26 August 2013

Dealing With Stat Blocks

Stat blocks are an increasingly larger portion of D&D that I don't particularly agree with. If you look at how the blocks have evolved between second to fourth edition, you'll see how the area taken up by it continues to grow until they take up about half of a full page on their own. I hate that. I like to use a wide range of monsters and I've never been one to flip open the Monster Manual every time there's a new encounter. Those books take enough use without having to worry about them slowing down the game.

So what do I do? I usually make my own stat blocks in a word processor on my computer. It takes a bit longer to prep beforehand, but over time it's ended up saving me a ton of time during games as well as paper and expensive ink. As my collection of prepped monsters increases, it becomes easier and easier to prep games, as I can just copy and paste the relevant ones I want to use that night to a separate piece of paper. Essentially what I'll do is have about two and a half to three pages of stat blocks, and another half page with male and female names for when a player asks an NPC their name, and a series of short potential plot ideas that may or may not ever come into play. That will all fit into about three or four pages, and those quick, easy to reference pages have all the information I could possibly need in a night, or even several nights.

My stat block takes a page out of second edition's method. It's a packed block of text that has all the relevant game information in it, with no ecology information. My memory will serve that part, and oftentimes my ecology of a monster might be different than what's written, so it ends up being inconsequential. Things like languages spoken and treasure type are thrown out, and only combat information remains. This does not mean that the players can only engage in combat with anything they encounter, but for my style of DMing, it means that combat is the only time where rules will take a particularly enforced position. Otherwise, the creature or NPC is there to serve my purpose, and will engage with the players in a way I see fit for the situation. This is important, as it is vital not to let the rules get in the way of an interesting non-combat situation. The rules are there to serve you, not enslave you. Something my players need reminding of now and then.

So the stat block goes like this:

HD , HP , Int: +, Speed: , AC T F, Str  Dex  Con  Int  Wis  Cha , BA/CMB/CMD: +/+/, Attacks: , Special Attacks: , Special Qualities: , Saves: +/+/+. CR: . Gear/Treasure: . Space/Reach: /.

I'll fill in the name in bold and tack on the type at the end. So a simple goblin stat block looks like this:

Goblin: HD 1, HP 6, Int: +6, Speed: 30, AC16 T13 F14, Str 11 Dex 15 Con 12 Int 10 Wis 9 Cha 6, BA/CMB/CMD: +1/+0/12, Attacks: short sword +2 (1d4/19-20), short bow +4 (1d4/x3), Special Qualities: darkvision 60ft, perception -1, Saves: +3/+2/-1. CR: 1/3. Gear/Treasure: leather armor, light wooden shield, short sword, short bow, 20 arrows. Space/Reach: 5/5. NE Small Humanoid (Goblinoid).

You'll notice no special attacks there. For something with special attacks or the like, a stat block might look like this:

Chuul: HD 10, HP 85, Int: +7, Speed: 30 (swim 20), AC22 T12 F19, Str 25 Dex 16 Con 18 Int 10 Wis 14 Cha 5, BA/CMB/CMD: +7/+15 (+19 grapple)/28 (32 vs trip), Attacks: 2 claws +14 (2d6+7 plus grab), Special Attacks: constrict (grapple as free action, deals 2d6+7 dmg/rd) paralytic tentacles (can transfer grappled victim from claw to tentacle as move action, FORT DC 19 or be paralyzed for 6 rds, mandibles deal 1d8+7 dmg/rd), Special Qualities: darkvision 60ft, perception +19, sense motive +9, immunities (poison), amphibious, Combat Reflexes (can make 4 AoOs in a rd), Blind-Fight (reroll miss chance due to concealment, invisible attackers don’t gain bonuses), Saves: +7/+6/+9. CR: 7. CE Large Aberration (Aquatic).

Careful observers might detect that the Chuul actually has more feats than described. I ignore feats that are already rolled into the monster's stats, as they would just take up space and ink otherwise. In this case, Alertness, Improved Initiative, and Weapon Focus (claw) are all already accounted for in the monster's stats. Detailing that there was a feat to do so is pointless while running a game. In addition to simplifying the block, I also like to make the monster's name link back to the d20pfsrd or the dandwiki, so on my computer I have easy and instant access to the official stat block. I find it helps, and keep a record of any changes I might have made with a template or the like.

The general point is to ignore unimportant information. While it may be interesting to know that a chuul has Knowledge (nature) +8, how relevant could that possibly be to a player when confronted by one in a swamp? Or to a DM who can make up what it knows anyway? Not very.

Feel free to steal the basic stat block if you want or need to. By no means is it the most comprehensive version, but it does save me space, and in-game time. How about you? Do you have a unique solution to the massive stat blocks that are presented in the Monster Manual and the Bestiary? An opinion on the way they are done? If so, leave a comment.

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