Wandering Monsters: What's in a Monster?

What information belongs in a monster entry? The amount and arrangement of information has fluctuated throughout editions, sometimes changing within the same edition.

2nd Edition blocks were lengthy lists of un-formatted information, which probably could have been sorted better. In its favor the flavor text tended to lean towards the extensive, often telling how many women and/or young are in a lair, if one is a leader (as well as any modifications), chance of shamans, and more.

3rd Edition blocks started out similar to 2nd Edition's, but were eventually re-arranged and divided to make it easier to locate information. Flavor text varied from monster to monster, but when the stat blocks changed were expanded to include a lore table and paragraphs for strategies, encounters, ecology, and sample treasure.

4th Edition stat blocks were a major departure from its predecessors. Colored rows made it easier to locate information, and the later iteration even clustered up action types so that you did not have to look long or hard to cash in a move or minor action you might have left over. Also important was the fact that you never had to reference another book; the effect of every power was always included in the block, making spellcasters and the like a breeze.

While I recall 4th Edition initially getting criticism for a seeming lack of flavor content, flipping around the Monster Manual it looks only somewhat leaner than--if not on par with--most 3rd Edition entries. As with 3rd Edition, the last run of monster books--Monster Manual 3 and the Monster Vaults--resolved this beefing up the flavor to about a half-page per entry, if not more.

Having gone through four editions (so far), I can say that my ideal statblock serves two purposes.

First, it should require no outside reference. I can deal with having to check a glossary in the same book for stuff like Plant/Ooze/Swarm/Ooze/etc traits, but if running an angel, wizard, demon, or dragon requires that I take cliffnotes from Player's Handbook, Arcane Supplement II, and Spell Compilation V I will be sorely disappointed. Thankfully the three "monsters" in the bestiary with built in spellcasting--dark acolyte/adept/priest--have spell effects in their entries.

Second, the flavor material should present a solid foundation of default information to work with; appearance, culture, environment, lairs, etc. While I like making up my own lore, often the defaults give me inspiration. To this end I really like how they did it in 3rd Edition's Monster Manual V, which not only included monster variants (a trend that thankfully continued in 4th Edition), but encounter ideas, treasure, and even the occasional map.

Flavor-wise the monster entry for Next does really well. You get a physical description, motivation, combat tactics, number-encountered, lair ideas, and some personality traits. Easily enough to give me something solid to work with (or expand on/deviate from). I assume that they will include leaders (and perhaps spellcaster types) in the final product, so I think that my only nitpicks are that it could go a bit further with a sample encounter map and treasure (or two).

As for the stat block, it does...alright. It seems easier to follow than 2nd Edition, but lacks late-3rd and 4th Edition's information grouping. I think that the defensive and offensive information should be stacked, so that it is a bit quicker to switch between the two. I would even move the "social" stuff--ability scores, alignment, languages, and senses--on top, which would give you something like this:

Medium Humanoid (Goblin)
Environment Hills or any underground
Abilities Str 15 (+2), Dex 14 (+2), Con 10, Int 8 (-1), Wis 11, Cha 9 (-1)
Senses darkvision 60 ft.
Languages Common, Goblin
Traits Burly, Stealthy +5

AC 14 (leather, shield)
hp 18 (4d8)

Speed 30 ft.
Space 5 ft. Reach 5 ft.
Melee Large morningstar +2.
Hit: 5 (1d8 + 1) bludgeoning damage and 5 (1d8 + 1) piercing damage.
Ranged Large javelin +2 (30 ft./120 ft.).
Hit: 9 (2d6 + 2) piercing damage.

What do you think? What about this one:

Or this one:


  1. I have been playing DnD since the early 80's with the original Red Box, then on to AD&D, 3, 3.5, and finally 4th edition. I know it will be unpopular, but I really feel like Wizards nailed it. I'm a BIG fan of the 4E monster stat block.

  2. It's nice to have the spell effects inline, but they can also be a crutch and lead to dark acolyte / adept / priest type monsters having common spells. Compare that to older editions where you have to pick spells for spell using monsters. Then all monsters become unique. It's a trade-off; I hate page-flipping as much as the next person, but I hope they at least include language about how the powers in the bestiary are just examples, and an exhortation to switch things up.

  3. @Brad: I agree. The 4th Edition stat block made running even complex monsters a breeze.

    @Brendan: I agree that there should be options for swapping out spells, and making more complex spellcasting monsters for those that have the time to plan and/or want to do that. To that end, they kind of did that with the areana and hag.

  4. I really like the 4E monster stat blocks. Assuming 5th has a similar monster builder app, I'm not worried about unique spells or the like, as I currently customize the vast majority of monsters for our games.

    Of your examples, I would prefer a mix of the second and third. I prefer having the statistics at the top, where I can see them. If there's one thing I dislike about 4E's monster blocks it's that their stats and skill bonuses are listed at the bottom where I often forget about them (and that they might be trained in Athletics so apt to do something ridiculous like jump a ravine to engage an enemy).

  5. I also prefer having the stats, languages, gear, etc on top, as I think at some level it might encourage you from just looking at them as combat-fodder.


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