Posted by : David Guyll September 20, 2015

Someone tagged me in a private post about a month ago, asking how I handle characters dealing lots of damage.

He said that he'd seen the issue brought up multiple times in the Dungeon World Tavern, but always got inadequate non-solutions, like reducing the character's damage output, or concocting scenarios in which it would be difficult for them to do what their character is supposed to do.

I don't go to the Tavern anymore, and I've never seen anyone else bring it up, but in my experience a problematic damage-to-hit-point-ratio is usually less to do with the character dealing lots of damage, and more about the way monsters are statted.

Usually.

Quality Control
I made the mistake of allowing poorly designed third-party classes in a previous game, with frustrating results, and have played in games where a variety of utterly terrible classes were present. So, at least when I'm the GM, I only permit the official classes, ones that we've made, and occasionally a class that I've had the chance to review (like Chris's slayer in our Ravenloft game).

This way I have a good idea as to what the characters are capable of, and don't have to address balance issues (whether it's dealing more damage than a fighter, taking a +1 to basically anything with minimal to no cost, or just being able to out-right kill something no matter what you roll) and/or arguments mid-game.

By removing the abundance of questionable classes from the equation, that just leaves us with monster stats. In most cases monsters going down too quickly can be handled by simply adding more to the mix. After all, the horde tag doesn't mention numbers at all (though it really should), and group gives you a range of either "about 2-5" or "3-6 or so", depending on if you're looking at page 222 or 224.

But what about solitary monsters? They remind me of many 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons encounters, where you run into a single ogre, troll, or dragon, and everyone just gangs up on it because there's nothing else to do. The best part was that if you had at least two melee characters, you'd easily get a flanking bonus, which was made even better if someone had rogue levels.

Though Dungeon World lacks explicit turns and flanking, it's still the same principle: you run up to the monster, maybe defy danger to get up close (depending on "the fiction", description of how you're going about it, and the whims of the GM), and at that point you're really only worrying about not getting a miss while you slap it around.

Now, before I talk solutions I want to talk numbers, specifically in regards to...

The 16(?) Hit Point Dragon
If you play Dungeon World, you've probably heard of the "16 hit point dragon". If you haven't, Google it and then come back. My very short response is that it's bullshit. It reminds me of Tucker's Kobolds, only worse, because Dungeons & Dragons uses dice rolls with specific consequences; in Dungeon World the GM can "officially" make consequences as significant as he wants.

I know the poster doesn't go into a lot of detail, but I've thrown dragons at my players before in our Sundered World campaigns (though they had a more accurate amount of HP), and while they've come out on top both times it's either just barely, or at the cost of someone's life (and in one case, nearly their ship). I'll also note that at no time were the players thinking that the fight was easy, or lacked tension.

Here's some very simple math:

A 2nd-level fighter can constantly deal 1d10+1+1d4 damage, in addition to the 2 piercing tag. This gives us an average damage of 9. Reduce this by 3, and the fighter is doing about 6 damage a hit, which is more than enough to kill the fabled 16-hp-dragon, on his own, in three hits (or two if he's lucky).

Of course the fighter is most certainly not alone: you've probably got a cleric and/or bard that can heal you, or give you a constant bonus (there's no reason to assume that a bard would bother attacking it on his own), a wizard and/or ranger that can make ranged attacks, a thief that can try backstabbing it (with poison, even), and so on.

Really there are only two concerns. The first is maybe defying danger to avoid whatever it is that the GM thinks the terrifying tag does (there's no explicit effect or guidelines). The second is the wings, as the dragon can just turn tail and flee before it dies. Therefore, go for the wings to try and keep it grounded (having a weapon with the messy tag might help).

Here's some more, also very simple math:

The dragon (Dungeon World, page 300) has 16 hit points. How? A solitary creature has a base of 12 HP, and the huge tag adds +8, so it should have at least 20. There's also some sort of endurance thing you can add to it, which would give it another 4 HP, for a grand total of 24, which is frankly more on par with what you'd expect out of a dragon.

Unfortunately, even a dragon with an actually accurate 20-24 HP can still get taken out pretty easily, by even a low-level party, because as I said above...

...Solitary Sucks
In a game that Ben ran a looong time ago, we had to find a tablet that had been stolen by goblins. They were holed up in a cave. We went there, beat them up, and found out that they served a bandit prince. We confronted him, alone, and my character killed him in one hit. He never even scratched us. This was because Ben had given him the solitary tag, which explicitly states that "it lives and fights alone".

The easiest solution is to stop thinking of the solitary tag literally. I mean, it's not like the book even sticks to its own definition: the formian queen is pegged as a solitary, but "...sits protected by her guard, served by every drone and taskmaster..." Instead, interpret it as signifying a kind of "boss" monster: they're tougher and deal more damage, but probably still need some minions to keep the pressure on the adventurers, soak up hits, and provide easier rationales for soft/hard moves.

This worked really well when Melissa ran playtests for The Skeleton, and in my Expedition to Castle Ravenloft in Dungeon World campaign, I made sure to have a group of ghouls on tap for when they finally confronted Strahd (not that they helped, thanks to Shane's goddamn holy hand grenade). When the characters confronted a powerful wrath devil in A Sundered World, it was a one-on-one fight, and he had reinforcements waiting in case the other characters decide to jump in.

Of course, depending on the monster reinforcements might not make any sense. If the monster doesn't have a shitload of HP and Armor, you could always have it attack when a character is all alone, or maybe when there's only two. Take the choker: it stands no chance against a party, but against one or two characters it might actually be able to do something meaningful before getting slaughtered.

Something that I haven't tried, but was suggested, is to heap on the hit points. Some will cry that it's "not official", or that you're "cheating", but it's bullshit because in the back of the book there's mention of asking questions that can simply result in adding more HP and/or damage (which I'll get to in a bit). So, if you're afraid that the fighter is going to utterly slaughter your monster in a couple hits, try tacking on some more HP.

Avoid Armor
Something to avoid is adding unnecessary Armor. I'd go so far as to say that, at least for group and horde monsters, you might want to cap it at 2 for horde, and 3 for group. Keep in mind that at 3+, classes with lower damage dice (ie, d4 and d6) will be nearly useless: a monster with an Armor of 4 can only be harmed by a wizard using attack spells (though magic missile still has decent odds of not doing anything), and even a cleric or thief won't deal any damage about half the time.

We ran into this problem during an A Sundered World playtests involving Antikythera's Legion: going strictly by the book, they all ended up having an Armor of 3 (I find it strange that mail on monsters is worth 2 Armor, instead of 1). Now, an Armor of 3 might not sound like a big deal, until you see it attached to horde/group monster with 7-11 HP: imagine the grind of characters trying to hack through a dozen or so of those guys.

As a side note, this is why the wizard from A Sundered World has a d6 damage die: they're probably not going to be hack-and-slashing solo style very often (or very well), but if they do, at least this way there's a better chance some damage will be dealt. That's just with weapons, mind you: their magical attack starts at d8 (but exhausts them), and you can opt to focus on offense as you level up.

I will say that for solitary monsters, adding Armor can be totally fine. I usually try to get them around the 4-5 range, especially if I think they're going to be encountered alone. That way they'll be able to dish out some punishment before going down.

Oh, one last thing...

Fuck The Rules
Aaall the way in the back of the book, in Advanced Delving, there's almost an entire page on modifying monsters.


It claims that a more "interesting change is to change the questions being asked", but instead of providing an example of changing a question, it just adds a new one (why is the monster evil). The ironically funny part is that, for a game that tells you that simple modifiers aren't interesting/fictionally ideal, each of the three options give it a big damage bonus, a big hit point boost, or both.

The point I'm trying to make is it's totally fine to say "fuck it" to the Making Monster rules: just give a monster whatever stats you think make the most sense and/or will result in the most fun.

After all, it's not like the book even stands by the math/fiction: the description of the dragon says that "they're the greatest and most terrible things this world will ever have to offer", which I guess could be true if you ignore the objectively more badass, yet oddly not terrifying apocalypse dragon.

Announcements
After only a couple hours of design and writing, The Swordmage is good to go. If you want a solid fighter/wizard hybrid with twenty-five advanced moves to choose from (in addition to some other extras), pick it up.

Grave Goods is the latest magic item compilation in our 10+ Treasures line. If you want nearly 30 undead-themed magic items, some monsters, and advice on how to make your own, pick it up!

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out!

Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance!

Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.

{ 8 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. You're damn right screw the rules. I was inspired by this to get rid of hit points:
    http://book.blackstarsrise.com/part/basicmoves

    Harm Move
    When you suffer harm the GM will describe it and tell you a how much damage was dealt. Roll+CON+armor-damage. On a 10+ you tough it out. On a 7–9, it’s not too bad, yet. Take -1 ongoing to this move until you receive medical attention or spend a few days recuperating. On a 6-, your injuries catch up to you: Take -1 ongoing to this move and you get one debility. On a 3-, it’s life-threatening: you will die if you do not get immediate assistance.

    If you also want to get rid of monsters' hit points, you need to either create a "Deal damage" move or to modify all moves that deal damage in DW. The problem is that in the rules, monsters don't have Constitution, they have HP. To get a proper CON, you need to do a little approximative math: CON = (HP-10)/3.

    Deal damage
    When you deal damage to a monster, roll+damage-monster's (CON+armor). On a 13+, you kill it. On a 10-12, you wound it severely and take a +1 ongoing on damage against it. On a 7-9, you deal a normal blow and take +1 forward on damage against it. On a 6-, its strong hide deviates the blow and it is unharmed.

    Note that the Deal damage move is almost all in favor of the character because he has already successfully hit the monster.

    What do you think about that?

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  2. @Unknown: Yeah, not sure HP was the best way to go with damage and such in a PbtA game. I'd considered making a fantasy hack that is more inline with AW (and so would use Harm and static damage and such).

    Have you actually tried this out? If you're attacking, say, an orc bloodwarrior (3 HP, 0 Armor), in Dungeon World the odds of you killing it are really good (you'll deal damage on a 7+, and even a wizard has a 50% chance of konking it out).

    With this rule, a fighter would be rolling +4 (HP-10/3 is -2.3, rounded down to 2, flip it to a +2 since you're subtracting a negative, add in the fighter's +2 STR mod), which has average of 11, which means there's a good chance you'll need at LEAST two hits to take it out.

    The upside is that the monster doesn't get to attack you back, at least not automatically. But, still curious how it actually plays at the table, especially against big, tough monsters.

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  3. I only glanced through the monster section of the rule book on my first read through of Dungeon World. Since then I never use "pre-made" monsters or even really use the monster builder info. My monster building focus is to give them great descriptions and a solid feel. The have as many hit points as they need, and deal as much damage as they should, in order to provide an interesting encounter.

    In addition I break away from the "lone" monster encounter that has been with us since the early days of D&D. Heroes don't adventure alone, neither do monsters in my campaign. On top of that it's usually a safe bet that the heroes are on the bad guys' home turf. I can't remember the last time the party fought a single creature in my game!

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    1. @John: I initially stuck by the monster-building guidelines, because I generally assume that the person making the game did certain things for a reason. Dunno about this case: going by the book can result in some unexpectedly frustrating/underwhelming monsters.

      I mention earlier editions of D&D and lone monsters, because Dungeon World is even WORSE since they have WAAAY less hit points. I can also see some monsters living alone, like an ogre in a cave, owlbear, or dragon. It's just a shame that, by the book, they go down so easily.

      I do agree that in many cases, they won't be alone, especially if they're smart. Which is why, again, I think the solitary tag was a bad idea: a base of 12 HP just isn't enough to get by on, especially on your lonesome.

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  4. Something that bears considering.
    Can the creature be hurt by the PCs?

    If it is a Dragon (yes even the 16 hp one) then it is unlikely that it will be hurt by a PC. It's armor is simply too tough, it has range and flexibility on the PC. So they rush in and attack, Roll Defy Danger: 10+ you succeed in avoiding a wing swipe or claw swipe and dodge out of the way in the nick of time. 9-7: You manage to get away but choose one: Dragon bites Sword in half, Take Damage from Dragon, Get trapped by the Dragon in your hasty attempt, he may eat you or talk to you while you are trapped. Hope you have friends. 6- well you get to have damage and knocked across the room, or some other difficulty, like Damage and melted sword from fire breath.

    Tactics would be needed to hurt the Dragon, or a weapon of magic that is capable of damaging it, Dragonbane Spear or a BlackIron Balitista Bolt and just the right spot. Or some other effect. This is what is meant by not all attack actions will trigger a hack and slash. You need to consider what will be effective. Shear size and armor and creature speed would demand a fiction that is incredible. Keep the Fiction. Now if the Players come up with a cleaver plan to lure the Dragon out of the cave, drop down on top of it, they may have a chance of dealing damage once. It is these fictions that we have to consider. Now it may not seem fair but keeping with the fiction is more than fair. It is a part of the narrative. It is the point of the system. Be a fan of the players and their creativity.

    Stone Golem? Nope a metal sword is only going to chip away a bit at it. A hammer might hurt it. Just like arrows on a skeleton is just plain silly. Don't even roll for volley, just describe how the arrow bounces off of bones or slides perfectly into a heart shot, with no heart. What are you going to do NOW? Ah, you have sling stones, ok. Volley: damaged a leg, it goes down but hobbles forward (yes you rolled damage and won but didn't kill it outright)or Good Damage, enough to kill it: Headshot smashing the gem or rune that keeps it animated. Now it's just bones.

    This is the take away that I get from the book. Creativity, going with the fiction like in a book, and embracing that there are different ways of doing things.

    My favorite example was when I got asked if a player could taunt a Dire Bat to get it to smash into a wall. Yes, I love it. He rolled a Roll+Cha. Got 10+, I had him roll his damage and made it dazed and available to attack for 1 action of stun. A brilliant move, It made the creature accessible to be hit. As opposed to doing it's flybys and claw swipe attacks on a dive. Or having the Bat pick up the smaller PC and dropping him: Roll creatures damage for the fall because they failed their Defy Danger roll to get out of the way. It's not all Hack and Slash.

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    1. "If it is a Dragon (yes even the 16 hp one)..."

      Which, going by the book, would actually have at least 20, but prolly 24 with the uncanny endurance option.

      "...then it is unlikely that it will be hurt by a PC. It's armor is simply too tough, it has range and flexibility on the PC."

      5 armor is something a fighter can reasonably get around with the 2 piercing and/or +x damage special weapon features. With a few levels this is even easier thanks to the ability to pick MORE special weapon features and/or damage bonuses...unless you are referring to the GM being able to just arbitrarily declare that you just cannot hurt the dragon at all.

      "Tactics would be needed to hurt the Dragon, or a weapon of magic that is capable of damaging it, Dragonbane Spear or a BlackIron Balitista Bolt and just the right spot."

      This depends entirely on the GM.

      Some GMs might say that a dagger won't be able to penetrate a dragon's scales, but a sword or axe can (so long as it deals enough damage to get through the dragon's Armor, at any rate). Note that the book specifically mentions that getting at the dragon's soft underbelly could trigger hack and slash.

      "Or some other effect. This is what is meant by not all attack actions will trigger a hack and slash. You need to consider what will be effective. Shear size and armor and creature speed would demand a fiction that is incredible."

      I'm well aware of how Hack and Slash works, but the "fiction" required to do things is, again, ultimately up to the GM.

      The official example of the book is something that can be attained with a simple Defy Danger roll, which is especially easy to do for a fighter with a good DEX and/or halfling race (could also be a halfing fighter with a high DEX and precise weapon).

      "Keep the Fiction."

      I find this statement ironic given that Dungeon World doesn't even "keep the Fiction". It's like it was written with the mantra of "do as we say, not as we do".

      "ow if the Players come up with a cleaver plan to lure the Dragon out of the cave, drop down on top of it, they may have a chance of dealing damage once."

      Agaaain...depends on the GM.

      Saying that IF they do this plan they MAY deal damage once sounds like you're just piling on artificial difficulty in order to make the dragon more difficult than the numbers give it any right to be. This is why I prefer D&D: dragons are dangerous enough without the DM having to resort to arbitrarily interpreting moves a certain way.

      I mean, even if I agreed that no mundane weapon can piece its scales, what about a fighter's weapon? What about a fighter's weapon with 2 piercing, messy, and forceful? What about a weapon enchanted with the bard's Arcane Art and/or the cleric's Magic Weapon spell?

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    2. "It is these fictions that we have to consider."

      Different GMs will not interpret a thing the same way. This is the problem with the 16-hit point dragon article: the GM arbitrarily ramped up everything.

      "Now it may not seem fair but keeping with the fiction is more than fair."

      It's arbitrary: the difficulty mostly stems from how the GM chooses to interpret special abilities and moves (both monsters moves, whether other moves can even be used, and soft/hard results).

      "It is a part of the narrative. It is the point of the system. Be a fan of the players and their creativity."

      So, do I tell the fighter that his sword arbitrarily cannot harm the dragon despite having a damage of something like 1d10+2 piercing+messy+forceful (more if he's 2nd-level or higher), or do I "be a fan" and let the highly destructive weapon work?

      You realize that a halfling fighter with DEX +3 (not unreasonable if you wanna use a precise weapon) has a +4 to avoid the dragon's attacks, making it very easy to get in close and butcher it, right? Assuming the players hear of the dragon, they can always use Bolster in order to gain some floating +1s, too.

      "Stone Golem? Nope a metal sword is only going to chip away a bit at it. A hammer might hurt it. Just like arrows on a skeleton is just plain silly. Don't even roll for volley, just describe how the arrow bounces off of bones or slides perfectly into a heart shot, with no heart. What are you going to do NOW? Ah, you have sling stones, ok. Volley: damaged a leg, it goes down but hobbles forward (yes you rolled damage and won but didn't kill it outright)or Good Damage, enough to kill it: Headshot smashing the gem or rune that keeps it animated. Now it's just bones."

      Why can't the arrow volley just destroy the gem or rune that keeps it animated? I'd let a player try that out, but you wouldn't, which again brings me to the DW issue of lots of GM arbitration.

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