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I'm DMing a 4e campaign and the PCs are level 19, now, but I have been having trouble with a power. Reaper's Challenge.

My group's swordmage saves it through every adventure so he can use it on a Boss (solo or elite monster) effectively making it the easiest combat for the group. And worse, sometimes, when he uses this power, the group's Paladin marks the monster. So it can get punished or punished. There's no way out.

As I see, reaper's challenge weakens the monster immediately after he attacks. So if it decides to attack someone other than the swordmage, the damage is already compromised (is it correct by the rules)? Being that the case, the swordmage goes Full Def, gets a +2 on his already ridiculously high defenses (and sometimes, he will even use a stance, which makes it even more ridiculous) and his work is done.

Now, some people might argue: "it isn't a big deal. It's a daily" or something like that. But my group loves solo monsters. They're exciting bosses. The Dragons from Monster Vault are powerful and the Beholder is quite scary. Or was... Because now they keep getting perma-weakened.

So, my question is:

Does this power actually work like that? And if so, does that last even after the swordmage is knocked out? And if so... Am I the only one who believes it to be that broken? Am I missing something?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ When you have the party fight Solo monsters are they the only enemy, or do you usually include Minions or Standard monsters too? \$\endgroup\$ – diego Apr 11 '16 at 20:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @diego It's usually a single high level solo monster \$\endgroup\$ – Davi Braid Apr 11 '16 at 20:07
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Yes, you are reading it correctly, but this is really just a worse, persistent mark. It's not overpowered for it's level, and is actually pretty easy to get around with the right monster.

So here's how to do it:

Use area affects no less than every other round. Solos often have area effect powers, the power only requires that the swordmage be included in the attack, thus they should make area of effect attacks whenever possible.

Second, they should kill the swordmage. First if possible. This is fairly standard kind of thing to do, but it's just a good idea, focus fire on the swordmage and when he's dead, you don't have to worry about this.

Don't use solos solo. Yeah, it's nice theater for a solo to be alone on the battle field, but it's terrible tactics, and is vulnerable to just this kind of lockdown. Use minion (a bunch, or spawn them), lackeys, summons or henchmen to provide alternative sources of damage.

Lastly, if you're using a monster that gets multiple turns per round, keep in mind that these effects only last to the end of that next turn (not the whole round), so you can attack someone else, be weakened, attack the swordmage again (or use your area effect), and end the weakening for your subsequent turns.

And I know you say you don't want to hear this, but L15 encounters are game breaking, it only really gets worse from here. Your monsters will have to be smarter and have better tactics. And if your players are using the same tactics over and over, it's probably time to switch up your style. For instance, a fake boss might be a start.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "Don't use solos solo." One thing I like doing is having a Solo that can spawn their own minions every turn. Like a necromancer that raises skeletons, or a red dragon that has a living breath weapon (it creates fire elementals) \$\endgroup\$ – diego Apr 11 '16 at 20:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem is that most solos, instead of an area/burst/blast attack, have multiple attacks they can do with a single stardard action. "Don't use solos" really isn't very helpful. I refuse to believe the game is THAT broken. But wait, does the effect end when the Swordmage dies or falls unconscious? Is it RAW? \$\endgroup\$ – Davi Braid Apr 12 '16 at 2:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaviBraid that's not what I said. don't use Solos solo, that's a very different proposition than not using solos at all. Solo simply means they are meant to take the position of several monsters (5 I think), not that they are necessarily fit to be used alone. No, the effect doesn't end if he falls unconcsious, but it's an interrupt, if you don't attack his allies, he can't use it. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Apr 12 '16 at 3:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also you can easily tweak or design the boss monsters. You can have a slightly weaker solo "boss" that, when bloodied, sounds an alarm that brings in the real threat, forcing the players to fight with their dailies used. \$\endgroup\$ – Samthere Apr 12 '16 at 9:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ So, an important note about the "Don't use solos solo". How many monsters do you normally put into an encounter? The group I run with (and DM for occassionally) tends to do fewer, more intense combats (usually 2 encounters per extended rest). And we use, by level 15, about 15-16 Standards of HP per encounter for that. A Solo is worth 4 standards of HP and, as you've found, is REALLY vulnerable to control effects (see a psion spamming aug2 dishearten and giving it -6 to attack rolls). Solos are ultimately misnomers, because 4SMHP is not a challenging encounter. \$\endgroup\$ – Keledrath Apr 25 '18 at 15:13
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The best discussion and suggestion I have read for solos comes from the Angry DM’s article “The D&D Boss Fight”, where he discusses this and other problems at length. In particular, I draw your attention to 4. Solos Are Disproportionately Affected By Conditions in his list of problems with solos. This is a known, accepted problem with 4e (and, honestly, D&D in general), and as Angry discusses, there are hundreds of blogs and the like suggesting ideas that might help. As other answers have suggested, simply not running solos as solos is a common approach, and honestly it has a lot to recommend it—D&D, particularly 4e, tends to work best when players and enemies have similar numbers. But Angry DM does better than that, in my opinion.

The entire article (including follow-ups) is well worth reading, but for this particular problem, the main takeaway is his inspiration from classic video games: bosses should have stages, and each stage should be a separate creature. That means none of the things the party did to one stage apply at all to the next—and so they may have to save some of their effects for later stages. It gives fights a much more dynamic feel, and neatly eliminates much of this problem without entirely obviating such powers without giving up on solos altogether.

This advice, to me, is wonderfully elegant and effective. It's clear and easy to explain to players (and you should explain it, it actually encourages the play you want it the players know, and it avoids players feeling they had the rug pulled out from under them), and it really does work very well. I have seen it put to great use in 4e, and have stolen the idea and put it to good use in other systems as well.

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