Make balrogs great again!

At my last ACKS campaign session, I had a balrog (or balor, Type VI, Demon of the 6th Circle, etc) smash its way in through the windows at a dramatic moment. It was supposed to be a nice climax to the session. Instead, the balrog went down in a couple rounds like a chump without accomplishing much.

I feel like the ACKS implementation of most of the demon types (via Dwimmermount) is underwhelming, but this is especially true of the top-tier caster types. There are a few reasons for this, some of which affect other monster types but really combine to nerf balors hard:

  1. No magic resistance. ACKS nominally has this, but almost never uses it except for clay golems and a couple other things. (Why?)
  2. ACKS has no official psionics system. Balors were originally very skilled in psionics.
  3. Gate summoning has been limited to once per day. This means that the high-summon-chance commander-type demons are relatively weakened compared to the footsoldier types.
  4. The ACKS balor in particular is based off the MM version, which is a bit gimped relative to the original Eldritch Wizardry one (i.e., saving throw F9 instead of F12).
  5. ACKS has no pyrotechnics spell. Balrogs are intended to be fire demons, but the ACKS version has no actual fire abilities! 
  6. No at-will darkness 10' ability for balors. Since Dwimmermount usually gives this to the other demon types, I think this might be an accidental omission.

Would it be a bad idea to put the magic resistance back in? I feel like this is an intentional design choice for lots of ACKS monster conversions, and I'm wondering the consquences of reversing it. I'm also debating about relaxing the gate restrictions to allow multiple attempts. I feel like archdemons that can keep summoning an entire squad of other fiends is something uniquely scary. ("And a greater demon appears, and a greater demon appears, and a greater demon appears...")

I've already boosted some of the other stats a bit in my database, to make my balrogs feel more like classic Tolkienesque ultra-fiends. I think I'll retcon the thing from last month as a "lesser balrog", and not the boss I had been planning to use for the last couple years.

Having looked at their Dwimmermount stats, personally, I’d be inclined to just take Lairs and Encounters in hand and start from scratch.

When my players were rolling through the level of Dwimmermount with all the demons (I think Marilith was one of the tougher ones - level 5?) their only chance at hitting the insane high AC was with magic missile spells; magic resistance is fiddly for a BX style of play.  I would add the fire and darkness abilities, perhaps a fire aura effect, and loosen the gate restrictions for a 'boss encounter'.

I think I'm missing important context, here. Why did the demonic general with an inhuman intellect attack head on with no plan beyond "Balor SMASH!" and no minions or backup? Was it an act of desperation? Or did it genuinely think the adventurers were less powerful than they proved to be?

Probably the latter, I'm guessing... In which case, if your goal was to show how terrifying a balor is, giving it a large group of terrified 0-level soldiers and villagers without magic weaponry to decimate can work wonders. If you want to play up the 'fiendish mastermind' aspect, then you need to show it being in charge; Maybe commanding hordes of demons from afar, or having minions gibber the balor's name in terror as they pour forth in unending waves long before the party meets it in the flesh.

To be clear, the ACKS Dwimmermount stats are Dwimmermount stats, converted to ACKS. My priority in Dwimmermount was to embody, as best I could, the vision of Dwimmermount, not necessarily impose my tastes on everything. So the demons in ACKS Dwimmermount don't necessarily represent what demons would be in the Auran Empire setting nor what they would be if built using Lairs & Encounters, nor do they match what demons will be in Heroic Companion.

So I would say you should feel free to Make Balrogs Great Again however you'd like!

I've been thinking that the best approach would be to give them some dragon-style special abilities that would randomly rotate, so that they would each feel unique. Maybe as a short list, any two of the following:

  • Magic resistance of 5+HD
  • Flame walk: wall of flame springs up spontaneously from fiery footprints, lasts for the next round
  • Psychic blast: forward cone that stuns victims, save vs Paralysis to negate
  • Extra summoning: can use 3/turn, all return to the Void at end of combat
  • Improved whip attack: 4d6 fire damage instead of 3d6, can attack with both whip and sword together (as original Eldritch Wizardry version)
  • Slime form: can shift upon entering water, gains aquatic movement equal to flight, whip loses fire damage but can be used for combat maneuvers as a normal whip with no penalty to hit
  • Illusion of virtue: appears as a human or even angelic figure normally, fiendish aspect is only revealed when angered or during battle

I hadn't thought about demons and devils in ACKS or BECMI before, but now that you bring this up, I think I will give them magic spell casting abilities equal to their HD, most likely with a focus on spells that do fire or cold damage, and necromantic spells.

Once thing I have done is use spell level immunity instead of magic resistance.  AD&D's MR is pretty complicated, and frustrating.  For example, I never appreciated having a paladin with a 50% MR holy sword that never stopped a damn thing in BG2.  So, instead I give powerful, magical monsters immunity to all spells up to a certain level - for a high-HD demon that would probably be immunity for 1-7th level spells.

On a semi-related note, I am currently working on a monster for ACKS Heroic Companion called the Báleygr (Old Jutlandic for “flaming-eyed”), dreadful demons of flame and shadow, resembling 12’ tall iron-skinned minotaurs with fiery eyes and stunted black wings.

Báleygr rejoice in war and bloodshed, and typically carry giant-sized weapons of black metal in each hand, favoring swords, axes, maces, and whips. Some sages believe that the báleygr were once guardians of the Elemental Sphere of Fire, and that they were turned to darkness by Bel, called the Slaughterprince, the Chthonic god of battle. Others claim they are born of the hates and fears of men, and grow stronger as the world descends into chaos. Whatever their origins, báleygr are fearsome foes who bring ruin to any that stand against them....

Hey gang - here's a write-up of a more Tolkienesque monster I created for the Heroic Fantasy Companion. As you'll see, I took it in a very different direction than the traditional 1e AD&D Balor.


  • % In Lair:              35%
  • Dungeon Enc:       Solitary (1) / Fist (1d4)
  • Wilderness Enc:    Fist (1d4) / Legion (2d4 Fists)
  • Alignment:            Chaotic
  • Movement:           120’ (40’)
  • Armor Class:         10
  • Hit Dice:               12****
  • Attacks:                1 (weapon or whip)
  • Damage:               4d6/2d6, drag
  • Save:                    F12
  • Morale:                 +4
  • Treasure Type:      N x2 (per báleygr)
  • XP:                      4,800

Báleygr (Old Jutlandic for “flaming-eyed”) are dreadful demons of smoke and flame, resembling 12’ tall iron-skinned minotaurs with fiery eyes and stunted black wings. Báleygr rejoice in war and bloodshed, and typically carry giant-sized weapons of black metal in each hand, favoring a sword, axe, or mace in one hand and a whip in the other. Some sages believe that the báleygr were once guardians of the Elemental Sphere of Fire, and that they were turned to darkness by Bel, called the Slaughterprince, the Chthonic god of battle. Others claim they are born of the hates and fears of men, and grow stronger as the world descends into chaos. Whatever their origins, báleygr are fearsome foes who bring ruin to any that stand against them.

At will, a báleygr can surrounded itself with an aura of elemental fire and/or shrouding smoke. When the báleygr’s aura of elemental fire is active, creatures within 25’ of the báleygr take 1d8 points of fire damage if they begin their initiative in its aura, or move into it on their initiative. When its aura of shrouding smoke is active, the báleygr is hidden by the smoke and any creatures within 25’ of it are blinded, unless able to see invisible. The báleygr may have both auras active, if desired.

The mere site of a báleygr can cause panic in its opponents. When a báleygr appears, all creatures with less than 1 Hit Dice automatically flee at their running movement rate for 30 rounds with no saving throw. All creatures with 1 – 3 Hit Dice must save versus Paralysis or flee at their running movement rate for 30 rounds.  All creatures with more than 3 Hit Dice must save versus Paralysis or suffer a -2 penalty to attack and saving throws while the báleygr remains in sight. As a báleygr terrifying presence is preternatural, it functions even through the obscurement of its aura of shrouding smoke.

In combat, a báleygr will strike with one its giant-sized weapons. Targets within 10’ will be attacked with its sword, axe, or mace for 4d6 points of damage. More distant targets, up to 30’, will be attacked with its whip for 2d6 points of damage. Targets struck by the báleygr’s whip must make a saving throw versus Paralysis or be dragged adjacent to the báleygr.  Occasionally báleygr arm themselves with huge bows, with which they shoot flaming arrows. Báleygr’s bows have twice the range and accuracy of longbows and deal 4d6 points of damage on a successful attack. A báleygr’s weapons melt into slag if the creature is slain.

A báleygr is immune to death magic, fire, and ordinary weapons, and is resistant to acid, cold, electricity, and fire. It possess infravision (90’) and telepathy, which allows it to communicate with any creatures it encounters. It can be held at bay by protection from evil and turned as an infernal creature, but may make a saving throw versus Spells to ignore the effects of being turned. A summoned báleygr can be dispelled.

If encountered in a wilderness lair, a legion of báleygr will be led by a lord with AC 12, 16 HD, 80 hp, and a +4 bonus on damage rolls. A báleygr lord is worth 7,200 XP and has additional treasure of type Q. It has a 25% chance to be mounted on a mature adult red dragon; if so, generate the dragon’s characteristics and treasure separately.

Tales of a dark lord fielding entire armies of báleygr mounted on dragons and led by a terrible giant-sized prince are generally considered fanciful even by the standards of adventurers.

Now that is an awesome fiend!

I noticed though that he is immune and resistant to fire at the same time. Is the later one magical fire?

I just want to add that this sounds straight-up awesome. The elemental aura idea is not just mechanically decisive (in that it alters tactics substantially) but also creates a great visual image. And the long-range whip-grapple idea puts those second-line types that usually cower and poke from behind the invincible lizard-wall back into harm's way again.

Glad you like the monster! (The resist-fire was just a redundant error, Rodriguez. It's immune to fire.)

That's awesome. Granted, I'd probably bump it to 14HD myself, maybe even more (I think Balrogs should be a challenge even for ancient dragons), but otherwise fantastic.

Their aura of shrouding smoke...can they see through it? It doesn't specify and I don't see them with the ability to see invisible. 

LMAO, Tywyll, you've just saved me from the most embarassing monster error ever. I'll fix that.

Do others think this guy should be higher HD? Feedback definitely solicited.

I haven’t used it in play, but on paper, I kinda like a base 12 HD, lord 16 HD, and outlandish rumors of a prince (20 HD?).

I’ve always wanted to re-create Tolkien’s “Fly, you fools!” scenario …

Charles, what I was going for is that the Balrog of Moria was a Báleygr Lord equivalent, while Gothmog would have been the equivalent of a Báleygr Prince with 20 HD.   

My take is that an ordinary Balrog was less powerful than a dragon, because dragons came after Balrogs and seem to have been fewer in number. If Balrogs were already more powerful, it's less clear why Morgoth would have had to create dragons. 

Put another way, in even the Silmarillion the slaying of a dragon is recorded in Tolkien as a very big deal, while balrogs are slain in great numbers by the elves. 



I think having the Báleygrs' HD at 12 (avg hp 54), 16 (avg hp 72) and 20 (avg hp 90) is fine. Even Gothmog (the "Lord" of the Balrogs in Tolkien, but the "Prince" of Báleygr equivalent in ACKS) was slain in single combat by a mortal. I don't think they need more HD. Just don't play them dumb attacking a fresh party head on. The Balrog of Moria came into play after the Fellowship was run ragged by battling horses of orcs and a few trolls.

Edit/Addendum: I overlooked that the senior Báleygrs have a set amount of up, and those hp are set above the average. So a Báleygr Lord has 80 hp. I’m guesstimating that a Báleygr Prince would have 100 hp, as well as an improved AC and damage bonus over that of a Báleygr Lord.

Is there really no range to the fear effect? If a Báleygr lands 1/2 a mile in front of an army on a large open plain, does the vast majority of the army run itself to death trying to get away?