At the end of the homebrew campaign I’m running, I plan to have the characters face off against a big, scary monster. It’s designed to be (almost) impervious to regular weapon attacks, but there will be various ways to either avoid or negate its attacks and ‘defeat’ it without killing it.
Through various choices made in the adventure so far, the party is actually well on their way to having it in fact be friendly towards them when they encounter it, though it will be dominated and/or controlled by the real enemies into trying to attack the party.
My party has proven to be relatively cautious so far. I would like to describe the creature as large and imposing, with very powerful attacks that would normally reduce anyone caught in them to very small pieces.
I’m afraid that when I describe the creature as super-powerful, my players will decide it is obviously way out of their league and (sensibly) refuse to engage. On the other hand, if I describe the creature as too wounded and weakened, it will not feel like the impressive, nail-biting end-of-adventure encounter I hope to give my players.
The players have discovered so far that the creature is a red dragon, though they don’t know its age. They also know that it’s being held against its will, though I don’t think they realize yet how much it hates its captors.
In past encounters, they have reacted to various descriptions of enemies with realistic responses:
- Their first combat encounter, described as a small handful of goblins and gnolls eating dinner and unaware of the party, had the party sneak into position, then attack with overwhelming force.
- Their third combat encounter, where they thought that a horde of vicious beasts was about to descend on their position, had them retreat and take up defensive positions. (There was only a small horde of confused, weak, hungry creatures, but they didn’t have that information.)
How do I make it clear that, while dangerous, the encounter is well within their means to deal with?
Note: we’re using D&D 5E, though I imagine this question could be applied across various systems.