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Last Saturday, I tweeted the following.
All of those discussions were inspired by or involved NewbieDM, S Keldor lord of Castle Greyskull DMLSP (that’s a mouthful), Roving Band of Misfits, and Merric Blackman. I can say that NewbieDM and Merric are good at doing that; I’ve never interacted with S Keldor. Note that while I’ll be quoting them in these posts, much like my brain at 3 am acknowledged about me, I can’t do their arguments justice either. You’ll have to click through to see everything they’ve said. My only purpose here is to express my own opinions while providing context for their genesis and giving credit to those that inspired them. If you want to know what they think, click through and ask them to clarify.
Part 1: This is Why the 5th Edition D&D Monster Manual is My Favorite RPG Bestiary
The 4e and 5e Monster Manuals took opposite approaches to how they loaded them with monsters. Very generally, and something you all already know, the Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition Monster Manual (let’s just say MM going forward) sacrificed variety for detail. The 4eMM1 (get it?) was the first bestiary we had for 4e, yet it didn’t include some iconic monsters such as metallic dragons and frost giants. No frost giants?!?! Even a 4e apologist like me (stay focused!) complained. The trade off was that there was more room to discuss the ecology and history of the monsters that were included, and there were more stat blocks for each of those creatures within that group. Plus, we got humans as monsters. 😐
5e took the opposite approach. With only a few exceptions, such as dragons, giants, and slaadi (I get a smug sense of satisfaction for knowing the proper plural form of slaad), we got no ecology or history and only one stat block per monster. This provided a lot of variety but considering how hard it is for new DMs to create monsters in 5e (compared to 4e), it was initially frustrating. On the bright side, they had room to give us the flumph. 😐
Ironically, it would seem that WotC should have taken opposite approaches in both situations, giving us only one, easily-leveled monster for 4e, but giving us multiple monsters for 5e so that we didn’t have to figure out how to create them. But didn’t they? Foreshadowing!
Enough complaining. Considering the title of this post, there must be a happy ending. As a result of my one-stop stat blocks project, I have in my possession something that I’ll never publish: a Word document containing my treatment of all of the 5eMM stat blocks, including ones that aren’t actually in the 5eMM (i.e., variant giant lizards, diseased giant rats, cave bear, and variant insect swarms). That is, I recreated by rote every single stat block in the 5eMM and then some. That gave me some perspective that I’m not sure one can have without at least intently reading the book cover to cover relatively rapidly.
Reskinning monsters is pretty easy in 5e. Here are two examples. First, let’s look at the giants. Before my stat block project, I was arguing with a friend (let’s call him Rob #247). He didn’t like the 5eMM, and I did. He complained that all the giants were the same: weapon attack, throw a rock, and multiattack. He found it boring and uncreative. I don’t think that’s fair. First, it’s actually important that the giants are very similar. It gives a sense that the giants were related evolutionarily speaking. Granted, You have to suspend quite a bit of disbelief in order to play D&D, but when logic is successfully applied, it triggers our instincts for familiarity and order. Second, when you visit the glacial rift of the frost giant Jarl, you don’t expect to see many, if any, fire giants, stone giants, etc. Maybe you’ll see one other giant type who’s an envoy from his leader (such as the cloud giant ambassador in Steading of the Hill Giant Chief), but that’s about it. That means that you can easily adapt the stat blocks for the other giants into the ones you need, even at different CRs , without appearing to use the same stat blocks over and over. There are plenty of other creatures with similar formats (e.g., cyclopes) that can be used as any form of giant.
Let’s now consider the kraken. Maybe you want to unleash it (yeah, I know) on your PCs, but that’s not an option for low level characters. What do you do? Well, have a giant octopus capsize their raft. Still too high a level? Then have a rock capsize the raft, and send a bunch of octopuses (octopi isn’t an English word) attack them. Maybe such a low level encounter isn’t that high a priority for your adventure, making ordinary octopi (octopodes also isn’t an English word) unimportant, but if your BBEG is a kraken, they become important as a means of foreshadowing or providing a theme. Need a lower-CR treant? Try the awakened tree.
The bottom line: The stat blocks are connected in such a way that you realistically have several stat blocks at different CRs that can be trivially adapted to represent the monsters you want. Because the 5eMM went almost 100% in the direction it did, the connections are far better than I’ve ever seen in a bestiary. You don’t just have to reskin some unrelated monster. You can reskin something that’s really close to it both mechanically and thematically, no matter which one you choose. That makes the game far more accessible for DMs than it otherwise would be.
Talk about foreshadowing! My thoughts on accessibility are the topic of the next post!
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