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My PCs (levels 19-20) are really afraid of clerics (it's somewhat justified from their previous encounters) and usually try to focus all their actions in the first round to get rid of one, no matter what other opponents there are.

I've been preparing an arena-like encounter with one of the opponents being a ~23rd level evil cleric. He'll be somewhat ready for spells, but the main issue is Dimension Door-ing the fighter and the dual wielding rogue, who can easily deal 200-250hp damage in a single round.

Of course, it's possible the cleric will win the initiative or the PCs go for buffing themselves instead, but keeping the cleric alive until the second round is still my main concern.

We play D&D 3.5 using mostly the SRD, especially for hostile NPCs (with minor exceptions, like in this case the Danger Sense feat from the Complete Adventurer, which allows to reroll initiative 1/day).

So far, my best bet is Miracle as Contingency triggering Heal at certain HP threshold. Because of an expected Greater Dispel Magic I'd prefer him to be better protected. Evil ideas wholeheartedly welcome!

Some specifics:

  • Human, main focus on WIS, CHA and DEX

  • Domains: Evil and Trickery

  • Magic items: up to 150,000 gp EDIT: this is after considering all the other magic items he already has, that are not relevant to melee or have been necessary for the plot earlier

  • No custom epic spells or custom Miracle-based effects (Miracle mimicking other spells is ok)

  • Spells and magic items from the SRD only

  • Before the encounter he can only cast spells with duration of at least 10 min/level

  • He should be able to normally walk and talk before the encounter

About the encounter:

  • To simplify things: the PCs and the cleric argue in front of a king, and upon losing the argument, the cleric demands trial by combat. He did anticipate that, while the PCs couldn't (it's a very foreign land and it's not really a typical trial by combat).

  • The king orders the combat right away, in front of him in the throne room. His construct-guards create the arena - 50 feet in diameter, surrounded by a wall of force.

  • The cleric has no prior access to the throne room and could not anticipate the exact time of the duel, however he could know which part of the throne room is usually used for this purpose.

Exceptions to the SRD:

  • Feats unrelated to spellcasting

  • Skills and skill tricks

  • I could consider prestige classes

  • Monsters

One more edit: I have pretty solid tactics for the cleric starting from round one, based on a lot of scouting he did about the PCs. Any suggestions are obviously welcome, but the focus is to make sure the cleric can start his actions at all.

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Would you allow spells like Greater Planar Ally to have been pre-cast and for the allies to join the battle? (many of the demons have teleport ability) –  TysoThePirate Jul 1 at 23:29
    
Does the Cleric control the setup of the arena? –  Ernir Jul 2 at 0:14
    
How important is it that the cleric stays in the location, and does he have location access? –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jul 2 at 1:02
    
There is already one Greater Planar Ally of the cleric in play, might even stay alive before the encounter. I'd rather not use it there though. I've edited the question with more details on the encounter. –  burlap Jul 2 at 7:00
    
You say minor Exceptions to srd only... Anything more specific on that? –  Andy Jul 2 at 9:22

7 Answers 7

Countering a specific, known threat as a high level Tier 1 spellcaster is usually easy. This is no exception.

Even without appropriate tactics as suggested by Brian Ballsun-Stanton, there is no reason an epic-level Cleric shouldn't be able to just straight-out tank a pair of mundane warriors.

Fighter incoming? Beat him at his game.

You may have heard that "AC doesn't scale as fast as attack bonuses". Well, that applies to muggles, an epic Cleric really doesn't care.

For instance, the Cleric could have the following:

  • Epic Mage Armor. You didn't want the Cleric to have custom epic spells, but this one is stock. If you don't want to spend one of your precious Epic feats on stock Epic Spellcasting, just go with some cheap bracers of armor and make up the difference elsewhere.
  • Monk's Belt. I assume the Cleric's Wisdom now cancels out the Fighter's Strength.
  • An Animated Shield is cheap.
  • Add Magic Vestment to your shield for an instant +5.

Just keep going (Ring of Protection, an Ioun stone, Amulet of Natural Armor if you can combine it with your Periapt of Wisdom) until the desired level of protection is reached. If you don't want the Fighter to hit you, the Fighter just won't.

If you go the AC-pumping route, I'd say the biggest source of concern should be that it makes the mundane party members useless and boring. Don't overdo it.

Sneak attack damage? Fortification.

You may still be scared of a Rogue popping out of some shadow and touch-attack stabbing you in a kidney. An armor or shield of Heavy Fortification means the Rogue's trick doesn't work. At all. No save.

Greater Dispel Magic? There's a thing for that.

Afraid of some uppity mage coming around and target-dispelling a critical buff? You should be, even with your caster level advantage. Which is why I never leave home at high levels without at least one Ring of Counterspells with Greater Dispel Magic in it. (Or a non-core improvement, ahem.)

Regardless, you probably want to have your buffs cast with an active Bead of Karma. That gives the buffs a Dispel DC of at least 38 (11 + CL (23+4)), hard to beat in core with just Greater Dispel Magic (capping at +20).

Just hope they don't think of bringing Disjunction!

Contingency is very good.

You have a Contingency up and running (it didn't get dispelled, see above). In core, a Heal is probably as good as you're going to get. Make sure it is timed (that is, phrased) well!

You might be able to make the attacks exceedingly unlikely to hit by using it to (further) juice up your AC. If you key it to Polymorph (beware of unusable equipment, do your math first!), you could look for a form with high natural armor as the least of its tricks.

Make sure Time Stop goes off.

If you get a Time Stop, the Cleric likely has enough time to get up enough short-duration buffs to survive most things. I consider Spell Stowaway keyed to Time Stop a worthy candidate for an Epic feat.

Now what?

You have done your homework, and have an invulnerable murderous machine of a Cleric. Just make sure your players do have a way of winning. In my experience, high level PCs usually do, but be careful.

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- Ring of Counterspells with Greater Dispel was used by a Lich in one of the recent encounters - According to my understanding of the rules, a cleric could not bind Dimension Door to Contingency: it's not one of cleric spells and if mimicked with Miracle it exceeds spell level limit - Fighter and rogue damage already take high AC and fortification into account (due to some items PCs have). Also, according to my understanding of the rules, Monk's Belt only gives monk's bonus to AC and not the possibility to add WIS, but this is for another topic –  burlap Jul 2 at 14:52
    
Hmm, you're right about the Dim Door part, at least. Silly me. Have to think about better Contingency spells! –  Ernir Jul 2 at 15:49
    
Celerity from PHB II gives you a single standard action immediately, even if it's not your turn. Use Miracle to replicate that. Or, alternatively, depending on what rules are in play it's possible to put contingencies on other characters/items. The cleric may have paid for some contingent spells not otherwise on his list. –  Perkins Oct 3 at 0:20
    
But to use Monk's belt and receive your Wis bonus to armor you have to be UNARMORED, which is less AC then from fullplate and shield. –  Shf Nov 17 at 14:52

Antilife Shell (cleric 6)

This is an SRD spell with 10/min level duration, cleric 6. "You bring into being a mobile, hemispherical energy field that prevents the entrance of most types of living creatures." Area: 10-ft.-radius emanation, centered on you. This would prevent any kind of 'rush attack' in; a fighter or rogue could not approach and get through the barrier normally. There's no save.

Mislead (Trickery 6)

This spell lasts 1 round/level (D) and concentration + 3 rounds, so that would (I think) qualify depending on your exact rules. The cleric could have cast it and maintained concentration for quite some time pre battle. This allows him to come in with both Antilife Shell, and Invisible, and having an illusory double. So it's possible that if the characters Dimension Door attack him, they are hitting the wrong one.

Other useful spells

If you have a free round and have avoided the initial attack, I'd would probably try Time Stop (Trickery 9) and augment defenses with things like Repulsion and Etherealness. I would probably have the cleric prepped with a shield that has a Symbol of Insanity something similar inscribed on it, triggered by looking at it. Since he is invisible via Mislead to start with, once that is broken, the PCs would be immediately subjected to it.

Surprise! I'm a Lich

The cleric is designated as Human, but if he has enough time to prepare in the time ahead of the battle, a phylactery is 120,000gp + some XP, which is within the limit stated. If he becomes a Lich in the days before the fight and conceals this fact through illusion or other spells... wow that could be a big advantage. For starters - immune to critical hits and sneak attacks and many other effects. Damage resistance to non bludgeoning weapons, paralyzing touch, etc. Fighting a Lich is tough; fighting a Lich if you don't realize it's a Lich at first because it is wearing a Hat of Disguise (1,800 gp SRD) could be a real problem. Could also be some interesting roleplay pre-battle if the characters have a chance to discover this information and what he's up to.

Home ground advantage

If he's done some scouting about the PCs in advance and knows this is going to come to blows in the throne room, possibly he could have cast Unhallow in advance on the combat area (if that's impractical, maybe he could do it 'from a distance' in advance via Miracle). Unhallow is pretty interesting and powerful - you can tie other spells to it, like Dimensional Anchor. So, if he knows in advance the PCs use that tactic, he can have the combat area where he knows it will take place on Unhallowed w Dimensional Anchor. PCs will activate their normal strategy and it will fizzle.

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Time Stop is obviously on the menu ;-) Antilifie Shell and Mislead are impossible because of actions before the encounter. You can't normally walk around people with a 10-ft antilife field and you can't talk while concentrating on a spell. –  burlap Jul 1 at 22:57
    
Ah, so 'walk and talk normally' is implying he is mingling with a crowd before the combat? I think you can talk while maintaining concentration (and an epic level cleric probably has a lot of concentration ranks). Might be a whole other forum topic for the right answer on that though. –  TysoThePirate Jul 1 at 23:07
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You may want to suggest a miracle'd simulacrum for the "dealing with normal people" bits. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jul 2 at 7:07
    
Project image is a great candidate to cast during a timestop. Certainly better than mislead for this, although it doesn't last long enough to cast it beforehand. –  Bobson Jul 2 at 12:45
    
@Bobson The spell project image isn't on the Evil and Trickery cleric's spell list, though, while mislead is. –  Hey I Can Chan Jul 3 at 0:09

By cheating horribly with leadership, fusion, schism, and appropriate buffs.

The cleric is a cleric of trickery. He'll therefore use a miracle'd simulacrum to puppet-talk before the king. For someone with his level of bluff, swapping himself out at his initiative go should be trivial (a psychic tattoo of dimension swap will resolve it.

His simulacrum should be prepared to simply counterspell (via dispel magic or greater) whatever it can until it's popped. Appropriate illusions and mirror images should keep the question of "is he dead?" open, and of course the epic cleric will ensure that the victory condition is something gameable rather than "to the death".

Thus, the first round of combat will be spent by the "real" villain buffing short-buffs via a time stop, and watching the party alpha-strike a statue (or three) of snow and ice.

It's also worth noting the leadership feat, simply for the absurd resources it gives an epic character in terms of lackies who exist to buff him at the start of every day and to enchant custom items for him. The real trouble here is that you can spend hours on figuring out buffs (and should) especially with extend spell (and any other meta-magic feats you allow) and the combat will be over in 2 rounds, give or take.

Still, the best way to open is to make the cleric's cohort be an epic level psion, fusioned into the cleric. Then, as the cleric is talking, the psion can be buffing the fusion to a sufficient degree. As an extend-power fusion lasts for 43 minutes, it's trivial to find enough time to recast it every so often. With the chain of leaderships being the case (as there's no reason for the cohort not to have leadership) the available budget is far greater than 150kgp.

The fusion'd psion allows for adequate teleportation/anti-teleportation (note divert teleport and teleport trigger to keep the cleric "around" long enough to play with his food. With psionic moment of prescience it's gravely unlikely that the party will win initiative, and if they do, the fusion can just fate of one it. (and so on and so forth with dispelling buffer and so on..)

Disjunction ruins everyone's day as it forces the entire table to an evening of recalculation. You should already have a agreement in place for "no first use." Still, with the resources of leadership on hand, it should be trivial indeed to figure out a list of buffs and magic items that fit your needs, prevent the rogue from pulling off a sneak attack (i.e. an incarnated ubiqutious vision and improved unncanny dodge from danger sense. With Schism running it should be trivial to get enough buffs up in time while under a time stop.)

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This is very interesting. I've used simulacra before in the campaign and it worked out very well, but the wizard did not have permanent Arcane Sight back then... Otherwise it's a lot of risk for this cleric to actually send a simulacrum to argue in front of the king (who is actually quite powerful himself), I'll think about it. –  burlap Jul 2 at 15:02
    
I didn't really consider Psionic Rules, as we don't use them too often, but it's worth taking into account. The only problem is that the cleric has been already burning his resources and his cohort before the encounter. However, a Psion coming out of the cleric is so tempting... –  burlap Jul 3 at 9:25

Planning for That First Round

I totally agree with KRyan's answer, and Ernir's answer nails the nuts and bolts of winning, but that first round if Clr23 doesn't go first can still be a pickle. Here're some other long-range plans that the Clr23 could've already made.

  • The Clr23 employs the supernatural ability rebuke undead to command at least two 11 Hit Dice undead creatures: ghost (MM 116-8) Wiz11s (or, if preferred, different classes) who lurk near the Clr23 on the Ethereal Plane. Rather than take the standard action in combat to issue the ghosts mental commands, the ghost wizards have been previously commanded to manifest and engage when the Clr23 gives the signal. If the Clr23 takes the epic feat Undead Mastery, two ghosts become twenty ghosts.
  • The Clr23 casts 8th-level spell greater planar ally [conj] (PH 261) to reach an agreement with an 18 Hit Dice nightmare (MM 194-5) or a 16 Hit Dice night hag (MM 193-4). Either can lurk ethereally, awaiting the signal to manifest and engage. Either costs a lot for its 23 days of service, but if guarding the Clr23 is "strongly aligned with the creature’s ethos, it may halve or even waive the payment" (PH 261), therefore there could be several of these creatures.
  • The Clr23 casts the 5th-level spell plane shift [conj] (PH 262) to travel to a planar destination friendly to him and his deity. From there he casts the 9th-level spell astral projection [abjur] (PH 201). From the Astral Plane, he visits the Prime Material Plane. This is the form of the Clr23 the PCs see before them. Only the poorest or unluckiest Clr23 should ever be at risk of actual, for-reals death. This also means that when the PCs defeat his astral projection, the Clr23 can return to plague them later.

I can't know how the 8th-level trickery Domain spell polymorph any object [trans] (PH 263) works in the campaign and if its legit for the Clr23 to have assumed the form permanently of a powerful creature and then used his Disguise skill (a cleric class skill via the trickery Domain) to masquerade as himself once more, but that might be a thing.

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You can't tie ethereal jaunt to a contingency. Contingency has a hard cap of level 6 for it's linked spells, and ethereal jaunt is 7. –  DuckTapeAl Jul 2 at 22:33
    
@DuckTapeAl You are correct, sir. –  Hey I Can Chan Jul 2 at 22:41
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With PCs having permanent Arcane Sight, See Invisibility, True Seeing it is difficult to hide, even on Ethereal Plane. –  burlap Jul 3 at 9:28
    
@burlap - Material plane and through the floor should do it. –  Bobson Jul 3 at 13:37
    
@burlap Who's hiding? Just because there are creatures on the Ethereal Plane nearby doesn't mean they're hostile... y'know, until they are. –  Hey I Can Chan Jul 3 at 14:06

cheat? evil cleric after all.. :)

How about surround the cleric with a few acolytes who will happily throw themselves in the way of any attack to sacrifice themselves for the glory of their cult leader, a human shield type affair. If you have the acolytes stick close enough to the cleric, dimension dooring shouldn't be able to get between the acolytes to the cleric.

I think you should drastically reduce the cleric's movement, and give an increasingly large chance to hit him as the acolytes die.

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Unfortunatelly impossible because of the events leading to the encounter, no acolytes allowed. –  burlap Jul 1 at 22:58

Miracle to cast Contingency to cast heal to activate when you take damage (or, if you're being more generous in terms of allowable triggers, when you drop below 3/4 health, or when your character's health drops below max by 150 or more.

Divine Metamagic Persist Divine Power. - 20 temp hp and other bonuses

DMM Persist Iron Body might be worth it (You need to take Earth domain and lose 6 dex, but you get DR 15/adamntium (level 20 players will probably get through that though) and immune to crits (and thus sneak attack). Or alternatively, just slap on some heavy fort armour. Careful with doing this though, because if all enemies in all fights have this, then you would be kinder just to make rocks fall on the rogue and tell them to make a new character.

You could use Sanctuary persisted without DMM (raises the spell level and thus the saving throw)

Some other good spells to persist with DMM (lots are from broken books, be careful) Sirine’s Grace - Cha to AC, Stone body - similar to iron body but reduce advantages and disadvantages, still crit immune

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Divine metamagic isn't allowed. Note the book restriction. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jul 2 at 1:09

Create a single-charged Ring of Revivify. Revivify is a 5-th level cleric spell that instantly revives subject without ANY exp/CON/spell loss. Creating a single-charged ring of this spell shall come somewhere between 2k-5k gp and it will guarantee that even if the party manages to kill/overkill the cleric, he will be able to do something on the next round. You may even give him 2-3 charges to make the ecounter even harder (or 50-charges-magic-item, used by his invisible apprentice, whom the party must find and kill in order to put a stop to evil cleric's endless attacks).
Additional suggestion - make him taunt his opponents with quotes like "Back again!" "Death has no grip on me!" and stuff 8)

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Oh, right, it's not SRD... Sorry about that. Will leave the answer for any not-only-SRD-purposes –  Baka-Mastermind Jul 1 at 22:08
    
I was actually considering Revivify, but PCs don't have access to the spell, so it's just too much of a deus ex solution. –  burlap Jul 1 at 22:52

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