Challenge High Level PCs With A Quick Reskin

How do we challenge powerful player characters?

Roleplaying Tips GM Scott has a tip for us on reskinning monsters and their context to give tough PCs a good run for their gold pieces.

Hi Johnn,

I have run several adventure path campaigns (The Age of Worms, Way of the Wicked, Rise of the Runelords, and now my own homebrew setting) from level 1 to 20+, and I’ve learned some things along the way.

A couple things I do with high level PCs is apply templates to monsters to make them more powerful. At 15th level, the PCs aren’t hunting any old hydra in the swamp, they’re stalking a legendary creature — a fiendish, half-dragon, pyrohydra necromancer.

And they aren’t hunting it in any old swamp. Old ‘twelve tongues’ makes his lair in a demiplane known as ‘death by disease.’

And his minions aren’t zombies and skeletons, they are disease ridden zombie giants, skeletal champion dragons, and advanced, triple hit die, regenerating mummies.

By applying templates to monsters you can use some normal-ish monsters in new ways. I do this instead of giving them better gear because it can be game-breaking when the PCs get that gear.

And changing the monster’s stats and abilities makes them new and different, keeping the players on their toes.

Is that a chimera approaching, or a chimera that has 10 levels of barbarian for its goat head, 10 levels of druid for its lion head, and 10 levels of sorcerer for its dragon head?

It’s a 30 hit die monster that only hits like three 10th level enemies, so it’s balanced and fair, but it’s also challenging and interesting, especially if you invest the time to explain how it came to become what it is and why it’s ravaging the countryside.

Triple the awesome.

Thanks for the great tip, Scott. I especially like the thinking around increasing the challenge without upsetting game balance.

For GMs of non-D&D type systems, you might look at combining monsters. Check out the special qualities of foe types and create hybrids to hack a template together.

If combat is not your thing, pay special attention to roleplaying and skill features in your game. For example, you might give your foe supernatural charm. Or maybe you borrow from another game system and give the foe a Doom Dice Pool for skill tests.

Also, as per some great advice I received from GM Vasili Arkhipov, at high level consider boss fights just a means to a greater, roleplaying-centric climax….

No longer is the game focused on the treasure horde in the monster lair. Instead, it’s epic stakes to thwart the army, cut the evil god’s earthly energy conduit, or prove to the King your plan to save

the kingdom is sound.

Also, as per some great advice I received from GM Vasili Arkhipov, at high level consider boss fights just a means to a greater, roleplaying-centric climax.

No longer is the game focused on the treasure horde in the monster lair. Instead, it’s epic stakes to thwart the army, cut the evil god’s earthly energy conduit, or prove to the King your plan to save the kingdom is sound.