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!


  1. Well, I have a comment. I have noticed as a DM of several games that Teleport powers are fairly rare outside of "Caster" types. Also, Skill usage is something that tends to disappear from many combats around the middle of Paragon as powers and Magic Items replace things that normally would require skill checks. So removing the use of Athletics/Acrobatics as a way to Escape would mean you are removing one of the few remaining common uses for skills in combat. So I think maybe setting a High DC for Escape would still make it a threat, though I would also reword the "Last Pinch" power so it could do it against any creature that escapes its grasp.

    Also, many Teleports are Attacks that might be used ON the Crab rather than the Creature it has Grabbed. Would it take the grabbed creature along when Teleported? And if so, why and how?

    So just a few observations.


    1. generic thanks for the post

      a teleport always breaks the grab no matter who teleports. as for the rest, in play the grab is not quite as cruel as it sounds. it is really adding maybe an extra round of 'grab-time' if the party focuses fire, and it is necessary to trigger the damage mechanic. it does make for some strategy, and the party would def benefit from a controller. and on the chance the party does have teleportation, there is still an extra little dose of damage that will have the table groaning

      i am trying to make the monsters memorable, as well as difficult but beatable; the crabs grab is not a typical grab i would give another monster. it is the 'essence' of the crab so i am trying to magnify and exaggerate it for epic tier.

      thanks for checking it out!

  2. I disagree with your statement that all monsters need to have condition removal. Certainly Elites and Solos do as well as the handful of Standards that you want to make memorable. However there is something to be said for letting the controller "win" an encounter, as long as it isn't every encounter.

  3. eh maybe i didnt phrase it very well. take the crab for example. the only thing he can really avoid is a daze, and even then only if he is near enough a pc to shift to him. my experience tells me that this crab here might not even get a turn before he has been slaughtered by the party. a controller can 'win' against this thing easily. it just has a hell of a grab.

    still james i appreciate your input; im not trying to make players' powers useless, just insure they are challenged. a standard monster with no 'tricks' stands no chance against epic PCs. i shouldnt have said 'all monsters', i was trying to just emphasize the point without being literal but it didnt read that way. while i am trying to give creatures a high level of difficulty, and i have faith the PCs will find a way to overcome the challenge

  4. i edited the post to be a little more clear on my intentions

    i appreciate the feedback guys. i hope you guys can try some of these in actual play to see how they match up. i will have some more previews as we get closer to the release

  5. I am definitely planning on using some of these. I do really like the crab. As for the rest it is the perils of the internet. Thanks for being responsive to the feedback.

  6. Okay. I see you goal for this Monster a bit more clearly now. But I do think completely removing the "Escape Action" is a bad thing. I had a better Idea for keeping it an Option, though. Have another version of the Giant Crab, perhaps a Minion version, that is easier to get away from its Grasp. Send these out first in the Encounter and give the PCs a chance to use those Skills and feel Awesome before CRUSHING THEIR DREAMS OF CRAB DOMINATION once they face the REAL Threat, Your Giant Crabs as written! This way you get the best of both worlds, The Players get to feel Powerful at first(As EPIC and near Epic PCs should), then They get to be in a Dangerous Situation for most of the Rest of the battle(As EPIC Threats should be most of the time)!


  7. I have made some changes based on playtesting. Hope you like them!

  8. Good stuff, but I'd make him Huge for that Epic feel! :)