Dungeons and Dragons 4e: Hard Mode

by Mike Shea on 2 November 2009

4th Edition player characters are a stout bunch. With thousands of magical items and thousands of possible powers, there is an incredible array of possibilities for PCs. If your players are particularly adapt at choosing just the right combinations of powers, feats, paragon paths, and items, we poor DMs can find it harder and harder to challenge them. Today we're going to look at a D&D houserule for "4th Edition, Hard Mode". Essentially we're going to up the threat to players without increasing the duration of battles.

The following three rules can be used individually or all together to create a great challenge for your players. This is a flexible, behind-the-screen, system that can be used for a campaign, an adventure, a single battle, or even a single creature. Use it, throw it away, and use it again later however you wish. Let's dig into the rules:

+1W When Bloodied

If you've read up about 4th edition on any of the forums or around the web, you've heard of the Grind - that point in a battle where the PCs know they're going to win, the monster knows its going to die, and both know it's going to take another five rounds to make it happen. There are a few ways to avoid the grind, but one way to make the monster a bit more dangerous and interesting is to up the damage it puts out when bloodied. Essentially, a creature with this ability becomes a bit more dangerous when the chips are down. This is a subtle change and won't be overtly noticed by the PCs unless you spell it out with some good "the orc chieftain roars out and strikes with bloody revenge!" style flavor text.

1/2 Level to Damage

A more direct way to increase the threat of your monsters is to add 1/2 their level to damage. This will end up scaling quite a bit higher so use it sparingly. This extra damage will carve through temporary hitpoints, damage resistance, and a lot of the free healing characters get at higher levels. You may not want to give this damage to all of your creatures or you're bound to see a game that's a lot harder than normal. Instead, give it to your favorite creatures who are expected to really dish out the damage. This works very well for solo creatures, for example.

Resist Dazes and Stuns

Speaking of solos, these guys will often need some special help to avoid dazes and stuns. Consider giving your favorite solo monsters a boost with the following ability:

Unstoppable Villain: When stunned, this creature instead loses a standard action this round. When dazed, this creature instead loses a minor action this round.

This ensures the threat of this solo will stay high and give them more actions than they would normally get when typically dazed and stunned.

Many groups may never have a need for these house rules. Sometimes the combinations just work out fine. Other times, however, a DM may find their tools to scare the players a bit thin. These three simple rules can help solve that problem. Give them a try on your next boss and see how they work out.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the Lazy Dungeon Master. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide. Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.