Secret Preview Page: Monster Building with Angry

So, here’s the story. Twitter user @Maialideth just happened to Tweet today that he was looking for some ideas for building a hobgoblin wizard for an upcoming game of his. And I saw a great opportunity. I offered my assistance in return for a transcript I could share as part of my monster building series. And you, my loyal patrons who have been so patient and supportive, you get a preview of it. I’m going to share this as PART of next week’s Monster Building 202 article wherein I actually spell out the process. Consider this a preview of the process in action. The step-by-step will be written up next week. But if you read this along with Monster Building 201, you’ll probably be able to work out most of what I’m going to say.

Don’t share the link. The public will see this in a week. But this is just a special secret preview to say thanks to all of you. It’s also a little unedited. So… ignore typos and stuff. It’s basically just a Skype transcript cleaned up.

@TheAngryGM: Hey there. So I’d love to help you build a hobgoblin warcaster precisely because I’m working on a thing about Monster Building this month.
@Maialideth: Awesome
@TheAngryGM: Thing is, it’d actually be kind of neat if I could release the text log as a practical example.
@TheAngryGM: Obviously without your personal information.
@Maialideth: No problem
@Maialideth: Sure
@TheAngryGM: Cool. So do you have a few minutes now?
@Maialideth: Yeah
@TheAngryGM: Also, if you’d prefer to do voice chat, that would also be fine.
@Maialideth: Let’s just keep it to text for now. Then it’ll be easier to save the things we come up with.
@TheAngryGM: Cool. Okay. So my understanding is you want to create hobgoblin wizard of Challenge 2, a warcaster or aggressive warmage, to appear with a team of hobgoblins, right?
@Maialideth: (if my grammar is a bit off, English isn’t my first language 🙂 )
@Maialideth: CR 2 or 3, I’m leaning for 3
@TheAngryGM: That’s fine. If I go too fast or you misunderstand me, please let me know. I tend to speak quickly and use a lot of idioms.
@Maialideth: Cool.
@Maialideth: Yeah, these guys are like militant terrorists.
@Maialideth: He could be a buffer as well, but I like the visual damage spells
@TheAngryGM: Okay. The first thing I do when I am making a monster of a specific race is to look at the other monsters. Every monster race has a signature trait or two. It helps all the members seem like they are part of the same race. In D&D 5E, Hobgoblins have Martial Advantage. When they make a melee attack, they get advantage if they have an ally nearby. Because they work together. Like a military.
@Maialideth: Exactly, and that’s precisely the thing I’ve been having problems fitting thematically for a spellcaster
@TheAngryGM: But that doesn’t really work for a spellcaster. We need something similar. For example, defensively, they could gain a bonus on Armor Class when they stay close to an ally.
@Maialideth: How about bonus to Concentration?
@TheAngryGM: Alternatively, and this is an interesting idea. Normally, allies give cover against ranged attacks. But this creature is so good at firing spells around his allies, his allies do not provide cover for his spells.
@Maialideth: Heh, yeah that could be nice
@TheAngryGM: Remember, thematically, hobgoblins are about militant teamwork. And honestly, Concentration doesn’t come up that often.
@Maialideth: True
@TheAngryGM: Alternatively, he could also gain bonus damage if he fires at an enemy that has an all adjacent.
@TheAngryGM: It’s the same as martial advantage, but it allows him to support his allies. His allies close in and disrupt the enemy and then he picks them off.
@Maialideth: Yeah, but I worry that might be a bit too much. Problem is I only have two players at the moment (with a temporary NPC helping)
@TheAngryGM: Don’t worry about that. We’re going to balance everything. We have that power.
@TheAngryGM: Right now, we’re just trying to nail down something thematic that makes him feel like a hobgoblin.
@TheAngryGM: Supporting his melee comrades in battle or being protected by his melee comrades.
@TheAngryGM: It comes down to whether you want to bolster his defense, increase his accuracy, or focus on damage.
@Maialideth: One of the major problems for spellcasters are when allies get in the way of their spells, so accuracy sounds good
@TheAngryGM: Okay, cool.
@TheAngryGM: Just remember that for now. We’re going to give him some sort of Precise Shot type thing.
@TheAngryGM: Got your DMG?
@Maialideth: Yeah
@TheAngryGM: DMG 274 has the Stats by Challenge table. We need to figure out our numbers.
@TheAngryGM: So that we know what kind of spells to give this guy.
@TheAngryGM: Targeting Challenge 3, we want to focus on Offense with him, rather than Defense. Especially because we need to give him enough damage to account for spells. So, maybe we make him Offense Challenge 4 and Defense Challenge 2. Do you follow that?
@Maialideth: Yeah
@TheAngryGM: Cool. So we’re looking to make sure that over three rounds, he can do an average of 27-32 damage per round.
@TheAngryGM: Spellcasters generally get 2 slots of their highest level and then 3 or 4 slots of the lower level. So whatever spell level his best spell level, he’s going to be able to throw two spells out at that level.
@TheAngryGM: Fireball and Lightning Bolt are the signature 3rd level spells. They are area spells, so they will hit two targets on average. Fireball and lightning bolt do 28 (8d6) damage on a hit. So that’s 56 damage. That’s pretty high.
@Maialideth: My thoughts exactly
@TheAngryGM: Scorching Ray is a good 2nd level spell. It does 7 (2d6) damage against one target. That’s kind of low. Flaming Sphere does 2d6 damage per round, but requires Concentration. However, it effects an area: everyone in 5 feet. Trouble is, most PCs won’t bunch up near it. So effectively, it’s the same as Scorching Ray.
@Maialideth: But Scorching Ray has 3 attacks per spell
@TheAngryGM: Shit, that’s right. How did I forget that. I’m slipping.
@TheAngryGM: 21 damage.
@TheAngryGM: Still a little low.
@Maialideth: I was just looking at it, when you wrote that.
@TheAngryGM: I should never do this shit from memory.
@Maialideth: How about it being cast as a 3rd level spell? Then it’d be 28 damage
@TheAngryGM: Yes. But there’s a couple of reasons not to do that. And I think there’s a better idea.
@Maialideth: Sorry, not 28, 24
@Maialideth: Argh, I suck at math
@Maialideth: It is 28
@TheAngryGM: In general, monsters don’t mess around with the full spell slot rule thing because it complicates the stat block. And if you give him 3rd level slots, he should have 3rd level spells.
@Maialideth: Good point
@TheAngryGM: But, we were talking about a spell version of Martial Advantage right?
@TheAngryGM: Extra damage if he shoots someone who has an adjacent buddy.
@TheAngryGM: We need to bump up his spell damage a little. So…
@Maialideth: Then we’d have to lose the Precise shot thing, but it could work
@TheAngryGM: No. We wouldn’t.
@Maialideth: Oooh
@TheAngryGM: As long as the numbers work, we can give him whatever we want. Or her.
@TheAngryGM: See, the Precise Spell thing will boost his accuracy. And we’ll talk about how that’s going to affect numbers. As long as we keep accuracy and damage in the right range, we can give him all sorts of bonuses.
@TheAngryGM: So, once per round, on a Ranged Spell Attack, he can choose to deal an extra 2d6 damage of whatever type of damage the spell deals if he has an ally adjacent to the target.
@Maialideth: That’d work
@TheAngryGM: So, if he’s got 2nd level spells and his favorite 2nd level spell is Scorching Ray, he does 28 damage in each of the first two rounds.
@TheAngryGM: And that bonus damage will also help bolster his damage with his backup spells – as long as we focus on spells that have an attack roll.
@Maialideth: But that would be one ray with 2d6+2d6 damage and two rays with just 2d6 damage, right?
@TheAngryGM: Yes. So, a total of 4x (2d6) damage.
@TheAngryGM: Or 28 damage.
@Maialideth: Okay
@TheAngryGM: Now, how do we balance the precise shot thing?
@TheAngryGM: Under normal circumstances, a ranged attacker has to deal with the fact that they have effectively a -2 penalty on attacks if there’s anyone intervening. Friend or foe. And that’s an important game balance thing. Otherwise ranged attacks become infinitely better than melee attacks.
@TheAngryGM: We’re taking away that penalty, but only in the case when his ally is in his way. We’re effectively increasing his accuracy. Right? It’s like we’re giving him a +2 bonus on attack rolls some of the time.
@TheAngryGM: Do you follow my logic?
@Maialideth: Yeah
@TheAngryGM: But it’s not ALL the time. It’s not a real +2 bonus. It’s situational and it’s only when allies intervene. So, it’s not really the same as a +2 bonus. It’s basically a +1 bonus. Right? Half as efffective.
@TheAngryGM: So, whatever attack modifier we give him, we treat it as if it’s one point higher to account for the Precision.
@Maialideth: Yep
@TheAngryGM: Its the same way, by the way, they figure all the other traits. They figure out the effect.
@TheAngryGM: But we can almost get away without worrying about it. Remember, it takes a +2 bump in accuracy to push the Challenge up.
@TheAngryGM: So, his attack modifier needs to be +4 to +5. If he’s a wizard – because hobbos are lawful and well-educated and make sense as wizard – that means his Intelligence modifier is +3. That makes his Spell Attacks +5 and his Save DCs 13. We want to err on the side of +3 because his Save DC will be too low otherwise. Follow all of that?
@Maialideth: Not sure about the Save DC.
@TheAngryGM: Save DC is 8 + Proficiency + Modifier. At Challenge 3, his Prof is +2. And with an Int of +3, that gives a 13.
@Maialideth: But that isn’t really that important, is it? He’s mostly about Attack rolls anyway.
@TheAngryGM: Right. But we’re going to have to fill out his spell list. And he might take a cool Save power for those people with high ACs.
@Maialideth: Good point
@TheAngryGM: Maybe one of his Cantrips has a save just so he can get through armor.
@Maialideth: Yeah, one of my players has a nasty AC.
@TheAngryGM: Okay, Defensively, we’re targeting a Defense Challenge of 2. And normally we’d look at HP first, but we have a wizard. And that means AC is going to be an issue.
@TheAngryGM: Because will he have Mage Armor? Will he have Shield?
@Maialideth: Mage Armor
@TheAngryGM: Bingo. So his AC will be 13 + Dexterity Mod. He’ll either cast Mage Armor before the fight or immediately i
@Maialideth: Shield would make sense as well
@TheAngryGM: Immediately in the first round.
@TheAngryGM: Shield is a neat reaction that gives protection for one round. It’s cool for him to save himself against that first nasty attack.
@Maialideth: Wow, Mage armor has a duration of 8 hours…
@TheAngryGM: Yeah. Exactly. Essentially, he is wearing a suit of Mage Armor when he starts the fight. That’s why we take it into consideration. But shield is a one shot thing. He protects himself one attack. It’s the equivalent of hiding behind a wall. We don’t take that into account.
@TheAngryGM: So, now the question we have to ask: do we want to focus on AC or HP more.
@TheAngryGM: Remember, if his AC deviates from expectations by 2 points, it effectively changes the Challenge.
@Maialideth: His AC looks to be a bit high for a Defensive challenge 2
@TheAngryGM: Well, we can balance for that. Do you want him to be a little harder to hit or soak more damage. It’s all about tradeoffs.
@TheAngryGM: Let’s say, for example, we give him a Dex modifier of +1. Not crazy. His AC is 14. At Challenge 2, we expect an AC of 13. But really, it’s an AC of 12 to 14. Because you can deviate by one point without effecting the challenge.
@Maialideth: I think military trained guys would be able to soak damage.
@TheAngryGM: Okay. So we’ll make his Dexterity +0. So his AC will be 13. And we’ll stay high in the HP range.
@TheAngryGM: So, HP for a Challenge 2 creature is 86-100. We want to be close to 100. Medium Creatures always use d8+Con modifier.
@TheAngryGM: Hobgoblins are healthy and tough. We can make his Con 14 and assume he’s got d8+2. Average 6.5. 100 / 6.5 is 15.38. That means Hit Points 97 (15d8 + 30)
@Maialideth: Yikes, that sounds like a lot. The hobgoblin captain only has 39 hp (but of course a AC 17)
@TheAngryGM: Does that seem weird? Because we can fix that.
@Maialideth: Ah well, he has quite a high damage on top of high AC.
@TheAngryGM: Yeah, it all balances out.
@TheAngryGM: But if you wanted to take this guys HP down, you could give him a Dex modifier that pumps his AC to 15. That would mean he’d need the HP of a Challenge 1 creature. 71-85. Still high, but not as high.
@TheAngryGM: Alternatively, you could decide your final target Challenge for this dude is 2, not 3.
@Maialideth: That might fit better with the Monster Manual hobgoblins actually. Higher AC and lower hp.
@TheAngryGM: And that might let you add another ally to the fight.
@Maialideth: Actually yeah, let’s go with CR 2 instead.
@TheAngryGM: Because a buddy is the best armor a wizard can wear.
@TheAngryGM: ‘Okay, so now we want Challenge 2 instead of 3. But we don’t want to refigure the offense. We just want to make him soft.
@TheAngryGM: It just means we want his Defensive Challenge to be closer to 1/2. 4 + 1/2 is 4.5. Divided by 2 is 2.25. So average is 2. Follow?
@Maialideth: Yep
@TheAngryGM: His AC with Mage Armor is 13 +0. That’s fine for Challenge 1/2. HP should be in the 50-70 range. If we aim low and assume a Con modifier of +1, thats 5.5 average per roll. Hit Points: 55 (10d8+10).
@Maialideth: Sounds good.
@TheAngryGM: Perfect. Now you have all the vital stuff.
@TheAngryGM: Precision. Enemies of the hobgoblin do not benefit from cover against the hobgoblin’s ranged spell attacks if that cover is due to an ally of the hobogblin that can see and hear it.
@TheAngryGM: Warcaster Advantage. Once per turn, the hobgoblin can deal an extra 7 (2d6) damage to a creature it hits with a ranged spell attack if that creature is within 5 feet of an ally of the hobgoblin that isn’t incapacitated.
@Maialideth: Awesome
@TheAngryGM: Spellcasting. The hobgoblin is a 3rd-level spellcaster. Yaddah yaddah yaddah. Spell attack +5, Save DC 13.
@TheAngryGM: Dex +0, Con +1, Int +3. You can set the other scores as you like them.
@Maialideth: Cool
@TheAngryGM: Give him a staff or something and you’re good to go.
@TheAngryGM: Oh, don’t forget: he definitely has scorching ray and mage armor. You can fill out the rest of his spell list for fun.
@TheAngryGM: And now you got to see MY process for making monsters.
@Maialideth: That is great. A lot less complicated than I normally do.
@TheAngryGM: That’s why I’m writing these articles. 🙂
@TheAngryGM: Because it isn’t complicated unless you try to follow what WotC said to do. If you work backwards, it makes it easier, guarantees you get a useful result, and it’s more fun.
@Maialideth: I’ll see if I can clean it up, then I’ll send you a copy?
@TheAngryGM: Spellcasters are tough.
@Maialideth: Yeah, they are.
@TheAngryGM: Yeah, I’d love to see it.
@Maialideth: Thanks so much for the help.
@TheAngryGM: No, thank you. Because the transcript for this is going to be really helpful to a lot of people I think.
@Maialideth: Cool
@TheAngryGM: Can I link to you on Twitter when I do share it?
@Maialideth: Absolutely
@TheAngryGM: Great, I hope he kills a lot of PCs.
@Maialideth: Hehe I hope so too. The fighter could use a lesson in humility.
@TheAngryGM: Ha. Well, good luck.

Anyway, here’s the end result. This is what @Maialideth: sent me as the final product. Great work. By the way, he used Valloric’s Web Based D&D 5E Monster Template. I haven’t tried that myself yet. So check it out.

[SCM]actwin,0,0,0,0;Statblock example – Google Chrome chrome 16-10-2015 , 21:52:55