More on Monsters II

Now that Monster Manual 3 is widely available, I’ll spend some more time discussing the mechanical changes in the book. In addition to a damage increase of 30-40% at paragon- and epic-tier, monsters received some accuracy adjustments. These accuracy adjustments represent a shift in our thinking—the idea that monsters don’t need an accuracy bonus unless their role calls for it, and they don’t need an accuracy penalty at all. The initial monsters in fourth edition were designed with symmetry in mind. That is, if a brute gets a damage bonus, it needs a penalty to compensate for that bonus. This was somewhat unfair to brutes, since we don’t penalize controllers for having control effects, artillery for having range effects, or skirmishers for having movement effects. Soldiers, for example, got an AC bump, stickiness, and high accuracy, and they didn’t really have any penalties to speak of. For these reasons, soldiers and brutes were high on our list for review. Brutes should be as scary as soldiers, so we brought their attack bonuses back to baseline. If you’re looking to convert older brutes, toss them a +2 bonus to attack. Soldiers, on the other hand, can take a –2 penalty to attacks.

Coinciding with these changes is the idea that more monsters should have automatic effects that enforce their roles. That is, controllers should have control effects, even if they miss with their attacks. Soldiers should be marking enemies, even on a miss. Skirmishers need reliable ways to escape creatures, even if their attacks are falling short. To that effect, you’ll notice that more monsters in MM3 have “Effect” entries and “Miss” entries. This philosophy is even more apparent in some of our upcoming products, such as the Dark Sun Creature Catalog and Monster Vault. If you want to implement these type of changes in your own game, look at the hit effect on a monster, and put it on a miss as well. If a soldier marks on a hit, have it also mark on a miss. Make the power’s hit effect throw on a mark (save ends), and on a miss, put a mark until the end of the monster’s next turn.

If you’ve played at paragon tier or epic tier, you know that PCs have a lot of ways of dealing with status effects. That’s one reason it’s okay to have monsters with some automatic effects. Now, that’s not to say you should have having your controller throw down an automatic daze every time it attacks. There’s not much fun in that. As a general rule, if you’re going to have a monster with an auto-effect, make sure its not something that is going to severely inhibit the player character. Even immobilize can be a bit risky. Slow, forced movement, marking, and penalties are pretty safe.

I’ve seen a lot of comments indicating that PCs at higher level have too many ways of shutting down monsters. I’m afraid I don’t entirely buy that excuse. Oh sure, if you want to run monsters RAW, they might have some issues. The reality is that with hundreds of PC builds, a monster can’t threaten every character or adventuring party. Certain groups are going to be better suited for dealing with certain monsters. But heck, that’s why you’re the DM right? If players are shutting down your monsters, give the monsters a way to challenge the characters. Players might think it’s fun to shut down monsters, but that gets old fast, and even though they might complain about monsters that overcome their debilitating debuffs, they’re going to have more fun in the long run if a monster is challenging them. Give the monster the ability to make saving throws against effects that saves don’t normally end. Bump up their accuracy or damage when they finally get a turn. The reason D&D is great is that it has a DM, someone who is behind the screen, pulling the strings. In a video game, if you optimize, the game doesn’t necessarily get harder to compensate. D&D has that advantage, so all you DMs out their—if your monsters aren’t working against your group, you can make them work. A monster stat block is a foundation. I almost never run a monster RAW. I almost always alter something on the fly. Monster Manual 3, Demonomicon, the Dark Sun Creature Catalog, and Monster Vault go a long way toward correcting systemic problems, but ultimately, much of the onus falls on you to make your monsters scary. Yes, even the gnomes.

Going to GenCon 2010? Want to hear me blab more about monsters? I’ll be talking about monster design there, and together, we can design some cool new monsters. Join me there.

28 thoughts on “More on Monsters II

  1. *sigh* Wish I was going to Gen Con. I do appreciate these posts- I’m currently running E2, and I’ve often felt like the PCs were walking through encounters. I’ll try some of your suggestions out and see how things work.

    It is sounding like the Monster Vault is going to be a worthwhile purchase even for someone with MM1-3; I assume it’s going to have a lot of the classic monsters from MM1, but as designed with the new guidelines.

    1. Well, with any luck we’ll get some videocasts of the seminar so that all the non-Gen-Con attendees can still check things out.

      I’m excited for Monster Vault. It’ll be nice to have a lot of the classic monsters updated to our new design philosophies. I’ve been using some of the monsters already, and it’s been really helpful.

  2. Love the info, Greg. I’m only up to the C’s so far but unlike the previous two, I’m actually reading in order for the most part and loving this MM.

    I’d sorta noticed the extra effects on a lot of the monsters, and was starting to wonder if that was also a philosophy change.

  3. Thanks for these insightful posts. I’m really interested in this push for more challenging monsters and balanced roles! I like everything I’ve seen about MM3 so far, and I’m also quite intrigued by the contents of Monster Vault…

    There’s one thing I’d like to point out, though. Without having the book, I can only look at preview monsters but, from these, it seems that the damage increase actually exceeds the 30-40% you suggest.

    As an example, at Level 16, an Impersonator Devil’s Slam attack deals 3d8+11 damage (avg. 24.5), just like the Slime Devil. The normal damage expression from DMG at that level would be 2d8+7 (avg.16), so at this point in paragon we have an increase of over 50%.

    Likewise, at epic, a Herald of Colorless Fire hits for 3d10+19 (avg. 35.5) with its standard attack, which is more than 60% above the 3d8+9 suggested by DMG.

    Of course, monsters are more complex than just their basic attack damage, but this is the easiest reference we have to compare, and other monster elements like limited attacks also seem to have improved.

    So my question is, are these sample monsters ultra-tough, or just about the same power level as other MM3 creatures at their tier? How strong are monsters really getting? My adventurers are getting a bit scared, but also excited…

    1. You’re right that the damage probably exceeds the guidelines I gave. It really varies depending on the level. Lower level monsters are going to vary by a different % than higher level monsters. I mentioned 30-40% as sort of a middle-tier change.

  4. Interesting, does this mean Greg that controllers still only lose -1 for attacking a targets NADs? Or now do all monsters use that maths for a baseline, or have controllers gone back to being -2 to attacking NADs?

    Additionally I’m still wondering if we’ll see an updated damage chart. I know you said damage was increased about 40% but it’s clear to me running paragon/epic monsters that they’ve actually increased their overall damage far more. Automatic damage and other things really add to this for example (as well as better overall power design IMO).

    In essence though, does this mean all monsters now get +5 to hit AC and +3 against NADs?

    1. I’m going to try and get an updated damage chart out for the next round of updates in July. The guidelines I provided were really rough, just intended to be on-the-fly changes.

  5. It sounds like a lot of stuff has been added. I was curious about a related subject – what a monster gets for its basic attacks. Because monsters don’t get many attacks compared to PCs, their MBAs have typically had much greater effects. This means that those monsters can stand from prone and charge more effectively, such that prone is only “lose a move action”, which can sometimes do less than slow. Are there any steps to change this?

    1. It’s true that MBAs tend to be a little better on monsters. Then again, I think it’s good that monsters are totally screwed over by prone, since prone is a pretty common condition, and a lot of feats let you gain access to it. The ability to charge and still have a monster have a significant effect on its turn is important. If nothing else, prone is causing it to grant CA and forcing it to either charge or attack a nearby enemy.

  6. Greg, thanks so much for putting this out there! I know it sounds silly, but some DMs, myself included, are pretty new to the game and, while we know we can change things, we’re often afraid of changing the wrong things. The examples and design philosophies you share are guideposts to us and give us the confidence to start making these changes at the table. I’ll be at GenCon and I already have my ticket for the event. Thanks again!

  7. Just to be certain, in reading this article (and others like it) I get the idea that the original MM1 monsters are basically working just fine in most every way at Heroic Tier. In other words it sounds like the general consensus is that no changes to monsters’ Attack, Damage, Effects, etc. are needed if your campaign is still in 1st-10th level and fighting 1st-10th level monsters and that the mods typically don’t need to come into play at all until the top two tiers. Is this so, or are any of these modifications advisable at Heroic Tier?

  8. That said, though MM1-2 monsters in general work fine at heroic, I think it would be advisable to apply the changes to Soldiers (-2 to hit) and Brutes (+2 to hit). Otherwise, brute-heavy encounters tend to be considerably easier than those with a lot of soldiers.

  9. Doesn’t really matter at heroic, because pre-MM3 soldiers don’t do enough damage and pre-MM3 brutes inaccuracy doesn’t make them entirely useless (as they deal enough damage for it to be important). It’s when penalties are being handed out like candy, monsters deal insufficient damage even when they do hit and such in paragon/epic that the difference begins to be felt.

    Although you can boost maths of old creatures, ultimately the only way to fix them in these tiers once and for all is to adjust many of their powers. To follow from Gregs example, the aboleths I’ve made deal damage with their mucus auras as well as making difficult terrain.

  10. Just out of curiosity greg, was the accuracy of artillery monsters changed or do they still get +7 vs. AC (like soldiers formally did?).

  11. Hey Greg, thanks for the really interesting articles! I had the opportunity to use Stone Thralls, an Earth Weird, and a few Hill Giant Rockthrowers against my 16th level party. Even though it was a level +1 encounter, it was a great challenge for them. The warlord was absolutely shocked to take 4d8+6 from the Thrall on an OA!

    I, too, am excited to see what future books hold. I think this sort of change is really going to help with my game prep as my party goes through high paragon tier.

    1. Glad to hear that the monsters are working well. Were the encounters more dramatic for the PCs? Did they feel adequately challenged, or did they feel like they were too underpowered compared to the monsters?

      1. My experience thus far is that PCs are taking it with pretty mixed reactions. The increase in damage and just ability to still harm you in situations monsters would be hopelessly locked down before has been a bit of a shock. It’s definitely making for more exciting and challenging encounters, but it’s taking my players some time to adapt to the new circumstances.

        To be honest MM3 creatures feel pretty balanced now in terms of threat. They aren’t an instant TPK – but they are definitely causing far more problems.

      2. The encounter was essentially a no-plot giant ambush, simply to give the PCs some combat to play with. So the drama factor was pretty low. However, I really played up the Earth Weird’s ‘bury’ power, telling them the earth was yawning beneath them to swallow them up, and it seemed to have them appropriately worried. Also, the way the thralls crunch people into the ground to immobilize them gave me lots of delightful imagery to play with.

  12. I don’t suppose there’s any hope of ever seeing any of this in the form of errata to old monsters or even as a downloadable pdf “guide” from WotC?

  13. My group has increased monster damage (+1/3 to +1/2 level damage) for over a year and we definitely think the original damage was way too low. With the old damage levels, THP and Resistances made monsters do single digit damage in paragon (the player with a swarm druid would often take only 2-3 damage per attack in some fights using the old stats). A single healing word could erase 6-8 standard actions worth of attack damage (factoring in hits and misses), which made healing supremely efficient at back-end action denial. These adjustments are way on the right track as they fall in line with many of us who’ve been “cheating” to make the game more enjoyable. While I had announced the damage bonus to monsters, I never announced the accuracy bonus to brutes. When you factor in defender marks and other penalties, brutes were useless. My observation over the past year is putting their accuracy back at baseline makes them brutes again.

    Just my experience having boosted damage for a while.

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