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4E Thing I thought 4e did better: Monsters

Staffan

Adventurer
While I think 5e on the whole is a lot better than 4e, it is somewhat lacking in the monster department. There are three main things I think 4e did better with monsters:

1. Ramping up humanoids. In 5e, pretty much every natural humanoid monster is an appropriate monster for 1st level characters to fight. Bugbears, duergar, and thri-kreen top the humanoid pecking order at CR 1, and below those we have gnolls, svirfneblin, hobgoblins, lizardfolk, orcs, and sahuagin at CR 1/2, bullywugs, drow, goblins, grimlocks, kuo-toa, and troglodytes at 1/4, and kobolds and merfolk at 1/8. The only ones going beyond that are gith, lycanthropes, and quaggoths. In 4e, you had a progression of humanoids starting with kobolds and goblins at level 1-2, then moving up to orcs and hobgoblins at level 3-4, bugbears, gnolls, and lizardfolk at level 5-6, and shadar-kai and troglodytes at level 6-8. Sure, 4e had a different level scale than 5e does, but it would have been nice to have the humanoids spread out a big more over CR 1/4 to 5.

2. Variety in monsters. 4e usually provided multiple variants of a particular monster. In some cases it was just a higher-level version of the same thing (Iron Gorgon and Storm Gorgon), but (particularly among humanoids) often they were differently "classed" monsters - e.g. goblin blackblade for the sneaky ones that stab you in the back, goblin warrior for the relatively straight-forward fighters/skirmishers, goblin sharpshooter for the archers, and goblin hexer for the magical support. Volo's Guide to Monsters helps out with this a little, but nowhere near enough.

3. Monsters that do cool stuff. A lot of 5e monsters are just big bags of hit points and damage. By comparison, most monsters in 4e at least had a little something extra - and in 13th age, almost all the monsters have something cool to do. Perhaps one does not need to go that far, but it would be cool with monsters with more abilities.
 

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S

Sunseeker

Guest
I tend to agree, though my general solution for monsters has been to simply take the appropriate humanoid stats (per the PHB or Volo) with the basic array and class them 1-20 in whatever class I need. It's a lot of work, but eventually you have a 1-20 handy for every humanoid the players could run into of a class befitting the situation. Orc shamans? (reflavored sorcerers). Kobold assassins? Rogues. This tends to result in more powerful humanoids (since classes are FAR more powerful than monster features in 5E), but it feels more natural since there's no reason sentient races can't have actual classes.

But overall I agree. Monsters, and humanoids especially, are poorly spread out over the game. There's a glut of low CR stuff, 1/8-1, then a gap till CR 4-6 and then a gap till higher levels, and they're all pretty drab across the board. My solution addresses the gap, but not the dullness.
 

KRussellB

First Post
I've definitely been adding back in some of the fun monster abilities of 4e. Especially push / pull effects! In the next adventure, I've got a giant toad surrounded by a 10-foot ring of bones. I reduced the toad's speed to 10 ft, took away its jumping abilities, and added in a tongue attack that grapples and pulls the target 10 feet. The bones, of course, are rough terrain, so the characters will be set up perfectly as a tasty toad snack.
 

Xeviat

Adventurer
Supporter
Yes. But players deal a lot of damage and the fights are over too fast for all the fun 4E monster stuff to exist.


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aco175

Legend
I ended up making up monsters that were just enhanced versions of the 4e monsters, like the goblin backbiter being a CR1 and the goblin shaman being a CR1 as well. I think that 5e was trying to speed up combat like earlier editions and have the basic monsters like a goblin being generic with the common version being 5hp and you can have the leader being the tough one with max hp of 9 or such.

I now also tend to give monsters and NPC powers like in 4e as well. If I want a halfling thief that is 8th level, I may give him a encounter power, or 1/rest power that allows him to throw a dagger at 3 opponents, or avoid attacks of opportunity. My main reasons is to have play be fun and not to keep PCs abilities the same as monster abilities. Monsters may have cool powers, but less overall.
 

Celtavian

Dragon Lord
Glad I'm not the only one. At least 5E Monsters are really easy to rewrite or make. You can pretty much give them what you want and write a rule for it fairly quickly without breaking anything. I've rewritten a bunch of creatures. I hope they make monsters more interesting in future monster books.
 

JeffB

Legend
Huge 2 steps back in 5e, AFAIC. Boring Monsters (barring some lair action stuff). There was a bunch of discussion this past year here. My example at the time was to compare 4e Ettins vs. The 5e Lame Sack o' Hit Points version of the same. :yawn:
 

discosoc

First Post
To get around this, I pretty much rewrote the monster creation rules. I have a list of stat templates that represent baselines, HP categories, AC categories, size, attack templates (high hit with low damage, low hit with high damage, high hit and damage, etc), and special abilities (multiattack, breath weapon, spells, enhanced skill, enhanced save, etc).

I also have 3 total "ranks" of monsters; normal, elite, Legendary. Elite and Legendary monsters are basically slightly modified versions of normal, with both having max HP, access to unique special abilities meant to keep them challenging when solo, and some defensive bonuses that are only active while their allies are in play. Legendary monsters are the end-of-tier BBG's that wrap up major plot points, and have access to lair action (which are greatly expanded upon compared to the core rules).

What's nice about the system is it doesn't require too much detail. If you create a monster with 16 AC, it doesn't care if it's natural or armor or magical or whatever; it's up to you to define it with whatever makes sense for the monster, and doesn't have to play by the same rules as the player characters (ie: someone wearing leather might have a 22 AC, and you'd just highlight that this guy is *really* hard to hit.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
While I think 5e on the whole is a lot better than 4e, it is somewhat lacking in the monster department. There are three main things I think 4e did better with monsters:

1. Ramping up humanoids. In 5e, pretty much every natural humanoid monster is an appropriate monster for 1st level characters to fight. Bugbears, duergar, and thri-kreen top the humanoid pecking order at CR 1, and below those we have gnolls, svirfneblin, hobgoblins, lizardfolk, orcs, and sahuagin at CR 1/2, bullywugs, drow, goblins, grimlocks, kuo-toa, and troglodytes at 1/4, and kobolds and merfolk at 1/8. The only ones going beyond that are gith, lycanthropes, and quaggoths. In 4e, you had a progression of humanoids starting with kobolds and goblins at level 1-2, then moving up to orcs and hobgoblins at level 3-4, bugbears, gnolls, and lizardfolk at level 5-6, and shadar-kai and troglodytes at level 6-8. Sure, 4e had a different level scale than 5e does, but it would have been nice to have the humanoids spread out a big more over CR 1/4 to 5.

Um, I think you're making a mistake on how you're interpreting CR, because the monsters you listed when the PCs expected to face them in 4e is almost the same as in 5e. A CR 1/2 monster is not meant for a level 1 PC. It's meant for TWO level 1 PCs. In 5e, you aren't meant to fight orcs and hobgoblins until level 3 or 4 either, so it's the same. Humanoids are almost never alone, so a squad of CR 1/2 orcs is, even by the book, an appropriate encounter for 4ea level 3-4 PCs. Putting level 1 PCs against orcs won't typically end well for the PCs.

2. Variety in monsters. 4e usually provided multiple variants of a particular monster. In some cases it was just a higher-level version of the same thing (Iron Gorgon and Storm Gorgon), but (particularly among humanoids) often they were differently "classed" monsters - e.g. goblin blackblade for the sneaky ones that stab you in the back, goblin warrior for the relatively straight-forward fighters/skirmishers, goblin sharpshooter for the archers, and goblin hexer for the magical support. Volo's Guide to Monsters helps out with this a little, but nowhere near enough.

I think this is a feature, not a bug of 5e. Why? Because it's incredibly easy to make these variants. There are tons of resources out there to do this, like this one. Obviously this is a personal preference issue so you're not wrong, but the reason why I think this is a feature not a bug is because I'd rather have the tools to make 100 variants I want, rather than 10 variants done for me and not the tools to make more. Also, we are seeing more variants, like those in Volo's Guide.

3. Monsters that do cool stuff. A lot of 5e monsters are just big bags of hit points and damage..

This is objectively not true. What determines what cool things a monster can or can't do is up to the DM. They are not just bags of HP. Each monster has valued for INT and WIS and a description of their ecology. For example, a monster with a halfway decent intelligence will do lots of things not in it's statblock (strategy, tools, traps, items, etc). If you said, "monster stat blocks don't have extra powers" then I'd agree with you, but the game isn't played by comparing stat blocks. It's played in a game world with an environment, so those monsters can in fact do cool stuff limited only by your imagination. This is an incredibly important distinction, because how the game is actually played is critically important because it gives the context. Just comparing stat blocks? Yeah, you're right. But no one I know plays the game where there is only stat blocks and no environment or in game world context. I fully get how people would like more unique powers for monsters, but saying they are nothing but bags of HP and can't do cool stuff is objectively not true.
 

1. Ramping up humanoids.
5e is designed so monsters fit in a classical CR range other than a few niche cases, most creatures can be faced by PCs of a certain level in 1e or 3e can face that monster at that level in 5e. Which makes it easier to update classic adventures.
A monster's challenge wasn't inflated to fill level bands, and monsters weren't really designed to be certain CRs. The monsters were designed to replicate what the monster should look like and then a CR was assigned. It'd be weird if troglodytes - generally presented as roughly the same challenge as an orc - were suddenly three times as powerful as an ogre. Suddenly running the level 1-3 adventure Against the Cult of the Reptile God would be a series of TPKs

2. Variety in monsters. 4e usually provided multiple variants of a particular monster.
Meh.
The higher level variants tended to exist solely so you could use a monster a more level ranges. But that's irrelevant in 5e as you can just use the standard monster. A couple variants were cool, and had a unquiet story or were a fun twist on the original (I'm a fan of the beholder Eye of Flame and Eye of Frost variants) but often they were the same thing with higher numbers.

The humanoids got silly though. There were hundreds of variants of orcs at the end. Pretty much one for every level.
Plus, like 3e, the humanoid races can use NPC statblocks. So there can be higher CR variants. They're just not unique. An orc bandit isn't radically different from a bugbear bandit. And it's easy to just give a monster race PC class levels. (This is something I advocated for following 3e and expected in 4e: NPC statblocks and generic NPCs that can easily become monstrous humanoids of any CR.)

3. Monsters that do cool stuff.
Monsters in 5e tend to do one cool thing. Which tends to be enough given the shorter rounds (sometimes just getting their one cool thing out is hard). The 3-4 cool things 4e monsters had all but required 3-4 rounds per monster to show off all their cool things. If they died prior, it was always a disappointment.
And in an average fight there might be three types of monster (assuming a couple doubles), each with 3.5 cool things, for 10-11 cool things to keep track of in each fight. There was so much stuff going on, it all just blurred together. As a player I couldn't keep track and never knew exactly what was going on (and was always much more interested in planning my next cool thing coming up), and as the DM I had enough to worry about with five monsters and managing the combat to really care about each monster's cool thing.

The 4e special snowflake powers could also be slow. They could require a lot of reading and explaining the details across the table. But unless they did a lot of damage, most of the time players wouldn't care. Unless the monster threatened the PC with immanent harm, there was no danger and thus no threat or interest.

Also, regimented game effects are a little less necessary in 5e. As the DM, I don't need a unique Bugbear Strangler to explicitly tell me it can garrote a character. It doesn't need a "Deadly Garrote" Melee Basic Attack. I just need to give it a choke cord and treat it like a grapple that also prevents the victim from breathing or speaking. And it's not a special unique attack trained in by one type of bugbear: in the right situation, any of them could pull out the ol' length of wire and give an unsuspecting victim a silent death.
 

flametitan

Explorer
Honestly the better design (for myself as a DM) is to have 1 or 2 monsters that can do something "cool" and then the rest be cannon fodder. The cannon fodder doesn't need many abilities, as their presence is to simply keep the players from focusing down the "cool" monster.

Now, there is a little more room to expand on these "cool but you're not fighting too many of them at a time" monsters, as Volo's guide shows us. That said, I do not believe every monster needs to fit on this paradigm of having cool moves (EDIT: Though I do believe more unique monsters with a cool feature is welcome, there may be a lack of leader-esque variants).
 
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1. Ramping up humanoids. In 5e, pretty much every natural humanoid monster is an appropriate monster for 1st level characters to fight. Bugbears, duergar, and thri-kreen top the humanoid pecking order at CR 1, and below those we have gnolls, svirfneblin, hobgoblins, lizardfolk, orcs, and sahuagin at CR 1/2, bullywugs, drow, goblins, grimlocks, kuo-toa, and troglodytes at 1/4, and kobolds and merfolk at 1/8. The only ones going beyond that are gith, lycanthropes, and quaggoths. In 4e, you had a progression of humanoids starting with kobolds and goblins at level 1-2, then moving up to orcs and hobgoblins at level 3-4, bugbears, gnolls, and lizardfolk at level 5-6, and shadar-kai and troglodytes at level 6-8. Sure, 4e had a different level scale than 5e does, but it would have been nice to have the humanoids spread out a big more over CR 1/4 to 5.
Monsters, especially humanoids, are usable (without modification) at many more levels than in any previous edition due to bounded accuracy. The only difference is the number you use, so at level 1 you throw a single Bugbear at the party, and at level 10 you send a score or more.
2. Variety in monsters. 4e usually provided multiple variants of a particular monster. In some cases it was just a higher-level version of the same thing (Iron Gorgon and Storm Gorgon), but (particularly among humanoids) often they were differently "classed" monsters - e.g. goblin blackblade for the sneaky ones that stab you in the back, goblin warrior for the relatively straight-forward fighters/skirmishers, goblin sharpshooter for the archers, and goblin hexer for the magical support. Volo's Guide to Monsters helps out with this a little, but nowhere near enough.
I somewhat agree, BUT the problem is less this than the lack of overall monsters. I've found several really good upgrades monsters on the DMs Guild (all either Free or Pay What you Want). As has already been pointed out, you can also do the modifications yourself using the DMG to make these monsters. As for "classed monsters," I usually find they limit the monsters, rather than helping.
3. Monsters that do cool stuff. A lot of 5e monsters are just big bags of hit points and damage. By comparison, most monsters in 4e at least had a little something extra - and in 13th age, almost all the monsters have something cool to do. Perhaps one does not need to go that far, but it would be cool with monsters with more abilities.
This is a style issue. WotC needed to appeal to the broadest base possible, and so a lot of thing can feel "vanilla." Personally, I'm happy with the overall amount of monster abilities, with one exception. I really like the "(not so) Legendary Actions" found on the DMs Guild that has options for using the Legendary Action setup with less powerful creatures. I feel that this was a wasted opportunity by WotC.
 

cbwjm

Hero
If I want something unique like an orc back stabber then I will just add sneak attack and stealth to the base orc. I tend to see them as a base which van be built upon to create different versions as needed.

Also, I like the way that the PCs can take on ever increasing numbers of certain humanoids which still remain a threat into later levels due to the numbers of 5e.

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This is a style issue. WotC needed to appeal to the broadest base possible, and so a lot of thing can feel "vanilla." Personally, I'm happy with the overall amount of monster abilities, with one exception. I really like the "(not so) Legendary Actions" found on the DMs Guild that has options for using the Legendary Action setup with less powerful creatures. I feel that this was a wasted opportunity by WotC.
And when you're using a score of bugbears against your players, you really don't want complicated monsters.
 

Dualazi

First Post
And when you're using a score of bugbears against your players, you really don't want complicated monsters.

Inversely, you don't want the capstone fight to be a series of repeating auto-attacks, either. The thing is that it's always less work to dumb something down than it is to increase its difficulty/options. Even in 4th edition if you wanted the most basic use of a monster you could just have it make basic attacks.

Additionally, even many of the tougher/more singular monsters are relegated to either slapping spellcasting ability on it ('cause that never gets old, right?), or having it be a passive ability such as a medusa/basilisk stone gaze or the rakshasa's cursed claws. The number of creatures with a genuinely unique active abilities is annoyingly small. Even other kinds of passive abilities, like auras, are strangely absent.
 

The only thing better is that 4e uses monster level instead of challenge rating.

Best thing of 4e is reatined: iconic monster abilites. Orcs have aggressive. Goblins stealthy. Kobolds pack tactics etc. Easy to use and iconic.

Reskininning is now done well: to make a high level strong goblin, just use gladiator stats, and add the iconic goblin traits. You also may change some equippment and make some AC modifications. In 4e you just called it goblin which was lacking in my opinion because you created a dissociation between outlook and abilities.

What I do miss sometimes are some immunities or traits that were lost from earlier editions. Tarrasque regeneration is one big nasty offender...
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
4e has the most transparent monster math, and I do miss being able to stat up a monster in a matter of seconds. But hotswaping monster stats more or less makes up for that.
 


Staffan

Adventurer
Um, I think you're making a mistake on how you're interpreting CR, because the monsters you listed when the PCs expected to face them in 4e is almost the same as in 5e. A CR 1/2 monster is not meant for a level 1 PC. It's meant for TWO level 1 PCs. In 5e, you aren't meant to fight orcs and hobgoblins until level 3 or 4 either, so it's the same. Humanoids are almost never alone, so a squad of CR 1/2 orcs is, even by the book, an appropriate encounter for 4ea level 3-4 PCs. Putting level 1 PCs against orcs won't typically end well for the PCs.
Sure, but my point was more that almost all the humanoids are squished into two CRs: 1/4 and 1/2, with some outliers at 1/8 and 1. I would have liked to have them spread out a little more, so you can use small group of humanoids as enemies into the Heroic tier. I mean, if you want to use lizardfolk to challenge a 6th level party, you need a group of at least 10 to even make it a Moderate challenge (and Moderate is really "pushover" - that's something a 6th level party will deal with in 2 rounds and barely take any damage).

I would have liked to see humanoids spread out up to, say, CR 3-5 or something like that. I get why they didn't do that (primarily compatibility with pre-4e material), but I wish they had.

This is objectively not true. What determines what cool things a monster can or can't do is up to the DM. They are not just bags of HP. Each monster has valued for INT and WIS and a description of their ecology. For example, a monster with a halfway decent intelligence will do lots of things not in it's statblock (strategy, tools, traps, items, etc). If you said, "monster stat blocks don't have extra powers" then I'd agree with you, but the game isn't played by comparing stat blocks. It's played in a game world with an environment, so those monsters can in fact do cool stuff limited only by your imagination. This is an incredibly important distinction, because how the game is actually played is critically important because it gives the context. Just comparing stat blocks? Yeah, you're right. But no one I know plays the game where there is only stat blocks and no environment or in game world context. I fully get how people would like more unique powers for monsters, but saying they are nothing but bags of HP and can't do cool stuff is objectively not true.
OK, they don't have cool stuff in their stat blocks. I can always add things in the environment, but I kinda like it when my monsters have abilities that live in their stat blocks and not just in my head.

One thing they could have done to mitigate this would have been to add more monsters with legendary and lair actions (and to make those actions more interesting than the dragons'). I think the lowest-level monster with those is the unicorn at CR 5 (and I reckon that a unicorn as a boss monster will be a rare thing), and then the next one is at CR 10 or so.
 


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