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4E: Bankuei’s Monster Hacks

June 28, 2011

I’m putting together some stuff to run some 4E in the near future, and thinking about some ideas about how I want to run it.

Hack the GM side not the player side

When players forget things, they look to the book. Guess what happens when the rules don’t match what’s in the book? It means an extra layer of confusion and One More Damn Thing to Remember. So, my idea is to do most, if not all, hacks on the GM’s side, rather than the player’s side.

One of the best design ideas that’s not fully implemented is “Monsters don’t need to use the same rules as PCs” – when you extend the logic there, the rules the GM needs aren’t the same as the rules the players need.

Fast Turnover Monsters

One of the recurring issues people have found is that fights feel draggy. Looking closely, here’s the problem:

All non-minion monsters are set up to take at least 3-4 hits, and more as play goes on (see Paul’s Monster Math). Assuming you hit half the time, that means you’ve got to take 6-8 swings at something to put it down.

6-8 rounds to kill a goblin.

We play tons of games that are repetitive – but what makes them engaging? A feeling of advancement, progress.

If you play an FPS, it’s all shoot-shoot-shoot, but the thing is, you’re not shooting the same thing for 5 minutes straight- the endless stream of baddies come, they go down, and the specific tactical situation changes rapidly.

For D&D, it feels draggy because even “easy monsters” take a lot of work. And very often, even if you’re an optimized damage dealer, it’s like you end up bragging, “Wow! It only took me 7 rounds to put something down, instead of 9!”…

This is one of the play aspects of older editions where the heavy hitters could one-shot a lot of weaker monsters and do much more significant damage to higher ones, on the basis of damage to total hitpoint ratio.

So my suggestion is less hitpoints but more monsters. (Archon also has a similar hack in his Classic Style 4E) Most monsters should take 1-4 hits, depending on their toughness and the damage dealing focus of the PCs.

The Maths

For the most part, monster stats stay in line with what is current – you can use the MM3 stats on a business card for easy reference.

Hitpoints and XP

Notice that this still gives a faster XP/HP ratio than you’d normally get per vanilla 4E, but that’s fine by me. Weak monsters are typically artillery/lurkers, average monsters are soldiers/controllers, and tough are typically brutes. I’m versed enough in D&D monster-ness I just think weak/average/tough based on concept. (Goblins are weak, Hobgoblins are average, Bugbears are tough. The end.)

Minions (1 HP, XP = 1/2 minion in DMG)
Weak Monsters (15 HP +1/level, XP = minion in DMG)
Avg. Monsters (30 HP +2/level, XP = 2x minion in DMG)
Tough Monsters (45 HP +3/level, XP = Standard monster XP)

Ramping Up, not Dwindling Down

One of the core problems is that fights often turn into foregone conclusions- once one side starts losing combatants, it just snowballs from there stops being all that interesting (at least when the PCs are winning). Having monsters drop quicker should make it easier and be anti-climactic.

The trick is, of course, designing monster powers that become more dangerous the LESS of them are on the field. This can range from a rage that goes up every time an ally is dropped (also: put a maximum cap on the bonus, or it will get stupid) to a massive area effect spell that would damage their own allies.

Think of this as a broader version of the bloodied status powers- you want the monsters to step up their game as they’re losing, not become weaker.

I’ll have to think up some specific powers, later.

Elites & Solos

Elites and Solos provide the most problematic aspect of 4E design. I’m totally unsure about these numbers and will need to playtest them a lot and adjust, so be warned.

That said, first, Elites & Solos get extra actions to give some more parity with PC parties. Second, they get stronger resistance to status effects. Third, I’ve given a Defense Bonus all around, to make up for the HP loss, but it disappears when they hit bloodied- this gives players incentives to save their finishing attacks towards the end, instead of firing them off first thing on a target.

Elites

+1 Additional HP/level, +3 to hit, +4 damage, Status Resistance 5 or 10, and +2 to All Defenses (AC, Fort, Ref, Will) – the Defenses bonus disappears after being Bloodied.

Finally, Elites get an additional Standard Action they can take at their Initiative Roll -5.

Solos

+3 Additional HP/level, +3 to hit, + 6 damage, Status Resistance 10 or 15, and +3 to All Defenses (AC, Fort, Ref, Will) – the Defenses bonus disappears after being Bloodied.

Finally, Elites get an additional Standard & Move Action at their Initiative Roll -5, and an additional Standard Action at their Initiative -10.

Status Resistance

One of the big problems for Elites and Solos is status effects. Status Resistance is basically similar to old school “Magic Resistance” in terms of game design- it’s a roll to see if Status is ignored when it first hits. I’m thinking monsters basically have a SR of 5, 10, or 15 – roll a D20 and if it’s equal or under the SR, the status is ignored outright.

ETA: Looking through the Essentials Monster book, it looks like they have some solutions to the action count/status issues. I’ll have to play with those, too, and see what turns out to be the most elegant answer.

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