Scaling Damage – Working Backwards

A wonderful post by Casey Ross has investigated one of the issues that my own two part study glossed over. While I was engaged in monster power options, certain that the power of these effects relative to the PCs would determine what was behind the epic tier power gap that so many notable community members continually point to I actually learned that the case seems to be the opposite; all of the power word: stuns on earth will not make up for higher defense scores, damage expressions, and to-hit bonuses. Along this vein the aforementioned study by Casey Ross did a very simple trick – by considering level 1 damage to be ideal (it often feels that way anecdotally) and figuring out how the official damage expressions scaled relative to the appropriate defense (hit points) as the levels increased he was able to find a big gap forming by even mid heroic tier. Monster attack and defense kept pace with the PCs all the way up to the final bell, but damage definitely didn’t. By level 30 the medium damage expression had fallen to ~50% of the predicted scaling level, and the bigger spike damage expressions fared even worse.

This article is an expansion on this idea, but in this case I’m going to work backwards. I’m going to take the average HP of a level 30 PC (with a few assumptions) and compare that to the damage of level 30 monsters (suggested) and express, in level 1 terms, what damage would be like. This isn’t really a practical exercise, but it will hopefully provide a clearer illustration of the differences. Almost all 4th edition players are familiar with level 1 and the sorts of numbers going on there, but very few are intimately familiar with epic tier in comparison (Mike Shea of Sly Flourish being a notable exception – I noted him snapping up Ross’s article with glee on Twitter and after he wrote a whole handbook on epic tier I can probably guess why) and hopefully this will show exactly what is happening in epic tier in a way that everybody can relate to.

Without further ado, time to get this underway. The first step was determining PC hit points. The core assumptions here were based on some quick data from the character builder tallying up hit point averages of the four roles, then assuming the party had one of each and averaging those together. The results were an average base hp of 12.75 and an average per level hp of 5.20. These values are obviously theoretical as nobody can have partial hit points per level. For our +Constitution score hit points I assumed an average value of 12 as a result of an expected constitution score of 10 for a controller, 12 for a leader, 12 for a striker, and 14 for a defender. Obviously these values are completely pulled out of thin air but being one or two hp off in either direction shouldn’t harm our results too badly. With a starting HP of 24.75, then (not too far from the suggestion of 25 by Mr. Ross), and a per level hp of 5.20, our heroic theoretical PC will reach level 30 (assuming no ability score buffs to constitution, which is a reasonable bet in my opinion) with 177.55 hit points (the additional two are from 11th and 21st level, when all ability scores are automatically increased by 1). For the purposes of monster damage I will be ignoring hit chance (which is supposed to remain fairly static, and in practice does, or so I’m told) and using only average damage in the first chart. When adjusting for brutes or limited damage (where it is urged to increase by 25% or 50%) I will be increasing the average damage. This does not always pan out in practice compared to other ways to increase the value by 25 or 50 percent, and often the max damage, min damage, or average damage will not scale quite properly depending on which method you use – them’s the breaks, I guess, and since this way is easiest that’s what I’ll be using.

The findings, unsurprisingly, match up well with what Ross had, and the result is the same as if I used his data (I like to be thorough, so sue me) – level 1 damage, if it was as effective against PCs as level 30 damage on a numbers-based-scale, would on average be reduced ~61%. This is what level 1 damage would look like if this was the case converted to dice as best I can (lowest die assumed available is 1d4). Keep in mind that the book recommends increasing limited damage 25-50% – I accounted for both possibilities, as well as the possibility of doing this increase to an already-increased brute damage discretely so that were you to want to make a monster using the “appropriately” downgraded value it would be very easy (though I did not model limited damage on a minion – that comes up rather rarely).

  • Minion: 2
  • Brute Minion: 3
  • Multi-Target Standard: 1d4+2
  • Single-Target Standard: 1d4+3
  • Brute Multi-Target: 1d4+3
  • Brute Single Target: 1d4+4
  • Limited Multi-Target (Low): 1d4+3
  • Limited Single-Target (Low): 1d6+3
  • Limited Multi-Target (High): 1d6+3
  • Limited Single-Target (High): 2d6+1
  • Limited Brute Multi-Target (Low): 1d6+3
  • Limited Brute Single-Target (Low): 2d6+1
  • Limited Brute Multi-Target (High): 2d6+1
  • Limited Brute Single-Target (High): 2d6+4

The almighty brute monster will use its daily power to deal!… 2d6+4 damage to one creature? Lame. A level 1 fighter with a mordenkrad can melee basic harder than that.

This is the scale of the problem facing level 30 monster damage, hopefully it’s clearer for you all as much as it’s clearer to me; my experience is primarily in the heroic tier and I’d wager most people are the same way. Imagine monsters rolling 1d4+3 as their normal attack, or a minion that deals 2 damage, to level 1 heroes and this is the way that monster damage stacks up to hero hit points in epic tier: pathetically.

Combined with my past findings that damage, to-hit, and defenses seem to trump all of the power options by a wide margin is it any wonder that epic tier creatures get stomped so badly? The heroes don’t only outweigh them in quantity of options (which you can read more about in this article of mine: Exploring Complexity), and quantity of power options, both of which are interesting and somewhat potent things to have on your side, but also in damage. By a lot. Like a lot a lot. And, as we all know, damage is the only guaranteed win condition for a fight in 4th edition – no matter how many times you stun somebody, they’re just waiting to make that saving throw and the battle’s back on. You can save vs. stunned, you can’t save vs. dead. And damage, well, damage makes you dead.

As for what to do with this information, that’s a good question. Should level 30 be easier for the heroes or harder in terms of the damage the monsters dish out? Should it scale the damage all the way to level 30 the same as level 1 and then rely on things like immediate and opportunity action options and power options to make fights truly epic (tier)? Would that mean reducing the amount of power options in heroic and paragon tier to create that contrast in an acceptable depth? What do you guys think? Leave a comment below with your thoughts and get this conversation started.


Posted on March 4, 2012, in Monster Design and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Science!

    Very interesting piece, and it really highlights just how anemic the “old” MM3 damage expressions are when compared to something most of us can easily wrap our heads around: “What would this be like to my 1st Level character?”. Not to mention that by Epic Tier characters tend to have about a dozen and one ways of shutting down a creature by virtue of all their different save-your-ass options.

    • Definitely. When you combine these findings with the work done on modelling level 30 characters (and paragon tier ones) as monster stat blocks and look at how beastly they are, and think about how many power options they have access to compared to monsters, it’s no wonder that epic tier gets its ass kicked – what little damage it does do is often completely mitigated by free saving throws and immediate interrupts.

      I think the really interesting question here, though, is what we should do with this information. Should we ramp up level 30 damage to match level 1 damage? Should it be even higher? Should we load it with power options instead? Plus, the final piece of the puzzle: what about monster hit points versus player damage? That last part is probably going to be the next question I strive to answer 🙂

      • Yeah, creature HP vs. expected player damage output is something I saw as an area that could use some investigation, but with so many variables involved on the player-damage side it felt just too daunting a task for me!

  2. Awesome article! If my PCs ever get to epic, I think I’ll use the “super updated” damage expressions. High level heroes can mitigate so much of what’s happening on the battlefield. If the damage threat remains constant, they’ll still walk through most fights. Also, epic monsters SHOULD be able to scare players! One high-damage roll or crit from an epic monster of legend should HURT. Also, even if the to-hit and damage numbers scale with level, the scope of what the PCs are doing, along who and where they’re fighting should also be a large component of any fight.

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