Note: First time DM with first time players, using Basic Rules.

Story: I am planning a story which involves wolves and werewolves. 4 PCs would investigate an incident in a forest that caused a NPC's death. At first glance the death would seem to be caused by hungry wolves, yet upon further investigation characters would conclude it is done by a werewolf. They may discover that the werewolf is in fact a villager NPC being cursed.

Two main choices are available to the players:

  1. Resolve peacefully with the werewolf and bring him to a college for cure.
  2. Confront and fight the werewolf as a boss.

The PCs are not created yet, but I expect the party would have 1 cleric, 1 fighter, 1 rogue and 1 wizard.

Question: If option 2 is chosen, I am unsure how I should set a werewolf as boss for a party of four 1st-level character, as this tool suggests a werewolf being CR3 is deadly for them. A werewolf is surely the most suitable for my plot and I would like to make it an exciting fight for my players, but I don't to make it a team wipe. Should I nerf the werewolf (if so, how to?) or make chance for the werewolf to escape without putting full effort to fight (although less exciting for players)?

  • Just for completeness, how many player characters are there in your party? – kviiri Oct 20 at 9:50
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    @kviiri I expect 4 players. – HKJeffer Oct 20 at 9:51
  • Hey welcome to rpg.se. Have you taken the tour? It's a great place to start. While this question is mostly good it does risk being closed due to being primarily opinion based. That has more to do with it being difficult to answer objectively then it does with being a bad question. Do you know what classes you will have? The more information you can provide the better we will be able to answer. Thanks for participating and Have Fun! – linksassin Oct 20 at 10:08
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    @linksassin this question is absolutely fine as is, and is certainly not primarily opinion based. Good answers will be evidence based, with experience of the same problem. Bad answers will be downvoted as normal. – Wibbs Oct 20 at 10:35
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    @Wibbs I wasn't suggesting that there was anything wrong with this question. I was just warning him that it was a possibility as I have seen a lot of encounter-design questions closed for this reason. Such this question and this question. If my advice was out of place I apologise. – linksassin Oct 20 at 10:44
up vote 16 down vote accepted

A normal werewolf is, as you yourself have noted, definitely out of the question for a usual party four of L1 adventurers. With its multiattack, it has a good chance of knocking out even the beefier members of the party each round. Add to that the werewolf's damage immunity to non-magical attacks from non-silvered weapons of normal damage types (Bludgeoning, Piercing and Slashing). You can end up with a situation where your PCs can't do anything because they get knocked out too fast, and even when they don't, only casters can hurt the beast.

Simple Solution: Tone down the werewolf

The easiest way to adjust monster levels in DnD 5e is to use the existing stats of a lower-level monster. In this case, I'd recommend using the stat block of the thematically similar 1/2 CR monster Jackalwere (DnD Beyond) paired with two wolves as minions (DnD Beyond). Take out the Jackalwere's Sleep Gaze ability, because it's definitely a Jackalwere thing, not a Werewolf thing. The Pack Tactics ability, while not a part of the Werewolf's stat block, can stay, because it makes good enough sense for a werewolf preying with their wolf buddies.

The inclusion of two wolves as "sidekicks" helps to make the encounter feel more like a boss encounter (1/2 CR isn't enough for that on its own) and also adds a desirable element of progress to the combat: taking down enemies is more satisfying than simply whittling down one bigger foe's HP pool. The Jackalwere shares the Werewolf's immunity to non-silvered, non-magical attacks that deal one of the three usual damage types, so the inclusion of minions gives your non-magical characters a chance to be helpful despite the main boss being immune to their attacks.

However, you should give your party a silvered weapon. I wouldn't advise arming them all with silver blades, because the moment everyone has a silver weapon, they stop feeling special and cool.

If you plan to use Werewolves later in the campaign, it might be helpful to describe the reskinned Jackalwere as scrawny, sickly or otherwise weakened. This way, when you get to the actual CR 3 werewolves, the players know not to expect them to be as weak as the Jackalwere.

The resulting encounter with 2 Wolves, 1 Jackalwere still counts as Deadly for a party of L1 characters --- appropriate for a boss encounter. Try not to drain their resources too heavily before the encounter, if you don't want to have character deaths here.

Bold (and Dangerous) Solution: Arm the players up

If you really want to use the actual CR 3 statblock, this is another way you can try, but be warned: this is a solution I really don't recommend doing at L1 for beginner GMs. That said, I think it's still worth documenting for future use:

Arm your players up with magic weapons, wands or other tools that make taking out the Werewolf possible for a party of L1 characters.

I have done this myself: the party was facing a monster above their usual paygrade, and I gave them a wand that could kill the monster. It worked, kinda. The balancing is fickle: the encounter was resolved quickly by unloading the wand into the monster, and you'll want to avoid that because it feels like wand did most of the work, but you also want to avoid the item(s) given being too underwhelming to actually help your party beat the beast.

You also want to give every character something meaningful to do during the combat, which is tricky if success is too heavily rooted in the use of a few magical superweapons. Finally, there's the issue of "rocket tag": if the party has a magical item that can easily slay the beast in two rounds, but the beast is powerful enough to slay the party in two rounds too, the encounter will be largely decided by the initiative roll.

The balancing act is so hard that I would recommend you to go with the Simple Solution for now. Experiment with the magic items later and cautiously, once you get a hang of the level of challenge your players can handle.

Different Solution: Level Ups

Design the adventure so that the party is no longer first level when they encounter the Werewolf. A well-rested L2 party has a much better chance against one than a L1 party does, and for an L3 party you probably want to pair the Werewolf with minions just to make sure the combat is still challenging enough to feel like a boss battle.

The easiest way to do this is to grant the party levels at appropriate points during the story leading up to the Werewolf encounter, eg. minibosses or other tense encounters. You can also use the traditional XP approach and give the players enough encounters and other XP-awarding challenges to level them to L2 or L3.

Just remember that the damage immunities of Werewolves are still very punishing to non-magical melee classes, so hand out a silver weapon when using this strategy, too!

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    Suppose one PC obtains a silver sword, should I notify them werewolves are weak to silver? Or is it more appropriate to let them ask for it (then run a wisdom check)? – HKJeffer Oct 20 at 11:48
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    @HKJeffer There are no clear-cut rules on that, but needing silvered weapons to kill a werewolf is in my opinion common knowledge and I'd treat it as such. Give the info to your players straight away; have an NPC tell them, or somesuch. – kviiri Oct 20 at 12:34
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    It's worth pointing out that the Werewolf is a very weak CR 3 creature without its immunities. Compare it to other brute creatures at CR 2 (like the Allosaurus or the Giant Boar or even the Ogre (another creature weak for its CR)) and you'll find those are probably a lot scarier in terms of raw stats. If the whole party has silver or magical weapons, the Werewolf might actually end up being underwhelming. – Erik Oct 21 at 12:06
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    This is a great answer, and I'd add that the XP required to go from 1 to 2 is so low that it can be done without the players feeling like you're giving a gift. Plan the investigation to take some amount of time and resources, give them XP for good role-play or for killing wolf minions encountered along the way and it helps the players become more competent along with their character becoming more competent. – Paul Oct 21 at 12:25

Firstly, I want to start my answer with a warning that I think all new GMs need to know: players will rarely (read: never) do what you expect. Because of this, there are always more than two options.

With that out of the way:

1: Don't let your players be level 1

Since this is planned to be a possible boss fight at or near the end of a story arc, there is no reason that your players need to be level 1 with only basic gear when they go in to fight this werewolf. It only takes 300 XP to get your players from level 1 to level 2. This will likely be achieved after a small number of encounters, if not after the first play session.

Especially as these are new players and you are a new GM, having several combat encounters before the boss is to the benefit of everyone at the table. It will give you all more time to familiarize yourselves with the basics of combat and get a feel for how basic encounters will play out. This also gives the players a chance to gain confidence in their characters abilities before testing them against a worthy adversary.

Another benefit of this approach is that you can naturally introduce useful items and equipment to the party as loot. A single Silvered weapon is not prohibitively expensive at 100 GP so it is again very possible that your party may be able to afford several if they know they are going against a werewolf and wish to prepare beforehand.

2: Let the players fight the werewolf, regardless of level

An important lesson for new players to learn is that combat in Dungeons and Dragons is not the solution to every problem. In fact, in many cases it will be the least effective solution to a problem (if a guard arrests you for a crime you didn't commit, you aren't going to change his mind by brutally murdering him).

Similarly, an important lesson for a new GM to learn is that CR isn't everything. Yes, CR is a good guideline for how dangerous a monster can be in a "fair fight" but it is unlikely your players will want to fight fairly, especially once they realize the odds are stacked against them in a particular fight. You will inevitably come to dread questions like "How flammable is that table?" or "Is that chandelier sturdy enough to support my weight?"

The flip-side is that monsters don't always fight fairly either; one infamous example in the D&D community is that of Tucker's Kobolds, regular throwaway enemies turned into dangerous monsters entirely by their use of traps and terrain to their advantage.


There's no need to kill your players in the first boss fight, but you don't necessarily need to be afraid of that possibility either. After all, if death is never a risk then it may be harder to build tension for the players.

I strongly, strongly disagree with the suggestion of removing the immunity. I've use a wererat as a villian in a low level "trouble in the sewers!" game. In that game, discovery that the attacks were not the work of a normal animal was a crucial part of the interest.

My players were kids, not long-time D&D experts, but they still knew the "silver bullet" trope. Therefore, they found it satisfying to learn in-game that the creature could not be hurt by mundane means. I even took it a step further and had damage from cantrips regenerate — this is not in the rules, but it fit the fun the players were having. They then spent some time finding a cleric who confirmed the immunity and informed them that any silvered weapon would work, not just the crossbow bolts they'd been assuming were the equivalent of bullets.

In my game, I introduced a cache of silvered weapons kept in secret by a different and reclusive character. But that could have been much simpler — the cleric with the information could just have provided weapons. But there are a lot of other options, even in a small village! See the basic rules on silvered weapons:

You can silver a single weapon or ten pieces of ammunition for 100 gp. This cost represents not only the price of the silver, but the time and expertise needed to add silver to the weapon without making it less effective.

Every village needs a blacksmith, or at least farmer who does double-duty as such, and perhaps they could be convinced to lend their expertise for free rather than charging the normal cost. Too poor for the silver materials? Maybe there's a local lord who can be convinced to part with the candlesticks. Rather than a limitation or problem, think of this as story fodder.

I don't actually remember the level of the players when they had their showdown (which ended in capture rather than death, by the way), but it was greater than first — all the information gathering and prep work gave them time to level up at least once.

  • I am not so sure how to let PCs get/borrow silver weapons, since they start in a village but not large towns/cities where a lot of services are available. – HKJeffer Oct 21 at 18:11
  • @HKJeffer Added a bit on that. – mattdm Oct 21 at 18:21
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    @HKJeffer smelting someone's precious silver cutlery to coat a sword sounds like a good story, and will work fine in a small village. – Erik Oct 21 at 19:11
  • @Erik Yes, exactly! – mattdm Oct 21 at 19:18

Run it as is, except for immunities

It can be scary as a first time DM. You don't want to kill everyone in the first session. So I understand why you are hesitant to set them up against something the rules and tools like Kobold Fight Club say should kill them. However as a DM with a little more experience I would suggest running it as is.

Action Economy

The main reason this monster isn't as scary as the numbers make it seem it due to action economy. Due to the bounded accuracy of Dnd 5e the side with more numbers has a significant advantage in most encounters. There a single CR3 Werewolf is actually much less scary than two CR1 Dire Wolves in most situations.

In my experience new DMs tend to greatly underestimate the effect that numbers has in a combat. Both in my own early games and more recently in campaigns I've played as a player. The fight against 3-5 minions often turns out far more deadly than the "Boss Fight" at the end.

Spread the Attacks

With its multiattack feature the werewolf does have the ability to drop a PC in a single round if it focuses on it. I would suggest running it such that you spread your attacks across all enemies within range, giving them a chance to heal or at least get an extra attack in before they go down.

If things go wrong

Be prepared to adjust on the fly. If this is the first or second session for a group of new players you probably don't want to kill them. If at some point during the fight you realise that the players are in trouble and are unlikely to win you have the power to make changes.

If you feel you need to adjust the encounter lowering the werewolf's max hitpoint is the best approach. Its damage output isn't too high for an enemy at this level. 4 PCs should be able to take it down.

Except...

Damage Immunity

The only sticking point against all the advice I gave above is the damage immunities to non-silvered weapons. That alone makes it highly likely that your party will have no real way to damage it. You can solve this one of three ways:

  1. Make sure your party have silvered weapons. Have a kindly NPC equip them, let them stumble across them on the way to the werewolfs lair whatever it is not having these will be a major problem.
  2. Take away the immunity. Damage immunity is one of the werewolf's strongest abilities and without it they are much close to a CR2 monster which are definitely within reach of your party.
  3. Make is damage resistance instead of immunity, be warned this may effectively double their hitpoints if the party doesn't have silvered or magic weapons. (Thanks for the suggestion aHeroCalledFrog)
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    Simply downgrading the immunity to resistance could also be enough, instead of removing it – aherocalledFrog Oct 22 at 21:19

Disclaimer: I'm not that familiar with D&D5 in particular, but this is some general advice on encounter design that might help nonetheless.

The other answers already address the balance between the party and the werewolf in a "fair" fight. But your basic assumption seems to be that the players either play it peacefully or have to fight to the death. I would argue that there are many more ways to handle this, for example:

Give the party some allies

If you want them to fight this a Level 1, their characters are not considered legendary heroes, yet. They can ask for help or at least be willing to join forces with some villagers who are affected by the werewolf, maybe even relatives of the victim. While those NPCs might not be that strong either, they help distribute the werewolf's attacks and thereby reduce damage to individual characters. Even if only one character with a silver weapon is able to actually damage the werewolf, NPCs can use the Help action to increase their chances of hitting. Besides, they could wield items like torches, which should also be able to do a few points of damage, as they deal fire damage. But if you chose to add allies to the party, I would make sure that they cannot be abused as simple meat shields. Distribute the werewolf's attacks and let the allies take some hits for the party, but not all of it.

Let them fight on their own terms

There is no reason that the party has to fight a vicious enemy in an open clearing. They could dig a pit trap, so they can land a few attacks before the werewolf gets out. Or lure them into an abandoned lumberyard (or whatever buildings are around your forest village) and torch the place, thereby reducing its hit points before the fight.

Give them appropriate hints on what their options might be, otherwise this usually will not work. If they deliberately chose to ignore any hints, well, that's their own fault.

Do not force a fight to the death

For some reason, RPG systems create this notion that most encounters have to be fights and that all fights end when one side is completely beaten to a bloody mess. But that's not the only option and usually not even the most interesting one!

You could rule that as soon as the werewolf's health goes below 50%, the remains of his human mind can break through for a turn or two, preventing it from fighting with all attacks, giving the players a chance to calm it down more with a few successful skill checks and restrain it.

Or the werewolf could just make a run for it as soon as it took a few hits (anywhere between 20-50% of its HP). Afterwards, the party can consume a few healing items/spells, follow its tracks and the final part of the fight can be against an already weakened enemy.

You don't really need to do anything as long as the players a have some warning.

Werewolf are CR3 to an unprepared group, if the group has ample warning werewolves are far less of a threat. Werewolves are dangerous because most parties will not have silver weapons making it very hard to harm them. But as has been established in this question, stat wise werewolves are closer to CR1 creatures it is their damage immunity that makes them dangerous. Consider a CR1 brown bear for comparison, identical damage output but less hp. but the werewolf has its damage immunity and a chance to spread the disease.

If the players know there is a good chance they will fight a werewolf they will try to get silver weapons making if a far lesser threat, which itself you can use for plot. Having hte players try to acquire the right weapons could be part of the adventure, maybe they have to do do something for the mayor to be loaned a set of silver weapons that are family heirlooms or maybe they have to work around town to earn enough to buy them from the town smithy.

  • First level characters don't have enough money to buy silvered weapons. You might want to address that in your answer. – Erik Oct 21 at 19:12
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    they don't start with enough, that does not mean they cannot find/have enough. – John Oct 21 at 23:02

Try making it weaker via previous damage, like the party find several dead bears and some wolves, so the werewolf would start with less health. My DM has done several things like this and it can help the fight be swayed in the favor of the party, its still a tough fight, but it makes it a little easier.

  • You should probably reword this so that it is an answer rather than another question. Comments are for clarification questions, but answers are for answering. So take out the "Have you considered" and make the language a bit more instructive. Welcome to the site! – GreedyRadish Oct 20 at 10:47
  • Further to what @GreedyRadish said. Welcome to the site, have you taken the tour? It's an excellent place to start. I would also point you to How to Answer. This answer is a pretty good first effort though. Thanks for contributing to help others out! – linksassin Oct 20 at 11:00
  • I haven't considered this before. Seems I can look into my plot and try making some previous damage if needed. – HKJeffer Oct 20 at 11:10
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    Note that by the rules, the Werewolf couldn't be damaged by the bears. They're immune to physical weapons unless magical or silvered. – kviiri Oct 20 at 11:41

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