Solo monsters and the way they play in D&D 4e have been on my mind lately. First, I ran a small set of encounters that culminated in the party coming face-to-face with an Orium Dragon. Second, I was throwing ideas back and forth with David Flor about the notion that solo monsters could possible be given more standard actions to make them more epic foes. Third, I’ve played through the first third of the videogame, Bayonetta. Trust me, the last point will tie into my thoughts on solo monsters!
First, the battle with the Orium Dragon was meant to be a challenge for the party, and it turned out well enough, but the dragon did not seem cool enough. Part of the issue was we only had four players that night, so I had to scale down the creature a bit. But overall, the dragon seemed to be limited to the breath weapon and the Draconic Fury, which basically gives the dragon three Standard Actions (2 Claw, 1 Gore attacks). Draconic Fury is a nice attack the first round or two, but the dragon does not have many other options if it’s breath is spent. PCs attack, dragon attacks with Draconic Fury, rinse and repeat. At least for me, the battle felt stale after a couple of rounds. There was likely more drama for the players because several PCs were dying at various points in the battle, but in terms of playing the dragon, it wasn’t as entertaining as I thought it would be.
After that, I was thinking about the next time my group runs into a solo creature and how I could make it more entertaining for them and for me. Between getting Monster Manual 3 in the mail and having some discussions online, I started to think about solos in a new way. Yes, they are a big, bad monster, but they should feel different from the monsters I play as a DM each week. Besides the extra hit points and high-damage attacks, playing a solo should just feel different. I thought about granting solo monsters more standard actions, and that idea seems to have merit. Around this time, I started to play Bayonetta – and strangely enough – that is when something clicked in my brain.
I realize Bayonetta is an “old game” by today’s standards. Between work, spending time with my wife and the two D&D campaigns I’m in, my videogame time is pretty limited compared to my college years. I space out games over time, and switch between genres so playing the games do not get repetitive. For instance, in recent months I played Madden while walking on the treadmill; a couple of mindless franchise seasons that fit well into a 45-minute walk. Before, and after, I played Dragon Age: Origins on my laptop (on the lowest possible settings! I’m still surprised it ran), which was a sprawling game that took me about 80 hours to complete. After that, I bought Heavy Rain, Bioshock and Bayonetta pre-owned at Gamestop. I really dislike doing this because I’m a firm believer in intellectual property and the creators do not get a slice of the secondary market, but getting three games for $50 is too good to pass up.
Heavy Rain was a very intriguing “game” and a nice change of pace from Dragon Age: Origins. However, after sitting through many a cut scene and gameplay right out of the old Dragon’s Lair stand-up machines, I wanted a hack-and-slash experience. So I popped in Bayonetta. And holy hell, the game is bizarrely insane and entertaining!
Granted, I’m only a third of the way through, but it’s basically God of War mixed in a blender with about four or five different genres of exploitation films. Throw in a knockoff of The Baroness from G.I. Joe, and you have a very fun game. While playing last night and raining death on angels (really), I had the thought, “What if you turned Bayonetta into a 4e solo monster?”
And then I got to work. I do not understand the full backstory of Bayonetta quite yet (the game is not really explanatory all the time), but the gist is that she is an Umbra Witch that is sent from Hell to destroy angels. She does this with her punches, kicks, guns attached to her arms and legs (yup, really) and an assortment of weapons she can buy from a dude named Rodin or pick up from fallen enemies. She can dish out absurd combinations of punches, kicks and weapon attacks, which climax in a huge witch attack. And where does she harness all of this witch power?
So, yeah, the game is freaky.
I set upon wrapping my head how Bayonetta would translate into a D&D 4e setting. That fact that she is a witch fits rather well, but I had to do away with her guns. Her power is in combinations and building up momentum to unleash more vicious attacks. She can slow down time by dodging incoming attacks at the last second; while time is slowed, she can attack foes before they can respond. I just unlocked an ability that allows her to gain a small amount of health if she taunts her foes while in combat.
By the end of the game, I might realize she is too low of a level, but mid-Paragon felt right for now. Check out the stat block, and let me know what you think!
I think Bayonetta would be a BLAST to play as a DM. Every round, you are bouncing around the battlefield, attacking one, two, three or more enemies each round, and possibly completing a combination attack with one of two magical attacks that automatically hit. One round against Bayonetta and your players may be thinking or saying, “Holy shit, what the hell just happened?!”
I may not have the defenses and hit points exactly where they need to be. I used MasterPlan to build the stat block and templates from Monster Manual 3. I know my group reads this blog, but they are only Level 10 (and have nothing to worry about . . . for now).
And you could do similar things with other videogame stars. Kratos, indeed! If you use this monster as in or reskinned a bit, then let me know how it plays. I believe the “combo” system I used in the stat block could be an interesting design options for solos moving forward.
* Of course, Bayonetta is a character that has copyrights, and I completely respect those. I am just using this character as an example. Same with the D&D Stat Block design.