How to make lesser creatures scary


Advice


So, I recently had my first time GM-ing pathfinder. I sicked a 2 level 2 dwarves on a dozen goblins & a few hobgoblins. I liked playing around with multiple creatures, it was a bit more dynamic than a single creature & with certain bonuses (flanking namely) the CR 1/3 goblins were able to hold their own.

So that got me wondering, how to keep these low-CR creatures relevant/scary? What strategies work best for such creatures? Eventually they'll become irrelevant, but I want to make them scary for as long as possible. So how?

Ideas:
-Flanking (obviously)
-Better action economy
-Teamwork feats
-Aid another action
-Reliable "buffers" (like bards

As an example, how would I make a large squad of vegypygmies scary to a party at level 5-8?

1) Replace skill focus (perception) with outflank;
2) Include a "vegypygmy chieftain" with class levels in bard (and decent cha)
3) The excess of vegypygmies use "aid another" to help their allies.

So, any other ideas? How can we make these creatures more threatening?


Consumables. If your enemy can be expected to have 50 gold on it as treasure following encounter by level loot, give them an alchemist fire or tanglefoot bag or something. Getting pelted by 6 alchemical items gets very painful.

If they have healing potions, you can have them withdraw, drink, and then re-engage the party. This only works against characters that don't one-shot your mooks.


It can also be in your ability to richly describe them and what they're doing or about to do. Describe their lairs with rich detail (but do it concisely). Describe their actions. Gollum is NOT a powerful creature, but he is creepy, dangerous, and totally unpredictable. Even just a description of him physically could make a player (who'd never heard of him) take a second thought before jumping in sword first.


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Class levels. Just increasing the numbers isn't going to matter until you get into ludicrous amounts of enemies simultaneously.

Optimize them better as well. They're going to be showing up once, and then are going to be killed. Skill Focus: Profession is not something they need to have,

Better tactics are a given.


Ok, let's say I'm looking for ways that doesnt involve adding class levels to all participants. I can accept one powerful/smartly chosen chieftain, but the majority of base creatures (CR1/3 or 1/2) must stay the same.


If you have a module with 4 CR 1/3 monsters in a room, the fastest way to make them tougher is to flip a table over in front of them. BOOM they now have cover and can't be charged.


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Description of the monsters, setting and their behavior. Pretend you're writing a scene from a Stephen King novel. It's not the abilities or mechanics that make players feel creeped out, it's the images you put in their head.


Give them a ballista.

Put charred corpses where the ballista is aimed.

Let player imagination do the rest (make certain to write down the good ideas they come up with!).


Cubic Prism wrote:
Description of the monsters, setting and their behavior. Pretend you're writing a scene from a Stephen King novel. It's not the abilities or mechanics that make players feel creeped out, it's the images you put in their head.

This is also good. Often in retrospect, the best move for the players is to charge in with guns blazing and drop as many mooks as possible in the first round. If you can bluff your players into delaying, then you're making them eat ranged attacks, get flanked, give your mooks buff rounds, etc.

Dark Archive

Certain tactics can artificially buff up the threat level of an encounter.

If they low level foes have ranged attacks that can take out light sources, such as clumps of muck, or bladders filled with water suspended above the encounter area (that they can shoot and cause water to pour down and possibly extinguish mundane torches), then anyone without blind-fight or darkvision suddenly has a 50% miss chance on every attack. (Granted, the all dwarf group mentioned by the OP wouldn't be affected by this, but could if the light-source-fouling tactic was clouds of smoke.)

A small race can retreat into tight corridors that require medium sized foes to crouch, and slow their movement. With squeezing rules, they can even have tiny cracks in the walls that they can retreat past, hurling ammunition through the cracks, while medium sized foes are incapable of following them (they might even have circumstances designed to help with this tactic, such as slick oil, allowing them to slip through these cracks easier).

A race with any sort of climbing or swimming advantage could have a section of their lair / encounter area submerged, or strung with vines and nets, so that they can attack from underwater, or from the walls, out of melee range. A jungle area, or hugely overgrown ruin, could have areas from which attackers can hurl missiles, while still benefitting from partial cover, and remaining out of reach of melee attackers (or at least, upslope enough that it will take multiple rounds and some climb checks to get to them).

Special attacks, such as disarm or sunder, if successful, can seriously shut down a single powerful melee character, or even a spellcaster (if targeting something like a holy symbol or spell component pouch). Low level foes might have a very slim chance to succeed at such an attack, but if enough of them make the attempt, chances change from '1 in 20' to 'pretty much inevitable.'


Since others have commented on setting being a component in scary, I won't.

Some monsters that would add beef to the rolls would be ones that have aoe damage/auras. I just spend the past month and a half running dire corbies and troglodytes. Corbies have this cool leaping-pounce and a climb speed; these things can throw off players, but the monster itself has a low con... Troglodytes have a aura; I can't remember it's size, but if you extend it out to 30' you can negate archers' extra to hit/damage for being within 30'. It also negates a ranged rogue's sneak attack. Reefclaws could be fun, too, since they have a death spasm that they go into, as well as a strength damage poison. These three are relatively low CR monsters.

Quasits and imps could be fun, too, since they have that devilish (not in the subtype, but in the feeling) implication to them. Plus, if I'm not mistaken, some SLAs, fly, DR, fast healing all go a long way. Throw in a mephit, if that's your thing. You can have several of these low CR encounters provide a challenge to your players without having them be overly dangerous (save for a random crit). They're a pretty good resource drain if your caster expends spell slots for aoe's or your barbarian for rage, et cetera without being overwhelming. They're also a good way for parties to acclimate themselves to longer battles. Not every encounter will last only two rounds, and players should learn how to budget for a 1-3 minute combat.


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I can't believe I'm the first one to mention Tucker's kobolds.

"[W]e were cut off by kobold snipers who could split-move and fire, ducking back behind stones and corners after launching steel-tipped bolts and arrows, javelins, hand axes, and more flaming oil bottles. We ran into an unexplored section of Level One, taking damage all the time. It was then we discovered that these kobolds had honeycombed the first level with small tunnels to speed their movements. Kobold commandos were everywhere. All of our hirelings died. Most of our henchmen followed. We were next."

Intelligent tactics can work wonders for making monsters scary. Just putting a tripwire across the dungeon door will mess up the charging barbarian's day. Putting a tripwire just in front of a puddle of contact poison on the floor makes it that much more scary.

Throw mud or water buckets on their torches to extinguish them. Aww... poor human can't see in the dark? Smokesticks can have much the same effect.

Prepped ambush sites. Make a concealed panel in the wall from which they can pop out, or murder holes in the ceiling. Hang a net from the ceiling to drop on the party at an appropriate time.


A level of Sorcerer can let just about anybody do 1d4+1 damage per round. If you're strictly against adding levels try the advanced and fiendish templates. Maybe the plant people grew in fertilizer made of demon or devil manure (that's what I claim about my various fiendish fungi)

If you won't add templates either things could be tough, but you could try including lots of terrain obstacles and giving the mooks ranged attacks. If they concentrate fire on party members with weak defenses while the PCs struggle to get up steep, slick slopes or across chasms maybe the mooks will give somebody a scare.

If you're willing to go out on a limb I guess you could start including traps in combats. It is tough to kill mooks from the bottom of a pit, after all. You could also give the mooks access to special weapons like deadly puffballs which work like vials of acid or maybe contain a poison. In may games sometimes low CR "hellmonkeys" throw both the spiky dorian-like fruits of the "helltree" and the own caustic, poisonous excrement they generate after eating it. The helltrees are basically fiendish treants who carry around monkeys for ranged support and maybe swarm attacks.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32

williamoak wrote:
Ok, let's say I'm looking for ways that doesnt involve adding class levels to all participants. I can accept one powerful/smartly chosen chieftain, but the majority of base creatures (CR1/3 or 1/2) must stay the same.

Making a 1/3 CR creature threatening to a level 7 party is basically impossible: you have to make liberal use of flanking, aid-another, and large numbers of dice in order to hit at all. And a single fireball will end the fight in a hurry.

24 1/3 CR critters is theoretically CR 7, but that's too many doublings to actually work. I specifically recall a 3e era module I ran that tried to include a room chock-full o'zombies as a CR 6 (or so) encounter. No one enjoyed that encounter.

Having a single foe with class levels is a good approach, but you have to remember that it isn't a fight with 20 vegepygmies, made effective by the chief, but a fight against the chief, who happens to have minions in the room.

Another approach is to use the Troop rules from the Reign of Winter AP: basically the Swarm rules applied to larger creatures. If you treat 24 creatures as a single larger creature that has CR 7 stats, then you can make something threatening.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Cubic Prism wrote:
Description of the monsters, setting and their behavior. Pretend you're writing a scene from a Stephen King novel. It's not the abilities or mechanics that make players feel creeped out, it's the images you put in their head.

Easy trick: don't say "You see X goblins" Use the fluff text instead.

You see several "...creatures standing barely three feet tall, their scrawny, humanoid bodies dwarfed by their wide, ungainly heads"

Slap on a disease "covered in oozing festering sores and large pustules that burst in bloody fluidic sprays as it walks..."

An emotion "head cocked to one side as it makes a grin far too wide for its face, filled with jagged, stained teeth in your direction..."

and suddenly it doesn't sounds like a 3 foot tall functioning sociopaths hurling small rocks in your direction. Though I suppose that would apply to halflings too... :)

Of course the unknown works too like when in darkness.

"You cannot see what it is, but you hear liquid squelching footsteps come in your direction..."


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Three suggestions, all related, and a fourth slightly more contentious.

1. Metagame knowledge = a degree of familiarity which can interfere with 'engagement' within the gameworld. My suggestion? Vary monsters and make them specific to a locale. For example in one of my games the players had to go into the territory of a goblin tribe (the 'Night-Twisters') that were expert scouts and slingers (not much wood). The party wizard's spell selection certainly reflected his worries about missile weapon ambushes. As they say in chess: 'The threat can be worse than the execution' but the party had to consider their tactics against of all things Goblins.

2. Territory. Defenders will frequently use adaptations to the physical environment to give themselves advantages over attackers. In the goblin tribe example their lair was a series of caves with dry stone walls providing cover and higher goblins dropping heavier rocks down as the pcs progressed up a winding path. A really tough fight again against mere goblins (and their dogs).

3. Give a significant character of the leader of the baddies, give them their own character and persona. This is done well in some game modules but it makes their demise a bigger goal than it may actually be, especially if the pcs have been getting frustrated by earlier tactics.

4. Bad guys can do their homework too. They may also be able to buy stuff. What do they do in between waiting for pcs to visit? If there is a vendetta going on then a creative use of various tactics will 'unsettle' the pcs (e.g. framing them for a crime), motivate them and and make them have to deal with problems in ways other than combat.

Sure you know a lot of this already though, but thought I'd chip in.


At higher levels, I like the idea of creating 'swarms' of goblins, zombies or vegypygmies. I find that's an effective way of boosting large groups of creatures who might otherwise not be a threat.

Silver Crusade

I usually have enemies just fight smarter, three level 1 orc fighters and five behind cover taking potshots with bows can create a pretty deadly crossfire, especially when they target the cleric.
Or more often, throw the weaker foes at players when they are weakened, low on spells, potions, ect.

Liberty's Edge

There was a creature from 3.5 fiend folio called the legion devil, it was a CR 3 creature that gained a +4 on attack rolls for each legion devil with 100 Ft of it. Makes a low CR enemy pretty useful if only for combat maneuvers since his damage will still be terrible. have three of those disarm the players and some other enemies attack with bows.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Alchemists fire is great in this situation. Not a ton of damage each, but they add up, are against touch ac, and splash for 1 even on a miss (depending on range increment, of course). They can throw other things too, or use low level magic items.

Level 1 of adept might not actually raise a creature's cr because of how advancing monsters works. That gives you some notable utility spells or even healing for the boss. Use obscuring mist around the field and protection from good on the boss.

Aid other is really great for a cr 1/ 3 creature to use. Or have them surround the party wizard and ready attacks for when he casts a spell.


It might be weird, but you could 'reskin' a similar humanoid monster to become a super-goblin or whichever creature you wish. Explain that the chieftan cast a spell to make them much more deadly. Add in class levels to bump them up and keep them relevant (Fighter levels are super simple to add to any creature.)


You are asking how to keep them a relevant threat? Increase their HD and let them have level appropriate equipment. If you want them to be more "scarey" then what you need to do is work on your narrative abilities to make they get a fitting entrance into the story. There's nothing to be lost by implanting a bit of fear into the minds of your players, especially if the monster is no more deadly despite your narration. By extension the characters will be a little afraid too. Jason Buhlmahn is really good at this.

Grand Lodge

In additional to the other excellent suggestions above, give some of the goblins a reach weapon. Suddenly the second rank gets to attack. Suddenly the goblins are getting AoOs versus the PCs. Suddenly the goblins are flanking, where they were not before. There's a reason pike formations were so common before the age of gunpowder.

This falls under 'have them use better tactics'.


Try making a few random schlubs use nets and watch the carnage.

Liberty's Edge

The Shackled City Adventure Path had rules for running lots of small creatures as something effectively like a swarm. It was called the "Mob" template. My player's hated them from a fluff standpoint, but they did effectively make lesser creatures more frightening.


I'll give +1 to consumables... Let the ranged gobbies have wands of magic missile after they miss 2 or 3 rounds with their bows... Use the right feats (outflank and gangup are nice) seriously consider giving the mooks a few levels of worrior (no need for pc classes) hit and run tactics perhaps with an illusion to trick the party into using their buffs to early...

Scarab Sages

I'm a big fan of giving Goblins Fire Hand and Burn, Burn, Burn!.


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Orfamay Quest wrote:

I can't believe I'm the first one to mention Tucker's kobolds.

"[W]e were cut off by kobold snipers who could split-move and fire, ducking back behind stones and corners after launching steel-tipped bolts and arrows, javelins, hand axes, and more flaming oil bottles. We ran into an unexplored section of Level One, taking damage all the time. It was then we discovered that these kobolds had honeycombed the first level with small tunnels to speed their movements. Kobold commandos were everywhere. All of our hirelings died. Most of our henchmen followed. We were next."

Intelligent tactics can work wonders for making monsters scary. Just putting a tripwire across the dungeon door will mess up the charging barbarian's day. Putting a tripwire just in front of a puddle of contact poison on the floor makes it that much more scary.

Throw mud or water buckets on their torches to extinguish them. Aww... poor human can't see in the dark? Smokesticks can have much the same effect.

Prepped ambush sites. Make a concealed panel in the wall from which they can pop out, or murder holes in the ceiling. Hang a net from the ceiling to drop on the party at an appropriate time.

For my own hilarity, I ran the Crown of the Kobold King as a tuckers kobolds adventure. My favorite hilight was having the PCs all charge into a large room chasing 3 fleeing kobolds (having learned that fleeing kobolds come back with reinforcements already) and screeching to a halt in front of row after row of upturned tables and cots (I was using this room as staging and triage for the kobolds. There were about 25 of them bottled up in here passing around a cure light wounds wand and organizing into new skirmish groups). It was on this day that I uttered my most memorable GM quote.

"Give me your D20s. All of them."

The javalin barrage from behind cover didn't kill the party, but many hps were lost and the party fled to regoup.


Lots of interesting stuff. Keep it coming!


bfobar wrote:
Orfamay Quest wrote:

I can't believe I'm the first one to mention Tucker's kobolds.

"[W]e were cut off by kobold snipers who could split-move and fire, ducking back behind stones and corners after launching steel-tipped bolts and arrows, javelins, hand axes, and more flaming oil bottles. We ran into an unexplored section of Level One, taking damage all the time. It was then we discovered that these kobolds had honeycombed the first level with small tunnels to speed their movements. Kobold commandos were everywhere. All of our hirelings died. Most of our henchmen followed. We were next."

Intelligent tactics can work wonders for making monsters scary. Just putting a tripwire across the dungeon door will mess up the charging barbarian's day. Putting a tripwire just in front of a puddle of contact poison on the floor makes it that much more scary.

Throw mud or water buckets on their torches to extinguish them. Aww... poor human can't see in the dark? Smokesticks can have much the same effect.

Prepped ambush sites. Make a concealed panel in the wall from which they can pop out, or murder holes in the ceiling. Hang a net from the ceiling to drop on the party at an appropriate time.

For my own hilarity, I ran the Crown of the Kobold King as a tuckers kobolds adventure. My favorite hilight was having the PCs all charge into a large room chasing 3 fleeing kobolds (having learned that fleeing kobolds come back with reinforcements already) and screeching to a halt in front of row after row of upturned tables and cots (I was using this room as staging and triage for the kobolds. There were about 25 of them bottled up in here passing around a cure light wounds wand and organizing into new skirmish groups). It was on this day that I uttered my most memorable GM quote.

"Give me your D20s. All of them."

The javalin barrage from behind cover didn't kill the party, but many hps were lost and the party fled to regoup.

Nice. Love seeing stuff like this.


"They have a cave troll" - Boromir

A great session from 3.0 included "They have a ballista" while fighting bandit mooks.

And with the rise of the gunslinger I'm waiting for a chance to have some kobolds turn a cannon on the party.

Lastly, give mooks sites, picks, and crossbows, the high critical is frightening.


1) Traps, traps and more traps.

2) The goblin tribe's shaman performed a dark ritual on the night before. To the heroic party's surprise, all the goblins have had their movement speed doubled.

3) Goblin suicide bombers. When used in combination with number two, things could get pretty scary.


Caltrops. No shield, armour or deflection bonuses, reduce movement and breaks a charge.

How to leave a charging fighter in the middle of a firing zone.

http://www.d20pfsrd.com/equipment---final/weapons/weapon-and-armor-accessor ies#TOC-Caltrops


I think I cribbed this list from a dragon magazine artcle, about orcs but goblins work just as well.

Mounted on monsters (take your pick)
Throw a skunk at party
Roll boulders down hill at PCs
A non goblin ally leads the PCs into an to ambush
Wave torches at mounts to spook them
Dig pits in the area of the ambush
Nets slug in the trees
Lots of Goblin bowman at very long range
Ravine high advantage and cover
Hidden spears set for a charge
Grease has been spread on ground
Throw sacks of pepper, alchemists fire, vials of acid, or universal solvent.
All the goblins have poisoned weapons or other cursed weapons
Sneak in at night while party sleeps
Wear out a party over several days with hit and run tactics don’t let the party sleep.
A number of goblins dress up like other monster (worse have prisoners dressed up like this)
Hostage children used as shields
Pet monster
Feign an attack on non-goblin allies
Tripwires in the underbrush
Bows fire then back away,
Muddy ground soaked with oil, then set on fire
Goblin with class levels
Drugged wine is left for the PCs
Green leaves on goblin cookpot fires makes dense smoke downwind of the camp
Non-goblin allies or just Hired Mercenaries to fight the party
Goblins are concealed in water, breathing through reeds, leap out of the water (surprise)!
Change up the goblin feats to give them a new trick or two
Use large weapons two-handed which deal more dmg
Cause an Avalanche over a mountain trail
Doctored a spring with a sweet tasting drug
Goblin Dogs (or other monster) to serve as guardians and trackers
Goblins have aerial support from goblins mounted on flying creatures like giant wasps
Goblins use flaming arrows
Shield wall with Tower shields
Palisade must cross grants cover
Goblins arches firing from a boat in a nearby river or lake
Goblins scatter caltrops
Logs soaked with flaming tar are rolled down hills at the Pcs
Sacks filled with angry snakes are tossed into the PCs camp at night
Dismounting rope across the path of retreat to get mounted pursuers.
The Goblins have spread bear traps throughout the underbrush
An eathen cave underneath the trail they collapse it deep pit with loose earthen walls (that may collapse)
Off handed weapon use
Clad in rusty but functional plate mail
Goblink bowmen on a grove atop the nearby hill each archer has a stuffed dummy next to him
The goblins have a mascot templated Creature be creative.
Bull roarers that make horses nervous
Grappeling Goblins no fencing with them (or other combat maneuver like feint)
catapult in the brush on a mountain?
Ditch filled with tar then set on fire to form a barrier
A non-goblin ally with pigsblood and dressed as a merchant concealed poison dagger
dark rainy night cuts down on torches
A non-goblin ally joints the party! (a traitor)
Climb trees firing from the safety of high branch
Brush and forest fire in dry weather
War Wagon arrow slits and wet hides
Trap of a flaming barricade and the goblins fire over it with bows
A false treasure map lures victims into an ambush
the goblins cause herd animals to stampede in the party (cattle, elephants, dinosaurs!)
Twice as many goblins as PCs they fight in pairs one all out defense the other attacking (Teamwork feats)

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