4e DM Cheat Sheet

I just put together a cheat sheet for our DM (and my future games). The idea behind it is, theoretically, you could run a game by the seat of your pants with just this sheet.

Enjoy! :) And I'd appreciate any feedback you have too.

LATEST UPDATE: 9/27/12
* Added save bonuses to elites and solos
* Added CA (combat advantage) notation to dying, petrified, and unconscious conditions

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1/25/12
* Fixed some niggling errors
* Uploaded a landscape version

9/17/11
Finally got around to adding some things I'd been meaning to:

* Improv: minion base damage is 4 + 1 per two levels (as near as I can tell)
* DM Prep: abbreviated basic terrain types from DMG
* Rules: rough hireling guidelines (~potion gp /day)
* Plot: added cool benefits for skill challenges or for boosting milestones

7/25/11
Big update! I added three extra "cheat sheets" to complement the improvisation one I originally posted. They're *almost* finished.

* DM Prep: overland travel, monster XP, treasure, magic item gp
* Rules: skill DCs, prices, conditions
* Plot: a bunch of stuff I find useful :)

6/28/11:
* Added complications to the skill challenge section
* Listed sources for information
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To give credit where credit is due:

The "DC by level" table and the "Skill Challenge" table are wholesale from the Rules Compendium, with a couple additional advantages I wrote up.

The "Monster" table is based on the awesome MM3 on a business card over at SlyFlourish. The table on "updating pre-MM3 monsters" is just what I use for my own games based on the changes I observed in monster design.

The "Traps/Hazards" table is the skin and bones advice from Matthew Sernett's Trapped article in Dragon #366 .

The "Improvised Actions / Terrain Powers" table draws on DMG page 42 as well as Mark Monack's Tutorial: Terrain Powers http://dnd.wizards.com/go/article.aspx?x=dnd/4tut/terrainpowers article on the Wotc website.

EDIT: Since Mark Monack's article is no longer up, I wanted to leave an explanation of how to use the "Improvised Actions / Terrain Powers" table...



This table illustrates how you as DM judge how strong a given improvised effect is for your monsters.

My goal in writing the DM cheat sheet (and this table) was to empower a DM to improvise a monster's powers rather than be bound by what the Monster Manual / Monster Vault said.

For example, say you have a level 9 monster that you want to be able to dominate a PC. Well, a look at this table will tell you that the ability to dominate is meant to be reserved for monsters of level 22 or higher, so you're better off coming up with some weaker alternative, or maybe, if you know what you're doing including several conditions/restrictions/easy-outs from under the monster's domination for a level 9 party.

Alternately, a more complicated example. If you have a level 18 monster and you want to give it a flavorful minor action, what sorts of things are power level appropriate for a level 18 monster to do with a minor action? Well, hey, I've handily color-coded the chart for you! So you might choose:
Knock the target prone on a hit
Deafen the target on a hit
Deal ongoing damage on a hit (generally ongoing damage is Low Normal damage)
Leap over an obstacle
Gain/create concealment
Gain/create cover
Slide the target up to 4 squares on a hit

Finally, a bit of comparison. Let's take a level 9 monster vs. level 18 monster vs. level 30 monster. Let's say they're all Soldiers in 4e terms, OK? But they don't mark, and as DM you'd like them to have a marking ability for a particular encounter (yes, an imaginary encounter with level 9, level 18, and level 30 monsters fighting side by side). What is the power level appropriate way to improvise marking? Well...
For the level 9 monster, the mark should be part of a standard action attack. Lots of examples of that in 4e, like the 4e fighter.
For the level 18 monster, the mark should be worth a move action. A little tricky to imagine, but maybe it has a reactive mark if a creature moves away from it. Or maybe it slithers in a way so that any creature it ends its move adjacent to is marked by it?
For the level 30 monster, the mark should be worth a minor action. So maybe this monster just needs to look at you with its balefire eyes and you are marked as you feel its deathly grip upon your soul?

And the last thing is the damage tables. I forget exactly what Mark Monack said, but how I used them was...

Normal Damage for at-will attacks, Limited damage for encounter/recharge attacks.

Low Damage for most controllers and area effect attacks.
Medium Damage for most monster's attacks vs. one or two targets. Often I'd have area effects of elites/solos dealing Medium Damage too.
High Damage for strikers or conditional attacks requiring setup. Often I'd have the single-target attacks of elites/solos dealing High Damage too. (EDIT: it's worth noting that my elite/solo strikers dealt at-will damage corresponding to Limited High, and I generally avoided giving those kinds of strikers encounter/recharge powers, or if I did I would foreshadow it to the players, since once you start dealing damage off the chart the possibility of one-shotting a PC increases)

And that is it in a (medium-sized) nutshell!
 

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SabreCat

Villager
This looks nice! Can you provide links to the articles needed to use this? I don't really grasp the lower-leftmost table with the improvised action effects, for instance ('20' skill?).
 

Alphastream

Adventurer
Very cool! I like how you added the various bits like Advantages for skill challenges or Terrain by roles.

One thought is that DC by level for Skill challenges could shrink in size, providing more space for other information.
 
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Colmarr

Villager
I'm a bit lost with some of the information.

What is the Terrain by type (eg. the entries for Twisty, Dense etc under Soldier and Brute) information meant to represent? Is it the sort of terrain these monsters favour, or is it a suggestion that you can use this type of terrain instead of a monster of that type?

As for the improvised actions, am I reading it correctly that (for example) at levels 1-9, it is appropriate to allow someone to cause a monster grant combat advantage as a standard action?

What about the 'shift' entry in the 'minor' column? Does that mean an improvised attack against a defence of level +3 as a minor action would allow the PC to shift at any level?
 
This looks nice! Can you provide links to the articles needed to use this? I don't really grasp the lower-leftmost table with the improvised action effects, for instance ('20' skill?).
Monack's article is over here: Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Official Home Page - Article (Tutorial: Terrain Powers)

'20' skill means take 20 on a skill.

The different colors are meant to represent how various effects require different action types according to tier (it's in the article). E.x. You could blind or weaken an enemy as a standard action at paragon tier; a similar effect is only a move action at epic tier. Make sense?

Very cool! I like how you added the various bits like Advantages for skill challenges or Terrain by roles.
Yeah, I was thinking of adding a more involved monster section (a reverse side?) which would have monster role synergies & example power effects by level. That'll take me a little more time, and I'd need some other stuff to put there.

One thought is that DC by level for Skill challenges could shrink in size, providing more space for other information.
Yeah, you're right.

I was thinking this could be a double-sided sheet, but I wasn't sure what I'd put on the reverse side... maybe encounter XP budgets by level?
 
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I'm a bit lost with some of the information.
Heh. I guess I can be a little obscure sometimes.

What is the Terrain by type (eg. the entries for Twisty, Dense etc under Soldier and Brute) information meant to represent? Is it the sort of terrain these monsters favour, or is it a suggestion that you can use this type of terrain instead of a monster of that type?
It's terrain that complements these monsters, based on DMG page 62 "Terrain and Roles." It's an often overlooked section.

As for the improvised actions, am I reading it correctly that (for example) at levels 1-9, it is appropriate to allow someone to cause a monster grant combat advantage as a standard action?
That's right. Of course, that's not *all* the terrain power would do, probably some damage or another effect.

What about the 'shift' entry in the 'minor' column? Does that mean an improvised attack against a defence of level +3 as a minor action would allow the PC to shift at any level?
Yeah, though at paragon and epic I'd expect to see more effects than just shift 1 (making terrain powers is still more art than science). For example, a PC might be fighting in a flooding chamber, and as a piece of debris floats by the PC hydroplanes on it. DM says it's a melee attack vs. Reflex, if it succeeds the PC shifts 2 squares, but if it fails the PC falls prone.

Also if anyone has ideas on what information the reverse side might have I'd like to hear it.
 

Kzach

Villager
I think you could get rid of the 'updating pre-MM3' monsters table altogether as a sheet like this is for when you're improvising, not when you've got tools at the table to draw on. Plus it would make room to add in the initiative modifiers for the various monster types.

I'm also a bit confused by the 'Damage' column on the Monsters table. Isn't damage what the terrain powers table is for (which also needs relabelling)?

Other than that, it's quite nice and saves me from doing it. Thanks.

As for a second page, it'd be nice to have price lists for things.
 
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I think you could get rid of the 'updating pre-MM3' monsters table altogether as a sheet like this is for when you're improvising, not when you've got tools at the table to draw on. Plus it would make room to add in the initiative modifiers for the various monster types.
Ah thanks, I knew I was forgetting something.

I'm also a bit confused by the 'Damage' column on the Monsters table. Isn't damage what the terrain powers table is for (which also needs relabelling)?
Not exactly. With the new monster math, monster damage has increased.

The "damage" column is average damage a monster of that level should deal on an at-will attack. So a 13th level monster should deal 20 damage on average with an at-will. Ex. A Meazel Strangler (13 controller) from MM3 deals 17 average damage with it's short sword, and a Derro Warrior (13 artillery) also from MM3 deals an average of 23 damage with its dagger and CA.

Compare this to the pg. 42 table Medium Normal Damage: 2d8+6 (an average of 15. If it were Limited Damage I would lean toward the High numbers, or Medium if it had other cool effects.

As for the relabeling bit, what's wrong with the name of the chart?

Other than that, it's quite nice and saves me from doing it. Thanks.
Glad you'll get some use out of it!

As for a second page, it'd be nice to have price lists for things.
Do you mean normal equipment like plate armor, thieves tools, inn rooms, warhorses, etc?
 

Kzach

Villager
Compare this to the pg. 42 table Medium Normal Damage: 2d8+6 (an average of 15. If it were Limited Damage I would lean toward the High numbers, or Medium if it had other cool effects.
Err... then I'm confused as to what purpose the improvised actions/terrain powers table serves? I thought this table was a catch-all for monsters, traps, etc. if it's outdated, shouldn't it be updated to the MM3 math? In which case, what purpose would the Damage entry serve in Monsters table?

As for the relabeling bit, what's wrong with the name of the chart?
Well, I had thought it was a catch-all damage matrix, which would mean it's not just improvised actions/terrain powers and so should be labelled to reflect it's purpose. Then again, if it doesn't serve that purpose, it doesn't need to be relabelled.

Do you mean normal equipment like plate armor, thieves tools, inn rooms, warhorses, etc?
Yeah, and magic item math, masterwork items, treasure parcel math, etc.

I see using a sheet like this to improvise the running of a game so I'm considering everything from the point of view of what I need at a glance to do that.
 
[MENTION=56189]Kzach[/MENTION]
Well I haven't seen enough "new math" traps and such, but it does appear that monster damage (based on MM3 and MV) starts off close to average Normal Medium damage, but quickly gets higher as monsters level. Hence my 13th level example. So it seems that monster at-will attacks deal more damage than ongoing traps /improvised actions/terrain powers.

By the way, thanks for your input! I'll plan on putting in item costs, treasure parcels, and such on the reverse side.
 

Ferghis

Villager
I was thinking this could be a double-sided sheet, but I wasn't sure what I'd put on the reverse side... maybe encounter XP budgets by level?
Two ideas:
- condition effects
- skill check crunch for things like knowledge skills, athletics, endurance, and other skills that have "numbers" involved.
 

Truename

Villager
I think you could get rid of the 'updating pre-MM3' monsters table altogether as a sheet like this is for when you're improvising, not when you've got tools at the table to draw on. Plus it would make room to add in the initiative modifiers for the various monster types.
The 'updating pre-MM3 monsters' section is my favorite part--I'm pretty good at improvising, but I can never remember what needs to be changed with monsters.
 

Kzach

Villager
The 'updating pre-MM3 monsters' section is my favorite part--I'm pretty good at improvising, but I can never remember what needs to be changed with monsters.
You could simply write it on a post-it note and stick it to the front page of your MM3.
 
Two ideas:
- condition effects
- skill check crunch for things like knowledge skills, athletics, endurance, and other skills that have "numbers" involved.
So it sounds like you'd like to see info that would be on a DM screen replicated on this sheet? I guess it makes sense if this were the only thing you played with, but I was hoping to make this just as useful to DMs who have a screen or lots of the skill stuff memorized. Its just that skills and conditions take up a lot of space.
 

Ferghis

Villager
I was just throwing ideas out because it sounded like you were looking for fillers for a second page. I don't think the skill check details are on the regular DM screen, though. I could be wrong.
 

Alphastream

Adventurer
I can see some use of this sheet for when I am "winging things", but more likely is that I would use it when I craft adventures. I tend to look at XP cost for monsters by level (minion cost is useful) and the budget for the party of 5. I look at the list of skills when designing skill challenges. Major/minor quest rewards are used at times. Running a game I like the list of knowledge skills for different creature types.

Reference-wise, it would be awesome to have a list of material that provides traps, terrain, monster themes, and templates. A mention to the article in DDI with all the rituals would be useful.

Thinking out loud...
 
The page number thing is probably outside what I'm going to tackle because (a) my collection of 4e books is modest, (b) I'm no longer a DDi subscriber, and (c) besides the DMGs most of that stuff is in Dragon/Dungeon which IMO need their own searchable database, especially now that they've stopped collating individual articles into PDFs :erm:

Maybe I could put together 2 versions of a back side: One a DM screen on a page with stuff like skills, conditions, item prices, light sources, etc? And the other session prep notes/guidelines?

As for encounter XP budgets and monster XP values...would a list of encounter templates (with numbers, roles, and approx levels) be more useful? I ask because that covers role synergies and is quick & easy in play. Also it would free up space for rough level ranges for monsters (eg. Displacer beast is level 9) and maybe a list of sample monster powers by level.

I'll keep brainstorming, all ideas are welcome.
 
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Rune

Once A Fool
For a 2-page format, I think it would be quite handy to have one side be focused on adventure/encounter-building and the flip side be focused on on-the-fly rulings/encounters.
 

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