I've been playing in a campaign involving an Undead theme. I've come up against a few CR4 and CR5 monsters which have abilities that are absolutely hard uncounterable by a party of this level.

Firstly, the Night Hag, which has 110 HP and is resistant to everything under the sun, can become totally invulnerable on the Ethereal Plane at any time, can bypass any magic or protection, and has a large array of powerful spells. But to top the cherry, the Night Hag can attack you at night, and deplete your max HP until you obtain a Greater Restoration. Where in the Nine Hells is a party of level five adventurers supposed to obtain a Greater Restoration? And how are they going to figure it out unless they metagame and read the Monster Manual?

Then the Ghost. It's also resistant or immune to nearly everything, ever, but only 45hp, ok. But it can also turn Ethereal and that brings in all of the problems from above w.r.t. the enemy being completely immune to all damage. Then you have Horrifying Visage, which has all the problems of the Nightmare Haunting but even worse because you have to obtain the Greater Restoration within 24 hours. And for some races like half-orcs or orcs, their lifespan is so short that 1d4x10 years can turn an adult decrepit. And that's just one Ghost. Based on the CR, the party may encounter multiple ghosts. A pair of Ghosts could TPK an entire party of humans with just a few bad Wisdom saves.

How are these enemies remotely appropriate encounters for level four or five parties, when their special abilities require fifth level spells to heal, and killing them would require the 7th level spell Etherealness?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you sure you aren't basing your logic on the old "CR = level" equivalence from D&D 3.x? \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Oct 24 '17 at 23:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it seems to be a rant and is too broad to generate useful answers that counter each situation. It may be improved by asking about defending against either Night Hags or Ghosts, specifically, as it is, the question is just too unfocused. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Oct 25 '17 at 0:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ And Night Hags already have a number of questions which this is duplicating... \$\endgroup\$ – J. A. Streich Oct 25 '17 at 4:53

For the Players

Express your concerns to the DM and then give them the benefit of the doubt. There are always many moving pieces behind the scenes that only the DM knows about for now. You may find later that an encounter with a very difficult monster is totally appropriate for the story and the progression of the plot.

Take a moment to consider all of your resources, maybe you have a way of approaching this monster that you haven't thought of yet.

For the Night Hag example Maybe you could get the party Rogue to steal her Hearthstone, thereby neutralizing her Etherealness ability and, by extension, her Nightmare Haunting ability.

If your main problem is with the Etherealness part (a 7th level spell, as you say) consider that "While on the Ethereal Plane, you can only affect and be affected by other creatures on that plane" so neither the Ghost nor the Night Hag can attack you from the ethereal plane, so if you hold your action for them to pop into existence and then attack, while it won't be an easy fight, it is not impossible.

The Night Hag only has resistance against cold, fire, and non magical weapons that aren't silvered, so you could either use silvered or magical weapons to bypass that resistance, and focus on spells that use psychic, thunder, lightning, acid, or other such damage types to full effect.

For the Ghost example You will want magic weapons if you can get them, if not, at least the Ghost has less HP. Horrifying Visage is mean, but it only works once per 24 hours.

Honestly Possession is the one I would be worried about here, but if you have a Cleric, they can reverse that by Turning Undead and prevent it with a 1st level spell (Protection from Evil and Good).

If the Ghost likes to pop in and out of the ethereal plane, I would use the same tactic of waiting for it to pop in and using a held action to attack.

Live to fight another day Also, remember that you often have the option to run away, regroup, and try again later. Here is a video about how to handle situations that look like they will be a TPK.

For the DM

Know the Rules, but don't be shackled by them

When you use a monster's abilities, make sure you understand them. For example, if a DM didn't understand that a creature on the ethereal plane can't attack creatures on the material plane, an ethereal monster suddenly becomes a lot tougher than the expected CR.

The CR listed in the Monster Manual is for a single monster of that type. In 5th edition D&D the bounded accuracy ensures that adding enemies to the battle makes it exponentially harder for the PCs to beat their opponents.

CR is not the end all be all of designing an encounter, if you want to use these creatures but worry that they are too strong as presented in the Monster Manual, nerf them down a bit.

The Monster Manual specifically says that you get to tweak the monsters for your game, and if you think that they are too strong, by all means, cut down their abilities a bit.

Here are some videos from Matt Coleville's D&D channel on YouTube that you may find useful about how to use CR and tweak monsters as appropriate.

Also, if you know you are going to throw tough monsters at your party, seed some good items into the loot beforehand. If you want to keep the monster's powerful abilities, give your players the opportunity to counter them with something.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If you are going to vote my answer down, please let me know why so that I can improve it. \$\endgroup\$ – user39671 Oct 25 '17 at 0:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't downvote, but your answer seems to be addressed to a DM, whereas the question asker seems to be a player. \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Oct 25 '17 at 0:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just realized that. I updated my answer to better address the whole issue \$\endgroup\$ – user39671 Oct 25 '17 at 0:57

Not every challenge in D&D is overcome by sticking a sword in it

Some are overcome by avoiding them, negotiating with them, working with them or running away from them.

Know what CR is

From the Monster Manual (p. 9, my emphasis):

A monster's challenge rating tells you how great a threat the monster is. An appropriately equipped and well-rested party of four adventurers should be able to defeat a monster that has a challenge rating equal to its level without suffering any deaths.

An appropriately equipped and well-rested 4th or 5th level party should be able to defeat (not necessarily kill) a ghost or night hag respectively without losing anyone. A monster eliminated in combat has clearly been defeated: but so has a ghost that has been laid to rest or a hag that has been out-bargained.

"Appropriately equipped" includes being equipped with relevant knowledge.

A party that with no knowledge or preparation charges a ghost or a hag with malice aforethought deserve to go home in a bucket. This ain't no Ettin or Hill Giant - this is a thinking person's monster. If that doesn't suit your playstyle (which is fine) then don't use these monsters.

How to beat a ghost

The first thing a party confronted by a ghost needs to do is work out why its here:

Unfinished Business. A ghost yearns to complete some unresolved task from its life. ...

The surest way to rid an area of a ghost is to resolve its unfinished business.

Alternatively, they should be looking for its weakness:

A ghost can be destroyed more easily by invoking a weakness tied to its former life. The ghost of a person tortured to death might be killed again by the implements of that torture. The ghost of a gardener might become more vulnerable when exposed to a potent floral fragrance.

A ghost is very thematic monster - a DM should not be plonking them down to create a combat encounter; that's what Ettins are for. A ghost is a role-play and investigation challenge. For example, from Rise of Tiamat:

Ilda is a neutral good ghost who was once one of Diderius’s apprentices. She worshiped her master, but was mistakenly banished as a thief when one of his prize tomes was misplaced. Ilda died not long after Diderius, and her spirit returned here to act as caretaker to his great stores of knowledge.

Ilda is not violent except to those who would steal from Diderius. She manifests when the characters enter this area, demanding to know why they have come and threatening them if they plan to loot the library. If the characters point out that there’s nothing left in the library to steal, Ilda is overcome by a fit of misery as she agonizes over her failures. A successful DC 14 Intelligence (Religion) check reveals that Ilda can be released from her sojourn here if any volumes from the lost library are returned (see area 11).

Notwithstanding, if you do end up in combat with a Ghost they are not hard to defeat. An Ethereal Ghost is a harmless ghost since "it can't affect or be affected by anything on the other plane". If it wants to hurt you it has to put itself in a situation where you can hurt it. Further, coming from the Ethereal plane uses its one and only action - everyone in the party can do something before it can do any harm.

As for being "immune to nearly everything, ever" - they are only immune to 3 types of damage and they are pretty obvious which ones those would be. They are resistant to a lot of things but they have relatively low hp so even if you are only doing half damage you will get there eventually.

Horrifying Visage isn't going to kill you (probably) - you need an 8 or more to avoid its aging effect and aging 10-40 years is not a death sentence anyway. For a young human death definitely requires 2 fails and probably 3-4. A party of 4 wailing on a ghost while it does this has it dead in 2-3 rounds - the odds are with the party.

How to beat a Night Hag

Sell a little bit of your soul: surely you don't need all of your humanity and you can outsmart a hag, can't you?

Dark Bargains. Arrogant to a fault, hags believe themselves to be the most cunning of creatures, and they treat all others as inferior. Even so, a hag is open to dealing with mortals as long as those mortals show the proper respect and deference. Over their long lives, hags accumulate much knowledge of local lore, dark creatures, and magic, which they are pleased to sell.

Hags enjoy watching mortals bring about their own downfa ll, and a bargain with a hag is always dangerous. The terms of such bargains typically involve demands to compromise principles or give up something dear especially if the thing lost diminishes or negates the knowledge gained through the bargain.

Sly and subversive, night hags want to see the virtuous turn to villainy: love turned into obsession, kindness turned to hate, devotion to disregard, and generosity to selfishness. Night hags take perverse joy in corrupting mortals.

Of course, the real issue is that you probably never know you are dealing with a night hag due to her Change Shape ability and that's just the way she likes it. Nevermind, losing your integrity isn't going to kill you.

Fighting a hag is tough but doable:

They have no damage immunities and less resistances that the ghost - albeit these are resistances to the most common types of PC damage. Still, force, radiant and thunder damage should be available and an "appropriately equipped" 5th level party should have a few silvered weapons.

Just as with a ghost an Ethereal hag is a (mostly) harmless hag - I'll get back to Nightmare Haunting in a sec.

You say "can bypass any magic or protection" - huh? Where does that come from? Its not in my Monster Manual.

Also, "has a large array of powerful spells" - they have 5 and, with the exception of Plane Shift (which is not combat oriented) they are all cantrips or first level spells.

What you most definitely do not want to do is leave and angry night hag alive. However, while Nightmare Haunting sucks, you get individual immunity from the first level spell protection from evil and good and collective immunity from a third level magic circle. After that its a question of either getting out of the hag's territory or hunting her down. After that, you just have to find yourself a 9th level cleric and buy a greater restoration or two.

Of course, unless you are evil, the hag probably doesn't want to kill you, either in combat or through Nightmare Haunting - they just want to get you to the point where you are willing to bargain to just make it stop! Which brings us back to step 1 ...

How are they going to figure it out unless they metagame and read the Monster Manual?

  • Ask around
  • Consult a sage
  • Visit a library
  • Consult a cleric

Hags and ghosts are real things in the world. People know stuff about real things.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Check duration on magic circle. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 25 '17 at 2:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Horrifying Visage can only affect a creature once per 24 hours. Over multiple ghost encounters on multiple days, yes that could add up quite nastily. The RP effects of aging 20 years are still pretty significant, though! Nobody's going to be happy about that. (You have to fail by 5 or more to age, but that's effectively a DC8 Wis save. Still, being affected by fear but not aging makes you immune to the whole thing for 24h.) \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Jul 19 '19 at 14:41

It's not so bad.

Addressing your specific concerns, the hag doesn't have that many strong spells. Ray of Enfeeblement might throw you for a loop, but the others aren't super powerful. Moreover, she doesn't actually have that many ways to hurt you: sure, she can mess with you a lot, but she can only use her nightmare ability on one creature per day, and that can be mitigated by a level 1 spell (Protection from Evil and Good). Finally, if she's on the ethereal plane, she can't touch you either. It's pretty easy for the hag to run away and harass you a lot, but she's not going to be able to withstand a straight fight.

As for the ghost, it also can't do anything to you while it's ethereal. Moreover, age doesn't have any mechanical impact in the game--mechanically, you can't become a "cripple" simply through aging. It's true that I have almost TPKed a party using only three ghosts with some lucky wisdom saves, but a party can take down a single ghost fairly easily.

In both cases, the creature needs to spend its action to use its etherealness ability, which means that it can't use its action for anything else that turn, leaving it potentially vulnerable for a turn.

The PCs almost always win

Sure, the abilities that you describe can be pretty nasty, and a DM that really wants to can definitely screw you over with them. But consider that DMs have many ways to screw you over--fighting CR-appropriate monsters is usually not one of them. For example, you could be fighting a Lich (CR21) instead of a Hag.

Consider that perhaps the DM is trying to tell you something or show you something. Perhaps your DM is setting up some future sessions or events where you get the ability to target ethereal creatures, or perhaps they are setting up a recurring villian (of which the Hag is a great one). Maybe your DM is just telling you that your party is ill-equipped for whatever quest you're trying to do.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You need to spell out the level 1 spell you are referring to. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 25 '17 at 2:39

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