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What’s in a Monster?
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

W e're going to do something a little different this week. Rather than talk in general terms about what a monster is like or show you the story briefs I'm writing to guide design, I want to show off our current thinking about what information we might present when we give you a monster.

So here's a monster we've already discussed twice in this column: the bugbear. What follows combines game statistics, art, and story background into what I hope is a unified whole, where each piece makes sense with the others.

Let me clarify up front: I'm not talking about page design, graphic design, or art direction. All I'm really thinking about at this point is what information belongs in a monster entry—what do you want to know about it?

So let's have a look at the bugbear, and then I'll grill you with questions.

Medium Humanoid (Goblin)
Armor Class 14 (leather, shield)
Hit Points 18 (4d8)
Speed 30 ft.
Senses darkvision 60 ft.
Str 15 (+2); Dex 14 (+2); Con 10 (+0)
Int 8 (–1); Wis 11 (+0); Cha 9 (–1)
Alignment neutral evil
Languages Common, Goblin
Burly: The bugbear can wield weapons that are one size category larger than normal without penalty.
Stealthy +5: The bugbear gains a +5 bonus to all checks made to avoid detection.
Melee Attack—Large Morningstar: +2 to hit (reach 5 ft.; one creature). Hit: 5 (1d8 + 1) bludgeoning damage and 5 (1d8 + 1) piercing damage.
Ranged Attack—Large Javelin: +2 to hit (range 30 ft./120 ft.; one creature). Hit: 9 (2d6 + 2) piercing damage.
Level 3; XP 140
Environment: Hills or any underground

Brutal and murderous, bugbears are stealthy killers despite their large size.

Bugbears have two main goals in life: survival and treasure. They are superb carnivores, winnowing out the weak and careless—monster, humanoid, and animal alike.

Bugbears are lanky and leanly muscular, standing 7 feet tall. Unlike other goblinoids, a bugbear's brown hair grows from its tan hide in great profusion. A bugbear's nose is the most pronounced of all the goblinoids, resembling that of a bear and sharing a bear's keen sense of smell.

Brutal Ambushers. Like goblins, bugbears are stealthy and skilled at ambushes. They lurk in canyons and badlands when travelers approach, launching the ambush with a barrage of massive javelins. After the initial attack, they skulk through the rocks to different advantageous positions to launch further attacks, avoiding melee combat as long as possible.

After melee is joined, they batter their foes with oversized morningstars. They are not cowardly like goblins, but they don't coordinate their attacks. Instead, they look out only for themselves, and they'll sometimes compete for kills or trophies. A bugbear is unlikely to come to the aid of an ally who's in trouble—a bugbear who's not strong enough to hold its own is one less hand to share the spoils.

Territorial Bands. Bugbears live in small bands that rarely number more than a dozen, led by the largest and meanest of the group. They dwell in caves and dungeons, but range over territories of several square miles aboveground or they stay within a more restricted region underground. They view any intruders into their territory as either rivals to be destroyed or sources of food and treasure, and thus they have no interest in negotiation or ransom. They sometimes take prisoners to use or sell as slaves.

Bugbears survive primarily by hunting, and they have no compunctions about eating anything they can kill. They are also fond of wine and strong ale, often drinking to excess. They prefer to raid the surface at dusk or dawn, when their darkvision gives them an advantage. They are not hindered by sunlight, though, and frequently lurk in open canyons, gorges, or other areas where they can make use of cover to get the jump on their targets.

All That Glitters. Extremely greedy, bugbears love glittery, shiny objects and weapons. They are always on the lookout to increase their hoards of coins, gems, and weapons through plunder and ambush.

What Do You Think?

In a previous playtest survey, about 75% of playtesters told us they were mostly satisfied with the stat blocks we presented. But maybe not all of you responded to that survey, so let's ask again, and we'll get your feedback about the overall presentation.

  How do you like the presentation of bugbear statistics in this entry? (Again, keep this in mind as you answer: I’m not talking about page design, graphic design, or art direction. All I’m really thinking about at this point is what information belongs here and the order in which it’s presented.)  
1-I hate it. It actively impedes my ability to use the monster.
2-I don't like it. It’s an eyesore and/or confusing.
3-It’s OK.
4-I like it. It makes it easy to run the monster.
5-I love it! It’s the best stat block ever!

  Do you feel like the monster entry as a whole gives you a good sense of the monster?  
1-No. Three articles in and I still don't know what a bugbear is.
2-Yeah, but I would have liked to see more.

  Do you feel like the monster entry would help you create encounters or adventures featuring bugbears?  
1-Not at all. It gets in the way.
2-Yeah, it gave me some ideas.
3-Definitely. It sparked my creativity.

  Do you feel like the monster entry would help you bring bugbears to life for your players in the game?  
1-No, it’s useless.
2-Yeah, I can work with that.
3-You bet!

  Overall, how would you rate the quantity of information contained in this entry?  
1-Too little.
2-Too much.
3-Just right.

  And here’s a random question to round out the bunch. How important is it to you that a monster entry specifies the language(s) a creature speaks?  
1-Intrusive. I’m going to handle languages the way I want to, and putting that information in the monster entry just clutters it up.
2-Not important. I assume any monster that can speak knows Common, and the other languages don’t matter.
3-Not all that important. I can usually figure it out on my own, either because I know the monster has its own language or because I can guess which of the 10 or 20 languages in the game the monster speaks.
4-Important. I want players to benefit from the language selections they’ve made, so it matters what language the monsters they meet speak. But having it in the body of the monster entry would be fine.
5-Crucial. I want it in the stat block where I can find it right away, so I know whether the player characters can communicate with it or not.

Previous Poll Results

First, how do you like our new definition of aberrations?
1-It's totally off base. 40 2.2%
2-Works well enough, I guess. 698 38.1%
3-Perfect! 1096 59.8%
Total 1834 100.0%

How well do the beholders we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1-I'm pretty sure that's a gas spore. 7 0.4%
2-It's so wrong, it's like an aberration. 6 0.3%
3-It's getting there, but not quite working for me. 110 6.4%
4-Yeah, I recognize that as a beholder. 1040 60.1%
5-Any beholder that does not match this description must be eradicated. 568 32.8%
Total 1731 100.0%

How well do the mind flayers we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1-If that's a mind flayer, I'm an elder brain. 9 0.5%
2-It's so wrong, it's like an aberration. 11 0.6%
3-It's getting there, but not quite working for me. 158 9.2%
4-Yeah, I recognize that as a mind flayer. 773 45.0%
5-The elder brain approves. 765 44.6%
Total 1716 100.0%

How well do the aboleths we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1-I'm pretty sure that's a mental figment. 8 0.5%
2-It's so wrong, it's like an aberration. 14 0.8%
3-It's getting there, but not quite working for me. 167 10.1%
4-Yeah, I recognize that as an aboleth. 847 51.1%
5-I remember when these creatures ruled the world! 620 37.4%
Total 1656 100.0%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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