Worldbreaking 101. Waking Nightmares.

Worldbreaking 101. Waking Nightmares.

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Today we have released the first Worldbreaker, Etherkai the Nightmare Dragon!

In honor of the release, I wanted to revisit Worldbreakers as a mechanic, and talk about what I’ve learned about monster design.

More Powers does not Equal More Expressive. It’s a common trick to give a monster powers to express every ability, but in 4e that kitchen-sink design actually detracts from a monster’s uniqueness. A few powers with more dramatic abilities mean more than many powers with subtle and  nuanced effects. Less powers alo is easier to run.

For Heaven’s Sake, Use the Monster Manual 3 Math. It makes such a huge difference in the ability of a monster (especially a solo) to use the damage boost proscribed in MM3. If you need the info, you can get it here and here.

While We’re At It, Action Recovery is a Must. Action Recovery — the generic name for removing dazed, stunned, and immobilized conditions on a solo — is essential. You’ll see it with a lot of cute names on Worldbreakers, but you’ll see it. Even though Worldbreakers get a clearing effect, many parties can lock down for almost the entirety of the battle. Use this on your solos to give them a fighting chance.

Counting Rounds is Just Wrong. Yes I learned my lesson. I spent a lot of energy in playtesting trying to get the right amount of rounds for the Worldbreaker effect. I realized in one play-test that the counting of rounds is just not something you do in 4e. That’s when we went to the temporary hit point model, and that’s when it finally clicked. One thing I was trying to do with the Worldbreakers initially was to have  a flow of valley (low threat) – peak (high threat) – valley - peak – valley . Combats in 4e don’t last enough rounds for that. A better “flow” is valley – peak – valley. This gives players time to get their licks in, get their tushes kicked, and get their last licks in. It fits more naturally within the structure of the 4e combat system.

Challenge is OK, Interesting is What Matters. I think most groups will find Etherkai challenging. I expect that some groups will find him completely deadly, while others while find him to be completely soft. Here’s the thing: I built Etherkai (and the rest of the Worldbreakers) to be interesting first and foremost. A lot of powers force unconventional interactions with the players, and he does some pretty crazy stuff. I can’t as a designer control challenge at the table. Dice are fickle. Some groups are very optimized, others are just average. I can’t fully control challenge unless I can fully control all these factors. I have a lot more say in how the monster is presented. When you read a Worldbreaker monster, you’ll get a rich back story and understanding of its motivations and personality. You’ll know how to present this monster to your players in the story. No matter what happens after that, the memory of that presentation will stay.
If there is a tip I’d like to give to GMs everywhere, it’s to let go of the notion of challenge a bit. Go for interest first , and see how it liberates your gaming. Many GMs confuse difficulty or danger with excitement.  I say…look at roller coasters.  I am not saying make artificial challenges, I am saying look at how danger and excitement occupy two separate spaces. Roller coasters are prety  An encounter doesn’t have to be a killer to excite players. Make exciting encounters first.

I’ll have more lessons when the next Worldbreaker comes around. Please pick up Etherkai  (it’s $2 with great art and great layout) and let us know what you think! I hope you enjoy it.

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About the Author

A Jack of All Trades ,or if you prefer, an extreme example of multi-classing, Gamefiend, a.k.a Quinn Murphy has been discussing, playing and designing games straight out of the womb. He is the owner and Editor-in-Chief of this site in addition to being an aspiring game designer. As you would assume, he is a huge fan of 4e. By day he is a technologist. Follow gamefiend on Twitter