Feeling So Low About Solos

I have a lot of annoying habits and tendencies. Among these is the habit of criticizing everything. It is seems to be in my nature to be critical at all times. I have never personally considered this a bad thing, I actually think many people are not as critical as they should be and find their lack of criticism disturbing, but I can see why in some situations it could be considered bothersome.

One thing that has bothered several of my friends over the years is my critical interpretation of nearly every movie I see. This has lead people to joke (or perhaps not “joke”) that I hate all movies. The truth is more that I find fault with most movies. For example I loved Batman Begins but I think Christian Bale’s “Batman Voice” was awful and I have no problem making fun of it. I simply feel that I can like or even love something and still notice and criticize its flaws.

Most people know that I like the new Dungeons and Dragons quite a bit but I don’t feel that this prevents me from seeing things in it which I consider to be flaws. One flaw I see in the game at this point is the concept of Solo Monsters.

A lot of friends are dying to see Dark Knight this weekend and every time I say I am not excited they seem confused (well, only the first time I say it to a new person).

I personally am disappointed that they decided to make a sequel to Batman Begins. While it might be good it’s also possible that it will suck and thus diminish, at least in my mind, the greatness that was the first film. For me, it would have been better to leave the film as a solo (hehe) movie and not worry about trying to turn it into yet another super hero franchise.

Two problems actually came up last night during our Tuesday D&D game. The first was basically just a wording issue which resulted from the fact that a player “reacts” to an attack before it is actually made against them. I said that the wording should have been that the player reacts to the declaration of the attack and people said I was thinking too much like a Magic player. Perhaps this is true, but I just thought I was thinking too much like a person who speaks English, in that generally I think it is hard to react to something that hasn’t happened yet. Then again, my wife might tell you differently, in that I often react (and in fact overreact) to things that haven’t actually happened yet, but still… this is one of the aforementioned annoying habits and not something that game rules should be based on.

The second problem that arose was with Solo Monsters. Solo Monsters are essentially bad guys who are designed as a single foe able to take on a full complement of adventurers. In one place in the rules they list this as five adventurers, but they do actually give you the ability of estimating the power level of a Solo for four, five, or six players.

Using the rules presented in the DMG I created a Solo Monster. His name was Ox and he was a human with a couple of templates turning him into a well-trained frenzied beast. The idea was that he was a mentally slow individual whose father had been a great warrior and teacher, and had trained him to fight. Because of this the military had grabbed Ox and was making him fight for them even though Ox knew nothing of the cause and really just wanted to stay home with his ailing mother. None of this really matters and in fact the back story was just sort of me trying to come up with reasons for this huge hulk existing and being so good at fighting.

Essentially Ox by himself should have been a medium-sized fight for the players, at least according to the DMG (a level 4 Solo monster is 875 XP, with six players in the party a standard encounter should consist of 900 XP worth of monsters). Since I wanted this to be a tougher fight and I wanted Ox’s ability to mark targets to matter, I threw in eight minions to muck things up. Even with the minions present Ox hardly presented any real challenge to my party. I got a bit frustrated with this, though probably not as frustrated as people thought I was. Still it makes me wonder if Solos are simply a failure within the new system.

When I first flipped through the monster manual I thought Solos looked really neat. They all had ways to screw with the party during the party members’ turns, which made the fights seem more interactive and interesting. One of my problems with 3.5 was that most of the time the monsters just felt like they were standing around getting punched until their turn came up and then all they could do was make their attacks, since if they moved they wouldn’t be able to make a full attack and thus became pretty ineffective. It seemed at first that the new system had fixed some of this. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case.

What’s the problem? One word: dazed. At least half the party members possess an ability which dazes a target until the end of their next turn, and a dazed target (among other negatives) cannot make immediate actions. Solo Monsters set up to screw with the party via immediate actions when it isn’t their turn, so essentially the designers said “Hey, let’s makes monsters react to players during combat!” and then said “Wow, all these monsters can react to players during combat, I bet a lot of players won’t like that. We should give them powers that shut the monsters off!”

Amusingly this reminds me of my problem with having wither and persist in the same Magic set. One makes the other rarely useful, and thus while both are cool concepts, persist doesn’t really get to shine.

Even though Solos have a lot of hit points and thus will live a while, get a few attacks off, and most likely do some damage, I worry that they will never feel scary or impressive. They spend the majority of the fight unable to make immediate actions and able to make only one action on their turn (another effect of dazed) rather than the normal complement of standard, move and minor. Most Solos do get action points to help with this and many get to make two attacks with one standard action (or just get a bonus standard action each turn – though dazed probably shuts this off as well), but this doesn’t really feel like it fixes my problem.

Obviously this is just an initial impression of Solos but any that rely on immediate reactions to be interesting or dangerous are shut down as early as 3rd Level. This situation will only get worse as the players accumulate more powers which daze.

This simply comes off as a flaw in the system to me. It doesn’t make me hate D&D 4th Edition, and it doesn’t make me want to stop playing it. There may even be ways around some of these issues, besides the obvious of not using Solo Monsters. Essentially this was just a bit of a disappointment for me, since up to this point I was loving almost everything about 4th Edition. I had expected there to be things I didn’t love so it comes as no surprise that I found something.

I would interested to hear others’ opinions on this. Most of my players disagreed with me last night so I’m used to it, don’t feel bad about calling me out if you have had a different experience with Solos.

  1.  

    Mike Mearls talks about Solo Monsters at the link below.

    http://forums.gleemax.com/showthread.php?t=1058300

  2.  
    avatar
    Matt Says:

    I still think it’s really earily to tell whether Solo monsters live up to their name. I will agree that dazed does seem to shut off a major part of that Solo’s power, but in my case it was only for a round, and in the case of the Paladin it was only for a round this time (Missed with a daily that has that effect as persistant with a save to end). But there are a couple things to remember too.

    First of all I think it was power selection for this group that helped a lot in this battle. Myself (A Cleric using Command, which was extra nasty with the combination of dazed and knocking him prone) and a another using a Paladin daily (it missed but still had a dazed component for a round) just happened to be right for this Solo. Now if immediate actions happen a ton with Solos then I guess we are just well equip for that kind of a battle, but not all PCs are going to have powers which do that. Also I’m sure that our power selection will come into play again on a different battle but to give us a disadvantage. The other problem is my daily (Avenging Flame) did hit and basically turned off Ox’s 5 HP regen. That I think was also huge. However he could have taken a non-dazed round and not attacked to make the save (which I’m sure he would have because of his +4) and it would been ok because he still would have got the reaction attacks and regain his regen. Anyways the point is what we had available is not necessarily what a different PC of the same class would have and what we do have isn’t necessarily going to be the best setup for what we are fighting.

    Second Ox did drain us to the point where if the battle has last any longer people were going to start dropping. Out of 6 players 4 (maybe 5) dailies were used, and some utility powers as well (which most are also daily). I was completely tapped of encounter powers and was completed tapped of healing with the exception of my Channel Divinity power for Kord (surge on a crit). Our tank had used a great deal of surges already and his Second Wind and he would have been force to just Lay on Hands every turn instead of attacking. As for the rest of the party they were pretty well tapped as well. Point being I think it did exactly in the end what it was supposed to do and that’s use up a ton of resources.

    It was by far the most devistating single opponent we have had to date. None of us did go down, but I think a lot of that has to do with us getting better at the strategy of the new system and getting more out of each turn.

    Dazed is certainly a powerful status effect. I think without it we could have been in a lot of trouble. Basically if I’m thinking about this right the two rounds of dazed saved us from 8 basic attacks and 1 special attack (dazed and prone combo). That’s 9 attacks and lets say he hit only with 5 of them. (with his attack bonus I’m pretty certain he could have hit with more) Five hits can easily take down 1 person, and maybe even 2 (based on 5-16 damage range, if I remember right, average HP of the group right now is 32-36). It shows the power that Solo possessed and how powerful daze can be against immediate at-will actions like that. So I agree that against that style of NPC daze is a huge advantage. However without those dazed rounds we would have seen how truely powerful that Solo monster really was.

    Anyways, even though on your end it underperformed from intial expectation it still from at least this PCs perspective present a challenging fight that made us push the limits of what we had available to us. Which equates to a good time, so I think Ox was a success overall. But I can easily see it being a little disappointing to have a big piece of his power shut off and if this is the major mancanic for all Solo templates, then maybe a little GM previledge to kick it up a notch might be in order here.

  3.  

    I started a thread over at the Wizards Forums about this.

    http://forums.gleemax.com/showthread.php?p=16370740#post16370740

    I was given a lot of good input from them as well as from Nick (one of my players) who was the first to point out that piling templates makes week solos. Most likely what I should have done to make Ox better was add a few more interesting powers and possibly give him an attack that allowed him to attack twice with one standard action (this was suggested by my players as well).

    While I admit solos seem to be capable of being nasty and powerful my main complaint (which quite possibly got lost in the shuffle of all of this) was that daze turns off the interactiveness of Solos since they can no longer perform immediate actions. Some abilities do get around this by being “free” actions and I would likely make certain that any power that NEEDED to go off was a free action in the future.

    While I said something reactionary like “Well I wont ever use a solo again” after the players encounter with Ox, most likely I will use one again soon, just to see if I can overcome my problems. This does tend to be my MO. I over react and slam back into the problem. Sometimes with even more disastrous results.

    Again I would like to thank both my players and the players on the forum for their help and input!

  4.  

    On a side note, I kind of agree about Christian Bale’s Batman voice. He seems to do a fine job with the rest of the role, but that is just a little too over the top… not that it spoiled my enjoyment of the latest Batman movie (though other aspects of the film dragged down the good stuff to make it mediocre in my mind).

    Sorry, best I’ve got since I can’t contribute anything meaningful about D&D 4th and Solos 🙂

    Carry on.

  5.  

    I agree, the recent Batman movie was ok but it paled in comparison to its predecessor. Honestly I enjoy the X-Files movie more, if only because I was more involved with the characters.

  6.  
    avatar
    Brown Priest Says:

    Solos may get dazed by player attacks, but how often a combat is that happening? I mean, with a +5 to saves, solos should be able to shake that off no problem and be right as rain in a round or two.
    To get around that another way, build in some standard action close burst attacks, double area burst attacks, or some other attack that can recharge and attack a bunch of opponents at the same time.
    Solos should also have a very hard AC. Combine this with a rechargeable or recharge when bloodied Shield type ability that can boost it against said Daze attacks and your solo should be rocking em a little harder.
    Don’t like a cool reactive power being an immediate power? Change it into a rechargeable free action! You can take those on your turn or your opponents. That way, you can skirt the daze heavy party.
    Another cool little trick might be to make your solo immune to magic weapons. The hitch being that only non-magical weapons used with martial powers can penetrate its armor. Or make it immune to martial (or arcane or divine powers all together…). Look at your party, see what you can defend against in what way while leaving that character some options (It might even bee a good in-combat skill challenge to figure out how to get a hit in on the mofo…).
    Now go tear ’em a new one!

    BP

    Death in the Night
    Grell- Level 7 Solo Soldier Medium aberrant magical beast (blind) Initiative +9 Senses Perception +9; blindsight 12 HP 284; Bloodied 142
    AC 24 (26 while the grell has enemies grabbed);
    Fortitude 21, Reflex 20, Will 19
    Immune gaze Saving Throws +5 Speed 1 (clumsy), fly 6 (hover)
    Action Points 2
    M Tentacle Rake (standard; at-will) ? Poison
    Reach 2; +12 vs. AC; 3d8 + 4 damage, and the target is slowed and takes a –2 penalty to attack rolls (save ends both).
    M Flailing Attack (standard; at-will) The grell can make two rake attacks, a rake and a grab, or a grab and a bite as a standard action.
    M Tentacle Grab (standard; at-will)
    Reach 2; +12 vs. Fortitude; 2d8 + 4 damage, and the target is grabbed. Death in the Night can grab up to two targets at a time.
    M Venomous Bite (minor 1/round; at-will) ? Poison
    Grabbed target only; +12 vs. AC; 1d8 + 4 damage, and the target is stunned (save ends).
    C Ultrablast (standard; recharge ? ?)? Psychic
    Close Blast 10; +8 vs. Will; Target is knocked prone and unconscious and takes ongoing 5 psychic damage (save ends both)
    Alignment Evil Languages Deep Speech Skills Stealth +17
    Str 12 (+4) Dex 19 (+7) Wis 12 (+4)
    Con 14 (+5) Int 10 (+3) Cha 9 (+2)

    Death in the Night Tactics
    As a skilled ambusher, Death in the Night will hover above an arch or in a well and wait for prey. When potential prey draws near, Death in the Night will move from the shadows and strike out with her tentacles. Against small groups or individuals, she will begin with tentacle grab, followed by venomous bite against the grabbed prey. When fighting larger groups, Death in the Night will try to knock as many opponents out with her Ultrablast as possible and then will wear down foes with tentacle rakes before grabbing a target.