The Adventurers League Epic adventure Last Orders at the Yawning Portal (DDEP08-03) has a Tier 4 quest where one or more party members try to beat an NPC at nine-pin bowling. If at least one PC beats this NPC, the party succeeds at the quest. Even if one or more PCs win, all PCs that lose suffer a significant, unavoidable consequence. (A PC that ties is counted as neither winning nor losing.)
- There are ten frames, during which each participant rolls the ball at most twice.
- Each participant makes an improvised weapon attack using either Strength or Dexterity.
- Like traditional bowling, a participant that knocks down all of the pins on the first roll scores a strike. A participant that knocks down all of the pins in two rolls scores a spare. Otherwise, the participant leaves an open frame.
- All participants roll the ball simultaneously for a given frame. All participants who require a second roll will then roll simultaneously for that one.
- Everyone knows everyone else's score and pin count.
- Any character that scores a strike or a spare is treated to a drink from the bar. Consuming a drink increases the difficulty of future rolls.
- The NPC opponent will only drink if the party does so as well.
- Assume everyone has 1 minute between everyone's first and second roll, as well as 1 minute between frames. Any spellcasting, class features, etc. may be used during these breaks, so long as there is sufficient time. There are no other breaks.
- For the purposes of this question, assume that the NPC does not change their strategy in response to the players. They always roll with the same bonus and buff (listed in the spoiler section below).
Now for the details; full spoilers ahead:
• Base DC 12. For each number above the DC, the participant knocks down a pin.
• If 5+ pins (but not all nine) are knocked down, the DC increases by 2 for the second roll.
• A strike is 15 points. A spare is 10. An open frame is one point per pin knocked down.
• Each drink cumulatively increases the DC of subsequent rolls by 2.
• The NPC opponent has a +10 to their roll, as well as advantage from foresight.
• Any attacks, spells, or other effects directed at the NPC opponent fall away harmlessly.
• The module includes an allowance for the use of spellcasting (like mage hand) to directly assist in bowling. For the purpose of this question, assume that no one does this. Buff spells are okay, though.
The decision to drink is the only unique mechanical interaction in this encounter. I believe that it holds the key to an optimal strategy. Unfortunately, the module is a bit vague on when the NPC drinks, so I will formalize their behavior.
- Start: the party status is Abstaining.
- All participants complete a frame.
- If no PCs were offered a drink, their status remains the same.
- If at least one PC was offered a drink AND all PCs who were offered a drink choose to drink them, then the party status becomes Drinking.
- If at least one PC was offered a drink AND any PC who was offered a drink choose NOT to drink it, then the party status becomes Abstaining.
- If the party status is Drinking AND the NPC scored a strike or spare, then the NPC drinks.
- While there are still frames left, GOTO 2.
This means that a party that drinks on frame 1, but fails to get any strikes or spares on frame 2, will still be considered Drinking.
In order to constrain the question, assume that all PCs at the table have the following goals:
- At least one PC wins. (Thus at least one PC participates.) The party should aim for a 75% chance of accomplishing this goal.
- As few PCs as possible lose. Ties are okay.
If a general case answer is not possible or feasible, assume the following party (with no magic items or feats unless specified):
- Half Elf Lore Bard 20. +4 bonus from Dexterity. Five Bardic Inspiration dice. Combat may not be initiated to gain additional dice.
- Hill Dwarf Life Cleric 20. +2 bonus from Strength.
- Human Champion Fighter 20. +9 bonus from a belt of storm giant strength.
- Halfling Thief Rogue 20. +6 bonus from Dexterity (and a manual of quickness of action).
- High Elf Evocation Wizard 20. +3 bonus from Dexterity.
Assume that spellcasters know/prepare any spells needed. For the sake of making this question interesting, assume that wish and Divine Intervention are only used for duplicating spells. Additionally, assume every player knows these mechanics and (ab)uses them to the best of their ability.
What is the optimal strategy for this encounter, particularly when it comes to the drinking mechanics? How does requiring all PCs to participate change the optimal strategy?
Rules over rulings
Most people play Epics at conventions, often with a DM they don't know. Answers should assume that the DM strictly adheres to RAW. If something isn't mentioned in the adventure, don't rely on a favorable ruling.
Can I do X to the NPC?
For the purpose of this question, the NPC's rolls cannot be altered in any way. The NPC will always roll with the bonus and benefit listed in the spoiler section. This is (vaguely) specified by the module (Last Orders at the Yawning Portal, p. 30):
This is ill advised. All attacks, spells or other effects directed at Halaster here in his nine-pin alley fall away from the wizard harmlessly. Halaster will warn the characters ONCE, asking them to please stop and be civilized. If any of them continue to enact hostilities, cast spells of any kind at his person or his servants, the mad mage disappears in [an] explosion of magical force doing 150 hit points of force damage to all characters in the room.
It seems clear that greataxe attacks, blindness/deafness, and Cutting Words would have no effect on the NPC. Does Portent work? What about darkness targeted near the NPC, but not on them? Rather than pick through each answer to these questions (and make a long question even longer), it seemed simpler to say that the NPC's rolls cannot be affected.