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So I am DMing an open world campaign and my players are heading into this old ruins infested with undead. So far so good, I made the map, random encounters, traps, monsters, treasure.

I have decided that I want the dungeon boss to be a vampire, since it fits the back story of the ruins. The problem is that a vampire is too powerful for the group: five 5th-level players. I thought about making it weaker, because it was starving for 500 years, but I don't know how to do that.

How can I make a monster weaker?

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What level is your party? How many players do you have? How difficult (or not) do you want the weakened vampire to be? – Miniman Jan 23 at 11:03
what is your vampire's goal? In other words, is the vampire irrevocably committed to the annihilation of anyone who enters the ruins, or if the party turns tail might it let them? – nitsua60 Jan 23 at 15:33

Start with vampire spawn stats instead of vampire. This has a CR of 5, so it's perfect as part of an encounter with your party if they're already low on resources from the traps, etc. Add in the shape change and Misty form traits from the vampire, which makes it harder to kill, but not harder to fight. Done.

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just a heads up in case you are unaware, but the CR system in 5e does not actually refer to the party level that should be fighting it. for example a CR 7 monster facing 5 lvl 5 PCs is only a medium encounter. Implementing a Vampire spawn in such a situation where the party does't immediately wipe the floor with it will be a lot harder to implement then you make it sound. just figured that I should point this out – name moniker Jan 23 at 22:24
A single creature of any level is never a good encounter design in 5e, but that's outside the scope of this question. I'll change my wording to make it clear that I wasn't suggesting that. – Derek Stucki Jan 24 at 0:16
So you're a mere vampire spawn dealing with a 5th level party invading your digs. You really going to face them alone? What was the point of filling this dungeon with distracting traps and monsters if you don't take the opportunity to learn about them, their tactics, their vulnerabilities, and who they might not feel like killing. A charm spell can wonderfully complicate the climatic battle. – CandiedOrange Jan 24 at 0:33
The question did not ask for tactics. – Derek Stucki Jan 24 at 0:59
Adding spell capability to the vampire spawn can up the challenge rating enough to deal with what @namemoniker referred to. A few 1st and 2d level spells, or a third, and you've got a bit more for the party to handle. Or, give it some Cultist followers (per the MM p. 345) to increase the challenge level. – KorvinStarmast Jan 24 at 2:42

Easy: go through a lot of manuals and find a weaker thing that kind of feels like a vampire (any appropriate CR monster that sucks blood would do), and adapt the description, adding flavour stuff like vulnerability to the sun/command bats and everything.

Hard: Lower hit points, lower all saves DCs, remove feats and stuff according to the new HDs. Remove or lower damage resistance if it is too high, also reduce fast healing, and (obviously) remove all death/negative energy effects. Consider to replace them with damage to characteristics.
Note however that this might not be enough. You may want to modify special attacks adding more conditions (for example a vampire might need to grapple his target for an additional round before starting to suck blood), and you also may want to completely remove some of them.

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Why the downvote? – AnalysisStudent0414 Jan 23 at 12:05
This looks like a 3.5/pf answer, while the question is about 5e. Monsters in 5e generally don't have Feats, and the amount certainly isn't based on the amount of hit dice. And damage resistance isn't something you can lower, either you're resistant, immune, or you're not. – xanderh Jan 24 at 10:13
You're right, it is a 3.5/pf answer and I totally missed the 5e tag. – AnalysisStudent0414 Jan 24 at 10:57

There are more ways to balance a battle than just nerfing monsters.

Quick Side Note: the following suggestions have the same final result as weakening the vampire, even though we aren't changing the vampire's stats. You might find you want to weaken its stats and use some of the following approaches - a combination of the multiple ideas could be powerful. However, if all that is desired is a starving vampire with a decreased CR, go with some of the other excellent answers that have some wonderful ideas. It has been my experience though that CR rating is more art than science.

One quick illustration: Fighting a swarm of bats may be trivial. Fighting the same swarm on a rickety wooden bridge (which means constant balance checks, and no maneuverability and single-file) over a pit of Lava (lethal consequences for failure) makes the Encounter vastly more difficult, even though the CR of the Monster hasn't changed at all.

There are numerous ways to make the Encounter with a vampire easier, without changing the stats for the vampire itself:

  • Special, specific game-changing rewards given before the finale. These can be weapons, armor, or items. If you don't want to unbalance future vampire encounters, they can have specific bonuses only against this specific adventure's boss. Example: High-Damage, gas-powered, blessed, stake throwers that are +5 vs. Fester the Vampire, typical crossbow stats otherwise. These can be delivered to the PCs from helpful villagers, unexpected rewards for various encounters on the way, or even a mini-quest the players follow once they discover that a vampire is the upcoming opponent.
  • Helpful environment. The final battle might be in a church (plenty of crosses that damage the enemy and cisterns full of holy water), surrounded by daylight, with holes recently scattered through the roof making beams of damaging rays everywhere that the players can push the vampire into.
  • Preparation time and knowledge. It never ceases to amaze me what players themselves can do to give themselves the advantage if they know exactly what situation is coming up. They dig holes for gaining surprise. They lay traps. They acquire useful gear. They research obscure lore. I like to reward their creativity since the players will feel like they earned it when that creativity leads to victory.
  • Strength in numbers. A hoard of fairly weak allies can easily overcome a stronger opponent. Let the players hire mercenaries for the final battle in exchange for a share of the treasure. Have the oppressed villagers offer to join the final battle (but have them arrive fashionably late). Perhaps the PCs rescued some of the vampire's thralls along the way, and they offer to join the fight in the finale (once they've recovered from their ordeal).
  • Deus ex Machina. This is my least favorite, since it doesn't really allow the players to feel involved. Literally, "God in the Machine", this mechanism can be anything the DM wants, and the players didn't expect. Perhaps after the cleric prays, he gets a boon from his Deity of a holy mist that fills the area, damaging the vampire each round and healing the PCs. A powerful, unexpected ally can show up, drawing the vampire's attention at the last possible minute, allowing the PCs to get free hits. The vampire could accidentally trigger an unseen trap that renders him immobile for a few rounds. Note: this is one way to weaken the vampire directly. You can simply arbitrarily nerf the damage it does, or its attack rolls. The possibilities are endless. Suggestion: use sparingly and try not to let the players know what is going on so that you preserve the mystery. If the Deus ex Machina is obvious, players will recognize that they didn't earn these kind of advantages, and will grow disillusioned after a while.

In summary, you can change the Encounter as well as the Monster itself to modify the battle's level rating. You can use your imagination, but players will feel happiest when they contribute to the solution in some way, rather than just having the DM solve the dilemma for them.

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Consumables (i.e., limited use count items) can be "Special, specific game-changing rewards" that by nature have limited future unbalancing effect without having to be implausibly specific. A sunburst glass ball which releases sunlight on being broken might require "research [of] obscure lore" to identify (e.g., it might be learned that a cleric who never returned took one or more such items in years ago [if multiple are found, some might have difficult to see cracks which let the light escape over the years; dud versus misidentification questions could add interest]). – Paul A. Clayton Jan 23 at 21:39
"research" might reveal that this vampire sought a way to become immune to garlic, which succeeded at the cost of extreme vulnerability to onions (which is still probably a good trade-off as a greater secret vulnerability may be better than a lesser broadly-known vulnerability) – Paul A. Clayton Jan 23 at 21:39
I like the consumable idea a lot! – Steven Hansen Jan 23 at 22:02

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