Scaling for Spells
By mid level, column size is not a good factor for scaling. If a caster with a 4 column fights a caster with a 12 column, it’s still anybody’s game – the first caster to land two consecutive spells before the opponent can cast a protective will win.
Keep celestial casters in mind when building monsters. Their class is most effective when the monsters have lower amounts of body and are vulnerable to a certain element. If your monsters seem to be getting constantly spelled down by take-outs, it is better to grant specific defenses such as return vs mystic force or return vs imprison than general purpose return magics or <effect> shields.
Use return magic instead of resist magic wherever possible. Because casters can actually run out of things they can do, it’s very frustrating to have your limited resources consumed by spell resistance. Returns, like lesser parries (described under Scaling for Melee) increase the individual monster’s difficulty without severely draining the player’s resources.
NPCs should only throw take-out spells when fighting mid or higher level groups. Death and Imprison spells should be very limited in use, generally only used by elite monsters or in “high danger” situations.
Reduced Damage: Monsters which take half damage from melee attacks are best targeted by spell casters.
The rate at which opponents respawn impacts the difficulty of the encounter.
- Player Triggered Respawn: (easiest) the opponents respawn when the players decide to “move forward”. This is the easiest way to encounter opponents, as the party has as much time as it needs to organize and prepare for the next encounter.
- Interval Respawn: (easy to medium) the opponents respawn as a group at certain intervals. Usually there is a bit of downtime between each wave, allowing players time to refit armor and resolve status effects. Monsters will be able to make effective use of teamwork, healing, and coordinated attacks, potentially increasing the difficulty of the encounter.
- Popcorn Respawn: (medium to hard) opponents respawn instantly after they’ve died. Each NPC is usually given a time limit or finite number of lives. These types of encounters result in constant pressure on the party, making it challenging to heal the wounded or refit armor. Due to the staggered respawning, monsters will tend to be in smaller groups when they engage the players.
see also:Status Effects
Carrier attacks will only work if they pierce the target’s armor. As such, monsters with carrier attacks do not need to deal as high melee damage as other monsters.
Monsters can be equipped with carrier attacks at three different levels of intensity:
- Unlimited Use – A creature with unlimited use of a carrier attack may choose to call it on every weapon swing.
- Critical Use – A creature with critical use of a carrier attack may call it against one opponent per battle, in the manner of a critical attack
- Single Use – A creature with a single use carrier attack may choose to call the effect on one swing only.
Resolution: Because it takes spell power to resolve wounds from a monster with a carrier attack, this ability can drain player resources very quickly. As such, they should be used sparingly. After an encounter involving carrier attacks, players will need to resolve status effects, refit armor, and recast protectives. As such, carrier attacks are easier to resolve if the monsters attack in waves, (rather than a continuous trickle).
Weak Carrier Attacks: Weak carrier attacks can be resolved by a 4th level or lower spell, or will go away on their own. This includes disease, pin, fear, and bind.
Strong Carrier Attacks: Greater carrier attacks include take-out effects and effects which are resolved by 5th or higher level spells. This includes wither, web, paralyze, taint blood, and sleep.
Non-Spell Packet Attacks
Other than takedowns, there are plenty of things that NPCs can do with Packets. These might be minor effects like fear, pin, and disarm, or they could simply be elemental damage. The strength of packet delivered attacks is the fact that they cannot be stopped, and almost every point of damage will be delivered to a player (except for misses).
While these things are perfectly fine for use in controlled situations, modules with a large amount of resets for lesser NPCs with packet attacks can quickly go south, even if the rest of the module was scaled appropriately.
As a rule of thumb, lesser NPCs should be given the same amount of packet attacks as the average player level. The level of a packet attack is either the level of the spell effect or the damage divided by 10 (10 elemental <element> is level 1, etc). The lower the level of the PCs, the better it is to lean on effects rather than pure damage.
If you plan on having the NPCs continue to reset until a boss is killed, consider giving them a pool of packet attacks that they can access for the entire module, as well as a limit on how many they can throw per respawn. That way, bad NPCs won’t suicide themselves after they throw their packets, so they can respawn and do it again.
Example: A group of low level adventurers (APL 10) stumble into a spider cave. They decide to engage the queen that’s sleeping on a pile of treasure, and when they do, hundreds of spiders decend from the ceiling. Lesser spiders will continue to respawn until the queen is dead.
Since the APL is 10, each spider has a pool of 10 levels of packet attack they can access, but they are only allowed to throw a single packet per spawn. They can choose to use Physical Entangle your leg (level 2), Physical Entangle your body (level 5), or 10 physical acid (level 1). Once they’ve depleted their pool of attacks, they’re stuck meleeing the group, possibly with a lesser carrier attack.
Scaling For a Low Level Group
For purposes of this document, low level is defined as anything below level 10. A low level party may have access to a very limited number of life spells, and cannot use cantrips.
In low level groups, PCs focused on melee damage will generally swing 8 damage or lower. Templars will usually swing between 3s and 5s. Characters will have a maximum of 25 body points, though most will have 10 or less.
Carrier attacks: A low level group has difficulty resolving carrier attacks. If carrier attacks are used, stick to lesser effects, and single use or critical use attacks.
Scaling For a Mid Level Group
For purposes of this document, mid level is defined as levels 11-25. A mid level party may have access to multiple life spells, and can spend resources to get more power via cantrips or formal magic.
In mid level groups, PCs focused on melee damage will generally swing 15 damage or lower. Templars will usually swing between 4s and 7s. Characters will have a maximum of 50 body points, though most will have 20-30.
Carrier attacks: A mid level group can handle a few creatures having unlimited use of lesser carrier attacks (such as pin, bind, fear & disease). Greater carrier attacks such as wither, web, paralyze, taint blood, and sleep may be deployed in single-use or as a critical attack.
Scaling for a High Level Group
For purposes of this document, high level is defined as levels 25+. A high level party has access to many ways to resolve status any status effect including death. Fighters will often swing 15s or 20s. A well positioned rouge will be capable of unleashing hundreds of points of damage in a few backstabs.
In high level groups, PCs focused on melee damage will generally swing 15-20 damage. Templars will usually swing between 5s and 10s. Characters could have 60 or 80 body, but most will have less than 30.
Carrier attacks: A high level group can handle unlimited use of lesser carrier attacks. Dangerous carrier attacks such as wither, web, paralyze, taint blood, and sleep may be used more commonly.
Scaling for Mixed Level Groups
Mixed level groups are the hardest to scale for, especially if there is a large level disparity. The goal is to make sure every player has something to do in the fight.
In a dynamic battle, there are multiple tasks or objectives. These are often simultaneous. Players performance towards these objectives affects the completion of other tasks. Here are some examples of dynamic challenges:
- high and low level monsters are respawning from opposite sides of the encounter area
a puzzle must be solved while monsters attack. (some characters must focus on the puzzle while others focus on the battle)
- the boss is only vulnerable while somebody is playing the drum of sundering, brandishing a light spell, or doing some other activity
- the players must use one or more items which are delimited to only be used by characters in a certain level range
- a group of players is outside, dealing with monsters trying to get into the building, while another group faces the challenges inside the building
There are also a few abilities which lend themselves for groups of mixed level:
Damage Cap: Damage caps are a good tool for mixed level groups as they put fighters and templars of disparate levels on the same footing. If a monster has cap 5 and 25 body, you can be sure it will take 5 swings to kill it whether the players are swinging 5s or 20s.
Threshold / Immune to <damage type>: Monsters with a damage threshold, or monsters which are silver/magic to hit are best targeted by characters who can beat that threshold or immunity. These abilies are best used to create monsters which must be targeted by spell casters or higher level fighters. Whenever abilities like these are used, you must also include creatures who can be affected by the remaining characters. Avoid situations where certain characters have nothing to do in a given fight. For example, never stat every single monster on a module to be magic-to-hit.
Scaling for Large Groups
Large groups have a wide variety of resources at their disposal. The advice for scaling for mixed level groups also applies. Dynamic encounters may be slightly be more complex, but be sure to explain the encounter’s objectives to everybody in advance.
When creating encounters for large groups, use a variety of different monster types. The majority of the monsters should be melee types, but also be sure to include ranged and rogue opponents. Large groups may have to contend with occasional boss-type monsters as well.
A boss fight is a dramatic encounter, often the climax of an adventure or battle. As such, they should be memorable and exciting. This is the time to bust out the best props, costume, lighting, music or sound effects you have available.
Generally, it is better to use a group of bosses than an single tough opponent. This maximizes the number of players who can feel heroic for defeating a boss.
Bosses are generally are what players save their really powerful skills for, so boss types should have multiple resistances to take-out effects. They should have take-out or escape effects of their own which they use to avoid being surrounded or overwhelmed. Bosses are most effective when fighting in concert with a complimentary class such as a healer (for melee bosses) or a fighter (for packet slinging bosses).
Boss fights are great opportunities for dynamic encounters. Perhaps the boss can only be slain under certain conditions, or must be defeated multiple times. Perhaps he splits into several aspects which must be defeated in different places or by different groups.