Posted by : David Guyll September 20, 2015
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.
Quality ControlI 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 DragonIf 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 SucksIn 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 ArmorSomething 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 RulesAaall 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.
AnnouncementsAfter 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.