Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Yes, But How Tough Are They?- The Second Assumption

Let’s look at the other half of the equation for a second- that being, how often are the PCs getting hit, and how much can they take before going down? Here the system varies a bit more, but we can still see a few assumptions.

A level 1 monster has, per the MM3 math, a +6 to-hit bonus. However, PC Armor Class gets a lot more varied by level. Let’s consider the high end of the spectrum: a 1st-level fighter armored in plate and heavy shield has a total AC of 20, requiring the monster roll a 14 or better- hitting 30% of the time. A wizard with a 16 intelligence gets to add that to their AC, so while they have no armor, they have an effective AC of 13, requiring a roll of 7 or better. A Warlock who only makes Intelligence a 10 (against the advice of the PHB, mind you, which makes it a secondary score for both suggested builds) would be able to wear leather armor for a +2, so I think it’s fair to say that 12 is the lower end, requiring the DM roll a 6 or better, or rather, hitting 70% of the time. Take the low chance (30%) and the high chance (70%), average them out, and-

Monsters hit the PCs about half the time, varying depending on which they attack.

That latter bit of the equation is very important, because 4th Edition combat is very much about tactics. The better-armored Defender types have mechanics (usually marks) which force the DM, playing as the monsters, to make the choice whether to attack them and struggle uphill, or attack a more vulnerable character and be more likely to deal damage, but also suffer consequences. This means, given the first assumption, that monsters are about 5% less accurate than the PCs, but this can be obviated the larger an encounter group is. 

Again, the players have some mechanics they can manipulate to help themselves out- making choices between armor that offers more protection but incurs check penalties, using powers that buff AC, etc. Monsters that attack the non-AC defenses are more likely to score a hit, which means players have to get cautious whenever they see a goblin wizard take the field. (And by cautious I mean “kill the handwavey one first!”) 

The average damage done by a level 1 monster is 9 points. (This is similar to the famous Page 42 table and its revised equivalent on page 65 of the DMG 2, where the average for Medium “Normal Damage Expressions” for levels 1-3 is 8.5.)

PC hit points vary by class and Consitution score, which is used in total (rather than as a modifier). At the low end, a Wizard who neglects Constitution may end up with 18 hit points at first level, while a fighter will be closer to 29 or 27 unless they really max out their Con. The wizard will fall after two average blows, the fighter after three or more. 

So, starting characters can take up to two or three hits before falling.

In some ways this is the most radical change 4th Edition makes to its take on Dungeons and Dragons. 1st level PCs in early versions of D&D were notoriously fragile, risking being cut down in one hit from a lucky roll by a wily kobold. This tied into an assumed play style of cautious exploration and strategic infiltration- at early levels, straight up fights with the enemy were to be avoided, and ambushes and traps were the way to defeat opposing forces, if you had to fight them at all. Experience points gained from treasure far outpaced anything you got from defeating enemies, so low-level D&D was something like a heist; sneak into the Tomb of the Last Dragon King, steal the riches therein (taking care to find the Amulet of Infinity which is worth more than everything else in the vault combined), and try not to alert the ghouls skulking about. 

This is, let’s be perfectly clear, a valid and fun playstyle, and developing a version of 4e that better supports it might be a fun project for cloners to do. 4th Edition is perhaps aimed most at those who saw the cover of the Mentzer Basic Set with its picture of a fighter facing down a red dragon with no care for strategic maneuvering and expected a game of heroic action fantasy. Sometimes you just want to be Big Damn Heroes and as far as I’m concerned no edition of the game does that playstyle better than 4th.

A word briefly on higher levels. Say our sickly wizard survives all the way to epic levels. At level 30 he’s looking at 18+ (29x4) HP, or 134 Hit Points. A level 30 monster is doing an average of 38 points of damage per hit. So the Wizard can take three solid hits from that monster before having to worry. Our more durable Fighter can take 7 or 8 hits. While high level combat has been known to drag a bit, the increase in PC survivability isn’t enough to make them untouchable. 

Not that our first level Wizard is sitting pretty with all 18 hit points and the ability to take one solid hit without dropping. Not being “one shotted” is all well and good but starting PCs still have to be cautious. Healing is more plentiful in 4e than in many other editions, but regulated by Healing Surges, which limit how often most healing abilities will be effective (those healing powers which DON’T spend healing surges are usually Daily powers.) Healing Surges model the attrition of healing ability which in prior editions was most often simply the Cleric’s number of spells per day, giving them more flexibility. (13th Age and the OGL Archmage engine reskin the concept as “Recoveries”.)

So with healing usually being available in an encounter, we can perhaps bump up the number of hits characters can take to three or four, if they ration wisely. Make no mistake- 4e combat is no foregone conclusion, and it asks good tactical thinking of the players. But by removing that risk of instantly being cut down by the first arrow of an enemy archer, 4e makes the PCs just a little bolder. 

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