Monday, 4 June 2012

Monster Ability Scores on the Fly

As teens we played two roleplaying games: D&D plus variants and Runequest.

Runequest was attractive because it felt more realistic. But it was a pain to create adventures for, which is why we didn't play it all the time. The magic system was restrictively Gloranthan, but worse yet, each individual monster had separate stats that had to be rolled up.

Because it was AD&D, the two systems came off about the same in complexity, but at least in AD&D the DM could create a monster our of thin air, or throw a few ogres at the party without blinking. D&D was a system thrown together from a number of unrelated wargames. Runequest was a system that sought to simulate the world consistently, simplifying some areas (skill resolution) at the cost of others (monster generation).

3rd and later edition D&D assimilated the Runequest mentality with the triumph of consistency over ease. Skills got easier but monster statblocks grew fearsomely big.

D&D Next seems to pare down the monsters considerably but retain the "consistency" approach. Monster saving throws are ability score-based just like characters' and if you want to wrestle a gray ooze, its Strength is a known quantity.

Mike Mearls, to his credit, realizes that this can work out awkwardly in practice and gives the option to just wing ability scores. If your gray ooze's strength is a few points off, that can always be explained away ("He was a big strong ooze, even as a little puddle").

But here's my alternative, on the page of my large-print heartbreaker that explains monster stats. The relevant section lets you compute monster abilities from other parts of their statblock like move and hit dice. I also use descriptive terms like "nimble" and "frail" that should be easy to apply.

 I'm not sure if a simple algorithm for each stat is less unwieldy than just looking things up in the monster book, but at least it can give you some things to think about when improvising monster stats for Next/5th. Me - I'll work toward not requiring ability scores for monsters at all. And anyway, this exercise has got me moving again on the 52 Pages.


  1. I did something like this once: most things are equal to hp (max 18) or 10 + hp if the creature is known for that trait; for Dex, use Move instead of hp, and for Charisma, use natural AC (on the theory that natural AC affects physical appearance.) Humanoids get a minimum score of 12. There are some rules in my original post that I'm thinking of dropping, like basing animal INT or WIS off the default or fraction of 12 instead of off hp.

    Of course, my approach has way less detail than yours, which may be a problem for some games.

  2. Here's how I handle it for Runequest:

  3. How about trying to reverse the process. Roll the save and then look at the number needed and decide somehow if the monster can have a bonus that high. For example, if the monster rolls a Strength check and is 6 points from succeeding, could that monster have a +6 bonus?

  4. @Talysman: Yep, I wanted something with a little more detail; I'm not sure hit points always scale that well.

    @Hedge: That works, up until there is a tough call and you're in that position where you have to decide whether to screw the party or not. But if ability scores only become important once in a blue moon, you can get by with that.