Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Fast monsters

My next big project for Heroes By Trade is to find some way to make the GM's job easier in combats.  This was definitely one of my goals from the outset and I hoped to accomplish it by making resolution of actions quick and simple.  Unfortunately I think that I missed the mark along the way due to my tendency to go for complicated but pretty solutions instead of fast and dirty ones.  Imagine for the moment that a Giant Spider is standing next to a character and is going to attack on its turn:

First the GM rolls 1d6 to see if the Spider gets to use its special Acidic Bite or if it has to rely on a Basic Attack.  If the GM rolls 4+ the Spider will Acidic Bite.

Okay, so, 1d6 gets a result of 5.  Comparing that to the chart... it gets to use Acidic Bite.

In either case the GM then makes a Hit Roll and compares the result to the target's Dodge to see if the attack lands.

1d20 comes up with 13.  Add the Spider's Hit Bonus of 4, total of 17.  Does that hit your Dodge?  Cool, the attack hits.

Then the GM rolls damage, adds the Spider's damage bonus, and the target reduces the damage by their Armour.  Finally damage is applied, and if the attack was an Acidic Bite the target also gets Persistent damage to deal with later.

Okay, so 1d10 damage roll is 7.  The Spider's damage bonus is 4, so you take 11 physical damage.  Also tack on persistent damage so you will take another 10 next turn.

Even a very simple turn for a straightforward creature requires 3 rolls.  That isn't quick and because the GM doesn't even know ahead of time if the monster is going to have access to its special abilities there is limited planning that can happen.  I think that checking the monster chart four times for it to make an attack is just too many.  (Roll for Power usage, check which Power to use, look up Hit Bonus, look up damage bonus.)  I need to figure out some way to make things easier.  There are a lot of options.

1.  Remove special attacks from monsters.  This gets rid of the 1d6 roll and removes the need to choose attacks but it makes monsters boring.  No good.  Boring is a dealbreaker.

2.  Remove Hit Rolls.  This would require a complete system rewrite because automatic application of debuffs would make the game unplayable.  Not reasonable.

3.  Remove damage rolls.  This is actually very possible.  If monsters have a damage listing that looks like this:  10 (+4) the GM can choose between 10 flat damage and rolling 1d10+4.  This makes it very easy to speed up the damage portion of the fight but allows people to retain extra randomness if they want it.  The slightly higher but more predictable damage is probably a wash as far as the players are concerned.  Predictability favours those who are rated to win, after all.

4.  Remove Basic Attacks from monsters so they always use specials.  This is the reverse of 1. and has interesting effects.  There is less rolling, which is good, but more time spent choosing Powers.  However, with no roll the GM can plan ahead and have a horde of monsters all do the same thing which speeds things up considerably.

Combining 3 and 4 would result in much more rapid resolution of monster Actions without losing any strategic depth.  The only real downside is that fixed damage could occasionally be gamed by the players - if they know they will take 7 damage from the next attack they can plan around that.  Having the players plan to get their Focus down to 7 exactly in that circumstance seems pretty sketchy.  Perhaps that is territory best reserved for "A meteor hits you.  Make a new character."

A turn from a Giant Spider would go somewhat differently with these changes:

1d20 roll comes up with 13.  Add the Spider's Hit Bonus of 4, total of 17.  Does that hit your Dodge?  Cool, the attack hits.

The Spider decides to use Acidic Bite over Web Shot so it does 10 damage.  Also tack on persistent damage so you will take another 10 next turn.

This sequence has 1 roll instead of 3, and 2 lookups instead of 4.  Much faster.  The question is, will it *feel* good?  My hunch is that the players want the monsters to do their stuff fast so that the players can get back to doing fun stuff so the small loss in damage variability will be hugely offset by the chance to do more things.  This warrants testing for sure.


  1. Ugh. Non-random damage? The loss of realism for convenience dismays me. I like hoping that the roll will be low, and wincing when it's not.

    And players will game it hard. Even if they don't want to. And I won't enjoy doing so.

    I would test the removal of "I'm cool this turn" rolls first, then test further changes. Rosewater was just writing about testing and testing one thing at a time.

  2. Rosewater can push his changes to test groups faster than I can. People playing a roleplaying game don't tend to want to constantly shift the way the game works. If I only test a new thing once a year it will take a dozen lifetimes to get the game out!

    This particular change is pretty simple to put in though and the GM can use it or not at their leisure. I could also put in +4 (10) instead, if you like the default being the roll!

  3. What I don't like about it is, as Vienneau says, if the spider hits for 10 and I'm at 11 I'm golden. I don't think it's really that big a deal, though. I like the idea of putting +4 (10). In 4e they made minions have fixed damage numbers specifically because rolling damage for all those minions would be tedious. If I were running it with the +4 (10) model, I'd roll damage for enemies that felt important and for encounters with one large monster and just use fixed damage for most guys - roll damage once or twice a turn instead of once or twice an enemy.

    Hell, maybe I'd have the spider do 10 but roll if someone was between 9 and 12.

  4. Sky, one idea that I like the idea of is linking hit rolls to damage.

    If you roll particularly well, (say +25%), you do extra damage (say +50%). If you roll extremely well, you do maximum damage. If you just barely hit, you do minimum damage.

    This has the advantage that it maps fairly well to how people actually fight in hand to hand combat: light, fast strikes tend to be harder to dodge than slower, more powerful ones.

    If you like, you can let the choice of damage drive tactics (as it often does in real life): do you go in for the knockout punch the moment the bell rings, or do you wait until you wear your opponent down with several well placed body blows first?

    If you let the monster choose what relative level of damage it's going to try to do (eg. -50%,normal,+50%), and then roll to hit based upon the level of difficulty for that damage category, you have one less roll (no damage roll), *and* a range of damages to inflict upon hapless players.

    You can even combine them: eg. A "light" hit requires a 10 on a d20, and does 1 damage, with every +1 to hit = +1 damage, up to a maximum of 4. A medium hit requires a 15 on a d20, and does between 5-7 damage. A "hard" hit requires an 18 to hit, but does 8-10 points of damage.

    A SwordMaster style character would probably go for the easy hit, winning with a death by 1,000 cuts. A barbarian would go for the mighty swing of the axe: missing most of the time, but devestating whenever he connects...

    Anyway, hope you find the ideas useful. :-) If not, well, at least I tried. :-)