D&D Hack: Monsters

Or rather, monster stat blocks. Always something of a contentious issue. “Pathfinder is too complex” “AD&D is too simple”

Personally, I feel like 5e did pretty well with monsters. Their stat blocks aren’t as dense as Pathfinder/3.x, and they capture the essence of the monster. It’s a pity the Monster Manual has terrible lay-out. Why are Blink Dogs in the appendix? What’s a quipper? And why the F*&% are all the “Giant” creatures together, but Succubus/Incubus aren’t with the demons or devils? Doesn’t matter, I’m ranting.

Justin Alexander, of thealexandrian.net, presents a very simple method for monster creation here, which relies on a table of default statistics.  The idea is that you have a few basic stats, and specify whatever other abilities or stats are crucial for the monster’s flavour or identity.

This is, largely, what 5e does (though with less simplicity). Every monster in 5e has at least one interesting feature: wolves have Pack Tactics, goblins have Nimble Escape, orcs have Aggressive, and so on. These abilities tell you a lot about the creatures in question: wolves are better if they gang up, or at least work in pairs. Goblins are great ambushers (ironically, moreso than Bugbears). Orcs are fast on the battlefield, as long as they can see their foes.

The aim is for monsters to be more than bags of hit points. I’ve found that, as soon as monsters have a specific thing – be it a combat trick, a tactic, even a distinctive look – they’re easier to run and more fun for the players.

I’ll probably end up using Alexander’s table often myself, but it’s not very PocketMod-able. So, how can we define the defaults for monsters on one-eighth of a piece of A4 or letter paper?

First, in old-school tradition, monsters add their HD to attack rolls – unless they are “Martial” (add x2, for low-HD town guards and such), or “Clumsy” (add half, in the case of high-HD ogres who can’t hit for shit).

AC and HD obviously need to be defined, as does attack damage. HD are probably going to be d8s, but in a 3.x game, it’s probably better to use d10s, to compensate for the lack of CON bonuses.

Saving throws? In Labyrinth Lord, monsters mostly had saves identical to a Fighter of their level. Which meant that I needed the Save table on my screen. That’s not PocketMod-able, but it did keep the stat block slim. So, we use the Fort/Ref/Will trinity that I think is the best set of saves ever (it’s minimalist and intuitive). All monsters add half their HD to all saves, unless specified (Good = add HD, Poor = no bonus).

Speed is 30′ walking, unless specified.

Skills… Most of the time, monsters won’t need skills. But this is a great place to use the 4 M20 skills: monsters and NPCs don’t need the fiddly detail that PCs need. So, if a monster needs a skill, pick Physical, Subterfuge, Knowledge and/or Communication, and give the monster a bonus equal to 1/2 or 1x HD. Easy to improv at the table, easy to note down.

Alternatively, you can just use the Save bonus for the skill. Monsters with good Reflex saves are generally going to be sneaky, and monsters with good Fort saves are going to be good at STRONG things.

Here’s a couple of examples:

Goblin
HD 2, AC 15, Attk 1d6+2.
Nimble Escape (Hide or Disengage as bonus action).
Reflex Good:, Fort: Poor.

Ogre
HD 8, AC 11, Attk 2d6 (Clumsy)
Fort & Physical: Good, Will: Poor
Ogres are stupid, and tend to hit the closest enemy, or the enemy that hits them the most.

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