Support the GITP forums on Patreon
Help support GITP's forums (and ongoing server maintenance) via Patreon
Results 1 to 5 of 5
  1. - Top - End - #1
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    GreenSorcererElf

    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Location
    Denver, CO
    Gender
    Male

    Default Enemy Design Philosophy

    This is my design philosophy for building enemies. I was mostly writing this for myself, but I figured I could just as easily share it and see if there is any discussion. Everything is going to sound very robotic and formulaic (especially my DM statements), but I promise its much more fluid in-game. I'm not the best with knowing exact rule nuances, but I am pretty good about creating interesting and exciting encounters - or so my PCs tell me.

    0. Written format: This is how I jot down the enemy stat block:

    Name, type, XP, anything else relevant (rarely)
    Stat bonuses
    Hp / AC / Skills (rarely)
    Actions: Attack / Damage / Special Stuff
    Behavior:

    Stat bonuses only include deviations from 0, and the actual stat number does not matter. Skills are rare for me. Size deviations are a bit more common, but I don't bother listing Medium sized.

    Example (not accurate to actual xp or challenge rating):
    Rabid Kobold, Dragonkin, 50 xp, small size
    Str -1, Dex +2, Int -1
    21 hp / 13 AC
    - Spear +4 / 1d6+2 Piercing, 20/60 range for thrown
    - Frenzy: if the kobold hits on the attack, it may immediately Bite the target. Bite: +2 / 1d4-1.
    Behavior: Rushes closest available PC in combat, or next closest if no room to engage. Screams a lot.

    1. Enemies Have Pre-Set Behaviors. The purpose of the behavior is create an in-game guidance as to what sort of actions the enemy will take. I find this helpful when creating encounters, and I tend to create very specific behaviors. I feel this is more realistic and creates a more immersive experience because I have a pre-established reason to make non-optimal moves - instead of creating a chess game of optimal DM v. optimal player OR providing a sudden shift in combat style when the PCs begin losing. Behaviors are different than goals IMO, because goals are different from encounter to encounter. Behaviors simply describe how an enemy acts during the encounter.

    For example, I created a 'Necromancer' enemy that has the following behavior: "Stays at range or moves further back, uses most powerful controlling (non damaging spells) first. If adjacent to an enemy, will use Inflict Wounds at level 1. When out of spells, will use damaging cantrips."

    Another example: "Will attack in pairs. The first will attempt to shove the PC prone, the second will attack."

    1a. Behaviors Can Be Ignored, But Should Be Informative. Behaviors are meant to guide likely responses to likely scenarios, but the players will throw out weird stuff. At that point, the behaviors can inform behaviors. That Necromancer avoids dealing direct damage - probably more likely to parlay. That rabid kobold goes into a frenzy - probably less likely to parlay.

    What would happen if the Necromancer is offered an opportunity to flee (literally, the players yell at him to flee)? He would probably take it, but not necessarily. I doubt the Rabid Kobold would.

    1b. Bosses and SubBosses Have Names and More Complex Behaviors. Boss Characters and SubBosses have more flexibility in behaviors (and, perhaps, more intelligence and situational awareness). Minions and mooks are fairly rigid, though. All those Rabid Kobolds are going to run straight at the PCs and repeatedly attack. By Bosses and subBosses, I generally mean the named villains, or guys that occur once a day or less. That big ogre in the back is not a Boss or a SubBoss, but the named Ogre 'Brivv' in encounter 4 will be.

    Bosses and SubBosses are named, even if the players have no in-game reason to know the name. The name can be simple, like "Gigantic Frog" or a Kobold named "Giggles." You can always explain a name by equating it with a specific isolating factor, and you can always explain to the PCs that the name has more to do with how the PCs perceive the thing than its actual name.

    Generally, SubBosses are the same as the surrounding mooks, but do one or two more things, or they do the same things with a twist. They are usually a bit tougher. Bosses are generally reserved for the known or main villain.

    For example, after a series of water elementals, the party finds a poison elemental SubBoss named 'Corrupted Elemental." The poison elemental does poison damage instead of the normal damage, and has an additional end of turn AoE -- but is otherwise the same.

    Another example: the evil Lich King SubBoss. Whether or not the players have verifiable reasons to believe that the Lich is king, the DM describes it as such as a huge indicator. The Lich King has an additional bonus action where he can summon 4 skeletons. His behavior states something like: The Lich King will use 1-3 level spells until at half hp, and then begin summoning skeletons primarily and casting 4-6 level spells as the primary action.

    2. Actions Choices are Simple. The vast amount of enemies should be able to do 1 or 2 things beyond simple attacks / cantrips. The DM has to keep track of everything, and should not be stuck with complex enemies that take too long.

    Simple should not be boring, though. When I create encounters, I might have a single enemy type that does straight damage and nothing else, but normally most enemies will do something beyond that.

    On the far side of the spectrum of complex, spellcasters generally have 3 spells and 2 cantrips, and the behaviors will provide specific guidance as to what spells are used and when. I will generally only give the spellcaster one concentration effect, and queue that spell first in behavior.

    3. Actions Have Triggers and Names. When the enemy uses the action, the name of the action is declared in combat by name. The DM says something like "The Kobold feels impassioned by its stab and goes into a Frenzy; it tries to bite." Triggers provide a reliable method for determining when actions occur. Discretionary actions are best reserved for Bosses and SubBosses. While that is a highly subjective statement, I like providing a noticeable difference in tactics and intelligence for my bosses. The trigger can be behavior related, situational, or based off of something else happening first.

    Triggers are especially useful if there is something built in that is suboptimal. If an ogre is build to respond to verbal insults, this may allow the players to use verbal insults to cause suboptimal behaviors and make the ogre more manageable.

    For example, if the Necromancer will only use the level 1 Command spell unless an enemy is within 5' (in which case, the Necromancer will use Inflict Wounds), the party knows not to get within 5' and try hurting him from a distance. When using Inflict Wounds, the DM can say something like "Backed into the corner and faced with a barbarian right in front of him, the panicked Necromancer reaches out with wild eyes and casts Inflict Wounds (or casts a spell, if you don't prefer using spell names)."

    Another example: the encounter space has several pools of water. If the 10' x 10' Water Elemental occupies 'Deep Water' (as indicated on the map by dark blue water, bonus points if you tell the PCs when drawing the map "this is Deep Water."), it may do a 15' radius AoE called 'Torrent from the Deep' at the end of its turn, although it is drawn towards melee with PCs. When the Water Elemental does its AoE, the DM narrates "The Water Elemental summons up Torrents from the Deep, gathering water from the depths, and suddenly a spinning cloud of rivulets forms around him." The trigger is stated, along with a name of the attack. The PCs will likely say to each other immediately after, "we need to draw it away from the deep waters."

    4. Some Named Actions are Common. I have a few named actions that I use for different enemies. These are things that help PCs assess threat and prioritize targets quickly when encountering something new.

    Here are some:

    4a. Call. "This enemy verbally tells another enemy to either attack or move (something like 15' only). This can be made weaker by requiring the Call to use up the Called enemy's reaction.

    A 'Call' is a part of a multiattack, where one enemy verbal tells or commands a second enemy to attack in its place. When creating the enemy according to the DMG, I specifically create weaker attacks on the enemy with the Call ability, and calculate overall damage output based on the enemies in which it is paired with. Its not the only thing that the enemy does - usually it is paired with something else. The limitation is that only one attack can be made, even if the called monster has multiattack.

    For example: The Kobold Knight has an attack and call power that uses a reaction on the called creature. Whenever it attacks, the DM says something like "The Kobold Knight attacks, and Calls out to a nearby Rabid Kobold, 'get that one!' As a reaction, the Rabid Kobold makes an attack." Alternatively, you can remove the reaction requirement to make the Kobold Knight's call action stronger.

    Another Example: The Necromancer casts the level 1 spell 'Command' on a PC, and then Calls out to the Zombie: 'Protect me! Block them!' The Zombie moves 15' to intercept PCs that have moved closer to the Necromancer.

    While this sounds like a great Boss or SubBoss power, its actually more effective on leader-ish minions when paired with a SubBoss. For example, a Necromancer and his Ogre Zombie SubBoss creation. If you play around with this, you will quickly discover that the Call action creates different priorities depending on the different types of enemies in the encounter.

    4b. Shove. Anything that either knocks someone prone or knocks back X feet is generally called a shove, whether it be through a 'Shove' according to the Player's Handbook, and automatic effect on hit, or through a save.

    Even if it is only used through the normal Shove rules, I will still list it individually due to behaviors and triggers: this creature specifically attempts to shove.

    For Example: "The ogre throws the stone at you and hits, possibly Shoving you back 10'. Roll a strength save to see if it shoves you."

    Another Example: The goblin torturer has a whip attack that (on a miss) forces the PC back 5'. Even though it is a whip, I still describe it as a shove. "The goblin strikes its whip at you and misses, but to avoid the hit you move back 5' involuntarily, as if Shoved."

    4c. Grab. I think this is easier to say than Grapple. From crocodile jaws to crab claws, grapple is great - especially when combined with forced movement and interesting terrain features. Same as the shove, I use this indicator whether or not it is the 'Grapple' action through the Player's Handbook, occurs on a save, or occurs due to a missed PC attack. This is also specifically listed, because listing it means that there is an associated behavior.

    Once the grapple succeeds, I will often mention immediately if there is an associated forced movement effect even if it doesn't occur yet, like "The Giant Crab manages to Grab you in its grip. It shifts its body as if to drag you towards the deeper water..."

    4d. Rupture. So far, I have only used this for elementals. When this enemy is reduced to a specific amount of HP (usually 1/3), the enemy begins doing an AoE attack as its form begins degrading. This usually causes a save against damage, but it may cause a save against an effect.

    For example: "The Water Elemental becomes unstable as its form Ruptures. Water begins spraying out of holes and cracks in its form." And then, at the end of the Water Elemental's turn, "The Rupture in the Water Elemental sprays everywhere. Make a Dex save or fall prone."

    The nice thing about this is that my players quickly learn that all enemies of a type (in this case Elemental) will have predictable behavior. When they encounter a Storm Elemental, they know that Rupture is a possibility.

    5. Vulnerabilities, Resistances, and Immunities. Immunities and Resistances should be knowable, and should not be a 'guess what I am thinking' type of thing. It can add difficulty, but it is not 'fun' unless the players are able to be aware. "When hit with your fire bolt, the Fire Elemental briefly expands, but otherwise does not react."

    I think the best approach is to mention the damage type clearly when explaining what is happening: "Your arrow hits the Ooze, Piercing into it. It seems to do some damage, but does not seem very effective." When another type of non-resisted damage occurs on the same thing, it can be helpful to mention as well: "You hit the Ooze with your mace, bludgeoning it with a massive stroke and injuring it."

    I don't like making secret vulnerabilities, resistances, or immunities without a reasonable explanation. "The Rabid Kobold shrugs off the lightning, completely ignoring it!"

    I especially hate throwing on random vulnerabilities or resistances on Bosses. Mostly, they arbitrarily eat up party resources without reason. If / when I have a Boss or SubBoss with some kind of resistance or immunity, I will provide clues prior to the encounter or at the beginning of the encounter, for example written notes on attempts to corrupt the water elemental to make it poisonous (immune poison), or lightning physically arching out of a dragon at the beginning of the fight (resistance to lightning, also uses a lightning breath).

    6. Bosses and SubBosses ...

    7. Things Best Avoided. These are things I consciously do not put into my enemies:

    7a. Paralysis/Stunning. I nearly never include save-or-suck mechanics that end in paralysis or stunning for any long duration of time. Its a valid mechanic, but its not fun for players. Generally, imposing some other kinds of disadvantages give players something to do. In combat, especially long combat, that kind of downtime just kills players.

    7b. Huge HP pools. This really just draws out fights, especially on Bosses or SubBosses. Recently, I have been scaling HP at the time of the game by the amount of players that I have. I design for 5 players, but will scale it down by 75% if I have 3 show up.

    7c. High Single Target Damage Solo Enemies. This ends up being a bit too swingy for my tastes: if it hits, it can possibly outright kill a PC. Its a bit better (IMO) to provide two less powerful attacks or an attack plus an AoE to disburse the damage a bit more, and provide zone control incentives. Solo Monsters are definitely doable in 5e, aside from parties that have massive amounts of enemy controls. If a party wants to spend resources on control spells, I don't have a problem with it - provided that the solo monster is not meant to be a big challenge. Solo monsters are great for early day encounters, where the party should reserve resources and are encountering something new.
    Last edited by gfishfunk; 2016-08-17 at 03:36 PM.
    My Philosophies:
    Encounter Design Philosophy
    Enemy Design Philosophy
    My Incomplete Complete 5e Character Creation Rework

    Please leave feedback or PM with thoughts. I'm always trying to refine my approach.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Laserlight's Avatar

    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Virginia Beach VA
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Enemy Design Philosophy

    Nice work. I'd also put a rating for their Aggression and Morale, just as a reminder to myself that not everything fights to the death if they have any choice..
    Junior, half orc paladin of the Order of St Dale the Intimidator: "Ah cain't abide no murderin' scoundrel."

    Tactical Precepts: 1) Cause chaos, then exploit it; 2) No plan survives contact with...(sigh)...my subordinates.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    GreenSorcererElf

    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Location
    Denver, CO
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Enemy Design Philosophy

    Aggression would be good to add - but I would probably put this into behavior as well.

    This approach is largely prescriptive more than descriptive at the moment: I do a lot of this in my head, but I am looking at doing a lot of this on paper going forwards.

    Yesterday, I ran a game using my old material in my ongoing campaign. It used some of the internalized concepts, but it did not use others and I saw how much my own game could benefit if I simply used some of these principles. Most of my specialty stuff did not have triggers or specific abilities. I came up with a lot of the behaviors in my head a month or so ago when I originally designed it, but I can no longer remember what I had planned out. (I'm about 5-6 sessions ahead, partially due to the open-world nature of my campaign as I do not know where my players are going to go, necessarily).

    My next goal in my own campaign is to re-flesh out my prior adversaries to make sure I have everything listed here. All of mine are custom, and it is uncommon for me to grab something straight out of the book. I find it more interesting as a DM, even though it takes a large time investment on the front end of the campaign.
    My Philosophies:
    Encounter Design Philosophy
    Enemy Design Philosophy
    My Incomplete Complete 5e Character Creation Rework

    Please leave feedback or PM with thoughts. I'm always trying to refine my approach.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    NecromancerGuy

    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Enemy Design Philosophy

    This is great. Reminds me of how I think while I make encounters and monsters. Thing is I mostly do this in my head and only write down the important stat stuff for enemies. But in general your train of thought is exactly how I work through designing encounters.

    Personally I also use mostly custom monsters. Sometimes it's just a tweaked MM enemy, sometimes completely original. I feel the MM lack some depth and outside the box thinking. Things like your Call is great. I feel a small section similar to your description of how to organize encounters should be included in the DMG, instead of just lifeless tables. The DMG is a great resource, but a terrible teaching aid for new DMs

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    GreenSorcererElf

    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Location
    Denver, CO
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Enemy Design Philosophy

    Quote Originally Posted by Bubzors View Post
    This is great. Reminds me of how I think while I make encounters and monsters. Thing is I mostly do this in my head and only write down the important stat stuff for enemies. But in general your train of thought is exactly how I work through designing encounters.

    Personally I also use mostly custom monsters. Sometimes it's just a tweaked MM enemy, sometimes completely original. I feel the MM lack some depth and outside the box thinking. Things like your Call is great. I feel a small section similar to your description of how to organize encounters should be included in the DMG, instead of just lifeless tables. The DMG is a great resource, but a terrible teaching aid for new DMs
    I agree about the DMG: the design method for enemies is a bit backwards and clunky. The monsters in the MM are all interesting in concept but lack streamlined play-ability.

    Thanks for the complement! I actually just wrote another of these for creating encounters. I might do another for creating adventures / campaigns since I have been having a lot of downtime at work and I have the time.
    My Philosophies:
    Encounter Design Philosophy
    Enemy Design Philosophy
    My Incomplete Complete 5e Character Creation Rework

    Please leave feedback or PM with thoughts. I'm always trying to refine my approach.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •