Sunday, January 2, 2011

Monsters of the Trollhaunt II: Encounter 1

This is a series of articles dedicated to redesigning the monsters for the adventure P1: King of the Trollhaunt Warrens. As such, they will reveal which monsters you’ll encounter in that module, so you may want to stop reading, if you intend to play it anytime soon. Apart from that, there will be no plot spoilers.

This encounter gives us our first taste of Troll goodness, as well as introducing a sneaky, spell-flinging monster.

Troll (Level 9 Brute)

Even the Monster Vault version of the basic troll is a good example of a bad brute: boring, and slightly underpowered. Fortunately, it didn’t take much to turn it into a worthy foe.

1. Issues identified:
- Subpar damage - The troll’s basic (and only) attack deals about 4 points less than would be expected from a brute its level. Easy enough.
- Unexciting power selection - A single melee attack with no special effect? Come on, give me something to work with! Admittedly, trolls have a fair amount of complexity in passive abilities, but this lack of variety in actions is too much for me.

2. Design goals:
Currently, this monster is nothing more than a plain brute with the troll racial traits. A simple theme could make it more interesting. I decided to give it powerful blows capable of pushing enemies, and occasional fits of rage that let it attack everyone around it - a combination that synergizes quite well, mechanically.

3. Changes introduced.
- Toned down Troll Healing - see previous article about trolls as a race.
- Rebalanced defenses - Like so many monsters, the Troll is too heavily skewed towards Fortitude defense. In this case, the Fortitude score was reasonable enough, but both reflex and will were hideously low. I upped Reflex by 3 points (up to level+12), and Will by 1 (up to level+10).
- Claw attack boosted - The hit damage was adjusted to match expectations for its level and role, and a push 1 was added.
- Claw Frenzy attack added - It’s a straightforward rechargeable area attack, to add some variation to the monster’s actions as well as a bit of resource management.
- Renamed to Troll Smasher

Boulder Troll (Level 9 Artillery) - New Monster

The following text can be found in the Tactics section of Encounter 1:

One of the trolls stands back, next to the old wall. It uses chunks of the wall as a missile weapon, hurling pieces of stone at the adventurers (...). Hurling a chunk of the wall is a +13 vs AC attack that deals 1d6+6 damage if the hurled stone hits.

This makes no sense! That troll is clearly trying to perform a different role (artillery), and under 4E philosophy they should have just included a new stat block for a troll specializing in ranged attacks, rather than forcing a brute to waste turns in a miserable, ad-hoc maneuver. They even left enough free space in the encounter pages for an extra monster... oh, well, we’ll have to make it ourselves.

1. Issues identified:
There should be a level 9 Artillery troll, to prevent its Brute brothers from embarrassing themselves.
2. Design goals:
I’d like this monster to feel like the Troll Smasher above, but using ranged attacks with large stones. So, pushing an area attacks it is.

3. Implementation notes:
- Take Troll Smasher as a baseline, change stats to match Artillery role.
- Boulder (ranged basic attack) - A simple attack that pushes
- Huge Boulder (area attack) - A straightforward burst 1 attack. Note that this one is at-will, since it’s ok for artillery monsters to do this kind of thing frequently. Yes, that stone has to be really big to cover so much area...
4- Gameplay notes
I find that encounters improve a lot when you add a ranged monster or two to an otherwise melee-only fight. Consider using the Boulder Troll if the adventure becomes too focused on melee combats, and adding at least one to random Troll encounters out of principle.

Oni Mage

1. Issues identified:
- Old fashioned elite: It has excessive AC and defenses, and in general is not good enough to make for 2 real creatures.
- Old fashioned lurker: It lacks a large damage boost to make it worthwhile to spend a turn going invisible.
- Tension between traits and powers. The extra damage works only with melee, but the monster really wants to be casting spells whenever possible.

2. Design goals:
What’s the monster about? I thought that its shtick should be hiding and blowing up the world with explosive spells every other turn. A lurker with a heavy dose of controller.

3. Changes introduced.
- Toned down defenses - Old school Elites tend to have excessive defenses. For this one, I lowered AC by 1 point (to level+14) and Fortitude and Reflex by 2 points. Note that this made Fortitude the second best defense (it was the first, of course) after Will, which can be justified by the fact that the Oni, though large and bulky, is a powerful spellcaster.
- Replaced “Combat Advantage” trait with “Unseen Assault” - To better fit the Lurker role, and make for a more interesting character. Bonus damage is increased, but it now triggers only while invisible.
- Improved all attacks: The melee basic attack is given the Eyebite effect (invisible vs target) on a hit, so it can trigger Unseen Assault and be generally annoying. Freezing Blast and Lightning storm got miss effects and accuracy adjustments. Damage in general was increased to MM3 standards.

4- Gameplay notes
The monster can wreak serious havoc by breaking invisibility with an area spell, then spending an action point to attack with the other one. Extra damage will only apply to the first one, but you can catch a lot of PCs this way. The recharging spells also interact nicely with the strategy of skipping turns to lurk.

Interesting fact: despite the invisibility, this monster is pretty bad at hiding, so it’s fairly easy for PCs to figure out its location.

All images are (C) 2010 Wizards of the Coast LLC, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All rights reserved. The formatted statistics blocks have been generated using the D&D Adventure Tools. But not with the last version, which lacks a Monster Builder. The one before that, which works despite the billions of bugs.


  1. I love this sort of article: looking at older material and updating it, freshening it up a bit. I'm planning to incorporate P1 into my campaign, and this is very useful to me.

  2. Could you please create png instead of jpg? It greatly improves readability.

  3. Re: img quality.

    Generating the pics again from scratch can be a bit of a pain (damn those Monster Builder bugs!), but I've finally figured out how to make blogger display them at full size. I think this should alleviate most readability concerns... I'll also use .png for any future stat blocks, just in case, but keep in mind that I already have a bunch of .jpgs ready for publication, so the change won't be noticeable for a while.

  4. Thanks for the effort.
    Nice monsters by the way

  5. This is an endeavor I am definitely excited about, as I'm looking to update and design some things for my campaign. Keep up the good and educational work.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.