Friday, February 20, 2009

Monster Design

Reading the Design & Development article on Monster Design, I'm reminded of my previous comments about the math and whatnot, and how I've avoided thinking about crafting my own 4e monsters, whether conversions of 3rd edition creatures or my own creations.

Having gotten a taste of the monsters of 4e, I'm not surprised that one of the recommendations of a starting point is with a new power or effect; especially with the monster races that have their "signature move", they really have the feel of a developer saying, "we have this new idea of a shift, so who should have that as a signature move -- oh, the kobold". I think that's an interesting way to have approached it, especially with using iconic D&D creatures and fitting them into these ideas.

And as I read the Monster Manual more, and read module H2, I'm getting more of a feel for the monster design, definitely helped out by the Tactics blocks provided -- you can definitely tell that the powers were designed for a specific method of combat, and that the creature might have been designed around that very idea.

In fact, when I flip through the Monster Manual, I wonder about the "holes" in different creatures; kobolds have their low-level minion, skirmisher, artillery and soldier covered, and have a higher-level artillery and lurker. Where are the low-level brute and lurker? Do they not exist for kobolds because it just doesn't fit the image of starter kobolds (those things being something you see in a more advanced kobold), or did the designers just not "complete" the set, for lack of space (or lack of ideas)?

I'm not complaining, though; in fact, I think that these "holes" are a really good place for monster designers to start -- if you want to get a feel for the 4e system of monster design, then sit down and come up with what a low-level brute kobold would be: what features would it share with its kin (would it even get the Shifty power, or is he too brutish for that?) and what would make it stand out as its own monster.

This experience would also give you a feel for how many powers they should have, at-will or encounter, compared to similar creatures of their level or role. And this is the experience that you can carry to a unique creature of your own.

The mathematician in me, of course, wants to dissect powers and say "an at-will is worth X points", "a power that pushes is worth Y points", "a power that dazes is worth Z points" and then want to find some magical formula that lets you approximate how much an nth-level skirmisher has to "spend" during design.

For instance, if my 10th-level skirmisher huzzlewhatsit has resist 10 fire, cold, then does that mean that the at-will power should only slide the target 1 square instead of 2? Or it means that it's pull or push instead of slide?

I don't think this will ever happen, of course, so I can see myself (and other monster developers) taking existing monsters of the desired level and role, and basically swapping out features to get the ones that you want -- get rid of the "2d10+4 fire damage plus prone" power and swap it for a "2d6+6 damage plus stun", or something to that effect.

Overall, the article was interesting in that it gave hints on how to make a monster, but what I'd like to see is an actual step-by-step example -- have one of the devs actually write an article, starting with "5th-level fey" with "some sort of make allies fight each other" effect, and go through the steps of creating the rest of the monster, so as to be balanced in the 4e system. That would give us would-be designers a better feel for how the actual balance (which I seem to be obsessed with) works.

1 comment:

Griff said...

I find it interesting that they've gone so far out of their way to "balance" the player classes, while making monster design such a "fast and loose, if it feels right" design method.

Players get to chose from four basic templates with different nomenclature while DMs get to whip up fire breathing pixies and flying minotaurs.