Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lessons in Monster Design, Part II: Stat block—overview & the top part

As promised, I'll continue going through the different parts of monster entries. This time I'll discuss the stat block in general, and start going through the topmost part of it, where the monster's alignment, type, size, and other things are detailed.

The two things you need to get right in the stat block are 1) the math (the numbers add up and are right for the CR) and 2) presentation (you've got the right things in the right places and you use the right terminology, punctuation, and typefaces). Let's have a look at some of the stat block mistakes I noticed while judging Here Be Monsters.

  • Use the bold typeface as it's used it in the template. Generally speaking, bolded parts of the text indicate what type of information follows. In other words, the bolded part is the name of a stat (or variable if you will), and the unbolded part is the value of that stat. There are some exceptions. To name a few, there's XP where the value is also bolded, and ”flat-footed” and ”touch” which are not bolded though they're technically stat/variable names, not values. Since the use of bolding is not entirely consistent, just follow the template!
  • The colon (:) is not used in the stat block to separate stat names and values because bolding already does that.
  • Pay attention to the spelling of game terms. Is it ”lowlight vision”, ”low light vision”, or ”low-light vision”? If you don't know, check it in the Bestiary. It might seem like nitpicking, but it really is just attention to detail and making the editor's life easier if you work as a freelancer.
  • Always use a space (” ”) between numbers and units. E.g. 30 ft. not 30ft.
  • Alphabetize mostly everything within an entry. That includes feats, skills, special attack names, etc.
  • Do not leave in trailing commas or semi-colons. They're separators, and if there's nothing to separate, they're not needed. E.g. Init +1; Senses Perception +5 not Init +1; Senses Perception +5;
  • Don't invent abbreviations of your own. E.g. in the AC entry, natural armor is simply called ”natural” not ”natural armor” or ”NA”. Only use abbreviations as they're used in the bestiaries. Please also note that the use of abbreviations depends on the context. In stat blocks you use ”ft.”, but in paragraphs you should write ”feet”. By contrast, the apostrophe ' is never used in Paizo's monster entries.
  • If a modifier is negative, use the en dash as the minus sign.
  • Know what you need to capitalize and what you shouldn't. The following lists are not exhaustive (meaning: follow the template).
    • Use caps: Size Categories, Titles, Feat Names, Skill Names (except subskills such as ”arcana”).
    • Don't use caps: creature types, ability names except when used as a title of an entry, spells, most other things.
  • Hit points, AC, attack bonuses, average damage, and a number of other stats should be close to the target values for the CR as indicated in Monster Creation ( For some creature types (oozes and constructs in particular) and very small creatures, it may be hard to hit the target values. It's ok to compensate with other stats, but if you don't know what you're doing, stick to ”normal” creature types and sizes until you get the hang of it.

XP – experience points

  • Check that the XP is appropriate for the CR.
  • Note that the XP value is also bolded.
  • For XP, use the comma as a thousands separator if the XP value is greater than 999, e.g. XP 4,800.
  • XP comes first: XP 400 not 400 XP.

Alignment, size category, and creature type

  • Use the abbreviations for alignment, e.g. NE. Do not spell it out as Neutral Evil.
  • Always spell out the size category, however. E.g. Medium. An M alone won't do.
  • Never capitalize the creature type (e.g. outsider). Ditto for subtypes (e.g. elemental).
  • Generally, only a humanoid creature can have the giant subtype (though some outsiders also do). Many other subtypes are similarly intended only for certain types of creatures.
  • Monster stat blocks don't specify the gender of the creature even if it is an all-female or all-male species. Only stat blocks for specific NPCs may specify the gender. 

Initiative – senses

  • The range of darkvision must be mentioned. (and some other types such as blindsight but not low-light vision.) The correct notation is 60 ft. not 60 feet, 60 ft or 60'.
  • Check that the Perception modifier in Senses matches the modifier in Skills.

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