So, I know this question seems silly on face because of the level disparity (and I'd even be willing to adjust the character level down if necessary) but what I'm most concerned about are action economy and save-or-suck effects.
For a little background:
The Paladin is the former spouse of one of the party members, alignment swapped by the Balance card from the Deck of Many Things. The party wants to face her, take her alive, and switch her alignment back by forcing her to wear a magic nose ring of Reverse Alignment.
This is supposed to be a huge culmination of many sessions of planning and intrigue, and I want to pay it off right. There will be a lot of negotiating and roleplaying, which I'm confident about running, but once they reach an impasse combat will almost certainly happen, and that's where my worries start.
What I don't want to happen:
- Paladin loses initiative, all four party members get to attack, reducing her to less than half of her 158 hit points. She has to use her turn either healing herself or running away, or else die the following round.
- Paladin doesn't lose initiative, maybe does heavy damage or even incapacitates one PC, but then either the Cleric or the Wizard casts a fight-ending spell like "Hold Monster", "Polymorph," or "Dominate Person." The Paladin's Wis save is +9, but the Cleric's save DC is 19 and the Wizard's is 17, so there's still roughly a 50-50 chance of this working. They slap the nose ring on her and the danger is over. Even a spell like "Command" would be devastating in this context.
Solutions I've Considered:
- Add more NPCs to the encounter to balance the action economy. This is pretty straightforward, but I'm still worried about save-or-suck effects that take the Paladin out of the fight and end the conflict. I'm also worried that adding more NPCs will take the encounter balance too far in the other direction, downing the party before they have a chance to do anything. Plus, I don't want to add so many other NPCs that the intimacy of the encounter is lost.
- Give the Paladin Legendary Resistance, or some magic item that allows her to resist spells, such as an ioun stone or rod of absorption. This solves the save-or-suck problem, but in a way that feels like it directly invalidates the casters' powers. Also, since I'm building the Paladin as a PC, Legendary Resistance feels cheap, and I'm not super excited about giving my players access to a Rod of Absorption after the fight.
Even though I'm not thrilled with these options, I could throw them together and call it a day. What I'm looking for are times when you've run/participated in similar scenarios, and what you/your DM did to try and balance them.