This is my fourth blog article discussing what makes a good stat block. First I discussed Fourth Edition power blocks. About a month ago, I discussed the formatting of stat blocks for creatures. Two weeks ago I asked you to choose from amongst a variety of new and old stat blocks for use in a Monster Manual, a format I will call "monster blocks". In this article, I discuss the formatting of what has become known as "adventure blocks".
James Wyatt, I believe, coined the term "adventure block" in this article from 2006. An adventure block is a stat block built to be used in the midst of a published adventure, rather than in a book dedicated to full-length explanations of monsters.
An adventure block should, ideally, be much shorter than the corresponding monster's stat block. It makes liberal use of abbreviations, and is often quite incomplete. The goal of an adventure block is not to describe the complete creature, but rather give the DM a shorthand reference of the essential information he needs to run a combat encounter involving this creature. Background information like number appearing, motivations, and ecology are subsumed into the context of the adventure in which the creature appears. Information useful for selecting the monster, such as % in lair or treasure type is also omitted. The adventure will tell you if the creature is in its lair and what treasure can be found on or near its person.
I have my own thoughts on what an adventure block should look like in Next, but before I get to my suggestions – and to the poll I've created – let's review the history of the adventure block.
Note: You may click on any of the images below and see a larger view of the image.
The first adventure blocks appeared in the very first published adventure for D&D: G1. Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, in 1978. As you can see by the sample to the right, Gygax' adventure block was sparse. It included nothing more than the creatures' hit points. The reason for this was simple. When the game was first created, there were people who were playing with the newly produced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books and many people who were still playing with what is called "Original Dungeons & Dragons", which were pretty much the supplements to the miniatures wargame Chainmail. The stats for many of the creatures differed between the two versions of the game, and Gygax wanted these initial supplements to be useable by both camps. So he included as few stats as possible. The only stat that was individualized to the creature was hit points. She he included those and left the DM to open his rule book to see what other stats the creatures possessed.
When Basic Dungeons & Dragons was released, it also began producing its own adventures and this it needed its own adventure block. Tom Moldvay, the editor of the game at the time, chose a more complete adventure block than what Gygax had designed. He included all of the relevant stats and attacks. He did not, however, include any stats that had to be looked up on a table (like to-hit targets), or description of unusual powers. This was not generally a problem since most creatures only had one power at most. Otherwise, they just hit you with varying degrees of damage. I note that the stat blocks still did not contain any information that was irrelevant to combat, such as alignment. Once AD&D became established and the players of OD&D had mostly been converted, AD&D adopted its own very similar variation of this adventure block (though it generally also included THAC0 and alignment). The Moldvayan adventure block remained the standard for more than eight years.
One of the things I notice about the Moldvayan adventure block is that the order of stats is rational and intuitive. Defensive stats – AC and hp – appear first, followed by damaging attacks and special powers. Then movement, abilities, and finally, the creature's level. It definitely orders the information in diminishing utility from a DM's point of view.
When Second Edition rolled around in 1989, a new adventure block was also unveiled. Similar to the Moldvayan adventure, Editor Kim Mohan simply rearranged most of the information, and, for the first time, included alignment as well as the to-hit modifier used in attacks. Strangely, though, the to-hit modifier and alignment are simply tacked onto the end, almost as an afterthought, when the to-hit modifier should be located near the attack stats.
Again, exotic powers and spells are listed by name, but not described explicitly. DMs were expected to look up these powers in the midst of the game, have them memorized, or simply wing it. The Mohanian adventure block lasted 11 years, the longest tenure of any of the adventure blocks to date.
Although I am attributing the adventure block to Bruce Cordell, I really have no idea who designed the Third Edition adventure block in 2000. Bruce Cordell is simply the writer of the first Third Edition adventure: the Sunless Citadel, and thus the supplement that first revealed the Third Edition form of the adventure block.
The Cordellian adventure block is the largest adventure block to date. It contains all the information in the monster's block, omitting only the math used to calculate the stats. That said, however, the stat block still does not explain any of the spells that a creature might cast. It does however, for the first time, offer explanations of a creature's special attacks and qualities, and this one reason why the length of the adventure block increased so dramatically.
Near the end of Third Edition, James Wyatt published the article I linked to above. At this time, D&D changed the stat block organization, but also changed the format of the adventure block. Apparently finding the adventure block had become too arcane and unwieldy, Wyatt reined it in. As a throwback to Moldvay and Gygax, the new adventure block only contains information that cannot be found in the creature's monster stat block, which is usually only hp. (The sample I pulled is from a free Pathfinder-compatible adventure that was not published by Paizo. However, I believe the formatting follows the formatting used by both Wizards and Paizo when they implemented the Wyattian adventure block.) The stat block would refer people to the book and page where the creature can be found. If the creature is unique to the published adventure, the entire stat block would be reproduced in the adventure.
Fourth edition did not use adventure blocks at all, choosing to fully reproduce every creature used in an adventure. Pathfinder also adopted the Wyattian adventure block wholesale for its own games, changing only the font selection and a few tweaks to the layout. Accordingly, the Wyattian adventure block is still the current adventure block in use in D&D, to the extent that the game elects to use an adventure block at all.
My proposal is to take the best of the Moldvayan and Cordellian stat blocks, which I think are the two best blocks of the bunch.
I want to include all the monster stats, at least by name. You shouldn't have to refer to the monster block when running a combat during a published adventure. Because of this all abilities that are primarily designed or combat should have a brief description of what they do. It does not require the exactitude of the monster block. It just needs to be enough so the DM will either remember the full power, or can estimate the rules on his own without having to rummage through sourcebooks. This would include any attack spells like fireball that the creature can cast.
Although the abilities that are designed primarily for interaction should be listed, it does not have to be elaborated. When a DM runs an interaction, time isn’t of the essence. A DM can take a minute to look up an Ability or a monster block, and the adventure block should have page references to the sourcebook and page where such rules are found. The interactive abilities should be included because one never knows when a DM might come up a clever use of a power that is not primarily intended for use in combat. For example, a djinni may use its create food and drink power to summon a juicy pork chop to distract a hungry beast. Because such maneuvers are rare, it does not make sense to clutter up the adventure block with those rules, but the DM should be reminded that the abilities exist and where he can go to look them up when inspiration strikes.
The organization should also make sense. For this reason, I break the adventure block into three sections. First is what I call the "numbers". Name and initiative are followed by the defensive stats (AC and HP), and the Abilities, Space/Reach, and then the other stats that appear at the top of the block, like senses, invulnerabilities and resistances. Second is the "combat" section, which lists the combat abilities with a brief parenthetical containing the essential facts needed to run this ability. Finally, I close with the "interaction" section which lists the interactive abilities, with a brief parenthetical containing a sourcebook reference, followed by the interactive stats like alignment, languages, and possessions The stat block ends with the experience point value, because that's what you get at the end of an encounter with a creature.
Finally, the format should be pleasing. I chose a font called Nyala for its mild serif, and because it looks good in small caps, boldface, and italics. I placed the ability names in boldface so they would be easy to find. Spell names (if they are not ability names) are italicized. Stat abbreviations are rendered in small caps so they will stand out without being obtrusive. I use the indented paragraph style of the Wyattian adventure block, as it is easier to delineate the sections that way.
The result is a long-ish adventure block, about as long as the Cordellian block, but I think better organized and easier to use.
Now it's time for you to have your own say. Which adventure block works best for you? Below I have a poll giving you the various options, as well as an image. I've take the djinni monster block from my previous article and rendered it into the format of each of the adventure blocks examined above. Look them over and you tell me which one you prefer.
You may choose "None of the Above". If so, you should leave a comment below, or on the related discussion thread. Heck you may leave a comment below or on the related discussion thread, even if you don't choose "None of the Above".