Friday, May 22, 2009


Thunderspire Labyrinth is keen on training you up in a new type of tactical complication. It's a mechanic that players of online games know as "adds".

In 4th Edition, combats are usually divided up into encounters. One encounter is an appropriate challenge for a balanced party. Adds occur when monsters from one encounter flee to an adjacent one, and then return with allies. These new monsters are additional to the encounter's original roster - hence, "adds".

Adds are a bad thing for players. In a best case scenario, they'll make your encounter significantly harder. In a worst case scenario, they'll get you killed.

The main bad guys in Thunderspire Labyrinth are hobgoblins, duergar and gnolls. Each of these factions is both cunning and tactically competent. They will not hesitate to go for help when things go sour. If players want to make progress without being constantly on the verge of death, they'll have to take careful steps to contain fleeing foes and prevent adds.

It's an issue in the Chamber of Eyes. Areas are heavily interconnected and segregating encounters is tricky. Luckily it's a small dungeon, and the final encounter in Torog's Shrine is specifically built to rely on unavoidable adds.

It's also an issue in the Horned Hold, though. The Horned Hold features 40 monsters divided into eight quite tough encounters. The enemies are fighting on their home ground with the assistance of well-designed defensive emplacements and terrain that heavily disadvantages invaders. Players will need to brush up their skills in the Chamber of Eyes, or have some severe problems in the Hold.

Adds present a problem for the DM. The added realism involved in monsters who run for help comes at the cost of potentially exterminating parties who get unlucky or make minor tactical errors. Missing a runner is an easy thing to do, with disproportionately devastating consequences.

As written, Thunderspire's solution is generally to state that monsters will only run for help once they are the last man standing. This has the advantage of being predictable. It's also an easy situation to prepare for, as generally the last surviving monster has already lost hit points and is in base-to-base contact with at least one player.

It's interesting to note the tactical changes required to deal with runners. Stopping escaping monsters places a higher premium on ranged attacks, and on mobility. Characters with shift or teleport powers are ideal to track down fleeing enemies; low-mobility melee characters (such as melee clerics) will feel frustratingly impotent by comparison. The Avenger, introduced in the Player's Handbook 2, seems purpose-built for this very task.

It's not a topic I've seen discussed a lot on the official forums; I'd be interested to hear the experiences of others with runners and adds in 4th Edition. Leave your thoughts in the comments.


kaisel said...

In the Scales of War game that I'm a player in, runners haven't been too big a problem. I think every character has at least one ranged option (whether it's because of weapons or powers), and have been pretty good about catching them. I think one escaped, and that was because our DM plays monsters as fairly intelligent.

Zubon said...

If yesterday's problem was the lack of minions, this re-adds the Controller role. The Controller is to control movement and hamper escapes, rather than clearing minions with AE.

I cannot promise that most Controllers are built for it, but it does add back to their role what the other hand took away.

Greg Tannahill said...

I think it's a problem, though, in that at the moment there's only a few controller classes in the game, and most of them are distinctly underwhelming (although as the groups I'm in explore the Druid we're warming to it).

Doom said...

My party has 2 fighters, so I'm very hard pressed to have that last monster run away--the fighter's 'defender' abilities make it very tough to pull off a successful move, even if I follow it up with another move, there's always a charge, or something.

If I'm planning an encounter with possible adds, I make sure there's a leader, he/she stays in the back, and thus has a reasonable chance of getting away. Waiting until there's just one monster left is poor strategy for anything intelligence 8 or better.

Greg Tannahill said...

I don't know, Doom - you know your group, so that'll probably work out for you. On the other hand, if your party do something well, it's not always the right answer to keep making it harder for them. It might be best to just say, "Man, you guys rock at preventing runners," and move on to challenge them in an area they're not so strong.

Players like challenge, but they also like to have their effectiveness acknowledged.

Anonymous said...

When we played this adventure, we got very good at planning our tactics to stop the runners. That said, we did get very tired of them. It didn't help that our DM was confused by the duergar invisibility and didn't realize it only lasted until the end of their next turn. He had it last indefinitely, which made the encounters even tougher and more frustrating. Though we adapted to that as well and made it work. No one died, though we had a couple of close calls.

Doom said...

Is it really "you guys rock", or "you guys have 2 fighters"?

It really seems more like the latter.

Remember in 'the early days' of D&D, you'd have players do stuff like "I bow my head and mumble, as though I'm doing a prayer...but I'm really casting Blast-the-Crap-Out-Of"...then the player would get upset when the DM wouldn't let the monsters fall for the 'trick'?

While the player would say "But it looks like I'm just praying, how could the monsters know I'm casting a real spell?", the DM would explain in a world with wizards and such, a guy in robes and a staff mumbing strange words is NOT praying, and thinking monsters would know it.

DnD4.0, as a completely and utterly new game, has alot more "I'm just bowing my head and praying" moments, but once again, in a world where certain things are common (eg, it's problematic to run away from a fighter), it just makes sense that thinking monsters would know it, eh?

Greg Tannahill said...

If your party has two fighters, it means they're optimised for certain things (tanking, pinning runners) at the cost of certain other competencies (probably damage-per-round).

Just because it didn't take them any skill to do something well doesn't mean they won't feel just as chuffed to have it pointed out that they did it well (or just as annoyed to have that "achievement" taken out of their grasp).

I mean, it's not like you need adds. In fact, you really don't WANT adds. The threat's only there to get the party to engage the tactical space rather than bunkering down in the doorway each time, and if your guys have moved out of the doorway into the room then it's mission accomplished, forget about the adds.

Unknown said...

I find it odd there is such a focus on making the players kill all the monsters, with such a huge punishment if they do not.

In my own game, I quite frequently have monsters run away when they are the only one left, or the fight has for all intents and purposes been decided. I do this in order to avoid pointless time spent "mopping up." (Unless, of course, it has been a particularly tough fight, and the players need the satisfaction of slaughtering their enemies to the last.)

I have had to train my players to let most fleeing monsters run (usually), rather than spend minutes trying to chase them down, by not punishing the players when monsters flee. Frankly, I think it's fairly silly to waste time making them remove the last few hit points of an elite or a brute that has no chance of doing any significant damage to the party. Having monsters run away seems more elegant to me than hand-waving and having the enemies die in the next hit (especially because sometimes they won't even have bloodied that monster).

Maelora said...

'Adds'??? Ye gods, the language of 4E is downright ugly! Me, I think _reinforcements_ are a good thing. In any other edition, this wouldn't even be up for debate. As far back as 'Keep on the Borderlands', monsters would try and escape or call others. Modules like 'U3 Final Enemy' pretty much assume the PCs will try and prevent reinforcements, otherwise they will get overwhelmed. It adds a layer of verisimilitude to 4E's boardgame style, an idea that monsters are not merely bags of hit points that sit around passvely, waiting for the PCs to slaughter them.

Alex touches on another, related point - the 'grind' of 4E, mostly caused by the hit point bloat. It makes for long, dull combats if you don't do something about it. Pretty much every 4E fight reaches a point where you've done all the fun stuff (manoevering, dailys, encounters, etc) and every round becomes a static war of attrition, battering down the last 50% of hit points by spamming your at-wills. I haven't played through 'Thunderspire' yet, but the fact that there are no minions there makes me wonder if the 'grind' won't be worse than 'Keep on the Shadowfell' was.

Greg Tannahill said...

None of the 4E books ever use the term "adds" - that's something I'm importing from my own experience.

The more often you have to refer to something, the higher the likelihood you'll develop a monosyllabic word to represent it. Once you're used to saying "adds", "mobs", "tanking" and "DPS" it's hard to return to ordinary society.

I was first introduced to MUDs about the same time I was first introduced to AD&D so referring to monsters as mobiles or mobs is almost as nostalgia-inducing as a good old-fashioned 10x10 stone corridor.