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.