WotC Considering NPC Stat Format Change
  • WotC Considering NPC Stat Format Change


    This started with a comment about D&D formatting errors by James Introcaso (the comment, not the errors) on Twitter, and WotC's Chris Perkins joined in. Other quickly chimed in with further questions.



    James:
    When you write an NPC's statistics in parentheses next to their name, it should look like this: NAME (ABBREVIATED ALIGNMENT SEX OR GENDER SUBRACE RACE STATISTICS). e.g. Fireface McDragon (LG female mountain dwarf knight)

    Perkins: We’re thinking about dispensing with that format and writing out the information in sentence form using no alignment abbreviations. Example: Borf is a chaotic neutral, non-binary shield dwarf berserker with darkvision out to a range of 60 feet.

    Crows Bring the Spring: Can I inquire why adding the blurb about dark vision is included in that line? Makes it feel rather lengthy.

    Perkins: It doesn’t have to be there. It could also be replaced with something else, such as the languages Borf speaks, if that’s more important. Racial traits and other useful info could be presented as separate, full sentences.

    Hannah Rose: What’s motivating this possible change? The ability to transition into modifications to a stat block without saying “with the following changes”?

    Perkins: Our intention is to make books that are gorgeous, thoughtfully organized, fun to read, and easy for DMs/players of all experience levels to use.

    Guillermo Garrido: Do you playtest these changes by different levels of players/DMs before widespread use of the new language?

    Perkins: We playtest everything.
    Comments 170 Comments
    1. lowkey13's Avatar
      lowkey13 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      Key word there being “experienced”. And the implication of memorization. Which didn’t work when a new monster was introduced in the adventure, or you were using a monster you’d never run before.

      And, again, it was really only good for monster that were big bags of hit points. That format wouldn’t work at all for a beholder or mind flayer.


      Well... yeah. But you also don’t need their name, gender, or even race in combat. The implication is this is the write-up for NPCs who you may or may not be getting into combat with. People you talk to, allies that might help you, rivals trying to trip you up, the quest giver offering you a reward.
      ....yeah. You didn’t run many 1e modules, did you?
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
      ....yeah. You didn’t run many 1e modules, did you?
      Not being 45+ years old, I got my start with 2e. And never found the micro statblocks useful in the least. It was wasted space that only existed to help the small segment of DMs who had system mastery.

      Unless it was something like an orc or goblin, it wasn’t worth the sentence.
    1. lowkey13's Avatar
      lowkey13 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      Not being 45+ years old, I got my start with 2e. And never found the micro statblocks useful in the least. It was wasted space that only existed to help the small segment of DMs who had system mastery.

      Unless it was something like an orc or goblin, it wasn’t worth the sentence.
      Okay. So I feel like I have to explain these things that I shouldn't have to explain. I mean, if you had a lot of experience with this, and you were complaining, I would understand. But it's kind of weird having to explain this to someone who doesn't seem to understand the purpose and is making completely .... irrelevant argument. But sure, let's do this!

      1. In 1e, as you should know, the important things for the particular monster are the HD, the AC, the #AT, and the damage. The movement is pretty useful too. That's it. With that, you can run any combat. Other than that, the only thing that really differentiates monsters are SA and SD (specula attacks, special defenses).

      2. It's not "just" orcs and goblins that don't have SA or SD. If you limit SA and SD to 1, you have no covered the vast majority of monsters in D&D. This is so obvious and simple that you can reproduce the entirety the original monster manual in the appendix of the DMG as a table. Go on. Look. It's all there.

      3. Doing this for combat in one quick line allowed the actual text in the description to be used for what the monsters might do, or pertinent details and descriptions including gender, age, etc, or, if an NPC, how it would interact with the party (you know, the social aspect you are talking about). In 1e, this would never be in a stat block because it COULDN'T be in a stat block.\

      4. Again, this was all possible because 1e didn't have "stat blocks" because monsters didn't have stats, and because almost everything as keyed into the HD.

      5. And, sure, while there was the occasional monster that you might have to refer to (such as a beholder), these monsters were pretty darn rare. And to the extent that you saw them in a module, they either 1) had a quick rundown in the text, or 2) had a quick reference so you know they had additional abilities.


      But sure, maybe it's not for you. But seriously-

      what kind of star block would suffice for you when there were no abilities or social rolls? I honestly feel you’re asking for something for a different edition
    1. dwayne's Avatar
      dwayne -
      Why not just have perforated cards in back with stats on them so you can remove and keep handy with all information. No need to put any thing other than name as all on card in back of adventure or book.
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
      Okay. So I feel like I have to explain these things that I shouldn't have to explain. I mean, if you had a lot of experience with this, and you were complaining, I would understand. But it's kind of weird having to explain this to someone who doesn't seem to understand the purpose and is making completely .... irrelevant argument. But sure, let's do this!
      Oh, I understand the purpose. It's just that the purpose was flawed and ineffectual that has rightly been abandoned.

      Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
      1. In 1e, as you should know, the important things for the particular monster are the HD, the AC, the #AT, and the damage. The movement is pretty useful too. That's it. With that, you can run any combat. Other than that, the only thing that really differentiates monsters are SA and SD (specula attacks, special defenses).
      Yeah, not so much. Because there were monsters with special abilities, and being told "rusting" or "glue" or paralysis" or "poison" isn't enough information to remotely run the monster. Yeah, you know what the giant spider needs to hit you, but not what happens when it does.

      Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
      2. It's not "just" orcs and goblins that don't have SA or SD. If you limit SA and SD to 1, you have no covered the vast majority of monsters in D&D. This is so obvious and simple that you can reproduce the entirety the original monster manual in the appendix of the DMG as a table. Go on. Look. It's all there.
      Right. But it doesn't tell you want half the special abilities actually DO. It doesn't really help when running the game if you need to have the page open anyway.

      Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
      3. Doing this for combat in one quick line allowed the actual text in the description to be used for what the monsters might do, or pertinent details and descriptions including gender, age, etc, or, if an NPC, how it would interact with the party (you know, the social aspect you are talking about). In 1e, this would never be in a stat block because it COULDN'T be in a stat block.
      It's all well and good to summarize the additional information like name and alignment of NPCs, but the little abbreviated monster statblocks could be useless.

      I had multiple a fun experience running an adventure where a monster was included that I was unfamiliar with. Is it intelligent? Can it be reasoned with? Can it even speak? Can the PCs sneak by in the dark? Heck, can it seen in the dark?
      I also have memories of an adventure like that where the monster I needed wasn't in the Monstrous Manual so I then had literally no idea what it looked like or how to run it. It was a random name attached to random powers. That I knew its hit points and defenses did absolutely nothing for me.

      Products shouldn't be designed assuming system mastery or memorization. They shouldn't assume the DM is experienced. They should be for everyone.

      Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
      4. Again, this was all possible because 1e didn't have "stat blocks" because monsters didn't have stats, and because almost everything as keyed into the HD.
      Quick, without looking at your books, what did the mind flayer's Mind Blast do in 1e? What was the range?

      Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
      5. And, sure, while there was the occasional monster that you might have to refer to (such as a beholder), these monsters were pretty darn rare. And to the extent that you saw them in a module, they either 1) had a quick rundown in the text, or 2) had a quick reference so you know they had additional abilities.
      Sometimes. Sometimes not. Like most things in 1e, there wasn't a lot of consistency, and things changed constantly. Later stat blocks got larger and larger as they included more and more details people discovered were needed to run the monsters. Like intelligence and briefer descriptions of powers. But that ate up more and more of the adventure. Whole pages were wasted on text that could be looked up in a hook the DM was likely to have on hand anyway.

      I don't know about you, but I'd rather have five more rooms of dungeon than a brief incomplete description of every monster.

      Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
      But sure, maybe it's not for you. But seriously- WHAT KND OF STAT BLOCK COULD YOU POSSIBLY HAVE WHEN THE MONSTERS DIDN'T HAVE STATS AND SOCIAL ABILITIES WERE NOT ROLLED FOR?
      How about the one this thread was started to talk about. The NPC write-up that gives the named non-player character description in sentence form.
      Y'know, like they did when describing important named NPCs in 1e.
    1. lowkey13's Avatar
      lowkey13 -
      Never mind.
    1. dave2008's Avatar
      dave2008 -
      Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
      ... 1e is that monsters didn’t have stats (ability scores).
      It is so easy to forget that part after not playing that edition for 20+ years and getting so used to the 4e/5e monster paradigm (I know it is a 3e one as well - I just skipped that edition)
    1. guachi's Avatar
      guachi -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      Sometimes not. Like most things in 1e, there wasn't a lot of consistency, and things changed constantly. Later stat blocks got larger and larger as they included more and more details people discovered were needed to run the monsters. Like intelligence and briefer descriptions of powers. But that ate up more and more of the adventure. Whole pages were wasted on text that could be looked up in a hook the DM was likely to have on hand anyway.
      I almost always DM my 5e games. Having sat in on a few 5e games DMed by others I've found that if the DM hasn't taken the time to extract the monster stats then combat grinds to a halt as the DM has to look up stats. It's even worse if the combat has more than one type of monster or the creature is described in the adventure itself. Now the DM can't have both the encounter page and creature stat page easily accessible.

      It's awful. The game stops. A good adventure design would never handicap the DM like this. With the adventures I run, which are all converted 1e or B/X adventures, I make a spreadsheet with each creatures stats reduced to 3 or 4 lines in one column.

      I almost never have to open up another book to look up stats. I consider doing so a failure. If an adventure forces me to have to turn to some other page to routinely run encounters it is a bad adventure.
    1. Mortellan's Avatar
      Mortellan -
      TL;DR I'm guessing the vast majority on this forum are opposed to this new look format.
    1. jedijon's Avatar
      jedijon -
      Tables were made for gaming (on).
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Quote Originally Posted by guachi View Post
      I almost always DM my 5e games. Having sat in on a few 5e games DMed by others I've found that if the DM hasn't taken the time to extract the monster stats then combat grinds to a halt as the DM has to look up stats. It's even worse if the combat has more than one type of monster or the creature is described in the adventure itself. Now the DM can't have both the encounter page and creature stat page easily accessible.

      It's awful. The game stops. A good adventure design would never handicap the DM like this. With the adventures I run, which are all converted 1e or B/X adventures, I make a spreadsheet with each creatures stats reduced to 3 or 4 lines in one column.

      I almost never have to open up another book to look up stats. I consider doing so a failure. If an adventure forces me to have to turn to some other page to routinely run encounters it is a bad adventure.
      I tend to regularly have the Monster Manual open as I run, and things wok well enough. But I also tend to bookmark or sticky tab the monsters I need for a session ahead of time. Having a second book open (or two or three plus my iPad) works fairly swiftly.

      Really, DMs will be fastest using the method they're familiar with. The DM who hasn't had time to extract the monster statblocks won't be any faster if you hand them a spreadsheet.

      Having adventures include the stats on the page where they're being used didn't work out well in the past. It kills the page-count and leads to redundancy, if the same monster appears more than once.
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mortellan View Post
      TL;DR I'm guessing the vast majority on this forum are opposed to this new look format.
      Yeah, but we're also a small, opinionated, and generally grognard heavy community. The vast majority of us can hate something and it could still be popular with most D&Ders.
      That's why WotC does surveys and playtests.
    1. Leatherhead's Avatar
      Leatherhead -
      Controversial Opinion: 4e had the best monster stat blocks.

      I'm not a fan of unnecessary prose, it makes it harder for someone to parse out what is an important mechanic. This format also seems to have variable syntax, which is a huge problem in regards to ease of use.
    1. guachi's Avatar
      guachi -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      Really, DMs will be fastest using the method they're familiar with. The DM who hasn't had time to extract the monster statblocks won't be any faster if you hand them a spreadsheet.

      Having adventures include the stats on the page where they're being used didn't work out well in the past. It kills the page-count and leads to redundancy, if the same monster appears more than once.
      "Kills the page count"

      This is a load of bollocks.

      I have my conversion for Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh up on my screen.

      The module is 32 pages plus cover maps. If I only include the monster blocks of the conversion the entirety of the stats is a little over a page. Every creature is included, even if it's redundant. It also includes the publication and page number the creature came from (which would be nice in actual adventures), the CR and XP, plus its equipment and treasure.

      That's about 3% of the module.

      That's far less than the amount of likely useless art in any adventure. (Saltmarsh actually has useful art as the Holloway drawings show exactly what the encounter location has in it. You could photocopy the drawings and hand it to the players. Also, the drawings don't, individually, take up that much space)
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Quote Originally Posted by guachi View Post
      "Kills the page count"

      This is a load of bollocks.

      I have my conversion for Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh up on my screen.

      The module is 32 pages plus cover maps. If I only include the monster blocks of the conversion the entirety of the stats is a little over a page. Every creature is included, even if it's redundant. It also includes the publication and page number the creature came from (which would be nice in actual adventures), the CR and XP, plus its equipment and treasure.

      That's about 3% of the module.

      That's far less than the amount of likely useless art in any adventure. (Saltmarsh actually has useful art as the Holloway drawings show exactly what the encounter location has in it. You could photocopy the drawings and hand it to the players. Also, the drawings don't, individually, take up that much space)
      It was minor in 1e, but if doing it now it wouldn't. Because statblocks are larger. (And they don't use the stupid partial statblocks that don't give you all the information needed to run the monster without consulting the Monster Manual.)
      We're not really talking about what they did 40 years ago. Because it's not 40 years ago and this is a 5e forum.

      Even then, an update of Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh is a very, very poor example. Because, it's not a combat heavy dungeon crawl. Looking through my copy of the module, it has a poisonous snake, a large spider, giant centipedes, stirges, skeletons, and a mage. It only needs six or seven statblocks in total, and a couple of those are short.
      Yeah, that is pretty tiny. And likely only takes 2-1/2 pages. (Which is actually like 7% of the book.)

      BUT you can't just add pages. To add those pages of statblocks you'd need to take away 2-1/2 pages of text.
      Which 2-1/2 of Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh are you getting rid of?

      That's also a pretty non-standard amount of combat. The U series probably isn't "the bar". But the second one, Danger at Dunwater (chosen because it's in the some folder) has over twice as many monsters. And even having several of the variant lizard folk be, well, variants, it's still probably 3 to 3-1/2 pages. A good 10% of the module. And this is still a combat light module.
    1. AtomicPope's Avatar
      AtomicPope -
      Pencil and paper game designers need to stick to the strengths of the format otherwise they'll just ruin it.

      Strengths of PnP:
      * Narrative Time
      * Narrative Distance
      * Imagination
      * Immersion

      Weaknesses of PnP:
      * Complex Math
      * Distraction
      * Overchoice
      * Misunderstanding

      The new format is definitely adding Distraction, and probably Misunderstanding. From my experience as a DM and player, combat in 4e took a long time due to overchoice. When we limited each turn to 30 seconds (1 min for the DM) the combats were fast and dynamic. The problem is there were too many precise movements, which is better handled by video games, rather than narrative movement. Every complexity slows the player down, and then slows the game down. I've watched innumerate players suffer under Mathfinder, but excel under NWoD. Simple stat blocks is lessens misunderstandings. More importantly, those stat blocks speed up the game by letting the DM focus on what PnP does best: telling the story.
    1. MerricB's Avatar
      MerricB -
      My experiences with trying to condense the 5E stats into an inline format have been horrible. It works for a small subset of monsters - the ones that have common abilities that can be remembered, such as pack tactics - and then falls apart quickly thereafter. AD&D could do it due to so many monsters being vanilla and no ability scores, and even then you'd need a Monster Manual whenever something complicated popped up, like a beholder. However, 5E's monsters have a large amount of required information to run them, so much so that you lose huge amounts of readability when using them in an inline format. 5E wants the full statblock treatment.

      This, of course, causes problems when the full stats of monsters are included on the encounter's page. There is no doubt it makes it easier to run such encounters at the table, and it works very well for complicated set-piece encounters. Unfortunately, the trade-off is in the flow of the adventure. The extreme example is the 4E adventures printed in the "delve" format, as well as late 3.5e adventures such as "Return to the Ruins of Undermountain". It's great for combat, but less great for non-combat details. It's very easy for story beats to be lost, and it also has the drawback of assuming every encounter is a combat. That's not great.

      Also, it kills the page count. (This is not short descriptions of the monsters, this is their stat-block material; typically 1/4 of a page or more for each monster).

      As to a more expansive way of writing character descriptions as suggested by Chris Perkins? I don't like the example he gave that much, but it's not so bad when there's only one NPC in an encounter. Once you have several together, I think it doesn't work that well.

      Cheers!
    1. NaturalZero's Avatar
      NaturalZero -
      Quote Originally Posted by guachi View Post
      I almost never have to open up another book to look up stats. I consider doing so a failure. If an adventure forces me to have to turn to some other page to routinely run encounters it is a bad adventure.
      I really like the core 5e system. I like the streamlined math. One place where they absolutely dropped the ball and kicked it down the ing street was when they went away from the 4e monster statblock that included everything you needed to run the monster. They went back and gave monsters spell lists, with rules on multiple pages... in an entirely different book! It was one of the reasons i hated running high level caster monsters in 3.5 and always truncated or altered the mechanics to be more forward.

      Quote Originally Posted by Leatherhead View Post
      Controversial Opinion: 4e had the best monster stat blocks.
      Yes, yes, yes. I like running 5e as a system, but the more i do, the more i notice how many evolutionary enhancements that 4e proposed that worked better but got chucked out the window. I'd like a concise 4e statblock, with flowery 5e prose and world-building flavor.
    1. Henry's Avatar
      Henry -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      It was minor in 1e, but if doing it now it wouldn't. Because statblocks are larger. (And they don't use the stupid partial statblocks that don't give you all the information needed to run the monster without consulting the Monster Manual.)
      We're not really talking about what they did 40 years ago. Because it's not 40 years ago and this is a 5e forum.

      Even then, an update of Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh is a very, very poor example. Because, it's not a combat heavy dungeon crawl. Looking through my copy of the module, it has a poisonous snake, a large spider, giant centipedes, stirges, skeletons, and a mage. It only needs six or seven statblocks in total, and a couple of those are short.
      Yeah, that is pretty tiny. And likely only takes 2-1/2 pages. (Which is actually like 7% of the book.)

      BUT you can't just add pages. To add those pages of statblocks you'd need to take away 2-1/2 pages of text.
      Which 2-1/2 of Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh are you getting rid of?

      That's also a pretty non-standard amount of combat. The U series probably isn't "the bar". But the second one, Danger at Dunwater (chosen because it's in the some folder) has over twice as many monsters. And even having several of the variant lizard folk be, well, variants, it's still probably 3 to 3-1/2 pages. A good 10% of the module. And this is still a combat light module.
      @guachi DID say, “his conversion”, not his 1e prep notes. If it is a 5e conversion, i’d Be interested in seeing one of his more complex liner notes for monsters (in a spoiler block if anyone is concerned with spoilers).
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Quote Originally Posted by Henry View Post
      @guachi DID say, “his conversion”, not his 1e prep notes. If it is a 5e conversion, i’d Be interested in seeing one of his more complex liner notes for monsters (in a spoiler block if anyone is concerned with spoilers).
      Take and cropping screenshots from my MM, I can fit all six statblocks into a page-and-a-half. I could probably cut-and-paste from the SRD as easily and shrink down the font to get them all on one page. That's an easy module, with so few critters.
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