D&D General The Evolution of the Monster Stat Block

Sacrosanct

Legend
@darjr other thread about the Gamehole announcement got me thinking. They mentioned how they will modify the monster stat blocks slightly. So a thought exercise. Let's look at how the monster stat blocks evolved over time. Did they get better? Worse (new Coke)?

OD&D
The stat blocks weren't really stat blocks. There was one chart with all monster stats, and then a sentence or two describing text. The most minimal monster entry of all editions.
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AD&D and B/X
I'm putting both in the same category because both were published concurrently, and let's be honest, not that much difference. More robust stat blocks for the first time, and a little more fleshed out lore. Still pretty basic.

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2e
2e is famous for shifting from the short adventure module to the larger campaign and campaign settings. So it's no wonder why the lore section of the monster entry is much more robust. If you are a fan of monster lore, then this edition really started paying attention to you. Also no surprise how the stat block is nearly identical. After all, 2e was meant to be backwards compatible.

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3e
Oh boy, the monster entries really went through a radical change, just like nearly everything else in 3e. Not much more lore than in 2e (in fact, in many cases, less lore), but 3e focused on the monster stats. Like 3e in general, it was all about the mechanics and stats. And boy, were there a lot of them. It's also the first edition to change the presentation. Gone are the plain white backgrounds. Now a bunch of artistic and design elements appear.

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4e
Another radical change. And again, one due to the major change in the game rules themselves. A ton of information in the stat block, and designed to fit certain roles. Even "basic" monsters were given multiple stat blocks depending on the role they were meant to fill. Monsters were also given abilities or powers they didn't have before beyond plain damage attacks like in previous editions.

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5e
Another radical change, but one that is more Classic Coke in function and form. The statblocks seem more streamlined down in content compared to 3e and 4e. Much of this is due to bounded accuracy and a single bonus to most rolls (prof bonus). If something has a +5 bonus in 5e to an attack, it's going to have a +5 bonus on most every attack. Not +14/+13 type differences in 3e and 4e. Emphasis on lore again like in 2e days.
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Summary
Each edition has its good and bad points IMO. We've heard many of them here. Streamlined 1e, different roles of 4e, ease of use in 5e, etc. Which are your favorites, and why?
 

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darjr

I crit!
This great!

What's your favorite?

I have to admit I'm partial to the free form old school mess.

But I'd pick more recent 5e for D&D as it is now.
 

JEB

Legend
2E is still my favorite, both for nostalgia and the sheer amount of usable lore. 5E is the runner-up (though the average amount of lore per entry has diminished as the edition has gone on).

0E is my least favorite, simply because the stats are in one place and the (generally thin) descriptions in another! Very inconvenient.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
This great!

What's your favorite?
I think I'm partial to B/X. I get that a lot of that is probably nostalgia, but not all. It's streamlined and to the point. I've always been a big homebrewer and creator since I was a kid, so I liked having the bare bones and just running with whatever my imagination gave me. I didn't need a bunch of lore.
 

darjr

I crit!
I think I'm partial to B/X. I get that a lot of that is probably nostalgia, but not all. It's streamlined and to the point. I've always been a big homebrewer and creator since I was a kid, so I liked having the bare bones and just running with whatever my imagination gave me. I didn't need a bunch of lore.
Oh no. I don't think so. BX is so good. So many games are really secretly based off it.
 




I myself prefer the 4e/5e self-contained stat blocks; with 5e getting the edge for readability. I do like the copious 2e lore, although not as much as I used to.

I can see why folks prefer the older versions, though. The bigger self-contained blocks take up a lot of space on the page!
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
This great!

What's your favorite?

I have to admit I'm partial to the free form old school mess.

But I'd pick more recent 5e for D&D as it is now.
I gotta say, while I have my share of issues with 3e, I’ll be dipped if it isn’t aesthetically incredible. That stat block has way too much going on, but my stars, the slightly-faded lines making it look like it’s written on an old sheet of notebook paper? chef’s kiss!

Everything about 3e’s visual design is downright foundational to my concept of D&D. Of course, I’m sure everyone probably feels the same way about whatever edition they cut their teeth on. But I think 3e was the first time D&D explicitly set out to take advantage of that phenomenon as an intentional marketing tactic. And it worked like a dang charm on me.
 

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