D&D 5E Monsters as PCs


The main thing that I want out of any PC monster book is to not water down the monsters. There's a tendency to trim away monster abilities and scale everything down so they're tightly balanced and playable from 1st level, in the process taking away most of what makes the monster what it is, and it drives me nuts. Monster PCs should be treated as an advanced option with a little more leeway on balance, playable only at higher levels, and with appropriate "Use at your own risk!" warnings to DMs.

I think the place to start is with 3E. For all the bellyaching about ECL and level adjustments, 3E was actually a very good edition for monster PCs. The idea was sound: Assign a rough level equivalent to the monster, and then treat the monster as a class and use the multiclassing rules for advancement. Since 5E is going to use 3E-style multiclassing, this is a workable starting point, though it needs to be streamlined a bit and 3E's level adjustments were usually on the high side. Then there are two main issues to consider: Making sure multiclassing works with the monster "class," and how to handle powerful but non-scaling monster abilities.

Multiclassing and the Monster "Class"
A big part of the problem with 3E's ECL approach was simply that 3E multiclassing didn't work very well. In the areas where 3E multiclassing did work (namely, warrior-type classes that could stack hit points and BAB), you could build a pretty solid monster PC; a 3rd-level ogre fighter was roughly comparable to a 9th-level human fighter. But a 3rd-level satyr sorceror was far behind a 10th-level human sorceror, for the same reason that a 7th-level rogue/3rd-level sorceror was: Multiclassing didn't work for classes with non-stacking abilities. WotC used prestige classes to patch things for the rogue/sorceror, but there was no such patch for monsters.

Ideally, 5E would come up with a brilliant solution for multiclassing that would obviate this problem. However, from the sound of it, they're falling back on a 3E-style solution where you use a specialized subclass to make multiclassing work. Whether these subclasses will be compatible with monster "classes" is anyone's guess, but I hope they will give it a little consideration. (Not a lot, the focus should be on making multiclassing work for regular characters, but a little.)

Non-Scaling Monster Abilities
Let's consider the 3E pixie, a monster with an array of powerful abilities; permanent invisibility, a sleep attack, and a bunch of mid-level spells usable once per day. It has a +4 level adjustment, and well it should, you might think. Certainly a 3rd-level pixie is going to be quite competitive with a 7th-level human.

But wait a minute. How does a 16th-level pixie compare with a 20th-level human? The answer is "not well." By that point, effectively-permanent invisibility is easy to come by, the party wizard is casting mid-level spells to shave in the morning, and sleep attacks are a waste of time on most of the things you fight. Because the pixie's abilities don't scale, they become less and less of a factor, and eventually cease to justify the high LA.

When you get down to it, this is really just another version of the multiclassing problem. Just as the sorceror is a "non-stackable" class, the pixie is a "non-stackable" monster. To make this work, the pixie needs a PC writeup that improves its abilities as it levels up, so they continue to justify the levels sunk into Being A Pixie.

I think 5E shows a lot of promise where monster PCs are concerned. The pieces are in place to make it work very well. It's just a question of being willing to do it. I don't think they should aim to support monster PCs on release, however; save it for when they've got time to bang on it a bit and get it right.
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I would add one additional consideration to my suggestion to simply give monsters a character equivalent level. Create categories of how exotic or game-changing a monster is. Just because a pixie can fly and turn invisible doesn't mean it is balanced as a 5th level character with 3 hit points. Rather, it should probably be a 2nd or 3rd level exotic character.

The monsters as characters listing could simply have a number (character equivalent level) and a designation, such as:

Uncommon (Non-PHB races that could have been PHB races, such as humanoids and similar creatures)
Exotic (Wings, spell-like abilities, etc)
Highly Exotic (Many special abilities, immunities, powerful at-will capabilities)

Assigning character level is based on how it measures up in raw power level to other characters. It should be very close to their hit dice. Assigning designation is based on how game-changing a creature is.

DMs starting a campaign could tell players what creatures were allowed based on these designations.

"1st level character, PHB and Forgotten Realms races only."
"15th level characters, anything goes."
"5th-level characters, uncommon or exotic are allowed, but no highly exotic."

It's essentially what the 3.5e DMG hinted at doing, and never ended up actually getting around to.

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Another variable in 3.x that caused problems was the existence of monster levels: a race could have a level adjustment (as described), but could also be forced to take two or more levels of generic "humanoid". Almost always, this represented physical size: gnolls, ogres, centaurs, giants all had monster levels in addition to level adjustment, which were added to class levels.

So a level 6 human ranger compared to a level 3 gnoll ranger (2 humanoid, 1 LA, 3 class = 6). Again, the idea was sound, but it had a number of problems:

a. scaling abilities, as described above.
b. lack of comprehension by players. So many players failed to see the ECL as the sum of all three elements (witness many threads on these boards).
c. humanoid levels are conceptually prior to class levels. A character's first levels were always humanoid or monster levels, but that meant that all monster characters with bulk lost out on the benefits of being a first-level character. This was particularly felt with skills: since first-level chars received 4x the skill points when compared to any other level, your class at level 1 mattered (it provided the available skills for investment, as well as the points). When you only had one or two skills you could choose, and you had very few points to invest anyways, even an intelligent humanoid could only have one or two skills maxed, as opposed to four or more of the non-LA characters.
d. humanoid levels required a LA of at least +1. This was a decision that was made at the design stage that no doubt seemed good, but in execution meant that almost all races with humanoid levels lagged behind. Gnolls and Ogres simply lacked the extra abilities represented by class levels and were already being "punished" in design by the humanoid levels.

All four of these factors combined to make the 3.x LA system less effective than it could have been. Savage Species tried to ameliorate this, but never succeeded in winning over the masses, I feel.



No. Just, no. I don't want any "official nod" to playing non-regular (human, elf, dwarf, etc.) races.

I would have no problem with strong guidelines presented in the *GM BOOK*. I also wouldn't be offended if they came out with a whole book on it. I just don't want it "assumed" in the core rules.

On a side note...if/when they do come out with optional books, the NEED TO BE LISTED, BOLDLY, AS _*OPTIONAL*_. In other words...

Monsterous PC's

Don't label it "Players" option nor "GM's" option; just "OPTIONAL".

*grumble grumble...dang kids...grumble...lawn!...grumble...*


Paul L. Ming

I would love it if all creatures were playable. I really don't see that happening, however, so I'd be satisfied with a large selection of the most 'normal' monsters being playable by default, and there being a module or supplement with guidelines for making the rest of the creatures 'playable'.


For monsters to be playable they have to be build/work the same way as normal PCs. As this is not the case in 4E/5E playing one won't be an option.

Greg K

Hmm.. thought I had posted this yesterday.

The monster races that I would like to see as PCs:
gnolls, half-ogres, kobolds, Lizardmen (desert and swamp), Minotaur, Ogre, Orc, Pixie

What I do not want are
1) 3e Savage Species monster race classes
2) having a monster race as a PC and then not giving them full racial abilities (e.g., flight, benefits of size, etc.)


First Post
I can see the attraction of offering just about all monsters as playable characters... but as a DM, I dont usually want to deal with it. A party consisting of well-described races like elves, dwarves and halflings is fine... but what about a half-tarrasque, or a purple jelly PC? no thank you. Not in my normal game. Although I could be persuaded to run an adventure or 2... but expect weird stuff in those cases.


Steeliest of the dragons
I absolutely do NOT want monsters available as default. That is purely a setting-specific, playstyle, group-to-group preference. Allowing monsters as PCs has no business being imposed upon D&D. Another game system/line that is created with that assumption built in? Fine. But not D&D.

I am not objecting to an optional [appendix?] in the MM with guidelines to using humanoid creatures "Small" (matching halflings) up to "Large" size. Given examples could include: Small: Pixie, Goblin, Kobold; Medium: Hobgoblin, Orc, Lizardmen; Large: Bugbear, Gnoll (though I continue to be baffled by the attention and adoration given to savage-bordering-on-insane hyena-men?!?), Minotaurs (Krynn, anyone?)..."Half-Ogre" (for such settings as use/allow that sorta thing)...maybe something like Nymph or Siren to add in some Mediums that aren't "evil goblinoids."

This option also has THOROUGH guidelines and advice for using such creatures, including the subtle prejudices to abject panic and horror that a party "with a gnoll" ??!? attracts walking into EastBumble Hamlet farming village.

If you want to play "Beholders & Dragons" that is certainly your prerogative, but I don't want to see page count wasted on it in the MM or anywhere else for that matter.

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