There are probably not a lot of Dungeons & Dragons players that are familiar with the Gelugon, one of the fearsome denizens of the Outer Planes and inhabitants of the eighth level of Baator, a frozen hellscape called Caina. They are second in power to the mighty Pit Fiends that rule Baator and as such should be considered among the most terrifying monsters in the game. Today my players came face to face with one of them and it was a terrific three rounds of frustration followed by the first mass retreat this party has ever partaken in. Yup, they done went and ran away. Honestly it was the smart move. Gelugons are not to be trifled with.
Along the way we had a delightful time making references to “Frozen” and mocking the ranger’s attempt to determine if there was even any gold in this alleged gold mine. And the first level mage, a character class noted for being notoriously weak. This delightfully pathetic fellow has all of four hit points, meaning that anything more stern than a playful sneeze could cripple or kill him. Guess who took the lead in provoking the Gelugon into revealing its true nature and initiating combat? If you guessed the first level mage then you would be correct. The fun ended quickly enough for our intrepid wizard because in its true form a Gelugon inspires fear such that lower level characters have to flee. So off ran the mage and the only Non-Player Character that tagged along this time.
That left four characters to face the Gelugon. A druid, a ranger, a paladin, and a fighter. This wasn’t going to end well. They managed to complete two rounds before realizing that while all but the druid had terrific armor and weren’t getting messily savaged by the demon, the Gelugon was more difficult to hit than they were. And the wounds they were able to inflict on the Gelugon were healing at an alarming rate. Round three was all about fleeing before the Gelugon started rolling higher attack rolls and got somebody slaughtered. Amazingly enough they succeeded.
So there you have it. A Game Master can throw all sorts of things at their group and nobody gets upset, killed, or even heavily mauled. Let the story be the driver. This isn’t just a chance to flex your dice and get the group massacred. Give them some memories and have fun. Not everything can be tackled easily and players need to know that. But not every tough monster has to kill somebody to prove how tough they are.