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Blog (A5E) Level Up’s Monsters: The Stat Block

Hi! I’m Paul Hughes, a lead developer on Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition. At blogofholding.com, I’ve done statistical analysis on the Monster Manual (5E Monster Manual on a Business Card), character class damage, monster Challenge Rating, treasure economy, and so on.

We’re publishing a heroic fantasy RPG, so we need monsters. A whole damn book of them. I want to tell you a little about what we have planned for the standalone Advanced 5E monster book: it might end up looking a bit different from most RPG bestiaries you’ve seen.

To get this out of the way first: the familiar monsters you need to run any O5E (Original 5E) adventure (with a small handful of intellectual-property exceptions) will be in the book, ready to plug and play into any adventure: aboleth to zombie, we’ve got ‘em. And we’ll be adding dozens of monsters you’ve never seen before (unless you’ve gotten a sneak preview on the EN5ider patreon).

All our monsters will be getting an overhaul, so even if you’ve seen one before, you won’t have seen it in this form before. As part of “5E Monster Manual on a Business Card”, a project I did to figure out the basic math of O5E monsters, I identified some that didn’t quite hit their intended marks and others that would be all the better for a few tweaks. Every monster stat, bonus, and feature will be going under the microscope.

We’re also adding a bunch of new goodies for you to play with. To show you the scope of the changes we’re making, I’d like to show you an example monster - the vampire.

Challenge Rating​

If you’ve ever had trouble predicting whether a battle was going to be challenging, deadly, or a pushover - don’t worry, we have too. That problem may never truly be solved - there are just too many variables in party composition, monster abilities, and encounter circumstances - but we believe we can reduce the chaos a bit.

We’re tweaking the encounter-building guidelines (especially at high level), and we’re also adjusting individual monsters’ Challenge Ratings.

The original 5E vampire, for instance, has great out-of-combat and narrative abilities, but in combat it doesn’t live up to its Challenge Rating of 13. By my calculations, it’s a lot more like a CR 10 monster. We considered raising its hit points and damage output by a bunch, but ultimately we decided to re-rate it as CR 10 and keep its power level around where it is now. After all, we don’t want to wildly throw off the balance of pre-published vampire adventures!

Encounter balance is an iterative process and we’ll need lots of playtests to get it right. We’ll be looking for your help on that in the future.

Compatibility​

Of course, every O5E monster is fully compatible with Level Up. That includes all the monster books you already have, and any monsters found in adventures and other products. When you start playing Level Up, there's already a dizzying array of material you can use with it.

However, you can run O5E adventures using our monster book. Where you see an entry which says "three bugbears attack", you can use the O5E bugbear, but we hope you'll use ours. The challenge is the same, even if some of the details are different.

Iconic Monster Abilities​

We want every monster to feel unique in combat. A battle against a frost giant should differ from one against a stone giant in ways that go beyond gradations in HP and attack bonuses.

Each monster will have some unique ability or abilities which sets it apart: hopefully we’ll spark surprise and wonder in the players, and maybe a little healthy fear as well.

Some monsters will be more complex than others. A goblin warrior needs to feel like a goblin, so it might have an extra trait or reaction or two. It can’t be too complex, since goblins often come in large numbers and act as foot soldiers to more dangerous foes. On the other end of the scale, a legendary foe like a vampire must pack enough punches to single-handedly carry a battle by itself. That means making use of legendary actions, reactions, and once-per-day abilities that showcase its flavor.

Here are the extra reactions and legendary actions available to our current version of the vampire.

Reactions​


Hissing Scuttle (1/day). When the vampire takes radiant damage, it moves up to its speed without provoking opportunity attacks.​
Warding Charm (1/day). When a creature the vampire can see within 30 feet targets it with an attack, the vampire uses Charm on that creature.​

Legendary Actions​

The vampire can take 2 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature's turn. The vampire regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.

Momentary Transformation. The vampire uses its Animal Form or Mist Form ability, moves up to its speed without provoking opportunity attacks, and then returns to its true form.​
Blood Charm. The vampire uses Charm. If the vampire has used Bite on the target in the last 24 hours, it makes its saving throw at disadvantage.​
Blood-Frenzied Charge (Costs 2 Actions). The vampire moves up to its speed, ending this move adjacent to a creature whose hit points are at or less than half of its maximum hit points. The vampire then makes two melee attacks against this creature.​
Recovery (Costs 2 Actions). The vampire immediately uses its Legendary Recovery trait.​

Monster Terrain​

Each monster’s stat block will now list the natural terrains to which it’s native. Furthermore, we’re going to include quite a few unnatural terrains.

Here’s the vampire terrain entry. As you can see, we’re not only placing vampires in mountain fastnesses and monster-haunted cities but in specific types of dungeons and even on other planes of existence.

Terrain: hills, grassland, forest, mountains, settlement, ruin, sewer, tomb, plane of shadow​

We’ll be including comprehensive encounter tables, broken down by all these terrain types and more, and also by level, to a high degree of granularity. Right now, we’re thinking of including not only monster and NPC encounters but also weather and encounter challenges (more on them in another post). My benchmark for a fully complete encounter table is that you could spend an entire campaign, level 1-20, exploring a single terrain type and never have to re-use the same encounter.

Of course, there are a lot of possible variations even within one encounter entry on an encounter table: a battle against 4-6 goblins, for instance, could lead to an ambush, a negotiation, a mystery, a rescue or any number of other outcomes. We’ll talk more about our plans for customizing encounters in a later post.

Monster Alignment​

Here’s the rare example where we’re removing content. Most monsters won’t have alignments. In our cosmology, alignment is a rare trait, usually only assigned to powerful magical entities. The bugbears you encounter might be hostile, or friendly, and they might even be evil-with-a-small-e, but there’s nothing about most species or heritages that makes them inherently evil or good.

To continue our example stat block: vampires, as powerful undead, do have an alignment trait. The very power that animates them is evil. While nearly all vampires are irredeemably wicked, the exceptional vampire might resist its nature, at least for a little while, and become a stern protector of the world that fears it. Here's the vampire's relevant trait.
Lawful evil. The vampire exudes a lawful and evil aura.​

Flexible Skills​

In Level Up, it’s expected that you can use any skill with any ability score. That’s true for monsters too. We may pre-compute a monster’s Charisma (Intimidation) score for you as a matter of convenience, but we’ll also include the monster’s proficiency bonus so that it can make a Strength (Intimidation) roll if called for.

Abilities: STR 20 (+5) DEX 18 (+4) CON 20 (+5) INT 16 (+3) WIS 16 (+3) CHA 18 (+4)​
Proficiency: +4​
Common Skills: Wisdom (Perception) +7, Charisma (Persuasion) +8, Dexterity (Stealth) +8​

Treasure Type​

There’s nothing that makes my players desire a magic weapon more than having a monster use it on them first. Usually, assigning appropriate magical treasure is part of a DM’s preparation work before a session, but we want a randomly-rolled, on-the-fly hobgoblin boss to be more likely to own a magical sword, and a lich more likely to possess scrolls and magic wands.

We’re experimenting with customizing each monsters’ treasure so that, as an alternative to the standard randomly-rolled treasure, the game master can choose one of several example treasure bundles suitable for that monster.

Here’s the vampire treasure line.

Example Treasure:
  • necklace of fireballs (worn); 3,000 GP; 150 PP; 12 rare books worth 100 GP each

  • black-enameled scale male of resistance (radiant) (worn, granting AC 16); 200 PP; bag of 13 bloodstones worth 50 GP each

  • hidden gold coffer, worth 7,500 GP, containing a desiccated human heart (staking it kills the vampire)

All treasure doesn’t have to be magical! An NPC’s suit of nonmagical plate mail might be a hard-won prize for a low-to-mid-level party, and an evil spellcaster might possess a nonmagical but valuable grimoire of forbidden secrets. A purple worm’s treasure might consist entirely of precious gems hidden in its gullet (a fact the PCs only learn when one of them is swallowed).

Monster Variants​

Many GMs don’t present every monster stat block as written. They reskin, add powers, and adjust hit points and damage to fit their needs. As the writers of the book, why shouldn’t we help you out with that?

Many monsters in the book will contain a monster variant or two (or three). A variant consists of an altered description, feature, or set of powers that you can apply to an existing monster to make it fresh and keep your players guessing.

A monster variant might be as simple as a spellcasting goblin, a champion knight, or a winged ogre. It might be a chimera with a different set of heads. Or it might be a complete reskin: a human cannibal cultist with the stats of a gnoll.

A variant might also provide a legendary version of an existing monster: a legendary medusa, for instance, with a higher CR and hit points and a full suite of legendary actions and traits. There will be legendary monsters at all levels. Even first or second-level characters deserve dynamic battles against interesting villains.

Variant monsters are tools that allow a DM to control the complexity of an encounter. If you’re running a complex battle with many different monster types, you can use the simplest version of each monster. If the PCs engage in an otherwise straightforward battle, the DM can break out a more memorable or perilous variant.

Variants are also a great way to shake players out of a sense of familiarity. Think you know what a demilich is capable of? Think again!

Here’s our Vampire Spellcaster variant. Of course, this is only one of several vampire variants we’ll have; Dracula fans will love the Elder Vampire, which has a whole slew of powerful vampiric powers!

Vampire Spellcaster​


Some vampires were wizards or clerics in life. In death they continue their researches, drawing on necrotic power to fuel their spells.

This vampire spellcaster is a 4th level wizard who uses Intelligence as its spellcasting ability (DC 15, +7 to hit with spell attacks). It can use an action or 2 legendary actions to cast a spell. It has the following spells prepared and scribed in a hidden spellbook:

Cantrips (at will): mage hand, minor illusion
1st level (4 slots): disguise self, alarm
2nd level (3 slots): arcane lock, knock

The vampire spellcaster is CR 11. It has the following additional reactions:

Counterspell (1/day). The vampire interrupts the spellcasting of a creature it can see. The target must make a DC 16 saving throw using its spellcasting ability or its spell is wasted.​
Shard of Midnight (1/day). After the vampire takes radiant damage, it causes a field of magical darkness to spread from it to a distance of 30 feet, moving with the vampire and spreading around corners. Nonmagical light can’t illuminate this darkness and a creature with darkvision can’t see through it, though any undead creature can. The darkness lasts for a minute, until it is a target of dispel magic, or until it overlaps with an area of light created with a level 3 or higher spell slot.​

The vampire spellcaster has the following additional legendary actions:

Confusion (1/day). Up to three targets the vampire can see within 60 feet of it must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or be confused for one minute. Each target may repeat this saving throw at the end of each of its turns.​
Dominate Thrall (costs 2 actions). The vampire issues an order to a vampire spawn or to a creature which the vampire has charmed. As a reaction, the charmed creature follows the order to the best of its ability, moving up to its speed and taking an action. The charmed creature cannot make more than one attack as part of its action.​

You’ll notice that, while you still must refer to spell descriptions for some utility spells, we’ve greatly reduced the number of spells known by the vampire spellcaster. We’ve converted several combat-useful spells (counterspell, confusion, darkness, and dominate person) into stat block actions. If it’s likely to be used in battle, we’d like to save you some page flipping if we can.

If a monster’s collection of variants aren’t enough for you, you’ll also be able to modify a monster by applying one of our streamlined templates, each of which can be applied to many monsters. Need a swarm of weasels? A skeletal giant ape? An elite hill giant, or a troop of guards? How about a vampiric unicorn? By applying a template, you can turn a creature into a swarm, skeleton, elite, troop, vampire, or one of several other templates.

And That’s Not All​

Those are some of the tweaks we’re making to monster stat blocks. Very soon I want to talk about the even bigger overhaul we’re contemplating to the monster description. We’re adding a lot more DM tools with an eye on speeding and enriching play at the table, including clues and signs of a monster’s presence, regional effects, tactics, lore checks, quirks, and more. I’m excited to show you what we’ve got!

To_Stake_A_Vampire_-_Attack_From_Above_-_Claudio_Pozas_page55.jpg

The Stat Block​


For your playtesting pleasure, here’s the complete vampire stat block. Please let us know what you like, what you don’t like, and how it plays at your table. This is very much a work-in-progress.

Vampire​


Type: Legendary Medium undead

Challenge: 10 (level 25)

AC: 16 (natural armor)

HP: 142 (15d8+75)

Speed: 40 ft., climb 30 ft.



Abilities: STR 20 (+5) DEX 18 (+4) CON 20 (+5) INT 16 (+3) WIS 16 (+3) CHA 18 (+4)

Proficiency: +4

Saving Throws: Dex +8, Wis +7, Cha +8

Skills: Wisdom (Perception) +7, Charisma (Persuasion) +8, Dexterity (Stealth) +8



Damage Resistances: Necrotic; damage from nonmagical, non-silvered weapons

Senses: Darkvision 120ft., Passive Perception 17

Languages: the languages it knew in life

Terrain: hills, grassland, forest, mountains, settlement, ruin, sewer, tomb, shadowfell

Example Treasure​

  • necklace of fireballs (worn); 3,000 GP; 150 PP; 12 rare books worth 100 GP each
  • black-enameled scale male of resistance (radiant) (worn, granting AC 16); 200 PP; bag of 13 bloodstones worth 50 GP each
  • hidden gold coffer, worth 7,500 GP, containing a desiccated human heart (staking it kills the vampire)

Traits​


Animal Form. As an action, the vampire and its gear can transform into a beast or swarm of CR ½ or lower (usually a bat, wolf, or swarm of bats) or back into its true form. In this form, it has vampire statistics except that it has the size, movement speeds, and traits of its beast or swarm form and can’t speak. Anything it’s carrying transforms with it. If it dies, it transforms to its true form.​
Mist Form. As an action, or when it drops to 0 hit points instead of falling unconscious, the vampire and its gear can transform into a mist. As a mist, it has the same statistics except that it has a flying speed of 30, can’t speak, take actions, or manipulate objects, is immune to nonmagical bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage, and has advantage on saving throws and Stealth checks. It can pass through a space as narrow as 1 inch and can’t pass through water. If it has at least 1 hit point, it can transform into its true form on its turn without spending an action.​
While the vampire has 0 hit points in mist form, it can't revert to its vampire form, and it must reach its resting place within 2 hours or be destroyed. Once in its resting place, it reverts to vampire form and is paralyzed for one hour, at which time it regains 1 hit point. While paralyzed in this way, it can be destroyed by radiant damage, magical damage, or a wooden stake through the heart.​
Regeneration. The vampire regains 20 hit points at the start of its turn if it has at least 1 hit point and hasn’t taken radiant damage since its last turn.​
Spider Climb. The vampire can use its climb speed even on difficult surfaces and upside down on ceilings.​
Vampire Weaknesses. Vampires’ most common weaknesses are sunlight and running water. When the vampire ends its turn in contact with one of its weaknesses (such as bathed in sunlight or running water), it takes 20 radiant damage. While in contact with its weakness, it can’t use its Animal Form, Mist Form, or Regeneration traits.​
Legendary Recovery. At the end of its turn, the vampire ends one magical effect or condition on itself that was imposed with a failed saving throw.​

Actions​


Multiattack (vampire form only). The vampire makes three attacks, only one of which can be a bite attack.​
Grab (vampire form only). Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (1d8 + 5) bludgeoning damage. The target is grappled (escape DC 19).​
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target which is grappled, incapacitated, restrained, willing, or unaware of the vempire’s presence. Hit: 9 (1d8 + 5) piercing damage plus 14 (4d6) necrotic damage. The target’s hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the necrotic damage dealt, and the vampire regains this number of hit points. If the target is reduced to 0 hit points by this attack, it dies and will rise the following night as a vampire spawn in the vampire’s thrall. Before the target first rises as a vampire spawn, a cleric can spend ten minutes blessing the body in order to prevent this transformation.​
Charm. One target the vampire can see within 30 feet of it must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or be charmed by the vampire for 24 hours or until the vampire ends the effect. The charmed target regards the vampire as a trusted friend and is a willing target for the vampire’s bite. The target can repeat the saving throw each time the vampire or its allies damage the target. Once the target has succeeded on the saving throw, it is immune to this vampire’s Charm for 24 hours.​

Reactions​


Hissing Scuttle (1/day). When the vampire takes radiant damage, it moves up to its speed without provoking opportunity attacks.​
Warding Charm (1/day). When a creature the vampire can see targets it with a melee attack, the vampire uses Charm on that creature.​

Legendary Actions​


The vampire can take 2 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature's turn. The vampire regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.

Momentary Transformation. The vampire uses its Animal Form or Mist Form ability, moves up to its speed without provoking opportunity attacks, and then returns to its true form.​
Grab. The vampire makes one grab attack.​
Blood Charm. The vampire uses Charm. If the vampire has used Bite on the target in the last 24 hours, it makes its initial saving throw at disadvantage.​
Recovery (Costs 2 Actions). The vampire immediately uses its Legendary Recovery trait.​

Continue reading...
 

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Paul Hughes

Paul Hughes

Corrosive

Adventurer
Right, but it says "when the vampire is targeted in melee", it doesn't say "when the vampire is attacked in melee". You must wait until after the action is taken to use your reaction, that is the 5e rule, so a case could be made that even thinking about attacking the vampire with a melee attack fulfills the "action", and thus then allows the reaction to take place! That's why as written, it's too vague and a bad "reaction". The target needs to actually do something first to react to!
Targeting an enemy means attacking the enemy. There's no separate action for 'targeting' and 'attacking'.
 

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Faolyn

Hero
Right, but it says "when the vampire is targeted in melee", it doesn't say "when the vampire is attacked in melee". You must wait until after the action is taken to use your reaction, that is the 5e rule, so a case could be made that even thinking about attacking the vampire with a melee attack fulfills the "action", and thus then allows the reaction to take place! That's why as written, it's too vague and a bad "reaction". The target needs to actually do something first to react to!
Targeting a creature with an effect that requires a save but not an attack roll counts as targeting a creature but isn't an attack, and thus would trigger the reaction.

Attacking with an area effect spell that includes a creature in that area isn't targeting a creature, and thus wouldn't target the reaction, even if it actually requires an attack roll (which it rarely does).
 

Skyscraper

Explorer
Your point about reaction rules already handling a lot concerning the timing, is relevant. Thank you for pointing this out.

My understanding of reactions, since the rules say it is "a response" to a trigger, is that the triggering event must be resolved entirely before the reaction takes place. So this would settle the question of Hissing Scuttle: after the vampire takes damage, it may use Hissing Scuttle as a reaction.

However, regarding Warding Charm, it seems to me like the "targeting" trigger was not intended to be equivalent to the trigger "attacking". If it were, I think that the word "attacking" should be used. Those two words mean different things in their plain ordinary meaning, and using one instead of the other suggests that a distinction is intended.

Also, the word "warding" in the power name is suggestive of a protection against (the triggering event), and to me suggests that the intent is for the power to actually allow the Vampire to avoid the attack by charming the attacking creature when it targets the vampire but before it carries out the attack. Whether this is the intent or not, I think that either the rules should be clarified with a breakdown of substeps in the attack sequence to allow this interruption of the attack sequence, or another trigger should be used.
 




Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
Monster Terrain
Man, this one is by itself worth the price of admission.
And then you say you're going to build out encounter tables? Wow and Yay!

Monster Alignment​

Here’s the rare example where we’re removing content. Most monsters won’t have alignments. In our cosmology, alignment is a rare trait, usually only assigned to powerful magical entities. The bugbears you encounter might be hostile, or friendly, and they might even be evil-with-a-small-e, but there’s nothing about most species or heritages that makes them inherently evil or good.

To continue our example stat block: vampires, as powerful undead, do have an alignment trait. The very power that animates them is evil. While nearly all vampires are irredeemably wicked, the exceptional vampire might resist its nature, at least for a little while, and become a stern protector of the world that fears it. Here's the vampire's relevant trait.

I feel like if a creature has free will, it shouldn't have alignment in its stat block. Not sure if that was your criterion.
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
Can you explain that for me?

A linear regression is a statistical machine learning algorithm that allows you to put in many different variables in order to predict some specific quantifiable value. In this case: CR.

For example. the Zillow real estate app most likely uses something like a linear regression to take things like zip code, square footage, whether you have a pool or not, # of bedrooms, etc,. etc., and plug them all in order to answer the question "what is the value of my home".

Similarly, you could plug in the color, cut, clarity, carat, and other dimensional factors for a diamond and use a linear regression to calculate the value of the diamond.

Pretty interesting idea, really.
 

Faolyn

Hero
A linear regression is a statistical machine learning algorithm that allows you to put in many different variables in order to predict some specific quantifiable value. In this case: CR.

For example. the Zillow real estate app most likely uses something like a linear regression to take things like zip code, square footage, whether you have a pool or not, # of bedrooms, etc,. etc., and plug them all in order to answer the question "what is the value of my home".

Similarly, you could plug in the color, cut, clarity, carat, and other dimensional factors for a diamond and use a linear regression to calculate the value of the diamond.

Pretty interesting idea, really.
They used to do something akin to that in 2e (can't remember with 3e), where if the monster had X ability, that added +Y to the XP value--as opposed to 5e, where you have to do math because everything is based on the average of the creature's effective hp plus its effective AC, and things that increased often do it by percentages.

I wouldn't mind each ability being given a straight up number or fraction that is then totaled up and rounded.
 

glass

(he, him)
In Hissing Scuttle, does "when the vampire takes radiant damage" actually mean "after it takes the damage"? If it does, I would use the latter wording to avoid confusion.
Other have addressed this post, but I wanted to make one point: I do not think "after" is clearer than "when". Quite the contrary, it leads to questions like "how long after?" If a vampire take radiant damage, does it have a scuttle available for the rest of its life?

_
glass.
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
Man, this one is by itself worth the price of admission.
And then you say you're going to build out encounter tables? Wow and Yay!



I feel like if a creature has free will, it shouldn't have alignment in its stat block. Not sure if that was your criterion.
If, say, 90% of the creatures of that type are good, should they have one? I mean, the stat blocks are examples of the creatures, not the only way those creatures are......that's RAW, that these are examples.
 


Caliburn101

Explorer
Other have addressed this post, but I wanted to make one point: I do not think "after" is clearer than "when". Quite the contrary, it leads to questions like "how long after?" If a vampire take radiant damage, does it have a scuttle available for the rest of its life?

_
glass.
Make is 'immediately after taking damage before any other action in the turn sequence' maybe?
 

Faolyn

Hero
I like what I see, but would like to have vampires as a template with a few examples. This and lycanthropes never seem to be templates even though they are creatures transformed from base creatures. Odd.
Agreed. That said, 5e has been going for very simplified templates--nothing that requires a lot of changes and math, like in 3e. I quite like that (even though I almost never run monsters straight out of the book), so would want these to be very simple templates.
 

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