D&D 5E New Spellcasting Blocks for Monsters --- Why?!

Hussar

Legend
D&D has long accommodated a variety of styles for handling non-combat stuff from complete free-form, to those who want mechanics, and those who mostly skip noncombat stuff entirely to focus on combat.

5e explicitly gives DMs discretion to adjudicate noncombat stuff through pure adjudication or roleplay or to go with skill roll mechanics.

D&D usually does not have a ton of mechanics for out of combat stuff, like a full in-depth social combat system, but many editions have stuff to handle most everything with mechanics if you want and D&D games with mechanics for combat and free form noncombat stuff work very well as D&D games in my experience.
Potato potahto.

"Accomodated" is a somewhat complicated word. D&D certainly has never actually handled non-combat stuff very well mechanically. By and large, D&D has left it free form. Which has the advantage of, as you say, getting out of the way for those who don't care. Fair enough. My point is, since D&D doesn't actually have much in the way of dealing with non-combat stuff, anything you do, or I do, or Bob does at an individual table is not transferable to another table because the reason it works for you or me or Bob, is indelibly linked to the specifics of that table.

Which is why, as per the argument about rangers currently, saying that the rangers at a table which mostly deals on the free form side of things, doesn't really apply to a stat-block, which is mostly focused on the combat aspect of the game. If your, or my or Bob's table has experiences that cannot be replicated, then there's no way to accurately state whether something brought from your, my or Bob's table will actually work. Whereas, if the table IS focused on combat, because combat aspects are not generally free form, then it can be replicated and the presumptions made very clear.

I don't know that that is what they are doing here.

CR 26 Vecna has prestidigitation, mage hand, and 1 action scrying. The scrying is quick enough to be used in a combat, but I am not sure that is something that will ever be used in the middle of a combat.

These seem more like things for a wizard NPC to use in a noncombat encounter (the cantrips) to show he is a wizard with casual narrative magical effects, or to give him narrative excuses to know what the PCs are up to (the scrying).

The statblock is mostly combat oriented, but there are non-combat elements there as well.
Well, I did say that this was a compromise didn't I? The stat-block, to me, if I was king of the universe, would strip about 2/3rds of that stat block away. Vecna's statblock, again, if it was made only for me, would have 5, maybe 6 actions total. But, WotC can't do that because people would lose their collective poop if WotC went that far. So, they go half-way and try to compromise. Those that want the out of combat stuff detailed in the stat-block still have some stuff, and those of us who see stat blocks as mostly just a combat element, get a stat block that is significantly easier to use than previously, even if it's not as easy to use as it could be.

People keep talking about how things are changing so much and not respecting people's playstyles. Thing is, this IS respecting people's playstyles. This IS the compromise between the extremes. It only feels like a loss because people don't want to compromise at all and figure that the game should only cater to them.
 

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Because in 4e, the assumption was that all major checks were of your current tier or half tier. As you leveled, those DCs went up. 4e was stritkly in the "your PC is extra special. Everything well below him was beneath his worry and everything for above him was beyond his comprehension and approach"

5e, went the other way and said enough of the little stuff could get you and if you are lucky and have enough allies, you can punch above weight class a little.


Personally, I didn't like any edition's modifier and DC systems. Not one. Either the designers underestimated the impact of the dice or locked out stuff to minimize it.

I probably would have gone with 5e's +2 to +6 bounded accuracy system but would have expertise be the base of "being skilled" and had a triple proficient modifier for mastery. If DC 10 is supposed to be a easy challenge then a skilled individual should not be begging for a 6+ on the die when they have no natural talent.
The key thing here is that in 5e you only call for a roll if failure is both realistic and consequential. A DC 10 is easy for a meaningfully challenging and risky task. If a skilled individual has less than a 25% chance of failure, it’s probably not even worth rolling for.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
This was how 3.x actually worked (Adamantine doors everywhere once you hit high level) and what 4e was trying to correct.
The alternatives are either that the difficulty tends to decrease as you level up and gain increasing bonuses, or that iron doors are exactly as challenging to high level characters as they are to low level characters, in which case, what’s the point of the increasing bonuses? The D&D Next playtest cleanly cut that Gordian knot by just removing the superfluous scaling bonuses. And then they gradually crept back into the game, just with much slower scaling.
 

Voadam

Legend
Well, I did say that this was a compromise didn't I?
Did you? At some other point? However the quote from you I was responding to was "To me, THAT'S the liberating point about truncated stat blocks. Making that absolutely clear to DM's that the stat block is just meant for combat." which sounds like you are saying the new stat block is just meant for combat. :)
 

Voadam

Legend
"Accomodated" is a somewhat complicated word. D&D certainly has never actually handled non-combat stuff very well mechanically. By and large, D&D has left it free form. Which has the advantage of, as you say, getting out of the way for those who don't care. Fair enough. My point is, since D&D doesn't actually have much in the way of dealing with non-combat stuff, anything you do, or I do, or Bob does at an individual table is not transferable to another table because the reason it works for you or me or Bob, is indelibly linked to the specifics of that table.

Which is why, as per the argument about rangers currently, saying that the rangers at a table which mostly deals on the free form side of things, doesn't really apply to a stat-block, which is mostly focused on the combat aspect of the game. If your, or my or Bob's table has experiences that cannot be replicated, then there's no way to accurately state whether something brought from your, my or Bob's table will actually work. Whereas, if the table IS focused on combat, because combat aspects are not generally free form, then it can be replicated and the presumptions made very clear.
I think you've got this a little backwards.

If you like mechanics for combat, and light mechanics or freeform for out of combat stuff then D&D in various editions has been a great game engine for your group.

If you want in-depth mechanics for out of combat stuff to the level of combat mechanics you generally want specific supplement subsystems (say trading mechanics from the Mystaran merchant prince kingdom gazetteer The Republic of Darokin or Dark Sun's Dune Trader) or to go to another game system.

If the group has the stated preferences of:

1) we have a lot of non-combat encounters.

2) My players are not interested in combat optimisation, they choose abilities on what they think most suits their characters.

Then 5e in particular (though 4e would be decent too) with its generous healing and death save rules and not wildly inconsistent combat balance seems a decent choice of game for non-combat optimized characters to still do reasonably well and not be slaughtered when combat does come up.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
No one said anything about high level. The vast majority of NPCs with anything resembling a class, and the stat blocks that represent them, are low-mid level. If there were lots of high level NPCs running around the country the PCs would be out of a job!

Rangers only know a few spells and can only choose them when they level up. One would assume an NPC ranger has not spent their entire life preparing for a single fight, and therefore will have learned everyday useful spells like Speak with Animals and Pass Without Trace. Ambushing the party with +10 on Stealth checks is what I would expect of an NPC ranger.

Look at the CR.

Humaniods have HD around double their HD/level.
A CR 3 ranger enemy could easily have 10-15 HD and be a 5th-7th level caster.

An Enemy ranger NPC will have 4/3/3/2 slots by the time the PCs get Extra attack.

Even if a ranger NPC had mostly utilty spells and only 1 combat spell per spell level, you'd have tons of slots to burn on them. That's why NPC design can't match PC design in 5e.
 

dave2008

Legend
Look at the CR.

Humaniods have HD around double their HD/level.
A CR 3 ranger enemy could easily have 10-15 HD and be a 5th-7th level caster.

An Enemy ranger NPC will have 4/3/3/2 slots by the time the PCs get Extra attack.
I am having a hard time understanding your point. NPCs and Monsters CR =/= class level. They tend to roughly match HD to class level though. For example, the Archmage is CR 12, 18HD and an 18th lvl spellcaster.

1655370544510.png
 

Oh boy! Megaquote time...

I actually didn't like the 4e skill system because I like the customizability of skill points where you can be better than most people, but not a master, and also you can get trained in more things without blowing a feat on it.
The key problem: "skill point" systems don't actually end up doing that. As 3e demonstrated pretty handily, it becomes "you must be at least this tall to ride," and it HARSHLY punished anyone who fell behind. Skill points were way more of a "treadmill" than 4e was, they just made it LOOK like it was a viable choice to fall off.

I'm not sure I understand why it is desirable to have characters get better at everything, even if it is not their forte.
Because it shows general learning. You may not be a professional cook, for example, but in general even without actively pursuing better cooking skills, you pick up knowledge over time. Fantastical PCs should be that much better. Sure, your "clanker" Paladin (as a friend of mine calls them) won't be able to sneak past people like your Rogue colleague can. It's not your wheelhouse. But if you need to sneak past some relatively mundane folks, well, now you get a chance to show that yes, you are in fact better than you were before.

That general, passive learning is a great tool in the toolbox. It gives insight and context for their growth, for their journey as characters.

I think static DCs with characters only progressing if it's in their wheelhouse is better for various reasons. But I would go back to spending skill points if I had my druthers.
4e does all of that, except that it allows for small, minor growth outside your core--passive learning. So you can see that you've grown from your adventures, and not just in your ideal preplanned ways.

Ah, but static DCs is how you get every door being adamantine with a mastercraft artisanal locks in every city by level 10.
Eh. 4e did a pretty good job of avoiding this (despite claims to the contrary, mostly by folks who had no idea what they were talking about.)

I don't understand why that would be.
Because power creep. Dunno if you've ever seen or played a high-level PF1e party, for example, but good Lord almighty it's a nightmare. I've had two DMs burn out trying very enthusiastically to run high-level PF1e. People often talk about high levels not being supported; part of the reason they weren't supported in the past is that, in 3e and PF, those levels are just too damn janky to support. You started seeing that trend even before 3e. I'd even argue that, before 4e, the last time D&D really properly supported high-level play was friggin' BECMI.

How did it try to correct it? Even in 4e the higher DCs at higher levels were supposed to represent more difficult challenges. And if that is not the case, then what's the bloody point of the numbers increasing?
Because the increased challenges are different challenges other than the ones you faced before?

Like...how is this difficult? Threats you used to deal with still exist. They're just generally below your notice now, because you have bigger fish to fry. The people who make FFXIV actually did some really cool work with this concept, since narratively it applies just as much to D&D-inspired video games (including MMOs) as it does to tabletop gaming. Specifically, in the previous expansion (Shadowbringers), the relatively one-off "capstone" quests for each class (formally, for each job, as that's the Final Fantasy term) gave insight into events that were going on while you were separated from the world and doing separate but vital stuff. One of the things revealed in some of those quests is that some of your allies, who have the same "can't be mind controlled by big nasty summons" protection you have, have been leading the charge to deal with the aforementioned "big nasty summons" while you're preoccupied. They explicitly refer to it as "putting out the small fires" so you can stay focused on the larger picture, because you've graduated beyond dealing with these threats.

Having such moments, where you can look back and realize how far you've come, is an extremely useful tool. And not just in fiction. I've worked with several students as a tutor in mathematics, some of them over the course of multiple years. I distinctly remember one young woman who was working on a calculus question of some kind, and it was clear from her face and gestures that she was getting frustrated and angry at herself for not being able to do it super quick. So I asked her, in a very rapid-fire kind of way, "What's the sine of pi/3 radians?" She said, without missing a beat but a little confused as to why I was asking: "...Square root of 3 divided by 2?" And I told her, "A year ago, that question was hard. Now you can do it in a flash. That's how far you've come." The look of shock and relief on her face was delightful.

It's genuinely a shame that, in the quest to quash even the tiniest, vaguest hint of "treadmill," we have thrown out such a valuable tool.

In a real static difficulty game, the DC 30 lock and CR 26 dragon were always there. Maybe the PCs didn't see them because they were in the wrong place, or maybe they did. Neither the locks on the potion shop nor the King's vault door should change as the PCs level (unless they already broke in). But new, more difficult zones are fine.
Correct. The problem is, what about when you're inventing new things, because you're writing a brand-new adventure for level 15 characters? 4e had a clear answer: there is a set of tables which tell you what ranges values should fall in if you already know that this adventure is written to be an interesting challenge for level 15 characters. But a lot of games that strive for "static DC" design try to have their cake and eat it too, and it results in an arms race between power creep and scope creep.

The number increasing represented increasing skills.

The DCs were always static. The point is that you wouldn't or couldn't encounter the higher DCs stuff until you were strong enough.

And eventually you level up enough to abandon the normal world. In 4e, this was literal. You'd level up so hard, you become immortal and NP yourself. At best your old PC and his or her +100 to X rolls would be the DEM that stops your new party's TPK.
Yep. Again, despite the claims of "treadmill," 4e actually had an internal concept of a character's arc. It's why, if I ever make a 4e "heartbreaker" (more like "4e with Ezekiel's House Rule Module"), one of the key components would be merging and expanding Themes+Backgrounds into Heroic Origins, so that you'd have a full character arc: Heroic Origin says where you came from and how you got started as an adventurer; Paragon Path shows how you outgrew your humble beginnings and became a renowned exemplar; and Epic Destiny tells how your great deeds left an indelible mark on the world.

Why do you think so?
Our DnD Game also works like this. And we teied a lot of different systems but gravitated back to DnD, for different reasons.
Because D&D has been extremely combat-centric for decades, perhaps forever (the old "heist" style focused on more strategic-level combat rather than tactical-level combat). It has also, historically, struggled heavily with non-combat abilities and spells, either making them so weak as to be pointless (e.g. the spell augury is often nigh-useless) or so strong as to trivialize anything you use them on (Rangers are often accused of this in 5e, for example.) There are several systems out there which both place less emphasis on combat alone, and handle non-combat stuff in a more effective and productive way. Of course, familiarity is a powerful thing in TTRPGs, so just because other things might work better does not mean they would necessarily work better for your group, at least not right away.

That was due to DMs not understanding how to run a high level game. I ran many 3e campaigns to 15-21st or so level and I can tell you that adamantine doors were not everywhere. Almost nowhere in fact. That wasn't how to challenge a high level group.
If we can say this of 3e, then we absolutely should say the same of 4e. 4e wasn't a treadmill, and anyone saying it was a treadmill simply misunderstood how to run it, even though the books were quite clear about these things. (E.g. explicit instructions NOT to use only encounters tailored to the party's level, but a mix of encounters across a fairly broad range of levels, e.g. anywhere between level-4 and level+4, favoring high variety.)

So, again, if the baseline is a combat of 3-5 rounds, why does a monster stat block (not the monster itself, that's a different story, but, just the stat block) need more than 5 discrete actions?
Because, honestly, people want the "read a novel" part to be dispersed uniformly across the text. Even if that's neither easy-to-use nor productive. Or at least that's what I've come to see from this discussion thus far. Well, that and people (even ones who stridently defend "DM empowerment" and "rulings not rules" etc.)

It's funny though. In the past, I absolutely would have done that. The game says that the monster can't do X, so, it can't do X. Now? Yeah, rulings over rules baby. Full DM power ahead. I don't have to restrict myself to the stat block. Poof, instant change, and my fun idea is full steam ahead.
If this is what people have meant by "rulings not rules," they've done an absolutely terrible job of explaining it for literally a decade at this point. This doesn't, in the slightest, look like "rulings not rules" to me. It looks like treating the rules as an extant baseline, and then building new things on top of them. It's not that you're treating the rules as mere suggestions with no validity. Instead, you look to them for grounding, and build upon them with additions where you need such, only overriding or overwriting them when a serious issue comes up. That's a hell of a lot more cautious than any presentation of the "rulings not rules" concept I've been presented with.
 

The alternatives are either that the difficulty tends to decrease as you level up and gain increasing bonuses, or that iron doors are exactly as challenging to high level characters as they are to low level characters, in which case, what’s the point of the increasing bonuses? The D&D Next playtest cleanly cut that Gordian knot by just removing the superfluous scaling bonuses. And then they gradually crept back into the game, just with much slower scaling.
You call them superfluous. I call them valuable. You can't have a "looking back" if you've never moved in the first place.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I am having a hard time understanding your point. NPCs and Monsters CR =/= class level. They tend to roughly match HD to class level though. For example, the Archmage is CR 12, 18HD and an 18th lvl spellcaster.

View attachment 251150

The CR3 archer has 10HD in both books
The CR2 bard has 8HD and is a 4th level caster
The CR8 blackguard has 18HD or 14HD and is a 10th level caster in VGTM (and they are half casters)
The CR 9 champion has 22HD
The CR12 archdruid has 24HD or 28HD and is a 18th level caster


Humaniods get to double digit HD and caster levels fast and at low CR.
 


Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
That was why I said CR =/= level. Again I am confused about your point, but I probably just jumped in to the conversation to late.
Yeah.

CR = Caster Level for half casters. For full caster, it's 150%-200% CR.

That's why WOTC dropped mentioning caster level in NPCs and stopped using spell slots. It grows too dang fast even with Tier 1 & 2.
 

Look at the CR.

Humaniods have HD around double their HD/level.
A CR 3 ranger enemy could easily have 10-15 HD and be a 5th-7th level caster.

An Enemy ranger NPC will have 4/3/3/2 slots by the time the PCs get Extra attack.

Even if a ranger NPC had mostly utilty spells and only 1 combat spell per spell level, you'd have tons of slots to burn on them. That's why NPC design can't match PC design in 5e.
The Albino Dwarf Spirit Warrior has a CR of 1 and an apparent class level of around 4.

Anyway, I made a ranger statblock the same level as the veteran fighter (around level 5-9), I avoided the spellcasting trait, but modelled on hunter's mark, speak with animals, speak with plants, goodberry and pass without trace.

Veteran Ranger
Medium Humanoid (Any Race), Any Alignment


Armor Class 16 (studded leather)
Hit Points 56 (9d8+18)
Speed 35 ft. climb 35 ft. swim 35 ft.


STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
13 (+1) 18 (+4) 14 (+2) 11 (+0) 14 (+2) 9 (−1)


Saving Throws DEX +6, Wis +4
Skills Athletics +3, Perception +6, Stealth +6, Survival +4
Damage Resistances Determined by the ranger’s Local Terrain trait
Senses passive Perception 16 (26 in Local Terrain)
Languages Common, Sylvan, can communicate with animals and plants native to their local terrain

Challenge 3 (700 XP) Proficiency Bonus +2


Local Terrain.
The ranger selects a terrain type with which they are intimately familiar. Whilst in that terrain they gain a +10 bonus to Perception and Stealth checks, ignores the effect of difficult terrain, can use their Hide in Plain Sight action, and can always find sufficient food and water for themselves and up to six other creatures. In addition, they gain resistance to an element associated with their local terrain and do an extra 1d6 damage of that type on each of their attacks. Typical local terrains include forest/jungle(poison), desert (fire), arctic (cold), mountain (lightning), ocean (thunder), planer (psychic) and darkness (necrotic).

Actions
Multiattack.
The ranger makes two longbow attacks or two shortsword attacks. It can switch between its bow and dual shortwords at will.

Longbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, range 150/600 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) piercing damage plus 4 (1d6) damage of a type determined by its local terrain.

Shortsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d6 + 4) piercing damage plus 4 (1d6) damage of a type determined by its local terrain.

Hide in Plain Sight (recharge 4-6). The ranger takes the hide action.

Reactions
Skirmisher.
If a hostile creature ends it’s turn within 5 ft. of the ranger the ranger can move up to half its move without provoking an attack of opportunity.
 
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This is why I liked the 4e approach to skills. The half-level bonus applying to everything means that yes, your "clanker" Paladin (as a rogue-favoring friend of mine says) does actually get better at sneaking, so against weak or particularly unobservant foes she actually CAN learn to sneak around. And then Training is a solid, respectable +5.
yeah I have this thing that I like that idea of adventurers ALL pick up little things here and there to be better at level 10 then they were at level 1.
 

I'm not sure I understand why it is desirable to have characters get better at everything, even if it is not their forte.
as long as it is still worse then the others the idea being you pick up a lot of little things. I think the 'everything gets 1/2 level' was a bit much but if trained got 1/2 level or 1/3 level while untrained got 1/5 level (or the +1 at the cantrip level ups of 5,11,17)
 

I have to admit that this thread has become somewhat eye opening for me. As I mentioned, in my last session I used one of these Deathlock Masterminds in the encounter. Now, a bit of background - the party has entered the Shadowfell to follow a quest for one of the PC's and have come to the attention of Vecna (I won't bore you with the details) who is very interested in capturing said PC. So, since the Deathlock got away, I figured I'd use him to taunt/talk to/expository infodump on the party during their next long rest.

I wanted to have some way for the baddy to communicate with the party without actually being right there and getting pretty much instantly killed. So, the first thing I did was look at the stat block. It's a caster, after all, so, does it have something like Message, or whatnot? Nope. Hrm, nothing in the statblock is going to help me. Darn, guess I'll have to change my plans.

But, wait. Isn't a lot easier to just not worry about the stat block? The Deathlock Mastermind animates some small animal, sends it into the party and talks through it. Poof, problem solved. How does he do it? No idea. Don't know, and, really, really don't care. Why should I rewrite my adventure just so some stat block isn't changed?

It's funny though. In the past, I absolutely would have done that. The game says that the monster can't do X, so, it can't do X. Now? Yeah, rulings over rules baby. Full DM power ahead. I don't have to restrict myself to the stat block. Poof, instant change, and my fun idea is full steam ahead.

To me, THAT'S the liberating point about truncated stat blocks. Making that absolutely clear to DM's that the stat block is just meant for combat. All the other stuff? That's what those paragraphs of information written in nice descriptive text is for.

I agree with the point made way, way back that the 2e monster write ups were fantastic. Very evocative. Lots of information. But the stat blocks? Hell, the 2e stat blocks didn't even tell me what the stats of the monster were. Nothing in the game had a Dex score unless it was a PC. And that didn't ever seem to matter too much. So, again, if the baseline is a combat of 3-5 rounds, why does a monster stat block (not the monster itself, that's a different story, but, just the stat block) need more than 5 discrete actions?

You can do that and I would do the same. But let's say the PCs have captured an NPC wizard. Are you at that point going to just invent new capabilities for said wizard, that let them escape or communicate with their allies? That is the sort of situation some people (rather understandably, I feel) want to avoid.
 

Ah, but static DCs is how you get every door being adamantine with a mastercraft artisanal locks in every city by level 10.
I'm not sure if you are jokeing but I have seen it...

back in 3e we had a DM that had us in a dungeon at lowish level (I want to say 4thish) and we left it half explored and ended up coming back to it many level later expecting everything to be a cake walk (since we had made it through at 4thish) but somehow all the locks and traps were now at DCs we could not have hit before...
 

I don't know that that is what they are doing here.

CR 26 Vecna has prestidigitation, mage hand, and 1 action scrying. The scrying is quick enough to be used in a combat, but I am not sure that is something that will ever be used in the middle of a combat.

These seem more like things for a wizard NPC to use in a noncombat encounter (the cantrips) to show he is a wizard with casual narrative magical effects, or to give him narrative excuses to know what the PCs are up to (the scrying).

The statblock is mostly combat oriented, but there are non-combat elements there as well.
yeah a big pet peeve I have is that we have non combat things listed under action I want them spelled out but in an out of combat section
 

See BG2: Throne of Bhaal.

I would say "seen as useless as players". As a DM, I frequently see points where augury could save the party a whole lot of time and effort. "Turn left?"
This is a fair criticism, but it falls prey to a weakness of its own: players often struggle to know what the real utility of such things might be. That is, because augury may be excellent at one table (which is generally the direction I personally would lean as DM, I want my players feeling awesome when they try something unexpected or exploit an interaction), totally useless at another (and not just because "bad DM is bad" either: feeling it's "cheap" or "too easy," or fearing the story will lose its interest and momentum without it), and unreliable in the middle (which is, for many players, equivalent to it being useless: if it may lead you astray 20% of the time, risk aversion will make every answer too risky to heed.)

And that's one of the fundamental problems I have with a lot of D&D's design. It's not that it relies on not having a bad DM. You cannot fix bad faith through rules. My issue is that much of its design depends on having extremely good DMs, and that's a standard a lot of folks, particularly new DMs, are going to fall short of. Particularly when I find the DM support content is lacking (and doubly so in 5e, where the gaming culture was actively antagonistic to the idea of helping DMs improve for several years after publication and IMO still retains a major strain of that sort of thinking to this day.)
 

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