Piecework Creatures: A Solution for Solos in 4e

This blog has been edited based on discussions in the comments below a thread I started in the 4e Races & Monsters Forum, and Lord of Weasel's comments here.

One problem with solos is how they handle conditions.  Even with a +5 bonus to saves, Piecework Creatures can be locked down, and one condition – even if it only lasts a turn or two – can turn a pitched battle against a solo into a rout.  With very few actions and lots of hit points, a battle with a Solo Creature is more of a slog than a dynamic encounter.  Pluisjen developed an intriguing solution for Solos that I’ve expanded into what I call “Piecework Creatures”.

A Piecework Creature is a single creature that is comprised of multiple parts (or "Pieces") that act independently of each other.  Each Piece has an associated Basic Attack and additional powers, and each Piece acts on its own initiative.  The Pieces share one body, one set of Senses, Ability Scores, Skills, Defenses, Save Bonuses, Aura, Resistances, Vulnerabilities, Immunities, and one pool of hit points and action points.  The result, I hope, is a creature that plays as if it were one creature, but with a dizzying array of powers and actions that will provide a real challenge.  (Piecework Creatures can also be used in place of Elites, and can even be used to create creatures in-between Elites and Solos.)

Use of a Piecework Creature

Because each Piece endures Conditions separately, characters will find a battle with a Piecework Creature more challenging than a battle with a Solo creature.  However, since the Piecework Creature has only one body, those controllers who remain in the back will still have the benefit of being able to remain away from the fray, and thus will find the battle less challenging than a battle against a group of standard creatures.  Still, if your party has someone who relishes locking down the solo, use Piecework Creatures with care.

Describing a Piecework Creature

A Piecework Creature does not appear any different from other creatures.  They do not have multiple personalities and do not appear to be patchworks.  Piecework Creatures are simply an alternative means of creating a single creature than can challenge an entire party.  They are clearly, however, superior to other creatures and should be distinguished visually in the same way one might distinguish elites and solos from standard creatures and minions. 

Although Pieces are generally designed for delineating the different attacks, the DM must designate Pieces as the target of a melee or ranged attack that imposes a condition.  Use your creativity in determining which Piece a given melee or ranged attack targets, or allow your players to choose.

Designing a Piecework Creature

Creating a Piecework Creature is a bit more complicated than creating even a solo creature.  In some ways, it is best to look at it as designing an entire (or a significant portion of an) encounter.  However, for bookkeeping purposes, I have attempted to keep the process relatively simple.  I will also include instructions for using the Monster Builder to build Piecework Creatures.

  • Level: Choose a level for a piecework creature as you would with any other creature.
  • Type, Origin, Main Role: Choose a type, origin, and main role (brute, skirmisher, etc.) for the piecework creature as you would with any other creature.
  • Group Role: Instead of Minion, Elite, or Solo, include the word “Piece”.  Before the word Piece, include the number of Pieces this creature will have (i.e., 2-Piece, 3-Piece, 5-Piece, etc.)  If you use the Monster Builder, designate the creature as “Standard”, and place the “Piece” in the name of the creature.
  • Size: Choose a size for the creature.  Piecework Creatures should generally be Large, Huge or Gargantuan.
  • Experience Points: A Piecework Creature is worth as many Experience Points as a Standard creature of its level, multiplied by the number of Pieces it possesses.  This will have to be manually adjusted in the Monster Builder.
  • Unchanged Stats: A Piecework Creature has the Initiative, Senses, Aura, Resist, Vulnerabilities, Invulnerabilities, Hit Points, Defenses, Alignment, Languages, Skills, and Abilities of a Standard creature of its role and level.
  • Saves: A Piecework Creature gains a bonus to Saving Throws equal to the number of Pieces it has.  This will have to be manually adjusted in the Monster Builder.
  • Action Points: A Piecework Creature gets one action for every ten levels it possesses.  This will have to be manually adjusted in the Monster Builder.
  • Speed: A Piecework Creature does not have a Speed.  But see the section on choosing powers, below.  Set the creature’s Speed as zero if you use the Monster Builder.

Creature Powers

Each Piecework Creature has the following powers.  If you use the Monster Builder, you can place these powers in the Holding Pen to be used whenever you create a Piecework Creature.

Piecework Defenses

Any character that targets a Piecework Creature with a burst or blast power makes a separate attack roll against each Piece.  Any character that targets a Piecework Creature with a melee or ranged power may target only one Piece (DM’s choice).  Any attack or power that affects the ability of its target to invoke actions will affect the Piece that the attack or power hits with respect to that aspect of the attack or power.  Any attack or power that affects the ability of the target in any other fashion (including hp damage, ongoing damage, combat advantage, and forced movement) will affect the Piecework Creature as a whole with respect to that aspect of the attack or power; however, no such attack or power can affect the Piecework Creature more than once a turn, no matter how many Pieces it targets.)

Piecework Healing

A Piecework Creature is not bloodied when it loses half or more of its hit points.  When a Piecework Creature takes damage that would reduce it to nonpositive hit points, the Piecework Creature is instead healed to full hit points and one of the Pieces (DM's choice) is stunned until the end of the encounter (no save).  The DM must choose a Piece that is not already stunned until the end of the encounter.  A Piece that is stunned does not grant combat advantage.  If this causes half or more of the Pieces to be stunned until the end of the encounter, then the Piecework Creature is considered bloodied until the end of the encounter (no save), no matter how many hit points it has.  If this causes all of the Pieces to be stunned until the end of the encounter, then the creature dies. 

Piecework Initiative

The Piecework Creature rolls one initiative roll per Piece.  On its initiative, each Piece gets its own Minor, Move and Standard Action.  On a Piece’s initiative it may only use those Powers associated with that Piece or with the creature as a whole.

Choosing Each Piece’s Powers

Attacks: Each Piece gets its own basic attack.  The creature should get one attack power that either is recharge, immediate or encounter plus an additional such power per tier, which should be distributed amongst the Pieces.  A recharge power can only recharge on the turn of the Piece that can use it.  The bonuses to attack and damage imposed by the attack should be calculated using the bonuses and damage typical for a Standard creature of that level and role.  

Move: One Piece should be allowed to use the creatures' primary mode of movement as a move action.  Any other modes of movement are generally given as standard actions to other Pieces.  Also, other Pieces (particularly if the creature is a skirmisher) may be allowed to use the primary mode of movement as a standard action.  (Sometimes it makes sense to give out a Swim movement as a move action, rather than a standard action.) 

Modifying Existing Creatures: When modifying an existing creature to be a Piecework Creature using the Monster Builder, you can simply assign the creature’s existing powers and movement modes to various Pieces, and then create basic attacks for the Pieces that don’t currently have any.

Edited to add on October 9, 2010: I have added a seond article supplementing this one, on Piecework Minions.

Some sample Piecework creatures (these have not been modified from the original proposal):

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