Thursday, December 30, 2010

Monsters of the Trollhaunt: Introduction

After enjoying my brave human fighter for a whopping 7 levels, I’ve found myself once again at the DM seat, in time to introduce our group to the wonders of Paragon Tier. The module of choice is the King of the Trollhaunt Warrens, the fourth one in the official adventure path, and easily one of the best I’ve read so far. It still boils down to a huge collection of combat encounters, of course, but the simple backstory is interesting enough, the use of the main enemy makes a lot more sense than in previous adventures, and there is a good variety of environments. It also helps that the transition to Paragon is well portrayed through the abundance of large enemies (i.e. trolls), but also with the way that the fate of an entire city is put in your hands (which, in theory, also happened in Keep on the Shadowfell, except that now it feels more real, rather than a mere excuse to enter a dungeon and slay a baddie) and the use of exotic settings.

Anyway. Trollhaunt is great, but it suffers from the fact that it was written two years ago. In that time, the game has evolved quite a bit, particularly regarding monster design, which has benefited from a change in general philosophy, followed by amazing books such as Monster Manual 3, Dark Sun Creature Catalog, and Monster Vault. I knew from the beginning that, in order to enjoy the module, I’d need to take a long, hard look at every monster stat block, updating them to the new standards. This would take a good deal of effort, but I thought that I could find it enjoyable (I did), and maybe turn it into an interesting article series. Of which you are reading the first entry.

It goes as follows: in the following weeks, I will be sharing with you the redesigned monsters I use in the campaign, along with the reasoning behind the changes, and comments on how they play out. I will present them in chronological order, as they come up in the adventure encounters. Inevitably, I will spoil the composition of all encounters in the module, so non-DMs may prefer to keep away from the series, if they expect to play in the Trollhaunt anytime soon.

Before I start with the monsters, here’s a summary of my design goals:
- Use Monster Manual 3 guidelines. I’ve talked about these at length; they include significant revisions for Solos and Elites, rebalancing of Brutes and Soldiers, and an overhaul in damage progressions.
- Use ideas from Monster Vault, such as redesigned classic monsters (most notably, trolls and dragons), a more creative approach to resistances and vulnerabilities, and lurkers that hit hard, but only every other turn.
- Redeem Fortitude. Too many monsters have absurdly high fortitude defenses, particularly in earlier books, making powers that target fortitude a poor proposition. I’ll try to mitigate this effect, by making sure no monster has a fortitude higher than its level + 14 (or Reflex and Will lower than level+10, for that matter), and by making each monster’s best defense depend on role - controllers will tend towards high will, skirmishers and lurkers will have high reflex, and artillery will go for either will (for magic-based monsters) or reflex (for the rest). Soldiers and brutes would still favour fortitude.
- Keep it fair. Some monsters end up with abusive abilities or, more rarely, with pathetically weak ones. I’ll try to address both cases.
- Make them fun. As the DM, I like monsters that are interesting to play, with some variety of tactical options and reasons to move around the battlefield.

Next: Trolls


  1. This is a great idea, and I look forward to following all of your updates!

  2. Great stuff! I am about to run my group through this module and was dreading having to rebalance the encounter. Looking forward to your always excellent analysis.

  3. Thanks---just starting the adventure and I found myself re-balancing a bunch of monsters. Thank goodness I found your blog in time!