Mailbag 6 – All By Myself, Part 3

Dragon (c) 2010 Chris Sims
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In this installment of the exploration of solos, we have two statistics blocks based on what we’ve been talking about in the first and second installments.

Brand Power

First is a dragon. In or out of the dungeon, this monster has to leave an impression.

I envision many dragons as a little brutelike, along with another role in most cases. What I mean is that I like to see most dragons acting like the big, strong creatures they are. The solo role determines how they finesse the badass creature role.

The statistics here depict a copper dragon, as I might make it up to fit what we’ve been looking at. The dragon is built like a very strong elite, but draconic alacrity gives it two turns and two immediate actions each round. Draconic resilience is the way the dragon shakes off effects that are too effective against a single creature.

For an elite, the dragon has normal attack features, with two basic attacks for variety befitting a dragon. Its double attack maintains variety of choice for the DM, and its flyby attack does the same while playing up the skirmisher role. This dragon’s fly speed is a little lower than might be expected, because the two turns it receives make it a quick flier in combat, despite its speed.

You might notice this dragon pushes enemies around, knocks them prone, and slows them on occasion. That’s not only the emphasis on the brutlelike quality I was talking about, but it’s also another way this dragon skirmishes and disengages. If it’s marked, or otherwise wants to get away from a target, it uses its attacks to push and knock prone. It also punishes a flanker, but only twice per turn and only after the flanker hits the dragon. (It’s fun-killing and combat-lengthening when you deny a character a hit with a power such as tail slap.)

Frightful presence is a special case. I hate stunning powers, for and against monsters, because they diminish fun by denying someone the ability to play for a while. Typical frightful presence on 4e dragons is right out. Therefore, I made frightful presence a good minor-action disengagement power. The dragon has a decent chance to push creatures away so it can use the rest of its actions to resituate itself or even flee.

Dragon breath weapons are a racial shtick. They need to be felt. I believe dragon breath weapons should always deal half damage on a miss for this reason. Breath weapon’s slow effect is another stay-away aspect to an otherwise damaging power–the half damage on a miss is a must for me on dragon breath. It also harkens back to the earlier-edition versions of this dragon. Bloodied breath has one minor and subtle change from default 4e dragons: it says the dragon can use it. That means the DM can save the free recharge for later use if using the breathe weapon immediately is suboptimal or worse, as it can often be.

Berbalang (c) 2010 Chris Sims
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Photocopy Guy

Next we have a third-party-refurbished berbalang. This version jettisons all the complexity and confusion of the original. It’s relatively straightforward. It also acts like five monsters over the course of the battle.

Sure, it creates duplicates, which can be confusing even in this version. Here’s the simplified one: once per encounter, on its turn or when it’s hit with an attack before its first turn, the berbalang creates four copies of itself. Reactive projection, the triggered version of the psychic projection power, works even if the berbalang becomes stunned or dazed before the power goes off. (Technically, it’d also work if the berbalang died from the triggering attack, but given the context, that outcome is highly doubtful.) Although it lacks projection powers, each projection is otherwise considered to be a berbalang. That fact is key when reading the other powers. A berbalang projection is a berbalang for the purposes of the other powers.

To keep track of which berbalang is which, simply color code each marker. You can use file label dots on a miniature’s base or on a counter’s face. If you make your own creature tokens, you might give each one a different border.

Each berbalang resists 10 damage from any attack that has an area of effect. Although that might seem low, since the berbalang might take a lot of damage from such attacks, I’m inclined to leave such resist numbers low. That’s because seeing all your damage disappear to a resist trait is no fun–it’s hit robbery. (Another solution is that the berbalang takes damage from such powers only once, even when multiple berbalangs are hit, but I prefer some player satisfaction from the use of area powers.

I’d rather leave resist low and give the monster a payback power of its own. That’s when psychic backlash comes in. When a bunch of the berbalangs in the battle take an area hit, they retaliate with mind war. Psychic backlash also comes in handy against those pesky defenders who don’t want to let a monster move freely. On occasion, a player is going to decide to forgo an opportunity attack, area attack, or similar attack to avoid the chance of the damage from psychic backlash. That’s the point.

Move as mind‘s point is to be a simple disengagement power. Each berbalang–the original and two projections at the point this power can be used–can use this power to move without much regard for enemies. Or they can all flee to a more advantageous position or location. You need only keep track of which berbalang has used the power, but that should be simple since you’ve differentiated each one on the battle map.

Otherwise, the berbalang is a claw and bite machine. You have to watch for specific hit point counts, but you can pretty much ignore its projection powers once one or the other has been used. You needn’t worry about move as mind until the berbalang is bloodied, and you can forget about it as soon as each berbalang on the field has used the power once. Other than that, it’s move for combat advantage, rip, and chew with a few leave-me-alone or think-twice moments provided by psychic backlash.

Improving the Culture

I’m not positive everything is perfect with the samples here. Feel free to playtest and critique, or just critique. This is the internet, after all.

My biggest ambition with these samples isn’t perfection, however. I hope to improve the fun you and your players have interacting with monsters such as these. I also want to give you, the DM, food for thought for creating or adjusting your own solos.

If I’ve succeeded at those ambitions, you’ll let me know. Won’t you?

The next article in the series appears here.

17 thoughts on “Mailbag 6 – All By Myself, Part 3

  1. That’s quite a cool Dragon – I wouldn’t mind trying out a similar template the next time I DM a dragon encounter. However, the one thing that the ‘two initiative checks’ mechanic doesn’t handle well is temporary bonuses: in this case, only the extra defense from Frightful Presence is affected, but it only lasts half as much as it should. A better solution might be to convert the bonus into a penalty for the enemies – make the targets of the Presence take a -2 to hit until the end of their next turn.

    As for the Berbalang, it may be better than the original, but it’s a monster I never cared much for. Seems to defeat the point of being a solo.
    .-= Perico´s last blog ..Class Acts: Invoker. More feats than you can fit in a Burst 2. =-.


  2. I love the dragon. I think dragons NEED to be tough and damaging.

    The next red dragon I use will have a laser-like fire breath – highly focused and very damaging, and the target area is a straight line – recharge on a 6. Kind of like Mog from the Hobbit.

    .-= Tourq´s last blog ..Add Flavor to the Bard =-.


  3. What is the difference between ‘m’ as in “m Bite – At Will” and ‘M’ as in ‘M Tail Slap – At Will”?


  4. @Perico: Frightful presence lasts long enough, because it’s going to last through two of the dragon’s turns (at least two move actions). It’s also easier to track the +2 to the dragon’s defenses than a –2 attack roll penalty to each enemy. The real problem with the +2 is that it can be invisible to the players and could seem unfair to players since it’s an effect.

    In the narrative of the game, I’d describe the fear as affecting the PCs, then tell the players in game speak that the dragon gains a +2 to defenses against them. Sure, it lacks a little in simulationism, but it’s essentially the same effect with an easier tracking model.

    I included the berbalang for a specific querent. I think it’s a good example of a weird solo that performs as five monsters. I agree with what I think you might be saying, though. You could just make a berbalang as a single creature, and then say four pop out of one in the narrative of the game. That might even be simpler at the table than doing the creature as a solo.

    @Mike: Thanks. Your opinion means a lot to me.

    I agree with your point on breath damage. Having seen the effect of these weapons on heroic-tier characters, especially if the dragon is a harder encounter (higher level than the PCs), I’m hesitant to up the damage much more. I’m confident that more tolerance exists for increased damage at higher levels, though.

    I’m also seeing some healing combos at upper heroic (with a shaman) that really keep the PCs on their feet. So I’m not all that afraid about a little more damage with my own group. But they’re D&D sharps, so it’s not altogether fair to evaluate game elements based on how these guys handle them.

    @MIchelle: Tourq is correct. I didn’t use the nifty symbols in my drafts. So:

    m = melee basic attack
    M = melee attack that cannot be used as a basic attack
    .-= Chris Sims´s last blog ..Mailbag 6 – All By Myself, Part 3 =-.


  5. I like it, a whole lot, though there’s something about the Berbalang…it feels as if there should be some sort of reward for the players “figuring out” which one is the real copy. Otherwise, you’ve just got one berbalang and a few nerfed berbalangs. What if the projections had extra damage resistance? So you deal less damage to the monster by always hitting its projections, and have to go for the main guy…which shouldn’t be too hard to figure out, since the projections can’t use all the powers.
    .-= Andy´s last blog ..Some Random Statistics =-.


  6. Funny, I was just thinking about tinkering with dragons after listening to a podcast about how solos get kind of shafted in 4e. I have a couple of powers I wrote up, similar to your tailslap, I haven’t had a chance to play test them yet, but hopefully soon I will.


  7. I find myself wondering if all breath weapons should deal ongoing damage, just so you remember you got burninated for a while. I’d be tempted to add 5 ongoing per tier, or something like that, with no other rebalancing. Cruel but effective.

    @Andy: That’s a cool idea.Could be that the real one has no damage resist at all. That said, the monster becomes more complicated the more differences you add. If I were going to change it to make the real one matter more, I’d add a power that helps confuse the issue.
    .-= Chris Sims´s last blog ..Mailbag 6 – All By Myself, Part 3 =-.


  8. I love the Draconic Alacrity idea to allow this solo to shake of effects, but I’m wondering if even this is good enough for some powers

    The example I have of an effect that crippled an encounter for me recently was the lv 15 Wizard attack Ball Lightning. This slows any creature that starts it’s turn adjacent to it, can be moved 10 squares and doesn’t require sustaining. Granted, Wizards are controllers so they should be able to lock creatures down in this way but against solos this ability to effectively keep something at speed 2 for the entire fight is tough!

    I guess the additional turn here along with the added save might help it get out…I still can’t help but feel that it would just get slowed again next turn as the Wizards repositions the ball lightning…maybe I should try beefing up my solos with some of these abilities and see how it pans out.


  9. Chris,

    I want to pit my players against a Berbalang, and I am planning on using you statblock. Do you think it would be overpowered to keep the “sacrifice” attack from the original? It would trigger on a duplicate’s death, keeping the same damage and effect but without damaging the original.

    Also, what kind of action is used to activate psychic backlash? Can the Berbalang use it every time the requirement is met?

    This article is awesome, thank you!


  10. @Sc8rpi8n: Thank you for reading. Sacrifice seems like a good disengagement power at +13 attack. I’d limit it to twice per encounter, and require it to leave the berbalang at least one duplicate. Seems god for covering a final retreat.


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