The Elsir Project
This guide will help you in making a foe for the 4e game. 4e monster building is an art and not a science. Unlike 3.5 which has the mechanics for every aspect of monster creation, 4e is free-form: the limits are not mechanical and predefined by rules. Monsters in 4e get to do things PC can not, unlike most of 3.5/pathfinder. However, there is still some mechanics involved in making balanced and effective monster.
Foes are controlled by other players and the players rotate on who gets to control a foe. Players may use foes they create, find in the game book, or borrow another players foe.
Foes are controlled by the player who brings the Encounter Batch. An Encounter Batch is a group of monsters created for the purpose of a combat encounter based on the Alpha Directors theme. For example, an ancient tomb, the Encounter batch may have a variety of monsters who exist in such an area. They can include hazards as well. The Encounter batch must be within the level of the party.
Basic rules on using a foe
1) The average party level determines the level of encounters. An easy encounter is no more than 2 less in party level while a difficult is no more than 2 of the average level of the party. A Hard is consider no more than 4 levels higher. Both are based on the number of players. So a party of five players with levels 10, 7,8, 12, and 9. is average party level 9.2 or 9. That means a standard challenge is 9th level, Easy is 8 or 7, and difficult is 10-12 while hard would be 13. The XP Budget for a level level 9 standard encounter is 2250.
2) A Foes level cannot be more than five level than the lowest level character in the party. In the example above, the highest level foe that can be used is level 12.
The Alpha Director always has the privilege of placing the first foe. He may also play a type (Standard, solo. elite, or minion). The designated Encounter batch maker places the foes on to the board prior to combat. 4) The Beta Story tellers alternate placing foes. They may play standard, elite or minions. They may not play a solo and are encouraged to play elites only to balance out the encounter budget.
-5)Foes move on their own initiative count. At the start of the encounter the player rolls separately for his/her foe.
6) Foes are enemies. They are considered enemies and not allies of the player characters.
7) Players have the option of delaying the start of their foe by implying they are hidden from the battlefield. They roll initiative as normal but do not place their unit on the board until their initiative count. On that count they must roll a stealth roll and if they take an action, other characters may make a perception to notice the creature. If failed, the creature remains hidden from the characters until one makes a successful perception against its stealth. Those characters that fail perception grant combat advantage to the foe on its action, even after the figure has been placed on the board. Once the foe takes an action, he is placed on the board no matter the stealth checks. (For example, Caohmie wants to start with his goblin rogue hidden from the players at the start of the combat. He rolls his initiative (17). On his initiative count, he make s stealth roll. Players in line of sight* make perception checks to see his foe. If no one makes the check, Caohmie reveals the figure only if it takes an action on the players. He may continue to delay placing his figure until his next turn where he needs to roll a new stealth check. If a player has managed to spot the foe, then he places the foe on the board and the foe would be detected by that PC though still considered not seen by other players, even while on the board. Once the figure is on the board, it remains even if the the other PC’s cannot see it now or when it later hides again. Depending on the nature of its concealment determines if a player grants it combat advantage, for example invisibility, while can be detected still grants combat advantage in most cases.
8)Foes as Hazard/Traps: Traps with the lurker quality can also be hidden but may be employed on top of targets at the beginning of its turn (i.e. the pit opens up beneath them). Those who fail a perception check grant combat advantage from the trap’s attack. If necessary, those who are missed from the trap are placed in any adjacent unoccupied square out of the danger of the trap (for example a pits opening. If their no open spaces due to allies occupying the space, then the target will fall prone in an occupy squared of an ally. If their is still no occupied free space, then an enemy will be pushed and the target will take the open space. Enemies pushed into their own occupied ally squares will also fall prone. When is doubt, the Referee will determine the outcome.
9) For best play, players should have their foes target other players rather than their character. As a result, some experienced players may be very efficient in running their foes in combat even with low level. Players are encouraged to play their foes deadly and intelligently, maximizing their powers or using teamwork. Players should use foes they feel the most comfortable with.
10) When a foe is dropped to 0 hit points, it is removed from the board. Players have the option of killing or knocking out the foe.
11) Foes may be used again in a combat. Foes may also be re-skinned or have their origin changed to fit the narrative (i.e. turning them into undead).
12) Foes should be fair.
Tools: The monster manuals 1,2,3 and monster vault provide examples of different types of monster/foes. However, the mechanics of monsters of MM1 and MM2 are outdated whereas MM3 and Monster Vault have the most updated versions. Monsters of MM1 and MM2 tend to be lousy opponents, with crappy damage and too many hit points. Further more, the rules on defenses, elites and solos has changed.
You may use the old offline character builder to make monsters but be aware the tool uses the MM1 and MM2 monster creation rules which our outdated. You may use the online monster builder tool but it is very limited on what you can do.
If you use MM1 and MM2 monsters the simplest way to make them better is to halve the their total hit points and double their damage. A better way is to re-skin a MM3 or monster vault monster.
My preferred way of making monsters is actually to simplify the process so my stat blocks are not needed.The following notes are based on my 1e to 4e conversion technique, but it can be used to create monsters for 4e easily.
Step 1 Determine role. In this design the role is defines as either a standard, minion, elite or solo. I ignore the roles of skirmisher, lurker, soldier, brute, controller or leader type.
Step 2: Determine level. Foes should be no more than 5 level above the average party level. I also tend to ignore lower level monsters and replace them with equal higher level minions instead. At Paragon level, it is recommend any minions be at the highest level possible. The level determines many things in the monster.
Step 3: Determine speed. Decide on the speed and movement types of the monster. Average speed should be from 4 to 6. Faster creatures or flying creatures fly speed should be 7 to up to 12. Don’t make a monster faster than what it should normally be. An elf has a speed of 7, so an elf foe should have a speed of 7.
Step 4: Determine Initiative. Initiative is speed +2 at heroic level and speed +4 at paragon. If you feel the monsters should have a greater initiative you may add an additional +2.
Step 5: Determine defenses. Armor class is 14 + level of monster (AC=14+level). So a 1st level foe has an AC of 15. Fortitude, Reflex, and Will are all at a minus two of AC (so ast level for has a fort, reflex and will of 13). A Monster may trade points from one defense to boost another. They may also boost the armor class by trading two points of the secondary defense to AC.
Step 6: Determine Hit point. Standard foes should have 10 x level in hit points. First level monsters should have 20 hit points. Elite foes should have double the amount while solos have quadruple the amount. The lower hit points speeds up the combat process.
Step 7: Determine attacks. The foe should have a basic attack that hits at 5+level. A Monster should have a melee and a ranged attack if an intelligent humanoid. Solos should have two standard actions to use their attacks (see later). Most monsters will have a melee reach of 1 but large monsters and monsters with tentacles should have a longer reach. This reach is not threatening reach unless you make it so. It is recommended that threatening reach be limited to creatures that thematically have a great reach (roper, dragons tails, etc.)
Step 8: Determine damage. Intelligent monsters deal appropriate weapon damage plus the level. So a level 1 goblin with a short sword would have a attack of+6 vs AC;1d6+1 damage. A Monster of level 1-5 have a single die of damage while level 6-10 will have two dice of damage. This reflects their leveling and their danger, a 6th level monsters only dealing d6 of damage is not threatening enough. A Larger monster deals one higher (ie. 1d6 to d8) while a huge monster deals 2 dice higher (i,e, d6 to a d10). A non-intelligent monster, monsters with natural attacks, or beast should deal d6 if small, d8 if medium and d10 if large, etc.
Step 9 Special Attacks:
Basic attacks: You may create for a basic attack and effect that is comparable to what a PC may have as an at-will . (I.e marking, slow, additional energy damage such as +1d6 fire, etc.)
Secondary attacks: You can create a secondary attack for a basic attack for ongoing damage such as poison ( attack vs fortitude, target takes ongoing 5 poison, save ends).
Special attack maneuvers: Making Power on the Fly
One of the aspects of 4e is the ability of DM’s to create with monsters abilities they think would be a great challenges or story elements. I personally follow a more story aspect in DMing, as I am not a great strategist. So here are some on-the fly abilities I can apply to my monsters that require no real extra designing (i.e. I am not going to bother with stating out the monster for it). Some of these power are what PC can do anyway, so they won’t cry foul if it happens to them.
If you choose to ignore these abilities and make your own it is best to give your monster a good basic attack and maybe one or two of these other abilities that targets multiple targets, a different defense and deals more damage. They should also be limited by encounter or recharge. Avoid daily power effects since the monster will probably not live through the full day to recharge.
On the Fly Abilities:
Use these with monster that really have nothing going for them. I would recommend only 1 such power but if you get a good theme going (ie, Flaming aura, sword, ongoing damage), you can pull off more.
Mark: Give the creature a mark and it will make the players think twice on who they attack. Add another penalty to the mark to make it memorable like damage or a free attack if ignored. Marks on other defenders, though, tend to be not as effective as you would hope. Marks and running away are pretty effective.
Dual Weapons/twin strike: An easy thing to add is to give the creature two weapons it fights with. This allows you to give them that threatening look of a an expert swordsman, and you can give him a very simple twin strike ability that is the bane of many of marking defender.
Shield Bash: This is another really nifty ability for a heavily armored foe, to bash foes with his shield. Not only does it do damage, but can push a target. You may also allow it to knock prone on a charge.
Powers strike/power throw: An easy addition to a monster to give it an extra push. It give them the ability as a free action to add and extra damage [1W]. Treat this as an encounter power for low level monsters and recharged for higher.
Furious Smash: A blow that dazes, slows or immobilizes a target and does double the damage. Should be a recharge.
Whip or Spike chain: Nothing says trip attack than a reach tripping attack. Even better, you can target reflex and no one is the wiser.
Flaming Weapon: Everything goes better with fire. Nothing makes an impression than a flaming weapon (See Fellowship of the Ring). You can add an additional +1d6 per tier of Fire damage on every hit. You can re-fluff the sword to be a icy blade, a blade of crackling electricity, a dark blade of the void, etc.
Hit and Run: A creature that can hit before or after a shift is a good way to make then tricky. For a “dervish dance”, allow then to move their speed and hit any foe in their path.
Shake it Off: This ability allows the creature to shake off those pesky conditions. This is usually a immediate reaction encounter or recharge power.
Flaming Aura: In the saying “everything goes better with fire”, a aura 1 doing 5 points of fire damage on those who enter or start their turn will do wonders. You can re-fluff it to be any element or damage you choose.
Ongoing Damage: A gloaming cut, a burning sword, an poisonous bite all have ongoing damage potential of 5 (save ends). Higher level should have higher damage output (ongoing 10 at level 6 and above).
Grab and Toss: This my favorite for large creatures as an effect rather than a strategy. On a hit they do low damage, grab and as a free action throw the character a few square away landing them prone. It is very effective at keeping a fight going for longer and not doing a lot of damage to the PC’s if they are over matched. It also is useful in skill challenge/battle where the PC’s need to get to another place and the bruiser is preventing them.
Flyby attack: The staple of the flying creature. Moving and attack at the same time without provoking attacks of opportunity. Every dragon should have one.
Riposte Strike: The monster can strike back when they are hit. Nuff said. You could make this a “when bloodied” reaction.
Sneak Attack: Makes flanking something you want every turn. Give your monsters only +1d6 at level 1-4, +2d6 at level 5-10.
Bloody Recharge: To keep the monster a threat have it recharge a power. Higher level monsters should be able to recharge and use it as a immediate reaction.
Themes: With these basic powers you can packed them into quick and ready use powers for your monster.
The Bruiser: Furious Smash, Grab and Toss, and Shake it off.
The Sneak: Hit and Run, On ongoing damage, Sneak attack
The Skirmisher: Dual weapon, Hit and Run, Mark
The Soldier: Shield Bash, Mark, Furious Smash
The Gladiator: Whip/Spike Chain, Riposte Strike, Shield Bash
The Badass: Flaming Aura, Flaming Weapon, Ongoing Damage
The Dragon: Flaming Aura, Shake it off, Flyby attack, Grab and Toss, Furious Smash
Step 10 Special Defense. Determine if your monsters have any special defense such as vulnerabilities, resistances, immunities, insubstantial . Certain origins already have defense determinations (such as Undead keyword). You can also include powers that may make the monster difficult to detect such as darkness, invisibility, shield, etc.
Step 11 Equipment. Usually you can ignore equipment but in some cases, it is nice to include a monster gaining the benefit of a magic item. In those cases, assume the item is a part of the creatures make and not because of an item. If the creature has a +1 Flame tongue, assume it has a flaming weapon but is part of the creatures powers. When it is defeated, it drops the item to be used as treasure.
Step 12 Skill checks. Depending on the creature’s nature, it may need to make skill checks or ability checks. Ability checks (and non trained skills) are at level while skill checks the creature may be good at are made at level+5. So a Level 1 kolbold would be at ability checks and non trained skill checks at +1 while a skill they would know, like stealth, would be at +6. When in doubt, assume the creature is trained in the skill.
Step 13 Creating Elites and solos In previous edition of D&D, a single monster would usually be a challenge to a party. In 4e, not so much. To signify a tougher monster, villain or mastermind, you can create elites and solos.
Make an elite: Elites count as two creatures. Double the Hit points . Elites also get +2 to saves. Make dragons, important NPCs, and tough monsters into elites.
Make a Solo: A Solo counts as 5 creatures. Quadruple the hit points. Allow the creature two standard actions, +5 to saves, and when it first bloodies it can make a free attack or reuse any encounter power* as an immediate reaction. Make single dragon encounters or other creatures into solos.
Make a minion: Usually, you may find a group of creatures, even in mass number provide no real threat to the PC if at level or lower. You might want to consider them minions. Treat a minion as a normal creature but make its attack bonus 5+ level and dealing average damage plus level and use the minion rules of 1 hit point. Four Minions are equivalent to 1 normal monster. Minions should also be reduced to a single basic range and melee attack.
A final monster may look like this:
Giant Frost Spider “Level 3 Spd 4 Climb 5 Int+7 AC 17 Fort 14 Ref 16 Will 15 Hp 30/15 AT Bite+8 vs AC;1d8+3 cold damage plus secondary attack +6 vs Fortitude and ongoing 5 poison (save ends) SA Power strike SD Resist cold 5”
Optional Hazards: Players may instead of introducing a foe may introduce a level appropriate hazard into the game. The Hazards may be pre-generated or made on the fly but count as the similar XP value as a standard foe. Such hazards could a be a trap, a pit, a spell turret, a pool of acid or other obstacle. Hazards may be introduced in the story at by anyone and the Referee may make the determination if a skill challenge is needed to bypass it. In addition, players may put into play the hazards on the other players as needed, at least once. For example having it trigger on player at its initiative, like a hidden pit. The DC to bypass, detect, or disable/reactivate the hazard is 15+level of hazard from the appropriate skill (usually perception, thievery, or dungeoneering).
Hazards: When ever a hazard appears it attacks the appropriate defense at 5+ Party level and does damage as listed or 1d8+level of party 1-5 or 2d8+level of party 6-10 etc. You may also use the DMG damage for appropriate level chart. Unlike monsters, hazards may target any defense without penalty but must reduce by 2 when attacking by burst or area.
Example Hazard: Magic Arrow Turret [Level 3 Hazard 150 XP] SPD 0 Int 3 damage. SA Rapid Shot (fires twice). SD Resist All 5; Immune to charm, gaze, illusion, poison. Bypass DC 18 thievery
Concealed Spiked Pit [Level 1 100XP] SPD 0 INT 1 damage. Detect DC 16 Perception. In play, the player with the hazard may have the trap activated anywhere on the map on its Initiative. Unaware players of it (i.e. fail a perception roll) grant combat advantage.