Encounter culture #4- Evocation
This time encounter culture will take a look at Evocaiton, especially coupled with the idea of mobility and the clever use of mounts.
CR 10 (9,600 xp)
Enemies: 6 level 5 Evocationists, on horseback.
Basic premise: The concept for this encounter is simple. Six evocaitonists, each wearing masks or obvious magical disguises, specialists in evocation plan to effectively incapacitate or kill the party in order to get a hold of their valuables. Using a combination of deadly offensive magic, horses for mobility, and clever tactics, these spell casters a huge advantage that helps even the playing field against their much stronger foes.
The Mages ride up to the party, preferably a safe distance from any law enforcement, and they open fire with an array of spells. Wizards are of course known for their intelligence and as such have a carefully laid out plan. The first wizard to act has the job of hindering the enemies and protecting the rest of their spellcasting team. If the party has mounts that may mean lobbing a damaging spell at their mounts, if the party has ranged attacks it could mean readying a wind wall for the first time a ranged attack gets loosed, or, it could mean just opening up with a round of sheet lightning to try and daze them.
The next few wizards all have the job of focusing on shutting down the parties casters. For each spellcaster on the party a wizard will ready actions to unleash attack spells when they cast in order to disrupt them. Preferably these spells will be fireballs, lightning bolts, that can damage other party members, or admonishing rays so they can knock the players out and capture or loot them later. Although another excellent choice is the flaming sphere, since the mages won't need their move actions to escape their opponents they can use them to move their spheres around in order to both damage AND hinder the party.
After the casters have been accounted for the remaining mages have the job of dealing as much damage as possible. This means usually throwing out fireballs if the party is clustered, or the afore mentioned flaming spheres on the first round so they can lay the double whammy in the next round. If however the party is still managing to mount an offense then these mages should instead focus on preventing that, by focusing down who or whatever is able to threaten them, by killing mounts, targeting ranged weapon users, or using magic to stun, trip, or disarm enemy melee combatants.
This encounter serves as a great acid test for players, to see if they are able to adapt to unusual combat encounters, and can serve as a great learning experience. If they're nearing or at 10th level they need to be prepared for fights like this, and the mages having the intent to rob, and not kill, gives that safety net in case the players are caught totally unprepared. I would recommend this for a party of level 7-9 playerssince it does make such a good learning tool, and the stronger the players are, the easier it is for them to shrug off the threat these craft casters pose.
Building the enemies:
It's not hard to slap together a very functional evocations. Load up on a variety of attack spells, especially the ones mentioned above and let them fly. With the intense spells class feature every offensive spell should be pulling in two extra damage which will quickly add up. Selecting a Bonded item and having it function as a wand can be very helpful as will be explained shortly. Another good option is a raven or monkey familiar that can chuck out alchemist fires and thunderstones at casters or tanglefoot bags at hapless mounts.
The bonus feat gained at fifth level could be traded away for Creative Destruction, to give the wizards a little more survivability. One could also give them craft wand since wands might be extreemly useful for their plans. A few metamagic feats work very well for this situation, such as Bouncing spell, which is very effective when used on a flaming sphere as it not only gives them another chance to hit, but if the first target dodges it gives them the potential to move their sphere to another target within medium range. The Mages could also take Merciful spell if the GM wants them to knock the party out so they can rob or capture them, without actually killing them. Another fine choice would be still spell, allowing them to cast on horseback without risking losing their spell, though other options exist below. And of course a Toppling magic missile is a great way to ruin the day one a mounted enemy since you can blast both them and their horse for twice the chance of slowing them down.
If the wizards can maintain a safe distance using only their mounts move actions they can cast without any penalties, but if they will need to move any faster than that it's recommended to either equip them with partially charged wands containing the spells they need, or putting two of their feats into the getting the stellar Uncanny concentration. The Mages may be using a Mount spell, or may simply have some lightly armored warhorses, either way works equally well.
My recommendation is to just make 1 wizard and copy them 6 times, and then give each unique personality traits, but if you really want to then feel free to custom tailor 6 unique spellcasters.
Tale of the tape: 6 level 5 enemies does make for a CR 10 encounter. Ordinarily I might count the challenge rating as one higher due to the very clever tactics and environmental advantage the mages have, but the reality is that the players will be nearly equal in number and close to double in power, they need the help. If the players have a really tough time of the fight consider awarding them xp for a CR 11 encounter (12,800 xp)
Hooks: If the mages are attempting to kill the players then there may be a good reason, perhaps this is no mere robbery, but instead a hit in disguise. And if they DO incapacitate the party there are a host of options for what can happen next. A daring escape from their lair? A naked hike through dangerous hostile territory? Gathering info about the identities of these spellcasters in order to track down their stolen gear? The possibilities are endless.
Variations: To really play up the desperado outlaw angle the mages could be spellslingers, armed with rifles and pistols. They could also be replaced by rogues, slayers, or even bards using magic items to emulated the necessary spells. Lastly the scenario could be played out very similarly with alchemists using a variety of bombs and alchemical items at a lower level.