GM Prep Time - Cognitive Dissonance in Encounter Design?

MrMyth

First Post
Theoretically that's true.

What is theoretical about it? Why wouldn't a 4E stat block include the key skills of the enemy, the weapon and tactics they use, character-specific bonuses and their ability scores?

But the point is that 4th Edition's monsters were explicitly designed to support 5 rounds of combat and nothing more. (We know that because the designers told us it was true.) Those same designers who said "monsters are good for 5 rounds of combat and nothing more" are the same designers working on WotC's modules.

Shockingly, the opponents in these modules are good for 5 rounds of combat and nothing more.

Look, that's a complete misrepresentation of the designers' views. The approach they set out for, in 4E, was to include the information for monsters and NPCs that was relevant to their role in the game.

This means that if an adventure has a wise old sage you can ask for advice? It will likely include his ability scores, skills, and any rituals he can cast for the party. It won't include combat stats because, no matter how smart he is, if the PCs want him dead they'll just kill him. You should neither need to have the DM waste time statting those elements out, nor an adventure waste space listing them.

The condensing of combat stats in the 4E stat block is built on the same philosophy. Namely, that monsters don't need a list of twenty abilities that will never be used in battle. That doesn't mean they don't need personality, nor does it mean they shouldn't exist out of combat.

I ran H3: Pyramid of Shadows. An adventure that many criticize as simply being filled with one combat after another. Which can be true. But it also has plenty of room for those monsters to come alive outside of combat - there are various factions the PCs can work with (if they desire), and NPCs they can interact with.

In my game, they recruited one NPC as an ally (until he inevitably betrayed them), and hired others as mercenary guards rather than fight them. They were tricked by a succubus into freeing her from the pyramid. They dined in a village of far realm cultists, and joined forces with the spirit of a dragon to close a rift to the far realms.

They interacted with the mocking sendings of the main villain, and unravelled his past through dreams and books found in the pyramid's library, and the entrapped spirit of his dead wife.

And this is a group whose typical approach is to simply hack their way through everything. There was plenty of room for a more intrigue focused group to play the factions against each other in a far more elaborate game.

None of which was somehow made impossible due to stat-blocks slimmed down to be useful in combat.

To reiterate: The problem here is not that Premise A gave us Stat Block B and then Stat Block B gave us Problem C. It's that Premise A results directly in Problem C. The fact that Premise A also results in a flawed stat block which contributes to Problem C is practically irrelevant: The faulty premise, and every conclusion resulting from it, needs to be re-analyzed before ANY of the problems can be solved.

I don't see any actual support for your theory, though. What faulty premise? That stat blocks shouldn't have a dozen spell-like abilities the monster won't use?

Ok, I admit it - having a few more ideas of what a monster is capable of can give the DM more ability to adapt it to the different approaches of the PCs. If a monster can cast invisibility, fly, charm person, true seeing, and meteor swarm, it has all sorts of ways it can interact with the PCs.

And... 4E doesn't really change that. Monsters can still have invisibility powers, charm powers, flight, truesight and attack spells. The key is that they don't need another twenty spells, most of which are trivial. How much does it matter that they can cast Aid, Bless, Cause Fear, Entropic Shield, Inflict Light Wounds, Eagle's Splendor, etc, etc, etc.

Ok, having all these spells gives it a list of buffs it could provide PCs. I suppose. But those sort of buffs have largely gone away in 4E, anyway. You can still have a monster that can offer smaller bonuses or healing to friendly PCs, or perform rituals for them as well.

But you don't need pages of spell lists and spell-like abilities. You don't need your CR 16 angel to have "Use Rope +4 (+6 with bindings)". That isn't there because using ropes is a fundamental part of the character - it is there because they had leftover skill points, or needed to reflect a synergy bonus from some other skill, or something entirely meaningless to the actual NPC.

Look, ProfessorCirno gave an example of an enemy whose 3.5 statblock revealed all sorts of character information. I commented that pretty much everything relevant found in the 3.5 statblock would also be in the 4E version. You can't just dismiss that as theoretical.

If people have an issue with 4E adventures and the role of enemies within them, that is one thing. But saying that the statblocks are flawed at the core requires a significantly higher burden of proof. I'm seeing a lot of biased perspectives and false claims, but not anything actually demonstrating a problem.

Indeed, in my own experiences, the stat blocks - even the adventures themselves - have had the room for monsters to certainly exist "outside the battlemat". I don't imagine that is the case for everyone, but the claim that 4E fundamentally forbids this - or prevents it - simply isn't true.
 

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MrMyth

First Post
More than I'll pay for a module like Keep on the Shadowfell, but that's not saying much since the latter amount is zero.

...

Let's say the four-times approach doubles the writing time involved in the module, and let's say the writing time makes up 50% of the module's cost, with the rest being devoted to printing costs, warehousing, shipping and distribution, et cetera. So that's a total increase of 50% in the cost of the module. I can live with that.

On the other hand, people who have been happy with some of the modules probably would object to a 50% increase in cost.

I'm just trying to understand how much additional material we really need. Are you just looking for the modules to allow for PCs to approach NPCs in different ways, and the DM to have some advice on how those NPCs might react? Because some of them have that already.

As I mentioned in my last post - H3, Pyramid of Shadows, is the only one I've run on my own. It includes a section on the different factions within it - their motivations, the personalities of their key NPCs, and ways they might be willing to work with the PCs. I mean, none of them are good guys, but alliances can still be made.

It is my understand that H2, Thunderspire Mountain, is even more robust in the NPCs and factions that can be interacted with.

These are WotC adventures, and already have these elements people claim are missing. I don't think this is the difference between these modules and Paizo's.

From what I understand, the main issues are more the fundamental plots and designs. Pyramid of Shadows is pretty straightforward - the PCs are trapped in an extradimensional prison. They need to escape.

Keep on the Shadowfell: A bad guy is doing bad things. Get through the keep and stop him.

Thunderspire Mountain: A bad guy is doing bad things. Find him and stop him.

Now, it sounds like some of the Paragon and Epic ones may get more involved. I would be a fan of that. I haven't played any Paizo adventures, but I get a similar sense from them - the plots are more intricate, and there are more elaborate events going on.

But I don't think I can agree that the actual NPCs and monsters are the issue - that 3.5 enemies had detail that let them come to life, while the 4E enemies are simply blocks of stats. Nothing stops you from having some hooks and interesting motivations connected to different NPCs. Nothing stops them from being able to bargain with the PCs. And nothing prevents their stat-blocks from including the necessary elements to flesh them out and bring them to life.
 

Wicht

Hero
This means that if an adventure has a wise old sage you can ask for advice? It will likely include his ability scores, skills, and any rituals he can cast for the party. It won't include combat stats because, no matter how smart he is, if the PCs want him dead they'll just kill him. You should neither need to have the DM waste time statting those elements out, nor an adventure waste space listing them.

So you are saying the 4e stat blocks predetermine the NPC's role in the adventure?
 

MrMyth

First Post
So you are saying the 4e stat blocks predetermine the NPC's role in the adventure?

The stat block reinforces the NPC's primary role, yes. Why shouldn't it?

What benefit would be served by saying the sage has 12 hitpoints, AC 15, and fleshing out a full stat block? Would that encourage the PCs to drag him along on their adventures? Would that make it more useful when they decide to kill him for his books?

If he is someone they should reasonably have a challenge with in combat - say, a powerful wizard rather than a simple sage - then you can give him combat stats as well. If he is somehow who might be persuaded to join them on their adventures, then you could include a companion stat block.

If not, then why would you need those things?

Characters can interact with NPCs and monsters in a variety of ways. Some, more ways than others. You generally only need the elements for the ways in which the characters will interact with them.

Do you need complete stat blocks for the sage, the shopkeeper, the bartender? I don't particularly think so.

Of course, this is all largely a diversion from the actual argument at hand. The enemies that get full stat blocks are the ones you do actually engage in combat. And, as previously determined, those generally include everything you need to handle them in and out of combat.
 

Scribble

First Post
So you are saying the 4e stat blocks predetermine the NPC's role in the adventure?

I'd say they predetermine the NPCs ability to cope with PCs hacking his skull off...

If said NPC is essentially a commoner with no hope of harming or surviving against the PCs should they turn on him... why waste space with stats that would be meaningless anyway?

He can't fight the PCs, so why bother providing combat stats for him to fight them?

He can offer valuable info, rituals, equipment, etc... so list that stuff.

Sure, if the PCs decide they want to recruit him to attack other commoners or something, the module makes that DM less prepared for that outcome... but then we get back to what it seems like Umbran was saying. Sooner or later you have to just prepare for the "most likely" outcome, and let the DM do the DM's job- (Dealing with option z.)

Do I think some modules could do a better job listing other things the NPCs can do aside from fighting... sure- but I don't think that stuff needs to be in a stat block. It just jumbles things up for all options, making it a mess for the DM to decide just what the heck this dude can actually effectively do in any given scenario.
 

Wicht

Hero
The stat block reinforces the NPC's primary role, yes. Why shouldn't it?

I wasn't arguing, just wanting a position clarified. Back in the beginning of this thread there were those who complained that 4e overly codified the role of a monster or npc through the way the stat blocks were presented.

I think the two sides, if they were honest, could be summarized as...

"I want each stat block to be as flexible as is reasonably possible."

and

"I want each stat block to be as short and to the point as is reasonably possible."

There is of course middle ground, but I think that is more or less what it boils down to.
 

Benimoto

First Post
Let's say the four-times approach doubles the writing time involved in the module, and let's say the writing time makes up 50% of the module's cost, with the rest being devoted to printing costs, warehousing, shipping and distribution, et cetera. So that's a total increase of 50% in the cost of the module. I can live with that.

Realize that personally, I think Lanefan's approach sounds good, and I'm mostly plying Devil's advocate here. But, there have to be constraints here. Let's look at what those constraints might be.

  • Cost: Sure you say that you'd buy a better module at 150% the price, but would everybody? Keep on the Shadowfell was an expensive module. Amazon.com shows the list price at $29.99. I remember a lot of people complaining about that price. Would it be worth it if it contained more non-combat options, but listed for $44.99? I doubt it.
  • Page count: We're not in the electronic era yet, and so modules have to be printed. I'm not an expert, but as I understand it, 32 pages is not a random number. There are some sort of mechanical constraints, such as the fact that modules are actually printed on 3 or 4 foot-long sheets of paper, then cut and folded into a booklet. We can't just increase the page count to 37. Instead it has to be something like 48 or 64 pages as the next step. This increases all the other costs associated with the module.
  • Complexity: More content means more editing, playtesting, and a greater chance for errors to slip in. When a module has 4 paths through it, it's more complicated to make sure all the paths are the same difficulty and to keep the pacing correct. And then there's DM complexity. You have to make sure that a module that contains 4 times the options is as easy to read and run as a module that's more focused on one path.
  • Player's expecatations: If I get a 64 page module for twice the price, I expect it to last me twice as long as the 32 page module. You're advocating that we give 3-4 times as many options to players, but really that just means that every single group is wasting 2/3rds to 3/4s of the module. That's going to make some people unhappy.
  • Talent: Let's face it, certain writers may just not be as good at writing for certain types of play. 2-4 different paths through a module means that every module writer needs to be more skilled at writing. More skill means more money, or it may mean writing teams with managers. The cost here may end up increasing at a greater rate than the benefit.

The whole debate here is kind of silly. Of course we would prefer to have more options rather than less. To use a food-related analogy, I'm sure we would say that we prefer a restaurant to have 4 times as many options on a menu. But, contradictorily, many successful restaurants actually work to reduce the size of their menus. A successful module has to be simple to read and understand and also it has to fit in a certain page count. Some of these things indicate it should have less complexity, not more.
 

Raven Crowking

First Post
Realize that personally, I think Lanefan's approach sounds good, and I'm mostly plying Devil's advocate here. But, there have to be constraints here. Let's look at what those constraints might be.

If it were not proven that someone can produce far better, cheaper modules (Paizo, I'm looking at you), the rest would carry.



RC
 


MrMyth

First Post
I wasn't arguing, just wanting a position clarified. Back in the beginning of this thread there were those who complained that 4e overly codified the role of a monster or npc through the way the stat blocks were presented.

I think the two sides, if they were honest, could be summarized as...

"I want each stat block to be as flexible as is reasonably possible."

and

"I want each stat block to be as short and to the point as is reasonably possible."

There is of course middle ground, but I think that is more or less what it boils down to.

Yeah, I think that is a good summation of the two ends of the spectrum. I tend to be in agreement with Scribble's comment - that there is room to expand on other ways to interact with NPCs, but the place for those is rarely in the stat block.
 

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