…..after several months of working your way up through his minions, foiling his dastardly plots and machinations, you kick down the doors of the long forgotten temple to badness and trade soliloquies with the BBEG. He threatens you with an eternity of suffering as he ignites his rod of doom; you question his sexual orientation and mock his flamboyant wardrobe. He levels his massive rod at you and a pulsating beam of pure vileness erupts from its tip striking you right in the bread basket….”okay you take 8 damage”, “really? Dude that doesn’t even blow through my temps, are you sure he hit me with that rod thingy and not his limp cock? I’m just saying”…….
It became readily apparent after playing 4th edition for a while that something was slightly off with the threat level of the monsters. It seemed that Wizards hadn’t calculated something quite right, I am not sure what it was, but needless to say they have been on continuous quality improvement mode since the editions’ release, utilizing their sort of free-form development style that has become the hallmark of D&D these days and can be seen in successive monster manuals and creature books. I disagree with Wizards assertion that this was more of an issue with paragon and epic tier monsters, as I have struggled with challenging my players from the get go. I was finding that I needed a level + 3-4 encounter to create significant threat, and this is with my minimally optimized group, I am not even talking about my group of filthy uber optimizers that I run an online game with (I’ll save my thoughts on character optimizing for another post) as even a level +3 encounter can sometimes be like having them square off against my grandmother.
The fixes to this problem have come in the way of the July rules errata with an updated monster damage table, Monster Manual 3, Dark Sun Creature Catalogue, and Monster Vault. For a DM, I can’t recommend these products enough as they are proving, at least for me, a well needed recalibration. You can actually use a solo monster as originally intended. I won’t use monsters anymore that don’t come from these sources or haven’t had their damage upped per the July errata. I am not some dick DM trying to win D&D by ball kicking my players at every chance, but I really feel the game is boring if there is no challenge or threat, and I also find it can be difficult to tell a story if your players feel like they can pown everyone in the universe.
I will give you an example from my online game were I ran them threw H1 Keep of the Shadowfell, a sort of before and after deal. “Kalarel” the BBEG of the adventure is a level 8 elite controller, he has 2 main attacks his melee does 2d6+5 (+ongoing 5) and his ranged does 1d6+5 (weakened), the encounter is filled out by some minion skeletons, Wight, and the “thing in the portal”. If I run this encounter as is, I guarantee the war priest doesn’t even need to bust out a healing word. When I ran the encounter the Wight got nuked before it acted in the first round. That really left me good ole Kalarel and the “thing in the portal”. When I updated the damage on Kalarel he looked a little more imposing with his melee attack doing 2d8+2 (+5 ongoing) and his ranged going off at 2d8+7 (weakened). The result was a modern day throw down, with one player dead and another making death saves while being dragged toward an eternity of torment in the Shadowfell when Kalaral was finally struck down.
I would say the only real drag about Wizards having to recalibrate the monsters in 4th edition is that it makes it a lot more work if you want to run previous adventure material, but well worth it and for me pretty much mandatory.