Didn’t finish writing up my entry on building two new encounters because I picked something a bit difficult to design to start. So look for that in the next few days. For now though here’s an encounter I designed for my level 3 party. Spoilers for my group, if you care.
2 ghouls and a ghost, which is already possessing a person. If you have fewer than 6 players this will appear way too deadly for your party but don’t worry. It won’t TPK. Read their entries in the MM. page 147 and 148. Pay attention to ghosts, fright, fly and ability to change planes.
The party walks into a crowded square, a fountain in the middle and statues in the corners. There are two exits. The one they entered from and a large set of stairs across from them. They hear a scream as they enter, roll initiative.
Across the way the ghouls and ghost, which has possessed a person remember, are slaughtering people. The ghost is targeting kids, the ghouls are killing indiscriminately. The party needs to make a DC 15 Perception to see what’s happening. The crowd is difficult terrain to make it though unless one of the party takes an action to open a passage.
When the party reaches the monsters the ghouls ignore them and continue killing people. I had the ghouls kill a person on every hit, instead of rolling damage but feel free to do it however you want. The ghost will do the same unless there is a tiefling in the group. The ghost will be holding a kid when the party gets over and have a readied action to slit his throat as soon as they can see/get close. Technically he isn’t waiting for that, but it’s a trigger for dramatic/narrative sake, as opposed to realism.
The Ghost is the soul of dragonborn wizard that was captured and forced to slay his own family with his spells by mental domination when the tiefling empire invaded his city. He is possessing his spell book, which was picked up by a wannbe. While controlling the human he was able to raise two ghouls but that was all he could do with his power. The ghouls have one instruction, destroy all they can. The ghost will in order try to hunt tieflings, kids, parents, regular people to make everyone feel his pain.
When I wrote the encounter I wrote it so that every bystander killed would remove 100 XP from the total XP because with the monsters not attacking directly it wouldn’t drain the party the way an encounter of that XP is supposed to. However this can sound like punishing which is a downer while playing. Instead I say start at half the XP, between 1,100 and 1,500 most likely. Give them 15 bystanders to save. For each that lives give them a bonus 100XP. With 2-3 bystanders dropping in the first 2-3 rounds and probably 1 at most dropping for the next 6 rounds(at which point the encounter should be over) it makes it a challenge but still possible and about the same effect if they don’t try to save anyone. Make sure to let them know when the encounter starts so they have the same meta motivation their characters should have narratively.
Two other options I’ve thought of add 3-4 more ghouls which act like normal monsters and have the original 2 just killing and the ghost killing till the 3-4 body guard ghouls drop. Run it as a 2 wave encounter for XP. Alternatively give them full XP but don’t use that when calculating adventuring day budget.
To add a little bit of difficulty have the ghost float above the party when it’s host is killed or it’s driven from it. It drops down, attacks, then floats up out of the melee characters reach. Combine this with giving players an opportunity to use their reaction to pull bystanders out of the way of ghouls so they have to pick whether they prefer opportunity attacks or saving people.
Hope you like this encounter. Let me know what you think of it.