The Problem with Solos

If you play 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, you’ve probably noticed a problem with a lot of the solo monsters in the game. Solos are supposed to be a challenge equal to multiple monsters, but they often fall short of that challenge. There are several reasons for this:

– Solos can be hamstrung by defenders’ marks. This can easily prevent them from being a threat to anyone else in the party, and it’s important that an encounter give all party members something to worry about.

– Solos can be dismantled by stun effects, or even slow effects that reduce their ability to move around. Stun or daze can ruin a solo’s day. Slowing or restraining might mean the solo remains a danger to melee characters, but ranged characters will yawn and fire away.

– Solos can sometimes stake their game on a single attack roll, and don’t do squat when they miss.

In fact, the only times I’ve ever seen a solo really challenge a party – both as a player and a DM – is when the solo is at least a few levels higher than the party.

How do I think this problem can be addressed? It’s a tough thing to make solos appropriately threatening without making them too powerful. Let’s consider the following points about solos versus a four monster encounter.

– The monsters can attack four times, or attack three times and buff once, et cetera. The solo probably doesn’t get to attack four times, or if it does, it’s on recharge or once per encounter.

– One or two of the monsters might be marked, but the others are free to harass healers, ranged attackers and flank the defender. The solo can’t flank with himself, he can’t be everywhere at once and, if he’s marked, he only screws himself by attacking anyone who isn’t the defender.

– The monsters can be spread throughout the initiative track, giving the characters something to think about when their turn comes up. Most solos only get one initiative, so players can really put them in the worst positions before their turn.

With each of these disadvantages, there are some abilities solos get to counter them, but usually it’s not enough. I do have some ideas to make things a little more effective.

For instance, solos’ attacks could be modified slightly. They could be mostly bursts and blasts, with the occasional attack power that lets them hit attack multiple people. Most importantly, if an attack is only going to hit a single target, it should do damage on a miss or have an effect.

However, while that might make the solo more effective, it doesn’t go far to make the fight more interesting.

Perhaps a solo fight could involve a big monster who can generate or empower minions. The minions could basically be an extension of the solo, representing the attacks and actions he should otherwise be getting. The minions don’t have to be zombies or guards – they could be mirror images or shadow doubles. Perhaps the wizard has mastered time and space and can appear in multiple places at once.

To make a solo much more interesting, though, I suggest a more active solo. The Dragon of Tyr has a nifty ability – he acts on four initiatives each turn. I think this is a really good way to make solos interesting. A big, brutish solo can act on multiple initiatives, perhaps only getting a standard on each of his initiatives. A quick assassin can have an opportunity action (triggered by being attacked, or an enemy moving adjacent) that gives her a chance to counterattack, or dodge an attack and shift away. In this way, the solo replicates the multiple attacks, multiple initiatives and multiple threats of the four monsters it replaced. It can also avoid stuns and dazes by losing only one of its multiple turns instead of all of them. I’m not sure whether or not it gets a save at the end of each of these turns, as that might make things too powerful. Honestly, I am currently in favor of getting multiple saves, just like multiple monsters get multiple saves, but remove the +5 bonus that solos normally get.

I think another piece of the puzzle for the “multiple action” solo is an ability that removes marks. It should not be automatic, as that is a sure way to frustrate the Hell out of the defender’s player. But, for instance, if the solo hits a target, the solo removes any mark from the target. Or, the solo gets a save at the beginning of its turn to remove any mark. In this way, the defender does not feel that marking is useless, but rather it’s just occasionally ineffective.

Solos can offer such an awesome encounter for the heroes to face down a villain, for the Big Bad to finally be confronted, and for the big dragon to be slain. However, the solos that exist, especially in the early books, make it a little too easy for that villain to be skunked by the player-characters. But with a little work, they can make for truly epic encounters.

Daemonic Update

When last we looked at my custom daemon prince, I had redone his head and a few details here and there.

The next step was to bulk up and detail his lower legs. Thanks to some bits from Scibor (who I am now pimping left and right in this blog), I had some nice boot fronts for him. I had to bulk the calves up with Green Stuff, and I had no real plan for how they would look when I started mixing the Green Stuff. I started to put some folds in and just went with what was happening. It is better to have a plan. But here’s how they came out:

It doesn’t look too bad, after some post-curing slicing and dicing. The nice part about Green Stuff is that it’s practically a carving medium after it cures. You could even carve details into it, if you were good at that sort of thing – I’m probably not. So, here’s a shot of the fronts, where I used the Scibor bits.

Again, Scibor is a great sculptor who does great bits. The details on the leg armor are generic enough that it works for a daemon prince just as well as a Space Marine Captain.

Next up were his arms and weapons. I liked the swords at first glance, and I thought I would just keep them. In all the time since I started this project, I decided they didn’t quite have the right look. A jeweler’s saw does the trick – a clean cut without losing a lot of metal.

The arms came out really nicely, and a little Green Stuff will add details, like the top and bottom of his fists. Then, I pinned and glued the arms onto him.

What’s great is that I’ve kept the cleft feet under the bulkier leg armor, and that his left arm will look fine without a weapon in it.

My next step is to find the right combination of bits and whatnots to give him a cool polearm or staff that he’s holding in his right arm, angled down towards his feet (so that it all fits nicely on a 40mm base). Then I add some wings to him and he’s all done!

On Competitiveness

Since this is a gaming blog, I thought I would talk a little bit about competitiveness and how it strikes a weird chord with me.

I don’t feel competitive most of the time, but when I do feel competitive, it annoys me and I become a bad loser. So I mostly don’t play competitive games. I like cooperative games, and never do I feel bad when losing if I’m losing with a team. So Arkham Horror and Castle Ravenloft are my favorite board games, and I love PvE World of Warcraft and I love team PvP World of Warcraft (if the team is my friends).

I don’t like playing Dungeons & Dragons as much if I feel like it’s “Us versus the Adventure” instead of “The players and the DM crafting a story,” although a tough Dungeon Master is often better than a pushover Dungeon Master. I prefer competitive games that evoke the idea of a story or fiction, or games where I can feel like a story is being told. Obviously, chess and poker don’t interest me very much.

Further, I don’t really want to play Magic or Warhammer 40k or Warmachine/Hordes against someone who’s crafted a deck or army to win games rather than a deck or army that is themed. Back when the Mechwarrior Clix game was… still existent… I used to play tournaments on weekends, and my armies were always based around the given theme for that week. I usually played against people whose armies only thinly followed the theme for that week – people who followed the theme just enough to be legal. That annoyed me.

I would rather both my opponent and I have well-crafted miniatures who we’ve named, who have little stories and fun customizations to suit the personalities we’ve made up, or who follow some comical or dramatic theme. Even if the armies aren’t well-crafted or storied, if we tell a story as we play the game, making up personalities and proclivities as we go along, giving little descriptions to go along with our die rolls, I’m much happier. Perhaps, in a way, I am just playing with Barbie dolls when I play miniatures, but my Barbie dolls have plasma cannons and they are blast weapons. Ken’s hair could not survive that.

In all of this, Magic: the Gathering deserves a lot of credit. Magic is actually set up mostly to win by playing themes. Your cards will have complementary abilities if you choose, for instance, a vampire deck or a rat deck or a goblin deck. Thus, I can easily be competitive (in the sense that my decks can win games) by indulging my urge to tell a story or set a scene with my choice of cards.

It’s important for me to talk about this, I realized, because I build my miniatures and play my games with this always at the forefront of my mind. If you read this blog, then you are going to come face to face with the fact that I’d rather have a sweet tank with poor stats than a powerhouse unit with boring models. Now, if I can achieve the best of both worlds through the art of conversion, more power to me.

More to come!

Cyclopean Footprints in the Sand

Darn! I had this sitting in the hopper for a while, and I forgot to publish it! This, of course, is based on the multitude of poems called “Footprints in the Sand,” but this is a different take…

Cyclopean Footprints in the Sand

In sleep, I dreamed a dream
of calming fantasy.
I walked beside my Lord
on sand along the sea.

The sky was bright, scenes of my life
were pictured there for me to see.
From birth until that fateful day
when troubled times confounded me.

Below each scene, etched in the sand
our footprints walked the dreamland shore.
Two sets, I saw, walked hand in hand
until the scenes of weeks before.

I thought my Lord had walked with me,
to hold my hand through darkest day.
But when my life was at its worst
it seemed that he had gone away.

I went unto my Lord and begged,
“My Lord, why did you disappear?
I vowed that I would follow you,
but in black days, you leave me here.”

But my dread Lord Cthulhu spoke,
“Fool mortal, I am he who sleeps!
Eternally I lie and watch.
Death touches not the shadowed deeps.”

He spoke once more in dreaming verse,
into my fragile brain.
Each syllable, a croaking curse,
that then drove me insane.

“Oh no, my mad apprentice, when your days were dark, I knew!
The single set of footprints is when I devoured you.”

Chuck Werner, 2010

We’re Back for Round 3!

Moving is done. Kinda. I mean, the basement is a shambles, but I have cleared and moved enough that I can work on minis again, and play games again!

Here’s where I picked up!

This is Tharsis the Grim (Tharsis being a big plateau on Mars). Tharsis is the Captain of the Second Company of my homebrew Space Marine Chapter, the Basilicans. I would describe Tharsis as dour and thorough. Tharsis likes firepower. Wait till you see his signature land raider.

Anyway, Tharsis is a resin sculpt from Scibor’s Monstrous. Expensive? Yes. But I fell in love with this mini when I saw it, and I cannot be denied little space men whom I love. Tharsis came with a sword and shield, but if you look at your Space Marine Captain entry – you have the codex handy, right? – you’ll see that doesn’t work with Terminator armor. But of course, you knew that. So, using a hammer from MaxMini (all the best bits come from Europe), I gave him the old Thunder Hammer and Storm Shield look. Here’s Tharsis first assembled:

Tharsis the Grim

Ah, Tharsis the Grim has the iconography of the Grim Reaper. Clever. So this is a great miniature, Scibor is a great sculptor, he runs a great web site full of great things, and this is all great. Two problems – first, possibly because I cleaned too aggressively, the left hand isn’t flush against the wrist. There’s a huge gap. Second, the hammer, which I drilled out and pinned, of course, doesn’t line up too well with the pole that the hand is holding. Actually, I pin everything, including the hand to wrist and arm to shoulder in this miniature.

Tharsis the Grim
Green stuff to the rescue!

Continue reading We’re Back for Round 3!