GM Prep Time - Cognitive Dissonance in Encounter Design?

Dark Mistress

First Post
At this point you guys are just arguing past each other. I will say in my own personal experience. That the 4e adventures i have seen are written honestly horribly and it wouldn't matter if they had 4e or 3e mobs in them, they still would have been bad adventures.

As for the stat blocks I think both sides have fair points. I think their is a middle ground between 4e and 3e stat blocks that would be very good. 4e tends to be different from monster to monster on how their powers work in everything, while 3e honestly adds more details than is needed. Like some of the feats could just be bonuses add on with out the need to listing the feat. So I think there is a happy middle ground between the two. But of course that is just my own simple opinion and nothing more.
 

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Benimoto

First Post
Then you are a god among men in memory terms, and I presume you can't have had any problem in 3e along those lines! The fact that every power in every creature is likely to be different in the way it works is what I find stumping. The gaze attack of the medusa, the basalisk, the bodak and everything else that gazes in 4e is a special case.

I find this kind of statement slightly surprising because back when I was DMing 3e a lot, I considered myself somewhat of a god among men for remembering how gaze attacks worked. Almost inevitably, and especially at conventions, whenever I would try to adjudicate them it would result in a mess of rules lawyering. Almost nobody, ever, had remembered the rules correctly. And this kept coming up, with gaze attacks, with grappling, with blindness/invisibility, with relatively simple conditions like dazed, stunned, shaken, etc.

I find the 4e way, with most everything spelled out in the stat block aside from a reduced set of fairly simple conditions a vast improvement.
 

firesnakearies

Explorer
I find this kind of statement slightly surprising because back when I was DMing 3e a lot, I considered myself somewhat of a god among men for remembering how gaze attacks worked. Almost inevitably, and especially at conventions, whenever I would try to adjudicate them it would result in a mess of rules lawyering. Almost nobody, ever, had remembered the rules correctly. And this kept coming up, with gaze attacks, with grappling, with blindness/invisibility, with relatively simple conditions like dazed, stunned, shaken, etc.

I find the 4e way, with most everything spelled out in the stat block aside from a reduced set of fairly simple conditions a vast improvement.


This matches my experience.
 

Sir Wulf

First Post
So far this thread has wandered between two related topics. I see the first as "How much background detail and motivation is ideal for NPCs, monsters, and villains?" Some people find such information useful for visualizing the creature's behavior and motives, while others feel it clutters adventures with material irrelevant to actual game play.

The second debate seems to be "Is ancillary information in NPC or monster stat blocks positive or detrimental?" Some find it a distraction, preferring 4th Edition's more tightly focused stat blocks; others claim that the additional detail facilitates more varied encounters.

To riff off of the original poster's question: How can we get the best of both worlds, building efficient descriptions and stat blocks while avoiding the temptation to pigeonhole encounters into particular play styles?
 
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firesnakearies

Explorer
I think that the stat blocks themselves should be lean and trim, and only contain the most mechanically combat-relevant information. Like the 4E stat blocks.

But the adventure text outside of those stat blocks should contain tons of information beyond "how will the creature use its powers in a five-round fight". More background and details on the locations, events, and inhabitants of the adventure can only be a good thing, and can help equip the DM to deal with a much wider range of possible choices by the PCs, rather than just writing with the assumption that "they're going to kick in every door and roll initiative".

Paizo-style adventures with 4E-style stat blocks would be my preference.
 

FireLance

Legend
It is perhaps a legacy of 3E's comprehensive stat blocks, but I think that many DMs have come to look to a monster or NPC's stat block for information on how it interacts with the PCs and with the rest of the game world. This has led to an attitude of "if it isn't in the stat block, it doesn't exist," which was arguably absent from 2E and earlier editions.

The upshot of this is that stat blocks may need to contain more than basic combat information, if only to hint to a less experienced DM that the PCs can interact with at least some monsters or NPCs in ways other than direct combat. So, conclusion #1: Stat blocks need to contain more non-combat information. This can be separate from the combat stats so that DMs who only need the combat stats can ignore this part of the stat block.

That said, there is an implementation issue. Certain information such as personality, motivations, and unique non-combat interactions would tend to be specific to individual creatures. They would be great additions to the stat blocks of a specific monster or NPC in a module, but they would not be appropriate for a book on generic monsters (unless you are willing to accept that every adult red dragon has exactly the same personality and motivations). Conclusion #2: Non-combat stat blocks in modules need to be more comprehensive and detailed than non-combat stat blocks in generic monster books. Certain types of non-combat information should be an integral part of the stat blocks in generic monster books if the very nature of the monster suggests certain non-combat interactions are likely, e.g. skill challenges to communicate with a slaad or to discover a doppleganger's true identity.
 

FireLance

Legend
The other issue is, and I apologise for reiterating my earlier point, that in 4e the paragon and epic creatures have a severely limited palette of options to choose from. If you've seen one Pit Fiend, you've seen them all - there is pretty much only a few things he can do in a fight, ever. Sure, he could be given DM Fiat rituals for funky things out of the combat, but when the fight starts, he's only got a few approaches (and IIRC it might be quite easy for a fire resistant party to shut him down).
Actually, I wonder if a menu of alternate abilities is the way to go here, similar to what WOtC has done for dragons in Draconomicon I and II. There's a generic pit fiend in the MM for groups who encounter pit fiends only rarely (and hence, would not be bored by seeing the same abilities used each time they meet one) and a separate list of alternate abilities for pit fiends so that groups who encounter them often can get more variety in their fights.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
To riff off of the original poster's question: How can we get the best of both worlds, building efficient descriptions and stat blocks while avoiding the temptation to pigeonhole encounters into particular play styles?

Or, should we try to get the best of both worlds?

Consider - while most games are applicable to a wide variety of play styles, they don't claim to specifically cater to all of them. Sometimes, to use a system for a certain style of play, you might have to do some extra work with it.

Why should adventures be all that different? Would we be better off if those who produced adventures took the effort to specialize them to particular modes?
 

Rechan

Adventurer
So far this thread has wandered between two related topics. I see the first as "How much background detail and motivation is ideal for NPCs, monsters, and villains?" Some people find such information useful for visualizing the creature's behavior and motives, while others feel it clutters adventures with material irrelevant to actual game play.
Actually I don't think anyone is saying NPCs/Monsters/villains need less written about them in a module.

The argument put forward, to ME, has been that because a monster's statblock focuses on combat and how long it lasts in a round, that means that its role in the adventure is overlooked because it's not expected to live past interaction with the PCs. That because a monster is meant for combat, it is not given detail in the adventure. Imo detail an Adventure gives an NPC is good as long as the adventure makes use of the information it presents.

A separate argument is if those details in The Monster Manual, and then, in their statblocks, are a waste or not.

Firelance said:
It is perhaps a legacy of 3E's comprehensive stat blocks, but I think that many DMs have come to look to a monster or NPC's stat block for information on how it interacts with the PCs and with the rest of the game world. This has led to an attitude of "if it isn't in the stat block, it doesn't exist," which was arguably absent from 2E and earlier editions.
Huh. It never occurred to me that this could be an issue for some people. That would explain some of the push for putting non-combat info in the statblock, I suppose.
 
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billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
It is perhaps a legacy of 3E's comprehensive stat blocks, but I think that many DMs have come to look to a monster or NPC's stat block for information on how it interacts with the PCs and with the rest of the game world. This has led to an attitude of "if it isn't in the stat block, it doesn't exist," which was arguably absent from 2E and earlier editions.

I think the 3e designers made the conscious decision (and I think late 2e module writers did too) to put enough into the stat blocks so that the DM wouldn't have to juggle books quite so much. In the 1e/early 2e days with one-liner stat blocks, DMs would have the Monster Manual open fairly often if the monster included any funky special abilities.
 

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