Be A Lazy DM, Get Some Passive Enemies

Recently I have spent some time looking over a few independent RPGs. A local FLGS had a moving sale and was offering a buy 2 get 1 free deal for almost everything in the store. While nothing jumped on my face demanding I fling money at the cash register I did see a few interesting specimens in my browsing. I continued the effort on the internet once home.LazyDM

Something I came across was German Ace of Dice’s Destiny, AceofDice.com. I skimmed through the Destiny Beginner pdf, a quickstart guide to the system that lovingly includes a few adventures to run, including a GM solo tutorial (choose your adventure style). Destiny is a d66 system. I did not find myself falling in love with the mechanics or interested enough to play test it. Often the d66 system seemed like more of a hassle, or perhaps a gimmick, than it would have been to make Destiny a d100 system. While it does some interesting things I concluded it was interesting but not for me. It did however light my mind on fire with one particular bit of its system and its reasoning.

Those who have been following will no doubt have noticed my fondness for opposed rolls and rolled defenses/saves versus static. Mo’ Roll Mo’ Fun, is a credo some like to live their games by. Now what does this have to do with Destiny or being a Lazy DM? Good question. DMs have a lot to keep track of during play. The crunchier the system, especially combat heavy systems, the more the DM has to prepare and attend while running. In my own experience at least nothing draws me away from vocally illustrating the action like checking stat blocks and calling out roll results. My brain switches mode from narrator to number cruncher.

Destiny employs passive enemies. When I think about all the time I spend in combat running 5+ baddies and rolling their attacks and damage each turn, my gaze down at stat blocks and dice in silence rather than talking about what’s going on between declaring and attack and resolving an attack I realized how much it breaks the narrative.

How does it work? Essentially all enemies have target numbers. For D&D folk it is like passive perception & insight, ‘Taking 10’. The awesome thing about this sort of tactic is it is already in mind in the design of 4e D&D. Take a look at character/monster defenses. Each defense starts with a base of 10. For those unfamiliar with game design this is exactly the same as the passive ‘Taking 10’ from above. Fourth Edition made a move to static defenses rather than saving throws for every attack. It is interesting considering how much 4e was centered around ease for a DM to run, it is a very easy system to run, the DM is still doing a lot of the heavy work.

Remove the arbitrary ten from AC, Fortitude, Reflex, and Will on a PC and you have the PC’s saving throw modifier.

Ex. AC 17. -10, AC Save = 1d20+7

Essentially, we do the opposite for monster attacks and then average their damage. The nice thing is 4e minions work exactly the same with even less work, their damage is already determined. An Orc Rampager from the Monster Vault Standard Melee attack is +11 vs. AC, we change it to 21 vs. AC Save. So when we use the Orc Rampager to attack our the PC from earlier with a +7 AC Save. The PC rolls a 12, 12+7= 19 AC. The Orc Rampager successfully attacked the PC. The Orc’s heavy flail used to do 2d6+6 damage. We average the damage. The median for a d6 roll is 3.5. We have two d6 so that makes seven, plus 6 for a total of 13 points of damage (3.5+3.5+6=13). The PC takes 13 points of damage.

Remember that 4e always rounds down. If for instance you are tabulating an Orc Pummeler’s Earthshaking Slam power’s damage it is 3d6+5. As stated the median value for a d6 is 3.5. The raw damage is 15.5 (3.5+3.5+3.5+5=15.5). Per 4e we round down the damage to become 15.

You will also want to record the maximum damage for monsters for when player’s roll a natural 1. Doubling the damage of the average attacks will also work, but be warned this damage is significantly higher than maximum damage. The Orc Rampager has max damage output of 18 pts per attack. Doubling his average attack damage takes into account his static damage bonus and is 26.

– Add 10 to all modifiers when you would roll a d20: Initiative, Perception, Insight, Attacks, Skills
– Average damage outputs for attacks.
– Record max damage output for attacks to use with critical hits (PC critical failures on defense)
– Danger Zone, double normal monster damage, this is deals noticeably more damage than attack’s maximum damage.
– For simplicity keep 4e ‘Meet or Beat’ mechanic. If they roll the same as a Monster’s attack they successfully defend and are not hit. Allow this to counterbalance no reward for rolling a natural 20 on a defense save.
– Remember to follow 4e’s conventions and always round down.

As a DM you can easily apply these simple changes to any encounter you build. With five minutes of work you can change all your monsters, traps, and hazards to be passive. At the table you will only need to concern yourself with tracking Hit Points and status effects. The only time you will need to roll is for saving throws and recharge powers.

This strategy is great for reducing the DM’s work per turn. It also maximizes the players’ attention when it’s not their turn. If you have players like those in my group, they can occasionally check out when it’s not their turn. They don’t need to roll anything and other than an immediate action or opportunity attack they have little to do until their next turn. Passive baddies mean you players get to roll more dice, which they love and will feel like they are actively engaged with what is going on at the table despite it not being their turn.

There is one great, thus far unmentioned advantage to passive enemies. Everyone has had that game where your dice go cold and you cannot roll to save your life. Now, you don’t have to roll. With this system if a player has cold dice he will feel the sting instead of the game session suffering rounds of creatures missing each other in combat.

Take advantage of passive enemies and free yourself to focus on the game and not the mechanics. Make sure to leave comments below. Let me know how passive enemies worked out in your game and what other mechanics tweaks have improved your game.

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