Throughout this process I keep stumbling onto neat little things that I never thought about before. Today’s mini-revelation was a handful of little statements about the world the characters inhabit based on the math you pick. Some choice oddities that arose:
What happens when you treat monsters and character differently
Monster attributes are a byproduct of character attributes. So if characters have numerically high attacks, monsters have numerically high defenses. This becomes interesting when the numerical difference between attacks and defenses increases.
Imagine if players were +10 atk and +0 defense (i.e. 10 AC) at first level. Let’s also say you want each side to hit about 50% of the time (you can vary this number and the point I’m proving is nuanced, but stays generally true). Then monster defenses would begin at about 20 and monster attacks would begin at about +0. So far, a balanced game. But now think what this means for monsters. They basically cannot hurt each other. Even weirder, think what this means for PC vs. NPC—they can tear each other up.
We actually discover that the closer to treat monsters to PCs, the more “realistic” a game we develop across the levels of play and across the different types of scenarios that might arise. I guess that makes perfect sense, but the marketing of 4e sort of drove home the idea that monsters should be designed to be whatever they need to be in order for a fun combat. I agree with that marketing, but now I want to go back and see if this mini-revelation shows anything neat about 4e monster design.
What happens when you make level progression “small”
Much like 4e, I wanted each level to provide a modest improvement that was easy to eyeball and calculate. Increasing attack by ¾ hit die isn’t all that easy to do on the fly. I went with +1. That is +1 attack, +1 defense, and +1 damage. Hit points are a bit higher and it isn’t all working perfectly just yet, but I’m plugging away.
The weird thing arose when I started looking at the ability to concentrate resources into one specific area at the expense of others. I try to limit the extent of this concentration, but I still want some available to customize the character. As a result, focusing, say, defensive resources into attack (and then presumably being a ranged attacker so you don't get destroyed) allows you to be competitive with characters two or three levels higher. The main thing you lose is flexibility (because you have fewer powers) and longevity (because you have fewer action points, hit points, and surges).
This reminds me of 2e where an adventuring party could conceivably consist of mixed, sometimes quite disparate, levels. The lower level guy is reasonably challenged, and he certainly isn’t a burden to the group, he just has fewer options at his disposal to tackle the challenges of the adventure.
But this too can be flipped and tells us interesting things about monsters. If the “levels” between monsters are small, this means that low-level monsters can interact with and challenge high level monsters. I’m not sure I’m a fan of 20 first level goblins posing a threat to a 15th level dragon. My intuition is that mechanisms like damage reduction and wounds will make this more palatable, but it is still something that raises a red flag and I want to keep an eye on.