Power Options, Status Effects, and Mutual Assured Destruction – Second World Edition, Part 2

And now for the conclusion to my two part series exploring the power options of monsters in D&D 4th edition. This article will focus on the contrast between later monster creations (monster vault) and earlier monster creations (MM1) as well as how monsters contrast with players. For those not in the know, you can read the last article I wrote here, and discover the original premise behind power options with The Id DM’s article here. Much like one probably wouldn’t get Space Balls without first having seen Star Wars, you likely won’t understand this article without reading at the very least the originator of power options as a codified concept, and preferably my last piece on the matter.

I’m going to endeavor to keep this article more to the point than the last one, as shorter tends to be sweeter.

The Findings

Before I start, I’d like to bring up a few changes I’ve made in the power option process.  I have added categories for Insubstantial and Invisible (since they were prevalent last time) as well as a new category called “Free Attacks”, which is exactly what it sounds like: attacks that are granted by the power, not unlike commander’s strike or direct the strike do for a warlord. Finally, because Monster Vault was extremely skimpy on epic tier monsters I had to pull those from Monster Manual 3 (which, again, is still considered a “well made” Monster Manual that was created after the math changes. I would’ve used the even more recent Dark Sun Creature Catalog, but it, too, was fairly skimpy on epic tier material, so MM3 it was).

Monster Class Definitions

To begin, I’d like to pick up where I left off last time: monster class associations with certain power options. The classes seem to have a few, minor, differences since we last saw them, with Controller being much the same (it can do anything), Lurker being reduced in its Blinding, Unconscious, and Bonus categories, the Artillery monster remaining basically the same (although having lost its emphasis on Dazed and Dominated), Soldier losing Grabbed and gaining Immobilized and Stunned, Skirmisher being just plain Movement, and finally the Brute is still pretty much just Prone. All in all the monsters are pretty similar to what they were before, but Controller seems even more all-encompassing, Skirmishers focused much more just on movement, and Soldiers getting a bit of a buff in terms of their inflictable conditions. In other words, the monster classes are, on the whole, pretty much identical to what they were two years ago.

The Most Glaring Finding that Started it All

What is it? Well, on Twitter a few weeks ago I sent Mike Shea (of Sly Flourish) a message in response to something he put out there: that monster power increases ~linearly while player power increases ~exponentially. Well, as I had since learned, using the Power Option AEDU structure PC power increases much more closely to logarithmically than exponentially (in large part due to power replacement in paragon tier and up as well as not counting paragon paths and epic destinies, nor magic item powers, assuming again only the AED part of that without the U nor paragon paths, feats, and epic destinies). Of course, even if you don’t allow the PCs to take paragon paths and epic destinies, nor to have magic items with powers, it’s still a pretty brutal curve rapidly accelerating as they approach Paragon tier, then continuing to pull up slowly as they head towards level 30. The monster graph, meanwhile, was not so forgiving. The graphs of total power options available to your average PC versus your average monster looked something like this –

The regression lines are 3rd order polynomial, mostly because I liked how they were fairly smoothed out not for any real statistical reason. As you can see, monsters as of Monster Manual 1 do indeed increase approximately linearly (it’s a bit of an S-curve, actually, but on the whole it’s fairly flat). Meanwhile players shoot up, up and away. While the monsters gain only ~1 power option each by paragon tier, the PCs have gained around five. By level 30 the PCs have gained around 7 while the monsters hover at a mighty 2. Of course, since we all know Monster Vault monsters are much better designed, we should expect to see MV/MM3 monsters do much better, right? Well, about that…

As it turns out… Monster Vault and MM3 didn’t seem to do a lot for our Standard AEDU Power Option structure. In fact it looks like they even gimped epic tier! That certainly doesn’t fit expectations, does it? How could bigger numbers make up that much of the design? So, in an effort to resolve this inconsistency, I had to delve deeper and expand the Standard AEDU Power Option structure to include also Minor and Triggered actions. One of the big complaints, after all, with early MM1 monster designs is the lack of action efficiency, especially on Solo monsters. With new things to do using their minor and out-of-turn actions perhaps our new MV monsters are better designed after all?

As a result, I took to gathering some facts and figures about the amount of minor and triggered actions per monster; lo, and behold, the results were as expected!  This is to say nothing of traits and auras, of course (and classifying those is, frankly, nearly impossible under the Power Option system since they rarely fit into a single category neatly like powers do). With that in mind, I created an adjusted graph that displays cumulative power options between MM1 and MV/MM3 monsters using minor actions and triggered actions. The results are, frankly, much more what one would expect –

– but unsurprisingly is not entirely “enough” to really make sense. Even if we assume auras cancels out both feats and utility powers, and we don’t include paragon paths and epic destinies in this analysis,  all of which are very hefty assumptions, the cream of the crop MV/MM3 monsters only have as many options as a level 1 PC at level 17. Monsters get as complicated as they can possibly be at level 29, but this is still only equivalent to a level 5 PC. I mean, yeah, okay, monsters can be minions, but really?

Speaking of minions, that was actually the next thing I investigated. To wit, MM1 has 38 minion monster types in it, which were not included in this study. Meanwhile, in MV/MM3 where they were included, there were 44 minion monsters. Unsurprisingly, minions resulted in a net decrease of minor and triggered actions, although triggered actions were within 4 percentile points of average (minor was significantly lower, at roughly .1 per monster compared to the .4 per monster average). This means that, realistically, the MV graph should probably be adjusted upwards by a bit, but not significantly more (less than 1 power option/monster average).

Now, all of that is great and all, but where’s the REAL comparison graph of power options? Where’s the feats and paragon paths and epic destinies and utility powers? That’s a good question, and unfortunately one I’m not going to be able to answer, at least in whole. Anyone out there who wants to join the Power Options train and hook us up with the data on feats, utility powers, and magic items for the Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, and Druid you are more than welcome to pick up where I and, my predecessor, TheIdDM left off. But, what I can do is to use a single example paragon path and epic destiny, and slap those on. I’ll pick two of the most popular paragon paths and epic destinies: Kulkor Arms Master and Demigod. They might not have a lot to offer a Druid, but they’re pretty typical of a strong set of paragon and epic tier options.

To begin, Kulkor Arms Master at level 11 offers its first benefit: any enemy you hit that grants you Combat Advantage subsequently grants EVERYONE Combat Advantage until the start of your next turn. I am going to assume that you will always be able to get combat advantage to trigger this benefit, as by level 11 if you can’t have somebody daze the monster or flank it or something you’re doing something wrong. This increases the power options of each and every AED power by 1 because it can now grant combat advantage. The other two always-on benefits don’t actually grant any power options, so that’s easy on me. Finally, the power at level 11 grants a mark (+1 power option) and the level 20 daily power grants prone (+1 power option).

Demigod, thankfully, doesn’t actually grant any Power Options. Just straight numbers buffs. This was hard enough already, whew. So, now let’s look at the

Holy SMOKES! What HAPPENED? Kulkor Arms Master adding Combat Advantage to every At-Will, Encounter, and Daily power is what happened. These are the sorts of options players can take, and regularly do, and it’s no wonder people feel that monsters just aren’t up to snuff.

But, then, why can a squad of monsters beat up on a squad of PCs… ever? Why can’t level 5 PCs, who have access to just as many power options in their inventory as level 30 super monsters, take the heat? Sadly, the answer is pretty obvious: their numbers aren’t big enough. They can’t hit target defenses, and they can’t take the damage the monsters dish out in return.

This illustrates just how powerful damage is in 4th edition combat, to change gears, and therefore how important the role of “striker” is to trivializing encounters. You’ve doubtless heard the stories about the mid-paragon parties who dish out 1200 damage on the first turn and annihilate any boss monster in their way? I didn’t expect to end my analysis here, but I have – the ultimate conclusion of this analysis of power options in PCs and monsters, as far as I can tell, is that the amount and potency of power options are, at the end of the day, completely eclipsed by damage, hit points, and defense scores – even excluding the reasoning that most of your power options require you to hit the target first before they take effect. Is it any wonder that magic items of armor, neck slot, and weapon/implement are so highly vaunted? Is it any wonder that the static +to hit feats are so popular? You can have two or three times the Power Options at your disposal and still get turned into creamed corn by a squad of monsters at level + 6.

If you’re familiar with me on other venues for my thoughts, you might be familiar with me speaking to the potency of the condition ladder from Star Wars Saga Edition. It, in essence, takes the place of every one of these effects except for Prone. By virtue of the debuffs being triggered by a damage threshold in addition to things like stun weapons or Force powers, even your regular old soldier can inflict status conditions pretty regularly in that system, and at the bottom of the ladder, when you’ve had too many conditions piled on top of you, you wind up unconscious. Even if you have health left, you just fall unconscious for an extended period of time and the encounter is over. On the other hand, in 4th edition, even if a monster is Dazed, Stunned, Weakened, Unconscious, Removed, and Prone it’s only going to be gone until it makes its saving throws – a couple rounds, tops. The fact of the matter is Power Options don’t win fights in 4th edition, damage does, and that brings us to the questions, some things that I think would be interesting to muse about:


1) Should Power Options contribute to winning the fight via permanent unconscious the same way damage does in 4th edition or should they remain as tasty, supplemental, and totally unnecessary additional conditions?

2) Should monsters be more complex than they are in terms of Power Options or weaker?

3) Do Power Options contribute to the “feel” of Paragon and Epic tiers significantly enough to withstand the sort of Power Option bloat that exists by the end of Heroic tier and onward? Do you think it would be possible to still feel like a Paragon or Epic PC if your attacks didn’t lay on Power Options like thick whipped cream on hot cocoa?


Posted on February 2, 2012, in Rules Design and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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