Friday, April 28, 2017

Monsters on a Role: Soldiers
Tactics: Hair is my favorite Turn-based Strategy Game
This week, we're continuing our discussion of monster roles with Soldiers, the more tactical cousin of the Brute.


Soldiers are similar to brutes in that they already exist in many places in the monster manual and are fairly easy to build. Soldiers generally have the following traits:
  • Average damage
  • Average attack bonus
  • Average hit points
  • High armor class
  • Lower-than-average mobility
  • Abilities that force enemies to target them
  • Abilities that prevent forced movement or stop enemy movement
That horse defies all conventional horn-on-horse logic
So, unlike Brutes, we won't have to do too much calculation to figure out how these guys affect Challenge Rating. But we do need to talk about AC.

Remember, so far we have two equations we can use to adjust the CR of a monster:
  1. Damage Increase/decrease per Round / 12 = Increase/decrease in CR 
  2. Effective HP increase/decrease / 30 = Increase/decrease in CR 

As you can imagine, AC is a defensive trait of a monster. That means it works alongside HP. Basically, HP is a timer stating how long a monster will be on the field. But AC is the probability that the timer will go down with each attack.

Now, calculating a brand-new monster's AC is tricky and unwieldy, and there's no good equation for it. However, we're going to be modifying existing monsters, which is much easier. Here's the formula you'll want to use:
  • If CR is above 1, AC increase/decrease / 4 = Increase/decrease in CR
  • If CR is less than 1, AC increase/decrease /8 = Increase/decrease in CR

So if we want to put plate mail on a zombie (great tactic, by the way. Try it!), then we are increasing it from a CR 1/4 monster (AC 8) to a CR 1 1/4 (which I would round down to 1) monster (AC 18).
What it comes down to is how the monster is played. No, the zombie's abysmal attack bonus and damage means it won't be killing any PCs. But that armored zombie suddenly becomes a powerful tank: high constitution, high armor class, and an ability that keeps it from dying most times.

So what about Saving Throws? Saving throws are also a measure of how often a monster's HP goes down. Much like the brutes, we also want to be able to make magic versions of these soldiers. How do saves affect AC?

Well, it turns out that the answer varies: either a lot or not so much. In D&D 3.x, there were only three saving throws: Reflex, Fortitude, and Will. In D&D 5e, there are six: one for each ability score. However, a vast majority of spells still only target three of the saves: Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom. The other three are used for corner cases: Strength is for grapples, Intelligence is for detecting illusions, and Charisma is for... keeping your soul on the same plane? I don't quite get that one.

In the end, though, a monster with good Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom saves is going to be a lot better at avoiding spells than a monster without them. Monsters normally have at least one of these three as either a proficiency or naturally high ability modifier.
So what are you doing this weekend? Same thing as every other day...
However, these soldiers need to be more defensive. For that reason, I would give them proficiency in either Constitution (to reflect physical discipline) or Wisdom (to reflect mental discipline). So, how do we add a proficiency bonus to a monster?

Well, a monster's proficiency bonus functions exactly like a PC's, except it's based on the CR instead of the player level. That's right, if you buff a monster too much, you will change its proficiency bonus and have to recalculate things like attack bonus and skill bonuses.

Proficiency increases by 1 every 4 levels for the players, starting at +2 and ending at +6. A monster is no different, except since monsters can go up to CR 30, they can have +9 as their proficiency bonus. So if you monster changes from CR 3 to CR 5, just like a PC, their proficiency bonus went up by 1.

So to give a monster proficiency in saving throws, we just add the bonus to the ability score, just like if it were a PC. but of course, that's going to affect CR:
  • If a monster has proficiency in 0 to 2 saves, its CR is unaffected
  • If a monster has proficiency in 3 to 4 saves, raise its CR by 1/2
  • If a monster has proficiency in 5 to 6 saves, raise its CR by 1
Which means if we wanted to buff a Shadow Demon (CR 4, 2 saves) by making it proficient in Strength, Constitution, and Wisdom saves, not only would it become a CR 5 creature, but its attack bonus, skills, saves, and save DCs would all go up by 1. We've talked about some of this, but save DCs and attack bonus (and their effect on CR) will be for next week's article.

That was quite the diversion about Armor and Saves. Needless to say, when you buff a creature's defenses, it gets a lot stronger.

Now let's talk about the other defining features of the soldier: making sure they actually take the hits they were built to take, and stopping extra movement on the battlefield. This isn't a common feature of monsters in the MM, so we can borrow from player abilities, spells, and feats to make it work.

These are a bit trickier to calculate in terms of effect on CR. Some of them won't have much effect, others will make all the difference. For this, I'm going to provide an estimate based on similar abilities found on the Monster Features chart found on DMG pg 280, modifying the text so it only adjusts the CR and not the other stats of the monster.

I would give any particular soldier only one or two of these traits. It makes sense that a goblin might cover itself in Adhesive sap, but not that it would have the training needed to use a Protective Maneuver.

Soldier Abilities
Under those masks, they are real ugly
Frightful Presence/Horrifying Visage: Creatures within a certain range must make a wisdom saving throw or be frightened of the Solider for one minute. On a success, they are immune for 24 hours, and they can reroll the save at the end of their turn to end the effect.
  • Used to keep PCs from moving towards the Soldier's group
  • Effective HP increase of 25% against PCs of 10th level or lower (use equation above)

Adhesive: If touched or attacked, the creature gets stuck to it. If it's one size larger than the Soldier or smaller, it's also grappled (Strength check to escape). Checks made to escape the grapple have disadvantage.
  • Forces a melee fighter to continue attacking the Soldier
  • No effect on CR - doesn't increase or decrease offensive or defensive capabilities
  • If you want to make it so the creature is grappled and restrained, increase the Soldier's CR by 1/4

Reactive: The Soldier may take a reaction on every turn of a combat.
  • Allows a Soldier to make opportunity attacks against every PC who tries to pass them
  • The DMG lists no change in CR, but I'd say this adds at least one attack per round if you are using it right. So +1 opportunity attack, and count that as increased damage per round, using the equation above.

Sure-Footed: The Soldier has advantage on Dexterity and Strength saves against effects that would knock it prone.
  • Stops PCs from running past the Soldier while it's prone (and would have disadvantage on opportunity attacks)
  • No effect on CR. Prone isn't that common of a condition.

Protective Maneuver: The Soldier can, as a reaction, impose disadvantage on an attack targeting a creature within 5 feet of it.
  • Encourages PCs to attack the Soldier, combine with reactive for a real powerhouse
  • Imposing disadvantage on a single attack doesn't affect defenses enough to change CR

Goading Attack: The target of the attack must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a fail, the PC has disadvantage on attack rolls against targets other than the Soldier until the end of the Soldier's next turn.
  • Encourages the PCs to attack the Soldier
  • Imposing disadvantage on a single attack doesn't affect defenses enough to change CR

Sentinel: When the Soldier hits a creature with an opportunity attack, the creature's speed becomes 0 until the end of the turn.
  • Stops PCs from moving beyond the Soldier
  • This is essentially the same as Adhesive - stopping movement doesn't change CR

Grounded: If an effect move the Soldier against its will, the Solider may use its reaction to reduce the distance moved by 10 feet.
  • Slows unwanted movement from spells like Thunderwave and Gust of Wind
  • Again, no effect on CR as it doesn't change offense or defense capabilities
I prefer "practical"
Let's end by taking our favorite little monster, a Kobold, and turning it into a soldier.

First off, let's give our Kobold some good defenses. I don't think Kobolds have acces to plate armor, but some Hide Armor and a shield could work to toughen him up. That will increase his AC to 16, meaning we've already made him a CR 5/8 monster. We can give him a couple saving throws without affecting CR, so let's go for Strength and Constituion, to reflect his relative sturdiness. So now he has a STR save of +0 and a CON save of +1.

Finally, let's give him a couple abilities to really highlight his role as a defender, and make the PCs single him out. I like Sure-Footed and Goading Attack. I like the idea that this Kobold can stay on his feet, and throws insults at PCs to make them fight him. Neither of those affect CR, so I think at CR 5/8 we can round down to CR 1/2. That's a good monster that can fight alongside and help his allies.

A quick note: we'll go into how this is calculated later, but the Wisdom save on the Goading Attack will only be DC 9. I imagine this won't be too strong against the PCs, but honestly if a Kobold starts tossing out insults the players are likely to murder him first anyway.

Sword? Oh, no. This is just a parking barrier.
Thanks for reading!

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