And yes, this blog post it's all about monsters. As the previous one, this post born from my concern that D&D "Next" is (until now) a game with some lack of personality.
Let's take the kobold from the current playtest (released in 12/17/2012). Erase the "Kobold" name on the top, then show the rest to someone else...
Well, if this guy isn't a D&D expert, probably he wouldn't say: "C'mon, you are showing me unquestionably a kobold! What's your point?"
Seriously, from what he should see unquestionably a Kobold? From its Mob Tactics trait?
I don't think so.
Ok... maybe from the Light Sensitivity trait. Maybe.
Maybe, since even the light sensitivity should be quite common in a game where dark dungeons are... quite common! Yeah yeah... absolutely the light sensitivity is a proper characterization for a kobold, but secondary as for many other monsters in this game.
Answering the guy above, my point is find a design criteria that better characterizes monsters, of course by keeping a special focus on the complexity-scalability.
The answer I want hear even by non-D&D experts must be: "C'mon, you are showing me unquestionably a kobold!"
Maybe something like this should be a good starting point:
As always, forgive my English. English is not my native language
Generic and Unique
Each monster definition should be based on three pillars that distinguish it from others.
Mainly these pillars become generic mechanics, which means "mechanics other monsters can share" (avoiding poorly reusable mechanics, still a good practice).
In every case, each monster must have at least a single, unique and distinctive, mechanic that really characterizes it.
This mechanic should be highlighted in the monster's definition with a special symbol (a star, a gem, a diamond, or something more distinctive. Take a look to the Trap Lure trait, in the previous example).
Let's look at some three-pillars-monster-concept examples:
- Kobolds are cowards, elusive and they love traps.
- Goblins are unfair, lurking and opportunist.
- Orcs are irascible, tough and obtuse.
- Gnolls are frenzy, bestial and exalted by the pack.
(If you want, you can jump straight on mechanics, by clicking the links above)
"Three" seems a fair number: not too much, not too little. If needed, can be used more (or less) pillars.
Basic and Advanced
The complexity dosage it's equally important.
Monsters are defined in their basic (as simple as possible) version.
Within the same basic definition can be modularly added several complexity degrees.
For "modularly" I mean that more complex versions are totally optional, and that can coexist in the very same encounter a "basic" monster with a "complex" one.
A kobold with zero traits could be the basic version. As simple as possible.
A kobold with the "Coward" trait, has one complexity degree.
A kobold with the "Dodgy" trait, adds another complexity degree.
A kobold with the "Trap Lure" trait, adds another complexity degree, and so on.
So we can build the encounter we need with the complexity degree we want, as a "coward" and "dodgy" kobold, fighting side by side with another kobold just able to lure enemies in trap.
Advanced kobold classes, like the Kobold Dragonshield or the Kobold Leader, inherit properties from the basic class, the standard Kobold.
Of course normally advanced classes add more properties (in this case Shield Block, Incite Courage, etc.).
To reduce redundancy in advanced classes, their inherited properties are just summarized (not fully defined a second time), maybe highlighting them in gray.
See the following:
What about those colored squares?
To enhance the intuitiveness, I grouped properties in categories of colors.
Let's say that the purple group includes two properties.
In other words we have the single-purple-property "I'm very strong" that can't run without the single-purple-property "I'm clumsy", since they are grouped.
Why a group?
For two reasons:
1) "I'm very strong" is a positive property, while "I'm clumsy" is a negative property.
Both properties, positive and negative, compensate each other. So we can easily add the whole purple group to a creature, without mess up the XPs math and the challenge rating.
2) "I'm clumsy" could be and acceptable flip side of "I'm very strong".
Negative properties are very important in a RpG, since really characterize a creature. But for practical purposes in a monster's definition we can't have a 1:1 ratio between positive and negative properties.
So single, positive or negative, properties are ungrouped:
- A positive property adds XP value to the creature.
- A negative property subtracts XP value to the creature.
Let's take another look at our kobold:
As we can see:
- The Light Sensitivity trait has no colored symbols with it: is not an optional property for a Kobold.
The general criteria is to keep properties optional as much as possible.
However, in some case there are properties closely related with a specific creature.
A Kobold without Light Sensitivity... sounds like a Kobold without a tail. Of course there are also kobolds without a tail, but they are particular cases... as well kobolds without a light sensitivity. We'll talk about soon.
- The Coward and Dodgy traits are marked with a purple square symbol, so are optional and grouped.
- Also the Trap Lure trait, marked with a green "diamond" symbol, is optional.
A square means that a property is generic (other monsters can have it).
A diamond means that a property is unique and distinctive for that monster.
In this case, if the DM "equips" a kobold with the Trap Lure trait, he/she raises by 5 the kobold's XPs value, as specified.
A good point in this system is, besides the complexity economy management, the "XPs economy" management.
A DM planning an encounter without traps, doesn't need to waste XPs by adding an useless Trap Lure trait, since doesn't increase or decrease the challenge rating.
Less Quantity and More Quality
In my opinion, in the core monster manual should not be amassed hundreds and hundreds of creatures.
It's preferable to leave just the most common. Next manuals will cover the missing.
The saved space should be used to better define creatures in many ways: with more advanced and diversified versions of the same one, more pictures, custom monster's treasures, maps, tips, information or interesting "side notes", like an anatomical sketch explaining how a dragons can fly or breathe fire, a typical Orcish settlement, a kobold trap scheme (I like the kobold trap idea where a disarmer with no tail, takes disadvantage while disarming the trap).
Kobolds are cowards, elusive and they love traps
An optional Mob Tactics trait is useful when the DM just wants some tougher kobold, but in inadequate number to effectively use the trait.
- The Dragonshield loses the Dodgy trait only while holding a shield, as reported in brackets.
Lost traits are highlighted in red.
- Similarly, it can use its Shield Block trait only while holding a shield.
- The unlocked-padlock icon on a property, means that the property is closely related to the race. Except in special cases, that property is "locked" (must not be removed).
If for a reason a single individual doesn't have that property, the DM can unlock and remove it by "paying" its XPs value, as indicated.
In order to discourage this practice, the XP price of unlockable properties is relatively high.
Is a way to avoid other traits, described elsewhere, designed to counter a specific one (in this case could be the "Adaptation to the light" trait).
Moreover sets implicit requirements to get special benefits.
In this case a normal kobold, a Skirmish or a Dragonshield, have a too low level to get the "adaptation to the light" benefits. That's why there is no padlock icons for them, a higher level is required.
The "Leader tag" can be used with a optional rule.
- Negative part: When a leader leaves the battlefield, every allied was under its influence will suffer a moral disadvantage on attack rolls and skill checks, for one round.
- Positive part: Leaders and its allies are more difficult to charm.
Because of his strong personality, a leader has advantage on saving throws against charming effects.
Leader's allies instead have the same advantage only if the charming creature has a Charisma lower than their leader.
Goblins are unfair, lurking and opportunist
As usually, the advanced class (Goblin Scoundrel) inherits from the basic class (Goblin), but some of inherited traits ("Ready to Ambush" and "Stealthy and Dirty") are a little better.
When there are differences between a basic property and an inherited one:
A positive difference is highlighted with a green up arrow.
A negative difference is highlighted with a red down arrow.
Orcs are irascible, tough and obtuse
Optional equipment can raise a monster's XP value well.
In this case an Orc Leader with a Heal Potion has its XP value increased by 40.
Gnolls are frenzy, bestial and exalted by the pack
Some design note:
- The gnoll "Mob Tactic" is different from the kobold one: is +1/+8 but only works with other gnolls.
The dynamic I want encourage is a brutal pack that completely surrounds its prey.
- In terms of efficiency a bite attack in self isn't a real option, since a normal axe blow is preferable (+5 to hit, 1d8+2 damage, against +2 to hit, 1d4+2 damage).
Since I like a frenzy-biting-gnoll dynamic, I supported Gnoll's bite with two mechanics: "Pack Brutality" (in positive) and "Blind Frenzy" (in negative).
That's why exceptionally there are three traits grouped. My intentions are to separate them after.
- The advanced stage of the "Rabies Disease" should remind the one saw in the movie "28 Days Later".
Zombies are slow, infectious and can be killed only by damaging their brain, or with a massive damage
- A 5° Level Curse can be removed by a Cleric of 5° level or higher.
- It should not be assumed that characters (unlike players) know how to kill a zombie: by smashing/cutting its head.
As optional rule, may be required in the first encounter with a zombie a DC 11 Knowledge (Religion?) skill check.
Also a DC 15 Intelligence check after an encounter where a zombie is killed could works.
Only afterwards characters will benefit of the zombie's Weak Point trait.
- I know, this Zombie is more Romero's style. My purpose is show how this system allows to choose different styles, including the classic D&D zombie, of course.
About Languages Symbols
These optional language rules orbit around the assumption that "misunderstandings" with monsters could create interesting and unpredictable dynamics in the middle of the game.
Moreover is a way to rewards characters that know more language (a classic bard will be even more valuable to resolve diplomatically an encounter).
Again, these rules are optional. If your style is "my sword and fireballs speak for me", just go ahead.
Promoting the Granularity
I don't know how D&DN's complexity will be managed, but should be questionable to divide rules in big blocks (basic, advanced, expert or whatever).
Where is possible, rules should be more granular/fluid.
If a DM wants change the damage dealt, or hit points to a single NPC, he/she should just look a table where is specified the relative NPC's XP value modifier.
To add a magic item, a trait, an action or a reaction, should be as simple.
Something like this: