Level Adjustments Too High?

What I’m wondering is if the level adjustments on a lot of the creatures aren’t too high. I think it’s possible that in many cases the authors either overestimated to be on the safe side, or misjudged the value of monster hit dice, or both.

Take the ettercap - I know they don’t advance by character class so they’re not great player characters, but lets say for sake of argument that it’s not an issue. Five hit dice plus a level adjustment of +4 makes this guy equal to a 9th level character. Is it really worth it?

Monster hit dice, with the exception perhaps of dragon and outsider hit dice, are actually weaker than player character levels because they don’t grant any class abilities. To properly judge the value of monster hit dice, they should be compared to the most similar class levels, and the monster’s abilities compared to the abilities of a similar class. To aid comparison, hit dice can be modified by Constitution bonus.

The ettercap, our example, has somewhat mediocre Aberration hit dice - d8, only one good save (Will), and cleric base attack. We can compare his five hit dice to cleric levels this way. Assuming the -6 Int, -2 Cha and +4 Wis basically cancel each other out, what we can now compare is what’s left - +4 Strength, +6 Dex, +2 Con, +1 natural armor, a good bite and two weak claw attacks, web, poison and a few skill bonuses, plus whatever Aberrations get for skill points. Compare this to what a cleric gets - five levels of cleric spellcasting, two domain abilities, turn undead, armor and shield proficiency, a higher base Fortitude bonus and 2+Int skill points. By comparing how much better the ettercap’s abilities are than the cleric’s, we can begin to work out how high the level adjustment should be.

Next, it must be remembered that one level worth of level adjustment is not just worth one hit die or one level worth of class abilities - it is worth both. This is an easy area to make the mistake of judging one level of class abilities to be worth one level of level adjustment. The abilities gained in exchange for a point of level adjustment must be equal in value to both one hit die (saves, base attack and hit points) and one level worth of class abilities. It’s not too difficult to do this the equate ability score bonuses to the missing saves/base attack/hit points while equating the special abilities (poison and web in this case) to class abilities.

As I mentioned earlier, Constitution plays an interesting role. The ettercap’s +2 Constitution bonus in this case can be taken out of the equation if we count that it’s equivalent to +1 on Fortitude saves and a hit dice increase from d8 to d10. In this case it’s not valuable to do this since no classes have both d10 hit dice and cleric’s base attack, but the option is there.

In summary, remember when judging monster ECLs that most monster hit dice are weaker than class levels, and that level adjustments are more expensive than you might think.


Comments (5)

Liadis (April 11th, 2006)

Heh, the main reason that I think they have monster level adjustment being highly unfair and inbalanced is to discourage players from min-maxing, combining monster special abilities with certain spells and creating special effects, and to encourage a more humanoid setting for the players.

First of all, min-maxing is quite common with player groups that does not focus on roleplaying. I remember the days that huge size creatures were picked by players who take a level or two of sorcerer or cleric with Strength domain (to get enlarge person, or just having it casted from someone else), and a few levels of monk specializing in grappling and unarmed strike damages. One time, a huge-turned-gargantuan character and his brother managed to grapple a red dragon several CRs higher, pin it, win every grapple check almost every round, damaging it with unarmed strikes, while the mage and cleric does support artillery…

Combining monster special abilities with certain spells and creating special effects is like min-maxing, but usually a slightly safer case. For example, half-vampire or pure vampire that can turn into mist plus obscuring mist (A level 1 spell) == silent movement, limited invisiblility. Or maybe fire resistance/immunity plus grapple, plus wizard friend’s fireball. Looking at ettercup example: If ettercup goes monk, flurry of blow, dealing poison each blow… It would be a totally different case from an ettercap wizard. If the ettercup gets it’s hand on a spell-storing weapon that carries a bestow curse on it constantly, and uses “—4 penalty on attack rolls, saves, ability checks, and skill checks.”, then the DC for the poison save becomes effectively 19 Fort for 1d6/2d6 dex.

Game mechanic aside, I personally think of the main reason as encouraging a more humanoid setting for the players. It’s easier for a human to play as a humanoid, because it’s hard for a humanoid to see things from other species’ viewpoints. For example, a gray render looks at the world very differently from a dwarf, while an elf looks at the world only slightly differently from a human.

Not that it’s not interesting to play a monster campaign from time to time. I enjoyed the time when all my players came to an agreement to play a good monster party. All of them picked normally evil race and we did quite a few awesome games. However, it’s not just a headache to figure out the balance in game mechanic, but also how the characters fit in in the societies.

(This totally disregards the facts that monsterous adventurers might have a VERY difficult time to meld with normal societies, but might be welcomed in other situations. For example, a drow might find herself feared by many “lesser creature” tribes.)

Dragon_Child (April 13th, 2006)

Good lord, I don’t know where to begin. Well, one thing at a time…

First of all, JD, your analysis is spot-on, as always. All of the LAs published are FAR too high, and it’s absolutely insane to charge someone one level for any monster HD. Rich Redman posted on the WOTC forums that monsters were purposely created underpowered… why they never said this in the book, well, who knows?

As for the comment above mine…

—-First of all, min-maxing is quite common with player groups that does not focus on roleplaying.

Also, stupidity is quite common with people who say things like this. Just because my character is strong doesn’t mean I can’t roleplay. In fact, I dare say that because I know how my character works better, I’m a BETTER roleplayer.

—-I remember the days that huge size creatures were picked by players who take a level or two of sorcerer or cleric with Strength domain (to get enlarge person, or just having it casted from someone else), and a few levels of monk specializing in grappling and unarmed strike damages.

It sounds like your players managed to take a highly underpowered combination and managed to make it decent. This isn’t even “good” min/maxing - there’s no use for the cleric or wizard when you have Permancy, and no use for the Monk when Barbarian would be far smarter. Yet despite all this, I gaurentee you I could still make a WIZARD who was a better grappler than this character.

—-Combining monster special abilities with certain spells and creating special effects is like min-maxing, but usually a slightly safer case.

Is min-maxing supposed to be bad? OH NOES DON’T THINK IT’LL HURT YOU! Please, your stupidity is insulting.

—-For example, half-vampire or pure vampire that can turn into mist plus obscuring mist (A level 1 spell) == silent movement, limited invisiblility. Or maybe fire resistance/immunity plus grapple, plus wizard friend’s fireball.

Vampire is a whole nother can of worms, because I don’t believe in giving the PCs anything that is literally unkillable by the RAW. For the fire immunity though… isn’t that called TACTICS? How is that any different from using fire resist spells in the same strategy?

—-If the ettercup gets it’s hand on a spell-storing weapon that carries a bestow curse on it constantly, and uses “—4 penalty on attack rolls, saves, ability checks, and skill checks.â€?, then the DC for the poison save becomes effectively 19 Fort for 1d6/2d6 dex.

How is this any worse than a normal wizard who just uses save or dies, a normal cleric who just uses save or dies, or a normal rogue who uses a ton of poisons, all of which are likely more effective? Especially as the bestow curse has a save, as well.

Personally, I feel that the game designers shouldn’t tell me how my game is going to be run. They should make balanced rules. If they have a giant class, it should be BALANCED with the fighter class. The giant class shouldn’t be undpowered “Because we don’t want people to be giants.”. Because I disagree. We want people to play whatever the hell they please.

Rob (October 29th, 2008)

You’re a god damn genius, man who made initial post, and very adamant man who made the last post. I love it.

Lankford (November 3rd, 2008)

I somewhat agree with the dissent, here. LA’s are meant to keep the game fun for a variety of players; a campaign my friend played a while back had one obscenely powerful character who didn’t care for his party members (ended up killing them, actually) and decimated any foe that couldn’t one-hit the other characters.

This kind of imbalance exists without this character being able to level up just the same as a human fighter. I can’t imagine the problems if this was the case.

Furthermore, WotC is not attempting to run your game. There are always house rules. If you are playing in some sanctioned campaign, though, be mindful of others and the intended balance of the game’s creators. You can play soccer any way you want, but if you want to be in the world cup, you have to play by the sanctioned rules.

Anonymous (October 7th, 2011)

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