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I've been DM'ing a little lately 4 edition D&D and of course I'm confused again:

My first adventure was a big question mark, I didn't use the exact guidelines for creating an encounter and sometimes it was frightening that some monster could dish out so much punishment to lvl1 characters like Lvl1 Goblin Warrior or Blackblade.

Is the monster manual balanced and I should just use all the monsters and only look on their lvl. Because such pushovers as goblins they seem pretty tough for lvl1 characters.

My example:

Human warrior - no absurd optimization just a typical fighter with a big sword:

Str 18
Con 15
Dex 12
Int 11
Wis 11
Cha 10
HP 22

Feat Toughness
Feat Action Surge
AC 17 (Scale Mail Armor)
Weapon 1d10 + 3 (great sword)
Attack roll +7 

And his opponent is: Goblin Warrior lvl1 skirmisher (he's not even a brute)

Dmg 1d8 +2 and with 'great position' with javelin 1d6 + 2 + 1d6
Attack roll +6

Cutting this short should I tone down all monsters from Monster Manual 1?

I found some rules in UpdateDMG1, and using their formula this Goblin would be something like this:

HP 17
AC 15
Other Def 13
Attack roll +6
Dmg 1d8 + 4

I really am getting tired of over analyzing all monster statistics.

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4 Answers

It's Not Just About the Math

The classic-monster rebuilds in Monster Vault is a better all-around choice when compared to the MM1 - not only do they fix the math, they debug monster powers distribution - this includes where MM1 versions are over-powered, as well as under.

One of my favorite 4e bloggers, Mike Shea aka SlyFlourish.com and @SlyFlourish has written extensively on monster balance and why he never uses Monster Manual 1:

From The Sweet Spot of 4th Edition

The monsters in the Monster Manual 3, Monster Vault, and Monster Vault 2: Threats to the Nentir Vale also run much better than previous monster books.

Status effects are another way MM1 is broken - from Three Powers for Solos to Shake Status Effects

[S]olo monsters published in the Monster Vault and the Monster Vault 2: Threats to the Nentir Vale handle dazes and stuns well. Older books like the Monster Manual 3, and the Dark Sun Creature Catalog try a few different things but sometimes need help.

[He doesn't even mention MM1 in the text above!]

And, of course, if you can afford/borrow a DDI subscription, almost every single MM1 monster has an improved version in the Compendium / Monster Builder - usually introduced as part of Monster Vault, or received some upgrade-love from Dungeon or Dragon magazine.

I was going to suggest MV and the Essentials line all around! I got MV, RC, and the two "Heroes of..." books for my son and ended up thinking it was much nicer all around than my core book collection. –  gomad May 4 '12 at 22:20
If I'm not mistaken, Solo monsters have been altered the most from their original MM1 forms, with reduced HP and daze/stun handling. Most Standard and Elite monsters I'm happy taking as-is from MM1, but MM1 Solos always have to be compared against similar level MV Solos to see what changes to make. –  ioanwigmore May 5 '12 at 10:15
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The Monster Manual 1 is balanced.

You have a few mistakes in your sample human character. Here is mine built using the Character Builder, keeping pretty close to what you had while accepting the defaults for most everything.

Human Weaponmaster(Fighter) 1
Str 18
Con 16
Dex 11
Int 11
Wis 12
Cha 10
HP 36 [15 + Con (16) + toughness (5]

Feat Toughness
Feat Action Surge
AC 17 (Scale Mail Armor)
Weapon 1d12 + 4 (great axe), if you have con, take an axe.  If you want a sword, use dex
At Will: Reaping Strike +7 for 1d12+4 on hit, 4 damage on miss
At Will: Cleave - +7 for a hit of 1d12+4 and also 4 to the goblins buddy (if he has one) 

The fighter hits 60% of the time doing an average of 7.9 damage a round, killing the goblin in 4 rounds (Using Reaping Strike)

The Goblin hits 50% of the time doing an average of 3.2 damage a round, killing the human in 10 rounds.

The improved goblin does 4.2 damage/round, killing the human in 8 rounds but has a lesser AC

This isn't counting any encounter or daily powers for the fighter. The Action Surge should convert a miss into a hit once/round, etc.

I would suggest trying things out per the books until you have a good understanding of the tradeoffs being made. If you come from years of experience in previous versions of D&D, the differences are quite stark and take some getting used to.

Good luck, and welcome aboard!

Wow, you kinda opened my eyes now. I made a big blunder. I was under the impression that this 'con' is a characters ablity bonus and not the whole ability. That makes them a lot more durable. Wow they survived... As for choosing an axe this char is not optimised, hes just a tough merc. –  Quick_Spoon May 4 '12 at 19:45
@Quick_Spoon - yes, that is one of the big changes :) With a great sword, your to hit would be one higher though. The weapon influences the choice of at-wills so not matching your attribute to your weapon isn't going to provide a good comparison to judge the effectiveness of the monsters. –  Pat Ludwig May 4 '12 at 19:47
@Quick_Spoon one of the things to mention with off stats related to weapons is that there are often ability score bonuses tied to the weapons (add your con if you attack with x weapon), also worth mentioning that weapon mastery (improved crits) at epic often require certain scores in 2 abilities. –  wax eagle May 4 '12 at 19:51
I know axes are better for a twohanded fighter, Crit is bigger. My great sword wielder would get prof +3 +4str +1spec for a total +8 to hit, and 1d10+4 dmg The fighter weapon groups is another thing that confuses me. Using an axe am I adding con bonus to my dmg? Or are you just saying that con has a bigger impact on abilitys used by twohand users –  Quick_Spoon May 4 '12 at 19:57
@Quick_Spoon - thats a bigger question. I guess the short answer is that your weapon strongly influences what powers you choose as the powers often give benefits for using certain weapons. Those benefits are often tied to the stats that are keyed to that weapon group. If your stats/weapon/powers aren't matched up then you are well short of optimized. So short of optimized that I'd strongly urge you not to make any sweeping judgments on the balance of 4e based on such unmatched characters. I wouldn't call the character I posted above optimized at all, just acceptable. –  Pat Ludwig May 4 '12 at 20:02
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What you should do is adjust stats and damage expressions from MM1 to use the newer MM3 maths.

The results of this is actually to increase their damage and decrease the armor on certain classes of monsters.

If you don't have access to MM3 check the published errata (will link later when I can get to wizards.com) and use the damage table that is listed in there to convert MM1 monsters to the current math.

The issue is usually not that monsters do too much damage, usually its that they do to little.

the other option of course it to just use newer monsters and reskin them where appropriate.

Finally check your encounters and your XP budgets vs the number of PCs you are DMing for. make sure that the encounters are appropriately easy and hard by XP budget.

I believe the changes were published in the Monster Vault for D&D Essentials. –  Jadasc May 4 '12 at 19:26
I have changed some monsters from MM1 using this official formula in wizards update: The Goblin Warrior as seen above got weaker, got a bit weaker but reasnoable, but a Troll just became a powerhouse ]:> Troll old lvl9 Brute Init +7 HP100 Regen10 AC20 Other 21/18/17 Attack Vs AC +13 Dmg 2d6 +6 Troll revamp lvl9 Brute Init +7 HP:109 / 110 Regen10 AC21 Other 21 Attack Vs AC +14 Dmg 2d8+12 –  Quick_Spoon May 4 '12 at 19:29
His AC is 21 and also he got 21 defence to reflex, fort and will. It seems I'm rather stuck with manually adjusting which defense should be higher/lower -ergo more prep needed –  Quick_Spoon May 4 '12 at 19:39
what's the problem with those defenses at L9? a L9 character should be able to hit him just fine. (to hit AC at L9 is 4+2+4+1 = 11 which means you hit better than half the time, hitting NADs is harder as usually that's 4+4+1 = 9 (no weapon prof) so you hit slightly less than half). They tough to hit because they are brutes. brutes are a low damage high HP class of monster. One of the ways you can do high HP is higher defenses and regeneration. –  wax eagle May 4 '12 at 19:43
Im not to worried about his AC, but using that formula his other defenses also got this bonus. It look fine for Fortitude, he a troll - hes tough! But Will? Is this right, does it seem right for you? –  Quick_Spoon May 4 '12 at 20:05
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Looking at the numbers, monsters in monster manual 1 will look to be pretty dangerous for an equal level player character, one on one, at low levels (I remember thinking the first thing when I started to play 4e). It isn't one on one though, and typically players will be able to act more effectively as a team than the monsters will; especially when you include healing, encounter powers, and particularly the riders on at-wills that monsters won't have at that level.

What you can't cater for is chance, and if the monsters roll well and the players don't, then things can get unbalanced. The first three or four levels of 4e are much more prone to character deaths than any of the later levels (in my experience). You can't realy do much about that though, it's fairly inevitable given the way the game is designed.

If your players are new to the game, and aren't working very effectively, then it might be necessary to adjust the encounters a little, but I personally recommend reducing the hp of the monsters and not the damage they deal - even a relatively small reduction will have a marked effect if the players are focussing fire at all, and it's much more satisfying to win an encounter against a dangerous monster because it had few hp than wittling down a monster with lots of hp but little damage.

I don't think that monster manual 1 monsters need any change at all up until about level 5 or 6.

Where you will start to have problems are later levels and new material. To address both:

Later Levels: monster damage output (for MM1/MM2) does not scale with level (they do too little damage) and monster hit points increase too rapidly (fights turn into tedious repetition of at-wills with no risk or reward). If you don't like tweaking monsters then once you get past level 5 you should start switching, cautiously, to newer monsters.

New Material: not so long ago, WoTC changed the power of monsters. They increased the damage and chance to hit and reduced hit points (probably other stuff too, but I didn't really pay all that much attention). Unfortunately I don't think they playtested this enough at low levels, and for a group of new players, the more recent monsters are very dangerous. In my opinion they should be used with caution until paragon. Once you hit paragon though, you'll need to be using new monsters all the time (MM1 ones will not prove a significant threat at all), and once you hit epic you'll possibly have to increase even Monster Vault monsters to provide a significant challenge.

TL;DR - MM1 monsters are fine when you're starting out. Stop using them after a few levels and switch to later editions (MM3 and Monster Vault) once you're into paragon.

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