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How to Handle Player Resistances

by Mike on 5 October 2009

Recently, during my paragon-tier campaign, player resistances have come into much greater effect than I expected. In running a battle of Fay Lingerers from the Monster Manual 2, it became clear that the PC's extensive use of necrotic resistance gear made the battle nearly totally one-sided. These Fay Lingerers, you see, do nearly all necrotic damage and with PCs reducing every attack by 10 to 15 points, the bite of the Lingerers is almost nil.

Players receive resistances early on in 4th Edition, but only when they hit paragon does the amount of resistance really make a big difference. Races like the Deva can have resist radiant and necrotic of 10 to 15 without a single magic item. Everyone else can get a fair bit of resistances through items.

Today we will talk about this focused topic and discuss tips for keeping the threat high without negating the player's desire to resist damage.

Mix Up Element Types

The easiest way to ensure the PC's resistances don't reduce overall damage too much is to mix up element types. If you're planning on running a Demilich, add in a few fire archons to mix up the elements. You might even add a creature that has no clear damage type like an Iron Golem. While designing an encounter, consider the resistances of your party and add a mix of creatures with different elemental damage types to ensure high resistances won't completely remove the damage done.

Stack Ongoing Damage

This was a tip given to me by the Internet's Dave the Game. Some creatures, like our beloved Demilich, have attacks including 10 ongoing necrotic damage. Consider making these ongoing damage effects stack. Sure, your Deva Invoker may resist all of an ongoing 10 necrotic, but how about 20? Let it stack only twice or three times to ensure you don't stack ongoing 40.

Add Environmentals

This is a trick you may use every so often but must be used sparingly. Various environmental effects may reduce resistances or add enough extra damage to negate much of the resistance. A dark alter, for example, might add +10 necrotic damage on any necrotic keyword attack. Another environmental, an Orb of Chaos perhaps, might actually do added damage to those that resist an element much like a Sorcerer's power.

These environmentals have the bonus of adding in a possible skill challenge. That Orb of Chaos might be destroyed with the right knowledge of history, use of arcane energy, or intervention by the gods. Perhaps it can even be cracked with a well placed athletic smash.

You can't use these environmentals all the time, but they're worth adding in when you have a particularly nasty creature with lots of a specific element of damage. I've never run Orcus, but if I did, he'd definitely have some sort of anti-necrotic-resistance artifact hanging around his neck.


As a final straw, you can cheat. Change the elemental type of an attack (The demilich's Obsidian Eye might do psychic instead of necrotic damage). Add extra damage to monsters when you know they'll be mostly resisted. Add an element type to a single attack such as the Demonic Flameskull's fire/necrotic "Vile Consecration". Cheating should only be done with great care and with a clear focused intent.

Above all, however, remember that resisting damage is one of the things players enjoy about their characters. Don't steal it from them. Let them resist most of the attacks of a loathesome beast if it happens to work out that way. For normal encounters, players should feel powerful. For those particular boss battles, however, you may need to step in to ensure the threat stays high.

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