, the best of the best. This is one of the rare instances when the DM is truly out to get the players. Most parties will not be successful their first time through, and that’s intentional. These adventures are among the most difficult Wizards has ever produced. But don’t worry, if you suffer a TPK, this program encourages repeat play. Take what you learn the first time through and use that knowledge when you take on the challenge again and again.

Truth be told there is little role-playing in these challenges. They’re tactical combat adventures that reward players with the most optimized and powerful characters. It requires teamwork and coordination. They’re tough but exhilarating. This is the seventh and final installment of Lair Assault. Although I’m sad that this program is ending I’ve had a fantastic time playing and running these challenges.

Into the Pit of Madness was written by Robert J. Schwalb. For those who may not immediately recognize this name, Schwalb is a writer and award-winning game designer. Some of his best-known D&D books include the Dark Sun Campaign Setting and Player’s Handbook 3. Clearly Wizards wanted a heavy-weight to create the last Lair Assault and they certainly got one with Schwalb.

The Challenge

An evil cult is trying to free the Chained God, He of Eternal Darkness. If this happens the world will be thrust into Elemental Chaos and destroyed. The stakes have never been higher.

The final Lair Assault returns to the timed format. The PCs will only have 20 rounds to compete the challenge. Looking at what’s in store I think time will be the biggest obstacle the PCs face this time. The monsters are certainly powerful but nothing experienced players couldn’t defeat if time wasn’t a factor. Knowing that they must defeat opponents quickly I think we’ll see a lot of creative tactics to speed things up.

There are two parts to the adventure, but there is no time to take a short rest between the two. In the first part the PCs face the cultists as they perform their ritual. The cultists may be spell casters but they are not helpless nor without additional protection. Once the cultists are defeated the PCs need to destroy the Essence of Evil before the Chained God is freed from his prison. However it’s not a simple task. The lower level of the dungeon is divided into elemental nodes. The heroes will have to face some or all of the monsters in each of the nodes, possibly on their own as hinted in the Glory tracker below.

When the adventure begins the PCs hear a strange whispering in their minds. They can choose to listen to the words by spending a minor action. Doing so allows them to spend up to two healing surges and regaining the use of two encounter powers. Each time they do this they must roll on the Madness Table and accept one of the eight consequences. For the most part they offer a benefit and a drawback. Don’t worry none of the bad things are instant death, but some really suck. Each time a PCs listens to the whispering they get a different effect up to a maximum of all eight.

This is certainly an interesting way to keep PCs alive long enough to get to the final encounter but beware of negative consequences. There’s a reason Glory is awarded for not accepting any Madness effects and for completing the challenge with three or more.

Character Creation Tips

This is a challenge for level 10 characters. All published D&D sources are legal when it comes to choosing feats, powers, themes and equipment. When equipping your PC you can have one item level 11 or lower, one item level 10 or lower, one item level 9 and 4,200 gp to spend on pretty much anything else. However, you can only have two consumables (level 10 or lower). Don’t forget that magical ammunition counts as a consumable. Only one item in your inventory can be a rare item. This is the standard used for character creation for every Lair Assault so far so this shouldn’t come as any surprise to returning players.

This time around the knowledge skills will be of paramount importance. There is a lot of strange magical stuff going on. You can make checks to try and identify what some of the stuff is and how it works. Some checks can only be attempted by PCs trained in the appropriate knowledge skill, but most just need a really high number (which will be easier to hit if you’re trained). Stealth is almost useless in this challenge unless you’re exceptionally creative. Athletics is always useful for jumping and climbing no matter what kind of challenge is put in front of you. In the Glory tracker it mentions elemental nodes. If you find yourself in the water node you may end up submerged in which case a good Endurance check could be helpful.

When I’ve run and played the last few Lair Assaults a striker-heavy team has done remarkably well. I think Wizards has taken huge steps this time around to reward more balanced parties. There are a lot more minions this time around as well as fights with plenty of combatants. I believe that having a good controller and strong defender in the party will pay off this time a lot more than it did in the previous few assaults. Of course a strong offense is never a terrible idea if you want to stick with all strikers.

When it comes to feats you should consider the most obvious ones first. Choose feats that will increase your defenses, increase your hit points, allow you to heal (most likely a leader multi-class feat), give you resistances, or provide a bonus to your saves.

Smart equipment selection will play a huge part in a successful outcome this time around. Resistances are going to be of paramount importance. Many of the monsters are level 10 or higher which means their damage output is significant. Anything you can do to avoid blows or reduce damage will help. It’s safe to say that when the word Madness is in the adventure’s title some of the monsters will do psychic damage. We also know form the Glory tracker that some or all elemental types will be a part of this challenge so resistances against the four classic energy types should be strongly considered.

Fortune cards are legal for play during Lair Assault. For this challenge there is one really big change regarding Fortune Cards – you can have four copies of the same card in your deck. I don’t know if this will encourage more players to use these cards or not, but it will certainly reduce the random factor.


Since the characters we use for Lair Assault are throw-away characters earning XP isn’t really a meaningful way of rewarding players. Glory is the solution. These points are like video game achievements. You earn 10 Glory points every time you complete a pre-determined objective. Each time you play you can earn more glory since it’s based on the player and not the character.

There is a possible 200 Glory to earn and most of the objectives are well known ahead of time (see the tracker below). There are also four secret objectives that will yield 10 Glory a piece. Your DM will reveal these to you after the adventure is over if you’ve actually done any of them.

DM NOTE: Do not distribute the Glory trackers provided with the adventure! For some reason the four secret awards are already printed on the back. Print the PDF I’ve provided below and distribute them when you’re ready to play. If you distribute the Glory trackers provided with your DMs kit it will give the PCs some really big hints about how to overcome some of the most difficult aspects of the challenge.

Into the Pit of Madness: Glory Tracker (PDF)


General Awards Description Glory
World Destruction Denied Destroy the Essence of Evil. 10
Your Work is Done Slay every monster. 10
Blitzkrieg Complete the entire challenge in ten rounds or fewer. 10
We need a Do-Over Every Character dies. 10
True Heroes Defeat the challenge on nightmare mode. 10
Individual Awards Description Glory
Die Alone Die in a node occupied by no other character. 10
Flying Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Complete the challenge with three or more Madness Table effects. 10
Doing the Gods’ Work Land the killing blow on the Essence of Evil. 10
Iron Will Complete the challenge without gaining a Madness Table effect. 10
Path of Lunacy Kill the monsters in at least three nodes before entering the Cyst. 10
I Believe I Can Fly Fall to your death in node 2. 10
Elemental Bane Destroy any two of the elementals. 10
It Sticks Like Napalm Take ongoing damage at least three times during the challenge. 10
Reluctant Participant Never enter the Cyst during the challenge. 10
Courageous or Foolhardy Be the first to enter the Cyst. 10
Crazy Train Kill five cultists or more with a single attack. 10
Secret Awards Description Glory
Secret 1 SPOILER 10
Secret 2 SPOILER 10
Secret 3 SPOILER 10
Secret 4 SPOILER 10

Official Instructions

Below are the official instructions provided by Wizards of the Coast with the Lair Assault DMs kit (just in case you’re worried that I didn’t cover everything).

lair-assault-7-instructions-1 lair-assault-7-instructions-2

Lair Assault: Into the Pit of Madness runs from March 1 – May 31. Good luck!

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1 Joe Lastowski February 25, 2013 at 10:25 am

I’ve been building characters for this since I first heard it announced. I’m so excited. Level 10 offers so many more options. Below are a few that I think could make big differences.

There’s a level 10 Endurance skill utility power called “Enter the Crucible” that gives you Resist 10 All for the entire encounter. That feels like it’ll be hugely helpful in this Lair Assault (and free up other feats/items/powers that I normally would’ve taken to get other resistances).

There are also a couple of themes that give you a +1 to a defense at 10th level which may be worth looking into (because it’s an untyped bonus, which stacks with everything else). If you take the Endurance feat above, you can also avoid the themes that you might have taken to get a particular energy resistance, since they’ll be mostly redundant.

If suffocating in water is an issue, remember that living constructs (warforged & shardminds) don’t need to breathe, and the Watershaper theme also lets you breathe underwater.

When looking at armor, I’d spend the lvl 11 item on that, because at level 11 the enh bonus is +3, and you get access to all those masterwork versions of armor that have a minimum +3 enh bonus, many of which give you some other cool benefit (usu an extra point of AC or another defense). And if you use that Resist All power I mentioned above, you won’t need armor that offers other resistances, which’ll make it okay to just have generic “+3 Magic Armor”.

If you’re looking at HP, Toughness is hard to beat as a feat. But there’re also the various backgrounds (Born Under a Bad Sign, Auspicious Birth) that let you use your highest stat for initial HP instead of Constitution. Boosting healing surge value is also handy for maximizing healing done to you (dragonborn, one of the cavalier types, and there’s a low-level belt item that’ll up it, too).

And while I’m not sure what the specific challenges are, necessarily, I remember back in Lair Assault #1 (Forge of the Dawn Titan), the Wizard power Float was hugely effective in avoiding lava & other damaging floor powers (so long as it’s not something that you’ll “fall” into, which breaks the spell).

I can’t wait to see which (if any) of these ideas actually plays out into a decent tactic. I DM most of the time, but Lair Assault is my chance to try out the other side of the table. So excited!

2 Don Cee February 26, 2013 at 10:42 am

We are so excited and fortunate to have Robert Schwalb coming to the Nerdery Nashville to run this Lair Assault on March 2! Since he wrote this Lair Assault module, it is even more exciting to have the author at the gametable! We are scrambling to max our characters and the Endurance Utility mentioned above is a great suggestion! Keep them coming! I will post a blog after the event.

3 Jason February 26, 2013 at 10:43 am

If this is the last one, im surprised they didnt add any dnd next , or really go for broke n make it lv 11, now that would really be cool im tired of the heroic tier every time

4 jason magolan February 27, 2013 at 9:21 pm

i just got my kits, where did you read that the program was cancelled?

5 Ameron (Derek Myers) February 27, 2013 at 11:48 pm

@ jason magolan
Wizards announced the cancellation of Lair Assault on their website on February 13.

6 Jason February 28, 2013 at 4:31 am

I must of missed it thanks, looks like player options: heroes of elemental chaos will be usefull n make sence

7 Larry Liang March 10, 2013 at 3:59 am

Enter the Crucible is amazing for this Lair Assault. With the resist 10 all you don’t really need +3 armor, so that should be your weapon or implement instead. My bard never got to bloodied in the full 20 rounds.

Also I found powers that can continually grant saving throws and/or temporary hit points were extremely useful. I can see a party of 3 strikers and 1 leader, up to 2 leaders and 4 strikers going far in this Lair Assault. Just my opinion after playing through it today.

8 Don Cee March 10, 2013 at 11:10 am

The Endurance utility really saved us for part 1, but once we descended the stairs, that power went away and we no longer had that effect. Having something for part 2 that gives resistances would be beneficial.

9 Joe Lastowski March 10, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I think it may be a judgment call on your DM’s part as to whether going down the stairs counts as a new encounter, but generally I’ve seen it not run that way. But that would have a major effect on power selection & usage for players.

In general, new encounters require new initiative rolls, so if it’s part of the same 20 round time period, with the same initiative rolls, I would argue that it’s the same encounter. That was how we ran it with most of the previous Lair Assaults, even those that involved changing locations, like Spiderkiller, because we kept our initiative (except for Talon of Umberlee, which had 2 separate initiative rolls, but no short rest in-between to recharge Encounter powers).

10 Ameron (Derek Myers) March 10, 2013 at 2:03 pm

@Joe Lastowski
I believe that you are correct in your interpretation of how an “encounter” works for these Lair Assaults. I know that when Spiderkiller first came out many believed that each area counted as a new encounter so powers would expire as you progressed onward. However, I’m fairly certain that unless it specifically says “This is a new encounter, roll a new initiative,” you assume that everything is treated as one huge encounter — especially when there’s a 20 round limit.

11 Don Cee March 10, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Well, since Robert Schwalb was DM and the writer of this Lair Assault, no-one wanted to challenge his call that the power ended when we entered the second part of the module. We won the Lair Assault anyway, with our luck – almost all of us were transported to the center room and did not have to fight the elemental nodes. Those that listened to the voices in their head were given a few more rounds. Only 1 player survived to the end.

12 ladybam April 5, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Just wondering if you need certain item to be able to get the feat “Enter the Crucible”. I’m playing a cleric

13 Joe Lastowski April 5, 2013 at 3:45 pm

@ladybam, it’s not a feat. It’s a skill utility power. You just have to be trained in Endurance, and then you can select it as your level 10 utility power (instead of taking a lvl 10 cleric utility).

Alternately, if there’s a level 10 cleric utility you really like, you can choose it and then take the feat “Skill Power” at level 10, which will let you select a skill utility power in addition to the normal power you get at level 10.

14 Joe Lastowski April 5, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Be aware, though, that Enter the Crucible will not protect everyone all the time, though. If you “listen to the madness” and get the result that gives you vulnerable 5 all (or, if you’ve got a devious DM like we had, who dominates your character into listening to the madness), know that vulnerability always trumps resistance. You do not add the two together and take the result. Instead, the rules are clear that you cannot have resistance to something that you are simultaneously vulnerable to, so unless you have a power that explicitly removes vulnerability, you might go from resisting 10 from every hit to taking 5 extra from every hit for the rest of the fight. That happened to two of our characters last time we ran this… it was pretty brutal.

15 Rogue #1 April 6, 2013 at 4:51 am

@ Joe Lastowski

You are wrong about the resist and vulnerable stuff.

“Combined with Resistance
If a creature has vulnerability and resistance to the same type of damage, they both apply. Subtract the smaller value from the larger one and apply the result. For instance, a creature that has vulnerable 5 fire and resist 10 fire is treated as if it has resist 5 fire.

Published in Rules Compendium, page(s) 225.”

I also should add that Wizards has said that they are not changing anything in the Rules Compendium. Now, that rule as you can clearly see is in the Rules Compendium… which ISN’T BEING EDITED! Your DM just didn’t realize this. admittedly it does not come up often. I know this rule from personal experience. I was in another addition of D&D that you take the vulnerable instead of subtracting from the resist… But, I looked this up due to a homegame of mine and yeah.

16 Joe Lastowski April 6, 2013 at 7:02 am

@Rogue#1, wow, we totally missed that. Our DM was going off of the definition of “resist” at the back of the monster manual (p.282), the last sentence of which states that you can’t use the resist ability to resist a damage type to which you have vulnerability.

But Rules Compendium is a newer source, and thus trumps the MM. My dwarf should have lived!

May have to try the assault again, now that I’ve got this knowledge. Thanks!

17 That one guy September 9, 2013 at 11:41 pm

You cannot have a resist to something that you’re vulnerable to… But if you already have a resist 10 and you get a vulnerable 5, you don’t really get the vulnerability, you instead end up with a lower resist. If you already have a vulnerable 5 and you get a resist 10, you lose your vulnerability and end up with a lower resist than you otherwise would have.

The real reason there’s that a rule that you can’t have both a vulnerability and a resist is to prevent someone from triggering massive effects from “damage taken” while simultaneously “healing” themselves. It doesn’t mean that you suddenly go from -10 to +5 in one fell swoop — that would greatly devalue resistances in general.

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