This handbook is dedicated to modifying encounters on the fly for easy DMing. With the help of this Handbook, even the newest DM can pull complex tactics out of nowhere and make their own dungeon feel just like Tucker’s Kobolds.
Need your creatures modified for a game that starts in 5 minutes? Use these simple templates to make any encounter more exciting.
Feats: Earthbound Spell, Entangling Spell, Easy Metamagic (Earthbound Spell), Easy Metamagic (Entangling Spell)
Benefit: That random mage on team Monster can now use its spells to lay deadly traps. +2 total metamagic cost.
Feats: Improved Trip, Combat Reflexes, Knockdown, Exotic Weapon Proficiency [Meteor Hammer], Martial Study: Thicket of Blades (lvl 10+),
Benefit: +15 to reach, 10+damage hits give a free trip attempt, and (post-10) 5 foot steps also provoke attacks of opportunity.
Feats: None (but you could combine this with the arcane trapsmith)
Benefit: A suite of spells for stopping martial characters in their tracks.
Level 1: Backbiter (Charger, charge thyself)
Level 2: Glitterdust (A Blinded melee combatant is a useless melee combatant)
Level 3: Stinking Cloud (A Nauseated Party is a dead party)
Prerequisites: Able to cast Summon Nature’s Ally (The templates apply to those summons)
Feats: Spell Focus [Conjuration], Augment Summoning, Greenbound Summoning
Benefit: Plant immunities, Fast healing, DR, and more. See Lost Empires of Faerun page 173 for the Greenbound template. Augment summoning gives +4 to STR and CON making the total 10 STR and 8 CON after greenbound. Below is an (incomplete for legal reasons) statblock if you need it right away:
+7 AC (6 NA, 1 Dex)
Fast Healing 3
Prerequisites: Orc Barbarian 1 (Lion Totem variant) or another means of acquiring Pounce, level 4
Feats: Power Attack, Shock Trooper, Leap Attack, Headlong Rush
Benefit: An orc with this template can handle even the meatiest of foes with his trusty 2-handed weapon. Shock Trooper lets him sacrifice defense for offense, going in entirely unprotected to ensure the strike can penetrate the enemy defenses. Headlong rush means he lets others have a swing at him along the way, but in return he’s sure to finish his target in one round. Telegraph this one properly though, as most people appreciate some warning before getting pounced on and split in half by a burly orc.
It has been said many times, but it bears repeating. A strategy won’t last for more than a few rounds of combat. What you do next depends on your tactics.
You know what’s better than winning initiative? Being outside the initiative order. Instead of taking a potshot at the enemy with a surprise round, ready an action to shoot the mage. Bonus points if the mage is casting Nerveskitter (an immediate action spell that gives a bonus to initiative), since you make the shot BEFORE combat officially begins, effectively treating it as a surprise round anyway. If you want to take this to the extreme, take the Cragtop Archer class and take the shots from over a mile away.
Combat is all about priorities. You can’t take out huge swaths of enemies with the same ease as a Stinking Cloud, and you are inherently limited in what you can physically reach, so each action taken should “solve” a given threat. For a melee brute, this means charging. Specifically, charging with a 2-handed weapon and the ability to jump across obstacles. A party has a hard time recovering when the mage or cleric gets split in half before they get a turn.
Dirty Tricks and Brutal Encounters
These tools are not for the faint of heart. Players WILL be rolling new characters if these are used to their full extent, so make sure everyone is on the same page about what kind of game you are running.
Fun with Silent Image
A cliff with a Silent Image over it doesn’t technically count as a trap. Until they “interact” with it, the PCs won’t even get a saving throw. You should probably give them a reflex save to avoid falling off, just to be fair. Or have an NPC “redshirt” go first.
– Silent Image provides total concealment for creatures that they themselves can see through (because they know it is an illusion).
– A hovering creature can hang out above a pit trap. Good guys see the monster, charge, and plummet.
– Perfect flanking opportunities. Create a T intersection and silent image one of the paths off, so it looks like a 90 degree turn in only one direction. After the heroes pass, chargers hit the back line.
Incorporeal creatures can attack from inside of thin walls. Take a hallway for example…what if the way in locks behind the heroes and they are trapped in a hallway of ghostly attacks? Painful.
Necromancers punch above their weight class
Power Word: Pain is a verbal-only spell that does 1d6 damage per round for up to 4d4 rounds without requiring upkeep! While it isn’t staggering amounts of damage, it’s hard to stop, scales with the size of your mook swarm, and becomes absolutely deadly when augmented by Fell Drain, causing massive negative levels with each casting. RAW, you can also use Silent Spell on it, making it an amazing way to kill someone in plain view without being caught.
The Ultimate Bear Trap
A magically created floor covering a pit, with a trap nearby that casts an antimagic field on whoever reaches the center of the floor. The floor is suppressed temporarily and the victim silently falls in, with the floor reappearing above as the field leaves with the victim. At the bottom of the pit is a group of dire bears with Flesh to Stone permanently active on them. The antimagic field suppresses the flesh to stone. When the antimagic field ends, the bears turn back to stone (no care and feeding!) and the trap is totally reset. If you have a way to ensure the trap only triggers on the Wizard in the party, the party is even deprived of a method to dispel the floor and give chase.
The Cult of Spite
Troth of the Forgotten Pharaoh gives a balor-style immolation effect to any mook to use as a cyanide capsule that prevents Speak With Dead from ruining your plans. As a bonus, it also blinds anyone nearby, so the leader can escape in the confusion.
Combine with Fungal Blisters for a significant damage spike, as all the blisters pop at once on death.
Undead Upgrade: Animate Dead can create Burning Skeletons who have their own ability to explode on death, and Bloody Skeletons which automatically return after dying (in a way that implies it bypasses the “can’t be raised” clause of most death novas), Destruction Retribution adds a negative energy burst, and Unliving Weapon is an hour/lvl buff that adds another.
Elemental Upgrade: If your minions have an Elemental subtype (such as from Mantle of the Fiery Spirit), they can take Final Strike for another burst.
Alchemist Upgrade: Implant Bomb If team Evil has a level 8 Alchemist, they can make permanently implanted bombs on any “willing” target (which includes raised minions, take note necromancers!)
Kineticist Upgrade: If your minions happen to be Kineticists, Parting Blast gives you another option.
Banquet of Madness
Psychic vampires have a wisdom drain aura and can assume gaseous form. The Libris Mortis web enhancement has an example encounter using vampires that have 7 levels in ARISTOCRAT and they are still very likely to wipe a level 10 party…
…We can do better.
– The Hexblade class has a plethora of save-lowering effects, including their Curse and Dark Familiar abilities. Most of which are usable in gaseous form.
– Poison the wine before the banquet, raising the DC as appropriate. Arsenic and Old Lace helps us here.
– Add a few wisdom save traps along the route to the vampire’s coffins. They may wake up after recovering from the fight with a bunch of catatonic adventurers on the floor.
– Keeping the party in an encounter from the banquet all the way to the coffins means no stopping to rest or retrieve niche answers, so some trivial minions in the halls between traps help.
Take any 1HD Corporeal Undead and give it a level of Fighter (Pugilist Variant), which converts all incoming damage to Nonlethal damage, which undead are immune to. What you end up with is an easily turned, yet immune to HP damage zombie. These things make amazing fodder for horror campaigns, since you can’t kill them without supernatural assistance. Bloodroot poison makes a great zombie infection, since the effects aren’t lethal unless you take a lot of bites, and it doesn’t have any immediate effect during combat, allowing for the dramatic “being turned” moment.
Type: Injury; DC 12 Fortitude
Effect: Initially does nothing, but the secondary damage happens a minute later for 1d4 Con + 1d3 Wis.
The Linear Guild
Named after Rich’s antagonists from the Order of the Stick. It’s a group of classic roles, all prepared better than your average low level group and waiting on the other side of any door.
– A Caster with a readied Backbiter to counter the party charger.
– A Charger with a readied charge for whoever is behind the charger.
– A Rogue just to the side of the door for whoever is behind that guy.
The Monster(s) under the bed
There’s only so much a party can do to defend themselves during a rest period. Unless someone invests in some serious divination, anything short of extraplanar sleeping spaces are weak to some sort of ambush. Simply disrupting sleep is enough to screw wizards out of recovering spell slots (which automatically counts as a win in my opinion), but burning all the cleric’s healing before the sun even comes up is GOLDEN.
The Broodswarm is a CR6 swarm of tiny little demons that reenact Gulliver’s Travels on sleeping victims, stitching them to whatever surface they are sleeping on without even so much as a save before calling in their Night Hag master to finish them off. Notably, the stitches give a cumulative -2 penalty to dexterity that is explicitly neither damage nor drain and can’t be healed without removing the stitches (which requires a strength check and deals 2d6 damage on success OR failure). A creature brought to 0 dex with these stitches is blind, mute, and helpless. Removing the stitches by force can prove to be lethal all on its own, and struggling against them nails the victim with heavy damage with every attempt. On top of all this, there’s still the normal Swarm attack, which is a DC 18 vs nausea every round. Upgrades are also available:
– Reduce their size to Tiny or Diminutive for increased AC and immunity to weapons.
– Ability Focus (Daze Aura) to bump the will save to 17
– Eagle’s Splendor, bringing Daze Aura up to 19.
– Ability Focus (Stitching) to bump the strength check to 22
– Add Lotus Scent poison to ensure nobody else wakes up to interrupt the fun.
Lotus Scent Poison
Type: Inhaled; DC 15 Fortitude save
Frequency: 1/round for 6 rounds; Cure 1 save
Each failed save of exposure imparts the fatigued condition on the target, which is heightened to exhausted on a second failed save, and finally unconsciousness for 1d4 hours on a third failed save.