1st level excitement from 1-30

WARNING: This contains a whole ton of math, and even more words.

This post owes some inspiration to this post written by Casey at DMG 42 exploring monster damage values against PC hit points from level 1-30. In it he looks at how monster damage scales across the levels against PC hit points – damage scales poorly. Or, it doesn’t scale evenly when compared to PC hit points. The damage from a monster at 1st level ends up having far more punch than the damage from a 30th level monster.

This of course got me thinking, which happens anytime math gets involved with gaming. The result of Casey’s work is that we know why, or at least partially why, players complain that higher level play takes too long. The question I had was: what does this look like from the other side? How does PC damage scale vs monster hit points? Do monsters grow too tough alongside the PCs? I’ve had some experience with this, having seen strikers and non-strikers at all tiers of play. From that experience I had a hypothesis that non-strikers were much more important to the party’s damage output at lower levels than they are at higher levels, and strikers require more and more optimization as they level in order to do their job.

I needed two pieces of information to answer this question; how many hit points monsters have at each level (easy enough), and how much damage PCs cause at each level (a much more involved question). The first was answered using the average values from the six monster roles. The second took a bit of work, and was a surprising. If you’re curious, this is the formula I used for monster hit points (which is from the Monster Builder):

Average monster hit points= ((46/6)level)+Constitution+(46/6)

When calculating the average damage from any given PC, it is most useful to do so in terms of the damage that PC can be expected to do in any given round (henceforth referred to by the colloquialism DPR). DPR is used by the Character Optimization boards on the D&D forums, and is useful for determining where your striker falls on the scale of useless to broken. If you aren’t familiar with the formula, here it is:

DPR=(chance to hit–chance to crit)(damage on a hit)+(chance to crit)(damage on a crit)

In order to answer my question properly, I had to determine the DPR for every striker. In order to do that without going mad from options, I made several assumptions. 1) The theoretical PCs started with an 18 in their primary stat, and an 18 in their secondary if applicable, 2) the PCs took weapon/implement focus as their 1st level feat, and weapon/implement expertise as their 2nd level feat, 3) the PCs gained a magic weapon/implement at level 2, upgraded it at 5th and every five levels thereafter, and 4) the PCs all took Destined Scion as their epic destiny. Now obviously these strikers are not optimized, but they are a good baseline for determining what the numbers are supposed to look (more on that later). This is the result:

What surprised me is how competitive they all stayed. I know, and anyone who is familiar with character optimization knows, that certain strikers are not good at their job (e.g. Vampires), and certain strikers blow everyone else out of the water (e.g. Rangers). As it turns out, these differences are due almost entirely to character build choices, not which class you choose.

Armed with the knowledge of how many hit points monsters have, and how much damage PCs inflict, I had to discover how PCs stack up against monsters. Note that for these purposes I excluded the outliers (DPR above 45% monster HP, or below 20%), as I wanted to work with the baseline strikers. It is worth noting that including the DPR from all of the strikers only reduced monster health by up to 8%.

I should at this point bring up optimization. I love optimizing characters – I can easily spend hours working on a single character, sometimes just a single combo. I’ve written a handbook on optimizing a class (the Sorcerer), and I often help players make their PC better. I say all this so that you understand my conflict when I say that I also hate optimization. I don’t like how necessary having an optimized character is, and I don’t like that being optimized doesn’t actually get you ahead of the game. All that said, we should look at optimized strikers in comparison to these new hit point values. Currently, a striker should aim for 20 DPR per tier (easy math), and a striker that wants to excel should aim to increase that number by 50-100%. I’ll show the numbers for the complex striker DPR benchmarks (6+level*2), and their relation to the old HP values.

As we can see, it takes a 1st level striker about 3 turns to kill a 1st level monster, and then it swiftly declines (dropping down to 5+ turns to kill a monster at level four, and never getting any better). An optimized striker (i.e. a striker that has spent all their resources to cause more damage) is obviously doing much better, but that PC has spent most, if not all, of their resources on options that increase damage. Fortunately, the optimization benchmarks never hit 100% of monster hit points.

If we assume 1st level is the baseline, and that all levels should mimic PC damage output in relation to monster hit points, then something has gone wrong. I personally believe 1st level works fantastically- strikers are not the only role that matters, but a good roll on the dice can still dispatch a monster. Due to Casey’s work, and my assumption that all levels should function play like 1st level, I proceeded to see if I could find a way to make monster hit points scale accordingly.

It wasn’t easy. The current system has monster hit points increasing steadily as they level, but PC damage doesn’t. To make matters worse, at 21st level PCs get a huge jump in DPR- a total of +4 to hit, and plenty of extra damage. This meant that PC damage doesn’t always increase evenly, which made finding a new formula difficult. But, eventually I settled on this:


Using tier as a factor allowed me to account for the big jump at epic. Using this formula, I arrived at these values (which I show in comparison to the old values):

As we can see with the new hit points scale so that PCs cause roughly the same amount of damage throughout their career as they do at 1st level. There is a bit of a dip through paragon, but it stays within an acceptable tolerance (6% at the most). An optimized striker will quickly see the fruits of their labor, which rewards the player for good build choices. Indeed, the optimized striker excels under the new numbers, which I prefer.

What does this all mean? Well, remember that bit I said I’d get back to? The result of the current hit points is that a striker is forced to increase their damage output at almost every opportunity just to keep up. I’m not a fan of that set up (and I do like optimization), as I’d like optimization to be rewarded by getting ahead of the curve, not by staying at par. So, this new formula results in more fragile monsters from level two onwards. In game, this will have some noticeable ramifications, which include:

1)    Optimization is rewarded. The new hit point values will allow players to actually shine for picking all of the high damage options. This allows players to play characters that actually are the best at what they do.

2)    New options are opened. By allowing strikers to pick options other than DPR boosters, strikers are able to take all of those fluffy, previously bad choices. This allows for a broader array of character builds, and potentially richer stories. The same is true for all roles – if high damage isn’t required everyone has more options.

3)    Non-strikers matter more. Currently, the higher level you are the less your damage matters if you haven’t optimized for it. Clerics will now have a meaningful contribution to victory. Conversely, powerful strikers are even better, as they can end the fight very swiftly. You win some, you lose some.

4)    More classes are viable options. The new hit point values opens up the Vampire as a viable striker, as well as the Assassin. It also brings value to leaders other than the Warlord. In the current system the best leader is far and away the Warlord, since no other leader gets the party closer to the finish line. With these hit point values the finish line is not so hard to reach, and all leaders are viable.

5)    Powers are rated differently. Currently the best way to kill a monster is with lots of attacks, because you can stack your damage modifiers repeatedly (and often your damage modifiers can be higher than the maximum value of your damage dice). These new values de-emphasize the importance of multi-attacks (without punishing them), and make high [W] powers an option. It also means if you roll well on your damage roll it actually makes a substantial difference. Multiple attacks are still valuable, potentially more so (they’re just not the only option). Ongoing damage and area attacks also become a viable kill strategy, which they currently aren’t (outside of broken builds).

6)    Fights don’t drag on, and are more exciting and rewarding. Monster minis, and the bloodied condition, function as a sort of encounter health bar – each time a monster is bloodied or killed the players get to see the tangible ramifications of this, and get a small (or major) endorphin rush. People like seeing their efforts paid off, and these hit points will reward that more often. And fights won’t last as long, because the monsters don’t take forever to kill. This also means the adventuring day can be lengthened.

7)    The fights should feel more old school. Monsters went down fast prior to 4th edition, and with up to date damage and hit point tables, this should get across the feel of fast, but still dangerous combats.

There will of course be problems. To begin with, as I’ve noted, powerful strikers become even stronger (sometimes grossly so). I’m fine with that, for the reasons I’ve stated. Additionally, area attacks, auras, and zones become very good. A strong AOE build can bloody much of the battlefield with the new numbers, and then potentially wipe it clean with an AP. I’ll get to that. The system, as I’ve outlined it thus far, doesn’t account for brutes, elites, or solos, and it doesn’t account for the extra damage PCs inevitably deal as they level.

For brutes, an additional two hit points per level should be added (that’s what they get normally). Elites will have their hit points doubled at Heroic, tripled at Paragon, and quadrupled at Epic. Solos will have their hit points tripled, quadrupled, and then quintupled.

And then there is the problem of numbers. It is a safe assumption that the PCs will get ahead of the established baseline as they level, and will start adding out of turn attacks, and area attacks, to their repertoire. The ability to wreak destruction across the battlefield, and the natural tendency for players to optimize, necessitates an increase in the number of monsters per fight. As the hit point values scale according to PC damage, there isn’t a formula that can tell us how many monsters need to be added (because on paper everything works fine), so we have to go with what feels right. My guess, based on kind of a lot of experience, is to reduce the xp value of monsters by 15% per tier. Thus, the PCs will face larger groups of monsters as they level (which reflects my experience – during Epic a DM I played under ignored xp budgets and just added monsters until it felt right, and it worked).

Should this system for hit points be used? Do faster combats make for a better game? I’m not certain. I really just did this work out of curiosity – I wanted to see how things actually stand. I do know that I will be converting my home game to use these numbers (in conjunction with Casey’s numbers, or MM3 numbers, it should make for fast and exciting combats), but this probably requires more research.

It might seem like a long build up for me to end up saying I don’t really know what to do with the information. And that’s true. There is a perceived problem (i.e. combats take too long), and a definite problem (i.e. optimization is required for the game to function), and I wanted to find out why those problems existed. I really enjoyed doing this, for the simple joy of working these numbers out. Hopefully you’ll find this an entertaining read. This is definitely something I’ll be playing around with in the future, and seeing if these new hit point numbers actually work.

If you’re curious, here is the excel workbook I used for all the calculations. Be warned, there are over 100,000 individual cells (although only about 15,000 of those are unique), so it won’t necessarily be easy to follow.


    • Reg06 March 28, 2012 Reply
  1. The Hydra DM March 29, 2012 Reply
    • Reg06 March 29, 2012 Reply

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