As a judge and campaign administrator, I often hear that it is unfair for authors to place creatures with damage reduction against low-level PCs because it is too difficult for low-level PCs to overcome such defenses. The argument is that while these creatures are the correct Challenge Rating for low-level PCs to encounter, they are still unfair. This is nonsense. The theme of this month’s article is how to overcome a creature with damage reduction.
Maximize Damage: A well balanced party of adventurers will contain at least one PC who excels at dealing large amounts of damage in physical combat. Typically, this PC wields a two-handed weapon and has the Power Attack feat (even at a low base attack bonus, Power Attack can add just enough extra damage to make it worthwhile). PCs who can sneak attack or who have favored enemies can also be great for dealing enough damage to take down a creature with damage reduction. When in doubt, boosting up the accuracy and damage capabilities of a fighter-type can allow a party to simply pound past the DR. Spells like divine favor,rage,bull’s strength, and enlarge person can enable a PC to deal more damage then they normally could. Remember that potions and scrolls of 1st and 2nd level spells listed in the Dungeon Master's Guide are automatically accessible to low-level PCs, as per the Living Greyhawk Campaign Standards.
Deal Non-Weapon Damage: Damage reduction protects the creature from weapons damage and natural attacks, not from spells and energy damage. So having spellcasters in your party is very important when facing creatures with DR. Sound burst, the inflict wounds spells, spiritual weapon,flame blade,flaming sphere,burning hands,ray of frost,disrupt undead,shocking grasp,chill touch,Melf’s acid arrow,scorching ray, and the nearly always useful magic missile let you deal damage to the creature without any concern over their DR. But you can deal energy and non-weapon damage even without spellcasters. Stocking up on acid, alchemist’s fire, and holy water is always a good idea for low-level PCs, and all of these special substances from the Player's Handbook are automatically accessible to starting PCs, as per the LGCS.
Disable: You can often overcome a creature with damage reduction simply by disabling them and removing them as a threat. Tanglefoot bags are a great purchase for low-level PCs. Spells like charm person,sleep,hold person,suggestion,entangle,color spray, and web can be great ways to disable your opponent so their ability to ignore your damage-dealing capabilities becomes a moot point.
Overcoming DR X/magic: While most low-level PCs don’t carry around permanent magical weapons (although 4th level monks count as one themselves), there are plenty of temporary ways to overcome damage reduction vulnerable to magic weapons. The most common way is to rely on your spellcasters; magic weapon,shillelagh,magic fang,magic stone, and bless weapon are great spells to have at the ready. These are also excellent spells to stock up on via scrolls. Potions/oils of these spells make it easy for non-spellcasters to become effective against creatures vulnerable to magic weapons.
Overcoming DR Vulnerable to Weapon Type: This one is fairly easy; it is always a good idea to carry around a number of different weapon types so you can more easily overcome the damage reduction of a creature vulnerable to piercing, slashing, or bludgeoning weapons.
Overcoming DR Vulnerable to Weapon Materials: Two of three materials (alchemical silver and cold iron) that are useful in overcoming some types of damage reduction are easily accessible to low-level PCs; PCs can simply buy weapons of these items, as per the LGCS. The wondrous item, silversheen, is also a good purchase. However, that item is not available to low-level PCs by default; they will need to gain access to it via adventuring. Adamantine, the third special material useful in overcoming some types of DR, is not available to low-level PCs by default, and it is very expensive to purchase even when it does become available via adventuring. Fortunately for low-level PCs, it is unlikely they will come into contact with creatures with DR X/adamantine.
Overcoming DR Vulnerable to Aligned Weapons: This is the hardest type of damage reduction for low-level PCs to overcome. Spells like align weapon and bless weapon, and potions/scrolls thereof, are the only easy way for low-level PCs to overcome DR vulnerable to aligned weapons. As with adamantine, low-level PCs are fortunate that it is unlikely they will come into contact with creatures that require aligned weapons to overcome their DR.