Question about setting monster difficulty level:

Question about setting monster difficulty level:

Question about setting monster difficulty level:

In preparing for a freebooters game with my niece and nephews after the holidays, I’ve been trying to figure out how to set monster difficulties, particularly around damage. A typical freebooters character will have 5ish hit points, a bit more for fighters and clerics, who may also have 1-3 points of armor. Magic users are very likely to have 3hp at first level.

If I follow the monster creation guidelines the most vanilla horde monster will do d6 damage to a character if they roll anything less than a 10 in hack and slash or anytime you get to make a monster move “do damage.” Magic users and theives are likely to go down in one hit, fighters and clerics in two hits. Monsters that make sense in “groups” or “solitary” are even worse, doing d8 or d10, possibly with bonuses/piercing.

From the couple times that I played DCC, it seemed like most/all monsters in the early adventures did only d6 damage, some d3 or d6 with a penalty, etc. This made it possible for combat to be very dangerous/exhausting of resources, without being suicidal. I like the high danger of freebooters, but the dying on a 9- when you’re lucky to be rolling at +1 doesn’t seem “fun.” Even going to second level gives them a bit of resilience/ability to give and take in combat.

I’m worried that as written they may as well play as funnel world because mortality of even full freebooters first level characters will be so high. Is there any advice on hacking the damage system to make it make sense. Or are there other ideas to help this make sense?

15 thoughts on “Question about setting monster difficulty level:”

  1. I don’t think encounters have to be fair and balanced to be fun. A first level character should probably avoid combat by finding a different solution, try to get the drop on an enemy or just run away.

    It might be useful to tell your niece and nephews that their character is rather squishy and that they have to be careful or you could give them a head start and let them roll their hit dice twice.

  2. When you get a 7-9 roll, you don’t always have to do damage. Actually, when you get a 6- roll, you don’t have to do damage. You can take something away, put them in a spot etc etc.

  3. Seth Zeren, encounters in Freebooters do not scale with the party because the PCs are supposed to feel like they are in a world indifferent to them, full of real dangers that threaten their survival. Especially at lower levels, exercising caution and avoiding threats is an important and intentional part of the game. This aspect of the design is an attempt to recreate what I loved about old school D&D circa 1979, when I first started playing, but with a PbtA chassis that is much more forgiving. As Chris Shorb points out, the results of any given 7-9 roll are usually pretty flexible; you can also Burn Luck to nudge any roll, and even when your HP drops to zero the Bite the Dust move gives you a shot at survival.

    I will also direct you to the Wrap Up move, which contains the game’s XP triggers. Of the 8 ways in which XP can be earned, only 2 are combat-related: you get 1 XP if you’re Fighter, for “defeating a worthy foe;” and 1 XP if the party “overcame a notable enemy.” As you can see from the wording, these triggers are somewhat open to interpretation, and in both cases killing the foe/enemy is not explicitly necessary. Since monsters are not XP balloons, this should encourage the PCs to pick and choose their violent engagements.

    As a Judge you can be “soft” or “hard” or somewhere in between. A soft judge will use more soft moves in order to give players more opportunities to recover from misfortune, while a hard Judge will make more hard moves in order to reinforce the harsh reality of their world. Regardless of your approach, though, as long as you always say the consequences and ask (“It looks like that gnoll could take you out with one blow — are you sure you want to engage it head-on in melee combat?), the PCs can make informed decisions and take responsibility for their actions.

    I recently wrapped up a 5-session Freebooters campaign with a neighborhood group of 10-to-12-year-olds, and I played it very soft because I could tell that for many of them PC death would have been a real bummer. At the climax, they were level 2 or 3 and managed to defeat a black dragon. With my weekly adult group, however, it’s all about gritty survival in an uncaring world; they’e seen enough PC death from giant crabs and climbing accidents to turn them into a team of treasure hunters that strategizes and plans any risky business with care. (Which can be great fun when one of them has a trait like brave, aggressive, or reckless.)

    If you think your players want to feel like action-movie heroes right out of the gate, consider Julien Villeneuve’s suggestion to play Dungeon World instead. Freebooters is a good choice if you think they would enjoy the feeling of gradually becoming heroes through the crucible of experience.

  4. FWIW, when I was that age we played with infrequent death but with that emerging into heroism dynamic and that feeling is still one of my favorite aspects of the game

  5. I started a freebooters game with friends a couple of years ago and I could sense that a sudden quick death would have been troubling to some so I gave them each their Constitution worth of HP to give them a buffer. Now at third level one of them with high CON has reached 28HP.

    I decided to have a retro-reconing and trim back the HP so that they didn’t get so far ahead of the monsters. I had noticed my tendency to start making the monsters tougher so they would be in scale and that was a bit weird.

    I agree with the previous comments also about being able to have a lot of flexibility when dealing out failed and partial success rolls.

  6. Thinking about it a bit more, I think what I’m going to do is introduce a few 1d4 damage critters, noting that there’s a number of player weapons that do 1d4 damage (knives and daggers, and really clubs and staves too, but whatever), if that’s what the gobos have, it only makes sense. It’s still pretty dangerous, but the fighter can actually fight these guys, with armor they are only doing a bit of damage each 9-, and the magic user might take two hits…

  7. I think that makes good sense.

    I checked the new 2e Beasts and booty chart and there are actually plenty of 1d4 creatures, even medium sized ones if they are in a horde. When I play it feels to me that any chart is available but not necessary to use.

    It says on the creature generator, “these are guidelines, not prescriptive rules.”

    As a game it is built with the intention of being flexible, interpretable, and open to creative input.

  8. Jan Burger I forget how that’s handled in Freebooters; but in classic DW, if you are getting attacked by 6 goblins all at once, it’s one Hack and Slash roll, and if the goblins end up doing damage, one goblin rolls damage, and then you add 5 to the damage. Probably useful to remind the players that’s what’s at stake if they decide to take a stand instead of fleeing.

    I personally love the image of the PCs in the foreground, faces in terror, scrabbling up a rockfall – while behind them you can see a horde of screaming gobins…

  9. Thanks everyone very helpful thoughts, I think the idea of bringing in some 1d4 damage monsters (who can also benefit from bonus damage for numbers) will help solve my problem, d6 and d8 damage monsters will put the fighter/cleric in some peril, but because of armor they have a shot of surviving a hit. I may also start them at second level.

    Part of the reason that I want to use Freebooters is that I like the streamlined classes and the more imaginative/magical space for clerics and magic users. I find the base dungeon world classes, especially bard, cleric, and wizard too much like 3/4/5e dnd. Freebooters random generation is wonderful–really love the new character sheets and character generation process.

  10. With characters at levels 10-12 in one of my groups, I have the opposite problem. I’ve solved it by bringing in 1E monsters almost verbatim: 11HD, armor ratings as high as 10…. and it works great! With a spellcaster who regularly throws 5d6 area spells a Cleric who smites for 1d8+12. it’s essential to keep game balance that monsters scale UP. To that end, I’ve also started a “Scalable Monster System” for party levels 1-20. I hope to share more info when I can get it into play here for a few months.

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