Thursday, 1 August 2013

D&D Next Monsters: Part 2: Class Development Profiling…

While this blog does not contain material published by Wizards of the Coast it does contain materials summarized and extrapolated from the D&D Next playtest packets. By continuing to read this blog you are consenting to the terms of the Wizards online playtest agreement, which you can view at

First stop on the D&D Next Monster analysis journey is class statistics. Hitpoints, attack bonus, armor class and damage output all have an important relationship with monster math. To properly unmask the numbers behind the monsters we must first understand the numbers behind the Player Characters.


PCs?!? What the...

"Why on earth are we looking at classes?", I hear you say, "I came here to find out about monsters!"

Well the thing is, PCs fight monsters. Thus the system must be designed with a relationship between PC damage output and monster hitpoints. And a similar relationship between monster damage output and PC hitpoints. Accuracy and Armor Class has a place too, but Bounded Accuracy somewhat removes them as a concern for us.



Class Progression Summary

If we work through the progression of the Barbarian, Cleric, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger and Rogue classes we can pretty easily enter their typical attack, damage and hitpoints for each level. We have to make some little guesses and approximations along the way (like considering healing magic as extra hitpoints and trying to average out expertise dice and similar). But averaging these all up and then looking at some examples on the internet... We don't seem to be too far off!

What's that you say? Where are the Druid, Monk and Wizard? Well the Druid and Monk seem to be quite "below the curve" at the moment. Even Wizards of the Coast developers seem to agree on that (check out the first R&D Playtest video). The Wizard, on the other hand, is just a bit too complicated in the damage estimation area. We can work out the wizard's average damage per round, but it's a longer process and we don't need to do it. So it seemed best to leave these out of the analysis at this point. And they aren't really needed.

We can infer a number of things from this data by simply looking at the numbers. Graphing frequently makes the lessons even more obvious.


Armor Class

Armor Class

AC gets interesting! Many classes, like the Paladin, pretty much hit their peak Armor Class very early, if not immediately, and only gain a few minor AC increments thereafter. Others, like the Wizard, basically ignore AC – they avoid being swung at and collect some mitigation tactics for the odd time they are targeted. Fortunately Bounded Accuracy helps us a bit here and we can ignore those classes and just examine the ones with some in-built progression. I profiled the Barbarian, Druid, Monk and Rogue, the latter as an example of a Dexterity based class using light armour to achieve their AC. I also assumed all examples somehow managed to spend a feat to gain an additional AC increment at level 6.

Because many of the frontline PCs manage to achieve a static AC of 20+ by level ten I generally use this progression with a pinch of salt. This is exacerbated by the way that many PCs can spike their AC temporarily to mitigate bigger hits (like the Fighter spending Expertise dice). In fact I'll frequently use a 13 through 23 (or even 25) linear progression in its place, for comparison purposes.

Use: We'll mainly use PC Armor Class to verify monster attack bonus. We'll also see how it scales against monster AC.




For this data I simply assumed the characters preferred attack bonus was +4 at level 1, that every attribute increase was to their preferred attack ability (thus they gain and extra +1 every second increase) and included any class attack bonus. I didn't figure in buffs or magic items or anything similar. It's not exact and in detail, but Bounded Accuracy suggests that's not really an issue for us.

The shallow attack bonus progression we can see is pretty much what we expect, due to bounded accuracy. The step at level 8 is interesting. It looks like a lot of classes have an attack bonus at this point which also lines up with the second ability score increase. That's likely where the PC will first experience their first base ability modifier increase. But overall a nice smooth linear progression.

Use: We'll compare PC attack bonus progression against both monster AC and monster attack bonus. This should give us a feel for how close we are to the correct values in these areas. Of course, AC and attack bonus aren't too problematic, again thanks to bounded accuracy. But it's always nice to have something we can check our work against.




When computing damage numbers I assumed the character was using one of the larger damage die weapons for their class, that their attack/damage modifier was +4 at level one and included any class additional damage. I did not include opportunity attacks or other out-of-turn damage or magic item modifiers or magic item bonus damage. I did factor in a sensible-seeming dose of once-per-turn damage. So the Rogue gets it's sneak attack, the Fighter uses some expertise dice for damage, etc.

When we look at damage we again see a nice overall linear progression. The slow rate of increase, an average of 1.46 per level, makes it quite easy to see the variations. While still slow, this progression is more marked than with attack bonus, of course. What's immediately obvious in the graph is the "steps" in damage output. Why is this present? Is it just an anomaly that would flatten out with more classes sampled?

I don't think so. The progression is there for a reason and the steps are intentional.

Wizards of the Coast likes to put these steps into progression so that there are little peaks and plateaus in the "feel" of fights, from the players perspective. Here we see the steps are every fifth level. So your level nine characters feel that climactic fight with the level ten Big Bad Guy is tough and significant… And when the PCs overcome that tough guy and level up? Then they feel like their characters have significantly increased in power.

What does this mean for our monster analysis? Well for the much of the work we can ignore it and simply assume a linear progression of +1.46 per level. Mostly. There are cases where we'll need to be aware of these steps, such as if we do a comparison of a candidate monster hitpoints chart against damage.

Use: Our main use for PC damage progression is to verify the progression of monster hitpoints. We need to be alert to stepping in monster stats at levels 5, 10, 15 and 20 and reflect this in our work if appropriate. We'll also check how PC damage and monster damage compare, as a secondary comparator.




Entering hitpoints was pretty straightforward - I simply assumed a Constitution score of 10, used the stated starting dice and average increase per level. The one "tricky" thing I did was with healing magic. Each time a caster of healing magic gained a spell level I factored in an additional 10 hitpoints, because this is basically the effect of a healer on the party – granting them more hitpoints when they really need it. Some may disagree with this approach, but the fact is an experienced group manages healing as a resource. I feel this is a sensible way to factor in that resource management.

The first thing the hitpoint graph tells us is that hitpoints scale faster than damage in D&D Next, as experienced playtesters already knew. That's part of the reason this graph has such a neat looking linear progression. Each level PCs gain an average of eleven hitpoints. There is some variance not immediately obvious from the graph – the gain itself is normally between nine and eleven, but it's occasionally as low as 8.67 and peaks at 16.67.

Is there any "stepping" like we saw with damage? Well nothing like the percentage of difference in the damage progression data, where it sometimes approached 300% of the normal gain. There is a little, but mainly due to me factoring in healing magic. It is interesting that most of the healing casters gain a magic level at level 9, right in time for the climactic fight with the level ten BBG.

Use: Mainly to verify monster damage. Monster damage should remain a relatively constant percentage of hitpoints against an average PC of the same level. It can wander about a bit but and in some systems the percent slides over time (that's one way to adjust challenge at a systemic level). But it should remain more or less constant… As long as our numbers for hitpoints are in the right ballpark. We'll also check how monster hitpoints and PC hitpoints compare.



Check back in a couple of days for the next installment Part 3: Monster Data Entry (Yech!)...