by Mike on 5 February 2024
Not all monsters are created equal for their challenge rating. Some monsters don’t hit very hard at higher challenge ratings. Others hit well above their weight class.
I’ve talked about the four dials of monster difficulty before:
We can tweak monsters, either before or during a fight, using these four dials. Has a battle overstayed its welcome and gotten boring? Drop those monster hit points. Is an otherwise fun and challenging battle becoming boring because it's too easy? Jack up that damage.
If this topic is of high interest to you, please check out our book Forge of Foes with tons of great advice and tools to help you run monsters in your 5e games.
Adding or reducing the number of attacks a monster has is an easy and powerful way to change the difficulty of a monster. We don't have to do any complicated math or calculations in our head for this modification. We don't have to roll more damage dice. Instead, we just have a monster attack again or have it make one less attack.
This "number of attacks" dial has a big impact. If a monster only has one attack and you give it two – you're doubling its potential damage output. If a monster attacks three times but you only have it attack twice, you're removing 50% of its damaging threat. It's a big dial but it's an easy one to turn and create a big effect.
We might turn the "number of attacks" dial to account for a big delta in the action economy. Four characters versus a single monster has a big sway in the action economy – the number of actions (attacks) the characters have versus the number of attacks the monster has.
In a case like this example, giving the monster more attacks helps even out that delta. We probably don't want to have the monster make all of its attacks against a single target, though, instead spreading them out to other members of the group.
Likewise, if a particular monster proves too deadly for a group, it can attack less. Just because Agdon Longscarf can make two branding iron attacks doesn't mean he has to every round. Maybe he does so if he's surrounded. Maybe he does a jaunty dance instead of that second attack. Monsters don't always behave optimally.
Often higher CR monsters hit below their challenge rating. I think this is due to overweighting the extra abilities these monsters have. I argue these monsters need those extra abilities to challenge higher level characters. The result of these overweighted abilities is a reduction in damage. It's not uncommon to find lower challenge monsters hitting at 10 damage per challenge rating (the thug hits at 20 per CR!) but higher challenge monsters hit for 5 or 6 damage per CR. Their extra abilities don't make up for that drop in damage.
If a monster isn't holding up its end of the fight, give it another attack.
It's important to know why you're adding or subtracting attacks. Are you really adding to the fun of the game or just making yourself feel better? I like to imagine the dials have resistance to them. They like to spring to the average. They need force to move. We don't just move them willy nilly. We need a good reason. What are some good reasons?
Why shouldn't we give a monster more attacks?
Of all of the dials of monster difficulty, adding or removing an attack to a monster's arsenal might be the easiest to implement and have a significant impact on the situation. Keep this tool handy and use it to tune your game for the most fun at the table.
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