Monday, July 30, 2012

The Hybrid Stat Block: Hit Points

We continue our look at the 4e Forever monster stat block today with some changes I am making to hit points. We are not going back to hit dice, so don't panic. The basic concept of hit points isn't changing, and they are still listed just like they are on the 4e stat block. However, the formula for calculating monster hit points has changed.

Recently, I posted about how I am experimenting with different ways to derive certain statistics. It is a push towards simplicity. I have also mentioned a few times that many of the encounters in my upcoming project are with variable numbers of the same monster, much like the wandering monster tables of yesteryear. Partly because of this, I have dropped some of the roles from monsters. I retain Minion, Solo, Standard, Elite, and Savage, but drop the rest. It isn't that roles are bad, they just really didn't fit my project mechanically or aesthetically. In the process, I had finally realized the obvious: the way 4e does hit points is really annoying.

4e has different formulas for different types of monsters. This makes perfect sense for Solos, Minions, Standards, and Elites, because these categories are based on the overall ratios of hit points. However, Brutes, Skirmishers, and the rest have hit points based more on flavor. Weak little Artillery guy in the periphery of the fight? Fewer hit points. Big tough Soldier? More hit points. Makes sense. It also makes it a nightmare to calculate hit points. Heck, I'm not even giving Constitution scores to monsters in the first place!

It was with all of these things in mind that I came up with the formula for hit points. Overall, it gives monsters a tad fewer hit points. Of the 4e monster roles, only Lurkers and Artillery would average fewer. Everything ends up about "Controller" level. It isn't a huge difference, but I do think that this will still help a titch with combat speed at high levels (something I have gone to great lengths in this project to address). The early playtesting has shown that the monster difficulty will not suffer as a result. But the most important thing is that it's easy. That's the real point of it. With this formula, you do not even need to look in the DMG (or whatever source you use).

The 4e Forever formula for a Standard monster's hit points is (Level x 8) + 20. Elites and Savages have twice that. Solos vary and can have 4 to 5 times the hit points of a Standard. Minions of course have 1 hit point.

Check it out the next time you are making monsters. The slightly lower hit points should help a touch with slow combat, and they are a lot easier to calculate. Leave a post and let me know what you think!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Hybrid Stat Block: Move

We continue today looking at my ideas for a new "hybrid" monster stat block for 4e. These will eventually appear in my upcoming fanzine, and they are basically combinations of old Oe/1e/B/X stats with those of 4e. Today we look at how the stat block will note monster movement.

As you are no doubt aware, 4e stats simply say "Speed", followed by a number. This number is the base amount of squares a creature can move (unless immobilized, running, etc) with its "move action". Squares correspond to a grid, where a 1" by 1" square is equal to a 5 foot by 5 foot area. Land speed is typically listed first, followed by things like Fly: 8 and the like. So you could say that for a creature with Speed 5, that its base speed is 25 feet.

B/X was completely different. It usually gave two speeds, both listed in feet. One was the "turn" movement, basically how far a PC could be expected to get in an underground area in ten minutes, provided they were moving cautiously, etc. Then, one-third of this number was like your "encounter" speed. This was the distance you could typically move and still be able to attack in combat. So you would see 120' (40'). I actually like this, and think it is a good houserule for 1e to just go back to this.

Finally, in 1e, things got a little bizarre. The speed was listed in inches, like 9". But this could mean more than one thing. It was tens of feet underground, tens of yards in the "wilderness". We won't get into segments versus rounds versus turns right now, it is too early in the morning.

So, as you know, my fanzine incorporates a lot of my ideas on bringing old-school flavor into 4e. I am not just looking for ways to tweak the way 4e plays; I'm also looking for simple ways to bring an old-school look into 4e. So some changes are more cosmetic than anything. Like what I am doing with movement in the stat block.

It is one of those great coincidences that even though movement was not handled the same way in 1e that it is in 4e, the rates of movement in 1e were still noted in terms of inches, even if inches weren't always actually being represented. 4e literally DOES use inches. At the same time, I really like to change terms where possible, if it means adding a little old-school flavor to the mix.

So, putting it all together, instead of the stats saying Speed 6, like in 4e, my 4e Forever version will say Move: 6". This will look like 1e, but will not really mean the same thing. Move: 6" in 4e of course still means your speed is 30 feet/6 squares/6 inches. If a creature has a fly speed or what have you, it might read Move: 4", Fly: 10".

I know to many people this might look like an almost pointless change. It really does not change the mechanics of 4e at all. But to me, it is significant in that the look and feel of the statistic reflects older editions. Taken together with all of the other little changes I am making, it really helps reinforce the vibe that I am going for.

So what do you think about it? I'd love to hear your opinion, so leave a post!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Hybrid Stat Block: Intelligence

Recently I have been sharing some of my ideas for a new 4e stat block that I am working on to use in my upcoming free fanzine.  It will mix the way that the old OD&D/1e stats were presented with that of 4e. We looked at simplifying monster creation in general with easy, smooth ways to determine and present skill and initiative mods. We followed that with a look at the classic No. Appearing statistic, and how old-school random encounters can work in 4e. We have looked at Morale in the past, and you will certainly see Morale scores in the stats. Today, we look at Intelligence.

I've mentioned before what a complete bore I find determining monster ability scores, so when I say "Intelligence" I do not mean to suggest I will be giving an Intelligence score. Instead it is used somewhat like it was in 1e. If you look at the picture of our friend, the Brain Mole, you see that for Intelligence, a numerical value is not given, just a term; in this case, "Animal".

In the explanatory notes in the beginning of the 1e Monster Manual, it provides Intelligence scores and corresponding terms, such as "Genius". Now for me, looking at bringing this back into the game, I immediately know that I do not want as many different terms as 1e has. There are 11 possible Intelligence ratings. That is way too many (but not quite "Mythus" territory). Still, I have a definite want to use the Intelligence stat, for a couple of reasons.

One, I like it for nostalgic reasons. I love how some of the old stats will just say, "Intelligence: Very". I just like that kind of thing. Two, it can actually serve a purpose, and do it better than a numerical value ever did. It is an easy, clean way to give a rough idea of a monster's wits, much clearer in my opinion than just listing a score.

Still we need to get rid of some of those 11 different categories. I personally want to go as simple as possible, while keeping what I consider the essential terms that provide old-school flavor. So here are the different possible Intelligence ratings that I came up with: Animal, Low, Average, Very (gotta have my "Very"), and Supra-Genius. Those tell you all you need to know. Note that Morale will not necessarily be related to Intelligence.

I'm liking it. What do you think? If you have any thoughts, leave a post!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Hybrid Stat Block: No. Appearing

As I continue experimenting with ideas for a 0e/1e/4e "hybrid" stat block for my upcoming zine, 4e Forever, I thought I would share some of my thought process on its design in a series of blog posts. Today I want to give you a look at how I am bringing the classic statistic "No. Appearing" to 4e.

Before I get too in-depth, I will just say I have no real qualms with the post-MM3 stat block. It works great. It is brilliant design. This isn't a condemnation of it by any stretch, I'm just trying to provide an alternate version that is more in line with the early editions. The overall goals of the new stat block are to inject old-school feel into the presentation, streamline the information for DMs, and to help reinforce "fixes" to some 4e issues, such as encounter speed, level of difficulty, creature action recovery, etc.

Many aspects of 4e design are things of beauty. I love the logic of encounter balance and difficulty. 5 Standard monsters of the same level as a 5 PC party is an encounter of the PCs level. You can, to a closer degree than any other edition I have played, judge encounter difficulty in 4e. Even in the Epic Tier, with all its imbalances, the 4e method is still "closer" than using Hit Dice or Monstermarks (from old White Dwarf mags) ever were. But what if you crave greater randomness in the number of creatures encountered? You can always use Minions for very large monster groups, but Minions are not always the best solution. The problem is compounded by other factors. Many 4e PCs are not "trained" to flee; it just isn't in their vocabulary. Fights turn into slogs. Who even wants to use a random encounter when it is going to take up most of the session? And how can you use a variable amount of monsters and maintain a semblance of balance in the first place?

Well, the most important thing to do is to use Morale. I will not go back over the details here, but I will note that it is a crucial and effective tool to use to control encounter length. By having this variable built in to the game, you can afford to be looser with the number of creatures encountered, as encounters are typically shorter.

The second thing to do is determine monster levels and "No. Appearing". This sort of ties into another point about the monster design in 4e Forever: I am not using roles. Well, I am using Minions, Standards, Elites, Savages, and Solos, but not "Skirmishers", etc. I am trying to simplify encounter groups. Most encounters will be with creatures of the same exact type, i.e. 1d6+1 Giant Vultures. Though there will be some occasional variations, such as more than one type of Giant Ant, by and large you will be looking at the same creature. I hope you give it a chance when you see it. It allows you to really emphasize the flavor of monsters, and it is a lot easier for DMs to run; there aren't a lot of minor, irritating-to-track differences between say, a bunch of Orcs. Since the magazine deals with high Paragon and Epic, which is already taxing due to so many player options, it is a practical fix with old-school flavor, which is exactly what I am going for.

So that is enough philosophy, let's look at some examples of how to integrate variable encounter groups into your 4e game. Start by determining what you would like the average difficulty level of the possible encounters to be. For these examples, I am aiming for an average encounter level of the party's level +1. That is, if I roll and get the average number of possible creatures, it will result in an encounter of the party's level +1. You can easily adjust up or down to different encounter levels. Anyways, in these examples, I will assume a party of level 20 PCs, and I will be looking for an average encounter level of 21. There are two angles I can take to get there. I can start with a possible numerical range of creatures encountered, i.e. "No. Appearing", or I can start with creature level and go from there. Let's look at both ways.

For the first example, we will start from a numerical range of creatures, i.e. "No. Appearing". I decide I want a fairly large number of Standard creatures, 7-12 (1d6+6). The average there is 9.5 creatures, but always round the fractions of the "No. Appearing" average down; so, in this case I round down to 9. Assuming 5 PCs, I am looking at an XP target of 16,000 for a Level 21 encounter. So, I divide the XP amount by the average number of possible creatures (9). I get 1777 XP per monster, or Level 17 monsters. So the average encounter is about "9.5" Level 17 monsters. The potential encounter levels vary from Level 18 (with 7 Level 17 creatures) to close to Level 22 (with 12 Level 17 creatures). It should be clear by looking at this that the larger the static modifier in the "No. Appearing" roll, the more "stable" the range of possible encounter levels. If we instead take 2d8 creatures (9 creatures average), we still end up working with the same level of creature (17), but the encounter level range is from 11 (if they encounter only 2 Level 17 creatures) to 23 (if they encounter all 16 creatures).

Now let's look at starting with the monster level as opposed to "No. Appearing". I still want to hit my Level 21 target, but this time I decide on using Level 20 monsters. I take 16,000 (XP budget for a level 21) and divide it by the XP for a single Standard of 20th Level (2800). I get something like 5.7 creatures as our target number for the average number of creatures encountered. Unlike above, where we used the average of the possible "No. Appearing", the number of creatures here is rounded up to the nearest whole number, i.e. 6. So now, knowing what we want the average number of creatures encountered to be (6), we can decide on a "No. Appearing" expression. Let's try a "No. Appearing" of 1d10+1. Yes, this is actually a 6.5 creature average, but just as we did in the first examplewe again round fractions of the "No. Appearing" average downso, this expression gives us our target of 6 creatures. So, putting it all together, the mean (average) encounter is around Level 21 (6 Level 20 creatures, times 2800 XP apiece, divided by 5 PCs=3360, or a Level 21 encounter), while the low end (2 Level 20 creatures) is a Level 14 encounter, and the high end (11 Level 20 creatures) is a tough Level 24 encounter. That is a pretty big swing. I like it!

So that is my system, at least up to this point. I can anticipate providing another statistic that notes the possible encounter level range of a "No. Appearing" roll for monsters for a group of 5 PCs. Something like "Enc Lvl: 9-12; 11 avg". We'll see; I am open to ideas!

If you end up rolling a low number of creatures, hey it was a quick combat. If you roll up a lot, there is still a good chance the encounter will end quickly thanks to Morale (although the PCs may get severely roughed up). Now, if you are wanting to deal with a huge amount of monsters, say 20+, you will likely want to look at using Minions, or combinations of Minions and other monsters. There is a level-imposed limit to the accuracy of PCs and monsters, and if you go too far in either direction then it will become too easy or too hard to hit each other. Anyway, if it all works as planned (and playtesting has been positive), encounter length won't be a waking nightmare anymore. You can also help PCs mitigate some of the swingier difficulty with henchmen, which the magazine assumes are being used.

And that's how I am using "No. Appearing" on the stat block. This is made possible by Morale, adjusting monster levels, and using henchmen. When you put it all together, it is an attempt to use "No. Appearing" to bring old-school flavor to 4e stat block, loosen the balance a bit, and shorten encounter time. I hope I did a good job explaining it! I have tried to rephrase it several times for clarity.

I am interested in thoughts and opinions so please leave a post! I will be back soon with Part 2. I also want to say thanks to Dndblogs for including my site! It is a very cool group of 4e blogs to follow. I check it out daily, so take a look if you have never seen it before.

Frothsof 4e Errata!

So I thought I would point out a couple of bits of "Errata". I have edited some posts based on ongoing playtesting. These are mostly minor changes but I wanted to point it out to anyone using or getting ready to use the rules.

-Henchmen are now attracted to PCs starting at level 8 (as opposed to 6), and never total in number to more than a quarter of the PC's level. This used to be 1/3.

-I have edited the Reaction Tables. The chance of a monster being initially unfriendly or hostile has increased slightly.

-The biggest changes have been to the Giant Crab preview. The grab still does not allow for escape attempts, but it now automatically ends at the end of the Crab's next turn. Of course, this means it has a chance to continually "refresh" the grab, but for some PCs, particularly those with high Reflex scores, the possibility of escape is there. I have also lowered the damage expressions slightly based on the number of these it will be possible to encounter. The AC was lowered to the standard number for its level, and its attack bonus verses grabbed creatures was lowered. It is still very nasty, but it did get "nerfed".

-I have added some extra information to the No. Appearing post, providing information on the formulas being used to balance the random numbers of creatures encountered.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Hybrid Stat Block: A New Way to Determine a Monster's Skill and Initiative Modifiers

So I thought I would make a post to elaborate on something I mentioned in a previous blog regarding a new technique for determining monster skill and initiative modifiers. This came about as I was working on some monsters for my upcoming zine, 4e Forever. I am doing some work on a new stat block; it combines some pieces of 4e's stat block with the old monster listings of 1e and before.

I really like how the old 1e stats do not typically provide ability scores for monsters. You get Special Defenses, etc, but not Charisma scores for every critter the PCs stumble on. As I was jotting down the Charisma and Constitution scores of Giant Aardvarks, it really became clear that the 4e standard of providing ability scores, half-level bonuses, and listed skills was not only tedious to generate, but also fairly pointless. Very little of that information would ever actually be used in a given encounter. That is when I thought of a different method of generating the numbers you need. It is simple, intuitive, and I write this in hopes you will try it and enjoy it as much as I have.

Basically, you take the updated Skill DCs of the monster's level. Specifically, the Moderate and Hard DCs. Take those numbers and subtract 10. Those are the numbers you will now use the rest of the way. If a monster is of standard speed, intuition, etc, then its initiative modifier is the Mod DC-10. If it is a very quick or perceptive-"feeling" monster, use the Hard DC-10. For skills, a Hard DC-10 is the modifier for a trained skill. For untrained, use the Mod DC-10. Do not add half their level or anything to these; you are good to go. Both of these numbers are just listed on a stat block like so:

Trained Skill Mod-
Untrained Skill Mod-

The DM has the freedom to rule on the fly regarding monster skills; you do not have to write out their skills ahead of time. This prevents the DM from having to do a lot of extra work on monsters that may never even come up in the game. Instead you can use common sense to adjudicate on the fly. For example, the Giant Eagle likely is quite perceptive, so let it use the Trained Skill Mod if its Perception is needed. The Giant Spider is a sneaky creature, so let it use a Trained Mod for Stealth. A DM can decide that a creature is so inept at a skill that it cannot even attempt a check.

I have really enjoyed using this method. The stat block (I will preview when it is done) is cleaner, there are no superfluous numbers and stats I will never use, and it is a lot easier and more fun to generate creatures without having to contemplate a Giant Worm's Dexterity.

I hope you like it! As always leave a post with any comments or thoughts!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Treasure in 4e Forever

Ah, treasure. A contentious topic in 4e if there ever was one. I thought today I would preview the way magic items appear in my upcoming zine, 4e Forever. If you are curious about the status of the mag, all I can tell you is WOW did I ever underestimate the amount of work involved getting this done, especially when you are trying to work full time, raise a 1 year old, run your regular campaigns, and on and on. Still, I continue to make progress and I have some surprises about the contents that I will be showing off in the coming weeks.

Anyhoo, back to treasure. Well, as you are aware the zine deals exclusively with high Paragon and Epic tier play. This basically has helped me with being able to "get away with" the design. In short, the items presented do not have levels. If they are weapons, armor, or neck slot items, they are +5 or +6, but they are not assigned a level. There is no item rarity, at all. There are no limits on how many different magic item daily powers you can use in a single encounter. There are usually no prices given for items.

If you want to mosey down to Ye Olde Magic Shoppe and buy some magic items, you are kind of screwed. That is, magic items for sale exist, but they tend towards random consumables, a low level +1 generic sword, and the occasional ritual. That sort of thing. Only rarely will you find a store carrying these items, and they will probably be an overpriced hassle to procure.

No two campaigns are exactly alike, so DMs are encouraged to use whatever method they want to assign items. You don't have to use my ideas. If you do not like where treasure is placed in my adventure, place some yourself, use the parcel method, roll randomly, use wish lists, do whatever you like. If you want magic shoppes, go for it, it won't break anything. If you want to use inherent bonuses, go for it. The only thing the DM really needs to do is make sure PCs get to those +5s and +6s at a reasonable rate. My method simply puts all of the control back in the DM's hands; that is the default that will be presented, but if you want to change it feel free.

Magic items are not "statted out" in the same way that 4e traditionally presents them. Magic items will be described without stat blocks, in a more conversational tone, just like the old days. Often there will be some leeway in how the item will preform; this is deliberate, to give the DM something to improvise off of. Here are two examples, just off the top of my head.

Harley's Fantastic Social Lubricant

Invented by Jum Jum Harley, famed Half-Elf mystic, this liquid is sealed in a glass vial that has a large "H" inscribed on it. The contents can be broken up into three doses. Each dose causes the imbiber to lose his or her inhibitions within one turn (ten minutes). This may manifest itself in multiple ways: the imbiber could fall in love with someone or some thing out of the blue, could lose the ability to lie, or could simply disrobe in public. It is unclear what happens if you give a creature all three doses at once but it is not recommended. Each dose lasts about an hour. For whatever reason, this stuff doesn't work on Satyrs.You can occasionally find a vial or two of this at curio shoppes in central Serd (10% chance).

Tome of Insatiable Bloodlust

This large tome is bound in the stretched skin of an unknown animal (goat? maybe?). The cover is dyed a rich crimson. It is a +6 implement that is drawn like a magnet to blood and gore. Against bloodied targets, this implement scores critical hits on a roll of 17-20. Against a non-bloodied target, the tome does not provide extra crit dice, but against a bloodied target the crit dice are 6d10. There are some drawbacks to the tome. When the wielder scores critical hits, whether the target is bloodied or not, the wielder takes 3d12 paper cut damage. Also, anyone left alone with the tome for more than a turn will hear the tome whispering "Feed me" in their heads. Owner must make a save vs Charm at a -2 penalty or be compelled to feed it with his or her own blood once a day, taking 5d12 damage in the process. Blood dripped onto the tome's pages is quickly absorbed and appears to evaporate as soon as it hits a page.

There are said to be 6 such tomes in existence, all created at the same time, but the only known copy is in the hands of the Nethermancer Archibald of Bridgepuddle, Serd.

To be honest, I do not expect there to be a ton of items appearing in the magazine. That is one part of the game that is bloated enough already to not need any more support. But, should a few items appear here and there to reinforce fluff, or should readers submit items, this is the way they generally will appear.

Seem radical? Wait til you see what I am doing with monster stat blocks!

Please share any thoughts by leaving a post!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fane of the Heresiarch!

I had to make a quick post to note the release of the new 4thcore adventure. Its really, really impressive. I look forward to running it once I absorb it. Check it out!