Making the most of low CR “fodder”

I’m sure that everyone has heard or read of Tucker’s Kobolds, but all too often we run low CR monsters as mindless fodder that always fights to the death (its own). Here are a few tips to make low CR creatures tougher without increasing their level or HD:

Lighting: Many low CR creatures have darkvision, while only two of the standard PC races possess this ability.  Having an encounter in the dark tilts the fight in favor of your monsters that can see.  Wielding a torch or lamp in your off hand means giving up the protection of a heavy shield or sacrificing two-weapon-fighting, additionally a light source is visible from a distance of ten times its light radius.

Reinforcements: When the battle begins don’t have all the enemies rush in to engage in the first round, a small group that emerges mid battle can catch PCs off guard and assault the vulnerable casters who have stayed in the back to avoid melee combat. Combatants that enter the fight later may avoid powerful area of effect spells, like sleep and fireball, that are cast at the first sign of trouble.   Two font battles are more interesting and require more tactical planning than a one front encounter.

Terrain: Having enemies attack from behind cover gives them a better chance of not being detected initially and improves their ability to resist return fire.  A large pit that must be crossed in order to reach and engage opponents in melee reduces the effect of heavily specialized melee characters and makes them choose between a dangerous crossing or switching to their less effective ranged weapon.

Equipment: Be careful with this one as equipment given to monsters often ends up in the hands of PCs.  If the location permits a great weapon to give low CR creatures is a ballista.  The damage a ballista deals can really even the odds in a fight, and the weight of the ballista makes it unappealing for PCs to drag along with them.  Armor is a great way to boost the survivability of a low CR creature; giving it more rounds in action gives it more chances to deal damage to PCs. Since killing a creature requires penetrating its armor, armor looted from fallen foes has a good chance of being unusable due to the damage it sustained in battle.

Traps: Kobolds love traps, but few encounters with them ever involve a trap.  The trap is usually set up as a separate encounter that has only a tangent connection to the Kobolds.  This is one of the positive points I have seen with 4e, the inclusion of traps as an encounter piece that is just as important as a monster.  Traps also provide a way to deal a good bit of damage one time; this allows you to swing the encounter in favor of monsters, but doesn’t create an ongoing danger like adding a tougher monster can.

Retreat: Intelligent creatures shouldn’t stick around and get slaughtered when a fight is obviously over their heads; they should flee and seek to find a more advantageous position that can turn the fight in their favor.  This option creates much more interesting encounters because there is now no telling where those two goblins that escaped will have set up to attack again, whether or not they have gathered reinforcements, triggered traps, or taken treasure.  This can be combined with the reinforcements technique above to goad the PCs into pursuing a small group only to find themselves in the middle of an ambush by the whole tribe.

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~ by katallos on September 25, 2009.

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