Monster Mark … off the mark? | quantifying monster threat levels

TR;DR – complex and simple ways to rate monster threat, taking on ideas from the blogosphere and the past.

Do we need a way to systematically assess the threat level of a monster?
The simple answer is no, but it could give some useful insight.

I read this blog post on Delta’s D&D Hotspot Blog (I think found via the Thought Eater Blog). It gave me the chance to finally read the Monster Mark (pdf) system (which I heard so much about from the Monster Man Podcast) from the early days of White Dwarf; when WD was a gaming magazine.

My geek radar naturally perks up at this kind of ridiculous quantification idea. While books like the Fiend Folio categories monsters in threat levels I to X, earlier books like the Monster Manual did not.

Delta’s D&D Hotspot Blog reviewed the Monster Mark system. As I understand it, the blog identifies areas where the Monster Mark system fails e.g. area effect weapons (e.g. breath weapons) and taking due account of lethal monsters (e.g. rot grubs), which can be lethal to a 1st and 10th level PC alike.

The Blog went on to come up with their own system (EHD level; equivalent HD), which modelled combat in a computer simulation (I believe). I really needed to circle round and re-read the whole blog posts topic again. Instead, I went off half cocked!

Going forward
y6x7ysrk-1376085090This got me thinking about making my own version of the Monster Mark system, that (hopefully) was better than the Monster Mark system, but didn’t rely on computer combat simulations. And, using a spreadsheet should be able to do all the boring maths! After messing with Google Sheets for a while I had a system that I think worked, or was at least was getting there.

The main idea I tried to capture was, to simulate combat over a level spread, and get a weighted average over the levels. This to capture the lethality of monsters like Rot Grubs to low and high level PCs. Likewise, for area effect weapons, adding a weighting factor for this too, as area effect weapons can be leathal to a part of PCs etc.

Google Sheets Engine
Here’s a Google Sheets demo of the “Monster Adversary Level Rating (MALR)”, if you fancy adding some AD&D monsters to it, I be grateful:

xls Shared Google Sheet project

Simplicity, an epiphany
14064123625_2f8bd0a01b_bI then realized (as I tweaked and re-tweaked this system) that in fact the most decisive factor in nearly all cases was the HD of the monster. As I hear people say on TV: “Go Figure“!! Aside for a few rare cases; if it’s big (i.e. has a big HD), it’s also bad. If it’s big it often has nasty tricks too. So, other than HD, what is the next most decisive factor in making a monster mean; well the monster’s tricks of course!

So, with this simple concept in mind, I came up with a really quite simple system that I think is as good (possibly better) as my more complicated model; and didn’t rely on a computer simulation of combat either, and avoided all the complex maths of the Monster Mark system.

Simple monster rating/indexing system

  • +1 for each HD of the monster (up to a maximum of 6).
  • +1 if the monster has a special defense
  • +1 if the monster is a spell caster
  • +1 if the monster has a Death, Level Drain, Psionics, or Immobilisation attack
  • +1 if the monster has an area effect attack (or any other special attack not already covered)

Add these up. With this system (sMARL?), you get a monster rating system, grading the monsters in the relative range 1 to 10 (i.e. like in the Fiend Folio)

In my Google Sheet, I compared my simple and complicated systems, and I think they are fairly comparable. Yes, wildly out on the two-faced baboon demon, but monsters up on the that power level are just super dangerous, and barely worth comparing.

Future work
At some time in the future, I would like to compare my two systems with the Monster Mark and the Delta’s blog post versions, and also compare my simple method’s numbers (1 to 10) to the numbers in the Fiend Folio (I to X), to see how they stack up.

Please feel free to add AD&D monsters to the Google Sheet, it’d help me out, and might make a useful gamer resource over time.

Main Conclusion
Avoid being geeky and save yourself some life.

– – –

InHotS the cover imageMe on DriveThruDriveThru; at the moment I’m mainly pimping my procedural High Seas ‘Hex Crawl’ – In the Heart of the Sea.

5 thoughts on “Monster Mark … off the mark? | quantifying monster threat levels

  1. Hsingai Altaica

    What do those numbers mean? How does a 1 monster compare to a 9 monster? can I replace a 9 monster with 3 3 monsters?


    1. Goblin's Henchman Post author

      I’d view it a bit more like the Richter scale for earthquakes. So 9 is much bigger than a 3 threes.

      A ‘9’ would be something like an upper demon, and a 3 more like an ogre. So three ogres are no match for an upper demon.
      Basically, the scale is intended to be more like in the Fiend Folio, it rates monsters I to X.

      Another way to think of this is like “About what level does your party of PCs need to be to fight this thing (that wouldn’t be too far off).


  2. Max

    I’m inclined to agree that the complex model is probably overkill / over-fitting compared to the simple model.

    That being said, I do think there probably are useful data in not just the different features of the monster (as your simple model encodes) but also the interactions between those features (which it does not encode). While computer simulation would be one way to attempt to model those interactions, the nature of TTRPG makes it so that I don’t think you could effectively capture the full complexity of those interactions without creating a very complicated game-AI or neural network to simulate real TTRPG play. That being said, it would be interesting to just test this empirically. Try out different encounters with different parties and different levels, keep an extensive log of party characteristics, enemy characteristics, and turn-by-turn actions (or even just outcomes), and build the model off of that. Of course, that requires a lot of work haha.


  3. Pingback: TheEvilDM Podcast: RFI Mini #6 – Voicemails and questions! – The Evil DM

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