Roleplaying Resources

Making Little Monsters Challenging

Here are ideas on making wimpy little monsters more of a challenge to higher-level parties, collected from

Hit & Run and Goblins

From: “Tiuz”
Subject: Re: Making the Most of a Little (Monster)
Date: Wed, 26 May 1999 19:58:09 GMT

Where to start! The only reason my PC's levels have not hit double digits after a year and a half campaign is that I almost exclusively throw piddly little monsters against them. The usual tactics are just hit and run, hit and run, hit and run, until the PC's, who have not really taken much damage, lose their cool and start making big mistakes… Large spiders, would have to be my favorite party spoiler. thier tiny size means they can hide easily, they are increadibly tough-one whole hit die for a freaking spider for christs sake, and they have a 5-7 intelligence. Another plus is that the poison they have is not lethal, so they are ideal for low level parties. in large numbers they can turn even the nastiest sword specialist into a shrieking girly-man.

Other monsters that are nasty if used effectively are goblins. Give them bows or slings, as there is no way that they can stand up for themselves in melee-unless they mob PC's in order to over bear them. One of my most fond, evil, memories was when the party's specialist priest (he worshipped a fire god), said to the rest of the party “Dont worry, I'll hold off the goblins”. Now, Leo was a 6th level priest, with chain&shield in addition to an exeptional dexterity score. “They need a twenty to hit me!” he said. In addition to this the party's mage had cast Stoneskin on him. The three goblins decided to overbear-they were magically compelled to attack due to a charm spell, and they saw that thier weapons were doing no good. Two goblins sat on his arms, one straddled his chest and procedeed to bash him in the face with a rock. Leo managed to pull himself out of that one, but the moral is quite clear… Divide and conquer, also make sure that the monsters have somewhere to run when the battle goes against them, and the reason that pissweak critters survive is that they usually traveel in large groups. Players may not be afraid of a single goblin, but a half dozen with slings ambushing a group, and each running away in a different direction after one shot will frustrate PC's no end.

Gnoll Ambush

From (HughMcHugh) on 27 May 1999 01:16:38 GMT

I been having an email discussion about monsters and how to make them nastier through creative play (this is my preferred method, rather than tinkering with their stats). I wrote the following, and decided it would make a good kernel for a thread about this sort of thing.

My players fear Jermlaine almost more than demons. This attitude stems back to a day when the PCs were exploring a cave complex, and came upon a 20' deep pit in a corridor. The pit was a natural stone “chimney” with rough walls, leading down to a stone floor, and the players could see a door in the wall of the pit at the bottom when they shone a light into it.

The thief tried to climb out, but the Jermlaine stabbed her with their pikes, .


One small note: Aren't pikes a bit long to be wielde by such small creatures, particularly from the small tunnels you describe?

Otherwsie, quite a good little trap. It only really works if the Jerm's know the adventurers are coming. Otherwise I can't see them lying around in these tiny tunnels, day in day out for years waiting for a bunch of hapless adventurers to wander by. :)

So I was wondering what sorts of tricks other GMs used to make relatively
minor monsters more terrifying to PCs? Please, share with the class <G>.

I used somethinf slightly similar in Keep on the Borderlands. The PCs had developed a rather foolish pattern: they visited the caves, cleaned out one or two monster lairs and then bogged off back to the keep for a few weeks. Needless to say, after a very short while, many of the cleverer monsters picked up on the pattern and were either well prepared for the next visit or simply packed up and split.

It just so happened that the last cave on the PCs agenda was the Gnoll lair, which sits right at the top of the hill. The Gnolls spent the last break setting up a trap. They cleaned out their gear from the cave and rounded up a pile of Orc corpses from the PCs last raid. The Gnolls lined their lair with rotting Orc bodies and covered the walls and floors of the place in oil (the scent of which was easily masked by the stench of rotting corpses).

When the PCs showed up next time, they easily fell for the bait of a couple of Orc slaves firing bows and then leading them into the cave. As soon as they entered, the pile of logs and boulders that the Gnolls had set up were pushed into place over the entrance. The Gnolls then dropped lit torches down through holes they had dug through the roof of their cave to the surface of the hill a few feet above.

Since it was the first adventure for this party, I played it up for drama and let them reach a secret exit just ahead of a raging firestorm, but they have a VERY healthy respect for Gnolls now.

This was the same adventure wherein a took the piss out of the big Elven fighter in a major way.

I will skip the description and cut to the chase. The Goblin leader was permitted to take the remnants of his tribe out of the caves as long as they surrendered their weapons and left the area. As the Goblin leader was leaving, the fighter said “It serves you right for attacking caravans and killing people.”, to which the Goblin responded “We steal and kill to survive, you do so for profit. Which of us is evil?” and walked away.

That is the first time I have ever actually seen a player sputtering in shock, searching for a comeback. It was glorious!

I love being a GM sometimes. :)

Deadly Goblin Trap

From (Paul Suliin) on Thu, 27 May 1999 11:37:10 -0700

In article, says…

A tip i picked up up off of irc:

a goblin sits at the end of a 200' dungeon corridor with a crossbow!

I think I see the point, Jimmy: the goblin can get off at least 1, probably 2 shots before anyone in the party can get close enough for melee. But there's room for improvement, as I see it. <g>

First off, remember that the party has missiles too, and Magic Missile can reach that goblin even from a 1st level caster. And even two shots from a crossbow isn't going to do more than injure a fighter of higher than 1st level. So how about some modifications:

Set up a long corridor (200' or so is good) with a stairway at the end. The corridor is completely dark (goblins have infravision out to 60', and can of course see light if the party is carrying it). The last 50' of the corridor is scattered with caltrops. If you're reeeealy feeling cruel, make them poisoned caltrops, with a save at +2 to avoid an extra 2hp/rd for the next 1d6 rds (delayed action poisons like this are great because the player can never be sure how how long the character is going to continue taking damage). Or perhaps the goblins have smeared the caltrops with filth, for a save vs poison or catch a debilitating disease.

Now, at the foot of the stairs place a small mantlet with arrow slots. Place two goblins rather than one behind the mantlet, armed with crossbows (with or without the same treatment you gave the caltrops) and shortswords. The stairs go up behind them, and on the stairs are another three goblins armed the same way, plus a surprise: a bucket of glass marbles in lamp oil.

OK, so the fierce PC party comes down the dungeon corridor. They're carrying light, so the goblins can see them waaay before they can see the goblins. The goblins let the PCs get perhaps halfway down the corridor, so they can't easily turn and run for cover, then open fire. All five goblins fire the first round, then the three on the stairs retreat up to the first landing and reload.

The PCs will do one of three things:

1) Turn and run back down the corridor, giving the goblins an extra round of shots at their retreating backs.

2) Charge ahead, straight into the caltrops. The goblins likewise get another round of fire.

3) Return fire with spells and missiles. It'll probably take them a round or two to get enough light into the corridor to see where the goblins are, and they still may not notice the caltrops (make them say that they're looking if you feel mean, or just give them an INT check). If the goblins are hit by magic and survive, they will retreat up the stairs.

Sooner or later the PCs will advance, and the caltrops may or may not get them at that point. In any case, the goblins are heading up the stairs to the second and last landing. As the PCs come up after them one of the goblins will dump oil and glass marbles on the stairs (save vs paralyzation or fall down the stairs for 1d10 damage) and another will toss a firepot down into the flammable oil! All who remain on or try to move up the stairs take 2d6/rd. Trying to move on the stairs means another save to avoid slipping and falling. The oil burns for 3 rounds.

The goblins, meanwhile, retreat back to their tribe's next redoubt (there are *lots more* goblins further into the dungeon <g>).

That was a great starting point, Jimmy. My PCs are going to hate this the first time I use it on them <G>.

Overpowering with Numbers and Hit & Run Kobolds

2/13/01 From Richard Grady

Brian wrote:

Try numbers..use overrun..attack in swarms of hundreds or more. Orcs, goblins, name it. Yes, they will rack up beauceaup ep's, but any charged magic items will begin to be worn down. Sooner or later even the mightiest warrior will be overborne by weight of numbers. Go a minimum of 10:1, and don't forget to use magic items of your own. If the encounters don't equal the challenge of the party, increase the numbers.

Do not let them exit, seal them in if you have to. Allowing them to rest always lets a party be strong.

Actually, this made me think of the “Tucker's Kobolds” editorial from an old Dragon (forget the number). In a nutshell, the story was that higher-level PCs all but ran through the upper levels (where the kobolds resided) in order to get to the safer dungeon levels below. Things to remember about kobolds: they're good miners, who happen to be 2-4 feet high. Why are they going to build tunnels that are tall enough for the average human/elf/half-orc?

They're cowards. They attack from behind, drop oil down on adventurers from upper levels. They drop hot lime or sand (which gets into armor quite nicely).

They use hit and run tactics, driving powerful opponents (say, anything over 1 HD) into traps and dangerous areas. They're not stupid. They are just as smart as other humaniods, and just as capable as using guard beasts, alarm systems, or luring dangerous predators into isolated areas of their cavern complex. And personally, I think they would go after anyone with darkvision first, and then find ways to snuff everyone else's torches/lamps/whatever.