Author Topic: [3.5]Being Ra's al Ghul-Oslecamo's guide for DMs to improve their monsters  (Read 1525 times)


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Why am I writing this guide?
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Here's what I plan to do in this guide for now:
1-Monster crunch
1A-Feats and skills
1C-Advancing monsters HD
1D-Adding levels
1E-Items and treasure

2-Customizing monsters to the party.
2A-Evaluating players strenghts and weaknesses.
2B-Making sure your monsters don't hit too hard or too weak.
2C-Right answers to the right party threats.

3-Monster life
3A-How do the monsters and players meet.
3B-Monster groups and organizations
3C-Terrain and traps
3D-Monster tactics and mentality
3F-Solo Bosses


Disclaimer about CR:

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1-Monster crunch

1A-Feats and skills

Monsters really suck at picking their feats. The tarrasque picks toughness. Multiple times. While the party is doing those uber feat chains.

But remember, you can change your monster feats! This alone can greatly improve a monster's power and fun factor for both the DM and the party and is quite simple to do. Here are some sugestions:

Core feats
"Nom nom nom"
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Noncore feats
“We could do that?”-Krork, orc warchief
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As you may have noticed, a monster's character level for picking up feats is determined by it's number of HD. This means that, right, a monster with more than 20 HD is considered epic and can pick up epic feats. And there's a lot of monsters out there with more than 20HD while being of nonepic CR. Some may call this broken, but after level 5-6 PCs start to get nasty and you may need to pull the big guns to keep them challenged whitout doing an auto-TPK. Here they are, all from epic level handbook:

Epic feats
IT'S OVER 9000!!!!!
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As a last note on feats, remember, nowhere it says that monsters can't pick up flaws, so if you're short in feats for them feel free to give your monsters one or two flaws. And if you're at it, go ahead and give them a trait.

”Did you know that wood burns better than rocks?”-Mog, goblin weaponsmith

Monsters also aren't very smart at picking their skills, and normally they're in a completely messed up state. My sugestion is to clean it all up, maximize relevant skills and then puting whatever's left on whatever you like, be it knowledge:adventurers or profession: monster.

A monster can have a total of ranks on a skill equal to it's HD+3. It may pay off to remember the epic uses of skills for monsters with lots of HD.

Relevant skills for monsters:
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Skill tricks
"Watch me pull out your head out of this hat."-ogre magi

Like flaws, nobody says monsters can't pick those up. There are some that are really worth looking at. All from Complete scoundrel:

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I'm a vampire now. Do I glitter in the sun? AAYYEEEE!!!-random twilight fangirl, after acquring vampirism, last words.

Templates are a quick way of spiffing up a monster, altough they normaly change the CR. Like feats, certain templates may be more usefull to certain monsters than others.

Also, there's two main kinds of templates. Some pretty much just give abilities(bonus). The others take and give abilities, the main example being skeleton and zombie(replace).

Bonus templates
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Zero-Templates: Those templates don't actually increase a monster's CR, thus making them a great way to buff monsters.
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Replace templates
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Just like monsters, there's plenty of templates out there, and I didn't memorize them all so if you know any cool one that isn't above, feel free to point it out! I'll probably add more onmy own iniative as I remember them.

Extra: If you don't mind homebrew, check out the Improved Monster Classes on my sig, wich further expands several of the templates mentioned here!
« Last Edit: June 25, 2017, 02:54:08 AM by oslecamo »


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1B-Advancing monsters HD
"We'll make him bigger, stronger, faster... Less explody."-space pirate, trying to rebuild Riddick

This is another fast way of increasing monster power. Monster with extra HD are suposed to represent exceptional individuals. Or Ra's al Ghul mad experiments. Or individuals breed and trained to kill certain overconfident humans. Your call.

Altough it's based on a lot of rules and tables, monster HD advancement boils down to this:
Each extra HD gives +1 to the monster's SR, skills(if it has int), and CL, if it has any.
Each 2 extra HD grant +1 to the monster's good saves and the DC of non SLA abilities.
Each 3 extra HD grants one extra feat and +1 to the monster bad saves.
Each 4 extra HD grants +1 to an ability score of your choice.

BAB increases dependant on the creature type. Undeads for example get +1 for each 2 HD, while outsiders het +1 for every HD.

The CR increase is based on the type of HD you're increasing. Stronger types advance their CR faster, while weaker types advance their CR slower.
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This is actualy an advantage to the weak creature types! An angel gets +1 CR for geting 2HD, and that results in +2 BAB, 9HP, +2 SR(if it had any) +1 to all saves and +2 to it's skills.

Meanwhile, an undead gets +1 CR for gaining +4 HD, but that results in +2 BAB, +2 to will save, +1 to fort and reflex, +4 SR(if it had any) 26 HP +4 to all skills and a feat (if it has int).

This way relatively weak monsters can be greatly improved just by increasing their HD.

Unlike players, monsters can get more than 20 BAB with HD increase, but they can still only make up to 4 iterative attacks with a single weapon.

Adding enough HDs this way can increase a monster's size. Check out the monster's entry. This however increases the monster's CR by +1 on itself, lowers dex and may make it harder to fit in the base tunnels, so sometimes you may wish to skip it.

Extra combo: templates based on HD+HD advancement!
Simply, advance a weak type of creature several HD, then slap a template on it that's based on it's total number of HD. It'll almost always result in a quite powerfull and flavourfull creature for it's CR, even with few optimization of Ra's al Ghul's part. Specialy good to suprise and challenge more optimized parties when your brain is feeling lazy.

1D-Adding levels
"My name is Spidew Montoya." You killed my warlord. Prepare to die.

Now making monsters bigger and nastier is all fine and dandy, but sometimes you want to give them abilities that aren't directly related to their bodies. You want bugbear samurais and ogre mages, or just want to let Batman taste his own tricks. That's when Ra sens his minions into hellish training so they can get some levels.

If you know your way around classes, adding them to monsters is quite easy. Just consider that you were multiclassing, and add the class bonuses to the monster stats.

Before actualy adding levels...
I'm elite, you're not!-goblin warblade
...The monster automaticaly gets the elite array of scores! Basicaly you get to add +5, +4, +3, +2, +0, -2 to the monster stats as you wish. Plus, the monster now counts as NPC, and gets extra money to spend in gear(see the next section for advice on how to properly equip monsters)! This alone increases the monster's power, whitout mattering what class you actualy give them! Sweet!

Class association
The cheese!

Now the first matter we need to clear up it's associated class levels and non associated class levels. Basicaly, the books say that normaly class levels add +1 CR on a 1 to 1 basis. However, if you're giving the monster class levels that don't play directly to their strenghts (like giving wizard levels to a troll), then the CR only increases 1 by each 2 class levels, untill the monster has as much non associated class levels as racial HD.

Problem is, how do you know that a class is associated or nonassociated with a certain monster? The troll for example. Giving it wizard levels sounds like a bad idea, at first, but let's look more carefully.

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So, my advice is, consider that all class levels are associated for normal monsters, and nonassociated for elite monsters. Tiny would make a great leader for a stone giant force, but a tribe made only of Tinys will just roll over the party. And once more, notice that nonassociated caps when you have as much class levels as racial HD, thus monsters whitout racial HD count everything as associated.

So, which classes to pick?
My dad was a warrior. And a medic. And a sailor. And...

This section will be divided in two sections: fullcasters, like wizards, clerics and sorcerors, and nonfullcasters, aka everything else. Notice that monsters which have natural spellcasting like dragons and Rakasha can improve that spellcasting by taking levels on the related class. So for example, a rakasha with 3 levels of sorceror would cast as a 10th level sorceror.

Also, if giving caster levels to a monster, seriously consider giving it the practised spellcaster feat to improve it's CL!

Fullcaster classes. Unless the monster has natural spellcasting to improve, giving the monster fullcaster levels is basicaly like giving it some extra special powers.
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Nonfullcasters: This is where the true gold lies for quick improving!
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Monster prestige classes. The following prestige classes were created precisely to be used by monsters.
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1E-Items and treasure
One ring to rule them all-Sauron

No matter what he says, Batman does relies heavily on equipment, so it's only fair Ra's al Ghul minions turn his tricks against him.
Now some monsters are savage things that really shouldn't use any kind of equipment, but for everything else, they should use anything and everything they can get their hands on.

But alas, altough your budget is unlimited, as an overlord you still don't want to pay too well your minions. It just wouldn't be ethic. So, where can they get equipment in a fair way?

One, their own random treasure. Technicaly speaking, you should roll beforehand the treasure of each of your monsters, and then make the monster equip anything usefull. But who rolls random treasure tables nowadays? Heck, even the adventure modules come with pre made equipment for all monsters. So, we can use the average monster treasure to see how much "budget" each minion has.

Average treasure per CR.
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If a monster has class levels, it counts as an NPC, and thus gets even more treasure! Unfortunately, the NPC tables are protected by the scary wizard of the coast, so you'll need to consult the DMG for them. You are expected to spend this money in good equipment. High CL potions and scrolls are a good way of spending said money whitout making batman too rich when(and if) he defeats your NPC.

Or, if you can't be bothered with all the gold math, and don't want to hand out batman too much free money, just give the monster the class levels and claim that he spent all his money on booze.

So, what do we do with it? First of all, keep it simple. You'll have to equip dozens of minions, so better to give each one just two or three strong items, except if they're named minions, in which case you should take your time giving them a lot of trinkets so he lasts more than one round against batman.

Anyway, your minion items can be divided in two main categories. Permanent items give a constant bonus and will fall on the batman's hands if he's victorious. Expendable items have limited uses, so you get more bang for your buck while denying batman of loot.

Permanent items
T-rexes with F14s!-Calvin
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Expendable items
"I've been saving this for a special occasion!"-Flonne, angel assassin.
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Remember however, don't go overboard with just combat items and stuff your minions with some shiny coins, jewels, and refined art with part of the budget. You wouldn't want batman to think you only want to make his life a living hell, would you?

For extra points, make extra detailed descriptions of random items the players find, then watch as they start throwing every divination trick they have trying to discover an hidden power that isn't there. Or heck, satisfy their wishes and give the item a secret special power that unlocks a sidequest or something.

[size=31F-humanoid NPCs
[/size]I may be of edible size, but I'm a great warrior!-gnome NPC.

Dragons, dinossaurs, demons, fairies and stuff with tentacles is all fun, but sometimes you want to challenge batman with something more human. Or elvish. Or dwarfish.

Unlike most monsters, humanoids lack special abilities, and thus rely mostly on their class and equipment to be a threat. In this section I provide a guide to help you create challenging NPCs from humanoids more easily. This is for expendable minions only however. For more fleshed out NPCs who you want to last more than 1 hour, take your time building them as you would do for a PC.

Basic races overview
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What classes to use?
First, you need to decide NPC or PC classes. NPC classes are better for minions against low-medium level parties, but PC classes give out all kind of nifty abilities.

Second, the average NPC has 10 on all stats before racial modifiers, but the rules also allows you to use 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8 distributed as you choose, which is always nice.

On the other hand, the CR of a creature with only NPC levels is -1 that the CR of a creature with class levels (1/2 if it hast just 1 NPC level), which allows you to more easily deploy big numbers of them.

My advice? NPC classes become pretty much useless at medium-high levels, unless you're throwing hordes of small enemies at the party.

So a quick review of NPC classes before we move on.

NPC classes
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Note: simplifying NPC spells:
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Multiclassing is good: from my personal experience, giving out a lot of class dips can make good fast combat NPCs, to make up for the lack of natural abilities. Two levels of fighter for two feats, barbarian for rage+fast movement/pounce, a touch of warblade on top, and presto!

Screw versatility: PCs like to be able to do several things. NPCs can afford to be 1 trick ponies and then die. Focus each NPC resources in just one or two attack forms and enough defenses/utility so that they live enough time to deliver them.

NPC equipment:

Lots of small items: costs are exponential on D&D, so better to have an armor+1, amulet of nat armor +1, ring of deflection +1 than an armor +3. Don't forget stat boosters, and amulet of resistance. Ignore anything that doesn't directly raise your numbers or increases your mobility.

Pre combat buffing:Pretty much essential. If they don't have spellcasters of their own, use some kind of distraction. A fog cloud. One of them sacrificing himself to buy the others time. Then let the NPCs drink their potions and read their scrolls bought with their extra money and they should become considerably stronger.


Not core but available on the srd. The trick is that since they kinda only cost exp, they don't actually a monster/NPC's CR!

Besides a bunch of half-random skill bonus, ability score bonus, extra feats, resistances, SLAs and some minor abilities, don't forget they also increase stuff like CL and skill caps. And you can take multiple of them on each monster.

Needless to say try to don't go too overboard with them, but otherwise they're perfect for making "elite" versions of monsters, and also some extra flavor.

Of particular note are doppelganger and silver dragon for 1/day alter self.


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2-Customizing monsters to the party.
"Powerful people have powerful enemies".-Gralop, drow general.

2A-Evaluating players strenghts and weaknesses.
"Nothing is ever what it seems".-Vecna disciple

First, make sure you get copies of your players character sheets. Then take note of their:

-Movement speed (and extra movement modes).
-Attack bonus/spell save DCs.

You want the monsters to:

-Be able to drop one player in two-three rounds of attacking the player (more or less if they're minions or solo bosses respectively). This can be acomplished by extreme acuraccy with low damage, extreme damage with low acuraccy or something in between (like 50% chance to hit, one attack per round, deal half the total HP of the player in damage with each blow). I personally prefer high acuraccy with low damage as it's easier to see if you're going overboard or not than a monster missing a lot and suddenly crushing a PC in pulp.

-Being able to resist at least two-three rounds of direct attacks from the whole party (more or less depending if they're solo bosses or minions respectively). This is acomplished by a combination of high HP, saves, DR and other special defensive abilities to make sure the monster can keep going.

-Special abilities that allow save DCs to affect the party around 50% of the time. Except for full-disabling/insta-kill powers, you really don't want to pump those up unless you and your party enjoy TPKs.

-In the same vein, make sure your monsters have some trump cards of their own so they aren't one-shoted too easily. Martial study feat or warblade dip can do wonders here. A simple IRON HEART SURGE for example can remove that blindness/fog/maze the wizard just dropped on the monster. Feral Jump provides swift-action movement to escape entangles and greases.

It's pretty easy to go wrong if you're an unexperienced DM, but you'll eventually get the hang of it with experience. Try to start with weaker monsters, and then scale up untill you get to that "sweet" point where the party struggles but still emerges victorious. If dealing with a new party, start with a "test" battle to gauge their oveall strenght before you start throwing plot-relevant monsters at them. The party doesn't need to know it's a test battle however. It will also let them try out their new toys right away so everybody wins!

Notice I say "two-three" turns, but you may change that number to better fit your campaign style, or if an ecounter is suposed to be just a speed bump or an epic battle.

Now in an ideal world the party would have all those statistics relatively close to each other between party members. Unfortenely due to the high customization possibility of D&D, they're probably be pretty spread up. Wich means that what can hurt a player is harmless to another, and what can hurt the second player would be instant kill for the first.

The diferences will probably get bigger as the party grows up on levels. This is a basic fact of D&D, and altough you can tone it down by making sure the party is working as a group and sharing buffs while banning the most broken stuff, you can't fully remove it. Plus well, the frontline is suposed to have bigger AC than the squisies behind at least. Enphasis on “suposed”. Many times it will be the casters oozing buffs from their ears with the highest AC and saves. But we'll take care of that later.

2B-Dealing with wide gaps between defenses.
"A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link"- Korfur, Maug blacksmith.

Well the most basic way is to make an average of the party's AC and saves, and then make your monsters aim to that average. People with less defenses get hit more often, people with more defenses get hit less often, and hopefully the people with less defenses will get better defenses. And then you ramp up your monster's attack potential!

You can also kinda "solve" the gaps and have your monsters use debuffs on the heaviest buffed members of the party. Specially at medium-high levels, make sure team monster always has some dispelling trick on their hand. Negative levels are a little evil, but specially destructive against casters as it makes them lose their highest spells. At least untill they start geting death ward. Apply dispelling then.

Another solution is to have team monster have backup attacks that fully ignore all those higher numbers. Something like a ray of Dizzyness is a 3rd level single-target no-save slow that only demands a ranged touch attack. And hey, it does make sense they'll apply those tricks on the oponents they can't hit with their normal ones right?

Note: here's where it really helps to don't go wild on save-or-lose abilities. If you drop something like a medusa, it's very possible half the party droping dead instantly and the other shrugging it off the whole battle because there's a 10-point gap between their Fort saves or something like that.

2C-Dealing with wide gaps between attacks:

There's always hidden silver weapons near werewolf nests.

On a similar note, sometimes certain players have much stronger offensive capacity than others, so a monster that could whitstand  against player 1 for five turns will drop in 1 if faced against player 2.

Now here's a little easier to solve. You just have to optimize the monster defenses against the strongest players while leaving gaps against the weakest ones. So there's two melees, one able to easy bypass DR and the other not?  Use monsters with little or no DR then. Half the party flies and the other doesn't? Make sure monsters can fly or have powerfull ranged attacks, but keep them near the ground. Party member using and abusing touch attacks? Crank up that touch AC with Scintilating scales and Crumbling Dodge.

Droping plot items of power that help the weakest party members also helps here. Also make sure they can only be used by said party members and have no sell price. It's actually a pretty common trope in media and everything! How many people didn't became heroes just because they had a powerfull artifact dropped in their lap?

Of course, advising the players to help each others in optimization terms also helps here.

2D-Dealing with powerful party magic.
"I'm too tired to recite the spell words..."-Patchoulli, anemic wizard.

Now one of the things that makes casters fearsome it's that they can break the rules and screw the monsters whitout caring about their AC and saves. They're relatively rare at low levels, but quickly get stronger and stronger as the party levels up, and can easily overshaddow everything else if you're not prepared. A good DM must know how to deal with those

Basic anti-magic defenses:
"What do you mean he broke that wall of force by flexing his muscles?"-Eretreb, white ethergaunt

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Countering Utility Spells:
"No, we can't teleport into Mount Doom. Stop sugesting it."-Gandalf, wandering wizard.

D&D offers a wide array of mighty spells that allow the party to bypass combats all togheter if you're not carefull. Here's some advice that all your important monsters should follow so the party can't just try to win the campaign from the safety of their room.

Speak with Dead: The deceased body needs to be physically able to speak. Every assassin in the land thus makes sure to smash their victim's jaw to bits so they can't talk.

On a similar note, at higher levels, bodies are fully destroyed, burned and thrown into a river to prevent easy coming back from the dead.

Scrying: Read the scrying rules carefully. The party can only atempt it 1/day per caster able to use it. They need somekind of connection to the thing they're scrying, so if they don't know who the BBEG is, they can't scry at all (hint: only reveal the BBEG at the party when you're ready for them to fight it). Mindblank also fully blocks it.

Ask-and-answer-Divinations: Now here it gets fun. You're the one that actually gives out the answer, so feel free to shower the party with riddles, self-contradictory statements and overall mess up with their mind or have the spell just say it doesn't know. Of course, do allow for the divinations to work here and there if you feel like it's a fair situation, like just asking the area where the BBEG base is instead of asking where the BBEG's personal room is.

Teleportation: First, read carefully the teleportation spell. It says right there that areas of high power are teleport-proof. Who decides what is a location of high power? The DM does. So you can flat out state that a location is teleport-proof whitout need of any houserule.

Of course, sometimes you feel like a location doesn't really count as high power, or you may want to allow the players to disable the anti-teleportation. Forbiddance is a pretty nice spell in this situation.

For something cheaper/lower level, antcipate teleportation is a 3rd level spell that warns you when somebody tries to dimensional travel near you and gives a round to prepare for it. Its bigger brother, Greater Antcipate Teleportation, delays for 3 rounds and gives some extra intel, meaning suddenly the monsters are the ones doing the ambush.

Extra Dimensional Spaces: Monsters can't get in. But Party still needs to get out. So nothing stops the monsters from just preparing an ambush. Party still gets some quiet rest, and probably deserves it.

Polymorph:And all its friends. Altough tecnically there's other spells with more raw power out there, polymorph's true strenght lays on its obscene versatility since there's hundreds of monsters to pick from, not only for combat purposes, but also powerful utility like earth glide and blindsight. The first advice I give here is to enforce that the caster can only turn in things he's met in-game. No "I researched it in the library" allowed. This isn't the modern world where there's easy acess to catalogued, acurate information, this is D&D where rumors and misinformation are the norm. If needed, simply state a problematic monster doesn't exist at all in this campaign. If you do drop monsters with powerful abilities the caster can copy, be ready to deal with them. Darkstalker for blindsense, metal dungeons for earth glide, etc.

Plane Shift:Teleport's older brother as Veekie puts it, this one greatly expands the exploration possibilities for the party. One common fix is simply to make them actually search for the material focus tuning fork for the plane they want to travel.  On the other hand, this spell brings an in-built inacuraccy in arrival measured in miles, so you can always just drop them in a featurless location and either scare them off with big, random monsters or buy enough time to come up with something. Some planes may simply be immune to direct plane shift like Sigil.

Planar Binding, Animate Dead and other long-duration minion-generators: Spells that allow the party to get multiple monsters of their own for long periods of time are specially dangerous. Doubly so when those minions are monsters as strong as themselves and/or with special abilities that aren't suited to their levels. Luckily it's relatively easy to see it coming, and if the players look like they want to build their personal army, feel free to up the stakes. If they hole up in some place planar binding powerful outsiders, they'll not only atract the atention of wandering enemies in the area, but also the outsider's friends. Efreetis will not stand idly while their brethern are kidnaped one by one (or, again, perhaps efreetis don't exist at all in this campaign). As for animate dead, feel free to set up the battles so  most if not all corpses are unrecovereable. Acid/lava pits, cave-ins, bottomless chasms, you name it. Or perhaps an evil necromancer specialized in controling undead shows up and turns them against the party. Dominated monsters certainly aren't very happy with their situation and constantly try to break free from it.

Disclaimer: players probably will get annoyed if you deny them utility magic at every turn, so do try to keep it for special stronger monsters. Not everybody in the campaign world should be smart enough or have the resources for all those measures. But that dragon protecting his hoard? Mess up with him at your own risk.


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3-Monster Life
"I regret nothing!"-random monster, last words

Well, now that you've got your monsters all ready, you need to learn how to use them! Like batman, a properly played monster will be much more menancing than mr.charge mindlessly. Altough some monster will charge mindlessly now and then, but they'll make part of a bigger plan.

“Zerg Rush kekeke!”-Meepo, kobold commander, when ordering a hundred of his brethern to charge.

Minions are not just oponents lower level than the players. They're oponents much lower level than the players, but wich can still cause damage if used properly. How much lower level? Well if you look at the CR rules, you'll see that a group of four monsters that are four levels lower than then players each is a CR-apropriate ecounter. But doesn't feel much like a swarm. If you want to outnumber the party 2-to-1, you need monsters six levels lower than the party. And that's assuming they don't have some kind of higher level leader, in wich case you'll need to throw even lower level monsters if you want to keep it CR-apropriate! The problem here it's that due to D&D's exponential power growth, monsters much lower level than the party will have considerable work hurting them.

On the other hand, you'll notice the exp-tables don't give the players anything if they kill something 8 levels or lower than themselves. This means that if you can make monsters 8 level lower that can still somehow hinder the party, it's all fair game throwing them in arbitarly big groups. Just be prepared to watch the party tear trough them like paper tough.

Thus minions need to play dirty to get something done before they go down. Their DCs and attacks will be too low by default to really pose a threat to the party.Even with the Natural 1s and 20s rule, medium-high level players usually have extra tricks like miss chances, barriers, DR and others that negate those. Because of this minions should focus on tricks that bypass as much defenses as possible, even if they do little.

Minions can be used either by themselves or suporting bigger monsters. But in either case their types are basically the same.

Minion Types.
“An army of squirrels is still an army!”-Druid Obrin.

For the best effects, you should mix diferent types of minions.
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3B- Solo Bosses.
"Finally I'm an overlord! Overlord! OVERLORD!"-Graharl, recently ascended demon prince.

On the extreme oposite of minions, there's the mighty solo boss, a monster that makes the whole party struggle by itself. Now notice by the CR rules, an apropriate ecounter is a monster of the party's level, so you'll have an hard time making an epic solo boss of apropriate CR whitout some heavy cheese or under-CRd monsters. No good sirs and madams, a true solo boss should be more CR two-four levels higher than the level of the party. Mind you, you can also make "minor" solo bosses with nonassociated levels, like Tiny the stone giant wizard already mentioned. He can't cast any spell of bigger level than the party's wizard, but he has a lot of extra HP, stats, saves, feats and gear.

Now let's geting something straight. Number of actions  disadvantage doesn't make solo bosses fail. Not hiting hard enough and not having good defenses makes solo bosses fail. . Yes, the solo boss will have a lot less actions that the party members. However, if properly built, the solo boss won't care, because most party's attacks will be bouncing out from him, while its own attacks will send the party running for total cover.

So with this out of the way, bosses should be built taking most if not all optimization advice given so far. Pimp their defenses, pimp their attacks, pimp their utilities and pimp their equipment. A solo boss can only rely on himself, so he can't really afford to have lacking weak points, or the party will easily roll over him. Don't worry too much about making it too tough. Players have a natural talent to finding ways to hurt the toughest monsters.

Certain monsters are actually worthy solo bosses by themselves, mainly most dragons. High speed, defenses, spellcasting and SLAs, SR breath weapons, lots of HP and natural attacks, that's excellent solo boss material right there. Choose his spells carefully, give him some meta breath feats, a couple of trinkets, and a dragon is more than able to challenge the whole party by himself.

Another solo-boss example is the beholder, able to shoot multiple rays per turn while flying, thus providing a wide array of threats, altough he's somewhat lacking on the speed and defense deparment. Also recent splatbook material like ray deflection really makes it shine less than it used to be. But with the proper optimization to cover for this weaknesses, he can still be a good solo boss for more advanced parties.

So in a nutshell, the art of making memorable solo bosses is seeking to boost both the weak and strong points of the base monster. It's an excellent oportunity to use those obscure Prc that grant bizzarre powers that are kinda situational or useless on the hands of a player, but perfect for your monster in that specific situation.

Another interesting note here it's that monk is a suprisingly good dip for melee brute bosses. Why? Because it gives flurry of blows, wich stacks with natural weapons for greatly increasing melee damage output. Combine it with monsters that are able to inflict some kind of nasty status with their melee attacks for striking terror in the party!

Now properly optimizing bosses isn't exactly easy work, but on the other hand, bosses are the perfect moment for you to exercise Rule 0!

Bending the Rules for Bosses
“Screw the Rules, I have Plot!”-Kabya Septo, elvish tyrant.

Bosses don't necessariy need to play by everybody else's rules.

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3C-How do the monsters and players meet.

"Big one I,
One big eye.
One-eye see
Two-eye die"
—Traditional cyclops chant

Unlike most games out there, monsters don't just pop out of nowhere. Well, some do, like outsiders with teleport but you get the point. Here's the main ways of satisfying batman's killing urges while keeping your world flavourful!

Random ecounters

Wild life, raiders, local angry habitants, forces of nature, and the ocasional wandering titan of DOOM, they're everywhere, and they're bound to cross batman's path now and then out of pure chance. They're the reason why batman is needed, because people need to be desesperate to get out of their towns in a world where colossal centipedes lurk aroud the corner.

The classic way, but can really slow down the campaign. You need to make random tables, and then you get a lot of fights not related to the plot. I've spent entire sessions of nothing but random ecounters as the party struggled to go from point A to point B.

So keep in mind the following guidelines when using random ecounters.
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Extra: Free Online Encounter generators!

Some nice people around the web took the work of writing programs to quickly present a random bunch of CR-apropriate monsters for the party to face. You're still advised to tweak some feats and stats here and there, but they're still wonderfull tools when you're feeling lazy and the party is itching for combat.

Donjon gives us one ecounter generator that calculates exp, gives you the monster stats right away and lets you pick from diferent terrain types but only has core monsters.

Random monster advancer includes a monster ecounter generator that includes some splatbook material and agives you some control over alignments, number of creatures and templates. Also gives stats right away!

Sulerin offers a tool wich lets you pick monsters from a wide array of splatbooks, control type, number and aligment, can exclude templates and unique creatures automatically, but doesn't give you the monster stats automatically. It does give you the book source and page of the book however. Use Ctrl to pick multiple creature types/alignment/books/climates at once.


Once he'd worked out which end of the spear was sharp, he was promoted to guard duty.

The game is called dungeons and dragons after all. And a dungeon is only as hard as the monsters defending it. Or fortress, or dark forest, or mansion. Altough there may be random ecounters inside it, there will also be static/patroling guards, or lurkers in ambush waiting for a meal.

These are the simplest kind of monster meeting. It is in one place, and when the party enters that place they engage with either pointy sticks or words, depending on the monster and the party's mood.

They come in two main flavors:
Guards-Guards won't go to great lenghts to hide themselves. They stand at a place and make sure nobody crosses. Thus, guards should optimize their defensive and detection capacities. They also need to hit hard, either with magic or more physical means. Mobility is expendable, as long as they can hurt enemies at range somehow. They always come in multiples backing each other up, and never sit too near of each other because they're perfectly aware the D&D world is filled with dangerous area effects. And also because batman can and will take the time to prepare before engaging them, making himself much more dangerous. Random ecounter tables combine well with guards for the chance of reinforcments apearing once the alarm is raised.

Smart guards will normaly take their free time making the terrain around them more defensable. Barricades to provide cover, hard terrain to slow atackers, traps, etc, etc. See the terrain and traps section (coming soon) for more detailed sugestions.

If nothing else, the guards dying screams will warn their allies to the presence of the party.

Ambushers-Ambushers hide in a place batman will have to cross, and then jump out to try to get some bits either with magic or more physical means. Optimized hide skill+darkstalker+natural cover/invisibility/etherealness are their main tools. They also need to hit hard (but not too hard. You don't want to kill batman too quickly do you?). Of course, give the party a chance of actualy detecting the ambush if they're extra carefull.

Guards and ambushers work well togheter, with the guards playing as bait, and then the ambushers  jumping  out of cover to corner the party. In this kind of situation, it works well for the ambushers to have someway to slow down the party instead of hiting hard, so the guards can reach them and gank them togheter.

Either way, remember again that defenders rarely don't get time for last-minute buffs, so they'll usually compensate for it by seting up the terrain around them in a favourable way, making sure it suits their special abilities.

I trust no orc that refuses a fight-Gork, orc warlord.

Sometimes, its the monsters coming after the party, wich probably is defending some important place or pissed off the wrong group. Since they're the ones taking the iniative, they can take their sweet time buffing up, but on the other hand won't benefit from terrain defense. Like defenders, attackers come in two main varieties.

Assassin- Rely on stealth and trickery to get near the party, then start stabbing/nuking. They're basically like ambushers, but will probably need better stealth powers to get near the party instead of the party going near them.

Vanguard-Those are the dudes that charge at you head on the open and then smash you in the face. Brutes are basically like guards, except they need really good mobility to quickly close up with the party besides powerfull defenses, otherwise they have a really big risk of being shot to death while advancing.

Assassins and Vanguard work well togheter with the vanguard providing a big target to catch the party's focus while the assassins get in position and start stabbing.

Either way, remember again that attackers get to drink last-minute potions and other buffs like crazy, but need some way to track down the party and geting to them fast.

Mobile Elites.
“We thecnically ran away from every engagement, but we also killed half of them whitout taking a single casuality”-Lord Gramster

The cream of the crop, those monsters are capable of switching from defense to attack as needed. Normally have some teleportation SLA, are casters, can turn ethereal to disapear trough the ground or have high speed movement

They focus on wearing down the party, harassing them with long-range attacks, keeping a safe distance and overall making their life hell. If outgunned, they try to retreat to attack again when the party is busy with some other trouble. Dragons are an excellent example of this, with their high speed and breath weapons they can strafing run the party forever, forcing them to find a creative counter against an enemy that refuses to face them head on.

And don't forget, monsters that run away are monsters that don't drop loot!

3D-Monster groups and organizations
“We are legion!”-unknown demon.

Now a lot of monsters may act alone, but even more will belong to some kind of organization. Cults, cities, races, tribes, armies, overlords, they all get monsters togheter and give them a sense of unity. They scratch each other backs and share intelegence and resources. This implies several things for monsters that belong to some kind of organization:

-They have someone to back them up in terms of hideouts.
-There's someone out there to avenge their deaths.
-They're working for some higher purpose.
-It's an excellent way of providing quests for the party.

Quick organization generation method:
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Notice that an “organization” should be relatively small (between a couple dozen to a couple hundred dudes tops). Now bigger groups may exist, but there's not much use to stat them up since the probability of the party fully wiping them out are nill, and they basically have unlimited resources compared to the party.

If you want such bigger groups, organizations should be subfactions of the bigger group. So if the party is participating on a war against an evil country, you could represent it with three organizations like the vast “Iron Warriors” that faces the party head on, the sneakish “Viper Fangs” that go after the party after they inflict too much damage to the Iron Warriors, and the small “Black Guard” that includes the evil tyrant and his elite bodyguards/advisors. The party first face the Iron Warriors, eventually atracts the Viper Fangs atention, and eventually topples the evil country by wiping out the Black Guard. The evil country tecnically has much more resources, but they were busy taking care of other stuff, and will colapse once their leadership is gone.

Demons are endless, but a demonic assault would be composed of a relatively limited group of demons who manage to organize themselves in order to orderly go trough the portal and work togheter.

You can also state that the organization has virtually limitless mooks, aka members who aren't a threat to the party even in large numbers and thus can be easily fitted on the background whitout actually being able to hinder them. Killing the organization top members makes the mooks scatter and flee in terror (or desactivate in the case of robots/artificial abominations for some variety).

In the end, each organization should be at most composed of around half a dozen diferent types of creatures (excluding unique NPCs) for simplicity's sake. You can add some extra variety by tweaking feats and equipment between members of the same type.

Having several organization helps spice up the campaign world, and also will make victory much sweeter for the party when they slay Evil Overlord Laharl and end his reign of terror than killing some random dude with a sword.

3C-Terrain and traps
“Life is a maze. This is one of its dead ends.”-Archivist Norrius, before finishing the invaders of his tower.

Now the monsters and party aren't fighting in a featurless enviroment. A good terrain is an important part of a good combat.

First rule, put stuff in the battlefield. Doesn't matter much what stuff, as long as there's stuff for players to interact. Trees, crates, columns, statues, choke points, pools, open pits, murder holes, all things that will make the players and monsters move around to try to get a better positioning.

Now a problem here it's that as players get higher level, they get more and more ways to simply ignore terrain. In particular because of flight, and eventually etherealness.

So that's the time for geting creative. Floating rocks, strong winds, lava,  giant trees that stretch to the skies, great characters deserve great battlefields!

Like already mentioned, monsters should seek to be in terrains that favour them. Small kobolds? Lots of small craped passages. Ogres? Better have some large passages so they don't get stuck. Slow mummies/zombies? Twisting maze full of corners where they can suddenly show up in front of the party. Ranged monsters? Difficult terrain to slow down party melees and cover to hide behind. Also be sure to be prepared when the party starts to try things to blow up the battlefield.

“It's a... Ok, this joke is overused”- Codmore, Mind Flayer Admiral

Traps are a staple of D&D. It's not only the monsters that are out to kill you. It's the terrain itself that it's out to kill you! And they also come in a wide variety of flavours. First make sure to check out the SRD section about them.

A trap has four main statistics:
-Activation trigger.
-Effect (wich may or may not include attack rolls and saves).
-Search/disable DC.
-Reset conditions.

Basically, you need to know the condition that triggers the trap, the effect that it produces, how the party can stop it from blowing up on their faces, and if the trap can then reset itself to catch them by suprise when they pass by it again.

Now the main problem with traps it's that they're usually one-shot and immobile. So they may put some hurt on the party, but if nobody dies, then they can just spend some minutes patching up and go on with their lives. The traps has no back up tricks, can't retreat or pursue, so a single trap isn't really much of a challenge.

Thus traps should be combined with other traps and/or monsters. A trap could for example block the way the party came in the room where the monster is waiting, or the trap could lead them to the monster (like hidden pits). On the other hand, monsters can push party members into traps, or feign retreat and lead the party into traps (wich they know how to avoid or are plain immune to them). Even something as simple as softening up or dividing the party can give a big advantage to team monster.

But keep things fair. Traps have a CR of their own, and if used in conjuction with other traps and/or monsters, you should count for it when hading out exp and treasure.

The two main kinds of traps are mechanical and magic ones. They're both expensive as hell, but luckily you don't need to worry about it at all!

 Mechanicals listed only go to CR10, but  the DMG provides some guidelines to creating your own traps from scratch, and tecnically allow you to create higher level ones. Altough at that point high level characters will probably have plenty of ways to avoiding them. They can still be relevant when backed up by magic stuff that blocks teleportation and other usual magic escape tricks.

Magic traps are basically spells that auto-launch themselves whitout need of a caster of monster. Their DCs will be pitifully low (just 10+spell level+minimum stat modifier needed to cast the spell), but on the other hand, the CR of a trap launching a high level spell is much lower than the CR of a spellcaster strong enough to cast that spell. A wail of the bashee trap for example is for example just CR 10, and an Earthquake trap just CR 8.  This allows you to threaten the party with big flashy effects much sooner than they would normally expect it and be fair about it!

Plus Magic traps can create multiple spell effects at once. The DMG provides the example of locking a player in a forcecage with a summoned monster, but feel free to create your own mini-combos. Personally I like any kind of movement impairing effect+area damage, but feel free to use/offer your own sugestions.

Special terrain features
“The land itself will fight with us”- Broz, orc druid.

This ones are quasi-magic terrain properties beyond simple cover and static obstacles. They may even directly hurt the party, but unlike traps, they're (usually) in plain sight and don't need any specific trigger to activate. They're literally part of the scenergy. Their stats are scattered among the books, but can provide a quite nice touch for battlefields. For extra punch make sure the monsters are  ready to take full advantage of them. Notice however the party can also turn most of them to their advantage with some improvisation and imagination. Here's the ones that caught my eye, feel free to sugest others you found:

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3E-Monster tactics and mentality

"I see their bravery. I see their determination. I see their power. I see our victory"-M'Ksur, Mind Flayer

So now you have monsters, organizations and terrain, only thing left it's how to best use them. And by “best”, I don't necessarily mean “carefully calculate battle odds and mercilessly crush the enemy”. That's what batman does, but honestly it would be kinda boring if your monsters always acted that way. Sure stuff like Mind Flayers and Dragons and Devils will just try to be as nasty as possible, but you need to leave space for bersek orcs and ramapaging giant beasts and whatnot. You should not only challenge the party, you must do so in creative and fun ways (disclaimer: fun for both sides). You make the party struggle, but they eventually win, everybody gets happy.

Team Monster
“Stone! Fire! Ice! Storm! Cloud! Hill! By your powers combined I am Captain Giant!”

Now as already mentioned it's best to send multiple monsters than a single one. This way they can support each other with their variety of powers. The whole is stronger than the sum of the parts and all that teamwork talk. Here's the “formations” that work best:

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“Screw all of this, they don't pay me enough for this kind of thing. Bye!”- Herebet, human mercenary.

 Now one of the problems of using team monster it's that you many times reach a point where the party has killed/nullified most of team monster, and the remaining members have no hope of winning. The combat tecnically isn't over, but finishing off the final members is now just a triviality. In this situation most monsters should either atempt to run away for their own dear lifes or surrender. It adds flavour, it speeds things up, will give a sense of satisfaction to the party, and monsters who retreat sucessfully take their treasure with them, wich gives the party some incentive for not slacking off when there's just a few oponents standing.

If the party uses intimidate/diplomacy/bluff well or is really curbstomping Team Monster, you may make some of them turn coat to the party's side!

On the other hand, good retreat tactics are essential for any recurring villain. Extra points if the monster is a Fiend of possession mind controling other people. When they destroy it's body, it simply escapes and gets a new one, then next time it meets the party it presents itself, then lets them wondering how exactly did it come back.

Extra: Assassination Battles!

Something I do now and then is throw an over-CRd ecounter at the party, but there's a catch. There's a clear leader on Team Monster, and if said leader goes down, the rest of the ecounter breaks and runs for it/surrender. Of course don't say so directly to the party, but give strong hints, like the other monsters being mind-controled, or rumors of how the tyrant keeps his troops togheter just by constant intimidation.

Monster Reaction to the party
“Why are we fighting to the death again?”-Brirk, Halfling warlock.

D&D isn't suposed to just be a bunch of dudes hacking at each other. Even if just a paper railroad plot, there must be some story and sense to why monsters are attacking the party. Are they hungry? Do they want the party's shineys? For the evulz?

Extra-Monster target selection-One hard thing sometimes as a DM is decide wich monsters attacks who. Sometimes there's only one tactical viable answer, but several times the monster can strike at diferent party members, but aren't suposed to know wich one is most vulnerable to their attack. In this case, let dice decide wich party members get attacked. Simple and fair.

The final touch, don't forget to add some fluff points to the party's oponents. Describe how spiky their armors are, how they have blood dripping from their weapons, heads on the point of skulls, demonic heraldies, giant tusks/claws/horns, scars. Then make them provoke the party during combat (or just roar and release battlecries), but not revealing their secret plans (unless they're lies of part of a bigger evil scheme of course). Here's some ideas on basic monster mentalities :

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Improved Monsters by CR

CR 1/4
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CR 1/2
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CR 1

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CR 3
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CR 4
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CR 5
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CR 6

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CR 7
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CR 8
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CR 10
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CR 11

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Small Combos

This section for special combinations that can be applied to several monsters and don't fit on the previous sections.

Fast Wands

Arcane Schooling[Regional] + Prereq Race or Know(local) ranks + Wand Chamber + Partial Charged Wand (swift spells)

Without requiring a non-spellcasting NPC to gain a level in a casting class, and thus modifying their CR, or really much more than a feat, the NPC can improve their action economy and cast a reasonable spell or two.

by Nunkuruji