View Full Version : {3.5] DM to DM HELP...An Eberron Campaign

2009-05-04, 11:05 AM
Hey all you DM's out there.

i need a hand here i've been running a campaign in Eberron for quite some time now and my players are becoming pretty powerfull(lv 9) they have deserved it, and i don't want to be a killjoy and take their magic gear from them off or indgame. but i do need to kick them down a notch.

The campaign is centered on the revival of the mark of death and the rise of house vol. slowly another danger from argonessen and Arenal closes ind on khorvaire to witness the socalled revival! the pc's tries to stop this

the pc's consist of the following

the "of war" paladin and favored soul is a homemade version making them more commited to their land instead of good and evil

human female paladin of war 5/Deadgrim 4: karrnarth fanatic and carrying a souleating talking demon axe which is quite overpowered but will result in her doom soon enough.+ its quite anoying:P

Dwarf male favored soul of war 9: captain in the karrnathi army and have oracle visions (dm plots mostly) quite new as his old cha got "discharged" by the other in the party becouse of his alliance to thrane.

human male rouge 4/ psion 5: the oldest and only surviving pc from the original party.he is a very depressed soul just trying to find peace in a world that just wont stop bugging him. biggest wish is to settle down and leave the world behind. offgame: the player is quite the rulerlawyer and fights me on every possible rule clash.

changeling "female" wizard 9: the newest addition to the party, optimistic and quite obsessed with evocation. has multiple personas but most are quite social and life loving.

these pc's are more Antiheroes than real heroes. they will stop at nothing to get the job done, do not care about the cosequence of destroying a town if it would halt the advance of vol. and that is what is making them powerfull they are quite feared and renowned in khorvaire and stormreach( took down the whole titan gang in one battle)

The karrnathi are fighting against vol i should say as the only country right now.Lharzarr is plaqued by a disease called "the dancing death" which makes the skeleton jump out of the disesed body and wreak havoc.

Yes i have been generous with the loot so that is propably why they are so powerfull (especially the paladin/deadgrim and the rouge/psion). And they are having fun so all in all everything is great. but i need to put the fear of death and failure back into them.

when they fight its do or die, they very rarely flee and it is hard to make them flee becouse they would rather die than defeated

So if any of you DM's out there has some cool ideas well please share, as i love this campaign, but need to balance it a bit or make the challenges worthwhile

the party last triumf was against the following in xendrik
2 drow ranger3 /fighters 3
1 advanced shieldgolem with improved damage (4d6+6*2)
1 ex-paladin 5/blackguard 2
1 mummylord (lv 10 cleric) cr 15
1 antagonist(one of the main antagonists and former pc) lv 5 artificer lv 5 favoured in house(mark of death)

they had one ekstra pc with them a plain rouge lv 7
oh yeah they were lv 8/7 at that point

+ they almost pwned a whole emerald claw army

2009-05-04, 11:32 AM
Well, I don't know enough about your encounter design to really comment, but here are some things you could try.

Extended Encounters: Three of your four PCs (I'm not sure what a Deadgrim is, so it might be 4/4) rely at least partly on spells, a non-renewable resource during heavy combat. So don't give them time between combats to refresh their spells...slowly wear them down with armies of undead, followed by an attack by some more powerful NPCs when the PCs are low on health and spells. No self-respecting evil villain will willingly face the PCs at full strength...or on the PCs time table.

Varied Encounter Design: You may have been doing this already. A fight with four level 8 Drow Archers in a 30x30 foot room spells death for the Archers. A fight with the same Archers when the Archers are manning the battlements of a fortress 40 feet above the PCs? When the Archers are sniping with poisoned arrows from the towers of Sharn at the PCs as they travel across the town? My DM once ran a great encounter with a similiar situation, only some of the arrows were poisoned with a Hold Person effect with a fairly high DC. Really freaked us out, once the tank got immobilized and we had to make a stand against the assassin hordes without our main fighter.

Imagine, for example, two parallel Lightning Rails, one with the PCs on it, and one bringing a hit team. Trees, rocks, and tunnels break up the line of sight, and the opponent's train isn't running at a constant speed...it picks up speed, then falls away, coming back again for a second run...

Hit Them Where It Hurts: Do the PCs have anything they love or care about in the game? If so, threaten it. Have them realize that there is a price to pay for the havoc they cause to their foes. Smart opponents will realize that, if a confrontation is likely to end in their defeat, it's better to attack elsewhere.

2009-05-04, 11:47 AM
the party last triumf was against the following in xendrik
2 drow ranger3 /fighters 3
1 advanced shieldgolem with improved damage (4d6+6*2)
1 ex-paladin 5/blackguard 2
1 mummylord (lv 10 cleric) cr 15
1 antagonist(one of the main antagonists and former pc) lv 5 artificer lv 5 favoured in house(mark of death)

Was this all in one combat?

Depending on your play style for the enemies, you might want to mix up the tactics a bit. tried and true tactics for a DM include: Archers Ready their attacks on the casters to make a difficult concentration check for casting. An enemy caster can start debuffing with a chained (or lesser rod of chain spell) targeted dispel magic on the front liner(s), which will probably dispel most of there buffs/gear (Want to be really mean add in a shatter spell). An enlarged spiked chain Tripper could be in front, or another caster to web/grease/entangle the area to give the ranged warriors/casters some protection from close combat while minions (I like scombies) scatter the floor making it difficult to charge, or move without provoking a pot shot or two from the minions.

A fun trick I used before was playing with terrain. Give an enemy a ring of water walking on top of a pool of water with the PC's having to wade in for melee, and you will find PCs running for cover against ranged attacks/magic missiles and pulling out there bows to return fire. Fight on top of cliffs/buildings, ambush where terrain is most suited for an ambush. Fighting amongst fire can be fun and dramatic, especially if oil is involved, makes bullrushing a bit more interesting.

Some terrain things might include a fight with an unseen seer that has made various magical traps and laid cubes of force to make the area like a board game (of coarse the unseen seer will know all the traps and there resets).

Another option is to just have something really out there crazy. The ground can be open force chests that close when something is inside, a master of the unseen hand could be flying and disarming the PCs with hopes that his construct minions can best them in melee.

A really clever DM I played with had a room with a few clever traps inside of it. In a dungeon we were raiding where we had full knowledge the enemy knew we were coming, we got locked in an iron room with iron golems (standing motionless at the time) around the walls. On the floor were pressure traps that did various things the most notable was a complex fireball/home brewed cloud kill trap that went off every few rounds once activated, but could be activated multiple times (the area of the fireball was
enhanced by the gas, but burned up the gas so we had moments to breath).
The room was crazy deadly, with our paladin facing seemingly unstoppable golems, the rogue holding his breath try to rush disable devices for a path to get out (some pressure traps slid walls over the locked doors), the caster was doing all he could to suppress the fireball trap while the cleric was trying to buff up the swashbuckler so he could keep attempting to grapple with the iron constructs.

Curses are nice way to slowly ware down a PC, likewise vile damage or Poisions, and with various necromancers in Vol you could have enemies that explode only to heal up other undead enemies.

Maybe you want something as simply as screwing the PC's vision, throw a farrie fire + obscuring mist/fog cloud at the PCs (or better yet in trap form) the enemies will have a huge advantage being able to see the PCs without it being the other way around.

Otherwise, things that jump into melee should be large or larger and be somewhat intelligent, using AoOs for bullrush (see the Knock Back Feat in RoS), Disarm, Sunder or Grapple. An enemy should always play toward there strength... so A Caster coming into melee, the monster might want to disarm/sunder while a warrior you might want to try bullrush and a rogue you would want to try a grapple. At this point in the game, a single enemy against a PC will just fall from the sheer lack of actions in combat.

Any NPC that doesn't have a reasonable intelligence should be bared from knowing such tactics.

Those are a few options I can think of off the top of my head

2009-05-04, 12:27 PM
Thanks guys

great advice well yeah the campaign is more complicated than i described one of the players has so far written approx 300 pages of notes for the game..

and yes it was in one combat, the pc's was chasing them through xendrik and cought up with them during the night

i tried threatning them with the loves one worked with the old party but the new ones they are quite the loners

the rouge/psion has a mom that don't want anything to do with him but maybe he will stil try to save her? he has never met his dad as he is a rape child but he now that he is alive.

the paladin/deadgrim has a brother who has been "brainwashed" into serving the blood of vol so there might be something fun to do

i am fairly used with running encounters in difficult terrain but the players know me and have bought tons of magic items to help them overcome such opstacles..although the water part sounds fun:P

2009-05-04, 06:50 PM
i am fairly used with running encounters in difficult terrain but the players know me and have bought tons of magic items to help them overcome such opstacles..although the water part sounds fun:P

Well, while this IS Eberron, that doesn't mean magic is readily available for every purpose. In my mind, Eberron magic has a more utilitarian purpose: Lightning Rails rather than numerous magic staffs, and Everbright Lanterns rather than, say, Crystal Balls. So just because it exists doesn't mean you need to give them access to it. That's probably part of the problem. Just restrict their items for a few levels, and it should balance out. Not even Eberron always has exactly what you're looking for for sale...especially not at a price you can afford it at.

2009-05-04, 10:33 PM
I assume this "new danger from Argonnessen" is related to the dragons somehow. Sending younger dragons with class levels against your party might work--and due to the nature of the involvement of the Mark of Death, I'm pretty sure the dragons don't have to be evil to be involved.

When running dragons, DO NOT LAND THEM. They can fly for as long as they want, making it impossible for the melee characters to hit them without magic. Even then, most dragons can outfly even PCs with the fly and haste spells active.

Strafing breath weapons is also incredibly effective.

Take note of the party's tactics. Do they mostly just dogpile one target to maximize the amount of damage they deal to it in one turn, or do they spread it out? If they do, separating them might help.

Have you done a train encounter? I did one on the lightning rail for my 5th level party. Needless to say, the constricting terrain gave them a really hard time.

Regarding that "last triumph"---did the party beat all of those AT THE SAME TIME? Granted that some of the enemies aren't strong at all, the Mummy Lord should've made it very difficult. There are a lot of pretty formidable cleric spells at 5th level. There must be something very wrong if they're able to defeat an encounter that's easily EL 17---considering that the class combinations are not necessarily optimized or overpowering.

2009-05-05, 01:52 AM
thanks again, i apreciate all the input you're giving me.

the encounter went like this,

the pc's catch up to the antagonist in the xendrik jungle, here they stalk them a couple of hours buffing up to the max before trying to attack them when they sleep. not realising the mummylord and golem. so they get attacked why setting up the ambush with a charging raged shield golem, the favoured soul has put shield other on the paladin (+ other buffs). while the golem charge the drows provide backup trying to hit the wizard flying around the jungle branches.

2 rounds in the rest(mummylord, primary antagonist and blackguard join the fray the antagonist dual wielding maxed lightningball wands)
5-8 rounds later they are all dead and the pc's more or less battered. the pala on negative hp being healed by the favoured soul(which in turn had been healed with potions from the rouge) the wizard only suffered minor wounds, the rouge/psion almost died of mummyrot but the wizard teleported him to a healing inclave (ripping him for as much money as possible)

the pala is the main source of single person damage being a deadgrim she is immune to most undead attacks and has the divine sacrifice ability to sacrifice 10 hp for 5d6 ekstra dam per attack+ smite+undead bane+a magic badass axe so the mummy lord when finally closed in on died in two turns

they had some advantages and the other team had some too.

yes dragons tied to tiamat has begone attacking them on occasions, they haven't gone in for the kill...yet and are trying to steer the party to fuel their own plot of freeing the dragon queen, using the mark of death as a diversion to lure the other dragons away from their plans.

the pc's has ties to the karrnathi royal(including the millitary), red watchers(anti undead organisation), and wayfinder guild so its had to suddenly restrict them from magic items

2009-05-05, 04:06 AM
What kind of magic items do the PCs have? That might seem to be your issue.

Take note that even the kings and queens of the Five Nations don't necessarily have level-appropriate equipment. Jaela Daran doesn't carry around any weapons or armor herself.

My party in my Eberron run of Red Hand of Doom was personally dispatched by Jaela Daran on an express lightning rail chartered by the Silver Flame for the four of them, but they still only had the recommended 9000 GP budget for characters starting out at 5th level. Ties to large organizations don't necessarily need to be in the form of magic item doleouts; they can take the form of minions, favors (like free first class, cross-continent train rides), or an intelligence network. In fact, I think organizations in Eberron are less likely to dote on a single party by funneling a good amount of gold into dropping magic items on them. Aren't the Wayfinders even likely to keep magic items for themselves?

Looking at the encounter:
1. The Mummylord, having access to 5th level cleric spells, should've cast air walk or footsteps of the divine, gotten off the ground and dropped mass buffs on its party. Those two spells last forever as far as D&D combat is concerned (durations in minutes), so it would've been safe. After this, righteous might and whatever else undead buff spells are there. I doubt a high-level cleric of Vol (I assume it is) would play dumb and let itself get overwhelmed in combat like that. Granted its vulnerability to fire makes it kind of over-CRed, it still has an AC of 30----my 10th-level party in an old campaign had an extremely difficult time handling anything with an AC of even 25. This leads me to believe that the party does have too much in the way of over-level magic items.

2. The drow should have taken turns trancing; each only requires half a night of trance to rest. That means you could've gotten a sniper sitting in a tree (getting cover from being in a tree) along with the non-sleeping members of the encounter.

3. If the paladin is the greatest source of damage, you simply may be playing too many undead monsters. Granted it's the Mark of Death and Vol we're talking about, but you could always send incorporeal monsters and living cultists. I know people don't appreciate it when they don't get to use their defining class features, but letting them walk over higher-level monsters like this is just too much and IMO isn't really consistent with Eberron's feel of the PCs winning by the skin of their teeth---though they did mostly did get battered and did win by the skin of their teeth here, there's still something wrong about beating an overpowering EL---a 9th level party really isn't meant to beat an EL 17 encounter. If they've been doing this a lot recently, it may be a magic item problem.

4. Difficult terrain doesn't always have to be rough ground. This is Xen'Drik we're talking about. Bogs (a lot of really nasty stuff can hide in those and they don't necessarily need to be Vol's minions, and from my experience, bogs are a particularly nasty sort of difficult terrain), tangles of jungle, ruins (Xen'Drik is one colossal ruin, after all), what have you. All sorts of nasties could snipe from cover, drop rubble on the PCs, or even leave a good old Indiana Jones-style giant rolling boulder trap.

5. What are your next plans for the PCs? I can suggest some encounters if I know the directions your taken. It seems like an epic plot, but then again, the nature of plots in Eberron makes almost anything epic. My run of Red Hand of Doom changed the BBEG's ultimate goal from merely conquering some backwater towns in a vale in the middle of nowhere to keeping the BBEG from resurrecting Tiamat (or keeping the dragons from torching Khorvaire to stop the BBEG, which is just as bad).

2009-05-05, 08:35 AM
Gah, I wish there was such a cool Eberron game running near me...

2009-05-05, 09:36 AM
again every feedback is good feedback.

well the players are seasoned roleplayers and powergamers and know how to make the best of their abilities.

yes it is an epic and quite expanding plot. right now they enroute to king kaius(or moranna more probably) to get their reward for taking down one of the biggest antagonist. here after he is going to demand an loyalty oarth if they are to keep doing these things as they are starting to atract atention from thrane(the paladin and rouge/psion is wanted for heresy and treson there)

after this they will be sent on a bit of a sidequest to the madstone where i have prepared some psionic encounters and stuff like that. here after i don't know what they want to do as it is a open rpg i'm playing they are in control of where to go 80% of the time..but most probably they will try to conquer Lharzarr and rid the area of the plaque by killing the Cancer mage in charge of the plaque(which is a secret, but they found out a while ago) after that i might step up the dragon encounters...

+the demonaxe collects souls for each living soul it devours it grows stronger more intelligent right now it got an ego of 27 which is starting to be hard for the paladin to control(will+19) and when it reaches 100 souls (currently 45 loses one soul per day unless fed) it will try to convince the players or the paladin into searching for a demon stronghold where it will breakfree from its axe prison and show itself as a Demonlord (Raja maybe) and most probably waste the paladin(i will give her a chance to bind it just like tira did with the silver flame)... but of couse they will get clues to what is going on and hopefully see through its deseption and get rid of it.

i am thinking about having Vol destroy a small familliar town with a huge undead force and have this force mock and divert the players from the real goal. and of couse see if i can get just some shame and remorse into the players as it is their fault that vol had to resort to that(well that is what i will tell them:))

i got a lot of ideas but every little advice you give is worth gold as i can make the game more enjoyable for the players and myself:)

and uin if you're near Denmark one of these days you're welcome to come along:P
our next game is this thursday

2009-05-05, 11:01 AM
-Since the Madstone is in the Icewood, you could play up the cold element, the psionic element, or both.
-A pair of Malasyneps (CR 7 each, which would give you an EL 9 encounter) are psionic, cold aberrations. They're from Frostburn. This could be an encounter close to some lake or other large water source.
-A pair of 1st level Madborn troll fighters would also be pretty scary, since the Madborn rage raises their already considerable strength. (27 Strength rend attack = ow) That would also be an EL 9 encounter.
-Finally, you could have a bunch of Kalashtar psions, wilders and psychic warriors who, while having resisted most of the Madstone's stupefying influence, have become depraved and insane. They could have a bunch of Karrnathi soldiers and citizens (who have become Madborn) under them. Assuming three 6th-level Kalashtar and 8 Madborn Karrnathi 1st-level warriors, you have an EL 10 (almost 11 actually) encounter.

Village attack:
It really depends how much Vol wants to make an example of the village. A few dozen zombies is probably enough to scare any backwater village. Skeletons would be better at extermination due to their speed.
-A plague spewer (CR 10, Monster Manual III) would be utterly terrifying to any village, and a single one of those could probably depopulate a handful of villages on its own with both its strength and the plague it spreads. Vol wouldn't have trouble getting her hands on cloud or storm giant corpses since she apparently has minions wigging around in Xen'Drik.
-Said Plague Spewer could be led on by some more intelligent undead, or maybe a 9th or 10th level cleric.
-Boneclaws (each at CR 5, Monster Manual III) are pretty nasty; add the Evolved undead (Libris Mortis) for extra pwnage. I once made a CR 8 "Bonechiller" by advancing a boneclaw to 14 HD and adding the Evolved Template---the spell-like ability I gave it was cone of cold. DC 24, CL 14th cone of cold = lots of damage. IIRC it almost killed a couple of PCs hadn't the Wizard intervened with celerity+dimension shuffle.
-Bonedrinkers (each at CR 6, Monster Manual III) attack CON directly. This makes them very dangerous to any group that might not have reliable restoration spells.
-And don't forget the shambling undead horde. A swarm of two Minotaur Zombies (CR 4), 4 Bugbear Zombies (CR 3) and 12 human zombies (CR 1/2) totals to only EL 9. The human zombies are likely to die almost instantly, but if they form a "wall of flesh" around the minotaur zombie, who attacks with reach, you could easily put the paladin into a position where she can't DPS the zombie heavies to death.

Nobody Expects the Thranish Inquisition (EL 14):
I once threw together a party of six Silver Flame inquisitors of various classes that I would've thrown at my party if they started looting villages or doing other stupid OOC things. I came up with this:
-"Penance," 9th Level Warforged Crusader
-"Rosary," Warforged Monk 2/Swordsage 7
-9th level Shifter Barbarian/Warblade/Bloodclaw Master, forgot the class breakdown exactly
-Halfling rogue/master thrower
-Elf Cleric/Ordained Champion (since the Silver Flame's favored weapon is the longbow, this guy gets to channel his spells into arrows)
-9th level Kalashtar Psion.
I don't know if you use Tome of Battle or even like it, but I find it helps melee PCs and villains match up with the casters a bit.
Of course, this encounter would be way over advisable levels, but if the PCs can beat an EL 16 encounter, they can beat this one. In any case I only made it to punish PCs for being jerks, but otherwise they wouldn't see use.

2009-05-05, 11:35 AM
hmm i don't really like the heroes of battle i think its way too overpowered..

Do you know any tool to make npc's quick..because i always use hours and they kill them in sekunds and i havn't that much time to prepare campaigns, so :(

the madborne trolls sounds fun:P
how many encounters should a party be able to take on one day, and what kind of EL ? and how is it exactly you calculate the EL, hehe i kind of never use that might be why some of the problems exist:P

well i will defintly use the plaque spewer with some heavy animating forces behind to make everything "alive" again

2009-05-05, 12:31 PM
This sounds dumb and tautological, but if you find you're spending too much time on NPCs that just show up and die, stop spending so much time on them. In more detail- figure out what part of generating your NPCs is taking you so long and cut down on that. Are you making caster opponents and taking forever to fill out their spellbooks/spells memorized? Just concentrate on the top two spell levels and don't worry about the lower spells unless one of them is particularly important (like a lower-level buff the NPC should have precast/want to cast to open the fight. In that cae, just mark it 4/5 1st level spells left or something.) Those top couple of levels are the ones the NPC is probably actually going to use before the party takes it down. Does it take you forever to gear up your humanoid opponents? Again, don't sweat the small stuff. Give them an appropriate weapon and armor, then move on- fill in the rest of their treasure allotment with cash and small trinkets, perhaps a potion/chronocharm/other basic magic item or two. Writing backstories and placing NPCs into your world when their most likely fate is to die unnamed when they attack your players? Keep in mind that they are, in the grand scheme of things, unimportant. Figure out a one or two sentence explanation for why they attack, perhaps a higher-up figure they could refer to if the players decide to capture and interrogate, move on ("What was the cause of the Civil War?" "Well, there were many factors, including..." "Just say slavery." "Slavery it is sir!")

2009-05-05, 12:44 PM
("What was the cause of the Civil War?" "Well, there were many factors, including..." "Just say slavery." "Slavery it is sir!")

After studying the Civil War in detail for the better part of a year, I laugh at that line every time.

2009-05-05, 04:49 PM
hmm i don't really like the heroes of battle i think its way too overpowered..

Do you know any tool to make npc's quick..because i always use hours and they kill them in sekunds and i havn't that much time to prepare campaigns, so :(

the madborne trolls sounds fun:P
how many encounters should a party be able to take on one day, and what kind of EL ? and how is it exactly you calculate the EL, hehe i kind of never use that might be why some of the problems exist:P

well i will defintly use the plaque spewer with some heavy animating forces behind to make everything "alive" again

Heroes of Battle and Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords are two different things; the first is about RPing in war, while the second is the much loved/much hated book that makes melee characters more interesting. If you'd rather not use it, alright. Take note though---wizards, clerics and druids are still more powerful than TOB classes. Even artificers can do more. I've seen difficult terrain shut down a TOB character. I've also seen (in the same campaign) an artificer turn an entire map into difficult terrain and shut down an encounter.

Now about NPCs: I take hours making them too. As tyckspoon suggested, concentrate on their highest level spells and such, and have them use their best stuff IMMEDIATELY (they've got nothing to lose by wasting all their spells and gear, and nothing to gain by saving them)

Encounter Level/Challenge Rating:
For the most part, I use this encounter calculator (http://legionofgeeks.com/encounter_calc.php). Just input the number of monsters, number of party members, and their respective CR or level.
Ideally, a party can take 4 level-appropriate encounters per day. A 9th level party should be able to defeat up to 4 EL 9 encounters. Keep in mind that "defeat" here doesn't mean "utterly crush without even trying." It means "be challenged by, but be able to overcome." So the PCs should be able to expend some of their resources (ideally about 25%) in dealing with each level-appropriate encounter. If you want them to deal with harder encounters, reduce the number of encounters per day; the encounter calculator should help you with that too.
Ideally a party should only fight something up to their level+5; this is why I thought your party was being exceptionally powerful, since they could beat something at EL 16 while they're at Lv 9.

If you find yourself not being able to use the encounter calculator, as far as I can tell it works like this:
One monster: Monster CR = Encounter Level.
Two monsters: If they monsters have the same CR, their combined EL is equal to one monster's CR +2. So if you have two Madborn Troll Fighters (Lv 1, CR 7 each), their EL is 9.

On the other hand, if you have one monster that has one CR higher than the other (One bonedrinker, CR 6; One boneclaw, CR 5), their EL equals the higher CR monster's +1. This example would be an EL 7.

For multiple monsters, best to just use the calculator, but you could also add them together using the above formulas and come up with an overall EL.

Challenge Rating is usually given by the monster entry (when making monsters or NPCs it's equal to Character Level + Level Adjustment + Racial Hit Dice + Template adjustment), but it's not so clear. Not all CR 10 monsters are created equal. If you put a CR 10 red dragon, a CR 10 NPC with PC class levels, and an 11th level human commoner (also CR 10), your mileage will certainly vary.
A CR 10 NPC with PC class levels has good gear, likely a lot of feats, but is usually only medium-sized; making her easy to overwhelm. Furthermore, the number of actions the PCs can take per turn is much higher: 4:1.

This would usually mean the NPC will die despite being extremely powerful. A case I use very often here would be my party of 5 6th-level PCs being able to destroy an 11th level Warblade in 3 turns despite the PC rogue being unable to deal sneak attack damage and the ranger being unable to hit at all. It just took the paladin some power attacking and the wizard fly+scorching ray.

A CR 10 dragon, on the other hand, will keep flying, strafe with its breath weapon and use flyby attack, making it very difficult to hurt it. It also usually has a very high AC for its CR, and it can boost this with magic. Even level-appropriate dragon encounters, if run correctly, can make it very difficult for the PCs to beat it without tactics and actually thinking about what they're doing.

An 11th-level commoner is just sad. He spent so much time being a farmer that he's unusually tough, but he still sucks at hitting stuff, or saving against disease. He'd probably be the only survivor of a zombie attack on his village, but that's just it. He can't hold his own against a dragon.