by Mike Shea on 20 September 2010
Building the perfect solo creature is a good mix of art and science. We want a solo creature to really threaten a party. We want them to act as the giant creature that wets a thousand suits of armor. We want it to be a true bad ass. It isn't always easy to do this, however. Many solos as written end up falling flat in the battle. Others threaten a few members of a party but almost totally ignore others.
Today we're going to look at four things every solo monster should have. These are the elements missing from many solo monsters and they're the reason many solos end up falling flat.
For the purpose of this article, I'm going to assume you know the basic rules for building a solo from the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Dungeon Master's Guide 2. If you haven't read up on those sections, do so before venturing too far into the ideas within this article.
Status effect protection
As I've talked about time and time again, you'll want some way for your solo creature to get past debilitating status effects. I'm not going to repeat myself here but you'll want to incorporate some way for your solo to pass off effects like stun, daze, or unconsciousness.
Ensure your solo monster isn't too dependent on a single elemental damage type or ensure it has a way to get past any resistance to that elemental type. A wraith dragon that only dishes out necrotic damage will find itself easily resisted by most paragon and epic groups. Auras, resistance-breaking attacks, or other environmental effects can help your solo get past resistances. Just remember not to get past them TOO easily. Players like resisting damage so give them a chance to do so. Make sure it isn't all or nothing.
Threats to ranged attackers
Ranged attackers need to be threatened too. The easy way is to throw some other monsters with your solo that can rush the artillery in the rear of a group. Other concepts like a doughnut aura that forces ranged attackers in close or some sort of ranged response are always good choices. Make sure your solo has some way to threaten long-ranged hitters.
Auras turn out to be a great threatening mechanic for a solo. They take effect on each character's turn rather than on the monsters turn. They most often dish out damage without an attack roll. They also stay in effect even if your solo monster is otherwise incapacitated. Pay special attention to your solo creature's aura. It can make all the difference.
Example: The Elder Fire Elemental Lord
I needed a quick solo monster to throw in the middle of a couple of waves of attackers. I'm running a high level game so I ended up designing a level 27 Elder Fire Elemental. Obviously, fire is the primary theme around the fire elemental. It's a brute so I wanted to keep it simple but make it hit like a chaos ship flying into a mountain. As you will see from the stat block below, it has good offensive powers, it's able to threaten ranged attackers, it has a heavy aura, it has status effect protections, and it's able to break through resistances.
This is not the most exciting solo you might run at the table, but it shows how all of the features of a good solo might come into play. It's also simple enough that we aren't likely to forget about it's powers at the table. It also dishes out a considerable amount of damage and should keep a party on its toes.
Elder Fire Elemental LordLevel 27 Solo Brute
Huge elemental magical beast (fire) XP 55,000
HP 1200; Bloodied 600
AC 40; Fortitude 44; Reflex 36; Will 40
Saving Throws +5
Action Points 2
Aura of Fire; Aura 5
When a creature enters or begins within the aura, it takes 25 fire damage.
When struck with a melee attack the attacker takes 20 fire damage
Aura of Burning Fury; Aura 5 when bloodied
All creatures within the aura lose fire resistance.
At the beginning of its turn, this creature can remove one effect it is currently under.
Fiery Slam; At-Will
reach 3; one or two targets; +33 vs AC; 4d8+27 fire damage.
Unstable Burst; when bloodied; recharge 5,6
Close burst 5; +31 vs Reflex; 4d8+27 fire damage
Spontaneous Combustion; At-Will 1/rnd
Close burst 20; one target in burst; +31 vs Fort; 2d12+14 fire damage and ongoing 25 fire damage.
when attacked with a ranged attack; range 20; does not provoke OAs; +31 vs Reflex; 3d10+19 fire damage.