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Monster Design in D&D Next
Legends and Lore
Mike Mearls

F irst, I'd like to thank everyone who is taking part in the D&D Next playtest. It feels good to know that so many people are willing to take the time to help us out. So, for that you have our endless thanks.

One area that we've seen a lot of comments on—both online and in the playtest survey we sent out—concerns monsters. Right now, our monster design is rudimentary at best. We're taking a few cues from each edition and leaning on some system math that is far from final. At this stage, though, I can give you some insight into where the design is headed.

I thought about speaking in the abstract, but I instead decided to give you an example. I walked into our reference library, grabbed one of the many 2E Monstrous Compendium binders that contained the entire run of that edition's creatures, and flipped to the hook horror. My rigorous, scientific process for settling on the hook horror consisted of noticing that all the H creatures fit in one volume, and the first one that came to mind was the hook horror.

I'd also like to thank Tim Beach, David Eckelberry, and anyone else at TSR who took the time to painstakingly photocopy and collate every single monster ever presented in the Monstrous Compendium format for AD&D 2nd Edition. It's a ridiculously useful resource.

Step One: Story

Before we can talk about game mechanics, we have to look at the creature's description and decide on its key traits and distinguishing elements. What makes a hook horror what it is? In reading over the Monstrous Compendium entry, here's what stands out:

  • Hook horrors make a clicking noise that functions similarly to a bat's sense of echolocation.
  • They embed their hooks in prey, allowing them to tear a foe apart with their follow-up bite attack and then rend with their hooks.
  • They are excellent climbers.
  • They have a rudimentary language and simple, tribal social structure.

Knowing that the hook horror showed up in three other editions, I also took a quick look at their other appearances to see what key details emerge. There are a few details here and there that slightly differ from this definition, while the original description in the AD&D Fiend Folio is fairly sparse. I like the Monstrous Compendium's level of detail, so that's what I'll settle on.

Step Two: Mechanics

The bullet points below speak to some basic mechanics you should expect to see on a hook horror:

  • It has echolocation, so invisibility is useless against it. In addition, any attempts to hide from it must rely on finding solid objects to duck behind. Finally, its acute hearing makes it difficult to surprise a hook horror.
  • It should attack twice with its hooks, and, if the hook horror hits, the target is skewered on a hook.
  • A skewered target takes damage each round and must make a Strength check to escape.
  • The hook horror can't attack with a hook that it has currently used to skewer a creature, but it can automatically hit such a creature with its bite attack. It does not otherwise attack with its bite.
  • It should have a climb speed and a bonus to any checks made to climb.
  • A little more research pegs its Challenge Rating at 6 in 3E and its level at 13 in 4E. It had 5 Hit Dice in AD&D. I'll let the majority rule and peg it as a tough match-up for 5th-level characters.
  • For ability scores, a hook horror should be as strong and tough as an ogre, especially since it is size Large. Its Wisdom should also be above average, due to its powerful senses, while its skill at climbing suggests an above average Dexterity. The Monstrous Compendium pegs its Intelligence as between 5 and 7. I'll split the difference at 6. Its Charisma is below average, since the entry specifically cites poor relationships with other races. Hook horrors don't have particularly strong or noticeable personalities.

Step Three: Story Elements

I don't see any need to alter any of its story elements from the Monstrous Compendium entry, so we can assume that hook horrors live underground, they prefer to eat meat, they attack unless a potential victim is obviously powerful, and they live in small groups.

One thing I noticed was that the Monstrous Compendium entry describes hook horrors as living in caves, but their natural climbing ability suggests that they might seek out higher perches in caverns to roost. I'd note this in their description and expand on it a little more. It makes sense for hook horrors to seek out lairs that other monsters might not be able to use, plus pouncing on prey from above would be a great ambush tactic.

Step Four: The Numbers

Here's a stat block that shows the basics of how monsters might end up. Keep in mind that the math is still being worked on. The idea is to get across what monster mechanics might look like. For instance, the hit points and XP value are merely guesses. If you have the playtest packet, you'll notice that the hook horror's XP value matches the troll's. That's intentional, and it reflects where I see the horror in relation to other creatures.

Hook Horror
Large Aberration
Initiative +1
AC 17
HP 60
Str 18 (+4)
Dex 12 (+1)
Con 15 (+2)
Int 6 (–2)
Wis 12 (+1)
Cha 9 (–1)
Space/Reach 5 feet/10 feet
Speed 30 feet, climb 30 feet
XP 450
Melee Attack Two hooks +5 (1d10 + 4 piercing, and impale); the hook horror cannot use a hook to attack if a victim is impaled on it
Special Actions twist and bite
Special Traits echolocation
Impale An impaled target can escape by using its action to succeed at a DC 12 Strength check.
Twist and Bite Any creature currently impaled by the hook horror takes 1d10 + 4 piercing damage. In addition, the hook horror can automatically bite an impaled creature for 2d6 + 4 extra damage.
Echolocation A hook horror ignores anything that obscures vision within 120 feet. A creature can attempt to hide only if a physical object completely obscures it from view. It can remain hidden as long as it remains behind such an object or ends its turn behind one.

Other Issues

So, hopefully that gives you some insight into how we are building monsters. There are a few other goals I'd like to touch on.

Complete Stat Blocks: We want to ensure that a stat block format gives you everything you need to run a creature, including a breakdown of its combat abilities. We might save noncombat abilities for its complete write up.

NPCs: Our path right now points to allowing leveled NPCs or custom-built villains, as you see fit. We also want a simple set of rules for making an existing monster more powerful or weaker, as needed. We're using the 4E system as a baseline in terms of speed and ease of use, with options for DMs who want a more detailed system.

For NPCs with levels in a class, right now we expect that backgrounds and themes are not assumed to be part of that. In addition, we'd like to develop a slimmed-down presentation of spells that makes it easy to include them in a stat block. Although some spells are too complex to be boiled down easily, classic mainstays such as magic missile, lightning bolt, and scorching ray can be detailed with a few key elements that we can fit into a stat block.

Encounter Building: This is another area where we'd like to use 4E's innovations. The goal right now is to assign each monster or NPC an XP value. An adventure or encounter would then have an XP budget for a DM to spend, with guidelines on making easy, average, and hard encounters.

In addition, random encounter charts should allow DMs to avoid math entirely. We might have tables for each dungeon level, and these tables could determine the type of monster and number appearing, with the total XP value of those battles ranging from easy to difficult for that dungeon level. The same applies to outdoor areas. Finally, we'll include guidelines for creating your own tables.

Mike Mearls
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.
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