Friday, June 2, 2017

Monsters on a Role: Leaders

Yo! Get back to work!
Well, we're finally almost done with the series on Monster Roles. All that's left is the Leader, which is more of a sub-class, but will give us some topics to continue the discussion on boss monsters we began a couple weeks ago.


As you can imagine, a group generally has one leader. And they usually have the highest Charisma of all the monsters in the combat. But just an ability score increase isn't enough to justify the role of Leader. So what do Leaders have that other monsters don't?

Well, as I said, this is more of a sub-class. A Leader can be any role (Brute, Soldier, etc), but they have a special ability that provides some kind of buff to their companions.

This is actually the role that is most blatantly in the Monster Manual. In fact, the MM gives us a great snapshot of what sort of things a Leader can do.

The most common type of leader is exemplified by the Hobgoblin Captain (MM pg. 186). They literally have an ability called Leadership, which, as you can guess, provides a buff to the Hobgoblin's allies. The buff comes in the form of a mass-Bless type effect, which is just enough of an advantage to provide the leader-like effect without affecting the monster's CR.

Why doesn't this have an effect? Well, adding 1d4 to attack rolls means on average the Hobgoblin's allies will get +2 on their attacks. Looking at our attack bonus formula:
  • If CR is above 1, Attack bonus increase/decrease / 4 = Increase/decrease in CR
  • If CR is less than 1, Attack bonus increase/decrease /8 = Increase/decrease in CR
We can see that a +2 attack bonus doesn't really affect CR all that much. It could turn a CR 1/8 monster into a CR 1/4, but note that the Hobgoblin Captain is CR 3. A group fighting the Captain and some other creatures is probably beyond CR 1/8 creatures.

So, if we wanted to make a lower CR creature with a Leadership ability, we would have to calculate the impact of raising the CR of its allies. But that will come later.

A powerful fish-head leader is a great addition to any game
Now, there are a few other Leader abilities in the Monster Manual I want to point out. The Gnoll Pack Lord (MM pg. 163) grants an ally the ability to make a melee attack as a reaction, useful for the savage Gnolls. The Orc War Chief's Battle Cry (MM pg. 246) ability reflects the Orc's ferocity, granting advantage on all attacks for one round. And many creatures have spells that can make them leaders, such as the Drow Priestess of Lolth (MM pg 129), who can cast Freedom of Movement and Mass Cure Wounds.

I do want to note that the Goblin Boss's ability (MM pg. 166), Redirect Attack, isn't a Leader ability. As you can imagine, goblins don't make good leaders, and thus this ability was built to act as an anti-leadership trait. They can save their own hides by hurting their allies, which has a great flavor to it.

There are a lot of PC abilities that can be adapted to leadership as well. A paladin's auras are a great example, as is the bard's countercharm ability. And spells are, of course, a great place to find Leader effects that can be translated into innate effects.

Beyond the basic effect of a trait, there's another part of the ability that we need to discuss. How does this ability change the monster's tactics? Well, it depends.

The Hobgoblin Captain will probably want to stay in the back, well protected, to ensure his bonus lasts as long as possible. Fortunately, he has a javelin attack. The Orc War Chief, who gets to make a bonus action attack and whose effect doesn't end if he goes down, can be on the front lines. The Goblin Boss will probably want to be surrounded by his allies. And the Gnoll is pretty flexible.

Now, you might have figured this out, but there's a type of synergy that is happening here. The tactical effect of the monster's leader ability should work alongside the monster's primary role.

So, tactics create the type of ability you should use. If you have a Dryad (a Controller) with a leader ability to command a hoard of forest animals, you better be sure that the leader ability allows the Dryad to hang back and continue to use their Fey Charm and Entangle abilities.

Thus, each monster role should get a different type of leader ability.
  • Brutes need leader abilities that allow them to continue attacking while using their ability
  • Soldiers should avoid leader abilities that make their allies more enticing targets than themselves
  • Artillery obviously need long-range abilities that they can maintain while attacking
  • Skirmishers need leader abilities that work whether they are close or distant from the rest of the combat
  • Lurkers can have leader abilities that work for a single round, or that are active up until their attack round
  • Controllers need abilities that avoid using up their spell slots or concentration, so they can keep controlling

This leads us nicely to the question of how a leader should act. And again, the answer is "it depends."

Unsurprisingly, Demons don't make good leaders
An Ogre chief will run into melee, howling a command to embolden his allies. An assassin leader will remain hidden in the shadows, directing his companions and providing covering fire. A wizard overlord will hang back and buff his allies while raining fire down on the enemy.

But, no matter what the tactics are, the players should be aware that the leader is providing support for their allies. And the player's decision to take out the boss first or save them for last will depend on the combat scenario, the leader's abilities, and the player's abilities.

This is yet another way to add a level of strategy to a combat. Perhaps the leader fortifies themselves behind a barrier and it must be broken before their effect can be stopped. Or maybe the leader rushes up front, but with twice as many hit points as his allies, the players must weigh the leader's ability against the damage taken if they only focus on the leader for a couple rounds.

So, consider how the leader will use their ability, and how it compares to their role, before the combat begins. Think tactically! When you have a fight with a leader included, the stakes of the combat go up, and you should make the fight more challenging in turn.

So, let's talk about the CR impact of the abilities, before making our own Leaders.

For Whom the Bell Gnolls
As I mentioned above, your leader's ability raises the CR of their allies (and sometimes themselves). However, more often than not, the amount raised is negligible.

You might have noticed that many of these abilities in the MM have a recharge time of 5-6. That means, at the beginning of the creature's turn, they roll 1d6 and can regain their ability if the number rolled is equal to the recharge number. Remember, a round of combat lasts about 3 rounds, so that means the designers expected the ability to be uses about once a combat, maybe twice.

So, we're making abilities that provide a small bonus, and many of them are only going to be used once in a combat. Essentially, we're taking an already small bonus and dividing it by 3. So the overall impact is pretty insignificant to CR.

Does this mean the players will see it as insignificant? Probably not, because they are experiencing each added d4, each attack with advantage, etc. They will directly see the effects, even if the overall difficulty of the combat isn't changing.

Of course, as we mentioned above, the Hobgoblin Captain's ability isn't just for one round, but for the entire combat. But we determined that the Captain's CR was high enough to prevent a change in their allies' CR from affecting combat.

Well, what about a Kobold Captain? You knew I was going there. A Kobold would greatly benefit from the extra 1d4 added to their attack rolls. So, if we were to make a Kobold Captain (which I'm doing right now), we'd have to adjust the combat to assume all Kobolds were CR 1/4.

That's all well and good for attack bonus, but what about damage, AC, or HP bonuses? It's a good thing we've compiled all the formulas from this series!

  • Damage Increase/decrease per Round / 12 = Increase/decrease in CR
  • Effective HP increase/decrease / 30 = Increase/decrease in CR
  • 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
  • If CR is above 1, Attack bonus increase/decrease / 4 = Increase/decrease in CR
  • If CR is less than 1, Attack bonus increase/decrease /8 = Increase/decrease in 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

That should give you some good ideas on different buffs your leader can give.

Death Knight Jerry says, "Don't forget spell-like abilities!"
Honestly, we've pretty much hit the end of this discussion. I could talk more about Paragon monsters and boss fights, but you should check those out on your own.

I hope this series was informative, and that you came away with new ideas on how to make an encounter better simply by changing up the style of your monsters. Next week, I'll be starting a new Friday series which I'm very excited for. It's a big one!

Thanks for reading!

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