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.