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Background

In my campaign I have a villain who uses misdirection and avoidance as their main combat methods. They won't fight directly, but they use summoned creatures, minion allies and illusions to avoid the party's attacks. As a last resort, when the party confronts them in their lair, it would be appropriate for them to use Prismatic Wall to prevent the party from killing or capturing them.

Prismatic Wall requires seven different, very specific, spells in a specific order to remove. Namely; Cone of Cold, Gust of Wind, Disintegrate, Passwall, Magic Missile, Daylight, and Dispel Magic.

This enemy is clever, but arrogant. They will likely cast this spell toward the end of a drawn out battle, meaning the party may already be down on resources. Without warning, they might need to defeat a Prismatic Wall, and the party may expend the required resources before it appears.

Party Details

In my party I have:

  • A Half-Elf Wizard
  • A Human Druid
  • A Gnome Oracle
  • A Halfling Bard
  • A Half-Orc Paladin.

The party is currently 9th level, and they will likely confront this enemy some time between 12th and 14th level depending on how direct their approach is.

The party is equipped slightly below normal for their level due to some decisions made to this point in the campaign. None of their current items will be a particular benefit in this task.

The Wizard and Bard both have high knowledge skills that could be used for research, they have most of the knowledge skills covered between them. The Oracle and Druid have access to some divination magic which could also be used to provide information, if they know to use it.

The Problem

I would like my party to have a reasonable chance of actually being able to bring down this wall. If I just throw it at them the chance of this is basically zero. This is the first campaign for all of my players and they have never encounter anything like this before.

Between the various spellcasters in the party they already have access to five out of the seven required spells, Disintegrate and Passwall being the exceptions. I can easily provide them access to the others between now and the confrontation. However, the party does not always prepare these specific spells and may not have them available when required.

How can I, as DM, prepare my players to defeat a Prismatic Wall spell, without explicitly telling them it is coming?

I will likely need to provide them both with information on how to defeat it and provide some resources to help them do so. I am willing to provide help in the form of items, lore dumps from NPCs and potentially NPC allies, though I prefer not to have NPC perform critical actions in place of the players.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If the party is stopped by a prismatic wall once, there's a good chance they'll research the problem and prepare for the next time they are face-to-face with the same bad guy. \$\endgroup\$ – kanoo Oct 21 at 13:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does the villain have an escape route? If not the party can just wait 200 minutes for the prismatic wall to disappear. The villain would still be trapped, and no better off for the spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Tyler S. Loeper Oct 21 at 16:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TylerS.Loeper The villain is able to pass through the wall, so could spend the entire duration of it harrassing the players' characters if not fleeing. Additionally, any spellcaster with access to Prismatic Wall has a wealth of movement related options available to them, not the least of which is everything from Dimension Door to (potentially Greater) Teleport. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Oct 21 at 17:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Prismatic wall can be made permanent, so theoretically it could already be in place and there would be no time limit. \$\endgroup\$ – barbecue Oct 21 at 21:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ If this is the players first campaign, I recommend just telling the players that this time of magic user often has access to a prismatic wall. This isn't the time for subtlety. \$\endgroup\$ – NomadMaker Oct 22 at 1:57
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Give them chances to do research

As the group tracks down the villain, they might find traces of their spell research, or NPCs they have persuaded to help them create this fearsome spell. They might find their notes or even an old spellbook. Investigating these objects might reveal that the villain has this spell, and the proper way to counter it.

But honestly they can just bypass it

A dimension door spell will get the group past the wall without the need to slowly disassemble it. Depending on the group, they might also be able to collapse the ceiling and go over it, dig a hole under it, et cetera.

Think about broader tactical implications

You've said that the villain wants to use this spell toward the end of a battle. Usually when the villain is losing a battle they tend to be surrounded on all sides by melee fighters who can attack-of-opportunity them. Is the villain really going to be able to get to a clear corner to cast this wall spell?

This spell only lasts ten minutes per caster level (so less than three hours). Can the party just wait it out?

Is the villain planning to cast this spell and then run away, leaving the wall to block their retreat? If so, how does the villain flee, and how will the group track him down? And wouldn't it be simpler for the villain to use dimension door or teleport as their retreat spell?

If the party does use dimension door to get past the wall, can the villain just run through the wall (taking some attacks of opportunity, possibly) and now the party is walled off again?

If the party spends all seven of the spells to disassemble this wall, can the villain just cast another one, perhaps from a scroll?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How does Dimension Door work ? The Indigo layer "stops all spells" and the Violet layer "destroys all objects and effects". \$\endgroup\$ – Pierre Cathé Oct 21 at 7:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @findusl That question is about D&D 5e and not PF-1e, so it's applicability may be limited. That said, I think I'd still like to see more support to dimension door working, because it's unexpected. Specifically, how does dimension door get through the Indigo layer of the wall? \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Oct 21 at 9:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil look at the targeting of Dimension Door, you don't cast the spell through the wall (you cast it on your party). It's for this same reason that you can TP into an AMF, but you can't TP out. \$\endgroup\$ – william porter Oct 21 at 14:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm... actually very interested in the mechanics for teleporting through a Prismatic effect and into an antimagic field, so I'm going to post those questions here if anyone wants to keep a look out for those and explain it for the Pf1e community \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Oct 21 at 17:42
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You shouldn't

Your narrative goal here is to have the villain pull out a surprise tactic to inconvenience the party and force them to either think outside the box or accept a partial defeat (the villain escapes). At the same time, you're introducing them to the asymmetric nature of pathfinder's casting system - it's not just fireball (1d6) -> super fireball (20d6), there are spells with qualitative effects that perform specific roles and require some kind of specific counter - 'puzzle' spells.

If you have them find a gauntlet that shoots magic missiles, a scroll of passwall, a helm with gems that can be used up to fire disintegrate and so on then you're basically just doing a 'you find a golden key' -> (later) 'you find a golden door'. Now, if you are clever about this, that could still be a fun story - players not realizing that all these items they find are actually the answers to Prismatic Wall until the moment the guy casts it and they're puzzling over how to take it down. If you frame it right and don't just blurt out stuff and let them sort of walk themselves into figuring it out, it could be quite fun. Perhaps these items were used by some dudes in the past to fight the Prismatic Lords that this villain is trying to resurrect, which is why they came across them in the tombs the villain's minions were excavating, perhaps it's blind luck or the blessings of a god that nudged fate, who knows.

But this kind of thing should be reserved for a situation where the party is looking for some way out of a life or death situation - at the end of their rope - in other words, when they're cornered. Having them have the exact tools on hand to beat down a villain trying to escape is like using a hammer to break an egg. Having 'hero's luck' happen for a victory lap is like the definition of removing tension or urgency from a story. The villain's already beaten - you dropping a deus ex machina on them so they can beat him up further is unnecessary.

By all means, leave the door open to them being clever - remembering they have Dimension Door prepared, using an adamantine pickaxe and power attack to break enough of the wall to squeeze past, using a divination spell to see where he's going and flying there to ambush him, etc. Perhaps, purely by chance, they have the spells prepared that they need or enough to 'disarm' enough of the wall to send the paladin through to pursue (setting up that awesome 'villain at the end of their rope 1v1 duel vs goody two shoes hero' scene).

But this is basically a narrative mismatch. In general, if you want to do this kind of deus ex machina kind of preparation, the scenario should be one more dire for the heroes. If it's the villain running away, then it should really be up to them to think of some workaround (in which case they can feel justifiably pleased) or the villain's spell should allow him to escape (which sets up further story importance, but also showcases an interesting spell in an interesting way). Then, if they so choose, they can hunt down all the things required to disable the wall, and then next time, the villain can toss out his wall and have it be disabled by their spells and be shocked at their preparation etc (in which case they can, again, feel justifiably pleased).

tl;dr - don't handhold the PCs when it's about whether they 'win' or 'win more'. Handhold them when it's about if they 'lose' or 'die'.


Postscript - Knowledge: Arcana is the skill used to identify spells that have been cast, which presumably includes all relevant details of how the spell works. Spellcraft lets you identify a spell as it is being cast, although whether this gives you the relevant details is hazier. Presumably any party member with the Knowledge: Arcana skill could roll it to identify the prismatic barrier, and also what counters it etc.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Oct 23 at 2:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ While I agree the villain's should use this as an escape tool instead of a last stand (especially since they have been described as being a trickster), using this spell as a trump card is not a bad idea in and of itself :). It depends a lot on how you play the game and how you present things, actually. \$\endgroup\$ – Tortliena Oct 23 at 10:00
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Introduce the obstacle beforehand, staggered

Show your players the different walls before the fight, maybe some of the villain's underlings are capable of casting partial prismatic walls, or have magic items that do so, or have permanent walls in their castles. Then when you invade the fortress of underling 1 aka. the Crimson Baron, you get several red walls. Then in the fortress of underling 2 aka the Stark Spark, you get both red and yellow walls, or even red-yellow double walls. This way the players get accustomed to defeating these walls and can understand the cumulative nature of the layers.

This way you can drop hints about new colours before they come into play so that the players are prepared, or leave out some colours on purpose for a surprise effect when the full 7-colour wall happens. If the players always try to push through the wall, have an NPC show them that they can be destroyed with a spell :

"Oh a prismatic wall, fortunately these can be bypassed easily if you happen to know the right spell, let me take care of it."

Now even if the NPC doesn't know all the colours, or dies before the final confrontation, the players will know to try and bypass the wall.

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Lay down scrolls before and in the fight room

This comes down from many boss's fights in video games. Level designers almost always put the necessary items so that you always have enough ammunitions to kill the boss, even if you went in totally naky-naky. In this case, ammunitions would be spells!

If you put the scrolls before the boss's room, it will be less obvious that you're helping, and your players will feel less directed and their sense of freedom become greater. However, you can turn your challenge around and put all necessary items inside the boss's room, and make it like a puzzle, where the difficulty resides in knowing the order you need to send the spells, deciphering notes and other clues analyzing how the wall work. And doing this quickly, because hey, the villain's running away!

Also, remember it will be easier for them to find said scrolls if they don't need to dodge fireballs, or if the room is burning, so you may want to make the villain flee the scene after the spell, so that it gives a bit of downtime for the players to (dis)solve the wall.

Give hints about what is going to happen

Like small hidden candies, you can put hints before the fight of what's probably going to happen : The wizard's diary telling how they perfected an unstoppable rainbow wall ("minus" some specific spell weaknesses), hearing prisonners talk about how "they sent my buddy crisping in that rainbow wall", the villain's lieutnant betraying them and giving precious intel...

To make the best experience, give them through opportunities they learn of, like offering them to corrupt the lieutenant to know his favorite spell, deciphering the diary's secret code... Or as rewards of their actions : They taunted the villain into breaking one of the spell's layer, they successfully saved the prisonners, and so on and so on...

Accept failure as a possibility

It doesn't depend on how much you prepare in advance, your players can fail miserably what they are "supposed" to do. You may want to prepare a back-up plan if this happens. Like : the villain escape, but oh no! He let all his stuff all around his evil room, including a note indicating an ominous location wink, wink. Or he may have just taken a passageway to a safe room he cannot escape from. The players will wait around 3 hours, hours that the villain will take to build his last line of defence.

It happens, and it is a part of what makes games interesting! If there is nothing at stake, you will "lose" the thrill of losing and winning. It also helps your players in growing in and out of character, like improving how they save their spells for when they need it, and their characters will know the wizard's will certainly pull this trick out again.

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As I understand your question you want your players not to expect the prismatic wall but still have the resources to deal with it (the difficult part here being to figure they have the resources).

This makes the Primsatic Wall a puzzle type of encounter: here is a Prismatic Wall, how will you proceed to go through it?

How to give the resources to your players

Luckily, the required spells are basic enough that it won't be suspicious if the party finds scrolls or wands of them. To recap:

  • Cone of Cold, 5th lvl spell on the wizard spell list.

  • Gust of Wind, 2nd lvl spell for druid and wizard

  • Disintegrate, 6th lvl spell for wizard

  • Passwall, 5th lvl spell for wizard

  • Magic Missile, 1st lvl spell for wizard

  • Daylight, 3th lvl spell for everyone

  • Dispel Magic, 3th lvl spell for everyone

It would be strange not to have any wand of Magic Missile among all the possessions of the minions the party fought previously. As a 12th level group what you do with such items is usually stash them in your bag of holding and sell them as soon as you can. Simply put some wand user in a previous encounter and voilà.

Gust of Wind, Passwall and Daylight are quite situational spells, but still useful enough for a group to keep them "just in case". You can make your players loot scrolls of those spells previously and not give them a good occasion to use them before this fight without too much effort.

Cone of Cold is a blast spell that still could be pretty useful at lvl 14, so the party may use it sooner. If you don't want that to happen you can give them an item that is more akward to use than a scroll or with more charges, like a Mist Projector.

Disintegrate is the tricky one: a level 12 party will probably want to use it in the beginning of the fight if they can. You can let them emulate this effect in some other way. For example, as your bad guy looks like a gloaty James Bond villain maybe there is a Death Ray Machine in the room? It may sound weird to have a "clever" villain have in his room a weapon that can counter their plan, but if said weapon is actually firing at the PCs during the fight it makes sense.

How to give them a reasong to try to solve your puzzle

As it was mentioned in other answers, the most direct answer to this bad guy's escape is to follow him with any kind of teleportation. Also you need to explain why the bad guy didn't just teleport himself out of trouble. Luckily, in Pathfinder you address all of this with one answer: dimensional anchor. If the whole zone is under Dimensional Anchor (which is reasonable if your villain don't want to be killed during his sleep by teleporting assassins), them he can't teleport away, and the PCs can't teleport to him.

About digging through the wall of the dungeon/waiting for the spell to end: those solutions take time, probably long enough for the villain to escape for good. Solving the puzzle yields to a better ending for the PCs.

Why it is ok to do that

Some may protest that "this is railroading". It is not. You are just giving them tools that will work and let them figure by themselves that they can be used to solve the problem. That said, it can slip to railroading if you are not careful:

  • If they figure an other way to solve your puzzle (Maybe someone in the party manages to counter the casting of Prismatic Wall? Maybe a player still has this weird magic item you forgot you gave them when they were lvl 2 and that happens to be able to temporarily dispel the dimensional anchor field? etc), then let them have their fun! They managed to outsmart the DM after all, that's good sports.
  • If they fail (they spent the resources beforehand, or forgot about them), let them fail. That's not the end of the world: the bad guy can still be stopped an other day.
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I had success with introducing story hooks or hints by earlier treasures - f.e. before encountering a leprechaun my players found a fairy tale book having several minor "faries" explained in them - with hints that a small foresty creature with a big gnarly stick and certain type of clothing likes tricking adventurers and might or might not provide you with a pot full of gold if are smart enough (they were not).

Hints about the prismatic wall could be hidden in some stories or some draconian lore book, describing the astonishing powers prevalent prismatic dragon - beside the prismatic spray breath weaping they gain prismatic wall at ancient age.

Generally I prepare those things as "real" handouts with plenty of unrelated or falsified information so it is kind of obvious that there is something in that piece of treasure (beside the gold value that is).

They get the physical handout if they take enough measures to identify/read/study things - if they just sell it, well - tough luck - ain't gonnna crack that prismatic wall.

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