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CR 11 Monsters. Or Lack Thereof.

Noodling around with some ideas about where to go with the Pathfinder campaign, but I've hit a pretty big conceptual wall here. The characters are 11th level. They now slap around fire giants. There's not a lot of precooked on-level stuff for them to go up against, particularly that isn't of the "demon" or "mountain-sized" category. If I expand to all of the Dungeons and Dragons official monsters, the choice grows somewhat, but not as much as I'd like. That means I'm probably going to be doing a lot of refitting and class-levelling to make viable threats.

The harder part is learning to think in "high level" ways. The heroes have access to mass fly and have enough financial resources that they could get scrolls of just about any spell they might want to cast. "Your character dies" no longer means "roll up a new one," but instead means, "the cleric has to get over to you by the end of the next round in order to raise you without penalty." Fighting a roomful of brutes with a cleric and possibly an archer in the back isn't going to cut it any more; they need adversaries that are worthy of them, and adventure locales that are more exciting than a 30' x 50' room with some random clutter to make difficult terrain.

I do have some ideas, and a suitably epic long-term story arc, but it's the nitty-gritty of turning it into individual sessions that is the real challenge. I also have the entire 3.x-era run of Dungeon magazine and several Goodman Dungeon Crawl Classics to look to for inspiration, but those are only so much help. I tend to like my fantasy grounded in the realistic, even when there are elves and orcs and dragons, but when you reach this level, D&D's already troubled relationship with "naturalistic" fantasy starts to seriously fall apart. The system assumes, almost requires, that you start going all extraplanar, as the mortal world has just become too prosaic for such mighty heroes. At this point it's expected that you'll take flying ships to Asgard, or pop over to the City of Brass on the Elemental Plane of Fire to seek an audience with the King of the Efreeti. I, on the other hand, am still working in the mindset of coping with monsters rampaging the countryside. Granted, the monsters are giants now instead of hobgoblins, which does up the ante a bit, but it's still a quantum jump in scenario design that mentally I'm not quite prepared to make.

-The Gneech


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 23rd, 2010 03:14 am (UTC)
Remember, though, that you're also not restricted to using CR11 monsters at this level -- two or three CR9 monsters work just as well, or three to five CR8 beasties. Mixed levels of opposition also work well; find a couple of different monsters which work synergisticly with each other and match them up. (A good example, though you'd need to have multiples of each, would be shambling mounds and shocker lizards.) In short, don't look at the system as having a dearth of opposition at this level; instead, look on this as an opportunity to try out some tactics which are too potent for lower-level parties.

Also, remember that this is close to the level at which liches can begin to appear...
Jul. 23rd, 2010 04:44 am (UTC)
there already was one of those, although we negotiated with it rather than fight it. said negotiation kept said lich out of the war and thus no longer a threat to us in particular. He's still out there, though not connected to the new threat in any way we know of (nor do we suspect he would be, given his nature) -Frisk
Jul. 23rd, 2010 12:01 pm (UTC)
Against these guys, two CR 9 monsters are no challenge, and five CR 8 monsters wouldn't be able to touch 'em. Between player experience, gear, and buffs, this party needs on-level encounters just to keep them awake, and up-level encounters to actually be tough. That's one reason I put so much effort into working out a Pathfinder version of the minions rules from 4E — so I could toss four of something at the party and let the critters have a chance at hurting them before suffering Death By Player Character.

I suspect there are a lot of "giants with class levels" in this group's future!

-The Gneech
Jul. 23rd, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
Sounds like you've got something I always tried to work towards: a group of players who think. Who play smarter. So you're going to need to do the same. Just remember, the 3.x rules were designed to be balanced -- what's good for the players is good for the DM. If they can think, so can you -- and you should. If they can play smarter, you'd better.

Trust me, even though they're 11th level, you can still use weaker monsters against them, and quite effectively... if you play those monsters as smart as they're actually supposed to be. (Viet Cong kobolds come to mind, particularly if they've got appropriate advisers. Did you ever look at the old Dragon Mountain boxed module? And remember, hobgoblins are supposed to be highly militaristic, and just as smart on average as humans. If kobolds are Viet Cong, hobgoblins are regimented Cold War Soviet hordes...)
Jul. 23rd, 2010 04:43 am (UTC)
Another lesson from a very old issue of Dragon--it doesn't take a high-level being to use a high-level weapon or artifact. The situation as I remember it being described was a raid on an evil magic-user's fortress...some of the minions were just ordinary grunts with nominal weapons--but others had unusally powerful weapons. This turned the assaults into Russian Roulette because the raiders had to be kept guessing as to which soldier had what.

And BTW--the captured weapons were USELESS against the Big Boss. :)
Jul. 23rd, 2010 05:56 am (UTC)
See, this is where you put the heroes in City X, surrounded on three sides by large tribes of humanoids who are at war and of course the city gets caught in the middle. Wrecking/killing any one of the tribes would end up being worse than making them see diplomatic peace for one reason or another, forcing the heroes to holster their blades and pull out their brains.

Something different for a change... and if they manage to make the tribes see peace, they of course would be rewarded with some kind of powerful trinket (perhaps whatever it is that made the tribes go to war in the first place)...
Jul. 23rd, 2010 11:56 am (UTC)
Unfortunately, D&D really is "high fantasy." It doesn't do more realistic fantasy very well once you get past level 10 or so, in any edition. :/

One option is to go less towards monsters, and more towards humanoid villains. It'll take a bit more work in PF/3.5e... in exchange, you'll get opponents not just more appropriate to your theme, but tailored to your group.
Jul. 23rd, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
I've become a big fan of building larger encounters with the appropriate XP budget, generally 1 or 2 big bads, with a bunch of weaker creatures as meat shields and obstacles.
Jul. 25th, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
It's time for...Dr. Destroyer!!

"You clods! You think a puny cleric can stop me?? Hahahaha! You may have come from another dimension, but you'll never stop the world-destroying power of Dr. Destroyer! Hahahaha!!"
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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