Revising Monster Types

In looking at the current monster types, I see a number of cases where the differences between types are fairly small. I think several of these may be merged, reducing the number of monster types in the game.

Current Monster Types

We start with fifteen monster types.

Monster Type Hit Die BAB Good Saves
Aberration d8 +3/4 Will
Animal d8 +3/4 Fort, Ref
Construct d10+size bonus +3/4 none
Dragon d12 +1/1 Fort, Ref, Will
Elemental d8 +3/4 Fort or Ref
Fey d6 +1/2 Ref, Will
Giant d8 +3/4 Fort
Humanoid d8 +3/4 Ref
Magical Beast d10 +1/1 Fort, Ref
Monstrous Humanoid d8 +1/1 Ref, Will
Ooze d10 +3/4 none
Outsider d8 +1/1 Fort, Ref, Will
Plant d8 +3/4 Fort
Undead d12 +1/2 Will
Vermin d8 +3/4 Fort

First Pass Examination

Some monster types can be merged fairly easily.

Giant and Humanoid

Humanoid and Giant differ in that Giants have good Fortitude and low-light vision, and are almost always least Large size, while Humanoids usually have good Reflex saves and are almost always Medium or smaller. Since most Humanoids that are Medium or smaller have no more than one Hit Die it should be safe to ignore the ‘normal good save’, since it will almost always be replaced by the class level that all Humanoids have.

Make Giant a subtype of Humanoid, the subtype grants low-light vision and has good Fortitude saves.

Construct and Undead

Both are nonliving but animate objects, essentially. Undead may have been animated by spells (skeletons, zombies, and some other mindless undead), but it seems most are animated by a possessing spirit of some sort (often the spirit that used to live in the body. In any case, there are a large number of traits shared between the types.

The biggest differences between them are that Constructs have d10 HD (and bonus hit points if they are Small or larger), +3/4 BAB progression, and no good saves, while Undead have d12 HD, no bonus hit points for size, +1/2 BAB progression, and good Will saves. They are otherwise mechanically very similar. Both lack Constitution scores (with everything that entails), both are immune to mind-affecting effects, and so on.

I find that the number of Hit Dice required for high-CR mindless undead is silly. A skeleton with 18-20 HD is a CR 8 encounter, a zombie with 18-20 HD is a CR 6 encounter. Both have BAB in the 9-10 range. If we instead make them Constructs they would have the same BAB at 12-14 HD. Yes, they’ll lose some hit points (30-40 between the reduction in number and size of Hit Dice), but gain back at least as many from bonus hit points due to their size. These undead will likely be at least Large size and get at least 30 hit points back from the Construct hit point bonus. The Will save suffers by about three points somewhat (even if you give undead creatures good Will), but these are mindless undead; IMO they shouldn’t be so resistant to things requiring Will saves (and being mindless and undead, they’re immune to many or most things that require Will saves anyway). So, I think mindless undead do quite well with this change.

Non-mindless (mindful?) undead are another matter. Most of the interesting ones are templates applied to creatures with class levels (or other racial goodies). In most cases saves and base attack are not refigured, so the change in these values from the change in monster type doesn’t happen. They lose one hit point per Hit Die they previously had, but gain hit points from the Construct size bonus, this is almost always a net gain. Vampires, liches, and so on do not suffer here, and in fact gain somewhat.

The only set left has those undead that are not mindless, but not generated using templates. If they use Construct BAB and Will progression (poor) they have higher BAB and lower base Will saves than before. They almost always have more hit points than before (unless Tiny or smaller) and are largely immune to those things requiring Will saves. This is a net gain, I think. In fact, it’s probably safe to reduce the Hit Dice by about a third, to get the same BAB; hit point totals will stay about the same.

Make Undead a subtype of Construct. If desired, have the subtype grant good Will saves.

Animal and Vermin

Animals have (very low) Intelligence scores, Vermin are almost always mindless. Animals have good Fortitude and Reflex saves (except the ones that do not), Vermin have good Fortitude saves. Mechanically they are otherwise almost identical.

Make Vermin a subtype of Animal.

Summary of Changes

We’re down to twelve types, with three new subtypes.

Monster Types

Monster Type Hit Die BAB Good Saves
Aberration d8 +3/4 Will
Animal d8 +3/4 Fort, Ref
Construct d10+size bonus +3/4 none
Dragon d12 +1/1 Fort, Ref, Will
Elemental d8 +3/4 Fort or Ref
Fey d6 +1/2 Ref, Will
Humanoid d8 +3/4 Ref
Magical Beast d10 +1/1 Fort, Ref
Monstrous Humanoid d8 +1/1 Ref, Will
Ooze d10 +3/4 none
Outsider d8 +1/1 Fort, Ref, Will
Plant d8 +3/4 Fort

Type Changes

Giant Subtype of Humanoid
Undead Subtype of Construct
Vermin Subtype of Animal

Second Pass Examination

The first pass took care of the easy ones. I think there are some other monster types that can be merged or made subtypes of other types.

Animal

The biggest stumbling block in merging some of these types is that Animal is defined as having an Intelligence score of 1 or 2 [‘no creatures with an Intelligence score of 3 or higher can be an animal’ –RSRD]. I think there will be benefit to generalizing here — this type is more about physical structure (‘not humanoid’, basically) than mentality. I saw someone in rec.games.frp.dnd suggest the ‘Beast’ type, I think that has merit.

Add Beast type, having most of the characteristics of the original Animal type but allowing for higher Intelligence. Animal and Vermin are subtypes of Beast.

Aberration

Part of the ‘horror’ of Aberrations is that they seem unnatural, distortions of something that would otherwise be normal. That suggests that they might be seen as modifications of otherwise normal creatures such as humanoids or animals. They are mechanically quite similar to both Animal and Humanoid, except that they have good Will saves and darkvision.

Make Aberration a subtype (usually applied to Beast or Humanoid), with good Will saves.

Fey

Fey are a tricky one. They are usually humanoid, have d6 HD and poor BAB progression. They have good Reflex and Will saves. They usually have magical abilities of some sort as well.

Converting them to d8 HD and medium BAB progression and reducing their Hit Dice by a third keeps the hit point and BAB about the same (barring large Constitution modifiers). It does reduce their base saves somewhat, but not by all that much. Most fey have fairly low HD totals so this won’t have a big impact.

A quick skim of the RSRD shows Nymph as the highest-HD Fey. Nymph has 6; reducing her to 4 drops her Will save from +12 to +11) so this isn’t a big deal. Her BAB stays at +3, her hit points drop from 27 to 22, and she loses one feat (and her max skill ranks are decreased by 2). Removing only one Hit Die instead of two keeps her at +3 BAB and the same base saves, but brings her hit points back up to 22 and max ranks back up to close to where they were before. She still loses one feat because this happens in an empty area, feat-wise.

Okay, it may take some tweaking, but it looks pretty straightforward. I suspect that most of the humanoid Fey can be handled almost exactly as Humanoid — those with one or fewer HD have it replaced with the first class level’s HD. In fact, I suspect that all Medium and smaller humanoid Fey should be handled as Humanoids — Nymphs are described as casting spells as Druids, why not make them ‘naturally’ one-HD Humanoids (Fey subtype) with levels in Druid?

Make Fey a subtype (usually applied to Beast and Humanoid) with good Reflex and good Will saves.

Magical Beast

In RSRD these are just like Animals except tougher (d10 HD), better fighters (Fighter BAB progression), they have darkvision, may be more intelligent and usually have supernatural or extraordinary abilities.

I expect that making them Beasts and bumping their HD by about a quarter to a third should take care of the hit point and BAB values (and give them a small bump to Fortitude and Reflex saves). They are bigger, stronger, and tougher than ‘normal’ animals, this is probably better handled with increased HD than monkeying with HD size and BAB. The magical abilities that get tacked on make them stand out even more, but they would anyway.

Merge Magical Beast with Beast, possibly make a subtype.

Monstrous Humanoid

These are just like Humanoids, except funny-looking and better fighters (fighter BAB) as a result. They have darkvision and often have magical or other supernatural abilities, and good Reflex and Will saves.

Merge with Humanoid, perhaps make a subtype. Perhaps remove some of the racial HD and replace with class levels.

Outsider

Another tricky one, like Fey. They have ‘normal’ (d8) Hit Dice, but good BAB and all good saves. While this makes a fair amount of sense — the planes are a dangerous place — is it right?

What if Outsider were instead a subtype? It would mostly apply to Humanoid and Beast, possibly making them more resilient (good saves) but removing their souls (outsiders lack a dual nature; when it dies it is gone unless brought by a resurrection or a wish.

Or don’t have Outsider subtype change the saves (use Improved Fortitude Save, Improved Reflex Save and Improved Will Save feats as needed). Becoming an Outsider then means giving up mortality (no longer need to eat or sleep, nor age, and now immune to various spells and abilities… but no being raised, either).

Since one of my disappointments with outsiders is that they tend to look much alike, capability-wise, I think this can make for a good change. A warlike outsider probably has levels of Fighter (with feats to bring the saves up — poor saves at high level are a bad decision), a studious arcane outsider probably has levels of Wizard, and so on.

This is one of the bigger changes and may mean reworking a bunch of the existing monsters. The others are relatively easy (tweak HD a bit, in most cases), this one may require more extensive effort. I think it has more to offer than the others, though, and would be worth it.

Make Outsider a subtype (usually applied to Beast and Humanoid). Rework monsters as needed.

Summary of Changes

We’re down to seven types, with nine new subtypes.

Monster Types

Monster Type Hit Die BAB Good Saves
Beast d8 +3/4 Fort, Ref
Construct d10+size bonus +3/4 none
Dragon d12 +1/1 Fort, Ref, Will
Elemental d8 +3/4 Fort or Ref
Humanoid d8 +3/4 Ref
Ooze d10 +3/4 none
Plant d8 +3/4 Fort

Type Changes

Aberration Subtype, usually of Beast or Humanoid
Animal Subtype of Beast
Fey Subtype, usually of Beast or Humanoid
Giant Subtype of Humanoid
Magical Beast Merge with Beast, possibly subtype
Monstrous Humanoid Merge with Humanoid, possibly subtype
Outsider Subtype, usually of Beast or Humanoid
Undead Subtype of Construct
Vermin Subtype of Beast

Third Pass Examination

There is only one other monster type I think needs consideration, the iconic monster type of the game, Dragon. I’m doing this one on its own because it’s a big change (and because I originally didn’t really consider it until after I’d posted the previous two sections).

Dragon

These are very powerful for their Hit Dice. They have Fighter BAB progression, all good saves, good ability scores, usually lots of spell-like abilities. They fly, they have breath weapons.

And in some ways, they are kind of boring. They differ in detail (what spell-like abilities, what their breath weapons do, and so on), but at their core they are much the same. Because they have such high CR for their HD, it is difficult to customize them with class levels meaningfully (unless all classes are considered nonassociated — which they sort of are, since almost any class level is less beneficial than just taking another HD of Dragon).

I saw a suggestion some time ago (the same one that proposed the Beast type mentioned above) to make Dragon a subtype of Beast. This makes them less powerful (lower CR) per HD and allows for some variations between them by type, and variation by application of class levels without blowing their CR off the scale. In fact, dragons might pursue advancement by class level rather than racial HD, with the age categories coming as a result of meeting various criteria.

This is a big change, much like making Outsider a subtype. But I think it has some good possibilities. I’m going to make this change for now, see what I can do with it.

Make Dragon a subtype of Beast.

Final Summary of Changes

So, after making the changes above, we’re down to six types, with ten new subtypes.  Interestingly, it looks like we’re quite close to d8 HD and +3/4 BAB progression across the board.  It is tempting to just make it consistent.

Monster Types

Monster Type Hit Die BAB Good Saves Description
Beast d8 +3/4 Fort, Ref Nonhumanoid but non-amorphous anatomy.
Construct d10+size bonus +3/4 none Unliving but animated forms, often mindless.
Elemental d8 +3/4 Fort or Ref Living elemental material.
Humanoid d8 +3/4 Ref Humanoid anatomy.
Ooze d10 +3/4 none Amorphous anatomy, usually mindless.
Plant d8 +3/4 Fort Animated vegetable creature.

Type Changes

Aberration Subtype, usually of Beast or Humanoid
Animal Subtype of Beast
Dragon Subtype of Beast, with ‘Humanoid behavior’ (may advance by class, etc.)
Fey Subtype, usually of Beast or Humanoid
Giant Subtype of Humanoid
Magical Beast Merge with Beast, possibly subtype
Monstrous Humanoid Merge with Humanoid, possibly subtype
Outsider Subtype, usually of Beast or Humanoid
Undead Subtype of Construct
Vermin Subtype of Beast

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2 Comments

  1. Raneth

    Really nice job! Do you ever plan to do a follow-up for Pathfinder? This article can’t be applied as easily to that game because of the changes to types, such as connecting HD type to BAB and merging elementals into the outsider type.

    • I’m glad you like it.

      At some point I probably will examine Pathfinder monsters with a similar eye because I’m like to end up deconstructing them for use in Echelon. Right now — and it’s a big part of why I haven’t posted anything in the last month or so — I’m trying to get the Echelon Reference Series (starting to be) published.

      On the other hand, a similar examination probably wouldn’t be too hard. Most of the same variables are present, they’ve already made some of the same changes (giants are now humanoids, as I recall), so I suspect it probably wouldn’t take too long. I’ll think about it.

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