Monday, June 28, 2021

Weapon Master: Monster consequences

Here is part II of my mini-series of thoughts on Weapon Master and its consequences. You may or may not like these consequences. I'm really just observing what I see and what I think the results of the advantage being freely available is on a game.

How do you make sure monsters are a threat to Weapon Master PCs?

The simple answer is, "Just use more monsters!" or "Just use stronger monsters!"

That's fine, and it works to a degree.

The monsters must be designed with dealing with WM in mind or they're going to provide a less-than-expected challenge. Rewards are less appropriate to the challenge if they're easier because you're getting more, higher-damage attacks against them and fending off more attacks with less penalties. Or monsters are designed with an eye to WM foes, and are thus more dangerous themselves. That balances them better against the WMs.

But it further leaves the have-not PCs in a hole. They're facing increased numbers of foes, yet effectively attack less often than their WM-having buddies and defend against multiple attacks less well than they do, as well. Or they they're facing foes designed to absorb multiple defense penalties (or get around them by having a high Dodge), the DR to absorb an additional +4 to +6 to even +8 damage expected from a WM PC, or the ability to saturate defenses to deal with the WM's ability to defend multiple times more effectively.

Essentially those are decisions I make when I'm designing a "boss" monster for DF. The assumption is the monster must have the DR to deal with very-high-damage threats, because the "low" damage PCs can inflict 10-15 points of raw damage. The monster must be able to deal with 2-4 attacks per PC per second; out of each block of attacks one is likely to be a high-skill Feint. The monster must be able to deal with high defenses without needing to saturate them to do so, because defenses will, at worst, cascade down at a -2 and likely will do so from two pools (dual weapon or weapon and shield) or be at -1 (fencing weapon or two-handed sword) or both. All of this is without Great Haste more than doubling the threat of the PCs, as the first turn will be an All-Out Attack.
They may or may not need enough HP and damage-reducing advantages to survive all of this anyway; Regeneration is nice but unless it's at least 10 HP/second it'll get smothered. A worthy foe merely needs to be able to this against one PC; a boss against multiple. If they can't hold up more than 1-3 seconds of this, they're really just fodder by another name. And the ones who can hang with WMs for a while like this can generally ignore non-WMs unless they get a lucky break or jump in between WM character turns.

Much of this exists without WM, but it's all to a higher degree just with the addition of a 20-to-45 point advantage on a PC. WM effectively attacks as an attack-and-damage multiplier on a PC and thus makes them more of a threat to that worthy or boss foe, and may reduce worthy to fodder and bosses to worthy. If that boss was meant to take on 5-6 PCs and now faces 5-6 but can only hang with 1-2 WMs, the reward it provides just won't make much sense. Any loot will probably be turned into more power, contributing to the lopsided nature of the encounter later.

There are consequences to decisions elsewhere in the game system. This is one of them. Much like how magic system choice dramatically affects the threat of monsters, so does WM. Magic might make ranged foes helpless (Missile Shield) or provide the only way to fight them (ghosts, say), but either way it's a change. I'm arguing here that Weapon Master is such a change, too, since it makes a category of PCs (the haves) able to more effectively deal with monsters as foes than a non-WM would be.

So monsters are affected by WM, too, and by monsters I mean the GM's adventure design. It's harder to appropriately challenge a WM PC without making non-WM PCs basically irrelevant.


  1. I think your analysis is spot on. WM seems to me to get more underpriced the higher the PCs' point budget gets as it's such a value multiplier on ST and skill investments.

    I'd imagine monsters with heavy weapons that your typical PC can't parry in the first place would be one way to mitigate the value of reduced penalties for multiple parries.

    I've also come to appreciate the way how before the 4th edition you could move into C with a step and attack unarmed or with a knife, and a Reach 1+ weapon couldn't parry.

    Oh yeah, and monsters with two good active defenses are less vulnerable to rapid strike spamming relative to a single high-skill attack with plenty of Deceptive Attack thrown in.

  2. I admit I vaguely assumed that stock DF monsters were intended for WM PCs to exist, given it seems that all Swash, most Knights, some Thieves, and others through subclasses / lenses etc will snag it

    For my monsters I often toward several of these features

    1. DR such that anything short of a strong weapon master with a penetrating weapon will just bounce ('hit like a truck, hit weakness, have a penetrating weapon - pick two of three'). Bebelith had like 30 natural DR and 10 DR aura.
    2. Enough damage that if the monster ever actually hits non zero chance of -5xHP in a single blow. Bebelith overrun smacked a guy for 210 or so
    3. Lots of attacks. Skill enough to have decent levels of deceptive on said attacks. Pit Fiend had skill 36 and Claw, Claw, Bite, Horns, Wing, Wing, Tail, Quickened Fireball attack pattern
    4. Lots of skill yielding high active defenses so they need to iterate it down or get crits to land blows. A pit fiend had parry 22 due to skill 36 and combat reflexes, iterate at -2 (it's a high skill unarmed fighter of course had TBaM), and that's on 2 claws
    5. Enough HP and HT to just keep trucking despite PCs laying into it like a speed bag, including HT needed to keep trucking through brain hits. 250 HP Bebelith, or Hezrou that had 30 HT.
    6. D&D style 'save for half' no you don't get to parry this moves, fright checks, other stuff that isn't hitting active defenses. Like I drop a pentagram on the map, each line of the pentagram that touches you make a dodge save for half, 5d fire and 5d corruption per line large area.
    7. Attacks that don't do heavy damage often bypass certain DR, like 10d6 lightning bolts that ignore metal.

    Admittedly this doesn't actually result in monsters actually winning fights but they may do some damage as they lose

    My DFRPG party is somewhat removed from starting level as I start new characters at somewhat lower than lowest active member . . . . I have no idea how I'd design monsters to challenge both starting scrubs and non starting scrubs in the same party

    1. That's helpful stuff.

      The monsters assume powerful delvers, but I don't think enough of them factor in having lots of WMs in the same group. It's hard to account for how much it matters, especially with magic and other WMs nearby to act as multipliers on the net effect. And the ones that can hang with the WMs put the non-WMs out of the picture of true utility.

    2. We had to work really hard to make the Krabbari a threat vs a typical party (Hall of Judgment). I think we succeeded, but we absolutely had to "cheat." The thing was immune to certain damage, regenerated the rest, and had a fun mind control ability and a fear thing that targeted the Will of vulnerable delvers. Sending the low-Will barbarian Beserk against his friends? Priceless.

    3. The Krabbari was brutal, very brutal

  3. In general I don't think non WM sluggers belong in the dungeon. Except at low level, when you are such an overall bundle of inadequacy that you don't belong in the Dungeon anyway but here you are despite that

    I don't expect a 250pt character to always have WM, I think there are wholly valid alternates to WM, I am not sure I agree with the post above "WM seems to me to get more underpriced the higher the PCs' point budget gets as it's such a value multiplier on ST and skill investments" but it definitely is something where you want ST and skill to go with, so as your ST and skill goes up you want it more and more

    1. Not all templates had it, originally, but there is a reason that successive books have all made it more and more accessible. DF1/DF2 you could get it as a knight, swashbuckler, scout, martial artist. Then thieves got it. And barbarians. And assassins and ninja. And everyone except holy warriors. It crept in for a reason. In my experience guys without WM end up second-rate fighters no matter what. They just can't spend 20 points so efficiently that they net sufficient benefits to make up for its lack.

  4. You make a pretty good case. Seems to me you could substitute Extra Attack and Striking ST (one attack only) to allow a substitute for Weapon Master for people who want a little more oomph without just high skill & ST. Effect is additive rather than multiplicative.

    As a side note, I think the limitation for single weapon only on Extra Attack should be -60%, not -20%. So Extra Attack (multistrike, single weapon) would be 15 & +3 Striking ST would be [6] with a net cost pretty close to Weaponmaster for one weapon.


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