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D&D 1E A Guide to 1e AD&D Monsters to Challenge a Party of 13th level and Higher

Celebrim

Legend
If you’ve ever DMed a 1e AD&D party past name level, you quickly discover that most everything in the game is designed for characters of 10th level or less. If well equipped, a party of around 8-12 10th or 11th level characters can reasonably expect to overcome any monster in the game, including the unique ones. By the time you hit 13th level, and 7th level spells become available, you may be finding that everything in the game is a pushover even for just 4-6 PCs. This is doubly true if you are using the Unearthed Arcana and the party has double specialized fighters, cavaliers, more potent demi-humans, and M-U’s abusing the expanded spell lists along with possessing the powerful items on the expanded magical item lists.

Before going into the monster list, it’s worth noting what makes a good foe. The biggest advantage a high level party has is a combination of good AC and excellent ‘to hit’ bonuses. Monsters generally have no bonuses to hit, and must rely on its high HD alone to achieve a hit. To have a reasonable chance of hitting a party of high level characters, the monster needs at least 10HD and 16HD or more is preferred. If it has less, it needs to also have explicit strength or dexterity and the ability to fight with weapons, or some other explicit bonus to hit. Similarly, if the monster doesn’t have better than AC 0, then it really has no AC at all, since a 13th level fighter, ranger, or paladin with some strength bonus and a +4 sword basically fails to hit AC 0 on a 1 only. AC of -4 or better is desirable, and really only AC -8 or better can be accounted good against such heroes. However, even 16HD only means an average of 72 h.p. which a party of this level will no problem dealing in a round and a half at most. A single magic missile spell – a 1st level spell - will strip away 25 hit points, a lightning bolt or fireball of 13 dice will do average 47 damage save for half to everything in the room, and the each fighter will hack and slash for at least 20-30 damage every round. Eight PC's even in an non-optimized party will ginsu a 16 or 18HD monster with little challenge. To survive even a round, monsters need considerable defenses such as magic resistance above 50%, invisibility, or various spell and damage immunities. Monsters also need some sort of offensive punch, that ties up party members mitigating its attacks, forces clerics to spend healing spells, and generally dish out as good as it gets so that it defeating it isn't merely a slow inevitability. That means it needs either formidable magical abilities, area of effect attacks, or multiple attacks that each represent considerable threat to the party. Finally, monsters ideally need flight or ranged attacks, for the party almost always has better ranged attacks than it foes and will be tempted to kite foes or snipe them if it isn’t surprised by them at close range.

There are also bad foes and poor challenges. These are typified by one of two impulses. The first is a heavy reliance on some single save or die ability in order for the creature to be a threat and otherwise nothing which suggests that they are remotely a challenge if you pass the initial save – banshees, bodaks and basilisks are creatures of this sort. Throw enough of them at the party, and you’ll certainly kill characters and eventually arrive by way of bad luck at a TPK. The other impulse is to throw impotent creatures at the party by the 100’s, which is only enjoyable for so long before it becomes a wholly tedious exercise. For this reason Duergar, Bandits, Beserkers, Tucker's Kobolds, Skip's Goblins, and the like don’t show up on the list. However, should you use such creatures – and they are not already on the list below - if they explicitly have the ability of fighters, and your PC’s have access to Unearthed Arcana, the monsters are certainly double specialized in the weapon that they are currently holding.

I’ve left off the many named unique foes which you might challenge a high level party with, as I think they go without saying, and if you rely on them as your primary challenge you’ll soon have your world depopulated of such beings or at the least crushed their mystique. Even such mighty beings as fiend and slaad lords, or princes of elemental evil, are best thought of as captains of the monsters, and must be surrounded by a suitable retinue of soldiers and helpers – just as leaders of orcs or goblins are at lower levels - if they are to be work as the sort of threats that they are meant to be. Solo foes that can truly test the mettle of a party of high level characters are rare in the extreme.

However, good foes do exist, and many more have at least some of the necessary qualifications as well as strengths that make up for their deficiencies to some extent, allowing small numbers of them to be a strong challenge.

Aboleth – Aquatic nature, psionic ability, multiple attacks per round, powerful special attacks make up for the fairly low HD. Owing to the watery nature of their lairs, a few of these can still be a legitimate threat to even high level parties.

Agathion – Not necessarily a threat, but worth calling out that Agathion’s in the form of powerful magical items are some of the most powerful non-artifact items in the game.

Barghest – The 12HD version of this creature has an astounding 24 strength, making it one of the strongest creatures in the game. It also has multiple attacks per round, fairly decent magic resistance, decent AC, and a suite of minor magical abilities. Weakness to fireball though is a major problem, so make sure they are never encountered except in situations where fireball is suicidal.

Beholder – The 75 hit point version of this classic beast is equivalent to a 17HD monster, and it has a full suite of ‘save or die’ effects which it can target on multiple PCs.

Black Pudding – Since the earliest days of D&D, this has been one of the most feared monsters in the game. They’ve got enough hit points to be a problem; they hit hard; they eat your armor, and most importantly they are just about completely immune to all attacks. Black pudding at the bottom of a pit trap is one of the game’s classic RBDM death traps.

Bloodthorn – In tight quarters, this plant monster is one of the most dangerous foes you can encounter in 1e AD&D, with an astounding possibility of being a 30HD creature with up to 120 bonus hit points. That’s right, the party is being eaten by a plant with more hit points than Demogorgon! And on top of that, its attacks are just as nasty as most fiend lords, as EACH hit automatically deals extra damage equal to 25% of the maximum hit points of the target. Four hits kills any PC – 3 hits will kill most PCs - and it makes up to 12 attacks per round.

Daemon, Arcanadaemon – One of the most powerful non-unique monsters in the game, the Arcanadaemon or Aracanaloth can be up to an 18th level magic-user in its own right, has powerful psionic abilities, one of the highest magic resistances in the game, a suite of useful minor magical abilities, multiple attacks per round and averages ~98 hit points – an astoundingly high amount in 1e AD&D terms.

Daemon, Nycadaemon – Basically a generic fiend, the Nycadaemon is interesting as clearly the product of play testing high level play. It has hit points, magic resistance, and AC well above what was standard for the time but which is essential if you are going to threaten a party of PC’s at high level.

Daemon, Mezzodaemon – Although individually they aren’t a huge threat, the deamon’s in general are so well conceived mechanically that they are just about perfectly suited to threatening high level parties. Even individually, they are more powerful than Balors, and three mezzodaemon’s is no joke.

Daemon, Ultradaemon – Owing to the fact that they can’t use 9th level spells, and lack psionic abilities, and have less potent offensive capabilities generally, Ultradaemon’s are slightly weaker than the most powerful sorts of Arcanadaemons, but are still no pushovers. They have incredibly high magic-resistance, and are capable of shrugging off most magical attacks that a 13th level wizard could muster (for example, a 13HD fireball that kills or cripples most things in the game only does on average 3 damage to an Ultradaemon). They have a powerful suite of spell-abilities, average 119 h.p., have decent AC, and the ability to teleport out of trouble. They make good reoccurring villains.

Daemon, Yagnodaemon – One of the most powerful brutes in the game, a single Yagnodaemon would probably do down hard alone against a high level party, but up to six of these monsters can appear at once!! Like the Barghest, they have 24 strength, which by itself makes them a serious threat. They have exceptionally high hit points (~98, the same as an Arcanoloth), teleportation ability, and reasonably good (though not great) magical defenses. A weakness here that is even more common in earlier monsters is that they are large sized, opening them up to bonus damage from longswords and two-handed swords – but all the bonus hit points largely mitigates against that.

Demilich – I have to mention it for completeness and because someone will mention it if I don’t, but the Demilich is complete cheese and uninteresting as an encounter. If the party knows its abilities it’s a push over; if it doesn’t or lacks the resources to deal with it, it simply can and should be avoided. It’s more like a hard to disarm trap than a monster.

Demodand, Shator – At 15 HD, they are one of the nastiest medium sized creatures in the game. They have the potential for multiple attacks per round, and decent enough strength on top of their high HD, moderately good defenses, and a decent suite of innate magical abilities.

Cambion Marquis – Potentially one of the most powerful monsters in the game, the Marquis of this race can have up to 16HD plus the possibility of constitution bonuses, and possess the combined abilities of 16th level fighters, 16th level clerics, and 15th level assassins – making them on par with archfiends and low level demigods in terms of power.

Death Knight – A good example of the problems with early 1e AD&D monster design, the Death Knight is a consummate glass cannon with powerful attack capabilities like 20HD fireballs and power word: kill, but for all of that simply not enough hit points to survive against a high level party, along with poor AC and generally poor defenses - creating a situation where surprise and initiative are basically the whole fight. While you can challenge a high level party with such glass cannons, you have better options.

Derro – Although they are frequently overlooked in favor of Drow - typical of underdark races - the Derro are clearly meant to threaten high level parties and much more than some other more famous races, they rely less on needing 200 or more of them to do it. They have explicit dexterity bonuses making them not bad with missile weapons, decent HD for a mook race, and their savants are surprisingly powerful spellcasters once you read through the rules. A typical lair of ~38 Derro will present a reasonable challenge to even parties above name level, especially if given traps and other defenses.

Devil, Ice – You might have noticed that I got to this point without mentioning a single demon – not even a balor. The truth is, none of the original demons are particularly powerful, and each is handicapped in some way. For example, the Type V has good defenses and multiple attacks, but has insufficient HD to ‘hit’ high level PCs or enough hit points resist their attacks and critically can only levitate - not fly. The Type IV has minimally sufficient HD, but weaker defenses and insufficient offensive punch to really threaten a high level party. A close examination shows that the demons were never meant to have a hierarchy, as there is not the clear progression from weaker to more powerful types seen in the interpretations of later editions. Some of the greater devils though are minimally threatening, with the Ice Devil featuring a complete package of multiple attacks per round, useful magical abilities, psionic abilities, reasonable defenses, a decent AC, and at 11 HD the capability to actually hit a PC with those attacks plus a reserve of hit points.

Devil, Pit Fiend – As originally presented, they are but moderately more potent than an Ice Devil, but the 13HD pit fiend is still a potent figure – if not perhaps nearly as threatening as an Arcanadaemon or an Ultradaemon.

Dragons (Any) – Virtually any dragon of maximum size and age and a standard breathe weapon is a potential threat to even high level parties, but mostly as a result of their breath weapons – which are simply overpowered. Breathe weapon aside, most dragons are glass cannons that just simply don’t have good enough defenses to survive. If they achieve surprise though, it’s a potential TPK, and two such dragons will TPK any party not prepared with magical defenses. Dragon’s that lack the normal breathe weapon – with the exception of Shadow Dragons – tend to not have enough offensive potential to make up for their weak defenses (large size, poor AC given the parties level, few immunities, little or no magic resistance). Pay close attention to the rules though, as some of the Dragon’s defenses are buried in their long entry.

Drow – The original DM’s pet NPC race, now widely copied. You can challenge a high level party with Drow, but at this point IMO no good DM would.

Enveloper – This monster is innocuous in its base form, but there is no limit to the number of prior victims such a creature may have consumed. So, maybe its last victim was a 20th level M-U? Suddenly it doesn’t seem so innocuous any more.

Froghemoth – 16HD, immune to fire, virtually immune to electricity, multiple attacks per round, swallow whole, massive damage capability – what’s not to love?

Ghost – Beginning with the ghoul, the original undead of D&D have particularly vicious attacks. The ghost’s aging attack is one of the worst, and the immunity to spells not originating on the ethereal plain just makes it worse.

Giants – Most of the larger giants can be highly threatening if they appear with the maximum possible numbers, but as the G series shows, at this level even giants are basically just big orcs and high level parties can be expected to deal the small armies of these creatures. Still, they have high strength, potent range attacks and decent hit points.

Githyanki – Another DM pet NPC race. Although not as widely employed as the Drow, I still think you lose style points to rely heavily on the Githyanki as foes.

Githzeria – See Githyanki.

Golem, Iron – Virtual immunity to spells combined with high hit points makes for a fairly hard foe to take down. Like any creature that says, “By the way, it heals from attacks.”, it’s easy to cheese up the encounter by adding something like walls of fire to the room, allowing it to regenerate quickly.

Golem, Stone – Similar to the iron golem, albeit slightly weaker.

Hell Hound – Their breath weapon makes them a good choice of mook against high level parties, as a horde of such creatures still must be worthy of some respect.

Hydra – All of the hydras as originally written are nasty foes with two very important features. First, they get maximum hit points per hit die, meaning a ‘mere’ 12 HD hydra has 96 hit points. Secondly, they get one quite powerful attack per HD, allowing a 12HD hydra to do up to 4d10 damage to up to three different foes. The regenerating and fire breathing versions are even worse, though the pyrohydra is officially limited to 8HD and this limits it considerably. However, all the hydras are fairly slow and can’t fly, so they are – as with many similar brutes – only threatening when you are trapped with one in close quarters.

Jann – If you are an official RBDM, you take advantage of typos when those typos are advantageous. The official rules give Jann Sheiks 85HD and Jann Amirs 96HD. No it’s not at all unfair to give the monster 432hp. The party is 13th level. They will still win.

Korred – Most noteworthy is their laughter ability, which requires you to roll charisma OR HIGHER or be stunned. So not only is the attack level invariant, but the better your charisma is, the more effective it is. Beyond that, they can pull the same tricks with earth spells the PC’s can, and they have ranged attacks. A band of these can be surprisingly effective at harassing even a high level party.

Kou-Toa – The Kou-Toa are a little less cheesy than the Drow and the Githyanki and much less overused, making them reasonable choices if you are looking for fodder and even a BBEG – as a Kou-Toa priest-king and his retinue makes for a potentially potent foe. They are also aquatic, with all the trouble that implies. They also have probably the longest write up of any 1e monster, with a thorough and sometimes surprising list of defenses and abilities.

Kraken – Given that they have no defenses to speak of, even at 20HD, these would be a pushover except you have to fight them in water – which can definitely add to the interest.

Lich – It’s a truth of D&D that any high level spell-caster is dangerous, and the lich is one of D&D’s classic BBEG’s very much for that reason.

Mephit – Mephits deserve mention because, although each is quite weak, they all possess attacks which continue to threaten opponents even of high level. For example, the fire mephit has a small breath weapon that still does half damage if saved against, and can cast heat metal and magic missile (for 2 missiles on each casting). Smoke mephitis have a weak breath weapon that automatically hits no save, and blinds the target. In addition, Mephits can fly and have ranged attacks. What this means is that Mephit’s are almost ideal mooks for facing high level parties, as it is impossible to encounter mephitis without spending some resources.

Mind Flayer – Along with the Bodak, Magnesium Spirit, Nymph, Son of Kyuss and even Rot Grubs, I nearly left the Mind Flayer off the list because they really aren’t so much monsters as mobile save or die traps. There are tons of monsters that present almost no threat at all except they have some sort of save or die or die no save type attack, and as such their only challenge is just, “Do you feel lucky?”. But the mind flayer is so classic that I couldn’t help myself, and its tentacle attack at least usually requires a few rounds to become lethal – giving parties a chance to react.

Modron – Beginning with the Septon, all the more potent modron hierarchs are seriously powerful foes. Quartons and higher are arguably more powerful than beings like Asmodeus, Orcus or Demogorgon, and Secundi – being 26th level clerics, 22nd level M-U’s and 13th level monks certainly are. Trifle with the forces of Law at your peril.

Naga, Spirit – At 10HD with poor defenses, the Spirit Naga barely belongs on this list, but they can appear up to 3 at time and have diverse magical ability as well as a charm gaze attack.

Neried – I have to mention them for completeness, as the Nereid’s near complete immunity to males (no saving throw allowed) makes them annoying to deal with, but… they are annoying to deal with.

Planetar – Each of them is as powerful as a fiend lord such as Orcus. If you want to play for team evil, expect there to be consequences.

Purple Worm – 15HD, burrowing, with a swallow whole attack. You can probably figure out something to do with that.

Quasi-Elemental, Lightning – They have a number of potent level invariant attacks and defenses that make them annoying to fight if you don’t have the right spells prepared. The 12HD version in particular can absolutely wreck fighters.

Quickling – Their 3HD makes them easy to overlook at higher levels, but they have amazing defenses for such a low HD monster. They are immune to surprise, explicitly have 18 Dex, save as 19th level clerics, and have non-trivial AC, plus natural invisibility. They have multiple attacks per round and virtually limitless range to charge into combat. A full 16 of them makes a fairly nasty fight to deal with, as the 1e Book of Lairs noted.

Remorhaz – The 14HD version of these beasts is quite potent, with decent magic resistance, a potent and potentially instantly lethal attack, and the highest single damage ability I know of in AD&D – 10d10 damage to anyone that comes in contact with its blazing hot back.

Retriever – Basically, a dragon reskinned in a slightly different form, so everything that applies to dragons applies here. Its breathe weapons – I mean ‘eye rays’ – are overpowered, and its defenses are negligible.

Roper – In Ultima IV, these along with Balors and Beholders were end game monsters, and it’s reasonable to suggest that they were treated as such because they are capable end game foes in AD&D. With 12HD, multiple attacks, and strong defenses against magic, three such creatures will keep even a high level party busy.

Slaad – Pretty much all the Slaad are rough foes to face, each in their own way. They again strike me as the results of having playtested high level play, and have some interesting features. For example, the Blue Slaad have brutal damage potential for their HD but are one of the few psionic monsters in the game a PC psionic could reasonably defeat in psionic combat – which suggests that the writer has even playtested psionics extensively. Red Slaad are weak, but the party might be best advised to just avoid the potential hordes of them that can be encountered by outrunning them. Green Slaad have a nice suite of magical abilities, while the Grey and Death slaad are more potent than any non-unique creature that had been published to that point.

Solar – See Planatar. Just ignore the typo with their AC. It’s plainly meant to be -9.

Shambling Mound – The entry lists the largest sort of this creature at 11HD, but like the enveloper the potential here has to be noted from the description – lightning bolts cause it to grow by 1HD. No limit is mentioned, so it’s quite possible to imagine how the normal limits might be exceeded. The largest size you may wish to place is really the largest size you may desire. Aside from just putting a 30HD shambling mound in your dungeon and having rules justification for it, the shambling mound has impressive resistance to attacks – taking half damage from almost everything. It also has a delayed death attack dependent on killing the creature before the timer goes off that can make for a rather tense fight.

Spectre – The spectre is not destroyable by turning, and has some capacity to resist the turns of even fairly high level clerics. Its attack is one of the most horrifying in the game, eliminating at a stroke two hard earned levels. Up to six of these terrifying foes may appear at a time.

Thessalhydra – Sure it’s a glass cannon, but ten high damage attacks per round plus a 12d6 acidic breath weapon attack means that it is one of the most capable damage dealers in the game – matching the bigger dragons.

Tenebrous Worm – Although only 10HD, they can wreck anyone that tries to attack them in melee, and their bite does up to 4d10 damage.

Titan – The more potent versions of these creatures are at least equal in power to a fiend lord.

Vampire – The base line monster is on par with the dreaded spectre. But the real danger of this foe is the implication that they retain their class abilities beyond death, meaning that the most powerful examples of these creatures are ones not listed in the entry. The DMG lists these creatures as Monster Level VIII, meaning that they are fitting foes for 8th or high level characters, and generally not to be encountered at all before 6th level. But it also lists vampires as 9th to 10th level evil clerics being Monster Level IX, and those which are 9th to 12th level M-U’s as monster level X. It’s thus easy to see just how off the scale of power Strahd is for the suggested level of the party in Ravenloft.

Umber Hulk – They are on the weak end of the scale for a party of high level as they have low HD and no real defenses, but the ability to burrow, high damage when they hit, and a comically dangerous gaze attack (confusion gaze attacks are vastly better designed than the more common charm, fear, death and petrifaction gaze attacks) warrants their inclusion in the list provided they appear in numbers.

Whale – I don’t think I’ve ever seen an encounter with a sperm whale in D&D, but at 36HD, the ability to swallow foes whole, and attacks doing up to 15d4 damage, they deserve mention. Moby Dick, indeed.

Will-O-Wisp – A good armor class and virtual immunity to spells makes up somewhat for a limited offensive punch.

Yochol – Although not particularly powerful, they do have one massively powerful attack mode that makes them worth mentioning. Buried in the text it reads, “A yochol can change from one form to another within a single round.” Now read the text of the ‘stinking cloud’ spell. Ok then. Combined with their other decent defenses and good AC, that means four of these is actually a reasonable challenge despite the low HD.

The last bit of advice is to not limit your self to what is written down. A close reading of Gygax’s work shows that when it comes to challenging player character’s of the highest level, he was fully prepared to create what he needed when what he needed wasn’t yet published. Don’t be afraid to take a monster and fix it in some fashion to make it the challenge it needs to be. Make your own unique foes. Nothing in the text of his monster manual suggests it, but when Gygax writes up a lair of giants, the chiefs of their kind have the statistics of giants of a larger sort. Feel free to make unique foes. Quite often you will find mention of a monster ‘of the largest sort’, suggesting a monster with 8 hit points on the dice. But the utility of just more hit points is limited. A better example within the text is in the section of the DMG on artifacts, Gygax mentions the existence of a unique Iron Golem – Talos – having triple the normal hit points. Now that is a worthy foe even for a party of 16th level characters! Using that as a template, I began doubling or tripling the HD of other monsters to make unique foes. Good candidates are those of 5-8 HD which might otherwise have the necessary attributes to threaten a high level party, were it not for its limited HD. Manticores with their flight and powerful ranged attack are a good example of a creature suited to such treatment. When improving them thusly, fill in the creature’s abilities by improving their AC by 2-4, improving spell resistance by 10 or 20%, adding a dice or two to their primary attacks, and granting them the abilities of similar monsters – like granting our lord of the Manticores the roar of a Dragonne or Androsphynx or the fear ability of an adult dragon is also reasonable. When doubling or tripling the HD, do not forget to double or triple the casting ability of beings with caster levels or by increasing the number of spells and the highest level of spells available by 1 or 2 steps. And of course, if such creatures are undead, they turn as lich at the very least. The aforementioned sperm whale, if encountered in the abyss, will certainly have the immunities common to demon-kind. A double HD spirit naga, having the casting abilities of a 10th level M-U and an 8th level cleric is an easy change and a memorable foe. The triple HD version, having 30HD, AC -4, a bite doing 3-9 damage, 40% magic resistance, the immunities of a demon, and the casting ability of a 15th level M-U and 12th level cleric is as potent as a fiend lord and makes for a great queen of all evil naga-kind. If you let your creativity by your guide, you’ll never be at a loss for challenges to present.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
We use the 2ed Monster Manuals a lot in our 1e game. Really helps to ramp up monsters like Giants...

2e is a whole other ball of wax. In general, the HD of some creatures (dragons, giants) goes up but, if you were reading along, that's really not enough or even necessarily relevant to guaranteeing that things are going to be interesting nor is the power escalation of high challenge monsters across the board. For example, look at just how much an Arcanaloth gets nerfed - among other things magic resistance falls from 110% to 60%, maximum caster level falls from 18th to 12th, and HD falls to 12+24. The monster goes from potentially challenging even as a solo or a candidate for a BBEG, to a monster which needs support or numbers to face the level of parties I'm describing.

The only area that I can remember definitely adopting 2e style monsters into our 1e campaign was dragons. As I noted, the 1e dragon write up is lovely in some respects, but its odd ball one off mechanics results in a big problem where the dragon is basically just a glass cannon.

Supposing we have a party of 6 10th level characters and we want them to face a 10HD ancient red dragon (80 hp). The first thing to notice is the party has about 60HD to the red dragons effective HD of 17. The second thing to notice is though the dragon has the h.p. and saving throws of a 17 HD monster, it's still attacking on the 10HD attack matrix. If it doesn't hit with its bite against a -2 AC, a not unlikely prospect, it's not really going to do much on turns its doesn't breathe. Meanwhile, while the PC fighters are attacking on what is effectively the 10HD attack matrix, they get large bonuses to hit from magic items, strength, and possibly other buffs that making hitting the dragon's AC of 0 fairly trivial. So straight up, the dragon is in trouble. However, the dragon's breathe weapon does as much damage as its hit points or 80 damage save for half. The fighters its facing will count themselves lucky if they can survive failing a saving throw versus its breathe weapon, and the non-fighters will count themselves lucky if they can survive the breath weapon even on a successful save! No one in the party is likely to survive two such attacks, and many or most will likely die to two breathe weapon attacks even if they have magical protection from fire! So this fight is basically over at the initiative roll, with each side being able to overwhelm the other if they go first with no real tension or drama and the whole fight after the initiative roll be determined by other random factors outside the players control.

What is desirable here is a monster with much stronger defenses and perhaps 2/3rds or half as effective of breathe weapon. This however was rarely realized in the 1st edition era with most attempts to 'fix' dragons rely on making them more and more potent glass cannons - the opposite of what is interesting. The 2e dragon fixes some of the problems (4 new age categories, higher HD, better AC, magic resistance at higher challenge ratings), but leaves the breathe weapons over powered IMO. The old red dragon in the example is still doing over 80 damage on its attack in 2e and its targets don't have significantly higher hit points. The XP values attached to the age categories show how out of whack the balancing is here. Just rate the XP on the basis of just breathe weapon damage and you'll see what I mean.

This overall problem wasn't really addressed until 4e IMO, and then they swung the pendulum too far the other way, resulting in the grindy combats I mentioned where victory by the PC's is inevitable from the outset and its just a matter of grinding through the rounds to get there.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I've redone Giants and Dragons completely to make them much tougher on the whole. Also, Demons can be anything you can dream up.

Biggest issue is sheer lack of hit points. 1e's high-end monsters are, for the most part, different variants of glass cannons and constantly need beefing up in order to last even a full round or two when met on their own.

That said, there's strength in numbers. Why use one ancient red dragon when you can throw three or four at 'em? (says he, who last session saw a huge ancient red (with beefed-up hit points) go down in a round and a half without achieving much more than mussing up a few characters' hair)

Lan-"but only one would fit in the room so I couldn't have added more even if I'd wanted to"-efan
 

Celebrim

Legend
Biggest issue is sheer lack of hit points.

I had one DM try to fix that by giving all monsters max hit points, and that might work in some cases, but in his case he'd let the equipment and such get out of hand prior to that so that it didn't really matter.

Back in the early 90's when I was going to 'fix' 1e, it was immediately clear to me that monsters needed explicit strength, dexterity, and/or con and that only monsters that had those advantages could possibly keep up with PC's. Con bonuses in particular give the hit point boost monsters need to keep up.

And yes, dragons needed a rework.

There is the additional problem that Unearthed Arcana is just broken and that balance between classes is amazingly poor to start with and even worse once you throw weapon specialization and cavaliers in the mix. But post Unearthed Arcana, it became very clear to me that 'demihumans' like orcs, goblins, bugbears and the like needed to be classed. It was no longer enough to say that a bugbear lord was 5HD and had +1 to hit and damage to expect that monster to be a valid mini-boss.

In addition, there is also an issue that THAC0 for monsters capped (in 1e) at 16HD, with much worse 'to hit' than the caps on PC's. Combined with the fact that monsters didn't generally get any sort of bonus to hit and PC's with good armor class were essentially immune to physical attacks. Almost nothing could hit them without rolling a 20, and even then, most things had such low damage per attack that the rare hits were never threatening.

That said, there's strength in numbers. Why use one ancient red dragon when you can throw three or four at 'em?

Because four ancient reds will instantly incinerate entire parties of high level PC's unless you rework the rules on breath weapons. If four 72 h.p. red dragons breathe in the same round, then even if all 4 saving throws are passed everyone in the party takes 144 damage, which is enough to kill pretty much any realistic PC in the game - 20th level bards, 18th level fighters, even high level barbarians might go down. Even if everyone in the party has some form of fire resistance, all the non-fighter types are now dead even if they pass all their saving throws and the fighter types are dead if they fail one or two saves. Realistically, this is a 'die no save' encounter unless the PC's achieve surprise in some fashion.

(says he, who last session saw a huge ancient red (with beefed-up hit points) go down in a round and a half without achieving much more than mussing up a few characters' hair)

I assume that if you are beefing up the hit points on the dragons, you've also dispensed with 'Damage from breathe weapon = dragon's hit points' mechanic and adopted something more reasonable like 1d6/age category?
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Back in the early 90's when I was going to 'fix' 1e, it was immediately clear to me that monsters needed explicit strength, dexterity, and/or con and that only monsters that had those advantages could possibly keep up with PC's. Con bonuses in particular give the hit point boost monsters need to keep up.
I give them strength and dexterity bonuses; the con one is subsumed by my beefing up the h.p. (which I almost always just assign rather than roll).

And yes, dragons needed a rework.

There is the additional problem that Unearthed Arcana is just broken and that balance between classes is amazingly poor to start with and even worse once you throw weapon specialization and cavaliers in the mix. But post Unearthed Arcana, it became very clear to me that 'demihumans' like orcs, goblins, bugbears and the like needed to be classed. It was no longer enough to say that a bugbear lord was 5HD and had +1 to hit and damage to expect that monster to be a valid mini-boss.
We adopted a toned-down version of weapon spec. as soon as it came out and have kept it ever since. We also took Cavaliers in (again, a bit toned-down from the UA original) but never bothered with the Acrobat or Barbarian (we have Barbarian as a race). At the sort of levels where a 5HD+1 bugbear lord would be a valid boss things still work pretty much just fine. It's at roughly 6th-7th level (party average) and up where the problems really become noticeable.

In addition, there is also an issue that THAC0 for monsters capped (in 1e) at 16HD, with much worse 'to hit' than the caps on PC's.
Fixed a long time ago. :)

Because four ancient reds will instantly incinerate entire parties of high level PC's unless you rework the rules on breath weapons. If four 72 h.p. red dragons breathe in the same round, then even if all 4 saving throws are passed everyone in the party takes 144 damage, which is enough to kill pretty much any realistic PC in the game - 20th level bards, 18th level fighters, even high level barbarians might go down. Even if everyone in the party has some form of fire resistance, all the non-fighter types are now dead even if they pass all their saving throws and the fighter types are dead if they fail one or two saves. Realistically, this is a 'die no save' encounter unless the PC's achieve surprise in some fashion.
True enough, assuming the party stay clumped together enough to be hit by more than one or two. :) But, by then most PCs have some sort of fire resistance device if only to protect them from their own MU's miscalculations with fireballs; reducing the damage a fair bit.

I assume that if you are beefing up the hit points on the dragons, you've also dispensed with 'Damage from breathe weapon = dragon's hit points' mechanic and adopted something more reasonable like 1d6/age category?
Reworked, yes: usually a small number of d6's plus a large fixed amount (for example the one the other night was 4d6+50), usually giving an average a bit less than the original starting h.p. and way less than the h.p. I give 'em. :) That breath-weapon-damage-equals-hit-point mechanic struck me as inane the very first time I saw it; my opinion hasn't changed since. :)

That said, the little dragons met by very low level parties tend to work just great as they are, without having to really change them at all other than to put a small variable on the breath weapon.

Lanefan
 

Imperialus

Explorer
My DM just threw a 'white pudding' at our party ranging from 8th to 10th level last week. Basically it was black pudding, but instead of vulnerability to fire it was only vulnerable to cold damage. That was a tough fight simply because we didn't have any ice based spells in the party. Heck we were low on spells in general since so far that day we had killed 3 succubi, a Balor, a Glabrezu, a along with dozen or so harpies and gargoyles. Oh, and some home brewed crystal golems.

Ended up chopping it into smaller bits, which we then webbed before polymorphing one of them into a frost salamander. Certainly one of the more puzzling combat's we've had in a long time.

One suggestion I'd have is to try and make sure you drag the days on long enough to burn through spells. Keep things coming, and don't let up. Drain their resources enough and things will start to get dicy.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I definitely should have included all the deadly puddings on my list. While the Black is in many ways the worst, they each have their subtle challenges in terms of movement rate, how hard they hit, and HD.

That said, your DM's 'White Pudding' is an excellent example of a variant monster, as the official 'White Pudding' of D&D is a snow drift that eats you, but has basically the same weaknesses as the Black Pudding. Your story is an excellent example of two things. First, just how small of a change in a monster is necessary to create challenge. And second, just how many resources a high level party has to leverage.

You are quite right of course that in 1e, the trick to putting pressure on the party is putting them in a battle of attrition. Almost no single (non-surprise) encounter can threaten a well prepared party, but as spells and hit points are abraded things get more and more dicey. A certain number of proactive foes are therefore essential, because otherwise you'll be dealing with parties that do commando raids with no fear of retribution. Again, this is why the 1e Ravenloft is a much more difficult module than Tomb of Horrors - Strahd doesn't wait for the PC's to act and on the contrary will chase the PC's down if they try to limit their daily exposure. 10th level characters are much better equipped to face ToH, than 6th level characters are to face Ravenloft.
 

MPA2000

Explorer
Great thread. I just want to add my two or three cents in here. All of the named monsters (Asmodeus, Orcus, etc.) are listed by HP only, that means at best they can only attack as a 16 HD monster (per the chart), that being said Deities and Demigods expressively states that in their own planes, they are treated as Lesser Gods. Using special powers for lesser Gods in that book or Manual of the Planes or both.

Secondly, DMs pretty much destroyed AD&D 1 and 2, by allowing players to attain ridiculous powers, such as +20 magical swords and stacking bonuses ala Hammer of Thunderbolts. At best a magical weapon should never be more powerful than any found in the DM Guide. Off the top of my head +5 was it and that was for the Holy Sword or whatever it was called and the Hammer of Thunderbolts. While there were some magic/artifacts that probably allowed players to gain attributes higher than 18, it certainly should not be permanent nor something their God bestowed on them. Off the top of my head, Girdles or potions of giant strength only gave you damage bonuses right?

Thirdly, MM I and II had monsters that were just fine, powers wise. It was the PC's that were too powerful and thus made everything look beatable. Back to what I said before, at a certain level, dungeoning is no longer worthwhile. DM's have to change their calculus to expand adventures to other worlds and planes. Heck maybe even different Dimensions altogether, in a Sci Fi adventure or Gamma type of planet.

It's possible that a God of any level could be a good challenge to any PC in their own realm, but if all of the PC's have artifacts of incredible powers and are 50th levels, lot even a Greater God might sweat a little.

Basic D&D, got it right. 18 was the absolute maximum ability scores. Artifacts had real devastating affects against mortals who held on and continued to use them. +5 was the absolute max for any weapon or armor/shield enchantment. Even for Artifacts.

Yet after a certain level, they too become to much of a challenge, and the DM has to expand his adventures outside this plane, or even dimension.

Unlike the Gods, in AD&D, the Immortals are not to be trifled with. AD&D has had to keep changing the powers of the Gods in order to make them seem unbeatable.

The Immortals right off the top, even as the lowest of the Immortals, an initiate is still a 15HD monster, with a meager 75 hit points, you would think it's goose would be cooked if it lost initiative to even one high level, fully equipped PC.

Not so. An Immortal is forbidden to take action against a presumptuous Mortal on the Prime Plane, unless it is his worshipper. But lets say that some mid to high level characters managed to foil or in the process of foiling an Immortal's plot, and direct action was necessary. The Immortal would simply wait or cause a situation where the mortals would have to go to another plane to for one reason or another. Then the Immortal can take action. So all Immortals have the following minimum stats:

1) Immune to all mortal magic. Well all of your spell casters are useless unless they have an Artifact.
2) Need a +5 weapon to harm them. Very few non-fighters will have one of these.
3) Takes the minimum damage from any non-artifact weapon. So that weapon would only be capable of doing the +5 weapon damage, +any strength damage, + minimum dice roll (so 1d6 sword, does only 1 pt of damage before adding modifiers).
4) All immortals begin with AC0 without any armor as they go up in rank it gets higher, but of course those who like to fight will have armor and shields.
5) Aura attacks- All immortals can simply flaunt their divinity and make mortals faun over them, if they fail their savings throws and they don't get any modifier bonuses!
6)Immortal spells are far more potent- Mortals save at a -2, and they are not limited the 20d6 spell damages that mortal spellcasters are. So a 30 level Immortal will fire off a 30d6 fireball as many times as he wants.
7) Immortals have a natural Anti-Magic shell around them that effects all magic items (including Artifacts) and spells coming within it's range, but doesn't affect the Immortals magic at all. The antimagic shell has a percentage chance of 50% for Initiates all the way up to 90% for Hierarchs. So there is a 50% chance any that weapon won't affect the Initiate Immortal at all.
8) Finally the most dangerous spell that the Immortals have is called "Reduce Saving Throw". Yep just like it says. The immortal can spend what is called "Power Points", and make any mortal suffer a reduction in their saving throws. So that those 36th level PCs facing the Initiate could see their 2 saving throws all increase to 15 or even 20, if the Immortals fires off a spell!

So if DM high level characters, expand your horizons. Maybe they can defeat gods in AD&D, since the system allows it. Perhaps, you should bring in an Immortal from the Mystara universe to show them what real divine might is. You don't have to convert Immortals either, you can play them as is in the AD&Dverse.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
What about Rot Grub? Be it 1st level or 21st level, a bunch of rot grub will take you out in moments.

I specifically discussed the Rot Grub and the impulse that it represented (in so far as it seems to provide a solution to the problem) in the article. Quoting it:

There are also bad foes and poor challenges. These are typified by one of two impulses. The first is a heavy reliance on some single save or die ability in order for the creature to be a threat and otherwise nothing which suggests that they are remotely a challenge if you pass the initial save – banshees, bodaks and basilisks are creatures of this sort. Throw enough of them at the party, and you’ll certainly kill characters and eventually arrive by way of bad luck at a TPK...Along with the Bodak, Magnesium Spirit, Nymph, Son of Kyuss and even Rot Grubs, I nearly left the Mind Flayer off the list because they really aren’t so much monsters as mobile save or die traps. There are tons of monsters that present almost no threat at all except they have some sort of save or die or die no save type attack, and as such their only challenge is just, “Do you feel lucky?”. But the mind flayer is so classic that I couldn’t help myself, and its tentacle attack at least usually requires a few rounds to become lethal – giving parties a chance to react.

Good monsters allow players to make meaningful choices. Indeed, probably even more so, good monsters allow players to experience a list of meaningful choices. A Rot Grub isn't so much a monster as it is a trap with a particularly narrow set of recovery conditions, and traps can be made as hideously unfair as the DM may like. That doesn't necessarily make them fun or make that impulse good DMing.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Great thread.

Thank you.

Secondly, DMs pretty much destroyed AD&D 1 and 2, by allowing players to attain ridiculous powers, such as +20 magical swords and stacking bonuses ala Hammer of Thunderbolts.

Well, I don't think we can make any blanket statements about AD&D campaigns. The standards, rituals of play, and indeed rules varied so widely between tables that you simply can't say, "AD&D was like this..." At best you can say, "AD&D as we played it was like this..." Certainly there were groups that were freer with magic than others, though personally I never encountered any that went so far as to introduce +20 swords. In the dozen or so that I was aware of, I can only think of one that had even a single +6 sword. More typically, even a +5 sword was considered a uber-item. But breaking the game doesn't require anything more than typical treasure available on the tables in the DMG and UA (or published modules) and typical spells available in the PH and UA. Any sort of slightly generous char-gen routine, or simply sifting through large numbers of PCs until those with above average stats rise to the top produces parties which can easily overpower pretty much anything published in the MM1 and MM2. The problem is that monsters generally do not receive bonuses to hit points, damage, attack dice and the like, while PC's with a few 16's or 18's certainly do. Moreover, it's not even so much treasure that breaks the game, but system mastery. Even if the DM is trying to keep the level of treasure on the low side of fair, by 10th level parties will just overwhelm most foes through action economy and action efficiency. You don't need to have +20 magic swords. You just need to stack together a series of more reasonable bonuses from some combination of buffs, above average attributes, weapon specialization, your +3 or +4 weapon, and so forth. It's not that hard in even a low magic campaign to come up with +6 or +10 bonus to hit and/or damage, and rare that a monster has even an inherent +1 bonus to hit or damage.

DM's have to change their calculus to expand adventures to other worlds and planes. Heck maybe even different Dimensions altogether, in a Sci Fi adventure or Gamma type of planet.

Certainly that was one approach to the problem. Adventures like 'Queen of the Demonweb Pits' and 'Isle of the Ape' tried to fix the problem in part by putting the characters in situations where the normal rules of the game didn't apply. I call this approach "Giving the players powers that you don't intend on letting them use." For example, giving them +5 swords that in practice only have +3 bonuses because "on another plane" or giving them 6th level spell slots that they can't use because "on another plane" when the real reason underlying reason is that the game broke somewhere around 10th or 12th level, and you are nerfing the PC powers to keep the playing field somewhat level. A very little of this goes a long way, and I think in play is mostly annoying rather than creative. It's fine to use it occasionally, but an excessive use of it is simply combative DMing.

It's possible that a God of any level could be a good challenge to any PC in their own realm, but if all of the PC's have artifacts of incredible powers and are 50th levels, lot even a Greater God might sweat a little.

Gods are a special subject, but the real problem is that fighting a God given the stats given to a God isn't really interesting. As with almost all the monsters D&D, the Gods tend to be glass cannons and (relative to the presumed power level) something of one trick ponies without really interesting interactive dynamics. Fixes to this issue largely don't focus on making the fight interesting, but simply on discouraging it from happening.

Artifacts had real devastating affects against mortals who held on and continued to use them.

Well, so did 1e AD&D artifacts.

AD&D has had to keep changing the powers of the Gods in order to make them seem unbeatable.

Exactly of what value is something that is unbeatable? Creating something that is unbeatable is a trivial exercise of DMing fiat. As a DM, I don't need to do anything to 'put PCs in there place'. I've got no interest in proving that as the DM that I'm in charge and that as the DM my pet NPCs are simply just cooler than the PCs with fiat absolute powers that render interacting with them pointless. This article was not an exercise in gotcha DMing. It's intention was never to get players under control and show them who was the boss. It certainly was not intended to encourage DMs to swagger around showing off to other DMs just how big the numbers are in their game.

Consider your immortal. Is the intention of those rules to make an immortal fun to interact with in a hypothetical combat challenge, by hard coding into the rules that all your cool powers that they've been granted (or earned) simply don't work, or is the intention of those rules to discourage any such hypothetical combat challenge, because any such combat will be as inherently grinding as it is unfair, and thereby 'force' players to consider interacting with immortals in ways other than they are simply tougher monsters?
 
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Celebrim

Legend
I think it could be instructive to look at the follow on thread to this one, where I try to correct the defects in AD&D dragon stats I discussed in this thread, to create foes that are more interactive and less one dimensional than the ones in the RAW.

http://www.enworld.org/forum/showth...s-for-1e-AD-amp-D&prefixid=dnd1e&daysprune=-1

Again, the point here is not to show just how cool I am via how big the numbers are or how absolute the powers are of the monsters I presenting to the players. The point is to create great combat scenes that depends less on any single die roll. The point is to extend the sweet spot seen between 3rd and 9th level play up to some potentially higher level of play. This is I think hard. Whereas, beating down the players is trivial.
 

MPA2000

Explorer
What about Rot Grub? Be it 1st level or 21st level, a bunch of rot grub will take you out in moments.

MM says it will after 1-3 turns, provided you don't burn them off with a torch or have cure disease cast on you. Trying to burn them off (1d6 damage per worm) could be an equal deadly. Better hope you have a Cleric in the campaign
 

MPA2000

Explorer
Consider your immortal. Is the intention of those rules to make an immortal fun to interact with in a hypothetical combat challenge, by hard coding into the rules that all your cool powers that they've been granted (or earned) simply don't work, or is the intention of those rules to discourage any such hypothetical combat challenge, because any such combat will be as inherently grinding as it is unfair, and thereby 'force' players to consider interacting with immortals in ways other than they are simply tougher monsters?

I think this was a rhetorical question, but since you brought up my favorite character class, I am compelled to talk about it. :)

Much of your original post talks about challenges for characters and how some monsters are not so much of a threat as they present conditions/traps (ie save or die, withering/aging, energy drain etc). Some of the posts there after also admit that they will enhance the monster to make them more of a challenge for the PC's. That goes back to what I said before about DM's making PC's too powerful. Although you have never seen anyone with a +20 sword, doesn't mean it hasn't happened, anymore than I have never seen a 100 level PC, but clearly commenters in the old Dragon's magazine referenced them. Not saying you implied anything, but it is worth me addressing.


Now as far as Immortals possibly being used as "tougher monsters". The general rule is a monster is anything the PC's can fight and kill. As a DM isn't it wise to understand that some players play D&D for the swashbuckling? They want sword fights or spell battles. Some not so much. Many DM's not so much either.

Any major conflict that somehow draws the attention of an Immortal, is just that. Could it be unfair? Yep. Immortals get the same benefits as PC's when it comes to magical bonuses to hit and armor class. It's not supposed to be a fair fight: They are godlike beings. Does that mean they will always win? No. Nor should they be treated as Bosses. A Boss would be one or more of their underlings, who may or may not know that they are being used by said Immortal.

That being said, I think we (we= players, DM's and the Game writers) tend to make godlike beings (Gods and Immortals) more forward thinking than they should be. If you look at the myths, the gods could be tricked, bamboozled or killed (not Olympians). In D&D we like to think that there is no way you can sneak in a god's realm, even when that does happen in the myths. We like to think gods have all of these pre-ready machinations, at the ready, in case there are some unwanteds who show up to cause mischief. It's my understanding that gods and Immortals have all of the same faults as mortals. They make mistakes. They have emotional and psychological issues (if you observe them in the myths).

So it is highly likely that a group of adventurers could surprise a god or Immortal and catch him by himself. For the simple fact, their existence as godlike beings have given them a false sense of security. Clearly an Immortal never has to fight a mortal or even a group of adventurers, if he doesn't want to. He could just summon underlings and teleport away. Another example is AD&D 1e Thor: Thor could use the spells he has access to, but he should rely on his hammer and strong right arm settle any dispute in the heavens or midgard. Even when it would make sense for him to do otherwise.

So anyway, I hope no one takes offense to anything I said. Most of you are likely smarter than I am. But if you ever want to no more about the Immortal Character class let me know.
 

KenNYC

Explorer
I specifically discussed the Rot Grub and the impulse that it represented (in so far as it seems to provide a solution to the problem) in the article. Quoting it:



Good monsters allow players to make meaningful choices. Indeed, probably even more so, good monsters allow players to experience a list of meaningful choices. A Rot Grub isn't so much a monster as it is a trap with a particularly narrow set of recovery conditions, and traps can be made as hideously unfair as the DM may like. That doesn't necessarily make them fun or make that impulse good DMing.


I think to then find a uniquely interesting but dangerous problem for characters say 11th level or higher you might have to go to specific adventures. DARK TOWER has a classic bit of chaos when everyone gets their minds transplanted into each other's body and please pass your character sheet to the left. Then you see how a player who has never played a druid or illusionist before (or whatever) function at perhaps minuses to everything because they are either in an unfamilar body or don't what what these magical things do. That would create a fun scenario for a DM to become a stickler for material components in spells.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Much of your original post talks about challenges for characters and how some monsters are not so much of a threat as they present conditions/traps (ie save or die, withering/aging, energy drain etc).

My original post could be said to have a simple thesis: AD&D combat with a few or single large monster evolves to a point that most combats are over in a single round, and as such surprise and initiative have a disproportionately high influence on the combat. I propose that there are two false remedies to that problem. One solution is increasing the number of monsters, but this leads to grinding combats like for example the first set piece battle in "Isle of the Ape" where in round 1 the monsters make 300 attacks in that round alone. Also, this solution tends to involve high levels of cheese and DM antagonism, as scene 'Tucker's Kobolds', 'Skip's Goblins', and the island barbarians in the aforementioned module. The second false remedy to the problem is to try to make that one round matter more so that the monster is immediately threatening. This can be seen in monsters as diverse as RAW dragons, bodaks, and death knights. These monsters produce some sort of save or die ability. The problem with that approach is that it simply makes surprise and initiative that much more important, increasing the importance of a few single rolls and decreasing the importance of teamwork, tactics, and so forth except where it involves achieving surprise. It tends to lead to 'gotcha' combats where monsters unavoidably ambush the party, and players become motivated to try to subvert the gameplay. Ultimately, it leads to gameplay that is simply luck based, were individual die rolls will deprive a player of a character regardless of what he did but simply because of a bad die roll.

Some of the posts there after also admit that they will enhance the monster to make them more of a challenge for the PC's.

My 'third way' is to look for monsters that have a suite of defensive capabilities that allow them to survive to actually interact with a party. That's why I focus on things that have magic resistance, immunities, and high AC and why I suggest focusing on such creatures and not on 'save or die' creatures. A good example of this is the approach I take with fixing dragons, which actually lowers their potential per round damage, but greatly increases AC, hit points, magic resistance, damage resistance, and the breadth if not depth of their abilities.

That goes back to what I said before about DM's making PC's too powerful.

No, and that is the crux of what I disagree with about your assertion. What I'm talking about is not and not even remotely suited to challenging some party that has decided 100th level PC's and +20 swords is how they should play. What I'm talking about is a party of 6-8 PCs (plus henchmen) constructed with 4d6 drop the lowest ability scores, using the Unearthed Arana chargen rules, that is 10th to 12th level, and which has a DM which has stuck largely generating treasure by treasure type using the random magic item generation in the DMG and an occasional published module (or some homebrew of similar scope), will pretty much be able to trash all the games published monsters with no real challenge. A very conservative DM that really tries to keep his campaign low magic and under control and not Monty Haul might extend that a couple of levels, but not long after 12th level in any event almost everything in the rules books will cease to be a challenge. The rules themselves suggest this. A close reading of the 1e AD&D DMG gives us suggested PC levels at which a monster of a certain level (I, II, III, IV..., IX, X) should be encountered. By 8th level, PC's should begin to face the occasional level X monster - the highest level which any published monster is rated. By 12th to 13th level, they are expected to be able to handle repeated encounters with such potent monsters.

Further, Gygax's own published modules for high level play suggest Gygax is very aware of these limitations of the rules. The 'G Series' modules for PC's of around 10th level feature repeated encounters with giants and dragons, some of the most potent monsters in the game. Giants occur in such numbers in those modules that there are potentially small armies of them, yet PC's are expected to be able with only moderate application of tactics to overwhelm these foes. For higher level play than that, the game frequently resorts to special rules that nerf PC abilities, and foes that are significantly more potent than those published in the rules. Gygax's own 'Tomb of Horrors' doesn't really even attempt to challenge PC's at combat and instead presents them with a large number of 'puzzles' with lethal consequences, especially to the rash. Gygax's 'Isle of the Ape' intended for true 'high level' play (18th level characters) involves extensions to the rules to increase the effectiveness of high HD monsters, fights with literally hundreds of high hit point foes, and monsters with hit points and attack abilities previously only confined to entries in the Deities and Demigods. So no, you don't have to run a Monty Haul style campaign to find that you need much tougher than a level X monster to truly challenge high level PC's and that your options for challenging high level PC's in interesting ways are pretty limited.

Not saying you implied anything, but it is worth me addressing.

Do you have 100th level PC's and +20 swords in your game or in any game you plan on running? If not, then I'm not sure why it is worth addressing. If some poster said, "I have 100th level PC's with +20 swords, and I'm struggling to challenge them with anything in the game. What would you suggest?", that would provoke a very different conversation than the one I'm trying to have.

Now as far as Immortals possibly being used as "tougher monsters". The general rule is a monster is anything the PC's can fight and kill. As a DM isn't it wise to understand that some players play D&D for the swashbuckling? They want sword fights or spell battles. Some not so much. Many DM's not so much either.

Personally I feel that 'gods' and 'god-like beings' are a special topic and not really interesting in this discussion because how you want gods to interact with PCs, if at all, is such a personal decision that it is pointless to talk about the way they 'ought' to be presented. Some DMs are going to prefer gods remain remote and unknowable beings whose reality is vague and unprovable. Others are going to prefer gods to interact with the PCs as untouchable mentors, guides or masterminds to which the PC's and NPC's are only pawns, and others as even as foils, enemies and rivals that can be defeated by mortal means. All of that is a matter of setting preference and clouds the issues being addressed in this thread in innumerable ways.


So anyway, I hope no one takes offense to anything I said. Most of you are likely smarter than I am. But if you ever want to no more about the Immortal Character class let me know.

I haven't taken offense. The English language is great at expressing qualities of things, but not so great at expressing quantity of a thing. There are emotions below the level of offense or anger, on some scale of frustration, that I can't name well because I'm not sure trying to apply a name to them would communicate what I'm feeling. Mostly I just want to be understood, and we are talking past each other.

As for the Immortal rules from old BECMI, I'm somewhat familiar with them, and would be happy to discuss what is right and what is wrong about them. What is very right about them is that they focus on defense and damage mitigation, meaning that if a typical mortal party was to overcome an immortal in combat, it couldn't be something that they could do by going first and overwhelming the immortal with a few potent spells or attacks. Immortals are buffed primarily defensively, which means that they are an example of my 'third way' thinking - you don't need a lot of immortals to challenge high level PC's and you also haven't made the combat only really about surprise, initiative and the first die roll of the round. So that's good.

That being said 'Reduce Saving Throw' potentially undoes any of that good by creating a situation where a player is just screwed no matter what they choose.

Ultimately, I'm not sure that Immortals really belong in this discussion because I don't think it's actually the intention of the person who wrote the immortal rules to encourage them to be played as simply monsters in an dungeon to be overcome. Rather than looking at the Immortal rules and seeing someone trying to solve the problem of how to challenge high level PCs, what I'm seeing is an explanation for which mortals shouldn't interact with immortals as if the immortal was just a monster to overcome, but rather should when faced with an immortal treat it as a role-playing encounter and not likely a combat encounter regardless of the level of said mortal. I'm seeing rules that try to mechanically reinforce a certain approach to what it means to have 'gods' and active 'gods' in a campaign world. For example, 'immune to all mortal magic' simply screams that a rulesmith is hard steering the interaction to a certain specific outcome. There isn't here a sliding scale.

By comparison, look what I did with Dragons in the dragon thread. As written, even Tiamat gets few 'absolute' immunities or abilities. A red dragon for example isn't 'immune to fire'. Rather they are relatively immune to fire. The way I prefer to write 'immunity to fire' is never as an absolute 'on/off' ability, but rather as something like 'ignores the first 100 damage from fire'. Likewise, I prefer not to write something like 'immune to mortal magic'. The same effect can be achieved with something like '140% magic resistance'. The difference may seem trivial for most cases, but what it means is that there is a scale where power exists not in strictly silo'ed tiers, but as a continuous range of ability between tiers. Just as Gygax's rule extensions in 'Isle of the Ape' define a difference in attack success between a 16HD monster and a 21HD monster so that everything just doesn't exist at a single 16+ HD level, so to if you examine my AD&D dragon rules you'll see that I've extended the definition of challenge so that monsters don't exist at a single 'Suitable for encounter by 10th level of higher characters' tier, but we can try to distinguish between a monster that is suitable challenge for parties of 10th, 14th, 18th, or even higher level and one that is suitable as a boss fight for a party of 8th level characters. Again, what I'm interested in ultimately is extending out a 'sweet spot' so that at high level play you see a nice mix of tactics, cinematic and potentially tense combats, and a diversity of available foes that you see in the games sweet spot. I am not interested in achieving this by creating tiers of play, which is the approach BECMI took, or by having some sharp division between tiers so that play at one tier sharply differs from the rest of the game - which is the approach the Immortal rules use.
 

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