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I am planning on running an epic-level campaign with a party of indeterminate size. The idea is they will be fighting Asmodeus with a custom stat block who will be approximately CR 40. They will have Tiamat, a CR 30 god fighting on their side (stats from Rise of Tiamat). How many players/NPCs of level 20 will be necessary to make this an encounter of Hard or Deadly difficulty (for a well-balanced party)?

CR 40 would effectively entail more/more powerful attacks, more legendary actions allowed, higher AC, and higher raw scores.

Actually, I found a work-up of Asmodeus that is close but not quite what I want. I will make some minor edits to that, but it is almost what I want. Perhaps a bit higher AC, play around with his legendaries, etc. (with rolling-for-initiative's rules except for Pledge of Tiamat or with a caveat that makes that useless).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm afraid adding the later clause "what if Asmodeus was CR 30 instead what allies would he need" threw everyone off, and it's also hard to answer because then the number of PCs isn't fixed (ideally it could be answered as a function of # PCs, but...). Ask your question and then ask a followup if the circumstances change, to keep this Q on track. Edited and reopened. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Oct 19 '16 at 12:19
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For this question I'll be assuming a 4 character party, so you can adjust the number of players necessary. When figuring out encounter difficulty, there are a few things that are mentioned but not expanded on in the DMG, which I will talk about here:

  • Party composition vs monster abilities. This is by far the biggest factor in calculating encounter difficulty. The CR in the Monster Manual and the DMG are, in my opinion, only valid for some party compositions. I've had parties which had trouble with what should have been a medium encounter, and others that breezed through deadly encounters. A level 20 sorcerer/warlock multiclass, for example, can kill a Tarrasque (CR 30) almost comically easily if he starts far enough away, but will be defeated in about 5 rounds by a Solar (CR 21).

Here's what you need to consider:

  • Damage dealing: Can the party RDPR surpass the boss's RDPR (Relative Damage per Round), meaning can they take a bigger chunk out of his health every round than the one he can take from them. For hard encounters, the party RDPR should be slightly higher, or even for deadly encounters.
  • Damage Resistances: What kind of damage can my party do, and is he immune or resistant to this damage. If he is immune or resistant to half or more of the possible damage types, double his effective HP. If he is vulnerable to damage dealt by the party, lower his effective HP.
  • Monster Range vs Party Range: Can the monster reach your PCs, or is he left in the dust? Is he mainly a melee character or a spell-caster. In Asmodeus' case, you have a basically half-melee half-caster monster, so this isn't a huge thing to worry about for you, but any melee characters are gonna have a tough time hitting him due to his speed, flight and wall spells.
  • Tanks. In battle of titans such as this, chances are one side will win by attrition more than by a one-hit kill. If you have both a wizard and a moon druid for example, the wizard can cast sympathy/antipathy on the druid to force Asmodeus to attack him first. Given Asmodeus' low damage output, he would never be able to put down a level 20 druid, who could constantly use Combat Wild Shape, using his basic attacks, forcing him to use spells on the creature. If a healer is also in the party, or if the druid uses his spell slots to heal, the rest of the party will bring down Asmodeus without any problem.
  • Control spells and CC. Although Asmodeus doesn't have any attacks that cause massive damage to one character, he has a fair share of crowd control attacks that can damage a sizable group.
  • Frightful Presence. The party killer, who has brought more than one legendary group to its knees. Given Asmodeus' DC 26 save against being frightened, it's fair to say many will be affected. Barbarians, however, will pas with flying colors if in rage; druids, wizards (especially divination), and monks also have a fair chance of succeeding, especially with later immunities for the monk; and fighter and rogue have also a fairly good chance with their class features.

All in all, my conclusion is the following: given a party of four who is also accompanied by a CR 30 Tiamat, not only do you not need to add anyone to the party, you can probably give a small buff to Asmodeus. If the party has weaker gear, such as no legendary items or artifacts, you can add one party member.

You can also simply take Asmodeus as he is now, and add one or two level 20 NPCs on his side if the party is particularly strong (i.e. Moon Druid, Divination Wizard, Warlock 2/Sorcerer 18, and Rogue/Bard) Good luck!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just for the sake of argument, if Tiamat were taken out by Asmodeus's Pledge of Tiamat ability, how would that affect the number of players needed/ for a hard or deadly encounter? \$\endgroup\$ – Layla Oct 19 '16 at 6:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, I think that can be calculated with a simple online CR calculator, sorry. \$\endgroup\$ – Layla Oct 19 '16 at 6:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any source for the example "sorcerer/warlock VS Tarrasque or Solar"? I am interested \$\endgroup\$ – firion Oct 19 '16 at 8:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ I only have my own calculations, but basically the Solar and the Tarrasque can out-damage the warlock 2/sorcerer 18, but the sorcerer can outrun the Tarrasque. \$\endgroup\$ – QuantumDM Oct 19 '16 at 12:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Layla it seems silly of Tiamat to face Asmodeus if there's even a small chance that she'll get hit by the Pledge. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Oct 20 '16 at 3:11
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I feel at this point you are creating a cinematic encounter rather than a tactical one. I'd be more inclined to make certain things happen in battle that have a DC rather than math out Asmodeus and Tiamat and treat them like players/monsters. Like having people do saves against fire raining down summoned by the enemy or disabling the enemy's shields to let Tiamat attack them. But if you are speaking of pure numbers here is the equation as I know it.

Average level of player/4 = CR

But in this case I'd say it's something close to this: (30 + (PC level × num of players))/4 = CR

But it's hard for me to say.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1. I remember a FR module where the PCs were present for a god-on-god avatar fight. Mainly they dealt with blowback instead of really "stabbing the god." But of course that sucks as an experience. But at least this takes it from "sucks with a lot of math involved" to "sucks but relax and it'll be over soon." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Oct 18 '16 at 21:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ For sure. The worst thing a DM can do to themselves is spend time crunching numbers and looking up spells. The blowback sounds rough but sounds better than a DM stimulating a battle with themselves. \$\endgroup\$ – Serene Engineer Oct 19 '16 at 6:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ The intention is for it to be a tactical encounter, which is why I might use Pledge of Tiamat to make it a player-vs-god epic level encounter. \$\endgroup\$ – Layla Oct 23 '16 at 2:13

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