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I am running a one-shot and have everything ready but the final battle. This details an epic fight where the party (3 players at 5th level) encounter a circular chamber with a rampart and a large altar in the middle. My PCs consist of a oathbreaker paladin, war magic wizard, and a bear barbarian.

At the top of said altar are black flames, completely obscuring the necromancer, Vexx. Scattered around the area are 6 totems. The players have encountered them before. They must shatter the totems to clear the flames.

More detail, from comments question prompts:

  • Those black flames are not normal flame; they are flame made from pure necromantic energy. It acts as both a physical and magical barrier

  • The one shot has four encounters. This is the last encounter. The players will be given the benefit of a long rest before this encounter due to this reason: They feel the presence of the Udnos, the rival god of Kelemvor, and the god of life (in my game world) who gives them the courage to destroy this threat.

Each totem is guarded by an undead orc. They don't aggro unless a totem is attacked. My undead Orcs are the same stats as a regular orc, only with slightly less HP.

Once the totems are shattered, Vexx (who was communing with the god of death) will aggro.

What I want to know is: how do I balance him for a party of 5th level PCs considering necromancers are CR 9? I want to reduce the necromance to CR 5. I am looking for a deadly encounter.

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closed as unclear what you're asking by NautArch, Rubiksmoose, David Coffron, GreySage, Wibbs Sep 12 '18 at 20:36

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Casual, we'll need more information before we help you. What classes are your PCs? What are the stats for the Undead Orcs? How hard of an encounter do you want to make (Deadly, Hard, Easy, etc). \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage Sep 12 '18 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: How can I make a monster weaker? \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Sep 12 '18 at 20:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ While Vexx is obscured does this mean he can't be attacked? Is Vexx able to attack before the totems are destroyed? Do the orcs aggro as a group when 1 totem is attacked or only when "their totem" is attacked? \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Sep 12 '18 at 20:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know you've accepted your answer, but a different way to approach this for reopening may be adjust your question to something like "What factors do I need to consider in balancing a deadly encounter down to something manageable by my group of X" or something similar. That turns this into a clearer question and one that will have potentially more use for others as well. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 12 '18 at 21:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Alright @NautArch I will keep that in mind. \$\endgroup\$ – Casual Sep 12 '18 at 21:58
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The Biggest Change will be to the Necromancer's Spellcasting

If your party was even a single level higher, it probably wouldn't be a concern, but at level 5, lacking the Paladin's Aura of Protection feature, spells like Circle of Death (8d6→28avg), Cloudkill (5d8→22avg), or Blight (8d8→36avg) could be instant kills against your party. Especially if the Paladin goes down, since they're your primary healing for the party.

My recommendation is that you scale them back to being a 7th level spellcaster, instead of a 12th level spellcaster. This means dropping the 5th and 6th level spells completely, and only giving them a single slot for their 4th level spells. You might consider dropping Blight as well, though if you only target the Barbarian with the spell, its damage will be severely reduced, so perhaps it will be less of an issue. Blight would have a strong ability to OHK your Wizard though, so be very careful with how that spell gets used. You'll also want to scale back their overall spellcasting modifier from +7 to +5, also scaling the DC for their spells from 15 to 13. Lower their Intelligence score to 15 to accommodate this change. They should also see reductions to their Saving Throws to +5 for Intelligence, and +4 for Wisdom. The normal version of the Necromancer deals 3d8(13) damage with the Chill Touch cantrip, that should be scaled down to 2d8(9).

You don't want to reduce the HP total too much, since your Oathbreaker Paladin will be fully capable of dealing 20-40 damage in a single round, depending on how well they roll. Maybe consider dropping it to 50-55 health, instead of 66 health.

The outcome of the fight will then depend on how well your party manages their health pools. Liberal use of spells like Chill Touch could drop PCs with little chance of recovery, since it blocks healing when used. Your Paladin will be a decent healer, but at only 6 spell slots and 25 points of Lay on Hands, they're going to be limited to healing up an average of 79 (4x(1d8+3) + 2x(2d8+3) + 25) hitpoints worth of damage, which will go down if they use their spell slots on literally anything else, or if the Necromancer persistently targets someone with Chill Touch. If the Wizard or Paladin have already used up some of their resources for the day before this encounter begins, this encounter could be very deadly, even with these adjustments.

Spells like Animate Dead could make the fight very difficult for the PCs, but your Oathbreaker paladin does have their Control Undead Channel Divinity feature, which could also swing things in their favor in a big way, depending on the environment they're fighting in. Blindness/Deafness could cripple your party, and spells like Vampiric Touch or False Life could cause the encounter to last a long time, burning off valuable Paladin resources for healing.

Keep an eye on your party's vital stats. If you don't want this to be a deadly encounter, and it seems like the party is on their last ropes, maybe retcon the Necromancer's health until a single hit is enough to bring them down. Fights with spellcasters tend to be a bit swingy, so just gauge the encounter as it plays out.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Alright. Thanks. I will work on it now. My party members are vary creative. So they should be okay.Especially the wizard. Again, Thanks for the help dudes. Peace. \$\endgroup\$ – Casual Sep 12 '18 at 21:29
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To start, I would take the Enchanter, also found in Volo's Guide and has CR 5, and replace each spell on the enchanter's list of spells with a spell of equal level from the necromancer's list of spells.

Next, I would replace the enchanter's Instinctive Charm reaction with a similar reaction with a necromancy flavor. Perhaps the attacker must succeed on a DC 14 wisdom save, or the attack is directed at one of the necromancer's undead servants?

Alternatively, you could forgo the reaction altogether, and keep the Necromancer's Grim Harvest feature. But this would really only come into play if you have a PC death.

Unless the PCs have some powerful magic items, I expect the encounter with this necromancer and six undead orcs (which have orc stats with slightly less HP) to just barely cross the threshold into deadly. This analysis comes from the encounter-planning calculations found in the DMG. If the encounter goes too smoothly (if, for instance, almost all the orcs are dead before the necromancer aggros), don't be afraid to give the necromancer a few extra HP.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A CR 5 may still be extremely difficult considering the party has already fought through 6 undead orcs. Did you factor that in to your analysis? \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Sep 12 '18 at 20:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ The orcs have the same stats as regular orcs. \$\endgroup\$ – Casual Sep 12 '18 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron yes. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex S Sep 12 '18 at 20:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see what you mean. But the thing is the orcs Aggro one at a time when a player strikes their totem. So they are not fighting all of them at once. If they play it right. They can fight them one at a time \$\endgroup\$ – Casual Sep 12 '18 at 20:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ The encounter difficulty makes sense but may not account for the necessity of destroying the totems before Vexx is unobscured. If Vexx can attack them while they take at a minimum 2 turns to destroy all the totems this encounter becomes much more deadly. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Sep 12 '18 at 20:30

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