Combat challenge 12
1 Deva (CR 10)
2 Water weirds (CR 7)
3 Awakened trees (CR 2)
A retreat for the deva on the mortal plane.
Combat challenge 14
1 Deva (CR 10)
1 Young silver dragon (CR 9)
Combat challenge 17
1 Deva (CR 10)
1 Werebear(CR 5)
2 Treants (CR 9)
Combat challenge 20
2 Deva (CR 10)
2 Air elementals (CR 5)
1 Earth elemental (CR 5)
1 Water elemental (CR 5)
1 Guardian naga (CR 10)
I am going to start with discussing angels in general. Further on, we’ll do the deva specifically.
Why Angels Don’t Do Everything
A look at possible reasons why the PCs are left to go on quests. Why the angels don’t defeat all the villains for them. (The monster manual tries to give a reason, but comes up short. All it says is that then the angels would take over completely. It doesn’t address why that would be a problem.)
- They don’t want to deprive the mortals of free will.
(While a classic, I wouldn’t use it during a campaign where the villains are fiends [or shortly before or after such a campaign.] Allowing free will shouldn’t extend to not interfering while their counterpart takes away that free will.)
(I once read a book where the evil deity snuck into the mortal realm by hiding on the good deity’s back. After a very cursory attempt to stop him, the good deity announced that as he believed in free will, he wouldn’t be helping the mortals deal with the evil deity. It was their choice whether to fight him or not. Dude, you’re the entire reason he’s here in the first place!)
- The more they appear in the mortal planes, the easier it is for the fiends to do likewise. (As war tends to cause destruction and corruption, having them both enter the mortal plane is an exchange that will favor the fiends, even if the angels win the war.)
- Most mortals have some good in them, and it is hard for angels to deal with this. (Fiends don’t have this problem. After all, they’ll happily kill each other, despite the fact that they’re both evil.)
To present this in your D&D game, have the angel say that it is not permitted for him to kill [name of non-fiend enemy] as he is not yet completely evil. He can also tell the players that it is only forbidden to him, but they are free to do as they think best [and to hint to them further that they should attack, if they are uncertain.]
(I kind of like this approach, as it explains why those celestial type creatures that live on the mortal plane [including other good creatures. Metallic dragons, dryads, unicorns and more] typically live in isolation. All mortals are a combination of good and evil. They can’t attack them, because of the good in them, but they don’t enjoy living near them, because of the evil.
Some Basic Angel Tactics
Angels will generally use this on PCs only when the PC has done something to deserve it. I.e., after they win a fight, or complete a leg of a quest that the angel cares about.
The angel will decide who to heal, and how much. I’d suggest one healing surge for anybody below 50% HP, and two for anyone below 20%. If there is more need than the angel has healing surges available, the angel will choose, based either on need or on virtue, depending on whether you want to annoy your players. (They won’t like the virtue option.)
Resurrecting characters from the dead is something the angel will only do begrudgingly, and if the character is truly virtuous. The in-game reason is because it interferes with the cycle of nature, and/or because when people are immune to the consequences of their actions it tends to bring about arrogance and eventually selfishness. The real reason is because free resurrections tend to break the game.
Self-Defense Against Good-Aligned Characters
In the unusual case where the angel is attacked by characters that are good, I would suggest it responds as follows:
If some of them are evil, the angel will kill those in whatever order makes the most tactical sense, and then it will leave. You can’t reason with people right after you kill their friends.
If none of them are evil, the angel will kill the strongest [hardest to kill] PC who is not the party leader, then offer to resurrect him as proof of the angel’s good intentions [resurrecting someone that the angel killed is not interfering with nature’s cycle, apparently.] Of course, it will expect the PCs to stop attacking in exchange.
[If they accept the deal, and then attack afterwards, they have proven themselves to be evil, not to mention total jerks. At this point, a TPK is totally deserved.]
The general rule with good alignment creatures is that there is three ways to use them: Have them turn evil, have them decide the PCs are evil [and attack them], are to give quests. I will note that you can combine the quest option with one of the other options. Either have them give a quest, and later decide that the PCs don’t deserve to succeed; or have them as an enemy, and as they lay dying, the experience of facing their own mortality makes them reconsider.
(The fourth option for good aligned monsters is to have them join the quest. The deva is the only one that might be weak enough for that to even be an option (never have an NPC ally who is stronger than the players. The story/game is about them, and they deserve the spotlight,) and only for an extremely high-level party (level 14 minimum.) Even so, the fact that angels take charge is a reason against having one join. The players need to be the ones in charge, and making the decisions.)
How to Use – The Deva’s Tests
One of the most obvious ways to use the deva, with its shape changing ability, is to have it set up non-combat encounters where the players are presented with difficult moral choices. While the deva is a messenger, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily always sent to deliver a message to a specific location. It might be sent to deliver a message to humanity’s champion, and it has to decide who that is. (Apart from enabling these tests, this also opens up the possibility to continue the story with other characters if some or all of the original characters should die, or be retired.
Let’s look at some possible moral tests:
- The basic is where some people [NPCs] or in trouble and need help/rescuing. This can be either as a quest, or something they encounter during a quest, where they have to decide whether to accept the additional difficulty that helping these people will cause.
While this is a great way to create a side quest or introduce a complication into a quest, and while your players will probably enjoy it, you should be aware that this isn’t a true decision. The players will always choose to help the other people. After all, they came to play D&D in the first place to play adventures and heroics, so why wouldn’t they do this. the extra difficulty is a bonus to them, it makes the game more exciting, it’s not a negative.
None of this means you shouldn’t choose this option. I think it’s a very good option, personally.
- Don’t make the test be how they treat an orc/goblin or other evil race. With racism so much in the news, it can be tempting to have a goblin child wrongfully accused of theft, or for the accusations against the orc tribe be just that, accusations. The basic premise of fantasy worlds is to assume that evil races are evil unless there is a strong reason to assume otherwise, and to expect your players to know that this time is different is just unfair.
And now let’s look at some ideas that make for a more complex moral test (warning: the fact that they are more complex means that there is a real chance that the players will not pass them.)
- The basic premise of a choice is that both choices are tempting. To make it a test, make certain that the wrong choice is at least as tempting as the right one, perhaps more so. With that in mind –
The players have an appointment to meet an NPC at a certain place and time for an important event. Perhaps he has information leading to a valuable treasure [it should be something they’d like, but not something they need]. They are warned to be they’re on time [either he really values punctuality, or he is about to travel somewhere.] They are presented with an event that will make the timing close, but is still doable [because if not it’s too obvious what they should do,] and as they rush to make the appointment, they come across an old lady struggling to cross a bridge [could be anything, really, but this one is traditional.]
The old lady is obviously the deva in disguise. The person they were to meet with is probably also the deva, and the event that made the timing close might also have been the deva.
- They are helping an apothecary [the deva in disguise] brew a rare potion. When it’s finished, they will get a reward, possibly a dose or two of the potion. After 2-3 easy ingredients [to build commitment,] the final ingredient requires them to kill a mother animal that is nursing, which by necessity will cause the young to die.
Alternatively, the ingredient can only be obtained from one individual who refuses to sell for no reason [or a not very good reason], leaving them with no choice but to steal it. For added difficulty, make the owner obnoxious.
A third option, possibly the hardest, is that the ingredient is illegal, such as a drug. The players have a way to get it, and will easily be able to justify it, as they don’t want it for an immoral purpose, after all. That said, just the act of breaking the law is immoral.
- Have an NPC behave obnoxiously toward them, possibly cause them a loss, and then come to them for help. Even while asking for help, he refuses to apologize [he’s too proud,] and it isn’t something where lives are at stake [although it shouldn’t be unimportant, either. Also, He is desperate, although he’s trying not to show it.]
With this one, I might not have the deva stage it. Instead, the deva witnesses it, and if they help this guy, it shows him that they’re the ones he’s looking for.
If your plot requires the deva to choose them, I would suggest that you use one of my hard ones. Then, if they don’t act properly, bring in a distraction and then move on to my first suggestion, the one I labeled as not a true choice. They’ll most likely not connect the first test with the deva [unless you tell them. Don’t,] and you’ll get your preferred outcome without them feeling like their choice doesn’t matter.
I want to mention that providing choices that matter in your D&D game is one of the best ways there are to make it popular. The trick to providing a real choice is to have both sides of the choice be tempting. Offer a high-risk battle [and make certain that they know that it’s both high-risk and optional to the campaign] that they might not succeed at winning with a worthwhile reward, offer them an optional quest that will make them a powerful enemy who will likely come after them again in the future, even just give them two different ways to pursue a goal. This isn’t the place to discuss it at length, but I wanted to at least mention it.
You can do this in a campaign, by the way, not just in a sandbox. I suspect the freedom of choice is one of the main reasons why Curse of Strahd is possibly the most popular adventure of 5E, and the makers of D&D realize it. They’ve been trying to follow that design in Icewind Dale and other adventures.
Perhaps I’ll discuss it more at length another time. This is, unfortunately, not the place for it.
Combat Encounter (difficulty 11)
When fighting a deva, the first rule is that the deva will choose the time and place. With unlimited shapechanging, and high intelligence and wisdom, the deva knows anything it needs to know about the party. Just assuming it approached them in various guises, and observed them while in the form of various animals, until it got all the information it needed. Then it will steer them in the right direction by letting loose whatever information necessary, and lure them into the exact spot by appearing as a person or animal in trouble, needing rescue. [an alternative is to appear as a villain that manages to run away from them until it has them exactly where it wants them.]
For the deva, the ideal spot will be in a forest, a spot where there are so many low branches and waist high thornbushes that it’s hard to see or move. The branches will block the sight of range attacks and spells [giving the attacks disadvantage, as though they’re blinded, or at least a -2 or -3 to hit. The bushes will make it hard for other melee fighters to join the battle.
- After luring in the players, the deva will transform, making an epic announcement [probably something about the players being guilty, and divine judgement etc.] to hide the fact that it can’t attack on the turn it transforms*, and the battle will begin. (The transformation will probably take the players by surprise. As such, you can rule that it is the surprise round, followed by rolling for initiative.
- Alternatively, it can use its first turn, while still disguised, to push one of the players into a thorn bush. (While its attack roll will be lower in another form, it will also have advantage due to surprise. Choose a form that has at least +6 to hit.) There will be a rope trap inside the thornbush, the kind with loops of rope that tighten as the person struggles.
This will take one of the players out of the combat, and by remaining between the two PCs it will make it hard for the casters to use AOE spells without hurting a PC. Remaining between the PCs also prevents them from cutting the trapped PC free.
(Will this cost it the surprise round it used to transform? If it’s in the shape of a human, almost certainly. If it’s disguised as an animal, watch to see how the players react before announcing combat. They may decide that the animal didn’t mean to attack, and that the rope trap was set by some enemy that isn’t here or that they don’t see. If so, you arguably still have surprise.)
- If the deva decides it’s losing, or taking too much damage, try grappling one of the PCs and flying off with him. (The deva is strong enough to fly through the branches, although it might count as difficult terrain.) The deva’s movement speed is enough to outdistance the PCs, even flying at half speed due to grappling. Also, the players are moving through difficult terrain, and after the first turn you can use your action to dash.
Once you’ve kidnapped a PC, you have three options:
- Finish the PC off, stabilize him so he won’t die (both because of fairness, and because even a fallen deva is still an angel,) and finish the fight with the remaining PCs
- Give the kidnapped person somewhere to hide, possibly cheating to let him escape grapple even if he didn’t roll high enough. The rest of the party can arrive before the deva can finish him off, and the fight will resume from there.
- The deva doesn’t try to finish him off. Instead, the deva takes his form and begins sprinting towards the party. If the kidnapped PC pursues, they fight each other, both accusing the other of being the imposter. (Because the deva was running toward the party, he looks like the real PC.)
When impersonating a character, have the player move to sit right next to you. Either you or he will have to speak both for the PC and for the imposter, while the other one can feed him lines. I suggest turning on music to make it harder for the other players to accidently overhear.
This is my general idea of how to run a deva, but you will have to adapt it based on your player’s specific classes, spells and abilities.
One last item: if one of your players has a familiar, that will greatly weaken all parts of the deva’s strategy. I would suggest that the deva, in the guise of a natural predator, kill the familiar shortly before beginning the encounter. Have a short interruption, so that they’re not too suspicious when the deva-in-disguise calls for help, then begin the encounter.
If you can’t provide an interruption, have the deva begin the encounter by taking the guise of a human and telling the players that he/she saw a person or animal that is hurt, and asking them to help. Then, since the deva can’t be in two places at once, they’ll excuse themselves to go fetch a doctor or inform a relative (if using an injured human as the lure) or because they have something they ungently need to take care of or an appointment (if using an animal.)
*I’m hiding the fact that it takes a turn because it makes the angel seem more impressive, not for tactical advantage. One of the rules of roleplaying an angel is that it always seems impressive.