GM Prep Time - Cognitive Dissonance in Encounter Design?

Scribble

First Post
Edit: Wow, I pprobably should have snipped that quote, sorry about that... also I realize that those three games I listed are toolbox games, that provide the means (in a concrete way) to construct what one wants out of them while still being heavily oriented towards their genre, so I guess that is perhaps my preference and why 4e doesn't hit my buttons like it does others.

Thats probably it for me as well, but on the other end. I love the ability to customize, but get really annoyed when I feel like I'm being bogged down by the heavier "toolkit" styles.

It's all a personal preference thing.
 

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Raven Crowking

First Post
Ah. 4e plays much better than it reads.

That may well be true, depending upon the group, also depending upon the reader.

Re-writing from 4e modules on the other hand isn't.

It seems extremely easy to me. That might be an artefact of the system I am translating to, however.

Most of the modules are poor, granted. And it's not always easy to see the places where 4e beats out a generic rules light game unless you understand it.

Of those people who have played 4e and RCFG in the playtests, 100% claim that RCFG is superior. Of course, this is an extremely small sample set. :lol:
 

Dannager

First Post
Nope. Minions only exist relative to the PC's. In order to serve as a setting for a game, the elements of that setting need to make sense without the presence of the PC's.
You have not shown this to be true, nor have you shown that minions do not make sense without the PCs' presence from a story perspective. You are making up absolute rules based on a flimsy, likely mutable definition of what a game ought to be and nothing more. In fact, I'm starting to wonder if the rules you're making up are designed with 4e falling short of them in mind.
 



Doug McCrae

Legend
Not that D&D has ever been focused primarily on anything outside of the play group but it has generally supported multiple play styles.
Is that true? Prior to 4e, you had to begin play at level 1 and then stop around level 10 in order to balance casters. Either that or play the whole game in the level 3-6 region, which I think I lot of people might've done. Also, to balance Vancian magic you need a certain minimum number of encounters per day, in my view 3e needed quite a bit more than four to be balanced.

Deviate from either of these and the classes are no longer balanced. The groups I've gamed with often disliked traditional D&D dungeons, probably due to their implausibility and divergence from fantasy fiction. And we'd very often play single sessions, oneoffs or short campaigns.
 

There are additional problems in this thread that I'll address in a minute, but this will be the post that just got Beginning of the End suspended. Folks, please pay attention to what he does here -- and then don't do that. Our simple "don't be a jerk" rules is being completely ignored, and we don't have a lot of patience for that. ~ PCat

Not that D&D has ever been focused primarily on anything outside of the play group but it has generally supported multiple play styles.
Is that true? Prior to 4e, you had to begin play at level 1 and then stop around level 10 in order to balance casters. Either that or play the whole game in the level 3-6 region, which I think I lot of people might've done. Also, to balance Vancian magic you need a certain minimum number of encounters per day, in my view 3e needed quite a bit more than four to be balanced.

First, I find your assertions about how D&D "had" to be played extremely questionable. Starting campaigns above 1st level was as easy as saying "roll up 5th level characters". And I've run plenty of campaigns beyond 10th level with great success and minimal balance problems. (With proactive instead of reactive dungeon mastering, the casters only start skewing out of balance once they can truly start dictating the pace of encounters. And that doesn't happen until 15th level or thereabouts.)

But more importantly, pre-4E D&D supported multiple styles of play at every level. Fighters, wizards, rogues, and clerics all featured widely divergent mechanical styles of play. All 4E classes, on the other hand, are variations on a single mechanical theme.

And going all the way back to the 1974 White Box, we find rules for multiple styles of campaign. The rules for dungeon crawling and combat actually took up a minority of both the rulebooks and the class descriptions in 1974.

Of these 14 encounters you highlight, precisely one involves 5 or more (exactly 5, actually) of the same non-minion stat block.

Nice try at moving the goalposts. You get an E for Effort, but an F for intellectual dishonesty.

I call bull on this, the only way a 3e melee attacker monster/NPC has fewer options than a 4e melee attacker monster/NPC is if you disregard the application of classes, feats, prestige classes, etc. when designing it. Otherwise it becomes a matter of number of options being relatively scalable in 3e to how much effort one is willing to put into personalizing the monster.

What is probably true is that 4E melee attackers at 1st level generally have more options than 3E melee attackers. But, OTOH, 1st level in 4E was explicitly designed to look more like 3rd level in previous editions.

I'm going to arbitrarily look at ten CR 5 non-casters in the MM for both games. I'm going to ignore options coming from skill use or from basic functionality of the combat system. For 3rd Edition, I'm taking the first 10 monsters in the CR 5 listing and not listing any monsters with spells or spell-like abilities. (And I only did one elemental.) For 4th Edition I'm taking the top two creatures listed in each category for Level 5 creatures, except for controllers. (I also skipped the one Level 5 minion listed.)

3rd Edition
Achaeri (3): Claw/Bite, Black Cloud, Spring Attack
Animated Object, Huge (4): Slam, Blind, Constrict, Trample
Arrowhawk, Adult (3): Bite, Electricity Ray, Flyby Attack
Basilisk (2): Bite, Petrifying Gaze
Cloaker (4): Tail Slap, Moan, Engulf, Shadow Shift
Devil, Bearded (7): Claw, Infernal Wound, Beard, Battle Frenzy, Summon Baatezu, Telepathy, Power Attack
Dire Lion (3): Claw, Pounce, Rake
Elemental, Large Air (3): Slam, Whirlwind, Flyby Attack
Gibbering Mouther (7): Bite, Spittle, Gibbering, Improved Grab, Blood Drain, Engulf, Ground Manipulation

Average: 3.6 options

4th Edition
Blazing Skeleton (2): Blazing Claw, Flame Orb
Gnoll Huntmaster (3): Handaxe, Longbow, Pack Attack
Boneshard Skeleton (3): Scimitar, Boneshard, Boneshard Burst
Bugbear Warrior (Goblin) (3): Morningstar, Skullthumper, Predatory Eye
Greenscale Darter (Lizardfolk) (3): Club, Blowgun, Sniper
Slaad Tadpole (2): Bite, Chaos Shift
Dire Wolf (3): Bite, Combat Advantage, Pack Hunter
Fire Bat (2): Fiery Touch, Fiery Swoop
Dragonborn Soldier (4): Dragon Breath, Dragonborn Fury, Impetuous Spirit, Martial Recovery
Dwarf Hammerer (5): Warhammer, Shield Bash, Throwing Hammer, Stubborn, Stand Your Ground

Average: 3.0 options

This spot check would seem to confirm your suspicion, Imaro.

No, the great stories are never about balanced encounters (even though, sometimes, they actually might be). That doesn't mean that balanced encounters don't play a huge role in facilitating the cooperative telling of a story that involves combat encounters, nor does it mean that a balanced encounter is going to make a great story more difficult to tell. Your signature engages in the clear implication that balanced encounters are unimportant to a roleplaying game, and I think that's an implication that deserves one heck of a challenge.

I think there are actually two divisions in play style being clumped together here:

(1) "All encounters should be perfectly balanced" vs. "a wide range of encounter difficulties makes for a dynamic play experience"

(2) "The DM is primarily responsible for the balance of play" vs. "The players control the balance of play"

These two styles interact with each in several ways (for example, when players are allowed to choose what difficulty of challenge they want to deal with a dynamic range of encounter difficulties is generally part of that parcel).

Except I think you are the one making that equation, not Noonan. The attitude of "five rounds later, they're done" is explicitly a discussion of what abilities are relevant in the stat-block in the context of how many actions a creature will take.

I think this is the crux of our disagreement. I read: "We wanted our presentation of monsters to reflect how they’re actually used in D&D gameplay." And I read that to mean "this is how monsters are used in D&D". You, on the other hand, are apparently choosing to simply ignore that statement for your own convenience.

(Or you're choosing to interpret "D&D gameplay" to mean "combat and nothing but combat". Which just brings us back to my point again.)

Are they as common as the combat? No, but that is an issue with adventure design more than something fundamentally tied to what monsters are capable of.
... and no matter how many time I explicitly say that isn't a claim I'm making, you keep repeating it so that you can beat the strawman a little more.

Why do you keep doing that, exactly?

Every time I've pointed out that monsters still have relevant stats, skills and abilities that a DM can use to have them interact out of combat, you've chosen to respond to some other point entirely.
Because that statement is irrelevant to what I'm saying. If you kept saying, "Apples are red." I would similarly ignore that. I have nothing to say to it. Yes, apples are red. So what? WotC's designers are still espousing a design philosophy that NPCs only exist in the context of combat; and that design philosophy still has an impact on how their modules are being written.

(It also has an impact on how their stat blocks are written, which has a much smaller impact on how their adventure modules are written. But that's an almost entirely tangential issue.)

Let's see if this can make it clearer: Even in a world where 4th Edition had never been designed or published, the design philosophy espoused by Noonan would still produce combat-happy grind-fest modules. It doesn't matter what edition you're designing for: If your attitude is that NPCs only exist in combat, then you're going to be designing combat-happy grind-fest modules.

He also said that we don't need mechanics detailing how they interact with other NPCs out of combat.
Actually, no. What he said is that we don't need mechanics detailing how they interact with other NPCs off-screen while the PCs aren't there to see it.

This part of Noonan's claim is, BTW, essentially true. (The only exception is that it may be important insofar as the PCs are capable of finding out that information without being there to see it. But that's nothing more than a quibble.)

Unfortunately, the rest of Noonan's statement goes on to say that we don't need mechanics detailing how NPCs interact with PCs outside of combat. Which is, of course, complete poppycock.

The problem is, you have somehow leaped from that scenario... to claiming that by prioritizing combat relevance, we are outright exiling non-combat interaction from the game.
It doesn't really matter how many times you claim I said that. I never actually said that.

Then why did you describe Noonan's claim that NPCs exist only in combat a being a "truthful statement"?
When an actor leaves the stage does the character continue to exist? There's a good argument that the answer is no.

How can you argue so stridently that you don't have a bias for combat and then just blatantly post that in your campaigns NPCs never appear outside of combat?

C'mon!

Each round each NPC has to select an action. If there are 5 NPCs using the same stat block and 5 rounds, then 25 actions have to be selected from that stat block.
And if the monsters don't select the same action more than once they are almost incoherent.

Beat that strawman! Beat it until it bleeds!

Lemme know when you want to talk about something that I actually said.

...yeah. Not so much. ~ PCat
 
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Primal

First Post
But there are guidelines.

When I create or customize a 4E monster, I know around what attack bonus I should have and how much damage an attack should do, based on whether it recharges, what type of monster role I am in, how many targets it hits, what defense it attacks...

Now, there aren't as useful guidelines for adding the extra features - what conditions it inflicts, what other elements the attack might have.

But I have found, with those guidelines, I can make pretty informed decisions. I know that whatever I choose, I'm not going to have an attack that just blows PCs apart, or bounces off them harmlessly. I know, based on the level alone, the monster will be an appropriate challenge in terms of defenses and hitpoints.

Which - at least for me - are far more useful reassurances than the entirely by-the-book monster customization formulas of 3.5. The CR system really did fail me, time and again. Leveling monsters, advancing hit dice, adding abilities - I often found that I could trust the end result. Yet the book said I could, and so I went with it anyway. It didn't fail me every time, of course - but I regularly found myself comparing newly adjusted monsters to ones from the book anyway, and trying to scale them appropriately from there. Despite all the formulas, monster adjustment was an art more than a science.

And thus I was very glad when 4E outright acknowledged that. You get guidelines and pointers, and the advice to check your work anyway. You do have some templates for adding classes to existing monsters, or NPC rules for building humanoid NPCs from scratch. But if you don't want to go by the book, you can also just take a monster and swap some of its powers for appropriate level ranger powers.

And that is the real strength - the time is takes to make those adjustments is far less than I would spend statting out high-level monsters or NPCs. And more basic changes - like adjusting a monster's level up or down - I can often do on the spot. Combined with the expanded base options for many monsters... I find I prefer 4Es approach, and that it provides all the customizability I need.

I have yet to find myself in a situation where I wanted a certain monster or type of monster, and couldn't put together one, and one that was distinct in what it could do and how it played. And if anyone is really concerned that the DM might get it wrong without strict rules to ensure balance... the fact that it takes less work leaves you plenty of time to compare it to existing monsters and confirm whether a new ability is appropriate at that level or not.

Will the system be perfect for everyone? Of course not. But I've found it is easier for starting DMs by providing them with a more diverse selection of distinctive monsters, and it is easier for advanced DMs by putting the power into their own hands and giving guidelines, rather than absolute formulas, to create and adjust monsters as they desire.

I don't think anyone is confused how to calculate attack bonuses, AC or HPs -- however, as I said a couple of pages ago, I find the *powers* to be the problem. For example, as I posted, the exact "recharge number" is a problem for me; should a "stun (save ends)"-type of power recharge only on a 6? Or should it only last for one round? How about daze? Can I give a 4th level brute monster a daze/stun-power? Etcetera, etcetera.

The arbitary and "whatever-you-like" type of monster design guidelines are what's kept me from running 4E, because I know I'd spend FAR more time sweating over monsters than I've done in 3E. I see it as 4E's biggest *weakness*. But, that's just me -- I know many other DMs feel this aspect of 4E is liberating.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
But more importantly, pre-4E D&D supported multiple styles of play at every level. Fighters, wizards, rogues, and clerics all featured widely divergent mechanical styles of play. All 4E classes, on the other hand, are variations on a single mechanical theme.
I don't think they are that different. There's only two different types of power in terms of periodicity - at-wills (basic attacks for all classes, thieves' abilities) and Vancian magic (wizard and cleric spells). A cleric makes use of both kinds of periodicity (though not at 1st level in OD&D and BD&D) and so does a low level magic-user. Fighters and thieves use only one. So all four classes are the same in terms of having at-wills, while two classes possess an additional type - dailies.

Compare a magic-user who is out of spells to a 4e controller. The magic-user just feels like a weak ranged attacker, essentially a subset of thief or fighter, whereas the controller is still more effective than other roles at attacking multiple foes and moving them around. The same is true for a cleric who is out of spells, whereas a 4e leader out of dailies will still have his per encounter heals.

Consider also that the ability to very easily multi-class in 3e could lead to a great degree of homogeneity. The practice of 'dipping' AKA front-loaded abilities. Take a level of cleric for access to CLW wands, now everyone can be a healer. A level of barbarian for rage and increased move, or two levels of fighter for the feats.
 
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Benimoto

First Post
The arbitary and "whatever-you-like" type of monster design guidelines are what's kept me from running 4E, because I know I'd spend FAR more time sweating over monsters than I've done in 3E. I see it as 4E's biggest *weakness*. But, that's just me -- I know many other DMs feel this aspect of 4E is liberating.

I had the same sorts of thoughts when I started running 4e, but I can say from my own experience that actually running 4e and using the monsters is the best way to know the answers to these questions.

Plus, the whole thing about the expected 5 round lifespan of a monster means it's unlikely a mistake will be too costly.

Again, just my experience, but as someone who played 3.0/3.5 regularly for basically the entire time it was in print, and now has been playing 4e for several years, I find 4e monster design easier. My 4e monsters generally take less time to create, and when I use them I find they are more consistently a balanced challenge to my players (if that is what I intend ;)).
 

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