Rethinking attack bonuses

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(I realize that the subject of this thread has been discussed recently in another thread, but since the approach is a bit different it nevertheless gets a thread of its own)


There are a number of things regarding the current attack bonus / defenses system that I find somewhat problematic (to various degrees):


- the basic stats of monsters are almost entirely based on level (hp, damage, attack-bonus, defenses etc.) with only a few variations. Thus defenses of monsters become very far from 'realistic' (I am aware that this is a problematic word to use in a fantasy-world context Smile but some degree of 'realism' seems preferable nevertheless), and such stats are (almost) purely determined on basis of game mechanics (level / game balance).
E.g. a Gobin Cutthroat has a Reflex defense of 14, while it is 17 for an Ogre - and 23 for a Hill Giant! Doesn't match the idea of an agile goblin and a lumbering giant to well...
So the increase in defenses with increased level of the monster (often) causes somewhat strange results.


- the stats of monsters depends to an extreme degree on their level and role, and nothing much else. If looking at the defenses (when taking into account a +1 increase per level) the defenses of all monsters of a given role seems to be almost identical, regardless of which monsters are in question (e.g. a Ghoul and a Dwarf Clan Guard (level 5 and level 1 soldiers respectively) each has an AC of 16 (+1 per level), even though the mental images of a heavily armored dwarf and an unarmored ghouls are quite different...Wink  ). So the nature of the monster in queston has very little impact - it is almost purely a question of game mechanics / balance.


- the increase in defenses of +1 per level (and corresponding increase in attack bonus for PCs) means that the level of the PCs and the monsters must be pretty much equal (within a few levels) for the combat to work properly. Thus a specific monster is made 'obsolete' rather quickly, as the PCs advance in level. Therefore there is a rather large variety in level for some monsters (e.g. an ogre can be anywhere fom lvl 6 to 14 (by Monster Vault alone)). Some variety is nice, but to much variety (in terms of both level and specific powers) on the same monster means that the players won't 'get to know it'. I.e. when they see an ogre, they won't know if it is level 6 or level 10 or level 14 (unless they are able to identify most ogre types due to having encountered them before - a quick search in the compendium reveals no less than 21 different ogre monsters, though, so hard to keep track of all of them by the players. Even if they are able to recognize each ogre type by its look alone, it might so happen that the DM has just designed an all-new Ogre Skullbasher which is level 18... Wink ).
Since identifying the monster is difficult, the PCs often won't know the monster's powers. This is of course a good thing in general, since it makes combat more interesting and the players have to adopt to what they face, but the aspect of 'gettin to know' the various monsters is pretty much lost. That probably won't be seen as a huge loss by some, but I think that experiencing at least a bit of recognizing from time to time is nice - it adds an element of progression for the players.


- the automatic PC attack / defense bonus increase by level is (almost) purely an illusion regarding becoming more powerful etc. since the level of the monsters increase as well (as per the rather 'strict' encounter design rules (although they can of course be ignored by the DM)), and as the defenses of those monsters are a function of their level they increase as well. So the PCs won't get an easier time hitting - they will just get to fight a level 8 ogre instead of a level 6 one... Wink )
(Imho the game balance aspect has gotten an overly high priority in 4th ed. ...)
 


Well, a lot of preliminary talk Smile. Now to the subject of this thread:


For my next campaign I have seriously considered removing the +½ level bonus to PC attacks (and defenses) and adjust monster stats accordingly.
This seems to have a number of benefits (for the sake of simplicity only the impact of reducing the attack bonus is considered here):


- ironically, the attack-bonus increase seems to reduce the feeling of advancement (for me at least). Is a +14 bonus a sign of being a capable fighter. Or a +24 bonus? The bonus lose the 'wow, I am becoming one tough fighter'-element, since it is only meaningfully evaluable if level is taken into account. I would much prefer a bonus that increases much more slowly (due to magic items, feats, ability score improvements etc.) to one that is as relative as in the current system.


- the players don't have to change the numbers on their character sheets every second level Wink


- but most importantly: monster defenses must of course be adjusted, and this can be done (almost) independent of the level of the monster, thus reflecting the nature of the given monster to a much higher degree.
E.g.: maybe the heavily armored dwarf mentioned above has an AC of 19, while the ghoul has AC 16 even though it is 4 levels higher; and the goblin a Reflex score of 17 but the ogre only 12 - or whatever values seem appropriate.
This has the added benefit that monsters of a much broader level range can face the players and still be feasible foes. The huge gap in attack vs. defenses caused by difference in level is greatly reduced, thus PCs are able to hit monsters of both higher and lower levels with somewhat equal frequency. This allows for much greater flexibility when designing encounters (of course higher level monsters are still a much greater threat - damage, hp, powers etc. - as they should be Smile) as the monsters are not limited to the ones belonging strictly to the level range matching the PCs.


This of course requires the monster defenses to be adjusted when planning the encounter, but I don't see that as a problem. Partly because I do this already (often up- or down-leveling existing monsters to match the PCs), and partly because it is quickly done.
As a rough guide PCs will probably have an attack-bonus between +5 (lvl 1) and +15 (lvl 30), a bit higher for weapons. That is a reasonable small range, allowing a 'fixed' system of defenses, as opposed to the current system dependent on level. Take e.g. the Mind Flayer Unseen and Eldar Black Dragon in Monster Vault: both are lvl 18 lurkers (and thus have same AC using the standard 4th ed. system), but an eldar dragon's scales does come to mind as somewhat better protection against swordblows than the skin of a mind flayer... Wink
For AC such a 'fixed' system could perhaps look something like: unarmored human: AC 10, higher AC depending on whether leather armor or plate mail etc. is worn - and not based (almost) entirely on level.
Sounds familiar, does it? Smile For anyone having played earlier editions of D&D it probably does Wink
If preferred it can be made even more failiar (at least for the old-timers Wink  ): no armor: AC 10, leather armor: AC 7, plate mail: AC 3, etc. (ok, might have to tweak the numbers a bit, but you get the idea Wink

Well, turned out to be a rather long post Smile. To sum up: as far as I can see the pros by far outweight the cons here (assuming that one like the 'traditional' AC-concept), but I could of course easily have overlooked some crucial problems regarding implementing the above house rule Smile.  So, any thoughts?

Regards
Nikolaj

There's nothing mathmatically wrong with removing the 1/2 level bonus, as long as monsters likewise lose their scaling defenses, but keep in mind that monsters scale twice as fast as PCs, (i.e., every level instead of every other level) because the PCs are expected to gain magic weapons as well.

So you would have a perfectly balanced game if you removed the scaling half of the equations entirely.

On the other hand, your reason for contemplating this issue in the first place is "it doesn't feel right". The problem with this view is that it seeks to un-abstract game mechanics like Hitpoints and Defenses, simply because you want them to be more concrete and "normal". You can use the same line of logic to argue that player HP shouldn't increase at all (after all, they're still humans*, even if they have gained a level or two).

*or at least humanoid

What's the difference between a +1 sword and a +2 sword? Or to take that further, what is so special about a +1 sword that makes it better than a masterwork sword? Sure, you can go into the failsafe fallback "it's magic!" but what kind of magic is it? 

Perhaps the more important thing to consider, however, are your players. Have they expressed a disbelief about the scaling defenses? At the end of the day, defenses are just a number. What's important is whether an attack is a miss or a hit. There's no reward for "almost" hitting a monster. On the other hand, there is something viscerally rewarding about getting another +1 to your attack. Many people view their steadily increasing attack malus as a gauge for their character's progression. It is fun to roll bigger and bigger amounts of numbers, even if "behind the scenes" you always need a 12 or higher to hit. 

If characters always get the same bonus, and always deal the same damage, they are liable to tire of their character quickly as "white-knuckle combat" degenerates into "roll a single die, add 6, no exceptions". 

So again, I beseech you: Ask your players! If this is something that bothers all or most of you, by all means, go ahead and change it! But if it's something that is only an issue to you,  try to look past the abstraction:

Maybe hillgiants have a higher reflex defense not because they're more nimble than goblins, but because they're so big, they only need small movements to deflect most of the damage. Maybe ghouls have AC higher than dwarves in platemail because they're undead, and can't feel pain, and many smaller, weaker attacks that would be deflected by the dwarf's platemail are simply ignored by the ghoul as unimportant! 

Does that make sense? 
If you look past the plot and the voice acting, Metroid: Other M was an okay game. Not a great game, but an adequate one. Not using the Metroid item collect jingle though? That, was a mistake.
Thanks for your thoughts - and fast reply Smile

There's nothing mathmatically wrong with removing the 1/2 level bonus, as long as monsters likewise lose their scaling defenses, but keep in mind that monsters scale twice as fast as PCs, (i.e., every level instead of every other level) because the PCs are expected to gain magic weapons as well.


Yes, I have given this some thought. But it seems to be ok, since PCs will encounter tougher monsters at higher levels (afterall, an ancient dragon has better AC than a young one, regardless of whether using relative or absolute values ), and since I don't aim solely at the rather small 'window' of 'die-roll-required-to-hit'-variation that the current rules seems to operate under (i.e. you need to roll '8' or higher, perhaps +/- 2 or so, to hit, very rarely more than that), so the variation in defense values can be greater to start with


On the other hand, your reason for contemplating this issue in the first place is "it doesn't feel right". The problem with this view is that it seeks to un-abstract game mechanics like Hitpoints and Defenses, simply because you want them to be more concrete and "normal". You can use the same line of logic to argue that player HP shouldn't increase at all (after all, they're still humans*, even if they have gained a level or two).


Yep, you are right - And what is even a "level" or a "class" but abstractions as well. One of the things that stroke me when I first read the 4th. ed. rules, though, was the increased level of abstraction. It is of course always a trade off, but I think it has gone a bit to far in order to satisfy mechanical game balance (but that is of course just a personal view). Thinking about it, I am probably more inclined to accept hp, class, level etc. due to those being well-known abstractions from earlier editions, so there is probably an amount of subjective 'nostalgia' in this as well...  


*or at least humanoid





Perhaps the more important thing to consider, however, are your players. Have they expressed a disbelief about the scaling defenses? At the end of the day, defenses are just a number. What's important is whether an attack is a miss or a hit. There's no reward for "almost" hitting a monster. On the other hand, there is something viscerally rewarding about getting another +1 to your attack. Many people view their steadily increasing attack malus as a gauge for their character's progression. It is fun to roll bigger and bigger amounts of numbers, even if "behind the scenes" you always need a 12 or higher to hit. 


Yes, that is the reasoning behind the design I guess - and you are right, higher numbers provide a sense of advancement. However, it also mean a wider range of numbers, and I can't help but feel that a +1 bonus loses significance somewhat (as opposed to when playing with fewer bonuses - then it is more satisfying when that +1 bonus finally turns up). But I guess it has a lot to do with play style and play context (for various reasons my group can't meet to play very often - perhaps 3-5 times (full day session, approx. +1 level per session) a year, so the players kind of forget whether they have a +14 or +15 bonus etc.  - but of course they do get the enjoyment of getting the +1 bonus every other level) . What I miss is the 'relationship' to that +14 bonus or that 27 AC. Since the bonus' 'worth' is not absolute but relative it is harder to achieve the 'feeling' of what that +14 bonus corresponds to regarding progress (other than it just being a number which is one higher than it was before).
With a system of 'fixed' defense-values the players will feel a 'real' progress: "5 levels ago I had to roll an 11 to hit a foe in plate mail, now I hit such a foe on a 9" (since the AC of a plate mail wearing foe hasn't changed during hose 5 levels). So I guess it is perhaps a matter of preferences: the feeling of progress by getting increasingly higher attack results (due to higher bonuses), or by (slowly) being able to get a hit on lower die rolls.


If characters always get the same bonus, and always deal the same damage, they are liable to tire of their character quickly as "white-knuckle combat" degenerates into "roll a single die, add 6, no exceptions". 


You are right (again ). However, I think that the multitude of different power-options available during combat will make up for (at least some of) that.


So again, I beseech you: Ask your players! If this is something that bothers all or most of you, by all means, go ahead and change it! But if it's something that is only an issue to you,  try to look past the abstraction:


No wories, I will  (I have played with the same group - although with some breaks - for 20 years or so, so we know each other very well and I wouldn't implement such significant rules-changes without discussing it with them first - so atm I am just looking for comments etc to see if these changes are even a viable option to consider )


Maybe hillgiants have a higher reflex defense not because they're more nimble than goblins, but because they're so big, they only need small movements to deflect most of the damage. Maybe ghouls have AC higher than dwarves in platemail because they're undead, and can't feel pain, and many smaller, weaker attacks that would be deflected by the dwarf's platemail are simply ignored by the ghoul as unimportant! 

Does that make sense? 


Sure does (as do all of your comments Smile). When we first encountered the 'Reflex-problem' of e.g. the Hill Giant we 'explained' it by reasoning that even if some attacks target reflex (e.g. fire spells) they still have to penetrate the giant's hide to do damage, so the Ref value does not merely represent how agile the giant is, but is a measure for how resistant it is overall against that particular form of attack.

And it is of course just numbers - afterall, what it is designed to do (whether it is called Reflex or any other name) is having the players roll some dice and compare the numbers. The level of abstraction still bugs me somwehat, though... Wink 

Again, thanks for your thoughts.

Regards
Nikolaj
Everything you say is true* of 4e, and largely true of every other edition. Like Veok says, the game could work just fine with your changes. Hel, you could remove math inflation completely and it'd work just fine.

But the vast majority of players like getting more and more bonuses as they level up. It means that they can kill a dragon at 1st level and then kill its great granddaddy ten levels later. It's that sense of advancement that Veok mentioned.

So what I'm saying is, if you do this, you're likely going to be doing for you and not anybody else.

*Well, I didn't read everything. But from what I skimmed, yeah, that's D&D.
But the vast majority of players like getting more and more bonuses as they level up. It means that they can kill a dragon at 1st level and then kill its great granddaddy ten levels later. It's that sense of advancement that Veok mentioned.



Yes, I fully agree that the feeling of advancement is very important. I am not considering removing 'the killing a dragon and its grandaddy later on'-element, of course - it will most definately stay in game Smile.
The question is, as I see it, whether the +½ bonus per level is really necessary to accomplish this. I think that it might be quite possible to maintain that feeling without the bonus (with the added benefits especially regarding monster stats and monster availability for encounters listed in the earlier post), but will of course discuss it with my players first (this is probably the pivot-point: different players have different preferences in this regard).

Thanks for the comments Smile

Regards
Nikolaj

I personaly hate 1/2 lvl adjustments; that said however I have come to relise some reasoning behind it.


Personaly I think I lean slightly to removing the 1/2 lvl. I want this simply so the chars do feal like there lvls matter.

Here is my reasoning, currently the party has a huge mission to fight say goblins. Now they gain many lvls as they go about this quest at first the goblins are suposed to be a huge chalenge then slowly dwindle, currently I goto raise the lvl of the goblins so that they are even a chalenge at all without 1/2 lvl they could still hit and not be garenteed hit but there hp and damage would make them much less of a threat.

yes I could simply very very slowly step the lvl of the goblins down so that the gap slowly increases but as a player it feals kinda wrong, you start off killing lvl 1 goblins then later on those goblins are lvl 5 now simply becouse your lvl 8. Makes you feal like lvls had no point behind them, now without the 1/2 lvl adjustment you start out fighting lvl 3 goblins (they could get away with the higher lvl now to start with) and then at lvl 8 when you come back through you still fight the lvl 3 goblins though this time those goblines might be better prepared for your arival they are still the lvl 3 goblins and you feal like you gained something.


Basicaly Though I understand the 1/2 lvl is so monsters become a lot harder as the lvl goes up (making a monster 10 lvl higher nearly impossible to hit instead of a monster 20LV higher) but I feal that hitting or missing shouldn't be the chalenge, it gets super flustering for a player to nearly never hit soemthing but now if they can hit it but if has a ton of HP and does way more damage fighting it is still a bad idea but not nearly and annoying to a player and can even make for a very fun encounter.



Thats all said for the who AC reflex argument I point out that theres a section in the monster builder that allows you to set low very low avergae high very high for each defence type so you can very easaly get this variable that way, super highly armored would get very high AC super agile very high reflex so on and so forth

An' ye harm none, do what ye will
You know stargazer, if you want to have the group fight through various goblins and start at lv 1 but progress through it all so say, they'll probably be lv 8 by the end of this mission(an example).  If you're wanting the goblins to start off as a challenge but then as the players get higher they become less and less so, that's really not hard to do.  Have the goblins a set level through the whole thing but the players will continue getting higher levels and the goblins they face will become easier and easier.

You don't have to make the goblins stronger or worry about leveling creatures to match the players and at the same time the players will feel stronger because they'll do more damage and have a higher attack bonus so those same say, lv 3 goblins become a cake walk.  But then, to me that doesn't sound too fun.  Because at that point they're practically minions and if the rest of the adventure became me just killing minions with maybe one boss at the end, it'd be a bore but that's just me.

The thing is though, hitting an enemy isn't always meant to be easy unless they're lower level.  It should be a challenge, not to mention that's the way of the game when using dice.  Sometimes you just roll bad, happens.  But if you're facing say, an equal level monster you shouldn't be able to just hit it every round it makes things boring and too easy.  But if you're facing a monster that's a few level below you then there's a good chance you wont really have a problem hitting the enemy since its defenses will be low compared to your atk bonus, and its HP wont be that much to deal with either.

And if the team is facing an enemy that has a ton of HP and does a crap load of damage it seems like the enemy is possibly too high a level for the players if no one can hit it at all.  A player should have a decent chance at least to hit the enemies they're facing unless something they do, or a situation, pits them against a monster of higher level than their own.     

theres a lot of arguments for and against it, Personaly I like the better chance to hit higher lvl monsters and better chance to miss lower lvl ones.  the change is a mere 25% per 10 lvls but that is enough to make a difrence if the level varoience a party is allowed to face.

Don't get me wrong I like a lvl varience in my monsters but if I want a town comprised of lvl 1-10 creatures I would love it if the lvl 1 had at least a slim chance at hitting the lvl 10 party and the party had a slim chance of missing.  more then 10 lvl varience for a monster seams to much to me though, perhaps it's the teir mindset, think heroic monsters should always be heroic lvl and epic should be epic, with exception of special story reasons. meh perhaps I am not even sure what I think lol I have very very conflicted veiws on the abstacts of lvl

An' ye harm none, do what ye will
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