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I don't know what to do with these guys. I liked their fluff enough that I put them in the campaign and now, when it's time to use them, I'm at a loss.

The Keeper

One of the power groups the PCs have encountered is the keepers (Fiend Folio 111-2). Admittedly, being a keeper has quite a few advantages. These include...

  1. The type outsider.
  2. A speed of 40 ft. and a 20 ft. climb speed.
  3. A +4 natural armor bonus and proficiency with light armor and shields.
  4. DR 10/magic and a laughable SR 13.
  5. The extraordinary ability mimic weapon, granting it the ability to turn each of its 2 arms into the same or different simple, martial, or exotic melee weapon it's seen that then act like natural weapons.
  6. The extraordinary ability poison spit, granting it the ability to spit a 20-ft. cone of contact poison every 1d4 rounds (but it's not a breath weapon).
  7. The extraordinary ability blindsight with a range of 200 ft. and scent.
  8. The extraordinary ability dissolution, mandating it turn into a pile of contact poison (therefore killing it) automatically if captured, pinned, or rendered helpless for more than 1 min.
  9. The extraordinary ability hive mind, granting a keeper constant communication with all other keepers within 500 ft. No keeper within 500 ft. of another keeper is flanked or flat-footed unless all other keepers within 500 ft. are flanked or flat-footed, respectively.
  10. The extraordinary ability to have immunities like a construct.
  11. Resistance 10 to each of acid, cold, electricity, fire, and sonic.
  12. A +8 racial bonus to Escape Artist skill checks and Jump skill checks.
  13. The feat Spring Attack as a bonus feat (although the printed keeper nonetheless takes the feats Dodge and Mobility).
  14. The following adjustments to its ability scores: Str +8, Dex +6, Con +4, Int +4, Wis -2, Cha -4. (A keeper's favored class is rogue if it matters.)

...Also the Supernatural Ability Body Switch
This how keepers actually become a problem. A keeper can take a standard action and exchange places with another living keeper within 500 ft. The special ability hive mind means this needn't be the keeper engaging the PCs. In other words, A starts the engagement and takes his turn (a swift action and either a full action or a move action and a standard action) then B, who's not even there, takes his standard action to trade places with A, but B can still take a move action and a swift action when he arrives and so can C through K on the same turn. That's interesting, but I don't know what to do with it, because here's...

The Problem
A keeper has but 4 Hit Dice yet a Challenge Rating of 7.

That's his I'm-over-CR-ed sad face.

The Question

I feel like there's a trick to using these monsters--a tactic I've overlooked, a feat that makes them awesome, a magic item every keeper should have, a prestige class they qualify for automatically, or something--that I'm not seeing that explains their looks-too-high-to me Challenge Rating.

What combination of classes and prestige classes, feats, and equipment can I give a solitary keeper or up to a squad of 6-11 keepers (so you know, 6 keepers are EL 12, 9 are EL 13, 11 are EL 14) that will make it or them a reasonable challenge for a highly optimized level 11 party consisting of a barbarian, beguiler, ranger, rogue, and warblade all of whom have ranks in the skill Use Magic Device? Alternatively, what tactics should these creatures use to justify their Challenge Rating?

I'm okay with this encounter being overpowering (i.e. EL 5 or higher than party level) if that's what it takes to make these guys cool. The PCs are tough. They're used to that 5% chance of an overpowering encounter happening surprisingly often.

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Have you considered that the CR may just be some time-pressed designer's die roll result? CRs are sometimes like that. 3.0 CRs in particular... – Ernir Aug 1 '14 at 16:06
@Ernir I did, but before I house rule it I want to know if other folks are seeing something I'm not. – Hey I Can Chan Aug 1 '14 at 16:16
Are you comfortable playing with stealth as a DM? Keepers are awesome stealthers even before adding levels of rogue or such. Between Blindsight, Spring Attack, built-in reach weaponry, and pretty good Hide/Move Silently, they are plenty badass as ambushes. Give them actual sneak attacks and an environment where they can move behind total concealment after attacking (obscuring mist or close quarters rooms with walls to duck behind) and they become downright lethal. – Epiphanis Dec 29 '14 at 3:40

5 Answers 5

You might be approaching this the wrong way, because you're planning a combat encounter with what is essentially not a combat-centric creature. This is mostly shown in the fact that their favorite class is Rogue.

Making a combat encounter that features a group of 6 Rogues is pretty hard to get right, because they'll be vulnerable, not very good combatatants, and won't be able to use their abilities to full effect. Especially when you make it a straight forward fight.

Probably it's best to think of them as scheming masterminds and assassins, and have the idea that if they're stuck in a regular combat encounter that they've already lost. Focus instead on their massive mobility, their strong immunities to almost everything, and their insane situational awareness.

If I were a Keeper, and I were to do a battle with a group of adventurers, here are the kind of things that I'd do:

  • Make sure that the room is pitchblack with as much mundane smoke and magical darkness as I can afford (remember: if even one keeper can smell you, they all know roughly where you are)
  • Fill the entire room with poison gas (because hey, you're immune to it)
  • Then, set the room on fire (anything less than 10 fire damage per round you don't mind)
  • Finally, send in half my guys to run around, spit poison, backstab, etc whatever still seems to be trying to put up a fight
  • Have the other half of my guys on standby; as soon as anyone in my team is under threat, swap places and move away to safety
  • Ideally, start all of this stuff while the targets are sleeping

Fighting under those conditions, targeting primarily the physically weaker members while smoking out the stronger ones, might turn the battle with these guys into something that at the very least will be very memorable.

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You're probably correct in that there's little about the keepers themselves that justify their CRs but what does justify their CRs is the environment the keepers are smart enough to create when they do decide finally to engage. That's a good call. – Hey I Can Chan Dec 26 '14 at 22:19
One keeper smelling you may well tell them where you are, but you'll still have enough concealment that the guys running around on bullet point 4 won't be able to sneak attack. – Matthew Najmon Dec 28 '14 at 15:30
Blindsight negates concealment, and one can deal precision damage using nothing but blindsight. Anything that limits visibility only helps Keepers, while all PC races are crippled by it. – Epiphanis Dec 28 '14 at 18:38

They don't justify the EL as written

As written? They're not that dangerous for your party. 26 HP and +8 attack? That's not going to threaten a level 11 party unless you line up a lot of them and all use the poison attack at the same time (someone is likely to fail a DC 20 check if you have enough attempts).

The trouble with body swap is that they can't attack after doing it. So sure, a new one swaps in. Then what? The PCs get to whack him for a turn before he can harm them, and at level 11 the odds are reasonable that they can kill him in one hit so he can't swap back out. This just isn't that dangerous, since once the new one swaps in he is on the initiative order and doesn't have his standard action until next round.

It'd be more dangerous the weaker the party is, due to the lower odds of killing one fast enough that another one can't take its place.

So just using the base stats, I really don't think they justify that EL.

Making them dangerous

If you modified them so they have some kind of attack that only requires a move or swift action? Then they are far, far more dangerous. Consider this:

  • Party comes into an area and Keeper A ambushes them, he attacks.
  • Keeper B swaps in (standard), and attacks (move/swift)
  • Keeper C swaps in (standard), and attacks (move/swift)
  • Keeper D swaps in (standard), and attacks (move/swift)

At some point in there the PCs will get a turn, but every keeper can attack every round in that scenario while only a single one is in harms way. So the PCs kill one and the swapping ends, until the next room when they encounter another one and the keepers can do it all over again.

Granted, the standard ways of getting that kind of swift attack would raise their CR as well. But it's the only way I can ever see your party being anything but irritated at these things.

You could accomplish the same thing more easily by making Body Swap a swift action, which would leave them their standard and move to fight with. Swap, poison spray, repeat. That can be rather nasty.

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Or, alternatively, just make it a swift action to swap. – Bobson Aug 1 '14 at 19:11
@Bobson That's an even better idea. – Tridus Aug 1 '14 at 19:12
@Bobson There's no official way to quicken a supernatural ability, though. The spells fiendish quickening [trans] (BV 95) and quickshift [trans] (BE 104) provide a somewhat decent guideline, though, but spell creation guidelines peg such a spell at 6th-level, pushing the lone keeper who could cast it to the edge of epic (CR 18) by most reasonable standards, but I think a keeper ur-priest could be as low as CR 13... – Hey I Can Chan Aug 1 '14 at 19:35
@HeyICanChan - True, but since the monster's challenge is below-CR as written, there's room to simply handwave a buff. – Bobson Aug 1 '14 at 19:40
@HeyICanChan The spell Benign Transposition might help with that? – GMJoe Aug 4 '14 at 4:52

I had this problem. I think the trick is that any keeper who is injured even slightly will be be replaced, meaning that to kill a keeper, you have to deal enough damage to kill it in one blow, or it will be replaced by a colleague standing by before anyone can strike again. Because you're using initiatives outside of the round system, you can just assume the keeper is replaced immediatley after taking damage by another. Make it clear to the players what's happening with them wearing different shirts or whatever and maybe they'll get the idea.

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But if you only have 6 of them in an EL 12 fight, eventually already injured ones are going to cycle back in. So while it's going to extend the fight, it's not going to extend it indefinitely with an infinite supply of full HP guys. – Tridus Aug 1 '14 at 18:02

They aren't CR 7.

That is a CR 5 creature. Even CR 5 is pushing it, and only with smart play will it be worth that. In a 'random encounter closet troll' style fight, it's CR 3-4.

If you wanted to optimize them, you could select for them the feat Sun School (Complete Warrior) and allow the 'free attack when teleporting' to apply to the Body Switch maneuver, allowing them to use team tactics. Full Defense Tower Shield Parrying Dagger Full Plate guy takes the hits, then 4 or 5 others switch in, take free attack, he switches back in, party takes turn, so forth. Taking advantage of innate immunities and resistances and then boosting AC to make a tanky guy, and he's the only one the party can hit without readied actions. Add on Snap Kick and some form of unarmed strike and they are almost a threat.

Similarly cherry picking good stuff might make them playable. Spiked Chain or other good exotic weapons might help. Feats that increase reach combined with natural weapon spiked chain + improved trip might buff them up.

But if I wanted to make them CR 7, i'd simply add 7 levels of fighter and let them bodyswitch or change weapon type as a swift action. So you've got tough, fast creatures switching places and fighting styles, using fighter feats (improved trip, shock trooper, etc), and generally being really annoying for the party to fight. Plus using their teleportation to get wounded guys out of danger (where they switch to ranged attacks), and finally to get all but one of them out of dodge when they get on low health (to come back and fight another day).

You could give some of them rogue levels instead, and have the Fighters tank while the Rogues use slippery teleports to get in sneak attacks. It doesn't really matter. But you could directly boost the HD or stats or whatever, or, you could just slap some weak class levels on top of racial advantages and call it a day. It'll make the encounter hard enough to be memorable, but not hard enough to wipe the party, and that's generally what you want.

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I think the problem is that they are too powerful to put against low level characters (hence CR 7) but rubbish vs high level characters.

SR 13 and resistance 10 to all energy types will make a level <=6 wizard pretty useless, but isn't going to give a level 11 wizard pause.

8 to hit is fine to be attack level <=6 characters, but will start to look quite pitiful vs level 11 AC values.

DR 10/magic will be very effective against a lot of level <=6 characters, but meaningless against a level 11 party.

I don't think you're missing any tactics that would make them as good as a 'normal' cr 7 opponent against a party of level 11s.

If you buff them by taking prestige class levels etc, I think most of their initial abilities are going to be completely overlooked.

I would just add "DM Magic" values to their SR, poison DC, BaB, AC, HP, change what can get through their DR etc instead of taking a prestige class.

Maybe throw in some spell like abilities (deeper darkness could work well with their blindsense and ability to swap out creatures for new ones)

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