Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lessons in Monster Design, Part III: Stat block—defense & offense

In this update, I'll continue going through the stat block. This time I'll have a look at common mistakes in Defense and Offense.

Armor class

  • In the parenthetical listing for AC, Dexterity is always abbreviated as "Dex" and it is in uppercase; the same applies to other, more uncommon ability-based AC bonuses such as Wisdom to AC: "Wis". Other armor bonus types are generally written in lower case: "deflection", "dodge", ”natural”, ”size” and so on. Note that these words are used alone in this context. Do not write "natural armor" or "size modifier" here.
  • List the different AC bonus types in the alphabetical order.
Hit points, damage reduction, defensive abilitie, and weaknesses
  • ”hp” is a rare exception that you don't use caps though it's bolded.
  • The total hit point value is an average for all the hit dice + Con modifier multiplied by the number of hit die. (Not the maximum or any random number, for example.)
  • For DR that cannot be bypassed, use the em dash (not hyphen or en dash).
  • Compare the monster with other creatures of the same type to figure out how much DR is ok. See my earlier blog post about the unwritten rules in monster design for more details.
  • There's no such DR as ”non-magical weapons”. The DR that can be bypassed by magic weapons is DR 5/magic. (Or whatever the amount is.)
  • SR should generally be 11 + monster's CR.
  • Vulnerabilities to energy types must include "vulnerable to". I.e. "Weaknesses cold" will not suffice; write "Weaknesses vulnerable to cold"
  • If the weakness isn't one of the standard ones, e.g. the monster has ”Weakness slime” you must include a special ability that explains it. Besides, "slime" alone won't suffice; most likely the name of the ability/weakness should be "vulnerable to slime" or something like that.
  • "Weaknesses undead vulnerabilities" is not an universal monster ability.

  • Write the names of special movement modes in lower case: "fly", "swim", etc.
  • Also, write the name of the maneuverability class in lower case: "Speed 40 ft., fly 80 ft. (average)”.

  • In Melee and Ranged, the damage is always inside parentheses. Some other things in the stat block are also always given in parentheses. Observe existing bestiary entries and use the same formatting.
  • The names of the attacks are never capitalized. I.e. "Melee bite" not "Melee Bite".
  • If an attack includes a secondary effect, the correct notation is ”plus”. (Not just +something).
  • If an attack deals ability damage or drain, the Melee or Ranged entry must specify which it is, e.g. Melee incorporeal touch +5 (1d6 Wisdom drain) – (1d6 Wisdom) won't suffice.
  • Preferably, do not introduce new weapon types in your monster entry. If there are no stats for the weapon, it's impossible to know all the details (reach, range, etc.).
  • For the same reason, it's not recommended to use custom natural melee attacks (like ”head butt”). Using the standard types (like ”gore”) is recommended.
  • While it's ok to give a monster's natural attack a bigger damage die than would be common for its size category, giving a monster a natural attack many size categories bigger than it should have just to increase its damage is not advisable. Multiple attacks, energy damage, ability damage, etc. are all better choices.
  • If the monster has a bigger threat range than just 20, use the en dash (not the hyphen) between the numbers.
  • DCs (such as poison or disease DCs) don't belong on the Melee or Ranged line. Poison and disease DCs, for example, are given in special abilities. The DC for a ghoul's paralysis, for example, is given in Special Attacks.
  • Any exceptions, such as melee attacks that deal more damage vs. specific creature types, don't belong there either. In most cases, just include that type of information in special abilities.
Space and reach

  • Space cannot be 5 x 10. A square space is always implied, so write "Space 10 ft." instead.
  • If both the space and reach of a monster are 5 ft., this line should be omitted altogether.
  • Reach lists natural reach first and exceptions to that in parentheses. (There are some exceptions in Paizo's bestiary entries, but think they're unintentional.)
Special attacks

  • Write special attack names in lower case.
  • Use the same notation as in For example, do not give the creature's stomach a separate line with AC and hp. Instead, use the standard format on the Special Attacks line: swallow whole (5d6 acid damage, AC 15, 18 hp)
  • If the monster has ten (or even just five) special attacks, it's probably not going to get a chance to use all of them, and more likely, having that many options can cause analysis paralysis.
  • Always check that the names of abilities in Special Attacks and elsewhere in the stat block match the titles of the special abilities.
Spells and spell-like abilities

  • Write the names of spells and spell-like abilities in lower case. Italicize them wherever they appear (do not italicize the commas that separate them, though).
  • If metamagic feats are used to enhance spells or SLAs, use the following formatting: empowered magic missile. In other words, do not capitalize or italicize the word ”empowered”.

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