Scaling for Melee

Scaling isn’t just statting monsters to a certain amount of power. Scaling is creating appropriate challenges for each character level. Elsewhere we’ll cover how to create dynamic challenges that players of all levels can participate in. This section talks about the math of scaling – rather than creating monsters which are too hard for one group and too easy for another, we’ll create middle-range monsters which challenge characters regardless of their level.

Here is one mechanic for scaling:

Most monsters should die in about 5-8 hits. But body points are tricky. If you just keep adding body onto a monster, it makes damage spells and low level characters exponentially less useful.

Take the average number of damage the people on the module / field are swinging – say 10s. Multiply this number by the difficulty of the encounter:

  • 3 for an easy fight = 30 body
  • 5 for a tough fight = 50 body

Then add a few “lesser parries” – melee defenses which may be used against normal weapon swings, but shouldn’t be called against times-per-day skills like slays and assassinates.

Lesser Parries are a MUCH BETTER way to scale melee monsters than adding body. Here’s the math which explains why:

A monster with 100 body…

  • dies in 5 hits if you’re swinging 20s
  • dies in 20 hits if you’re swinging 5s
  • takes two flame blasts and a magic missile to kill (19 levels of spells)

This means that if you swing 5s, you might as well not bother. You have to swing four times to equal one swing from the 20Magic guy! And if you’re a low or mid level caster, you probably shouldn’t bother with damage spells, they’ll barely dent the creature.

    But a monster with 20 body and 3 “lesser parries”..

    • dies in 4 hits if you’re swinging 20s
    • dies in 7 hits if you’re swinging 5s
    • only takes one 4th level spell to kill

    That’s a lot more fair fight for everybody involved!

    A quick way of scaling up: add a bless spell and a magic armor — now the creature dies in 7 hits from the 20 guy and 9 hits from the 5s guy. And all it took was three levels of spells.

    When the melee monsters have low body + a few lesser parries, everyone can participate and feel like they’re actually helping.

    1. #1 by Daniel Burke on July 7, 2009 - 2:30 pm

      I would take this a step further but in the opposite direction, and provide slays that cannot be used as parries.

      The NPC monster, no matter how beefy, is ephemeral when you put it up against the sheer volume and speed that a concerted group of players can put out.

      As such playing ‘defensively’ is a bit of a moot point on the OOG design level as there is no way for an NPC to effectively defend itself, added to the fact that after the point of ‘challenge’ I would not want an NPC to mount a PC quality level of defense save for ‘boss’ level encounter monsters.

      The other issue I have is the practical use of a parry to an NPC. Parry is an ability which is typically used as an ‘oh shit!’ defense to stop something hideously mauling from landing. At the point which an NPC is worried about calling Parries against standard damage, and cannot employ these against advanced attacks, the NPC is already quite dead and is just stalling without actually participating in the combat.

      So instead, we add to the NPC’s offense and give it the limited slay. The nice things about a slay versus a parry:

      Psychological – The slay give the NPC a sense of impact on everyone facing the NPC. They are now aware it has serious damage dealing potential in the next strike until it is dealth with.

      Practical – The parry can only do one thing, stop a hit. The slay can cause damage, but the players have many ways to deal with it that are not just fighter centric. A parry kills it of course. So does a magic armor. Maybe someone ate their Wheaties and wants to just block manually until the NPC is beaten down as a point of pride/honor.

      And of course sometimes the NPC lands that slay and kills someone dead, letting the healers have their moment.

      I am on the same page with you for lower monster body, I would just rather see ‘low body/higher damage potential’ as my guiding philosophy on the matter.

      Another solution is the ‘variable body’ monster. Not all hit points are created equal. Some monsters take double damage from certain types of damage, Undead from Healing being the best example, Humanoids with metabolisms from necromancy being another.

      Finding the ‘magic bullet’ is a good way to keep the monsters chunky enough for the fighters but allow casters to do the scholarly appropriate thing and one or two shot them with kaboomery.

      Another fun variation on this: The Giant Beetle – 200 points of armor, 5 HP, one cause damage gas globe takes it out.

      Two part problem: 1 – Making sure plot has put the proper clues out for the players to think about trying something other than ‘club it to death’ 2 – The players exerting a degree of creativity when dealing with a problematic monster.

    2. #2 by Jason L. Kennedy on March 3, 2010 - 2:44 am

      I was looking through the special abilities section of rule book and noticed shield. And if used as physical shield (if possible) would create the desired affect with out adding any “new” abilities.

    1. More Scaling Advice « Nerology

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