Saturday, 9 June 2012

Character Sheets as Monster Stats

Dominic Matte
Everyone's ready and excited for this week's session... except the one guy who can't make it today. Or perhaps your zombie-hunting paladin is making a guest appearance for a session, helping the party as an NPC ally.

While it's easy to simply say "Telia was knocked unconscious in the first fight", it can make more sense and be more enjoyable if you find a way to keep the character involved even when the player isn't present. It can also be great fun to use a character you've played as an NPC in another game. Of course, you don't want to be making roleplaying decisions for an absent player - it's their character, after all.

One of the simplest ways to keep a character involved is to create a monster stat block based on their character sheet. That way they can participate in combat and contribute to skill checks without worrying much about breaking character.

First we'll start with some general guidelines. These are only guidelines, since individual characters and classes can function so very differently from each other. I'll give a few examples to show specifics; these are more things you should keep in mind and aim for than follow strictly. For any math, use either the DDI Monster Builder or the guidelines for monster creation in the Dungeon Master's Guide. And remember, the point is to keep things simple, so it's easy for either the DM or another player to run the stat block during combat.

You have an important choice to make before you get into things: do you want to keep things simple and use monster math, or do you want the character's actual numerical attributes to be reflected in the stat block? Using the monster math is easiest because it's more balanced - you don't have to worry as much about creating an over- or underpowered stat block. On the other hand, using the character's actual defences and attack bonuses makes it feel more accurate. Personally, I recommend using monster math. Since you'll only be using a few of the character's powers for simplicity, the stat block can easily end up too weak if you match the numbers.

One of the first things you'll want to do is select the monster role that best fits the character. Unfortunately, monster roles don't directly correspond to class roles. The easiest comparison is defender (class) and soldier (monster): high defences, lots of hit points, low to moderate damage. Go with what makes sense - artillery for long-range attackers (especially controllers), skirmisher for mobile melee or short-range attackers, etc.

Assigning the same ability scores as the actual character helps the stat block feel more like the actual character, and also makes it easier to do skills, since you'll need to adjust less. However, if you're using monster math, keep an eye on the defences, since changing the ability scores changes Fort, Ref, and Will. You can just bump the numbers back to where they were if you like.

For powers, select one of each type: at-will, encounter, daily, and utility (count the at-will as a basic attack). Try to choose the powers that the character uses most often, or are most representative of the character. If the character has no melee at-wills, assign a simple damage-only melee basic attack, just so there's an option that doesn't provoke opportunity attacks. However, you might want to skip or alter powers that create extra bookkeeping, like 'save ends' or 'sustain' powers; or powers that are complicated or need tracking in some way, like the runepriest's rune state stuff and things with secondary attacks. Unless you're willing to keep track of those extra effects, it's much easier to simplify and only worry about the character on his or her turn.

Many classes have core powers that define the class, so you'll want to make sure you get those in there. For the most part, don't worry about stuff that doesn't directly affect combat, since we're aiming for simplicity. A lot of class features can be represented with as little as a simple trait or a number bump. Here are a few examples:
  • a rogue's sneak attack can be a 1/round trait that adds damage dice against a target granting combat advantage
  • AC bonuses or modifiers are already handled by math (monk, swordmage, avenger bonuses; sorcerer, warden, warlock alternate ability scores for AC)
  • defender marks can be applied on a successful attack; consider dropping mark punishment so you don't have to worry about off-turn actions

You'll also want to make sure the character's race is represented. Just throw a word-for-word duplicate of the character's racial power on there, and consider adding traits for one or two other important abilities - for example, a dwarf's resistance to forced movement.

If the character is at paragon (or epic) levels, include one or two features from the path/destiny. Standard monsters generally increase in complexity at higher tiers, so adding one or two extra powers is to be expected, and doesn't really make it much harder to run the stat block.

Finally, if the character has any feats or magic items that are particularly important to how he or she acts in combat, it's good to find a way to squeeze those in as well.

Now let's take a look at a pair of examples. I'll use moderately complex characters to show you the thought process behind some of the modifications - there's not much point in showing you how a straight-damage sorcerer would look as a monster stat block, since it should be pretty obvious.

First up is the stat block for my Dark Sun party's runepriest. I used his own defences and ability scores, but used the monster math for HP, attack bonuses, and damage rolls. The powers and traits are sorted like a monster's, so I'll go over things to point out what I've done.

Racial abilities: Cyrus is a dwarf, so he's got low-light vision and a speed of 5, along with a trait representing Stand Your Ground (which reduces forced movement) and Dwarven Resilience as a minor action ability (second wind, essentially).

Class abilities: as a runepriest, Cyrus has two main class features that directly affect combat. The trait Rune Master represents the feature of the same name, and functions almost exactly like it does in the class entry. I've modified it so that he changes rune state once per turn if he so chooses, to make it easier to track. Rune of Mending is the runepriest's healing power, and you'll note that I've dropped the rune state bonuses to make things simpler. In fact, none of his powers depend on his rune state. You might think it's a bad idea to minimize a core class feature like that, but on the other hand, it makes things easier to track because you don't have to know or change his rune state in order to do anything at all. This makes things easier on whoever's running Cyrus for the absent player.

Powers: we've got an at-will (Word of Binding), an encounter (Flames of Purity), a daily (Rune of the Undeniable Dawn), and a utility (Shield of Sacrifice). Again, these have been stripped of their rune effects to minimize tracking. Rune of the Undeniable Dawn is the only power that requires any bookkeeping with its sustain minor effect, which should be easy to remember since it creates a big zone.

Our second example is Posse McToes, my paladin, who you might remember from The Ultimate Zombie Hunter. I used Posse's AC and Fortitude, which were higher than a soldier of his level, but kept the slightly lower Reflex and Will.

Racial abilities: Posse is a human, so there's not much going on here. I gave him an extra basic attack for the human's extra at-will.

Class abilities: as a paladin, Posse gets Lay On Hands, which is translated directly, dropping the surge spending for a daily limit because monsters don't have surges. I simplified Divine Challenge a bit - when Posse hits with Holy Strike, it marks the enemy for a turn. Whether or not you use the mark punishment depends mostly on whether you want to keep track of marked enemies, but here I included it because Posse only marks one enemy at a time, so that's simple.

Powers: I made a slight modification here: the trait Zombie Hunter, which is an adaptation on the Bless Weapon utility power. Normally that power gives you +1 to attack, +1d6 damage, and expanded crit range on undead for the duration of the encounter (as a daily power), but that requires some memory, so I dropped it, and instead made it a trait that only gives the crit bonus against undead. This also has the potential to help another party member play Posse the way I would, by encouraging attacks against undead creatures. 

Paragon path abilities: Posse gets some necrotic damage resistance and an extra encounter attack power (Light of the Living) from his paragon path, Slayer of the Dead.

So now you have a good idea of how to convert a character sheet into a monster stat block. It should be much easier to deal with than running a full character in combat when you're not familiar with their abilities.

Have you ever tried anything like this? If so, how did it work?

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