Analyzing the Monster Database

One of my current quests is to learn more about the logic behind how NERO monsters are currently built. (I’m currently working on a monster build guide and a scaling guide which may facilitate a revision of the monster database.) I was interested to see some of the data about our monsters displayed visually. So I got a hold of the NERO National Monster database in excel format. Here are some charts I made to examine the relationships between level, body points, and weapon damage.

As a bit of background: the National Monster Database is a set of 319 monster stat cards which are distributed to all chapters of NERO. Chapters don’t have to use these monster’s stats, but it’s encouraged that they do so that there’s continuity in the creatures you encounter all over the country. During the game, the stats are often tweaked and tailored (this is called “scaling”) to adjust for players they’ll be facing – as well as other concerns of the LARP weekend.

So let’s take a look at some of the most important data: hit points, damage, and APL. All monster cards have an APL, or “approximate player level”. This is theoretically supposed to tell us which experience level players this monster is a good match against. When these monsters were created, there was probably some formula to calculate the monster’s APL, but I suspect this equation is lost to the mists of time. APL is a good method of ballparking a monster’s power, but shouldn’t be interpreted too literally.

This first chart displays the relationship between body points and approximate player level.

Based on this chart, a few things seem to pop out:

  • The majority of the content in the database is designed to fight characters of level 15 and under.
  • Past level 15, there is less fine differentiation between levels of monster power. Monsters are clustered around APL 15, 20, 25, 30, 35.
  • Before level 20, it’s very rare for a monster to have over 100 body points

The second chart displays the relationship between approximate player level and long/short weapon damage. This may be a bit misleading because many monster’s weapon attacks are dangerous because of their carrier attack, not their damage number. And monsters with two handed weapons often have much higher damage than long/short weapon users due to the monster’s strength bonus. That being said, we can still get a rough idea of how monster’s damage input is related to their approximate player level.

This chart shows us:

  • Before level 15, most monsters swing 5s to 10s.
  • Not many monsters swing 20s before adding PC skills and other buffs. So if you’re fighting a creature that swings 20s, it’s probably been scaled up.

Here’s the relationship between weapon damage and body points. I thought this might be useful because in my experience, directors tend to scale based on body points rather than player level anyway. Level is a rather abstract way of evaluating a monster’s power – body points and weapon damage are generally a more reliable measure of what it’ll be capable of and how long it will last.

The rule of thumb I’ve seen in many NPC camps is to stat monsters with about 1 weapon damage per 10 body. For example, you tend to see monsters with 40 body swinging 4s, 50 body swinging 5s, 60 body swinging 6s, et cetera. This usually gets tweaked after adding abilities and other scaling factors, but that’s the template. On this chart we can see that this is more or less in line with the monster database up until monsters have over 80 body. It’s rare for a basic monster to swing over 10s.

And in summary, here are the averages for each level bracket:

Level 1-10 Level 11-20 Level 21-30
Body Points 33.4 86.9 178.3
Weapon Damage 4.2 6.5 8.5

Based on this, we can say:

  • A mid level monster has about 3x as many hit points as a low level monster
  • A high level monster has about 2x as many hit points as a mid level monster
  • Weapon damage increases by about 1 point per five levels

Keep in mind that these numbers do not account for armor, carrier attacks, threshold, magic, player character levels, and other abilities which many monsters possess. But as a very rough thumbnail of the monster database, I thought this was very interesting.

Did you learn anything about our monsters from these data? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. #1 by Jyn on May 8, 2011 - 10:09 pm

    Neat!

    Something that just clicked-
    I knew that some chapters relied really heavily on the monster manual, and some really didn’t use it at all. I figured that was an artifact of staff experience (less experienced staff need more guidance), but now I think it’s also probably an effect of average character level. The MM has a lot more diversity to offer for a chapter full of 8th level characters than for one crawling with 35-45 level guys. Once you hit that point, you really have to throw the manual out of the window and write more custom stuff to challenge the players you have.

  2. #2 by phiend on May 9, 2011 - 5:59 am

    The changes that occur after like apl 15 and 20 also happen because apl means a lot less at and beyond those levels. Having 5 combat magic items can add 5-10 levels to your characters apl. A high level character that hasn’t focused on combat skills can easily be effectively having their level for a stated apl. Trying to make a formula for this seems like it would be very daunting and complicated. Another thing I have thought about is getting away from hit points for all of my monsters. I really like what D&D 4ed did with minions and I think a similar system would work for LARP monsters. Having a boss creature with hit points and what not and then a bunch of minions that instead of taking damage normally they take hits. So say they are for a group of APL 20 characters they get 7 hits at 10 points, this means that swings of 10 to 20 do one hit, 20+ 2 hits, less than 10, 2 hits. Spells do 1 hit for every 10 points min 1. Skills like slay and assassinate are instant kills. They get 3 resists that can be used on anything but per day skills. I realize this isn’t much different than hit points, but to me it seems easier to keep track of and easier to stat. I just pick the number of hits, resists, and the 2 cut off points; high and low. I haven’t really played around with this much and I can see that it would need a lot of work to make it usable, but it’s something that has been in my head since I saw what 4ed did with the minions.

    As for the way monsters are stated now, I really think we need a new way to do it. Things other than APL need to be considered when stating monsters. Maybe a different way to look at combat, things like party composition, splitting up game effects into different types like controlling effects, damage effects, status effects and the like. Having lists of effects that you can put into these categories and build a monster out of it and have an encounter that is stated towards one of these types. Like an encounter that is heavy on controlling but light on damage. This would take a different party composition than a monster group that is heavy on damage and light on controlling. Anyways these are some of the things I think need to be talked about with monster stating, and is a conversation I would really love to have.

  3. #3 by Daniel Burke on May 9, 2011 - 3:54 pm

    One of the things I’ve always wanted to have was a more universal system of monster design.

    Presently we have a good basic formula for Monster Body / Monster damage.

    This starts to skew the minute we add PC skills, and skews even further if we add monster abilities like carriers etc.

    In my ideal world I’d love to have a monster design system working from a common point pool.

    A monster of X Level has Y points.

    Everything you assign to that monster takes points. HP? 1 point to Z body. Damage? Similar, points to damage. Carriers? Points.

    In essence, a Build Point system for monster, where each potential monster ability has correlating build values for designing monsters. It allows a better idea of managing the creature rather than just saying ‘lets take a monster and staple a level 20 fighter to it!’

  4. #4 by phiend on May 9, 2011 - 5:05 pm

    I like Daniel’s comment about a point system for monsters. I think it’s kind of what we all do anyway; we consider an ability to be equivalent to a character ability and stat accordingly. But an actual unified system would go a long way to keep monsters similar across the game. Instead of a template having all the stats, it has a list of abilities that creature can purchase and you can determine how many points the creature has to fit in with your own player base. It makes sense that if characters over time can get more powerful then so can monsters and with this way, you don’t have to say like all orcs are apl 10, you say they have access to strong-arm, resist, rips from X, slay, etc, and if you want an apl 10 orc you only get so many points to spend on it. If for some reason you have really strong orcs in your area you can keep adding points to them and they get stronger without changing the basic structure of an orc.

  5. #5 by Daniel Burke on May 9, 2011 - 6:28 pm

    @ Phiend – It also has the benefit of being able to say ‘We have a comparison of monster level to player level’

    If anything Monsters would by default probably be a ‘higher’ level than most players purely from the perspective of challenge, on a build comparison basis. As monsters have more ‘built in’ items such as +str.

    • #6 by phiend on May 9, 2011 - 7:49 pm

      Yeah, I don’t think that the points for monsters should necessarily equate to character build. Because from my previous response, I don’t think that player level is a good determining factor of combat effectiveness, too many things change a characters combat effectiveness that aren’t directly relative to their level, like how much build they spend on production and craftsman, how much build they spend outside of their class skills and how many combat magic items they have. In another system I made each of our combat skills had a combat rating which we used as the equivalent of APL, so each character card had their level and their combat rating, and we used that number for stating monsters. If you don’t try to equate monster build points to a level, then you can just refer to the monsters as an X point monster and have to get a feel for what that means with your players. Then you can have a chart that says X points is generally equivalent to an APL Y group, but if your chapter has a lot of combat focused players then you can adjust X a little for your chapter. And I guess this is really just some semantics and playing with numbers, but to me I just really don’t think APL is a good way to do stating.

  6. #7 by Bill on May 10, 2011 - 1:23 pm

    I think one of the biggest problems that comes with trying to build a unified system is taking player skill into account. Scaling is important when trying to balance the variability between the NPC and PC OOG skill.

    The fear I would have about the unified system is that some plot teams would use it as a crutch, as a reason to not scale. There will come a time where you have to scale and no monster system will work. Plot teams need to know that and be prepared. Otherwise, PC groups comprised of skilled PCs will not be as challenged, and PC groups that are less skilled might be pushed too hard.

  7. #8 by fresh heir on May 12, 2011 - 12:45 am

    Fun fact: About 145 out of the 319 monsters in the 8th edition database have carrier attacks.

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