View Full Version : Monsters and my group

11-17-2010, 10:49 PM
I have the current knack of making monster encounters with my current group way too easy (even if I plan on making them hard), and the odd occasion of having monster encounters hard or at least challenging to the group. Along with being too easy, they usually don't last more than 1 or 2 rounds (darn barbarian doing 60 damage in one shot). One of my big problems, at least for me, is who is showing up. I have about 5 players that do regularly show up and about 2 or 3 maybes. All are 6th level (although the one that's been regular for a year now has been griping that he hasn't leveled up yet, and I mostly don't blame him, however he did miss the beginning arc and 2 or 3 sessions, and one of which he got partial xp for; as another player npc'd him).

Long story short, I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. I do think some of it is I feel badly about attacking too strongly (that and when all the players are talking at once when getting init, I almost always seem to get someone's attack/damage wrong or overlook someone's action just before combat). So the only things that a two players mentioned was a little less on the rp and more challenging combats-I do have a forum set up that they can post criticisms (etc) or even email me them, but no one has really said anything other than what I mentioned above.

(PS-is it fairly obvious that I absolutely hate DMing? I can't even put together a campaign arc, without using modules, let alone trying to figure out how to add character's backgrounds to the arc. If there were someone who was more interested in DMing 3.5 than I am, I would totally just be a player. Unfortunately for me, I have 2 1/2 - 3 players that are mostly interested in playing than DMing.)

Any comments greatly appreciated-even if it's a post that I should stop DMing.

11-18-2010, 02:46 AM
There are some tables for creating encounters at the right levels, if you haven't seen those. They'll help you get a bearing, but you'll still have to know your baddies' tactics. A way to help with that is to give yourself some enemies with easy-to-use tactics. Mix in a hard hitting, heavy armor monster while you learn the tactics of the other enemies. Don't feel bad about beating up your players. My general rule is that so long as a hostile encounter has a way to be beaten, it's okay. I don't try to kill my players, but that doesn't mean they can hack their way through every encounter. Give them twists or challenges that they'll have to think their way out of things, too.

11-18-2010, 05:23 PM
Two words: Evil druid.

11-18-2010, 10:04 PM
If people are still showing up to the game, you can't be all bad. Good DM's do feel bad about beating up the characters, but there must be challenges for it to be worthwhile. It is no fun to just have everything handed to you.

Don't listen to the anti establishment nazi fools who keep spaming the board, "You are horible if you use anything made by a game company! Never use a module, you must think you are an award winning writer to be a DM!" Most of them can't really run a good game, that is why they have over 6000 posts on the message boards instead of playing a real game. You can be a great DM!

Take a look at the characters true power level versus an average NPC of that level. Also, take a look at the gp wealth per level guide to see how they stack up to an average 6th level character. Do you have any power gamers who may have stacked the deck in their favor or any rules lawyers who may have twisted a rule or two to their advantage? If they are overpowered, don't be afraid to give them an overpowered challange.

Just have fun with it.

11-19-2010, 11:45 AM
Good DM's do feel bad about beating up the characters, but there must be challenges for it to be worthwhile.

I have to disagree with the notion that one can know whether someone's a good or bad DM based on how they treat beating up characters. I think it's part of the game. As a player, if my character is not at least sometimes in harm's way with a real threat of bodily injury, I feel that the campaign is underpowered and is therefore a bit boring. As a GM, I think of my role as a storyteller and facilitator. I'm not those monsters or enemies attacking the PCs, even though I'm rolling for them. I don't want my players to die, but I don't want them to be invincible gods either. Combat and taking damage is a part of the game, and real enemies should have a real threat. I'm not going to feel bad about the PCs taking damage. :)

My point to the OP is that if you're holding back in encounters and making them less powerful than they should be just because you're feeling bad about dealing damage, that seems to me to be a problem. Let go a little. Not feeling bad doesn't mean you're taking sadistic pleasure in it. If you really don't know where to go with it, ask your players after a session some time. "Hey, do you guys want a greater threat of danger? Would you be upset if you were in situations that could hurt you more?" Some players would rather be at full health all the time. Some players would rather fight the fight instead. What I'm getting at is that you shouldn't feel bad just because you rolled a good attack for an enemy. That enemy is not you.

11-19-2010, 06:21 PM
Thanks for all the replies-I am reading them.

I did ask the group once about making combat a little harder, ie opponents dealing more damage, adding a feat that would boost the healing skill (as there is a general lack of healers in the group), etc, and the general consensus was no, when the group was smaller. But it has been a while, so I might bring it up again.

11-19-2010, 10:21 PM
This is why I like to use "status quo" encounters and as wide a variety of opponents as possible. Hit 'em when they're up. Hit 'em when they're down. Hit 'em where they're weak. Hit 'em where they're strong.

It's always fun to bring in a tough monster about 5 or 7 rounds after the start of a battle.

It might help to post specific battles where you'd like advice on how to make the monsters tougher. I find that I usually hold back because if I played the monsters as well as I could, I'd kill a lot more PCs.

11-20-2010, 01:27 AM
It's always fun to bring in a tough monster about 5 or 7 rounds after the start of a battle.

Ah, yes. :D Always fun. Attacking with waves of enemies can be fun too. One of my favorite brawls contained multiple waves of foes in the same encounter.

11-20-2010, 02:04 AM
@ jdbailey : I was not saying not to challenge the players. Nor was I saying anything like you apparantly thought I was. I don't want to kill characters, but it does happen. If I feel that I have done something wrong to cause that, I will feel guilt. No body likes a Monty Haul DM. Was I really that unclear?

@ Anaesthesia : It would be helpfull if we had more information on your group dynamics and specific situations.

11-20-2010, 03:09 AM
@ jdbailey : I was not saying not to challenge the players. Nor was I saying anything like you apparantly thought I was. I don't want to kill characters, but it does happen. If I feel that I have done something wrong to cause that, I will feel guilt. No body likes a Monty Haul DM. Was I really that unclear?

Please do not make assumptions about what I think. I was simply commenting on the line of yours I previously quoted. Pretty straightforward and simple, really. Don't get so defensive. It not a good GM quality. ;)

Here's a PBP for ease of reading:

J: Don't feel bad for beating up on the PCs.
R: Good GMs feel bad for beating up their PCs.
J: I disagree. Here's why. Oh, and OP, here are some additional thoughts.
Is really was that simple. :)

11-20-2010, 10:42 AM
Halfling Sorcerer
Half-Elven Rogue/Cleric (absent last session)
Half-Elven Barbarian
Human Fighter
Human Cleric (New last session)
Gnome Wizard

During last session the Halfling decided it was a good idea for him to open doors randomly, sometimes they had a monster ambush behind the door. One such instance, a skeletal hand and arm came out from behind the door and hit the halfling on his head (he did take damage). Inside was 5 rotting corpses, 4 standing with weapons, and the 5th on the floor, looking recently deceased. The Barb, the cleric and the halfling take a look at the one on the floor, and the other 4 zombies rush at them, by surprise and strike the Barb and the Halfling. Cleric gets to go first and turns undead, and turns 3 of them, then the Barb goes after the last one standing. (the one on the floor didn't move at all)

Another from the session before last, the group came up to a skeletal statue, with a gem for an eye. The party's goal in the dungeon is to find a gem, so the barb thought that the gem was in the statue was the one they were looking for. As soon as she starts to pry the gem out, she is blasted in the face with a breath weapon (gas). The party starts trying to hit it, but with the high AC, very few things hit it (the barb and the fighter are able to make attacks that hit, though). Eventually the statue pins the barb and makes another gas breath weapon attack in the general direction of the wizard, sorc and rogue/cleric. After a few more rounds, unpinning the barb and some fireballs, the statue is defeated.

11-20-2010, 12:55 PM
This doesn't sound too bad. You didn't say what level these characters are, but hitting the barbarian in the face with a breath weapon sounds like fun.

I think the scariest encounters I ran were in one adventure where PCs were ambushed by dryads in the woods. Attacking from hiding, they'd fire, and then pop into a tree. A couple rounds later, they'd fire from another direction. A spot check was required to see the dryad as she was aiming because there was no way of knowing from which direction she'd be coming from now. There were four of them.

There was a pool of water in a glade where the PCs were being attacked. One of the PCs decided to try to take cover in the pool, and learned that it was just an illusion that covered the entrance to the dungeon. He fell, and a couple other PCs ended up falling down the stairs until they learned the proper way to enter. At the bottom the the stairs, the PCs were attacked by an animated curtain.

At the bottom of the stairs, the PCs were attacked by satyrs. They weren't much of a threat, but one ran away and soon brought another group to fight off the PCs. By this time the PCs were pretty depleted of resources and decided to camp in the dungeon for the night.

During the night, they encountered a strange creature that I had created by applying the fiendish template to a nymph, and then adding a couple of additional abilities, including the ability to walk through walls. The nymph blinded most of the party, but they managed to drive her off anyway. The party was now afraid to run the gauntlet of dryads above and cowering in fear of the nymph walking through walls below.

It's too bad they failed to find the secret door that would have led them out of the dungeon to safety.

But they survived the night, including at attack by a young white dragon. The nymph was back, with an evil druid, and together they harassed the party until the druid decided to retreat. The party chased the druid, and eventually the rogue was mauled into unconsciousness by a black bear the druid had summoned to cover his escape. The rest of the party was wiped out by another of the druid's minions, a salamander.

The next party was at least forewarned because the rogue had escaped and was able to warn the new PCs about some of the dangers. They still got captured, although they escaped and finally, in a difficult battle, managed to kill the druid and most of his minions. (The fiendish nymph sank into the floor after one battle, but is she dead, or will she return again?) The party had to rest up and prepare for the final battle with the guardian of the druid's treasure chamber, but that was kind of anticlimactic because it was just a matter of smacking it until it stopped fighting.

11-20-2010, 02:24 PM
This doesn't sound too bad. You didn't say what level these characters are, but hitting the barbarian in the face with a breath weapon sounds like fun.

I did in the first post, but it probably is worth repeating again: the party is currently at level 6.

For my next session (sometime in December-we meet once a month), I the module I am doing has an encounter that they would have to bypass a (young) red dragon. Since the module says that the dragon is just there guarding, I was trying to think of a way to make it a little more challenging-ie having underlings for the dragon.

11-20-2010, 09:01 PM
Some Tricks:

1.Use more monsters. For at least every encounter toss in 3-5 extra monsters. In general animals work great for this. The orcs have dogs, for example. And the human zombies have zombie snakes. But any monsters work. The idea is not so much to increase the encounter level, but to simply give the characters more targets and break up thier attacks.

2.Sprinkle in some tough monsters. Giving monster or two a good feat, ability, class or template does not change much...but can sure spice things up. For example every 5th goblin or so is a werewolf or every other drow is a warlock. You might also want to toss out the 'by the book feats', a bulette gets iron will and track..wow. Switch them out for improved natural attack and improved critical. You can also add magic items, even a +2 bonus can help the monsters.

3.Use some terrain. Avoid letting them fight in perfectly flat rooms. Have them fight in a dark cave, full of mud, roots and two feet of water. And have the monsters use their terrain advantage. Such as a snake monster in the water filled cave.

4.Debuffs. Anything that slows the characters down and makes them less then 100%. Traps would good for this. You can also do it in combat, with the 'extra monsters'. Two teiflings mixed in with the orcs, just to cast darkness, for example.

5.Find what scares the players and use that against them.

11-21-2010, 03:00 PM
It might not be a bad thing if the PCs win all of their fights. If you watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you'll see that she wins most of the fights that she gets into.

The problem comes if the PCs start acting as if nothing can threaten them. So it might be a good idea to have some threats that are just unbeatable. Something more than three times their EL should be enough to deter them from fighting everything they encounter.

Different GMs might have different opinions. I was a player in one game where two fourth level PCs walked into a noble's mansion and one of them just took out his crowbow and killed the noble. In my game, that would result in the rapid death of a fourth level PC. (The other one might be able to stay alive by pleading for his life.) In his game, it resulted in a dead noble, and the PCs making it to sanctuary at the local church.

---------- Post added at 03:00 PM ---------- Previous post was at 02:25 PM ----------

It also helps to fight dirty. Sneak attack the PCs. Have invisible monsters control the battlefield. Have the monsters gang up on one PC. Grapple the PCs. Trip them. Disarm them. Capture them in nets. Use cantrips like Flare.

If you stat up an enemy spellcaster, try picking some spells at random, and thinking through how those spells could be used against the PCs. You might find some things that the players won't be expecting. Sure, they expect a fireball or a scorching ray, but an Unseen Servant?

11-26-2010, 01:24 AM
I was thinking, one thing that might help you is if you can get a chance to look at the 4th Edition D&D books. In 4th Edition, they've identified different roles such as Defender, Striker, Controller, Leader, and Elite Solo, Minion, Ambusher, et cetera. Understanding how these roles work together might help you understand how to challenge PCs.

You can apply these concepts to any game. Instead of just throwing "strikers" at the party, include a couple of elite Strikers and some Controllers and Minions, with a good Defender defending the Controller. Now the players have to use strategy and tactics to decide how they are going to take on these monsters.

This is why I like evil druids so much. In 3rd Edition, evil druids make great controllers. The downside is, I've seen what happens when an evil druid gets flanked by a monk and a rogue with Improved Initiative. That's why a Defender is great, to defend the Druid. An ogre Fighter with a reach weapon could make a good Defender.

11-26-2010, 09:31 AM
The problem with that is the Forry "roles" don't exist outside of Forry. You cannot simplify combat to that degree unless you simply the combat system to fit it. If you choose to look at things from a conbat role keep in mind that this role can change. I have several characters that fit that perfectly. Bert for example is a Half dragon, large size, He is a defender, if circumstances are correct, between size, weapons and the right feats he can own a combat space.. A striker if they are not, even a controller, again if circumstantial are correct. He also tend to buy the damage in a combat. Big target, dishes it out. The point being that the fixed roles are an artifact of Forry. While you can break a combat down like that, be flexable into who handles what and how it is handled.

While you give some good ideas as to constriction a combat remember two things. One: Don't depend too much on any "method". The method becomes predictable. Two: No plan survives contact with the enemy

11-26-2010, 07:47 PM
Third edition is a lot more flexible than Fourth edition, and I certainly don't suggest putting creatures and characters into pidgeonholes like that. But if you are looking for ways that characters and monsters can be effective in ways other than just doing laying down damage or standing up to the party Barbarian, thinking of different roles the monsters can play can help. But definitely don't get hung up on the rigidness of 4E.

I like to throw random things in. If looking for a minion for an evil wizard, I might look beyond the obvious like "orc" or "ogre" and just pick a monster at random. How about a white dragon? Or an ice spirit? Or a raggamoffin? Or a derro?

11-27-2010, 11:03 PM
gelatinous cube. then make it fiendish. which gives it enough int to take monk levels. ^^

but seriously. the more weak monsters is a good idea. the flunkies can mass grapple, or aid another to give a bonus on an attack or some other applicable check, or just get in the way... all of which gives your more powerful types another round or two of encounter life.

one approach is to look for synergies between your npc abilities. a druid casting entangle and some flying creatures can make for a tougher than expected encounter. a flyby attack feat and maybe a tumble check and you have dive bombing strikes that avoid aoo's. another approach is to be mindful of the characters weaknesses. target those, but not all at once, or even every single combat. use the environment. just ask tesral what havoc a group of 1-2 level kobolds can wreak upon a party intruding into their lair.

12-02-2010, 02:59 AM
One important thing to remember, though some DM's discourage this, if you roll your monster's attacks privately make the monsters as strong as you like, you can "fudge" a few rolls here & there if your strong enemy is kicking the party's butts, the playes don't know the stats of YOUR monsters (even if they are straight book monsters, the players don't know that) so you make say even on a 13 roll that they missed the 17 AC character. Your players don't need to know everything about your monsters, so use that to your advantage.

12-02-2010, 10:08 PM
It also sounds like you are meeting the PC's on THEIR terms.

The 6th level Barb does 60 points of damage in one shot? Then don't attack that way! If the Barb is doing 60 points of damage with an axe - then attack him from on top of buildings. Don't mass your monsters so he can power attack, cleave, great cleave and make minced meat out of your entire force! Try a flying enemy that uses a light mist to obscure vision but that they can see through. This gives them a slight bonus on their AC for missile weapon defense, and they can attack from on high as long as their missiles hold out.

If he's a powerhouse, then use strength-sapping poison! He's just one character, but he sounds a bit unbalanced. Take him down a notch or two, and he'll feel the pain.

There used to be a running joke with my group about wandering monsters. If there are wandering monsters, is there wandering treasure? What of wandering damage?? Eberron came up with the perfect thing - living spells. Imagine a spell that matches a "Cloud Kill" for description, but does slam attacks for tiny damage - but effects victims with whatever spell the cloud is made up of. At 2nd level, we ran into a Living Sleep Spell that nearly killed the entire group. Play with ideas to come up with the perfect spell that will be hard for them to defend against.

The group I am presently DMing has a LOT of damage dealing Strength players... so I threw a single demon that had a STR-based poison on it's stinger... and a herd of kobolds for quasi-cannon-fodder. It's pretty funny when the Barbarian in my group (19 STR) staggers away from combat after it was done - with a 7 STR and 3 hit points. It's hard to rage effectively when you can't rip wet toilet paper!

Grab some character sheets and count up the cost of the magic they have, then compare this total to the money totals for higher-level characters in the rule-books (whichever you use). I would bet that they are over-rich, and have money for 8th or higher level characters. Time to be stingy and not hand out treasure/money until their level catches up with the tables.

12-03-2010, 01:17 AM
I have a wandering disintegrate in Abba Sanctuary 6 level.

12-03-2010, 02:30 AM
This is why I like to use a wide variety of opponents. For Mr. Axe-Cleaving Barbarian, he can have fun when he runs into a horde of zombies that surround him, oblivious to how many of them are being sliced apart by his axe. But then they run into the high-charisma enchantress who keeps casting Hold Monster on the Barbarian. Oh, and she has Spell Focus and Greater Spell Focus and a circlet that increases her Charisma by 4 points.

Or Mr. Barbarian can get into an axe-cleaving fight with Mr. Orc Barbarian, while Orc Barbarian's friends work on the rest of the party.

12-03-2010, 04:15 PM
Everyone has offered some excellent suggestions, & if only one player seems to be handling all the encounters, definitely build an opponent to challenge him without overpowering them after the challenge...one of the biggest problems can be to pump up an encounter by adding magic items to give them the advantage, but then the PC's could end up with those same powerful items afterward which makes them even ore powerful for the next encounter.

12-03-2010, 10:46 PM
I think if only one PC is handling the encounters, you need more creatures in some of your encounters.

I've seen this sometimes where the GM will bring in Mr. Uber Monster, and the guy who gets +8 on his Initiative takes him down before anybody else can act. It can be especially rough for characters like my current Bard, who is likely to spend the first action to activate Bardic Performance to help everybody else. Ideally an encounter should last more then 3-4 rounds in order to give PCs time to buff up.

This is why waves are good.