Saturday, January 26, 2008

Deconstructing the Pit Fiend

The Wizards of the Coast web-site has kindly provided us with another genuine 4th Edition preview. Last time it was the elf, and this time it's the Monster Manual entry for the Pit Fiend. I'm going to go through this sucker section by section, and extract as much game-systemy goodness as I'm able to.


Nobles of the Nine Hells, pit fiends form an elite ruling class that oversees vast numbers of lesser devils. Only the archdevils known as the Lords of the Nine stand higher than the pit fiends.

Each pit fiend is lord of a large domain within one of the layers of the Nine Hells and is vassal to the archdevil who rules that layer. A pit fiend might govern a city, command a fortress, lead a great legion, or serve as a seneschal or counselor for an archdevil. With the exception of Asmodeus, each Lord of the Nine commands no more than a dozen or so pit fiends.

As the lords, barons, viziers, and generals of the Nine Hells, pit fiends rarely confront adventurers in person. They are the progenitors of devilish schemes, and they step in only when important plans go awry or when great plots reach fruition. In the Nine Hells proper, pit fiends command vast numbers of lesser devils. Penetrating the defenses of a pit fiend's castle and destroying the mighty devil in its own demesne is a deed of truly epic proportions.

This hulking devil stands 12 feet tall and has red scales, leathery wings, and a long whiplike tail. It carries a massive mace and wears an ornate breastplate decorated with evil runes and symbols.

Alright, this is all pretty sound, and has the Pit Fiend playing much the same role that it did in earlier editions. My only niggling complaint is the assertion that only the Archdevils stand higher than them - it's a constraint on future designers that seems unecessary. But, a minor one, so no big deal.

Now, on to the stats!

Pit Fiend Level 26 Elite Soldier (Leader)
Large immortal humanoid (devil) XP 18,000

The top line defines the role that the monster is supposed to play in a combat. It's level 26, which normally means that it is an appropriate match for one 26th level PC. But a Pit Fiend is Elite, meaning that it is a match for two PCs. Monsters in 4e are apparently designed so that there will be one monster of equivalent level per PC. If a Pit Fiend is there, it counts for two, so ideally you'd face him and three other non-Elite 26th level guys.

The Pit Fiend's role is defined as a Soldier. This is the role that the monster is most effective in - other roles include Brute, Skirmisher, and Lurker. At my best guess, a soldier is most effective as a melee fighter with mostly defensive capabilities. But honestly, I don't know squat. The (Leader) after that is a mystery to me, although there is a Leader role defined for PCs that is for Clerics, and mostly about buffing other party members.

The Pit Fiend is Large, which probably means much the same as it did in 3e. It's type is defined as Immortal Humanoid (devil). This is a huge difference from what in 3e would have been an Outsider. I can only guess at what it means and what game effects it has.

And lastly there is XP, good old Experience Points. It wouldn't be D&D without 'em, and it warms my monster-killing heart to see the number right there in the stat-block.

Initiative +22 Senses Perception +23; darkvision

Wow, by 3e standards the guy is fast with a +22 to Initiative. It can only be assumed that, in addition to Dexterity bonus, monsters get some sort of bonus tied to their level. The same is true of the Perception skill, the new combination of Spot and Listen. The formula seems to be half of the monster's level (+13) plus Wisdom modifier (+5) plus another 5 for being trained in the skill. At a guess. Plus, darkvision is still in. Sweet.

Aura of Fear (Fear) aura 5; enemies in the aura take a –2 penalty on attack rolls.
Aura of Fire (Fire) aura 5; enemies that enter or start their turns in the aura take 15 fire damage.

Auras! The aura 5 written first up seems to be range - ranges and distances in 4e are expressed in number of squares on the battlemat, which is something of a throwback to 1e giving them all in inches. Then we get a no-nonsense write-up of what the aura does. They're both nice, useful, and quite easy to remember. I'm not a big fan of the fixed damage on the fire aura, but if it speeds things up at the game table it's all good.

HP 350; Bloodied 175

It looks as though Hit Dice are gone in favour of a flat hit point total. Blah. I liked having a defined upper and lower limit. The Bloodied condition is something that applies to creatures and characters when they hit half hit points. Some abilities only work on Bloodied creatures, and some monsters get abilities that only function once it is bloodied. I like it - it gives just a touch of realism to the abstract hit point system without losing the abstraction that is its greatest strength.

AC 44; Fortitude 42, Reflex 38, Will 40

And here we have the mechanic that replaces saving throws. First we have Armor Class, which means exactly what it always has. Fortitude, Reflex and Will were formerly saving throws, shown as a bonus that was added to a d20 roll. Now they work like Armor Class - the opponent makes an attack roll against a static number. So, for example, if a dragon breathes fire at you it makes an attack against your Reflex defense.

I'm having a hard time coming around to this one, as the saving throw mechanic is deeply ingrained into my subconscious (just take a look at the blog title!). It's a good mechanic, and it will probably work very well with the much-vaunted new math that's underlying the system. It'll just take some getting used to. Kinda like how I missed telling players to Save vs. Death when 3e first appeared.

Resist 30 fire, 15 poison
Saving Throws +2

And yet, here are Saving Throws! Some detective work has revealed to me that there is a saving throw mechanic for ongoing effects in the D&D Miniatures game, used against ongoing effects like being set on fire. You roll 1d20, and if you get 11 or over, the effect ends. In that context, a +2 is pretty good.

The resistances to fire and poison show how much damage a round of the given type is ignored by the creature (unless there has been a big change from 3e). The interesting thing is that apparently there will be very few flat immunities in 4e. The example given was that a Fire Elemental can still be destroyed by a dragon's breath. Sounds weird to me, but I suppose I can go with it. For the Pit fiend these immunities are good ones.

Speed 12, fly 12 (clumsy), teleport 10

Heh. That's about twice as fast as the average PC. Fleeing from this guy is going to be tough. I really like having the teleport ability, along with its range, right there.

Action Points 1

Ah, Action Points. These pop up in a lot of other RPGs, and are generally used by characters to accomplish things that would be otherwise impossible. It's strange to see them in the hands of a monster.

I don't mind Action Points in the context of other RPGs, but to my mind they are the antithesis of D&D. I won't houserule them out, but I'll be paying a lot of attention to their effect on the game.

Melee Flametouched Mace (standard; at-will) • Fire, WeaponReach 2; +31 vs. AC; 1d12+11 fire damage plus ongoing 5 fire damage (save ends).
Melee Tail Sting (standard; at-will) • Poison+31 vs. AC; 1d6+11 damage, and the pit fiend may make a free followup attack. Followup: +29 vs. Fortitude; ongoing 15 poison damage, and the target is weakened (save ends both effects).

These are the two regular melee attacks that the Pit Fiend has. We start with the attack type (in this case melee), followed by the actual attack (flametouched mace and tail sting, respectively). In brackets we see what action type they are - both are Standard actions, which means you can move and use one of these in a round (though this could be different in 4e).

Both attacks are at-will, which references the new mechanic that 4e uses for attacks, spells and powers. Spells have undergone the biggest change here, with wizards no longer preparing a bunch of spells that can be cast once a day. Instead they get a host of powers, some usable at-will, some once per encounter, and some once per day. It's going to be one of the most jarring transitions, but if it stops parties from wanting to rest every couple of hours I'm all for it.

Both attacks then have their attack bonus, and the defense that they target, in this case AC. Hopefully this means that AC will be the default defense for melee attacks. Damage is next, and it really seems very low for such a high-level creature. Hopefully the Pit Fiend will make up for this with its special auras and abilities.

Then we get ongoing damage, and the indication that a successful save negates it. This backs up the saving throw mechanic I mentioned earlier. I like it - having to track a lot of durations could become a pain in the arse. And anything that keeps a downed player involved is good - the chance to shake of paralysis every round, for instance.

The tail sting gets a follow-up attack, and this is the replacement for the Saving Throw. It targets Fortitude, deals poison damage, and weakens the target. The poison damage is the interesting part. It presumably comes of regular hit points, and not ability scores like 3e. That's good - tracking ability score changes in-game is also a pain in the arse. It also seems that Wizards were dead serious about getting rid of save or die effects. That's good for players, but I'll miss having a PCs fate hinge on a single dice roll.

It should also be noted that the Flametouched Mace has a Reach of 2 squares, while the tail does not. This is good; hopefully it will curtail idiocy such as trolls biting characters from ten feet away.

Melee Pit Fiend Frenzy (standard; at-will)
The pit fiend makes a flametouched mace attack and a tail sting attack.

This is bizarre. It's an ability which lets the Pit Fiend make its mace and tail attacks in a single action. Useful, but I'm mystified as to why it's listed separately from the other attacks.

Ranged Point of Terror (minor; at-will) • Fear
Range 5; +30 vs. Will; the target takes a –5 penalty to all defenses until the end of the pit fiend's next turn.

Now we get a ranged attack, one that seriously knocks the target's defenses down for a short time. The major difference here to the other attacks is that it is a Minor Action. I'm not sure how this will work, but it's probable that they take up less time than a Standard Action. Perhaps it's one Standard, one Minor, and one Move per round?

Ranged Irresistible Command (minor 1/round; at-will) • Charm, Fire
Range 10; affects one allied devil of lower level than the pit fiend; the target immediately slides up to 5 squares and explodes, dealing 2d10+5 fire damage to all creatures in a close burst 2. The exploding devil is destroyed.

Ahahaha! That's hilarious. My players will freak out when I bust this one on them. It seems especially effective when combined with...

Infernal Summons (standard; encounter) • ConjurationThe pit fiend summons a group of devil allies. Summoned devils roll initiative to determine when they act in the initiative order and gain a +4 bonus to attack rolls as long as the pit fiend is alive. They remain until they are killed, dismissed by the pit fiend (free action), or the encounter ends. PCs do not earn experience points for killing these summoned creatures. The pit fiend chooses to summon one of the following groups of devils:

8 legion devil legionnaires (level 21), or
2 war devils (level 22), or
1 war devil (level 22) and 4 legion devil legionnaires (level 21)

Nice. Gating in other devils was always the iconic feature of a devil encounter, and it had to stay in. And now, if those devils are too weak to properly challenge the party, their boss can just blow 'em up. Note that this is an Encounter power - that means it can be done once per combat.

Tactical Teleport (standard; recharge 4 5 6) • Teleportation
The pit fiend can teleport up to 2 allies within 10 squares of it. The targets appear in any other unoccupied squares within 10 squares of the pit fiend.

This is a good ability for a mastermind-type baddie. If the Pit Fiend is ever cornered by the PCs, it has instant backup. I'm not sure what recharge 456 means - possibly you roll 1d6, and the ability returns on those numbers?

Alignment Evil
Languages Supernal

Alignment is getting a major overhaul. Creatures can now be unaligned, for one thing. Devils used to be Lawful Evil, now they're just Evil. It's hard to say what this means without seeing the whole system, but it looks like the two-axis system is gone, and monsters have just one alignment. If it destroys alignment arguments, that is great.

Supernal is a new language. Devils used to speak Infernal. Supernal doesn't sound nearly as cool. I'd lay money that it can be understood by anyone.

Skills Bluff +27, Intimidate +27, Religion +24

Surprisingly, Bluff and Intimidate have survived unscathed. They're good skills for a master of devilish deception, for sure. Religion is the renamed Knowledge (religion), and it looks like they've folded it together with Knowledge (the planes). Good move - gods and the planes are pretty synonymous in D&D.

Str 32 (+24) Dex 24 (+20) Wis 20 (+18)
Con 27 (+21) Int 22 (+19) Cha 28 (+22)

Stats and their bonuses. Fear not, those aren't ridiculously high stat modifiers - those are the numbers for when a Pit Fiend attempts a skill untrained. If it wants to Jump a pit, it gets a +24 bonus. If the formula used is half of the monster's level plus the stat modifier, then the mods haven't changed since 3e. Huzzah!

Equipment flametouched mace, noble signet ring

I love the signet ring. It adds a lot of character to the devils and their hierarchy. But where is that breastplate mentioned above?

Pit Fiend Tactics
A pit fiend fights close to its enemies, catching them in its aura of fear and aura of fire. On the first round of combat, it spends an action point to use infernal summons. It then uses point of terror against a tough-looking foe and tactical teleport to place two allies in flanking positions around that foe. With its remaining minor action, the pit fiend uses irresistible command on an ally within range.

So on the first round we've got one Standard Action, one Minor Action, another Standard Action, and another Minor Action. Presumably that Action Point is used to make the first action count for free, which leaves us with one Standard and two Minor. That sounds reasonable.

A pit fiend alternates between point of terror and irresistible command, sometimes using both if it has a spare move action it can replace with a minor action. Otherwise, the pit fiend uses pit fiend frenzy, teleporting as needed to gain a better position.

A pit fiend does not sacrifice its life needlessly and makes a tactical retreat if death is imminent.

I like that it is spelled out that the devil isn't there to fight to the death. It's often really easy to forget that monsters have their own lives, and aren't just there to fight the PCs.

Pit Fiend Lore
A character knows the following information with a successful Religion check:

DC 25: Pit fiends are the nobles of the Nine Hells. Each pit fiend serves as a vassal to one of the nine archdevils and commands a fortress, city, or army in its master's domain.

DC 30: Once every 99 years, a pit fiend can grant a mortal's wish by performing a terrible ritual. Only the most powerful and promising of mortals are offered such a temptation.

DC 35: Well-known pit fiends include Baalzephon, one of the powerful circle of pit fiends known as the Dark Eight; Gazra, who governs the city of Abriymoch in Phlegethos, the Fourth Hell; and Baalberith, the major-domo of the palace of Asmodeus.

Brilliant. These were provided late in 3e development, and they are highly welcome. Deciding what the PCs actually know about certain monsters is always difficult. Having a numerical guide right there is really helpful.

So that is it, the new Pit Fiend. It certainly looks a lot easier to run than the 3e version. That one has a whole lot of spell-like abilities. They give thew creature a greater tactical range, but to be honest they're never going to see use in the average game. The new version is streamlined, flavourful, and looks like a challenging fight. Chalk up another win for 4e - I'm really coming round here!

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