Mastering Epic Levels part 2

Large hordes of blood thirsty monsters really pose no threat to true heroes! I have already written an article about creating villains, but there is always more to be said about them, especially during high-level encounters! If you don’t do this correctly, then you will run into boring sessions of rolling dice and subtracting damage. We already know NOT to depend on the dice to bail us out, because right now, the dice are too much in the players favor, so in order to bring the odds more in favor of the house, we’ve got to change the way that we run our villains.

Intelligent Evils

We really need to focus on intelligence, we could let it slide in the past as nobody takes low level characters seriously, and they attack mid-level characters with strength, but they are still alive!!! Thus, our villains must be more thoughtful in their methods.

Lets take a look at intelligence! We have animals, such as tigers who have an INT range of 2-4, the tiger is capable of hunting and stalking its prey. It is methodical and highly unpredictable. This is our base intelligence, if a tiger can do this, then how about a Goblin? A monster whom most players consider below them? Goblin INT is 5-10, clearly they are capable of constructing traps, setting up ambushes, and attacking people from a distance. They need not always resort to the full frontal assault which we DM’s like to give them. The base of a human is 8. This is intellect enough to perform amazing accomplishments! The people who construct buildings that have stood for centuries had the INT of 8, so stop underselling and ignoring lower intellect, the less intelligent that something is, the more unpredictable it will become once pressed to combat. Even a Orc can create and construct a trap that is absolutely devilish!

Observing Weakness

All monsters have strengths and weaknesses, the key to using them to fight high-level characters, is to discover this weakness and find a way to strengthen it within the rules of the game, we can do this with magical items, or spell casters could depend upon them to protect their own skins.

The Werewolf is injured by silver . . . Everybody knows this! However, why not give him an Amulet that is Proof against Silver? Trolls are vulnerable to fire, why wouldn’t a troll us a potion of fire resistance? Use your imagination! Some stuff is tactical, if a creature has a terrible armor class but has a good long-range weapon, then keep it in an enclosure that would lower its AC.

Playing off of one’s Strengths

A Skeleton is easily smashed, however, skeletal archers standing on the far side of a cliff could easily pick off players from afar with very little worry about getting hurt themselves. They are capable of using a wide variety of weapons and can use tactics that would be fatal for anything that is not dead. Skeletons are immune to fire, placing them into a fire trap would be enough to terrify the most hardened soldier.

Maximize a monsters strengths and reduce their weaknesses, this will force the players to change their own tactics. Speaking of . . .

Enemy Tactics

This post really isn’t the best place to deal with tactics, as it deserves one of its own, however an enemy should use them, and they should be devious! PC’s use hit and run tactics to wear down a powerful enemy, this runs both ways. The enemy also has the advantage of studying the terrain and using it. They have more time to prepare, and if the enemy leader is smart enough, then he can force the PCs to take a specific route and set up a good old fashioned ambush.

The game is up

Of course the monsters will lose, well at least we should hope so! We want to challenge the PCs, not murder them. We therefore have to decide how an opponent handles the defeat. Many times we decide this by checking Morale, however if you have an important NPC present during the combat, then he shouldn’t have to be held under this rule . . . Unfortunately his henchmen are. We must apply logic to the situation, but thankfully an enemy who is staring at defeat, and knows it has only four options.


The badguy simply gives up . . . Or at least appears to give up.


A retreat doesn’t have to be a mindless rout, the enemy may choose to withdraw and fight again under better circumstances.


If the original plan is not working, the enemy suddenly shifts to a back up plan, this is definitely a very daring tactic!


The monster simply keeps on fighting and hopes for the best.


To logically answer the question of what a NPC will do, you simply have to know what his motivations are, these motivations don’t just tell us what he’ll do during a battle, but also what he will do if he wins or loses the combat. To answer this question, we just have to ask ourselves why the creature is fighting to begin with.


The opponent could be fighting because another enemy who is bigger and stronger is forcing them too. Most of the times, if this is the case, then the opponent will fight to the death, as this will be preferred to what the enemy should do if the opponent fails in his obligation.

Cohered enemies usually lack the resources or time to reverse the battle, and if the players are known for being merciful, a surrender may be in order though this could be risky as the enemy may be holding something over his head.


Magically charmed enemies will probably be unable to do anything except for die, unless the PC’s detect what is going on, in which case if the players DO divine that an enemy has been charmed into fighting, then it would be an evil act to simply slay him. . . Makes one think doesn’t it!

Home Front

Creatures who are defending their homes have access to all of the tactics listed above. Most importantly the tactic of surrendering and becoming a prisoner, they can slow the PCs down and hope to break free and launch a surprise attack.


Bandits rarely stick around if they are overwhelmed, or if the fighting is too difficult and dangerous.


Enemies of this kind are dangerous! They won’t generally flee except as part of a calculated plan, but when faced with total defeat, this kind of enemy will always tray something dramatic hoping to turn the tide of the battle back into his favor, he will not ever surrender.

Like I said before, I’d like to do a whole article on Tactics, but this isn’t the time, however, there are a few tactics that only true badguys will use! A good villain will always aim to contain a loss, as soon as he is aware that a Epic Hero is getting involved, he is going to minimize the consequences of being defeated as much as he can, if this means feeding the PC’s worthless enemies while the important ones quickly complete a goal and disappear into the night then so be it. He should be devious! Attempting to put them on wild goose chases, and forcing them to find needles in haystacks. BAD GUYS DON’T FIGHT FAIR!!!

You don’t want to railroad the players into following a false lead, but at the same time it is up to them to decide if they are being tricked by a clever distraction or not.


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