How To Create An Interesting Solo In 10 Seconds

The idea for this post grew out of a desire to use the alien miniature I talked about a few weeks ago in the Gamma World game I’m running. Before you click away because this is “another Gamma World article,” you need to know that, while the application (for me) was a Gamma World one, the theory sits squarely on the engine that runs both D&D and Gamma World. In other words, you can use this idea in your D&D game, too.

So, let’s first look at the question, what is a Solo? There are a few traits that spring to mind, all of which are obvious when looking at a Solo stat block. They have a LOT of hit points compared to other monsters of their level. About five times, in fact. They generally have a larger complement of powers than other monsters, in order to make the fight interesting. They also usually have a way to compensate for being one monster against 5 or 6 adventurers – this generally takes the form of either multiple attacks on their turn, or more than one initiative count, plus an action point (or, in Gamma World, the “Elite Action” power). Here’s the thing about solos that the stat blocks only hint at: a fight with a solo is supposed to be memorable. It isn’t supposed to be a slogfest where the players slowly but surely chip away at the monster’s huge pile of hit points while the monster pounds back.

Now, what if I told you that you could make a brand new Solo monster (I’m not talking about reskinning and existing solo), that your players would have a blast with, that is stupid easy to run, and that you could do it in 10 seconds? Intrigued? Of course you are.

Here’s the secret: layer two monsters to make your solo. And here’s how I did it in my Gamma World game:

As I mentioned above, I was looking for a way to incorporate my cool new alien miniature in the game, and I also wanted to use the little egg that the toy came in as a miniature “escape pod” type UFO. I also wanted the fight to be memorable; like a fight with a Solo. In trying to figure out how the whole “alien in a UFO” would work, and not wanting to fiddle with vehicle rules, I decided to simply use a monster stat block for the UFO. Specifically, I used the Laserbot on page 157 of the core book. It has a couple of attacks, a fly speed, and is a machine-type monster of the appropriate level. Then I leveled down a Thuu Marth from Legion of Gold for the alien driver.* Finally, I doubled the hit points of both my “UFO” and Thuu Marth. But how would the UFO and the alien work in tandem? Did I have two monsters on my hands or one? The answer is quite simple. The alien and the UFO were, in essence, one monster. The PCs couldn’t harm the alien while he was in the protective shell of his ship. Once the “ship” (Laserbot) was out of hit points, it crashed, and the alien emerged as a new threat.
(*Leveling a monster up or down will increase Solo creation time beyond 10 seconds, but not by much)

The end result was a Solo fight in which the monster turned from one thing into something completely different once it was “bloodied.” This took the concept of a Solo fight, and kicked it up a notch. Bottom line? Next time you need an interesting Solo on the fly, don’t reskin another Solo. Instead, grab two monsters, double each of their hit points, and stack them on top of each other. When the first one is dead, the second appears as a new and totally different threat. It keeps the Solo fight from turning into a slugfest, and makes it memorable. Here are a few of the finer points of this technique:

  • I realize that most Solos have 5x hit points. This is because it’s supposed to be “a party’s worth” of monsters, and a party is 4-6 PCs. To make a true Solo, feel free to triple one monster’s hit points and double the other’s. If you want a fast ending once the second monster emerges, triple the first. If you want a quick emergence of the second monster, triple the second’s. On the other hand, you could instead multiply the hit points by whatever the size of the party is.
  • Many monsters have powers and recharges that key off of being “bloodied.” Use each monster’s separate “true” bloodied value in these instances (1/2 HP) as opposed to 1/2 HP for the entire “doubled up” monster. That way, each monster gets its special attacks, bonuses, and recharges.
  • Like any other solo, you may need to compensate for the fact that the fight is 5 on 1. Since normal monsters don’t have the large complement of powers that Solos do, you’ll have to resort to giving the monster two initiative counts. Once they kill the first half of the monster, drop it down to only one initiative count (or not). Also, give your monter an action point.
  • Be prepared (and flexible) for creative players who try and separate the monsters. In my game, one of the players dominated the ship, and then asked me if there was “an ejection mechanism.” They were able to get the ship to eject the alien, but I reunited the two as soon as I possibly could.

Ok, so I had a great example of an alien in a UFO as a layered Solo, but how would that work in a D&D game? Monsters don’t drive around in spaceships in traditional D&D (Barrier Peaks notwithstanding). Here are a few ideas for implementing this in a fantasy setting:

  • Layer an elemental (or ooze) on top of a spellcaster. In fluff terms, the spellcaster is flying/swimming/moving around in a protective elemental shell. The PCs need to destroy the shell to get to the spellcaster inside.
  • A evil gnome tinkerer who has created a mechanical suit to move around in. This would be a construct layered on top of your villan.
  • And the wild card: simple transformation. The PCs corner the campaign villan (or any monster, really), and he drinks a potion (or simply transforms). The potion turns him into insert monster here. Once he’s taken a certain amount of damage (mechanically, the first monster is killed), he turns back into himself, and the PCs must face “the original” him. This is quite simply whatever monster you want to layer on top of another one.

What two monsters would you layer together to make a new solo?

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10 Responses to How To Create An Interesting Solo In 10 Seconds

  1. Derrick says:

    Love this idea! My group is fighting the BBEG next week, i’m going to redo him like this, have him go from ranged & harassing to melee in your face. Thanks for the idea!

  2. Jeremy says:

    Awesome idea! I design my own solos a lot. Next time I need a solo I will see what I can come up with using this technique! Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work (especially the crafting/hirst arts articles)!

  3. Sean says:

    This idea works well with having a rider mount situation i think. I am about to run an encounter with a dwarf bolter and an earthquake dragon appropriately adjusted to the parties level, with double hit points for both.

    • Benoit says:

      Yes, it would work fine with a mount and rider. The only problem being PCs who want to target the rider instead of the mount. I think that problem is solveable, but you need to consider how you’ll handle it ahead of time.

  4. SirNight says:

    What might even be done is to switch between the two monsters as a minor action (a good way to deal with shapeshifters). When the doppelganger shifts from dragon to displacer beast, it’s easy to tell that the wizard’s burns stay on the displacer despite not existing on the dragon. This might even lead to a whole new type of monster, which reminds me of Parasite X from Metroid Fusion.

    • Benoit says:

      That’s a great idea! That way you could adapt the monster to the changing fight. If the PCs are staying away, you could switch to your “artillery monster,” and if the PCs surround it in close melee, you can switch to your “brute monster.”

  5. ExtendedRest says:

    I have to say, this is a really cool idea. It didn’t get lost in all the #dndnext material!

    I like the idea of the transforming Solo. I may try and tweak this for my next big solo fight. I’m going to use a Drow Shadowblade with an Ancient Ghost bound inside. So once the body is killed the possessing spirit is released and begins dominating the party. Pretty different feel once one part ends and the other kicks in. Could prove pretty awesome.

    Thanks for the idea!

  6. Jan says:

    Wow, that’s an awesome idea and it’s a really neat and simple way to add fluff to the game, if you do it right. I don’t use Solos that often but this is a reason to do it more often.

    The first idea that springs to my mind, where I could use it is for monster that have been able to “swallow whole” in 3e. You kill the “outer monster” and then something emerges from within. But I can’t come up with a good fluff for that. Maybe you are searching for the inner monster, learn it got swallowed, but you don’t need it to be dead, but need something from it (it’s fang, magic ring). Maybe it became undead, a spirit or something while being digested.

  7. Kachbourr says:

    I did something a lot like this in a simple goblin dungeon crawl. The goblin chieftain simply changed fighting styles when he realized he was getting his ass kicked–I actually gave him two separate bloodied states so that at first he was a controller type trying to spread damage out, then an evasive skirmisher tossing javelins like mad, and finally a bruiser trying to down the weakest PCs.

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