Thursday, 29 March 2012

Solo Design: Geomancer

Dominic Matte
Solo Design is a series of articles exploring solos -- monsters designed to engage an entire party -- using monsters I've designed for my own games.

What's the easiest way to create a really dynamic encounter that forces the players to think on their feet? To run a monster that alters the battlefield itself, of course! I wanted a dynamic encounter, so what better way to do that than to build a monster that alters the battlefield to his advantage every single turn?

Brigadier Stonefist is a high-ranking military officer and geomancer. He's a goliath with the ability to move and control the earth and stone around him. In combat, Stonefist is a tough and durable controller who focuses on splitting up and engaging the party one at a time. He can take a flat, boring battlefield and turn it into a blasted rocky maze of a wasteland in only a few turns.

Feel free to adjust the numbers and flavour to use these stats in your own game, but keep in mind that this block offers a huge degree of control over the battlefield that could easily overwhelm a low-level party with fewer movement and control options.

Typical solo monsters are designed to deal huge damage or make multiple attacks per round in order to compensate for the fact that there's only one monster on the board. Stonefist can't attack as frequently or dish out as much damage as many solos, but he compensates by exerting a lot of control over the battlefield, in a very literal sense.

Stonefist Smash and Hurl Earth are fairly basic attacks that allow Stonefist to choose which enemies to engage. Shattering Smash fits a similar theme, which turning a massive chunk of the board into difficult terrain -- this attack will really hinder party movement, but Stonefist remains unrestricted due to his Earthstride trait.

More interesting is the recharge attack Pitfall Strike. Stonefist drops the ground away from under his target, causing his enemies to fall. The damage isn't the primary benefit. A 20-foot pit means that his enemies will have to spend a move action or two to get into attack position again. Even worse, party members can't see each other, and therefore can't use a lot of targeted buffs or heals until they climb out of the hole. Raise Earth accomplishes a similar blocking effect, but as a minor action it can be used much more frequently to block an attacker's line of effect or to separate a bothersome enemy from his allies.

Stonefist can also use a slightly restricted form of Raise Earth when he's attacked, blocking the angle of the attacker to potentially force them to reposition on the next turn.

When bloodied, Stonefist creates a stone sheath around his body, giving him a defense bonus against ranged attacks and enabling him to block line of effect with his own body. Blocking line of effect doesn't help him at all, but would protect any allies behind him. More importantly he can make two basic attacks per round, which helps his damage output and makes him a lot more dangerous.

Stonefist's primary weaknesses are his relatively low damage output and good engagement by a defender. A hit with Stonefist Smash will knock a single melee attacker out of range, and following up with Shattering Leap and Raise Earth can create a good block against a less-mobile defender. However, breaking away from a defender like this sacrifices ranged attacks for the round. In terms of overall damage output, Stonefist has to fight effectively to make the most of his attacks -- if he can keep the cleric away from the fighter for long enough, he should be able to take down that pesky defender.

The one time I used this stat block in combat, it didn't work out so well. The problem was not so much the monster design but the fact that he was going up against nine player characters at once (!!). They were several levels lower than he was, but he just couldn't keep up with the action budget of 9 fully-rested PCs.

If you have any thoughts on this stat block, I'd love to hear them. I'd especially love to hear what you think if you use it in your game!

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