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In 4th edition, one of the biggest problems I've found with solos is that they get locked down way too easily--between stuns, dazes, immobilzation, and other effects...they are far too effective when used on a single enemy threat. On the other hand, I don't want to stop players from using them altogether, by removing any utility of the powers. What tricks have worked to keep these poor, defenseless dragons (for instance) dangerous in your game?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

Monster Manual 3 solos tend to use one of a few tricks to deal with this. Any one of them is pretty good; using multiples might be a bit much.

  • Give the solos saves at the start of their turn. If you do this, that saving throw probably shouldn't get the +5 bonus to saves. You can also tune this down a bit by only letting them make one save.
  • Allow the solos to save against "end of my next turn" effects. I like this one a lot, because right now missing can be more effective than hitting when a miss makes the effect have that duration.
  • Give the solos multiple initiative actions -- e.g., Tiamat acts several times per turn. This means they'll get more chances to save. Definitely useful.

I also recommend not having solos fight by themselves, despite the name. I think most fights are more interesting if there are some monsters alongside the solos. Even if a stunlock does happen, the other monsters remain dangerous. See also Greg Bilsland's recent post on that subject.

Finally, if you want to try something really unexpected, read the Angry DM's posts on D&D Boss Fight design. He explains exactly how to build solos that split each fight into three acts, which keeps the fight fresh throughout and reduces the dazing and stunning problem. His stuff is superb.

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I also seem to remember seeing somewhere that Essentials will have some solutions to that. – Numenetics Aug 23 '10 at 2:54
Quite probably. It's definitely something that needs some help. – Bryant Aug 23 '10 at 3:34
The blog there on D&D Boss Fights is excellent, and some of those ideas sound just like what I'm looking for. Thanks a lot. – Brisbe42 Aug 24 '10 at 7:16

Sly Flourish recently wrote a blog entry with new monster powers one of which, Brutal Shakeoff, is designed to let solos shake off status effects rather than get locked down. In brief, the solo can sacrifice HP to save. That blog is a great source of other monster fixes and optimizations, check it out.

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Those suggestions look excellent, thank you for the advice. – Brisbe42 Aug 24 '10 at 7:17

My technique for handling this situation is this: If the players have a method for locking down a solo monster (or any monster, really) and I don't have any means for countering it, I just let it happen and don't sweat it. Some players have obviously invested a certain amount of time and effort developing their characters into being able to do this exact thing, so if that's their plan, I think its ok to let it happen and play out by the rules. Sometimes players come up with a great plan that easily beats a monster. There's nothing wrong with that. D&D is more than just the battles, anyhow.

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Depending on the abilities that cause the status, you might be able to throw some minions at the party as well simply as fodder. Sure, the party can still affect the main enemy, but they still have a lot of little minions to deal with while hopefully the main enemy successfully breaks free from the daze/stun/etc.

Another situation is to have back-to-back encounters where the party doesn't get the time to rest and thus earn encounter abilities back. Maybe the dragon had a deal with a group of local kobolds that the dragon would offer protection and safety right outside of the dragon's lair in return for treasure and crunchy PCs with ketchup food. If a kobold flees the encounter to alert the dragon and the PCs pursue it, the encounter suddenly becomes that much more difficult for them if they've spent their encounter (or daily) abilities.

Along those same lines, have the party encounter the solo enemy after a few other encounters for the day. Hopefully they've already burned through an ability or two that they really should have held in reserve.

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Heh. If I wanted to be really cute, using the dragon example, I'd have a bunch of minions who had the power Rouse the Master. Standard action, grant their master a save with no bonuses. Alternatively, if the solo cares about the minions, their deaths could trigger a save. – Bryant Aug 23 '10 at 3:36

You can also just plain remove the ability for stuns to function continously. Something like every other round stunned, the solo monster can act normally. It still rewards stunning but limits it.

Alternatively, I heard some people give the save bonus a commulative +1. A solo's save the first time is +5, the second time +6 and so on.

Making Solo Fights have more than just the solo has already been mentioned

Hope that helps.

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