March 5, 2012

Damage Adjustment Follow-up & Nightmare Mode

Last week, I posted a short exercise in seeing how expected creature damage expressions stacked up against expected dungeoneer hit points through the entirety of their careers (Levels 1 through 30). What was found, very convincingly, was that as Level increased, creature damage expressions became less and less potent compared to the ever-expanding dungeoneer hit point totals. Looking at this, I asked the question, "If the math involved in Level 1 creatures vs. Level 1 dungeoneers is taken as an ideal, how would that translate to all of the other Levels? The answer came out that, to keep pace with the amount of threat from Level 1, damage expressions need a significant boost even as low as the mid-Heroic Tier.

A very interesting counter-exercise was then posted by The Hydra DM looking to see the inverse: if Level 30 is taken as an ideal, what does that make Level 1 damage expressions look like? the answer, of course, being that Level 1 damage expression become laughably low, which then suggests that published Level 30 damage expressions have been laughably low. Compound this with the ever-increasing means that high level dungeoneers have of negating or avoiding damage, and you can clearly see a complete lack of any real threat at high level play.

This post expands upon my first, by providing a few more Levels of examination to give guidelines for Deity-Level opponents, providing PDFs of the assembled charts, as well as the original calculations in MS Excel format.

Nightmare Mode

This level of adjustment may not, in fact, be enough for some campaigns. For Dungeons & Dragons games that wish to be truly brutal, to test the skills of the dungeoneers to the utmost limits, I give you Nightmare Mode Damage Expressions.

Nightmare Mode is a Fourthcore concept wherein the game gets progressively harder as the dungeoneers gain levels. traditional 4E Dungeons & Dragons is designed in the opposite, a Level 9 dungeoneer is far more likely to see Level 10 than a Level 2 dungeoneer is to survive to see Level 3. In Nightmare Mode, merely surviving is a challenge and a reward. It's the Ninja Gaiden of D&D; frustratingly hard, and not meant for casual players.

To achieve this effect, I will simply increase the percentage damage dealt across all damage expressions by a fixed, small amount; in this case, an increase of 1% per three levels. For example, if a 1st Level Limited Damage Expression deals 56% of a typical 1st Level dungeoneer's Hit Points, then a 4th Level Limited Damage Expression deals 57% of a 4th Level dungeoneer's Hit Points, and a 30th Level Limited Damage Expression deals a whopping 65% of a 30th Level dungeoneer's hit points. As well, four solid hits from 30th Level Minions should drop a dungeoneer to the floor. This is an entireluy arbitrary number, but one percent per three leevls seems pretty modest from a first glance, so we'll stick with it.

The numbers that come out of the grinder here have a sticke shock to them: kicking upwards of 6d20+68 damage! BUt take a moment to breathe in and examine what we're looking at. We're numerically representing a devastating strike from a powerful diety. Shouldn't that be a little over-the-top? Shouldn't those numbers be a little ridiculous? Shouldn't they be, dare I say it, a little epic?


On The Fly Adjustments

If you're in the middle of running an adventure, or want to use something pre-published, or in any situation where you want to use these adjusted values, but don't want to go through the hassle of rewriting every single stat block, here are some quick and simple bonuses to damage by creature level you can slap right on top of your rolls at the table. These values are done with some fast and loose averaging, getting approximately where you want to be without too much thought.

To get to the "Adjusted Values", meaning damage normalized to be inline with the punch of Level 1 damage, add the Level -1 of the creature to all damage expressions, plus an additional +1 for both Paragon and Epic Tier.

To get to the "Nightmare Mode Values", the adjustments needed are actually very simple. Add the +2 damage per Level to every damage expression, ignoring Level 1.


  1. Hehe, and just like Fourthcore always does, first the playing field is levelled, then we step right over the edge and turn the tables all the way back around.

    I don't think I'm ever going to have the opportunity to run a Nightmare Mode game, but I honestly think that Nightmare Mode is something that high level PCs can and should be able to handle with very smart play. It'd be great to see a level 30 fourthcore one-shot using Nightmare Mode just to see if that guess is on the mark. And if they can't handle it? Well, it's epic tier: resurrection is always an option so that they can die over and over and over...

  2. Very interesting comments. I found this site via Mike Shea tweet and now this site is bookmarked. Very interesting findings, and in general, I might consider tweaking my own monsters damage values now as well. Monster lethality is a big problem in my game, even post MM3.

    1. Thanks for saying so, and I'm glad you find DMG p.42 so useful!

  3. So I guess this is like playing Lair Assault to the extreme?

    Love the site by the way.

    1. Glad you're enjoying it! With PAX East looming, and the usual demands of running the FTDM blog as well, I haven't been posting very often lately. But rest assured, I have plenty of stuff coming down the pike.

      The thing that bugs me the most about Lair Assault, and why I don't think it was done very well despite its enormous potential, is the level of boring hack and slash to it. Don't get me wrong, I'm arguably one of the most adamant proponents of seeing MORE tactics and strategy in D&D, I made FTDM for christ's sake, but because the designers of Lair Assualt limited themselves to off-the-shelf design the only way they could create any sort of challenge for seasoned 4E veterans was to just heap tons and tons of monsters at the groups. It's a boring grind-fest of wailing away at bags of hit points.

      Although, I've only seen the stats for the first season of Lair Assulat (the fire-themed one), and don't know if that is at all true for the current season. I would like to know, but there are very few places running Lair Assault, even in the gamer-dense area I live in, and none of the times are at all feasible with my schedule. Which of course, is my beef #2 about Lair Assault.

  4. This is, quite frankly, amazing. You've outdone yourself!

  5. I think high-level characters should be tougher than low-level characters. If it takes four hits from a same-level monster to drop a level 1 character, and takes four hits from a same-level monster to drop a level 30 character, then the character doesn't really feel tougher. It's like if every character had 10x as many hit points, and all attacks did 10x as much damage - you get bigger numbers, but didn't really change anything.

    Low-level characters are fragile, but are easy to replace. It takes a long time to get to high levels, so from a player satisfaction standpoint they shouldn't die as often - you lose months or even years of advancement, instead of just a week or two.