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What I need

I need to build one or more NPC character sheets, or cards, for the monk/ninjas in a fortified mountain monastery whose order was (and still is) founded by an ancient vampire lord, who is not necessarily a monk himself. This order is experienced in fighting the locals: wildlife, wild-men, dag-nasty evil druids, a rival vampire lord's spawn, and combinations of the above. They know nothing of the outside world.

Starting as a child and as they get older, or advance in the village hierarchy, villagers are ritually given more tattoos of greater complexity. Unbeknownst to the players, these are not decoration. The tattoos are dormant ritual spells binding the villagers to their vampire lord in various symbiotic ways. In particular, one of the greater tattoos uses the wearer's imminent death as a "spark;" the tattoos glow, consume the last of his/her life and create a fully functional undead. I can't wait for the players to encounter that one!

The players are still level 1, but these NPCs do not need to be something they can fight just yet.

I've got some borrowed 4e books to help: DM's Guide, Player Handbooks 1-3, Heroes of Adjective Noun, and the Monster Vault to help. I've attempted modelling adapting stuff in these books, but holy cow did I give myself a tall order here. I am lost and confused. How do I build these guys? Any help is appreciated.

Meta-game context

Everyone in my group is fairly new to DnD (or at least how it's actually played). This is my first campaign and third session as DM, and I basically pulled a huge campaign out of my bu-... bundt cake. That part isn't a problem. Neither is adapting to sudden changes in story. It's the mechanics: what stats, skills, powers, etc?

We play this, as opposed to an MMORPG, for the roleplaying, puzzles, and storytelling - what combat we have is just a venue for those three things. The rule of cool supersedes all. That being said, one of the women in our group is an enthusiast when it comes to numbers and mechanics, and certainly none of us fear them (I mean, we're Computer Science people for crying out loud).

Well, maybe except for me. Because I'm the DM, and I need to pull it all together.

In-game context

I don't know what will or will not help you guys in giving me advice, so here's a data dump on what's going on in the campaign:

There are three main entities in this campaign: two ancient vampire lords, each millenniae old, who by virtue of only having each other as equals are something in the way of best frenemies. They wile away the centuries by playing elaborate games of one-upmanship against each other using mortals as pawns. "Haha looks like you got beheaded this time!" Although they have the usual vulnerabilities, their age and power is such that they can almost always reconstitute themselves in a couple decades. Maybe if you burnt them and scattered the ashes in a sacred river... or sealed them in a vat of holy water.

The third entity is The Trust. This isn't Eberron, but I'm lifting The Trust straight out of there. They've long been tracking the two vampires, and are employing the players in this adventure.

After the conclusion of their last round, the winning vampire lord (here called Elder), journeying far into the untamed wilds, and found a clan of half-feral humans and druids whom he's made his new power base. To them he is almost a god of the forest - the ultimate predator. Since then he and they have preyed upon the people of a mountain village in all sorts of terrible ways.

After reconstituting himself and tracking down his rival, the other vampire lord (here called the Ancient) made said mountain village into his own power base. He provides knowledge, stability, safety. They provide manpower, protection, sustenance. They don't have a word for vampire out here, and they wouldn't care anyway. Since then, he has directed the village's development into a fortified monastery. The villagers are now all essentially monks and ninja completely loyal to the Ancient. This trope is intended to mask the vampire trope.

In the centuries since then, the clan and village have constantly feuded. The players are members of a mercenary company that has been contracted by the Trust to "resolve a long-standing dispute between two villages." Of course, that's not what the Trust is really after, but telling them more would reveal too much about the Trust, wouldn't it? :)

I've got plans beyond that but these monk and ninja NPCs will be long gone.

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Importantly: 4e NPCs should almost always be modelled as monsters, not as player characters, even if they superficially resemble PCs. This is a huge departure from previous editions. There's a difference between what's fun to use (player powers) and what is fun to have used on you (monster powers). The two follow different rule sets and enjoy different freedoms, and that's pretty important. The system is based on it. For instance: PCs can pretty easily one-hit-kill other PCs if they try; they're really not designed to battle each other. –  Jonathan Hobbs Jan 2 at 12:02

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I would recommend using the Monster Vault maths, found summarized on Blog of Holding; or, Monster Maker is a handy app that helps create monster cards, and will work out the maths if desired.

Set out which roles you wish the monsters to take - from the sounds of things it seems like you'll have a mix of Lurkers and Skirmishers, with Soldiers and Brutes making up the majority of the rest. Adding some of the other roles (artillery and controller) will help build variety.

Essentially you will be making sets of 'monsters' to form into encounters. From memory approximately the same number of same-level enemies makes a relatively balanced encounter, depending on the level of optimization and experience of the players. Mix and match some monster types, replacing 1 monster with 4 minions of the same level, and nudge up or down to taste.

For example, for 5 level 1 PCs you could then have 2 'Tough Monks' (level 1 Soldiers), 2 Ninja (level 1 Lurker), 4 mook monks (level 1 skirmisher minions) and 4 ninja mooks (4 level 1 artillery minions).

The DMG 2 has a section on making monster 'themes' - in essence by putting together sets of additional abilities that are thematically linked - such as the Goblins' ability to shift. For instance, you could add an ability to the Monks that acts in a manner similar to the Monk PCs flurry of blows - maybe on a successful attack they deal a small amount of damage to an additional adjacent enemy, maybe 2 damage for a level 1 monster.

One of the easiest tricks for 4e is to simply 'reskin' a monster - presenting for example, a goblin or a kobold as a ninja is just a question of description. Find a monster which has the relevant ability (such as shifting on a miss, those pesky goblins!) and you're good to go.

Generally a 4e encounter is much better with some environmental factors, so I'd recommend adding in some interesting terrain features or traps to spice things up a little. Broadly speaking, avoid adding in higher level Soldiers or Brutes too much, because they can become hard to hit leading encounters to bog down. Lots of minions is useful in making an encounter feel exciting and allowing the PCs to feel capable heroes - it all comes down to description when using minions - you can make the heroes feel awesome or like they wasted their attack depending on how you invoke their sense of adventure.

The monks could have the ability to spread some splash damage as a flurry of blows, the ninja should be tricky to pin down, maybe with a teleport style ability or a jump. They could climb walls with normal movement for a more HK film feel. The tattoos sound like a great idea, possibly you could borrow from Legend of the 5 Rings and each style of tattoo grants an ability - so the monks with flame or dragon tattoos can breath fire. Monsters that spawn other monsters are fairly tough - the Wraith in 4e does something similar I think. Make sure that whatever comes afterwards can't spawn more monsters - maybe it generates a minion when killed that lacks the respawn ability. Alternatively, you could describe them as crumbling and rising once they hit Bloodied, with some new abilities?

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Thanks! An algorithm for generating a new "monster," and some examples for re-skinning one monster into another; I'll give each a try. –  AndrewK Jan 3 at 0:02
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One thing to keep in mind is that one of the trademark vampire conditions is Dominated and it's slightly over level for your current PCs. Vamps tend to show up in Paragon. The heroic vampires I'm looking at, the only one that inflicts dominated does so on the second failed saving throw. Just something to keep in mind here. –  wax eagle Jan 3 at 12:52
    
Good point, possibly stopping at stunned would be better for heroic tier vampires, of having some minor health drain type effect. –  Dave Jan 3 at 13:19
    
I'm hoping to keep the vampire thing on the down-low as long as possible. Ideally until around lvl 12 or so. After all, it's in a vampire's best interests for no-one to know they're a vampire. I'll keep that in mind though, in case the players escalate the conflict early. –  AndrewK Jan 3 at 21:56

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