Monsters Got Traits
Someone gave these monsters too many silly traits.
A monster isn't just a class. If it was, you could have an Elf Vrock, or a Dwarf Orc, or a Human Gelatinous Cube. Monsters have Traits, which are sort of like races. The main difference between a monster's Traits and your Racial Traits is that a monster's traits are better organized and labeled. In fact, all of the racial traits you can get from the Player's Handbook are traits monsters can get too. We'll go back to the Vrock entry and see what its traits are, starting at the very first word:
Each monster has a size category. You are probably Medium-size, but maybe you've played a Halfling or Gnome before, and thus been Small. Your size category modifies your AC and your attacks, as well as affecting Grapple and Hide checks. It also will usually, but not always, determine your Space and Reach, which we will discuss later. Information about size categories is in several places in the Player's Handbook, but it's also all summarized on a table on page 314 of the Monster Manual. A Vrock is Large, which immediately tells you that it takes a -1 to AC and attacks, gets +4 to Grapple, and -4 to Hide. Think of it as an inverted Halfling.
We've already discussed Creature Types, so we won't spend much time on the next word, Outsider. However, we will pause to remember that in addition to Features, the glossary entry says Outsiders get Traits, and quite a nice selection at that, including Darkvision, some weapon proficiencies, and some nonstandard rules for being resurrected.
After Outsider there's a whole big jumble of confusing words: (Chaotic, Extraplanar, Evil, Tanar'ri). These are the Vrock's Subtypes. Subtypes, like Creature Types, have entries in the Glossary. Like Creature Types, Subtypes have Traits, however Subtypes don't have Features. As such, Subtypes don't usually modify your monster's "class" or its Racial Hit Dice. Each of the Vrock's subtypes has a different effect. If you're curious, read up on them in the glossary, because we're moving ahead, past Hit Dice, past Initiative (noting that monsters, like players, add their Dex bonus to Initiative: the Vrock has Initiative +2 because its Dex is 15), to Speed.
Like each of the Player's Handbook races, each monster has a base Speed. Another word for a speed is a Movement Mode. The reason to use this term is because some monsters have more than one Movement Mode corresponding to different ways they can move. For example, a Vrock has a 30ft. base speed (like a human), but can also fly at a speed of 50ft. Each movement mode has different rules to it: Flight has a maneuverability rating (average for the Vrock), Swim and Climb Speeds are more useful than just making Swim or Climb checks, and a Burrow Speed lets a creature move through dirt (but not usually solid rock). If a creature has a nonstandard movement speed, you should always check the Monster Manual Glossary to figure out what it does. Some Movement Modes are also describe in the Dungeon Master's Guide, Flight in particular is on page 20.
After Speed the entry shows the Vrock's Armor Class. Armor Class is calculated just like it is for characters, with Dex, Armor, and a bonus or penalty for sizes different from Medium. Many monsters also have a bonus from something called Natural Armor. Like Armor, Natural Armor doesn't protect against touch attacks, but still helps if you're flat-footed. Natural Armor stacks with Armor, so if the Vrock were to put on Full Plate it would get +11 to AC from its Natural Armor and +8 to AC from the Full Plate. Some monsters get other bonuses to AC, like a Deflection bonus, and these will usually be explained in their entry.
We already understand Base Attack, while Grapple is calculated just like it is for normal characters. Next two sections loom their ugly heads: Attack: and Full Attack:. Attack shows you how the monster makes just one attack, while Full Attack shows when the monster is able to make a Full Attack action. You'll notice that most monsters don't attack with swords, instead they have Natural Weapons. Natural Weapons are a complicated topic, and for a detailed discussion of them I'll direct you to Solo and Keld Denar's excellent guide on the subject. Here we will just mention that all of a creature's natural weapons will be listed in the Full Attack, along with the number of attacks that can be made with them. The Vrock, for example, has two Claws, one Bite, and two Talons. An important point needs to be made here, following Rule 1: Having a Natural Weapons is Just Like Having a Normal Weapon. In particular, when you gain a natural weapon you get something with a specific Damage, Critical (usually x2), Range Increment (usually none), and Type(where here Type means Bludgeoning, Piercing, or Slashing). You then calculate your bonus to hit in the same way you would for a normal weapon, adding base attack bonus, strength, and miscellaneous bonuses like those from size or Weapon Focus. In the case of the Vrock, we see that +10 Base Attack +6 Strength Bonus -1 from Large size gives +15, which is the bonus for the Vrock's Claw attacks. The other attacks take a -2 penalty, the reasons why are explained in Keld and Solo's guide.
Another important point to make is that sometimes a creature's Natural Weapons will be modified by its other abilities, in particular its feats. The feat Improved Natural Attack increases a monster's Natural Attack's damage as if the monster had grown by one size category. If a monster has this feat, the damage listed in the Attack: and Full Attack: sections will be higher than that of the base Natural Weapons of the monster, and you will need to decrease the damage if the monster takes a different feat.
Next we see Space/Reach:. The first of these numbers tells you what space the monster takes up in combat. Unlike Player's Handbook races, Large and larger monsters take up more than just one square. Indeed, they live in a square with each side the length given in Space. The monster's reach is how far away it can attack with normal weapons or natural weapons. See Big And Little Creatures In Combat on page 149 of the Player's Handbook for more information. Note that unlike a reach weapon like a guisarme, a monster with Reach can attack anywhere within its reach, not just on the edge squares.
After Space/Reach we come to one of the more involved parts of the entry, the Special Attacks and Special Qualities. Both of these are examples of Special Abilities. Special Abilities are special things the monster does or traits the monster has. You have Special Abilities Too. However, most of your Special Abilities come from your classes. Special Abilities are divided up in two ways, based on how they're used and how they work.
How they're used: Special Abilities are either Special Attacks or Special Qualities. Special Attacks are things the monster uses actively, like spells or sneak attack. Special Qualities are things that are always-on, like Damage reduction or Acid Resistance.
How they work: Special Abilities fall into the following three types. To tell which sort of special ability it is, look after the ability's name in the more detailed description of it. You'll see an entry in parentheses. These indicate:
- (Ex): Extraordinary Abilities: Extraordinary abilities are nonmagical and represent the monster's unique physical shape and things it knows how to do. Even if it breaks the laws of physics it might still be an Extraordinary Ability, because D&D physics is very different from real-world physics. The Vrock's Spores are an Extraordinary Ability, but they aren't its only one. The Vrock's Resistance to Energy and Spell Resistance aren't described in detail in its entry, to know what they do you have to check the Glossary. The Monster Manual Glossary says that these are Extraordinary Abilities too! In general, if an ability is not fully described in a monster's description, you should always check the glossary for more information.
Extraordinary Abilities are very common, so common that you have had them all along without noticing. In fact, when you take a feat, it becomes an Extraordinary Ability. That's why you keep your feats in an Antimagic Field. Many classes have Extraordinary Abilities too. For example, the Barbarian's Rage is an Extraordinary Ability.
- (Sp): Spell-Like Abilities: Spell-Like Abilities aren't spells, but they are very much like them. They often duplicate spells, and use the spell's system for saving throw DCs. They have a caster level (usually listed in the entry. If it's not listed, it defaults to equal to Racial Hit Dice), and if the spell they're based on can be defeated by spell resistance, then so can the spell-like ability. They also provoke attacks of opportunity. However, they have no components and can't be used to counterspell. The Monster Manual Glossary says they always take a Standard Action to use, while page 180 of the Player's Handbook suggests that they take as long to use as the spell they're based on. Most of the time Spell-Like Abilities are given their own entry in the monster's description, giving a list of how many the monster has access to and how often they can be used. If an ability can be used At-Will, then it has no use limit, but it still requires a Standard Action. Some Spell-Like Abilities are more different from spells and get their own separate entry. An example is the Vrock's Summon Tanar'ri ability. Player's Handbook classes also grant Spell-Like Abilities. For example, the Bard's Fascinate ability is a Spell-Like Ability.
- (Su): Supernatural Abilities: Supernatural Abilities are magical, but they're a deeper type of magic than spells. They can't be dispelled, don't provoke attacks of opportunity, and aren't subject to spell resistance. Usually they take a Standard Action to use. A Vrock's Supernatural Abilities include its Dance of Ruin and Stunning Screech, as well as (see the Glossary), its Damage Reduction and Telepathy. Of the Player's Handbook Classes the Monk gets many Supernatural Abilities, fitting its theme as a flashy, magical martial artist. These include Ki Strike, Wholeness of Body, Diamond Body, Abundant Step, Quivering Palm, and Empty Body.
One thing to notice is that many of these abilities have save DCs. If you've ever played a spellcaster, you know that your spells have save DCs equal to 10+spell level+key ability modifier, where the key ability modifier depends on the class involved. Spell-like abilities are almost exactly the same, but the key ability modifier for spell-like abilities is Charisma unless otherwise noted. Extraordinary and Supernatural Abilities aren't based on spells, so they don't have a spell level for that formula. Instead, you use half of the monster's Racial Hit Dice as an effective spell level. The key ability varies based on what sort of ability the monster has: breath weapons usually use Constitution, Trample attacks use Strength, while many Supernatural Abilities use Charisma. Most of the time the description of the ability itself will tell you what the key ability is. For example, the Vrock's Stunning Screech says that the save DC is Constitution-based. Let's check: 10+5 (half of 10 racial hit dice) +7 (Constitution bonus) = 22, which is the DC to resist the Vrock's Stunning Screech!
Some monsters can also cast Spells. For example, the Solar Angel casts spells as a 20th level Cleric. While some people argue that Spells are an Extraordinary Ability too, they aren't labeled that way in the Monster Manual. It's a controversial topic, and you should probably read up on it if you think it might be relevant to your game.
After Special Abilities we come to Saves:, which I've already explained, so let's move on to Abilities:. Remember when I said that monsters don't increase their ability scores every 4 levels like you do? Well it's even worse than that, in a way: (Almost) All Monsters Are Average!
What does average mean? Average means that all of their base ability scores are 10 or 11. If they have ability scores that aren't 10 or 11, it's because they have racial bonuses or penalties. So how do you tell what their racial bonuses and penalties are? We use this very important rule: In D&D, Ability Bonuses and Penalties Are Always Even (Except for Aging), and further Odd Ability Bonuses and Penalties are bad Game Design. Why are they bad game design? Because your ability modifier only changes on even scores. If your score is 17, a +1 bonus will put it up to 18, giving you a big bonus across the board. If your score is 16, a +1 bonus will put it up to 17, doing almost nothing! So a +1 bonus either does the same thing as a +2 bonus, or does nothing, according to totally random details. That's Bad Game Design.
Now that we know that Monster Races will always have even ability score modifiers, and that All Monsters Are Average, finding the racial ability modifiers is easy: subtract 11 if it's an odd score, or 10 if it's even! Let's try it out on the Vrock: 23-11 is 12, so the Vrock race gets a +12 bonus to Strength. 15-11 is 4, giving +4 Dex, 25-11 is 14, giving +14 Con, 14-10 is 4, giving +4 Int, 16-10 is 6, giving +6 Wis, and 16-10 is 6 again, giving +6 Cha. So the Vrock race gives +12 Str, +4 Dex, +14 Con, +4 Int, +6 Wis, and +6 Cha. If a monster has an ability score below 10, then you just use negative numbers. For example, the Derro (next page from the Vrock) has Wis 5: 5-11=-6, so the Derro has a -6 penalty to Wis.
Did you notice the (Almost Always) note above? Some monsters start out a little better than average. Usually this is used when the monster is actually an NPC with a class level in an NPC class. For example, the Elf on page 102 is a first-level warrior, and the end of the Elf entry says that it had the stats 13,11,12,10,9,8 before racial adjustments. In general, if a monster is not average, it will tell you at the end of its entry.
Some Monsters have Ability Scores that say -- rather than a number. This is called a Nonability. Nonabilities don't mean that the monster has an ability score of zero, they mean that the monster doesn't have that score at all, because they don't need it. A monster that only acts based on programming or instinct doesn't need an Intelligence score, while one that is sustained by magic or Negative Energy doesn't need a Constitution. Monsters might have a Nonability for Strength if their only way of affecting the world is through magic, like a ghost, or a Nonability for Dex if they can fight by just sitting still and shrieking (this last is mostly a joke, but do check out the Shrieker on page 112). Nonabilities have special effects that are different from low ability scores, you should look them up under Nonabilities in the Glossary if you want to know what a specific one does. An Animal's Intelligence is kind of like a nonability in that while it does have an actual Intelligence score, it can't go above 2. A creature that actually has a nonability in intelligence, like a golem, doesn't gain any skill points or feats. No creature will ever have a Nonability in Wisdom or Charisma, as a creature needs Wisdom to perceive its surroundings and Charisma to distinguish itself from the outside world. Anything which lacks a Wisdom or Charisma score is an object.
After Abilities we have Skills:. One thing to note about skills: just like you, monsters can have racial bonuses to skills! If a monster has a racial bonus to a skill it will be listed in a separate Skills: section after their abilities are described. For example, the Vrock has a +8 racial bonus on Listen and Spot checks. Beat that elves!
Also just like elves, a monster can have Racial Bonus Feats. If a monster gets a feat as a bonus feat, it will have a (B) after it in the Feats: section. The Vrock doesn't get any racial bonus feats, so let's look briefly at a monster that does: the Pixie, on page 236. Pixies gain Dodge as a bonus feat, and according to errata they gain Weapon Finesse as a bonus feat as well.
After the Feats: section, the monster description tells you things related to how the monster comes up in games, including where they commonly live (their Environment:), what sort of groups they typically form (their Organization:), their Challenge Rating, their typical Treasure, and their typical Alignment. For most monsters these are just suggestions. Alignment in particular will vary as much for monsters as for races from the Player's Handbook. The exception is if the alignment starts with Always: these monsters are born with this alignment, and will only change alignment under very special circumstances. The monster entry finishes out by giving Advancement and Level Adjustment, which tells you how DMs and Players can use and modify the monster. I'll explain both of those later.