4E is a game full of complexity. It is often complexity of the good sort, it makes the game more dynamic, challenging and exciting all of which are desirable. However sometimes things are a little too complex and something similar is desired. Looking at the 4E rules for PCs the answer is clearly found in options like the Slayer and other simple builds from the “Heroes” range of player orientated products. But for DMs that simplicity is often impossible to find; the simplest monsters are Minions and yet they will not provide the challenge required.
With all the talk of DnDNext I’ve been looking back through my old 1E modules and 2E rule books and pondering the elements of dnd. In looking at A1 I noticed a particular thing the module had that I really hadn’t seen before. Like all old adventures it had a Random Encounter Table, which I promptly ignored as I dislike them, and then it had a table that indicated the maximum number of things you could encounter using the random encounter table. For example after you kill 50 orcs via random encounters you never encounter orcs again. This simple thing made me sit up and pay attention to the random encounter table, and then I noticed something elegant about it. On each line of the random encounter table there was a creature name, a number appearing, and most importantly the AC, HD, Attacks & Damage of the creature. Every line of the table was a creature you could just run without really having to look anything else up. That is something we can use in 4E!
One Line Stat Blocks
A monster defined in 1 line clearly isn’t as well-defined as something with a full stat block, but it isn’t meant to be (even in 1E). It does however fit nicely between a Minion and a typical 4E monster. These monsters are the “goons” of their type, nothing particularly worth noting but plentiful and easy to beat.
As a result the monsters have 20+ Level hit points for Heroic tier, 40+ level for Paragon and 60+level for Epic. Their defenses and attacks are calculated normally and they do “Normal” damage with their attacks as a base. Their initaitive is always 5+ half-level (round down). Any conditions they impose are always ended at the start their next turn (SoNT) if they would normally have a save ends duration. Finally they have an XP value equal to half a standard monster of their level.
Making A Narrative
So I’m going to suggest the following levels of enemies in order to facilitate the story of the game. The mechanics side is easy but it is important to be able to use the crunch to build a fun story as well and knowing the raw crunch.
- Minion – the 4E minion intended to be mowed down en mass.
- Goon – the 1 Line Monster presented here. The nameless guards on the door, or in the barracks, or just on patrol. They are enemies but not the real threats.
- Foe – A standard 4E monster. These guys are the real threats. They might be in charge of goons or minions or protecting strategic points, like the boss’ chamber etc.
- Boss – 4E elites and solos. These guys are in charge if things or just plain scary loners. When you hit one of these in a fight you should know it!
Example Heroic Goons:
Kobold Sml Init+5 HP 21 AC 15 F 11 R 14 W 13 Mv 6 Atk: +6 vs AC 1d6+3 Minor: Shift 1 L1 XP50
Goblin Sml Init+6 HP 22 AC 16 F 12 R 14 W 11 Mv 6 Atk: +7 vs AC 1d6+4 Reaction: Shift 1 when missed L2 XP65
Wolf Med Init+6 HP 22 AC 16 F 14 R 15 W 13 Mv 7 Atk: +7 vs AC 1d6+5 & knock prone +1d6 vs prone L2 XP65
Orc Med Init+6 HP 23 AC 17 F 15 R 14 W 12 Mv 6 (8 Charge) Atk: +8 vs AC 1d12+3 (Crit 15+1d12) L3 XP75
Wraith Med Init+7 HP 25 AC 19 F 17 R 18 W 15 (Insub) Mv Fly 6 (Hvr/Phase) Atk: +8 v R 2d6+6 necrotic L5 XP100
Gnoll Med Init +8 HP 27 AC 20 F 19 R 18 W 16 Mv 7 Atk: +12 vs AC 3d6+8,+5 if 2+ allies adjacent to target L7 XP150
Ogre Lge Init +10 HP 30 AC 22 F 24 R 20 W 20 Mv 8 Atk: M2 +15 vs AC 4d8+5 & push 1 L 10 XP250
Note: Insub = Insubstantial, Hvr = Hover, M2 = Melee 2
Example Paragon Goons:
Wyvern Lge Init+20 HP 41 AC 25 F 25 R 23 W 21 Mv 4 Fly 8 (Hvr) Atk: M2 +16 v AC 2d6+9 & 10 poison L11 XP300
Hill Giant Lge Init+11 HP 43 AC 25 F 27 R 23 W 25 Mv 6 Atk: +18 v AC 3d10+11 push 2 & knock prone L13 XP400
Frost Giant Lge Init+13 HP 47 AC 29 F 32 R 27 W 28 (R 10 Cold) Mv 8 (Ice Wlk) Atk:M2 +22 v AC 3d12+11 L17 XP800
Fire Giant Lge Init +14 HP 48 AC 34 F 34 R 28 W 28 (R 15 Fire) Mv 8 Atk:M2 +23 v AC 3d12+12 & mark L18 XP1000
No doubt in reading the above examples you will have noticed that to achieve 1 line stat blocks there is a significant abbreviation which would occlude clarity for a DM with limited experience. However these are still significantly more detailed than their 1E ancestors, which admittedly had significantly less rules to deal with.
Making these stat blocks required working out the HP given the guideline above, then simply using the defences of a typical example from the relevant level of the monster and similarly the attack and damage, then finally adding some flavor effects to match the basic monster. If making a monster with a Ranged attack as its primary attack mode I would just list the short range (eg Atk:R20 +6 1d10+2) as the long range is always 2x the short range, and I would use the same values for the melee attacks of the creature and thus not list them.
Why use Goons?
One of the oft cited problems with 4E combats is how long they take, and goons will allow faster combats if simply due to the reduce amount of hit points. Goons have an advantage over Minions in that they do full damage like any normal monster of their level, this means that while PCs might not be burning through their encounter and daily powers as they move through the encounters they will use up the most precious resource for 4E characters; surges. So you will get faster combats, which means you can do more of them in a session (say 1 or 2 goon fights and a normal 4E fight) and the PCs will use up resources making those normal 4E fights more of a danger.
The one thing to keep an eye on then is Action Points, if the PCs are burning through Goon encounters they are going to accumulate APs at a higher rate than is normal for 4E for the amount of danger they have faced. To alleviate this PCs should have to overcome 3 encounters if one or more of them are primarily goons to gain an AP. It is advisable to tell players you are using this rule before doing so, this will avoid confusion over when they should get an AP.