Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Monsters of the Trollhaunt III - Encounter T2

This is a series of articles about the monsters included in the adventure P1: King of the Trollhaunt Warrens- so you may want to stop reading, if you intend to play the module anytime soon.

The monsters in this encounter have little to do with the main antagonists of the adventure, but make for good recurrign villains in wilderness battles.

Chuul (Level 10 Soldier)

1. Issues identified:
- Soldier without mark: This comes up too frequently in earlier monsters... immobilizing with opportunity attacks or after three consecutive hits is not a reliable enough defending mechanic, so we should improve it somehow.
- False flexibility: The double attack can be focused on a single enemy or split between two - but why would you ever choose the latter? Spreading damage is rarely the strongest of tactics, and there’s additional incentive for focusing on your target in the immobilization trigger. This kind of flexibility contributes little to the monster, except the chance for a poor or distracted DM to make a suboptimal play. Also, when all is said and done, the chuul will spend all its turns doing the same thing: Double Attack a single enemy, not unlike a PHB ranger. And we know what I think about rangers...

2. Design goals:

I’d like to convey the idea that the Chuul’s attacks gradually paralyze its victim. In addition, it would be nice to make the number of targets to attack a non-trivial decision, so that the monster becomes more interesting to play.

3. Changes introduced.

- Basic stat adjustment: As an old school soldier, it required lowering the attack bonus by 2 points. Also, I reduced its Fortitude value from absurdly high to merely good (level + 14). Incidentally, its base damage was already on spot for a modern monster (meaning it was quite a bit overpowered under previous standards), thanks to the at-will multiattack. That said, the extra damage against immobilized foes is excessive even today, so I’ve toned it down.
- Gradual immobilization: The monster’s attacks got a general overhaul. I had it mark on every hit, and automatically immobilize on subsequent attacks against marked targets. This means that a Chuul can now be quite sticky against a single target, but also provide a respectable defender against groups. Spreading marks around is a good reason to consicer splitting a double attack, but the right call will usually depend on context. Finally, note that the monster’s marks only last until the start of its following turn to prevent immobilization from becoming too easy.

Will o wisp (Level 10 Lurker)

The Will-o-wisp presents a rare design, in that its mechanics have been far more influenced by flavor than most monsters in 4E. This emphasis in story elements is not a bad thing in itself, but in this case it has led to a set of powers that doesn’t entirely make sense, with redundant rules text, and game options that aren’t really worth using. Overall, I found this monster to be unusually complex, and hard to adapt.

As a side note, there are two versions of will-o-wisp printed, each with different wordings but almost equivalent functionality. The one in the Rules Compendium corresponds with the stat block from King of the Trollhaunt, and its wording is slightly more confusing than the other one (from Monster Manual 2).

1. Issues identified:

- Poor handling of insubstantial - Insubstantial is a trait that shouldn’t be thrown around without a reason. Unless it comes with some kind of vulnerability to bypass it, or a condition to turn it off, it contributes nothing of interest to a monster: damage is halved, hit points are reduced by a factor of two, and the net result is the same as when you started. The will-o-wisp falls in this trap, but it also fails to correctly reduce HP numbers, so it ends up with 50% more HP than expected for its level and role. This clearly needs to be addressed.
- Fey Light. This is the one difference between the Trollhaunt version (where this power makes little sense) and the MM2 one (where it’s slightly better). Basically, Fey Light is a free action power which has two different effects: turn on the wisp’s light, which doesn’t really have any effect, and turn it off, concealing the wisp, allowing it to hide, and preventing any attacks. In Trollhaunt this can be used as a free action power, meaning that it’s possible for the wisp to attack every turn and then turn off its light - so there’s no real point in having two states. MM2 fixed this by making it a 1/round issue, so you can expect the monster to become hidden every other turn. However, this has the side effect of breaking the Blink Out power, since Fey Light will typically be spent for the rond by the time the monster can use an immediate interrupt.
- Luring Glow isn’t worth it. As flavorful as it is, Luring Glow suffers from the lack of damage, to the point that it’s very rarely worth using.

2. Design goals:

More than any other monster reviewed so far, the will-o’-wisp is full of personality: it has great themes in its intermittent lights that let it switch from stealth mode to attack mode, and the ability to lure its victims to their doom. I’ll try to keep these ideas, while making the monster more functional and easy to use.

3. Changes introduced.
- Force damage ignores insubstantial - It won’t come up too often, but it should be more interesting than having insubstantial always on.
- Fey Light clarified - I replaced the complex 2-state power with two different game elements: a light aura, and a power to turn it off and hide.
- Increased lurking - I really like the new philosophy for lurkers of spending turns to hide, then hitting very hard, so I tried to add a bit of that to the wisp. To that order, I added a significant bonus to damage dealt from hiding, but reduced regular damage to compensate. Also, I made Extinguish Fey Light a standard action, so it now takes a significant investment... unless the monster can Blink Out.
- Stat changes - Hit points were too high, AC too low (I guess it assumed permanent concealment), and damage followed the old standards. All of this has been updated.
- Luring glow as a minor action - Dazing and pulling was cute, but hardly worth sacrificing damage for a turn - and sustaining save ends powers has always felt wrong, to me. I took the really iconic part of the power (the pull), and made it a minor so that it can actually see play.

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 like the Blink Out power. This allows a hidden Will-o'-wisp to make an OA, momentarily re-activating its Fey Light, and then using Blink Out (immediate action) to teleport and hide again.

    I can imagine several of these guys on the battlefield, with the PCs having no idea exactly which squares are occupied, making them afraid to move around too much. Sounds fun :)

  2. Ouch! I've been a victim of the dreaded Monster Builder bug! Blink Out should have a trigger condition (an attack misses the wisp), just like the original... but the MB ate it while I wasn't looking. I'll go fix it.

    Deploying a bunch of wisps has pretty much the effect you describe. I've only used 2 at a time so far, but 4 or 5 of them would make for a cool encounter.