Posted on : 06-24-2010 | By : Brian | In : Advice, D&D, House Rules
While thinking about encounters that are deliberately overpowered, I came up with an idea that I’d like to share. It’s a trick, really; smoke and mirrors. The idea is to use a monster that seems overpowered at first, but to build in vulnerabilities that the PCs can use to turn the tide. It really comes down to a couple of different modifications to a monster to make it work for this kind of encounter.
Find a Tough Monster
Say you’re DMing for a group of heroic-tier PCs; I’ll use my own PCs by way of example, who are currently level 8. The trick is to find a monster that would normally be a little bit out of their level range. This works best with standard or elite monsters, though you could do it with a solo, too. We’ll use an umber hulk, a level 12 elite soldier, as an example.
You want to bring the monster down nearer the party’s level (say, level 9 or 10 for the umber hulk), but still make it seem really difficult. You want it to be level-appropriate for three reasons: attack bonuses, damage, and defenses. You want the attack bonuses and defenses to be pretty standard for a monster of its new level because it’s not much fun to fight a monster that hits you every time, but that you keep whiffing against. The damage should be closer to the party’s level, but should still be on the high side, so that the monster feels powerful when it connects.
Next, you want to make it a solo. More hit points and more attacks is what you want. You want this thing to be attacking as many party members as it can during a round (without angling for a TPK), and you want it to be tough. If your creature is already a solo, give it resist all 10, to make it seem that much tougher.
In the case of the umber hulk, we’ll make it a level 9 solo. Its hit points, attack bonuses, and defenses should be appropriate for such a creature, but its damage should only be decreased slightly, if at all. I’d also think about giving it a recharge power in a close burst 1 or 2 that deals claw damage and pushes opponents or knocks them prone (or both).
Build in Vulnerabilities
This is the important part. These are not your standard vulnerabilities, like vulnerable 10 radiant or psychic. These are more like powers that are built into the monster, only they’re powers that the players can use against the monster, instead of powers that the monster uses. Each power should be discoverable with an appropriate knowledge, Perception, or Insight check, and when a power is discovered, you should make sure that the players know that this is a serious vulnerability in the monster’s defenses. You can go as far as handing out power cards for these vulnerabilities, or you can just describe them in the narrative and hope the players catch on.
The trick to these vulnerabilities is that they should require risk, but for a big reward. Requiring the players to ready an action for when they get attacked, or to make skill checks to remain on a monster’s back, or to avoid being trampled while underneath it, are all good. Also note that, if the monster was originally a solo and you gave it resist 10 all, make sure that your monster’s vulnerability attacks bypass that resistance.
By way of example, I’d give the umber hulk the following two vulnerabilities:
Chink in the Armor (move action, at-will) * Weapon, Vulnerability
As part of a move action, you make an Acrobatics or Athletics (DC 20) check to jump on the umber hulk’s back. This provokes an opportunity attack from the umber hulk. While on its back, you can make a weapon attack with any one-handed or light weapon at a +3 bonus with combat advantage (total attack bonus +5); a successful attack deals +10 damage, and the umber hulk is dazed until the start of your next turn. At the beginning of your turn, if you are still on the umber hulk’s back, you must make an Acrobatics or Athletics (DC 20) check to remain on the umber hulk. If you fail, you are thrown off of the umber hulk’s back; you slide 3 squares, are knocked prone, and take appropriate falling damage for the number of squares you slide.
Reflected Gaze (readied standard action, at-will) * Vulnerability
Any character can ready a standard action to use a reflective surface (such as a polished shield or a mirror) to reflect the umber hulk’s gaze back at it; you must be a target of the gaze for this vulnerability to take effect. Doing so is a Dexterity, Intelligence, or Wisdom attack versus the umber hulk’s Will. If you succeed, you negate the effect of the umber hulk’s gaze against you. In addition, the umber hulk takes 2d6+5 and ongoing 10 psychic damage (save ends). If you fail, the umber hulk makes its attack roll against you as normal, with combat advantage.
Play it Up
Remember that this is a level-appropriate version of a very difficult monster. Play up the fact that the monster is shrugging off the players’ blows, and that it’s dealing massive amounts of damage. When they discover and use a vulnerability, play up how effective it is against the monster. Make sure they know that using it is a winning strategy. Hopefully, they’ll be sorely taxed, but they’ll feel like serious bad-asses when they take down something really tough.