D&D General The Evolution of the Monster Stat Block


Earlier editions had a large focus on random encounters during exploration and wandering monsters in dungeons. The "% in lair" was to determine if you ran into the creature(s) in or near their home, which was helpful as many monsters had different treasure in their lair.

Right, not something that useful for me as I mostly ran modules and parties doing stuff in towns and cities and traveling from place to place but not really hexcrawl exploring wilderness. And if I rolled a wilderness encounter I generally wanted to come up with something that made the most sense in context for me (such as when traveling by boat up a river) and not generally have to determine a whole lair on the fly based on die rolls.

1e MM page 5

% IN LAIR indicates the chance of encountering the monster in question where it domiciles and stores its treasure (if any). If a monster encountered is not in its lair it will not have any treasure unless it carries “individual” treasure or some form of magic. Whether or not an encounter is occurring in the monster’s lair might be totally unknown to the person or persons involved until after the outcome of the encounter is resolved.

In a dungeon wandering monsters you encounter should not be in their lair as they are wandering monsters, unless you are improvving the whole dungeon and just make the room encountering them their lair based on this roll. The only way I see it as being potentially generally useful is for the random wilderness encounters.

So for orcs encountered in the wilderness either it is a (65 % chance) patrol or wandering tribe or whatever of 30-300 orcs or a (35% chance) full on lair (camp, cave, fortress) you encounter for the 30-300 band/tribe and you should improv or generate the lair on the spot or pull out a predone one you have on hand.

Not generally my style of DMing.

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And if I rolled a wilderness encounter I generally wanted to come up with something that made the most sense in context for me (such as when traveling by boat up a river) and not generally have to determine a whole lair on the fly based on die rolls.
I solved that issue in the OD&D game I recently ran by rolling up all the potential random encounters for the region ahead of the session, and only using them if the dice said they happened. (TBH, I'd also be really surprised if Gygax made his players sit there while he built the encounter from scratch, especially ones like bandits where you were also expected to generate NPCs and their magic items.)

If only 5e used three saves; then you could simplify monster stat blocks by a lot. It may not seem it, but for me, putting in all those numbers and profs for that...really big time suck for making these. Monsters really just need a PB between +2 to +14 that is static to anything they are Proficient in, then three saving throws that have variety just to give weakness.

When I have a monster manual my primary question is whether I can use it in play when the player characters do something odd and I'm improvising (or when I'm improvising just because). And this influences how I assess the stat blocks; I'm more interested in how they work in play than how well they read on the throne.

My absolute pet hate are the 3.0 and 3.5 statblocks. Why? The Feats line. (The Krenshar has a "Special Attack: Scare" line that's even worse). DMing is a tough enough job that I shouldn't have to memorise about 50 feats in order to be able to use the statblock as presented. This is just an overhead and means that the statblock is complete. And I say the Krenshar's Scare is even worse because it even references a spell.

Scare (Ex or Su)

As a standard action, a krenshar can pull the skin back from its head, revealing the musculature and bony structures of its skull. This alone is usually sufficient to scare away foes (treat as a Bluff check with a +3 bonus).
Combining this scare ability with a loud screech produces an unsettling effect that works like a scare spell from a 3rd-level caster (Will DC 13 partial). A creature that successfully saves cannot be affected again by the same krenshar’s scare ability for 24 hours. The shriek does not affect other krenshars. This is a supernatural, sonic mind-affecting fear effect. The save DC is Charisma-based.
These statblocks are incomplete and not fit for purpose.

2e in its way was worse From the Kuo-Toa entry:

It is 50% probable that any kuo-toan priest above 6th level is armed with a pincer staff. This is a 5-foot-long pole topped by a three-foot-long claw. If the user scores a hit, the claw has closed upon the opponent, making escape impossible. The weapon can be used only on enemies with a girth range between an elf and a gnoll. It is 10% probable that both arms are pinned by the claw and 40% probable that one arm is trapped. If the victim is right handed, the claw traps the left hand 75% of the time. Trapped opponents lose shield and Dexterity bonuses. If the weapon arm is trapped, the victim cannot attack and the Dexterity bonus is lost, but the shield bonus remains.
The harpoon is mostly used only by higher level fighters. It is a wickedly barbed throwing weapon with a 30 yard range. It inflicts 2d6 points of damage,exclusive of bonuses. Victims must roll a successful saving throw of 13+ on 1d20to avoid being snagged by the weapon. Man-sized or smaller beings who fail this saving throw are jerked off their feet and stunned for 1d4 rounds. The kuo-toan, who is attached to his weapon by a stout cord, then tries to haul in its victim and slay him with a dagger thrust.
Kuo-toan shields are made of special boiled leather and are treated with a unique glue-like substance before a battle. Anyone who attacks a kuo-toan from the front has a 25% chance of getting his weapon stuck fast. The chance of the victim freeing the weapon is the same as his chance for opening doors.
Hit probability for kuo-toa is the same as that of a human of similar level,but males also gain a +1 bonus to both attack rolls and damage rolls when usinga weapon, due to Strength. When fighting with a dagger only, kuo-toa can bite,which causes 1d4+1 points of damage.
When two or more kuo-toan priests or priest/thieves operate together, they can generate a lightning stroke by joining hands. The bolt is two feet wide and hits only one target unless by mischance a second victim gets in the way. The bolt inflicts 6 points of damage per priest, half that if a saving throw vs. spell is successful. The chances of such a stroke occurring is 10% cumulative per caster per round.
The special defenses of these creatures include skin secretions, which gives attempts to grapple, grasp, tie, or web a kuo-toan only a 25% chance of success. Despite their eyes being set on the sides of their heads, they have excellent independent monocular vision, with a180-degree field of vision and the ability to spot movement even though the subject is invisible, astral, or ethereal. Thus, by maintaining complete motionlessness, a subject can avoid detection. Kuo-toa also have 60-foot infravision and have the ability to sense vibrations up to 10 yards away. They are surprised only on a 1 on the 1d10 surprise roll.
Kuo-toa are totally immune to poison and are not affected by paralysis. Spells that generally affect only humanoid types have no effect on them. Electrical attacks cause half damage, or none if the saving throw is successful; magic missiles cause only 1 point of damage; illusions are useless against them. However,kuo-toa hate bright light and suffer a -1 penalty to their attack roll in such circumstances as daylight or light spells. They suffer full damage from fire attacks and save with a -2 penalty against them.

Now not every statblock is this incomplete; many of them you can use just based on the stats. But when people call the 2e Monstrous Manual as the high point of lore I have problems not thinking of text blocks like that that are for practical purposes an anchor on my ability to easily use the monsters.


the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
Not generally my style of DMing.
Yes, the "random generation of everything" style of DMing has been declining since 2e. I was attempting to give context for why it was there. Its waning usage is why "% in lair" is gone from stat blocks in the last three editions.

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