Initial Thoughts on “Favored Enemy” Talent

I was thinking yesterday about how I might model in Echelon the Favored Enemy ability of RSRD rangers. I haven’t found a specific answer yet, so what I’ll do here is describe some of my thoughts on it. Writing this down might help clarify my thoughts and lead to a solution, but if nothing else it will open the topic up for conversation.

The Ranger Favored Enemy Class Ability

Let’s start by looking at the existing class ability from previous (D&D 3.x and earlier) editions.

D&D 3.5 Ranger

The D&D 3.5 Ranger was not terribly complicated.  At first level you could pick a creature type (or subtype if an unusually broad or thematic type, such as ‘outsiders’ or ‘humanoids’).  Against creatures of the chosen type you got +2 on your rolls for a bunch of stuff (damage rolls and Bluff, Listen, Sense Motive, Spot, and Survival checks).  At fifth level and every five levels after that you could add a new favored enemy (same rule as above) and increase the bonus against a particular favored enemy (including the one just added) by two. You could thus get up to +10 against one favored enemy and +2 against four others, or +2 against one and +4 against four others, or something in between.

Incidentally, if the mechanism used by the D&D 3e Ranger (shown below) was ‘too good’ I probably would’ve simplified and just had favored enemy give a +4 bonus against the favored enemy and be done with it.  Allowing the focused route that 3.5 does looks too much like a trap — it’s great if you run into those creatures a lot, but crap if you don’t run into them enough.  The sweet spot where that is ‘balanced’ is fairly small… though I hesitate to call +10 to damage at 20th level a big deal.

D&D 3e Ranger

In designing the  D&D 3e Ranger they abstracted the favored enemy class ability.  In AD&D it was specific to certain monster types and all rangers had the same ones.  Starting in 3e the player was allowed to choose.  At first level the Ranger had one favored enemy (with the same effects as D&D 3.5), and at fifth level and every five levels after that he could choose another.  Any time a favored enemy was added it started at the same +2, and all favored enemies already chosen at their bonuses increased by two. This caused a problem for me.  On the face of it it makes sense that your ‘best’ favored enemy is the one you’ve been facing the longest and have the most experience with.  The way favored enemy is done here does do that, and it runs into some problems with level (or enemy) appropriateness of the ability. In order for the favored enemy ability to be usable, you have to encounter your  favored enemy.  Thus, at low levels you probably want things like animals and orcs and so on.

That’s fine, I’m totally okay with it.  However, as you reach higher levels you tend to stop encountering the lower-level monsters and the +8 or +10 you’ve gradually acquired doesn’t get used (and when it does, it’s not really needed, there may be CR 16 things-shaped-like bears such as advanced magical beasts and demons and stuff, but not many CR 16 bears).  Meanwhile, the things you are now running into (powerful outsiders and dragons) might have only a +2 or +4 bonus — better than nothing, but +2 or +4 on damage at this point isn’t worth getting excited about. A player might plan ahead and have his first-level ranger choose Dragons or Outsiders as his first-level favored enemy (thus getting the big bonuses when they’ll be useful), but seeing as they so rarely show up at low levels this is tying up an ability that would otherwise be useful, preparing for something that might never be seen (due to campaign ending, for example, never mind character death).  Still pretty dissatisfying.

Frankly, I think the 3e could have used a bump up.   I would’ve done the lazy thing: bonus scales with level (so all favored enemies are +2 at first level, +4 when you get your second one, +6 when you get your third, and so on) and every five levels or so you get a new one.  This way you can get to use a level-appropriate power against level-appropriate enemies (+2 against orcs and animals at low levels, +8 against outsiders and dragons at high level).  By now orcs should be wetting themselves on hearing your name and you could probably have hats made of any kind of animal you can think of, so the extra (unneeded!) power against them isn’t a problem.  Also, it’s easier to remember because all favored enemies use the same bonus, rather than a different bonus for each.

AD&D Ranger

I’ll have to come back and comment on this one later, I don’t remember the details well enough to do it off the top of my head (and being at work, don’t have my AD&D1 or AD&D2 PHB with me, not being a standard reference for my industry).

… time has passed, and I’ve had an opportunity to look it up.

In AD&D 2e, it is very simple.  You pick a species enemy (commonly giants, orcs, lizard men, trolls, or ghouls).  When you encounter them, you get a +4 bonus on your attack rolls (and -4 penalty on all encounter reactions because you have difficulty hiding your hatred of them).

In AD&D 1e, it is fairly straightforward but not quiteas simple as in AD&D 2e .  Against creatures of the ‘giant’ class (which includes the 3e giant-type monsters plus goblinoids and kobolds) you get a damage bonus to all attacks equal to your class level.

Approaches for Echelon

I want the Favored Enemy talent so show certain characteristics.

  1. Become more valuable at higher tiers (this is always so, but I thought I’d say it specifically).
  2. Allow selection of more than one favored enemy (this may be done by taking the talent more than once).
  3. Provide different benefits at each tier, rather than just more of the same.  More of the same is more of the boring.
  4. Ideally, provide different benefits, tailored to the specific favored enemy (animals and giants and dragons fight differently, it seems reasonable you would fight them differently).

There are a number of ways I could model favored enemies for Echelon. Let’s start with the easiest.

+2 per Tier

That’s it.  You take the ‘Favored Enemy’ talent, pick a favored enemy, and get +2 per tier for the same stuff you do in D&D 3.x.  You can take it as many times as you like at the tiers you have available (so at the high end you could get big bonuses against all your favored enemies), you can take it at different tiers (so you don’t waste a big tier slot on a minor threat, or have to plan ahead so you can have a big bonus at high level), and so on.  Dead easy to design, easy to explain, easy to be boring. However, it does satisfy points 1. and 2. above… but that’s all it satisfies.  Let’s see what else there is.

Iron Heroes Beast Lore

This looks a little better.  Iron Heroeshas ‘Beast Lore’ mastery feats that let you, at different levels of the feats, get bigger and better results from having studied beasts (where ‘beast’ is non-humanoid monster, basically), and you have the option of sharing them with an ally.  This is better, it gives differing abilities at each stage rather than just a bigger bonus. This satisfies points 1., 2., and 3. above, and you can share it (which is nice).  The specific benefits from Beast Lore might need tweaking to be worth taking, but it does address point 3.  In fact, the effects are somewhat unfantastic, but it does still address the first three points.  Let’s keep this one in mind.

Something Else

I would have to dig (or go dumpster diving), but I know I’ve seen fighting abilities (feats mostly, probably) for different monster types.  I think it might be worth tracking down the ‘giant fighting’ feats and the ‘dragon fighting’ feats and whatnot and build something custom for each creature type.  I suspect this is the direction I’m going to go because it is easy to address points 1. and 2. (if nothing else, give the increasing bonuses at each tier plusa monster-type-specific fighting benefit — five or six ‘feats’ over the course of your career should make it clearly more valuable as you go, and should certainly handle the variety of benefits by tier).  I suspect that there are not enough applicable feats available, though, so it will need some expansion.

Closing Comments

Does anyone have any other ideas for ways to model this ability?  Any specific references for feats or other ability specific and suitable to fighting particular monster types?  Please feel free to comment below, I’d be happy to get some suggestions.


  1. Doug Lampert

    Favored enemy is an awkward ability. If it’s a major source of power then your character is either (a) too strong against some foes where it applies or (b) too weak against any foes where it doesn’t apply. Hence it’s best as a “minor” addon.

    But in a talent based system who’ll waste a high level talent on a minor addon? So you’re back to one of (a) or (b) which are both bad or (c) no one uses it as a significant part of their build in which case why bother?

    If low levels of the talent are useful even at high levels (as is the case with a damage bonus) then you can reasonably assume that EVERYONE will have at least the lower levels of the talent against any common foe, which destroys any hope of the talent being a reasonable way to make your character distinctive. Blech!

    This is another reason to avoid just giving numeric bonuses, they’re not only boring, they also tend to have synergy with every other power and ability they stack with and become “must have” choices for low level talents.

    If the favored enemy provides ALTERNATE powers rather than bonuses to combat then I think that works much better. 3.x has bonuses to all those skills, but the important one is the damage bonus. If the damage bonus weren’t there, and the skill bonuses included an ability to use the skills in unusual or particularly effective ways, that would have been much better IMAO.

    Say for animals:

    Basic: You can try to intimidate animals into avoiding combat with you and your allies or you can try to ally with the creature (something like 3.x diplomacy and intimidate).

    Expert: You can comunicate almost as well as by speach with an animal (What’s that Lassie? Timmy’s fallen in the well?) You can consequently use any social talents to deal with animals.

    Heroic: You can identify animal tracks and track animals as quickly as you can walk. You can trap small animals almost at will. You have an animal companion.

    For dragons it might be playing riddle games and bypassing armor. For humanoids you can tell if they’re lying and persuade them of various things. No need to come up with everything at once, just come up with one or two as examples or proof of concept.

  2. I’m not sure if this helps, but, while reading #4, I had a vision of rangers being able to learn different maneuvers based on their favored enemy selection. For example, if they choose dragons, one maneuver they could learn would be wing clip, which would slow down the dragon’s flying ability by the ranger hitting with a sword or arrow.

  3. Jack, that’s the sort of image #4 is supposed to evoke — the ‘favored enemy talents’ may or may not give direct bonuses, but I certainly want them to give options that people without the talent simply don’t have.

    They options don’t have to all be offensive, either. I just got a suggestion in IRC that the ‘Undead Hunter’ talent could give necrotic resistance and/or immunity, the ability to hit incorporeal undead (as the ghost touch weapon quality), and so on. ‘Dragon Hunter’ thus would stand a good chance of providing (in part) energy resistance that applies to dragon breath weapons (or at least, improved saves against them — or possibly evasion that applies to their breath weapons).

  4. Doug Lampert

    I like the wing clip or resistance to breath weapons, but I wouldn’t get hung up on this one till the other talents are a bit more fleshed out. It’s very good to know ROUGHLY how you’re going to handle these things now, because it means you know the framework can/needs to handle them and you know how you want various situational talents to work.

    But the particulars and details of favored enemy are a fairly minor aspect of the game, the basic combat mechanics and benchmark damages and hit chances and the basic spell mechanics and benchmark effects and saves and DCs strike me as much more important in detail.

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