View Full Version : Solo Monsters - More Powerful than Ever! [PEACH]

2009-04-23, 01:01 PM
I've been working for a while on a quick way to adjust single-monster encounters for large parties of PCs. I think I have it and I want your feedback.

This method is specifically for D&D 3.x (and Pathfinder) encounters. Please read and tell me how you think it will work.


It's common knowledge among most GMs that whenever your party is larger than 4 characters, a single monster becomes less and less effective (even if its CR is appropriate for the number of PCs). This is mostly due to the economy of actions, whereby even a very powerful monster that only has 1 turn per round cannot hold its own against a party with 6, 7 or 8 turns per round.

This means that most GMs opt to use groups of weaker monsters against large parties, rather than single monsters. But this is more work for the GM and, more importantly, it limits the use of those iconic or mythical monsters who, when challenged and beaten, make for memorable battle tales.

I have engineered the approach below to adjust the monster not only by adding hit points, but by increasing its overall viability. My main goal in this is to avoid any complex number adjustments to the creature's stat block. Its stats are almost ready to use out of the book, with only minor adjustment by the DM.

Balance That Monster

5 Easy Steps.

Step 1. Determine your Multiplier

Party Size..........Multiplier
4-5 PCs.............0
6-7 PCs.............1
8-9 PCs.............2
10-11 PCs..........3

The multiplier will hereafter be called M.

Step 2. Extra Actions.

This is the most important step in keeping your monster viable. Your monster becomes quicker than ever before!

The monster now has M extra turns per round. Each turn is a complete turn with a standard action, a move action, AoO's refreshed, etc. The monster can take a full attack on its new turn if chooses, even if it moved on its previous turn. Effects that happen "at the beginning of its turn" (such as fast healing) occur each time the monster begins a turn, which means they can now happen multiple times per round.

Effects that are measured in rounds rather than turns are not affected by this. For instance, spell durations. If a monster is hit with a ten-round Hold Monster spell it is held for 10 rounds, not 10 turns (assuming it fails its saves). But since Hold Monster allows a new saving throw "on its turn," the monster does get to make multiple saving throws per round and is more likely to escape the spell early.

Spells with a casting time of "full round" still take a full round to cast, absorbing multiple turns if cast by the monster in question.

Once the DM understands this distinction, it is easy to run. "Per turn" mechanics happen more often. "Per round" mechanics are unchanged.

In all fairness, the DM should make sure the players also understand this rule, as it will drastically impact which tactics are most effective.

Initiative for extra turns:
It's not really fair to have the monster take all its turns at once, since this can easily drop any PC of the appropriate level. PCs should have a chance to manoeuvre, heal, cast, etc. around the monster's turns. The monster rolls initative normally, and acts once on its initiative. Subtract 7 and that is the initiative of the second turn. Subtract 7 again if there is a third turn, and so on. If subtracting 7 would reduce a monster's initiative below 0, it doesn't get that turn on the first round; instead, wait for the second round and give it the turn at +7 above its highest initiative.

3. Limited Powers

If a monster has access to any Supernatural or Spell-Like abilities that are limited to a number of times per day, that monster may now gain M extra uses per day of each power. However, the extra uses cannot be used on a target that has already succumbed to a previous use.

In plain English, if a monster normally has Charm Person 2/day and is pitted against a 7-person party, the monster instead gets it 4/day but can only charm Bob the Fighter twice.

4. Recharge Time

If a monster has a Supernatural or Extraordinary ability or a special attack that can only be used every so many rounds, that monster may roll its recharge time twice and take the lower of the two numbers to see how long it has to wait to use the ability again.

For example, a true dragon that uses its breath weapon can't use it again for 1d4 rounds. The adjusted dragon instead rolls 2d4, ending up with a 3 and a 2, and takes the lower of the two numbers allowing it to use its breath weapon only 2 rounds later.

5. Extra HD

The monster receives M extra HD. For ease of convenience, always take the average roll. Remember to add its Con modifier to every extra HD as well.

To keep things easy, these extra HD do not count towards any HD-dependent abilities. They do not change the monster's size, grant extra feats or skill points, or in any other way affect the monster's stats except to grant it extra hit points. If the monster is targeted by a spell that only affects x HD of creatures, the monster's extra HD are not counted against the total.

They are, in every way, phantom HD.

With these changes, the Monster's CR is NOT affected when it is put against a group of the proper size. If the original monster was a CR 6, it was intended to be an appropriate encounter for four 6th level PCs. The revised monster is now an appropriate encounter for a larger group of 6th level PCs, and remains balanced.

But Poet, How Easy Is It?

You might be thinking that with five long-winded steps, this system takes a lot of work on the DM's part. But really, once the DM has read those five steps it's pretty easy. The whole revision can be done in less than 60 seconds and the monster is ready for play. Let's use an example.

Our imaginary DM, Sarah, had planned an encounter with an Aboleth (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/aboleth.htm) for her usual group of 5 PCs. However, the day before the game, she gets an email from a former player saying he's back in town and wondering if he could come to a session. She says that's fine, but then she gets a call from one of her regulars. His girlfriend, and her best friend, both finally agreed to try D&D! They can come, right? Please?

Thus the life of a DM. But Sarah doesn't hesitate. She says yes, no problem, we can have 8 players. Because she's not going to have to spend time statting out a boatload of goblin whalers, or an evil merfolk druid, or a pair of "baby" aboleths to add to her encounter. In fact, she doesn't even look at the Aboleth monster entry until minutes before the game starts, while the newbies are deciding on feats.

When she finally does glance at it, she has a plan. With eight players, her multiplier is 2. So she gives the Aboleth two extra turns per round, for a total of three turns per round. She rolls its initiative in advance. Rolling a 10 and adding its +1 initiative modifier, it has its first turn at initiative 11, and its second turn at initiative 4 (because 11 - 7 = 4). Its third turn would happen at -3, which is impossible, so it will only get two turns the first round. On the second and all subsequent rounds, it will act at initiatives 18 (because 11 + 7 = 18), 11, and 4. She makes a note of this for when the PCs roll their initiative.

Because her multiplier is 2, she also gives it two phantom HD. It has 8-sided HD, which roll 4.5 on average. It also has a Constitution bonus of +5. So it gains 19 hp (4.5 + 4.5 + 5 + 5) , raising its total to 95 hp, but is still considered an 8 HD creature for purposes of HD-dependent effects.

At this point, her job is mostly done. She should make a mental note that it can use its Enslave ability 5 times/day, but cannot Enslave any given PC more than 3 times. In practice, this won't matter anyway as it is unlikely that someone can be Enslaved and freed more than once in a single battle.

All the Aboleth's other powers are at-will so they are unchanged.

Sarah is now ready to harass her PCs with a very nasty encounter. At 7th level, her 8 PCs should be able to deal out enough damage (or save-or-lose effects) to down the creature in just 2 rounds, 3 tops. But in that short time they will take heavy damage and they will need to spend a good number of resources healing up afterward. As a responsible DM Sarah should probably note that the Aboleth has high Intelligence and Wisdom scores, and can realise the danger it is in. It knows that ganging up all of its extra turns on a single PC would probably kill that one PC, but it also knows that's a suicide attack. If it allows itself to get surrounded there is no way it can win. So it will make good use of its 60' swim speed to hit-and-run against a variety of PCs, hoping to enslave or mucus them out of the battle early on rather than battering one person with full attacks. Near the end of the second round it will probably realise it's losing and use its illusion-themed psionic powers to attempt to escape. Whether it succeeds or fails, all the PCs are likely to be alive at the end of the battle, assuming they are prepared for an aquatic encounter.

When the PCs first see the Aboleth, Sarah gives them a hint...

"There's something strange about the slimey monster before you. It's fast. Faster than any monster you've seen. Faster than any Haste spell you've seen."

They've been warned.

Important clarification edited in thanks to feedback below:

Also, for verisimilitude the DM really needs to pick whether a monster is super-fast or not and stick with it. I can believe that a magical beast like a dragon has super speed, but not if last time we fought it (with its two baby dragons in tow) it moved at normal speed while it watched its kids die. Pick one and stick with it.

Game reasons like "it's a boss" or "I thought it would last longer in the fight" aren't good enough reasons for something to have supernatural powers. Come up with a flavour reason in advance and weave it into the story. This griffin was experimented on by a wizard. This crocodile is a 200 year old master hunter. You get the idea.

What do you think?

2009-04-23, 01:12 PM
*wipes a tear from his eye*


Consider this stolen. I may even work this mechanic into G6 when I get to the point of making monsters. This is a wonderfully elegant solution to the old problem.

2009-04-23, 01:23 PM
Wow, thanks DjiT. Coming from you that means a lot.

2009-04-23, 01:33 PM
I like it. I'm curious why you choose to have the itinerate turns at -7 instead of -5. Then again, I have 'taking 10 on initiative' rule, so it's easier to list 'Initiative 17/12/7.'

I've been experimenting with something similar, but instead of being the somewhat artificial 'it's a solo monster' argument, I tied it to size. Tiny and Huge monsters get one itinerate turn at -5 initiative, Gargantuan and Diminutive at -5 and -10, Colossal and Fine at -5, -10 and -15. I figure that Dragons should be incredibly scary, but have a hard time justifying that evil wizard do something the PCs can't.

I also have the rule that the creature can't take the same kind of action in itinerate turns as it took in previous ones. So the dragon uses a breath weapon, full attacks and casts a spell. The pixie mage casts a spell, moves and activates a staff. It keeps the playing field somewhat fairer: that dragon can't take three full attacks on the fighter. Which also balances it if it falls into PC hands.

So yeah. My only problem with your system is that there doesn't seem to be an in-universe justification. I may have to steal the virtual hit points idea (as the Construct size bonus to hp).

Reposted in the right thread.

2009-04-23, 01:54 PM
Howzers this is made of win. Excellent, excellent work!

2009-04-23, 02:15 PM
Very clever, I like it. Consider it yoinked. I've got a party of 6 PCs myself, some of them veteran players and some of them very quick newbies, I need something like this!


2009-04-23, 02:55 PM
@ Tam:

The reason for the -7 initiative adjustment is it gives the best "spread." -5 puts the turns too close together, making it likely that the monster can get two turns in a row. -10 is impractical and frequently denies the monster more than one turn in the first round (when it needs the turns most, to buff and get a good position). So -7 seemed to be the sweet spot.

I should add that, at least to me, adding the super speed to solo monsters doesn't stretch verisimilitude at all. Aboleths have a mucus that can change whether a creature breathes water or air. Dragons spit fire without hurting their mouths or throats. In other words, scary monsters have scary powers, and super speed fits right in, in my opinion.

If it seems weird that only solo monsters possess this power, you could always give the same adjustments to groups of very weak creatures to make them more impressive against higher-level PCs. 1d6 stirgesd with 3 turns per round each and 2 phantom HD apiece is a scary thought. In this case, the adjustments essentially become a template (and should have a steep CR adjustment, something like +2M). This isn't what I was going for, since I wanted a simple fix for the solo vs. whole platoon encounter, but it is a way of working it to apply to groups of monsters.

I like your way of dealing with iterative attacks but I wonder why you chose to scale extra turns with size category. By your rules you can have a super-fast cloud giant or a super-fast demon roach, but not a super-fast mindflayer or a super-fast evil barbarian king. Any reason for that?


2009-04-23, 03:31 PM
That's very useful. Thanks a lot for sharing it. :)

2009-04-23, 04:23 PM
Blighted forum, eating my blighted reply... Grrr.

I understand your reasoning about the -7. There's a lot less variance with fixed initiatives, which is why I use the -5.

The idea of certain monsters being really fast doesn't bother me at all. It's the part where they're solo monsters that bothers me. Why does this monster get extra actions? Because it's a boss. Why is it a boss? Because it gets extra actions. I'm dizzy, let me off the merry-go-round. I just have a hard time justifying it to myself in general principle. I like everything to be built using the same ruleset, and solo monsters being special because they're meant to challenge the whole party just rubs me the wrong way.

The smaller than Small creatures I can definitely see as having exceptional speed. Dragons? Less speed and more just completely dominating the battlefield because of their reach, to an extent AoOs just don't cover.

I don't want to give barbarian kings and magelords multiple actions for one simple reason: my PCs will look at me with glistening doe-eyes and ask why they can't do exactly the same thing. And...I wouldn't have an answer. 'They're NPCs, and they're better than you,' doesn't cut it.

If you tie it to size, PCs have a helpful visual guide (This monster is really big. You want to run away now.) and a goal (cast reduce person on the halfling!). It means you can make the haste spell give an itinerate action instead of being mostly useless for mages. Certain monster could have a variant of the goliath Powerful Built, only applied to actions.

Keep in mind, I really like your system, and it looks like it would work very well. It just seems to have potential to jar verisimilitude. Now, I can definitely see turning this into a temporary template: as long as the nation offers up continual prayer, the knight will have itinerate actions, allowing him to face off against the wyrm on even footing. I just don't want it to be exclusively a DM playground.

2009-04-24, 09:02 PM
Its so beautiful..... and useful in slightly larger sized gestalt parties. Thank you. :)

2009-04-24, 11:03 PM
Absolutely gorgeous, well done.

Zeta Kai
2009-04-24, 11:50 PM
Another kudos for a worthy variant rule. This kind of thing should've been in the DMG (or at least the DMG2).

J. Smallberries
2009-04-29, 10:07 PM
This mechanic ought to work nicely under the circumstance as I understand them. But I have a few reservations. I am brand new to this board other than casual lurking, but Poet knows me, and knows I always have reservations, so this should come as no surprise :smallwink:

So this post will be pretty critical, but I want to mention that it is not in the spirit of, "this mechanic sucks," it's in the spirit of, "this mechanic could use some fleshing out." I'm going to address some very general issues, and, depending on how that goes, follow up with specifics at a later time if they're still relevant after the pounding I get from this one. :smallfrown:

Under the circumstance Poet gave an example, where a stable party of 5 grows to 8 for a single session, this mechanic is perfect for re-balancing the encounters for the larger party. In fact, it's probably the most elegant solution I've ever seen. But if the party is stable at, say, six characters, and this rule is in place as standard procedure, they will face difficulties above and beyond a party that is stable at, say, four characters, running the same adventure. The larger party will use more resources and/or level more slowly than the smaller party, all other things held equal. I.e, it will be a slower-going, less satisfying adventure than it would be if you simply kicked out one or two players. That isn't the point of the mechanic, I know, but it's a serious defect that works to discourage people from playing.

If the normal size of the party is six, the DM can use normal means to make encounters more challenging (such as advancing monsters), because he already knows the party size and composition. He only needs to make use of this rule when the regulars' girlfriends, brothers-in-law and wacky half-cousins from England show up. But this sounds like a mechanic more designed to make encounters more difficult for stable parties of six or more, which leads to the aforementioned problems for the players.

This also seems more designed to make "boss fights" harder, not specifically to address the Single Monster Problem. Does this mechanic apply to all monsters, only to solo monsters, certain select monsters whether they're solo or not, or what?

Does a lone dire badger get this mechanic, but the leader of a theives' guild surrounded by minions does not? Does a lich get it after all his minions are dead, so the party should strive to keep one of them alive to deny him the bonus, in classic GM-forces-players-to-metagame fashion? Does it kick in for the survivor after one of a pair of drow rogues falls? Does a PC get it, upon being discovered by several tower guards while on a lone recon mission? I think questions like these should be considered and explicitly answered before implementing this mechanic. And how far you go with this judgment?

For example, If the party manages to cleverly separate the "boss" from his minions, does this mechanic kick in to negate the advantage they made for themselves? If the answer is yes, the players will soon realize that there is no point in employing clever tactics. They will stop bothering to do so. The message they'll come away with is, the DM does not want you to rack up wins, so don't try. End result, a boring kick-in-the-door slog that no one cares about.

I'm sorry to sound so negative, because I really like this mechanic as I have understood it. But I fear that although it is designed to be a good solution to a very specific, and frankly uncommon, problem, it is being taken as standard operating procedure for parties that are stable at more than 5 characters. If that is the case, for such parties it means less experience, more resources expended, and fewer resources gained. It means PCs who are no longer motivated to take risks or try novel tactics, because they know they'll be negated.

Maybe I'm overreacting and my fears are unjustified. But I'd like to see them addressed one way or the other.

2009-04-30, 09:56 AM
J-Small, welcome!

I appreciate the questions. First off, I want to clear one thing up, since you and Tam O'Connor above both the impression that this is only for "boss" monsters. Wha wha what? No, it's not for boss monsters only. In fact, since most bosses come with a handful of minions, it's least likely to apply to boss monsters.

The adjustments are meant to be applied to any monster (not necessarily all monsters) who will, completely on their own from the beginning to the end, face a party of 6+ PCs.

In video games most solo monsters are bosses, but think about your average D&D campaign. That lone ogre guarding the bridge? That monstrous centipede behind the locked door? That "single" swarm of bats you disturb with your torches? All solo monsters. D&D uses single-monster encounters quite frequently, often in the form of "trap-like" monsters (a giant carnivourous plant in its own room, or an ooze in the watery cave) or as guards. Also, random encounters will often chance to be single-monster encounters. A search of the SRD yields 262 monsters (http://www.google.com/custom?hl=en&client=google-coop-np&cof=FORID:1%3BAH:left%3BS:http://www.d20srd.org/%3BCX:Hypertext%2520d20%2520SRD%2520Search%3BL:htt p://www.d20srd.org/images/logo.png%3BLH:78%3BLP:1%3BBGC:%23f2e6da%3BLC:%2300 0099%3BVLC:%23663399%3BGALT:%2399826b%3BGFNT:%2333 3300%3BGIMP:%23333300%3B&cx=015155386140379294602:k9hv7ukafn4&adkw=AELymgU1UZI1Xi859N1Oqzds7MfPKHFVS79Mr-ziiFE-HuGLCM4AN1ZosM1KxiWdbFr9uVtffuULrD-kf8jlpDfgpS90-I88n01OzO5O_X23Gr0cybwm-MLNwKqLf_CMBf7xbhvT8y64v2ov_9g_Bbh8L8r-MZLhWQ&boostcse=0&q=solitary&start=260&sa=N) who have "solitary" as an option in their "organization" line - and that's just from open gaming sources, not counting most splatbooks.

So, I don't think it's particularly rare that a DM will face this situation. In my example I had a massive group of 8 people because some called the day of the game. But in reality many DMs run larger groups (maybe 8 is unrealistic, but 6 is common enough.) In fact, our own group runs 5 players regularly and had six for 2 of the 3.5 years I've been going. My 4e group also has 6-7 on a regular basis.

It is possible for a DM to advance a monster in the normal ways as you suggested - add HD or class levels - but this is more work and doesn't solve the economy of actions, so the monster is still too weak. The way it usually works out is the DM just adds one or two HD or class levels, and the monster is a cakewalk, or the DM adds so many HD (with their attendant BAB boost, save boosts, skill ranks, feats etc.) or class levels (with abiliies or spellcasting) that the monster is guaranteed to kill someone. It's hard to do it in a balanced way with the normal advancement methods, since the normal advancement methods are aimed specifically at--wait for it--parties of 4 PCs (who just happen to be higher level).

Does a lone dire badger get this mechanic,

Yes, at the DM's option.

but the leader of a theives' guild surrounded by minions does not?

Correct, it's not a solo monster so it does not get the adjustment.

Does a lich get it after all his minions are dead

No, it's not a solo monster so it does not get the adjustment.

Does it kick in for the survivor after one of a pair of drow rogues falls?

No, it's not a solo monster so it does not get the adjustment.

Does a PC get it,

Never, and I think this was the most salient point Tam O'Connor made above. Members of PC races, whether PC, NPC or enemy, should never get the adjustment.

If the party manages to cleverly separate the "boss" from his minions, does this mechanic kick in to negate the advantage they made for themselves?

No, it's not a solo monster so it does not get the adjustment :smallbiggrin:

Really, I appreciate the questions. I had thought it was clear what solo meant - if a monster starts off with a group, or has a group in hiding, or is about the blow its alarm whistle and a group will come join it - it's not a solo monster, so this rule is not meant to cover it. Again, if you want to use it on other types of encounters (one of the four destrachans is super-fast!) then treat is as a template with a CR adjustment of +(2+M) and go right ahead. But that's not what the rule is meant for.

Also, for verisimilitude the DM really needs to pick whether a monster is super-fast or not and stick with it. I can believe that a magical beast like a dragon has super speed, but not if last time we fought it (with its two baby dragons in tow) it moved at normal speed while it watched its kids die. Pick one and stick with it.

And how far you go with this judgment?

It's up to the DM, but for my own taste, I would use it rarely. Most of the time it's more fun to fight groups of enemies using interesting tactics. Fighting a single supergoblin with amazing speed might be interesting once, but if every guard in a dungeon is Speedy Gobzales it gets stale quickly. DMing a large group, I like to mix equal amounts of a) groups of scrubs, b) single monsters who go down fast and c) single supermonsters who scare the players but, because they're outnumbered, probably won't win.

There's something about falling into a pit and realising there's a hydra, or dragon tortoise, or Colossal python down there that's just visceral and awesome. A colossal python + 1d4 zombies isn't the same. And a colossal python with 4 levels of barbarian that goes down halfway through the first round is just pathetic.

So I'd urge DMs to use it sparingly, but regularly enough that the PCs know it's a threat.

for such parties it means less experience, more resources expended, and fewer resources gained.

False, false and false. I don't think the party will spend more resources - a 6-person party will either have an extra healer, and extra blaster or an extra warrior type. If it's a healer they have to take more damage to spend 25% of their daily healing on one encounter as the DMG suggests. If it's a blaster they have to burn more spells to use 25% of daily spells on one encounters as the DMG suggests. And if it's a warrior type they're splitting the monster's frontal attacks between two different hp sponges instead of one. In any case, the proportion of daily resources - 1/4 of your resources per encounter, aiming at 4 encounters per day - is unchanged. It may seem like more because you used 3 magic missiles instead of 2, but if you were only using 2, your bloated 6-man party has been handed a cakewalk by the DM.

Fewer resources gained? The monster's random treasure should be rolled normally. A 6-person group should expect to get a smaller cut of treasure per encounter because they're splitting it 6 ways instead of 4. On the other hand they can face more encounters than a 4-person group so in the end the DM should still be able to get them their standard wealth-by-level. Making a monster last 3-4 rounds instead of 1-2 won't change their cash flow.

The XP point you raise is highly valid. It is true that by throwing a 6-person 4th level party a CR 4 encounter they'll get less XP per person than if there were only four of them. And also less than if you upped it to CR 5 or 6 because of their extra manpower. You're absolutely right.

So it might seem like you're being robbed of XP if I take a CR 4 monster, give it super speed and phantom HD, and still give you XP as if it were CR 4.

However, CR (and the XP that depends on it) is balanced for parties of four PCs. That means that if I threw a CR 4 monster at a 6-person party without augmenting it, it would actually only be CR 3 and you would get even less experience. If I threw it at an 8 person party it's more like a CR 2 and the XP is even more meagre.

In other words, the adjustment I've proposed does not limit you from getting XP from a higher-level encounter; it boosts the CR and gives you extra XP over what you would've gotten from the monster as written in the book.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. (Although, seriously, that is also how the CR rules work. :smalltongue: )

Okay I think I've responded to everything... if I left something out, let me know. Or if you disagree with an answer, then roll a d6 and on a 5 or 6 let me know.


P.S. Not offended at all by criticism. As much as I love the kudos others gave me above, it's divisive debates that keep the thread going, and that means more people read it, and that means my fame grows, until eventually President Obama will hear about me and offer me a cabinet position if I'm willing to DM for him on Friday nights. Sweet.

2009-04-30, 11:04 AM
I really like this idea, and without playtesting I can't say for sure, but I think maybe the monster should be given even more extra power. Taking a party of 8 PCs as an example, because that is conveniently twice the party of 4 PCs, the party goes from four actions to eight, and the monster goes from one action to three. Don't mistake this for the monster tripling its actions and the players only doubling, its the monster getting two extra and the players getting four extra. True, if you look at it in pure damage terms, the monster should deal almost three times as much (though not necessarily a full three times, your faster recharge rule doesn't necessarily result in three times as fast, and some monsters really rely on those) and the players only twice as much, but that is ignoring a few factors. One is that a party of four only really needs one healer and one controller like spellcaster and the other two can just go crazy on damage. With a party of eight you still only need one dedicated healer and one controller, and for a large party I would be all for having lots of hybrid classes like Bards, Rangers, Paladins etc., so it could very well be more than double damage. Another factor is the hit points. Your eight PC party has twice as many hit points, but your monster only gains the hit points from two hit dice. At low levels this might be sufficient, but at mid to high levels even high con monsters will find this to be a drop in the bucket, and for a game where combat already goes much faster than your typical CRPG there's a good chance that with decent planning your party of eight will drop your creature in one round. Anyway I'd have to playtest it to be sure, but if I were you I would multiply the monster's hit points by m+1, since the whole point of this seems to be to make the monster as strong as 2/3/4 normal monsters to keep up with large parties. I like long combat anyway, especially since this template will likely be used mostly for boss type fights rather than little skirmishes. Well that's my two cents.

2009-04-30, 11:54 AM
Your HD changes are probably not enough. With 10 players, the damage output of the players will be 2x as much.

Adding +4 HD and x5 as many actions results in a solo opponent that has almost 5 times the offensive power, while having ... a tiny amount of additional HP.

What is worse is that as the monster goes up in base HD, the bonus HD mean less and less.

If you actually do scale HP fully, then 'save or suck' spells get way better (not that they aren't already).


I'd be tempted to have a 'reserve pool' of points to throw at "save vs" spells that, when used, result in the effect having a DM-mediated intermediate effect.

One could even use a 'lives' effect. Hmm.

4 party members: 1 life.
5-6 party members: 2 lives
7-8 party members: 3 lives
9-10 party members: 4 lives

A monster has as many turns per round as it has lives. Movement is typically bound on a per-round basis to 2x base movement, however.

When the party does something that would defeat the monster, the monster instead sheds a life. The defeating status effect goes away. (if it is a save-or-suck, that and a handful of other hindrances should go away).

The cost the monster pays for this should be clear. If you cast disintegrate (or other damage spell) on a monster and it would have killed it, you manage to disintegrate the arm of the monster.

Other things, like buffs or improved tactical positions, can be lost by the monster when the monster loses a life. (Don't wipe everything)

With the loss of a life, the monster gets fewer actions per round.

For the monster's initiative: Add +3 initiative per extra life. The first turn the monster acts on is that roll.

Subtract 4 initiative per extra life from the base roll. The initiative of the last turn is at that point.

Intermediate initiatives occur at 7 point differences between.


The idea is that the monster lasts N (number of lives) times longer.

In that period, it deals N + (N-1) + (N-2) + ... + 1 times as much harm to the players as a non-soloized monster would have to the same group.

The non-soloized monster, however, lasts less time against a larger group.

Factoring in the fact that more players kill monsters faster, we have:
4 players: 1 unit of harm, or .25 per player
6 players: .66 * 2 + .66 = 2.0 units of harm, or 0.33 per player. The monster lasts 1.333 times as many rounds
8 players: .5 * 3 + .5 * 2 + .5 = 3.0 units of harm or 0.375 per player. The monster lasts 1.5 times as many rounds.
10 players: .4*4 + .4*3 + .4*2 + .4*1 = 4.0 units of harm, or 0.4 per player. The monster lasts 1.6 times as many rounds.

You should also do the same with special abilities as you do with lives -- monsters get extra uses out of those abilities with each life burned.

How does that compare?

2009-04-30, 11:59 AM
Hi Drolyt!

I think you could probably add more hp depending on the circumstances, but I would urge some serious caution.

Remember, you're actually not trying to make it the equivalent of 2, 3, or 4 monsters. It shouldn't have 2x hp or more. You're trying to make it a single monster that can hold its own against a large group. A normal single monster has only 1 action to the PCs' 4 actions, so a souped up single monster should still be far out-actioned to be viable. Once its actions are in line it doesn't need too many extra hp to present a fitting challenge.

If your PCs are particularly careful in planning, strategy, and good use of control spells, then maybe give it an extra action or extra hits. Especially if it's the type of monster that's smart enough to use its extra actions to make a fighting retreat or something. If it's going to charge in and batter one PC with full attacks, giving it more staying power makes it extremely deadly and you should use caution in strengthening it any further.

this template will likely be used mostly for boss type fights rather than little skirmishes. Well that's my two cents.

I still don't get why everybody thinks this. In my 4 years of gaming I don't think I have ever seen a BBEG who fights on his/her/its own rather than with minions. The only exception to this might be a solo dragon, but even they aren't always bosses at the end of a dungeon.

Solo monsters are almost never bosses in pen and paper games, in my experience.


2009-04-30, 01:14 PM
Very interesting; but as stated, I think the phantom HD vs. save or suck/save or die is the weakness here.

I'll have to give this a shot and see how it works out.

2009-04-30, 03:22 PM
A couple points. While I understood from your earlier posts that you weren't intending this to be solely for boss fights, I still contend that if your rules are widely adopted they will most likely go towards them. If a a CR 8 monster isn't enough to challenge a larger party it is a simple enough matter to have them fight TWO CR 8 monsters, or make them fight more encounters per day. I think the part where it really gets annoying is when someone is supposed to be the big bad, but because of how hp and to hit/AC scale is either too mushy to survive a battle or beyond the PCs ability to hit. The other thing is that I've both ran and faced off against solo bosses. I guess its just a difference of playing style. Also I personally wouldn't have any trouble applying this to an NPC with a PC class if I wanted them to be a challenge, and honestly I think it would make perfect sense to use this template on the boss even if it isn't a solo encounter. Again, differences of opinion, but some people are going to try to use your ideas in ways you may not have intended. Sorry if I sound augmentative, I'm not trying to be but as I proofread this it comes off that way in my head (hopefully it won't in yours). Again I like your idea but I think it has more applications than you realize.

J. Smallberries
2009-04-30, 11:29 PM
Thanks for the really thorough response! That answers pretty much all my reservations, although I would still disagree with you on the fewer resources gained/more resources used/less experience question, which I think would be the major bone of contention here. More on that later, but first I would like to address the "solo" vs. "boss" aspect of this mechanic. this is why I hammered on this issue so hard in my original post, and reference Drolyt's comments for the same reservation: you might have the good judgment and discipline to use this in a limited way, when applicable, according to the specific rules you've layed out. Some GMs will not, and will use this mechanic inappropriately. Used inappropriately, this is a party killer, and I think the appropriate use, the caveats and what-have-yous, should be laid down pretty firmly at the outset. You think it was, clearly, from your response, but it wasn't clear to everyone else, given the tendency of respondents to assume this is about "bosses". I'm hoping all those who responded with "I'm taking this..." "Yoink..." "this is so awesome..." and no other comment either started with that understanding or read your response on this issue, because if they did, they'd have access to a kick-ass mechanic, and if they did not, all they'd have is access to a mechanic that kills off their party for no good reason.

My reservations on the XP/resources issue is allayed to some extent by the confirmation that this is to be used sparingly, and ought not occur more than occasionally even for parties stable at a sufficient size. But I want to explore this a bit, if only for the sake of completeness. Because, I'm a nerd.

I accept some of your analysis on this point, but not all. First, a couple factual points I would challenge you on. One, the DMG-standard is not for PCs to use 25% of their resources in a well-balanced encounter, it's to use 20%. You're supposed to have 20% left after 4 well-balanced encounters, not zero.

And I might add, in the gaming group I play with -->under a certain DM<-- we regularly use far more than either one of those percentages in a single encounter. :) So the use of any "kick it up a notch" mechanics should take this into consideration: if you're already kicking your players' collective butts, you have no reason to use this mechanic.

Second, the CR of an encounter does not drop based on the size of the party, unless the GM chooses to drop it on a whim. In the DMG, it's strictly average party level vs. CR, that's it. So the comment about throwing a CR 4 monster at six level 4 players dropping the CR is incorrect, unless you're taking cues from material outside the DMG. (Or cite me a reference, I'll eat crow if it's in there and I'm not aware of it). The way the DMG handles larger parties is that each member gets less experience, because the points are spread out over more members. Larger parties have easier encounters, but level slower. That's as far as it goes.

You already know this stuff, but I'm going to lay it out anyway, because why? See above, re: nerd.

You have a party of four 4th lvel PCs. They encounter a well-balanced CR-4 monster and defeat it. That's 1200 XP, 300 apiece.

Another party running the same adventure, with 6 4th level characters, gets 200 apiece. They had an easier time of it, and it's reflected in their XP to the tune of one third. No one has a problem with this.

Same with treasure: a CR 4 encounter, just out of the quick-table in the DMG, yields 1200 gp total, so the 4-player party gets 300 gp each, and the 6-player party gets 200 gp each. Again, this is strictly a function of group size: the larger party has an easier time of it, so they get less per person. I don't think anyone has a problem with this either.

Now let's bring this mechanic into the mix. It is meant to re-balance the encounter so the larger party has as tough a time as the smaller party. They end up using the same proportion of resources as the smaller party does - the encounter is now more dangerous than it would have been with a party of that size, and uses more resources than it otherwise would have.

Now it comes to XP and treasure. The CR of the monster remains the same, as is written in the mechanic, and it does not if fact go down, even if one wants it to, as stipulated in the DMG. So the large party (the 6) gets the XP and treasure of a CR-4 monster: 1200/1200. But it was harder to accomplish, and took more resources to defeat, perhaps on the order of an even-up, straight, CR-vs-PartyLevel fight. So they defeat the equivalent of a CR-6 encounter, and reap the benefits of a CR-4.

Essentially, they have the disadvantages of a larger party - smaller experience and money distribution, but are denied the advantages - easier time killing bad guys. But under this mechanic they spend the same resources, and end up losing out.

I think, if this is really an alternative to the standard strategy of advancing monsters, then use it, but bring the CR up to the appropriate level, just like you would do with an advanced monster, and refrain from screwing the players just because their freinds didn't have the good sense to stay home.

2009-05-01, 09:30 AM
J-Small and Drolyt, you both make excellent points in opposite directions. So, J-Small, you're right that if a DM uses this excessively or without restraint it's unfair and deadly. So should I add a bunch of stuff about how & when to use it? No, because as Drolyt rightly pointed out, people will use it in ways I can't predict or imagine and even in ways I don't like. I wrote a (hopefully) clearly-worded mechanic with some basic suggestions on how to implement it and that's about the best I can do. It probably will get abused by soem GMs, but hopefully it will also be used to good effect by many more.

Drolyt, your explanation about boss monsters makes plenty of sense to me. I see now the error of my ways :smallsmile: You're right, it'll be slapped on many bosses just so they still feel "big bad". (And J-small, I really wish I had done this with "the Mutilator" and his wizard :P). Although for non-boss monsters I still think it has good uses. Adding 2 CR 8's instead of one makes sense, but adding 2 rare/mythical monsters takes some of the "rareness" and "mythicalness" out of it. 1 great wyrm dragon. 1 kraken. Heck, 1 pegasus at lower levels.

<excellent analysis of CR, XP, wealth and resources>

Totally good points. Well then I have to admit that this mechanic makes a large party work harder on CR X than a large party normally works on single-monster-CR-X (sweet, I did my job!) Perhaps as hard as a normal party has to work on single-monster-CR-X, though I'm doubtful. But you're right, in that case they should get the same XP as a smaller party.

I think that one thing any DM with a large party should realise is that they may need to adjust the XP curve. If you have 6 players you should be liberal with the bonus XP, or just give everyone a share-and-a-half. Doing so is a complete houserule - I'm not claiming it's in the books anywhere - but to keep them leveling at the "normal" rate (if that's what the group wants), it's what you need to do.

I think the big question a DM needs to ask, when using the mechanic I've proposed, is....

Does this monster adjustment make the solo monster as hard as it would be for a 4-person party? Or does it simply make it as hard as a multi-monster encounter of the same EL would be for my oversized party?

If the former, which I feel is unlikely, then add extra XP. If the latter, which seems more believable (the monster may have enough actions, but not enough hp's to equal a group of monsters, and it is limited in spells and SLAs because "full round" castings take up all of its turns) then the XP is fine as-is.

So, it depends on playtesting. :P


J. Smallberries
2009-05-02, 02:34 AM
Does this monster adjustment make the solo monster as hard as it would be for a 4-person party? Or does it simply make it as hard as a multi-monster encounter of the same EL would be for my oversized party?

If the former, which I feel is unlikely, then add extra XP. If the latter, which seems more believable (the monster may have enough actions, but not enough hp's to equal a group of monsters, and it is limited in spells and SLAs because "full round" castings take up all of its turns) then the XP is fine as-is.

I agree with this completely, and that's pretty much the last nail for any issues I have with this mechanic. I'm always hesitant about house rules like this because we too often don't think of these things from the players' perspective. We say, "Gee, that monster went down way faster than I thought it would...that encounter sucked. I have to up the ante on these monsters." The players don't think it sucked, they think it ROCKED. They took down a half-something dire-whatever! In, like, three rounds! Without needing medevac after! Yay us!

Of course, you don't want to hand encounters over on a silver platter, or even a bronze platter. Or a more-or-less flat shard of stoneware. They're adventurers, they have to tough it out.

But then again you don't want to make it impossible for players to rack up wins and feel like a hero now and then, either. If they feel like they can't win for tryin', they're done, and so is the adventure.

When I first came into this discussion, that's what I thought this mechanic was a recipe for. And it is, if the GM abuses it. Thus my reservations. But if used as Poet intended, this mechanic can add heat to dreary and predictable encounters, and give PCs an opportunity to act like heroes when they otherwise would have gone like meh. And I use that phraseology advisedly.

So Poet, nice work on this mechanic, and thanks for hearing me out. I look forward to "playtesting" this :smallbiggrin: