Posted by : David Guyll July 11, 2012
Now, I can follow the first example here right up until they begin to explain Bob's ability to do air things; on one hand we get a concept of beating up an elemental prince and taking his stuff, giving him the ability to create whirlwinds and summon air elements. We even get a bit on his presumed tactics. On the other we...just get a role and some abilities.
Are those actually two distinct approaches? Why not give us the flavor content about taking the air-prince's portfolio and then create powers themed to that? Are there DMs out there that just pick a role, staple various role-appropriate powers to it, set the level to the party's, and call it good?
My approach generally consists of thinking about what a monster might do/what I think it should do, and creating abilities and mechanics that help represent that. Sometimes I start with a role, other times I end up going with the role that makes the most sense. In the above example I would consider the history and purpose of this air demon, and then give him abilities that evoke that. Given all the wind-things going on, controller would likely be what I ended up with (though really I could see any role doing the job proper).
Occasionally, as a kind of experiment, I will marry a role to a monster just to see if something interesting can come from it--like a mind flayer soldier or a treant artillery (leader)--rather than some kind of primary jumping point.
I am also confused about the example with the Duke and his orcs. The DM makes the decision about how many orcs to use. Who is to say that the duke could only afford 6? What if there were only 6 available?
What if you want to throw a number of orcs at the party with an intent? You want them to win, lose, flee, surrender, etc. In any case it really helps to know just how lethal the encounter is going to be. If you have planned well enough that the outcome is a branching point, then it just make up a number or roll for one.
You have lost nothing, but DMs--especially new ones--trying to encourage a specific choice, whether through planning or what they think that a given NPC/monster will do can greatly benefit from knowing the odds.
My ideal Monster Manual would have plenty of flavor content, with at least several thematically appropriate examples, and advice on making your own things. Do not make me have to build a barebones hobgoblin soldier, archer, and war-mage. Those should be a given. If I want to make a more specialized hobgoblin, such as one that is a fast-moving dervish, then make sure I have the necessary tools and knowledge to go about it properly.
I also want the mechanics to be as transparent as possible so that I can design things to be as easy, hard, simple, complicated, etc as I want.