D&D Monster Manual Review - One Badass Bestiary

D&D Monster Manual Review - One Badass Bestiary

If you were doubting this book, let me tell you: You were wrong.

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One thing from fourth that I liked, and I hope makes it into the DM guide, is a system for changing the level, or Challenge in this case, of a monster. On the other hand, maybe it won't be such a big deal. The bounded accuracy works against characters too, meaning that even at higher levels Orcs and Bugbears can get hit or two in. That being said, I feel encounter building is going to be more art than science this edition. Lots of the Challenge 2 monsters I've seen spoiled seem awfully deadly for a party of 2nd level adventurers (Intellect Devourer I'm looking at you.)

Update: Off topicish- The DMG release date was pushed back 3 weeks. http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/dmg-release-date

Between the narrow number range and the large number of low level creatures, it looks like WotC is enforcing Tucker's kobolds. I approve of this, I've always liked even and lower level enemies being used intelligently to fight a party instead of "just use a bigger beatstick".

What's the creature in the picture #13? Reminds a bit of the aquatic tanar'ri in Demogorgon's layer.

Wilco86:
What's the creature in the picture #13? Reminds a bit of the aquatic tanar'ri in Demogorgon's layer.

That's "The Kraken."

So are there any rules or suggestions for applying classes to low level creatures so that its not a case of the Orc king being exactly the same as Orc grunt no. 14?

I'm glad that they kept some of the structure from 4E in giving us varied monsters in the Manual, rather than a basic orc and a stack of templates. I find the stat blocks a little odd because the challenge rating isn't prominently displayed, buried a few lines deep into the block, which makes it harder to pull something out on the fly.

However, I disagree with the idea that the disjointed Challenge system is an advantage, one that rewards clever players who thrill to face great foes, or that it's something not to actively dislike. I've had a party of 3rd level players slay a dragon by dropping a castle on it through the use of a princess made of straw and an anachronistic love of pulleys- I don't need the Manual to cater to them. Even such basic things as preparing a battlefield or springing an ambush is enough to tip the balance and let them defeat dangerous foes, just like the same on the other side leads to Tucker's Kobolds. What I want a Challenge Rating to do is to tell me the rough odds of a stand-up fight against the enemy is, the chances that the party will emerge victorious and mostly alive. WotC can't predict the circumstances of the game, that's why there is a DM; they are supposed to be the ones with a mastery of the numbers behind it.

Sorry for the rant, but the Challenge Ratings I've seen so far have been useless when I'm trying to run a game. Encounter design has gone backwards from 4th edition; instead of being able to throw together a bunch of orcs with a pair of bugbear thugs with 5 minutes and an encounter budget (and being assured of a varied and enjoyable fight), I'm instead having to stop the game, haul out a bunch of papers, and pour over my notes to make sure that nothing has an save-or-suffer attack that would destroy the party, or that the AC/damage is way out of whack with other things of that level.

The naturalist argument sucks, Mr. Bolding, because the Challenge Rating doesn't exist in the fantasy world. Like levels, it's a metagame idea that is meant to make it easier for the DM to manage the numbers, and like the problem of exponential wizards and linear fighters, a failure of the metagame ruins the game as it's played. It's best when it ticks along quietly in the background as a small chart on the DM screen, not another thing I have to wrestle with either at the table or in prep time.

I agree with above,

and also:

how did this get a 4.5 out of 5?

Seems like the review mentions the low levels have a bunch of identical filler monsters, there are only a few high level monsters, the challenge rating / encounter building mechanic is useless, and the best thing is the generic flavour text of the monsters and even that "will thrill only a few dedicated fans" ?

This is 5th edition, should the standard for 4.5 out of 5 not be a little higher?

JonB:

Wilco86:
What's the creature in the picture #13? Reminds a bit of the aquatic tanar'ri in Demogorgon's layer.

That's "The Kraken."

OK, thanks.

castlewise:
One thing from fourth that I liked, and I hope makes it into the DM guide, is a system for changing the level, or Challenge in this case, of a monster.e

I don't know if there's an explicit system in the manual, but the math in 5e is really, really easy. For attacks and skills where the monster is proficient, add the difference between proficiency between the listed level and the intended level. For ever 4 level changes, add 2 to a stat. For HP, multiply by the fractional change in intended level/CR.

The other convenient thing is that you don't even really _have_ to adjust anything if you don't want. AC is almost entirely capped at 20 and attacks essentially aren't ever going to get above +10 or maybe +2 if your DM lets the gear get completely out of hand. A level 20 character/NPC is neither immune to being hit by a level 1 NPC not guaranteed to hit said level 1 NPC. Resistances and weaknesses are never flat numbers, always doubling or halving.

Essentially you'll still have to expend some resources (most usually HP) to take down those CR2 kobold with your level 15 super drow assassin of unholy stacked damage.

And CR is reasonably additive-- in 5e six of those level 2 kobolds is legitimately 5 or 6 times as dangerous as one of them, in that you'll lose that multiplier's worth of extra HP. Bleeding you gradually to death with a bunch of little things that don't get you much XP is actually a legitimate GM/mastermind delaying tactic now.

That said, the saving throw numbers to avoid the nasty abilities and spells of the higher level monsters are rather unattainable even with their reduced range, and there's little opportunity for players who have bad saves in those categories to avoid those powers. Many players are just going to have to resign themselves to a life of eating dragon breath or petrification - which isn't a particularly appealing fate nor fun gameplay.

Does that mean play breaks down at a certain level? And that after you reach a certain level, it is no longer fun?

Irnad:
Does that mean play breaks down at a certain level? And that after you reach a certain level, it is no longer fun?

I think that will remain to be really tested in mass play, but in our experience no. The game does tend to encourage more imaginative strategies - i.e. "Keep the wizard and cleric out of the room until the dragon deploys its first breath weapon, since the fighter can soak the damage and the rogue avoid it. Then go all out, but remember to use invisibility so they don't get caught in the second blast." In this way it's much like high level D&D has always been.

Uri:
[snip]

how did this get a 4.5 out of 5?

Seems like the review mentions the low levels have a bunch of identical filler monsters, there are only a few high level monsters, the challenge rating / encounter building mechanic is useless, and the best thing is the generic flavour text of the monsters and even that "will thrill only a few dedicated fans" ?

This is 5th edition, should the standard for 4.5 out of 5 not be a little higher?

You seem to be focusing on the negative aspects I mentioned, and I'm not sure where I implied that the low level monsters were filler: They're fascinatingly varied and well designed. Many - like the intellect devourer - will remain a threat even to high level characters. They're well described and quite awesome. If I gave you another impression, I'm sorry! I think that this really is a fantastically high quality book - all of the charm of expensive modern books like Numenera, and with solid rules to boot.

Thunderous Cacophony:
I'm glad that they kept some of the structure from 4E in giving us varied monsters in the Manual, rather than a basic orc and a stack of templates. I find the stat blocks a little odd because the challenge rating isn't prominently displayed, buried a few lines deep into the block, which makes it harder to pull something out on the fly.

Agreed and agreed. I found myself frustrated by the few humanoids that didn't have a varied stat block selection.

Thunderous Cacophony:

However, I disagree with the idea that the disjointed Challenge system is an advantage, one that rewards clever players who thrill to face great foes, or that it's something not to actively dislike. I've had a party of 3rd level players slay a dragon by dropping a castle on it through the use of a princess made of straw and an anachronistic love of pulleys- I don't need the Manual to cater to them. Even such basic things as preparing a battlefield or springing an ambush is enough to tip the balance and let them defeat dangerous foes, just like the same on the other side leads to Tucker's Kobolds. What I want a Challenge Rating to do is to tell me the rough odds of a stand-up fight against the enemy is, the chances that the party will emerge victorious and mostly alive. WotC can't predict the circumstances of the game, that's why there is a DM; they are supposed to be the ones with a mastery of the numbers behind it.

Sorry for the rant, but the Challenge Ratings I've seen so far have been useless when I'm trying to run a game. Encounter design has gone backwards from 4th edition; instead of being able to throw together a bunch of orcs with a pair of bugbear thugs with 5 minutes and an encounter budget (and being assured of a varied and enjoyable fight), I'm instead having to stop the game, haul out a bunch of papers, and pour over my notes to make sure that nothing has an save-or-suffer attack that would destroy the party, or that the AC/damage is way out of whack with other things of that level.

The naturalist argument sucks, Mr. Bolding, because the Challenge Rating doesn't exist in the fantasy world. Like levels, it's a metagame idea that is meant to make it easier for the DM to manage the numbers, and like the problem of exponential wizards and linear fighters, a failure of the metagame ruins the game as it's played. It's best when it ticks along quietly in the background as a small chart on the DM screen, not another thing I have to wrestle with either at the table or in prep time.

No worries about the rant. I wish I had time to give you a more detailed response, but here goes: I don't think it's a blanket negative like you do, because there are a lot of players who find more nebulous challenge suited to their playstyle. I don't think it's a positive either. It's a misstep that ultimately makes the game harder to learn and play - and the real point that keeps this from being a five star book. It's definitely a step back from 4th Edition, but not so huge a one that it's a disaster - because *so much* of the math lessons learned from 4th are still there.

Irnad:

That said, the saving throw numbers to avoid the nasty abilities and spells of the higher level monsters are rather unattainable even with their reduced range, and there's little opportunity for players who have bad saves in those categories to avoid those powers. Many players are just going to have to resign themselves to a life of eating dragon breath or petrification - which isn't a particularly appealing fate nor fun gameplay.

Does that mean play breaks down at a certain level? And that after you reach a certain level, it is no longer fun?

It doesn't seem like that will be the case... but I'm definitely VERY worried about the "DC21 save vs. Frightened" aura the higher level demons and dragons have. Without some help from feats, multi-classing, weird stat assignment, or a Paladin to back them up, classes like Fighter and Rogue are going to be pretty much absolutely useless in those fights. Lucky for us, our party is shaping up to be VERY Wisdom-heavy (Paladin, Druid, Bard, Rogue, Warlock).

 

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