How can I best optimize an NPC so that instead of having perfect power attack or sneak attack, they're just really hard to kill? I can think of thief acrobat and perhaps exemplar or dungeon delver, but not too many others. Strangely. I never really looked for ways to make a non- or minimal-combat NPC just for the sake of surviving to either torment or simply antagonize the PCs.

I've read about ghosts and the jester taunt whatchamacallit, but I'm curious if anyone has or would know how to best make a living humanoid nigh-impossible-to-destroy creature?

PC levels, I'd like them to not be able to be rid of this creature until epic level but at the least eighteenth level. I'd like this creature to be between thirteenth and sixteenth level but will fold for as high as eighteen. No specific setting in play currently, just my homebrew which has severe restrictions on interplanar travel but that's about it. Allowed books are all core, Complete Warrior, Complete Adventurer, Book of Vile Darkness, Complete Arcane, and all open source stuff from Unearthed Arcana and the Psionics Handbook. Any race from core or open source books, ideally a low level adjustment (less than four with HD included). Human, elf, gnome, goblin, bugbear, halfling, troglodyte, lizardfolk -- you get the idea, something semi-common and not very powerful at base.

Noted exception - if one can make this with a lycan build, then that would be allowable as there's a big focus on lycanthropy in the campaign world.

Alignment isn't a constraint, because even a lawful good NPC can become a thorn in the PCs side through the course of this campaign. I don't have a role cut out for them, wanted to make them before I decided how they affect plot.

So far the party comprises of a prestige bard/dual wielding specialist, a mounted combat focused scout/prestige paladin, a ranged-and-spell specialist prestige ranger/druid, and some sort of roguey good guy will join them down the line (as-of-yet unfleshed NPC). However, another character is running an information guild (think COINTELPRO from the late sixties) and is a ninja type with an emphasis on disguise and roleplaying elements, along with surprise combat. I'd like for the classes to do the job the best, but I know I'll need to put in some magic items to supplement them. Just want to be minimal on the latter.

  • \$\begingroup\$ There is an actual Survivalist prestige class in the Savage Species book.... \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Nov 26 '17 at 4:25

13th level Humanoid that's able to evade a 18th level party? That's a decent CR gulf to span. Classes alone probably won't do it, since classing something to level 13 means it should be balanced against other 13th level creatures, though min/maxing with an emphasis on evasion might slant that.

As a magic item suggestion, give the NPC a unique Artifact of your own creation that gives them additional evasive powers; probably something that locks to their person so high level PCs can't just snatch it from them to make them powerless. If you want them to just be hard to nail down, have it grant etherealness or earth glide (if underground a lot). If you don't want the Artifact to be a loot item the PCs get afterward, you might try something from the Weapons of Legacy supplement, where the item in question is an item that has quests/requirements to use it to its full potential, and the NPC has done the quest(s) but the PCs haven't/can't.

For the Lycanthrope aspect, normally a Lycanthrope build has to use an "animal" as the base creature type. Can you have this NPC through some means be a non-animal lycan with additional abilities? Create a Lyncanthrope build for a Displacer Beast or similar hard-to-nail-down beast; then the NPCs evasive abilities are intrinsic.

  • \$\begingroup\$ -1 "give him an artifact you came up with" is not an answer, it's basically DM fiat. \$\endgroup\$ – o0'. Apr 23 '14 at 10:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ The original question is already DM fiat; "create something ECL 13 that for some reason ECL 18 party can't hit" goes against the core mechanic of ECL/Levels/CR balancing so has to have something outside the rules fudging it. A magic item/artifact at least gives some focus to the reason why the rules are bent around this NPC. \$\endgroup\$ – MidnightLightning Apr 23 '14 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ But he was actually asking if there was a way to do it without resorting to fiat. Of course you can always resort to fiat, no point in asking it here. \$\endgroup\$ – o0'. Apr 23 '14 at 14:55

Well, if you'll accept 4 hit dice, a doppleganger Mindspy5/Warshaper5 (Complete Warrior) would be awfully tough. Just increase the ability scores to maximize the bonuses. It could look like anyone, and between the sneaking abilities and combat abilities would be tough to kill (just add some magic items that makes escape easy when needed). Just a quick summary: 1)+5 attack/+5 armor class vs. foes it has detected thoughts against (at 18th level, 4 foes at a time, as a sphere with instant mind scan). 2) immune to stunning and critical hits (and thus sneak attack damage) 3) +4 STR/+4 CON 4) morphic weapon - multiple natural weapon options 5) morphic reach - secret +5 ft of reach - only visible when used 6) fast healing 2 7) heal 10 points damage a turn if check succeeds

Pick some juicy magic items (protection, hiding, some nice armor or weapons) and some juicy feats (there are so many ways to go on that one I'll leave it up to the reader) and it seems you could torment a party for a long time. They wouldn't even be sure who the bad guy was half the time.


There are a few of theoretical optimization tricks that could make a 13th-level character very nearly invincible, but presumably you don’t actually want to do that. If you do, I suggest you more or less just do it by fiat, as it will have close to the same effect: if there’s a way to kill him, it involves an extremely specific combination of things to exploit his extremely few weaknesses, etc.

I will say that what you describe here reminds me strongly of the Joker Bard. The Joker Bard isn’t invincible, he’s not even that hard to kill if you can just pin him down. But he’s tough to find, harder to catch, and almost impossible to trap. He doesn’t focus on combat, but he’s amazing at getting out of combat and away when he needs to.

Warning: The links in the following paragraph are to TV Tropes.

What the Joker Bard is, is deceptive. He’s never where you think he is and he’s never doing what you think he’s doing. He doesn’t have a Xanatos gambit lined up; he’s just making it up as he goes along so well that he’s now playing Xanatos speed chess.

(so many apologies for the TV Tropes links, but I had to recoup on the hours I’ve lost there somehow; they’re also really appropriate)

TV Tropes links are done

The general idea with the Joker Bard is that his class features, feats, and the like are designed more to prevent the players from having any idea what he’s up to at any given time, even if they’re in the same room.

This is particularly potent against prepared spellcasters, who are frequently the most powerful characters in a given campaign. The Joker Bard does everything he can to eliminate preparation, which is, of course, why he’s the ultimate foil to the Batman Wizard.

I don’t want to steal Shneekey’s thunder, so for the most part you should check out the link if you’re interested. I will offer these mechanical guidelines, as suggested by Shneekey himself:

1) Insane Bluff/Intimidate/Diplomancy checks

2) A way of bypassing Detect Lies or Compelling Truth

3) A way of being immune to scrying

4) A way of 'keeping tabs' on everything that is going on

5) Charm/Dominate effects would certainly be fitting

6) Illusion spells are also key, although trying to find a way to make them impervious to True Sight will be difficult.

7) 'NO' buttons, those get out of jail free cards that will drive the players nuts just when they think they’ve finally got him.


AFAIK this is extremely hard to pull off in a D&D game. I've tried to run a character that focuses on getting out alive and still it got killed twice (mostly because he got stabbed by traitors).

These are things you'd be looking for:

  • permanent freedom of movement effect (by item)
  • evasion and high reflexes (by items or levels)
  • immunity to death effects and mind control (by items)
  • high initiative (factotum 3 helps, the rest is done with items, mainly weapon and armor enchantments)
  • hide in plain sight (by items or levels) and good hide/MS sodifiers.

I suggest an armor of silent moves +15 and of shadow +15, a pifwafi cloak, an active nondetection spell and some way to cast permanent illusions of himself to communicate with others. Since nondetection can be bypassed with a check, use magic aura to furtherly cloak your items from divination. That's why you should not gain these bonuses from spells cast on yourself. Your character should be immune to everything that needs a target and to pretty everything else.

A carried item with deeper darkness cast on it should prevent daylight from giving away your position, but if the range can be seen you're most probably in the middle of it, since non-carried items can be seen with true sight (they can be invisible, they can't hide).

Your character'd better be an initiate of Mystra, so he can function in an antimagic field too.


Use NPC class levels, like Warrior. 20 hit die of NPC levels is roughly equivalent to a CR 9-11 monster, but with a great deal of HP.


IMO the obvious way is a guy, who is the head of a structure. That way he gets offensive troops and reconnaissance, without risking his head.

From there on, I would make him a magic user, an arcane one, as those have lots of options to flee AND can be optimized for that end.

I would use such a NPC much like a general - he would appear only when things are pretty much under control. He would not hesitate to flee, and have an escape plan and covering troops. He would appear gradually in the campaign At first cause the party problems with the law. Second in time - direct assault on the party, supporting the assaulting troops under an Improved Invisibility spell. And when the party discovers that he is the bad guy (in the 2-3-4 combat) - play defensively and when cornered - vanish in a pre-built shelter (another castle). A human hydra.

My knowledge of 3.5 is rusty. Leadership feet teleport spells - you know better than me.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Historically it makes sense for a general to be specialised in the art of escape. Ieyasu Tokugawa considered that whilst a warrior's sword must be for attack, a general's sword must be for escape - a foot soldier can fight and die and help, but if a general dies his army will be routed and his side will lose, so he must live. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Sep 17 '12 at 14:06

Templates are great at adding abilities.

I've found Monk / Sorcerer Lich blends powerful:Good luck finding the lich's phylactery. Potentially, swap Sorcerer our for Ur-Priest. Just think of all the crazy vile touch spells in BoVD.

Check out the Werewolf Lord template, very powerful. Throw in half-dragon and you have the beginnings of a BBEG that is tough to kill and can easily deal out damage and even fly.

I did this up using Half-Ogre/Monk 2/Werewolf Lord/Barbarian 1 (for pounce)/Half-Dragon/Warshaper 3/Fist of the Forest 1/Fighter 2/Frostrager 5/Epic+. It's important to give this build the Steadfast Determination feat:

Steadfast Determination, Player's Handbook II, p. 83:

You can use your Constitution modifier in place of your Wisdom modifier on Will saves. You do not automatically fail Fortitude saves on a roll of natural 1.

Steadfast Determination really locks the build down since your Will saves would otherwise stink. At 20th level, you're looking at +34 Str, +14 Con (and Will saves) and +15 Natural Armor. Having a 52 base Str was pretty epic.

I realise I'm a bit off topic with some PrCs, however, I've always felt that class limitations were for players, not DMs.

If Fiend Folio is open, the Fiend of Possession p.204 is perfect. Another incredibly hard to kill template, the Vampire Lord.


I'm citing a book that I read. Though I don't remember the name, the main character was a Dragonkin Paladin...

One of the antagonists was a Lich, whose phylactery was an item that the group needed to stop some demonic entity from entering into the world. Thus, they couldn't afford to destroy the phylactery, and the Lich would keep coming back, and was a rather awesome threat to the group for a large portion of the book. Instead of a extremely difficult enemy/antagonist who cheats defeat and death, why not an enemy that is already dead, yet its weakness is unexploitable? Make it an item that your players want to have or can't afford to lose, let them be unaware at first why the Lich keeps seemingly seeking them out (after all, he does want his soul jar back), and then when they do discover the true purpose of the item, let the item be the quest item or something of highly secular/spiritual importance that even the most atheist or draconian of them wouldn't want to destroy it because of its importance. An heirloom wouldn't necessarily do the trick, but what if the band happens to be a group of paladins, and the object is an artifact of their god? And wouldn't it just suck if the Holy Grail just happens to be the vessel of Dracula?

Or you could make your antagonist a tormentor, perhaps not even physical. Why not the Lord of Nightmares, an etheral being that tortures your group with night terrors? Perhaps the focus is to stop the Lord of Nightmares and force an actual physical confrontation in a particular location? Or maybe they pissed off Lady Luck, and now they are cursed with malady after malady? I think you're focusing upon a physical threat, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a physical being. A golem made of dragonscale (or something else that is difficult to pierce, connected to a creature that is already abnormally hard to kill) that is size Gargantuan would be a physically imposing threat, but make it slow enough that fleeing is viable from a slow, unintelligent creature that perhaps hounds their steps.

Perhaps the creativity of what you are making is the threat. Make something that hasn't been faced/seen before. Or like the Sphinx, beatable by intelligence (riddles) as oppose to physical violence.

If you want to be really nasty... have one of the PC's cursed with something dreadful, such as being the host of something demonic, something that likes to pop up from time to time (like a 1d10 per day with no saves) and have it be the group's cleric or wizard, or someone that no one would be readily wanting to kill (like the group's only female, or paladin also works.) Reverse it to where it's something that the party doesn't want to kill, but is forced to accept and have to deal with.

Just saying.


Loads and Loads of HP make them really hard to kill! :)

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, but how? This doesn't really answer the question in a useful way. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 17 '12 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Aren't there at high levels spells to hold/teleport/turn to stone/kill/imprison a guy, without hitting him tediously all afternoon? Or just grapple and pin him. I am genuinely asking, my knowledge is rusty at best. \$\endgroup\$ – Vorac Sep 18 '12 at 5:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ This site is seriously lacking a sense of humour! \$\endgroup\$ – Cow of Doom Dec 6 '13 at 14:49

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