Thursday, March 15, 2012

Creature Types & Roles for Pathfinder

Again I’m faced with the dire and legendary challenges of real life, which usually means very little time (or none at all) for the duties of this Tower. Besides work and (the each time more demanding) studies, I’m now a member of a very prestigious "Prestige Class" (if not the most prestigious one): I finally acquired my first level as a father and must thus take my new charges with special care. Both me and my wife (Carol) are, needless to say, very happy with our little hobbit-girl – Joana. (And yes, I already catch myself wishing for her to be a RPG player, but I admit that that will take some time yet.)

After the good news, time for some design stuff.

Creature Types and Roles for Pathfinder

First, let me say that I really like Pathfinder. It’s like D&D 3.5 on steroids. In fact, the reason why I’m so pleased with it has less to do with the rules (although new systems and variants are always welcome), and a lot to do with Paizo. 

Those guys really love and understand what they’re doing and – most importantly – know their goals and have sufficient latitude to pursue them. Paizo is no Wizards of the Coast; no big company chained to corporate boards and the usual multinational management crap. They’re (for now at least) an RPG business run by guys that love (and play!) RPGs. Selling WotC to Hasbro in the end simply f***** D&D and I’m very glad for the SRD and the freedom that it gave to us (in a commercial sense); for even if Paizo becomes in the future another WotC, we’ll always have “D&D” as a viable product (no matter how it’s named or sold). 

I’m saying this because the problem with monsters on Pathfinder is the same problem with monster on all iterations of the 3rd edition of D&D. So I hope that this post can help (or give ideas) for Gamemasters of both games. 

As I often comment, in this particular regard, D&D 4th is a huge improvement and we’ll probably see a similar approach with the 5th Edition (actually, if the articles at WotC can be trusted there’s a chance that the next version will have both a simple and a complex system for generation NPCs, which is excellent in my opinion because I know a few Gamemasters that really love to spend hours building their monsters). 

Well, my problem regarding monster stats – besides the unnecessary details with stuff like skills and feats – is largely Creature Types. 

They’re too subjective, imply a lot of cosmological assumptions (something that should be left in the hands of the GM) and sometimes just doesn’t make sense. A creature’s Type and its Role in encounters should be different things (like in D&D 4th). The good news is that this is something easily corrected (I guess). 

Let’s try to divide a creature’s Role in an encounter (I’m stealing lots of words from D&D 4th here but that doesn’t mean that they’re used in the same context). The following classification is my attempt on the topic and is labeled based on a creature’s combat stats (AC, BAB, saves, hit points) mostly. 

Brute: This is your classical tough monster, with lots of hit points and high save bonus. 
Soldier:  This is the “standard” monster role. 
Specialist: This one is for creatures whose main strengths either lies outside of normal combat (like spellcaster) or require indirect attacks (like ambushers/lurkers and monster with very specialized attacks). 
Mook: These are the rabble, the weaklings and the scum. Creatures that are more a nuisance than a threat. 

Once Roles are established, it’s time for the creature stats. I’m using as reference Table 1-4: Creatures Statistics by Type, on page 293 of the Pathfinder Bestiary.

Good Saves
choose 1 save
Refl or Will

You’ll note that I created a fifth role – Nemesis.  These rare those monsters that should be freakin’ scary for players to face. They’re based on the Dragon create type, with a big push on hit points (personally I’ll use this Role with all True Dragons). 

Monsters will thus have only Good save bonus on most situations, which is fine, given that they aren’t the stars of the show. If you really need to have a second Good save, give the monster a feat, use the Advanced Creature Simple Template or just use Good progression with two saves. You’ll just have to check the beast’s CR at the end. 

The good part of this approach is that it’s easy to change and customize a creature’s Role. You can have as much granularity as you want. For example, let’s create 1 more “exotic” Roles, by subdividing the normal Soldier:

Good Saves
Fort or Will
Refl or Will

You’ll also notice that I didn’t mention anything about Skills. Well, I don’t believe they’re really necessary in the Role model above. Like extraordinary, spell-like and supernatural abilities, they’re a mechanic better left open – another tool to better customize your monster. 

If you desire things to be simpler you can use Skill Categories. This is a quicker way of determining a monster’s skill expertise.

Skill Categories
Mastery on all Skills
8 Masteries, 8 Expertise
4 Masteries, 4 Expertise
2 Masteries, 2 Expertise
2 Expertise

Mastery means that a creature is considered to have a number of Skill Ranks equal to his HD + 3. 

Expertise means that a creature has a number of Skill Ranks equal to half his HD. 

For example, let’s select the skills for a tough orc jailer. We want our Orc to be a Soldier with 4 HD – and to be stupid. In this case, stupid means Dim, with means 2 Expertise. Let’s give him Intimidate and Perception. 

You can write the Orc’s skills this way: 

Skills: Mastery –, Expertise +2 

Then, all that you have to do is to check the Orc’s Ability Score modifier (actually, if you enjoyed the Pathfinder Beginner Box, forget about the Scores and write only the Orc’s modifiers). It becomes a little easier to control the math this way (I hope). 

Finally: Feats. I firmly believe that Feats should work as other special abilities. Each monster should have those feats that the Gamemaster deem are necessary for him. Forget prerequisites and other details. Remember that, in the end, the final CR of a monster is not determined purely by Tables, Skill ranks or number of Feats, but by eyeballing the new creature’s whole Stats and comparing it with other official monsters. 

The advantages of this approach are that you’re no longer restrained to setting assumptions and hard mechanics “packages” of HD, BAB and saves. Take undead and fey creatures for example. If you want to create a hulking ghoul or the classical wight that was in life a barbarian warrior-king, than it is a lot easier to use the Soldier (or even Brute) Roles, than to pile a ton of HDs that counterbalance the fact that undead have weaker combat stats. The same holds true for fey – while pixies are (for combat purposes) weak, other creatures of myth that usually qualify as fey can be quite strong, like some folkloric ogres/trolls, the kelpie or the dullahan. This last one is a good example: in Pathfinder Bestiary 2 the dullahan (the headless horsemen) is treated as an undead. By using Roles it becomes easy to change a creature’s Type without losing precious time with the “boring” part of its Stats (you’ll simple change a few immunities and special abilities, perhaps removing an Ability Score).

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