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A party I'm running for are going up against an aboleth as a late-game "boss" (but not the "final boss"). They are currently Tier 4, level 17 to be precise, so a basic CR 10 aboleth is not going to stand up against them and will not be able to provide the climax I'm hoping for in this part of the adventure. But narratively, nothing besides an aboleth would make sense at this point in the story.

So, I've decided to boost the stats of the aboleth, increasing it to CR 22, which should serve as a better challenge for the party (they will have help, and have magic items aplenty, so I'm aware that this CR is above what the DMG, p. 82, thinks will be a deadly encounter for a party of four level 17 PCs; if anything, I'm wondering if CR 22 will be high enough).

I've used the guidance in the DMG, pp. 274-279, to try to modify the aboleth's stats so that it would be considered a CR 22 creature. I wanted it to still "feel" like an aboleth, so the Actions and abilities it has are unchanged, only the numbers (AC, HP, attack bonus, damage, DCs, etc) are different. Also, I intend for it to have access to the lair actions (the DCs of which will also be increased from DC 14 to DC 17) listed in the Monster Manual, if that makes any difference.

I've tried to keep the new numbers relative to the old numbers. For example, the RAW aboleth's AC is 17, which matches what the table in the DMG suggests, so I went with the table's suggestion of 19 for a CR 22 creature; however, the RAW aboleth has rather low HP for a CR 10 creature, so I gave it less than what the table suggested. Another example is the save DCs; 14 is rather low for a CR 10 creature, so I simply increased them by the proficiency bonus difference (CR 10 creatures have +4, and CR 22 creatures should have +7, so I increased the DCs by 3), which again resulted in a below average save DC for my new stats.

For the ability scores, I left DEX alone, but increased the mental stats (INT/WIS/CHA) by 4. Why 4? Because, as a comparison, the Red Dragon has different versions of different CRs (Young is CR 10, Ancient is CR 24, which is close enough to what I'm doing) and noticed that all the mental scores were 4 points higher, so I copied that pattern. With STR, I increased that to suit the attack bonuses according to the DMG tables, and CON was increased similarly for HP in accordance to the DMG tables (or rather, about roughly ⅔ of the recommended lower bound, going by the RAW aboleth's HP).

Below is my attempt to make a CR 22 aboleth, which I've called the "Elder Aboleth" (so that it being stronger makes some kind of sense), and have made it Huge rather than Large to further justify its additional strength:

Elder Aboleth

Huge aberration, lawful evil


Armor Class 19 (Natural Armor)
Hit Points 276 (24d12 + 120)
Speed 10 ft., swim 40 ft.


  STR        DEX        CON         INT         WIS        CHA
22 (+6)      9 (-1)      20 (+5)    22 (+6)    19 (+4)    22 (+6)


Saving Throws CON +12, INT +13, WIS +11
Skills History +20, Perception +20
Senses Darkvision 120 ft., Passive Perception 30
Languages Deep Speech, Telepathy 120 ft.
Challenge 22 (41,000 XP)


Amphibious. The aboleth can breathe air and water.

Mucous Cloud. While underwater, the aboleth is surrounded by transformative mucus. A creature that touches the aboleth or that hits it with a melee attack while within 5 feet of it must make a DC 17 Constitution saving throw. On a failure, the creature is diseased for 1d4 hours. The diseased creature can breathe only underwater.

Probing Telepathy. If a creature communicates telepathically with the aboleth, the aboleth learns the creature's greatest desires if the aboleth can see the creature.  
 

Actions


Multiattack. The aboleth makes three tentacle attacks.

Tentacle. Melee Weapon Attack: +13 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 25 (3d10 + 6) bludgeoning damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 17 Constitution saving throw or become diseased. The disease has no effect for 1 minute and can be removed by any magic that cures disease. After 1 minute, the diseased creature's skin becomes translucent and slimy, the creature can't regain hit points unless it is underwater, and the disease can be removed only by heal or another disease-curing spell of 6th level or higher. When the creature is outside a body of water, it takes 6 (1d12) acid damage every 10 minutes unless moisture is applied to the skin before 10 minutes have passed.

Tail. Melee Weapon Attack: +13 to hit, reach 10 ft. one target. Hit: 32 (4d10 + 6) bludgeoning damage.

Enslave (3/Day). The aboleth targets one creature it can see within 30 feet of it. The target must succeed on a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw or be magically charmed by the aboleth until the aboleth dies or until it is on a different plane of existence from the target. The charmed target is under the aboleth's control and can't take reactions, and the aboleth and the target can communicate telepathically with each other over any distance.

Whenever the charmed target takes damage, the target can repeat the saving throw. On a success, the effect ends. No more than once every 24 hours, the target can also repeat the saving throw when it is at least 1 mile away from the aboleth.  
 

Legendary Actions


The aboleth can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action option can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature's turn. The aboleth regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.

Detect. The aboleth makes a Wisdom (Perception) check.

Tail Swipe. The aboleth makes one tail attack.

Psychic Drain (Costs 2 Actions). One creature charmed by the aboleth takes 28 (8d6) psychic damage, and the aboleth regains hit points equal to the damage the creature takes.

At the end of all of this, I then compare what I've done, trying to keep it relative to the RAW aboleth, regarding how well (or badly) it adheres to the average for its CR, to the "Average Challenge Rating" of pp. 274-275. But what I've come up with feels like it's lower than CR 22 due to the lower damage output, lower save DCs and lower HP.

What have I done wrong? What would I need to do to make this creature a CR 22 creature, but still keeping the same relative strengths and weaknesses that the RAW aboleth has compared to the DMG table so that it still "feels" like an aboleth?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ No lair actions? And for Mucous Cloud, does it give water breathing to creatures that don't have it, or have it only temporarily? \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Jul 6 at 12:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot It's kinda buried in the text, I'll admit, but in the third paragraph, I do mention the lair actions, but I didn't want to bloat the post any further by including them verbatim (especially since all I'm changing is the CR); as for Mucous Cloud, I think it would probably prevent any creature from breathing air regardless of whether they could breathe water or not, but us discussing anything more than that about the Mucous Cloud should probably be its own question (I didn't come up with that wording myself, after all, since it is copied directly from the RAW aboleth stat block...) \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jul 6 at 12:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ * Correction to the above comment (found it after 5 mins had gone by): "(especially since all I'm changing is the CR)" should have been "(especially since all I'm changing is the save DC)" \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jul 6 at 12:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ From a lore perspective, worth noting that an "Elder Aboleth" is a bit of an oxymoron, as they are already considered to be the oldest creatures (older than gods) in 5e. That being said, their bodies can be destroyed from time to time, so it isn't unreasonable. \$\endgroup\$ – Cireo Jul 7 at 0:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Cireo That is a good point, I didn't put much thought into the name, but as you say, they can die, and this "Elder" is simply one who has lived a very long time and hasn't been killed yet. They can apparently reproduce according to MM: "They pass on their knowledge and experience from generation to generation.", so that at least supports the notion that some can be older than others... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jul 7 at 6:22
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What have I done wrong?

You haven't made a sufficient threat to level 17 characters.

What would I need to do to make this creature a CR 22 creature, but still keeping the same relative strengths and weaknesses that the RAW aboleth has compared to the DMG table so that it still "feels" like an aboleth?

Generally, it needs to be tougher, more versatile, and hit harder.

First of all, it is documented that the CR table isn't the most exact science. I think, in general, it provides a good starting point for you to create a monster for playtesting purposes (but you still need to playtest).

I've proposed some recommended changes based on my experience with high level play as well as some mechanical errors I've noticed:

  • Speed: This creature doesn't have a lot of hit points, it will be necessary for it to be very mobile in its environment to ensure it is engaging with characters on its terms as much as possible. Consider upping the speed in water to ensure it can traverse most of the battlefield. Be advised, Tier 4 characters need a lot of space, so an 80' swim speed isn't unreasonable.
  • Perception: Skill should be +18 (the base creature appears to have Expertise in this skill, so the calculation should be 7*2+4)
  • Mucous Cloud: The original creature's DC for this appears to be based upon either Constitution or Wisdom. Based on the nature of the ability, it is likely Constitution, so this DC needs to increase not just by proficiency bonus but along with the modifier.
  • Tentacle: The DC needs to match that for the Mucous Cloud ability.
  • Enslave: First, the original DC on this is likely keyed off of Wisdom, so the revised creature's DC needs to increase accordingly. Secondly, given the nature of this creature, it doesn't make a lot of sense for it to be limited to only 3/day, consider removing the limitation entirely. You may wish to modify the creature's multiattack to include a use of this ability as part of the multiattack.

Overall, these changes will increase the monster's threat substantially, but it still won't hit the numbers you're aiming for from a CR22 monster. Even the original creature falls short of the CR10 criteria described within the DMG, which suggests a strong expectation that this creature needs to be used in a creative manner.

I think the bulk of this creativity needs to come from the manner in which the Enslave ability is used. As written, this is extremely powerful as it's effectively Dominate Monster but without most of the drawbacks. I would recommend adding to the creature's stat block a skill that helps to ensure this attack's success against countermeasures against this sort of effect.

An option for consideration would be to add an at-will casting of Dispel Magic, keyed off of Intelligence and adding the ability to cast the spell as a Legendary Action. This gives the creature a hard counter to things like Protection from Good and Evil, Calm Emotions, and a chance to end more powerful protections like Mind Blank.

In the event that your party includes an Oath of Devotion Paladin, their aura will significantly impede the effectiveness of this recommendation. In that instance, it may be more prudent to instead give an ability that can cause enough forced movement to make staying in the aura difficult. Perhaps the Scatter spell with a 3/day limit.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is it possible that the original creature is balanced around being fought under water where players are at disadvantage using many weapons or moving at half speed? \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jul 6 at 16:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri probably, however, at higher level play the options available for them to counter those issues increase as does their ability to deal huge amounts of burst damage. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jul 6 at 16:16
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Give it magic/psychics powers!

One way to increase a monster CR is to give it spellcasting abilities, because it make your monster more polyvalent. As the DMG read:

Innate spellcasting and spellcasting. The impact of the spellcasting and innate spellcasting special traits on the monster's CR depends on the spells the monster has. When determining the final CR of the monster, you must take into account those which inflict more damage than its ordinary attacks and those which increase its AC or its hit points. See the special features in the Monster Manual for more information on these two special features. (p.279)

(translated from french, the words might change a little bit)

Since an Aboleth is around messing with your mind, give it Enchantment and Illusion spells. And, why not giving it counterspell or dispel magic, or other abjuration spells that helped this Elder Aboleth to live longer. You can also get (non bardic) inspiration from UA about psychics subclasses.

Take inspiration from other editions!

The 3.5e Aboleth is, from my point of view, a good inspiration. It give you some spells to make the "psychics powers" way of increasing the CR, plus 3.5e give you some hint on how to increase the power of one of your monster (The number of hit dice and the size the monster should have).

To the rest, I think you are in a good way. Pyrotechnical's answer give you more info on what to improve on the "stat block" way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As far as I can tell, OP is wanting the CR of the aboleth to increase, not the CR of the encounter - or is this a bit of a frame challenge? Can you include the specific rules regarding spellcasting and how it would increase CR and how you'd see it working with the Aboleth and their other actions? Can you talk more about why the 3.5e version would be good inspiration? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jul 6 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I will include the quote from the DMG (I have it in french, but I guess google translate will do the job) for the spellcasting abilities. For the fact that 3.5e is a good inspiration, it's because it give aboleth some psychic abilities (one of the point I said), and give some hint of how to make a stronger monster. Plus 3.5 conversion to 5e is relatively easy (adapt DC and HD, and it's almost done, you just have to reduce deadliness of your monster... But OP want their monster deadly anyway) \$\endgroup\$ – Rorp Jul 6 at 18:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS Well, I'll edit the answer to remove the first part then \$\endgroup\$ – Rorp Jul 7 at 13:04

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