Monday, 12 March 2018

Monsters, Once Again

I just ran it in a game and it's fucking disastrous
my Warriors became literally unhittable
I've just decided to ditch the Powerful Enemies rule, and do combat the way Whitehack does it, with AC determining the range of numbers you have to roll above, and the stat being the number you have to roll below. You crit when rolling your stat. For rolling saves, you have to roll above monster HD and below your stat. I'm still using the CON = HP rule though, I like that.

Probably the most attention I've received on this blog (which still isn't that much) was for my post about monster design for The Black Hack. TBH still forms the engine on which my home system Places Dark & Deep runs on, and I think the thing that still most stymies me about it creature design and balance, namely the "linear Armour Class" problem +Ben Milton brought up in his review that I was trying to respond to.

In a very Gygaxian foible, I ended up not using my whole HP Assigned/HP Function as/HP Actually has system that I outline there, as it still ended up being too finnicky for me to use on the fly. The best other hack I saw for this problem was assigning different types of die as hit die, so ogres could be 2d20, but assassins would be 8d4, etc. While I like this, I often found myself assigning monsters higher HD because I wanted them to be harder to hit or to simulate their AC from whatever system I had ported them from, and felt I was diluting the power curve a little bit: after all, with a pretty much a range of 11 or 12 HD being the max in TBH, coming across 7 or 8 HD monsters early feels like it just sucks the fear out of it, especially since it's really easy for players to deduce what the monster's HD is from the penalty I'm assigning them (this is a problem that basically cropped up with the start of my Carrion campaign, basically being my first in person game in a year or so; in the online games I ran I just rolled for the players so this wasn't as much of an issue).

After reading Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells and its Addendum though, I feel like enough things coalesced for me to have devised a system that truly feels right for me.

1) For ease of use at the table I've been using the 5e statblocks for standard monsters (ghosts, goblins, and ghouls, etc.) because they have a robust set of actions and abilities, and because 5etools has an excellent and fast bestiary that, with 3rd party content, pretty much includes every standard D&D monster ever published. When you strip away the need to keep track of all the stats 5e monsters become very manageable.

When I convert from 5e to Black Hack/Places Dark & Deep I assign HD based on CR: Anything below CR 1 is 1/2 HD, 1-2 CR is 1 HD, 3-4 is 2 HD, 4-5 is 3 HD, 5-6 is 4 HD, 7-8 is 5 HD, 8-9 is 6 HD, 10-11 is 7 HD, 12-13 is 8 HD, 14-15 is 9 HD, 16-17 is 10 HD, 18-19 is 11 HD, 20-21 is 12 HD, 22-23 is 13 HD, 24-25 is 14 HD, 26-27 is 15 HD, 28-29 is 16 HD, and 30 is 17 HD. Lair actions go before the PC's who won initiative. Having a monster range that goes from 1/2-17 feels like it provides me a lot more granular detail to place monsters on a power curve. I like to think of it as "relative distance from a dragon". If a dragon is 11 HD and I made some swamp thing that's 7 HD that my 2nd level players killed without taking a scratch, that makes dragons feel a lot less impressive. When dragons are hovering around 13 to 15 HD I feel a little bit better. 

Note that because of the way monsters are plotted on a power level, you're sometimes going to have to convert a Basic or AD&D monster to its 5e equivalent, check the CR, and convert back here. Not altogether onerous, but some of the 20-25HD monsters in Veins of the Earth and Frostbitten & Mutilated become mathematically impossible to hit if you take their HD values straight. To keep up with the fact that converting monsters reduces their HP but Warriors in my games tend to output a fairbit more damage than they do in other OSR-type games, I use a d12 for HD, or d20 for huge or larger type creatures.

I'm doing away with the HD to damage table, keeping track of all the variable dice types is too finnicky. Base d8 (d6 for 1/2 HD creatures)+HD for damage now, adjust as needed for different monster/attack types but that's the baseline damage to grade monsters around.

Big scary monsters might need multiple attacks and multiple action types, or lots of adds to be a credible threat, since action economy basically works against monsters so that what was meant to be a threat becomes a toothless joke (see my 7 HD swamp thing above). However that's also another way to add granularity in the power curve: more powerful monsters have more powerful abilities.

2) Armour now functions as both Armour Points and a bonus to your defense, equal to half your current armour points (so a PC with plate + small shield gets a +5 bonus to their STR or DEX tests to defend against monsters). This means I can actually emulate monster AC from other systems by converting it to the relevant armour types (i.e. AC 20 = plate + small shield) and also means that monsters having armour points actually means something rather than just extra hit points, since getting through it's armour points will progressively make the monster easier to hit (and consequently, PCs get easier to hit as they take damage as well). For monsters this is cumulative with the Powerful Opponents rule, so high HD opponents are truly intimidating and difficult to hit, whereas even low level opponents never become guaranteed hits.

3) I took the Blood rule form the SS&SS Addendum, which makes it so that a character's HP is equal to their Constitution score. This felt like the final piece of the puzzle for monster design for me. No, it doesn't directly relate to monster design, but the corollary of monster design is always PC design and PC capabilities, and the two need to scale and balance to each other. This hits the exact sweet spot of how I want the PCs to feel, very much like glass cannons; with the expanded abilities I had given classes and traditional HP they felt overtuned, but this way a few good hits will put them down. It makes them a bit more resilient at first level, but increasingly more vulnerable as they face more powerful threats, which is exactly how I like it. Now instead of high HD monsters having to get a crazy number of attacks and abilities in order to keep up with PCs with bloated HP totals (as I was talking about at the end of point 1), now just a breath attack from a dragon (again, always my baseline) will do in even a cadre of high level players. Looking from the other end, a single goblin probably won't kill all but the flimsiest of PCs in one hit, but will do significant damage, and a group of them becomes a real threat.

Also, when you only have maybe 12 or 13 HP total, suddenly even the 2 Armour Points from a Gambeson seems very appealing, whereas before Armour was more of an afterthought at real levels, here it's the difference between life and death.

Also also actually makes Constitution modify Hit Point total, which was something lost in the transition from ability scores-as-modifiers to ability scores-as-target numbers that this new wave of roll under OSR games made.

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