Monsters Got Class
Pimp Krusk is a very classy monster.
If you remember the first rule of monsters, you might be wondering something. If monsters are just like you, then why aren't they Fighters and Monks? Where do they get their hit points?
Monsters get their hit points like you do, from classes. But instead of Fighters and Monks, monsters have classes called Racial Hit Dice. Racial Hit Dice and classes both are examples of a more broad mechanic, just called Hit Dice. Remember rule 3? Here is the biggest example of it: You have Hit Dice too.
What exactly do Hit Dice do? To explore this we're going to use an example from the Monster Manual: the Vrock, on page 48. This guy has almost every ability a monster can have, so we'll be using him throughout the handbook.
- Hit points: The most obvious thing to come from Hit Dice is hit points. Each one of a monster's Hit Dice is represented by an actual die that you can roll to determine its hit points. Looking at the Vrock, we see the entry "Hit Dice: 10d8+70 (115 hp)" Like a cleric, a Vrock rolls d8s for its hit points, and just like you he adds his constitution modifier to each roll. From this we can already see that the Vrock has 10 Racial Hit Dice.
- Base Attack Bonus: For each hit die, a monster's Base Attack Bonus goes up. Just like character classes, different monster hit dice increase base attack bonus at different rates. Some increase as slowly as wizards, going up only on half the hit dice. Some increase faster, like clerics. We can see from the entry "Base Attack/Grapple: +10/+20" that Vrocks get their base attack bonus the fastest of all: like a fighter, their base attack bonus goes up by one for every single one of their hit dice, giving them +10 base attack bonus.
- Base Saving Throw Bonuses: Just like a fighter gains +2 to Fortitude saves at first level, so do monsters gain bonuses to saves that depend on their Racial Hit Dice. This is the first thing that it's hard to see directly from the monster's statblock. I'll teach you how to calculate a monster's base save bonuses later, but for now we'll do a simple and straightforward trick: to find the Vrock's base Will save, we subtract its Wisdom bonus from it's total Will save bonus. This gives 10-3=+7. Doing this for each of the other saves we find that the Vrock has base saving throw bonuses to Fortitude, Reflex, and Will that are all +7. We can conclude that the Vrock has the same Base Saving Throw Bonuses as a tenth-level Monk.
- Skill points: Just like you, a monster gets a certain number of skill points per level. Just like you, at first level the skill points are multiplied by four, and just like you the monster adds its Intelligence bonus to skill points at every level. Monster Racial Hit Dice even have class skills, and you'll learn later how to tell what they are. Just like you, monsters can only put Hit Dice+3 skill points into their class skills, or half that into their cross class skills. Vrocks happen to gain 8 skill points per level, like a rogue.
- Feats: Just like you, a monster gains a feat at first level, and another feat at levels that are multiples of three. You can see that for its ten Racial Hit Dice a Vrock gets four feats, the same number as a tenth level character.
Ability Score Increases:This is an example of Rule 2. Monsters gain most of what you gain from your Hit Dice, but they don't gain ability score increases every four levels like you do.
You might be wondering, does every monster have different racial hit dice? In the Player's Handbook there are eleven classes. Monsters, similarly, have only 15 types of Racial Hit Dice. These correspond to the fifteen Creature Types. Creature types are part race, part class, and they determine almost all of a monster's stats. They are:
- Aberration: Aberrations are strange monsters with odd origins and peculiar powers. The most famous Aberration is probably the Mind Flayer.
- Animal: Realistic creatures without magical powers. This includes both normal animals like wolves, and prehistoric animals like dinosaurs, as well as a few creatures that never existed in the real world at all. Before continuing, I'd like to correct a mistake I often see made:
When a spell says it affects animals, it means it affects creatures of the animal type. This means that a spell like Animal Growth won't affect you, because in D&D, unlike real life, people are not Animals! Most insects aren't animals either: they have their own type, called Vermin.
An additional point to mention is that Animals will always have Int 1 or 2. More on that later.
- Construct: Constructs are robots powered by magic. Golems and animated objects are constructs.
- Dragon: Dragons include both the big fire(and acid and cold etc.) breathing monsters called True Dragons, and lesser creatures like Wyverns and Dragon Turtles.
- Elemental: Elementals are creatures made of a raw element, like fire or water.
- Fey: Fey are nature spirits, like Nymphs and Dryads.
- Giant: Giants are mostly human-shaped, but bigger and stronger.
- Humanoid: Humanoid monsters are like humans. In fact, if you are playing a race from the Player's Handbook, you are a humanoid! Orcs and goblins are also humanoids, as are other similar creatures. Note that this is what the spell Charm Person references: a spell that says it only works on humanoids will only work on monsters of this type.
- Magical Beast: Like animals, magical beasts aren't usually very intelligent, and don't usually use tools. Unlike animals, magical beasts often have intelligence above 2, or have magical powers. Examples include Blink Dogs and Griffons. When Handle Animal tells you the DC to train a magical beast, it means a creature of this type.
- Monstrous Humanoid: Like humanoids, monstrous humanoids are roughly human-shaped. They're usually a bit beyond the range of Player's Handbook races, though, either being much bigger (like the Minotaur), or having powerful abilities (like the Medusa). Note that spells like Charm Person will not work on monstrous humanoids, because a Monstrous Humanoid is not a Humanoid.
- Ooze: Oozes are blobs of carnivorous slime. Usually driven by instinct, they almost always have very low intelligence scores.
- Outsider: Outsiders are creatures that represent ideals, and that usually come from different planes of existence. Devils and Demons, Angels and Eladrin, Tieflings and Aasimar (and twentieth-level Monks), all these are Outsiders.
- Plant: Plants are mobile plants, often carnivorous. Like oozes they are rarely very intelligent, though some exceptions exist.
- Undead: Undead are corpses and spirits of the dead, animated and powered by the evil force of Negative Energy.
- Vermin: Vermin are specifically invertebrates, almost always of very low intelligence and generally some much bigger than normal version of a real-life arthropod.
- Deathless: Hey wait a minute, that's 16! Deathless don't appear in the Monster Manual, but some later books include them. They're like Undead, but powered by the good force of Positive Energy.
So how do you find out what you get from your Racial Hit Dice? All of that information is in the Monster Manual Glossary, which starts on page 305. Each Creature Type is in the glossary in alphabetical order. For each creature type, two lists are given: Features and Traits. Features are like class features: they tell you what you get from Racial Hit Dice of that Creature Type. Traits are like racial traits: no matter your level, if you're a creature of that Type, you get those Traits. Let's talk about the Features, using our example of the Vrock. The first line of the Vrock's description tells us that a Vrock is a Large Outsider (Chaotic, Extraplanar, Evil, Tanar'ri). This tells us, among other things, that A Vrock is an Outsider. Turning to page 313, we see that the Features of the Outsider type are:
- 8-sided Hit Dice. As noted before, Vrocks roll the same dice for hit points that clerics do.
- Base attack bonus equal to total Hit Dice (as fighter). As we noticed earlier, a Vrock has the same base attack bonus as a fighter, one that is equal to its Racial Hit Dice.
- Good Fortitude, Reflex, and Will saves. "Good" is shorthand used in the glossary. A "Good" save is equal to half the number of Hit Dice plus two, like a Fighter's Fortitude save. If a save isn't Good, then it's Poor. Poor saves are like a Fighter's Will save, and they are equal to one-third of the number of Hit Dice. Since all of a Vrock's saves are good, they're like a Monk, which is exactly what we saw earlier.
- Skill points equal to (8+Intelligence modifier, minimum 1) per Hit Die, with quadruple skill points for the first Hit Die. This tells you that Vrocks get 8 skill points per level, like Rogues, and reminds you that they work just like the skill points from a Player's Handbook class, getting quadrupled at first level and the like.
Now you may notice that none of this says what class skills they get. Class skills are different for every monster. More specifically, All of the Skills in which the monster has ranks or a racial bonus are Class Skills.
Looking at the Vrock, we subtract its ability score bonuses and synergy bonuses from its skill modifiers in Skills:. It lists bonuses to Concentration, Diplomacy, Hide, Intimidate, Knowledge(any one), Listen, Move Silently, Search, Sense Motive, Spellcraft, Spot, and Survival. Of these, Diplomacy and Survival are purely ability score bonus plus synergy bonus, and thus have no ranks in them. The remaining skills then are its class skills.
If you look through the Monster Manual, you'll notice that some monsters with sections that explain how to play them as characters don't follow this rule. The Minotaur gains Jump despite it being mentioned nowhere in their stats. Many monsters gain skills as class skills just because they have a synergy bonus, like the Doppleganger with Diplomacy. My recommendation is to use the book's list of class skills when it gives you one, but otherwise apply the general rule above.
So to summarize: Monsters have Racial Hit Dice, which is a lot like the Classes from the Player's Handbook, giving the monster hit points, base attack and save bonuses, skills, and feats. You have Hit Dice too, and yours come from your classes, which also give you hit points, base attack and save bonuses, skills, and feats. Vrocks have hit points like Clerics, saves like Monks, base attack bonus like Fighters, and skills like Rogues. So far, a potent combination.