(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 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... ). 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... ).
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... )
(Imho the game balance aspect has gotten an overly high priority in 4th ed. ...)
Well, a lot of preliminary talk . 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
- 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 ) 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...
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? For anyone having played earlier editions of D&D it probably does
If preferred it can be made even more failiar (at least for the old-timers ): 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
Well, turned out to be a rather long post . 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 . So, any thoughts?