Monday, October 22, 2012

Using Basic Monsters in 4e

The reason 4e combat tends to be slow is primarily the fault of the players, including the GM. If you have your powers memorized, you can blow through your turn in seconds.

But that's the thing. Even a first level PC has 2-3 pages of powers. The character sheet only gets longer as you level (although you can fix this to some degree by changing the way you handle magical items; more on this in a later post).

And, as I learned in session 3, the GM can take almost as long. I had a bunch of creatures I'd never even looked at before, each with 2-5 powers. I want to provide a challenge; so I needed to take a minute or so to read them over initially and then some time each round thereafter to refresh myself.

Too long!

Now then. I'm going to try something different next session.

Running Monsters from Basic D&D in Fourth Edition

Find the monsters you want to use from whatever old school or new school reference. Use as many of their special abilities as you want. (For instance, I'm not going to hesitate to use straight up level drain in 4e.) Frex, if you want a rogue-like skirmisher goblin, give him +1d6 damage when he has combat advantage. You can do all this by the seat of your pants, but be consistent with it.

These suckers will do more damage than normal 4e creatures by default but won't have as many fiddly limited-use things either; so it should all average out—and be a lot quicker. Besides, we want the PCs to have a lot to play with in combat. We just want the monsters to be scary and dangerous and susceptible to being pushed/pulled/slided/dazed/stunned/marked/etc.

Attack Roll

5 + HD (for HD + X, add the +X too) vs AC, -2 vs NADs (Non-AC-Defenses). +2 for artillery roles if you wanna.

A goblin (HD 1 - 1) attacks at +5 vs AC (5 + 1 - 1) and +3 vs Fort, Ref, or Will. An orc (HD 1) attacks at +6 vs AC and +4 vs NADs (+6/4).


Base of 10 average damage + 1 per HD.
A goblin (HD 1 - 1) would do 10 average damage (10 + 1 - 1), which we can work out to 1d10 + 5. An orc would do 11 average damage (10 + 1): 1d12 + 5 or 1d10 + 6 or whatever expression you like.

Hit Points

Follow this equation for calculating monster hp: 20 + (HD)(5). 

Or, to put it another way, it's base 20, plus 5 per HD, plus or minus 5 for each point of HD adjustment, if any. To make elites, double it. To make solos, quadruple it. Easy.

An orc has 25 hp: 20 + 5 for 1 HD. A goblin has 20 hp: 20 + 0 for HD 1 - 1. An ogre has 45 hp: 20 + 25 for HD 4 + 1. 


  • AC is base 15 plus 1 per HD, including adjustments. 
  • NADs are AC -2 by default.
  • If a creature is wearing actual armor, you may use the AC value of that armor as the base AC and add subsequent HD, if any, on top of that.

An orc is an HD 1 monster. Its base AC is 15. Adding 1 for its HD 1, its AC is 16, with NADs at 14. Or, if the orc were wearing plate, his base AC would be 18, plus 1 for his HD. Monsters are scarier than normal humans, who would only have an AC of 18 if wearing the same armor. An ogre is an HD 4 + 1 monster. Its AC is 15 base plus 4 + 1 for its HD: 20. 

If something conceptually should have a lower or higher score in a particular defense, just adjust it by +/- 2 for most creatures or +/- 5 for a few. Frex, zombies should have their Reflex and Will defenses at AC - 5, but their forts should probably be at +2, i.e., equal to AC.


Use whatever. This should translate directly. A movement rate of 90' = 30' / round = 6 tactical squares.


Use this! Take it directly from your old school reference.


Use whatever schema you want. If a B/X creature has a + or a * after its HD, treat it as that many levels higher for XP purposes.


When you use a spell, make it attack a relevant NAD on the PC.


Attacking NADs most closely approximates the saving throw schema of older editions. Just have the creature that's forcing the save make a NAD attack.

Remember to give elites +2 to 4e saves and solos +5 to the same.

To prevent stunlocking a special creature type (i.e., elites and solos), give them the ability to save at the beginning and ending of their turns in addition to the save bonuses.


Mercilessly focus-fire on the PCs. For non-intelligent monsters, ignore opportunity attacks and go for the throat. Try to down as many PCs as you can as quickly as you can. Have minions (if you use them) surround PCs in melee and use Aid Another.

Remember to give elites 1 Action Point and solos 2. Elites should also be able to act twice in a round and solos 4 times. 4e replicates this by providing a lot of interrupts. You can make interrupt powers for your creatures or just let them go multiple times.

A simple way to do this is that, if an attack misses an elite or solo, the creature may immediately respond somehow with a standard action. This way they're only in the initiative once, but they're moving all over the place, owning bones.

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