My current dnd group has been playing for years, while I am relatively new. Unfortunately, it seems that none of them have really ever put much stock in arcane/divine classes or abilities (this includes the current DM).

Our DM has recently decided he wants more arcane in his campaign and has asked me to help him organize magic heavy encounters (I am the closest thing to an arcane expert as we have, as far as rules and strategy go). I have given him lots of ideas for NPC arcane battle synergy, but it seems like my encounters are are always overshooting his target CR.

What are some general ideas for reducing difficulty by 2-3 CR without rebuilding the monsters. Lets say we take 2 Water Nagas (7HD) straight from MM. That would make ECL roughly 9. How can we get it down to 6 or 7, without changing their stat blocks directly?

I was hoping for something on the lines of this: when you approach the encounter, the nagas are already engaging some crabs. Then they will be softened up a bit, and down a couple of spells.

Or basically give the PC party one free surprise round.

Do these get closer to a CR of 7? How far away am I still ? any other imaginative ideas?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you want your magic-heavy encounters to be such because they contain monsters who are magic, or do you want to reduce the CR of magic-heavy monsters? It's kind of a difference. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Jacobs Jun 6 '14 at 10:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ When doing a search in MM for magic missile, you would be surprised how powerful most of the creatures are. I am looking for certain abilities, but am struggling to find them, so reducing the CR of the strong ones seems next best step. \$\endgroup\$ – user2097818 Jun 6 '14 at 10:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Curse" the Nagas; give them -1 on all their rolls and their ac; will make them slightly easier to deal with. Not sure if this counts as changing the creatures mind you... \$\endgroup\$ – Rob Jun 6 '14 at 11:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why are you concerned about the CR? It's a guideline, and a loose one at best. Two level 10 Elf Fighters are EL 12, and two level 10 Human Druids are also EL 12. One of those fights is considerably harder than the other, particularly if the Druids know what they're doing. Making challenging encounters goes well beyond trying to hit a certain CR with trickery. \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus Jun 6 '14 at 13:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Tridus thats why I wanted to avoid just nerfing stats. Remember, I am only focusing arcane, the DM knows much more than me on most points. He liked my encounters, but thought they were a bit top heavy. \$\endgroup\$ – user2097818 Jun 6 '14 at 14:29

The way I do it is pretty simple: Give party opportunity to prepare. If monsters are busy, party knows about them in advance and so on, effective challenge rating drops. When scout reports monsters vulnerable to fire, and wizard has time to prepare fire spells, or at least find fire scrolls to have them at hand, and fighter can switch his +2 greatsword to usually less effective +1 fire longsword before fight, first rounds gets way easier.

I mean giving them an extra opportunity to do so, and making extra tools available, as seamlessly and unobtrusively to the storytelling as possible. Standard scouting and preparations, without active help from DM, should not lower effective CR.

Other option is quite similar to the one you described in your question: Monsters, especially evil ones with Int worth speaking about can quarrel with each other. Can fight with each other. They can refuse to cooperate with each other if party is smart about approaching them. Think Drows: "letting him die may be good for my position in House" type of thinking - Drows may choose to fight with less than their maximum effectiveness. This strategy is pretty good in three ways:

  • it makes encounter easier
  • it adds some depth to the villains and world
  • it teaches players to expect surprises (he wasn't as incompetent as he wanted to look like when you killed his older brother, after all)

I would say that if you cannot find fitting low-enough level monsters you could always try turning low-level monsters into Wizards/Sorcerers/whatever using the rules found in Savage Species (p. 8).

As far as I know there is no way to "unadvance" monsters in the same way you advance them: you could always try reducing their HD, though this is not a 1=1 scale with CR. I would say find how much DR each HD on a monster is worth and tinker with that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The question (as I understand it) is asking for ways to take a given encounter and make it easier by 2-3 CR without changing the creatures involved or their stat blocks. \$\endgroup\$ – Dakeyras Jun 6 '14 at 10:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Thomas I actually forgot about player classes. Three elf wizard specialists (L4) gave me the variety I wanted and are "technically" in the CR range I was looking for. \$\endgroup\$ – user2097818 Jun 6 '14 at 14:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ When you pick PC races with PC classes, be wary that you cannot use them as regular animals who can cast: otherwise you might end up with "leaping wizards": an encounter that can only be justified by a group of wizards upset they were always bullied as children for being more bookish than the Fighteras and Bards, so they roam the wilds for adventurers and leap out of the bushes to fight them. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Jacobs Jun 6 '14 at 14:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Thomas "cannot use them"? or rather, must craft/stage them with specific constraints in mind? (I did realize how using sorcerer fits this roll better than wizard, after I posted the comment. This makes it a little easier for the DM to understand the intended role.) \$\endgroup\$ – user2097818 Jun 11 '14 at 6:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ By "cannot use them" I mean that packs of wild sorcerers do not roam the forests as packs of wild wolves do. They need a reason to attack. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Jacobs Jun 11 '14 at 7:31

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