Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The 4.0 tightrope

The blog postings continue about monster design, so the developers certainly have my attention.

Matt Sernett's latest post talks again about the formulas that attempted to make balanced monsters in the 3rd edition system. He mentions that advancing monsters by HD was a good example of where it may or may not work, and this is why I always avoided the advancement system. If I was going to improve a monster, I always added class levels or a template, as I found them a little more balanced. But, as he goes on to say, sometimes the CR wasn't always right to begin with.

The one that comes to mind is the Lhosk in Monster Manual III. I had just picked the book up, and a forest-dwelling foe of CR4 is exactly what I needed. It was meant to look like a random encounter, but was there only to keep the party on their toes on a long journey. Did you read that, players? It was not a random encounter! Needless to say, the lhosk wiped out the party. I never did go back to look at the creature's stats to figure out whether my rolls were just lucky, if the party's rolls were bad, or if the creature is unbalanced, but I had always suspected the last one.

Sernett's mention of level "ranges" sounds like something that will help in this regard. They seem to be putting a lot of effort into the roles that opponents play in encounters, and having their effective challenge rating reflect this. This rings clear with me, because more than one spellcasting lieutenant has been dispatched too easily simply because he couldn't get out of range from the melee fighters in the party. Sure, I could have given him a balcony from which he stood, safe but from missile weapons, but sometimes the terrain dictates the encounter, regardless of how omnipotent you are as the DM. This role idea is something I'm looking forward to.

James Wyatt's latest talks about the dragons that will appear in the first Monster Manual, and my feelings are mixed.

The idea of an out-of-the-box dragon, all figured out and ready to be thrown at the pitiful party, is going to be welcome for many. Not having to figure out age, or size, or spells, or whatever else is going to save some people some time.

But the dragon is iconic, and I don't think there should be anything rushed about introducing one, whether a wyrmling or an ancient wyrm. Any encounter with a dragon should be something memorable, never something rolled up on a random encounter table. And this is why I disagree with the idea of having a ready-made dragon. Make the system a little easier to make the unique, majestic creature you need, but don't lump them into the same class of beast as a goblin or demon.

1 comment:

Griff said...

I thought the new "out-of-the-box" dragon was a good thing.

I agree that a dragon (the iconic monster in the game) should never be an off the cuff encounter. They should always be a major encounter or even a "boss" monster/villain.

That said, there's nothing (as far as we know) that would stop you from tweaking spells and feats to create a unique and challenging dragon encounter.