Friday, May 18, 2012

A Look at 4e Forever's Epic Tier Monster Design

I am going to give yall another peek at my 4e Forever project and show you how one of the new monsters is built. The magazine deals exclusively with high Paragon and Epic Tiers. One of things you will be seeing that is a little different than traditional 4e Epic tier fare is that some typically mundane creatures are being elevated to Epic status. I am really trying to get down to the pure old-school essence of these creatures, and trying to find a balance of simplicity and difficulty. And I must say I am having fun doing it.

I think that most high level creatures need at least one go-to power that has built-in ways to mitigate conditions, such as being able to make multiple attacks and move as part of the attack. I also really do not want a lot of little attacks, utilities, and things to remember. The Epic PCs will be giving the DM plenty of that as it is! So lets look at what I am doing with my own take on a Giant Crab.
Part of the old-school vibe that translates well to Epic Tier is the multi-attack. Claw/Claw/Bite, and the like. So for the Crab I want a double attack, each claw. And of course I want it to grab the target, as it is the natural thing it would do. I want to make sure I am doing a lot of damage to balance out weak Epic Tier damage rolls. So on top of the two attacks, I added an auto-damaging mechanism. I find auto-damage a crucial component of Epic Tier games.

I am protecting the monster's ability to get the go-to attack off in a couple of ways. First, the attack is all one standard action, so it can happen in full even if dazed. Second, I add some free movement into the power, as well as reach, to allow the crab mobility and a chance to reach most targets even if dazed. I want the grab to hurt, and this is Epic Tier after all, so I am saying the crab's grip is so powerful that it cannot be escaped in the traditional sense. A teleport will break the grab, but just to be memorable and over-the-top I am going to add a little "insult to injury" with more auto-damage in the case the party uses it. Instead of allowing escape attempts, the grab ends at the end of the Crab's next turn, which makes it possible that a PC might be grabbed for quite some time. Net effect: you do not want to get grabbed by this little guy.

Considering movement and senses, I decide to give the crab a rubble walk ability and burrow speed to drive home the flavor. I also decide the Crab is quite in touch with vibrations of the earth so I give it Tremorsense; I like to have at least one creature per encounter have a way around perma-invisible types. If it was a Solo or Elite I would add some immunities and the like, but for a Standard this works nicely.

This guy shows up like a little bad-ass on  rocky beaches, surfacing from underground into the most advantageous spot to get his Claw/Claw off. 

I am also trying something new with monster skills. Instead of breaking out all of the monster attributes and assigning skills, I am simply using the updated Moderate and Hard DCs of the monsters level -10 to derive the initiative and skill mods. I decide whether I want the creature to be very fast quick (+26 initiative) or standard (+17 initiative). I decide on the fly if a monster is 'trained' in a skill or not. If I decide it is, say if the monster is falling and I want it 'trained' in Acrobatics, he gets a +26 mod (i.e. the Hard DC for Level 22 -10). if not trained I use the Moderate DC of the monster's level -10. In some cases you may decide that the monster cannot attempt a skill; for example, I decide my crab cannot roll a Religion check. in this way I can just work off of the skill DC chart and not have to worry about spelling out the rest. I think you will agree that the variation is not as important as the ease of use. It works.

So what does it look like? *note, I am working on a new stat block for my zine. What you see below is just to get the idea across. I am highlighting the design process in a blog series here.

Giant Crab
Level 22 Soldier    Large Natural Creature

Initiative +17       Senses Perception +26
HP 196; Bloodied 98
AC 36; Fortitude 35, Reflex 33, Will 34
Speed 6, Rubble Walk, Burrow 6
Special Senses: Tremorsense 15
Morale 6 ( for my Morale rules, see this blog entry)

Claw/Claw  (basic, standard, At-Will)
The Crab can shift, burrow, or charge up to its speed. After the movement the Crab makes the following attack:

Reach 3, +25 vs Reflex, 2 attacks (one or two creatures)
Hit: 6d4 + 16 damage and the target is grabbed until the end of the Crab's next turn. If the target is already grabbed the Crab gets a +2 bonus to the attack roll. The grabbed target cannot attempt to escape the grab. If either the Crab or the grabbed target are subjected to forced movement, the creatures move together and the grab does not end. Blocking terrain ends the forced movement for all creatures. If a creature is not the original target of forced movement but is moved as a result of a grab, the DM chooses a square adjacent to the original target for that creature after the movement is completed. Teleportation ends a grab as normal. The Crab can have up to two creatures grabbed at one time, but the Crab cannot take a move action other than to stand when it has a creature grabbed.

Special: This attack scores critical hits on an 19-20.

Squeeze (no action, once per round, At-Will)
Target-One or two grabbed creatures
Effect-The target takes 20 damage

Last Pinch (immediate interrupt, At-Will)
Trigger-A grabbed creature teleports or is teleported.
Effect- The target takes 6d12 damage and is slowed until the end of the encounter.

Alignment Neutral       Languages None
Trained Skill Mod (+26), Untrained Skill Mod (+17)

I hope this displays the approach I am taking with the monsters: keep them pure and simple while still keeping the difficulty level high enough to counteract Epic tier imbalance. I would also love some feedback, so even if you hate it let me know what you think!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Memorable Mechanics Part 4: Over-the-Top Conditions

ok welcome to what i think might be the last in this series on memorable mechanics in your games, at least until im inspired to write another one. i am thankful for the comments and thoughts that readers have shared! 

so i want to talk today about using unusual conditions in your game. 4e did some amazing things for the game, not least of which is codifying certain conditions. what this means is that you can play at multiple tables all over the world and be truly playing the same game. it makes DMing easy even if you have never met the table of players you are about to run a game for. unfortunately it can also be pretty stale and not make for especially memorable gameplay for the player or the DM. do not get me wrong here, i would not have conditions any other way, i love that they are set in stone. still, i think every game can benefit from experimenting with odd or extreme conditions. i also like to look at working with the existing conditions, and combining them to make new ones.

the first thing i like to do is to really forget mechanics completely for a minute and think about what i want to do the the PC. that sounds pretty sadistic, and... it is a little. oh well! next i start to think of how to express that 'condition' in the game. this includes deciding whether to include existing conditions as part of the new 'condition'. the down side of using known conditions is that it tends to make it easier for PCs to overcome the condition with a power, feat, and the like. the plus side is everyone knows the conditions already so they are easier to communicate already. i then try to make sure there is some new flavor or quirk to the condition that makes it special.

i thought i would share a few random thoughts and  'quirks' that you can use to bring extreme conditions to life in your games. i have provided at least one example for each tip.

1. have things go from bad to worse very quickly

fourthcore is great at this. one failed save youre screwed, second failed save youre dead.

example-i decide i want the big bad end guy fire elemental to literally melt a PC. so im thinking of the PC gradually melting into a puddle. i want to hit hard from the get go and i damn sure do not want them to be able to get off the hook easily. i decide i do not want a saving throw to be able to end it, i want this to be severe. so i am thinking the first turn after the melt starts, the PC takes a -4 penalty to basically everything: attack and damage rolls, defenses, speed. second round is -8 (if you reach 0 you just stay at 0). third round -12. you are insubstantial and basically a puddle on the ground. everyone has to roll acrobatics checks to avoid slipping on you. remove affliction reverses the melting process.

2. unusually long delays before the condition really sets in
example-i want to thump a PC on the head, but i want it to be flavorful. how about a severe concussion? i decide i want to use existing condition (daze) as part of a new one. the player is hit in the head one session and dazed save ends; after that everything goes on as normal. the players forget it happened. but two or three sessions later the PC wakes up with a -10 in knowledge based checks and has to make a check against self-harm or harming a party member once a day. 

alternate example- the PCs are cursed by some hag. literally weeks of game time go by until the curse reveals itself in some delicate situation

3. hit them with permanent conditions

these are a titch tricky. the PC should still be playable, but significantly changed.

example-i decide i want to literally dismember a PC. like cut his legs clean off. i dont want him to be able to find the legs later. i decide i also do not want the condition to contain existing condition terminology. so, while i want to slow the PC as part of this condition, i do not want to use the word 'slowed' bc then the PC likely has a way around it. so instead of slowed i want to say 'the PCs speed is 2'. i decide the final condition is the PC has max speed (unless on a mount) of 2, regardless of feats. the PC also takes penalties to checks as per the DM. the PC is considered prone to enemies.

alternate example- a grotesque scar permanently effecting skill checks

4. the 'hidden in plain view' approach

with these you want to have the method of ending the condition be something simple. sometimes those are the hardest for PCs to deal with.

example-i want to burn a PCs eyes with acid. i decide to use an existing condition (blind) along with some massive ongoing damage. this makes it easy to track and explain to the player. if the PC has anything to use vs blindness or to resist the ongoing damage for a time, he can. but the interesting part is there is no save from the blindness or ongoing damage; outside of combat the PC is still blind and takes the damage every ten minutes. the condition can be ended immediately if the eyes are simply flushed with water. if the PC asks if it is 'save ends'...answer with a cryptic 'i dont know yet'. or 'ill tell you when'.

you can go on endlessly in every direction with these. what kind of memorable conditions have you used in your game? what ideas would you add to the list?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Tiny 4e Forever Preview

so i have been steadily working on 4e Forever, my upcoming fanzine, but it sometimes feels like i have not gotten anywhere. there is a lot left to do but i wanted to share a sneak peek at one of the monsters in the adventure in the first issue, the Gaartal Bruiser. i will hold off giving you ecology or details about the monster right now so as not to reveal too much. i hope you like it, bc your PCs certainly won't!

Gaartal Bruiser preview pdf

Gaartal Bruiser preview monster file

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Memorable Mechanics Part 3: Roll a Ton of Dice

Just a short one today about how to make the act of rolling damage a memorable one. Simply put: roll tons of dice. Players respond to seeing the DM pick up a massive pile of dice. This is not something you want to do with every damage roll because it makes the damage a bit swingier, but 4e PCs are pretty darn durable and it is an almost guaranteed eye opener when you go for the dice. This is just a minor way you can psychologically torment your players; maybe shake your head like you feel sorry for them as you put your fistful together. Ask to borrow dice from all of the players. Milk it.

One thing you can do is look at the damage expressions for your monsters (published or otherwise) and make small edits. If you see 3d8+10, try a 6d4+10. If you see 4d12+12, try 8d6+12. I realize this adds a couple of points of damage here and there, but big whoop they can take it. Its the visual of all those dice that is the key.

To really make this dramatic, take the whole expression, static damage and all, and convert to one massive damage roll with no static damage. So say the starting damage roll is 3d12+13. That's 32.5 damage on average. I might decide to just roll 10d6 or 7d10 by itself instead. Crits are brutal.

You can also look for moments to use unique damage rolls that do not correspond with recommended damage expressions. That trap that sprays acid and melts skin? Just grab a handful of dice and see what happens. Seriously.

I do not recommend this for every roll or even most rolls, but I encourage you to look for opportune moments in your games to use tons of dice. Such a simple little thing can make it more memorable for the whole table.

Ever done something along these lines? Leave a post!