Thursday, February 19, 2009

Monster roles vs Player roles

I want to look at the roles as defined by the game. First, Player roles:

Controller: Offensive characters who specialize in dealing damage to multiple foes or causing status effects.
Defender: High defense and good close up offense. They have powers that make it difficult to ignore them.
Leader: Inspire, heal, aid, and protect your allies, also has good defenses.
Striker: Deal high amounts of damage to a single target at a time.

Monster Roles:

Artillery: Do primarily ranged damage and protected well from ranged attacks.
Brute: High damage, low hit rate. High hit points, low defenses.
Controller: Manipulate enemies and the battlefield, inflict conditions on their adversaries.
Lurkers: Avoids attacks and deals high damage when they attack.
Minion: Cannon fodder.
Skirmisher: High mobility attackers, they are the baseline combat statistics for monsters.
Soldier: Low damage, high hit rate. Average hit points, high defenses. The opposite of Brutes. Have abilities that draw an enemies' fire.

They have three roles that they can have in addition to the others:

Elite: Two times as tough as a regular monster
Solo: Equal opponent of an entire party. Note that even though a Solo monster also has another role, but it must be able to function alone so the role is not as important for a Solo.
Leader: In addition to the functions of its main role, leaders grant bonuses and abilities to their allies. Unlike Elites or Solos, being a Leader does not increase the XP value of a monster.

Some of the player roles have direct analogues in the monster roles. Artillery, Lurkers, Brutes, and Skirmishers are all focused on damage dealing. This makes a lot of sense. Player roles exist as a way to facilitate teamwork. They present clear duties in combat with strengths built into the class. The DM has no need to co-operate with himself so the roles are different. Rather than a role defined as 'deal damage to one target', he should have roles defined by how he is using the monster. His Strikers need to be defined by how they deliver damage.

Defenders are almost a direct analogue to Soldiers. They have the same duties in combat, and some of the same strengths and weaknesses. Interestingly the player role of Controller is shared by Artillery and Controller monsters. The monster Controller says nothing about dealing damage to multiple foes, but instead is more focused on altering the battle in different ways.

Which brings us to Leaders. The player and monster definitions of Leaders are similar, but it is impossible to make a pure leader using the monster's roles. Your monster will be Brute (Leader), or more commonly Controller (Leader). This is unusual to me. If I were to make up an NPC Cleric focused on healing and supporting the other NPC's on his side, he would have to occupy some other role in the scheme before he became a Leader. Even more interesting, if I were to create a monster out of whole cloth that had a Cleric-like feel without using an established monster, I would need to choose one of the other main roles to base his stats on. Attack bonus, Defenses, hit points, these are all based on the six monster roles (excluding minions, of course). Adding a Leader template does not change the base stats at all.

Granted, creating a monster is less about his stats and scores, which can be tweaked to your liking anyhow, and more about the powers you pick. Still, I find it odd that there is no base monster role geared towards support. Say you want to make up a goblin shaman who heals in a different way than the cleric class. You create some cool powers appropriate for his level. He has a basic attack, and a suite of powers that heal and buff his allies. What role is he? By the book he is not a controller. By the book, he doesn't have a role. Your best bet is to call him Artillery or Soldier and ignore it from there.

My point is that the role system is great for finding and categorizing the monsters in the Monster Manual. How you use them, however, does not have to be in a rigid manner prescribed by the book. Just like player roles are flexible, monster roles do not have do define them wholly. Creating fighters who have high damage potential like strikers, or swordmages who have controller like abilities is easy and often done. Breaking the role's rigidity is par for the course, and will become easier as more books are released.

I hope you all excuse this self indulgent rant. A light bulb went off and I felt the need to put into words the mental block I had overcome. Questions or comments are welcome!



colin sullivan said...

What a coincidence, here's a little something I jotted down while tinkering with "the project" I've got nothing on monster roles though. Good point about leaders, they usually apear to be beefier than other monsters but don't cost extra XP to throw in an encounter.

All classes are responsible for doing damage. All classes have some amount of defensive ability. Classes that have a secondary role and some overlap between roles are good, it makes play more exciting, characters more versatile and less “one trick pony-ish”. Strikers and defenders make a pair because they both deal with moving damage from one target to another. Controllers and leaders are a pair because they both make actions of one side more or less effective.

Striker: The striker’s job is to deliver damage to tactically useful targets. They have powers that: let them reach targets at range, slip past enemy defenses to reach weak rear targets, create status effects on enemies which will make it easier for other party members to attack that target later (combat advantage, blind, defense penalty, etc).

Defender: The defender’s job is to divert damage away from weak party members towards themselves (more robust party members). They have powers that: make attacking others a poor tactical choice, let them move allies out of harmful situations, move enemies into weak positions to attack, shift preexisting damage onto themselves (lay on hands).

Controller: The controller’s job is to hamper and weaken the actions of the enemy. They have powers that: deny the enemy access to areas, make staying in formation a poor tactical choice, create status effects that make actions less effective (weakened, slowed, dazed etc), create battlefield conditions that obstruct the enemy.

Leader: The leader’s job is to enhance and aid the actions of their allies. They have powers that: heal allies, enhance attacks, let allies move into tactically useful positions, escape dangerous exposed positions, bolster defenses, create terrain and areas that assist allies.

Jay said...

This post started out as amazement that there was no easy way to make a good leader monster from scratch, so I don't think I have looked at it as much from the player side.

I found it interesting as I looked at the roles that a lot of thought went into them. The player roles are defined so you can as a player have a clear forte, but there are certainly ways to break the roles.

Monster roles are more than just DM analogues to the same thing, they are set up to allow the DM to easily choose monsters that fill certain roles better.

One thing stumps me. Player powers almost all target an enemy, even ones that are healing or buffing in nature. Monster roles should have a niche for monsters that do not attack much, but support. After all, the DM is not going to cry about wasting his turn doing some buffing or healing. They would have been well served introducing another role, one of support, and including monsters that make their allies tougher. Nominally that is what the Leader tag is for, but its too weak. I want more.