by Mike Shea on 15 November 2010
Most of the articles on this site have taken a broad look at ways to make your monsters challenging and fun. Today, howver, we're going to dig deeper into one particular attribute found most often on solo monsters: the aura. Here are five reasons you're going to love auras.
Auras easy to run
Unlike a lot of powers and features of solo monsters, the aura is very easy to run. They simply inflict their function on those within range. You don't have to roll a bunch of dice. You don't have to remember to use it to react to a PC's action. Even if you forget the aura is there, you can usually apply it after the fact with little change to the previous rounds. Auras are about as easy a way as possible to make a creature more threatening without making the creature more complicated.
Unlike most attacks, auras simply hit. They don't require attack rolls or damage rolls. Other than resists, they aren't affected by PC's defenses, utilities, or items. A solid aura simply steps up the threat of combat without much of a need to tune it around the attributes of your PCs.
Auras scale easily
A good solo gets more dangerous as the battle goes on. Scaling auras up when a creature is bloodied is a very easy way to make a creature more dangerous without requiring a lot of extra work. Doubling the aura's damage is the easiest way to scale it up.
Auras don't trigger marks
Unlike a creature's attacks, auras won't trigger a defender's mark. The aura is free to affect all of those who begin or enter the aura's area regardless of who has the creature marked or not. This makes auras a very effective way to ensure you're threatening an entire party, not just a single defender.
Auras work regardless of the status of the creature
Even if your powerful solo creature gets stun-locked for an entire battle, its aura will continue to chug along, ripping through PC's defenses and bringing on the pain. Other than physically avoiding it, there's rarely any way to avoid an aura.
A tip for beholders
Beholders have one of the stranger auras of most creatures and it's worth spending some time to understand how a beholder's aura works. Unlike nearly all other auras, a beholder's aura HAS an attack roll. Theoretically this means a beholder's aura does trigger marks which can be very problematic in certain circumstances. While a fighter might only get one attack against a beholder who fires an eye ray at someone else, other markers have free or no-action ways to counteract or react to the beholder's aura.
Consider using a house rule for beholders that prevents their auras from triggering marks. Essentially a beholder still focuses its primary attacks on a marker but it is not penalized for using its eye ray aura when marked.
Auras, your best offense
All of the above reasons show just how effective auras can be at bringing a real threat to PCs from a powerful creature. When designing high-level elites and solos, consider using auras as the primary threat that creature will bring to a battle. They're easy to run, easy to scale, and keep your PCs on your toes.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips. You can also use these links to purchase the Dungeon Master's Kit, Monster Vault, or Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, or bookmark this link to purchase anything from Amazon. Need some maps or accessories to show off those auras? Take a look at the Gale Force Nine accessories available at Troll and Toad, an official Sly Flourish sponsor.