I've stepped briefly away from the Heartwood Blight Adventure Path for another project (see here), but I'll turn back to it soon enough. In the meantime, though, I had a good conversation to bring here.

I’ve been working with a new-ish freelancer on monster design for Pathfinder 2nd Edition. His narrative prose is very strong, and his monster design is good, but I recently talked with him about his monster’s damage, and I thought it would be good to share this.

His monster, which we’ll call the gloomlurker (not the real name!) is a Level 14 shadowy humanoid monster that lurks in darkness and jumps out to kill or kidnap people. In his milestone, he gave the monster a sickle, a sap, and a dagger (and leather armor, but that’s not relevant here). Very appropriate equipment. It has Strength +4 and Dexterity +8. All good. His stat block damage expressions were like this:

Melee [one-action]  sickle +29 (agile, finesse, trip), Damage 3d8+4 slashing

Melee [one-action]  sap +29 (agile, nonlethal), Damage 3d6+4 bludgeoning

Ranged [one-action]  dagger +29 (agile, finesse, range increment 10 feet, versatile S), Damage 3d8+4 piercing

These are quite low, averaging 17 damage (for the sickle and dagger) and 15.5 damage (for the sap). Formal monster design guidelines are forthcoming, but these numbers are about half what they should be for a level 14 monster that primarily fights in melee.

If they were natural attacks, I might recommend just increasing the dice to d12s or adding more static damage. But these are weaponattacks, and there are a few more considerations to take into account for these. Here’s the advice I gave:

* The gloomlurker should have average damage in the 28 to 34 range, since melee is what they do.

* As a threshold matter, the die types should be the same as the weapon would normally grant (a sickle must be 1d4, for example). There are few hard rules in monster design, but this is one of them.

* How to increase this, given the high damage target and low damage die? First, you can give monsters striking weapons to add damage dice. It’s usually “safe” to give the monsters a weapon (or armor!) that is about 4 or more levels than they are, so it doesn’t break the expected wealth-by-level even if the heroes fight a lot of them. A weapon that’s “safe” for a level 14 creature is a +2 striking weapon. I don’t think we need the extra +1 to it, so giving the gloomlurkers +1 striking weapons works well. That adds another die.

* Second, you can just decide to add Dex to damage instead of Str if the weapon is agile. (Heroes can’t do this, and they’re jealous if they learn a monster can, but monster design is a little more free-form on this front). That increases the static bonus from +4 to +8.

* Third, monsters can get a damage bonus that’s similar to a character’s “weapon specialization” bonus to damage. I’m sure there’s a table for this somewhere, but I generally feel free to add up to about half the creature’s level, rounded down to an even number. Here, that’s another +6, for a total static bonus of +14.

This would make the gloomlurker as follows (two minor formatting points: thrown weapons, like daggers, should have both melee and ranged lines; you omit the range increment from the melee line and you omit the finesse trait from the ranged line):

Melee [one-action]  sickle +29 (agile, finesse, magical,  trip), Damage 2d4+14 slashing

Melee [one-action]  sap +29 (agile, magical, nonlethal), Damage 2d6+14 bludgeoning

Melee [one-action]  dagger +29 (agile, finesse, magical, versatile S), Damage 2d4+14 piercing

Ranged [one-action]  dagger +29 (agile, magical, range increment 10 feet, versatile S), Damage 2d4+14 piercing

That’s still not where we need to be; those averages are only in the 19 to 21 range.

* The final trick is to give the monster an ability that adds to damage. Sneak Attack is a popular one, and 3d6 sneak attack would work just fine here (raising its average to 29.5 and 31.5, right where we want it).

But! You can also just make up a brand new ability, like this:

Flesh Carver Gloomlurkers deal an additional 2d12 damage with weapons in the knife group.

That gives a flavorful ability that also gets the damage up to 32 for the sickles and daggers, and in a way that doesn’t feel like sneak attack—the size of the dice hitting the table is much larger, for example, and it doesn’t need any tricks to get that extra damage. This ability doesn’t impact the sap, but that’s okay—knocking people out is maybe something a gloomlurker wants to do only situationally anyway.

Let’s turn these murder monsters loose!