5E I think I am going to stop using solo monsters.
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Southwestern Connecticut

    I think I am going to stop using solo monsters.

    Last night we performed a little test in my 5E campaign. The party of 8 5th level PCs had acquired a collection of magic items that ended up being cursed by a demon (a marilith) and through the item she could spy on the party and even send demonic troops to attack them. They researched ways to lift the curse and opted to use the "summon her and kick her tail (heh) and get to keep the gear" over the "remove curse and lose the items" option.

    Now, they were able to specify the time and place of the encounter and prepare in advance. They set up a magic circle and a few glyphs of warding, spending 800gp in the process. They summoned her into the circle which fired off the glyphs, creating clouds of daggers, and got a surprise round on her. She was destroyed before her first action. That is a CR16 creature.

    I don't think solo creatures work with 5E at all. Every time I use a boss critter, even one with lair and legendary actions, the large party just runs over them, no matter how outmatched they are by the math. The action economy just does not work at that scale.

    I think, therefore, I am going to adjust my encounter philosophy: bigger, more diverse groups where the "boss" critters aren't necessarily simply tougher but are the ones capable of wrangling such groups. I am also throwing out the CR system for 5E completely: it just does not work any better than simply eyeballing it, IMO.

    Anyone have different experiences?
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  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Medellin, Colombia
    Quote Originally Posted by Reynard View Post
    The party of 8 5th level PCs
    ^ There's the issue.

    Your solution on bigger, more diverse groups will probably work fine.
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Medellin, Colombia
    By the way, the difficulty of a Marilith versus eight 5th-level PCs is only Hard and that assume the PCs haven't set up the encounter to take her down. So that clearly reduced the difficulty from Hard to Medium or Easy.

    In a "Hard" challenge, it "could go badly for the adventurers. Weaker characters might get taken out of the fight, and there's a slim chance that one or more characters might die." That is the expectation one must have when judging if the expected difficulty was in line with the actual difficulty.

    Another expectation to have is that a well-designed encounter can have its difficulty adjusted by good strategy and tactics by the players. That is a sign their decisions were actually meaningful and this is what we want in our games, right?
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  4. #4
    Large number of heroes with time to choose and prepare the field of battle defeated a 'hard'(by the book) encounter?

    Stunned. 5e is broken.

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  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Lawrenceville, NJ
    Every good fight I've had in 5e has a number of monsters at least close to the number of PCs (we have 6 PCs in my main group). 1-2 monster fights get butchered, even when the monster can 1 or 2 hit a PC. Having greater numbers means a lot in 5e, because of the fairly small difference in offensive output as level increases.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    I have three rules for solo encounters:

    • When I want a monster to fight solo, I beef up its hit points. 5E doesn't give PCs enough credit for being able to dish out damage. This is a problem, but it's very easily solved.
    • I don't use non-legendary monsters in solo encounters. Ever.
    • I don't allow the PCs carte blanche to prepare a deathtrap. If the monster is in its lair, then it has defenses sufficient to prevent an ambush. If forced to fight outside its lair, it takes precautions against being ambushed and annihilated. If possible, it engages the PCs at a time and place of its choosing rather than theirs.

    When I follow these three rules, solo encounters work fine. The scenario you describe violates all three, and the result is what I'd expect.

    (Also, as Iserith points out, it's only a Hard encounter to begin with, and encounter guidelines do not and cannot take player skill into account. What's Hard for a casual playgroup is trivial for a skilled group of optimizers. This is not the fault of the rulebooks; it's your job to know how skilled your players are and set encounter difficulty to challenge them.)
    Last edited by Dausuul; Friday, 3rd March, 2017 at 05:10 PM.
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Reynard View Post
    The party of 8...

    I don't think solo creatures work with 5E at all.
    Found your problem.

    Try playing the game with a standard party of 4.

  8. #8
    Mariliths are also not designed to be solo monsters, so it's unsurprising that their action economy doesn't work against a two tables-worth of PCs. That said, each turn it probably would have killed at least one PC, given its seven attacks. Also, if the Marilith could spy on the PCs and couldn't prevent them from summoning her into a deathtrap, she probably deserved what she got.
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  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2014
    Peasedown St John
    Hydra's are nice, acting almost like an individual creature per head.

  10. #10
    How did they find out it was a Marilith and specifically know how to summon the right one?
    How did they summon it?
    Why didn't she know they conspiring?
    Why didn't she have anything in place to hinder, protect or at least warn her of things like this?( 800gp is not a big barrier)
    Where were her own magical items? Surely you gave her some if she was comfortable cursing and throwing out magical items.

    8 PCs is well above what the games CR is designed for and even then it is only a Hard encounter. Which drops down to being even weaker when you consider that you handed them a surprise round with an area that was prepared for the situation.

    Put simply, without boosting the Marilith or giving her a real turn in battle it is just handing a victory to the PCs.

    This said, if they took precautions in every possible way and you couldn't think of anything the Marilith would do -shrugs- maybe they deserve the win. But probably better to keep from saying the system is broken in this particular case.

    Heck, give monsters the Alert feat if you are worried, it helps. But they are a group of 8, they do need more thought put into the encounter tactics from the other side because of it.
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