Friday, April 21, 2017

Monsters on a Role: Intro and Brutes

Great poses everybody! Now just hold still for a few days while I paint this.
There's a lot of hate for 4th Edition D&D. I haven't played it personally, so I never really understood what the big deal is. People say it's about the feel of the game, which I can get, but I always thought the feel of the game was largely determined by the type of story being told, as opposed to the system being used to tell it.

Of course, my first dungeon master was a homebrew-system user who would change everything about our RPG system every six months or so. We ran the gamut of highly-complex career-based skill trees all the way to "roll Xd6 and count up how many sixes you got". But the key factor was that the stories were always good, no matter what the system was. Even changing the flow and mechanics of combat didn't really affect the quality of the overall game.

So, I have never really had an issue with 4e. And reading some articles about what the system did right helped me realize that there are some really good lessons to be learned there. And applied to 5e. Because 90% of this blog is about my 5e Frankenstein projects, so dang it let's do this.

Monster Roles

Pictured: more than enough roles. Seriously.
The real value of 4e is that their design choices were laid out, plain as day, so that the person writing a game could understand them. 5e does away with this. It kind of assumes that, for example, a player knows that their wizard needs to stay in the back of the group and fire off spells, not rush forward and soak up damage.

That may be obvious to seasoned players, but newer players see a wizard and think "Gandalf! Harry Potter! Doctor Strange!" Then they rush heroically in and die immediately when an Orc flicks a booger in their direction.

In 4e, the player knew their wizard was a "Striker", and they knew the type of things that Strikers did. It didn't involve running up to enemies, but shooting them with spells from afar. 4e hearkened back to the Wargames which D&D was based on, but instead of just letting players figure out proper grid-based tactics, it taught them how to anticipate and optimize a battle.

Which, for all those DMs who have had players who rush in and die immediately, seems like it should be a great idea.

But the really cool thing was that it wasn't just players who had those kind of combat roles. Every monster in the manual also was given a specific purpose to fulfill. They had their place on the battlefield, and a group of enemies might feature monsters filling many different roles.
The benefits of tactical tactics
I really want to give this a shot in 5e. I'm kinda tired of throwing waves of uniform orcs and goblins at my groups. Intelligent monsters have strategy. They have different abilities and tactics based on their strengths. But in 5e the best we get is "Goblin" and "Goblin Boss". Not too exciting.

So, in this series, I'm going to go through the monster roles from 4e and discuss a few things for each one.
  1. How to use a particular type of monster tactically
  2. Abilities or stat adjustments to alter existing monsters to fit those roles
  3. How those modifications affect the Challenge Rating of the creature
At the end of the series, we can go through and build different groups of monsters using all the types.


Some of you who might have played 4e games will notice I'm leaving off Elite Monsters, Solo Monsters, and Minions. That's because those designations aren't really a role, but rather a description of power level.

There's already a great article series about how to build that type of monster. To make an Elite monster, just add two normal monsters together. To make a Solo monster, add five monsters together and give it some abilities that will allow it to fill multiple roles.

Minions are a little more complicated, but I think they deserve their own article. Just not as a part of this series.

On to the first monster role!


Sick gains, bruh
Brutes are the simplest monsters to build. They are defined by the following characteristics:
  • High Damage (melee)
  • Low Attack Bonus
  • High Hit Points
  • Low Armor Class
  • Low mobility
  • Large Size

The Ogre is the ultimate example of a Brute. They are all muscle and not a lot of tactics, making them among the easiest and most straightforward type of monster to run. In fact, most DMs start out running every single monster like a Brute.

The best use for a Brute is in Melee combat, where they can deliver a few powerful blows before they fall. They can be used to block a path or an ally due to their large size, and often act as a definite, immediate threat to the party.

The Brute is also a good way to play monsters with low intelligence. Bears, Rhinos, Hill Giants, Elementals, Cyclops, and more all generally just swing with their attacks, not graceful but deadly if they connect.

Many of the monsters in the manual already function as brutes. But, if you want to modify a creature to be a brute, there are a couple ways to do so.

Magic: a more sophisticated way of bashing in heads
The best way is to make the creature a "Hulking" version of itself. This means use nearly the same stats, but increase the size category of the creature by one. Make a small creature medium, a medium creature large, etc.

How will this effect the creature's challenge rating? Well, it will require a bit of math. But we can get a pretty good estimate.

First, the creature's weapons will now deal an extra damage die worth of damage on each attack. using a kobold as an example, a "Hulking Kobold" will now deal 2d4+2 damage with its dagger or sling. This increases the average damage from 4 to 7 per attack.

This extra damage means the Kobold will deal +3 damage per round. Changing damage output (usually) affects CR using the following formula:
Damage Increase/decrease per Round / 12 = Increase/decrease in CR
So, an increase of 3 damage per round bumps our Hulking Kobold up to 1/8 (the original CR) + 1/4 (3 / 12) for a CR of 3/8.

If we don't move, they can't see us...
The size change also affects HP. This one's a bit more complicated. You'll have to check out the creature's HP calculation. The Kobold has 2d6-2 HP, which averages out to 5 HP. By increasing the size, the HP now becomes 2d8-2, or 7 HP (according to the table on DMG pg. 276). Not that big of a difference, but our Hulking Kobold could now likely stand up to an extra hit from a 1st-level PC.

Changing the HP of a monster (usually) affects CR in the following way:
Effective HP increase/decrease / 30 = Increase/decrease in CR
In this case, the Kobold's HP increase doesn't have enough of an impact on CR to matter. However, it should make us round our final CR upwards, giving us a CR of 1/2.

Another way to make a monster a Brute is to increase its Constitution stat. This directly affects HP. Suppose we weren't satisfied with the Hulking Kobold just yet. Sure, they hit harder and deal more damage, but we don't want a runty little lizard, we want a sturdy, healthy Hulk. So let's increase the Kobold's Con modifier!

By raising the Constitution score to 14, our modifier goes from -1 to +2. That means Hulking Kobold's Hp goes from (2d6-1) 5 HP to (2d8 + 4) 13 HP. Still not enough to make a big impact on CR, but that feels more like a Hulking Kobold!

The most advanced of all ancient magics: fist magic
The methods described above are very specifically avoiding raising the creature's strength or dexterity. Why? Because that also raises the creature's attack bonus and armor class. We want a big, dumb brute. More precise monsters can come later.

There's one last way to make a monster a Brute, without mucking around in stats or size. This is very simple: give them magical powers and weapons.

Let's make Zolo, the Kobold Wizard. He's dabbled in dark magics and has gained the following abilities:
  1. He has touched arcane energy and has become resistant to harm
  2. He can now channel that dark energy into his melee attacks
Let's use the table found on DMG pg. 277 to adjust Zolo's effective Hit Points. Note that his printed HP will still be 5, but he's going to be able to take more of a beating than his non-warlock-leaning brethren. Giving Zolo Resistance to nonmagical bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing requires us to treat his CR as though his Hit Points were actually 10. This alters his CR, increasing it by 1/6th. We're already pretty close to the 3/8th Hulking Kobold.

Next, let's give Zolo a magic weapon attack. We can say it's a cantrip-level spell, which (going by the table on DMG pg 284) increases his damage to (1d10+2) or 7. Sound familiar?

By increasing the creature's size or by using magical enhancements, we can make a creature that hits harder (without hitting more often) and stays on the battlefield longer (without giving it more armor).

So, let's finish up with another example. Taking another non-brute monster and making it a brute, let's make a Hulking Ettercap.

Changing the size from medium to large, the Ettercap's HP goes from 44 to 52. An increase of 8 HP raises our CR by about 1/3, not too much. However, since the Ettercap makes two attack a round, we increase our damage output per round by 10 (the poison damage isn't affected). That's enough to bump the Hulking Ettercap up to CR 3.

Finally, I would remove the Web ability of the monster, to encourage it to get up close and attack.

Not necessarily the leader, but definitely the guy yelling as he runs into combat.
Next week, we'll talk about the Brute's more advanced counterpart, the Soldier.

Thanks for reading!

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