Legends & Lore: Monster Creation in D&D Next

Well, at least we are kinda-sorta seeing some mechanics.

I am a bit wary about the adventuring day being balanced against a sum of XP that you disperse over a number of encounters that are expected to last a number of combat rounds. I found 3rd Edition difficult to pace, especially in early levels where hit points and healing magic were fairly scarce (though later levels were made likewise difficult when the party could essentually evacuate a dungeon whenever they pleased). 4th Edition made it a lot easier to throw encounters of a varying difficulty at the party, as healing surges provided a reliable barometer of performance.

My concern is how “hard” the XP cap is, especially when zoomed in to the per-fight level; I would like to avoid having to shoehorn a set number of fights in a day, pacing be damned. I would also like it to be very easy for players to make an informed choice on whether they should keep going (which ideally will not be largely reliant on remaining spells).  On the plus side, elites and solos are still in--which I hope are not as grindy as they were in pre-Monster Manual 3 4th Edition--as are minions by virtue of non-auto-leveling monsters.

The actual process for creating a monster looks like an in-between of 3rd and 4th Edition, with a dash of FantasyCraft; while it lacks the player character-degree of attention to detail that 3rd Edition required, it also looks less streamlined and easy-to-wing as 4th Edition’s method, and uses stats and abilities to arrive at a XP total as opposed to level.

What I really like about this is the (mostly) lack of scaling, so we will (hopefully) not see 4th Edition’s issue of monsters with--sometimes extreme--level ranges for monsters, or monsters with ridiculously high ability scores that inconsistently exist to justify its attack and damage modifier. We will also (again, hopefully) not see 3rd Edition’s issue where monsters gradually just fall off the map unless they have a likewise insane number of class levels or use advancement rules (that can also oddly beef up their size).

What I am confused about is how you arrive at the monster’s level. In the example Mearls states that in a “generic dungeon”, the level where he would expect the minotaur to “show up” is 5th. I recall reading some 1st Edition stuff where it was implied that dungeons were actually divided into levels, I guess with monsters implied to be present on certain levels (I do not recall if monsters actually had levels, but I do not think so).

So...is this how we are expected to make new monsters? Build them based on the abstract notion of when the party is expected to find/fight it? My process has always been to imagine a degree of relative power based on existing monsters. For example, I would not make a minotaur as strong and tough as it is because I expect it to be fought by 5th level characters; I would consider if it should be stronger and tougher than a human, then an orc, and so on until I arrive at an existing baseline--probably ogre--and go from there.

I am not sure where I stand with the assumption of size equating to whether the monster is a mook, elite, or solo, though on some level it makes sense. So long as monster generation is simple, this should be easy enough to work around, though I guess depending on how the whole XP-combat-round formula works you might just be able to throw a lot of lower-level elites at a party and still have it work out.

I do like having recommended stats based on level, along with a list of pre-fabbed abilities. The formulas and damage-by-level table in 4th Edition made it a breeze to make functional monsters on the fly, and as difficult as I wanted.

I also like the idea of ability mods actually impacting a monster, which I hated in 3rd Edition because you could get some really wonky variables if you had to inflate one or more ability score mods high enough to make it a viable threat (often making it impossible for one or more other characters to do anything about it). Again, this is where the lack of scaling will make this work a lot better.

The example stuff gives me mixed reactions; the idea of a hill giant with “only” a +3 to hit seems bizarre, but only because we have had two editions where they had +16 or more to hit. The idea that they are pretty clumsy, but hit hard when they do I can get behind.

What I do not like is that a minotaur wearing armor sees no benefit. Well, no benefit most of the time. Since its “natural AC is +6”, on par with chainmail, it gets no benefit unless it wears armor better than chainmail. This does not make any sense. I would instead do some kind of abstract rule where you can still get something out of the deal, even if it is just a +1 or 2 (kind of like how barding works in 4th Edition).

Rage +5/5 could be abbreviated to just Rage 5, which the assumption that you deal +x damage on a hit, or x damage on a miss. Actually, I think a lot of monsters (like our hill giant friend there) could benefit from some kind of mechanic where they still do x damage on a miss.

Goring charge seems needlessly wordy and pretty powerful. I could see it being used basically all the time, given that it is better than the axe attack and there is really no “sticky” mechanic for defending characters. This is also a prime example of using codified language: prone should be a condition, instead of something referenced in every power with a prone kicker effect. Also, why would this be something unique to minotaurs?

Keen senses looks nice enough, but to save space there could always be a keyword for a skill that makes it so that you get a bonus to doing something, and can only roll a minimum number.


  1. You have it right: Mearls is talking about the early days of D&D, when goblins lived in the first level of the dungeon, zombies on the second, orcs on the fourth, and so on until you reached a level of drow and their summoned demons. Mindless dungeon crawling reference, but I didn't see that as a serious suggestion of how to build your own monsters in D&D Next. He's just trying to explain what a monster's level indicates, since it indicates very little. Looks like monster levels in D&D Next are just there as a reference for the DM. How strong are this monster's stats compared to others?

  2. 1e monsters did have levels. It was part of the "level/XP value" line, and yep - it meant dungeon level.


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