When it comes to combat, the math that our system uses assumes an adventuring day that lasts a number of rounds and involves a total experience point value for monsters based on the party’s level. Higher-level parties fight more and face tougher creatures.
The adventure design guidelines give an XP budget for an entire day, a range of XP values for easy, average, and tough fights, and a suggested maximum XP value for a single monster. In other words, you have a daily budget you can spend, guidelines for how much of that budget to spend on a given fight, and a limit of how much XP you can spend on a single monster. As with everything that focuses on the DM, this is all advice to use as you see fit.
In this system, a monster’s experience point value is the basic measure of its power. Tougher monsters are worth more XP. That’s the only number you have to worry about when building encounters and adventures.
The monster design process boils down to creating a monster’s stats and abilities, and then using the system math to determine its XP value. I’ll use a monster I created for the playtest, the minotaur, as an example to walk you through the steps of monster design.
Determining Level and Power
To start with, you first need to decide the monster’s equivalent character level and its relative power. Here’s a way to frame it as a question: In a generic dungeon, on what level does the monster most commonly show up?
For the minotaur, I settled on 5th level. The next step is to consider the minotaur’s relative power. We have three categories, tentatively labeled mook, elite, and solo. A mook is the equivalent of one character, an elite the equivalent of two, and a solo the equivalent of four. You can also think of the categories by size, with mook being the equivalent of the typical Medium or smaller creature, an elite a Large creature, and a solo a Huge or larger creature. I’ve pegged the minotaur as an elite, since it is size Large. Creatures weaker than a mook are simply lower-level monsters thrown at a higher-level party.
You can also skip this step, assign stats, and generate an XP value for the creature. By picking out a level and power rating, though, you can more easily compare your final creature to a set of generic stats that we have for each level. In fact, you can combine the generic guidelines for AC, attack bonus, hit points, and damage by level, with a few simple abilities to create monsters on the fly.
At this stage, things are more freeform. To start with, you assign scores to the six abilities. One thing to keep in mind is that the range of abilities is a little narrower in D&D Next. Scores above 18 are for truly remarkable characters and monsters. Here’s what I have for the minotaur:
Strength 18, Dexterity 11, Constitution 15, Intelligence 6, Wisdom 16, Charisma 9
Minotaurs are strong and tough, plus they compensate for a dim intellect with their ferocious cunning. A minotaur might not plan an elaborate ambush, but its excellent senses and intuition make it a deadly hunter when it is patrolling a labyrinth.
The ability scores form the basis of the minotaur’s attacks. Its 18 Strength gives it a +4 attack bonus, which is on target for its level. I settled on the greataxe as the default minotaur weapon. Since minotaurs are size Large, their weapons deal one more die of damage than normal size weapons. Thus, the minotaur attacks at +4 with its greataxe, inflicting 2d12 + 4 damage on a hit. Those are in line with its level and power rating.
If the minotaur’s stats didn’t line up with the expected numbers, I could give it a proficiency or skill bonus to its attacks. We generally assume that any creature that lacks a class also lacks an attack bonus. That said, creatures that typically train with their weapons or have a natural skill with the weapons can receive an attack bonus similar to a character’s. As an example, we depict hobgoblins as the products of a highly militarized society. They have a bonus to attack rolls to indicate that. This allows us to reflect skill without using class levels.
Another alternative in this case would be to increase the minotaur’s damage. It swings wildly, but hits hard. In some cases, a creature’s lack of training might translate into an attack roll penalty. A dim hill giant with a 20 Strength might swing only with a +3 to hit, since it is too clumsy and dense to make the most of its strength when it comes to accuracy.
Generating Hit Points
For hit points, a level 5 elite monster should sit somewhere in the 50s. Note that this is lower than what you’ve seen in the playtest so far. As mentioned in our latest podcast, we’ve deflated hit points and damage across the system. Character and monster hit points are lower, while damage has also come down a notch. It’s worth noting that we did not change magical or Hit Die healing for now. We’re interested in seeing if dropping overall hit points makes healing feel more useful.
The minotaur uses the default d10 Hit Die for size Large creatures. Having 10d10 Hit Dice plus its Constitution bonus puts it at 57 hit points (hit points per d10 Hit Die averages to 5.5). As you can see, the Constitution score has a much smaller effect on a monster’s overall hit points. Instead, a tough monster has more Hit Dice and therefore more hit points.
Setting the Armor Class
The minotaur’s AC is a good example of where we can introduce factors such as skill and natural armor on top of the ability scores. For the minotaur, its AC is 10 without armor due to its average Dexterity. We don’t expect the typical minotaur to wear armor, but it should have a tougher than normal hide and fur to protect it. I peg its AC at 16, average for a level 5 creature and the equivalent of chainmail in our revised armor tables. Thus, it has a base AC of 16 due to its hide and fur.
It’s worth noting that in this system, armor does not stack with other types of armor. Armor gives you a base AC. If you have multiple armors, you take the one that gives you the highest base AC.
Filling in the Details
Things such as speed, initiative, and alignment are either based on past representations of the monster or derived from its abilities. At this stage, the basic numbers are done. We need to add a few special abilities to round out the minotaur. Here they are in an unplaytested version.
Rage +5/5: This creature can choose to take disadvantage on a melee attack to gain +5 damage. If that attack misses but either die roll was 10 or higher, the attack is instead a glancing blow that deals 5 damage. The attack still counts as a miss for determining other special effects or abilities.
Goring Charge: On its turn, this creature can use its movement to move at least half its speed in a straight line and then use its action to make a special melee attack. This melee attack is a gore attack (+4 attack, 3d10 + 4 damage). If it hits, the target must also make a Strength save (DC 12) or be knocked prone and, on its next turn, the target cannot use its movement to do anything other than stand up or crawl.
Keen Senses: This creature has a +5 bonus to all checks to detect hidden creatures, and the minimum of its d20 die roll on such checks is a 10.
The key with many of the monster abilities is that they are easy to use at the table and they are things that we can use with multiple creatures. If you understand how rage works with one creature, you can apply that knowledge again when other creatures use it. The specific values might change, but the basic process remains the same. Of course, we still use unique abilities. For instance, rage and keen senses are likely to show up on other creatures, but goring charge is likely to be unique to minotaurs.
Ideally, this storehouse of iconic abilities makes monster creation even faster for DMs, since you can pull in versions with bonuses or other variables set to their appropriate numbers for different level bands. For instance, rage offers a smaller bonus at low levels and a bigger one at higher levels.
Calculating Experience Points
At this stage, you then determine the power of the monster’s combat special abilities and use that, along with its stats, to compute its experience point value. Right now, that math is a work in progress. We have a rough estimation, but it will require a fair amount of playtesting to make sure that we’ve established the correct values for different special abilities.
Bonus: Evolving Chaos
As those of you participating in the D&D Next playtest know, the playtest materials come with an adaptation of the Caves of Chaos from the classic adventure B2 Keep on the Borderlands. Just to help you spice things up a little (and keep your players from feeling too confident that they know exactly what’s going on), here’s a little advice from Robert J. Schwalb on how to tweak the material and create fresh, interesting situations to challenge your playtest characters.