I love Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve been playing since I was 10 years old (I’m 39 right now), and hopefully I’ll play until I die (or drop to negs). D&D has been a major influence on my writing. Not that I rip them off, but the skills I learned helped with world building, narrative flow, and especially character development.
I enjoy being a PC more than a DM, and I’ve been lucky enough to have some excellent DMs over the years. That said, I love coming up with great scenarios for combat. As one of my DMs said,”it is all about the setting and the dynamic of the landscape.” I agree, but it’s also about customizing monsters (in logical ways) to make them unique and deadly.
In this post, I took some low level monsters–the kind a party would face at 1st to 3rd level–and souped them up. With these changes, they can be deadly to any size party of much higher level. Enjoy.
(some contributions are borrowed from gamer friends John B and Osvaldo O.)
1) Kobolds. Bah, Kobolds are basically xp machines for low level parties. 4 HP, a mediocre AC, reduced damage, there’s not much to intimidate the PCs here. Just kill the rat-dogs and loot the bodies.
Answer: Rogue Levels. Kobolds have two distinct advantages: numbers and dexterity. If you put them to use, they become very deadly. Have them surround the PCs, two kobolds can fit in one 5ft box, so you can get up to 16 (!) in there. Give a few of them a rogue level or even two. They now have Sneak Attack, and since a surrounded PC would be flanked, they always get that damage bonus. Their numbers will make casting difficult (taking out area-affect spells), and 2nd level rogues get Evasion. Imagine the look on players faces when they’re facing down a pack of Kobolds that can cause 11 points of damage with one hit. Smile and laugh.
For an added laugh, have the encounter in the dark, where the Kobold’s Darkvision gives them a big advantage. When PCs fight, they almost always set down the lantern. Have a Kobold kick it over. PCs also drop their packs in a fight. Have a few Kobolds steal the packs and retreat for even more hilarity. Even if they kill all the Kobolds, they still have to find the thieves that took their stuff.
2) Wild Dogs or Wolves: Dogs and Wolves aren’t monsters, but they’re a fairly common encounter at low level. They don’t have many HP, and they don’t do extraordinary amounts of damage. Wolves are more difficult, but nothing a low level party can’t handle.
Answer: Group Tactics and Trip. Both species are pack animals, and this is how they fight in the wild. Wolves already get Trip, but give it to the dogs too. Add Group Tactics (BAB +1 for everyone with GT fighting the same enemy, up to +3) to Trip and they will pull your PCs to the ground and have their way with them (not like that). Wolf pack tactics are a beautiful thing.
Note: Some party members might have qualms about killing animals. Attack them last, eat them first.
3) Goblins: Goblins are the whipping boy of the D&D world. They pick fights with every race, and almost always lose. Only their prolific breeding keeps them around. Despite this, Goblins have a wicked, crafty intelligence and love traps and ambushes. A good DM uses all of this.
Answer: A Bard. Bards are so versatile, they’re perfect for any trap. Besides a variety of spells that can confuse or disable PCs (Daze, Flare, Sleep, Cause Fear, Simple Illusions, etc) they have the excellent Inspire Courage song. There’s no set amount of creatures this can affect. It doesn’t matter if they are 5 or 50, as long as they can hear the singer, they get a +1 to saves, attacks, and damage. This counts for missile weapons too. As with the Kobolds, you can have them fight in the dark, though I prefer missile attacks from concealment like trees or bushes. Add some wolf riders to keep the PCs off the missilers, and you have a killer encounter.
One tip, have all the goblins sing, and dress the Bard the same as the others. This way, the PCs can’t target the Bard specifically.
Apparently Jareth the Goblin King has some Bard levels.
4) Zombies. Everyone loves fighting Zombies. They have a good amount of hit points and damage resistance, but they’re slow and have a poor BAB. Zombies can be trouble for a party without a Cleric, but a Turn Undead ability usually takes care of them.
Answer: Water. I never understood the Slam or Weapon attacks for a zombie. I’ve seen a lot of zombie movies and the attack is always the same: grab and bite. A variation of this would be “grab and drown.”
The undead don’t need to breathe, but PCs do. Have the zombies pull them to a watery doom. Use enough water to drown a person, but not so much that the zombies can’t reach the PCs from the water’s bottom. A shallow pond or swamp works well.
From a cinematic POV, imagine swimming across a darkened lake, only to have corpse-like hands grab you from beneath and pull you under. Scary stuff, right?
As for using Turn Undead, it’s up to the DM. Do you have to see the creatures to turn them, and can you do so without being able to speak? A good grapple might keep a PC from reaching their holy symbol too. We may be 70% water, but it’s better on the inside than out.
5) Lizardfolk. I am partial to lizardfolk, probably because I’ve been playing one as a PC for the past 3 years (maybe 4). Lizzies are tough, but their lack of tactics in the wild limit the challenge toward PCs. From the D&D wiki: Lizardfolk fight as unorganized individuals. They prefer frontal assaults and massed rushes, sometimes trying to force foes into the water, where the lizardfolk have an advantage.
The obvious answer would be to give more sophisticated tactics (like the zombie drowning scenario from above), but I drew from real-world culture for a different solution.
Answer: Poisoned Weapons. Lizardfolk are swamp dwellers and there are plenty of poisonous animals/plants in the swamp. There’s no reason why they can’t harvest and use poisons. Human cultures have been doing it for thousands of years.
Lizardfolk could put the poison on javelins or darts, or even (and this would be pretty awesome) their claws. Lizardfolk get the very awesome claw, claw, bite multi-attack. If it’s a poison they have natural immunity too (and I imagine there to be several poisons like this) they can dip their claws in the swampy goodness. Given the many different types of poisons, the possibilities are endless. Personally, I would use paralyzing or strength-sapping poison and then have the lizardfolk drown them in the swamp or eat them alive. I’m a twisted bastard.
So there you go, five scrub monsters turned into PC killers. Use with caution, challenging a party is fun, causing a Total Party Kill is not.
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