hit point lessons from mm3 on a business card

It seems to me that 4e monster Hit Points don’t scale properly.

From examining the MM3 on a business card, we see that every level, monsters get +1 to hit, defenses, and damage. At level 1, they have about 32 HP, and they get 8 HP per level.

(From what I’ve seen, PCs tend to have comparable to-hit, defenses, and at-will damage. Of course, over the course of a fight, PCs are better than monsters, due to encounter and daily powers, feats, and other complications. In the simplest cases, though, PCs and monsters can stand in for each other.)

So what’s the problem? As far as I can see, the monster math above suggests that at higher levels, fights will drag on longer as monsters gain proportionally more HP. And indeed, in practice, I see this happening. I recently ran a level 30 adventure, and the fights took forever. Here’s why:

Take a level 1 monster. He has 32 HP. He (and his opponents) do an average of 9 points of damage per hit. That’s great! That means it will take about 4 hits to kill a monster. A highly damaging hit (a crit or encounter power) might bloody the monster in one hit. That feels exactly right to me. In fact, according to this excerpt from Player’s Strategy Guide, 4 hits per monster is the design intention: “Assume that your heroes can kill a typical monster with four successful attacks.”

At level 1, we are exactly on target. However, monsters gain 8 HP per level! That means, in order to keep up, the PCs (who should be able to kill a monster in 4 hits) need to increase their average damage by 2, every level. In order to stay on par, all level-30 PCs (leaders and controllers as well as strikers) would need to be doing about 70 damage per hit. There’s no way they can do that! The result? Monster HP outstrips PC damage.

At level 10, a monster will have 96 HP. With PC damage averaging around 18 HP per hit, it will now take 6 hits to kill the monster.

At level 30, a monster has 264 HP. PCs at that level should do an average of 38 damage per at-will hit. That means it takes an epic PC 7 hits to kill a monster of equal level – almost twice as long as it took at level 1. And while it was possible to bloody a level 1 monster with one lucky hit, it is very unlikely that even a level 30 PC will be able to do 132 HP of damage in one hit. An optimized uberPC might be able to do it, but certainly not Joe Sixmead.

By the way, monsters’ 8 HP per level is way more than PCs get. Weak PCs (wizards and such) get 4 per level. Strong PCs (fighters, for instance) get 6.

The fix? The average monster gains 4 HP per level (brutes 6). To accomplish this, subtract 4 HP per level from every monster. This will balance nicely with the recent much-needed damage boost provided by Monster Manual 3. Now, at every level, it will always take the average PC 4 hits to kill the average monster.

As a sanity check, let’s do the math with a level 30 creature. He’d have 144 HP. The PCs, doing damage of 38 per hit, would kill him after 4 hits. And the monster’s Bloodied value, 72, is quite achievable with a single PC crit or encounter/daily power.

Putting it all together:

On-the-fly fix for Monster Manual 1 Monsters

  • Add +1/2 damage per level to every attack (the Monster Manual 3 fix)

  • Subtract 4 HP per level (the Paul fix)

Note: Based on good points raised in the comments, I’m amending my recommendation: instead of subtracting HP per level, subtract 3 HP per level. The extra 1 HP/level is absorbed by high-level characters’ increased damage on critical hits and encounter powers. If I err in any direction, though, I’d like to err towards shorter combats, since each high-level turn takes so much longer.


9 Responses to “hit point lessons from mm3 on a business card”

  1. […] This math does lead to some problems… […]

  2. Aoi says:

    Yay tinkering with monster math!

    The only thing I would point out is that by 30th level, the amount of encounter and daily powers (and concomitant ability to increase damage output in most cases) quadruples between 1st and 30th level – that is to say, they have one of each at first level and 4 of each at 30th. Thus, the assumption that at-will attacks will constitute most of what a PC is using starts to fall apart at higher levels; indeed, your quote from the player’s strategy guide says “4 successful hits,” not “4 successful hits with at-will powers.”

    That being said, I think lowering monster hit points is a good idea anyway – in my experience, 3 rounds is good enough to allow the PCs to “experience” the unique qualities of a monster. After that, without additional complications combat starts getting repetitive and the monster loses it’s cool factor. So yeah, right on!

  3. Dave says:

    You are correct that monsters do tend to take more hits as you go up in level, but there’s one other thing that you forgot to take into account: critical hits. At first level, a critical causes max damage, which (compared to average damage) works out to roughly 50% bonus damage. However, as PCs increase in level their critical get enhanced by magic weapons/implements, which results in a greater % gained on a critical hit.

    Factoring this in will increase the expected average damage caused by a PC (note: monsters do not have escalating critical hits the way PCs do). You’re still correct to want to decrease the monster HP, but maybe not by quite a much, as there could be even more factors we’re forgetting. As an aside, I’m not such a big fan of WotC’s decision to make critical hits matter so much when calculating high-level average damage.

  4. paul paul says:

    These are great points – encounter powers and critical hits doadd significantly to PC damage. They’re hard to quantify, since there are so many powers and combinations of powers, so I will make some simplifications. I’ll ignore as many things as possible: I’ll ignore, for instance, daily powers, item powers, and damage-boosting utility powers.

    First of all, how much damage do encounter powers and critical hits need to do to make up the damage deficit at high levels? PCs do 38 damage per hit with an at-will. In order to kill level-30 creatures in 4 hits, they need to do 66 damage per hit: they need 28 extra hit points of damage PER HIT.

    Encounter powers:

    A level 30 character has 4 encounter powers, as opposed to the 1 encounter power of a level-1 character. Therefore, high-level characters can bring more firepower to bear in each fight. But is it enough?

    How much better is an encounter power than an at-will power? At level 30, at-will powers are 2[w] attacks. I took a look at the level-27 encounter powers in the PHB1. They’re typically 4[W] attacks: their effects are more complicated than at-will attacks, of course, but let’s just take their numerical effects. Assuming that the average damage die is a d8, that means the average encounter attack is (4.5 x 2) about 9 HP more damaging than an at-will attack.

    Let’s say that 60% of PC attacks hit; therefore, a character hits with only 2 or 3 of his or her encounter attacks. The encounter attacks provide an extra, say 20HP of damage per character per encounter.

    Critical hits:
    I’m assuming that the average non-striker character uses d6 critical hit dice. A level-30 character does an additional 6d6 damage on a crit, which is 36 damage. This is probably low, because everyone has critical-hit-boosting items, so let’s call it 40 extra damage on a crit. Divided evenly, that’s 2 extra hit points per hit. In fact, the damage is lumpy: a lot of it is overkill, and many encounters go by where a character doesn’t get a crit. But putting that aside, crits provide 2 damage per hit.


    With just non-critical at-will attacks, high-level PCs don’t have nearly enough firepower to remove 1/4 of the HP of a monster with each hit. They’re 28 HP behind. Critical hits make up 2 HP of this 28-HP deficit. Encounter powers make up about another 9 HP per hit – and only for 2 or 3 hits! Even with their encounter powers, characters are still way short of where they should be to avoid combat drag.

  5. paul paul says:

    Note: Dave is right – I shouldn’t reduce monster HP by as much as I proposed, since PCs do have access to extra damage at high levels, in quantities that I’m probably underestimating. But combat does drag: even with the damage sources I’ve factored in, monsters still have proportionally more HP at level 30 than at level 1 — by a lot. Maybe instead of 4 points per level, you should subtract 3 points per level.

  6. paul paul says:

    One more point, this time about daily powers: The math I outlined above is for characters fighting monsters of equal level. That’s why I’m ignoring daily powers: characters don’t use daily powers against monsters of equal level.

    The purpose of daily powers is to prevent drag against HIGHER-LEVEL opponents.

  7. Gary says:

    Doing a steady-state 2x level damage per round past level 10 is the rule of thumb in the WotC charop forum for strikers. This is easy to do with a twin-striking melee ranger. I think factoring in Encounter powers can get us to the 24HP difference at level 30.

    Everything that the other four roles do reduces the need to do that much damage solo: leaders extend everyone’s ability to fight, controllers reduce the enemy’s ability to fight, and defenders take pressure off of everyone else. I think reducing monster HPs really only serves to magnify the effect that strikers have on the game.

  8. Actually though, I think it would really help a party of non-optimized characters cope. I’m going to try it out in my campaign and see what happens.

  9. Wally Kovacs says:

    One aside: While it’s true that PCs accumulate HP slower than monsters (4-6 per level instead of 8). However, monsters (mostly) don’t have surges to spend. For each HP a PC gets, that’s 1 extra HP for each surge they can spend, and each surge they have is ussually worth more than 1/4 of their HP. So, gaining 4 HP for a wizard with 6 surges increases their total HP for the day by 10, more with other things based off their HP value (like being able to gain surge value HP without spending a surge).

    PC hit points and monster hit points work differently because PCs are expected to heal in combat, while most monsters aren’t (some may have regeneration, but there aren’t a ton of healer monsters or second winds, etc). So monster HP is front loaded, so it can just go down while PC HP will fluctuate up and down. This also means a monster may drop a PC, which will get back up, while a monster will take longer to drop, but stay down when it does. This has a tendency (with the new monster math) to make things interesting as battles will often start with a strong showing by the monsters before the PCs turn the tide and wrap things up relatively quickly.

    Also, since PCs have 4 encounter powers, 4 dailies, a ton of utility powers, quite a few magic items, features from race, class, paragon path and epic destiny, etc … they will probably want more rounds in an encounter to get use out of all of those things. In a level 1 encounter, with only 1 encounter power, 1 racial power, 1 daily, and no utilities (in most cases), you’ll be spending 3 out of 4 rounds using at-will powers, so you’d want the fight to end quickly so as to not have too many rounds grinding the monster down with at-will powers. As you get more powers to use, a longer fight gives you a chance to use those powers.

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