The Crimson Blades and their followers are about to fight an iron dragon! As this will be the first solo encounter I've designed, I wanted to ruminate about it online a bit and seek advice. Anything to avoid? Any tips? Most of all, any suggestions for how to handle the party's followers?
Here's the details:
The Blades average about level 6.5.* All four roles are covered, and they've doubled up in striker. They are backed by ~30 mercenary minions of uncertain morale. Control of the mercs will be split among the players, with suicidal misuse having morale impacts. The mercs will probably be of equivalent level to the dragon, so their to-hits will be in sync with its defenses.
Storywise, the Blades set out to sack the lair of a young iron dragon. But the YID won the approach phase of the encounter and chose to engage away from the lair, in open country where there isn't a lot of cover or elevation, where it can strafe the Blades and stay distant during breath weapon downtimes. This seems like the optimal use of a dragon with hover flying.
By the book, the YID is a 5th level solo, but I'm certain he'll need to be upgunned to face this party. He's from the MM2 and presumably doesn't suffer the design flaws of MM1 solos -- a popgun attack and suffocating defenses. He looks pretty studly to me. When I do upgun him, I won't put his defenses up so high that he gets boring. He'll also probably have some minions of his own, little iron blastlings that he'll airdrop into the fray to harass the party.
I'm thinking this encounter will be mostly about shepherding soldiers through fire. The mercs will have useful ranged attacks, but aren't so sure they want to be there. They may have a special vulnerability to Intimidate attacks, a lower general Will defense to reflect their soggy morale, and they might just break and run at some point.
It's that last 'break and run' bit that vexes me. I want the players to have to consider whether they ought to rally their followers or play with their own powers. Trouble is, 4E doesn't really have a loyalty / morale subsystem, and I don't see anything I can drift into that role, so I have to invent something appropriate.
Inputs to this subsystem are easy to think of:
* fallen mercenary count
* dragon hit point count
* PC actions - skill rolls, critical hits, etc. Diplomacy especially should play a role to influence the mercs during battle. The party Warlord has invested a feat in it, so I want to make it a useful thing. Intimidate could also be useful.
I'm not sure of the ideal outputs of the subsystem. I'm kinda picturing a morale meter that tracks the mercs' general willingness to fight and die. Maybe the morale meter is moved up and down by the subsystem inputs and then whenever a merc gets an odd number on a to-hit roll that misses, the current consequence specified by the meter happens to that merc?
* The Blades are:
Human battlerager fighter 7
Tiefling tactical warlord 7
Dragonborn archer-ranger 6
Human druid 6
Deva isolating avenger 7
Goblin warrior companion character.