Wandering Monsters: What’s in a Monster?

Wandering Monster
What’s in a Monster?

By James Wyatt

We're going to do something a little different this week. Rather than talk in general terms about what a monster is like or show you the story briefs I'm writing to guide design, I want to show off our current thinking about what information we might present when we give you a monster.

Talk about this column here.

What Do You Think?
It works for me, but it neglected one important bit: a large part of being able to "bring a monster to life" goes with the visual, so it needs to have accurate art to go alongside it.

The metagame is not the game.

I don't like how the information is ordered. I'd rather they put combat-relevant information closer to each other, without things like Languages, Alignment, and Abilities standing in the middle (yeah, I know abilities can be important in combat, but let's face it, monsters will use ability checks less often than characters, so this info could be presented in the bottom part of the block).

If they want to make it easy to see such info as Languages, Enviroment or Alignment in a glance, they could put it as headers in the monster lore part. For example:

"Bugbear

[Bugbear stat block here: Name, level, XP, Initiative, Speed, Traits, Actions, AC, hit points, and Abilities. I put Initiative and Speed first because they are most commonly used in the begining of an encounter, when rolling for Init. and then when the two parts (monsters and chars) are closing in together)].

Bugbears are goblinoids bla bla blah. They like to make ambushes yadda yadda. They like shiny stuff and this and that. (All the most important part of the monster lore. 4 or 5 paragraphs long).

Enviroment: Forests. Bugbears are most commonly found in forests, although some species prefer to...(*)
Alignment: Neutral Evil. While Goblins are usually Chaotic Evil and Hobgoblins are normally Lawful, Bugbears tend to...(*)
Languages: Common and Goblin. Some Bugbears who live near Orc tribes can also...(*)"

And that's my perfect monster entry / stat block.
* These underlined sentences do not have to be present in every monster, only when there is some relevant info that the writers want to include. Most of the time, it can be just the header and the main info.
Always I imagined bugbears like "bag of muscles", closer to barbarians that rangers. I supossed they would rather stealing by intimidation, with threats of violence instead of using ambush. 

I imagine the shaman bugbear would use magic illusion to create the false impresion the group is really bigger (and wasted ranged attacks by enemies/victims).

The bugbears from the article are like outlaw group with excess of testoterone, like a wild gang of bodybuilder bandits. They couldn´t live too near civilitation because they would be looked for by army (but if they are helpt by some corrupt noble). 

I never supossed they could be so sharp to prepare ambush, because the little goblins are better to use stealth tactics, and hobgoblins are more coordinated for fight.


* Bear nose isn´t bad idea, but I don´t want that ridiculous black color (they look teddy bears). The nose should have got the same color that the rest of the skin, like apes.

If some humanoid race have got a special smelling, the stats should say a special bonus.


 

 

"Say me what you're showing off for, and I'll say you what you lack!" (Spanish saying)

 

Book 13 Anaclet 23 Confucius said: "The Superior Man is in harmony but does not follow the crowd. The inferior man follows the crowd, but is not in harmony"

 

"In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of." - Confucius 

The Bugbear was perfect. The only thing that is wrong with it is this:

Melee Attack—Large Morningstar: +2 to hit (reach 5 ft.; one creature). Hit: 5 (1d8 + 1) bludgeoning damage and 5 (1d8 + 1) piercing damage.
Ranged Attack—Large Javelin: +2 to hit (range 30 ft./120 ft.; one creature). Hit: 9 (2d6 + 2) piercing damage.

The Bugbear was perfect. The only thing that is wrong with it is this:

Melee Attack—Large Morningstar: +2 to hit (reach 5 ft.; one creature). Hit: 5 (1d8 + 1) bludgeoning damage and 5 (1d8 + 1) piercing damage.
Ranged Attack—Large Javelin: +2 to hit (range 30 ft./120 ft.; one creature). Hit: 9 (2d6 + 2) piercing damage.



Swing and a miss
Swing and a miss
Swing and a miss
Repeat until...
And it's out of the ball park! 
Okay, so that's a bit of hyperbole...
 
However, on topic, the format is fine for me.
I would move the damage above the alignment to keep the combat stuff neatly packaged.
Breaking Tactics and Ecology into descriptive traits works fine for me it also gives a little nudge for waht aspect can be played up. For people not using the the fluffy for these Bugbears it may be a bit more intrusive, but it could just as easily be lifted and placed in other monsters that it is more appropriate to in their setting.

I'm still not sure how I feel about the Bugbear going off the 'roids and becoming a Wookie, but I'll deal.
 
I have an answer for you, it may even be the truth.
I like it except I thing the bugbear like most humanoid should be slightly classed.

Either increase their bonus to to make them more fighterish or add a sneak attack to be roguish.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

Bugbear nose only can be black if hair is black and the skin is dark. Otherwise it would look a teddy bear. 

Second point: Gnolls, bugbears and barbarian tribes can´t live too near civilitation if the kindom is enough strong. If we talk about a society like Roman Empire nearly falling then it is different.

We aren´t talking about the classic outlaw band but barbarian tribes that supposedly have been living for generations without friendly contact with rest of society, like the "lin kuei" (= forest ghosts, a ninja-like clan from ancient China).

* I wonder some bugbears could live in the feywild, and use magic fey portals to travel to material world to attack villages, like the historical vikings. It could avoid being catched by empire army.

"Say me what you're showing off for, and I'll say you what you lack!" (Spanish saying)

 

Book 13 Anaclet 23 Confucius said: "The Superior Man is in harmony but does not follow the crowd. The inferior man follows the crowd, but is not in harmony"

 

"In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of." - Confucius 

Doesn't that depend on the environment as well? I know that in history such tribes lasted very long in suitably unpenetrable wilderniss (such as mountains and deep forests) or when just across the border. Plain nomads such as the Mongols are notorious examples of barbarian tribes constantly harassing large well organized empires. Although admittedly, they only became a real problem when the empire was on the verge of collapse more often than not giving the death blow.

Am I the only one who finds the referense to their good sense of smell odd since it does not come back in the stat block?

The format is pretty good. I would move alignment and languages either down or up so that combat stats are one block. Attacks with a reach of 5' and targeting one creature don't need those two properties specified, they can be assumed as defaults if nothing else is listed.

The only thing missing is something under encounter building about the monsters normal role in combat. Something like style or role listed as stealth skirmisher. Not a fixed rule but a guideline to how a monster normally fights.

I notice that the weapon attacks have average damage listed. That probably means the game will have an option for fixed damage. I'm not a huge fan of fixed damage, but it has it uses. It does speed up combat when the party is facing a large group of weak monsters, but it distorts combat because the players can precisely calculate how many more hits they can take. The attack bonus is low for a 3rd level monster, but that is pretty universal right no for Next.
Needs to have a size listing.  Not just 7 feet tall in the text, but a stat that relates to a miniature footprint.

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I wrote my response to this stat block here.  Overall, I thought it was fine, but it needed some help in organization.  

@Kalex.  It has a size listing right at the top: medium. 
I like wrecan's statblock better. 

I'm okay with the descriptive text and flavourful sub-sections as long as they are consistent.  "Brutal Ambushers" and "Territorial Bands" are fine as long as the first section is always "combat & tactics" and the second is always "habitat & society" so I know where to look for infomation and the same thought is put into each monster. That way it's as evocative as Monster Vault, but without the information being random facts.

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One issue I just thought of that isn't addressed here at all is multiple related monsters. If the rules include half a dozen different kinds of Hobgoblins, how is it going to be formatted? One thing that 4e didn't have that I wanted was an introduction section to the race along with abbreviated stats for a generic Hobgoblin to use for building various type, followed by the various type of Hobgoblins listed with the redundent sections from description on removed when they are the same as the base creature.

@Wrecan - I like the vertical organization but wasted white space was one of the things I hated about 4e stat blocks. Also, you need to bold traits and actions, the way it is formated right now draws the eyes away from the lines that are likely among the most heavily used in game.
@Wrecan - I like the vertical organization but wasted white space was one of the things I hated about 4e stat blocks. Also, you need to bold traits and actions, the way it is formated right now draws the eyes away from the lines that are likely among the most heavily used in game.


I tried that, but then it doesn't look like a subtopic of "COMBAT", which is what it is.  The blog is a bit too limited on formatting.  

As for the wasted space, the stat block already has wasted space.  That's the nature of much of the format.  Using a margin pushes he information to the center of the page, which is easier on the eyes and brain.   The narrative stuff (everything under "environment") doesn't need a margin.  I was just having fun there, and that would ultimately depend on other presentation factors, like formatting, art placement, and the like.
Wrecan, I like your idea of putting senses, languages, and alignment into an Interaction section.

The one thing I think is missing from the statblock is something for this: "sharing a bear's keen sense of smell".  Perhaps give bugbear's advantage on wisdom checks to notice hidden creatures upwind.
The Bugbear was perfect. The only thing that is wrong with it is this:

Melee Attack—Large Morningstar: +2 to hit (reach 5 ft.; one creature). Hit: 5 (1d8 + 1) bludgeoning damage and 5 (1d8 + 1) piercing damage.
Ranged Attack—Large Javelin: +2 to hit (range 30 ft./120 ft.; one creature). Hit: 9 (2d6 + 2) piercing damage.



And the damage? The regular morningstar does 1d8 damage, so a large one should do the next dice level, shouldn't it? Especially considering the Large Javelin here does twice the damage of a regular one. And the strength bonus is missing, too...

Other than that, it needs a quality picture, and some fine-tuning of the data. Also, having the combat stuff all in one place and adventuring info just below it would streamline using it.

Yes, the large morningstar should deal 2d8 + 2 (it's a typo), but the point is the piddly attack bonus.

The morningstar is doing 2d8+2. Its deals 1d8 + 1 bludgeoning damage and 1d8 + 1 piercing damage.

The playtest doesn't appear to currently have rules for Large weapons though but i agree it should be the next bigger die most likely, 1d10 (meaning it would deal 1d10 + 1 bludgeoning damage and 1d10 + 1 piercing damage.)
What's in a Monster?  Literally, an adventurer...    Partially digested...
Where ?

Note: I am not talking about creature of Large Size creatures dealing more damage with any size weapons, i am talking about Large Weapons specifically designed for them. It may not be the same thing necessarly.
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