Friday, September 16, 2011

4th edition scaling

There is a constant stream of posts on the internet that talks about the 'math hole' in 4th edition DnD.  The problem is this:  The monsters get a +1 to all of their attacks and defenses at every level but the players get a complicated mess of bonuses that add up to closer to +.9 to all of their attacks and defenses at every level.  This means by the time you get to high level the players miss an awful lot and get hit constantly - it doesn't mean the players can't win but it does mean that fights take a long time and the feel of the game is very different.  That is the objective difference.  The subjective difference is that it sucks.

For example, my defenses at level 1 are:

AC:  20
Fort:  17
Ref:  12
Will:  10

At level 30:

AC:  47
Fort:  42
Ref:  34
Will:  32

So since the monsters get +29 to hit they are a relative advantage of

AC:  +2
Fort:  +4
Ref:  +7
Will:  +7

This is completely nutty.  Now, if we assume that I take all three of the 'mandatory defensive feats' which improve my Fort, Ref, Will by 4 each and also take a feat to improve my armour by 1 then it looks like this:

AC:  +1
Fort:  +0
Ref:  +3
Will:  +3

The armour difference is fine, but the fact that I devoted the maximum amount of resources possible to defence and I still get hit significantly more is awful.  In particular most monsters are going to be hitting my Will defence on a 2 anyway so I sure won't waste the feat.  It feels to me like when you spend a feat to be better at a defence you shouldn't be hit on 2+ on a d20 by any random dude.  The problem with the armour defence is not the discrepancy of 1, which is close enough, but the fact that it requires a bizarre kludge where magical armour is allowed to be masterwork when it is very powerful and masterwork gives either a +3 or +6 bonus to my armour.  If you are going to use a bizarre kludge can't you at least hit the actual correct number?

One good question is this:  If we assume players buy every single defensive feat should they then be tougher at level 30 relatively speaking or should they be the same and we just assume that everyone has to buy those feats?  I think feats that are mandatory to keep your basic defenses in line are poor design but at least the defensive 'mandatory' feats are actually reasonable in power level unlike the 'mandatory' offensive feats which literally make your character 30% more powerful.  The defensive ones are more like a 5% increase in overall toughness which is quite reasonable.

Our current strategy in my group is to give everyone a +1 to hit at levels 5, 15, 25 and to ban all the 'mandatory' offensive feats.  Here are some options I was thinking of for defensive bonuses that fix the math problems in similar ways.

1.  At levels 9, 19 you gain +1 to Fort, Ref, Will.  This means that people with good stat spreads who spend all 3 defensive feats will end up with slightly better defenses at high level than low level, but only by about 1.  People with bad stat spreads like me will end up right on par, again assuming buying all 3 feats.

2.  AC is trickier because light armour wearers need to get a random bonus of 3-4 from somewhere and heavy armour wearers need 7-8.  I think for AC we can just force people to take a feat to get their AC up to snuff so we should aim for 3 and 7.  My idea here is that everyone gets a +1 to AC at 5, 15, 25 and heavy armour wearers get an additional bonus at 6,13,20,27.

These are of course a little bit kludgy but since the basic math of the system is off we need to find some way around it.  Ideally of course we could just increase the scaling of the +bonuses on the weapons, armour and necks instead but that would require a rewrite of the costing on the magic items and would end up giving players a greater bonus to damage than they current enjoy with magic weapons - lots of complications crop up when you start rewriting the bonuses on magic gear.

The absolute simplest way to do all of this (but which doesn't match the numbers as nicely) would be to give everybody a 'special super power bonus' of +1 to all defenses and all attacks at levels 5,15,25.  Secondary defenses would end up a bit higher and you would need to give heavy armour users twice the bonus to their heavy armour but it would overall be very easy to understand and work with and would do away with the need for masterwork items entirely.


  1. I think more stat ups is probably the answer. It also helps with skills (which don't work out right) and also lets you replace the damage feats.

    You need +5 more to everything, so just give out another +1 to all every three levels.

    Get rid of the masterwork light armor types, heavy armor needs to go up by 9 points from level 1 to level 30 - I'm not sure how best to give that out.

  2. More stat ups definitely helps with the issues of skill scaling and such. However, I don't think you actually want +5. Keep in mind that players are going to buy feats for more initiative, more AC and more defenses. I think +3 is a better target since then they will stay roughly in line even after buying all of their various bonuses. The trick is that skills don't scale even close to how they should because they don't get a +6 enhancement bonus - initiative ends up being all right because you can buy insane feats that boost it +8.

    So imagine that we add +6 to stats in total - maybe giving +1 to all on 3,7,11,13,17,21,23,27 and +1 to two on 5,9,15,19,25,29. Skills still need +8 or so, and heavy armour needs a fix. Maybe just let heavy armour gain double its enhancement bonus to AC, that leaves it at +27 from 1-30, which isn't so bad since a feat puts you at +28 and monsters get +29. Any fixes to skills I can come up with feel really kludgy - +4 to all skill checks at 11 and 21?

  3. I don't think skills are actually a big thing to worry about. If you want to give monsters reasonable skill checks, just check the recommended skill check DCs and subtract 10 from them to get the monster's bonus (a level 30 monster who is very good at something would have +23).

    Of course that might be too easy. A character who really, really wants to have a maximized skill can get +34 and make "hard" skill checks on a 1 (it would be +37 if you increase their stats as you suggest, +39 with mine). I think that's probably fine or fine-ish, though. At any rate, I think it's better to just more thoughtfully assign monster skill bonuses.

    My one concern about this system would be the +3 healing surges (or +5) that we'd be handing out to everyone. But then I'm not really sure what the right number of healing surges is, and the disparity that currently exists between classes that want Con and those that don't is kind of extreme right now.

  4. I guess that is a fair point about surges. I actually don't mind the number of surges going up as people gain more and more ways to use them though.

    You are right in that it might well be easier to just manually do skill challenge DCs. The problem is that every monster skill level listed in the books would be out of whack. That might not be a big deal though.

  5. Well, I think it might be easier to not give monsters skill bonuses at all. If the players want to make a skill check to do something against a monster, just assign a DC on the fly. If a monster wants to make a skill check, roll a die and eyeball it - have then roll for a 5, 10 or 15 depending on whether they are the sort of monster who would be good, bad or very bad at that skill. Monsters would still need passive perception and insight DCs, I guess.