Monster Creation in D&D Next
The general flow of the new monster creation system Mike talks about in his Legends and Lore post? Awesome!
I absolutely love systems like this where I can arrive with an idea and the rules will meet me in the middle to parse it into mechanics. The exact implementation here might not be how I’d do it, but man, the overall scheme sounds great. Lowering the amount of prep inherent in D&D may be the killer feature of a new resurgence, this is a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately the first two steps aren’t my favorite. The first step, determining level and power, requires maybe the biggest jump from idea to rules. As a GM I have to take this cool concept I have and immediately place it in the overall foodchain of D&D.
Framing it as “what level in a generic dungeon does [the monster] show up?” doesn’t help me all that much either. It assumes a lot about how the world is structured and dungeon architecture that I’m just not sure about, especially for a game that’s so flexible.
The reason for this question is also the shortcut around it: since damage and HP still scale with level every monster needs a level to help assign those values. If HP and damage didn’t scale it’s be much easier to just ask the GM roughly where in the world this monster fits, not a specific level. Of course most GM’s will just answer this question by looking at what level the party currently is +/- 1-2.
Fitting monsters to levels is fine for a challenge-based game, but doesn’t make any sense if my monsters are placed based on ecology and what makes sense in the world. If I show up to monster creation and all I know is my creature is enough to wreck havoc on a small town but nothing so horrible that the nearby keep has to worry it’s a pretty big jump to turn that into a level.
The second step, stats, could be tricky too. There’s an easier solution here: make assigning stats clear with guide for every range. But in general, pegging every part of the monster to a number is tough, doubly so when the range is so oddly distributed.
So really this is more of a problem with the stat ranges than with monsters. The basic range of 1-18 is an interesting beast to start with: the mid-range is relatively uniform in description, but below 3 or above 18 the scale means something entirely different.
Put another way: -1 Int (going by the d20 descriptions) means almost nothing if you start from 11, but it means going from dumb to sub-human if you start with a 3.
As usual with many things D&D, this is a holdover from a design where it worked to a design where it works less. In Basic the 1-18 range worked fine, as the range of abilities being considered fit into the numerical range. Carrying that forward over years of broadening, it no longer fits so well.
The root issue is that, in the second step of a process meant to take an idea through to a concrete form, we’re trying to make a quantitative measure of certain aspects. It’s a tough thing to do, especially when it comes to deciding between two scores that grant the same bonus. Why does the minotaur have 11 Dexterity, not 10?
The other option is qualitative scores. Many games use this, but the reason it’s on my mind is actual a software testing book. Apparently at Google when assigning risk estimates instead of assigning some absolute measure they just measure within each project into broad categories: everything in the high-risk bucket it roughly as risky as each other, and more risky than anything in the medium-risk bucket. With a 1-18 range being standard for most creatures (according to Mike’s article) it wouldn’t be hard to just drop the exact score and go straight to modifiers in a qualitative way: Wimpy, Weak, Average, Strong, Burly, etc.
An interesting way to go one step further (and again something found both in software testing and game design) is to cut out the middle value. The thinking here is to not give people an easy choice. When presented with an “average” option people will tend to pick it instead of thinking more and landing higher or lower. This would be a major shift for D&D (certainly not one we’d see in D&D Next at this stage) but removing the easy option tends to lead people to think about their choices more.
Ultimately these are all nitpicks. The idea that I can make a D&D Next monster on-the-fly from just an understanding of what it is fictionally is amazing. For a first draft this process is great, with some revision I can see it being the highlight of D&D Next.