Tuesday, 8 April 2014

D&D Next Monsters: Part 11: Rebooting The Math: Introduction

D&D Next Monsters: Part 11: Rebooting The Math: Introduction

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 dndnext.com.

Wherein Surf has a shot at updating the math of the final playtest's monsters....

OK this took a lot longer than expected, for various reasons. I initially thought this would be a relatively short article. OK, it could get on the long side, but surely it would be a single article. Well as I worked through the details several times over the whole thing unfolded into a much bigger body of work than I expected. I also got pretty caught up proving my changes against character progression data. To cap it all off my work life went insane - think 60 to 70 hour weeks as standard for months. I really enjoyed working through this though and it provided some much needed diversion from real life on several occasions. I hope readers feel it was worth the wait.


Why Make Changes?

This is a question you might find yourself asking if you haven't played D&D Next much, or have only played at very low levels.

While lower level D&D Next monsters certainly feel appropriate in play there are issues with monster progression. Somewhere past level 5 we notice that same-level monsters seem to be getting easier to defeat, a trend that becomes quite pronounced by about level 10. Some of the causes are quite obvious when comparing the table from Part 10 with PC progression data. But other factors are more subtle.

My hope was to revise the math such that monsters would be viable for a 1-20 campaign and provide sufficient flexibility for all Dungeon Masters.



I initially mapped out some goals for this revision. While I reviewed and refined these a few times these changes were more to the wording of the goals than to the intent. I chose not to give the goals a priority or number as I feel they are all equally important.

Scale Up

Monsters need to "scale up" appropriately. That is, the challenge of Normal type monsters shouldn't taper off as monster level increases. Yes, there is a design objective that the lowest level monsters should be relatively easier to defeat than mid-level monsters and we need to ensure this remains the case and this does introduce some interesting challenges. But as Normal monsters scale up from about level 5 they should provide the same level of challenge to a same level party, if anything becoming slightly more difficult in endgame levels. In fact I believe endgame monster should be correspondingly more difficult - I call this the "easy low/hard high" goal.

Scale Out

Monsters also need to "scale out" appropriately. Easy, Tough and Solo creatures all have statistics derived from the Normal type of monster of their level - typically by applying a multiplier. Issues scaling up Normal monsters are magnified when this multiplier is too low. This is less apparent at lower levels but becomes progressively more apparent at higher levels. Given that the current crop of high-level monsters is composed of all Solo creatures, with the odd Tough creature, this is likely a significant contributor to the current issues with high level monsters.

Complement PC Progression

The general "shape" of monster progression needs to either be in line with the "shape" of PC progression or it must complement that progression. Again - the lowest level monsters should be significantly easier for same-level PCs to defeat than higher level monsters and the very highest level monsters should pose a significant challenge to a same-level party. Monsters of level 19 and 20 should be harder for a same-level party to overcome than level 15 monsters. This can be a little tricky if one wants to end up with a self-contained progression that isn't directly dependent on PC progression. It can be quite a balancing act.

Extend Beyond Level 20

DMs have always thrown monsters at the party that are of higher level than the PCs. Some editions obfuscated this, but there has always been a mechanism to determine how suitable a creature is to fight the PCs and this amounts to "monster level", at least in a logical sense. A natural extension of this is D&D's long history of monsters of a level higher than the PCs can ever reach - generally named entities of greater-deity power. Entities like Bahamut, Demogorgon, Lolth, Orcus, Tiamat and Vecna should not be faced with impunity! Since PC level progression finishes at level 20 I felt it would be useful to extend monster math to level 25.


Bringing The Goals Together

Many of these goals carry interdependencies - some subtle and some obvious. So there are some interesting challenges bringing them together. For example, scaling up monster progression too aggressively can create some serious problems with level 25 creatures - there's a good chance few level 20 PCs will ever be able to win against them. By the same token there are some good opportunities for our goals to work together - for example scaling out to level 25 properly provides a very useful way for DMs to ensure tough "capstone" fights at the end of their campaign, but still be able to tune content to their group.

Careful consideration of components and their impact on the whole are a must!


Development And Formulae...

You might have noticed that the further this series progresses, the more complicated the formulae become. So it's worth stopping briefly here and considering how monster math is likely developed and what this means to formula selection.

Wizards of the Coast have indicated in several different sources that monster math is dependent upon PC math. Thus it's important for them to fine-tune PC progression before they approach finalizing monster math. That pretty strongly suggests that the actual monster attribute forumlae WotC are using aren't simply stand-alone formulae. Rather, each is likely a formula that includes a reference to PC progression formula (or formulae!). This is one of the things that spreadsheets excel at and I imagine they have some rather interesting spreadsheets. Which you and I will likely never see, unfortunate as that may be.

There are upsides and downsides to this. On the positive side it's very easy to observe the impact of changing a basic value far-removed from the final numbers of interest and then see the widespread impact. This "what if" analysis is another thing spreadhsheets are very good at - things like "if PC Armor Class progresses faster what to-hit bonus would monsters need to still hit on a roll of 10?" are relatively easy to check. The negative side includes issues like the magnification of minor oversights and of errors in dependent math.

While I necessarily consider and include dependent formulae I generally prefer to use stand-alone formulae. The obvious reason for this is portability. But the deeper reason is the ability to produces progression curves that in some way complement our goals. This proved particularly useful with the "easy low/hard high" goal.

In this series I have opted to present the simplest formula that I feel produce a sufficiently accurate result. In some cases there is variation away from the actual related PC progression data, however this is either complementary or not significant.



Check back tomorrow for the AC Review...