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. MNblockhead's Avatar
      MNblockhead -
      Quote Originally Posted by dwayne View Post
      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.
      Not sure the actual reasons, but my guesses, and my reasons are:


      1. They want you to buy the Monster Manual, which is why they only bold the names of monsters from the MM, and only give stats in an appendix for new monsters.
      2. It costs more to print special pull-out pages, which means to keep the price point in line with what consumers expect from a 5e adventure hardback, they would have to subtract from the actual adventure content (the story, location descriptions, maps).
      3. Pull out materials are hard to keep with the hardback. Many consumers, like myself, find them annoying.
      4. Many consumers (like myself) do not want to adulterate our modules to play them. I buy the books to enjoy and read through, but for adventures I run, I run from DnD Beyond or Realm Works. I want to keep my books in nice condition. Also, pull-outs that are printed in the books tend to be low quality. I much prefer to have maps and physical play aids to be sold separately, which WotC and 3rd parties have been doing with recent adventures. So, I don't think there is a large enough group who would be willing to pay more money for pull out materials in the hard cover books (or pay the same but get less adventure), who are unwilling to shell out for separate physical or digital play aids.
      5. Electronic versions like D&D Beyond (and I assume the Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 versions as well) it is so easy to pull up the entire stat block as an instant popup or a new tab/window in your Internet browser. There are also tools like RealmWorks and Herolabs that provide even more tools to run the game (I assume World Anvil and similar competitors have similar functionality). In short, for the DMs who are so concerned about efficiency and convenience that they have a problem with leafing through the Monster Manual or to an appendix of NPCs at the back of the module, they are likely to go with electronic tools.
    1. tuxedoraptor's Avatar
      tuxedoraptor -
      This is why I abandoned 5e, WotC is going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as I predicted because they can't leave alone, if it works, don't fix it.
      Mearls is the creator of the abomination known as essentials for 4e, hes gonna pull the same with 5e most likely. Maybe instead of worthless changes like this, they should be focusing on fixing things that need to be fixed, like the fact intelligence is a worthless stat, the sorcerer is pretty bland and the entire goddamn ranger class.
    1. GothicEmperor's Avatar
      GothicEmperor -
      So this is just about them using a sentence structure in NPC descriptions? Okay, that doesn't affect me at all. Most of it's just gobbledegook I refluff anyway.

      I guess there's the deeper issue of NPC stat blocks, which are also rather perfunctory. I can pick out relevant stats from the Monster Manual myself, and I don't see why Famous Forgotten Realms Characters need to be given their own page in the back for stats that won't ever be used, not even by the people who actually play in the Realms.
    1. robus's Avatar
      robus -
      Quote Originally Posted by MichaelSomething View Post
      I’d forgotten about the monster cards! Thanks for the reminder!
    1. Haffrung's Avatar
      Haffrung -
      I'll echo the sentiments of others here that my biggest complaint with 5E is the presentation of the game content - how important information is buried in walls of text. It makes it extremely difficult to run their adventures at the table, and usually necessitates hours spent summarising the text into an easily parsed format.

      The problem is bad enough that I have real reservations about buying any more WotC 5E campaign books. So I oppose any initiatives to move further in that direction.

      The elephant in the room is that WotC know at least half the market for their books are people who don't actually use them in a game, and instead treat them as reading material. And those two purposes for a book - pleasant reading material and useful in-game reference - are at odds with one another. Other RPG publishers have made strides in squaring this circle and making adventure content easier to use at the table. But for some reason, WotC is extremely conservative when it comes to adventure format.
    1. timbannock's Avatar
      timbannock -
      Quote Originally Posted by GothicEmperor View Post
      So this is just about them using a sentence structure in NPC descriptions? Okay, that doesn't affect me at all. Most of it's just gobbledegook I refluff anyway.

      I guess there's the deeper issue of NPC stat blocks, which are also rather perfunctory. I can pick out relevant stats from the Monster Manual myself, and I don't see why Famous Forgotten Realms Characters need to be given their own page in the back for stats that won't ever be used, not even by the people who actually play in the Realms.
      I couldn't disagree with any statement more than this one. I can't even count how many different NPCs I've had in my games that used the "specific NPC stat blocks" from Curse of Strahd and Tomb of Annihilation alone. Esmerelda and van Richten have seen more use in my campaigns than veterans and knights.

      ;-P
    1. Haffrung's Avatar
      Haffrung -
      Quote Originally Posted by Henry View Post
      Thing is, there are millions of people actively playing D&D currently (something like 12 to 15 million last surveys) - I really doubt the majority are just reading and not playing the released material. back when it was more like 3 to 4 million active players about 15 to 20 years ago, i could see a bunch of DMs just reading and shelving the stuff. I can't speak to Storm King's Thunder -- Out of the Abyss was pretty good, actually, as we Curse of Strahd and Tomb of Annihilation, and I'm running Dragon Heist just fine right now -- admittedly, i'm putting my own spin on it, but that's how it's meant to be run.
      Years ago I recall Erik Mona on the Paizo boards commenting that they know half the people who buy an Adventure Path chapter are buying it just to read, and they write the material accordingly. I don't see any reason to believe the market is any different for D&D.

      If I had to guess a breakdown of uses of an adventure campaign book like Storm King's Thunder, I'd say it looks something like:

      A) 30% bought by someone not in an active game
      B) 30% bought by someone in an active game with the aspiration to play it someday but it remains unplayed
      C) 40% bought by someone who uses it in a game

      If the bigwigs at WotC decided that their books should be written and laid out to appeal strictly to category C, we would see a dramatic difference in the design of the books that appear on the shelves.
    1. timbannock's Avatar
      timbannock -
      Quote Originally Posted by Haffrung View Post
      Years ago I recall Erik Mona on the Paizo boards commenting that they know half the people who buy an Adventure Path chapter are buying it just to read, and they write the material accordingly. I don't see any reason to believe the market is any different for D&D.

      If I had to guess a breakdown of uses of an adventure campaign book like Storm King's Thunder, I'd say it looks something like:

      A) 30% bought by someone not in an active game
      B) 30% bought by someone in an active game with the aspiration to play it someday but it remains unplayed
      C) 40% bought by someone who uses it in a game

      If the bigwigs at WotC decided that their books should be written and laid out to appeal strictly to category C, we would see a dramatic difference in the design of the books that appear on the shelves.
      And worth keeping in mind that even if those percentages are off, the "uses it in a game" crowd is going to have some not insignificant percentage that is really using it in a homebrew game. That too colors how they parse the information: if it's presented more as a readable 'sourcebook' as opposed to just the necessities of an encounter, for example, then it's going to serve those homebrewers even better. I forget the exact number, but I believe it was Sly Flourish who did a study with thousands of respondents and found the vast majority didn't use published settings and adventures as-is.
    1. EthanSental's Avatar
      EthanSental -
      Quote Originally Posted by Haffrung View Post
      Other RPG publishers have made strides in squaring this circle and making adventure content easier to use at the table. But for some reason, WotC is extremely conservative when it comes to adventure format.
      I might have missed it if you mentioned it elsewhere, but got an example rpg game or publisher you mention above so I can see what you mean? I’ve mainly played D&D, pathfinder, some osr games and various superhero games back in the day and just curious of the easier content you mention by other companies.

      Thanks!
    1. Haffrung's Avatar
      Haffrung -
      Quote Originally Posted by EthanSental View Post
      I might have missed it if you mentioned it elsewhere, but got an example rpg game or publisher you mention above so I can see what you mean? I’ve mainly played D&D, pathfinder, some osr games and various superhero games back in the day and just curious of the easier content you mention by other companies.

      Thanks!
      Savage Worlds campaigns use a concise writing style with flexible approach (my experience is with the Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane).

      Deep Carbon Observatory (an OSR adventure) uses a concise writing style and flowcharts.

      Stonehell Dungeon and the Maze of the Blue Medusa are megadungeons where essential content is presented in single-page graphical format for each level or area.

      For the most part, these are small companies with designers employing innovative layouts. WotC certainly has the expertise and the resources to integrate some of these innovations. But it's clear to me that they see that as hurting their market of non-playing readers. The reasoning seems to be that actual play users will make their own summaries, or download user-generated content from the internet, in order to make the games playable at the table. And this is preferable to readers not buying the books altogether.
    1. EthanSental's Avatar
      EthanSental -
      Thanks! I have 1 savage worlds book for lankhmar but haven’t really read through it.
    1. wcpfish -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mercule View Post
      Wait... That's a thing?

      I mean, I've bought adventures that I've never run, and that were still enjoyable to read, but I always read them with my "GM's eye", which means looking for the stat blocks, etc.

      I can accept that there are folks that buy adventures with no intent of running (or looting) them, but I'd still expect them to care about the game mechanics stuff, at least enough to be able to follow along. Otherwise, my brain kinda hurts.
      Yep it's a thing and this is (imho) the primary force driving this decision. Bryce at Tenfootpole.org talks about usability as a DM actually running the game VERSUS the joy of reading Tolkienesque descriptions of the history of each leaf in the forest. Apparently, the "I just bought it and read it and sought inspiration" buying forces are tilting to outweigh the "we're actually gonna play this thing" forces. I'd like a balance of the two and Bryce suggests how to do it. Give me bulleted points, handy one-line NPC motivations, and condensed stat blocks so I can run the adventure with minimal flipping and then if you want to explain why Farmer Jones owns exactly 131 chickens, used to be a thief 'til he took an arrow to the knee, and hates the color fuchsia--- do so in an appendix in the back.
    1. wcpfish -
      Quote Originally Posted by MerricB View Post
      Works great for AD&D. You've got to love most of the creature's abilities triggering off Hit Dice. Alas, not a great option for 5E, where there's a lot more variance in abilities.

      Ability scores that matter take up a lot of space, just to begin with - then there's lots of rider effects on attacks and the like. Even the damage type needs to be listed.

      In theory, you could have an undead deal 1d8+4N, with the N standing for Necrotic, but we end up with too many abbreviations to remember.

      Cheers!
      fair point Merric and pleasantly and respectfully expressed thank you! But yeah, for 5th edition if the "one line" became "three lines" I'd still be okay with that. I think the key for me is looking down at the encounter and having the description of what the PCs see/experience first and foremost without digging for that AND having mechanics bullet pointed or bolded or whatever (even a simple indent) makes a world of difference. Cheers to you as well, good sir!
    1. MerricB's Avatar
      MerricB -
      Quote Originally Posted by wcpfish View Post
      But yeah, for 5th edition if the "one line" became "three lines" I'd still be okay with that.!
      As an experiment, try converting the clay golem into a short statblock. It's one of those monsters that makes "three lines" look quite optimistic!

      Incidentally, you might find this article interesting: https://merricb.com/2019/03/12/encou...-descriptions/

      Cheers!
    1. jasper's Avatar
      jasper -
      Quote Originally Posted by MerricB View Post
      As an experiment, try converting the clay golem into a short statblock. It's one of those monsters that makes "three lines" look quite optimistic!

      Incidentally, you might find this article interesting: https://merricb.com/2019/03/12/encou...-descriptions/

      Cheers!
      Since every DM needs the MM to run. I can to do in one line.
      Clay Golem AC 14 HP 133 XP 5,000 MM 168
      Evil jasper, " I can do in 14 characters"
      Clay Golem MM 168
      Nice Jasper , " I do in one line and add flavor text"
      Clay Golem MM 168 Looks lie Granny from Bevelry Hillbillies and uses a frying pan for damage.
    1. S'mon -
      Quote Originally Posted by jasper View Post
      Since every DM needs the MM to run. I can to do in one line.
      Clay Golem AC 14 HP 133 XP 5,000 MM 168
      Evil jasper, " I can do in 14 characters"
      Clay Golem MM 168
      Nice Jasper , " I do in one line and add flavor text"
      Clay Golem MM 168 Looks lie Granny from Bevelry Hillbillies and uses a frying pan for damage.
      I find the most helpful stat to include in in-line stat block is the Dexterity bonus - then I can roll init and find the full stat block while players are rolling theirs!
    1. Haffrung's Avatar
      Haffrung -
      Putting 5E monster stat blocks in the text of the adventure is a waste of space. 5E monsters are complex enough that you want to have the full stats available. Is it really a big deal to flip the MM during play? Or do you want 10-20 per cent of the content in a book you bought to be monster stats, many of them repeated over and over again?

      Not including stats is also better for DMs who convert to other editions.
    1. Bagpuss's Avatar
      Bagpuss -
      Quote Originally Posted by IchneumonWasp View Post
      I welcome his change. NPC stat blocks take up a lot of space for stuff that aren't really necessary and can mostly be improvised on the spot, especially if there are some small guidelines about how strong the NPCs and whether he is more strong/intelligent/social etc. You don't need the entire statblock.
      I would have thought writing things out in entire sentences is going to take up more space than a stat block. The whole point of the stat block was to reduce space needed to convey necessary information.
    1. MerricB's Avatar
      MerricB -
      Quote Originally Posted by Bagpuss View Post
      I would have thought writing things out in entire sentences is going to take up more space than a stat block. The whole point of the stat block was to reduce space needed to convey necessary information.
      I think the idea is to improve readability of the NPC description, but I can’t say it achieves that for me.
    1. Jacob Lewis's Avatar
      Jacob Lewis -
      I miss 4e statblocks. I didn't need to flip a single page or reference any other book to run an encounter. I'll get back to DMing when they get back to that.

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