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    Default Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    Quote Originally Posted by Urpriest View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by maximus25 View Post
    I should bring this to the attention of my DM, I should have 4 more d12 of hit die then I do.
    Your DM and yourself should have been aware of this from the start, because it's one of the first things you look up when you decide to play a monster character. I keep seeing this attitude crop up, and frankly, it pisses me off. It pisses me off so much, that this post is going to serve as the opening quote of a handbook that I will start this evening, explaining everything people forget to look up when playing/using/modifying/transforming into monsters. That much.
    Quote Originally Posted by maximus25 View Post
    Glad I was here to help in a new handbook.
    As the above exchange illustrates, I am occasionally something of a monster to people new to the game. As such, I have decided to channel my destructive tendencies to explain to people new to the game how monsters work. It's going to be a long, hard road, but trust me, you need to know this.


    The all-seeing eye of this book watches you make mistakes about monsters.


    Who Should Read This Handbook:
    • Players who want to play as a monster: This is the big one. If you want to play something that isn't in the Player's Handbook, then you absolutely need to know how monsters work.
    • DMs of Players who want to play monsters: Chances are someone will ask you to play a monster some day. If you don't understand monsters, they might end up playing something brokenly powerful or unusably weak.
    • DMs who want to modify a monster: Say you want to add class levels to a monster, or make it tougher, or add a template. If you don't know how monsters work, you'll probably do it wrong.
    • Any DMs at all: Let's face it, DMs use monsters. Even if you aren't messing around with them, understanding how they're put together will help you understand how to use them.
    • Players who want a pet monster: Your nice little wolf animal companion? A monster. That blink dog cohort? A monster. Those demons you summon? Monsters. Know how they work if you're going to be controlling or modifying them.
    • Players who want to turn into monsters: If you ever want to use Polymorph, or Wild Shape, or even Alter Self, you need to know what the spell gives you. And that means understanding the different parts of monsters.
    • Any player who has been playing a year or longer: Let's face it, monsters are an extremely important part of the game, and the way monsters work is connected with the way players work. If you don't understand monsters by now, you need to learn.


    Yes, that's pretty much everyone. Still reading? Good. Because you're about to learn the first rule of monsters, the thing everyone needs to know about monsters:

    1. Monsters are just like you.

    In many video games, monsters have almost nothing to do with player characters. D&D 3.5 isn't like that. Monsters have levels, which give them Base Attack Bonus, Base Save Bonuses, Hit Points, Skill Points, everything your levels give you. They have races, which can give them things your races can give you. They're more afraid of you than you are of them, unless they have Frightful Presence. They're so much like you that once you learn how much, you're going to need the second rule:

    2. ...Except when they're not.

    Sometimes monsters are different. Their "level" isn't equal to your level. And you fight them at different levels from that! Then there's all the weird abilities they get. Of course, many of those abilities are things that you can get without being a monster, which brings us to the third and final rule:

    3. You are a monster too.

    Most monster stats are stats you have too, even if you haven't seen them on your character sheet. All those weird special attacks and special qualities? Those creature types? You have special attacks and special qualities. You have a creature type. Understanding monsters is understanding your own character. You want that understanding? Then read this handbook.

    Before we start though, any questions?

    Q: What's an Urpriest?
    A: Well, when a mommy and a daddy hate their DM very much...
    Last edited by Urpriest; 2011-09-08 at 09:14 PM.
    Lord Raziere herd I like Blasphemy, so Urpriest Exalted as a Malefactor

    Meet My Monstrous Guide to Monsters. Everything you absolutely need to know about Monsters and never thought you needed to ask.
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    One of the unwritten rules of Giantitp is that Urpriest is always right.
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  2. - Top - End - #2
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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    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.
    Last edited by Urpriest; 2012-03-07 at 03:30 PM.
    Lord Raziere herd I like Blasphemy, so Urpriest Exalted as a Malefactor

    Meet My Monstrous Guide to Monsters. Everything you absolutely need to know about Monsters and never thought you needed to ask.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mithril Leaf View Post
    One of the unwritten rules of Giantitp is that Urpriest is always right.
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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    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:

    Large

    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.
    Last edited by Urpriest; 2011-07-25 at 07:58 AM.
    Lord Raziere herd I like Blasphemy, so Urpriest Exalted as a Malefactor

    Meet My Monstrous Guide to Monsters. Everything you absolutely need to know about Monsters and never thought you needed to ask.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mithril Leaf View Post
    One of the unwritten rules of Giantitp is that Urpriest is always right.
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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    I Wanna Be a Monster When I Grow Up


    So, after all that, you want to play a monster character? Those nice Hit Dice tempting you to be a Vrock, for example? Well, you've got a lot to learn. If you want to get a monster as a cohort via the Leadership feat then you also need to use this section. DMs should read this section too, since I'll be introducing concepts that are important to building monsters as a DM as well.

    First, I'm going to note that almost none of this section applies to Pathfinder. Pathfinder is a newer version of 3.5 D&D with its own rules for playing monsters, described here.

    If you want to play a monster, the first thing you need to understand is that level doesn't mean what you thought it meant.


    The levels of Monsters are a difficult matter, it isn't just one of your Roleplaying Games. You may think at first I'm as mad as a Derro, when I tell you a Monster has Three Different Levels...

    That's right, Three Different Levels! And to clear up a common misunderstanding, Level Adjustment is not a Level! It is, as the name should indicate, an adjustment to a level, much in the same way that an elf doesn't have 2 Dex, he or she has a Dex adjustment of +2. You have a Level Adjustment too: if your race is from the Player's Handbook, you have a +0 Level Adjustment. This is important because you can't play something if it doesn't have a level adjustment. Some monster entries say Level Adjustment: --. That means that that monster is not appropriate for players to play. Some other entries have a level adjustment, but say (cohort) in parentheses. That means that they are only appropriate as cohorts gained through the Leadership feat, and not as regular Player Characters.

    Now to understand monsters as Player Characters, a good way to think about how they work is that Monster Characters are like Multiclass Characters. A Paladin 10/Fighter 9 is a multiclass character with 10 levels of Paladin and 9 levels of Fighter. Similarly, a Vrock Fighter 1 is a multiclass character with 10 "levels" of Vrock Racial Hit Dice and one level of Fighter. Racial Hit Dice are always a favored class, so characters never take multiclass XP penalties for their Racial Hit Dice.

    The three different levels are:
    • Effective Character Level: Effective Character Level, or ECL, is equal to your Racial Hit Dice, plus your Class Levels, plus your Level Adjustment. Put another way, Level Adjustment adjusts your ECL. As you may have noticed, a Vrock's ten Racial Hit Dice are way nicer than any ten levels of a Player's Handbook Class. The Level Adjustment serves to balance out how good these racial hit dice are, as well as the Vrock's many powerful traits and abilities. Effective Character Level is used to determine how much XP you have and who you should adventure with. Our example Vrock Fighter 1 has ten Racial Hit Dice, one Class Level, and a Level Adjustment of +8. Together, that means it has an ECL of 19, which means it should have more than 171,000 XP, and it will gain its next level when it reaches 190,000 XP. It should be adventuring with 19th level characters, so it is an appropriate party member for our Paladin 10/Fighter 9. Since it's adventuring with 19th level characters it is going to get treasure appropriate for a 19th level character. If your DM has been giving you the right amount of treasure (roughly that described on page 51 of the DMG), then at 19th level you should have total wealth around 580,000gp per person, as explained on page 135 of the DMG, so if you started out at 19th level this is an appropriate amount to start with.
    • Character Level: Remember how your class levels in Fighter and the like were really Hit Dice? Well, your Character Level is your total Hit Dice, Racial Hit Dice plus Class Levels. The Vrock Fighter 1 has Character Level 10+1=11, while the Paladin 10/Fighter 9 has Character Level 19. Unless it's one of the exceptions I described above, whenever the rules refer to level and they don't specify a particular class they mean Character Level. For example, a spell that affects characters of 15th level or lower would hurt the Vrock, but it wouldn't hurt the Paladin.
    • Class Level/Racial Hit Dice: As I've said before, Racial Hit Dice and Class Level are very similar. In particular, many abilities depend only on your level in your "monster class", just like many abilities of a multiclass character only depend on the level in one of the classes. Our Paladin 10/Fighter 9 adds 10 to damage with Smite Evil, not 19, because Smite Evil is based on Paladin Level. Similarly, if our Vrock leveled up to Fighter 2, it would have a Character Level of 12, but its Racial Hit Dice would still be 10, so when calculating save DCs for its abilities you use its Racial Hit Dice, so the save DCs are the same as before the Fighter levels.



    So now that you know what your three levels are, how do you make a character? What do you get?

    What you don't get: Word-for-word what's written in the monster's description.
    What you do get: All the Racial Hit Dice, all the Features of the Racial Hit Dice, and all the Traits.
    What you need to do: Use the Features and Traits to calculate your stats.

    Every Monster Comes with its Racial Hit Dice. If you are a Vrock, you have 10 Outsider Hit Dice, and they have a list of Class Skills which has everything listed in the Vrock's Skills: section. However, it is up to you to decide how you wish to spend the Vrock's skill points, you don't have to make the same choices the Vrock in the Monster Manual did. Similarly, you get to choose which Feats you want, getting one at first level and one on every Character Level that's a multiple of three.

    There is one exception to this. If the Monster starts out with only one Racial Hit Die then you may (as per Savage Species, Page 13) trade it out for a level in a character class. You then gain none of the Features, but you still gain the Traits. For example, you could play a Pixie Rogue 1, trading your Fey Hit Die for a level of Rogue, leaving you with ECL 1+4=5. This happens automatically for Humanoids, which is why all of the low level humanoids in the Monster Manual are presented as first level Warriors.

    Player Character Monsters are Not Average. As a Player Character you start out with the maximum hit points at first level. The same is true for a Monster Player Character. As a Player Character your ability scores aren't just 10 or 11, you roll them or you use a point buy system. Player Character Monsters get to roll or use point buy as well, and add their racial ability modifiers on top, with the caveat that Ability Scores can never go below 1 due to racial penalties, and Intelligence can never go below 3. Beyond that, it's just like a normal character, but with bigger bonuses. For example, if our Vrock Fighter rolled 17, 15, 10, 8, 12, and 11, it could get a Strength of 17+12=29, a Con of 15+14=29, a Dex of 12+4=16, an Int of 10+4=14, a Wis of 11+6=17, and a Cha of 8+6=14.

    Once you level up past your original Racial Hit Dice, your ability scores increase with Character Level just like an ordinary character's do. For example, if your Vrock reaches Fighter 2, it has a total of 12 Hit Dice. That's a multiple of 4, so the Vrock can raise one of its scores by 1. It will probably go with Strength, to get an impressive Strength of 30.

    You do have to calculate things. You have to add up your total base attack bonus from all your classes, along with Strength modifier and anything else important, to find your bonus to melee attacks. You have to take half your racial hit dice and your new ability modifiers to determine your Save DCs for your Abilities. In short, you have some work to do.

    To give you an idea of what you can do by applying yourself to monsters, poster SillySymphonies has graciously provided us with a list of "as characters" entries for all Monster Manual monsters with LA here.


    Q: Is it worth it?
    A: Ah, I thought you were going to ask that. You may have noticed that your ECL 19 Vrock Fighter 1 is only Character Level 11. It's got a total Base Attack Bonus of only +11, not much better than a Wizard, and Base Saving Throws of a tenth-level Monk are similarly not that impressive when your friends are level 19. Sure you can use greater teleport as many times per day as you like, but what do you do when you get there?

    The sad truth of the matter is that sometimes playing a Monster simply isn't worth it.



    Monster Myth #1: Savage Species Will Save the Day!


    So maybe you've picked up a book called Savage Species. You've looked in the back, and you've seen the monster classes, and you thought, "Oh, cool! This lets me play monsters without all that pesky level adjustment."

    WRONG!

    The Monster Classes in Savage Species are designed to let lower level characters play monsters. However, they do not change what it means to play a monster. In particular,

    A Character who reaches max level in a Savage Species Monster Class is exactly the same as a character who started as that monster, including Level Adjustment.

    Note that the second column of every Savage Species class lists Hit Dice. Those are your total Hit Dice, not just those gained at that level. Notice that at many levels you don't gain Hit Dice. Those levels represent your Level Adjustment kicking in as you gain more powerful abilities. As you can see on the table, you only gain Skill Points and Feats when your Hit Dice say you would, independent of your Level in the Monster Class. For some classes (like those for templates), you never gain any hit dice at all.

    Now let's look at the Vrock Monster Class, on page 203 of Savage Species. Its max level is 16, but a Vrock with no other class levels has an ECL of 18. What's going on?

    Savage Species is from Edition 3.0. You play Edition 3.5. When Edition 3.0 was upgraded to Edition 3.5, many small changes were made. If you want to play a Monster Class from Savage Species, you need to change it to match the Monster's 3.5 stats. For example, Vrocks used to have 8 Racial Hit Dice, and now they have 10. You need to make a new balanced class with the right number of levels, which can be challenging if the monster has changed a lot.

    So now that we know this, what are Savage Species Monster Classes good for?

    Savage Species Monster Classes let you start the game as a monster. If your friends are at first level, then if you play a first level Vrock (adjusted for the change to 3.5 of course), you should fit right in. Remember though, that you must level up in the monster class all the way. If you start with a level in Vrock, you can't go away and take a level in Fighter. You have to get every single level of Vrock first, going from a fledgeling to a full-blown demon, before you can take a level of another class.

    Savage Species Monster Classes might let you play things that aren't normally ok choices. While Savage Species is 3.0, some Monsters haven't changed very much. If you find one, and it doesn't have a Level Adjustment listed in the Monster Manual, you may be able to get your DM to let you play it using the Monster Class. For example, Elementals don't have a Level Adjustment in the Monster Manual, but Savage Species gives them one, so you might be able to play an Elemental.

    Monster Myth #1 Corollary: Savage Progressions Will Save the Day!

    This is sort of true, but distasteful. Savage Progressions come from a series of articles on the Wizards of the Coast Website (Wizards of the Coast are the guys who made D&D 3.5). The articles are archived here, and the first article, here explains how they work.

    The important difference between Savage Progressions and Savage Species Monster Classes is that you don't have to take all the levels of a Savage Progression.
    Characters are not required to complete all the levels of a given template class in uninterrupted succession. For example, a character who takes a level of wereboar could then take a level of fighter and a level of rogue (or any other combination of other class levels) before taking another level of wereboar. A character must still take the first level of wereboar before taking the second, just as with a normal class.
    This means that you can just take one level, enough to feel like the monster you want to be, and then go take other levels in other things. You can be as monstery as you want.

    The catch is that these Savage Progressions are somewhat poorly designed. Some give very good benefits at first level, others aren't worth taking any levels at all. Use them with caution.



    Monster Myth(or Fact) #2: LA Buyoff Will Save the Day!

    On page 18 of Unearthed Arcana is a rather popular variant system. It's listed under the header Reducing Level Adjustments, but most people just call it LA Buyoff, or LA Buyback. It's also available here.

    LA Buyoff is built around the idea that a Level Adjustment is an important balancing factor at lower levels, but not so much of one at higher levels. At first level the Aasimar's +2 Wis, +2 Cha make it potentially better than any of the races in the Player's Handbook, but for a twentieth level character those bonuses are almost meaningless.

    LA Buyoff works by letting you pay experience points to reduce your level adjustment. You pay experience points equal to (your current ECL-1)x1000, and your level adjustment goes down by one. When you can do this is restricted. In order to buy off a level adjustment you must have had that level adjustment for a number of levels equal to (level adjustment)x3, not including racial hit dice. For example, if you are a Gnoll, you have two racial hit dice and one point of level adjustment. 1x3=3, so you need three class levels before you can buy off that point of level adjustment, getting you to ECL 6 in total. Then you pay (6-1)x1000=5000 XP, and you lose your +1 level adjustment, dropping down to ECL 5.

    Suppose instead you are a Svirfneblin with no racial hit dice and a level adjustment of +3. The first change you get to buy off level adjustment is when you have accumulated 3x3=9 class levels, so ECL 12. You pay (12-1)x1000=11,000 XP, and your level adjustment goes from +3 to +2, bringing you to ECL 11. Now that your level adjustment is +2, you need to wait 2x3=6 more levels to buy off your next point of level adjustment, so you won't get to do so until ECL 17. Then you pay (17-1)x1000=16,000 XP, dropping your level adjustment to +1 and your ECL to 16. Finally, you only need to gain 1x3=3 more levels to buy off the final +1 of level adjustment, so at level 19 you can pay (19-1)x1000=18,000 XP to get to level adjustment +0 and ECL 18.

    As you can see, a character without too much level adjustment will eventually catch up to their fellows, but it's a long, hard road. Also, many DMs won't allow this since it's from a variant system. If your DM does allow it, it's a decent, but not amazing, way to make the game somewhat fairer.

    Be careful to note these rules allow you to buy out Level Adjustment, not Racial Hit Dice. Getting rid of your racial hit dice is much harder, and requires cheesy tricks that go beyond the scope of this handbook.


    So in conclusion: Playing a monster is hard. No matter what trick you use, you still will likely have trouble being as useful as someone who chose not to play a monster. If only there was a way to play monsters that mirrored the design of the better character classes, where you gain what you need to do your job and enough versatility to do other things as well. It would be a massive homebrew project, but wouldn't it be wonderful if someone was working on that?
    Last edited by Urpriest; 2012-03-13 at 10:54 AM.
    Lord Raziere herd I like Blasphemy, so Urpriest Exalted as a Malefactor

    Meet My Monstrous Guide to Monsters. Everything you absolutely need to know about Monsters and never thought you needed to ask.
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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    We Can Improve It, We Have The Technology!

    These monsters have been "improved" with a template.

    Hey DMs: are you running out of monsters? Have your players read every book you have? Can they quote a monster's AC after you give the first sentence of it's description? If so, then you might want to try modifying monsters.

    Many players modify monsters too. If you are a Wizard or Sorceror with a Familiar, a Druid or Ranger with an Animal Companion, or a Paladin with a Special Mount, you need to learn how to modify monsters!

    The first and most important rule of modifying monsters as a DM is the following: as a DM, ECL doesn't matter!

    As explained in the previous section, ECL determines how much XP a character needs to gain a level, and what sort of adventuring party a character should be in. These aren't things that matter to monsters that the players are supposed to fight. Instead, a DM has two other levels to pay attention to:

    • Challenge Rating: Every monster has a Challenge Rating, or CR. Roughly speaking, a monster's CR is the level at which a character should be to have a 50% chance of defeating it alone. This also means the monster has a 50% chance of defeating the player! This is why it is normal for a party of four adventurers to fight a monster of a CR equal to their level. After fighting four such monsters in a row, the party's resources (the Fighter's Hit Points, the Wizard's Spells) should be nearly spent. By spreading out resources over the four party members, the adventuring party can fight things that might kill one of them on their own.

      As a DM, there are two things you use CR for: experience points, and treasure. Page 38 of the Dungeon Master's Guide tells you how many experience points players get for defeating a monster of a specific CR, while the section starting on page 52 tells you how to randomly roll the standard treasure for a monster of that CR.
    • Encounter Level: Let's say you want the party to fight more than one monster at once. How do you figure out how many? In order to determine when an encounter is an appropriate challenge for a party, you use Encounter Level. If the party's average level is equal to the Encounter Level, then that encounter is a good, challenging fight for the party. Page 49 of the Dungeon Master's Guide tells you how to calculate the Encounter Level for many different possible groups of monsters. It seems complicated, but most of it is based on a simple formula: When you double the number of monsters, you add two to the Encounter Level. This is because even if you have a lot of monsters on the table, if they're all very weak compared to the players then they won't be as much of a challenge. Double the monsters is not double the challenge.



    So now you've got an Encounter Level and Challenge Rating in mind, how do you improve monsters to meet it? In general, there are four ways monsters improve:
    • Advancing Hit Dice: Each monster has an Advancement: entry. For our friend the Vrock, this entry reads 11-14 HD (Large), 15-30 HD (Huge). What does this mean? When you Advance a monster's Hit Dice, you add more Racial Hit Dice to the monster. It's like leveling up in the monster's "class". The Advancement entry tells you the max level for the "class" (30 in this case), and whether the monster's size increases as it levels up (more on this later).
    • Gaining Class Levels: A monster can also multiclass into a normal character class. In the above section we talked about monsters becoming PCs, here we talk about monsters becoming NPCs. A few of the rules for this are different. Some monsters have Advancement: By character class, which means that they can't ever gain any more Racial Hit Dice, and they only advance this way.
    • Gaining a Template: Templates are instructions for modifying monsters. A template can change everything about a monster, or it can change almost nothing at all. A few very weird templates even can be applied to things that aren't monsters!
    • Being Modified By a Class Ability: This is what Wizards do to their Familiars, and Druids do to their Animal Companions. Almost like a template, these class abilities modify the monster's stats. Some class abilities give monsters Bonus Hit Dice. It is important to remember that Gaining Bonus Hit Dice is not the same as Advancing Hit Dice. In particular, Bonus Hit Dice do not make a monster increase in size.


    We're going to go through these options one by one and talk about how they work.

    Advancing Hit Dice

    When a monster advances in hit dice, it gains more Racial Hit Dice. Like the Racial Hit Dice it already had, these carry the Features of its Type, so its Base Attack Bonus, Base Save Bonuses, Skill Points, and Feats all increase. The monster also gains an increase to an ability score when its total Hit Dice reach a multiple of four, just like characters do. If you're advancing a monster, feel free to change where it put its Skill Points and Feats based on what you think it should have. Since these new Hit Dice are Racial Hit Dice, they increase Saving Throw DCs for the monster's Special Attacks.

    As mentioned, Advancing in Hit Dice can also cause a monster to increase in size. For example, if you want a Vrock to increase to 15 Racial Hit Dice, you have to increase its size to Huge. When a monster increases from size due to Advancing in Hit Dice, its stats change according to the table on page 291 of the Monster Manual. The monster's Str, Con, Dex, natural armor, and natural weapon damage all might change, and the change in the monster's size will change its size bonus/penalty to AC and attacks. Note that the table on page 291 is only used for Advancing in Hit Dice, unless otherwise mentioned. In particular, if a monster increases in size some other way, such as from the Enlarge spell or a Template, it does not gain these bonuses to its stats. Many templates that increase size will direct you to use this table for ability adjustments, but this is not universal.

    You can also make the monster's ability scores better in another way. When you advance a monster, you can declare that it is no longer completely average. Instead, you can give it the Elite Array or the Nonelite Array. The Elite array is 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, while the Nonelite Array is 13 12 11 10 9 8. In either case you can rearrange these scores as you like, they don't have to stay in order. As you can see, the Elite Array represents a monster that it more powerful than normal (with the exception of one weakness), while the Nonelite Array is about equal in power, but more specialized. Once you have chosen an array, you apply the monster's racial ability score modifiers to find its final ability scores.

    Once you have chosen how to Advance the monster, you need to calculate it's new CR. This is based on the number of Hit Dice you added. Some Hit Dice are more powerful than others: we've noticed that the Vrock has very nice Hit Dice, while undead have much less powerful Hit Dice. Because of this, different creature types get different amounts of CR from advancing in hit dice. If your monster is an Aberration, Construct, Elemental, Fey, Giant, Humanoid, Ooze, Plant, Undead, or Vermin, it gains one point of CR for every four hit dice it advances. If the monster is an Animal, Magical Beast, or Monstrous Humanoid, it gains one point of CR for every three hit dice. Finally, if the monster is a Dragon, or an Outsider (like the Vrock), it gains one point of CR for every two hit dice it advances.

    Some other factors need to be considered before you reach the monster's final CR. If the monster increased from Medium to Large, you need to add an additional +1 to the CR, as Large creatures can be much more powerful than Medium creatures. If you used the Elite Array, you also need to add +1 to the CR. The Nonelite Array can be applied without changing the CR.

    For example, suppose we increased our Vrock to 16 HD. The Vrock has gained 6 hit dice, and since it is an Outsider this means that its CR goes up from 9 to 12. It also increased from Large to Huge, but since it was already Large this does not increase its CR. If you wanted to give it the Elite Array that would be an additional +1, making its CR 13.

    Gaining Class Levels

    Giving monsters class levels as a DM follows many of the same rules as giving them class levels as a player. The process remains much like multiclassing, with the new Hit Dice from classes added on top of the old Racial Hit Dice. A few details are important to remember, though:

    Monsters (and all NPCs, since they're monsters too) don't roll ability scores. Instead, monsters use an array. Monsters with class levels aren't average. In fact, in most cases, you should use the Elite Array (as described earlier) for monsters with class levels. Monsters with class levels can use the Elite Array with no increase in CR. If a monster is in an NPC class like Warrior, Adept, or Expert, then you can consider using the Nonelite Array instead. Monsters with class levels should never use Average Scores.

    Monsters don't have Wealth, they have Gear. The Wealth-by-Level guidelines are for PCs. NPCs and Monsters have Treasure, or Gear. If a monster has class levels it should have the same gear as an NPC of its CR. NPCs have gear values given on page 127 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. These values are about triple the standard treasure for a monster of their level. In general, a monster gets its treasure entry in addition to its gear, which means a monster with class levels has a lot of treasure. If your party is going to fight a lot of monsters with class levels, try to balance out the increase in treasure by having them fight a few traps or monsters with no treasure, like golems. Note also that you can change the treasure rewards around a little as long as you keep the appropriate average, but that a monster with class levels is expected to have at least the NPC gear in order to be as effective as an NPC of their CR.

    Sometimes class levels will increase a monster's CR, sometimes they won't. The rules for this are the rules for Associated and Nonassociated Class Levels, and they are on page 294 of the Monster Manual. The purpose of the rules for Associated and Nonassociated Class Levels is as follows: sometimes a class is straightforwardly good for a monster. If your monster likes to hit things with its claws, a level of Barbarian will make it better at doing so. On the other hand, a CR 15 monster with a single level of Wizard isn't much different from a monster without that level, since first level Wizard spells don't matter very much when you're 15th level. In general, a class is Associated if it contributes to the monster's strengths. In particular, if the monster relies on its fighting ability, Barbarian, Fighter, Paladin, and Ranger are associated. If the monster relies on sneaking up on its enemies, Rogue and Ranger are associated. If the monster can cast spells, the class that it casts spells as is associated. Note that if a monster that casts spells takes a level of a class that casts the same sort of spells, the levels stack for determining their spellcasting. For example, a Rakshasa casts spells as a seventh level Sorceror. A Rakshasa Sorceror 1 would then cast spells as an eighth level Sorceror, while a Rakshasa Wizard 1 would cast spells as a multiclass seventh level Sorceror/ first level Wizard. The Sorceror level is associated, the Wizard level is nonassociated. For classes not listed here, compare them to the listed classes to figure out where they go. For example, the Blackguard is a melee class, so a monster that fights in melee (like a Frost Giant) would treat it as associated. Interestingly enough, some monsters can qualify for prestige classes with just their Racial Hit Dice alone!

    Once you know whether a class is associated or nonassociated, you calculate the CR as follows: if the class is associated, every level in it adds 1 to the CR. For example, a Vrock Fighter 2 is CR 11, since Fighter is an associated class for a melee monster like the Vrock. If the class is nonassociated, every two levels add 1 to the CR. For example, a Vrock Wizard 2 would be CR 10, since Vrocks don't have racial Wizard spellcasting.

    Eventually, a monster has so many levels in a nonassociated class that the class is a bigger part of how the monster fights than the monster's stats! When a nonassociated class level is equal to the monster's Racial Hit Dice, all further levels in that class are treated as associated. Going back to our Vrock example, let's say the Vrock has gotten up to level 10 in Wizard. These levels are equal to his Racial Hit Dice, so they are still nonassociated and the Vrock's CR is 14. When the Vrock gains its next level in Wizard, that new level is associated, so the Vrock now has CR 15, and will gain one more CR for each additional level of Wizard.

    The Monster Manual also says that NPC classes (like Adept or Warrior) are always treated as non-associated. However, the DMG says that a monster with an NPC class should just subtract one from the CR it would otherwise gain from that class. It is important to remember that CR is always an estimate. Since you have two conflicting standards, you should use both of them for advice and try to find a middle ground that accurately represents the challenge the monster provides.

    Gaining a Template

    A template is a list of instructions for modifying a monster. In general, templates are self-explanatory: if you know how monsters work and you follow the instructions you should be able to apply the template correctly. However, templates use a few sorts of special terminology and rules:

    Inherited and Acquired Templates: In 3.5, every template should say whether it is an Inherited or Acquired template. Inherited templates like Half-Dragon are templates a creature is born with, while Acquired templates like Vampire are gained later in the creature's life. A creature can have more than one template. If you apply multiple templates to a creature, the Inherited templates need to be applied before the Acquired templates, for obvious reasons.

    Templates have prerequisites: Just like feats and prestige classes, sometimes monsters need to have certain attributes to have a template. Usually this will be listed in the first few sentences of the template. For example, the Vampire template says that it can be added to any humanoid or monstrous humanoid creature. This means that since Ogres are Giants, an Ogre cannot be a Vampire.

    The Augmented Subtype: Some templates change a creature's type. Every Vampire is Undead, while every Half-Dragon has the Dragon type. However, this doesn't usually mean that you have to change all of a monster's Racial Hit Dice when it gets a template. Unless the template says otherwise, if a template changes a creature's type gains the Augmented(Former Creature Type) subtype. For example, a Half-Dragon that you based off a Brown Bear goes from being an Animal to a Dragon(Augmented Animal). The Augmented Subtype means that, while the creature gains the Traits of its new Type, it keeps the Features of its original Type. So a Half-Dragon Brown Bear would have the same Base Attack Bonus as a normal Brown Bear, and would not gain the Base Attack Bonus of a creature of the Dragon Type. Even if a template says it changes a creature's Hit Dice, those changes only apply to Racial Hit Dice unless the template says otherwise. In particular, while some types of Undead change all of a creature's Hit Dice, including those gained from classes, (Vampire and Lich are both examples) if the template does not say it changes Hit Dice from classes, it does not do so.

    Size Increases: Some templates change a creature's size. If a template changes a creature's size, its size bonuses and penalties change according to the table on page 291, as does its natural armor. However, the creature's Str, Dex, and Con do not change unless the template explicitly says they do.

    Save DCs and other effects based on Hit Dice: Remember how when we discussed Racial Hit Dice, we said that abilities a monster has based on Hit Dice are only based on Racial Hit Dice, just like a Paladin's Smite is only based on Paladin levels? Well templates are different. Instead of being like class abilities, templates are like feats: they can be added on to many different monsters with different Racial Hit Dice. Because of this, when a template gives a formula based on Hit Dice, like a Save DC, it is based on the creature's total Hit Dice, including class levels, unless it specifically says it only applies to Racial Hit Dice. This means that when the creature gains class levels, these abilities will increase in power.

    Templates list their effect on CR and LA. In both cases this should be quite straightforward. If a template says LA --, that means the template makes the character unplayable.

    Being Modified By a Class Ability

    Like templates, class abilities will in general say what attributes of a monster they change, and if you're savvy enough to how monsters work you should understand how to apply them. Some class features, like the Druid's Animal Companion and the Paladin's Special Mount, gain bonus Hit Dice. As mentioned before, bonus Hit Dice do not make a creature increase in size. However, they are Racial Hit Dice. Bonus Hit Dice have whatever Features the class ability says they have, defaulting to those of the base creature's Racial Hit Dice. Some other class features like the Wizard's Familiar instead say that for purposes of effects relating to Hit Dice you should treat the creature's Hit Dice as higher. These are not actually bonus Hit Dice, and instead refer to spells, like Sleep, that have different effects on creatures with different numbers of Hit Dice.

    Many class abilities say that a creature must be a normal creature of its kind. This means that a creature modified by any of the other methods in this section (including the class abilities of other classes) is not an eligible choice.
    Last edited by Urpriest; 2011-07-26 at 07:38 PM.
    Lord Raziere herd I like Blasphemy, so Urpriest Exalted as a Malefactor

    Meet My Monstrous Guide to Monsters. Everything you absolutely need to know about Monsters and never thought you needed to ask.
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    Transforming and Rolling Out

    This Druid is pretending to be a Decepticon with Aberrant Wildshape.

    In this section, we will discuss what happens when you manage to turn into a monster, via something like Wild Shape or Polymorph. We may also discuss a few side topics.

    Shapeshifting Magic:

    The rules for the various sorts of shapeshifting magic are varied and complex, and would make a whole handbook by themselves. A nice chart of the most common options is here. In this guide, we will focus on a few common mistakes. First though, let's make sure we're all on the same page:

    Wild Shape, Polymorph, and Alter Self have gotten a lot of errata.
    Shapeshifting abilities are some of the most powerful and confusing abilities in the game, so the people who make D&D have put in a lot of effort to limit their power and make them less confusing. If you are going to use a shapeshifting power you need to make sure you have the latest errata, or that you have access to a trustworthy online resource like d20srd.org.

    In general, a shapeshifting ability will tell you precisely what you do and do not get from it. If it doesn't say you get something, assume you don't get it. In particular, a shapeshifting ability will never give you the hit dice of the creature you are turning into, so you will never gain the features of its Racial Hit Dice, including its Base Attack Bonus, Base Save Bonuses, etc. You don't gain its feats or skill points either.

    Many shapeshifting abilities are based on other abilities. Because of this, usually you can only know what an ability does by seeing what all the abilities it is based on do. For example, Wild Shape says that it functions as Alternate Form, except as noted in its description. Alternate Form then has a specific list of changes it makes. Because it's based on Alternate Form, we know that Wild Shape doesn't change the Druid's Creature Type, so an Elf Druid in the form of a Brown Bear is still an Elf. We also know that a creature that uses Alternate Form keeps its old Hit Points even if its Constitution score changes, so the same is true for a Druid in Wild Shape. (Because of this, Con is the second-most important score for a Druid, after Wis).

    When a shapeshifting ability gives you the natural weapons of a form, it gives you the weapons, not the Attacks. This means your new weapons have the same damage, damage types (bludgeoning, piercing, slashing), and primary or secondary status as the creature's natural weapons, but do not have the same attack bonuses. Since you don't generally gain a monster's feats, you need to pay attention to whether its natural weapon damage is higher than normal due to the Improved Natural Attack feat.

    Shapeshifting abilities often separate Special Qualities and Special Attacks. Pay attention to which section of the creature's description the ability is listed in, as well as to whether it is Extraordinary, Spell-like, or Supernatural.

    Shapeshifting abilities do not automatically destroy gear. Instead, abilities will specify whether the gear falls off, resizes, or is merged into the new form. In a similar vein, most size-changing magic does not break enclosed spaces, instead the enclosure limits the creature's growth.

    Usually, Shapeshifting abilities only let you turn into something average for its kind, which means that none of the modifications in the last section can apply to the creature you are shapeshifting into.

    We will now discuss a few side topics.

    Level-Drain Shenanigans: As was mentioned before, it's often kind of annoying to go running around with a lot of Racial Hit Dice. While some are very nice, others are quite weak, and none of them give class features like real classes do. If only there was some way to reduce your ECL by getting rid of them...

    There is a very cheesy trick that can be done. If you have Racial Hit Dice and you lose a level (for example, due to failing your saves against a Wight's Energy Drain attack), you lose one of your Racial Hit Dice. The Restoration Spell says that it restores on Experience Level to a creature that has had a level drained. It does not say that the Experience must purchase a level in the same class that was lost. Because of this, some people interpret this ability to allow characters with Racial Hit Dice to lose their Racial Hit Dice and gain class levels in return. Since a monster's Level Adjustment is partially based on how powerful a character of their Hit Dice is, this can lead to very powerful creatures being accessible at lower levels. More to the point, this technique is based on a certain amount of hair-splitting silliness. Use at your own risk.


    In Conclusion:

    By learning about monsters, you have taken your first step to understanding the big sophisticated simulation engine that lies under what at first appears to be just rules to play a game. I hope you will continue to explore in this vein. The D&D 3.5 system may not be the best-designed or most realistic gaming system, but it is in my view one of the most intricate and beautiful.

    I hope that you have learned the key lessons of this handbook. Repeat after me:

    Monsters are just like me, except when they're not, and I'm a monster too!

    Well done!

    Mommy, Daddy, guess what? I'm a monster!
    Last edited by Urpriest; 2012-06-17 at 12:14 PM.
    Lord Raziere herd I like Blasphemy, so Urpriest Exalted as a Malefactor

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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    And...now that the reserved posts are out of the way, I must say that I wholely approve of this project. As I've noticed in a previous post, so many players have NO idea what LA, HD, RHD, and ECL even mean. Please, oh defiler of the deities, impart upon the masses the wisdom of the universe.

    (oh, and if you want to bounce some ideas around, PM me. I LOVE building and advancing monsters from a DM's PoV.)
    Last edited by Keld Denar; 2011-07-18 at 06:19 PM.
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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    I am very happy to see this. It was much needed.
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    Regarding my Necrotic Apprentice trick:
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    This is brilliant.
    Regarding my Non-Epic Hidecarved Dragon:
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    Nicely done. Probably too cheesy for many tables, but I'd be inclined to allow it at mine, just for chutzpah.

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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    This is a great idea. Everyone I end up playing with insists on being something from the monster manual.

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    Thank you for the new handbook ^_^
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    Jophiel, Gray Elf Mystic Theurge

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    Just curious, where would this thread go beyond the basics of LA/ECL? I can think of so much information that can be explored, such as what niche/role monster PCs could fill, whether they are worth their ECL, how they interact with epic rules etc.
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    I can never understand WOTC's reasoning; taking RAW as a whole is like grabbing a book filled with fortune cookie sayings and basing your life off of them.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Runestar View Post
    Just curious, where would this thread go beyond the basics of LA/ECL? I can think of so much information that can be explored, such as what niche/role monster PCs could fill, whether they are worth their ECL, how they interact with epic rules etc.
    It's going to be very basic. So not just questions of ECL, but how the creature types work, where you look up their features, and what you get from various things (polymorph, etc.). I'm not going to pass judgement on what are good or bad choices, but there may be an addendum at the end for others' suggestions.
    Lord Raziere herd I like Blasphemy, so Urpriest Exalted as a Malefactor

    Meet My Monstrous Guide to Monsters. Everything you absolutely need to know about Monsters and never thought you needed to ask.
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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    Thank you for the new addition to my bookmarks folder: Handbooks by People I Trust*

    *trust defined as, 'I expect to read a handbook by this person and be blown away by life-changing and otherwise enlightening information,' though not necessarily trust as in, 'I expect to leave this person alone in a room with my delicious sandwich and expect to remain the owner of said delicious sandwich when I return from answering the doorbell.'

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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    You also may want to make a footnote entry on the differences between how 3.5 and 3.P handle LA. IIRC, Pathfinder just has you use the monsters CR as it's LA and you inherit everything about it, which is all in all much simpler (and, in all honesty, better... there are very few monstrous races with RHD worth playing).

    Thanks for doing this. RHD and monster advancement were always something I had to hextuple check the rules on.
    Last edited by Grendus; 2011-07-18 at 08:27 PM.

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    Oh, thank you, this will help alot with many players. Oh thank ye ruiner of the heavens, oh mighty smiter!

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    Does anyone remember the name of the person who did a natural weapons guide? I'd rather not have to cover that material as well if I can just link it.
    Lord Raziere herd I like Blasphemy, so Urpriest Exalted as a Malefactor

    Meet My Monstrous Guide to Monsters. Everything you absolutely need to know about Monsters and never thought you needed to ask.
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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    That was Keld and Solo. I'll dig up a link.

    Edit: Here it is.
    Last edited by dextercorvia; 2011-07-18 at 09:17 PM.
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    Regarding my Necrotic Apprentice trick:
    Quote Originally Posted by Doc Roc View Post
    This is brilliant.
    Regarding my Non-Epic Hidecarved Dragon:
    Quote Originally Posted by Amphetryon View Post
    Nicely done. Probably too cheesy for many tables, but I'd be inclined to allow it at mine, just for chutzpah.

    Have a cookie.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Urpriest View Post
    1. Monsters are just like you.
    On this, specifically: don't forget that some monstrous races qualify for prestige classes with their racial features (marrulurks, for example have sneak attack and death attack). Also, monsters that have "cast as a sorcerer of x level" (like, say, a rakshasa) who continue to take sorcerer levels stack those levels for determining your full casting.

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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    Quote Originally Posted by Fax Celestis View Post
    On this, specifically: don't forget that some monstrous races qualify for prestige classes with their racial features (marrulurks, for example have sneak attack and death attack). Also, monsters that have "cast as a sorcerer of x level" (like, say, a rakshasa) who continue to take sorcerer levels stack those levels for determining your full casting.
    Which reminds me... Could a Trumpet Archon take a level of Contemplative and advance its "cleric" casting, or does it have to have a class level first?
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    Regarding my Necrotic Apprentice trick:
    Quote Originally Posted by Doc Roc View Post
    This is brilliant.
    Regarding my Non-Epic Hidecarved Dragon:
    Quote Originally Posted by Amphetryon View Post
    Nicely done. Probably too cheesy for many tables, but I'd be inclined to allow it at mine, just for chutzpah.

    Have a cookie.
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    Hooray I'm an example for a handbook.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dextercorvia View Post
    Which reminds me... Could a Trumpet Archon take a level of Contemplative and advance its "cleric" casting, or does it have to have a class level first?
    I don't see why it would need Cleric levels. As the Unholy One pointed out in his guide: RHD are pretty much class levels. If advancing RHD would advance casting, then I'd say a PrC should be able to advance casting for that monster.

    By the way: Damn good work so far, although I have to say reading it is just a retread for me on most of this stuff... Are you planning on doing any obscure and/or non-Core things (like LABO)? That'd be helpful for some of us old-salts.
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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    Quote Originally Posted by dextercorvia View Post
    Could a Trumpet Archon take a level of Contemplative and advance its "cleric" casting
    Yes.

    Example.

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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    I'm really enjoying the "take nothing for granted" approach this guide is so far showing. I am likely to link new players to this. Thanks a lot.

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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    Someone's already linked it, and it isn't even off the first page. Its a good guide, I hope it gets lots of use.

    EDIT:
    Quote Originally Posted by dextercorvia View Post
    That was Keld and Solo. I'll dig up a link.

    Edit: Here it is.
    And I contributed! YAY!
    Last edited by Keld Denar; 2011-07-18 at 11:54 PM.
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    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.
    ...yes they do.

    When backwards-extrapolating a monster's base ability score modifiers, you subtract one from its highest ability score for every four hit dice it has. Once hit dice reach zero, subtract 10 (if even) or 11 (if odd) from the creature's remaining ability scores. The resultant numbers are the creature's racial ability modifiers.

    Feat Acquisition and Ability Score Increases

    A monsterís total Hit Dice, not its ECL, govern its acquisition of feats and ability score increases.
    While there is a table that can be used to determine ability scores for racial modifiers when they are less than 10, the table's primary function is to ensure that a score never drops below 1 (or 3, in the case of Intelligence), and following the regular process with some sense will result in appropriate ability scores.

    Also note that creatures that include the following line
    The orc warrior presented here had the following ability scores before racial adjustments: Str 13, Dex 11, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 9, Cha 8.
    would subtract the given value, rather than 10 or 11.

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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    Quote Originally Posted by Fax Celestis View Post
    ...yes they do.

    When backwards-extrapolating a monster's base ability score modifiers, you subtract one from its highest ability score for every four hit dice it has. Once hit dice reach zero, subtract 10 (if even) or 11 (if odd) from the creature's remaining ability scores. The resultant numbers are the creature's racial ability modifiers.
    Nope!

    Look at the Centaur. It has Str 18 and 4 racial hit dice. Str is its highest score. Centaurs as Characters says that they get +8 Str, not +6.

    Oddly enough, when monsters start gaining class levels and/or advancing in hit dice, they begin gaining ability increases at levels that are multiples of four. This can be confirmed by looking at statblocks of classed monsters. They just don't gain increases during their initial hit dice. It's a very weird rule, but I've extensively confirmed it for a large set of examples.
    Lord Raziere herd I like Blasphemy, so Urpriest Exalted as a Malefactor

    Meet My Monstrous Guide to Monsters. Everything you absolutely need to know about Monsters and never thought you needed to ask.
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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    That is, quite frankly, the most ridiculous thing I have seen in this system yet. Remind me to fix that in all my games.

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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    Do any amount of stat blocks override the general rule that Fax cited?
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    Regarding my Necrotic Apprentice trick:
    Quote Originally Posted by Doc Roc View Post
    This is brilliant.
    Regarding my Non-Epic Hidecarved Dragon:
    Quote Originally Posted by Amphetryon View Post
    Nicely done. Probably too cheesy for many tables, but I'd be inclined to allow it at mine, just for chutzpah.

    Have a cookie.
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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    Quote Originally Posted by dextercorvia View Post
    Do any amount of stat blocks override the general rule that Fax cited?
    Looks like most, if not all, of the X As Characters lines in the SRD do.

    Seems to me someone went through and did all the level adjustments and X As Characters paragraphs without reading this guide first.

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    Default Re: Urpriest's Monstrous Monster Handbook

    Quote Originally Posted by dextercorvia View Post
    Do any amount of stat blocks override the general rule that Fax cited?
    The rule Fax cited is for Monsters As Characters, so by default it only applies to hit dice gained after the monster manual entry. In any case, this guide isn't precisely RAW so much as it is about reverse-engineering the way WotC handles monster statblocks and demonstrating that they obey the rules. Introducing rules that aren't obeyed would be counterproductive and lead to ambiguities, especially since Fax's "look at the highest score" rule certainly isn't written anywhere.
    Lord Raziere herd I like Blasphemy, so Urpriest Exalted as a Malefactor

    Meet My Monstrous Guide to Monsters. Everything you absolutely need to know about Monsters and never thought you needed to ask.
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