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Carsten's D&D 4th Edition Solo Tips, Part 3

Continued from Part 2, here's the final installment of Carsten's advice:

Use the underlying "monster math" together with monster roles to quickly create combat stats on the fly.
Something I have read a lot in different blogs and different posts is how easy and fast it is to stat up NPCs or monster using Savage Worlds. The same goes for Risus or the D6 System. In Risus it is as simple as choosing a cliche and assigning a value. The D6 System is not much different. I have never played Savage Worlds so I can't comment on that.

While 4e monsters seem complex at first, basically they are very simple. All you need is the "Monster Manual 3 on a business card" formula (found on the GM cheat sheet), which is basically the same as the monster statistics by role table from the DMG. You can download that for free in the rules update section on the Wizards homepage together with the damage by level chart, all on the same page. With these tables, creating a monster or NPC on the fly is as simple as choosing a level and a role, since basically everything depends on the monster's level and the role helps you to assign signature "fluff" abilities to the monster. I have printed out the errata page with the monster statistics by role and damage by level tables and call it the "Instant Monster Manual".

There is no need to determine every ability score. Just assume that all "primary" abilities related to the monster's role have an ability modifier of +3 or +4 and all secondary abilities have +2 or +3. You will only need those modifiers for initiative and to determine skill bonuses (using the normal rules) since everything else just depends on the monster's level. In my 9Q session for example I needed a Drow Scout minion monster. Using the formulas and role I quickly came up with the following:

Drow Scout, Level 1 Minion Skirmisher
Init +5, AC 15, Fort 13, Reflex 13, Will 13, HP 1,
Hand Crossbow (standard action, ranged 10): +6 vs. AC, 4 poison damage
Curved Scimitar (standard action, melee 1): +6 vs. AC, 4 damage
Combat Sidestep (move action): The Drow Scout shifts up to 3 squares.
Skills: Nature +7, Stealth +8, Perception +8

To stat up a monster like that takes about 2 minutes without flipping through pages, just using the monster math and role.

For non-minion monsters I determine the HP by assuming a Con score of 10-12 for Artillery and Lurkers, 13-14 for all other roles except Brutes and a Con score of 16-18 for Brutes. In my experience, a quick improvised monster with one or two fluff abilities defined by it's role is as much fun as any other monster.

Use Minions and Level 0 Monsters to create fun combat encounters for a small party.
One argument against playing 4e solo is that the combat engine expects a party of 4 to 5 heroes and that fights with fewer heroes are somewhat "dull". I agree that it is not very cinematic for a lone level 1 hero to face-off against one Kobold. Also, it is not very logical that a Kobold hunting party consists of only one Kobold Quickblade. But facing off against two is very difficult if not deadly, don't even try three. But this is where Minions come in. If you play 4e you probably already know how much fun killing minions is and I don't want to say any more except use minions, minions, minions to create skirmishes against small hunting parties, warbands etc.

I do want to talk about "minionizing" monsters. One thing I do sometimes is to turn a regular monster into a minion. I just use the regular stats but I reduce HP to 1 and convert the damage into minion damage (which is simple: Minions deal 4 + ½ their level in damage (rounded down as always), Brutes deal 25% more). I use common sense to "minionize" their fluff abilities. So if a Skirmisher deals +1d6 damage with combat advantage, the minionized version deals +1 damage with combat advantage etc. So if you use the Monster Vault it suddenly is also full of minions (don't forget to adjust the XP value).

Another great thing for small parties or lone heroes are "level 0" monsters. A D&D Insider article introduced rules for playing 0-Level characters and on ENWorld is a thread about 0-Level monsters. Basically a level 0 monster is halfway between a minion and a standard level 1 monster. It's XP value is half of that of a standard monster and all it's stats are calculated with 0 as level value. To turn a standard level 1 monster in a level 0 monster in a quick and dirty way decrease all its defenses by 1, decrease all it's attack bonuses by 1, reduce HP by 8-10 depending on role and decrease damage output by 2. The combination of minions and 0-Level monsters should enable you to create fun combat encounters for a lone hero or a party of two.

There is no need to look up every odd rule in the book during the game. Basically you only need three "ingredients" to adjudicate every situation: The difficulty class by level table, the damage by level table and the "GMs best friend" rule which states that beneficial situations warrant a +2 bonus to checks and disadvantages incur a -2 penalty to checks. Need a simple one-shot trap? Just determine the trap level. The traps level determines the DC to spot or disarm it as well as the damage it deals. Trying to find tracks on rocky ground after a day of rain? Sounds like a difficult task with a -2 penalty to the check. If you really need the original rule for a situation (maybe your character is bluffing all the time) you can look up the rule after your session.

So that's it for now. What are you waiting for? Assemble your portable DM-Kit and have fun going solo with 4th Edition.

Thanks, Carsten! Terrific stuff, as always!

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