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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Stat Blocks

James Maliszewski of Grognardia has an interesting post (and follow-up discussion) today about the presentation of monsters in various editions of D&D. I'm with him on a number of points. Although I prefer the AD&D 1e format to later formats, I don't quite like it, either. The main problem is the stat block, as well as useless information in the descriptive text.

For the stat block, the LBB table is actually fairly ideal. A stat block in a "monster manually" really only needs a few stats (Hit Dice, AC, damage) and a few details that would get lost in descriptive text (# appearing, % in lair, treasure type, alignment, frequency.) Alignment, frequency, and maybe habitat and general monster type could all be combined into a label, to eliminate the uselessness of having separate stat lines. So, I'd prefer something like these adaptations of Labyrinth Lord monsters:
Scorpion, Giant (Uncommon Chaotic Desert Bug)
1d6 (1d6), HD 4, AC 2, 1d10/1d10/1d4 + poison, Treasure VII

Shrew, Giant (Uncommon Burrowing Beast)
1d4 (1d8), HD 1, AC 4, 1d6/1d6

Skeleton (Chaotic Undead)
3d4 (3d10), HD 1, AC 7, 1d6 or weapon
There are some oddities there, which I'll explain in a moment. But I'm sure some people are wondering about the "useless text" I mentioned. For a new monster presentation, I have no problem with descriptive text that explains a monster's behavior, special abilities, or things like that. However, I believe that the key to keeping descriptions short and useful is to only mention that which is different from what you would expect. Some big offenders in the Monster Manual are the humanoids. Most of the details of the humanoids should be the same; there will be females as well as males, infants, higher HD leaders, some kind of religious structure. You don't need a detailed paragraph about their social structure, just a couple notes about how it differs from the norm; "polygamous x 3", for example, would indicate a 3-to-1 female-to-male ratio.

Other monster types that could be condensed are undead. Can't we assume that skeletal undead like the Eye of Fear and Flame and Coffer Corpse are basically like skeletons, but with a couple unique abilities? Animals are a big offender as well; aside from generic type (herd animals, pack predators, insectivores,) why do we need specific HD, AC and damage for each animal? The AD&D Monster Manual had a tendency to create specific hit dice and armor class for every monster conceivable simply because, once the space had been allocated for a specific monster entry, all the stats had to be filled.

The explains some of the anomalies in the way I presented the three monsters above. I prefer to leave out information that's considered the norm. Most creatures are neutral, so only indicate alignment for a Chaotic or Lawful creature; most creatures are common, so don't indicate a frequency of "common". This plays into the issue of movement rates as well. I left them out because I would probably rule movement rate based on general creature type instead of using individual movement entries. When the movement rate is distinct because it really matters to the feel of a creature, I would note it.

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